“Recognizing changes does not mean we go along” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares

José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares

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14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

José Daniel Ferrer

The whole time we were in prison, the Castro brothers’ regime did its best to pressure us, to force us to abandon the country. A few of us decided to say no, regardless of the circumstances. Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it. We are doing our modest bit to have a nation where there will never again be something like that spring of 2003, when so many compatriots paid with prison for attempting to exercise their most sacred rights.

“Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it”

Many things have changed, but they still maintain the repression, and sometimes increase it, against human rights activists and also against the people. Recognizing the changes doesn’t mean we go along, because what we don’t have is a prosperous and democratic Cuba. In the last days when I walked freely on the street, at the beginning of 2003, some people approached us and whispered in our ears, “I heard you,” referring to having heard us on some station like Radio Martí, one of the few media where they could learn about what the pro-democracy forces were doing.

Felix Navarro

Having stayed in Cuba after leaving prison is probably the best idea I’ve had in my entire life. Continue reading

“No matter where I live, I will keep working for the freedom of Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marta Beatriz Roque, Cabello Ángel Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Diosdado González Marrero and Eduardo Díaz Fleitas

Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Ángel Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Diosdado González Marrero and Eduardo Díaz Fleitas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello

I left prison in late 2004, paroled by the regime for reasons of health. They never offered me the chance to go abroad, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me. My closest family, and most distant as well, live abroad, but I never had plans to abandon the Island. I am a Spanish citizen because my family did the paperwork, I visited the embassy of that country the day they told me to fill out the forms and then got a passport, about four years ago.
Continue reading

For a Parliament Without a Nominating Committee / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Voting in the National Assembly

Voting in the National Assembly

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 March 2015 – The National Assembly of People’s Power, or what foreign journalists simplified as the Cuban Parliament, consists of some 612 members. None of them performed any action to achieve their seat; all were taken by surprise when Nominating Committee announced that their name would be on the list of proposed members. Voters who voted for them either were forced to choose between one or the other, but all were approved in a block of 612 candidates. One for each existing post.

About half of these candidates were selected by the Nominating Committee from a list of nearly 15,000 district delegates around the country. The rest were “taken” by this Committee from among other personalities who, without being grassroots delegates Continue reading

An Innocent Proposition / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 March 2015 – The announced intention to promulgate a new Elections Law has already generated controversy.

It is striking that there is no talk of reforming the current law, only of writing a new one. As a blog is no space for legal dissertations, I want to limit myselt here to formulating a completely innocent proposal:

“Let the Cuban voters know how the candidates think.”

Or, to put it another way:

Let every voter have the ability to know how the deputies he or she elects is going to vote Continue reading

Outside of Havana, the partial results of the referendum give a solid majority to Berta Soler / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White. (CC)

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White. (CC)

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14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 March 2015 — The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, talks about the first voting on the referendum to determine whether she will remain at the front of the organization, and denounces the repression that accompanied the consultation. The first results are very favorable, although the votes from Havana still need to be counted, those results are expected to be known on Wednesday.

Escobar. What is the latest news about the recall referendum?

Soler. It was planned to hold it this coming March 16, but considering the conditions in each province and the problems of some Ladies in White that should be dealt with, it was decided to move up the date.

Escobar. Was Matanzas the first province to vote?

Soler. Yes, they voted last Saturday. For me it has been impressive since this province has 33 Ladies in White with voting rights and all Continue reading

Negotiating with Machiavelli / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 11 2015 – When Cuba’s government announced the postponement of its talks with the European Union on 9 December 2014, it was speculated that the real reason lay in that the Cuban side wasn’t ready to face the topic of human rights, which had been anticipated to be a part of that round. Instead, the pretext of a photographic exhibition that offended “revolutionary sensitivities” was employed as a reason, but almost no one believed it. Eight days went by and the mystery was unveiled when Continue reading

The potatoes arrived! No more potatoes! / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2015 – Early in the morning Josefina heard on the morning news that Artemisa province had started the potato harvest. She heard that the “planned economy” target was almost 8,800 tons of potatoes and that the harvest would run through the middle of April. Almost intuitively, she looked through the blinds of her 8th floor apartment from where she could see that at the nearby farmers market there were two trucks unloading some sacks.

At that moment her daughter Olivia was staging the daily drama of putting on her primary school uniform and Josefina was faced the dilemma or whether to go stand in line before taking her daughter to school. “The potatoes are here!” her neighbor shouted and half the building leaned over their balconies to confirm it. By twenty minutes to eight she had already left her daughter, hair uncombed, at the door of the school, where an aide asked her, “Is it true? Are the potatoes here?”

The line extended around the corner, but her friend who sells plastic bags outside the market beckoned her to come and stand behind her. Half an hour later, Josefina had achieved her purpose. She hadn’t eaten a real potato for six months, and had only rarely had the hard currency necessary to buy a bag of dehydrated potatoes. The additional advantage was that 20 pounds of potatoes only cost 20 pesos in national money*, less than what she would have to spend for a little packet of instant mashed potatoes.

As she was leaving the market she heard the authoritative voice of the administrator shout, “No more potatoes!” A few steps away two burly young men whispered their proposed alternative, “A ten pound bag, only two fulitas (“little dollars”)**.”

Translator’s notes:

*See this article for a discussion of Cuba’s dual currency system.

**In other words, the black market potatoes cost more than four times the official market price… but they are available.

Without Confidence in the Money / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban 20 peso note signed by Che

Cuban 20 peso note signed by Che

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 February 2015 – Any day can be the eve of a celebration or a disaster, as much for those who hurried to exchange their convertible pesos (CUC) to Cuban pesos (CUP – also known as moneda nacional, or “national money”) as for those who are purchasing foreign currencies or who are trusting enough to think that everything is planned and calculated so as not to cause anyone any harm. Although its proximity can almost be smelled, the “final battle” of the end of the dual currency system continues to be a mystery and the present lack of transparency can endanger Continue reading

“Our actions can make people lose their fears” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar and Jose Daniel Ferrer

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2015 — Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country and leader of Cuba’s most numerous opposition organization, is also a compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance and the years he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks, will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies. Continue reading

And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2014 – It’s been three years since the Communist Party of Cuba’s First National Conference. As can be expected, few are the people, including a great part of that organization’s own militants, who remember what was agreed to at that meeting and, to an even lesser extent, which of the adopted accords remain unimplemented. But, who cares?

The “Work Objectives” approved by the Conference, point 62 of Chapter II, titled “Ideological and Political Work,” outlines the need to “work especially on the conceptualization of the theoretical fundamentals of the Cuban economic model.” Eight months prior to that Conference, the Communist Party of Cuba’s Sixth Congress had revealed the Guidelines (Lineamientos) that would govern the country’s economic and social policies. All pointed to the fact that, since conceptualization could not be the source of inspiration for the Guidelines, it could at least be its after-the-fact theoretical justification.

However, the task of theorizing seems to be more complex than the practical application or, to say it in official jargon, “the implementation” of the Guidelines, which have a structure led by Mr. Marino Murillo, Minister of the Economy. Who is responsible for the conceptualization? What entity is committed to undertake it? No one knows. Continue reading

The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 23 January 2015 – The possibility that some day the dispute between Cuba and the United States would ever be solved, the discussion about how to accomplish it having been successively postponed, seemed so remote.

If we were to identify in a simple form the background of the disagreement between both contenders, we would have to say that it can all be reduced to the intention of the Cuban government to implant a socialist regime with a single party and without private property, in the face of the geopolitical will of the United States to maintain in the region a homogenous system of representative democracy and market economy.

The fact that Cuba became the first socialist country in the Western hemisphere sustained the dream of Nikita Khruschev to some day see the hammer and sickle flag waving over the Capitol in Washington. Perceived from afar, the problem qualified as one element of the contradictions of the Cold War. Continue reading

“It is up to Cubans decide their future” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 24 January 2015 — In October of 2013 I had a conversation with Roberta Jacobson, via a Google hangout (videodebate), on democracy, technology and the role of women in activism. On that occasion, we interacted through a screen in the company of internauts interested in our chat. Now, we talked with a few inches between us, in a visit of the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs made to our independent daily, 14ymedio, in Havana.

Proximity has allowed me to confirm what I had already felt in our previous conversation, that this loquacious woman with an attentive gaze has a profound knowledge of the Cuban reality. It is no wonder that she has led the first round of conversations between Cuba and the United States after the December 17th announcement about the reestablishment of relations between both countries.

Several members of our editorial board along with some collaborators met with Jacobson on the 14th floor of the Yugoslav-style building where our headquarters are located. Following is a transcript of a conversation, where we tried to address a wide spectrum of topics.

Yoani Sánchez: Do we have reason to worry that pragmatism and the politics of rapprochement prevail above all else, and that the issue of human rights and civil liberties will be relegated to the background? Continue reading