Negotiating with Machiavelli / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 11 2015 – When Cuba’s government announced the postponement of its talks with the European Union on 9 December 2014, it was speculated that the real reason lay in that the Cuban side wasn’t ready to face the topic of human rights, which had been anticipated to be a part of that round. Instead, the pretext of a photographic exhibition that offended “revolutionary sensitivities” was employed as a reason, but almost no one believed it. Eight days went by and the mystery was unveiled when Continue reading

The potatoes arrived! No more potatoes! / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2015 – Early in the morning Josefina heard on the morning news that Artemisa province had started the potato harvest. She heard that the “planned economy” target was almost 8,800 tons of potatoes and that the harvest would run through the middle of April. Almost intuitively, she looked through the blinds of her 8th floor apartment from where she could see that at the nearby farmers market there were two trucks unloading some sacks.

At that moment her daughter Olivia was staging the daily drama of putting on her primary school uniform and Josefina was faced the dilemma or whether to go stand in line before taking her daughter to school. “The potatoes are here!” her neighbor shouted and half the building leaned over their balconies to confirm it. By twenty minutes to eight she had already left her daughter, hair uncombed, at the door of the school, where an aide asked her, “Is it true? Are the potatoes here?”

The line extended around the corner, but her friend who sells plastic bags outside the market beckoned her to come and stand behind her. Half an hour later, Josefina had achieved her purpose. She hadn’t eaten a real potato for six months, and had only rarely had the hard currency necessary to buy a bag of dehydrated potatoes. The additional advantage was that 20 pounds of potatoes only cost 20 pesos in national money*, less than what she would have to spend for a little packet of instant mashed potatoes.

As she was leaving the market she heard the authoritative voice of the administrator shout, “No more potatoes!” A few steps away two burly young men whispered their proposed alternative, “A ten pound bag, only two fulitas (“little dollars”)**.”

Translator’s notes:

*See this article for a discussion of Cuba’s dual currency system.

**In other words, the black market potatoes cost more than four times the official market price… but they are available.

Without Confidence in the Money / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban 20 peso note signed by Che

Cuban 20 peso note signed by Che

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 February 2015 – Any day can be the eve of a celebration or a disaster, as much for those who hurried to exchange their convertible pesos (CUC) to Cuban pesos (CUP – also known as moneda nacional, or “national money”) as for those who are purchasing foreign currencies or who are trusting enough to think that everything is planned and calculated so as not to cause anyone any harm. Although its proximity can almost be smelled, the “final battle” of the end of the dual currency system continues to be a mystery and the present lack of transparency can endanger Continue reading

“Our actions can make people lose their fears” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar and Jose Daniel Ferrer

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2015 — Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country and leader of Cuba’s most numerous opposition organization, is also a compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance and the years he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks, will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies. Continue reading

And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

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

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

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

The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guidelines that Failed / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armandito’s wheels / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

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