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?

Book by Che’s Grandson Dissects Bowels of Cuban Reality / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Canek Sanchez Guevara, grandson of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, died at the early age of 40. (Youtube)
Canek Sanchez Guevara, grandson of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, died at the early age of 40. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 9 October 2016 — “The whole country is a broken record” says Canek Sanchez Guevara, grandson of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, on one of the pages of his book 33 Revolutions published posthumously in France this year and recently published under the imprint of Alfaguara. The volume takes a hard look at the Cuban Revolution and the everyday life of the island, where the writer immersed himself after spending his early childhood in Italy, Spain and Mexico.

At the age of 12, Ernesto Guevara’s grandson, son of his eldest daughter Hilda, arrived in his native country and came face to face with a very different reality from what he had imagined in the cradle of an iconic leftist family.” Every day is a repetition of the previous one, every week, month, year; and in the endless repetition the sound is degraded until all that is left is a vague and irreconcilable remembrance of the original audio,” he wrote. Continue reading “Book by Che’s Grandson Dissects Bowels of Cuban Reality / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Canek couldn’t imagine, on arriving on the island, that he was coming to a reality on the verge of abrupt change. In the far off Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev was consolidating Perestroika, while Fidel Castro was arguing for the defensive move of a “rectification of errors and negative tendencies” in which agricultural markets were demonized, and calling to not “build socialism with capitalist measures.”

The guerrilla’s grandson found a country in which “nothing works but it doesn’t matter,” as he described in the pages in 33 Revolutions. This clash between the propaganda and the life on the streets fills the book that he worked on for more than a decade and that only saw the light of day after his premature death, at age 40 due to complications from heart surgery.

A friend of designers, admirer of some songwriters who didn’t even appear in state venues, and immersed deeply in Havana’s nightlife, Canek was a rare specimen of a “daddy’s boy.” If in the clans of the comandantes, the generals and the high officials, everyone focused on getting the greatest perks, the scion of Che’s daughter preferred the shadows, making every effort to pass unnoticed.

He was born in Havana in 1974 and was the fruit of the union of Hilda Guevara Gadea and the Mexican Alberto Sánchez Hernández, a young man from Monterrey who was active in the Armed Communists League and who came to the island after hijacking a plane. Many friends would later joke with Canek about the fact of rebellion being written in his genes… but Cuba was no longer territory for rebels.

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Instead of joining the official choir, the grandson of Che honored his name, which in the Mayan language means “Black Snake,” and slipped silently and without deceit through a Cuba where every door opened at the mere mention of his grandfather’s name. To the powerful, of course, they didn’t like this young man’s fascination with “the underworld,” and with ordinary people without military rank nor biographical feats.

The stories told in 33 Revolutions distill much of what the author confessed in an earlier autobiographical text, dated 2006: “Living in Cuba: I loved and hated as only you can love and hate something valuable, something that is a fundamental part of you.” He would live through the most difficult years of the Special Period on the island, witness the 1994 Rafter Crisis and in 1996 decided to move to Oaxaca, Mexico, where he performed most of his work as a writer, designer and cultural promoter.

Years later, he explained that his departure from Cuba was largely due to “the criminalization of difference,” which took place in his native country, especially the “persecution of homosexuals, hippies, freethinkers, trade unionists and poets,” and the enthronement of the “socialist bourgeoisie (…) fake proletariats,” to which he did not want to belong nor contribute.

This October, the news of the appearance of his book from a Spanish publisher promises to tarnish the hypocrites of the official tributes, who honor his grandfather in Cuba on the occasion of his death on October 9, 1967. The headlines of the official press repeat over and over, ameliorated by the news of hurricane Matthew, the old formulas of “heroic guerrilla” and champion of freedom, which they awarded Guevara de la Serna, “el Che.”

However, it’s enough to walk the streets of Old Havana to see Canek’s Grandpa turned into a tourist fetish, his face stamped on every shirt, ashtray or fake piece of primitive art — memories and dreams for sale. In each bar filled with Americans is heard the chorus, “here it is clear, the treasured transparency of your beloved presence Comandante Che Guevara, remains,” which brings applause and tips, many tips.

It is the musical band of the failure of Utopia. Tired chords repeated over and over again and that the grandson of the controversial guerrilla collects aptly in his book, where the life in Cuba of Fidel Castro was never more than that: “A scratched and dirty record. Millions of scratched and dirty records. His whole life life is a scratched and dirty record. Repetition after repetition, the record scratched by time and filth.“

Site manager’s note: 33 Revolutions is available in English for pre-order; it will be released in 2 days on 11 October 2016. 

Colombians Say ‘No’ To Impunity / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Colombians react after hearing the results of the plebiscite on Sunday in Bogota. (EFE / L. Muñoz)
A Colombian reacts after hearing the results of the plebiscite on Sunday in Bogota. (EFE / L. Muñoz)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 October 2016 — Encouraged by international support and the consensus of governments that support the agreements to achieve peace in Colombia, most of the media and experts predicted that the “Yes” side would win Sunday’s plebiscite. The results, however, have caused a shock in the region and a real earthquake on the front pages of newspapers.

Some 50.2% of voters opted for “No” against 49.8% who inclined to “Yes.” Although it is a small difference and was affected by a high rate of abstentions — more than 60% — it shows that Colombians disagree with the terms of the negotiations and the results of the talks that have been taking place for years in Havana.

The long-awaited peace is now in a very difficult situation in which everything depends on what the signatories to the rejected agreement do or don’t do. Continue reading “Colombians Say ‘No’ To Impunity / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

At this point, the pact needs to be revised under new principles. Some of these have already been set out by President Juan Manuel Santos in his first speech after learning of the failure of the plebiscite. The president has offered to maintain the bilateral ceasefire and revitalized his commitment not to give up until peace is achieved

Among the competing opinions explaining what happened, no one suggests that the rejection of the agreement is because the voters see it as too favorable to the government and too damaging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Quite the contrary, the negative feedback is based, among other things, on the belief that the guerrillas received too many prerogatives and indulgences.

Those who opted for “No” reproach Santos for giving the guerrillas the same legitimacy as the state and for granting impunity in order to convert them to a political force.

The results seriously damage the guerrillas’ dreams of recycling themselves as a political party without having to pay for their crimes.

The question everyone is now asking is what is going to happen after the adverse outcomes to the agreement. The FARC have not surrendered their weapons, but have taken steps difficult to reverse. They are a failed guerrilla movement, with no future and with little popularity.

The lesson for us this Sunday is that people do not seem willing to pay any price for peace, especially if the cost includes renouncing their desire for justice.

Among the losers of this plebiscite are also the entire international community and, in particular, the Government of Cuba, which was not only a neutral guarantor but a driver of the demands of the guerrillas. Raul Castro convinced the FARC Commander in Chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known as Timochenco, to yield in some respects and promised the government negotiators that the FARC leader would honor the pact. This Sunday Colombians have also voted against Cuba’s general-president.

Deciding to Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Brochure with the content of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Manuel Diaz Mons)
Brochure with the content of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Manuel Diaz Mons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 September 2016 – If there is something it is difficult to disagree with the Cuban government about, it is the permanent defense of the people’s right to decide the economic, political and social system that suits them. This principle is put forward in every international forum attended by official representatives from the island, and is shared by the majority of civilized nations.

In parallel, above all within Cuba, there is an intense campaign to fight any intention to change the existing regime in the country. Clearly, if the intentions to change “the existing regime” come from another nation and are contrary to the legitimate interests of the people, resistance to change is absolutely valid. Continue reading “Deciding to Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The question is whether that sacred right of the people “to decide” includes the option to “change” the system, regardless of whether the proposed changes coincide partly or completely, with some external proposal.

The first historical example in the case of Cuba was the change that occurred in the early twentieth century when we replaced the colonial regime, which subjected the people’s will to the will of the Spanish metropolis, to a new system in which the island became a Nation, established as a Republic. That change, imperfect, incomplete, truncated, responded on the one had to the popular will and on the other hand to the interests of a foreign nation, the United States of America.

The second example was the regime change proclaimed in April of 1961 when Cuba became “the first socialist country in the Western Hemisphere.” That substantial modification, which had not appeared clearly indicated on the revolutionary program that overthrew the brief dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, was only submitted to citizen consultation, through a vote, 15 years later, when there was no private property left in Cuba, no entity of civil society, no independent press media and only one permitted political party.

The millions of Cubans who, with their secret and direct vote, approved the 1976 Constitution, where the new social regime was enshrined, which also coincided with the interests of a foreign nation, the Soviet Union, to support the presence of socialism “under the noses of imperialism.” The USSR did not hesitate to offer everything: food, arms, troops, oil, credits and whatever diplomatic and political support needed.

At the turn of the years to socialism in Cuba, the Republic passed away. Although no one had baptized it pseudo-socialism or mediated socialism, it has been necessary to add an “our,” at the risk of committing the revisionists’ sin.

That system approved by popular vote 40 years ago does not greatly resemble what is described today in successive guidelines issued by the only legally permitted party, but the changes introduced have only been discussed with the party membership and other representatives of certain previously chosen institutions.

Among the possible commonalities between the Party Guidelines and the interests of foreign nations, say China or the countries of the ALBA bloc, could be a sterile exercise of political speculation, especially in a globalized world where almost no country enjoys total freedom to dictate laws while turning its back on the interests of the rest of the planet.

The right of Cubans to maintain the regime is only legitimate if their right to change it is also recognized. The desire for uniqueness, the obsessive vocation of not resembling the other, of not coinciding with the interests of anyone, would be a difficult caprice to satisfy and an impossible one to pay.

Addressing regime change now, introducing changes to the regime or leaving everything as it is, requires a prior exchange of opinions and a subsequent approval. Only if there is freedom to debate and guarantees of a free vote, would it respect the sacrosanct right of the Cuban people to decide which system they wants to live under.

Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Video: Police search of Cubalex: breaking open the gate.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 September 2016 – The headquarters of the independent legal group Cubalex, this weekend, lacked the hectic bustle of the many users who normally flock to the site for legal advice, especially the families of inmates who come with thick folders of documents, appeals and demands.

When the attorney Laritza Diversent received us for this interview, the furniture had not been put back in place after an intense search that left everything “upside down” and, on the table, lay the shattered remains of a door latch, as physical proof of forced entry.

See also: Police Burst Into Cubalex Headquarters and Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment

The psychological scars are fresh among team members of this organization, threatened with a legal process and forced to strip naked during the search. However, on Sunday the legal work resumed its course, thanks to the solidarity of other members of civil society who provided two computers. A few papers comprise the first evidence of a case that will demand time and expertise from Cubalex: their own complaint against the authorities who seized their belongings but could not stop their work.

14ymedio. What was the point of the raid against Cubalex?

Diversent. There were parallel purposes. On the one hand there were the architectural changes made on this house, where they were looking for the slightest violation of planning regulations. For example, they fixated on a bathroom that we put under the stairs as a service to the public. At the same time they wanted to monitor our work as an organization that provides legal services to the population. Continue reading “Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

14ymedio. Who participated in the police search?

Diversent. The prosecutor Beatriz Peña of Oz, the Attorney General of the Republic, at the head of about 20 people. Among them, a doctor, an employee of the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Juan Carlos, who led the operation from his status as an officer of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), another prosecutor of the province and an instructor called Doralis, who made the list of the equipment that was seized.

They also brought experts who took photos, a videographer who was filming everything, and other computer experts. They had several officials from State Security, two uniformed police officers and other MININT officials wearing the uniform typical of prison guards; a representative from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), another of the Institute of Physical Planning and another from the Ministry of Justice.

Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)
Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)

14ymedio. Why was there a representative of the ONAT present?

Diversent. It was justified with the assumption that we are undertaking an activity defined as ‘self-employment’, that we are providing a service for which we are supposedly charging people, without having the necessary permit. We explained to them in every possible way that we are a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides a free social service, but they acted as if we hadn’t made that clear.

14ymedio. Why a repressive act of this nature at this time and against a peaceful group?

Diversent. It is very difficult to find the reasons for this action, which can be described as unconscionable. But it can be attributed to what we have done. First, our attempts to achieve the legalization of our organization, Cubalex. We have also filed complaints against official institutions such as the General Customs of the Republic, saying that books and other belongings have been seized from us at the airport without justification. That complaint we have taken to court. We have also made a policy proposal to the Communist Party of Cuba to change the electoral law.

14ymedio. So you think that is a response to these actions?

Diversent. You would have to ask them. As citizens we believe we have the right to make proposals and we have the right to participate in the social and political life of the country in which we live.

14ymedio. Did you resist the police officers who were entering the premises?

Diversent. The “resolution to enter the home” – the warrant – to undertake the search said that they were looking for “objects of illicit origin,” but it didn’t specify which ones. The law establishes that this detail must be clarified, so I denied them entrance and invoked the right to inviolability of one’s home. However, they broke the lock on the outer gate and also the one on the main door to the house.

The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises.(14ymedio)
The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises. (14ymedio)

14ymedio. The law also specifies that the search must be made with at least two members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution [local watchdogs] as witnesses. Was that requirement met?

Diversent. The witnesses were two members of the party nucleus in the zone, who did not behave as impartial witnesses, but as partners in the operation. To the extent that they sometimes suggested to MINIT officials where they needed to search, and they constantly used the term “we” with the sense of being a part of the operation, far from their supposed function as impartial witnesses. One of them was more than 85-years-old and boasted of being an unblemished revolutionary.

14ymedio. What was the final outcome of the search?

Diversent. They seized four laptops and five desktop PCs, including a server, and three multifunctional printers. In addition they took hard drives, memory sticks, cameras and all the cell phones were taken.

14ymedio. What has been the reaction of other independent groups to this search?

Diversent. Almost all the entities of civil society have expressed their solidarity.

14ymedio. Could the information seized pose a risk to you?

Diversent. More than 200 case files that we are working were taken, many of them regarding inmates anxious to see some improvement in their status as prisoners. There is a risk that these people, in exchange for any advantage in their prison regimen, might declare something that hurts us, such as that we charge for our services. But that is in the realm of speculation.

14ymedio. What is the worst thing that could happen?

Diversent. We are very concerned because they have made specific threats against us, such as that so far this is an administrative matter but that it could become another type of process.

14ymedio. Are you thinking of not continuing the work you have been doing?

Diversent. No. Rather, what happened encourages us to keep doing what we do.

Non-Aligned Summit Avoids Condemning North Korean Nuclear Test / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Moment of approval of the Declaration of Margarita, at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. (@MNOAL_Venezuela)
Moment of approval of the Declaration of Margarita, at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. (@MNOAL_Venezuela)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 September 2016 – The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) ended this Sunday on the Venezuelan island of Margarita with commitments to the sovereignty of each country and a call for unilateral corrective measures. The work of the meeting urged the elimination of “weapons of mass destruction” but avoided admonishing North Korea for its recent nuclear tests.

With little political influence in the international arena, the NAM has crossed the threshold of six decades of existence with its importance in check. Born at a time of strong geopolitical and ideological conflicts, in the midst of the Cold War, the bloc has failed to maintain its intended neutrality and several of its nation members have ended up developing economic and political alliances with more than one “superpower.” Continue reading “Non-Aligned Summit Avoids Condemning North Korean Nuclear Test / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

However, the biggest setback for the organization, which includes half the world’s population, is having turned a blind eye at several transcendent moments in its history. The most notable of these was not strongly condemning the Soviet Union’s armed intervention in Afghanistan, which joined NAM in 1961, early in its existence.

This oversight was most striking during the 6th Summit, held in Havana in 1979, when Fidel Castro was named president of the movement. The presence of occupation troops from the Kremlin continued to 1989, but the leader of the organization never made any gesture of disapproval.

This September the silence has been repeated, in complicity with one of NAM’s most fractious members. At the summit, held in the Venezuelan Caribbean to which 120 member countries were invited, no pronouncement was made on the nuclear test recently conducted by the Pyongyang regime.

The Non-Aligned Movement has not only looked the other way as famine and lack of rights has affected the North Korean people, but has also been silent about the danger posed by the more than 20 nuclear bombs and almost a thousand ballistic missiles of different types that have reached the hands of Kim Jong-Un. The Movement did not make a forceful statement against the only country that has tested weapons of mass destruction in this millennium, though it dedicated considerable time demanding “peaceful settlement of disputes and refraining from the threat or use of force.”

NAM now proposes a “refounding” of the United Nations that seeks to expand the Security Council and to transform of the workings of the international organization. But with such oversights and its history of double standards it is difficult to promote a more democratic global and effective entity.

Instead, it could bring to the United Nations the same convenient blindness that it has been practiced for decades.

Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 September 2016 – Limits on property tenure and wealth accumulation are prominent in discussions about the documents issued by the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). “The Talibans” – as the hardliners are often referred to – demand precision and the entrepreneurs also need it, for different reasons, to understand the subjective opinion of the local overlord who is going to determine whether someone has become too prosperous.

With only 15 days left to complete the analysis of the Conceptualization of the Bases* of the National Development Plan, issued by the congress, these documents have been discussed only by “the membership of the party and the Young Communists Union, and representatives of mass organizations** and large sectors of society.” Continue reading “Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

In December, if the deadlines are met, a plenary session of the PCC Central Committee will put the final touches on the these directives, perhaps with some modifications or additions. The principles that govern the country’s economic activities in the coming decades will not have been subjected to the scrutiny of a significant number of citizens.

This Monday one of these debates took place with several district delegates selected from the Santa Clara’s People’s Council. According to the official newspaper Granma, among the most debated topics was Paragraph 104 of the Conceptualization, which rejects the idea of “the concentration of property and wealth in natural or legal persons.”

As the official Party organ, Granma usually chooses with care the opinions it publishes, and in this case it published the opinion of several delegations about “the need to define how far it will allow this phenomenon [tenure of property and wealth] to go, and the imperative of defining limits.” Others called for “strict supervision by the competent bodies, with their control system to prevent the proliferation of new rich in Cuba.”

Such fears are consistent with the implementation of a new measure where it is stipulated those receiving monthly salaries exceeding 500 Cuban pesos (CUP, about $20 US) must make a special contribution of 5% to Social Security. A decision that also includes workers at state enterprise earning up to 5,000 CUP (about $200 US), who will have to also pay a personal income tax of 3%.

However, a self-employed person who has a personal net income of 60,000 CUP a year (an average of 5,000 per month) faces a tax rate of 50%. This is a clear obstacle to the development of private entrepreneurs, which the government has had to tolerate given the economic collapse of the country, but against whom it maintains a stubborn animosity.

Following the recent closed-door discussions, it is probable that the limits of wealth concentration in the hands of Cuban citizens will be defined with more precision. It is very likely that when the definition is written precedence will be given to the voices insisting “this is and will remain a Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.”

With this thundering no one can sleep, grow or prosper. If, given that a successful entrepreneur who manages to earn the equivalent of about $200 US a month will be placed on the top of the food chain and pay the highest tax rates, what can be expected from the corrective they will reserve for those who start a small or medium sized business?

During the five years in which the Guidelines from the Sixth Communist Party Congress were in effect, Point 3 of the economic management model was designed to prevent the concentration of property. Some analysis suggested this point would be eased in the Seventh Congress, but instead it was strengthened by adding the word “wealth.”

A superficial glance could lead to the conclusion that those incapable of creating, moved by envy, want to tie the hands of those who through risk, imagination and personal effort put their goals above the prosperity managed by the generosity of a paternalistic and controlling state. Surely there are better arguments to explain these blunders.

Translator’s notes:
*“Base” in this context refers to what in other, non-totalitarian contexts, would be called the “grassroots,” that is Party organizations at the local level.
**”Mass organizations” refers only to government controlled entities such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the University Students Federation (FEU), and so on.

Complicated Law, Easy Cheat / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A personal income tax is imposed when the monthly salary reaches 2,500 Cuban pesos (Approximately $100 US). (GNTB)
A personal income tax is imposed when the monthly salary reaches 2,500 Cuban pesos (Approximately $100 US). (GNTB)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Esconar, Havana, 8 September 2016 — The news that starting in October personal income taxes will be introduced along with a Special Contribution to Social Security has raised all kinds concerns among workers in the Cuban state enterprise system.

Prejudices solidly grounded in tradition and personal experience have raised fears that, the less understandable the measure is, the more chances there are to make mistakes and, therefore, for injustices to occur. The most widespread complaint is that salaries already are not enough to live on and any deductions from them will mean a loss of vital benefits, that is food or personal hygiene supplies for one’s family. Continue reading “Complicated Law, Easy Cheat / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The argument put forth by Meisi Bolaños Weis, vice minister of the Ministry of Finance and Prices, is that thanks to this contribution people “will receive direct or indirect benefit in the medium and/or short-term, through the Social Security System,” but this does not satisfy those so far have opted to work longer to receive direct benefits immediately.

The Special Social Security Contribution (CESS) consists of a fixed tax rate of 5%. It applies to all those working in the state enterprise system who earn more than 500 Cuban pesos a month (about $20 US), provided that this amount falls under one of the following: a) additional payment from enterprise’s budget, b) implementation of pay for performance, c) distribution of profits as a stimulus for business efficiency.

Anyone with a calculator handy will notice that a worker who earns 501 Cuban pesos in a month only receives 474.95 after the 5% for social security is taken out, a reduction of 25.05 Cuban pesos, for having earned 1 peso more than 500. In the event a person earns 525 Cuba pesos, they get 474 pesos and will be losing 26.25.

Obviously Cuban employees will be watching that their salaries don’t exceed these ranges, because, paradoxically, from now on to take home 500 Cuban pesos a person must earn at least 535 pesos.

In the case of other taxes on personal income (SIP), under the provisions of the Tax System Law 113 the proceeds will go to the budgets of the municipalities in which the companies are located, paying for healthcare, education, public lighting and other services.

Thus, if the worker does not live in the municipality where he or she works, as is common, especially in Havana, they will not benefit directly from their contributions. They will not enjoy the improvements in infrastructure and services that they have helped to pay for.

According to the official figure, the average salary in the state sector today is around 779 Cuban pesos a month, but the ISIP is only applied at approximately three times this figure, starting at 2,500 Cuban pesos, where the earner will pay 3%, while those making more than 5,000 Cuban pesos will pay 5%. All those contributing are subject to an additional 5% for the CESS.

It is notable that the application of these new tax collections are not explicitly reflected in the Guidelines of the 7th Communist Party Congress, where mention of the issue is limited to generalities relating to perfecting the tax system.

Now everyone is paying attention, because work hours and earnings of this month will be reflected in October, when the taxes will begin to be levied. The only good news is that to pay the taxes you will not have register on some site or stand in line at the bank, the company will kindly deduct the contributions on the day you are paid.

The emblematic Cuban ability to find a way to cheat for every new law will be tested with this new provision.