The Perseverance of ’Cuba Posible’

Roberto Veiga and Lenier González started the project with Espacio Laical in 2005. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 September 2018 — The civil society project Cuba Posible (Possible Cuba) will continue its work despite the attempts of the Cuban government to strangle it, the misunderstandings with the Catholic Church, and the suspicions of the most radical sectors of the opposition, according to comments its two principle managers made to this newspaper.

Roberto Veiga and Lenier González, director and deputy director of Cuba Posible respectively, started this initiative under the aegis of the Catholic Church in 2005, when both assumed responsibility for the Espacio Laical (Lay Space) magazine, which, more than a religious publication in print and digital form, functioned for a decade as a “zone of tolerance for political debate.”

This was possible, as Veiga explains, because it occurred “in the middle of the process of dialogue between the Church and the Government, which was not only sponsored by the Bishops’ Conference, but also by the Vatican.” continue reading

In a retrospective look at its origins, the director of Cuba Posible recalls that “at that time the process of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States was also taking place (although it was not yet public) and the European Union was already in discussions to withdraw its “Common Position“, which had been in effect since 1996.

One reason that Veiga suggests for the government’s tolerance of this project is that “perhaps it was one of those gestures that are usually made in this type of process, where it is important to build trust between the interlocutors.”

Among these shifting borders, Cuba Posible proposed from the beginning to open its doors to the greatest plurality possible to promote internal political trust and to open the debate about building bridges.

This debate took place on very important issues, including the constitutional reform, the education system, relations with the Cuban diaspora, the role of the Army and other issues that crossed the borders of the digital magazine, or on paper, until they managed to organize events with the presence of a very diverse public, on some occasions, or only with invited guests, on others.

But it was not, as is believed, a bed of roses. “Even in that initial moment the project suffered from the most orthodox sector of the Government ‘disqualifying’ it — that is refusing to recognize it — and, although it hurt us, there were also many misunderstandings within the Church, which took shape in June 2014, when we confirmed our request to resign from the management of Espacio Laical. We offered our resignations as a response to the indications that we should reduce what was identified as our excessive political profile,” Veiga acknowledges.

In the current situation, that dialogue between the Government and the Church, where they talked not only about political prisoners but also about the economy and international relations, is a thing of the past. The little progress made in improving relations between Cuba and the United States has been reversed, but not only because of Trump’s arrival at the White House. The reversal started with the end of Obama’s visit to the island.

Lenier González adds: “There was a decade of relative tolerance that coincides with the ten years of Espacio Laical and the first two of Cuba Posible where the aforementioned circumstances occur, plus the presence of Raúl Castro at the head of the Government.”

González thinks that for Raúl Castro this type of project was perhaps something small, of little importance. “That is why the transfer of power accelerated the conflict towards Cuba Posible,” he says.

The first public attacks on the project occurred even before Obama’s visit. Since then, the arguments with which the government usually attacks appeared, not only against its most bitter opponents, but even against those who depart slightly from the official line. All are accused of: belonging to the CIA, subversion, foreign financing, intentions to destabilize the country and all the charges that contribute to the execution of a reputation.

Lenier González recalls that in these dramatic moments several events happened, including a meeting of the rector of the University of Havana with all the deans and the faculty. He used his authority to report that this was a CIA project. We know that one of those present told him that such a serious accusation required proof and the rector’s response was: “You have to trust in the Revolution,” he says.

Roberto Veiga is not the kind of person who wants to forge a reputation as a hero. “What made it possible for Cuba Posible to continue working was the number and quality of collaborators we had at that time, both inside and outside the country, which allowed us to continue independently with our programs, each one of which had several concentric circles of collaborators and where the closest ones had a higher level of commitment,” he says.

He is referring to the programs for Fraternity (socio-cultural issues), Zero Poverty (socio-economic), Decent Work (socio-labor), Agora (socio-political) and Orb (international) programs.

With the expression of negative opinions, the work of Cuba Posible was criminalized. “In a vast operation of intimidation they visited all the universities, research centers, communication institutions in the country, to explain why no one could collaborate with us. As a result, some of those collaborators that we had were in the situation of having to abandon us, although others refused to comply with those orders,” says Roberto Veiga.

In the last nine months, all those who resisted have been expelled from their workplaces and few remain in the country. “Even though they do not blame us for their situation, we feel we have an enormous responsibility,” says Veiga. “Even worse has been the case of those who work in provincial centers, where everything has been more oppressive.”

“They were people who, for the most part, never intended to break with the system, some of them militants of the Young Communists Union who have been removed from the organization, even against the opinion of their Base Committee. This creates a difficult situation with their family and in their neighborhood, so because they are professionals with good contacts abroad they opted to leave.”

“The first and second circle of collaborators remain intact, they are people who, despite receiving tempting offers abroad, have decided to stay in the country collaborating with Cuba Posible, although now they have to work under new conditions, especially because they are subject to a process of destabilization, of disarticulation, of strangulation.”

The attacks were perceived by the members of the project as isolated actions of the government’s most dogmatic sector, but in February of last year Miguel Díaz-Canel, still a vice president, acknowledged that he had given the order to cut off all avenues of financing to Cuba Posible. “We confirmed then,” says Veiga, “that it was an official position, which, paradoxically, had more immediate impact on institutions abroad than among our collaborators on the island.”

Lenier González points out that in the summer of 2017 the strategy was coordinated and a strong public offensive was made, focused on the debate on “centrism” where “they launched their battleships to give the impression that this would be the end of Cuba Posible.

The decision of González and Veiga to continue working “irritated them a lot” and, also, created a dilemma for those responsible for Cuba Posible.

“All this led us to believe that the most responsible thing we could do was to decree the closure of Cuba Posible because we were harming our collaborators where a majority wanted to maintain a positive position within the system, because they longed for the evolution of the system without reaching a rupture. Some with more moderation and others with less. Their continuing to work on Cuba Posible led to a break with those who did not want to break, people who enjoyed what they did in the institutions where they worked and we had a responsibility to those people.”

“We have a responsibility to the country, to our collaborators and to our families, which is why Cuba Posible is not going to close down, we will not even stop and then restart. Without stopping work we will create the conditions to continue existing in the midst of this lack of clarity.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Prologue to “La Grieta”

La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 September 2018 — A quarter of a century ago, when I met Reinaldo Escobar, there were at least two obsessions around which his life revolved. The first was to try to continue doing journalism despite having been expelled from the official media, and the other was this novel, a biographical exorcism that he wrote with an almost monastic discipline.

That process of typing, on his sonorous Adler machine, the experiences accumulated in more than two decades of working in the press controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was happening at a time when the country was falling into the abyss of the economic crisis after the collapse of the socialist camp. So the sheets were filled amid the blackouts, shortages and long hours on an empty stomach.

After his expulsion from the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, Escobar had tried all sorts of occupations – providing material for a second novel – on a downward slide that found its parallel in the fall being experienced on the island. He worked as a proofreader in the National Library, where they sent him as punishment for the critical insolence of his articles, texts that, read in the light of today, produce more shame than pride, he confesses. continue reading

In the library galleries full of volumes, the journalist found a long list of censored books, met other punished individuals, and even signed a letter of protest against the agreements of the Fourth Congress of the PCC. That new boldness cost him another administrative warning that convinced him to distance himself from any state workplace where he toiled with the volatile material of words and ideas.

Thus he became an elevator mechanic, the job he had when he wrote the first page of this novel starring his alter ego Antonio Martínez. Thus, that original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts. He hoped that after reading it they would come to rescue him from his forced “pajama plan”*.

That original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts

That character of accusation was lost as he added paragraphs where he verified, with each passage, that he, too, had been responsible for the construction of the mirage of the Cuban Revolution. Another conviction began to surface with each written syllable: the censors who had expelled him from the official press had given him the gift of a charter of freedom to do the journalism he had always dreamed of. Rather than suing them, he almost had to thank them.

Overcoming that first desire to display his innocence, Escobar concentrated on narrating the events that took him from a desk in the School of Journalism to a greasy cab where he adjusted the mechanism of an old elevator, while the neighbors shouted at him to get it working as soon as possible and a brigade leader looked with scorn on that reporter fallen into disgrace.

It was a journey from the summit to the abyss, from being a reliable compañero to a dissident. The descent from the cloud of privileges, to the stinking hole of the counterrevolutionaries. In short, letter by letter, he wove the story of the journey to the infernos of real socialism and the lowest of its circles, where the renegades wander, persecuted by insults and reprisals.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts. His intention was never to transform into literature the uneasy journey of a communicator, but to make the fiction boil over with objectivity and to bear a part of those words that he had not been able to sneak into the national press.

The writing of this journey from revolutionary faith to apostasy began when the Berlin Wall had already fallen and the Soviet Union had dismembered itself without even one of those proletarians of the red flag doing anything to prevent it. The events surrounding Reinaldo Escobar fit the predictions ventured by Antonio Martinez while listening from the press room, as the cracks of the Cuban system opened.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts

 Completing each chapter became a struggle against the clock, driven by the mistaken feeling that Castroism was living its final years and this novel must be finished before the system that condemned its author to ostracism expired. It was the little victory of the ousted journalist: to sketch some letters of what would be the collective epitaph of a chimera.

The exercise demanded more than bravery. He suffered so many interruptions, especially those stemming from the numerous friends who filled his apartment in search of a space of freedom in that suffocating Cuba of the nineties, that in order to concentrate on his work he locked himself in a room for weeks, leaving a warning sign the he needed “absolute tranquility.” The message was in vain, because in Havana, in 1993, peace was as scarce as food.

In this context, La Grieta (The Crack) – which at that time carried the significant title Pages from the Pit – had to deal not only with the obstacles imposed by a disintegrating everyday life, but also with surveillance. Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

Finally that unwanted “guardian angel” learned from other sources that there was a novel under development, something that sealed the fate of that first version, typed without copies. In May of 1994, when the author traveled for the first time outside of Cuba, bound for Berlin, his name echoed on the loudspeakers of the José Martí International Airport. A uniformed man confiscated the novel he was trying to get out of the island.

All that Escobar has left from that seizure is an official document in which the General Customs of the Republic provides a receipt for having seized some “some sheets with writing typed by machine” (sic). Later, in front of the first computer he had touched in his life, lent to him by a friend in Frankfurt, he began the hard task of trying to remember the novel that had been taken from him. From this effort of memory, the current text was born.

Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

With the need to, once again, put in black and white the book that had been finished, the author decided to reshape the whole plot. He applied the scissors with great daring, decided to use the real names of most of the characters which, in the first version, he had changed for discretion, and present the protagonist with less heroism and more guilt.

The rewriting of La Grieta took more than two decades. During this time, Escobar could not hang a “do not disturb” sign to fully immerse himself in his endeavor, but rather was battered by the hurricane winds of life. His work as an independent journalist, which began with a collaboration with The Guardian in January 1989, led to several unsettling situations.

The Black Spring of 2003 arrived and the author watched as several colleagues were condemned to long prison terms and Fidel Castro tightened the repressive screws of the system. At that time, not even a memory was left what had been experienced in the years when the winds of Glasnost were blowing over Cuba and many had opted to create a press more attached to reality.

The majority of those reporters, editors and photographers who, influenced by the Soviet Perestroika, had tried to publish on the national plane more critical reports, bolder columns or more daring images, had ended up emigrating, or had locked themselves in self-censorship or had made the leap to independent journalism where they played with their own freedom every day.

The story of Antonio Martínez took on other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor. A Cuban who had gone through the stages of fascination, and then doubt, to rejection. His life was a testimony of disenchantment.

The story of Antonio charged other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor.

The pressures of reality on the fiction he was writing shaped La Grieta as a map of disenchantment, which marked the path followed by a young man who hoped to make an authentically revolutionary journalism and ended up being labeled as an “enemy.” As they peruse its pages, readers will go through different stages with respect to the protagonist; sometimes they will be sympathetic and at others they will want to insult him for harboring so much naiveté.

The author has not wanted to misrepresent those illusions, nor to present himself as someone who always knew that the communist utopia was impracticable and that underneath the false slogans of a system for the humble, the hidden reality was the construction of a calculated totalitarianism. Instead of the cynical look that his later experiences might have given him, Escobar prefers to assemble Martinez’s character with his real elements of ingenuousness.

That gullibility, shared by millions of Cubans during the first years of the Revolution, is what leads the protagonist to want to use his journalism to show what is working badly, in order to fix and rectify it. At the beginning, he falls into the trap of thinking that the greatest problems were derived from an incorrect application of the doctrine and not from the system itself.

In his dreams, he imagined that he would run into someone from the nomenklatura to whom he could explain the damage that bureaucrats and extremists caused the Revolution by distorting its precepts when putting them into practice. He speculated that if he could manage to explain to the leaders the inconsistencies between the proposed goal and the path that was being taken to reach it, surely the course could be corrected.

An attitude that repeats in his romantic life, in which he tirelessly seeks a love that fits the ideal mold that has been shaped from the borrowing of verses from Vicente Huidobro, the opinions of his mother, and the idea of an inseparable compañera from official propaganda. That passionate fantasy also ends – at least in the novel – shattered against the sharp rocks of reality. 

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially. Opportunism, indolence and even radicalism are some of the obligatory covers for the political carnival of which he is a part. Sometimes he can see the face beneath those masks and he feels the urgent desire to flee in terror.

Although La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. One in which the dilemma of whether to put butter or mayonnaise on the bread of the workers’ snacks encapsulates the dilemma between the freedom of opinion and the militant discipline that the regime expects from its employees.

Untimely questions, misguided sincerity, excessive self-criticism and the desire to improve society from the pages of newspapers are setting Antonio Martínez apart. With keenness, the censors notice the danger that exists in an individual who has swallowed the speeches delivered from the podiums. His end is defined as soon as they recognize a true believer.

This novel, for all that, is a description of a professional and social suicide. The precise narration of how the flame of a utopia burned the wings of a generation of Cubans, with the consent and approval of many of them. Reinaldo Escobar, who burned in that fire, has had the courage to tell the story.

*Translator’s note: “Pajama plan” is a common Cuban euphemism for the status of public employees forced out of their positions for political reasons.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Government Demands More Fidelity and Less Ability From Journalism Students

The Faculty of Communication is one of the most demanded by students. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 September 2018 – High school students who aspire to enter the University to train as journalists will no longer have to demonstrate the high academic achievement required in the past. As of the next academic year, 2019-2020, simply passing the entrance exams and “aptitude test” will be sufficient, according to the official press.

René Sánchez, Director of Admissions and Employment Placement for the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) confirmed in a press conference that the candidates for a place in journalism programs will be “selected by a rigorous process that demonstrates the necessary skills for this specialty and commitment with the best traditions of that profession in Cuba,” the so-called “aptitude test” that has existed for years.

The novelty is that, after having succeeded in this peculiar examination which traditionally evaluated a knowledge of history, the ability to write and the ideological fidelity to the system; they will have “pre-earned the career, and they will only have to pass the entrance exams to register, that is, they will not fill out an application or compete for the major.” continue reading

The parameters that will be measured in the aptitude tests are outlined in a note recently published by Adelante newspaper in the province of Camagüey that promotes “exchanges” identified as “vocational training spaces” organized by the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) where applicants to the profession can study to pass the aptitude tests.

According to this provincial media the exchanges will take place from late September to mid-October in the Camagüey Press Center to train for three phases of the aptitude test called “general culture,” “writing and understanding” and “the interview,” with the understanding that the latter will not be the submission of a work of journalism, but an interview which the applicant will face to be accepted.

The president of the National Journalism Careers Commission, Maribel Acosta, told this newspaper in a telephone interview that the aptitude tests will be what establishes acceptance into the journalism department, according to the plan of places awarded.

“At the moment we are trying to clarify with the MES whether the aptitude tests are going to be centralized or decentralized,” Acosta added. In the latter case, each study center will hold its own exams, but if they continue to be centralized, they will be carried out by the Commission and will be the same day and at the same time throughout the country.

When the new measure takes effects, students who apply will not have to obtain outstanding grades in the entrance exams or have a high grade point average accumulated in three years of high school.

Over the last 30 years, the Bachelor of Journalism had been at the top of the pyramid of aspirations for university degrees, and for that reason and due to the ranking system based on the academic performance that has prevailed, only high school graduates with grades higher than 95 or 97 points could be admitted to this discipline, after having passed a supplemental proficiency test.

“This faculty has been considered as a kind of elite to which only the brightest high school graduates are admitted. Now the most docile, the most ‘politically correct’ will enter and that will be good news for those who direct the press in this country,” a young student of the first year of the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana commented to 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

Marlon, 16, a high school sophomore in Havana, considers the measure favorable because, in his opinion, “the materials that are measured in the entrance tests do not define the quality of a journalist, who must have more than skills for writing or oral expression.” The young person maintains that “this eases the way for many people who have journalistic vocation but who did not get good scores on the examinations.”

In other more sensitive careers such as medicine or teaching many young people have managed to enter with average grades and very low scores on entrance exams, because of the country’s urgent need for doctors and teachers, the first to sustain the government’s profitable business of selling their services abroad on the so-called “medical missions,” and the second to cover the deficit of teachers.

The Higher Institute of International Relations (ISRI) and the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) are the other careers that require their applicants to take an aptitude test. In the case of the ISA, this test is related to the necessary skills that an artist must assume, for dance, theater, music or visual arts, but in ISRI and journalism the ideology aspect is of higher importance, such that the “aptitudes” tested are translated into “attitudes.”

These new measures is going to be applied after the last Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) and on the eve of a Press Law still to be enacted.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Journalist Reinaldo Escobar Wins the 2018 Verbum Novel Prize

Reinaldo Escobar worked on the creation of ‘La Grieta’ for a quarter of a century. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 August 2018 — Journalist Reinaldo Escobar’s work, La Grieta*, won the 2018 Iberianamerican Verbum Novel Prize. The results of the contest were announced this Monday and its organizers reported that 507 authors participated and there were five finalist.

Escobar, editor-in-chief of 14ymedio, was awarded the prize for “the narrative maturity with which he tackles the chronicle of disenchantment for an entire generation of Cubans,” and “the subtle irony that manages to raise a smile and the delicate game of mirrors that fuses reality and fiction.”

“I’ve been working for a quarter of a century on this novel, writing and rewriting its pages,” Escobar said, on hearing of the award. “It is a testimony that I hope will transcend me as an individual and represent thousands of Cubans who lived similar experiences.” continue reading

La Grieta tells the story of Antonio Martínez, a young man who entered the School of Journalism at the end of the ’60s with the illusion of entering the profession during a time of new airs of freedom. Two decades later he ends up expelled from the newspaper where he works and stigmatized as an enemy who will not be allowed to exercise his profession in any other media.

The novel’s first typed version, without copies, was completed in 1994 but was confiscated by State Security at the Havana airport when Escobar tried to take it out of the country. A quarter of a century later, the novel is seeing the light reconstructed by memory and enriched by the author’s experience.

The jury of the Verbum Prize has emphasized that it is “an entertaining and intense work, which a whole generation can identify which and in which younger readers will discover the chronicle of an epoch of fallacious epics.”

The steps through which the plot takes shape begin with the ins and outs of the ideological struggle between fundamentalists and liberals in the university environment, the sanction the lead character was subjected to in a process of political cleansing, his later involvement in a prestigious magazine that worked to sugarcoat the image of the country for external consumption, and the enthusiasm for glasnost and perestroika that leads him to try to push journalism along more open paths from a newspaper of national circulation, to a point of direct confrontation where he finally stumbles against the insurmountable wall of intolerance.

Parallel to the events of the protagonist’s professional life, where at each step he discovers the enormous distance between reality and official discourse, Martínez maintains his own romantic utopia that leads him to seek, over and over again, a personal chimera.

The author portrays a part of that generation that jumped from adolescence to adulthood in the midst of the maelstrom brought by the Revolution. The illusion, the doubt, the skepticism, the frustration, follow one another in a sequence where it is difficult to determine the exact point of rupture, that insurmountable crack (grieta) where the deepest convictions are recomposed.

The jury that selected the winner comprised Fernando Rodríguez Lafuente (Spain, president), Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (Cuba), Sara Mañero Rodicio (Spain), José Antonio Martínez Climent (Spain, winner of the 2017 Iberoamerican Verbum Novel Award) and Luis Rafael (Cuba-Spain).

Among the finalists, along with La Grieta, was La Dantesca vida de Philip Orsbridge, by Alfredo Nicolás Lorenzo (Cuba), La hora del silencio, by Cristina Feijóo (Argentina), Los paraguas y el sol, by Enrique Pérez Díaz (Cuba) and Fóllale, Manco, by Juan Sebastián Rojas (Colombia).

Translator’s note: “Grieta” is a word that can be translated as crack, fracture, rift, chasm, fissure, breach and many synonyms of these words. Not having read the book, this translator hesitates to pick one to represent the title in English.

See Also: Twenty Years of Freedom or the True Face of Fantomas

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Prague 1968, My First (and Belated) Disappointment

Warsaw Pact Tanks invade Prague, capital of the then Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 August 2018 — On the cover of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde on that Tuesday, 20 August 1968, a disturbing headline surprised everyone: Czechoslovakia Invaded. The subheading added that Warsaw Pact troops were the executors of the action.

On Wednesday the 21st, a group of students from the School of Journalism of the University of Havana was urgently summoned to the offices of the People’s Opinion of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. There we were given the task of collaborating in a survey to determine as quickly as possible what the state of mind of the people was in the face of these transcendental events.

One day later, some of us who did the interviews worked long hours to compute the results. We felt privileged to know the opinion of the people and especially by the encouragement of knowing that the Commander in Chief was waiting for the results before making a public statement. continue reading

Obviously, I do not remember the exact numbers, but three answers predominated. In first place, the majority rejected the invasion, defending their position with the argument that “nonintervention in the internal affairs of a country” was something sacred and that accepting what happened in Czechoslovakia would legitimize the right of the United States to invade Cuba.

The second most expressed response was: “I’ll tell you my opinion after I hear that of the Commander.” And the third, frankly a minority, was limited to expressing that “if the Russians were behind it, they would have had their reasons.” The remainder was made up of those who had not even heard about it or the usual cautious ones who opted for silence.

On the night of Friday, August 23, Fidel Castro made a special appearance before the national television cameras to publicize the position of the Revolution, that is, his.

Having just turned 21, the fool that I was expected a strong condemnation of the unspeakable invasion. Surely our survey had already been studied.

But the Commander in Chief had his own way of looking at the matter:

“The essential thing that is accepted or not accepted, is whether the socialist camp could allow or not the development of a political situation that would lead to the breakdown of a socialist country and its fall into the arms of imperialism. And our point of view is that it is not permissible and that the socialist camp has the right to prevent it in one way or another. ”

After that affirmation, Fidel Castro extended himself in criticizing the economic reforms of the Prague Spring, mentioning the details of the self-financing and the material stimuli that he described as “liberal bourgeois reforms.”

In what can clearly be considered a political negotiation, Castro wondered if perhaps the troops that had invaded Czechoslovakia would be sent to Vietnam or North Korea to defend those countries from imperialism and concluded by asking: “Will they send the divisions of the Warsaw Pact to Cuba if the Yankee imperialists attack our country, or even before the threat of attack (…), if our country requests it?”

With his applause for the invasion of a brother country, Fidel Castro tried to buy military backing for his outrages on the island, as long as he requested it.

That same year, 1968, Fidel Castro unleashed the war against bureaucracy on his island, imposed the Revolutionary Offensive, initiated the Havana Cordon, and the madness of 10 million ton sugar harvest. That year the microfaction process* took place, Cuba refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the program of schools in the countryside began and Castro announced the simultaneous construction of socialism and communism.

A week after those ominous statements by the Maximum Leader supporting the invasion, the ICAIC news program, directed by Santiago Álvarez, dedicated its space to what happened in Czechoslovakia.

The image of the Wenceslas Square occupied by Soviet tanks and the soundtrack with the initial notes of the Tocata and fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, remained forever in my memory, not as the testimony of the tragedy of Prague but as the reference to my first disappointment.

Then I knew that disappointment had come too late.

*Translator’s note: In 1968, the ‘microfaction’, nine pro-Soviet members of the Central Committee including Anibal Escalante, were tried as “traitors to the revolution” and received jail terms.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

We Will Have an Electoral Law in 2019 but Constitutional Reform Retains One Candidate Per Position

A billboard in support of the Cuban government’s revised Constitution

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 August 2018 — In view of the deadlines imposed by the draft Constitution in its First Transitional Provision, and knowing that the referendum will take place on February 24, it can be calculated that by September 2019,the Cuban parliament will have approved a new electoral law.

If Raul Castro had fulfilled his promise of February 2015 to modify the electoral rules, the constitutional project now being debated would be adapting to what had already been enacted and not the other way around. The new law will be born chained to what is imposed by the reformed Constitution, in which the threads that bind can already be clearly seen.

The fantasy of new electoral legislation establishing a direct vote of citizens to elect their president was finally annihilated in the first paragraph of Article 104 that establishes that the National Assembly of People’s Power, in the exercise of its powers, “elects the President and Vice President of the Republic.” Later, in Article 121 it states that the President of the Republic “is elected by the National Assembly of People’s Power from among its deputies […] for a period of five years.” continue reading

For its part, Title IX, referring to the Electoral System, introduces a new element that denies voting rights to “those who do not comply with the requirements of permanence in the country provided for in the law.”

This detail, absent in the current Constitution, was specified in Law 72 of 1992, which in Article 6 says that “to exercise the right to vote requires the obligation to be a permanent resident in the country for a period of not less than two years before the elections” while, in order to be elected, Article 8 requires a candidate to be a “permanent resident in the country for a period not less than five years before the elections.”

The constitutional reform anticipates that the next electoral law will continue denying Cubans living abroad not only the possibility of being elected but also the right to vote.

In the particular case of the highest positions, from President of the Republic to provincial governor, articles 122, 124, 138 and 171 now include the requirement of not having any other citizenship to fill these positions. As a result, the tens of thousands of Cubans who have taken refuge in Spanish nationality*, plus the other thousands who hold any other nationality, will be excluded from the main rudders of the country.

Lawmakers will have to take into account a new constitutional provision included in article 182 of the draft, which modifies the elections of district delegates: they will no longer be held every two and a half years as established in article 111 of the current Constitution, but rather every five years.

One question that remains unanswered is whether the Candidacy Commissions** will be maintained in the next electoral law. The project under discussion does not allude to the subject, but neither is it in the current Constitution.

The elimination of the Candidacy Commissions is one of the main demands of independent civil society and the political opposition because it would open the possibility that voters are not simply approving a list that includes only one candidate for each seat in the Parliament; instead, voters would be able to choose between diverse candidates according to their personal political views.

After a comparative observation between the language used by the 1976 Constitution (with its successive reforms of 1978, 1992 and 2002) and that used in this project, there are indications that suggest what the 2019 electoral law might look like. The text under discussion no longer includes the term “merit” which, together with “capacities,” pre-conditioned the access of citizens “to all positions and jobs of the State.”

Current legislation is anchored in the idea of a ‘meritocracy’, and prohibits candidates from campaigning at all.  Voters are allowed “only to take into account, in determining which candidate to vote for,” the candidate’s “personal conditions, prestige, and capacity to serve the people.” In practice, the candidacy commissions (not the candidate) prepare a single-page biography for each candidate which is posted in a window and is the only legal form of “campaigning.”

Clearly, no one should have any illusions. It is enough to read articles 3 and 5 of the constitutional draft to affirm that the new electoral law of 2019 will not assume a multi-party system nor will it allow political campaigns to compete for the vote. Cubans living abroad, opposed to the system in their majority, will not have a presence in the polls. The reins are already firmly in place.

Translator’s notes:

*Spain’s “Historical Memory Law” allows the children and grandchildren of Spanish citizens born outside the country to apply for citizenship.

**Cuba’s Candidacy Commissions are made up of individuals from mass organizations created by the government/communist party. From wikipedia: “Candidates for provincial assemblies and the National Assembly are nominated by the municipal assemblies from lists compiled by national, provincial and municipal candidacy commissions. Suggestions for nominations are made at all levels mainly by mass organizations, trade unions, people’s councils, and student federations. The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Corruption and Mistreatment in the Ruins of the Old Hotel Rex in Havana

Yudiris Caridad Cintras with her three children leaving the Hotel Rex. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 July 2018 — The two hotels have the same name but have had very different destinies. The Hotel Rex in Santiago de Cuba, where some of the protagonists of the assault on the Moncada barracks stayed, can boast of three stars. The ruins of what was once the Hotel Rex in Havana, on the other hand, at number 64 San Miguel Street, are home to several families who live with the fear of an imminent collapse or eviction.

The deterioration of this four-story building with its formerly beautiful Art Deco facade adorned with balconies has had different stages. The worst came to pass in the late 80s, when it stopped being an inn that was rented by the hour for love affairs and became a shelter to accommodate families who had lost their homes due to building collapses, fires or because the buildings they previously lived in had simply deteriorated to the point where they were declared uninhabitable. continue reading

Each of the small rooms with bathroom, suitable for the shelter two lovers for a couple of hours of passion, welcomed large families who installed kitchens, laundry rooms and ‘subdivisions’ made from whatever material was available. Everyone believed that their stay would be for a limited time and under the logic of provisionality exploited their spaces without mercy.

Finally, the stigma of uninhabitability fell on the Rex and its inhabitants were relocated. However, despite the unfortunate state in which negligence left the building, it remained a space with a roof and this, more than a minimum, was a luxury for the most needy, willing to do anything to obtain and maintain housing in the capital of the Republic.

Exterior view of the Hotel Rex in San Miguel street in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

They come from all the provinces — hustlers, workers joining the “heroic construction contingents,” policemen to persecute criminals, and thugs to evade the police– with every square meter of surface disputed every day, along with every stretch of cable through which the electricity circulates, and each pipe through which the water flows.

The network of procedures required to obtain a permit to live in this lion’s den includes the recognition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ that legitimizes some cases and, although it is difficult to prove, many of the previous procedures that resulted in the authorization to live there bear the unmistakable stench of corruption.

Yudiris Caridad Cintras, from the municipality of Antilla, in Holguín, had to escape with her three children from the house where she was mistreated for more than 7 years by her husband, an ex-cop who was never convicted of any of the numerous complaints she filed for threats and abuse.

This took place in May 2017, when she was 30 years old, and led her to qualify for the category of a “social case,” for which she receives economic aid of 300 Cuban pesos (roughly $12 US): 135 to pay for meals, and 165 for two of her children who do not receive maintenance from the father.

The delegate for this district of the municipality of Centro Habana, Ramón César García, alias El Yardo, was assigned the task of housing her and he placed her in a room on the second floor of the Rex that did not even have a toilet. For months she had to relieve herself in bags. Some neighbors sympathized with Yudiris and helped her move to the third floor, where there was a room with better conditions. They improvised a door for her and there she settled with what she could pick up off the street. Now she sleeps on the floor with her children, after burning old mattresses infected with bedbugs.

Currently, relations between Yudiris and the delegate are very difficult. According to her, this representative of the People’s Power, also a former cop, “has in his house the control of the water pump that supplies that liquid, subject to his own pleasure.” She hasn’t forgotten the occasion when she went to complain that she had been without water for days.” He mistreated me verbally and physically in the presence of my children, I had the youngest of the children in my arms when he knocked me to the ground by punching me in the face.” In addition, Yuridis denounces that he is accusing her of being a “human rights” person or a member of the Ladies in White, in order to isolate her.

Yudiris Caridad Cintras her rights in the offices of the Municipal People’s Power of Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

As recounted by Yudiris herself, and as 14ymedio was able to verify, also living in the Rex are around a dozen police friends of the delegate, who support him unconditionally in gratitude for the authorizations he has provided them without legal grounds. “I’m surrounded,” says the woman with a mixture of humor and anguish

Yudiris has gone to every government agency to raise complaints. In each office she tells her whole story and each one adds the new steps to her ordeal.

Her case is now known to the Ombudsman Office of the Council of State, in the military prosecutor’s office, the provincial prosecutor’s office, the provincial Committee of the Party, the Federation of Cuban Women, and the Municipal Assembly of Centro Habana. “I have been promised mattresses and a kitchen but the only thing I have achieved is that they allow me to have one of my children in a Children’s Circle.”

Yudiris de la Caridad is just one of the many cases caught between the quarrels and shared solidarity in this lodging that has become a pigsty. The human birds of prey among the ruins dehumanize some and make others better, but they are all victims equally, even the victimizers.

This Thursday July 26, in the revelry of the celebrations for the attack on the Moncada Barracks so many years ago, some of the veterans of that “historical feat” will remember the hours they spent at the Rex Hotel in Santiago de Cuba, maybe they will visit it and admire the good state in which everything is preserved. Probably none of them knows about the Havana Rex, nor do they need to.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Proceedings to Draft New Constitution Lack Transparency

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, July 10, 2018 — We now know that at its seventh plenary session the Communist Party Central Committee reviewed the draft of the new Cuban constitution. It was reported that the text of the document is now a fait accompli. In the coming days deputies to the National Assembly will approve what is still a draft. It will then be released for public comment after which the final draft will be submitted for a referendum.

In the time that has elapsed since the commission was formed to come up with a preliminary draft, no media outlet, political leader nor any government official has indicated what changes will be allowed in the revised constitution, or even if the current one will be completely reformulated. continue reading

The only thing that has been confirmed is that there will be no change to the “irrevocable” status of the socialist system and that Article 5, which proclaims the Cuban Communist Party to be the “guiding force of society and the state,” will be preserved.

As happens in any mystery, information is being replaced with speculation. Among the issues generating the most speculation are how this new Constitution will treat the issue of private property and whether same sex couples will be allowed to marry. Substantial changes to regulations governing foreign investment, government control of the economy and some new item having to do with citizenship are also anticipated.

To a lesser degree there is also speculation about a constitutional change limiting high-ranking government officials to two five-year terms, the recognition of the new provinces and a probable modification to the makeup of the National Assembly.

During the period when delegates have been drafting this document, not one of these issues has been the subject of public debate. We do not even know what was debated behind closed doors much less what arguments the advocates for various positions have used.

Considering that all the commission’s delegates are members of the Communist Party, it is worth remembering the debates held by the constituent assembly which drafted the 1940 constitution. That body was made up of seventy-seven elected members, with the governing coalition’s thirty-five participants in the minority. The opposition had forty-two, some of whom were communists.

Those historic proceedings were broadcast live on radio. Everyone knew what was being debated and what each delegate’s position was. Labor unions held daily demonstrations in front of the National Capitol, where the debates were being held, to make sure that their demands were heard. In a age before either television or social media, editorial writers from the nation’s most prominent newspapers made their own proposals and questioned others.

There is not an even minimally convincing argument to justify the lack of transparency surrounding the working sessions of this commission. One of the most striking results of this lack of transparency is the public’s indifference. People are not talking about it in the bread lines nor at the bus stops nor during informal chats at the workplace, where the World Cup and the latest installment of the nightly soap opera are what capture people’s attention.

In order to win approval for the new constitution in the upcoming referendum, the government must make sure the gears of tedium are well-oiled. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) will summon voters and go through the usual process. During a hasty but brief campaign with no counter arguments, it will insist on a yes vote for the fatherland, for sovereignty, for a bright future.

The current silence is not the result of negligence nor is it an oversight. It has been meticulously planned in order to minimize the time citizens need to become aware of the value of their vote.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

There Will Be No Transition in Cuba… Not Even of Communism

The primary school children who every day recite the slogan “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che,” should start looking for a new motto. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 22 July 2018 — The classic definition that socialism is a transition stage towards communism has historically generated theoretical debates and has been the watershed between the political movements located on the left of the ideological spectrum. It has also prompted flashes of humor, such as the statement: “The worst thing about communism is the first 500 years of socialism.”

That long-yearned-for moment, when “material goods will rain down like water” and humanity could inscribe on its flags the golden rule “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” no longer appears as an explicit goal in the next Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. The word communism has been deleted from the project.

This omission, or more accurately, this erasure, comes as no surprise to those who had carefully read the Conceptualization of the Model approved at the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communism Party (PCC). In that text, simmering now for nearly ten years, it is not mentioned that the final result of the model is the arrival of the communist society, nor even the purpose of “eliminating the exploitation of man by man.” continue reading

Only among those who have reached, or exceeded, the third age is there any memory of the times when Fidel Castro chose a different heresy by proclaiming that it was possible to build socialism and communism at the same time. It was the decade of the 60s and in the town of San Andrés, in the municipality of La Palma in Pinar del Río, the experiment was intended to do away with money and make everything free for the benefit of its 500 inhabitants.

It was also the time when Nikita Khrushchev promised in Moscow that “the present Soviet generation will live in communism,” and in Cuban universities and other centers of thought there were predictions of the fortunate moment when the red flag of the proletariat would fly over Washington DC.

In Saturday’s session of the Cuban parliament, where the elimination of that word was discussed, the president of the National Assembly assured that its absence “does not mean that we renounce our ideas, but in our vision we think of a socialist, sovereign country, independent, prosperous and sustainable.” Later he argued that the current situation of the island and the international context are very different from those in 1976 when the first Constitution of the revolutionary period was written.

If anyone had had the audacity to suggest the annulment of the term communism in any of the party congresses presided over by Fidel Castro, he would have been accused, at least, of being a revisionist and probably of being a traitor. Even today it must be assumed that many old militants find it difficult to accept this suppression and at this point are wondering how it is possible that the socialist road is “irrevocable” but the end point of the trip, the obligatory destination of that route, is not mentioned.

Primary school children, who every day recite the slogan “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che” should start looking for a new theme in September, under penalty of being in opposition to the constitution.

The communist society is unfeasible for two fundamental reasons. First because the resources of the planet do not support it; and second, because personal ambition is an indissoluble part of human nature.

Raúl Castro should be congratulated for having the political courage or at least the pragmatism to avoid commitment to an unattainable goal. But to be consistent with such a decision, he would also have to eliminate, in the preamble, that we Cubans are “guided by the political-social ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin” and, ultimately, change the name of the party that he leads. For that he would have recourse to appeal to the adjective “fidelista,” a doctrine based on voluntarism and the necessary absence of scientific rigor that allows the validation of any solution, any change.

Frequently slow in his decisions, Raúl Castro never decided to inscribe the Cuban system under the imprecise definitions of “socialism of the 21st century,” and left everything hanging from the plural possessive “ours.” He has dismantled most of the chimeras imposed by his brother while swearing allegiance to his legacy. Now, when his final retirement seems to be no further than five years off, he has made it clear that the final destination of this experiment will have to be defined by others.

For many communists this change can be as traumatic as it would be for a Catholic to hear the pope confess that there will be no life after death, that the messiah will never return, or that the heavenly paradise will be erased from the scriptures. That was the thought of two thousand years ago, now things have changed.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Reform the Essence of the Constitution, Not the Letter

Boris González, one of the promoters of the initiative. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 July 2018 — Despite the scarcity of information and the absence of public debate that have characterized the process of constitutional reform in Cuba, several civil society groups, the political opposition and the independent press have criticized some postulates announced by the official media.

In this context, the draft constitutional reform project undertaken by the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) stands out. The text will be formally delivered to the authorities when it concludes a public consultation that began on July 11 and will end in mid-August.

Boris González, a member of MUAD’s executive secretariat, explained to 14ymedio that their committee that prepared a draft revised version of the 1976 Constitution, with its reforms of 1992 and 2002, did so not with the intention of modifying the letter, but rather the essence of the document. continue reading

“We concentrated on 82 articles. First we did an analysis of the content and then prepared a final form that not only included the proposals, but also the rationale.” Gonzalez emphasized how important it is for those who read the draft to know not only the suggestions for changes, “but also what is the reasoning that led MUAD to suggest them.”

Boris González said that one of the most significant contributions of the initiative is the strong will to extend the right of citizenship by birth to the descendants of Cubans who left the island in the middle of the last century. “We believe that the government’s willingness to change can be measured when it accepts that all Cubans who have left the country and their descendants are Cuban citizens with full rights,” he stresses.

Other vital aspects of MUAD’s projects are the recognition of private property, the right to create political parties, the establishment of a fair wage, the right to be compensated in case of dismissal, the right for citizens to enjoy a legal personality that allows them to invest in their own country, strengthening the concept of habeas corpus, and the creation of a Court of Constitutional and Social Guarantees.

The elimination of Article 5, which gives the Communist Party the role of the leading force in society, and of Article 62, which states that none of the recognized freedoms can be exercised against “the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism,” are the most radical modifications proposed in the draft.

Although González believes that it would be ideal for there to be a process of deliberation across the nation with the largest number of people, he is aware of what they are facing. “That would be beautiful, but we have many limitations, not only of resources but of the obstacles imposed by the current Cuban institutions,” he says.

Those working on the draft proposal have created “constitutional initiative roundtables” to gather the opinions of those who wish to participate. “We also hope to collect ideas for the writing of the final document through email,” he adds.

The 605 deputies of the National Assembly began their “individual study” of the preliminary draft of the constitutional reform that will be approved this weekend, probably unanimously, during the year’s first ordinary plenary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

The division in the ranks of the opposition is reflected in its differing positions with regards to constitutional reform. In addition to the MUAD project, there are other sectors that believe the appropriate response to the modification proposed by the Government is to ignore it and not participate in its endorsement. Still others believe that the correct thing is to vote against it, to express their rejection, while a final sector has not yet made public its position.

“To believe that it is not worth making proposals is the position of repudiating everything, but there is a gradualness in how much of the existing order should be repudiated. Our position is: they will not listen to us, but if they read our document, they may find something that interests them and it will be better than what they are going to do with the new constitution,” says González, defending himself before those who believe that it is not worth proposing alternatives.

With regards to the referendum on the document that will be approved by the National Assembly he is forceful: “Up until now there have been no signs that the Constitution the Government will submit to a referendum will fulfill our ambitions, but I can not say in advance what the position of all the organizations that make up MUAD will be with regards to how to vote on the constitutional referendum.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Diaz-Canel Praises State’s Monopoly on the Press and the Truth

Miguel Díaz-Canel displayed with astonishing simplicity the scope of his political thought when closing the 10th Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba. (ANC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 July 2018 — In his first ideological speech, President Miguel Díaz-Canel displayed with astonishing simplicity the scope of his political thought in his closing remarks at the 10th Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), a meeting in which professionals of the official press raised the slogan “The truth needs us.”

In the Manichean vision of the world detailed by the leader this Saturday, on one side is “the logic of capital, selfish and exclusionary,” while on the other stands the “socialist and (José) Marti logic, the fidelista (faithful to Fidel Castro), showing solidarity and generosity.” For him there are no half measures. continue reading

The Communist Party has a monopoly on the truth and whoever disputes it is an enemy of the homeland and in the pay of the empire. In order to erect these intimidating arguments, the newly appointed president hides behind the definition of a besieged square and alludes to the testament received from the ‘historic generation’ – those who fought in the Revolution.

People who spent months digging into the sources and integral parts of Diaz-Canel’s thought must have suffered great frustration this Saturday when listening to so many simple things. Especially those who believed they had found a nugget of gold in the poetic quote from the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez in his inauguration speech on 19 April.

The words from Rodriguez quoted by Diaz-Canel – “You don’t need wings to take flight” – inspired some hopeful to believe he might be planning to undertake a daring comeback. Instead, before the 267 journalists gathered in the congress, he chose to recommend the complete reading of the text The New Revolutionaries, signed by the official troll Manuel Henríquez Lagarde.

Of course you don’t need wings for such a low altitude flight.

Exclusionary and partisan, the president considered it appropriate not to invite independent journalists to the discussions of the new communication policy “because they are not part of UPEC nor of Cuban society, which earned through its efforts and sacrifices the exclusive right to discuss how to design the future.” Although he did not say it, it was clear that nor would independent journalists have the right to have a separate congress.

The Social Communication Policy that has taken shape in this conclave recognizes only two types of ownership for the mass media in the country: state and social. The document, which has not been published in its entirety, defines access to information, communications and knowledge as a public good; it establishes obligations to the rest of the institutions and amplifies the powers of media executives.

What has not been amplified with sufficient emphasis is what Marino Murillo noted in one of the sessions of the congress when he said that “this policy, which represents a starting point to begin working,” implies the creation of three legal projects, and a subsequent monitoring of compliance with this policy through objectives, goals and indicators.

Díaz-Canel acknowledged that among the pending tasks is for “the country our media shows [to look more like the] country we are.” This requires the fulfillment of another of the announced foundations of the new policy which refers to “respect for the diversity that we are.”

The governing spheres hold a narrow meaning of “diversity” in which they include race, sex, age, province of origin, religion and occupational profile, which has been timidly increased to include sexual orientation. The law can penalize someone who discriminates against a young woman from Guantanamo who is a lesbian, black, Catholic and self-employed, but if this same person shows her social-democratic or liberal inclinations then she would be punished.

Nor could she belong to the Ladies in White, promote the Cuba Decides project, be a member of UNPACU, the Christian Liberation Movement, MUAD or FANTU. She could not be an activist defending human rights, open an unauthorized library or exercise independent journalism. Of all this, nothing!

In order for the country that appears in the press to resemble the real country in all its diversity, the diversity must also reach social communication media. The nation will continue to be a puzzle that lacks pieces if the existence of political opposition and independent civil society is not recognized, if it is not accepted once and for all that Cubans are everyone, wherever they live and whatever they think.

The truth needs many actors and different versions. It requires debate and confrontation among ideas and, above all, freedom. While it is true, that as the crucified one said, “the truth will set you free,” it is also indisputable that freedom will make us truthful.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Keys to Survival in Cuba: The Ration Book, Remittances and Theft

Man leaving a ration system bodega in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana/Santa Clara | 26 June 2018 —  Gloria Peralta has been sitting at the door of an old house with a gabled roof for at least two hours waiting for an onion seller to pass by to “give some flavor to the beans,” but the floods caused by the rains of tropical storm Alberto have complicated the task of buying food in her native Santa Clara, in central Cuba.

Peralta and her husband, José Antonio Rodríguez, hardly remember a time without hardships. “Our generation had to tighten our belts in the 70s, when we thought that everything would be better afterwards,” recalls this retired nurse who, together with her husband, receives about 30 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, worth less than 30 dollars) from their monthly pensions. continue reading

“In those years it seemed that the ration book was something that would end soon,” recalls Peralta. Established in 1962, the rationed market has been one of the tools of what is officially called “the Cuban Revolution,” but which others prefer to call “Castroism” or, more popularly, “this thing.”

For 56 years, through this little booklet, food has been distributed at subsidized prices and in limited quantities. The State spends more than one billion Cuban pesos (CUP) per year in subsidies for these products, which it distributes every month and which are barely enough for ten days.

This distribution system has modified the Cuban diet, traditional recipes and even ways of speaking. In rationed bakeries “the bread” is sold, but when it is offered in unrationed stores, it loses the definite article and remains only “bread.”

For decades, the libreta, or ration book — from which, over the years, products have been subtracted — has been the favorite target of comedians, caused many family fights and caused numerous heart attacks or fainting outside the ration system’s bodegas. Three generations of Cubans do not know life without this little booklet with its gridded pages where, every month, a few pounds of sugar, salt, grains and some chicken are duly noted.

Several economic studies in recent years suggest that a salary of at least 1,200 CUP is needed to cover the basic needs of an individual in Cuba. With less than a quarter of that idyllic sum, Peralta and her husband gave up lunch years ago and at breakfast they just drink a tisane made from leaves collected in the backyard, along with a piece of bread.

No one can survive in good health if they eat only what is sold in the ration market. “If it weren’t for my daughter, who lives in Nevada, sending me a package with food and some money every month, we would be nothing but bones,” says the retireee. During the years of the Special Period, in the 90s, her husband was sick of polyneuritis, an illness caused by a lack of nutrients.

“It was at that moment that we touched bottom and since then we have been left with many manias around saving,” adds the husband. In the house, they reuse the cooking oil over and over again. “We even put it in through a strainer to remove the breadcrumbs and keep using it.” The eggs in the refrigerator have an initial, “G” or “J” written them depending on who their destined for.

“Each month they sell us ten eggs on the ration book, half at a subsidized price and the other at one peso each,” Peralta calculates. “But in recent years the supply has been very unstable and the only source of protein we have left is the chicken in the shopping (hard currency stores) or the pork that we can buy from time to time in the agricultural market,” he clarifies.

The hard currency stores are much better stocked but the relationship between their prices and wages is disproportionate. Their opening, more than two decades ago, was a concession made by Fidel Castro after the social explosion of August 1994, known as the Maleconazo.

“We had to be on the verge of starvation before they would allow these stores and also non-state agricultural markets,” Peralta recalls. At that time the Government also authorized foreign investment and, for the first time in decades, allowed the people to engage in private work, which was renamed with the euphemism cuentapropismo (’on one’s own account’, commonly translated as ’self-employment’).

For two years now, as Venezuela’s economic support to the island has languished, the shelves of the shopping — hard currency stores called by this English word — have had large empty spaces. “Before, the problem was that we had to get the money to pay for a bag of milk powder, but now you can have the convertible pesos and the milk does not appear,” laments Rosario, 34, the mother of two children ages nine and ten.

The rationed market establishes a quota of milk or yoghurt for infants but it is only provided until they are seven. “My children are forming their teeth and they need to consume dairy products,” explains Rosario. “My full monthly salary, about 590 Cuban pesos (about $23 USD), goes to buy milk at the shopping.”

The rest of the food is paid by the mother with the money she ’resolves’, a euphemism used to describe the process of acquiring informal additions, so common in the family economy. Jobs in the state sector are not measured by the salaries they pay but by access to products or raw materials that can be ’diverted’ and sold in informal networks.

“I work in the detergent and soap industry,” she says. “I have to take risks and take out a certain amount each week to support my family because otherwise it would be impossible.” Rosario considers herself one of those “few Cubans who do not have a family abroad” who has to “fight hard for every convertible peso.” Most of these profits are spent in the network of hard currency stores, the shopping.

In the Plaza de Carlos III in Havana, the largest shopping mall in the capital, a dozen people were wating this week for the supply of chicken to arrive at the butcher shop. Most of the frozen products that are marketed in the network of state premises come from abroad.

This year, the authorities calculate that they will import food worth 1.738 billion dollars, 66 billion more than in 2017. The low productivity in agriculture and livestock on the Island require bringing in everything from beef to fruit for the hotels.

Raúl Castro’s government took measures to support production on island farms, such as leasing idle state lands to farmers, but excessive state controls, restrictions against intermediaries and the imposition of prices caps continue to hold the sector back.

At the end of 2017, the average salary reached 740 CUP per month, a little more than 29 CUC (less than 30 dollars). However, the gradual increase in the average salary has not translated into a real improvement in living conditions.

For a professional, the goods bought in the rationed market and subsidized services such as electricity, water and gas consume a third of their monthly salary. However, at the prices in the unrationed markets, the other two-thirds is just enough to purchase five pounds of pork, a bottle of oil, a bag of milk powder, two soaps, a can of tomato sauce and a packet of flour — a month.

The general secretary of the only union allowed, the official Workers’ Confederation of Cuba (CTC), Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, had to acknowledge recently that wages on the island are “insufficient” to cover the needs of the worker, which causes “apathy,” “disinterest” and an a “significant migration of labor.”

Rosario, the illegal seller of soap and detergent, caters to several clients whose salaries are not enough to buy the product at the shopping and so they turn to the black market.

Among them is Pedro Luis, who was a promising editor at the Cuban Book Institute in the 80s. Back then, when his recommendations influenced the publication of stories and novels, his salary of 350 CUP allowed him to eat with variety, dress elegantly and decorate the house that he had inherited from his grandparents in good taste. They were the so-called “golden years” of the Revolution, in which the gigantic subsidies of the Soviet Union (some 5 billion dollars a year) artificially propped up the Cuban economy.

“We lived in an unreal world and with the fall of the Berlin Wall we had to come down to the true situation of the country,” says the pensioner. “Most of my friends who were living quite well back then are now selling newspapers so they can buy food or they have gone with their children to other countries.”

Nearly 80 years old, Pedro Luis is now a retiree who tries to survive with the 200 CUP (less than $8 USD) he receives as a pension. He had to sell two-thirds of his extensive library to eat and for the past five years he has rented half of his house to a family that treats him as an intruder.

Thanks to the good relations he maintained with the Catholic Church, the retiree has managed to be accepted, during the day, in a care home under the joint custody of the clergy and the State. During the hours that he spends there, he wanders through the corridors waiting for lunch and dinner.

“On Tuesday there was only rice and a boiled egg” he laments, but his face lights up when he remembers that “sometimes they give us a couple of sausages and on the best days we get soy ’ground meat’, although the quantities are very small.”

Pedro Luis is one of those Cubans who needs the little bread that is his daily due from the rationed market because he can not aspire to something of higher quality from the unrationed market. The last days of each month he gets up at dawn to stand in line at the bodega to buy the groceries in the ration book, a line he shares with those most dependent on that small basic market basket.

For years he has forgotten the taste of real beef or fish, products that are well above his financial means. A friend more solvent, with two emigrated children, invited him recently to eat shrimp and he was licking his lips for several hours.

Now the former editor plans to sell the last books he has left, just the most appreciated, then he will put a price on a pair of shirts and his last coat and will also offer some shoes. “With the money I make, I’ll be able to continue for a few months but after that I do not know what’s going to happen.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The alliance of Venecuba with 14ymedio and the Venezuelan newspaper Tal Cual  has supported this reporting.

Cuba’s ‘Special Period’: Past, Present and Future

What is feared when people talk about the Special Period are the prolonged blackouts, the collapse of public transport and the closure of industries. (Havana Leaks)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 June 2018 — The terminology of officialdom has its euphemisms and its unknowns, among the latter is whether it is politically correct to speak of the ‘Special Period‘ as a thing of the past, an question that became clear in the review published on Tuesday by the state-run newspaper Granma, that discussed Raúl Castro’s meeting with Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leaders. The article alludes to “the difficult moments experienced during the years of the special period,” with the verb in the simple past tense.

Although it is true that in none of the three PCC congresses held in the last 21 years, nor in any session of Parliament or the Council of Ministers, nor even in the ‘conceptualization’ of the country’s socialist model, has the official end of the so-called ‘Special Period’ been officially decreed. And we also know that, in practice, the terrible situation suffered in the first half of the 1990s is no longer suffered. continue reading

The reason for this limbo in definitions with regards to the finalization or the continuity of the Special Period occurs, in particular, because to decree its end it would not be enough to establish that its consequences have ceased or decreased, but it would be necessary to reverse the economic policies established at that time with the declared purpose of “saving the conquests of the Revolution.”

Either those policies — presented in provisional dress — are reversed, or the measures that were announced as temporary are considered permanent.

Reversing the policies would mean, among other things, reversing the opening to foreign capital, the permission to engage in self-employment, and the new business forms characterized by a greater degree of decentralization. It would be necessary to penalize the possession of foreign currency and to return to rigid five-year plans. But for this to happen, to return to the previous situation, the Soviet Union and Comecon would need to be resuscitated.

The problem becomes a political-ideological issue because the aspiration to return to the “promising past” is impossible; to do so it would have to be proclaimed that Cuban socialism does not intend to comply with the rules theorized by its creators and that the invisible laws of the market bring better results.

The reasons that forced Cuba’s leaders to decree the Special Period, or — and it’s one and the same — to partially accept compliance with the laws of the market, are not only the collapse of the socialist camp or the hardening of the American embargo. They respond in equal measure to the accumulation of errors resulting from voluntarism and the continued failure to take responsibility for the means of production that are described as social property, but which in reality have become the private property of the state.

When, from time to time, rumors about the specter of “a new Special Period” threaten to reappear, what is being talked about, what is feared, are the prolonged blackouts, the collapse of public transport, the closure of industries, the reappearance of polyneuritis, and the disappearance of products from the market. However, this set of damages is not the precise definition of that era, but rather the aftermath of a disaster that tried to attenuate itself through decrees of insufficient measures.

The ill-fated fruits of that policy, clinging to a refusal to make concessions on certain principles considered inviolable, are now in sight. Foreign investment has not reached fantastical heights, non-state forms of production are still tied to arbitrary guardianships that impede their full development, tourism is a mirage in which the number of visitors grows without proportionally raising profits, the Mariel Special Development Zone has not taken off, it has not been possible to eliminate the dual currency system, and salaries are further than ever from being enough to ensure the daily survival of the working family.

To all this, uncontrollable external factors are added, such as the frustration of the brief hopes that emerged with the thaw between Cuba and the United States, together with the difficult situation in Venezuela that has brought about a cut in aid flowing to Cuba from that country.

These are now, without a doubt, the least tragic moments of the late Special Period. The exhaustion of those provisional solutions, however, means that Cuba’s leaders must take responsibility and confess that the now deflated life preservers that kept the country afloat in the midst of the storm can not be the territory on which the future is built.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Monosyllabic Rebel

A man exercises his right to vote in the elections to the People’s Power in Havana. (File EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 April 2018 — Rarely in the last half century has Cuba’s citizenry had a chance to show its displeasure. Government control and lack of a unified opposition platform have spoiled those moments, but a constitutional referendum could be the golden occasion to change the course of events or, at least, to demonstrate differences with the government.

By mid-2021, if the deadlines announced by former President Raul Castro are met, voters will face a ballot where they can mark “”Yes” or “No” for a new constitution. A vote that will have the value of a plebiscite on the socialist character of the Cuban system and the role of the Communist Party as “the superior force of society and the State.” continue reading

Unlike the so-called constitutional mummification, which in June 2002 made socialism “irrevocable,” with more than eight million signatures collected at the neighborhood level and in full public view, without any options presented to reject the proposal, it appears that on this opportunity the procedure established in the Electoral Law will be followed, with a secret vote and space to say “No.”

The process begins this year when the National Assembly appoints a commission of deputies to draft and present the new Constitution. It will then be discussed by the members of the Assembly, subjected to “popular consultation” and the final text will have to be submitted to a referendum, as detailed by Raul Castro, some years ago, in his first speech as president.

Right now, the view is that the initiation of constitutional reform will be constrained within a rigid corset. “We do not intend to modify the irrevocable socialist character of our political and social system, nor the role of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC),” the General warned, to avoid triggering expectations about a change of course.

Castro went further and also detailed that in the preparation of the new legislation he will defend the ratification of the PCC’s authority “remaining in the same place: Article Five.” A detail that does away with any illusion that the constitutional reform will promote, and accompany, a democratic transformation on the island.

With these preconditions, the rewriting of the fundamental law is nothing more than a mere exercise of updating the superfluous and keeping the totalitarian core intact. In the face of such evidence, only two positions remain. Approve, with a “Yes” vote, the attempt to perpetuate Castroism, or concentrate, in the “No” vote, all the nuances of rebellion.

The supporters of the regime, as well as those who feel some hope with the slightest aperture in the new Constitution, will go to the polls gathered around the obedient monosyllable. Among them will be those who will consider the inclusion of a few winks toward the market incorporated in the text to be sufficient. Without a doubt, they will be millions.

On the other hand, opponents of the system will have plenty of reasons not to go to the polls to vote on the referendum, or to leave the ballot blank or to scribble whatever is the motto of their opposition initiative on the sheet they deposit at the polls. A diversity of proposals that becomes counterproductive in this particular case and allows the authorities to diffuse dissent.

Although there are still months, perhaps years, before the vote will be called, proposals are circulating among the island’s civil society about the most effective positions to take in the process.

Those arguing the case not to go to the polling stations at all say that their presence at the polls “only serves to validate the dictatorship,” while the promoters of going to the polls but not marking either option believe that this position is more viable in the face of the population’s widespread fear. Others will campaign to write the slogan of their organization on the ballot or they will insist on denouncing at the international level the lack of legitimacy of the referendum.

For once it would be worth joining forces and, shoulder to shoulder, marking an X in the “No” box, but this also involves a challenge. Those who do so need to know that they will be included in the elevated percentages that the officialdom will report as backing for the referendum process itself, and also run the risk of massive fraud in the counting of ballots. But, if they manage to be the multitude, they will send a devastating message.

With a consonant and a vowel, Cubans who refuse to validate a coerced constitution will be making it clear that they do not want to remain part of an unsuccessful experiment. They are the electors who with a simple stroke of a pencil will ratify their displeasure before the imposition, by law, of a small political fraction on the plural and diverse spectrum of the nation.

The plebiscite meticulously calculated to not allow any loophole of political freedom would turn against its organizers, as happened once in Chile to the astonishment of the international community and to the country’s own dictator, Augusto Pinochet.

From now on, it is worth noting that the “No,” that rebellious monosyllable, can thus become the visible and forceful expression of the citizen unrest in Cuba, sunk today in the swamps of faking it.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

A Brave Song for Nicaragua

In the streets of Nicaragua there is also discontent with an executive who turns his back on the population. (EFE / Jorge Torres)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 April 2018 — “Where is Fidel?” Daniel Ortega shouted in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution during the official ceremony on the death of the former Cuban president at the end of 2016. That question was prophetic. Less than two years later, the Nicaraguan people have taken to the streets and the old mentor is not there to help his disciple.

The Sandinistas’ coming to power in 1979 was taken in Cuba as a sign that Latin America would travel along the path of the Revolution, social justice and left-wing governments. It was another spark in the bonfire that was going to devastate the continent and that had its origin in this Caribbean Island.

The Cuban poets sang praises to the Nicaraguan commanders and the Nueva Trova turned Urgent song for Nicaragua into an anthem. The Central American country became the realized dream of having an ally in the region that eased the diplomatic solitude in which Cuba had remained after the radicalization of the political process. continue reading

Nicaragua became a second opportunity for the Castro brothers, who not only offered their territory for the military training of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), but also offered the nascent government advice on literacy, medical care and agrarian reform.

Part of the initial Sandinista program was taken from the Marxist-Leninist system implanted in Cuba. Those guidelines, copies of a bad copy, generated an enthusiasm that faded as they clashed with the complexity of a country whose social composition is different from that of this Island.

The Sandinista Revolution was breastfed by Havana, but the “milk” came from the Soviet stepmother eager to expand her influence in the region. The followers of Sandinismo did not imagine that with their dedication and passion they were helping to build another family dynasty.

Daniel Ortega, then a young man, became a regular visitor to the circles of the Cuban elite circles and in July 1980, a year after the Sandinista Popular Revolution triumphed, he greeted Fidel Castro at the Managua airport. That close relationship lasted until the last day of the Cuban leader’s life.

However, along the way, the Sandinistas departed on several occasions from the path traced in Havana. The most costly of these deviations was in 1990 when the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) lost the elections to the National Opposition Union (UNO) and Violeta Chamorro assumed the presidency.

In 2007, after promising to respect private property and expand its relations with the international community, Ortega won 37.99% of the valid votes in the polls to reach the highest office in the country. Unlike Castro, the disciple had proven himself in an election, and could say he was an elected president.

After that victory, the ex-guerrilla found a balance that guaranteed his continuity in power: political control and a certain economic laxity. His agreements with the Nicaragua Superior Council of Private Enterprise helped spread the idea that, beyond the ideological antics of the president, he imposed in the country the pragmatism of business.

During the last 11 years, Ortega controlled the nation with a strong presence in the army and the police, substantial aid from Venezuela and personal whims that became decrees as fast as he could blink an eye. Each day he became less presentable as a leader and more like the caricature of a satrap.

During this time Havana kept a certain distance. The official media of the island stopped speaking up for Sandinismo, the poets parked their verses about the Nicaraguan revolution and the eccentricities of Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo were hardly reported, while Murillo filled the streets of the capital with immense “Trees of Life.”

This last week, several of those immense sculptures have been demolished by protesters against Ortega opposing reforms of the social security and pension system. The protests, which have claimed thirty lives, are being followed with caution by newspapers controlled by the Cuban Communist Party.

The breaking point came in the guise of that neoliberal measure that has turned out to be the last straw. In the streets there is also discontent with an executive who turns his back on the population, squanders the nation’s resources and builds houses of cards like the apparently hypothetical ocean-to-ocean canal.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet published a statement of support for its Central American ally and the Nicaraguan president has not even been able to follow in the footsteps of Nicolás Maduro and Evo Morales, the first leaders from the region to visit the new Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The Cuban intelligentsia is also silent or looks away from the repression that the Nicaraguan government unleashes in the streets and against young people at the Polytechnic University. The bards who in the past sang to the FSLN today lack the civic courage and moral integrity to criticize it.

If the arrival of Sandinismo to power, almost four decades ago, was read as a foretaste of the red flare that would spread across the continent, its crisis significantly affects an entire ideological current in this part of the world. An Ortega cornered in the face of the popular impulse represents the resounding failure of a system.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.