From Cyberspace to Moringa / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The signing of 29 documents between the government of Cuba and various official and business interests from the People’s Republic of China on the occasion of Xi Jinping’s visit to the island has awakened great expectations among Cubans. One of the most striking things was the television news broadcast of the signing ceremony for the documents, which could be seen along with all of the boring protocol details. A parade of ministers and businessmen passed in front of the table placed in the hall the Council of State, and in the background an enormous stained-glass titled The Sun of our America stood under the watchful eyes of the presidents of both countries.

While the television-announcer-turned-master-of-ceremonies was revealing the nature of the initialed documents and saying the names and titles of the signatories, it was difficult to take in what was really happening. What is the difference, many wondered, between a memorandum of understanding, an exchange of letters, a framework accord, a cooperation agreement, a commercial contract, and a funding agreement? How could one discern the hierarchy that distinguishes an exchange agreement from an executive program? What is the basic difference between a framework agreement and a memorandum of cooperation?

What everyone did understand was that the Asian giant granted credits and made donations and investments in very sensitive areas. Examples of these are cyberspace, communications, digital television, improvements in the port of Santiago de Cuba, the supply of raw materials for the production of nickel, oil drilling, and the construction of a building complex associated with a golf course.

The rest, not wanting to overstate their importance, is filled with Chinese water meters, young Chinese learning Spanish in Cuba, packaging lines, office supplies, and transportation.

With regard to what was missing, at least among the 29 documents, nothing was heard about an increase in tourism, nor was there a single word about the Port of Mariel megaproject, and there was nothing about free-trade agreements such as those between China and other Latin American countries.

By chance—or benevolence—the number 13, a number so significant to the former Cuban president, appeared at the top of the Framework Agreement on the Establishment of the Agricultural Demonstration Farm, signed by the ministers of agriculture of both countries, which had among its objectives “cooperation on the science and technology of moringa, mulberry and silk worms.” What it said, a mere detail, passed unnoticed.

The Second Shipwreck of the Granma / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

It has a woman’s name and the fatality of a widow. The Carolina center, in Matanzas province, not only ground sugar cane for decades, but gave sustenance and prosperity to an entire village. On dismantling the mill, the former workers and the neighbors had to learn to live in a ghost town.

Carolina was one more among the 161 sugar mills that ground through the middle of the last century. In total, national production approached five million tons of sugar per harvest. The owners of the center, the Mirando Blanco brothers, never suspected that in October 1960 the industry that rose on their own efforts—theirs and others’—would pass into the hands of the State.

Imbued with revolutionary enthusiasm, many believed that the nationalization of the sugar industry would bring higher production and better working conditions. In an assembly where a new name would be selected for the Carolina, worker Piro Martinez suggested that the plant should be called Granma*. The reason was that one of the expeditionaries, Luis Crespo, had been born and spent his childhood in the batey (the sugarcane workers’ village). And so the name of that femme fatal was replaced by the English nickname for grandmother.

In the distance the dismantled sugar mill (14ymedio)

In the distance, the dismantled sugar mill (14ymedio)

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To the Rhythm of the Chinese Horn / 14YMedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Chinese Horn

Chinese Horn

14YMEDIO, Havana, Reinaldo Escobar, 22 July 2014 – On an unspecified date at the beginning of the twentieth century Havanans heard for the first time the sharp and contagious sound of an as yet unknown instrument, brought by Asian immigrants. It happened in the middle of a carnival parade and was played by members of a troupe called “The Good Chinese.” Soon after, the horn was brought to Santiago de Cuba where it became a main part of Santiago’s conga and was dubbed the Chinese horn.

In remarks to the press on the eve of his visit to Cuba, President Xi Jinping said, “China has sounded the trumpet for the comprehensive deepening of the reform, while Cuba is promoting the updating of its economic model.”

More than a century has passed since that memorable cultural event and another Asian wind instrument arrived in Havana today calling for a change in the rhythm. Perhaps less leisurely than that pushed by Raul Castro, characterized by the gradual introduction of slow and short movements in our society. It would be better if this were another troupe of good Chinese and not the messengers of a new authoritarianism.

An Inexplicable Explanation / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The inside of a traveler's suitcase arriving from Miami (14ymedio)

The inside of a traveler’s suitcase arriving from Miami (14ymedio)

Customs restricts imports even more

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14ymedio | 14 July 2014 – On the occasion of the latest customs regulations that further limit the products that travelers can bring to the island, a group of officials from the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba (AGR) held a press conference to respond to some concerns of the population. Among the pearls exposed there, it’s worth nothing an argument put forward by Idalmis Rosales Milanes, deputy chief of the AGR, where she tried to equate these actions with what happens outside of Cuba. “All countries,” she said, “regulate non-commercial imports to their territory.”

And it’s true. What this official didn’t say is that in all countries there are other regulations for commercial imports to non-state entities. If this weren’t the case, I would have to believe two things: that in the rest of the world all the stores are state-owned, or that the goods for sale in them are produced entirely in the country in which they are located. It gives the impression that this precision is for idiots, because it’s so irrational it’s embarrassing to have to clarify it.

The absurdity is normal only if the entire environment is also absurd. Whoever developed and approved these resolutions was personally persuaded that commerce is a crime unless it is performed by the only state monopoly that they themselves control.

Instead of developing a list detailing how many razors, pairs of shoes or fake nails can be carried in your suitcase, it would be much more useful to allow the importation and sale of whatever merchandise (non-lethal) is produced in the world, and to promote its free trade by private individuals who would be those who would assume the risk of being left with them in their shops if they weren’t able to sell them.

The law should allow the owner of a restaurant to import, in his condition as a private businessperson, the wine, pasta and cheese consumed by his customers. The seamstress should also have the right to bring fabric and dyes from other countries with which she designs her clothes, and the small trader must be able to count on the possibility of bringing the instant glue, the sponges for cleaning, and the hair dye, from other latitudes to the island. All this, backed and supported by commercial permits and import licenses… in the hand of the non-state sector.

That theses commercial imports are on a list of prohibited products, that there is a limit of the number of admissible pieces, that a diversified tax is imposed according to the article… all this would be almost comprehensible and, especially, debatable. What I can’t make heads nor tails of is this “dog in the manger” conduct, which neither eats nor allows others to eat, and in this case neither imports nor allow to be imported; neither trades, nor allows others to trade.

Repaying Debts With Loyalty / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 4 July 2014 – The Cuban government has sided with Russia on every vote in the United Nations that has concerned Ukraine. It is a surprising outcome in a country that has traditionally defended concepts such as the self-determination of peoples, sovereignty and territorial integrity as key survival issues; a country which now looks kindly on the transfer of immense and rich Ukrainian territories to the control of Moscow.

Also noteworthy is the attention the government has devoted to discrediting its peaceful opponents, labeling them “mercenaries in service to the empire,” given that it has coined the term “independent militias” as a part of its official language, targeted to those who, with the undeniable support of Russia, are leading an authentic operation of imperial expansionism.

But loyalty is profitable and on Friday the lower house of the Russian parliament ratified the cancellation of 90% of Cuba’s debt with the extinct Soviet Union. The gesture will save the Island from a payout of 31.7 billion dollars.

The Russian-Cuban accord, now ratified by the Duma, also provides that the remaining 3.5 billion that makes up the old debt will be paid over ten years and that the amount will be placed in special accounts dedicated exclusively to investments in the Cuban economy.

He who pays with loyalty runs no risks. The one left in a delicate position is he who collects under this concept, because once the debts are settled, the insolvent debtor can suspend his commitments without anyone being able to claim anything.

When Vladimir Putin steps foot on Cuban soil this coming 11 July he will sign the agreements and joint statements, none of which will compel a future commitment to vote for or against Russia in international forums. Clearly I’m speaking of that future we so greatly desire, that future after the change.

4 July 2014

Money Bristles, Yesterday and Today / Miriam Celaya

About the previous post, which -as expected- elicited many well and ill-intentioned comments, I noticed one in particular, a reader commenting about what used to be our digital magazine Consenso, which the commentator himself referred to as having opened a Cuban window on the world. I happen to agree with him and, as part of the management group and the editorial board of that magazine, I thank him for the memories and the praise.

But the truth is that his comment inspired me to search through those articles that were published at the time in Consenso, among which I found one from my friend and colleague Reinaldo Escobar relating to the subject of the debate: money. Because, though some were biased in reading my post and tried to twist the meaning of what I said, attributing it to my personally attacking those “who did not like14ymedio.com”, when read correctly, it shows that what I attack is the vice of envy, questioning other’s finances, exactly the same matter that Reinaldo Escobar discussed in Consenso in 2007.  Contrary to my habit of not posting here articles I have not authored, I reproduce it today, with the previous authorization of the writer. You be the judge about its worth, and I hope you enjoy it.

Money Bristles

Reinaldo Escobar

It seems almost superfluous to explain that any political activity generates costs, from the essential existence of a professional staff, dedicated to party work on a full time basis, to the development and dissemination of documents, including trips involving transportation, food and lodging outside the cities where they reside; organizing seminars, meetings or press conferences, or simply connecting to the Internet. Can you think how it would be possible to carry out politics without these things? Continue reading

The Loneliness of the Tobacco Growers / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Farmer with tobacco leaves

Farmer with tobacco leaves

Reinaldo Escobar, Pinar del Rio, 5 July 2014

The tobacco growers of San Juan y Martinez listened — between astonishment and helplessness – to the National Assembly debates. They expected that their difficulties and the problems of payment would be addressed during the discussions of some committee. They were disappointed.

In the Rafael Morán, cooperative, located in the town of San Juan y Martinez, frustration spread among the farmers. Just weeks earlier, the producers had been visited by a representative of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), representatives of the Communist Party in the town, and several members of the National Tabacuba Business. The tobacco farmers expressed their difficulties and complaints to these officials.

The meeting was part of the government campaign called “We’re going for more …” whose visible face was Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. The State offensive to improve production led to these meetings between the producers and the authorities of the sector. In the meetings the feeling of many producers emerged, some of which asserted publicly that “If there’s no change in the price of tobacco, it is going to be very difficult.” Continue reading

Perception of Risks / Reinaldo Escobar

There are many who try to imprint their pronouncements with the hallmark of official discourse. To blend in and achieve uniformity with that language, they select certain words, certain phrases and investigate ways to say typical newspaper articles, academic dissertations or legal allegations.

One of the most recent linguistic elements of this nature consists of a curious pairing in which one part is the concept of “risk perception,” and the other part is “vulnerability.” Meteorologists, epidemiologists, traffic safety specialists, economists, don’t hesitate to say that to the point that the perception of risk is higher, one can reduce the vulnerability of the presumed victims of a danger.

I confess my ignorance of the origin of this equation, which not only seems logical to me but even lucid. I suspect that it has been imported from an international academic environment — perhaps from military strategy or scientific language — when some clever member of a Cuban delegation was caught out there sowing it in the fertile ground of lack of originality in the official phraseology. The funny thing is that the verbal combination is not indebted to either Marxist dialectic or the harangues of the barricade. It’s implacably cold, but catchy.

Try it yourself and confirm it. Say, for example, that the lack of information in our press about criminal acts noticeably reduces the perception of risk that a person in the street should have and, as a consequence, increases the vulnerability of a citizen to criminal attacks. The triumphalist tone of the ministerial reports to the Cuban parliament don’t allow an adequate perception of the risks that threaten our society, which leads to greater vulnerability, be it with regards to the economy, education, healthcare, tourism, or anything else.

If we think of all the vulnerabilities that open before us, like cracks on the edge of the abyss, when the lack of perception of risk posed by transparency, secrecy, the verticality of command, the lack of citizen participation in decisions, the absence of political debate, the penalization of dissent, in short, it’s scary.Perceiving the risks, decreases our vulnerability.

27 June 2014

I Am Nothing Else But Cuban / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner. 14ymedio

Carlos Alberto Montaner. 14ymedio

Interview with Carlos Alberto Montaner, writer, journalist and political

REINALDO ESCOBAR, Havana, 24 June 2014 — Carlos Alberto Montaner has long been a kind of black beast in the official Cuban government propaganda. Accused of being a terrorist, a CIA agent, an eminence gris in the world counterrevolution, in real life he is an academic and journalist who has been involved in politics without losing his vocation as a writer. In his home in Miami, in front of a window where the bipolar horizon is divided between Cuba and Florida, he responds to 14ymedio’s questions.

Question: You’ve had four passions: teaching, journalism, politics and literature. You’ve alternated between them, although at times some have predominated over others. Will it continue this way?

Answer: For four years I was a professor at a university in Puerto Rico, I enjoyed what I did. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, lecturing, giving classes. But I continue to do journalism, I haven’t renounced politics, and more and more I want to write novels.

Question: Journalism has many dilemmas: fulfill a political assignment, please the readers as if information were one more commodity, and make a commitment to the truth. How do you decide?

Answer: This is greatly debated today. In the United States they want to turn journalists into an objective machine, without a heart or compassion, that can’t make moral judgments, because that’s supposedly discredited. I think that’s a mistake. In these different lives that one has for the different occupations, there are many responsibilities: you have to take care of your family, there is a professional responsibility, and there is a civic responsibility to the wider society in which you live, and this requires making decisions of a moral character which are sometimes at odds with journalism’s too narrow criteria. Continue reading

“One of the Hallmarks of the Twenty-first Century Will Be Overcoming the Burden of Political Labels” / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Reinaldo Escobar

Eliecer Avila. 14ymedio

Eliecer Avila. 14ymedio

We speak with the founder of the political movement Somos+ (We Are More)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana | May 30, 2014 – Eliécer Ávila launched the website this week of the political movement Somos+ (We Are More), which he created in June 2013. This 29-year-old computer engineer published a letter to young Cubans asking them to participate in “the reconstruction of the country.”

Question: What are the objectives of this movement?

Answer: We call ourselves Somos+ because we believe that every day there are more of us in Cuba dreaming of a different future. Among our objectives is to start talking among ourselves to know how many of us there are who have different ideas about how the country should be managed, from an economic, political, social point of view with regards to rights and freedoms.

Today we are isolated, and thus we have the idea that we are 11 million people thinking the same thing but not talking to each other about it, because there is neither the necessary confidence nor the platform to serve as a loudspeaker for people to express themselves without fear.
We are aware that in this early stage there will not be many people who want to be part of the movement, but we hope that we can count on a vanguard. We don’t expect to be a mass movement, but we can bring together an important number of responsible and thinking young people around a project for Cuba. We believe that it’s not enough to describe and criticize problems, we have to go from complaints to active participation and this participation implies that we need to organize ourselves. Continue reading

A Preview of the Next Cuba / 14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Reinaldo Escobar

  • Interview with Manuel Cuesta Morúa from Constitutional Consensus
  • Options under discussion: Change the 1940 Constitution, the 1976 update or create a new constitution
  • The Project involves most of the relevant organizations from the civic and political community, inside and outside Cuba
Manuel Cuesta Morua

Manuel Cuesta Morúa

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana | May 23, 2014

Question. What is the objective of the Constitutional Consensus project?

Response. To convene civil society and citizens to work for constitutional change, and to create a new Cuban constitution that is based on three key realities and requirements: citizen control of the State, which is the premise of democracy; the rule of law, which ensures that no one is above the law; and the limitation of power, without which there is no respect for fundamental freedoms. This is the central objective, seen through three integral and interdependent paths.

    We are still governed by what is probably the last Constitution in the Soviet mold still in existence in the world Continue reading

We Were Young / Reinaldo Escobar

Almost 27 years ago the magazine Somos Jóvenes (We Are Young) was born. That edition was historic because of the publication of two investigations, one, The Sandra Case, about prostitution, and the other titled Academic Fraud? In that era we were able to publish a note in the state-owned newspaper Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) announcing the launch of the controversial magazine.

Under the title Academic Fraud? we unmasked one of the negative phenomena of our society, which went far beyond that committed by the students facing their university exams, and manifested itself in other sectors that had nothing to do with the teaching process, at least formally. Continue reading