El Patrón Feels Wronged

Jair Bolsonaro conditioned Cubans remaining in the Mais Medicos program, to their receiving their total, among other measures. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 November 2018 — The most significant thing about the statement from Cuba’s Ministry of Health (Minsap) announcing the withdrawal rom Brazil’s Mais Medicos program is that it does not clearly mention the real causes of such a dramatic decision.

The angry reaction arose after Señor Bolsonaro, president-elect of the giant South American nation, announced that the new conditions for Cuba to remain in the collaborative program would be: first, that the Cuban doctors would have to revalidate their credentials according to Brazilian standards; second, that the collaborators would receive their full salary – that is the money that Brazil pays for their services would go entirely to them; and third, that they would have the right to bring their families with them to Brazil. continue reading

The official statement from Cuba’s Ministry of Health only mentions the need to revalidate the title, which is interpreted as disrespectful, as emphasized by the words: “It is not acceptable to question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of Cuban collaborators who, with the support of their families, currently provide services in 67 countries. ”

Another reason to terminate this collaboration which is not confessed in the Minsap statement, is that the Cuban government does not want a right-wing ruler to be able to show achievements in the health of his nation’s citizens. That was an advantage that Cuba was happy to offer to the Workers Party as part of the practices of political clientelism, which includes quotas for young Latin Americans to come to Cuba to study medicine.

Cuba today has about 8,300 doctors in Brazil for which Brazil pays a salary of 3,300 dollars a month, but in reality the doctors themselves receive only 25% of that because the rest goes into the coffers of the Cuban government. Hence, many doctors have been annoyed that Minsap’s statement announcing the withdrawal of the mission says, “Employees have been kept employed at all times and receive 100% of their salary in Cuba” without clarifying that the salary it is talking about is a monthly payment that seldom exceeds the equivalent of $60 US, insignificant when compared to the nearly $2,500 that the state receives for each doctor in Brazil.

On the national television midday news, where the statement was read in full, it was added that “Cuba’s medical collaboration in the world is used to pay for investments or programs that reach everyone on the Island, that generate income that contributes to the economic and social development and circumvents the United States blockade. ”

Since August 2013, when Dilma Rousseff organized this program in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization, Cuban doctors were warned that they could not enter into contracts “freely” – that is on their own – and also since then they have been prohibited from taking revalidation exams.

Any “disobedients” caught in this “lack of discipline” were immediately returned to the island as punishment and if they dared to leave the mission they were defined as deserters and consequently were forbidden to return to Cuba for at least eight years.

In fact, the great offense that Bolsonaro has given the Cuban Government is to open the doors of his immense country to doctors who want to work there. Until now, the first reaction to the Cuban decision was a message on Mr. Bolsonaro’s Twitter account, where he lamented the withdrawal of Cuba from the Mais Medicos program; the second was his promise made at a press conference to give asylum to doctors who wanted to stay in Brazil.

In these critical moments for the Cuban economy, the annual 11.5 billion dollars that the country receives for the provision of professional services around the world, will be significantly reduced with the abrupt termination of the presence in Brazil, but in addition, the doctors who have to return to Cuba before their end of their “missions” in Brazil will be harmed.

Despite the difficult conditions that result from establishing themselves in places where no other medical professional wants to be and despite the burden of the low salary – from which the doctors had to cover their own living expenses – Brazil was one of the places most desired by Cuban doctors who, beyond their spirit of solidarity and altruism, wanted to fulfill a mission there to solve at least part that nation’s shortcomings in the provision of healthcare.

If something has been clear, it is that among the priorities of the Cuban government, rather than the humanitarian vocation to save lives, were to improve the image of a leftist party before its electorate and to earn money at the expense of the exploitation of professional work.

It is an indisputable sovereign right of Brazil to require any professional to revalidate their qualifications to practice in the country. It is a right of doctors to receive in full the salary that is being paid for them, and then pay the taxes on that salary that the law provides. It is also their right to be accompanied by family members if they wish.

Where is the offense?

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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 Single Party, A Relic That (Almost) Nobody Dares To Denounce In The Constitutional Debate

Just nine months after Brezhnev’s visit to Havana, the commission in charge of drafting the draft constitution was created.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 October 2018 —  Hidden behind the guise of sovereignty and independence, the reality we see is often a model of elements or impositions that come from other latitudes. The reform of the Constitution that is currently being carried out in Cuba is not exempt from these contradictions, presenting as “ours” several points that have been copied from third parties.

One of the most emblematic cases of this mimicry is Article 5 of the current project to reform the Cuban Constitution where the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is described as “the leading force of society and of the State.” Although this has been one of the points most rejected by the political opposition, few have dared to question it in public debates.

This definition of the superpower of the PCC in society was introduced in the first version of the draft of the Constitution of 1976, which a commission in charge of its drafting delivered to Fidel Castro on February 24, 1975. That text was approved by the Party’s Politburo in April of that same year, in a context of an ever increasing approach to the Soviet Union. continue reading

The harmony with the Kremlin was reflected in the Constitution that was born, whose main body has survived to this day.

At that time, the text of the article underwent slight modifications from the preliminary draft to the final version. The most striking was the change of the definition of the PCC that went from reading the “organized Marxist-Leninist vanguard of the working class” to reading the “Martian [i.e. modeled on José Martí’s thought and writings] and Marxist-Leninist, organized vanguard of the Cuban nation,” to give it a more local touch that just barely managed to hide its deep foreign essence.

On February 15, 1976, a referendum was held in which more than five million voted, of which only 1% (54,070 people) dared to mark the ’No’ on the ballot. At that time Article 5 was seen by the vast majority of citizens entitled to vote as the formal definition of what everyone accepted as an accomplished fact, which was not worth trying to refute.

The failure of the 10 Million Ton sugar harvest, the collapse of the national economy and the visit of Leonid Brezhnev to the island in 1974 had cemented the Russian bear’s all-encompassing embrace around the Cuban model. That approach resulted in the sending of huge resources from the USSR to Cuba, but with the obligation on the part of the island’s nomenklatura to create structures and models of management and administration clearly compatible with the USSR.

The alignment with the Kremlin was reflected in the Constitution that was born, whose main body has survived to this day and is still present in several of the articles discussed in neighborhoods and workplaces.

A brochure internally circulated to Party cadres, published in limited edition in April 1975, clearly showed the elements that allow a comparative study between the articles.

That “copy and paste” was not a secret to anyone and a brochure internally circulated to Party cadres, published in limited edition in April 1975, clearly showed the elements that allow a comparative study between the articles proposed in the Cuban draft and other constitutions of various countries of what was then called “the socialist camp.”

The comparative study passed out among Party militants explained the affinities between the nascent Cuban Constitution and its close cousins in the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Vietnam, Mongolia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, the German Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary and North Korea. At that time Cuba did not consider China a socialist country and it did not enjoy the favor of the Plaza of the Revolution, so it was not included in the volume.

The concordance of article 5 of the Cuban Constitution with the definitions that appear in the laws of these countries reflects the conceptual similarity in expressing, in more or less the same words, that the entity in command in the country is none other than the party of the communists.

The Cuban model thus adopted a tight corset which contrasted with the first 16 years after 1959, when the country lacked an adequate Constitution to govern it. The Party began to organize its first congress and only nine months after Brezhnev’s visit to Havana, the commission in charge of writing the draft constitution was created, presided over by Blas Roca, a man who enjoyed the confidence of Moscow.

With the presence of Roca at the head of the task, the similarities between the Cuban Constitution and its Eastern European twins were assured. Creole traditions in constitutional issues were reduced to nothingness and the previously highly weighted sovereignty was diminished to the condition of symbol.

Today, the only country on the list with which Cuba maintains a constitutional agreement is North Korea. The rest have left in the past the pretensions of the compulsory leadership of the Communist Party. The articles that shielded the system did not do much to stop the democratizing thrust that those nations experienced.  And when those nations’ constitutions wanted to stop reality they were, simply, repealed.

However, the proposal of Cuban constitutional reform, instead of looking for similarities with the democratic laws of Latin American countries based on the competitiveness of different political parties, continues to cling to the idea of imposing by law the prevalence of a single party. It is tied to precepts that have already demonstrated their failure.

Bad copies bring worse results and this case will not be the exception.

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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.

La Demajagua, 150 Years of Struggle and Waiting

Unfortunately this video is not subtitled but many of the comments are summarized below.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 October 2018 — The batey (sugar workers’ town) La Demajagua has barely 400 inhabitants. In the interviews they do with Cuba’s official media, all of them, without exception, feel great pride to live in one of the most important sites in Cuban history, where, on 10 October 150 years ago the wars of independence against Spain began.

A little more than six miles from the city of Manzanillo, the town’s center of gravity is a leafy Jagüey tree, born among the ruins of the old sugar mill. The tree’s roots have engulfed a huge cogwheel of the industry, destroyed by cannon fire a week after Carlos Manuel de Céspedes began the conflict there.

Retired senior citizens, teenagers and preschool children clarify to the visitor that the tree that is now admired is the son of the original, which died in 1998 despite efforts made to save it. They explain that the bell that today presides over the National Park was forged in 1859 in Normandy, France, and brought to Cuba in 1860. continue reading

Residents also relate that the bell has been bought, stolen, rescued and taken down from its seat on several occasions as an object of manipulation by politicians. They know everything about history, dates, the ancestry of surnames, and about small and large disagreements among their leaders.

What they can not explain clearly to the visitor is why the roads that reach the site are almost impassable, what is the reason for the dilapidated state of their homes, what is the cause of the malfunction of the water distribution network, and why there are so many difficulties supplying markets and providing electricity service.

Nothing in the daily situation of their lives is consistent with the historical importance of their homeland, a place with bold headlines dedicated to it in the press when historical dates approach.

Despite their town’s having been declared a National Monument in 1978, residents complain that it is only remembered when 10 October approaches, especially in the years that the bureaucrats of history like to call “closed anniversaries” because the number of years ends in a zero.

Thus it was on the centenary, which had its apogee with an act presided over by Fidel Castro in 1968, when Fidel took the opportunity to proclaim that he and the other members of his generation were successors of those patricians “because the Revolution is the result of a hundred years of struggle (…) because in Cuba there has only been one revolution, the one that was begun by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes on October 10, 1868 and that our people carry forward in these moments.”

Now, half a century after that commemoration, a popular phrase inspired by “the historical statements of the maximum leader” is still being repeated and even updated, and it is thrown at those who get too vocally upset in the face of problems. “Don’t pick a fight, remember it’s already a hundred and fifty years.”

For years, slogans have drowned out the voices of the people who live in La Demajagua. Like Carmen Barreras, who regrets that they have never seen any Government figure or local authorities show any concern about the town. “Neither about how we live, nor about our situation when the evening comes, sometimes, and we have nothing (…) and nothing to sell.”

As this October celebrates a round anniversary of that uprising, the current Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, visited La Demajagua last June to show interest in the work aimed at giving greater splendor to the historic place.

There, ten royal palms have been planted in representation of the tenth day of the tenth month in which the events took place, and 12 flagpoles have been placed on the mount of flags that symbolize the number of men who continued fighting with Céspedes after the first military failure of the attempt to take the town of Yara.

Among the renovations now underway are included: new lights, the restoration of all the park’s plantings, an internet room, a cafeteria and a cultural goods store. The rooms of the museum will also be enlarged with the purpose of setting up new showcases, exhibiting numismatic objects allegorical to the date, and photos and documents of the time.

However, the residents insist that more effort should be made to solve people’s problems rather than a continued investment in historic facilities. “Our little houses that they said they were going to fix, they came, they measured everything, but it is one of things they say they are going to do and then they don’t … I do not understand how they carry on like this,” another resident denounces to 14ymedio.

To the housing problems are added La Demajagua’s other chronic ills, those things that cause its young people to turn their eyes to another part of the national geography, or abroad, in search of new horizons.

“Here most of the people were left out of the cooperative, here the people do not have a job more than once a year,” regrets Mayelín Aguilar. To the drama of unemployment are added the scarce supplies in the area’s only market of rationed products “There is no rice now in the bodega, and so people are hungry,” she warns.

This Wednesday, once again the residents of the area will listen to historians speak about the latest details discovered in research about the past, it will be discussed again if the correct name of the site is La Demajagua or just Demajagua, due to the proliferation of the blue Majagua tree, whose woods are used to make doors and furniture.

When the celebrations are over, the television technicians, the journalists, the Communist Party officials and the Government will leave this place that many call “The altar of the Fatherland.” The demajagüenses will remain with the hope that by the next anniversary their demands will be met. And as for that wait, some recommend not to get too upset because it’s already been 150 years of struggle and you have to take it easy.

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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 Constitutional Debate at My Local Assembly

I read my opinion on article 3, which describes the country as a socialist and reintroduces the concept of irreversibility of the socialist system. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana | 18 September 2018 —  I was preparing for this discussion with the energy and discipline of a high performance athlete who intends to break some sporting record. I arrived at the basement of my building five minutes before eight o’clock in the evening, the agreed upon time to hold the meeting to debate the constitutional reform project.

At this hour only the Party militants were there. I had the strange feeling of being the invisible man. Then came the others, with whom I exchanged the usual jokes. Then the baritone shouted: Attention! And we started singing the national anthem.

The person designated to lead the meeting was a man of only 25 who, with impeccable diction and a firm voice, read the almost 1,500 words of the introduction of the project. Then in groups we parsed the 675 paragraphs of the text. continue reading

At the table where the proposals were written down, there was a high value team: a senior official of the Central Committee of the Party, coincidentally a neighbor from the 12th floor, and his daughter Lisi, whom I lost track of afterwards, when she was no longer the president of the Federation of Students of the Secondary Education (FEEM) in the high school where my son studied.

She was the first to intervene to request the restoration of a paragraph from the preamble to the Constitution of ’76, which mentions “the ultimate goal of building a communist society.”

The leader of the meeting asked if there were any comment on Chapter 1, called Fundamental Principles of the Nation, precisely the subject on which I had a couple of “papers.” So I raised my hand to ask for the floor.

From there I read my opinion on Article 3, which describes the country as socialist and reintroduces the concept of irreversibility of the socialist system. I also proposed the elimination of Article 5, which proclaims the role of the Party as “the leading force of society and of the State.”

I had overcome my fear because in a previous inspection I carried out of the surroundings I could see that there were no indications that something similar to a repudiation rally would take place or that the restless boys of State Security would charge me or prevent me from attending to the debate.

I just had to appeal to the essential “nerve” that is required to raise your voice when you know you are in a clear minority.

The young man who ran the meeting, with better skills as an announcer than a polemicist, made a faint reply that said something like socialism was essential for the future of the country. The official from the 12th floor offered a long dissertation to convince the audience that thanks to socialism our children have schools and anyone can have surgery in a hospital without being asked how much they earn or what position they occupy in the Government.

He was followed by a senior officer of the Armed Forces who, in an emotional speech, recalled that socialism had been created with the blood of the heroes in the Sierra Maestra, in Girón and other battles and that, out of respect for the dead, the system would have to be irrevocable. Others piled on citing Fidel Castro, Raúl and even Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Out of elementary respect before so many angry people I left in my pocket the papers where I had written my diatribe against the Communist Party and its pretensions of being the leading force over the laws and the Constitution itself.

A young mother, who did not take the trouble to read the reform project, took the opportunity to complain that she had not been able to get a wheelchair when her 10-year-old son suffered a fracture and could not take him to school.

A desperate worker asked when there was going to be talk about the little that the working people earn, and a retired spy expressed her disgust before the article 215 that, when defining the functions of the armed institutions of the State, only mentions “the armed formations of the Ministry of the Interior” instead of simply saying “the Ministry of the Interior.”

There is a complacent way to disagree with the current draft of the constitutional reform. The two examples starred the baritone, who said he was against the idea that people who hold high positions can only govern for only two terms and that he did not like the 65-year age limit to be president of the Republic. Later he proposed that to the controversial Article 68, which opens the possibility of equal marriage, we should add the explicit prohibition that these people could adopt a minor.

That was the occasion when Antonio, a Cuban recently repatriated after living for a long time abroad, demanded an explanation of the motives of his proposal. “I am a homosexual,” he said, “and I have all the moral conditions to educate a child.”

The debate was about to be shipwrecked in the meanderings of a confrontation between the baritone and the returnee, until the young leader of the assembly closed the matter with a Solomonic sentence: “Here each one person can give their opinion if it seems appropriate to say it.”

After an hour and a half, there was no interest in deciphering the intricacies of Title VIII, dedicated to the local organs of the People’s Power. Only the young Lisi had something to say when she mentioned her displeasure at the title of “governor” for the person in charge of the government of a province, because that reminded her of “what the Yankees call those who run a state.”

It all ended with a loud applause and, as always happens in these cases, the groups of those who remained silent throughout the debate drew their own conclusions as they dispersed on the ground floor of our fourteen floors.

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Below I leave the arguments I read aloud to rebut article 3.

I propose to reformulate Article 3 of the constitutional draft to read as follows:

ARTICLE 3. The defense of the homeland is the greatest honor and supreme duty of every Cuban.

Treason is the most serious of the crimes, and whomever commits it is subject to the most severe sanctions.

Citizens have the right to fight by all means, including armed struggle, when no other recourse is possible, against any external aggression that threatens the sovereignty of the nation.

FOUNDATION

The proposal is aimed at eliminating allusions to the political system based on an ideology.

The homeland does not need political surnames because it belongs to everyone, those who believe in socialism and those who do not believe in it; those who defend it as an option and those who want to change it for another model. This was our homeland long before socialism was proclaimed in Cuba.

When you add the qualification of socialist to the country it is inferred that not being in agreement with that system and exercising the right to substitute another system can be considered an act of treason to “the socialist homeland” and, consequently, a Cuban patriot may be subject to “the most severe sanctions” just for trying to modify the system.

This proposal also involves withdrawing what is referred to as “the irreversibility of socialism” and for that I appeal to the following four arguments:

The first argument:

Establishing the irreversibility of the system is in contradiction with Article 16 of the chapter on International Relations, which states that the right to self-determination of peoples is expressed “in the freedom to choose their political, economic, social and cultural system,” which implies the possibility of changing at any time, by popular will, the system that is in force.

We can not recognize for the rest of the peoples of the world a right that we are denying ourselves.

The second argument:

The current generation of Cubans has no right to prevent future generations from living under another type of system, which will surely be infinitely better than what we can imagine today.

The third argument:

Even in the glossary that accompanies the printed brochure of the project, it is not clear what this socialism is that is irreversible.

Since this amendment was introduced in the constitutional reform of 2002 to impose the system’s irrevocability to date, there have been notable conceptual changes, among them, the disappearance of the term communism and no mention of the socialist conquest of eliminating the exploitation of man by man. These changes have been introduced not only in this constitutional project, but also in the conceptualization of the model approved in the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

In the system under which we Cubans are living in the second decade of the 21st century, the rule of giving back to the worker with the formula “to each according to his work” is not fulfilled because what everyone receives today as a salary is barely enough to sustain the energies used in the productive process.

The fundamental law of socialism which is “to satisfy the ever-increasing needs of the population” is still far from being fulfilled. Instead, we see the insistence with greater force that state companies must “make a profit” which is the supreme law of capitalism.

Of socialism as a system, which now is intended to be declared irrevocable, all that remains is the social property of the fundamental goods of production and the planning of the economy and even then these bases are undermined by accepting the role of the market and private property.

The fourth argument, which can be better defended by communist militants, is based on the following:

Not satisfied with having eliminated the term communism in this reform of the Constitution, the drafters of the project go so far as to prohibit it constitutionally, by declaring socialism as irrevocable.

In any basic course of Marxism-Leninism one learns that socialism is a transition to communism and that in fact, when the State is eliminated, in that superior stage that is communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the undisputed essence of socialism, is revoked. To declare the irrevocability of socialism forever constitutes an explicit renunciation of the final goal, although in public declarations outside the constitutional text, the opposite is said.

By the way, from Article 224 dedicated to the reform of the Constitution the reference to the fact that “in no case are the pronouncements on the irrevocability of socialism and the political and social system established in Article 3,” should be eliminated.

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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.

Daniel Ortega in the Prison of a Book

Daniel Ortega has kept a low profile with regards to what is exposed of his private life in the media.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, September 26, 2018 — In the middle of the acute political crisis that is happening in Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan journalist and writer Fabián Medina Sánchez has released the book Prisoner 198, a biography of Daniel Ortega where the author has set out to speak about the facts without trying to convince anyone of whether the character is a good or bad person.

Despite having been one of the most influential politicians in the Central American country in the last fifty years, including four terms as president, Daniel Ortega has kept a low profile with regards to what is exposed of his private life in the media. A notable exception is an interview that he gave in 1987 to Playboy magazine where he confessed: “It was like the cell was always with me.” continue reading

In the portrait of the controversial commander-become-president, sketched in this book it seems like Ortega has not managed to get rid of the overwhelming sensation of being incarcerated. According to Fabián Medina, this condition “has marked his whole life, from family and romantic relations, to his vices, manias, and form of exercising power.”

For five years the author undertook an investigation that not only included checking journalistic texts, books, and historical documents, but also interviews with hundreds of people close to Daniel Ortega who shared with him prison, war, conspiracies, and power.

Among these testimonies one that stands out is that of Carlos Guadamuz, a childhood friend who later was murdered in still-unclear circumstances. The author also relied on a pair of interviews that he was able to carry out with Ortega during the years that he was away from power, but he never received a response to a request for a new exchange by the time he had plans to write this biography.

The number 198 identified Daniel Ortega when he entered the Modelo prison at the beginning of 1968, where he remained for seven years after being found guilty of robbing a bank. He remained there until he traveled to Cuba as the result of a rescue operation carried out by a commando group of the Sandinista Front.

The first murder that he committed, the tortures he was subjected to, his quarrels with other leaders of the Sandinista Front, his maneuvers to remain in power, and his relationships with diverse women are narrated in this work with a journalistic, pleasant, and precise style.

The figure of his wife Rosario Murillo accompanies Ortega in these pages with the full weight of her influence. Perhaps a character of great complexity who deserves a separate book.

The milestones in which the reader can immerse himself most deeply in the life of Daniel Ortega are the electoral defeat of 1990, the heart attack he suffered four years later, the charge of sexual abuse made by his stepdaughter Zoilamérica, and finally the popular rebellion initiated in April of 2018.

Among the situations in Daniel Ortega’s life that are not investigated deeply in Prisoner 198, his relationship with Cuba deserves mention. In this country he not only received military training, as mentioned in the book, but he also found support to oust Somoza and become the key figure of the Sandinistas because he was Fidel Castro’s favorite in that movement.

Obviously the final destiny of Daniel Ortega does not appear in this biography because in real life it still remains a matter to be decided. Many in Nicaragua would like to see him subjected to a judicial process and finally imprisoned, but justice sometimes comes late. At least in these pages he will remain locked up to be judged by readers.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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 Perseverance of ’Cuba Posible’

Roberto Veiga and Lenier González started the project with Espacio Laical in 2005. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 September 2018 — The civil society project Cuba Posible (Possible Cuba) will continue its work despite the attempts of the Cuban government to strangle it, the misunderstandings with the Catholic Church, and the suspicions of the most radical sectors of the opposition, according to comments its two principle managers made to this newspaper.

Roberto Veiga and Lenier González, director and deputy director of Cuba Posible respectively, started this initiative under the aegis of the Catholic Church in 2005, when both assumed responsibility for the Espacio Laical (Lay Space) magazine, which, more than a religious publication in print and digital form, functioned for a decade as a “zone of tolerance for political debate.”

This was possible, as Veiga explains, because it occurred “in the middle of the process of dialogue between the Church and the Government, which was not only sponsored by the Bishops’ Conference, but also by the Vatican.” continue reading

In a retrospective look at its origins, the director of Cuba Posible recalls that “at that time the process of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States was also taking place (although it was not yet public) and the European Union was already in discussions to withdraw its “Common Position“, which had been in effect since 1996.

One reason that Veiga suggests for the government’s tolerance of this project is that “perhaps it was one of those gestures that are usually made in this type of process, where it is important to build trust between the interlocutors.”

Among these shifting borders, Cuba Posible proposed from the beginning to open its doors to the greatest plurality possible to promote internal political trust and to open the debate about building bridges.

This debate took place on very important issues, including the constitutional reform, the education system, relations with the Cuban diaspora, the role of the Army and other issues that crossed the borders of the digital magazine, or on paper, until they managed to organize events with the presence of a very diverse public, on some occasions, or only with invited guests, on others.

But it was not, as is believed, a bed of roses. “Even in that initial moment the project suffered from the most orthodox sector of the Government ‘disqualifying’ it — that is refusing to recognize it — and, although it hurt us, there were also many misunderstandings within the Church, which took shape in June 2014, when we confirmed our request to resign from the management of Espacio Laical. We offered our resignations as a response to the indications that we should reduce what was identified as our excessive political profile,” Veiga acknowledges.

In the current situation, that dialogue between the Government and the Church, where they talked not only about political prisoners but also about the economy and international relations, is a thing of the past. The little progress made in improving relations between Cuba and the United States has been reversed, but not only because of Trump’s arrival at the White House. The reversal started with the end of Obama’s visit to the island.

Lenier González adds: “There was a decade of relative tolerance that coincides with the ten years of Espacio Laical and the first two of Cuba Posible where the aforementioned circumstances occur, plus the presence of Raúl Castro at the head of the Government.”

González thinks that for Raúl Castro this type of project was perhaps something small, of little importance. “That is why the transfer of power accelerated the conflict towards Cuba Posible,” he says.

The first public attacks on the project occurred even before Obama’s visit. Since then, the arguments with which the government usually attacks appeared, not only against its most bitter opponents, but even against those who depart slightly from the official line. All are accused of: belonging to the CIA, subversion, foreign financing, intentions to destabilize the country and all the charges that contribute to the execution of a reputation.

Lenier González recalls that in these dramatic moments several events happened, including a meeting of the rector of the University of Havana with all the deans and the faculty. He used his authority to report that this was a CIA project. We know that one of those present told him that such a serious accusation required proof and the rector’s response was: “You have to trust in the Revolution,” he says.

Roberto Veiga is not the kind of person who wants to forge a reputation as a hero. “What made it possible for Cuba Posible to continue working was the number and quality of collaborators we had at that time, both inside and outside the country, which allowed us to continue independently with our programs, each one of which had several concentric circles of collaborators and where the closest ones had a higher level of commitment,” he says.

He is referring to the programs for Fraternity (socio-cultural issues), Zero Poverty (socio-economic), Decent Work (socio-labor), Agora (socio-political) and Orb (international) programs.

With the expression of negative opinions, the work of Cuba Posible was criminalized. “In a vast operation of intimidation they visited all the universities, research centers, communication institutions in the country, to explain why no one could collaborate with us. As a result, some of those collaborators that we had were in the situation of having to abandon us, although others refused to comply with those orders,” says Roberto Veiga.

In the last nine months, all those who resisted have been expelled from their workplaces and few remain in the country. “Even though they do not blame us for their situation, we feel we have an enormous responsibility,” says Veiga. “Even worse has been the case of those who work in provincial centers, where everything has been more oppressive.”

“They were people who, for the most part, never intended to break with the system, some of them militants of the Young Communists Union who have been removed from the organization, even against the opinion of their Base Committee. This creates a difficult situation with their family and in their neighborhood, so because they are professionals with good contacts abroad they opted to leave.”

“The first and second circle of collaborators remain intact, they are people who, despite receiving tempting offers abroad, have decided to stay in the country collaborating with Cuba Posible, although now they have to work under new conditions, especially because they are subject to a process of destabilization, of disarticulation, of strangulation.”

The attacks were perceived by the members of the project as isolated actions of the government’s most dogmatic sector, but in February of last year Miguel Díaz-Canel, still a vice president, acknowledged that he had given the order to cut off all avenues of financing to Cuba Posible. “We confirmed then,” says Veiga, “that it was an official position, which, paradoxically, had more immediate impact on institutions abroad than among our collaborators on the island.”

Lenier González points out that in the summer of 2017 the strategy was coordinated and a strong public offensive was made, focused on the debate on “centrism” where “they launched their battleships to give the impression that this would be the end of Cuba Posible.

The decision of González and Veiga to continue working “irritated them a lot” and, also, created a dilemma for those responsible for Cuba Posible.

“All this led us to believe that the most responsible thing we could do was to decree the closure of Cuba Posible because we were harming our collaborators where a majority wanted to maintain a positive position within the system, because they longed for the evolution of the system without reaching a rupture. Some with more moderation and others with less. Their continuing to work on Cuba Posible led to a break with those who did not want to break, people who enjoyed what they did in the institutions where they worked and we had a responsibility to those people.”

“We have a responsibility to the country, to our collaborators and to our families, which is why Cuba Posible is not going to close down, we will not even stop and then restart. Without stopping work we will create the conditions to continue existing in the midst of this lack of clarity.”

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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.

Prologue to “La Grieta”

La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 September 2018 — A quarter of a century ago, when I met Reinaldo Escobar, there were at least two obsessions around which his life revolved. The first was to try to continue doing journalism despite having been expelled from the official media, and the other was this novel, a biographical exorcism that he wrote with an almost monastic discipline.

That process of typing, on his sonorous Adler machine, the experiences accumulated in more than two decades of working in the press controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was happening at a time when the country was falling into the abyss of the economic crisis after the collapse of the socialist camp. So the sheets were filled amid the blackouts, shortages and long hours on an empty stomach.

After his expulsion from the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, Escobar had tried all sorts of occupations – providing material for a second novel – on a downward slide that found its parallel in the fall being experienced on the island. He worked as a proofreader in the National Library, where they sent him as punishment for the critical insolence of his articles, texts that, read in the light of today, produce more shame than pride, he confesses. continue reading

In the library galleries full of volumes, the journalist found a long list of censored books, met other punished individuals, and even signed a letter of protest against the agreements of the Fourth Congress of the PCC. That new boldness cost him another administrative warning that convinced him to distance himself from any state workplace where he toiled with the volatile material of words and ideas.

Thus he became an elevator mechanic, the job he had when he wrote the first page of this novel starring his alter ego Antonio Martínez. Thus, that original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts. He hoped that after reading it they would come to rescue him from his forced “pajama plan”*.

That original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts

That character of accusation was lost as he added paragraphs where he verified, with each passage, that he, too, had been responsible for the construction of the mirage of the Cuban Revolution. Another conviction began to surface with each written syllable: the censors who had expelled him from the official press had given him the gift of a charter of freedom to do the journalism he had always dreamed of. Rather than suing them, he almost had to thank them.

Overcoming that first desire to display his innocence, Escobar concentrated on narrating the events that took him from a desk in the School of Journalism to a greasy cab where he adjusted the mechanism of an old elevator, while the neighbors shouted at him to get it working as soon as possible and a brigade leader looked with scorn on that reporter fallen into disgrace.

It was a journey from the summit to the abyss, from being a reliable compañero to a dissident. The descent from the cloud of privileges, to the stinking hole of the counterrevolutionaries. In short, letter by letter, he wove the story of the journey to the infernos of real socialism and the lowest of its circles, where the renegades wander, persecuted by insults and reprisals.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts. His intention was never to transform into literature the uneasy journey of a communicator, but to make the fiction boil over with objectivity and to bear a part of those words that he had not been able to sneak into the national press.

The writing of this journey from revolutionary faith to apostasy began when the Berlin Wall had already fallen and the Soviet Union had dismembered itself without even one of those proletarians of the red flag doing anything to prevent it. The events surrounding Reinaldo Escobar fit the predictions ventured by Antonio Martinez while listening from the press room, as the cracks of the Cuban system opened.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts

 Completing each chapter became a struggle against the clock, driven by the mistaken feeling that Castroism was living its final years and this novel must be finished before the system that condemned its author to ostracism expired. It was the little victory of the ousted journalist: to sketch some letters of what would be the collective epitaph of a chimera.

The exercise demanded more than bravery. He suffered so many interruptions, especially those stemming from the numerous friends who filled his apartment in search of a space of freedom in that suffocating Cuba of the nineties, that in order to concentrate on his work he locked himself in a room for weeks, leaving a warning sign the he needed “absolute tranquility.” The message was in vain, because in Havana, in 1993, peace was as scarce as food.

In this context, La Grieta (The Crack) – which at that time carried the significant title Pages from the Pit – had to deal not only with the obstacles imposed by a disintegrating everyday life, but also with surveillance. Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

Finally that unwanted “guardian angel” learned from other sources that there was a novel under development, something that sealed the fate of that first version, typed without copies. In May of 1994, when the author traveled for the first time outside of Cuba, bound for Berlin, his name echoed on the loudspeakers of the José Martí International Airport. A uniformed man confiscated the novel he was trying to get out of the island.

All that Escobar has left from that seizure is an official document in which the General Customs of the Republic provides a receipt for having seized some “some sheets with writing typed by machine” (sic). Later, in front of the first computer he had touched in his life, lent to him by a friend in Frankfurt, he began the hard task of trying to remember the novel that had been taken from him. From this effort of memory, the current text was born.

Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

With the need to, once again, put in black and white the book that had been finished, the author decided to reshape the whole plot. He applied the scissors with great daring, decided to use the real names of most of the characters which, in the first version, he had changed for discretion, and present the protagonist with less heroism and more guilt.

The rewriting of La Grieta took more than two decades. During this time, Escobar could not hang a “do not disturb” sign to fully immerse himself in his endeavor, but rather was battered by the hurricane winds of life. His work as an independent journalist, which began with a collaboration with The Guardian in January 1989, led to several unsettling situations.

The Black Spring of 2003 arrived and the author watched as several colleagues were condemned to long prison terms and Fidel Castro tightened the repressive screws of the system. At that time, not even a memory was left what had been experienced in the years when the winds of Glasnost were blowing over Cuba and many had opted to create a press more attached to reality.

The majority of those reporters, editors and photographers who, influenced by the Soviet Perestroika, had tried to publish on the national plane more critical reports, bolder columns or more daring images, had ended up emigrating, or had locked themselves in self-censorship or had made the leap to independent journalism where they played with their own freedom every day.

The story of Antonio Martínez took on other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor. A Cuban who had gone through the stages of fascination, and then doubt, to rejection. His life was a testimony of disenchantment.

The story of Antonio charged other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor.

The pressures of reality on the fiction he was writing shaped La Grieta as a map of disenchantment, which marked the path followed by a young man who hoped to make an authentically revolutionary journalism and ended up being labeled as an “enemy.” As they peruse its pages, readers will go through different stages with respect to the protagonist; sometimes they will be sympathetic and at others they will want to insult him for harboring so much naiveté.

The author has not wanted to misrepresent those illusions, nor to present himself as someone who always knew that the communist utopia was impracticable and that underneath the false slogans of a system for the humble, the hidden reality was the construction of a calculated totalitarianism. Instead of the cynical look that his later experiences might have given him, Escobar prefers to assemble Martinez’s character with his real elements of ingenuousness.

That gullibility, shared by millions of Cubans during the first years of the Revolution, is what leads the protagonist to want to use his journalism to show what is working badly, in order to fix and rectify it. At the beginning, he falls into the trap of thinking that the greatest problems were derived from an incorrect application of the doctrine and not from the system itself.

In his dreams, he imagined that he would run into someone from the nomenklatura to whom he could explain the damage that bureaucrats and extremists caused the Revolution by distorting its precepts when putting them into practice. He speculated that if he could manage to explain to the leaders the inconsistencies between the proposed goal and the path that was being taken to reach it, surely the course could be corrected.

An attitude that repeats in his romantic life, in which he tirelessly seeks a love that fits the ideal mold that has been shaped from the borrowing of verses from Vicente Huidobro, the opinions of his mother, and the idea of an inseparable compañera from official propaganda. That passionate fantasy also ends – at least in the novel – shattered against the sharp rocks of reality. 

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially. Opportunism, indolence and even radicalism are some of the obligatory covers for the political carnival of which he is a part. Sometimes he can see the face beneath those masks and he feels the urgent desire to flee in terror.

Although La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. One in which the dilemma of whether to put butter or mayonnaise on the bread of the workers’ snacks encapsulates the dilemma between the freedom of opinion and the militant discipline that the regime expects from its employees.

Untimely questions, misguided sincerity, excessive self-criticism and the desire to improve society from the pages of newspapers are setting Antonio Martínez apart. With keenness, the censors notice the danger that exists in an individual who has swallowed the speeches delivered from the podiums. His end is defined as soon as they recognize a true believer.

This novel, for all that, is a description of a professional and social suicide. The precise narration of how the flame of a utopia burned the wings of a generation of Cubans, with the consent and approval of many of them. Reinaldo Escobar, who burned in that fire, has had the courage to tell the story.

*Translator’s note: “Pajama plan” is a common Cuban euphemism for the status of public employees forced out of their positions for political reasons.

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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.

Cuban Government Demands More Fidelity and Less Ability From Journalism Students

The Faculty of Communication is one of the most demanded by students. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 September 2018 – High school students who aspire to enter the University to train as journalists will no longer have to demonstrate the high academic achievement required in the past. As of the next academic year, 2019-2020, simply passing the entrance exams and “aptitude test” will be sufficient, according to the official press.

René Sánchez, Director of Admissions and Employment Placement for the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) confirmed in a press conference that the candidates for a place in journalism programs will be “selected by a rigorous process that demonstrates the necessary skills for this specialty and commitment with the best traditions of that profession in Cuba,” the so-called “aptitude test” that has existed for years.

The novelty is that, after having succeeded in this peculiar examination which traditionally evaluated a knowledge of history, the ability to write and the ideological fidelity to the system; they will have “pre-earned the career, and they will only have to pass the entrance exams to register, that is, they will not fill out an application or compete for the major.” continue reading

The parameters that will be measured in the aptitude tests are outlined in a note recently published by Adelante newspaper in the province of Camagüey that promotes “exchanges” identified as “vocational training spaces” organized by the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) where applicants to the profession can study to pass the aptitude tests.

According to this provincial media the exchanges will take place from late September to mid-October in the Camagüey Press Center to train for three phases of the aptitude test called “general culture,” “writing and understanding” and “the interview,” with the understanding that the latter will not be the submission of a work of journalism, but an interview which the applicant will face to be accepted.

The president of the National Journalism Careers Commission, Maribel Acosta, told this newspaper in a telephone interview that the aptitude tests will be what establishes acceptance into the journalism department, according to the plan of places awarded.

“At the moment we are trying to clarify with the MES whether the aptitude tests are going to be centralized or decentralized,” Acosta added. In the latter case, each study center will hold its own exams, but if they continue to be centralized, they will be carried out by the Commission and will be the same day and at the same time throughout the country.

When the new measure takes effects, students who apply will not have to obtain outstanding grades in the entrance exams or have a high grade point average accumulated in three years of high school.

Over the last 30 years, the Bachelor of Journalism had been at the top of the pyramid of aspirations for university degrees, and for that reason and due to the ranking system based on the academic performance that has prevailed, only high school graduates with grades higher than 95 or 97 points could be admitted to this discipline, after having passed a supplemental proficiency test.

“This faculty has been considered as a kind of elite to which only the brightest high school graduates are admitted. Now the most docile, the most ‘politically correct’ will enter and that will be good news for those who direct the press in this country,” a young student of the first year of the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana commented to 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

Marlon, 16, a high school sophomore in Havana, considers the measure favorable because, in his opinion, “the materials that are measured in the entrance tests do not define the quality of a journalist, who must have more than skills for writing or oral expression.” The young person maintains that “this eases the way for many people who have journalistic vocation but who did not get good scores on the examinations.”

In other more sensitive careers such as medicine or teaching many young people have managed to enter with average grades and very low scores on entrance exams, because of the country’s urgent need for doctors and teachers, the first to sustain the government’s profitable business of selling their services abroad on the so-called “medical missions,” and the second to cover the deficit of teachers.

The Higher Institute of International Relations (ISRI) and the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) are the other careers that require their applicants to take an aptitude test. In the case of the ISA, this test is related to the necessary skills that an artist must assume, for dance, theater, music or visual arts, but in ISRI and journalism the ideology aspect is of higher importance, such that the “aptitudes” tested are translated into “attitudes.”

These new measures is going to be applied after the last Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) and on the eve of a Press Law still to be enacted.

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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.

Journalist Reinaldo Escobar Wins the 2018 Verbum Novel Prize

Reinaldo Escobar worked on the creation of ‘La Grieta’ for a quarter of a century. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 August 2018 — Journalist Reinaldo Escobar’s work, La Grieta*, won the 2018 Iberianamerican Verbum Novel Prize. The results of the contest were announced this Monday and its organizers reported that 507 authors participated and there were five finalist.

Escobar, editor-in-chief of 14ymedio, was awarded the prize for “the narrative maturity with which he tackles the chronicle of disenchantment for an entire generation of Cubans,” and “the subtle irony that manages to raise a smile and the delicate game of mirrors that fuses reality and fiction.”

“I’ve been working for a quarter of a century on this novel, writing and rewriting its pages,” Escobar said, on hearing of the award. “It is a testimony that I hope will transcend me as an individual and represent thousands of Cubans who lived similar experiences.” continue reading

La Grieta tells the story of Antonio Martínez, a young man who entered the School of Journalism at the end of the ’60s with the illusion of entering the profession during a time of new airs of freedom. Two decades later he ends up expelled from the newspaper where he works and stigmatized as an enemy who will not be allowed to exercise his profession in any other media.

The novel’s first typed version, without copies, was completed in 1994 but was confiscated by State Security at the Havana airport when Escobar tried to take it out of the country. A quarter of a century later, the novel is seeing the light reconstructed by memory and enriched by the author’s experience.

The jury of the Verbum Prize has emphasized that it is “an entertaining and intense work, which a whole generation can identify which and in which younger readers will discover the chronicle of an epoch of fallacious epics.”

The steps through which the plot takes shape begin with the ins and outs of the ideological struggle between fundamentalists and liberals in the university environment, the sanction the lead character was subjected to in a process of political cleansing, his later involvement in a prestigious magazine that worked to sugarcoat the image of the country for external consumption, and the enthusiasm for glasnost and perestroika that leads him to try to push journalism along more open paths from a newspaper of national circulation, to a point of direct confrontation where he finally stumbles against the insurmountable wall of intolerance.

Parallel to the events of the protagonist’s professional life, where at each step he discovers the enormous distance between reality and official discourse, Martínez maintains his own romantic utopia that leads him to seek, over and over again, a personal chimera.

The author portrays a part of that generation that jumped from adolescence to adulthood in the midst of the maelstrom brought by the Revolution. The illusion, the doubt, the skepticism, the frustration, follow one another in a sequence where it is difficult to determine the exact point of rupture, that insurmountable crack (grieta) where the deepest convictions are recomposed.

The jury that selected the winner comprised Fernando Rodríguez Lafuente (Spain, president), Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (Cuba), Sara Mañero Rodicio (Spain), José Antonio Martínez Climent (Spain, winner of the 2017 Iberoamerican Verbum Novel Award) and Luis Rafael (Cuba-Spain).

Among the finalists, along with La Grieta, was La Dantesca vida de Philip Orsbridge, by Alfredo Nicolás Lorenzo (Cuba), La hora del silencio, by Cristina Feijóo (Argentina), Los paraguas y el sol, by Enrique Pérez Díaz (Cuba) and Fóllale, Manco, by Juan Sebastián Rojas (Colombia).

Translator’s note: “Grieta” is a word that can be translated as crack, fracture, rift, chasm, fissure, breach and many synonyms of these words. Not having read the book, this translator hesitates to pick one to represent the title in English.

See Also: Twenty Years of Freedom or the True Face of Fantomas

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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.

Prague 1968, My First (and Belated) Disappointment

Warsaw Pact Tanks invade Prague, capital of the then Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 August 2018 — On the cover of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde on that Tuesday, 20 August 1968, a disturbing headline surprised everyone: Czechoslovakia Invaded. The subheading added that Warsaw Pact troops were the executors of the action.

On Wednesday the 21st, a group of students from the School of Journalism of the University of Havana was urgently summoned to the offices of the People’s Opinion of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. There we were given the task of collaborating in a survey to determine as quickly as possible what the state of mind of the people was in the face of these transcendental events.

One day later, some of us who did the interviews worked long hours to compute the results. We felt privileged to know the opinion of the people and especially by the encouragement of knowing that the Commander in Chief was waiting for the results before making a public statement. continue reading

Obviously, I do not remember the exact numbers, but three answers predominated. In first place, the majority rejected the invasion, defending their position with the argument that “nonintervention in the internal affairs of a country” was something sacred and that accepting what happened in Czechoslovakia would legitimize the right of the United States to invade Cuba.

The second most expressed response was: “I’ll tell you my opinion after I hear that of the Commander.” And the third, frankly a minority, was limited to expressing that “if the Russians were behind it, they would have had their reasons.” The remainder was made up of those who had not even heard about it or the usual cautious ones who opted for silence.

On the night of Friday, August 23, Fidel Castro made a special appearance before the national television cameras to publicize the position of the Revolution, that is, his.

Having just turned 21, the fool that I was expected a strong condemnation of the unspeakable invasion. Surely our survey had already been studied.

But the Commander in Chief had his own way of looking at the matter:

“The essential thing that is accepted or not accepted, is whether the socialist camp could allow or not the development of a political situation that would lead to the breakdown of a socialist country and its fall into the arms of imperialism. And our point of view is that it is not permissible and that the socialist camp has the right to prevent it in one way or another. ”

After that affirmation, Fidel Castro extended himself in criticizing the economic reforms of the Prague Spring, mentioning the details of the self-financing and the material stimuli that he described as “liberal bourgeois reforms.”

In what can clearly be considered a political negotiation, Castro wondered if perhaps the troops that had invaded Czechoslovakia would be sent to Vietnam or North Korea to defend those countries from imperialism and concluded by asking: “Will they send the divisions of the Warsaw Pact to Cuba if the Yankee imperialists attack our country, or even before the threat of attack (…), if our country requests it?”

With his applause for the invasion of a brother country, Fidel Castro tried to buy military backing for his outrages on the island, as long as he requested it.

That same year, 1968, Fidel Castro unleashed the war against bureaucracy on his island, imposed the Revolutionary Offensive, initiated the Havana Cordon, and the madness of 10 million ton sugar harvest. That year the microfaction process* took place, Cuba refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the program of schools in the countryside began and Castro announced the simultaneous construction of socialism and communism.

A week after those ominous statements by the Maximum Leader supporting the invasion, the ICAIC news program, directed by Santiago Álvarez, dedicated its space to what happened in Czechoslovakia.

The image of the Wenceslas Square occupied by Soviet tanks and the soundtrack with the initial notes of the Tocata and fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, remained forever in my memory, not as the testimony of the tragedy of Prague but as the reference to my first disappointment.

Then I knew that disappointment had come too late.

*Translator’s note: In 1968, the ‘microfaction’, nine pro-Soviet members of the Central Committee including Anibal Escalante, were tried as “traitors to the revolution” and received jail terms.

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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.

We Will Have an Electoral Law in 2019 but Constitutional Reform Retains One Candidate Per Position

A billboard in support of the Cuban government’s revised Constitution

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 August 2018 — In view of the deadlines imposed by the draft Constitution in its First Transitional Provision, and knowing that the referendum will take place on February 24, it can be calculated that by September 2019,the Cuban parliament will have approved a new electoral law.

If Raul Castro had fulfilled his promise of February 2015 to modify the electoral rules, the constitutional project now being debated would be adapting to what had already been enacted and not the other way around. The new law will be born chained to what is imposed by the reformed Constitution, in which the threads that bind can already be clearly seen.

The fantasy of new electoral legislation establishing a direct vote of citizens to elect their president was finally annihilated in the first paragraph of Article 104 that establishes that the National Assembly of People’s Power, in the exercise of its powers, “elects the President and Vice President of the Republic.” Later, in Article 121 it states that the President of the Republic “is elected by the National Assembly of People’s Power from among its deputies […] for a period of five years.” continue reading

For its part, Title IX, referring to the Electoral System, introduces a new element that denies voting rights to “those who do not comply with the requirements of permanence in the country provided for in the law.”

This detail, absent in the current Constitution, was specified in Law 72 of 1992, which in Article 6 says that “to exercise the right to vote requires the obligation to be a permanent resident in the country for a period of not less than two years before the elections” while, in order to be elected, Article 8 requires a candidate to be a “permanent resident in the country for a period not less than five years before the elections.”

The constitutional reform anticipates that the next electoral law will continue denying Cubans living abroad not only the possibility of being elected but also the right to vote.

In the particular case of the highest positions, from President of the Republic to provincial governor, articles 122, 124, 138 and 171 now include the requirement of not having any other citizenship to fill these positions. As a result, the tens of thousands of Cubans who have taken refuge in Spanish nationality*, plus the other thousands who hold any other nationality, will be excluded from the main rudders of the country.

Lawmakers will have to take into account a new constitutional provision included in article 182 of the draft, which modifies the elections of district delegates: they will no longer be held every two and a half years as established in article 111 of the current Constitution, but rather every five years.

One question that remains unanswered is whether the Candidacy Commissions** will be maintained in the next electoral law. The project under discussion does not allude to the subject, but neither is it in the current Constitution.

The elimination of the Candidacy Commissions is one of the main demands of independent civil society and the political opposition because it would open the possibility that voters are not simply approving a list that includes only one candidate for each seat in the Parliament; instead, voters would be able to choose between diverse candidates according to their personal political views.

After a comparative observation between the language used by the 1976 Constitution (with its successive reforms of 1978, 1992 and 2002) and that used in this project, there are indications that suggest what the 2019 electoral law might look like. The text under discussion no longer includes the term “merit” which, together with “capacities,” pre-conditioned the access of citizens “to all positions and jobs of the State.”

Current legislation is anchored in the idea of a ‘meritocracy’, and prohibits candidates from campaigning at all.  Voters are allowed “only to take into account, in determining which candidate to vote for,” the candidate’s “personal conditions, prestige, and capacity to serve the people.” In practice, the candidacy commissions (not the candidate) prepare a single-page biography for each candidate which is posted in a window and is the only legal form of “campaigning.”

Clearly, no one should have any illusions. It is enough to read articles 3 and 5 of the constitutional draft to affirm that the new electoral law of 2019 will not assume a multi-party system nor will it allow political campaigns to compete for the vote. Cubans living abroad, opposed to the system in their majority, will not have a presence in the polls. The reins are already firmly in place.

Translator’s notes:

*Spain’s “Historical Memory Law” allows the children and grandchildren of Spanish citizens born outside the country to apply for citizenship.

**Cuba’s Candidacy Commissions are made up of individuals from mass organizations created by the government/communist party. From wikipedia: “Candidates for provincial assemblies and the National Assembly are nominated by the municipal assemblies from lists compiled by national, provincial and municipal candidacy commissions. Suggestions for nominations are made at all levels mainly by mass organizations, trade unions, people’s councils, and student federations. The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission.”

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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.

Corruption and Mistreatment in the Ruins of the Old Hotel Rex in Havana

Yudiris Caridad Cintras with her three children leaving the Hotel Rex. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 July 2018 — The two hotels have the same name but have had very different destinies. The Hotel Rex in Santiago de Cuba, where some of the protagonists of the assault on the Moncada barracks stayed, can boast of three stars. The ruins of what was once the Hotel Rex in Havana, on the other hand, at number 64 San Miguel Street, are home to several families who live with the fear of an imminent collapse or eviction.

The deterioration of this four-story building with its formerly beautiful Art Deco facade adorned with balconies has had different stages. The worst came to pass in the late 80s, when it stopped being an inn that was rented by the hour for love affairs and became a shelter to accommodate families who had lost their homes due to building collapses, fires or because the buildings they previously lived in had simply deteriorated to the point where they were declared uninhabitable. continue reading

Each of the small rooms with bathroom, suitable for the shelter two lovers for a couple of hours of passion, welcomed large families who installed kitchens, laundry rooms and ‘subdivisions’ made from whatever material was available. Everyone believed that their stay would be for a limited time and under the logic of provisionality exploited their spaces without mercy.

Finally, the stigma of uninhabitability fell on the Rex and its inhabitants were relocated. However, despite the unfortunate state in which negligence left the building, it remained a space with a roof and this, more than a minimum, was a luxury for the most needy, willing to do anything to obtain and maintain housing in the capital of the Republic.

Exterior view of the Hotel Rex in San Miguel street in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

They come from all the provinces — hustlers, workers joining the “heroic construction contingents,” policemen to persecute criminals, and thugs to evade the police– with every square meter of surface disputed every day, along with every stretch of cable through which the electricity circulates, and each pipe through which the water flows.

The network of procedures required to obtain a permit to live in this lion’s den includes the recognition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ that legitimizes some cases and, although it is difficult to prove, many of the previous procedures that resulted in the authorization to live there bear the unmistakable stench of corruption.

Yudiris Caridad Cintras, from the municipality of Antilla, in Holguín, had to escape with her three children from the house where she was mistreated for more than 7 years by her husband, an ex-cop who was never convicted of any of the numerous complaints she filed for threats and abuse.

This took place in May 2017, when she was 30 years old, and led her to qualify for the category of a “social case,” for which she receives economic aid of 300 Cuban pesos (roughly $12 US): 135 to pay for meals, and 165 for two of her children who do not receive maintenance from the father.

The delegate for this district of the municipality of Centro Habana, Ramón César García, alias El Yardo, was assigned the task of housing her and he placed her in a room on the second floor of the Rex that did not even have a toilet. For months she had to relieve herself in bags. Some neighbors sympathized with Yudiris and helped her move to the third floor, where there was a room with better conditions. They improvised a door for her and there she settled with what she could pick up off the street. Now she sleeps on the floor with her children, after burning old mattresses infected with bedbugs.

Currently, relations between Yudiris and the delegate are very difficult. According to her, this representative of the People’s Power, also a former cop, “has in his house the control of the water pump that supplies that liquid, subject to his own pleasure.” She hasn’t forgotten the occasion when she went to complain that she had been without water for days.” He mistreated me verbally and physically in the presence of my children, I had the youngest of the children in my arms when he knocked me to the ground by punching me in the face.” In addition, Yuridis denounces that he is accusing her of being a “human rights” person or a member of the Ladies in White, in order to isolate her.

Yudiris Caridad Cintras her rights in the offices of the Municipal People’s Power of Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

As recounted by Yudiris herself, and as 14ymedio was able to verify, also living in the Rex are around a dozen police friends of the delegate, who support him unconditionally in gratitude for the authorizations he has provided them without legal grounds. “I’m surrounded,” says the woman with a mixture of humor and anguish

Yudiris has gone to every government agency to raise complaints. In each office she tells her whole story and each one adds the new steps to her ordeal.

Her case is now known to the Ombudsman Office of the Council of State, in the military prosecutor’s office, the provincial prosecutor’s office, the provincial Committee of the Party, the Federation of Cuban Women, and the Municipal Assembly of Centro Habana. “I have been promised mattresses and a kitchen but the only thing I have achieved is that they allow me to have one of my children in a Children’s Circle.”

Yudiris de la Caridad is just one of the many cases caught between the quarrels and shared solidarity in this lodging that has become a pigsty. The human birds of prey among the ruins dehumanize some and make others better, but they are all victims equally, even the victimizers.

This Thursday July 26, in the revelry of the celebrations for the attack on the Moncada Barracks so many years ago, some of the veterans of that “historical feat” will remember the hours they spent at the Rex Hotel in Santiago de Cuba, maybe they will visit it and admire the good state in which everything is preserved. Probably none of them knows about the Havana Rex, nor do they need to.

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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.

Proceedings to Draft New Constitution Lack Transparency

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, July 10, 2018 — We now know that at its seventh plenary session the Communist Party Central Committee reviewed the draft of the new Cuban constitution. It was reported that the text of the document is now a fait accompli. In the coming days deputies to the National Assembly will approve what is still a draft. It will then be released for public comment after which the final draft will be submitted for a referendum.

In the time that has elapsed since the commission was formed to come up with a preliminary draft, no media outlet, political leader nor any government official has indicated what changes will be allowed in the revised constitution, or even if the current one will be completely reformulated. continue reading

The only thing that has been confirmed is that there will be no change to the “irrevocable” status of the socialist system and that Article 5, which proclaims the Cuban Communist Party to be the “guiding force of society and the state,” will be preserved.

As happens in any mystery, information is being replaced with speculation. Among the issues generating the most speculation are how this new Constitution will treat the issue of private property and whether same sex couples will be allowed to marry. Substantial changes to regulations governing foreign investment, government control of the economy and some new item having to do with citizenship are also anticipated.

To a lesser degree there is also speculation about a constitutional change limiting high-ranking government officials to two five-year terms, the recognition of the new provinces and a probable modification to the makeup of the National Assembly.

During the period when delegates have been drafting this document, not one of these issues has been the subject of public debate. We do not even know what was debated behind closed doors much less what arguments the advocates for various positions have used.

Considering that all the commission’s delegates are members of the Communist Party, it is worth remembering the debates held by the constituent assembly which drafted the 1940 constitution. That body was made up of seventy-seven elected members, with the governing coalition’s thirty-five participants in the minority. The opposition had forty-two, some of whom were communists.

Those historic proceedings were broadcast live on radio. Everyone knew what was being debated and what each delegate’s position was. Labor unions held daily demonstrations in front of the National Capitol, where the debates were being held, to make sure that their demands were heard. In a age before either television or social media, editorial writers from the nation’s most prominent newspapers made their own proposals and questioned others.

There is not an even minimally convincing argument to justify the lack of transparency surrounding the working sessions of this commission. One of the most striking results of this lack of transparency is the public’s indifference. People are not talking about it in the bread lines nor at the bus stops nor during informal chats at the workplace, where the World Cup and the latest installment of the nightly soap opera are what capture people’s attention.

In order to win approval for the new constitution in the upcoming referendum, the government must make sure the gears of tedium are well-oiled. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) will summon voters and go through the usual process. During a hasty but brief campaign with no counter arguments, it will insist on a yes vote for the fatherland, for sovereignty, for a bright future.

The current silence is not the result of negligence nor is it an oversight. It has been meticulously planned in order to minimize the time citizens need to become aware of the value of their vote.

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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.

There Will Be No Transition in Cuba… Not Even of Communism

The primary school children who every day recite the slogan “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che,” should start looking for a new motto. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 22 July 2018 — The classic definition that socialism is a transition stage towards communism has historically generated theoretical debates and has been the watershed between the political movements located on the left of the ideological spectrum. It has also prompted flashes of humor, such as the statement: “The worst thing about communism is the first 500 years of socialism.”

That long-yearned-for moment, when “material goods will rain down like water” and humanity could inscribe on its flags the golden rule “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” no longer appears as an explicit goal in the next Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. The word communism has been deleted from the project.

This omission, or more accurately, this erasure, comes as no surprise to those who had carefully read the Conceptualization of the Model approved at the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communism Party (PCC). In that text, simmering now for nearly ten years, it is not mentioned that the final result of the model is the arrival of the communist society, nor even the purpose of “eliminating the exploitation of man by man.” continue reading

Only among those who have reached, or exceeded, the third age is there any memory of the times when Fidel Castro chose a different heresy by proclaiming that it was possible to build socialism and communism at the same time. It was the decade of the 60s and in the town of San Andrés, in the municipality of La Palma in Pinar del Río, the experiment was intended to do away with money and make everything free for the benefit of its 500 inhabitants.

It was also the time when Nikita Khrushchev promised in Moscow that “the present Soviet generation will live in communism,” and in Cuban universities and other centers of thought there were predictions of the fortunate moment when the red flag of the proletariat would fly over Washington DC.

In Saturday’s session of the Cuban parliament, where the elimination of that word was discussed, the president of the National Assembly assured that its absence “does not mean that we renounce our ideas, but in our vision we think of a socialist, sovereign country, independent, prosperous and sustainable.” Later he argued that the current situation of the island and the international context are very different from those in 1976 when the first Constitution of the revolutionary period was written.

If anyone had had the audacity to suggest the annulment of the term communism in any of the party congresses presided over by Fidel Castro, he would have been accused, at least, of being a revisionist and probably of being a traitor. Even today it must be assumed that many old militants find it difficult to accept this suppression and at this point are wondering how it is possible that the socialist road is “irrevocable” but the end point of the trip, the obligatory destination of that route, is not mentioned.

Primary school children, who every day recite the slogan “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che” should start looking for a new theme in September, under penalty of being in opposition to the constitution.

The communist society is unfeasible for two fundamental reasons. First because the resources of the planet do not support it; and second, because personal ambition is an indissoluble part of human nature.

Raúl Castro should be congratulated for having the political courage or at least the pragmatism to avoid commitment to an unattainable goal. But to be consistent with such a decision, he would also have to eliminate, in the preamble, that we Cubans are “guided by the political-social ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin” and, ultimately, change the name of the party that he leads. For that he would have recourse to appeal to the adjective “fidelista,” a doctrine based on voluntarism and the necessary absence of scientific rigor that allows the validation of any solution, any change.

Frequently slow in his decisions, Raúl Castro never decided to inscribe the Cuban system under the imprecise definitions of “socialism of the 21st century,” and left everything hanging from the plural possessive “ours.” He has dismantled most of the chimeras imposed by his brother while swearing allegiance to his legacy. Now, when his final retirement seems to be no further than five years off, he has made it clear that the final destination of this experiment will have to be defined by others.

For many communists this change can be as traumatic as it would be for a Catholic to hear the pope confess that there will be no life after death, that the messiah will never return, or that the heavenly paradise will be erased from the scriptures. That was the thought of two thousand years ago, now things have changed.

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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.

Reform the Essence of the Constitution, Not the Letter

Boris González, one of the promoters of the initiative. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 July 2018 — Despite the scarcity of information and the absence of public debate that have characterized the process of constitutional reform in Cuba, several civil society groups, the political opposition and the independent press have criticized some postulates announced by the official media.

In this context, the draft constitutional reform project undertaken by the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) stands out. The text will be formally delivered to the authorities when it concludes a public consultation that began on July 11 and will end in mid-August.

Boris González, a member of MUAD’s executive secretariat, explained to 14ymedio that their committee that prepared a draft revised version of the 1976 Constitution, with its reforms of 1992 and 2002, did so not with the intention of modifying the letter, but rather the essence of the document. continue reading

“We concentrated on 82 articles. First we did an analysis of the content and then prepared a final form that not only included the proposals, but also the rationale.” Gonzalez emphasized how important it is for those who read the draft to know not only the suggestions for changes, “but also what is the reasoning that led MUAD to suggest them.”

Boris González said that one of the most significant contributions of the initiative is the strong will to extend the right of citizenship by birth to the descendants of Cubans who left the island in the middle of the last century. “We believe that the government’s willingness to change can be measured when it accepts that all Cubans who have left the country and their descendants are Cuban citizens with full rights,” he stresses.

Other vital aspects of MUAD’s projects are the recognition of private property, the right to create political parties, the establishment of a fair wage, the right to be compensated in case of dismissal, the right for citizens to enjoy a legal personality that allows them to invest in their own country, strengthening the concept of habeas corpus, and the creation of a Court of Constitutional and Social Guarantees.

The elimination of Article 5, which gives the Communist Party the role of the leading force in society, and of Article 62, which states that none of the recognized freedoms can be exercised against “the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism,” are the most radical modifications proposed in the draft.

Although González believes that it would be ideal for there to be a process of deliberation across the nation with the largest number of people, he is aware of what they are facing. “That would be beautiful, but we have many limitations, not only of resources but of the obstacles imposed by the current Cuban institutions,” he says.

Those working on the draft proposal have created “constitutional initiative roundtables” to gather the opinions of those who wish to participate. “We also hope to collect ideas for the writing of the final document through email,” he adds.

The 605 deputies of the National Assembly began their “individual study” of the preliminary draft of the constitutional reform that will be approved this weekend, probably unanimously, during the year’s first ordinary plenary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

The division in the ranks of the opposition is reflected in its differing positions with regards to constitutional reform. In addition to the MUAD project, there are other sectors that believe the appropriate response to the modification proposed by the Government is to ignore it and not participate in its endorsement. Still others believe that the correct thing is to vote against it, to express their rejection, while a final sector has not yet made public its position.

“To believe that it is not worth making proposals is the position of repudiating everything, but there is a gradualness in how much of the existing order should be repudiated. Our position is: they will not listen to us, but if they read our document, they may find something that interests them and it will be better than what they are going to do with the new constitution,” says González, defending himself before those who believe that it is not worth proposing alternatives.

With regards to the referendum on the document that will be approved by the National Assembly he is forceful: “Up until now there have been no signs that the Constitution the Government will submit to a referendum will fulfill our ambitions, but I can not say in advance what the position of all the organizations that make up MUAD will be with regards to how to vote on the constitutional referendum.”

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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.