The official press keeps the government satisfied / 14ymedio, Reinalso Escobar

Miguel Dí­az-Canel Bermúdez

Miguel Dí­az-Canel Bermúdez

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 November 2014 – In a meeting with the president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), the first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, said journalists had a responsibility to investigate more before offering an opinion, but also praised the work undertaken in recent weeks by the national press, giving as an example that published on Ebola, the comments about the editorial in The New York Times and other local topics.

This is the fifteenth meeting of its kind and it was held at the Council of State in the offices of the vice president, who has paid special attention to the work of journalists since the Ninth Congress of UPEC in July of last year. Diaz-Canel said he was pleased with the good level of those working in critical posts at the provincial newspapers.

After the meeting no detailed indication emerged relating to any notable excesses or gaps in the mass media, although it did seem to the vice president that “our media is fresher” and the Cuban press has begun to reflect topics that appear in the media of other countries. Continue reading

The Dominant Interests / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Granma article against The New York Times, April 24, 2003: “The New York Times is neither serious nor liberal”

Granma article against The New York Times, April 24, 2003: “The New York Times is neither serious nor liberal”

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 November 2014 — I was tempted to title this text “The Good New York Times and Bad New York Times”, but since Yoani Sanchez had done the same with USAID it seemed repetitive.

The truth is that lately, and in an unusual manner, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the newspaper Granma, and its televised arm, The Roundtable show, haven’t stopped repeating the good reasons this newspaper has for criticizing the embargo, for demanding that Alan Gross be exchanged for Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (MININT) prisoners held in the United States, or for criticizing U.S. policy with regards to the Cuban government. This is the good New York Times, a credible and influential American newspaper. Continue reading

Consumers rather than citizens / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Mara Góngora, Eduardo Mora and Yisel Filiu on the set of the Buenos Dias program. (Source: Facebook)

Mara Góngora, Eduardo Mora and Yisel Filiu on the set of the Buenos Dias program. (Source: Facebook)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 3 November 2014 – We are consumers more than citizens. That is the conclusion to be drawn after having seen the “Con sentido” segment on the Buenos Días TV program. In the introduction they announced to us that the topic would be the rights we know, our rights they violate, knowledge of and compliance with the Constitution of the Republic.

But imagine our frustration to find that, during the entire time the screen was filled with specialists, legislators and people in general, interviewed on the street and in the studio, not a single word was said about how the police treat citizens, the wrongful retention of items in Customs, the time a person can be jailed without trial, the innumerable violations that derive from the lack of freedom of expression and association and long string that doesn’t fit in this space. Continue reading

Long faces and empty pockets / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 November 2014 – One of the distinctive features of the new era in Cuba is that it is no longer shortages but pricing that explains the difficulty of acquiring food grown on the island, but at bottom the issue is the same as always: lack of productivity.

For decades Cubans “got used” to the non-existence of certain agricultural products. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there was a stronger dependence on the ration market and consumers felt more like users than customers. The production plans were conceived to satisfy, barely, the rationing plan and there wasn’t even a way of marketing the excess.

Every time policies emerged that tended towards openings –such as the farmers markets of the ‘80s – fruits, vegetables and meats absent from the ration book reappeared on the stands, but along with the happy return of mamey, lettuce and malanga, also appearing were the long faces of those who didn’t even bother to reach into their pockets when they saw the exorbitant prices.

Then the righteous zeal of the Maximum Leader, his unbridled voluntarism, decided to prohibit these manifestations of mercantilism and beans, onions, and of course meat, were once again lost to us. Like the erratic gait of Ruperto, a TV comic character of our time, every two steps forward necessarily entailed one step back.

But the long faces of the “disadvantaged” still demand some Robin Hood to bring order to the Sherwood Forest. In letters from readers of the newspaper Granma or on the National Television program “Cuba Says” the indignant tear their hair out in the face of “the abusive prices that unscrupulous intermediaries impose to profit on the needs of the population.” It is recognized that the producers and the sellers are now sheltering under the law of supply and demand and therefore are authorized to set the prices they want, but others think that there should be “a limit” because consumer protection should come first.

On this topic, the commentator Talia Gonzalez said this week on the TV magazine Buenos Días, “We have to recognize that the experiment undertaken in the provinces of Havana, Artemisa and Mayabeque for the last year has enabled the expansion of supply and variety in the markets, but now there is another phenomenon: the products are there, but in many cases they are inaccessible…”

There has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t reflected in prices

Officials in the Ministry of Agriculture affirm that there has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t reflected in the prices because the supposed increases are destined principally to replace imports or to fulfill commitments to schools, hospitals and other social sectors, which are not always met.

The blame for the problem lies entirely in eminently subjective issues, such as the lack of control and demands, the arrears in payments or the failure to meet contracts, but there is something deeper, closely related to the nature of a system that, however much they try to update or perfect it, still has the same essence.

When a farmer realizes that 100 pounds of onions sold at 40 pesos a pound brings in the same as 800 pounds sold at 5 pesos a pound he has discovered, without needing to be an economist, sociologist or politician, that in Cuban society today for every economically favored consumer, there are eight who are not.

That is, if in Cuba there are approximately one and a quarter million people with sufficient purchasing power to absorb what little is produced, at the stated price, there will be no interest in increasing production, unless by some miracle the communist prophecy is fulfilled where work will become the first human need, beyond narrow material interests.

What a discovery! The system can’t function as long as it tries to maintain a policy of equity and justice, while aspiring to an efficient and sustainable economy. It is not that the producers have been given too much freedom, but rather not enough. At least as much as necessary so that, from the ruins of a proletariat forced into corruption to survive and a peasantry fearful of putting their prosperity on the display, an empowered and entrepreneurial middle class can emerge. But such an idea, so liberal, doesn’t fit in the straitjacket of the Guidelines of the 6th Communist Party Congress.

It is historically proven that productivity grows not only when there are the necessary technological and scientific requirements to make the performance of the productive forces more efficient, but also when there is a need to increase production and that need is backed by the purchasing power of consumers. Otherwise the hungriest countries would be the most productive but, sadly, the opposite happens.

At every hierarchical, academic and political level they know that this serpent doesn’t stop biting its tale, but in the inaccessible premises where the great decisions are taken they are afraid to recognize that unviability is a regular part of the socialist system they learned as a catechism from the Soviet manuals. They will never recognize it, unless the dissatisfied with their long faces move beyond their irritations at the prices in the market stalls, and channel their anger and frustration where it belongs.

Between confrontation and dialogue / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 31 October 2014 – There has been a lot of talk lately of the presumed improvement in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. In both countries there are tons of supporters for two antagonistic positions, which in summary and without a desire to simplify, can be reduced to two terms: confrontation and dialog.

Rivers of ink and saliva have been spilled to argue both ways and the more reasons are put forward the further away the solution seems. The worst is when the passions lead to personal attacks and the dismissal of those who think differently. And so I renounce mentioning names here and refrain from appealing to disparaging epithets.

If I were forced to choose I would vote for dialog. I resist confrontation.

But it is not enough. We immediately have to respond to another question that introduces a new dilemma: an unconditional dialog or without conditions.

The General President has insisted that he is willing to sit at the table as long as he is treated equally or, and it’s the same thing, under the condition that his legitimacy is not questioned. And of course without being asked to renounce the “bedrock principles of the Revolution.”

What legitimacy are we talking about? If we refer to the number of countries with which the Cuban government maintains diplomatic relations, its presence in international organizations or its ability to dictate laws and enforce them across the length and breadth of the country, then we have no choice but to admit that the Cuban leaders enjoy a high level of legitimacy even though they are considered dictators, usurpers or repressors of their people, and that is very evident in lack of popular will expressed in free elections. Continue reading

What You Saved Yourself From Camilo! / Reinaldo Escobar

Camilo Cienfuegos (archive photo)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 31 October 2014 – For the first and last time, I saw him from afar for a fraction of a second on 21 October 1959, the day he passed through Camaguey to arrest Comandante Huber Matos. No one understood anything, but the presence of Camilo in the midst of the confusion gave us confidence that everything would be solved in the best possible way.

The details of the moment when his disappearance was reported (a week later) has been erased from my memory, but I haven’t forgotten that instant when they announced the false news that he had been found. People on the streets brought out flags and pictures of the Virgin of Charity. The joy was brief, but unforgettable.

How is it possible that in all these years, when not a single square yard remains unexplored, that not a single vestige has appeared (…)?

For a long time I was convinced that he might appear at any moment. In the years when I thought myself a poet, I even penned some verses describing his return. All the times I flew between Camaguey and Havana, every time I do it, I wondered what could be the reason for plunging into the sea… how a Cessna, that never flies too high, could fall on a site other than the island platform? How is it possible that in all these years, when not a single square yard remains unexplored, that not even one vestige has appeared, a part of an engine, the propeller, what do I know…

If he had survived what happened and not been involved in another similar incident, Camilo Cienfuegos would today be another octogenarian at the summit of power. If he had not been sacked, imprisoned or shot, he would be burdened today with the responsibility for a national disaster. We would no longer be discussing if he was more popular than the “other one,” but if he was as guilty.

Right now, as I write these lines, students are marching along the Malecon with flowers, the people who work in offices are leaving earlier than usual because they are going to throw flowers in the sea for Camilo. A ritual now lacking the emotions of the first years, when those who went to the shore to pay homage did so with tears in their eyes, and without having to be summoned by the director of a workplace or the principal of a school.

Death has immortalized among us his cheerful and popular image. If there is something beyond, and from that place he is watching us, he must feel happy to have disappeared in time. The death saved him from the ignominy, and the probable temptation of corruption and the humiliation of having been treated as a traitor and as an accomplice.

My October Crisis / Reinaldo Escobar

"The Nation On the Brink of War" -- The Missile Crisis referred to in the official Cuban press.

“The Nation On the Brink of War” — The Missile Crisis referred to in the official Cuban press.

By Reinaldo Escobar — One of my recurring journalistic fantasies consists of managing to reveal some hidden secret. Among my darkest objects of research are two in the month of October: The Missile Crisis and the death of Camilo Cienfuegos. On this occasion I will speak of the first, but as I have no access to the archives I will tell when I myself experienced in that critical episode in our recent history.

I was 15 and was working in the coffee plantations of Guisa, in the Sierra Maestra. That was the first great mobilization of Cuban students for volunteer work, according to agreements reached at the First Confgress of the Secondary Students Union (UES), held on 6 August of that same year, 1962. Thousands of us students participated in this harvest which yielded – according to published data – the highest output in history, over 27 million pounds of coffee.

On Monday, 22 October, more or less at the time that president John F. Kennedy imposed the naval blockage on our island, our backpacks were stuffed with coffee beans, without anyone noticing any alteration in the routine. And so the week ended. Without telephones, electricity or portable radios.

(…) I saw a photo of Fidel displaying the five fingers of his right hand with a headline (…) “The Five Points of Cuba”

The first of November I had to “go down to the town” to visit a doctor because I was suffering from uncontrollable diarrhea. On throwing myself off the cart that left me in Guisa, I ran into a bar where I found rustic facilities to relieve my cramps. At eye height, there were a few sheets of the newspaper “Revolution” – the newspaper Granma didn’t exist yet – stuck on a nail. On looking over the first page, I saw a photo of Fidel displaying the five fingers of his right hand with a headline that said, as I remember, “The five points of Cuba.”

Stunned as I was, I was pulling off the sheets – which someone had had the delicacy to put in reverse chronological order – one by one. My feelings at this moment, apart from the physical, were many. On the one hand I felt guilty for not being behind one of the “cuatro bocas” – the “four mouths” as we called the Czech-made machine guns – at the supreme moment when “the maximum leader” proclaimed “we are all one in this hour of danger.”

(…) While our world was about to burst, our brave little brigade was gathering the coffee beans, abandoned to its fate

At times I had the insane idea that while our world was about to burst, our brave little brigade was gathering the coffee beans, abandoned to its fate, without even knowing the risks, with no one coming to rescue us, to protect us. But every time I this worry came to me, I rejected it because this should be the anguish of my overprotective mother, and not of a “soldier of the Revolution” always ready to give “the last drop of his blood.”

Fifty-two years have passed and there are few things still unrevealed about that crisis. If there is any revelation left to me after telling this personal story it is the detail of what our little group was called, twelve beardless boys answering to the name “Lenin Peace Prize Brigade.” We had been baptized thus because this was the name of the award Fidel Castro had received seven months earlier, from the hands of the Soviet scientist Dmitri Skobeltsyn.

I must confess that at that time I could not hear the contradiction that a leader decorated for his peaceful vocation had been about to trigger the last war in human history.

Shortly afterwards I realized the horror encapsulated in that situation, but it was already over.

The elections we didn’t have / Reinaldo Escobar

1948 Election Propaganda : "The wise distinguish"

REINALDO ESCOBAR, Havana. 6 October 2014 – This Sunday news agencies around the world, especially in Latin America, awaited the results of the first round elections in Brazil. The question of whether Dilma Rousseff will remain president of that vast country, simply the question, will be one of concern and anxiety to many people in Cuba and I’m not just referring to those in the offices of the Plaza of the Revolution who could see this or that project at risk, should the continuity be broken.

The actual experience of political change is a phenomenon alien to our country for the vast majority of the people. In fact the “youngest” Cubans who ever exercised the right to choose between one president and another, are now 88-years-old, because they would have had to be 21 in 1947, which would have allowed them to choose between three candidates: Eduardo Chibás, from the Cuban People’s Party (known as: Orthodox); Juan Marinello, for the Peoples Socialist Party (Communist); and Carlos Prío Socarrás, from the Authentic Party, who was ultimately the winner of that last contested election.

In 1976 citizens were led to believe they would become voters

Since then the concept of elections has become fuzzy, especially since 1976 when citizens were led to believe they would become voters, because they could approve a slate of candidates created by the will of those who were unwilling to relinquish power.

What is curious is that the commentators of whatever media, privately owned by the Communist Party, will speak with the greatest naturalness of the matter of 26 October, when the mystery of the Brazilian second round elections will be cleared up. They will address the subject without daring to say a single word that would make their readers wonder why Brazilians and other Latin Americans have that right and we do not.

If the multi-party system is that “multi-trash” system that renamed the only ex-president still alive, the re-election of Dilma Rousseff should also be considered illegitimate. If Aécio Neves emerges as the winner, they will have to turn to one or more psychiatrists to explain, with the “maneuvers of imperialism,” the irrevocable decision of a free people.

Street people / Reinaldo Escobar

Callejeros-Habana-Buenos-Aires_CYMIMA20140928_0001_16 (2)

In the two photos that I compare here I am not intending to insinuate that it’s the same in Buenos Aires as in Havana, because there will always be people sleeping on the street.

The Havanan (or maybe he is from another province) who sleeps shirtless in the full sun on the centrally-located Avenue of the Presidents at the corner of 23rd, in the heart of El Vedado, has left his shoes in reach of anyone who might steal them, figuring, perhaps, that there’s no one more poor than he. The pants he is wearing are tied with something that clearly isn’t a belt, and one could wager that he has ingested a goodly dose of alcohol. In the background, a reminder of the World Cup, the Argentine flag flies accompanied by one from Germany and another from Brazil.

The Argentine (probably an immigrant) protects himself from a slight chill with perhaps too many clothes and has something like a briefcase for a pillow. His image could illustrate the drama of many unemployed, people who have seen their lives shattered with the latest crisis. Behind him are more or less luxurious cars, contrasting with his misery. On the walls are the libertarian slogans of some graffiti artists that nobody has bothered to paint over. The street looks clean and everyone who passes by ignores him.

If they are sleeping they are dreaming of different, but equally unattainable, things.

28 September 2014

Puro, Buy My Stimulus” / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2014 — Passing near the Chinese cemetery on 26th Avenue, a young man leading his bike by the hand, said to me, “Puro, buy my stimulus.” I confess that it took me a few seconds to decipher the code. Clearly the “puro” was a reference to my youth, but what was difficult to understand was the “stimulus.” How can you buy such a thing?

As he explained to me, it was a plastic bag that contained a quart of vegetable oil for cooking, two bath soaps, and some ounces of detergent that he’d been given at work as a “stimulus” for having stood out in socialist emulation.

I didn’t believe a single word and committed the journalistic folly of rejecting his offer. If I had said yes, now I’d have a photo here of the products, laid out on the wall of the cemetery with the graves in the background.

When I told the story to my friend Regina Coyula, author of the blog Bad Handwriting, she told me this is the latest scam. The allusion to having been chosen as the vanguard, a standout, or special prize winner, makes you think that the potential seller is a “true believer” who has no recourse but to sacrifice the material honors his political-social conduct has earned him, to alleviate his urgent needs.

To buy the “stimulus” is almost a sado-political vengeance, but selling fake merchandise, that is oil that isn’t good for cooking, soap that doesn’t produce lather, and lime instead of detergent, is already a mockery… the old scam in new clothes.

From Digital Pages to Paper Books / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, photo from her blog

Regina Coyula, photo from her blog

Note from Translating Cuba: Regina Coyula turns to the crowdfunding site INDIEGOGO to bring books by Cuban writers from a warehouse in Spain to the Miami Book Fair.  PLEASE HELP HER. No donation is too small! (And you get a book or books! Or artwork by Rebeca Monzo! Or a handmade case for your glasses!)

14ymedio, Havana, Reinaldo Escobar, 2 September 2014 — Regina Coyula combines her work on the blog La Mala Letra (Bad Handwriting) with collaboration on various digital media. She is not determined to bring a mountain of books by Cuban authors from a warehouse in Spain to the Book Fair in Miami. Among the maelstrom of tasks involved in coordinating such an initiative from Cuba, she found a few minutes to chat with the readers of 14ymedio.

Question: Your name is associated with blogs, daily vignettes, and social criticism. We’ve learned that you’re now involved in a publishing project. Do you find it a very different scenario from independent Cuban blogs?

Answer: I’ve found myself in this project, #Desevillamiami (From Seville to Miami). This is me, I like books and editorial work, especially after coming to know the Renacimiento publishing house. Most companies in the book business turn unsold books into pulp, but Abelardo Linares, who runs this publishing house, saves them and has two warehouses full of them. In some cases he has ten or a hundred copies left, but he doesn’t destroy them. And from there the idea of this project arose, basically to retrieve the books. Continue reading

University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo Escobar

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 — Henry Constantin is a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine’s Day, 30 years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá. Continue reading