When A Hope Is Lost / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A dozen Cuban rafters arriving off the coast of Florida on April 26 of this year. (Youtube / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, 13 January 2017 — The end of the wet foot/dry foot policy entails among its many consequences the loss of hope for a great number of Cubans. Few times in our national history has a decision taken outside the borders of the island touched the lives of so many Cuban citizens in a medullary and definitive way.

Among those affected are migrants already on their way to the United States, as well as those who have sold their property and possessions to pay for the expenses of the journey, those who were waiting for an opportunity to desert from an official mission abroad, or simply those who dreamed of escape from the island. In total, tens of thousands of people. Continue reading “When A Hope Is Lost / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

However, there is a much larger number. Incalculable. The one made up of all those who saw in the possibility of emigration a motivation to behave with docility in the face of difficulties. They were the ones who trusted that, at the moment when they could not longer bear the hard daily life of the island, they had a way out: a raft, the jungles of Central America, the Mexican border, the Bering Strait…

The only hope is that we recover the courage to face our reality and assume the consequences

Like the last drops of water in the canteen while crossing the desert, the lifejackets the stewardess holds up for emergencies, or the last gulp of oxygen with which the diver must try to reach the surface, the wet foot/dry foot policy represented hope for many on the island. The illusion that if they reached their limit there would always be a lifeline to cling to.

“If it gets ugly, I’ll up and leave,” was a recurring thought shared among young and old, poor or new rich, dissidents or government officials. It relieved them to know that, from the closed box which Cuba has become, they had a way out. Perhaps they would never use it, but it was a balm to know it was there.

From now on there are no lifejackets under the seat, no water in the canteen to cross the desert, and there is no oxygen left to return to the surface. The only hope is that we recover the courage to face our reality and assume the consequences.

Brief and Imprecise Sketch of a Supporter / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The assembled should not have been all those excluded by the official discourse. Placard: “I am Cuba, Fidel, Revolution” (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 January 2017 — The images from the January 2nd parade and the march of the “combative people” provoked questions in many: Who are these Cubans who went to the Plaza of the Revolution? What characteristics define those who awoke at dawn, shouted slogans in front of the podium or marched diligently carrying a pro-government placard?

The official press defines them with positive adjectives – grateful, loyal, combative – and includes them in slogan of the day, which each of them repeated on Monday: “I am Fidel.” But it is also possible to draw the contours of their nature from what they are not, or at least what they should not be… Continue reading “Brief and Imprecise Sketch of a Supporter / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

It is clear that in the wide esplanade, in the shadow of the Ministry of the Interior, missing were those who maintain political differences with the Government or those who did not have the desire to fake overwhelming revolutionary enthusiasm. Those who still had an end-of-year hangover and could not drag themselves out of bed so early are also on this list.

If we take at face value officialdom’s description of the faithful gathered there, nor should we concur that they include that “anti-social scourge who neither study nor work”

However, if we take at face value officialdom’s description of the faithful gathered there, nor should we concur that they included that “anti-social scourge who neither study nor work,” a group whose principle ideology is survival and who label “on the left” (as in “under the table”) everything that is done outside the law to survive the rigors of daily life.

It is assumed that those in the Plaza included none of the many who traffic in tractor and bus fuel, “diverted” from those uses. Nor even the negotiators in gas and oil “extracted” from electricity generation equipment, freight transport and state-owned vehicles, who resell the product to the drivers of private vehicles.

In that mass of inflamed people one assumes there were no faces of those who sell food or personal hygiene products “diverted” from kindergartens, hospitals, schools, workers’ cafeterias and even prisons and military units. Because “these kinds of people” had no place in a march called for the unimpeachable.

Under that logic, among the combative construction workers none of those who marched feed the black market with cement, sand, bricks, bathroom fixtures, cables, electrical outlets and all the other things extracted from state-owned works. Not to mention those who commit the crime of buying “diverted” resources to repair their homes.

Among the seniors, who represented those who worked on the literacy campaign, former militiamen or internationalist fighters, none should have been the elderly who buy newspapers from the state kiosks at 20 centavos and resell them for one peso. Nor would there have been any retirees who, at the doors of the markets, offer at retail prices cigarettes, plastic bags, coffee and spaghetti, taken from what they receive on the ration book, to round out their pensions.

Among the thousands of children and teenagers who waved flags, carried banners and chanted slogans there was no space for those who sell their bodies to tourists or who dream of leaving the country

The list of those who – under no circumstances – should have been part of the rally organized by the government on Monday could be extended ad infinitum. In those tight ranks there was no room for the unproductive, for negligent service workers, for those who manipulate weights in the markets, or for the administrators who fix the numbers before the auditors show up.

Among the thousands of children and teenagers who waved flags, carried banners and chanted slogans there was no space for those who sell their bodies to tourists or who dream of leaving the country, whether by crossing the Straits of Florida or crossing the jungles of Central America, not to mention through a loveless marriage to a foreigner.

Nor expected to show up would be those who buy the test for admission to higher education or falsify a medical certificate to escape military service.

And also missing should be those who star in that phenomenon the official media calls a “crisis of values” and exemplify it with the use of “symbols alien to our culture,” like celebrating Halloween, preferring soccer over baseball or wearing a T-shirt with the American flag on it.

If none of these types excluded from the official discourse, stigmatized by propaganda and condemned by the system, marched this Monday… who, then, filled the Plaza?

Raul Castro’s Hourglass is Running Out / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban General-President Raul Castro accompanied by Miguel Díaz Canel, vice-president, on the first of May. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 December 2016 — A popular joke inquires about the color of a train that arrives late at the station. The answer is a play on words: de morado.* Raul Castro has dressed in just that tone in relation to his obligations for the end of the year. The delay in keeping certain commitments threatens the image of punctuality and pragmatism that the General President has wanted to present.

The plenary session of the Communist Party Central Committee planned for this December still doesn’t have a date. The partisan meeting should approve the expected Conceptualization of the Economic and Social Model, as well as the 2030 Economic Development Plan, but there are only five days remaining for it to fulfill its promise. Continue reading “Raul Castro’s Hourglass is Running Out / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

A telephone call to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) clarifies few doubts. The secretary for Olga Lidia Tapia Iglesias, a member of the Secretariat responsible for the Department of Education, Science and Sport, confirmed to 14ymedio that “they have not set a date” for the pending meeting.

Both documents were debated by the PCC membership and the Young Communist Union (UJC), as well as the leadership of the mass organizations and trade unions. The official press emphasized that currently there is massive agreement with the texts as presented, although it reported several proposals to modify or add to them.

Point 104 of the Conceptualization document raised a stir; the point reaffirms an idea raised in the PC Guidelines. The cold water for local entrepreneurs focuses on the statement that “concentration of property and wealth in natural or non-state legal persons is not permitted.” A proposal that must be accepted or rejected this December.

If the plenary session is not held, the seriousness that Raul Castro has wanted to imprint on his official acts would suffer a serious blow. He would also be obliged to publically justify the informality. Hurricane Matthew, the surprising election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the death of Fidel Castro could be among the official excuses.

The number of days remaining in December is the same as the number of fingers on one hand. At least two of them will be used for the upcoming session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Given the traditional confusion of roles between the Government, the Parliament and the Party, perhaps in the sessions with the deputies the date of the party conclave will be reported.

But if it does not happen before the end of the year, Raul Castro will need to show a very convincing explanation.

*Translator’s note: “Morado” means purple, and “de morado” means delayed.

What the Newspaper ‘Granma’ Can Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

As of this Thursday, the official newspaper ‘Granma’ will have a new design with changes limited only to the visual. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 December 2016 — The newspaper Granma announced that as of tomorrow, in Thursday’s edition, it will debut a new design. For the peace of mind of the most orthodox, the note concludes by warning that “the official organ of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party is being renewed, but it will remain the same.”

The modifications refer to the alignment of the headlines, more readable typography, better composition of the front pages and greater prominence of photographs. According to the paper itself, its new design “is more compact, more modern, more contemporary, and cleaner.” Continue reading “What the Newspaper ‘Granma’ Can Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

What is striking is that the intention “to look like current times” will be limited to the visual aspect. Apparently, the paper will not stop practicing secrecy, political debate will remain absent, and criticisms will never be directed towards the highest levels of power. No one will question the legitimacy of the rulers or the viability of the system.

The change of image will coincide with the date when, 55 years ago, the end of illiteracy in Cuba was proclaimed, but the directors do not seem to understand that what its readers require from this press organ is precisely a change of philosophy, of its essence, in order to leave behind “the conceptions of the founding era.”

Only a profound political illiteracy can come to the conclusion that a newspaper at the beginning of the 21st century should continue to be dogmatically governed by such narrow ideological guidelines.

Granma will continue to choose “positive” verbs, adjectives and adverbs for its national news and will select “negative” ones for the titles that refer to the rest of the world (excluding its allies). We will have to continue reading that in Cuba the harvests are growing, the goals are being exceeded, the programs are advancing without delays, meanwhile foreign economies are collapsing, unemployment only grows, and the richest intend to despoil the planet.

“The purpose of this redesign is to compete with ourselves and win,” confesses Granma in an act of utmost honesty. When an athlete runs alone on a track she always takes the trophies. It would be another kettle of fish if at the newsstands the readers could choose among several publications, if in citizens’ homes there were access to the internet and any digital news source that circulates in the world, without restrictions or censorship.

However, the notice that something changes is always welcome.

The Material Basis Of Joy / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Traditional celebrations called ‘parrandas’ that are normally held in December in Remedios, have been postponed this year until January 6-7. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 December 2016 — In the Marxist catechism it is established that the material is first, over the spiritual. From this conceptual Big Bang, is structured a doctrine in which all categories are concatenated more or less harmoniously; social property over the means of production, the fundamental law of socialist distribution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

From this key starting point it is explained that matrimonial fidelity is due to the appearance of private property, and that the ambition for riches will only be overcome in the human condition when material goods flow like a river due to the increased productivity that comes as a fruit of dominion over nature. Continue reading “The Material Basis Of Joy / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

For the faithful followers of this form of thinking, joy in human beings is nothing more than the result of drinking alcoholic beverages in an environment where there is music and jokes, social contacts, smiles, cheers and laughter. That is, people do not drink, sing and laugh because they are happy, but the other way around.

At the end of December, Cubans usually indulge their desire to celebrate. Christmas and New Year’s come together to promote gift giving, Christmas Eve feasts, improvised choirs of nostalgic carols, resolutions for the future, furtive kisses at midnight, buckets of water thrown into the street to wash away the year’s evils, and taking a walk with a suitcase as an expression of the desire to take a magical trip to another part of the world.

With this cornucopia, joy prevails and bottles are uncorked, while others eat or dance and someone opens the door to receive the latest guest who didn’t want to miss the feast in which the discomfort of daily life is temporarily relegated to the background.

However, in these days that are left of the month of December, on the pretense of a tragic reason, from certain more or less official bodies, “the order has come down” to moderate the joy, postpone the parrandas, ban celebrations at workplaces and schools. Rumors are rife that alcohol will disappear as of the 20th, there will be no fireworks, and no loud music, not even within one’s own home.

Marxists are like that. They are intimately convinced that by eliminating or undermining “the material basis of joy” they can prevent joy from rising in hearts, crush feelings of gratitude for life itself, and smother the sparks of hope that light the way. At the end of the day, they maintain, the material is above the spiritual.

New Anthology of ‘Fidelism’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

On the cover of each volume are portraits that show the physical and psychological transformation of the man. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 December 2016 – The first impression one gets of the book “One Objective, One Thought” is that throughout its three volumes the reader can assess the political evolution of Fidel Castro, author of the quotes contained in the tome. The initial assessment is owed to the portraits appearing on the covers of each volume, which show the physical and psychological transformation of the man.

The first cover shows the leader with a black beard, olive green beret and defiant gaze. It is the image of the guerrilla in power during the ‘60s and ‘70s. On the second volume he is seen in the dress uniform of the Commander in Chief, notably graying and with the look of someone who has an answer for everything, as he presented himself in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Continue reading “New Anthology of ‘Fidelism’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The image on the third cover reflects a moment in Castro’s life in this millennium. The former president is on the brink of old age, with a certain halo of wise experience, but maintaining his willful authority. It is a snapshot from before 31 July 20016, when he announced his retirement from public life due to the serious state of his health.

However, beyond the impression of transformation offered by these three images, the book presented this Saturday at the Palace of the Captain Generals in Havana, is simply a compilation of the ex-president’s ideas organized chronologically around 50 topics. A bundle of carefully chosen quotations to show more the continuity of his thought than its evolution.

The edition was conceived to honor the leader’s 90th birthday, celebrated this last August, but its launch has taken place a few days after his ashes were placed in a vault in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. The work thought of as a summary of a life has become, in reality, a condensed post mortem of Fidel’s legacy.

The work, priced at 30 Cuban pesos (less than $1.50 US), has as an antecedent the “Dictionary of the Thinking of Fidel Castro,” prepared by Salomon Susi Sarfati for Politica Publishers in 2008. Another compilation of high value is “Thus Spake Fidel Castro,” from Roberto Bonachea Entrialgo, issued by the Spanish publisher Ediciones Idea, also in 2008.

The text was presented by Eugenio Suarez, director of the Office of Historical Affairs of the Council of State, along with the main editor of the volume, Rosa Alfonso Mestre, as a guide for action and ideas for future generations. The presentation took place in front of 50 participants, among them, notably, the faces of officials, admirers of the deceased leader and members of the Communist Party.

The editors state that “for this compilation 4,000 bibliographic sources were consulted, covering a period from October 1953 to April 2011 (…) from which around 8,000 quotes were selected.” Speeches, interviews, Fidel’s newspaper column “Reflections,” have been the principal sources.

But the reader finds a highly filtered text, which avoids quoting Castro’s mistakes, rants and more intolerant positions. For example, under the theme of terrorism, a speech he gave for the 15th anniversary of the creation of the Ministry of the Interior is omitted.

The book was presented at the Palace of the Captain Generals in Havana. (14ymedio)

On that day in 1976, at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, the leader admitted: “If we dedicated ourselves to terrorism, it is certain we would be effective. But the fact is that the Cuban Revolution has never used terrorism. That does not mean we renounce it, let us warn you!”

In addressing drug trafficking, the anthology does not mention a single word from Cause No. 1 of June 1989, when high officials from the armed forces were tried and condemned to death for their supposed implication in this crime.

On the subject of self-employment and private enterprise, the editors avoided the speeches given during the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, where Castro emphasized, “We propose to eliminate all manifestations of private commerce, in a clear and decisive manner.” Three decades later, he had to once again authorize the non-state sector, to ease the profound economic crisis caused by the fall of the Soviet Union.

In the chapter dedicated to racial and gender discrimination, you cannot find a single one of the multiple occasions on which he expressed his well-known homophobia. Conspicuous by its absence are the remarks Castro delivered in March of 1963: “Many of these bums, children of the bourgeoisie, walking around with their too-tight pants; some of them with a little guitar and an ‘Elvis-Presley’ attitude have taken their debauchery to the extremes of wanting to go to some public gathering places and organize their faggot-y shows for free.”

Despite the extreme partisanship in the selection of the texts included in these three volumes, the workflow the editors faced is clear. Filtering hundreds of speeches, interminable public presentations and long hours of soliloquy must have been a marathon and exhausting task. But the most arduous work is that of the reader, peering into these pages of such a chaotic, contradictory and disproportionate legacy, like the man who created it.

‘Santa And Andrés’ Under Revolutionary Vigilance / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Frame from the film by Carlos Lechuga 'Santa and Andrés. (Facebook)
Frame from the film by Carlos Lechuga ‘Santa and Andrés. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 December 2016 — In the 38th edition of Havana’s Festival of New Latin America Cinema, shining by its absence is the Cuban film Santa y Andrés, by the filmmaker Carlos Lechuga. Those responsible for its censorship certainly didn’t cross it off the list without first consulting non-artistic entities such as the organs of State Security and other custodians of the official dogma.

The controversy over the exclusion of the film has been unleashed on social networks and in several digital spaces. Arguing against Lechuga’s feature film are the voices tied to the “establishment,” who claim that it distorts history and that the many errors committed in the cultural field have been rectified. The defenders, for their part, laud the artistic values of the film and assert that it cannot be considered counterrevolutionary. Continue reading “‘Santa And Andrés’ Under Revolutionary Vigilance / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) behaves like an entity privately owned by the only political party permitted in the country, and applies the resulting right of admission, an attitude contradictory and unacceptable for an institution that is publicly created as a representative the interests of the whole nation.

Many filmmakers act as if they believe that the ICAIC does not represent the interests of power. This apparent naiveté gives them a right to feel offended and surprised by the censorship imposed by the entity, like the teenager who comes home late with the illusion of not being scolded by her parents, who remind her of their right to search her belongings and to prohibit her next outing.

As long as artists continue to respect and revere institutions without directly questioning them, they will have to bow their heads and obey, or ultimately they will have to leave the country.

Santa and Andrés was conceived and created independently as if censorship did not exist, as if the stern father had softened and tempered over the years. One way of putting strength to the test and pushing the wall of prohibitions.

Regardless of its indisputable artistic values, Carlos Lechuga’s film will be remembered as another occasion when the repressors of thought were forced to take off their masks of good-naturedness. Cultural authorities have again demonstrated the hardened face of an intolerant patriarch showing his children who really holds the key to the house.

Police Free ‘14ymedio’ Journalist Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio

The '14ymedio' journalist, Reinaldo Escobar. (Youtube)
The ’14ymedio’ journalist, Reinaldo Escobar. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 December 2016 — The journalist Reinaldo Escobar, editor in chief of 14ymedio, was detained for more than four hours on Thursday, in the midst of the control measures that the Government deployed after the death of Fidel Castro. The reporter gave an interview to Spanish Television (TVE) on the Malecon in Havana where he was intercepted by police and taken to the Zapata and C police station in Vedado, according to witnesses who confirmed the arrest.

A man in civilian clothes approached the place where Escobar was being interviewed by Vicenç San Clemente of TVE. “He said we could not be here because it was an avenue where many presidents were passing by,” the Spanish correspondent told this newspaper. The man remained nearby listening to Escobar’s answers. Continue reading “Police Free ‘14ymedio’ Journalist Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio”

“They were questions about the future of Cuba, about the possible legal reforms that might be made,” explained San Clemente. However, the man ended up calling a patrol car, with license plate 099, which took the two journalists to the police station.

The Spanish Embassy in Havana began negotiations for the release of both reporters as soon as they heard the news, a diplomatic source informed 14ymedio. San Clemente was held at the entrance to the police station, but Escobar was lost to sight when he was led into the interior of the building.

Four hours after the arrest, the Cuban journalist was released and when he inquired at the station about the infraction or crime which had been entered into the log book, the uniformed officer responded with the brief word: prophylaxis.

Escobar graduated from the University of Havana in journalism in 1972, and has served as editor-in-chief of this independent newspaper since its founding, in May of 2014; the newspaper is blocked on servers on the island by the government. Previously, Escobar worked for various press media, among them the magazine Consensus, which was founded in December of 2014, and on his personal blog, From Here.

In December of 1988, Escobar was fired from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the second most important newspaper in the country. The dismissal was due to several critical articles he published after being motivated by the new air of glastnost in the Soviet press. Since then the government has not permitted him to exercise his profession in any of the state-controlled media, which exercise a monopoly over the press.

The Political Testament Of Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Revolution is ... (14ymedio)
Revolution is … (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 29 November 2016 – Under the shadow of national mourning after the death of Fidel Castro, Cubans have been called to sign, as an oath, some words spoken by the former president in May of 2000, in which he left for posterity his concept of Revolution.

“Revolution is a sense of the historic moment; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others as human beings; it is emancipating ourselves by our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces within and outside the social and national sphere; it is defending the values we believe in at the price of any sacrifice; it is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism; it is fighting with audacity, intelligence and realism; it is never lying nor violating ethical principles; it is a profound conviction that there is no force in the world capable of crushing the force of truth and ideas. Revolution is unity, it is independence, it is fighting for our dreams of justice for Cuba and the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism.” Continue reading “The Political Testament Of Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

More than a definition, the text should be understood as a personal assessment of the political process in which Fidel Castro played the starring role. In the absence of a solid theoretical thought, the exegetes of the Commander in Chief have made use of the poetics of his rhetoric to extract, something like that, as a political testament.

The phrase chosen has the turns of an oratory delivered to captivate those congregated in a plaza, where almost all license is permitted, while sounding good and conquering the ears. But read at a distance and analyzed as a thesis, it lacks programmatic solidity.

In the phrase, the term Revolution is ambivalent and is presented both as a result obtained and reached for. At other moments the statement seems a method to achieve certain goals, the final fruit of a process, or a tie to moral values close to the Decalogue of good behavior.

The contradictions of the concept stated by Castro for more than fifteen years ago have discouraged academics of the official environment and organic intellectuals from analyzing it. Instead, they have chosen to sanctify the verse so as not to be seen to be committed to rigorously dissect it.

When Castro mentions that Revolution is the sense of the historic moment, it only confirms that he lacks the political instinct to perceive the wealth of opportunities that such processes trigger, something that rests exclusively in the capacity of certain individuals to take advantage of the situation.

On the other hand, the substantial difference between Revolution and reform resides in the way transformations are realized, but these words avoid pointing out the violent and radical character of the process they promote. The absence of this precision constitutes the most important conceptual deficit of the text.

In the horizon of almost all social revolutions is equality, but a process of such a nature is not needed to try to achieve it. Freedom has historically been most affected by revolutions. In particular, the freedoms of expression and association, and, in the case of socialist revolutions, economic freedoms.

The inaccuracies in the text does not end there.

In the words extolled today, Castro defines his creature as the capacity to treat others and to be treated as human beings. It is the promise of the lowest profile that a politician could project and, most obvious, that includes a concept for posterity that is, at least, a disturbing gesture.

The confusion rises in tone when the leader invites us to “emancipate ourselves by our own efforts,” without specifying if he speaks from the working class that must shake off the “chains” of exploitation, or if it is a nationalist-style demand to eliminate dependency on some foreign power.

In the first case, it would be renouncing alliances with other sectors such as the peasantry, while following the second to the letter leads to renouncing proletarian internationalism.

The act of “challenging dominant forces” differs if you are in an insurrectional period, or it is several years after the beginning of the Revolution. When Castro stated this concept, power in Cuba lay in the Communist Party and especially in his own will, which did not accept the slightest challenge.

The voluntarism of the orator stands out when he calls for “paying whatever price necessary,” while he appropriates Christian values by promoting modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism. The call to never lie or violate ethical principles reinforces the character of the commandments of a religion.

The text also extols audacity, intelligence and realism, guidelines that are more appropriate to succeed in business than to drive social transformation. Emphasizing these assertions with the conviction that “there is no force in the world capable of crushing the strength of truth and ideas”: pure idealism, alien to the dialectical materialism of Marxist inspiration.

Unity does not make the Revolution, nor is independence a conquest in the midst of a globalized world that has put an end to borders, so all that is left to the orator to base his concept on is “our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism “and to fight for “our dreams of justice,” without substantiating any.

The conceptual gap of the definition of Revolution that, as of this Monday, millions of Cubans have signed, leaves their hands free for whatever future decision is taken by whoever relieves the current historic generation. On this foundation stone, one can erect anything.

The Last Death of Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Fidel Castro at a meeting with civilian workers of the Ministry of Interior and the Revolutionary Armed Forces. (Revolution Studio)
Fidel Castro at a meeting with civilian workers of the Ministry of Interior and the Revolutionary Armed Forces. (Revolution Studio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2016 — As expected, the news of the death of Fidel Castro was announced by his brother Raul, in a brief official statement to the people of Cuba and friends around the world.

While his biographers are careful to detail that he survived hundreds of alleged attacks, no one can keep count of the innumerable times that his death circulated as a rumor or even as a headline, starting with those left him for dead after the attack on the Moncada barracks, or after landing of the yacht Granma on the coast of eastern Cuba. Continue reading “The Last Death of Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Sixty years to the day after the morning of 25 November 1956, when the historic yacht sailed from Tuxpan, Mexico, events have changed the significance of that anniversary to inscribe the date, as of today, as the moment when the hisotiral leader undertook his “ultimate journey.”

The question so often formulated, of what would happen after the physical disappearance of Fidel Castro, will soon have its inexorable answer. Obviously, it will not have the dramatic effect it would have had, had it happened when he was in command of the rudders of the country, as was on the point of happening in June of 2006 when he had to “provisionally” delegate all his responsibilities to his brother Raul.

Although the impact has been ameliorated by a decade of relative absence, in one way or another his real death marks a before and after. Especially for the decisions that his heir must take in his last year in office. From this point, the argument that this or that cannot be done because “the boss” would not agree, ceases to have any meaning. No one will now have any doubt about who rules Cuba

Now begins the prolonged stage of competing panegyrics and diatribes. Adulators and detractors will bring to light their long sharp conclusions, will once again relate the anecdotes that earned him glory and blame; they will recall the legends and jokes, epithets and nicknames.

Cuban television will have already prepared a selection of his historic moments, the best pens of the national Parnassus will publish poems and compose songs, and then will come the anniversaries, and sooner or later the generation of those who never knew him will exceed that who saw him triumphantly enter Havana, deliver his interminable speeches, make his unappealable decisions.

The contemporaries of Elian Gonzalez will perhaps remember that 17 years ago, a day like this 25 November, that child rafter was rescued almost miraculously in the Straits of Florida. This coincidence obliges us to think of Charon, the mythical boatman who leads souls to their final destination. This ship will not sink. Fidel Castro is dead. Sadly for some and joyfully for others, this time it’s true.

Clean Sweep and Old Promises / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The unconcluded debts of Raul Castro’s mandate are exactly those that would directly impact citizens’ lives
The unconcluded debts of Raul Castro’s mandate are exactly those that would directly impact citizens’ lives

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 22 November 2016 – In the next 40 days, before the end of the year, the Cuban Communist Party must hold its second Central Committee Plenum and approve the final version of the documents issued by their most recent congress. It is expected that there will also be a meeting of the Council of Ministers and a third session of the 2016 National Assembly of People’s Power. These three events will mark the beginning of the last year of Raul Castro’s government, and the deadline for the fulfillment of his pending promises.

Not included in this list are details such as the glass of milk he promised every Cuban in July of 2007, or the eradication of the invasive marabou weed from the Cuban countryside, the unresolved problems of his administration which include ending the dual currency system, eliminating the rationing system, ratifying the United Nations human rights covenants – signed by Cuba but never ratified – and achieving efficiency in the state socialist enterprise. Continue reading “Clean Sweep and Old Promises / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The list of outstanding promises also includes producing food that is affordable to Cuban wallets, achieving the necessary volume of foreign investment, promulgating a new electoral law, and ensuring that wages become the main source of income, as well as leaving behind the conceptualization of and a viable program for, an economic, political and social model for future generations.

In this regard, only the theoretical commitments appear to be on track to be completed, while the unconcluded debts of Raul Castro’s mandate are exactly those that would directly impact citizens’ lives. Although the conceptualization never moved beyond an intellectual exercise, the program to 2030 rests on conjectures and promises for which Castro will have no opportunity to respond.

In the coming months, there would have to be a surge in the average private enterprise and the opening of the wholesale market so necessary to satisfy the demands of workers in the private sector. The countdown for the ending of unearned freebies and inflated payrolls is entering its final minutes.

Before the conclusion of his time in the presidential chair, Raul Castro has the responsibility to adopt measures that will lessen the emigration hemorrhage, structure an effective plan to address the demographic problem, and finally bring before parliament a law to regularize same sex relationships.

Before handing over power, Fidel Castro’s younger brother should decriminalize political dissent and propose a dialog so that the different viewpoints gaining force in the country can seek consensus to avoid more dramatic confrontations.

Will the general president bring such a demanding agenda to a conclusion, or does he intend to leave such tasks to his successors?

In the more than 400 days left to him as president of the Councils of State and of Ministers, Raul Castro will be forced to pick up the pace. Time, implacable, is running out. In the final stretch that remains of his mandate he will no longer have space for experiments or leisurely actions. There will be no pause, but much haste.*

*Translator’s note: Raul Castro promised to update the country’s economic, social and political model “without haste, but without pause,” and the phrase has become a centerpiece of his tenure.

The Portfolio Of The Arrogant Beggar / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuba’s current portfolio looking for foreign investors offers 395 projects distributed in 14 areas of the economy. Compared to the previous year it has two more sectors.(14ymedio / Luz Escobar)
Cuba’s current portfolio looking for foreign investors offers 395 projects distributed in 14 areas of the economy. Compared to the previous year it has two more sectors.(14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 November 2016 – The appearance of unusual proposals such as ostrich farming, the production of quail eggs, or the tanning of exotic hides, along with the timid introduction of a banking sector, are some of the most significant novelties in the Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment launched during the recently concluded International Fair of Havana.

The illusions generated in 2014, with Cuba’s new openness to foreign capital, have lost strength along the way. The third edition of the portfolio targeted to international business is evidence of this disengagement. The document repeats proposals that didn’t find any takers and adds timid offerings that have yet to overcome mistrust. Continue reading “The Portfolio Of The Arrogant Beggar / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Investors have not “fallen all over themselves” before the pieces of Cuban cake. In part, because there is no easing of the concerns about the dual monetary system, but, fundamentally, because there is no easing in the short term to make the country an attractive and secure place to set up a business.

The current Portfolio offers 395 projects distributed in 14 areas of the economy. Compared with the previous year, it presents two more sectors: sugar and hydraulics. In all, there are 69 additional options from 2015, and some 149 more than in the document published two years ago.

However, as often happens, the numbers don’t tell us everything in this case. Only three sectors, sugar, food production and tourism, are responsible for the “new opportunities,” while construction, industry and mining show a decline.

In the area of health, the three projects from the previous year remain almost unchanged, with the difference that the investment for the International Sports Medicine Clinic is no longer estimated at 11 million dollars but at 18.3 million. The reason for the cost increase is not clear.

Something similar happens with the creation of audiovisuals, which appeared in the portfolio for the first time in 2015. Among the offerings still included, which no one seemed to take up, are projects for a national cable television system, an initiative to improve teaching in computer science and audiovisual media, along with the creation of a forum for the production of high definition materials.

The portfolio is not, as many believe, an inventory of what is up for auction on the island, but a list of what has fallen to pieces or that will fail to exist if it doesn’t receive, quickly, the fresh air of foreign capital. Its pages describe the nation’s economic holes and the amounts fixed, along with the conditions imposed, which resound as the request of an arrogant and disturbed beggar.

The Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), where only last week the “first stones” of two industries were laid, maintained its privileged position at the beginning of the document. Some of the projects of that economic enclave are repeats of the offerings from two years ago, without the wave of enthusiasm initially predicted for the desolate site.

The longed-for “plant with clean technology for the assembly and production of a minimum level of light vehicles,” is back on stage, although this time the offer differs from the two previous editions, when it was offered as a joint-venture project. Now the government has chosen to give way and accept that it would be established as an enterprise with wholly foreign capital.

The same change has happened to the project for a plant “with clean and leading edge” technology for producing dinnerware, glasses and cups for the hotel industry. Currently these products are almost entirely imported and supply instabilities plague the tourist sector.

The stagnation in the ZEDM has also affected the mythical plant for glass containers for beverages, medicines and preserved food, with a cost of 70 million dollars. The operation of this industry depends on everything from the production of pharmaceuticals to the manufacture of soft drinks, beer and compotes for children.

In the rest of the country other projects are repeated year after year, among them a proposal for the technological modernization of a slaughter line for 3,000 chickens per hour, as a joint venture; one for rice production in the province of Artemisa; and others for peanut and coffee processing.

Sugar, which broke into the pages of the portfolio in 2014 with the proposal to improve corporate governance in four sugar mills, just reappeared a year later through an overview from the state sugar company Azcuba. After the successive failures of past harvests, it is now proposing the added processing of cane derivatives.

The telecommunications, information technology and communications sector hovers in the portfolio, but without detailing specific projects. The only information that is presented is that “it excludes the form of wholly foreign-owned enterprises in this sector,” a way of maintaining state control over the transfer of information.

In the last pages of the punctilious document the banking and financial sector is mentioned for the first time, but only to present the facilities investors can count on. The text warns, however, that “investment in the capital of 100 percent Cuban financial institutions is excluded, along with the establishment of branches of foreign banks.”

The new portfolio opens an era of expectations. Optimists are confident that the tinkered-with projects will generate some enthusiasm among investors, but they forget that no gesture is made more cautiously than putting one’s hand in one’s pocket. There is no one more difficult to trust with one’s capital than those who have disdained wealth and systematically assaulted the patrimony of foreign owners.

A Lot of Noise and Few Investments / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Entrance to the International Fair of Havana (FIHAV 2016). (14ymedio)
Entrance to the International Fair of Havana (FIHAV 2016). (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 November 2016 — Oggún is one of the orisha warriors of the Yoruba pantheon, but a tractor that bears his name is losing the battle for the Cuban market. The Cleber firm has failed to establish itself in Cuba, although a year ago it was heralded as the vanguard of US investments in the island.

The tractors designed by Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons jumped to the front pages of the newspapers as a symbol of the economic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States. However, at the International Fair of Havana (FIHAV) it has been announced that the project was terminated for not having met “the requirements of technological innovation” required for the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM). Continue reading “A Lot of Noise and Few Investments / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

In the halls of the fair contrasts abound. Officials dressed in impeccable guayaberas smile and encourage the exhibitors to showcase their products. The number of delegations has grown this year and Japan has come with its sophisticated equipment from Panasonic. But one also gets the feeling that the trade event is a useless showcase without concrete results.

What happened with the Oggún tractors recalls other cases in which expectations of doing business on the island have remained intentions or headlines. A situation that contradicts the economic emergency in the country, where the economic growth forecast for this year has fallen below 1% and there is a need to attract foreign capital at a rate of two billion dollars a year.

The process of investment is marked by slowness and timidity. So far, the ZEDM has only laid the first stone of the joint venture to produce Brascuba cigarettes, formed by Brazil’s Souza Cruz company and Cuba’s Tabacuba. If they meet their objectives, it will be the end of 2018 before the industry produces 15 billion cigarettes a year.

Among business groups, frustration and impatience is growing. “They don’t know how to do business, everything goes very slowly and many have become tired of waiting,” a businessman of Cuban origin based in the United States commented outside the ExpoCuba fairgrounds, on one of his occasional visit to Cuba. “I’m about to throw in the towel,” he added.

“They promise a lot, but little has materialized after two years,” he explained, under conditions of anonymity. He notes that he came looking for “something more than words.” After several months of exploring the opportunity to position his firm in the domestic market, the entrepreneur believes that “it is still cheaper and faster to install a factory in Mexico or in Jamaica. What would be the advantage of doing it here?”

In his speech to present the new version of the Business Portfolio, Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, was forced to chase away the fears: “Foreign investment is not a necessary evil, we want it for the country’s development. It is a sovereign decision of Cuba that no one is imposing on us, we are doing it because we are committed.”

However, the ideological discourse of recent weeks has risen in tone and become more belligerent against the US administration. Television alternates reports in which there is talk about investment, businesses and joint ventures, with other material in which capitalism is demonized and the neighbor to the north is accused of “overthrowing” the Cuban system.

“Companies complain, with reason, that the negotiations need to be sped up,” Malmierca admitted to the investors. However, the slowness is also established in Guideline 64 approved by the 8th Communist Party Congress, where it establishes that “who decides is not negotiable” in international economic relations.

The Cuban officials attending FIHAV can appear to be in the best mood, with the widest smiles and business cards filled with responsibilities, but the foreign entrepreneurs know they are powerless intermediaries without the ability to make any decisions. Their task is simply to explore the proposals and generate illusions among the people they speak with.

It is not only bureaucratic sluggishness that makes investors lose momentum. “The dual currency system and the state monopoly over payrolls* are discouraging many people,” a Guatemalan businessman attending FIHAV explained to 14ymedio. “We are not used to not being able to contract directly* with our own personnel,” added the visitor.

The restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States has been one of the main causes of the flood of entrepreneurs who have visited the island in the last two years, but that undeniable push does not constitute a source of permanent energy. Every day that the Cuban government fails to take advantage of the momentum from the rapprochement between the two neighbors, it drags the country towards economic inertia and sinks it in failure.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government acts as the employer in this situation, hiring the workforce, assigning individuals to jobs, and collecting the wages for their work. In exchange for this ‘service’ the government retains a large share of the wage income, passing on only relatively small portion to the workers. International firms are not accustomed to working in an environment where they have no ability to choose their own workers or to motivate them through the incentive of salaries.

A Vaccine Against Populism 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The book 'The Populist Deception' was published this spring by Ediciones Planeta Colombia
The book ‘The Populist Deception’ was published this spring by Ediciones Planeta Colombia

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 24 October 2016 — While it may be considered tacky to reveal the trick with which a circus magician entertains his audience, it is very useful to expose the tricks used by a fraudster to deceive his fellow man. This seems to be the public utility of El engaño populista (The Populist Deception), a book by Axel Kaiser and Gloria Alvarez published this year by Ariel publishers in collaboration with Planeta Colombiana Publishing.

In 15 sections grouped into three chapters, these essays present factual information and philosophical and political arguments in a balanced and convincing way.

The book exposes the populist as a political figure who promises a host of social benefits that can only be provided by an omnipotent state. This will be the paternal state that defends the helpless citizen from the shellfish appetites of capital, and from some external enemy that threatens the sovereignty of the nation. Continue reading “A Vaccine Against Populism 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

In just two hundred pages, the authors describe the state designed from the populist perspective. Like any authoritarian father, it nullifies the individual who tries to differentiate himself. To do this it spreads the obsession for egalitarianism and the idea that all accumulated wealth is the fruit of plundering others. This phenomenon is identified with concrete and contemporary examples. Chile, Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela, and even the Spain proposed by the Podemos Party, find amazing coincidences and common points of departure.

One of the most striking aspects of this book is the definition of the role played by “organic intellectuals” in the process of building and financing populism. The project, developed by Antonio Gramsci (1891-1927), is based on the assumption that intellectuals can construct a cultural hegemony to sensitize the masses and lead them to socialism.

“Twenty-first century socialism” as an antidote to neoliberalism and the strategy developed by the Sao Paulo Forum are identified in this study as populist developments to which we must pay more attention. The roadmap of Latin America’s leftist movements was drawn in the 1990 Forum led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his Workers’ Party of Brazil — he was then president of the Party and later president of the Brazil. Just when socialism seemed definitively buried, the Forum achieved a renewal of thought among the Latin American left.

If The Populist Deception weren’t so obviously apologetic of liberalism as a political doctrine, it could find a wider audience precisely among those deceived by populism. This, at least methodologically, seems to be its weak point. Demonstrating the dichotomy between freedom and security is, in reality, a false dilemma; the real contradiction is between the proposal of a system that promotes happiness and one that ensures the right to achieve it.

The most valuable thesis of this book may be that populists governments concentrate power in the hands of the state, supposedly so it will have the resources to allow it to deliver happiness to its people; meanwhile “the others” create a state of law in which it is assumed that each person may have at therr disposal the resources to build their own personal happiness.

History has shown that populism does not achieve its goals and ultimately poverty and corruption prevail. But contemporary liberalism also has unfinished tasks. The book that would explain this in detail, free of ideological propaganda, remains to be written.

The Thaw Is Upsetting The Penguins / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Video frame at All For A Free Cuba event. Alen Lauzán,
Video frame at All For A Free Cuba event. Alen Lauzán,

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 October 2016 — The thaw between the US and Cuba, which has not yet risen to the level of normalized relations, has been greeted with mixed reactions by the Cuban opposition and independent civil society.

We cannot speak of an extreme polarization, because although the dissenting side registers very sharp tones, with abounding arguments and no lack of insults, the other side has never risen to explicit applause, or at most reaching a pragmatic acceptance of the fait accompli and a search for new strategies in the current scenario.

The recently concluded meeting of All for A Free Cuba gathered in Miami some 30 exile organizations along with guests from the island, with the express purpose of demanding “a real democratic change in Cuba.” The majority of participants disapproved of rapprochement between Washington and Havana, supported the US embargo and is committed to “overthrow the dictatorship of the Castro brothers” through a social explosion. Continue reading “The Thaw Is Upsetting The Penguins / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, Berta Soler, on behalf of the Ladies in White, and Antonio González Rodiles, from the Forum of Rights and Freedoms, all promoters of initiatives based on direct confrontation with the repressive forces of the regime, fraternized there with the crème de la crème of the historical exile, including Cuban-American politicians Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz Balart and Miami mayor Tomas Regalado, all prominent members of the Republican Party and militant opponents of Barack Obama’s policy toward Cuba.

Emphasizing the smallness of the timid reforms undertaken by the government of Raul Castro, this group insists that the change must be “real” and distances itself from the more moderate opposition sector that doesn’t see Obama’s policy as a betrayal of the opponents and aspires to solutions that don’t spill blood, including plebiscites or the use of electoral resources and dialogue with the current government.

Among the arguments most reiterated by the enemies of the thaw is the “increase in repression” that they attribute directly to the supposed “blind eye” of the United States government and the European Union in the face of the arbitrary detentions, beatings, confiscation of resources, threats, police operations to prevent the holding of meetings and other actions. This repression is carried about by troops from the political police, the Communist Party and the “mass organizations.”

However, the apparent relationship of cause and effect between the thaw and the undeniable increase in repression does not necessarily imply fault on the side supporting the thaw. It is worth asking to what extent the repressive temperature would rise if the United States agreed to the demands of the hard-line opposition and strengthened the embargo, promoted increased funding for the most energetic opposition groups and returned to the times when they parachuted arms into the Escambray mountains and promoted military initiatives such as the 2506 Brigade that invaded the Bay of Pigs, through the Central Intelligence Agency.

The whole arsenal of measures implemented today by the government of Raul Castro against opponents would then be seen as lukewarm and the return of the old days of confrontation between the United States and Cuba would bring back the executions, the long prison sentences, the literal beheading of the political opposition and the loss of an opportunity to change something in Cuba peacefully.
And would the US government also be blamed?

The problem with the "thaw" is still being a penguin. Alen Lauzán
The problem with the “thaw” is still being a penguin. Alen Lauzán

The All For A Free Cuba event had among its many merits appearances by musicians and comedians. Among these was the excellent artist Alen Lauzán, who showed some disturbing cartoons where we see penguins in Havana protesting the thaw.

Like any artistic production the images are provocative and polysemic. What is more appropriate in today’s Cuba: to thaw the environment or behave like a penguin?