Internet Domains, Sovereignty And Freedom / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Of the approximately 7.4 billion people living on the planet, only 3.2 billion are connected to the Internet. (CC)
Of the approximately 7.4 billion people living on the planet, only 3.2 billion are connected to the Internet. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 25 May 2016 — For Cubans who update their domestic entertainment weekly with the now famous, private and anonymous “Weekly Packet,” a subtitle in bright greenish-yellow letters at the beginning of movies has become familiar. It is the ever present, which appears so frequently that it spurred my curiosity: I found it impossible to recognize what country corresponded to the extension “.nu” so I turned to the always useful Wikipedia.

Surprise. The country where all the movies we watch at home are pirated is Niue, an atoll with the pretensions of a little island, attached to New Zealand. In 1996, an American (who of course doesn’t live in Niue) took the rights to “.nu” and in 2003 founded the Niue Internet Society, and offered to the local authorities to convert the quasi-island into the first wifi nation of the world. The offer was rounded out with a free computer for every child. Nothing spectacular; we’re talking about a population of barely 1,300 people. continue reading

The irony is that while “.nu” generates enormous profits, the inhabitants of Niue who want to connect from home and not from the only internet café are obliged to pay for installation and service.

So I find another curiosity: the second most used internet extension after “.com” corresponds to another little place in the corner of the Pacific, also unnoticed, a group of islets of roughly four square miles. Tokelau is the name of this place whose domain “.tk” hatched in 2009 and was free, and today it is the virtual home of hundreds of thousands of sites of dubious probity.

The way in which the territorial domains of each country (ccTLD, which stands for: country-code-top-level-domain) are managed is very different. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has left the who and how to the discretion of each country. Many countries have privatized it either in the hands of institutions or companies created for that purpose, while in others it is done by an entity attached to a stage agency.

The two ways of operating ccTLDs have advantages and disadvantaged. Deregulating the extensions tips the balance toward the more profitable companies to the detriment of the agencies, NGOs and social and cultural institutions. Decreasing the influence of governments, can weigh heavily on the sovereignty of countries with fragile economies or small and young countries.

As a counterpart, state-regulation administration tends to protect social and cultural interests, a successful management style that can lead to gains that positively impact national life. It can also happen that the process for buying a ccTLD are restrictive or discriminatory, sheltering under deliberately vague rules to be applied at their discretion, as is the case with Cuba’s “.cu”.

In Latin America, Argentina is the only country that offers a site for free; hence the millions of sites with the extension “.ar”. This gratuity is about to change because a way to collect payments is being studied. In Chile and Nicaragua domains are administered through public universities. In Guatemala it is also done through a university but in that case a private one.

State regulation occurs in Venezuela through the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), and in Cuba through the Information Technologies and Advanced Telematic Services Company (CITMATEL).

Colombia, and without going into details about its antecedents, is a reflection of a similar debate ongoing in many countries. A private company owns its ccTLD and they believe that the fact that 89% of the owners of a “.co” site are foreigners living outside the country, far from violating national identity, internationalizes Colombia and brings its brand to the entire world. What underlies these debates is that the market is imposed on cultural values and little can be done in the defense of an intangible patrimony.

But ultimately, who governs the Internet? Any observant newcomer claims that the United States governs it. On its territory are the institutions and the majority of the servers intended to organize what would otherwise be chaos.

The now well-known ICANN assigns domain names (DNS) to IP addresses, has a contract with the government and is located in California. Very influential internet companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon are also American. By September there will be news of a change; simply that ICANN will be independent of the United States Department of Commerce.

In this asymmetric influence are counterpoised the interest of other parties involved and also of the internet. International organizations such as those dealing with trade (the ITO), intellectual property and the International Communications Union have been involved in conjunction with ICANN. Virtual space modifies the notion of sovereignty, with added risks to equality and diversity; so the term governance has gained importance in the design of policies, where governments, civil society, business, academic and technical innovators come together.

In the same way that innovative technicians have placed in our hands the protocol that ensures open access to the internet from any type of device, it behooves governance to establish policies, even if they are not binding, to guarantee freedom of expression and information, full access and limits on control.

Revolutions and Democracy / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Entry of Fidel Castro into Havana in 1959 (Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro and (in profile) Huber Matos). (File)
Entry of Fidel Castro into Havana in 1959 (Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro and (in profile) Huber Matos). (File)

We observe a man who always speaks of patriotism and he is never patriotic, or only with regards to those of a certain class or certain party. We should fear him, because no one shows more faithfulness nor speaks more strongly against robbery than the thieves themselves.

Felix Varela (in El Habanero, 1824)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 19 May 2016 – Observing the tranquil surface of Cuban society offers a misleading impression. The stagnation is localized only in the government and in the party; and even there it is not very reliable. There is no doubt that many party members participated in and observed the 7th Congress of Cuban Communist Party (PCC) hoping for changes and, watching the direction of the presidential table, dutifully (and resignedly, why not) voted one more time unanimously.

Outside this context, where one thing is said but what is thought may be something else, there is right now a very interesting debate in which all parties believe themselves to be right. The most commonly used concepts to defend opposing theses can be covered in the perceptions of revolution and democracy, which each person conceptualizes according to his or her own line of thinking. continue reading

There are generalities that are inherent in the concept itself. In the case of the concept of revolution, it involves a drastic change within a historic concept to break with a state of things that is generally unjust. Although it is a collective project, revolutions don’t always enjoy massive support; it is not until it is resolved that the great majority of citizens are included.

That said, from the official positions of the Cuban government they are still talking about the Revolution that overthrew the Batista tyranny and initiated profound changes in Cuba as a continuing event. This group believes itself still within the revolutionary morass, but can a country live permanently in a revolution?

One immediate consequence of a social revolution is chaos; everything is changing, and after a nation experiences a revolutionary process it needs stability to return to the path of progress, a natural aspiration of society and of the individual.

The 1959 Revolution became a government many years ago and its young leaders are, today, old men who in their long time in power ensured mechanisms for the control of the country. It could be nostalgia for not having been there or it could be comfort with the idea of having made mistakes and implemented bad policies, all justified as an appropriate effect of the revolutionary moment.

It is here that democracy intervenes. Whatever kind it is, it must characterize itself because popular decisions are effective; directly or through the leaders elected through voting. And also through debate. One can’t insist on continuing to wear children’s clothes when one is an adult. Norberto Bobbio’s concept is always widely accepted: without recognized and protected human rights there cannot be a real democracy, and when we are citizens of the world, and not of one state, we are closer to peace.

We do not live in a democratic country, however much they want to minimize the lack of freedoms and blame it on the “blockade,” the “imperialist threat” and novelties such as “opinion surveys” or “media wars.” Because democracy is an umbrella that should also protect minorities of every kind.

We can see vestiges of Marxism-Leninism in this stumbling march toward capitalism without democracy, we see in the free state version of the idea enclosed in this disturbing paragraph of a letter from Engels to August Bebel, regarding power and those who oppose it: “So long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist.”

Where are the rights of minorities? How do we know if they are real minorities? So far, certainly, the public support for the government has been a matter of trust, but the suspicion showed by the government when asked for transparency is striking.

From the polemics that are shared among websites and from closed-door meetings to emails and the chorus of the interested, and from there to the classic rumor on the street, it is clear that there is an imperative to widen the debate. Patriotism is not a state monopoly nor is it reflected only in talking about history and honoring symbols, much less in the cult of personality, which by the way, this year promises North Korean dimensions.

One of the ideas that is addressed in this debate is the danger posed by “non-revolutionary transitions in the name of democracy,” but we know that this is a concern of the hardline defenders of that model that they stubbornly insist on calling socialist; ‘they’ being those who consider themselves anti-imperialists, those who “won’t budge an inch,” and who sleep peacefully without looking for other culprits for the collapse that surrounds them on all sides.

My concern as a citizen is not having democracy in the name of the Revolution.

In the Dark / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O'Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of repairs
Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of repairs

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 13 May 2016 — The municipality of Old Havana had its ancient underground water and electrical systems renovated last year. The streets were dug up to replace the pipes and wiring. Beyond the mess and the dust, these works have brought the residents two precious services, services without which it is unthinkable to live in a modern city. But the happiness has not been felt everywhere.

Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of the repairs. An overload destroyed electrical appliances; a few stabilizers managed to protect a few. The jolt didn’t even spare many appliances protected by their owners’ surge protectors. continue reading

The building remained dark for several days and the residents organized to complain. The Electric Company blamed the Havana Water Company, which was able to prove its innocence, so the Electric Company was obliged to replace—“when there is availability”—the burned out appliances and to extend new wiring to the meters.

From the meters onward, that is to every apartment, is being litigated, so the majority of the residents, watching the days tick by without power, decided to resolve it themselves and to pay the Electric Company workers under the counter to connect their homes. With the wiring outside, almost all the residents have had makeshift electrical service for months now. But there are stubborn residents, or those who don’t have the 100 CUC (roughly $100 US) that it would cost to pay the electrical workers, and with faith in the power of justice, they have decided to take their case through institutional channels.

Those who have now lacked electricity for six months are finding the institutions unresponsive. The delegate to the People’s Power showed up on the day of the accident, but is surely engaged in the many other problems of her constituency. There was silence in response to letters to the Municipal and Provincial People’s Power. Silence in response to the section for complaint letters at the newspapers Juventud Rebel and Granma. Silence in response to a letter to the similar section at the Havana Channel. And silence in response to letters to the Electric Company. All this correspondence has been the victim of these residents’ “darkness syndrome,” and they haven’t received even an acknowledgement of receipt.

Only the Prosecutor took the time to rule that the residents are right and that the Electric Company is responsible, but this has not resulted in any change for those affected.

And in an event that is not without irony, the electric bills, which should show a “zero” for electrical usage, have arrived with an “approximate use” calculation, which after the accident caused by the Company last November is applied to the residents who have connected themselves to the electricity. Sparking new trips to the Basic Electricity Office in Old Havana to explain to them what they should obviously be very aware of.

One of the residents rests his hopes on managing to get an interview with the Minister of Basic Industry, which controls the Electric Company. His effort began through a friend who has a friend who is a friend of the minister, but after waiting three months for this improbable event, he went to the ministry in person and asked for an interview. He was assured that even though it is delayed, the minister deals with cases like his, so he feels optimistic that the blackout he is suffering will be resolved.

After learning about this event, we can make some inferences that go beyond who is responsible and what the deadlines for resolution are:

  • Most of the neighbors have no confidence in the institutions and decide to resolve the problem on their own
  • The pathetic complaint mechanisms available to citizens do not work
  • The capacity of some to resign themselves to such things is worthy of a study that could explain certain social behaviors, well beyond those related to a simple outage

My Absence at the Meeting / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 25 April 2016 — The political police, who consider themselves such faithful followers of Jose Marti, know that with regards to the battles of thought, they’ve lost. Thus this weekend’s operation to prevent me from participating in a meeting in Pinar del Rio was unnecessary and ridiculous. Following is a report from the meeting.

The Coexistence Study Center Begins its Second Meeting of Thoughts For Cuba

Convened by the Coexistence Study Center, for 23-24 April in Pinar del Rio, the Second Meeting of the Journey of Thinking and Proposals for Cuba, with the participation of more than 20 Cubans from five provinces began today. continue reading

The theme of this Second Meeting is “Legal and Constitutional Transition” and its objective is to propose a set of laws that provide a secure framework and facilitate the reforms Cuban society needs. And, as a result, to prepare, with citizen participation, an orderly and peaceful constitutional text that will lead the Cuban nation to a future of freedom, social justice and progress, transitioning from law to law without traumatic ruptures.

The result is expected to be published on the Center for Coexistence Studies website, once the proposals have incorporated proposals from the session held in our Diaspora Center, as well as the proposals for  “The Cuban economy in the short, medium and long term.”

The debates and creative workshops on thoughts and proposals are animated by the presentations of renowned Cuban jurists among whom are Lic. Rene Gomez Manzano and Lic. Laritza Diversent, who, although she was prevented from leaving her residence in Havana to participate in the meeting in Pinar del Rio, offered her lecture by telephone.

When one wants to work and think for Cuba nothing it is impossible. Also prevented from participating in this meeting was Pedro Campos, a member of the Academic Board of the Centre for Coexistence Studies and Regina Coyula. All other guests were able to attend.

Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, said in his opening remarks for this second academic session that “Cuba needs organic thinking and constructive and feasible proposals emanating not only from experts in each topic, but also from an increasing citizen participation and broad inclusive consensus building , for the good of the whole nation.”

Trash and Condoms / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 4 May 2016 — The residents of 13th Street in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood had quite a night on the eve of May Day, let’s say atypical. Near the intersection with Paseo, the gallent young people who would close the parade the following day camped out.

According to the Secretary General of the Cuban Central Workers Union, these young people would “make the Plaza tremble and would be a faithful reflection of the support of the new generations for study, work and defense, their usual trenches.”

Mobilized early in the morning and deposited there, the gallant ones decided to have fun as if they were on a camping trip; and before shaking the Plaza they shook the neighborhood. They pulled out their bottles, improvised some percussion and some farsighted soul brought a trumpet. But the improvised music didn’t compete with the reggaeton. And this was “shared” with great enthusiasm with all the neighbors.

With the parade, tranquility returned, and the neighborhood was able to observe the effects of the camp out: Empty bottles and other detritus.

“Trash and condoms! That is what we have left from May Day!” exclaimed an indignant old man in the area who had the task of cleaning out the passageway of his building.

Rafael Alcides, Chapter 7: The Stranger / Miguel Coyula

This video is the 7th in a series of vignettes extracted from a four-hour interview of Rafael Alcides conducted by the filmmaker Miguel Coyula. Below are links to the previous Chapters.

‘Rafael Alcides’ Chapter 1: The Beautiful Things / Miguel Coyula

‘Rafael Alcides’ Chapter 2: Artists and Politicians / Miguel Coyula

‘Rafael Alcides’ Chapter 3: About Beauty / Miguel Coyula

Rafael Alcides, Chapter 4: Once Upon a Time in Biran / Miguel Coyula

Rafael Alcides, Chapter 5: The People / Miguel Coyula

Rafael Alcides, Chapter 6: Capitalism in Cuba – Before and After / Miguel Coyula

The Backyard of My House is NOT Special* / Regina Coyula

First Screen:
There have been threats of drastic measures to be taken against any who do not comply with maintenance guidelines, and owners of vacant houses who have not had them fumigated. What you will see here is an open space of state property located just 30 yards from my house. All that’s needed is a light rain.

Last Screen:
Regina Coyula
Theme Music: The Mosquito’s Bite
J. Rudess; J. Petrucci
14 March 2016

*Translator’s Note: This is a take-off from a line in a Spanish-language children’s nonsense song, “The backyard of my house is special: it gets wet when there’s rain, just like the others.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

16 March 2016

Tangential Reaction to Obama’s Visit / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 23 March 2016 — The reactions of the press have been quick to come. Yet, the visit from the American president has given us much to talk about. But I want to talk about comments from Rosa Miriam Elizalde yesterday on the Roundtable program on Cuban state TV. With respect to the offering of internet made during Barack Obama’s visit, the director of the portal Cubadebate could not think of a better way to refute this offer than to appeal to the example of an African country where a Swedish NGO installed magnificent internet service and the Africans, because they didn’t know how to use it, have it “filled with noise.” The same thing, she said, could happen here to Cubans.

I will leave each of you to your musings provoked by the journalist’s reflection. In my case, I think the real reason for their eagerness to put a negative spin on it is nothing more than to deny access to the content that each person could choose for themselves had they the freedom that, in Cuba, the government keeps for itself without consulting its citizens. Elizalde, with privileged access to internet of the highest quality, chose to appear arrogant, ignoring the educational level of Cubans and putting Cuba at the level of Africa.

He Failed to Immolate “His People” to End “Yankee Imperialism” / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev.
Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev.

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 11 March 2016 — I remember clearly my mom in her militia uniform, kneeling beside me, instructing me to get under a bed, cover myself with a wet towel and bite the stick of cedar she had hung around my neck when the bombs began to fall. I remember nothing more of those days. The intensity of those recommendations was recorded in the precocity of a six-year-old girl.

They were useless recommendations for what was expected. My parents and my brothers were mobilized and I was left in the care of my grandmother. The Americans were coming. We Cubans expected to be disintegrated under a mushroom cloud.

This simple view of the October crisis took on form with the years. So I disagree with another myth of Cuba’s relations with the United States: “Cuba brought the world to the brink continue reading

of a worldwide holocaust in October of 1962.”

I will focus on the analysis of the overblown letter of 26 October 1962 that Fidel Castro delivered to the Soviet embassy to get it to the hands of Nikita Khrushchev; but not on what everyone usually comments on, that the USSR should never allow the United States to take the lead and set off the first nuclear strike.

What interests me is what it says a little later: …if the United States should “manage to carry out an invasion of Cuba — a brutal act in violation of universal and moral law — then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defense. However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.”

If anything defines these high-level messages it is the use of very precise terms to leave no doubt about the idea to be expressed. Without any errors in translation, it speaks of an invasion and not of an attack on Cuba, it being understood that this would be a conventional invasion with the landing of troops and air support. In the face of such action, it asks the Soviet leadership that its response “eliminate such danger forever.”

It does not mention eliminating the Pentagon; it does not mention eliminating the Capitol, the White House, the intercontinental ballistic missile silos closest to Cuba, it does not even mention another target previously agreed to by the parties, no.

Those words must have produced stupor in the Soviet hierarchy. While the Russians were already negotiating with the US government, the leadership of the Cuban Revolution was willing to immolate its own people if, with that, Yankee imperialism would disappear from the face of the earth.

In Fidel Castro’s words, the consideration does not appear that a military invasion by the United States would have received immediate condemnation from the international community, given that it is a small island whose Revolution enjoyed enormous sympathy among the global intelligentsia and opinion leaders. The Cold War and the pro-American blockade were not enough to observe such a scenario impassively. Nor should the diplomatic route be contemplated as a solution to the crisis, as is laid out at the end of the paragraph: “However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.”

Probably, Khrushchev had a profound effect on the psychology of the Cuban leader when he made the offer to place the R-12s and other strategic weapons on our territory. While Fidel Castro was looking for an open and defiant installation, the Soviets, excellent chess players and with more political experience, were aware that the United States would not allow with impunity that installation so close to its shores; the Soviets were looking not to the Caribbean, but to the Mediterranean, specifically to the missiles aimed at the USSR from stations in Italy and Turkey.

With Operation Anadyr the Soviet leadership put on Cuban soil the war material necessary to then negotiate the withdrawal of the Titan and Minuteman missiles from Turkey, which, according to the political divisions of the time, had borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan, territories of the USSR, and to achieve a moratorium on US aggressions against Cuba for a period of 15 years.

The end of the crisis was a setback for the Cuban leadership in general and for Fidel Castro’s pride in particular. Despite the so-called Five Points, the truth is that he was not taken into account in the negotiation; he was not even consulted, and most likely the Soviet side made that decision knowing that the Cuban leadership would be against the removal of the weapons and rationality indicates not opening several fronts of conflict if they could not be managed.

I bring up again the Soviets and chess, because Khrushchev took advantage of the impulsiveness and inexperience of the Cuban leader to move the pieces according to his own interests and to achieve – collaterally – guarantees for his new Caribbean ally.

The Crosshairs in the Crosshairs / Regina Coyula

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 6.18.35 PMRegina Coyula, 12 March 2016 — In a decision that takes one’s breath away, even among commentators who defend official orthodoxy, the author of the blog El Colimador (The Crosshairs) has decided to stop publishing.

He had been “notified by the monitoring team for the Reflejos platform, due to the publications of comments approved by him that violate the conditions of use established by this platform.” continue reading

Accustomed to my WordPress blog, a .com platform, it was striking to me that in the Terms of Use of moderation (I would say censorship) of comments is included (which are not part of the posts) under ideological considerations; while in WordPress the terms regarding comments are established by the author and WordPress limits itself to offering the tool to perform this function.

It turns out that in the conglomerate of blogs about sports, spirit, food, unfailingly full of applause, respectfully forgettable like almost everything on the platform, El Colimador stood out for being interesting and intense. It unapologetically defended what we know as the Cuban Revolution and its administration always managed a balance that fostered a respectful debate.

Who was the “regulator” (the author exonerates the technical team) who expressed the narrow viewpoint of a sector with power that appears not to live in the 21st Century but rather in the 19th.

Those with a better memory will remember the incomprehension with which La Polemica Digital and La Joven Cuba were dealt with, blogs that won their space and their readers not with obsequiousness but quite the opposite.

It would be lamentable if the enemies of El Colimador take advantage of my complaint to justify their censorship of the blog. These people can’t understand that I want a country where the Ruslans and the Reginas can express themselves without fighting under a nick and a false IP and accusing them of receiving “goodies” from the Cuban government or dollars from the American government.

Another Myth In Cuba-U.S. Relations / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Fidel Castro (2nd from R.) in the Sierra Maestra (CC)
Fidel Castro (2nd from R.) in the Sierra Maestra (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 8 March 2016 — “It was the Revolutionary government in Cuba that pushed the situation to the rupture of diplomatic relations in January 1961.”

It is well known that Herbert Matthews’ interview of Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra, shortly after the landing of the yacht Granma, favorably predisposed American public opinion towards the personality of the guerrilla leader and the objectives of his struggle, which had been detailed in the document “History Will Absolve Me.”

However, in the months following the triumph of the Revolution, the summary trials and executions of numerous collaborators of the overthrown Batista regime served to tarnish in this good impression. It was not possible to overlook the judgment annulled in a public speech by Fidel Castro – an attorney well acquainted the procedures – of the aviators in Santiago de Cuba in February, which ended with the suicide of Felix Pena, commander of the Rebel Army and president of the court that absolved them. continue reading

A revolutionary movement recently installed in power, in a small and underdeveloped country, needed international sympathy to pave the diplomatic path. Matthews created the conditions to organize a trip for Fidel Castro to the United States. The Cuban leader visited the country in April 1959, at the invitation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, thanks also to the mediation of the journalist Jules Dubois.

The revolutionary government had been recognized by the United States, but by the date of the trip the executions were figuring prominently; in fact, a reading of Fidel Castro’s speeches at Princeton, Central Park in New York, and the Hilton Hotel in Washington, suggest the effort to leave the hearer (and public opinion) the impression of a humanist, familiar with bourgeois values, and one who would accommodate a political correction acceptable to American citizens.

Eisenhower rejected a personal meeting with Castro, to establish distance and because Fidel Castro was a political conundrum. Allen Dulles’s intelligence agencies could not help but observe that in the security bodies recently created by the rebels, members of the Communist Party were invited to participate; the same Party that followed directions from Moscow not to join the anti-Batista guerrillas.

But as historian Ramirez Cañedo has confirmed, what was happening in Cuba was calculated, and affinities increasingly outlined with the Soviet Union did not arouse optimism in Washington. In terms of bipolarity and the Cold War, of course, the turn of events in Cuba must have been of great concern to the anti-communist Eisenhower and his government. Anti-communism was the natural state of the immense majority of the politicians on Capitol Hill, who had accepted with relief a nationalist government in Cuba, but one as far from Moscow as they themselves were.

“…the nationalization of U.S. properties in 1959 and 1960 was not a deliberate provocation by Cuba to seek a break in relations with the United States, but a necessity of the Revolution, planned by Fidel since 1953, in his famous plea of self-defense before the courts of the Batista tyranny, “History Will Absolve Me,” and foreseen in the 1940 Constitution.” [Source]

This is an interpretation. While giving land to the peasants was an aspiration of the 1940 Constitution and was contained in the well-known plea “History Will Absolve Me,” the measure had a scope much greater than an act of justice for tenants and sharecroppers. The lands given to individual farmers and to the cooperatives created by the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) were expropriated; but on expropriating every extension exceeding 400 hectares, most of the land remained in the hands of the state through INRA.

A considerable number of farmers benefited, receiving land that was of good quality and, in many cases, idle. The large landholdings that were productive remained in state hands under the name of People ‘s Farms, a name, by the way, that disappeared from the official vocabulary many years ago.

With respect to compensation, the environment did not favor a difficult collaboration with those affected, who could not understand how the leader of the Revolution spoke of slander when he was accused of being a communist, while meanwhile he was dynamiting the pillar of private property and enjoying vodka and caviar, according to the correspondent from the Soviet news agency Tass, the future ambassador of the USSR in Cuba.

Investments of the other countries affected by nationalizations did not reach a third of that of the United States, so it was relatively easy to reach agreements on compensation. The Revolutionary government offered to pay with 20-year bonds with 4.5% annual interest. However, the U.S. companies were demanding cash, which the Cuban government didn’t have, and as their bank reserve was depleted and they were not willing to divert money “to pay the landowners.”

The popular phrase “everything is in the eye of the beholder” serves well with regards to this long dispute. Combing through this skein of secrets, tangles, polarized testimonies and all the elements needed to approach the truth seems a task more suited to the historians of the future, although approximations are always welcome.

Myths And Facts About Cuba-US Relations / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

A man pedaling a pedicab with the American flag through the streets of Havana. (EFE)
A man pedaling a pedicab with the American flag through the streets of Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 5 March 2016 — The analysis of relations between Cuba and the United States, during almost sixty years of single-party government on one side and 11 presidents alternating in a two-party government on the other, is a magnet for political scientists and historians from different latitudes, but with a special emphasis, for obvious reasons, for Cubans and Americans. Last week, a text appeared on Cubadebate – a Cuban government run site – the objective of which was to dismantle myths about these controversial relations.

Starting with the introduction, the author, the academic Elier Ramirez Cañedo, announces that, despite the well-studied historical parenthesis, there are underlying mistaken ideas (myths) about the performance of the parties, and he immediately goes on to warn that “the historical distortion is a form of attack against the Cuban project, within a broader strategy of cultural war against socialism in Cuba.” continue reading

Despite emphasizing this quote, I do not intend to focus on the perceived cultural war, and much less on Cuban socialism. I will try to put aside my emotional and historic proximity to the events, to disagree with the author’s arguments.

Before engaging in an analysis of demystification, I cannot ignore a statement that is not true: “The United States blocked any possibility of the existence of a national bourgeoisie in Cuba.” Geographical proximity favors, with a growing presence from the colonial era and above all taking advantage of the economic crisis in the second decade of the last century, American capital’s engagement with a good part of the Cuban economy, which until that moment had been essentially Spanish. But the United States not only failed in its effort to block the existence of a native bourgeoisie, but, by 1959, this same bourgeoisie possessed the majority of the national wealth, including banking.

Moreover, the introductory text states, “The US government did everything possible to prevent a bourgeois nationalist government led by the orthodox party from taking the reins of the country.” In reality, it did not have to do anything to prevent it, because what did away with the future of this party and so with the constitutional future of the country, was not a maneuver by the CIA – nor even a maneuver by Batista – but a badly calculated shot by Eduardo Chibas, who very likely could have been elected president of the Republic in 1952.

Myth 1: “The root of the conflict was in the alliance of the Revolution with the Soviet Union, because the Eisenhower administration was willing to reach an understanding with the democratic nationalist project in Cuba.”

To claim the analysis of the conflict derived from the Revolutionary triumph of 1959 as a consequence of the unconfessed desire or manifesto of the United States to seize Cuba, starting in the late eighteenth century, responds to a vision that passes its entire optics through the sieve of a very punctilious anti-imperialism. With the difficulty of accessing texts of philosophical, historical and political thinkers with a more ecumenical approach, the Cuban reader has a Manichean perspective of bilateral relations with the United States, born of American dissatisfaction at not being able to decide the destiny of Cuba.

National sovereignty is a pillar of this approach, putting forward examples from the time of proconsuls and invasions. But this pillar is undermined in the last 60 years, and not specifically because of the interference of our neighbor to the north. No analysts among those who surgically tease apart the intentions and reach of American influence have interested themselves in doing the same with the Soviet influence, it seems, a task for future historiography, especially given that we are now living in a kind of second season with Russia and Putinism.

In the context of the Cold War, the US government would have been very naïve if it had not observed with growing concern how things were developing, barely 90 miles to the south. From the conciliatory and humanist discourse of 1959, the language of the leader and voice of the Revolution was changing his tone. But not only the speeches became more aggressive and anti-Yankee.

To the agrarian nationalizations without compensation of 1959, was added the fact that in the autumn of the same year the Soviet ambassador in Mexico came to Havana with two main principals: the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the visit of Anastas Mikoyan, First Vice President of the USSR and Khrushchev’s right hand man; a trip that took place in February of 1960 and, in an unprecedented event, lasted nine days.

From this trip stemmed agreements for more than 100 million dollars. America’s concern was not free, the terms of the agreement by which Cuba would sell the USSR 300,000 metric tons of sugar were remarkably advantageous – more so than the sugar agreement with the United States before 1959.

It would be interesting to see – if the Soviet documents were declassified – how Operation Mongoose, under the direction of the CIA and the Department of State, found its counterpart in the KGB and Gremlin. And how plans were developed to increase our country’s influence through collaborative programs, technical assistance, trade and cultural exchanges as the first step to then arming and training a regular army and intelligence organs – the spearhead against its enemy – which conferred on Cuba the highest priority in the foreign policy of the USSR. Every power according to its interests.

These new best friends could not be looked on with indifference. In fact, the relationship is considered a precursor of the Soviet influence in the so-called Western Hemisphere. However, the analysis of Cuban historians should also focus on how the opportunity was lost to achieve a true independence and sovereignty as a nation and a republic for the first time; there are no records of the revolutionary government seeking alternatives in the Latin American context, for instance, to establish political, commercial and financial relations that would have allowed it to step outside the epicenter of the bipolar conflict.

The Functionary and the Poet / Regina Coyula

Rafael Alcides (Screen shot from Miguel Coyula's video interview)
Rafael Alcides (Screen shot from Miguel Coyula’s video interview)

Regina Coyula, 3 March 2016 — A consular official, in a flying interview lasting barely five minutes, told my husband he was not eligible to travel to the United States with a non-immigrant visa. According to the document he was given, my husband was not able to demonstrate that his proposed visit was consistent with the visa he requested.

What did this interview consist of? The official asked the reason for the trip, and the reason for the trip is a cultural meeting to deliver a tribute, in which my husband is the person to be honored. The second and last question was regarding whether he had family in the United States, to which he responded honestly that he has a son that he lost contact with a decade ago

The consular authorities of this (and any other country) have the right to approve or not approve the entry of foreigners to their territory. But haste should not make this interview a mechanical process. This awkward gentleman who face-to-face with the inquisitive functionary wasn’t able to remember the name of the institution intending to honor him, is one of the most important living poets of Cuban culture. A brief glance at Google could have informed the official about the gentleman in front of him, and relieved him of the idea that this traveler would be one more old man wanting to shelter under the Cuban Adjustment Act and Social Security benefits.

The decision — which cannot be appealed to anyone — recommends that he wait at least a year to return “if and when personal circumstances have significiantly changed.” It is lamentable, because Rafael Alcides will continue to live and write from his inxile in Havana in the same circumstances of today if he survives this year of being ignored awarded to him by the consular official.

Sent from my telephone with Nauta Mail.

A Swede in Burundi, a Uruguayan in Cuba / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

The journalist Fernando Ravsberg.
The journalist Fernando Ravsberg.

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 10 February 2016 – The Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg has spent years living in Cuba. But after reading his article Uncle Sam’s Cuban Cousins, and pondering it, I think what happened to Ravsberg in Cuba is the same thing that happened to the “disoriented Swede in Burundi” he references in his article.

One finds errors in his article that are the fruit of original sin, because the journalist, despite his close following of national events, speaks of the opposition as a whole; it is never appropriate to speak in phrases such as, “this group,” or “the project opponents.” This is serious because Ravsberg’s blog is not censored in Cuba, many subscribe to it by email, and a reading of the article in question gives the false conclusion that the entire dissidence acts under the umbrella of the United States government although, according to his own words, this same dissidence, in a total contradiction, is trying to boycott the normalization of relations promoted by its master. continue reading

The whole article conveys the desire to see one part of the whole. The author’s antipathy toward the dissidence would not worry me if it were not that, as a communicator, he contributes with his opinions to confusing an already badly informed populace.

The journalist says that, “To sit at the negotiations table with the government, one needs be a real political force.” He does not recognize any dissenting voice as having rights, and ascribes to them a lack of legitimacy for supposedly acting as scribes for Washington. But Ravsberg is not candid and must know that no dissenting voice has been able to make itself heard, even when it respects legally established procedures.

When Oswaldo Paya tried to move forward the Varela Project – respectfully, autonomously, following the law, visible thanks to Jimmy Carter mentioning it in the Great Hall at the University of Havana, live and to the press – the government’s response was to ignore the initiative submitted to Parliament and, with an open collection of signatures under its own sponsorship, to modify the Constitution to make socialism an eternal system. But also eternal was its friendship with the Soviet Union and, like that one, there are other eternities that come to an end.

Most of the dissidents are not old enough to dream, as Ravsberg suggests, of “an invasion by the Marines,” nor suicidal enough to support “a blockade that would bring their compatriots to their knees through hunger.” I don’t know a single person who sympathizes with terrorism, but it seems inconceivable to me that a journalist who pretends to be knowledgeable about Cuban issues doesn’t know that even the “enemy” press has been cited on the Roundtable TV program in talking about the scandal of the misuse of money to “buy democracy in Cuba,” those 20 million dollars the author mentions in passing to make the unaware reader believe that this hard cash comes to Cuba year after year.

“To lose touch with reality can prove catastrophic in politics,” Ravsberg warns us. No sir, it IS catastrophic. For journalism as well, but that often happens in countries like ours when you don’t ride the bus, when you have someone who does your shopping for you, and you live in a bubble of functionaries, artists, entrepreneurs and other characters who always know someone who knows someone…

On the other hand, offering the Cuban government solidarity and support for 40 years, or for 25, is to ignore the harvest of failures, the mismanagement and corruption that has nothing to do with a “blockade” or an imperialist threat, but rather one that has left a people exhausted and unbelieving and led to an emigration among young people higher than ever recorded.

Not all dissent is manifested by marching in the street or opening a blog; the visa lottery, crossing the Florida Straits and the immigration crisis in Central America are other forms of dissent, and the most popular, of course.

Reading Uncle Sam’s Cuban Nephews leaves me curious to know how the author believes the opposition to an authoritarian government should behave, when even civil society associations for protecting animals or the environment are suspect if they are not sponsored by the State, and promoting opposition candidates in the neighborhood Assemblies of Peoples Power unleashes an enormous operation by State Security.

Barack Obama will decide to meet with all, or with a part, or with no opponents to the government, but I am sure that he will come with a clearer idea of the Cuban dissidence than that held by Fernando Ravsberg.