Fidel Castro’s Proclamation, A List Of Unmet Instructions / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Carlos Valenciaga, chief of staff to Fidel Castro, as he read the proclamation on the night of 31 July 2006. (TV screenshot)
Carlos Valenciaga, chief of staff to Fidel Castro, as he read the proclamation on the night of 31 July 2006. (TV screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Reinaldo Escobar, 30 July 2016 — Ten years after the Proclamation in which Fidel Castro announced his departure from power, that document continues to reveal distinctive features of a personality marked by the desire to control everything. More than an ideological legacy, the text is a simple list of instructions and it is unlikely that the official media—so addicted to the upcoming major anniversary of Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday—will offer an assessment of whether these instructions have been followed.

On 31 July 2006, the primetime news broadcast brought an enormous surprise. Around nine at night Carlos Valenciaga, a member of the Council of State, appeared in front of the cameras to read the Proclamation of the Commander in Chief to the People of Cuba, where he announced that due to health problems he felt obliged “to rest for several weeks, away from my responsibilities and tasks.”

After giving his version of the complications that plagued him and the causes that had caused them, Fidel Castro offered six basic points in this document and additionally left instructions about holding the Non-aligned Summit and about the postponement of the celebrations for his 90th birthday.

The first three points of the proclamation are dedicated to the transfer of powers to his brother Raul Castro as head of the Party, the government and the armed forces. The order for these transfers were completely unnecessary because it was already in his position to undertake these functions given that he was then in second position in both the hierarchical order of the Party and the government. It is striking that in each case he reiterated the “temporary delegation” of the transfer of responsibilities.

In the three remaining points he delegated (also on a temporary basis) his functions “as principal promoter of the National and International Public Health Program” to then Minister of Public health Jose Ramon Balaguer; the “principal promoters of the National and International Education Program” to Politburo members José Ramón Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernández; and as “main promoter of the National Energy Revolution in Cuba and collaborator with other countries in this area” Carlos Lage Davila, who was then secretary to the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers.

In a separate paragraph he clarified that the funds for these three programs should continue to be managed and prioritized “as I have personally been doing” by Carlos Lage, Francisco Soberon, then minister-president of the Central Bank of Cuba, and Felipe Perez Roque, at that time minister of Foreign Relations.

Almost immediately after having read that proclamation there was an enormous military mobilization in the entire country, called Operation Caguairán. Shortly afterwards the former omnipresence of the Maximum Leader was reduced to some sporadic Reflections of the Commander in Chief published in all the newspapers and read on all the news shows. Twenty months later the National Assembly formally elected Raul Castro as the president of the Councils of State and of Ministers and later the 2011 Sixth Congress of the Communist Party elected him as First Secretary.

From his sickbed Fidel Castro affirmed on that 31st July that he did not harbor “the slightest doubt that our people and our Revolution will struggle until the last drop of blood to defend these and other ideas and measures that are necessary to safeguard our historic process.” In the text itself he asked the Party Central Committee and the National Assembly of Peoples Power “to strongly support this proclamation” although in previous lines he had had already dictated that the party “supported by the mass organizations and all the people, has the mission of assuming the task set forward in this Proclamation.”

A decade passed, the temporary absence of the “main driver” became permanent and four of the seven men named no longer occupied their positions. The reader of the proclamation was ousted. The programs mentioned have become part of the normal functions of the ministries in charge of these tasks and the “corresponding funds” (although no one has proclaimed it officially) are no accounted for in the nation’s budget.

While the 80th birthday wasn’t able to be held with his presence, nor the 2 December 2006 50th anniversary of the landing of the Granma, the yacht that brought the Castros and other revolutionaries from Mexico, as foreseen in his proclamation, now in 2016 all cultural events, sporting events, productive activities, have been dedicated to his 90th birthday.

The ultimate significance of that proclamation lies not in the message it contains, among other things because its author seemed to be persuaded that this was not his political testament but a “bear with me, I’ll be back in a while.”

The final results of this proclamation has been like a blinding spotlight that goes out, a permanent noise that we have become accustomed to and suddenly stops ringing, a will that ceases to give orders, the termination of an omnipresence. The absence occasioned has more connotations of relief than of a capsizing. There is nostalgia. The anxiety about the final outcome has been diluted in a fastidious tedium, like that of sitting in front of those films that stretch unnecessarily.

The Erratic Corrections of Machado Ventura / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The only “next” is the looming return of the economic difficulties. (14ymedio)
The only “next” is the looming return of the economic difficulties. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 July 2016 – Sporting a hat to protect himself from the rays of the sun, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura explained in his speech for the 26th of July that the changes introduced in the Cuban model “are aimed at consolidating our socialism, to make more prospero (prosperous) and sustainable.” The keynote speaker at an event this morning in Sancti Spiritus realized immediately that he had omitted the enclitic pronoun “it” next to the verb “to make” and corrected it but introduced a new error: “To make it more proximo (next) and sustainable.”

To the cheerful confusion of those who didn’t notice the initial grammatical slip, the vice president conveyed the impression that he hadn’t meant to say prosperous, but proximo (next). The correction thus became a political problem, because if there is something Cubans know it is that the promised socialism “without haste, but without pause” could be anything or have innumerable oddities, but in no way is it “next.” Continue reading “The Erratic Corrections of Machado Ventura / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Mariano Murillo, the Marked Card Up Raul Castro’s Sleeve/ 14ymedio Reinaldo Escobar

Mariano Murillo, former Minister of Economy and Planning
Mariano Murillo, former Minister of Economy and Planning

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2016 — The ouster of Marino Murillo as head of the Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP) raises the question of whether it was a fall into disgrace or an act of protection. An official statement said that Murillo would dedicate himself to the implementation of the Communist Party Guidelines and recognized his work as minister. The praise contrasts with the terrible results of the Cuban economy in the first half of this year and raises the question of whether Murillo’s removal, in reality, hides a promotion.

It is obvious that Cuba’s current situation is producing an important shuffling in the higher echelons of the government. The replacement of the first secretary of the Union of Young Communists, the untimely replacement of the Minister of Culture, and the departure of the head of Higher Education, have put the entire cabinet on notice at a time when even the official media speak of “the critical situation the country is experiencing.” Continue reading “Mariano Murillo, the Marked Card Up Raul Castro’s Sleeve/ 14ymedio Reinaldo Escobar”

“They are afraid of us” / 14ymedio Reinaldo Escobar

Armando Avila and his wife, Yurisleisy Pérez Calzada. (Facebook)
Armando Avila and his wife, Yurisleisy Pérez Calzada. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 July 2016 — Before leaving Cuba, Armando Avila was an auto mechanic specializing in brake systems in Ciego de Avila. In December 2015, he took a flight to Ecuador with the intention of reaching the border between Mexico and the United States to invoke the Cuban Adjustment Act. On July 9 he was returned to Havana by force, in a group of 29 Cubans deported by Rafael Correa’s government.

Avila, 45, spoke with 14ymedio by telephone on Monday and said he did not feel like a deportee or a returnee, “but someone kidnapped.” The migrant, who wanted to keep his current whereabouts unknown, recalled that “the laws of Ecuador consider that no one is illegal and they can only deport those who have committed a crime.” Continue reading ““They are afraid of us” / 14ymedio Reinaldo Escobar”

Zona+ Hopes to be Cuba’s First Wholesale Store / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Zona+ from the outside.
The new Zona+ store from the outside.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 July 2016 – A week after its opening the store Zona+ still hasn’t received permission to offer its products at wholesale prices, Located on Calle 7th A, between 66th and 68th in Havana’s Playa district, it has a strong competitor about 300 yards away in the market on 70th Street, one of the most well-stocked in the capital.

The commercial slogan of the new store says that clients can find what they need there “and more.” Although it has not been officially announced in any national media, it’s already known that its most promising attraction is that it will operate under the concept of a wholesale market, one of the most common demands of private entrepreneurs, especially those who have restaurants, cafes, or rent rooms with meals included. Continue reading “Zona+ Hopes to be Cuba’s First Wholesale Store / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The Hour of Truth / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A man holds up an edition of the official daily Granma, from 2015. Headline: “Fidel sends a message to Cuban university students.” (EFE)
A man holds up an edition of the official daily Granma, from 2015. Headline: “Fidel sends a message to Cuban university students.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Miami, 2 July 2016 — In October of 1988, students of the School of Journalism at the University of Havana, formulated 28 awkward questions posed to Fidel Castro at a meeting held in the theater of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Havana. One question touched on the thorny issue of a personality cult in the media. The then all-powerful Carlos Aldana, head of the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, assured his boss that an incident of this nature would never be repeated.

Nearly three decades later the militants of the Young Communist League (UJC) of the Vanguardia newspaper in Santa Clara province, bursting with bravery (or innocence) sent a letter to the Union of Cuban Journalists in which they denounced the limitations on freedom of expression experienced by information professionals, limitations that come, according to them, from “the extra-journalistic forces that investigate us in our workplaces and in the CDRs (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution); that follow our every step and call us to account for the publication of comments or controversial works.” Continue reading “The Hour of Truth / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The Private Press In Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Newsagent in Cuba. (Luz Escobar)
Newsagent in Cuba. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Miami, 30 June 2016 — In a recent discussion among colleagues of the national press, the issue of ownership of the mass media came up. With the firmness that characterizes those convinced that something is wrong, comments were made that in Cuba the media is social property and the idea was expressed that it could never be private property.

Perhaps the essence of the concept of property is explained by the capacity of the owner to make decisions about the object they possess. There is no value in titles and legal registrations that certify that a house, a business or a bicycle belongs to an individual if they can’t sell it, modify it or use it as they see fit, respecting the law of course. Continue reading “The Private Press In Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

No Diploma Certifies Us As Parents / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Old Havana, on Father’s Day Sunday without a single flower. (14ymedio)
The statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Old Havana, on Father’s Day Sunday without a single flower. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2016 – Those of us who have had the joy of being parents spend our lives asking ourselves whether we have done well, if in the strict judgment our children will make about our work will we earn a good score, a mediocre grade or, instead, a resounding disapproval.

The Venezuelan singer Franco de Vita says it is “not enough” to feed our offspring, surround them with comforts and conveniences, or guarantee that they receive an education, we must also respond to their questions. But our answers, which we have to improvise in a second, will be the most momentous memories our children have of us. Continue reading “No Diploma Certifies Us As Parents / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Alejandro Barrios, A Son Of Candelaria Who Died In Pulse / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

María Magdalena Puente, Alejandro’s grandmother, shows a picture of her grandson. (14ymedio)
María Magdalena Puente, Alejandro’s grandmother, shows a picture of her grandson. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Candelaria, Cuba, 17 June 2016 — At two in the morning last Sunday the villagers of Candelaria in the province of Artemisa slept peacefully. At the same time, in the city of Orlando in Florida a fierce firefight broke out in the gay nightclub Pulse, amid an evening of Latin music.

Alejandro Barrios Martínez, born in Candelaria 21 years ago, had settled in the city of Orlando where his father Saul Barrios had called for him. There, in 2014, he found a job, a partner, and also came to believe that there he would spend the rest of his life. That night he was at Pulse to celebrate a new job, but stumbled onto death.

On Monday regulars of the wireless network in Cuba learned the news of the shooting on the Facebook pages of some friends. TV channels that are prohibited through satellite dishes began to give details of the terrible event. That same night the whole town of Candelaria learned they had lost a son in the tragedy. Continue reading “Alejandro Barrios, A Son Of Candelaria Who Died In Pulse / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Ramadan Cuban Style / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Women have a space separate from men. (14ymedio)
Women have a space separate from men. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 June 2016 – Mohamed turned to Islam while serving on a military mission in the Congo; Abdul when he realized that in 15 years of Christianity he had never really read the Bible; and Lazaro, who also adopted the name Abdul, when he served a prison sentence as a dissident. All are converts and celebrate Ramadan by fasting and praying in Arabic.

Ahmed says he as been a Muslim since he was 17 and it started in his native city of Camagüey where he was the only one; now there is a place of prayer there with 140 faithful on San Isidro Street. He is responsible for seeing to the visitors at the mosque located at 11 Oficios Street in Old Havana. He did not allow his interview to be recorded, but responded cheerfully to all questions. Continue reading “Ramadan Cuban Style / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Unknowns In An Illusory Debate / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 June 2016 — Under the signature of Dario Machado Rodriguez and with the title “An Environment of Discussion and Creativity is Essential,” the official Government-Party newspaper Granma published an article on its second page this Monday that, in some way, questions the narrow framework initially proposed for the discussion of the documents from the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress.

What is curious is, on the flip side of the printed sheet, that is on the newspaper’s front page, there is a fragment of the Central Report, read by Raul Castro at that august partisan event, where it is established that both the Conceptualization, as well as the bases of the National Plan of Development, will be “democratically debated by the membership of the Party and the Young Communist Union (UJC), representatives of the mass organizations and broad sectors of society. Continue reading “Unknowns In An Illusory Debate / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

“You Have To Have Eyes To See The Wonder” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Plaque commemorating of Havana’s declaration as one of the New 7wonder Cities of the modern world. (14ymedio)
Plaque commemorating of Havana’s declaration as one of the New7Wonder Cities of the modern world. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 June 2016 — As if it were a Michelin star, tour operators, hotel managers and those who rent private rooms will exhibit, starting Tuesday, Havana’s status as one of the “New7Wonder Cities” of the modern world. Although the rain intruded on the unveiling of the plaque a few yards from the Malecon that confirms the new title, popular humor has not ignored the designation.

This week, there has been an increase in jokes making the rounds about the “wonder” of traveling in deteriorating urban buses, the marvel of buying food in a city in the grip of a dual currency system, or the miracle of the many buildings that remain standing despite their advanced stage of deterioration. Regardless of their disbelief, however, Havanans try to make the best of the new categorization, as symbolic as it is promising. Continue reading ““You Have To Have Eyes To See The Wonder” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

A Laboratory Man: The Official Party ‘Cadre’ in Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The Code of Ethics for Cuba’s Communist Party cadres. (14ymedio)
The Code of Ethics for Cuba’s Communist Party cadres. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 May 2016 – Marxist thinkers from the last century appeared to be convinced that the communist ethic could only work after the elimination of the different social classes or, and it’s the same thing, when the communist society triumphed in the economic plane. “How can stealing be ethically condemned when there is no property?” they asked with the same guileless eagerness medieval theologians brought to their debates about the carnality of the glorious bodies resuscitated after the final judgment. Continue reading “A Laboratory Man: The Official Party ‘Cadre’ in Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Patriotic Union Of Cuba Launches A Political Program / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

UNPACU leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, believes that a new document integrates the entire opposition. (EFE)
UNPACU leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, believes that a new document integrates the entire opposition. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 5 May 2016 — Since early this month, members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) have begun to disseminate the document Minimum Program and Projections, which outlines guidelines for the actions of the opposition organization, forms of struggle, and a proposal for the country ‘s future.

With the publication of this text, which summarizes the experience of the nation’s largest group of activists, UNPACU is demonstrates maturity and responds to criticisms about the Cuban opposition’s lack of a platform or agenda.

In nine pages, the program underlines the commitment of the opposition to use peaceful means to reach its goals. It also clarifies that the proposals contained are addressed to those living in the country and in the diaspora and proclaims the need for “a free, democratic, just, fraternal and prosperous Cuba.” Continue reading “Patriotic Union Of Cuba Launches A Political Program / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

To End Censorship / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The cover of “Censorship of the Press in the Cuban Revolution,” by Minerva Salado (Verbum Publishing)
The cover of “Censorship of the Press in the Cuban Revolution,” by Minerva Salado (Verbum Publishing)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, If the mid-seventies I had thought to tell Minerva Salado, then my chief editor at Cuba International magazine, that in some forty years she would write a book titled “Censorship of the Press in the Cuban Revolution,” I would have caused enormous problems for myself, only surpassed by that if I had predicted to her my current status as an “unofficial” journalist.

Unveiling the framework of obscenities and subtleties that was woven into the early years of the process called the Cuban Revolution in order to implement strict censorship on the media is a very complex task; what scholars would call “a multidisciplinary task.” Minerva knows this, as a writer, journalist and poet, so in the introduction she warns that her efforts “will have to address the documentary research, personal experience and memory of several generations of journalists and media.” Continue reading “To End Censorship / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”