Neither Strong Men nor Soft Coups / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A Sunday march of the Ladies in White in Havana. (14ymedio)

A Sunday march of the Ladies in White in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 24 August 2015 — Two notable Cuban analysts, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Rafael Rojas, have plunged the scalpel almost simultaneously, but without having come to an agreement (as far as we know) about a particular issue: the popular anti-government protests in Latin America. Montaner in, “The Terrible Time of the Strongmen” and Rojas under the title, “Soft Coups?” in the Mexican newspaper La Razón

The first, the politician, makes a list of twelve demands shared by the citizens of Latin American countries against governments of the left, the center and the right; the second, the academic, questions the term “golpista” (coup supporter) from the leftist governments faced with their respective “peaceful and institutional oppositions, without the support of the armies, who are loyal to their governments.”

Looking at this simultaneously from different positions – which do not diverge – overlooking the Latin American political landscape, one appreciates the agreement on the inefficiencies of the continent’s democracies. The protests, organized or spontaneous, with greater or lesser violence, allowed or suppressed, are a reflection of the discontent of certain sectors who do not feel duly represented in the halls of parliaments, where what is demanded with shouts in the street should be settled in a calm way. Continue reading

The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 15 August 2015 — Six hours after the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy along the Malecon, a similar ceremony occurred on 150th Street in the Cubanacan neighborhood where the official residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires of that country, is located.

All of the heads of the United States Interest Section have lived in this mansion in recent years, and there is a flagpole in its garden. Across from it, congregated hundreds of guests who did not physically fit in the small space where hours earlier American and Cuban officials had witnessed the symbolic act that opened the US embassy in Havana. Continue reading

May Cuba Not Owe Its Democracy To America / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

"Those who believe that the Cuban government is democratic are the same ones who claim that our principal problem lies in the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba."

“Those who believe that the Cuban government is democratic are the same ones who claim that our principal problem lies in the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 August 2015 – In 1950 Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring presented to the Ninth Congress of History his controversial essay Cuba Owes its Independence to the United States. In it he laid out a little more than a century of facts and his nationalist and anti-imperialist view attributing the victory over Spain to Cuban troops.

Still discussed today is the weight of the American involvement in the conflict and especially the motives for its intervention. It has been another half century since that book came out and Cubans are no longer fighting to obtain their independence as a nation, but to install a system of democracy, and again our neighbor to the north makes laws, approves budgets and undertakes actions, this time with the declared intention to favor the future democracy on the island. Continue reading

Of the Sea and Beyond / Reinaldo Escobar

Fish in the market. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

Fish in the market. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, 13 August 2015 – A Havanan – one of those who doesn’t usually use the letter “R”* — an old pro-American joke tells us, is walking along the Malecon with his young son. Pointing to the immense blue of the ocean, the boy asks his father, “Papa, and that, what is it?” And the man, with his Havana pronunciation, responds, “The evil, my son, the evil.”* Some yards further on and a few minutes later, the boy returns to the fray, “And what is on the other side of that?” To which the man answers, “The good, my son, the good.”

Just across from the Malecon, where the waves remain an impassive witness to what happens in Havana, the American flag will be hoisted at the recently inaugurated United States embassy. But the sea did not want to be distant from the diplomatic chores and offered up to Havanans a symbolic gift: fish in the ration market.

Fish prices in the market. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

Fish prices in the market. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

The funny thing is that the last time the buctcher shops in this coastal city were full of scales was, no more nor less, the day before December 17 of last year, when Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that both countries was reestablish relations.

Surely, the Havana newspaper Tribuna, would publish the schedule for the sale of the marine product in every municipality. In the lines the same usual scenes repeat themselves and the joy of the poor will endure the little that always makes it to the quote of the ration book.

Fish, the sea, the flags, old whimsical symbols that invite us to a different reading, almost prescient, of reality.

*Translator’s note: The joke relies on replacing the letter R with the letter L. “Mar” is “sea” and “mal” is “bad” or “evil.”

The Prejudices We Provoke / Reinaldo Escobar

Demonstrators protest in Burundi. (VOA)

Demonstrators protest in Burundi. (VOA)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 August 2015 — Under the slogan of “Tanganyika breaks heads with big force” a Cuban radio serial from the 50s, my generation was inculcated with the idea that Africans are rude and violent. I vaguely remember that the character of this resonant name was a kind of stupid but unbeatable giant.

I didn’t know then that Tanganyika was a lake and that its northwestern shore touched Bujumbura, the largest population center in Burundi, which became the capital after independence in 1962. The prejudices of my childhood were reinforced years later when tribal struggles arose between Hutus and Tutsis and the dead filled the streets of the city in an absurd fratricidal war.

But for weeks the news confused me. Continue reading

When the Eggs Go Missing / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

An eggseller. (14ymedio)

An eggseller. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 July 2015 — One day it’s cooking oil, another it’s floor cleaning clothes or washing detergent, but there is always a product that all of a sudden doesn’t appear on the shelves either in the ration market or in the hard currency stores, “nor even in the spiritual centers” as some say.

When the eggs go missing, it is almost never the fault of the hens, but of the bad organization in production or distribution. The egg is a key player in the dramatic food situation of Cubans. As my neighbor Magdalena says, “It’s a can’t-miss,” because of which we call it a “lifesaver.” However, it vanishes, disappears, goes poof! like in those magic acts, and then alternative ways of selling it have to be put to work. Continue reading

Writing about the Cowards / Reinaldo Escobar

Moncada Barracks

Moncada Barracks

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 24 July 2015 — I do not know if I’ll be the first to do it, but at a time like this I want to congratulate the cowards.

Those who 62 years ago were summoned to a Revolutionary action in Santiago de Cuba, and who, when they heard the details describing the madness that involved storming the Moncada barracks, declined to participate.

I do not know the exact number of those who backed out at the last moment, much less their names. I have heard that their identities have never been disclosed, because among them there were some who later joined the fight and even fell in combat. The official story goes that of 135 implicated only four did not “step up.” Other versions raise to 165 the number of the conspirators and about 30 who thought better of it. Continue reading

The Vertiginous Days of Anger / 14ymedio

Protesters outside the headquarters of the Embassy of Cuba in the USA. (14ymedio)

Protesters outside the headquarters of the Embassy of Cuba in the USA. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 July 2015 – Recently, many calculations have been made about the time that has transpired since Cuba and the United States broke diplomatic relations. The journalists’ texts have emulated each other in the search for an exact number of years, weeks and days since 3 January 1961. However, so far none have alluded to the 734 days that transpired before the two countries parted ways.

Now that the emphasis is too frequently on how slow, complex and difficult the normalization process between the two nations will be, one has the right to wonder what would have happened if, between the first day of January 1959 and the third day of 1961, the principals implicated in this history had been animated by the same spirit that now measures each step with serenity, without haste but without pause, and takes it all gradually.

It is too difficult to resist the temptation to calculate at what speed normalization could occur if, in the next 734 days, the initiatives on one side or the other had the vertigo that existed then.

If harmony could be supplied with the same fuel on which the anger of those days gorged, one might venture the date of 23 July 2017 (just when the elections are being organized that will conclude with a new government in 2018) to take stock of what has been advanced.

Timelines are boring, almost no one reads them fully. The one I’ve suggested here includes some facts that more intensely marked the course of events. Only official Cuban sources have been used, and are certainly missing documents, speeches, declarations, and above all, actions, many of them to be declassified.

Marino Murillo, the “Antifidelista” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Mariano Murillo, Minister of Economy and Planning in Cuba. (EFE)

Mariano Murillo, Minister of Economy and Planning in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 July 2015 – Like those erratic comets whose pulse astronomers have not yet measured, Marino Murillo disappears and reappears on the Cuban political scene, generating gossip about his “thunder” when he disappears and expectations about its relentless ascent when he returns.

Those who knew him when he was the Director of the Economy in the Ministry of the Food Industry say that Murillo was the official who struggled hardest to get national production to substitute for imports. However, when he served as Minister of Internal Trade (2006-2009) he was the one who increased the trade in imported drinks, with obvious consequences for the domestic industry.

Now, in addition to being Minister of Economy and Planning, he is the member of the Communist Party Politburo responsible for implementing the guidelines of the 6th Congress, or, and it’s the same thing, the man who keeps track of the reforms.

“We must concern ourselves with creating wealth, because the economies with the best results are those that have been able to sustain production.” said Murillo Continue reading

Another Way to be a Greek Hero / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras. (tsipras_eu)

Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras. (tsipras_eu)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2015 — Homer would have narrated it differently, opting to die dismembered before giving in, but in these times the heroes are faced with the inexorable fatality of their tragedy, putting at risk their prestige, not their lives. Alexis Tsipras chose to stop right at the edge of the abyss because he believed more in the future of his nation than in his political career. Historians will tell us if he did well or badly, maintaining a pulse facing the Troika, even to extremes. Economists will draw pragmatic lessons watching whether Greece grows or sinks, while the militants of his party will reassemble their agendas with different promises.

Those from other latitudes who applauded the inflexible will now have to swallow their praise and, in passing, learn their lesson. The populists of Spain’s Podemos party will know they will not have a second chance at the polls, and those obsessed with an eternal Baraguá in these parts of the Caribbean will have to recognize that it is time to move on, saying “we do not understand.”

As someone whose name I can’t remember said, “Greece is very familiar to Cubans. She taught us the philosophy, arts and sciences of antiquity when we studied in school, and, along with them, the most complex of human activities: the art and the science of politics.

The story is not over, it never really ends. In the coming hours Tsipras will have to confront his personal Thermopylae in front of Parliament and face his constituents, who will not want to accept the reforms that will come over them. It will be Ulysses facing the pretenders, or Achilles with his wounded heel, but this time the gods will not intervene and it will be the chorus who decides.

Juan Carlos Cremata: A Real Man / Reinaldo Escobar

Juan Carlos Cremata. (Cubadebate)

Juan Carlos Cremata. (Cubadebate)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 July 2015 — It is very likely that the youngest among us don’t know the reference to the 1951 novel “The Story of a Real Man” by the Soviet writer Boris Polevoy, which tells the story of Alexey Petrovich Maresyev, a fighter pilot who lost both his legs and through a heroic effort continued to pilot a plane and engage in new battles.

Juan Carlos Cremata (born 1961) is the least likely hero of Real Socialism. He is an artist from head to foot, irreverent and lucid, who has left his mark both in the theater and the cinema. He has received numerous national and foreign prizes and a great part of his oeuvre has been dedicated to works for children and teens. Among his most well-known films are Nada (Nothing) and Chamaco (The Kid: Chamaco) as well as works that have circulated via alternative means, as is the case with Crematorio (Crematorium). Continue reading

The Athens of the Caribbean / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 6 July 2015 — The “No” side won in the Greek referendum on Sunday. This controversial decision has given Raul Castro a chance to position himself on the multipolar world stage through a letter that the official press has published ad nauseam. The general president sent a message of solidarity and convergence to Alexis Tsipras, in which Athens and Havana display their points of contact.

The possible exit of Greece from the euro zone could occasion its approach to the Russian and Chinese gravitational camp, which also constitutes the strategic Cuban rearguard in the face of any negotiation with the United States and the European Union. Half a hundred words have been enough for the first secretary of the Communist Party to warn any negotiator that the “courageous policy” of the current Greek government would be an example to follow. Continue reading