The Secrets of Secretismo

Headline: Raul will speak tomorrow. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 16 April 2017 — The term secretismo (secretiveness), to refer to the absence or delay of certain information of public interest in the Cuban official media, began to be used first among critics of the system, until it came to appear in the speeches of the highest officials of the government.

The list of what the official media has never reported, or only reported with an inexplicable delays, deserves a thorough study, which in addition to filling thousands of pages, would serve to better understand the country’s most recent history.

Among the headings to organize the list of the omitted would be: deaths, destitutions, desertions, economic failures, military defeats, diplomatic fiascos, serious damage to nature, consequences of mistakes made, and even data on the rates of suicides, divorces or emigration, along with references to the country’s debt or to the decrease in Gross Domestic Product. All this and more has fallen into that black hole of disinformation. continue reading

The temptation to offer some examples would lead us to mention, among other pearls, the forced relocation of peasants from the Escambray in the 1960s, the disastrous effects of the whim of trying to produce 10 million tons of sugar in 1970, the collapse of the military operation in Granada in 1983, the consequences that the epidemic of polyneuritis brought in the most difficult years of the Special Period, and more recently the clinical causes of Fidel Castro’s death.

It has been this way since the days when Party ideologue Carlos Aldana pontificated on the need to have “critical, militant and creative journalism”

The response that has often been given to criticism of secretismo has ranged from the most tenacious justification, based on being a country threatened by the most powerful power in the world, to the pretense of blaming the mid-level cadres.

It has been this way since the days when party ideologue Carlos Aldana pontificated on the need to have “critical, militant and creative journalism,” right up to our time when Raúl Castro himself advised before the parliament: “It is necessary to put on the table all the information and the arguments that underlie each decision and step, to suppress the excess of secretismo to which we have habituated ourselves during more than 50 years of enemy encirclement.”

These self-critical pretenses have had the peculiarity of appearing in cycles, which has given the permanent impression of being on the eve of an always timid and incomplete opening. The journalistic guild has been perhaps the most victimized with these frequent promises, made in Congresses of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) or in informal meetings with the press.

When it seems that “now we are going to end the secretismo” the promise of promulgating a new electoral law disappears, the head of the commission in charge of implementing the Party’s guidelines disappears, and the sale of premium gasoline is suspended without any media of the official press daring to review or comment on what happened.

Even the euphemism of using the word “secretismo” to refer to what strictly must be called censorship, only serves to cover up what is supposed to be revealed. It is a crime of linguistic injury whose result lies in keeping in obscurity what outwardly is illuminated.

“The Politician Of The Week,” A Citizens’ Initiative

The initiative involves people as different as the filmmaker Carlos Lechuga (above) or Cuba’s Minister of the Interior. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 April 2017 — Facing the times that we live in can be an unpleasant task. And doing it without discrimination based on ideological viewpoints and with immediacy, takes visions of daring. This is the challenge that the Center for the Application of Political Marketing and Political assumes with the election of the “politician of the week,” an initiative that approaches the Cuban reality from its protagonists. continue reading

The profiles developed by the independent entity are made in collaboration with the site Primavera digital (Digital Spring), the historian Dimas Castellanos and the journalist José Antonio Fornaris, among others. They are distributed through e-mail and several web pages. Their intention is to summarize, with the fewest adjectives, the biography and significant details of those who mark the events of the Island. Those faces that embody the moments most sublime and most ridiculous of the day-to-day.

The “politician of the week” does not evaluate the person, but rather the events in which he or she has taken part and the decisions for which they are responsible. The brief sheet that accompanies their name doesn’t judge, but it does describe. In a country where most of the time the public debate centers on “killing the messenger” instead of understanding the message, this moderate exercise carried out by the Center takes on hints of the historic.

So far this year, the names included in the classification have ranged from officials in the highest ranks of power to opponents condemned for their activism. This wide range of points of view can only be recognized from an independent perspective, given that the official media only gives space to names linked to the government.

Its catalog of personalities is the closest thing to a democratic exercise, in which there is no discrimination or tendency to stigmatize positions

Thus, this civic initiative has described both Jennifer Bello Martínez, president of the Federation of University Students, and Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, a person Amnesty International has declared a political prisoner of conscience. In its entries it has shed light on the life of the new interior minister, Rear Admiral Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo, as well as Carlos Lechuga, director of the censored film Santa and Andrés.

Nor have they missed, in their accounts, figures such as Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a hard-liner known for his partisan orthodoxy, or Havana’s private taxi drivers who demonstrated their dissatisfaction after the imposition of price caps on their service.

The Center, led by the analyst Julio Aleaga, has given space to Tyrians and Trojans. Its catalog of personalities is the closest thing to a democratic exercise in which there is no discrimination or stigmatizing positions, a posture that in today’s times of polarization, does not stop giving some people hives or provoking indignation.

There are those who are upset to not have been included yet, while others cry out to have their names erased from the list. To the extent that it is list of the protagonists of a reality, the “politician of the week” approaches those who are part of events, but the evaluation of their performance will depend on the opinions of each individual reader.

Reflections* From a Glass House

Reinaldo Escobar, 18 June 2008 (Reposted 10 April 2017) — The former president Fidel Castro has just published a foreword to the book Fidel, Bolivia and Something More in which he discredits the internet blog, Generation Y, written by my wife, the blogger Yoani Sanchez.  From the first day, she has put her full name (which he omits) and her photo on the web, visible to readers, to sign the articles which she writes with the sole purpose – as she has said several times – of “throwing up” all that is nauseating about our reality.

The ex-president disapproves of the fact that Yoani accepted this year’s Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism, arguing that the prize is something that imperialism favors to blow its own horn. I recognize the right of this gentleman to make this comment, but I allow myself to observe that the responsibility implied in receiving a prize is never comparable to that of bestowing one, and Yoani, at least, has never awarded a medal to a corrupt person, a traitor, a dictator or a murderer. continue reading

I clarify this because I remember perfectly that the author of these reproaches was the one who placed (or commanded to be placed) the “Order of José Martí” on the lapels of the most terrible and undeserving men possible: Leonid llyich Brezhnev, Nicolae Ceausescu, Todor Zhivkov, Gustav Husak, Janos Kadar, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Robert Mugabe, Heng Samrin, Erich Honecker and others that I have forgotten. I would like to read, in light of these times, a “Reflection” that justifies the award of these inadmissible honors – to blow the horns of others – that so tarnished the name of the man we call our Apostle, José Martí.

It is true that the philosopher Ortega y Gasset can be connected to elitist and perhaps reactionary ideas, but at least, unlike those decorated by the prologue writer, he never launched tanks against his nonconforming neighbors, nor built palaces, nor imprisoned those whose opinions differed from his own, nor left his followers in the lurch, nor amassed fortunes from the misery of his people, nor built extermination camps, nor gave orders to shoot those who, to escape, jumped the fence from his own backyard.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s column in the daily newspaper Granma, is titled “Reflections of Fidel

Site manager’s note: Translating Cuba has chosen to reprint this article, from the early in the second year of Yoani’s blog, in connection with Generation Y’s tenth anniversary.

Men’s Matters

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 18 June 2008 (Reposted 10 April 2017) — In this Central Havana of guapos* – tough guys – and brawls where I was born, I learned there are certain lines a woman should never cross.  I have spent my life breaking the laughable rules of machismo, but today – and only today – I am going to take refuge in one of them, one of the ones I dislike the most.  It warns, “A woman needs a man to represent her and to go to bat for her when another man insults or slanders her.”

Feeling attacked by someone with a power infinitely superior to mine, more than twice my age, and in addition – as the neighbors of my childhood would have said – someone who is “macho-male-masculine,” I have decided it will be my husband, the journalist Reinaldo Escobar, who will respond. continue reading

I refer to the damaging remarks that Fidel Castro made about me in the prologue of the book, Fidel, Bolivia and Something More.  Not even such a “great” attack convinces me to abandon the premise of refusing to engage in a cycle of rejoinder and self defense.  I am sorry to say I remain focused on the theme called “Cuba.”

Let’s leave it up to Reinaldo and Fidel to do the fighting.  I will continue in my “womanly” labor of weaving together, despite the chatter, the frayed tapestry of our civil society.
The guapos from my neighborhood will know that I learned “something” from them!

* Please do not confuse a Cuban guapo with a handsome man or suitor. That might work in another Latin American country, but here in Cuba the word carries a different connotation, which someone might explain to you  with a slap, or perhaps a stabbing.

Translator’s note: The first sentence is hard to translate because there is a double meaning.  Guapo/guapa is both an adjective and a noun and in common use it means handsome/gorgeous.  In Cuban slang “guapo” also means a tough guy, someone who likes to fight.  It can be used as an insult or to dare someone, that is as the aggressive form of “Hey, man…”  The original footnote explains this meaning for non-Cuban Spanish readers who may not be familiar with it.

———-

Site manager’s note: Translating Cuba has chosen to reprint this article, from the early in the second year of Yoani’s blog, in connection with Generation Y’s tenth anniversary.

Cuban Opponents Who Bet On The Ballot Box

A woman looks at the biographies of the candidates before voting in the municipal elections of 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 April 2017 – In any part of the world, the first option a politician has to participate in power is usually through elections, but in Cuba this path seems the most Utopian.

However, on the eve of the start of the electoral process that will culminate with the formation of the ninth legislature of Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power and Raul Castro’s departure as president of the country, different opposition groups are taking the opportunity to submit themselves to the verdict of the ballot boxes. continue reading

The hope of competing before the electorate as an alternative found encouragement after the February 2015 announcement that there would be a new electoral law. The idea that the new legislation would necessarily be more flexible stimulated that part of Cuba’s opposition sector whose plans do not include “overthrow the dictatorship.”

Candidates for Change: “We have been monitoring the Accountability Assemblies of the district delegates where violations occur”

In October 2008 a small group of opponents from the town of Punta Brava grouped under the name of the Liberal Party of the Republic of Cuba launched the initiative to “accept the challenge of participating in the elections for district delegates.” The political scientist Julio Aleaga participated in this project as an adviser and, offering himself as an example, stood for office in the capital neighborhood of Vedado. On that occasion he obtained a single vote, his own.

Now Aleaga is leading the Candidates for Change project. In conversation with 14ymedio he explains that since 2014, as part of a maturation process, they have created an executive secretariat that organizes all work.

“We have been monitoring the Accountability Assemblies of the district delegates where violations occur, such as not respecting the requirements for a quorum, or declaring that the Assembly has been held when in fact it has not and, at a higher level, the reports on the number of Accountability Assemblies held in the country that do not correspond to reality.”

In addition to that work, he states that wherever there is a representative of Candidates for Change, they have presented the problems of the community in the Assemblies with proposals to help solve them.

This project also promotes the idea of ​​encouraging Afro-descendants to engage  inpolitical processes as decision-makers, to become active in politics and jointly promotes women’s participation in political life.

However the absence of the announced new Electoral Law has reduced the expectations of those hoping to see a rift in the single-party political life of Cuba. With regards to this, Aleago says, “Apparently the government ‘has dropped the ball’ and we have decided to work with the tools we have to build change instead of waiting for that change to take place in order to have better tools.”

Cuesta Morúa says that Otro 18 has “unwavering requirement that they not receive money for the process of putting themselves forwards”

Another initiative that focuses on the electoral issue is Otro18 (Another 2018). Their work is made up of three parts: one is the search for and preparation of candidates for the upcoming elections; another is the constitution of what have been called Citizen Observers of Electoral Processes (OPE); and, finally, the paving the way for the citizenry to receive the message of this platform.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, an experienced opponent from the social-democratic persepctive, explains that for the task of finding and preparing candidates they have a road map and attitude guide to establish like-minded approaches. “In this sense,” he emphasizes, “we focus on an unwavering requirement that they not receive money for the process of putting themselves forward.”

With regards to the observers, it is a network that watches over the process at every stage. “We demand as a requirement for being a Citizen Observer that the person not be a candidate and maintain absolute neutrality.”

As a founding member of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD), Cuesta has invited the organizations that meet as a part of that collection of organizations to include in each of their activities an “Otro18 agenda,” so that, regardless of the fact that each organization has its own platforms and programs, they also engage in this initiative. “In the coming months,” Cuesta says, “the entities involved in MUAD will begin to provide candidates, observers for the network and, of course, activists to mobilize the electorate.”

“We would love to have about 300 people occupying the seat of the public service, but reality tells us that this is a dream too far.”

On the subject of the promised new Electoral Law, Manuel Cuesta takes for granted that it will no longer be the one that governs the upcoming electoral process. “A clear signal is that they have created an application for mobile phones where the electoral process is explained through Law 72, which should have been repealed to make way for a more flexible one.”

Perhaps the most obvious question you can ask a politician who believes in electoral processes is what are their hopes of winning votes. Julio Aleaga affirms that they have now counted a hundred people ready to present themselves as candidates in all of Cuba, with potential candidates concentrated in Santiago de Cuba, Havana, Sancti Spíritus and Cienfuegos.

“We would love to have about 300 people occupying the seat of the public service, but reality tells us that this is a dream too far. We are betting on the electoral exercise, the breakdown of social neglect with respect to elections. The real result won’t be measured in the number of candidates chosen, but in raising public awareness that elections can be an engine for change,” he says.

Manuel Cuesta, for his part, takes a look at his agenda and explains: “As of the beginning of April, we have 83 people who have shown their willingness to stand as candidates, mainly distributed in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Río.”

Cuesta recognizes that it is difficult to speak of numbers in the question of predicting presumed victories, but one can venture how the proportions might turn out.

It is taken for granted that these elections will be neither free, nor plural, nor fair, but at least they will try to make them competitive

“The first step is to overcome the difficulty of the area assemblies, where the vote is by a show of hands. Of all those who can show up, be it 70 or 700, only 15% would have the opportunity to pass this test and get to the ballot. Then the Electoral Commissions of the municipality will prepare a biography* for each of them, with somber tones, as they did in the previous process with two candidates, whom they clearly defined as counterrevolutionary elements. At the polls, maybe 4% would be elected as a delegate, and with that we would be more than satisfied.”

For any of these projects, the main thing seems to be to open the game of competitive elections at the municipal level. It is taken for granted that these elections will be neither free, nor plural, nor fair, but at least they will try to make them competitive. In fact, so far the Government has refused to compete, even among themselves.

Among those who support overthrowing the regime, there are those who accuse these initiatives of “playing the game of dictatorship.” The truth is, those in command in Cuba do not show any enthusiasm for anyone to play any kind of game and they are repressing with great intensity all those involved in Candidates for Change, Otro18 and other projects along the same line.

Before the end of this year we will know if the effort undertaken made any sense.

*Translator’s note: Under Cuba’s current electoral law, candidates are forbidden to campaign. The only presentation of their candidacy is a one-page (or less) ‘biography’ with their photo and a statement about who they are — strongly focused on a list of the mass organizations they belong to — with no information about political opinions. This biography is not prepared by the candidate, but by the Electoral Commission. As noted in the article, two opposition candidates who made it to small-area local ballots in the last elections, were described in their biographies as “counterrevolutionary” with a brief detailing of the ‘bad’ things they have done, for example being “funded by foreign groups.” Neither won.

A Month Without Machado Ventura

A month after the public disappearance of Ramon Machado Ventura, no official media has offered an explanation for the absence of the second most powerful man on the Island.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2017 — Just a month ago his face disappeared from the Cuban government’s family photo. The last time he was seen, Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura handed out orders in an extensive agricultural area of ​​Pinar del Río. Four weeks later, no official media has offered an explanation for the absence of the second most powerful man on the island.

Now 86, this man born in Villa Clara’s San Antonio de las Vueltas, has stood behind Raul Castro for more than five years, in his position as the second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which the Constitution of the Republic consecrates as the “the highest leading force of society and the State.” continue reading

The man who was never absent from our television screens and newspaper pages for more than 48 hours has failed to appear since 27 February. An absence that feeds rumors among a people accustomed to giving more importance to a lack of news than to the news itself. But above all, it is a disappearance that comes at a bad time for the Plaza of the Revolution.

It is less than a year before Raúl Castro leaves his office as president and every day the uncertainty of who will relieve him in his post increases. Machado Ventura’s departure from the game would force the hurried naming of a second secretary of the PCC and put a face to one of the most jealously guarded mysteries of recent years.

The next few weeks could be of momentous importance for clearing up this question

The next few weeks could be of momentous importance for clearing up this question. If the first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, assumes the second position in the Party it will prolong the tradition of concentrating in a single person the highest positions in the country. To choose among other names, such as Bruno Rodríguez, Lázaro Expósito or Salvador Valdés Mesa, could open a bicephalic route, unprecedented in communist regimes.

For decades, all power was concentrated in Fidel Castro, who placed his brother in the rearguard of his countless positions. In 2006, already with serious health problems, the Maximum Leader had to step away from public life and Raúl Castro inherited that conglomerate of faculties that placed him at the head of the Party and the State.

Nevertheless, during the Raul era “second positions” have bifurcated. The first vice-president is no longer the same person as the second secretary of the PPC, among other reasons so that no one person could completely replace the General-President. A measure of protection, but also an evidence of the lack of confidence of the historical generation in its relief team.

In this new structure, Machado Ventura remained second in the Party. Machadito, as his friends call him, has cultivated a public image as the ayatollah and custodian of ideological purity. An orthodoxy that in the Cuban case does not cling to the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism but to the voluntarist* doctrine of Fidelismo.

Machado Ventura earned his reputation for immobility through prohibitions and punishments

Analysts blame this iron-fisted goalkeeper’s presence at the top of the pyramid on Fidel Castro’s express wish, placing him behind his brother to prevent the latter from veering from the path. This is how a man who once qualified in medicine became, according to Soviet terminology in the times of perestroika, the “braking mechanism” on the reforms Raul Castro might have pushed.

Machado Ventura earned his reputation for immobility through prohibitions and punishments. He was in charge of leading the provincial assemblies prior to the last Communist Party Congresses, confabs where the principle agreements were hatched, the delegates chosen and where the key points of the Party Guidelines that today are the “sacred commandments” of Raulismo were committed to.

However, that role seems to have come to its end. The man who ordered the dismissal of high-level cadres and for decades banned Christmas trees in public establishments has left the scene. Missing with him are his harangues calling for efficiency and his visits to workplaces where he advocated greater discipline and sacrifice.

It remains possible that Machadito – the guardian of orthodoxy – will reappear at any moment like the phoenix, and leap between the furrows to explain to farmers how to plant sweet potatoes or arrive to instruct the engineers of some industry how to make better use of their resources. The followers of the hard line would receive that return with relief.

Translator’s note: Voluntarism is the view that revolutionaries can change society by means of will, irrespective of economic conditions. Source: David Priestland, Stalinism and the Politics of Mobilization. (Or, in another and quite a bit older formulation…)

The Official Press and the Art of “Sweetening The Pill” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The art of “sweetening the pill” has been a characteristic of the official press for years (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – After contemplating several ideas of what to write about on this Day of the Press in Cuba, I decided to share with my readers an extract from an unpublished autobiography where I relate the vicissitudes of a journalist in the late eighties of the last century .

It is the best testimony I have on hand to illustrate the art of “sweetening the pill” that for years has characterized the official press and that causes so much damage to our profession. I hope you enjoy it and that it will help you better understand why I decided to assume the risks of being an independent journalist.

The complicated task of telling the truth

Before leaving for the factory, the journalist was warned by the editor-in-chief of the Government’s interest in having the magazine Cuba International write about the quality of the batteries that were produced on its assembly line.

When Antonio and Juan Carlos, the young photographer, announced their presence at the factory, the guard on the door made two calls. The first one to the Director and the second one to a colleague to warn him: “Hey, tell Cuco that the journalists are here, hurry up…” continue reading

A short time later an employee appeared and asked them to accompany him to the director’s office. Cuco also arrived, and in a trembling voice addressed Antonio:

“Journalist, I am the union’s representative: I want you to talk to us before you leave.”

“Of course,” said the reporter.

The administrator exchanged a hard look with the union leader and emphasized to the newcomers the gesture of “follow me.”

The office they entered had a model that reproduced the whole installation. In front of it the director waited for them, and introduced an engineer with a pointer in his hand, who explained the industrial process.

Juan Carlos took a couple of photos of the small scale model and others of the showcase with the types of batteries that the factory was able to produce. The engineer announced that they would visit two sections: the laboratory and the assembly line.

“We also want to go through the area of ​​chemical components and the warehouses,” Antonio said.

“We do not have authorization for that,” said the engineer.

When they arrived at the laboratory they saw a range of sophisticated instruments that could diagnose of the quality of the products and the conditions of the raw material.

At the request of Juan Carlos, two smiling girls stood in front of the devices as if they were handling them. Minutes later they went to the assembly line to organize “a cover photo.”

Juan Carlos chose an angle in which the nozzle of the plastic packing and the conveyor belt with the finished batteries could be captured. In the background, a forklift, frozen for the snapshot, filled a container.

“What do you think?” he asked the reporter.

Everything was perfect, clean and in order. The image offered an obvious sense of efficiency and modernity, but Antonio realized that there were only two batteries on the conveyor belt.

“Can we put some more there?” he asked the engineer.

“The number of finished pieces is an index of our productive rhythm,” said the specialist.

“And what would be the optimum?” inquired the reporter.

“Someday we’ll have between four and six examples on this same stretch,” he replied in response.

“Can we put five?”

“Yes,” said the engineer, “up to five.”

After the photo shoot, Antonio inquired about Cuco.

“He works in the area of ​​chemical components and we cannot go through there, but I’m going go look for him.”

The union leader arrived more calm than he had been earlier.

“Ten minutes to lunch,” he said. “Would you accept an invitation to join me in the dining room?” he asked, so we talked.

The first surprise was to see that the workers did not eat where the engineer had indicated with the pointer on the model, a place he described as “a large, bright and ventilated room with comfortable tables and chairs,” but rather in a closed area, originally intended to store the finished products.

Cuco began without beating around the bush.

“I don’t know if you know that this factory was started 11 years ago. One night a caravan arrived with a large crane and unloaded the machinery. They left it outside, because there wasn’t a single place with a roof.

“It sat out there for three years and the boxes were taken away by the neighbors. They started with the clocks, the light bulbs, the electrical cables, and nuts and screws. They didn’t leave a single ball bearing, because everything ended up in strollers, water pumps or old cars.

“One day the order came to finish everything in six months. Two hours before the opening, volunteers from the Communist Party Municipal Committee hid all the debris and planted a garden as fast as they could. Among them were several of the predators who had made off with the machines when it appeared they had been abandoned.

“The artist who painted the portrait of the martyr, whom the factory is named for, spent 14 hours without getting down from the scaffolding. That’s why the portrait looks cross-eyed and with a mustache tilting to the left. The hero’s mother was about to cause a scandal because of what her son looked like.

“In the haste, they didn’t build the workers’ bathrooms, they didn’t finish the dining room and they didn’t put the fans in the areas where chemicals are used. Nor did they complete the tank for processing toxic waste and now they dump it in a lagoon where before there were fish but now there aren’t even mosquitoes.”

Antonio listened to the story in silence.

“All that data you copied into your notebook is real, but I bet you anything that they never told you what was produced, just what the factory is capable of producing. You will only have heard of the possibilities, not of the results achieved.”

Antonio opened his notebook. Indeed, before each figure appeared formulas of the kind: “When the installation is in full operation it can reach …”, “We are designed to produce …”, “The line has a maximum capacity of …” but not a single word of what was being produced.

“And what is the reality?” I ask.

“What is being completed in a month is what the factory should produce in a week. We should make at least six models and we are only making two.”

“And the ones in the showcase?”  the reporter asked.

“Those came as a sample along with the machinery.”

Cuco continued.

“You want to help us? Then publish the truth. Your article could play a very important role in improving our working conditions,” said the trade unionist.

“Our magazine has been commissioned to produce a report to attract buyers from abroad,” justified the reporter. “I can only speak about the bright side.”

Cuco looked at his watch. He had no desire to ask Antonio if he knew a journalist who was paid to tell the truth, but intuited his lack of guilt in the matter and only managed to say goodbye with a phrase:

“Do not look for trouble for us, journalist, and I hope you can sleep easy.”

Antonio would have preferred to be insulted. He would have liked to say that he preferred to breathe poison in the area of ​​chemical elements rather than sweeten the reality that the union leader had tried to denounce.

But it was false. They paid him for “sweetening the pill” and they not only paid well, they demanded only three or four articles a month. He received food and cash allowances for transportation. His position also served to develop relationships in many places and to gain prestige among those who considered the magazine Cuba International an enviable place for a journalist to work.

I did not work in that publication to tell the truth, but to contribute to making it up.

Disappeared / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marino Murillo and Ramón Machado Ventura have been absent from official events for some time, in which their presence would normally be assured. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 March 2017 — The two personalities who represent the polar opposites of the so-called process of updating the Cuban model have disappeared. We have seen neither hide nor hair of the “captain” of economic reforms, Marino Murillo, since October of last year, and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, considered the braking mechanism for any measure that looks like a change, has not appeared in the official media since 27 February.

Murillo did not appear in the images that filled the media during the nine days of the funeral and mourning period of former President Fidel Castro. He was not seen in the last session of the parliament fulfilling his usual role of asking for accountability on the implementation of the Party’s Guidelines. He was not on the viewing platform saluting the troops who marched in the military parade of 2 January, nor at any other significant event of the ruling party during the current year.

On the other hand, rare is the day when the second secretary of the Communist Party, Machado Ventura, does not appear visiting a chicken farm, sausage factory or a sugar mill, moments that he uses to hammer home his slogans of discipline andcontrol, demands that put him in the headlines almost daily in the official press. He is the visible face that exhorts the peasants to produce food and the workers to comply with savings measures.

Absences attract attention as well as presences. What is not said can be as revealing as what is stated

However, the most significant sign that unveils the wide range of suspicions about the whereabouts of this hardliner has been that when Raul Castro returned from his brief trip to Venezuela, the so-often repeated scene of Machado Ventura receiving him at the bottom the airplane stairs was missing. Perhaps this is the first time that images of the general president’s return to the country were not released and that the press didn’t mention who welcomed him.

The last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held on 28 February, was the first of Raul Castro’s presidential term that was not broadcast live on television, nor were photos published in the Party newspaper Granma. Both Murillo and Machado Ventura should have been visible as members of the group of highest ranking decision makers in the country.

Instead, in the official information about the meeting there was a reference to Leonardo Andolla Valdea, deputy chief of the Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of the Party Guidelines. He was in charge of saying, on this occasion, what would have normally been said by Murillo, also known as the “czar of the economic reforms.”

It is not serious to spread rumors, much less to invent them. In journalism only the facts must be counted, showing evidence and citing sources. However, under the opaque veil of secrecy in which the most important political and economic events unfold in Cuba, absences attract attention as much as presences. What is not said can be as revealing as what is stated.

‘Little Old Communists’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

An old man poses next to a series of portraits of Cuban leaders. Left to right: Celia Sanchez, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro. Far right, Raul Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 February 2017 — Many of those who experienced the first moments of the Revolution when they were between the ages of 14 and 20, became literacy teachers, young rebels, militiamen, cederistas (supporters of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) and federadas ( ‘federated’, i.e. supporters and activists of the Revolution). They overachieved every challenge and climbing five peaks or walking 62 kilometers ended up being credentials of high social value.

It was common to see them with a pistol at their belts bragging about their exploits at the Bay of Pigs or cleaning up the Revolution’s opponents in the Escambray Mountains. It was the time of the Schools of Revolutionary Instruction, of a Marxism manual tucked under one arm and simplified atheism. In those prodigious years of the 1960s they embodied the true fervor of youth and, consequently, an ideological prejudice against the elderly took root. continue reading

A poet, then (and still) unknown, would write fiery verses under the provocative title of If the old woman in front took power where he described in the purest colloquial style the retrograde measures that would be dictated by this hypothetical lady, probably bourgeois and resentful, in a word: a gusana, a worm. In fact the term “old worm” already seemed a redundancy in the mouth of those tropical Red Guards… But time passed and many vultures flew over monument in the Plaza of the Revolution.

A new generation, with very different goals, today launches its prejudicial darts against anyone over 70

A new generation, with very different goals, today launches its prejudicial darts against anyone over 70. But they no longer use the expletive “old worm,” instead they choose its diametrical opposite: “little old communist.”

A diminutive, as any good linguist knows, can be loaded with tenderness or contempt. It is not the same to say “granny” as it is to say “little teacher.” And this epithet of “little old man,” or woman, wrapped in a false commiseration falls with its full weight of impairment on the line of retirees who get in line early in the morning to buy the newspaper Granma, or on any gray-haired person always ready to utter some admonition to the teenagers who saunter out of the high schools with their shirts untucked.

Old people in an old age center in the city of Cienfuegos. (EFE)

Destiny has these intrinsic twists. For a boy who spends most of his day thinking about how to leave the country, anyone who passed up a historic opportunity to leave this shipwrecked island must be an accomplice, if not the one personally responsibly for all his angst.

If there is a space for a smile after the macabre grimace of death, those “old worms” must be amusing themselves in the face of the painful spectacle offered by their former dentists, who no longer dread the future, but rather ruminate on a defeat they do not want to recognize.

Ileana Álvarez, Wings Always Ready To Fly / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Ileana Álvarez, writer, essayist and director of the magazine ‘Alas Tensas’, at the Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 February 2017 — When one looks at that territory of Cuban literature inhabited by women, it is usually observed from the concept of gender. Among those who study the phenomenon with more intensity, and also with more courage, Ileana Álvarez stands out. She is a poet, essayist, author of a dozen books and deserving of various national and foreign awards.

Recently she left her native province of Ciego de Avila to participate in the Havana Book Fair. In a pause during her tour of La Cabaña fortress, where the event is held, she spoke to 14ymedio and shared with our readers her universe of concerns. continue reading

Escobar. What did you think of the Book Fair?

Alvarez. This year I liked it better than the previous one, when there were few books and too much emphasis on the commercial. This one has had very good moments, like the presence of the book My life by Leonardo Padura, but also it has had moments, in my judgment, that are too ideologized. I do not think that the publishing system of a country should be organized according to an annual fair, but it is good that there is an event where we can meet writers from all over the country.

Escobar. What brought you to this Book Fair?

Alvarez. I came to present Sacred Companies. A four-handed essay prepared by my husband Francis Sánchez and myself. It aims to rescue figures of the national intelligentsia converted into permanent company. Like that image of the virgin that always accompanies us, like the talisman that we do not want to be separated from. It focuses on three canons of Cuban literature that were once marginalized, misunderstood: Lezama Lima, Virgilio Piñera and Dulce María Loynaz.

Escobar. How do you feel when you are labeled as a feminist writer?

Alvarez. The term feminist has been very vilified. Patriarchal thinking has helped to discredit it, ridicule it and see it as something of the past. But it must be salvaged by what it has contributed not only to social and civil struggles, but also to the cultural thinking of today’s society. When there was no universal suffrage, feminism was at the forefront of achieving women’s right to vote. By the way, Cuba was one of the first countries to achieve that right, much earlier than other European nations.

Now there are those who believe that all problems are solved because there are laws that protect women and guarantee, on the legal level, equality with men from the point of view of salary and other aspects. But even in the field of laws there is a long way to go and many stereotypes must be fought. A society cannot achieve the true meaning of democracy if real equality between men and women is not achieved.

A society cannot achieve the true meaning of democracy if real equality between men and women is not achieved

Escobar. In addition to being a woman and a feminist, your are a writer based in a province. How do you deal with the pitfalls?

Alvarez. You missed one word: mother. It is difficult to try to equate the status of artist and mother. If we add the “Havana-centrism,” everything becomes more complex. It is hard and difficult. Sometimes I feel tremendously discouraged. Fortunately, in the worst I am supported by an inner strength that is very valuable and that is the faith I have because I am a Catholic. That faith gives me the perseverance of believing that tomorrow can be better if every person contributes their grain of sand.

Escobar. Is the grain of sand you are referring to called “Alas Tensas” (Tense Wings)?

Alvarez. I hope so. Alas Tensas magazine has several goals, perhaps too ambitious given the conditions in which I live. From its pages we want to promote a broader paradigm of Cuban women, which is not reduced to that model of the sensual mulata. Cuban women are also those women living in the countryside who feed the household’s pigs and hens, the old woman who goes to church, the introverted intellectual who looks within. This kind of empowered woman, who prepares for the future, is also an indissoluble part of our identity, our Cuban identity. 

Escobar. As a student of letters, what is your diagnosis of the health of Cuban literature in the early 21st century?

Alvarez. It is too early to evaluate that. It takes some distance to analyze these phenomena. There is a very experimental type of poetry, iconoclastic and avant-garde which, even though from my limited personal aesthetics it doesn’t call to me, it is very interesting as a social phenomenon.

I believe that a literature is being made that in the future will have its true emergence. Today we have Leonardo Padura in narrative, or Rafael Rojas in the essay, and other Cuban literature that is written abroad that the critics will have to evaluate more widely. With regards to what is being produced in this century, it remains to be seen what will be considered as literature and what as Cuban, beyond identities banalized by colorism and false folkloricism.

The Student Who Did Not Want To ‘Ride With Fidel’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Excobar

David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the university during a test that did not evaluate his academic knowledge. (Alejandro Tur / Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 — David Mauri Cardoso, a 24-year-old from Cienfuegos, dreamt of being lawyer but could not successfully pass a test of dishonesty. In appearance it was a test of Spanish, but what was being evaluated was his capacity to fake it.

Along with 30 other young people, who had not been admitted to higher education through the standard entrance exams, David was part of an experiment where workers were enrolled in the first year of Law School at the Carlos Rafael Rodriguez University in Cienfuegos and then assessed on their knowledge of Math, History and Spanish.

The exams were conducted in January and David was one of twenty students who had made it to the end of the previous stage. He finished high school in 2011, and after several failed attempts to enter the university, this seemed to be his last chance. continue reading

His “incorrectness” is described in the Teaching Regulation of Higher Education, where it specifies “it is a very serious error to say or do anything against the Revolutionary Process.”

Everything seemed to be fine until the first week of February, when they summoned him to a Disciplinary Council. His “incorrectness” is described in the Teaching Regulation of Higher Education, where it specifies “it is a very serious error to say or do anything against the Revolutionary Process.” The punishment established for this behavior is expulsion from the higher education system in any program throughout the country. On Friday, 10 February, the resolution imposing this punishment was signed.

What, in fact, did David do?

The Spanish test consisted of writing an interpretation of a fragment of the lyrics from the song “Riding with Fidel,” which flooded the airwaves after the death of the former Cuban president at the end of November 2016.

David tells 14ymedio how he reacted when he read Question No. 5, which inquired about what he had felt when he honored the ashes of the historic leader of the Revolution. “I realized I was not in a position to fully respond, because that wasn’t the case for me. The question was based on an erroneous supposition, because I had not participated in the acts of homage to Fidel Castro, nor did I personally honor him in a spiritual way.”

Before the exam, he had prepared himself to identify a simile or a metaphor and felt capable of parsing a text to indicate subordinate or juxtaposed sentences and to call out with precision grammatical mistakes in any verb. But, he said, “To adjust to what they were asking me I responded with total honestly about what this person had meant to me. I was respectful because no one has the right to insult others. I gave my opinion in the framework of good manners.”

David recorded in his own handwriting the misery, the destruction of the foundations of society and the injustices. He dared to use the term “authoritarian” to define the established system in his country and at some point, without his pulse trembling, he wrote the word “dictatorship.”

“In short, I only offered my personal opinion, which is exactly what they asked of me,” he says with the simplicity of one who does not believe he has performed a historic act.

The person in charge of grading the exam must have felt very troubled in the face of such a demonstration of sincerity. David chose not to name names, his Christian ethics precludes it. Nor did he mention the identity of a Spanish-language methodologist at the provincial level who is, at the end of the day, the person who assumed the responsibility of lodging a complaint.

Here, the young student makes a legal argument. “This exam, more than a private text, was a confidential document. Something between the professor and the student that did not have to be sent on under any circumstance.”

In the sacred intimacy of the classroom, he offered his opinion, which was what was asked of him. Without his consent, his responses were “elevated” and analyzed under extra-academic rules

And therein lies the key, because David did not make statements to foreign television, nor did he publish an opinion piece in the independent press, nor did he go out into the street with a poster, all of which would have been his right.

In the sacred intimacy of the classroom, he offered his opinion, which was what was asked of him. Without his consent, his responses were “elevated” and analyzed under extra-academic rules.

Not a single one of David’s classmates was consulted on this sanction because according to the regulation that ordinarily requires a process that does just that, it only applies to “regular” students in the day course.

Now everything is “comments in the hallway” and no one will come to his defense.

David says he does not intend to appeal, although he explains: “I have not resigned formally because I still have time, but I lost interest because, when I think of appealing to the Minister of Higher Education, I wonder who this official answers to and it makes me feel like not even starting the process.”

To the question of what he intends to do with his life now, David jokingly replies: “What I was doing: inventing,” that is figuring out some way to get by, “like all young people do in Cuba.”

Young Cuban Journalists Look at Their Profession / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The official press knows that it can criticize an official, but not a government policy. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 February 2017 – Now underway is the second meeting of young journalists at the Jose Marti International Journalism Institute in Havana. The main objective of the event, organized by the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), is to discuss “journalism and citizen participation, and communication in the context of updating Cuba’s social-economic model.”

The news reports published in the official press, in addition to reviewing the 24 proposals from the previous meeting, held in December 2015, reiterate “the urgency of a change in the routines of production and a transformation of the management model.”

It is likely that the young participants of this experience will leave with the belief that national journalism is on the verge of change, and that they will have a role in its transformation. This would be the healthiest mistake of their professional career. continue reading

The vast majority of those in charge of deciding what can be published and what must be silenced know perfectly well how diffuse are the limits of their responsibility

Imbued with this useful error, they will return to their newsrooms convinced that the sacred verse of “changing everything that should be changed” will be applied to the mass media so that the press will finally fulfill its social role of keeping the population informed about what is really happening in the country.

The vast majority of those in charge of deciding what can be published and what must be silenced know perfectly well how diffuse are the limits of their responsibility. They know, for example, that they can berate the negligence of an administrator at a collection point where the bananas are rotting on a truck, but they can never criticize the evil effects of the excessive centralization of public administration.

When it comes time to choose, these leading cadres prefer to censor rather than declassify, because, as they know, no director of a newspaper or radio station ever been dismissed for silencing a criticism or hiding complaints in a drawer.

When these impetuous kids return to their media with a new shot of adrenaline, their more experienced colleagues will take the time to explain to them that since the 3rd UPEC Congress, held more than 40 years ago, it seemed that everything would change if they fulfilled the theme of that event: “For a critical, militant and creative journalism.”

Since then, there as been a lot of talk from the podiums about the culture of secrecy and the essential need to undertake rigorous analysis of the problems that afflict the population.

A brief inventory of recent information lacunae could justify a certain pessimism about the future of Cuba’s official journalism. The most notorious example is that no one has reported on the cause of death of ex-president Fidel, despite the fact that his passing is the news that has occupied the most space in the media since the end of last year.

No journalist has tried to explain in the official media why Marino Murilla, in the last session of parliament, did not not offer his traditional progress report with regards to the implementation of the Party guidelines, nor what has been the fate of the new electoral law that Raul Castro announced in February 2015 would be forthcoming, but about which nothing more has been heard.

Silence reigns over such important topics as the date when the country’s dual currency system will end, or when the United Nation’s human rights covenants will be ratified, or the depth of the dredging in Mariel Bay

Silence reigns over such important topics as the date when the country’s dual currency system will end, or when the United Nations human rights covenants will be ratified, or the depth of the dredging in Mariel Bay, just to mention a few topical issues.

If we go back a decade, it comes to mind that there have been no explanations about how the super-entity called the Battle of Ideas ended, which was led by Mr. Otto Rivero, of whom nothing more has ever been said. Nor is there any official report on the ouster of Carlos Venciaga, a member of the Council of State, nor about that of the army of social workers who had become omnipresent, but which are now nowhere to be seen.

Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke with reporters Monday afternoon and emphasized “the need to perfect” the work of the media. In passing, he called attention to ways to confront “the platforms of ideological political subversion,” which target young people. Curiously, among these platforms appear all of Cuba’s independent journalism, which finds among its principal niches all the information that is never talked about in the official press.

Juvenile, Always Juvenile / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Josefina Vidal last October when the Government provided free Wi-Fi at the University of Havana for young people to show their opposition to the “blockade”. (@JosefinaVidalF)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2016 — An old Soviet joke from the time of Leonid Brezhnev relates his attempts to enthuse young people to celebrate the six decades of the October Revolution in the autumn of 1977. The septuagenarian leader entrusted to his friend, Aleksei Kosygin – who had a reputation of being a liberal – to take charge of organizing the celebrations with a renewed touch to attract to the new generation.

Later, when reading the reports denoting the absolute indifference of the young Muscovites for the commemoration, the secretary general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union called his man of confidence to explain to him on the causes of the failure. “I can’t explain what happened, but I put the ‘girls from the 17th’ in front,” said Kosygin, annoyed, referring to the enthusiastic Komsomols who, 60 years previously, had chanted slogans and sang revolutionary hymns. continue reading

The humorous anecdote is once again relevant in Cuba. The first secretary of the Young Communists Union (UJC), Susely Morfa, has called for the celebration of the 55th anniversary of the organization she leads and the “further strengthening, mobilizing and including of our new generations.” To connect with this sector of society she proposes “a fresh, revitalized, approach that responds to their interests and will leave an impression on them.”

The first point on the agenda of the UJC, to meet her objective, will happen on Friday night, with “the traditional March of the Torches” that will recall the 164th anniversary of the birth of José Martí. In February the “historic routes will begin and in March we will begin a tour of the Moncada and Buena Fe groups.”

It seems that the novel plan to attract the young has been designed by “the girls of ’59,” those who climbed the trucks to kiss the bearded men coming down from the Sierra Maestra nearly 60 years ago.

The silliness of the plan continues with the Necessary Connections spaces for exchanges in the mass organizations where, according to Morfa, they will attempt to “reach every participant with a copy of the concept of Revolution from our Commander in Chief.”

The “casual wave” of the UJC will continue in April with “an anti-imperialist encampment in Santa Clara.” Probably in May there will be a parade for Labor Day. It is expected that similar events will occur during the next eight months.

The summer will be full of anniversaries, such as the birth of Antonio Maceo and Ernesto Guevara, the assault on the Moncada barracks or, in August, Fidel Castro’s first birthday after his death. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution will also play a leading role in September.

The disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos will be remembered the following month, and then, in November, will be the first anniversary of the death of Fidel Castro. There will still be time, near Christmas, to celebrate the 1959 of the coming of the Revolution.

Yomil and El Dany, the most popular reggaetoneros of the Island, are not included in the novel proselytizing project. Nor has the organization of young communists ever thought of setting up a wall for spontaneous graffiti, or even implementing a Wi-Fi zone with free internet access to flood social networks with teenage energy.

It seems that the novel plan to attract the young has been designed by “the girls of ‘59,” those who climbed on the trucks to kiss the bearded men coming down from the Sierra Maestra nearly 60 years ago.

Obama Left, Trump Arrived, the Repression Continues / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The political police detained more than 60 members of the Ladies in White Movement in Havana, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Ciego de Avila. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 23 January 2017 — Within 48 hours of Donald Trump being declared President of the United States, the political police maintained their repression against opponents unchanged. The hard hand of State Security begins to contradict the claim that “Barack Obama’s concessions” to the Plaza of the Revolution fueled the repressive character of Raúl Castro’s government.

According to partial reports issued on Sunday, the political police detained more than 60 members of the Ladies in White Movement in Havana, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Ciego de Ávila. Berta Soler and her husband, the former Black Spring prisoner Angel Moya, were arrested along with 23 women as they prepared to leave the organization’s headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana. continue reading

The repressors did not shake their hands in the face of the scenario of a new tenant in the White House. They were not even frightened by the warning issued by the mogul weeks before in his Twitter account, when he clarified that “if Cuba is not willing to offer a better agreement for Cubans, Cuban Americans and the American people in general,” he would liquidate the diplomatic normalization.

With the thaw or without the thaw, the repressive nature of the Cuban system remains unchanged

Despite the hopes of some and the threats of others, the repression continues and on this Sunday morning more than 30 Ladies in White in Matanzas were prevented from attending Mass. Some were taken to police stations, while others were driven to the outskirts of the city and put out of the cars to find their own way home, and other were driven home. Two arrests were reported in the city of Santa Clara and another in Ciego de Ávila.

If there really is any relationship between what the new president says and does and how the Cuban government decides to treat its opponents, the next few weeks will have to prove it.

With the thaw or without the thaw, the repressive nature of the Cuban system remains unchanged. Obama does not seem to be responsible for the twist in the oppression experienced in the past two years, as perhaps Trump also fails to alleviate the rigors of a regime that could not exist where liberties flourish.

 

When A Hope Is Lost / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

Among those affected are migrants already on their way to the United States, as well as those who have sold their property and possessions to pay for the expenses of the journey, those who were waiting for an opportunity to desert from an official mission abroad, or simply those who dreamed of escape from the island. In total, tens of thousands of people. continue reading

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

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

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

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

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