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.

Few Surprises in Cuba’s New Council of State

Raúl Castro with Ramón Machado Ventura in a session of the National Assembly. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 Paril 2018 — The proposal of Miguel Díaz-Canel to be president of the Council of State confirmed widespread expectations, however the nomination of Salvador Valdés Mesa as first vice president surprised those who bet on Mercedes López Acea, who, from her position of vice president, was removed from the list of members of the Council of State.

The departure of Raúl Castro and José Ramón Machado Ventura was foreseeable, which is why Ramiro Valdés Menéndez remains as the only representative of the historical generation continuing in a position as vice president, while Ines María Chapman and Beatriz Jhonson rise to that position in along with the current Minister of Public Health, Roberto Tomás Morales Ojeda, who was not a member of the previous Council of State. The Comptroller Gladys Bejerano Portela continued her position in this elite group. continue reading

Other small surprises were the departure from the Council of State of Marino Murillo and Adel Izquierdo Rodríguez, both vice-presidents of the Council of Ministers and of General Álvaro López Miera, who dominates the finances of military companies.

A widespread murmur passed among the deputies of the National Assembly when the name of the three-time world champion in hammer throw Yipsi Moreno Gonzalez was read out from the list of candidates. This deputy from Camagüey province becomes the first person to reach the Council of State without being a member of the Communist Party or its youth organization.

As was to be expected, the leaders of the so-called mass organizations maintained their symbolic presence.

Going forward, only the details that answer these questions remain: Where will the office of the new president be located? What will be the first law signed with his name? Will his wife be recognized as First Lady? Who will congratulate him on his appointment? Is his first speech already known before it is given? Will he swear allegiance to the party and the ideas of Fidel and Raúl Castro? He has at least five years to give his personal interpretation of how he will give continuity to that legacy.

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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 Raulista Method

Raul Castro (armed raised), and to his left his likely successor, vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 29 March 2018 — In the ten years that Raúl Castro has served as president of the country, he has annulled prohibitions, promulgated laws, established relations with the United States, repressed opponents and, gradually, eliminated some of the distinctive features of his brother’s way of governing, that is, dissolved Fidelismo.

The method used by the General consists of taking short steps, leaving open the possibility of advancing or retreating depending on how events evolve. On more than one occasion he appealed to a succession of advances and retreats, but never returned to the starting point from before the changes were made. continue reading

With his “gradual method” the octogenarian president has tried to tame the laws of dialectics. The motto he offered in a speech some years ago – “without haste but without pause” – underlies his deliberate purpose of delaying the moment in which the quantitative accumulation of modifications generates a new and “undesirable” quality in the Cuban reality.

In this way, Castro has proceeded with immigration reform, the extension of self-employment, the leasing of land under usufruct, the authorization to buy and sell homes and the approval of professional sports, among many other decisions of his mandate. In each case hesitation and slowness have hampered the reforms.

The motto “without haste but without pause” underlies his deliberate purpose of delaying the moment in which the quantitative accumulation of modifications generates a new and “undesirable” quality in the Cuban reality

The initial flexibilizations applied to travel and immigration continued the trend of eliminating obstacles, although in their practical application there have been serious setbacks, especially in the arbitrary prohibitions against opponents and activists of civil society leaving the country, or when deciding whether to allow the entry of exiles who have been more critical of the Government.

After the expansion of self-employment, no new private activities were permitted and, last August, there was a freeze imposed on the issuing of new licenses in the most important occupations. The availability of wholesale markets, the right to import and export, and the facilities to obtain financing from abroad remain unsolved.

The application of a measure that allowed land to be leased in usufruct began with a set period of ten years, which was then extended to 20, but the limitation remains that “to receive land, natural persons will have to work and manage it personally and directly,” together with restrictions on what can be produced and how that production can be distributed.

The right to sell real estate has been one of the most popular flexibilizations and has widened social differences, the precise contrasts that the ruling party has always feared. Early implementation began with significant freedom to establish prices, but later the State imposed referential rates to increase the collection of taxes.

The acceptance of professional sports is, perhaps, one of the greatest heresies committed by Raúl Castro, contradicting the Fidelista catechism. It began with timid payments to high-performance athletes and has been extended to allowing Cuban athletes to be hired by foreign clubs, but has not managed to stop the exodus of sports figures abroad.

In other aspects, such as the elimination of schools in the countryside, allowing Cubans resident on the island to stay in hotels, access to cell phones, foreign investments, and the increase in – very slow – internet connections, there have been advances, some discreet and others more radical.

There remains a terrain where Raúl Castro did not want to take a step, as if it were a minefield: political liberties

However, there remains a terrain where Raul Castro did not want to take a step, as if it were a minefield: political freedoms. Although a moratorium on the execution of the death penalty was implemented under his administration and Law 88 – which imposes stiff prison terms for ‘subverting the internal order’ – has not been applied, the president expanded the use of arbitrary detentions, searches and confiscation of assets against activists and dissidents.

The most notorious pending issues under his mandate are those changes that could lead to an unpredictable abyss, such as monetary unification, the elimination of the rationing system, the dissolution of unprofitable state enterprises and the modification of the Constitution of the Republic.

Also on this list of unresolved issues are the enactment of a new electoral law and the progress to decriminalize political dissent, an area so far prohibited.

Castro’s successor, who will assume the presidency on April 19, will have the opportunity to implement a new way of working. While the General signaled the direction of the changes, the new president will be able to advance in depth and speed. He will have a chance to argue that after a decade of experimentation and of measuring each step with caution, the time has come to move forward without hesitation.

To the extent that the new president adopts a part of the platform of reforms proposed by the opposition, he will be able to shake off the dictator’s garb, especially since he can only be re-elected once. However, to legitimately deserve the title of president he will be forced to trespass through the forbidden door, and for this he will need more than a new method.

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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.

All Power to the Militancy

Of the 605 candidates for the National Assembly of People’s Power, 576 are members of the PCC or its “youth wing,” the UJC. (CMKX Radio Bayamo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 March 1018 — Far from the vaunted diversity and plurality of which the Government boasts, the composition of the National Assembly of Cuba reveals that more than 95% of the deputies who will take office on April 19 will be active in the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) or in the Young Communists Union (UJC).

Of the 605 candidates to the National Assembly of People’s Power that had to be ratified in the elections of this Sunday, 11 March, 576 are members of the PCC or its “youth wing,” the UJC. While only 29, which represent a mere 4.79% of the assembly members, do not belong to any of these organizations.

The PCC has slightly more than 600,000 militants, an amount similar to that of the members of the UJC, according to official figures. Hence, together they barely exceed one million people in a population of 11 million. If this corresponds to the presence in Cuban society of members of these organizations, the percentage would be 65.4%.

In that small minority of non-militants among the candidates for the National Assembly, there are figures such as Maria Armenia Yi Reina, the ecumenical leader of the Los Amigos Church. The 49-year-old deputy is the only woman in Parliament who is not a member of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and the only assembly member who is not a member of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). A rarity.

Among the non-militants is Jorge Luís Romero Herrera, a cobbler who seems to have arrived at the Assembly to meet the quota for the non-state or self-employed sector. The young man also stands out for having won a bronze medal in a boxing tournament and, curious fact, he worked as a driver in military counterintelligence.

Singer and composer Raúl Torres, lacking the acronym PCC or UJC in his biography, brings the most relevant qualifications of having created songs dedicated to Hugo Chavez (The Return of the Friend) and Fidel Castro (Riding with Fidel). This last musical theme catapulted him to Parliament after being played to the point of delirium during the funeral of the former president.

Composition of Parliament split by members of the PCC and UJC and non-members (14ymedio)

Other personalities of culture and sports such as the Havana native Digna Guerra, director of the National Choir of Cuba, the plastic artist Nelson Domínguez Cedeño who represents Morón, and the Olympic champion Yipsi Moreno on the Camagüey list, are also some among the small group of non-militants. A drop in the middle of an ocean of PCC members.

It’s enough to review the listings published in recent weeks by the official press, to note that the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sanctis Spíritus and the special municipality Isla de la Juventud send representatives to Parliament of whom 100% of members of the PCC. They are the “dyed red” regions whose representatives will act under party discipline.

Havana, with a representation of 106 deputies, turns out to be the province with the largest number of non-members (13), followed by Santiago de Cuba, which, out of a total of 54 parliamentarians, has at least 4 are not part of either of the two political organizations. In the rest of the country the numbers are even scarcer.

With this overwhelming majority of parliamentarians with a red card in their pockets, the governing elite makes sure that the deputies are owed more to the party organization than to the National Assembly. There is no doubt about the deputies’ priorities given that the Constitution of the Republic establishes that the Party “is the superior ruling force of society and of the State” and party discipline requires absolute subordination.

Positioned to choose between two loyalties, these 596 militants will undoubtedly choose to follow the guidelines of the PCC general secretary, a position that Raúl Castro will occupy until 2021, unless an extraordinary congress is held to replace him.

Thus, among those who will choose the new Council of State and the future president loyalty and obedience will be imposed, tinged with a false diversity. If Vladimir Ilyich Lenin launched the slogan “All Power to the Soviets” in 1917, a century later Castro has reinterpreted that idea and plans to fill his last Parliament with 100% reliable deputies.

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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.

René Gómez Manzano, Thank You For Your Opinion

Editor Grace Piney and lawyer René Gómez Manzano during the presentation in Miami of the book ‘Can I Comment?’ (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Miami, 22 February 2018 — Can I Comment? It sounds like a rhetorical question, but when it is formulated by a lawyer with the vocation of a journalist who has experienced political prison on two occasions, the question has new connotations.

The book by that title by Cuban lawyer René Gómez Manzano, was presented at the Altamira bookstore in Miami on Wednesday, in a presentation that took a moment to transcend the pages of the volume and interact, face to face, with one of the most important chroniclers of deep Cuba of this last quarter century. continue reading

Under the careful editing of Grace Piney, the 57 articles compiled in half a thousand pages are divided into five sections by topic. Indictment abounds, but arguments predominate. The language is direct, sometimes sharp and with a sufficient dose of humor.

Because Manzano does not beat around the bush, his prose has that direct style and sense of haste of those who feel that certain things have to be said urgently, as soon as possible, amidst the serious problems that run through the national reality.

The name of René Gómez Manzano burst on the public scene in 1997 when, with Martha Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca and Félix Bonne Carcassés, he signed the document “The Nation Belongs to Everyone.” That gesture cost him a sentence of four years in prison, at which time Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. He is the founder of a group of independent Cuban lawyers called Corriente Agramontista.

In the last decade his articles have appeared in several media of the Cuban independent press, and it is during this same decade, between 2007 and 2017, that the articles were published – particularly on the Cubanet digital site – which now appear in a book format printed in Spain by Publiberia.

At the presentation, and after thanking the attendees, Gómez Manzano explained that it was not easy to decide which articles would be included and which were excluded and emphasized “I have tried to reflect the truth of what is happening in Cuba.”

The audience at the presentation of ‘Can I Comment?’ this Wednesday in Miami. (14ymedio)

The author commented that if a scientist from another country wanted to make a study of recent Cuban history, he could not achieve it by searching only the official press. “Even if reading Granma [the state newspaper] didn’t drive him completely crazy, what he would come away with would not have any contact with reality,” he said.

For Gómez Manzano, that is precisely one of the most important obligations of independent journalism: “To offer elements to better understand the sad reality of what our country has experienced.”

René Gómez Manzano chose the title for his compilation because he does not pretend to report only a cold objectivity devoid of his own emotions. He talks about the potatoes in the rationed market, some episodes of the Second World War, the internal contradictions of the opposition, the work of the courts, the repression and whatever comes to mind.

During the conversation with the audience, he did not have to apologize for having exercised his right to speak freely. Quite the contrary, everyone thanked him.

The discussion flowed, time passed and for a moment there was a feeling floating in the air as if the launch of Manzano’s new book was taking place in Havana or another Cuban city, due to the presence of so many compatriots.

The illusion lasted an instant, but completed what was written in these pages written by the lawyer. In the end, everything he said in Can I Comment? seeks, in many ways, to help us reach that future of bookstores and minds open to the plurality of voices that inhabit the Island.

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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 Blasts of Rafael Almanza

n his house on Rosario street, in the city of Camagüey, Almanza has woven his own cosmogony of gatherings, discussions and writing, sometimes signed under the pseudonym of Ráfaga. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Camagüey, 17 February 2018 — When the list of Cuban writers excluded from the National Literature Prize is drawn up, Rafael Almanza Alonso will have to be placed at the top.  An intellectual too Catholic in his ethics, very avant-garde in his work and excessively civic in his social activity to be promoted by cultural institutions.

In his house on Rosario street in the city of Camagüey, Almanza has woven his own cosmogony of gatherings, discussions and writing, sometimes signed under the pseudonym of Ráfaga. He has ranged from a poet to researcher of the work of José Martí, narrator, literary and art critic, opera librettist, cultural animator, curator, independent journalist, editor, videographer and teacher of writers, artists and reporters. continue reading

With no official prizes to his name, last week Almanza was awarded the Gastón Baquero National Prize for Independent Literature, which encourages “literary independence,” as explained by the organizers of the award: the La Rosa Blanca Institute, the Club of Independent Writers of Cuba and the Puente a la Vista project.

However, with a mischievous smile, the author confesses that he was not even aware that the prize existed before receiving it. “I accepted it because I have a lot of confidence in the friends who recommended me and because they told me that the prize is justified by my work and attitude towards life.”

About to turn 61, the Camagüeyano is still a child. Everything he does or says has the trace of a childish prank. “I like that it has been based on attitude, but if it includes the work, even better, because most of what I have written remains unpublished or has been published in the United States in practically symbolic editions that few have been able to read.”

He is referring to the Ediciones Homagno project, organized by friends and writers who collaborate in the nonprofit publication of their volumes and those of other authors.

The son of a baker and a primary teacher, the first things he read, starting at six, were in the pages of La Edad de Oro (The Golden Age), a children’s magazine founded by José Martí. When he was nine he was already convinced that he would be a writer. He saw Martí himself as a model to remain “attentive to the problems of the country.”

He explains, “Practically since I was a child I believed that a writer must have a civic attitude, I am not a politician and I do not think I have the qualities to be one. Had I had them, perhaps right now I would be imprisoned or dead.”

But Almanza does not confuse his lack of political ambition with indifference. “My function is to try to make good literature with enormous challenges and at the same time keep my dignity.” The mere fact of handling words and ideas, of being better informed than most people, establishes an intellectual challenge that must be obeyed.

He believes that most of the great Cuban writers have maintained a civic stance, including Gastón Baquero himself. “In my opinion he was the representative of the generation of the group [that founded Orígenes [magazine] with the higher purpose of communicating, to the people, their ideas of what the nation should be and their ideas about the ideological world of their time.”

The poet does not beat around the bush: “In a country like this where we live in total moral passivity, writers have a role to play: People like Ángel Santiesteban and Rafael Alcides have shown that it is possible to fulfill that duty, even at an enormous price, and also to remain in Cuba, instead of leaving to look for a future that may be better, but that distances us from our civic duties.”

In response to the classic question of how this prize encourages him in his work, he bluntly replies: “I will not stop writing with a prize or without a prize, but when a group of free Cubans recognizes me, that is a huge encouragement. I have chosen to be absolutely marginal, to be a stranger, but marginality does not have to be perpetual.”

With the permanent hint of a smile drawn on his face, Rafael Almanza looks like a playful elf. His house, which suffers being in the vicinity of a bustling bakery, exhibits a dilapidated 30-foot-wide facade with a wide door and plaster at the point of total collapse in several places.

Many young people with literary pretensions come to show the teacher their achievements. However, his contemporaries do not visit him. “They have a terrible fear, although in reality I have to admit that it is not convenient for them to come here,” he says, and then he proudly points out his private heraldry, formed by a series of shields that young artists have given him. He has them hanging from the eaves of the inner courtyard. He looks at them with love and proclaims: “There is my protection.”

Almanza does not like to talk about what remains for him to do, but rather what he has already done. He has now finished the multimedia version of his poetry book HymNos, which was originally published in a 536-page copy in 2014 by Ediciones Homagno.

The colossal work was close to having a more wide-reaching publisher but, according to its author, “the organizers of the International Book Fair in Miami last year did not like it, it must have been because there are hymns to the glory of God and because they did not know that there were also things that were not exactly divine.”

As he is already on the threshold of old age, some might confuse Almanza with an old fuddy-duddy, but he sees himself as “a 21st century boy” who is happy to use the tools of modernity.

The nine gigabytes consumed by the multimedia version of HymNos includes two documentaries, seven sound recordings, more than one hundred photos and 14 videos. The missing step is the financing to copy the work and distribute it. “Everything fits on three DVDs. You might think that the DVD is outdated, but that will be in New York, not in Cuba.”

For those who doubt that Almanza is still alive and kicking after so much official snubbing, the writer doesn’t mince words: “It’s as if I had creativity Viagra. I am reviewing an article for that excellent magazine called Indolence in Cuba that should appear under the title of Mulata Metaphysics or Viagra on the Ration Book.

Since humor reigns in the magazine, Almanza suggests that every Cuban man over 60 should be allocated at least two viagra pills a month on the ration book. “In what I have managed to achieve, I feel satisfied with my life, being a writer and teacher. This is how I most enjoy using my energy, writing, being useful and looking for problems.”

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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.

Cuba’s Next Government Will Be More Of The Same

In the main hall of the Palace of Conventions the hands raised in sign of approval continued with the nefarious tradition of unanimity. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 February 2018 – In the case of Cuba, the figures hide more than they say. The data published by the official press on the composition of the next Parliament hide the fact that the nucleus of the National Assembly of People’s Power will remain unchanged after April 19, with the investiture of the IX Legislature. The new deputies who enter do not matter; the key to understanding this body of power lies in pointing out those who remain.

At least 231, 38% of parliamentarians, will fill their seats for the second consecutive term while the rest, which represents 62%, will be new to the legislature. This last group is composed mostly of Assembly members without positions in the highest spheres of the Government and the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), such that their decision-making capacity and ability to add items to the discussion agenda is almost nil. continue reading

But the case of the 93 deputies who remain is very different. They are precisely those who occupy the highest positions on the PCC Central Committee, the ministerial portfolios and positions on the Council of State. This group of “immovables” also includes the figures at the head of the so-called mass organizations and the People’s Power, the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.

Obviously included in this set are the members of the so-called historical generation: eight surviving elders including Raul Castro, Ramiro Valdes, Machado Ventura and others who passed retirement age years ago.

The hard core determines the course taken by the Assembly, the laws that are debated, the laws that are approved and even the behavior of the other legislators.

That hard core determines the course taken by the Assembly, the issues that are debated, the laws that are approved and even the behavior of the other legislators. Thus, the new members function as “filling” to balance the quotas of gender, race, social origin and professional diversity that are exhibited to the world as an example of “Cuban democracy.”

In this tightly rehearsed theater that is the Cuban Parliament, it is easy to distinguish the protagonists from those who are secondary actors, including the extras. In the next Assembly the most reliable “interpreters” remain, permeating the novices with their practice of obedience and imposing their partisan or military discipline on those who attempt any audacity.

This has been the case for more than 40 years.

During the VIII Legislature, thirteen deputies resigned their posts, five died and one was revoked. No bill was disapproved. In the main hall of the Palace of Conventions the hands raised in signs of approval continued the nefarious tradition of unanimity. During that time it was a Parliament without visible trends, without healthy altercations, without a re-counting of votes, without wings, without life.

That immobilism was determined precisely by the speed and direction imposed on the rest of the deputies by a group that represents barely a sixth part of the total. A handful of parliamentarians who behaved like sheep dogs – sometimes it only required one – who guide the huge herd with their barking and their attitude. They were the custodians of orthodoxy and the guardians of verticality.

The new deputies designated to share seats with that claque must be attentive only to the signals, the beginning of applause and the movement of the eyebrows of the veterans

The new deputies designated to share seats with that claque must be attentive only to the signals, the beginning of applause and the movements of the eyebrows of the veterans. Among those who remain is Raúl Castro, who has assured that he will retire from his position as president, but who will most likely be included as a member of the Councils of State and of Ministers.

Located in that “highest instance,” Castro will echo the scheme that rules in the rest of Parliament: the formal structure is accessory, what counts is the historical authority and the real power for decision making. It is the way the ruler has found to keep his word of not serving a third mandate, but to continue to lead.

The key to this move was revealed by the general himself seven years ago, during the closing ceremony of the VI Congress of the PCC when it was announced that José Ramón Machado Ventura was to head the Secretariat of the Central Committee. Castro said then that he had been asked who would preside over the meetings of the organization’s Secretariat if both he and Machado were in attendance at the meetings.

With a group of hard-liners controlling the National Assembly and such a powerful watchdog on the Councils of State and of Ministers, little can be expected from the next legislature

The answer was clear and direct: “Machadito knows that when I arrive at a meeting I assume [the leadership].” This attitude will be the one that repeats if he stays on the Council of State even though he is not president. What chair he occupies influences little, his authority over the possible heir of the maximum position of the country will be exercised from a short distance.

With a group of hard-liners controlling the National Assembly and such a powerful watchdog on the Councils of State and of Ministers, little can be expected from the upcoming legislature and the “new Government” or “next Government.” The structure that will be presented publicly this coming April does not deserve either of these qualifiers.

In 2010, when the previous Parliament had not yet been formed, the activist Carlos Ríos covered the walls of Havana with the slogan “No to the Eighth Legislature.” Today, the opponent lives in exile, his graffiti vanishes from the facades of the city and a group of parliamentarians are about to be sworn into their positions so that everything remains the same.

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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 Platform Of The Innocents

Sign: “Market Leased to Self-employed Workers.” The self-employed sector thought it would benefit from the supposed measures disseminated on the Internet, but the whole thing was actually a joke perpetrated for the Day of the Holy Innocents. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 January 2018 – On the final Thursday of last year, the young journalist Norge Rodríguez posted on his Facebook wall the new measures that the Cuban government would supposedly take as of this coming February to “get out of the economic crisis affecting the country for nearly three decades once and for all.”

Those who read the posting to the final line were told they could find more details through a link that led to the Wikipedia listing for the Day of the Holy Innocents, a date on which, in almost all Latin America, jokes of all kinds are made, including in the media through the broadcast of false news.

Those who did not read until the end ventured to reproduce what was, in fact, a “joke of the Innocents” in social networks, blogs and information sites. Nor was there any lack of “analysts” who devoted their time to speculating on the likelihood of some flexibilizations that were spread within the Island through emails, printed sheets and USB memories. continue reading

The owner of a restaurant received one of those papers, from the hands of a customer, clipped to the Letter of the Year with the predictions of the babalaos. A member of the Communist Party could not resist the temptation to ask his neighbor, an independent journalist, if he had heard about the new measures; while a plumber accompanied his teenage son to connect to the internet to get more details about the “reform package.”

In a few days, the joke went viral throughout the country as if it were authentic information, fueling illusions, exciting entrepreneurs and becoming the center of conversations in parks, sports clubs and at family tables.

In an unusual exchange of telephone calls, everyone who felt they would benefit consulted their “frequently well informed” sources about the veracity of the news. These, in turn, went to their usual informants located in the upper echelons of power, in search of signs regarding whether the changes were actually coming.

The supposed measures covered four areas of public interest: self-employment, migration policy, land ownership and Internet access. The document suggested that others were also expected, including ones regarding the press, citizen participation, transparency and democratic governance.

Entrepreneurs welcomed with enthusiasm the elimination of the concept of “permitted activities” and cheered in a low voice the granting of legal status to entities that would be able to “associate with foreign companies and capital.” Their eyes shone when they read that they could import products of a commercial nature and export their products or services.

The private sector, with more than half a million workers, trembled with optimism when they read that a fund was being created for the development of self-employment and fiscal incentives for cooperatives. The offices of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) began receiving numerous calls to learn details about the openings.

Cubans settled outside the country shared their joy when they “learned” that the passport extension process was going to be eliminated and that the document would be valid for 10 years, at a cost of 120 dollars abroad and 60 CUC on the island. The emigrants also welcomed the disappearance of the concept of “repatriation.”

The measures, which circulated from hand to hand, included a new Agrarian Reform so that the farmers would become the legitimate owners of the lands they worked and the concept of leasing in usufruct would be abolished. At the same time they were going to be allowed to import supplies, machinery, tools and also to export their products.

The appetite for electronic access was satiated in the novel flexibilizations because, as of March, the internet service would be extended to all households, without time restrictions and at reasonable prices. Along the same lines, it was also stated that foreign telecommunications operators could establish themselves in the country.

From the sociological point of view, the most striking of these “jokes of the Innocents” is the enthusiasm sparked, given that the fictitious package straddled the fence with a foot on each side: on one side the moderate opposition, and on the other the place where the boldest await reforms from the official spheres.

Some dissidents who read the document regretted that the decriminalization of thinking differently, the openness to free association and the freedom of expression were not included. While the most radical began to dismiss it as another attempt by the nomenklatura to perpetuate itself in power, a step to buy the consciousness of the emerging middle class.

Among the most orthodox followers of the ruling party, few believed in the truthfulness of the measures that everyone was talking about on the street. A simple review of the most recent party and government accords made it clear that everything would have to be false, unless an “unacceptable betrayal of the principles” was in the process of being developed.

When it got to the level of the press and the journalists of the ruling party it appeared as if it might necessary to publish a denial describing the event as “a new campaign against Cuba,” but in the end they opted for silence so as not to add fuel to the fire of the rumors.

The most skeptical detected the hoax from the beginning, noting the government’s maxim that any reform should lead to the “perfection” of socialism and realizing that the measures were like corrosive acid on a system that privileges the advantage of the State over private initiative. While implementing such measures would not bring the “overthrow” of the regime, it would deal devastating blows to it.

For two weeks, that list of flexibilizations tested the credulity of a society anxious to hear good news and also offered a warning: If a new electoral law is approved in Cuba, one that would allow candidates to run on proposed platforms – which is strictly forbidden in the current system which allows candidates to offer only their biographies (and forbids any campaigning at all) – anyone who dared to offer such platforms would be swept away at the ballot boxes.

But the platform of the innocents would win, no doubt, among those who read the deceiving joke and believed it was true.

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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.

Political Correctness and Moral Relativity

Sign: “Death to the Invader.” It is not politically correct to brag about wanting to achieve political power through violence.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 January 2018 — In this century it is impossible to fit into the mold of the politically correct if one exhibits racist, homophobic, sexist or xenophobic attitudes, or when one boasts of wanting to achieve political power through violence. These criteria have been extended in recent years to a large number of states, institutions, the media, academic circles and citizens of the planet.

Thanks to this awareness, terrorism-like phenomena as a political weapon, the ablation of the clitoris, violence as a liberating resource and religious intolerance have all lost the prestige granted them by that moral relativism that justified them for centuries in the name of “cultural reasons” or ” sacred traditions” or “sovereignty of nations” or “historical circumstances.”

However, there is a serious danger in trying to translate these modern parameters into the past. When history is revised in a schematic way based on the rules of the present, very little can be saved from those years and few figures of the national “pantheon” would remain standing. continue reading

Under this prism, José Martí ends up being labeled as macho, he is disqualified due to violence and for the idea that “rights are not begged for, but conquered at the edge of a machete,” as is Antonio Maceo, for the intolerance represented by the phrase “you keep that document, we do not want to know about it,” which he said to the Spanish general Arsenio Martínez Campos in the Baraguá Protest.

In a review of the lyrics of the songs of the traditional trova there are “pearls” of impropriety such as the mockery of people with physical disabilities: “Simon, you can’t dance the cha cha chá because you have gimpy legs”; while racism makes itself at home on issues such as “They call me the little black guy from the batey because for me work is an enemy.”

The songs people fell in love with almost a century ago also encouraged and praised, many times, the excessive consumption of alcohol as a symbol of masculine gallantry: “Yesterday’s drunken bender is already over, this is another drunken bender I’m on today.” A proselytizing of drink and the local bar that, fortunately, today is frowned upon.

An excavation with the new moral tools could reach as far as the plastic arts and censorship of The Rape of the Mulatas, by the painter Carlos Enríquez, for having drawn on the face of women that slight smile that makes them seem to be provoking their kidnappings and making them the sweet accomplices of their captors. If this criterion is followed, most of the halls of the National Museum of Fine Arts should be closed immediately.

In the case of language, the same thing happens. The promulgators of strict inclusivity don’t care much for jokes. Like a young tourist guide from Havana who, thinking he was being nice, decided to assure a group of retired Germans that he considered himself a feminist because he only liked women. They nearly hit him before he could rectify it by saying it had been “just a joke.”

In the official media, orthodoxy regarding how to refer to Fidel Castro has fluctuated. For years the announcers were obliged to mention each of the hierarchies of his innumerable positions: “Maximum Leader of the Revolution, Commander in Chief, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, President of the Councils of State and of Ministers”…

Today, however, he is reduced to the epithets of “historical leader” or “eternal commander in chief,” but barely a millimeter separates him from those designations while calling him by name and surname can still lead to mistrust.

The desire to be more correct than others is usually nuanced by the ideological prism and does not escape the distortion that introduces moral relativism, which indistinctly leads to considering insults or adulation appropriate, as the case may be.

Hence, in certain environments of the political opposition, the same thing occurs. For many activists it is not “politically correct” to use the expression “the government” to refer to the authorities. If you do not say “the dictatorship” or better “the bloody tyranny of the Castro brothers” you can end up on the list of accomplices.

The vocabulary becomes more demanding when speaking directly of a public figure. According to the most strict dissident allowed terms, one cannot call the elder Castro brother “ex-president” when he only deserves to be mentioned as “the dictator” and the allusion to his younger brother must always be accompanied by the clarification of “heir of the dynasty,” as if it were not enough to hang on him the ironic stigma of “General President.”

When it comes to policing the militancy of language, there will always be a reductionist formula to appeal to that ends in a speech full of slogans. There are those who speak in blocks, they always say the same thing, they do not move even a millimeter away from the language coined for each thing, as if they feared being caught for having had “a linguistic weakness.” Once the words are read or heard, it is enough, because with such a small arsenal of words they repeat themselves until they yawn.

In the case of information-related work, the phenomenon becomes more complex. How should journalists report an arrest? “Agents of State Security led an opponent to jail,” or perhaps they should write, “The henchmen of ‘citizen insecurity’ kidnapped a democracy activist and locked him in a Castro dungeon.”

The problem is that so many adjectives end up confusing rather than informing. Something similar happened to a dissident on Twitter when he wrote: “The regime calls for the electoral simulation for next March 11.” Several of the clueless believed that it was a pilot test for the elections of the National Assembly, when in reality the reporting militant wanted to say that it was an electoral “farce.”

In the midst of so many rules of how to call each thing, it is worth noting that the very definition “independent journalism” should be considered a redundancy. Since the only honest way to practice this profession is without a mandate from the spheres of government, oblivious to any partisanship, without genuflections to terminology and liberated from the corsets of all extreme political correctness, be it oficialista or oppositional.

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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 Successive Deaths of the Cuban Revolution

Fidel Castro’s ashes make their way across Cuba to the cemetery where they were interred.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 January 2018 — The official media are celebrating, right now, a new anniversary of what they insist on calling the Cuban Revolution. The festivities around the 1st of January, when Fidel Castro marked a turning point in the nation’s history, show all the traces of a routine that has exhausted itself with an excessive prolongation in time, and the process of a growing loss of popular support.

Even the name of the phenomenon that began in 1959 is a matter of deep discussion, having been stripped of any character of change, transformation or impulse of renewal. The Revolution has died countless times over these almost six decades, and has received another shovelful of dirt every time it disappointed, betrayed or disenchanted those who supported it in its infancy.

At the beginning, when it was presented as a liberating act that overthrew the brief dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, that political and social upheaval aroused popular enthusiasm. The balconies were filled with flags as — with cries of “Freedom! Freedom!” — Cubans welcomed the opportunity for change. continue reading

In the first hours of that first of January of 1959 the only opponents seemed to be the former tyrant’s torturers and the vampire embezzlers who used public funds for their own benefit. The crowds took to the streets to celebrate a new dawn for the country, with the majority never imagining that the long night of authoritarianism had begun.

In a short time, the dicontented of a new nature appeared. On the list of nonconformists were those who suspected that this was “communism” disguised as a libertarian process, along with those who did not approve of the excesses of the summary trials and executions, and those who waited for a commitment to guarantee democratic elections that never came.

That first wave of the disappointed also included those who saw in galloping atheism a threat to the exercise of their religious beliefs.

From that moment on, there were different sides, moments of definition in which each person could continue to support at all costs what Fidel Castro proclaimed, or maintain the reserve that allowed them to get off the train when things did not go along the expected path.

For some, the station they disembarked from was October 1962 with the irresponsible decision to turn the island into a missile launch ramp with nuclear weapons; for others the disappointment came a year later when the second law of Agrarian Reform, decreeing that the existence of the “rural bourgeoisie” was “incompatible with the interests and aims of the Socialist Revolution,” seized even small farms and forced the farmers into state-run cooperatives.

In March 1968, the Revolutionary Offensive confiscated all remaining businesses, right down to the fried food stalls, and in August of that same year, coinciding with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, dissidents appeared in Cuba who, although still feeling “revolutionary,” were not willing to accept every kind of act on behalf of the Government.

Then came the failure of the 1970 sugar harvest that brought the national economy to the brink of a debacle; followed by the Sovietization that was consolidated five years later and that set the island orbiting around the designs of the Kremlin; then the delirious decision to participate in distant African wars; and the repudiation rallies of 1980 when the exodus known as the Mariel Boatlift took place. After a five-year period of a relative bonanza, the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe sounded like the coup de grace for a dying process.

The firing squad execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa and several senior military officers was a severe blow for many who had insisted on seeing the setbacks of the process as errors committed by bureaucratic officials or ministers who did not know how to interpret the designs of the Commander in Chief. In the Ochoa case, the highest power showed itself with an impiety that disappointed more than one.

Others, who had retained their faith in the process until then, ended up getting off the wagon of the Revolution when they were gripped by the deprivations of the so-called Special Period or watched a relative leave during the Rafter Crisis. Many more slammed the door definitively with the Black Spring of 2003 that sent dozens of opponents and independent journalists to prison for long sentences.

Later, came apathy and fatigue. The Revolution again received “deadly blows” but this time from the hand of weariness and the exhaustion of its discourse. The rise to power of Raul Castro, through dynastic succession, meant the consolidation of the immobility of the system, and was reflected in his lack of courage to carry out the changes needed by the nation and the fear that had been installed among the ruling elite.

“This,” as millions of Cubans now call it, who refuse to use another more glorious term, is (simply) the control that a group of octogenarians seeks to impose as a perpetual inheritance on new generations. A system without a future that no longer has any vestige of that liberating cause.

The country, the nation, the Island, the fatherland no longer support an obligatory synonymity with “the Revolution.” Sixty years seems too long.

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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.

When The Labor Union is the Employer

Workers of the state company Cimex in the May Day parade, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 December 2017 — Anyone who knows the Cuban reality even partly knows the role of “drivetrain” played by the so-called mass organizations. Instead of representing the interests of their members before the State, they function as watchdogs of the government’s interests in each of their sectors.

The Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) is more concerned with showing women’s emancipation in occupations than in gender rights; The Federation of University Students (FEU) acts as a hitman to expel “troublesome” students under the principle that “the university is for Revolutionaries”; and the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) watches over the farmers to ensure they deliver their products to the Ministry with greater zeal than it demonstrates in ensuring that the Ministry pay its debts to the farmers.

The union leaders take the prize for docility, especially in the national organizations. As the true foremen at the service of the patron-state, they are more concerned with productivity than with protection measures; they demand from the workers strict compliance with the imposed discipline, but they fail to protest before the administration when someone is unfairly dismissed. continue reading

During a recent press conference, the Secretary General of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, surprised everyone when he warned about the importance the issue of salaries should have at the next Congress of the pro-government entity he leads.

Those who expected a complaint about the difficulties of putting food on the table given the monthly wages, ran up against Guilarte’s assertions that the problem of low wages is “much more damaging today with regards to the effects of the permanent fluctuation, which is also increasing, that we have in the work force” and he added to his list of concerns “the apathy, the demotivation” that these low wages generate.

The general secretary is irritated that people do not earn sufficient resources from their work to acquire goods and enjoy services not because of the low quality of life this condemns them to, but because they then fall into the “moral weakness” of “finding in theft, in the diversion [of resources], in misappropriation, the so-called alternative sources to satisfy their needs.”

Instead of demanding compliance with the sacred law of socialism that insists each person be paid according to their work, the leader of the only union allowed in the country regrets that low wages have caused in just four years “a loss of more than 30,000 (…) workers with the highest qualifications,” referring to the migration of the most talented to the non-state sector of the economy.

Later, as he boasted of being a close associate of the highest spheres of power, he confessed that Raul Castro had indicated to him that “the most concrete contribution that the trade union movement in Cuba can make is to continue mobilizing the workers to call on greater reserves of efficiency,” another of the many calls that have been repeated for decades to make a greater effort and sacrifice, but without any hint of improving working conditions in the state sector.

Beyond these exhortations, the most significant thing to highlight from Guilarte’s statements is his role standing next to power rather than to the working class. The union leader does not tremble when he makes demands on and criticizes those he should defend and support.

This happens because the eyes of those who find themselves holding “the right end of the stick” are incapable of seeing the permanent emergency situation in which they have plunged the country. As in any other shipwreck, it is inappropriate to demand rights; they will only listen to the captain’s orders while the official media continues to repeat that the ship of socialism is sailing the seas towards sustainable prosperity.

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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.

Success and Failure of Independent Candidates in Cuba

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

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 December 2017 — Although from the legal and theoretical point of view the concept of “independent candidate” is inappropriate in the context of the current Cuban electoral processes, this designation has been imposed on those men and women who attempted to be nominated as candidates for the position of Delegate to the Municipal Assemblies in 2017 who did not enjoy the support or acceptance of the Communist Party of Cuba.

In democratic countries, where the multi-party system works and people with political inclinations present platforms to win over the electorate, an independent candidate is one who attempts to be elected without representing a partisan grouping and who competes for votes as an individual. continue reading

The current Electoral Law makes it clear that “the party does not nominate candidates” and that it is the Area Assemblies within the districts that propose and, by show of hands, nominate those who “possess sufficient merits.” In practice, however, it was not even possible to nominate a single one of those who were proposed from alternative initiatives.

The only time it has been possible to take a few steps in this direction was in April 2015 when, in two districts of Havana, Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel López managed to appear on the ballots. The corresponding electoral commissions in charge of writing their biographies – the only legal campaign materials – wrote that they were “counterrevolutionary elements.” Obviously, neither was elected at the polls.

In the recently concluded nomination process, it was expected that more than one hundred non-conforming candidates would be proposed at these Area Assemblies. The repertoire of obstacles interposed was vast and even imaginative.

There were arbitrary arrests of candidates and the presumptive voters willing to propose them, sudden modification of the dates of the assemblies and a last minute summoning of voters without informing the interested parties, changes in hospital shifts to admit close family members, and even unexpected offers to perform desired — but previously postponed — surgeries .

But above all, in each of the places where “the independent” managed to get someone to propose them or proposed themselves, a picket of indignant voters gave free rein to their revolutionary intolerance and, with the approval of those who directed the activity, they mocked with all kinds of insults those who had dared to make such a challenge.

It is no secret to anyone that, if one of these would-be candidates had been nominated, they most likely they would not have obtained the majority in the voting or, if that miracle happened, they would not have had any chance to be a candidate for the Provincial Assembly, let alone the Parliament. From all this comes an inevitable question: What is the point, then, of so much effort, so much risk?

The yardstick to measure the success or failure of these initiatives is not, as might be supposed, the number of seats won, but, even if it seems too metaphorical, the amount of unmasking that occurs in the discourse that the Cuban elections are trying to present as the most democratic in the world

Before an audience, made up of cadres from the PCC, and referring to the initiatives to promote independent candidates, the first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, presumed replacement for Raúl Castro in February 2018, confessed the following: “Now we are taking all the steps to discredit that, so people have a perception of risk.”

With that statement, he violated Article 171 of the electoral legislation that states that “every elector, to determine which candidate he will cast his vote for, will consider only [the candidate’s] personal conditions, prestige and capacity to serve the people; every kind of electoral campaign (for or against) is prohibited.”

All the uniformed members of the National Revolutionary Police, the civilian agents of State Security and the hundreds, perhaps thousands of Party militants and cadres of mass organizations involved in these maneuvers, no longer have the right to say that they unaware of the trick. They may invoke obedience or the discipline required of them, but not innocence.

Those who designed these strategies ignored the fact that having just accepted (even manufactured) an elected opponent, they could have been more convincing about the supposed cleanliness of the process without the clumsy demonstration of arrogance and intolerance that they felt forced to unleash in order to prevent the nomination of people not committed to the Communist Party.

The closing down of peaceful methods only serves to open the doors to violence, if the most abject submission cannot be ascertained.

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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.