And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

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

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

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

The term “update” has been chosen to define what, in less official settings, is referred to as “reforms” to the Cuban economic model. The genesis of said model was designed based on those economic theses which, in 1975, during the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, put in practice the so-called Economic Direction and Planning System. But, that framework collapsed when in 1986 the comandante unleashed the Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies. All that has come since then has been a chain of improvisations filled with patches intended to find momentary solutions — to keep “resolving.” Today, when speaking of “updating,” no one explains clearly what has aged or where the novelties have come from. That would be the task of conceptualization!

Today, when speaking of “updating”, no one explains clearly what has aged or where the novelties have come from

The first condition needed to achieve this mission impossible of conceptualizing what has been outlined by the Guidelines would be that the formulations bear some coherence to the principles of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine or, at the very least, with one of the vague statements made by the historic leader. Not even Cantinflas would be able to do it. Unless, of course, some enlightened graduate of the Ñico López National School of the Party has found the keys to the new revelation. But the evolution of our reality demands another kind of theoretical orchestration. To appeal to the conceptual tools that lie at the origin of our problems cannot result in the emergence of solutions. That would be like trying to uphold geocentric principles using string theory or explaining Cuban “Bufo” Theater with the Stanislavski System.

We’re a little over a year away from the Communist Party of Cuba’s Seventh Congress. If only as an elemental formality, the conceptualization should be presentable before that event, so that it may be discussed and approved. But, who cares?

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

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

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

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

But, observed from within, the conflict could not be reduced to a brawl between Cubans and Americans replicating the East-West conflict, rather it starred Cubans with different ways of thinking. The imposition of the Marxist ideology provoked an internal schism in Cuban society and in the Cuban family. Under the guise of a growing class struggle, appeared victims and victimizers, and an enormous quantity of silent witnesses.

To those who proposed to align the Island with the countries of the Socialist Camp, it wasn’t enough to confiscate all American-owned properties, in addition, in less than a decade, they swept away the last vestige of private property. They implanted a ferocious “scientific atheism” and prohibited any political or ideological display that didn’t maintain absolute fidelity to the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

The enemies that process engendered, inside and outside, ended up joining forces. There were armed landings, groups in the mountains, bombings and sabotage. The prisons filled with political prisoners, and the terror of suffering the consequences of dissent brought faked obedience. The great majority of victims of the Revolutionary laws left for exile, while socialism in Cuba continued to produce the dissatisfied.

One fine day, McDonald’s arrived in Moscow before the flag of the proletariat was hoisted in the capital of the empire, and as a consequence, the construction of pure hard socialism on the Island ceased to seem a Utopia to reveal itself as an absurd aberration. A Special Period that nobody dares to put an end to, the uncertainty about whether the leadership is a delirious dying man or a pragmatic conservative, the inability to produce, the insolvency to buy, the lack of an attraction for interested investors, the absence of an understandable definition of the way forward, the total exhaustion of old slogans, a crisis of values never before seen, an unstoppable emigration, the decline and aging of the population, the insecurity that Venezuela will continue its support with energy and financing, and a thousand more reasons, have placed before the Cuban government the need to sit down and talk with its oldest adversary.

These talks have found enthusiastic defenders, enemies and skeptics. These tendencies, with all the imaginable gradations and with greater and lesser visibility, are present in all environments: at different levels of power in the United States, in the apparent unanimity of the Cuban Government, in the exile, in the internal exile and, of course, in the gagged protagonist that is the Cuban people.

The enthusiastic defenders can be localized easily in that group of people on the Island who have as a priority achieving material prosperity and being legitimated as an emerging middle class. In the exile, there are those who would like to invest with guarantees in the innumerable niches that can be opened; from government positions, those who dream of recycling generals into managers; and from the environment of the opposition, the few with the healthy naivety to believe that, as a consequence of dialog, political dissent will be decriminalized and they will soon be seated in parliament after winning the votes of their constituents.

The enemies of the rapprochement are found among the hawks of the U.S. military sector and in that part of the exile that dreams of violently overthrowing the Cuban Government and making them pay with blood for their multiple and unpardonable crimes. They can be seen emerging in the internal opposition among those who suspect that if the government is sitting down to negotiate with the Americans, they will no longer have to talk to them.

They argue that their demands, their just demands, particularly with respect to Human Rights in Cuba, will fade into the background relative to the claims prioritized by the American executive branch. In addition, there is the group of those who aspire to be included in the refugee program, or to be beneficiaries of “help” from the North, and fear that all of this will disappear before the flowers that today adorn the negotiating table wither.

Paradoxically, those in the Island’s power structure who totally reject the reestablishment of relations appear to be at the controls of the repressive bodies; those who would be left without work and, still worse, without privileges, on the day that, by virtue of the presumed dismantling of the exterior harassment, Cuba can no longer be considered besieged and, in consequence, dissidence ceases to be treason. Along with this troop, are the gallant combatants who refuse to abandon their trenches, the ones where they won their medals and merit points that one day served to get a house, a car, a job and even public prestige.

Skeptics lack confidence in anything that some group of anonymous negotiatorss have agreed to in secret. There are abundant reasons to believe that the only thing the American government wants is to regain its hegemony in the region, or that the only purpose of the Cuban ruling elite is to save their heirs. They are everywhere, though they don’t speak up, or do so with due caution.

The issue of the reestablishment of relations, with everything that rests on it, will be an election issue in the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats; it could lead to political purges in the Communist Party, the government and the parliament; it could rearrange alliances in the exile; and delineate with greater precision the divisions in the internal opposition. But it will be a reason for hope in the crowded buses, in the lines for “chicken for fish,” in the private taxis and private restaurants, and among all those who have a relative on the other side.

We Cubans should never find ourselves in this extemporaneous and foreign dilemma. The real problem continues to remain unresolved and it is the dispute between the people and its government.

Neither optimistic enthusiasm nor sterile skepticism is any use, much less the intention to reverse what seems inevitable. The script is written for four hands by those who are already quantifying gains and losses. The only certainty is that there will be a new scenario where new rules will come into force and every actor must rearrange his or her strategies.

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

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

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

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

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

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

Cuba is the Black Sheep of Human Rights / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar & Elizardo Sanchez

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 December 2014* — Coinciding with the observance of International Human Rights Day today, we spoke with Elizardo Sánchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) in Havana to review the current situation on the Island.

Q:  Today the whole world commemorates Human Rights Day. What is the situation in our country at the close of 2014? Do we have reasons for hope or for worry?

A:  The general scene of civil, political, labor and other fundamental rights continues to worsen. Although the rate of detentions for political reasons has diminished in recent months, this is because the government has understood that this type of arrest portrays a very negative image. It did the same before when it decided to reduce the number of political prisoners, which is currently at around 110 persons.

Nonetheless, the government has not reformed any laws, and it has not given up its repressive and threatening mission against all of society. Therefore, it cannot be said that the situation has improved. Unless a miracle occurs, it will continue to worsen.

Q: What are the repressive methods which are most used at this moment?

A:  There has been a metamorphosis insofar as repression for political reasons is concerned. It no longer consists of lengthy prison sentences, or even of extended detentions. Instead, what occurs frequently are short-term arrests with the added element of other forms of intimidation, such as vandalism, including rocks being thrown at houses or residences being ransacked. There are also physical aggressions, which have increased throughout the year, be they overt or covert. Continue reading

The Guidelines that Failed / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 January 2015 — After so many years of demanding an end to the American blockade, the Cuban government discovered it is not prepared even for the first relaxations which its neighbor to the north has implemented with unprecedented agility. It turns out that the entire scaffolding erected by way of the 33 Guidelines agreed to at the Sixth Communist Party Congress is insufficient, if not crippling, before the prospects on the horizon.

Perhaps the most glaring inconsistency between the American apertures and the Cuban bureaucracy’s stubbornness, is with in regards to remittances for the development of private initiatives, including small farmers, which the United States will authorize without limitations.

From this side, putting this measure into practice could be interpreted as a violation of the regulations in the Foreign Investment Law, which restrict the entrance of money to operate businesses to legal entities, that is, State entities or those authorized by the State. Not to mention what it means to receive money for humanitarian projects or to support the Cuban people through the activities of human rights organizations. Continue reading

“El Critico” will keep writing what comes from his heart / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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Given to putting rhymes to reality and signing to the rhythm of rap’s social protest, Angel Yunier Remon, “El Critico,” just got out of prison where he spent the last two years due to his activism. In March of 2013, Remon, who also coordinated the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Bayamo, was arrested for painting “Down with the dictatorship!” on a wall in front of his house. He was sentenced to six years for assault.

During the time he has been in prison, El Critico has suffered from cholera, and carried out several hunger strikes. The campaign for his release gained intensity on social networks, generated solidarity among many other musicians in the world, and led to demand for his release by numerous international organizations.

Less than 72 hours after his release, 14ymedio held a telephone conversation with El Critico, already at home in Bayamo.

Question: Prison is hard for anyone. What did you experience in your time behind bars? Continue reading

“We have a great vocation to commit the same mistakes” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marifeli Pérez-Stable during the interview in Mexico. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

Marifeli Pérez-Stable during the interview in Mexico. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 6 January 2015 – Longing and love for Cuba have been a constant in her life. Sociology professor, scholar of Cuban history, and promoter of initiatives to bring “the two shores” closer, Marifeli Perez-Stable is a woman who raises passions and whose prose has the ability to make us reflect. Decades ago she embraced the idea of the Cuban Revolution, but she also knew its failure, and the disillusionment it caused so many. Today, she is a person of two cultures and two countries.

The first part of this conversation, that we present to the readers of 14ymedio, took place in Mexico City with coffees in front of us, and the second was via email after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba, on 17 December.

Question: You have defined your generation as the one that buried its grandparents and parents outside the island. And the most recent exile, how do you see them?

Answer: I’m more familiar with those who are relatively young. They are lucky that they didn’t make the break that we were forced to. They can go back and see their families, they send money to help them, they have their own identity. I’m delighted to have them in the classroom when I’m teaching. Many have at least one of their parents in Cuba. Now, amid the abnormality, there is a normality that we did not have. So I’m going to die with a certain internal emptiness that I can no longer fill, no matter what, because I could not develop as a person nor as a professional in Cuba. Continue reading

Armandito’s wheels / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Police approach the portable stand with illegal wheels (14ymedio)

Police approach the portable stand with illegal wheels (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 5 January 2014 – With the authorization of mobile vendors, among the new forms of self-employment, an unexpected problem has arisen: the wheels. I’m not going to wear myself out here talking about the intimate relationship that exists between translational movement and this circular mechanical piece that rotates around an axis. The lack of foresight is as obvious as it is surprising, on the part of the bureaucrats who did not take into account something so elemental. If there isn’t a good supply of wheels suitable to move certain volumes of merchandise, those who use a cart, a scooter, or a wheelbarrow will take them where they find them. Continue reading

The Children of Melchior / Reinaldo Escobar

The Magi, the Three Kings

The Magi, the Three Kings

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 January 2015 – January 5, 1957. Under the enormous tamarind tree in the yard of my house in Camaguey, my cousin Alcibiades looked at me incredulously when I read a letter I intended to leave for the Three Kings. We were both 10, but he knew everything about life: where babies came from, how to light a cigar, and the basic differences between a Ford and a Chevrolet.

With his usual insolence he said, “Are you bonkers? Don’t you know it’s your father who puts the presents under your bed tonight?”

“Yeah, of course,” I said, confused, and put the letter in the pocket of my shirt. Continue reading

A fair idea in the depths of the dungeon / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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Images in the Plaza of the Revolution on December 30th. (EFE)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 31 December 2014 – In the mouse gray uniform worn by inmates, as disheveled as usual and with eyes open wide, Tania Bruguera sitting on a bench in the Acosta Street Police Station seemed to be giving the best performance of her artistic career. At that point at noon on 30 December 2014, they’d already arrested dozens of people in the city of Havana to prevent them from answering the invitation to gather at the Plaza of the Revolution. Continue reading

Tania Bruguera Under Arrest at Acosta Police Station in Diez de Octubre, Havana / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)

Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)

14ymedio, Havana, 30 december 2014 — Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, said that Tania Bruguera was under arrest at the Acosta Police Station in the Diez de Octubre municipality in Havana.

Reinaldo Escobar was released from the same station Tuesday night at 10:00 pm. Escobar affirmed that he saw Tania “wearing the gray uniform of a convict,” It is still unknown when Bruguera will be released.

The two police cars surrounding Yoani Sanchez’s building have been removed and the director of this digital daily is no longer under house arrest.

The 14ymedio reporter Victor Ariel Gonzalez is still being detained, in Guanabacoa. Still unknown are the whereabouts of the activists Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Eliecer Avila, along with the photographer Claudio Fuentes and his partner, Eva Baquero.

Developing news.

UPDATE: Ailer Gonzalez has been released.

Several activists and Reinaldo Escobar, editor-in-chief of ’14ymedio’, arrested / 14ymedio

The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)

The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)

The director of this newspaper, Yoani Sánchez, is under house arrest

14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2014 – Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, explained the circumstances of the arrest of her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, and of several other people this Tuesday in Havana. She is under house arrest. Patrol car No. 507 is stationed in front of the building where she lives, while four plainclothes offices are controlling the building entrances. Continue reading