"The Person Who Puts Food on the Table is ‘el Yuma’*"

Some of the “escorts” for foreign prisoners once worked as prostitutes on the streets but others declare themselves “mothers of families” in need of an additional entrance. (Jan A.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 April 2019 — While she waits, she retouches her lips, fixes her hair and asks another woman who is waiting next to her if this is the first time she’s come. On the outskirts of La Condesa, a prison for foreigners 50 kilometers from Havana, several women arrive for the matrimonial visit. Most are wives of inmates but there are also some like Margarita, who offer sex for money to prisoners who are far from their country.

Margarita has been preparing weeks for the Pavilion as the room where prisoners receive their partners is popularly known. “I bring a mosquito net to put on top of the bed and have some privacy because you never know if someone is looking through a gap, plus wet wipes for hygiene, food and coffee,” she tells 14ymedio. “This client has been good to me because I’ve been with him for three years and he gives me 50 CUC (roughly $50 US, or two month’s wages) each visit.”

The woman, who prefers to hide her real name, visits an English prisoner serving time for drug trafficking. “I look for prisoners who have long sentences because they last longer and because in the end a relationship is established almost as if it were a husband,” she explains. “I’ve been lucky, all the times I’ve done this because I’ve connected with serious and non-violent men.”

The current Regulation of the Penitentiary System, updated in December 2016, establishes the frequency with which an inmate can enjoy the Conjugal Pavilion in a rigorously stratified penal regime with different degrees of severity, which also takes into account if the inmate is “primary, recidivist or multi-recidivist.”

In the best case the prisoner can enjoy the Pavilion at least every 30 days, and in the worst every four months. In an explanatory note, the Regulation specifies that the duration of the visit is three hours, regardless of the inmate’s status, “with the right to eat during the same,” but sometimes “the guards take the long view and you can stay up to 12 hours,” says Margarita.

The woman, 46, is married and her husband knows that she makes a living visiting foreign prisoners. At first he did not take it very well and displayed some scenes of jealousy when she returned from visits to the prison, but then realized “the person who puts food on the table is el yuma*,” he says categorically. Now, when the payment comes to Margarita through some English friends, the husband leaves the house while the transaction is going on.

The prison benefit of matrimonial visits has existed in Cuba since 1938 when the Social Defense Code came into force, where compulsory work and study in prison and the Conjugal Pavilion was incorporated as a way to alleviate the consequences of the prolonged confinement the prisoners suffer.

In the case of foreign prisoners whose partners are unable to travel to the Island, they are often allowed a partner who charges for it. The way to find these lady companions is quite varied, but it is usually done through the trust and recommendation of a woman who is already visiting another inmate.

Many of the women who dedicate themselves to this work have worked as prostitutes in the streets. They are jineteras who, due to the passage of time or the harassment of the police, have decided to look for a “safer” sector in which to continue making a living. Others begin in the prison with the exchange of caresses for money and declare themselves “mothers of families” in need of an additional entrance.

Margarita saw a prison for the first time when she went to visit her brother in Canaleta prison in the province of Ciego de Ávila. One of the inmates told her directly: “If you come with me to the pavilion I’ll make things better for you.” She did not understand the meaning of the proposal until ten years ago when a friend told her that there was an Italian who could give her $50 if she saw him in the Conjugal Pavilion.

“The man was not bad looking and paid half in advance,” explains Margarita. Each month he sent the money and everything ended four years later when the Italian, who was serving a ten-year sentence, met another woman who was younger and charged less. “Luckily I found this Englishman that I have now with whom I am doing very well. He is affectionate and in a few years he will be released and maybe he can help me get my son out of the country,” she adds.

Some decide to change prisoners because they do not like the one they have chosen or because another offers a higher price. According to the unwritten rules, in order to change the name of the person participating in the Conjugal Pavilion, the prisoner must allow at least six months to pass between one visitor and the other, in addition to giving a good justification to the prison authorities. But like everything in Cuban prisons, it depends on what the guards decide.

The Penitentiary Regulation does not consider the Pavilion as an inalienable right, rather it is subject to the conduct of the inmates, the severity of their incarceration and the time served. Among the sanctions contemplated for certain violations of the discipline, the suspension of this benefit is included.

Yolanda is what is called “a woman of character” which is why she firmly refused to serve as a police informant when they took her to an office to propose that she collaborate. “They ’put their feet’ on all the women, especially those who have been previously signed up as prostitutes. If the prisoner left any loose ends in the investigation, the guards do anything to get information, but with me they can’t count on that.”

According to Yolanda, in order for a foreigner to receive a visit to the Conjugal Pavilion, all of the women’s information must be presented to the warden of the prison. “Then they call you in and ask you a million questions, do not even think about mentioning money!” she clarifies to all those who start new in the business. In her case, she also brings food and medicine to the inmate she “attends.”

The detail of the food introduces an additional line of work. As has been frequently reported, in Cuban prisons people go hungry. When a foreigner imprisoned in the Island manages to establish a stable link to enjoy the Pavilion, it is usually extended in parallel to the visit program where the jaba is included, that is, a bag full of food.

As these visits to bring food alternate with the Pavilion and have a frequency regulated under the same patterns, the inmate satisfies several appetites through the same person, the gastronomic, the sexual and in many cases the emotional.

Yusimín cohabits with her Cuban husband but is legally married to a Canadian who could be her grandfather. She agreed to talk about the subject but without the presence of her partner. “He knows that I am married to a foreign prisoner and when the days come when it is my turn to visit the Pavilion he becomes jealous. When I return he spends days without even touching me, but then he gets over it.”

The Canadian, is serving his sentence in a prison in La Condesa, a building that was originally conceived as one of those “schools in the countryside” where teenagers were sent to be trained as communism’s “New Man.” The rooms dedicated to the Pavilion “are not bad” according to Yusimín’s opinion. “It’s a room with everything, mattress springs, fans, closed with a single door and you have to open two bars before entering.”

What her Cuban partner does not know is that Yusimín’s plan is to go with the Canadian when he finishes serving his sentence. “This yuma has worked out terrifically for me and his family gives me many things to give him and also things for me,” she says. The condemned man has two years left in Cuba and the young woman has already shown him the photos of her young daughter with whom she intends to emigrate.

She has passed on the data of another prisoner to a cousin who has just turned 30 and already has two police warnings for being a jinetera. “If she is still in the streets, they will put her in a reeducation farm and I have already told her that the safest place for her right now is to work in a prison,” she explains, but she does not know if the cousin will pass the controls to be able to dedicate herself to ” this business.” It is the great paradox: getting a job in prison so as not to fall prey to the law.

*Translator’s note: “Yuma” is a term similar to ’yankee’ or ’gringo’ but with a more positive connotation.

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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.

Cuba’s New Constitution Validates Squaring the Circle

A billboard with the text “Party, people, government, state, one single will” celebrates the 35th anniversary of the 1976 Constitution with a message similar to the current one for the new Constitution, also a socialist one. (EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 April 2019 — As of April 10th the new Constitution is an accomplished fact. Although some equate it with the statutes of a party, compare it with prison regulations or identify it as “an old woman with some rouge,” it is already mandatory for everyone.

Regardless of the irritation provoked by Article 4, which supports the irreversibility of the system, known as Article 5, which establishes the dictatorship of the only party allowed, there are some articles that can be described as positive, provided that end of being followed to the letter of the law.

For example, Article 10 serves to remind state officials that they are obliged to “respect, respond and answer to the people” and, in almost any case, one can appeal to Article 41 which states that the Cuban State “recognizes and guarantees each person the enjoyment and the inalienable, imprescriptible, indivisible, universal and interdependent exercise of human rights.” continue reading

Even if a Cuban is publicly recognized as an absolute opponent of the regime and has broadcast to the four winds his rejection of the new Constitution, he has the right to rely on its provisions, even if he does not believe in it and does so only to demonstrate the falsity of its postulates.

If a television program such as Cuba’s Reasons shoots down the reputation of a political opponent, activist or independent journalist, they could call on existence of Article 41 that explicitly states: “All people have the right to have their personal and family privacy respected, their own image and voice, their honor and personal identity.”

When the police break into a house without showing the occupant a search warrant and seize the computers, cameras, telephones and documents, the victim of the assault will have the right to demand that the government follow Articles 49 and 50 that consecrate the inviolability of the domicile and its contents and, in addition, may invoke Article 59, which states that “the confiscation of property is applied only as a sanction ordered by a competent authority, in the processes and by the procedures determined by law.”

The same can be applied to by all those who suffer arbitrary detentions, including beatings, because they will be protected by Article 51, which prohibits people from “being subjected to enforced disappearance, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” They will also be covered by Article 96, which grants them the right, “to establish a habeas corpus proceeding before a competent court.”

And when, in front of the immigration window of an airport, a uniformed person says “you can not travel because you are ’regulated’,” or when a citizen is deported from the capital to his province of origin, in both cases he can turn to Article 52, which with all clarity states that “people are free to enter, stay, transit and leave the national territory, change their address or residence, without further limitations than those established by law.”

If a Cuban citizen is involved in a judicial process, he must know that Article 94 in the current Constitution allows him to enjoy a “due process” where he can have legal assistance from the beginning.

It should be noted that, although what is related to judicial matters is clearly expressed in the Constitution, it is likely that it will be necessary to wait until October 2020 for its effective application, since it will be on that date that the Governing Council of the People’s Supreme Court will present Parliament the draft Law of the People’s Courts and the rest of the proposed amendments to the Law on Criminal Procedure, among others.

There are a lot of corners to explore on this issue, such as the constitutional recognition of certain rights, including enjoying adequate housing, accessing personal data in public records, or being compensated when one has been harmed by state officials.

The Constitution of the Republic could become a new “battlefield” especially for Cubans to demand their citizens rights, permanently trampled by those who should have the obligation to defend them.

Double standards or pragmatism? Someday the country may have a constitutional text conceived by democratically elected assembly members. Meanwhile, this is what there is.

The double standard was put into practice by those who rule the country today by imposing the dictatorship of a single party that establishes an irrevocable system and at the same time promises that all human rights will be respected.

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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.

Factual, a Project That Supports Young Cuban Journalists

Xochiketzalli Rosas and Jordy Meléndez, promoters of the “Factual” project that supports young journalists in Latin America. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, April 3, 2019 — All over the world, young journalists hope to be published in prestigious media, to be in contact with recognized professionals and to have alternatives in order to better themselves, but frequently there are more obstacles than support. in the case of Cuba, the situation is complicated.

The independent press on the Island is illegal and has been officially stigmatized. Journalists have had to sort out problems of connectivity and, on more than one occasion, several have been prohibited from traveling outside the country as reprisal for their work.

For this reason Factual, founded in Mexico in 2014, decided to take a chance on Cuba, in order to smooth the way for more reporters. The project is the creation of the Latin American Network of Young Journalists, which organizes a forum of digital media and maintains a web platform where reporters can make their work known and develop networks of contacts. continue reading

Xochiketzalli Rosas and Jordy Meléndez, two of its principal founders, told 14ymedio that “Our main goal is to identify this talent in the under-30 group who are barely known.” The support includes “an educational process and learning sessions with some of the best journalists in the digital sphere in Latin America.”

Menéndez confesses that when they initiated the network, they had barely defined its purpose. “We didn’t have a clear idea of how we were going to finance it or what programs we would develop. We only counted on the desire to generate interaction, networks, communities and, above all, learning.”

Up until now, Factual has had three open calls to join the network. In 2014, 150 journalists applied, from which 16, between the ages of 20 and 28, were selected, coming from 11 countries. In the second round in 2016, there were 315 candidates, and 28 between the ages of 20 and 29 were selected, from 14 countries.

Rosas explains that they missed something in their projects. “We talked a lot about Latin America as if the Caribbean didn’t exist, and the most notable absence was Cuba.”

This omission was resolved with a call for applications that the promoters of the initiative called “the third generation.” At this time, 220 journalists from 21 countries, between the ages of 22 and 32, applied, and at the end of October, 2018, it was announced that 42 had been selected, among them several Cubans.

Mendéndez explains that up until the last minute they were not sure if the Cubans would be able to attend the virtual meetings. “We know the difficulties with connectivity on the Island, but we’re very happy to see that, in spite of the problems, the Cubans have had a good presence in the meetings.“

“Beginning with this, the regional character of our meetings was enriched, because in any analysis about Latin America, it’s essential to know what is happening in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba,” Rosas points out.

Factual has helped its members publish in 28 international media, and, in addition, it sustains a web platform where more than 40 reports, the fruit of the work done in the workshops, can be read.

Every Saturday, online learning sessions take place with highly-qualified professionals (Yina Morelos, Javier Sinay, winner of the 2015 Gabo Prize, or Pablo Rivero), an opportunity to express their experiences and expand themes, focuses and ways of constructing an informative text.

They work on creating a micro-profile in order to capture the essence starting with the description of physical and psychological features. “Some of the best profiles are created by them,” says Meléndez.

”How much of Cuba is there in Latin America?” we ask.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in San Salvador, Buenos Aires or México City.  It’s a matter of ascertaining the connection you can maintain in spite of the distance, through music, gastronomy, history or politics,” says Rosas.

The third program of the Factual project is the Latin American Forum of Digital Media and Journalism, which has taken place for seven consecutive years in Mexico City, and will happen again in 2019. Cuba was present for the first time last year, and its attendance was inaugurated with a table dedicated to independent journalism.

Factual, a context where the press media isn’t controlled by the Communist Party, will gain space on the Island. Its initiatives and projects help elevate the quality of reporting, and it connects journalists with other professionals in the hemisphere and promotes new informative subject matter, resulting in an injection of life for the sector.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

Alain Gomez Earns a Living with his Supermarket Cart

Alain Gómez Acuña with his cart in the ETJ market in Tulipán. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 March 2019 — The agricultural market on Tulipán Street opens its doors early and buyers start arriving from several municipalities in Havana. Just outside, a well-known figure waits to offer his delivery services. He is Alain Gómez Acuña, a Habanero of 40 years with Down Syndrome.

With his supermarket cart Gómez earns his living by loading food, fruit and other products from the premises administered by the Youth Labor Army (EJT). He has been at the job for seven years and, together with plastic bag sellers and workers who staff the stands, he is part of a commercial ecosystem that runs from Tuesday to Sunday.

This Thursday, like every day, Gómez is waiting in his place within walking distance of one of the entrances of the market. He will spend a good part of the day going from one place to another pushing his cart and maybe a neighbor will congratulate him, because March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. continue reading

Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is caused by the existence of an extra chromosome on pair 21. Its incidence in Cuba is 9.8 cases per 10,000 births, according to Dr. Cristóbal Martínez Gómez, family therapist, head of the National Group of Child Psychiatry of the Ministry of Public Health.

Although the chromosomal alteration is related to diseases — mainly cardiac or digestive diseases — which tend to shorten life expectancies, society has historically tended to focus on the mental retardation that sometimes accompanies it. On the island, the stigma over families with children with special needs has been frequent, although in recent years important steps have been taken in the social integration of these people.

The families of those affected have joined in support groups and, slowly, have managed to displace the derogatory language by more respectful words. However, there is still much to be done to ensure that society protects the rights of Cubans with Down syndrome and allows them to occupy an active and independent place, without ridicule or excessive commiseration.

Gómez smiles as a customer from the market engages him to take a large pumpkin and some tomatos to her house “climbing Tulipán hill.” Those who know him know that his family, an elderly mother and stepfather, also depend on his efforts, and the economic contribution of this son eases their day-to-day existence.

“Families need to know that the tendency to ’hide’ the situation by preventing the child from leaving the house will cause more pain and tension,” Dr. Martínez tells families who have a child with Down syndrome. “They show great fondness for music, they are happy and rarely suffer from attacks of irritability,” he says.

In his work and in the building where he lives, the neighbors joke with Gómez and tell him that he has become a millionaire delivering products from the market. He smiles nervously, as if they had discovered him, and the laughter covers his whole face. Sometimes he offers to carry some unpaid cargo, just to help an elderly woman or someone of low income.

In addition to the economic contribution he brings with his work, Gomez helps out with domestic chores, taking care of washing and ironing his clothes and cooking from time to time, according to his mother. On days when the EJT market is mostly idle, with little merchandise and fewer customers, he lends a hand in the bicycle parking lot or helping at the stands.

His permanent smile is only hidden when he has the impression that some client wants to deceive him with a very low payment or is trying to avoid paying him any money at all for his services. Then he gets so serious that he instills respect, as he does when they ask him how he got the supermarket cart with which he travels the streets of Havana.

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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.

Sodom: The Cuban Chapter

“Sodom” reveals that his trip to Cuba was crucial in the resignation of Benedict XVI. (CubaSí)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 February 2019 — The newly released book “Sodom: Power and Scandal in the Vatican” can be taken as a scandalous revelation for some or as the confirmation of their suspicions by others. Either way, the 600 pages of the book will create a buzz about the inner life of seminars and parishes, all the way up to the religious elite.

By the French author Frédéric Martel, Sodom is being published simultaneously in eight languages and in twenty countries. The axis on which the text revolves is the extension of homosexuality in the Catholic Church, but it also touches on the crisis of values, pedophilia scandals, cover-ups and power struggles. Cuba is not on the sidelines and the island is signaled as one of the reasons for the fall of a Pope: Benedict XVI.

The author claims to have interviewed about 1,500 people during a field investigation that lasted more than four years. Cardinals, bishops, apostolic nuncios, priests and seminarians gave testimony. “A reality that I myself maligned, although many will consider it pure invention, a fable,” explains Martel. continue reading

Starting with the prologue, Sodom alerts the reader that the revelations refer to the dissolute behavior of those in the clergy who behave publicly as moralists but in private life engage in a wide range of sexual excesses and crimes ranging from orgies to corruption of minors and abuses.

The Cuban chapter is entitled The Abdication because it reports that the resignation of Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was due, among other reasons, to the traumatic event that proved to him that the Church of the Island was not safe from evils such as pedophilia, which was known to have spread through several countries of Latin America.

In the most daring paragraph on that subject the author relates what happened in 2012, when the pope was flying to Cuba. “When the saintly father listened to what was said to him, and learned above all about the extent of the problem of the archdiocese of Havana, although he already knew the extent of the ‘filth’  of the Church (according to his own words), he now felt repugnance. According to one witness, the Pope, upon hearing this story, wept again.”

The “evidence” of these observations is obtained by Martel, according to he himself, from “three foreign diplomats accredited in Havana and several Cuban dissidents who remain on the island.” To the list of confidants are added “some Catholics from Little Havana in Miami, the Protestant pastor Tony Ramos of Cuban origin, as well as the journalists from WPLG Local 10. ”

The highlight of everything about Cuba is an encounter with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, in which, it seems, the main topic of the conversation was the Government’s relations with the Church. The interviewer physically describes the cardinal, presents a portrait of his personality, details the environment in which he lives and recounts the most familiar passages of his biography.

However, at least because of what was reported in Sodom, the journalist does not seem to have directly asked Jaime Ortega if he knew of cases of sexual abuse or pedophilia among his top hierarchy in the Catholic Church. Nor does it relate whether he asked him directly about his sexual preferences or whether he heard from him about this topic.

Other interviewees such as Orlando Márquez, Roberto Veiga, Monsignor Ramón Suárez Polcari, spokesperson for the archbishop, director of the Felix Varela Cultural Center and a layman named Andura express opinions on various matters, especially on what the Church had to cede in order to reach an acceptable harmony with the government, but rarely do they allude to the core of the investigation of Martel, who has said that “the Vatican has one of the largest gay communities in the world.”

Instead, in the chapter’s plot line, information of a political and diplomatic nature is juxtaposed, which the reader will be able to link in a cause-and-effect relationship with possible internal affairs of the bedroom. The author also takes the ingredients of the rumors and speculation which turns that part of the book into a bundle of gossip rather than a list of certainties.

After talking about Jaime Ortega’s concessions to the Cuban government, he says: “The regime knew perfectly the relationships, the meetings, the travels, the private life and the customs of Jaime Ortega, whatever they were, given his hierarchical level and his frequent connections with the Vatican, it is clear that the cardinal was guarded 24 hours a day by the Cuban political police.”

The idea seems a truth like a mountain, in a country with an extensive network of informers and a sophisticated political police trained in the methods of the German Stasi (Ministry for State Security) and honed with decades of experience, information gathering and the purchase of loyalties.

From a distance without coming to a conclusive statement, Martel adds: “One of the specialties of this police is precisely to engage prominent personalities by filming them in their sexual adventures, at home or in hotels.” A good listener with few words would suffice, but a journalistic investigation needs more than insinuations.

To fit his thesis, the author generously cites the testimony on Miami television of an ex colonel of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, Roberto Ortega, who “hinted that Archbishop Jaime Ortega would lead a double life: he would have had intimate relationships with an agent of the Cuban secret service.”

Frédéric Martel excessively bases his half-affirmations in “it is said,” “some sources affirm,” or “it seems that.” Too many voices that opt for anonymity, the absolute absence of testimonies from the victims and, of course, no probative documentation.

The scandals that have shaken the Catholic Church throughout the world have been mostly uncovered by those affected and by the voluntary declassification of some files. It would be a real miracle if the Cuban Church did not have similar cases in its 500 years of presence on the island, but obviously these have not reached the hands of the French author.

Instead of revelations, the section devoted to Cuba may seem to the eye of the local reader as a repertoire of gossip, a sequence of half-truths or stories shared from balcony to balcony. As it fails to convince of a dissolute life and the violation of a priest’s vow of chastity, it ends up making them seem like victims of intrigues and opinions issued by the laboratories of State Security.

It’s a shame, because the subject promises a lot. Sodom at least serves to bring to light a reason to open a public debate. It will be up to Cuban social investigators and journalists to take their questions to the temples and to the ecclesiastical authorities, to assume the responsibility of denying the false and revealing the true.

That this book encourages potential victims to speak could be its greatest achievement in this place where secrecy has become an inseparable part of life in too many orders: the State, the Church and the family.

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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.

Academic Warns of Economic "Shock" if Cuba’s Dual Monetary System is Maintained

It was nearly 26 years ago that Cuba allowed the dollar to enter its economy (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 March 2019 — There are issues that appear cyclically in the official media. Discussions that get heated in the streets and later cool down waiting for institutional responses. Among these is the end of the dual monetary system, a measure that at times seems to be around the corner and at others appears to be in a distant and improbable future.

The debate on this sensitive situation, which affects the pockets of every Cuban, has returned this week after the publication in several official media of an article signed by Armando Nova González, doctor of Economic Sciences, professor and researcher at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

The text stands out not only for its lapidary truths but also for having been published on digital sites more prone to praise than to criticism, more focused on highlighting “the achievements of the Cuban system” than on pointing out its flaws. Instead of applause, Nova Gonzalez urges the elimination the monetary duality because postponing its end increases social, economic and political costs. continue reading

The imperative that the author emphasizes contrasts with the scant information that has been offered in recent months about the process of ending the “economic schizophrenia” of the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the Cuban peso (CUP). Since December 2017, when Marino Murillo, vice president of Cuba’s Council of Ministers of Cuba, stressed that the Government was continuing the work to end that duality, very little more has been reported.

Twenty-six years have passed since the dollar was introduced into the Cuban economy, a measure that, together with the subsequent appearance of the convertible peso (CUC), was conceived as transitory but has extended “much further in time,” warns the economist. It has not even been possible to achieve the purpose of “bringing closer” the values of the CUP and the CUC, nor the necessary correspondence between the CUC and the US dollar.

Instead, the academic regrets that more CUCs have been issued than can be backed with dollars, so it has depreciated. Something that is reflected in “the increase in prices in the hard currency stores and, at the same time, in the markets of free supply and demand in Cuban pesos.” A reality that is palpable in the fact that in recent years the purchasing power of families has continued to decline in sync with the currency’s loss of value.

Nova González knows the complexities of a process of currency unification in a nation with very low productivity, and recognizes that the end of the monetary duality depends on solving the structural problems of the economy. His proposals to clean up such a mess are daring and tend an opening to the detriment of centralism, but they are gripped by a maxim that seems more like a religious dogma than a political premise.

His reflections can hardly take flight because they carry the burden of not altering, with any of these measures, “the socio-economic system aspired to.” Among the variables that could be used to clean up national finances and the Cuban monetary system, the authorities rule out those that put at risk a social structure based on forced social justice and false egalitarianism.

The assertions of the academic confirm the official fear of a worsening of the popular malaise, and a possible reaction in the streets after the monetary unification. Like the rationed market, the monetary duality has not come to an end, to a large extent, because the government fears losing support and power. Its end is delayed not only by low productivity but by fear of rejection.

The author ventures some proposals to alleviate the negative impact of this unification, among them “closing the inefficient state enterprises that could be transfered to their workers in the form of cooperatives” with the initial financial support of the State (…), direct foreign investment or investment mixed with national capital and/or loans from international financial institutions.”

One of his most daring suggestions is to avoid the flight of foreign currency. Those millions of dollars that each year leave the country in the hands of mules that buy goods abroad. For them, Nova González proposes opening national establishments where local entrepreneurs can buy in foreign currencies “at prices even lower than those found in the underground market.”

Finally the academic knows that he walks on a tightrope and does not renounce having a protective mesh under his feet, perhaps that is why he indicates that this whole process “should be undertaken with the necessary observation and the required restraint that guarantees the continuity and sustainability of the economic-social model to which it aspires, one that is fair and with the greatest possible equity.”

However, Nova Gonzalez seems to be a responsible man and warns that “to continue with immobility, the risks will multiply and could generate a strong shock to the economy, with unwanted results.” Something that can be summarized in the Cuban authorities losing if they unify the two currencies and losing each day that they take to unify them.

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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.

Reflections on the Coming Laws

From now, numerous laws will have to pass to Parliament to fulfill the terms planned by the new Constitution. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, March 5, 2019 — Almost at the end of the definitive text of the new Constitution of the Republic, ratified on February 24, three temporary provisions appear imposing the terms for the enactment of the complementary laws.

Although a date has not been officially mentioned for their definitive publication in the Official Gazette, the deputies have proposed that the effective date for the new Constitution be April 10, 2019 to be implemented that day 150 years from the first Constitution of the Republic in Arms proclaimed in Guáimaro in 1869.

If that date is chosen, the established terms will be calculated from April 10 for each one of the steps planned in the temporary provisions. However, the dates indicated now could be moved up. continue reading

October 2019: Approval of a new Electoral Law.

This law was announced by Raúl Castro in February 2015 during the holding of the 10th Plenary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Debate on that topic in official media was fleeting, but in the realm of independent civil society and the political opposition, proposals arose intended to eliminate the Candidacies Commission and to introduce the election of the president of the Republic by popular vote. The new Constitution has established that the president will be chosen by Parliament and for this reason the new electoral legislation will develop bound by that precept.

January 2020: The National Assembly of Peoples Power (ANPP) will choose, from among its deputies, its president, vice-president, and secretary, the other members of the Council of State, and the president and vice-president of the Republic.

If so, February 24, 2020 would be perhaps the moment chosen for the assumption of these offices. There rise several questions. The first is if, in the case that Miguel Díaz-Canel is designated president of the Republic, and if he managed to be chosen again for a second mandate, the regressive count of his time in power will be extended until February 2030. In what count is the year that he governed between 2019 and 2020 included?

April 2020: The president of the Republic proposes to the ANPP the designation of the prime minister, vice-prime ministers, the secretary, and other members of the Council of Ministers.

In the times in which Fidel Castro occupied the position of prime minister (from February 16, 1959 to December 2, 1976) his power didn’t depend on his investiture, but rather the other way around. That position was important because the Supreme Leader occupied it. From the time when he became head of state there was no more a prime minister although Carlos Lage was taken as such when he acted as secretary of the Council of State. Behind the scenes they called him “the administrator of the insane asylum.” Among the candidates to this position the names of Homero Acosta and Mercedes López Acea are put forward.

On that same date the president must propose to the municipal assemblies the choice of provincial governors and vice-governors.

Among the discrepancies with the Constitution project that had greatest resonance during the popular debates is the detail of the election of the provincial governors.  A good number of citizens who participated in these discussions suggested that this governmental position be proposed and approved by the vote of their electors.

The ANPP approves its regulations and that of the Council of State.

The ANPP will approve a one-year legislative schedule that complies with the elaboration of the laws that the established precepts in the new Magna Carta develop.

We will see, for example, how the jurists implement Article 4 of the Constitution which institutionalizes intolerance, repudiation rallies, and the repression of dissidents.  That provision gives citizens the right to “combat by all means, including armed struggle [. . .], against anything that tries to overthrow the political, social, or economic order established by this Constitution.”

July 2020:  The municipal assemblies designate the mayors.

October 2020:  The Governing Council of the Supreme People’s Court presents to the ANPP the draft of the Law of the People’s Courts and proposed amendments to the Law of Criminal Procedure and the corresponding procedure of civil, administrative, labor, and economic law.

It would be desirable to include in that law the prohibition against arbitrary arrests, the right of the arrestee to have a lawyer from the beginning of the process, and remedies against undue confiscations, disproportionate sentences, and limitations on travel within and outside the country.

April 2021:  The Council of Ministers presents to the ANPP the draft regulations of that agency and the provincial governors.

The ANPP approves the regulation of the municipal assemblies and their board of directors.

The process of popular consultation and referendum on the draft of the Family Code begins, in which the manner of establishing marriage must be included.

Those who placed themselves in opposite barricades with so much passion in order to settle the issue of whether marriage should be defined as between man and woman or between persons disposed to legalize their relationship will have to wait two years, at most.  Too much energy, too much time was dedicated to this topic compared to the irrevocability of the system or the single party.  But that’s how it happened.

In 2021 will begin a consultation process that presupposes a prolonged clash between the LGBTI community and the evangelical churches that have been so active on this topic.  By that time Raul Castro will not longer be first secretary of the Communist Party, and Mariela Castro will lack the symbolic support that genetics gave her.

Matters of greater importance will attract the attention of those who remain at the helm of this ship. Among them, to cite only those of greatest importance, one would have to mention the solution to the acute problem of the dual currency, the elimination of the rationing system, the liberalization of the non-state productive forces, a greater opening of the migration laws that restores all rights to Cubans who live abroad and, of course, the de-criminalization of political differences.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey and Mary Lou Keel

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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.

2.5 Million Cuban Voters Distance Themselves From the Constitution

Several voters exercise their right to vote at the Acapulco cinema in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 26, 2019 — The preliminary results from the referendum on the new Constitution confirm what was expected: that the new Constitution was going to be approved by the majority and that the process was going to make clear the increase in citizen dissent by putting a number to that group that rejects the administration of the authorities.

More than two and a half million voters all over the country have distanced themselves from the new Constitution, between No, null, and blank votes, in addition to abstentions. Many have thus found themselves on the path to distancing themselves from the ruling political and economic system on the island.

However, it is necessary to recognize that the government managed to get the Constitution ratified, it was enough with 51% of registered voters to declare that the new Constitution had been approved in the referendum. The preliminary numbers unveiled by the National Electoral Commission show that 73.31% of citizens with the right to vote marked the Yes square. To emphasize the victory, official media outlets mention that this number is 86.85% of the votes cast, that is to say taking out of the count those who abstained. continue reading

But this is not really a victory that a decent Government can feel proud of.

Across the length and breadth of the country the official campaign to persuade voters to vote Yes was so overwhelming that there was practically no space to look where the official slogans weren’t harping at voters.

Television interviewed hundreds of people of different levels of education, race, sex, and profession who reaffirmed with arguments or emotions, or even both, their indisputable motives to ratify the new Constitution.

Indisputable, yes, because none of the more than two and a half million Cubans who did not mark Yes on the ballot had the opportunity to explain their reasons. Much less the 706,400 Cubans who overcoming fears made their cross in the No box.

What would have happened if a week before February 24 there had been a public and televised debate between the conflicting arguments? On the list of those who could have defended the negative vote would have been people like Dagoberto Valdés, Manuel Cuesta, Rosa María Payá, Juan Moreno, Julio Aleaga, Miriam Celaya, Pedro Campos, José Daniel Ferrer, and Eliécer Ávila.

But they also could have given space to those who promoted abstention, and there voters would have heard Antonio González Rodiles, Claudio Fuentes, Ailer González, Ángel Moya, and many others.

They have wanted to make people believe that the propaganda for Yes was organized by the masses, not the Government. Voters have every right to know where the budget to pay for that campaign came from. In countries with a democratic tradition it usually happens that the person who has been elected president is asked for their resignation when it is discovered that they financed their campaign with shady funds.

But this “tied-up monkey against a hungry lion” was also muzzled. Almost all of the country’s opposition organizations have denounced the persecution the promoters of No were subjected to, as were, along with them, those who wanted to have an independent observation of the process.

Not only were those who differed from the official line denied a place in public spaces, but they were also prevented from gathering peacefully to come to agreement.

Assaults on several homes of Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) activists and arbitrary detentions against different bodies of independent observers were systematic, as well as verbal threats (never written) issued by State Security officials against political activists and independent journalists. “We are not going to allow it,” they repeated, caressing the butts of their pistols.

It is basic in any electoral process to recognize the results if the previously established regulations are fulfilled or, at least, there is not evidence that they have been violated.

Those who went to vote No or those who stayed at home in order to not play into what they considered a farce knew that these were the rules. With them, the Government managed to have the electorate ratify the new Constitution and that has to be recognized even though the authorities never recognize that they played dirty. There is no proof that they have committed fraud, but there is evidence that they played a trick.

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.

Between Innocence and Hypocrisy

Alejandro Gil’s film won the audience award at the Havana Film Festival.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Desde Aqui, Havana, 28 February 2019 — On the same day that the constitutional referendum was held, the busiest circuit of Havana cinemas announced the film “Innocence,” by the Cuban director Alejandro Gil. In the last edition of the Havana Film Festival, it received the award given by the public.

In those same movie theaters, 28 years ago, while the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party was getting underway in Santiago de Cuba, appearing on the marquees was the disturbing title “Last Images of the Shipwreck,” written and directed by Eliseo Subiela, which received the Gran Coral Award in 1999.

Superstition and symbolism aside, the titles of these films substitutes in the opposition’s imagination for the absence of protest posters which have been gagged by censorship. A subjective reading of an (unintended) subliminal message. continue reading

The capricious hand of chance warned in 1991 of the presumed collapse that awaited us in the Special Period and now, this 24th of February 2019, it stressed that peculiarity of human behavior that justifies the commission of errors and facilitates the work of the victimizers.

Shortly after exercising his right to vote, Mr. Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the Councils of State and of Ministers, offered statements to the press. When asked what he thought the results of the referendum would be, he replied: “I am optimistic, more than optimistic I am sure (…) People cannot be so hypocritical, so many good people cannot be wrong…”

He could have said that people cannot be so ignorant, or so right-wing or so blind. But he chose hypocrisy because that was his hidden fear; that all those public demonstrations of unrestricted support that he had observed in his travels around the country were the result of the double standard that feeds on opportunism, of the fakery that engenders fear.

Looking at the results of the referendum, the official ones, because there are no others, this humble editor is surprised by how many people can be so hypocritical and stick to Yes while wanting to say No. Because one thing is known, there are many who pretend to agree with “this” but, with the exception of the odd infiltrator, among the unhappy no one feigns his political position. All hypocrites are on the same side.

If anyone needs an example of this categorical affirmation it is enough to remember that in the referendum that put the 1976 Constitution into effect only a little more than 50,000 voters marked No on their ballot, and four years later, during the stampede of the Mariel Boatlift, more than 120,000 Cubans decided to physically abandon the national project proclaimed by that Constitution. It is true that in that exodus there were minors, too young to have voted, as it is also true that not all those who refused to approve the Constitution were among those who climbed aboard a ship.

A pending issue of social research, a piece of data that may never be known with certainty, is how many hypocrites voted Yes in February of 1976, especially since the 1980 Mariel exodus was followed by the 1994 rafters crisis, and more recently by the migratory flood of Cubans who crossed Central America heading north.

Academics find it difficult when they introduce the variable that, in addition to faking it, there have been conversions, and in that case it must be noted that these only occur in one direction, the one that passes from a belief in utopia to disappointment.

Among the more than 700,000 who voted No and the million who abstained, surely there are no hypocrites, although there must be many converts. It would be unfair and also inaccurate to believe that the more than 6,800,000 who ratified the new Constitution are a party of fakers.

There remains innocence, mixing the folly of those who do not want their arms twisted with the naivete of those who lack information or opinions other than those that come from official sources. Those who never heard an argument to reject the new Constitution suffer from a serious political stroke. They are innocent.

Hopefully, the story will not be repeated, hopefully there will not be another migratory hemorrhage as a result of the new “revolutionary consolidation” expressed in the institutionalization of the dictatorship.

Hopefully we do not have to look deeply for the subliminal messages hinted at by the films that are being announced in the first-run theaters.

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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 Cuban Government’s Surveys Are a State Secret

When a pollster goes to a house in Cuba, the citizen assumes that it is someone trusted by the government and is reluctant to give their opinion. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 22 February 2019 — As a sociological research tool, surveys have enormous utility in testing the state of opinion of the population in relation to different issues.

The credibility of a survey depends on several factors, including the selection of the sample, the veracity of the respondents and, of course, the honesty of the interviewers who are not supposed to demonstrate what answers they prefer but rather collect the data to learn the truth.

In a country like Cuba, where opinions that different from the official thinking are often penalized, it is difficult for respondents to say what they really think, especially if what they are being asked about is related to political issues. continue reading

When a pollster shows up at a house, tablet in hand, to ask a citizen whether or not they plan to approve the new Constitution in the February 24 referendum, it is likely that, before answering, they will look in all directions to check if they are being filmed. It’s not paranoia, it’s pure self-preservation.

The respondent presumes, quite rightly, that if the woman or man, young or old, has authorization to ask questions on the street, it is because she or he is a person trusted by the Government, which automatically makes him or her an informant for the political police. Can we trust the answers?

When an organization independent of the State, inside or outside of Cuba, tries to carry out a survey with this type of questions, it cannot count on the services of “the comrades of the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the Revolution].” They are obliged to ask opposition activists or independent civil society to carry out the survey.

These citizens, however elevated their sense of responsibility and above all, however high their honesty, will go to their environment, to the people they deal with. Can you trust that the answers they collect are from a representative sample of the population?

With these reservations, we should look at two recent surveys on voters’ opinions regarding the constitutional referendum on February 24.

One, carried out by the Study Group on Social Dynamics of the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), found that 33.5% of Cubans intend to reject the new Constitution. This disagreement is broken down by 19.2% with the intention of supporting NO (19.2%), 9.2% who will leave the ballot blank and 5.1% who will annul* their ballot.

The other survey, also carried about by a non-government organization, Cubadata, believes that 42.4% of the voters will vote YES, 41.6% will go to the polls to mark NO and 16% will opt to abstain.

Most likely, the government has its own surveys, conducted with much more resources. Unfortunately, they are not public.

There is talk about at least two surveys conducted by the authorities. The Union of Young Communists conducted one in Havana high schools, where students are 16 or older and eligible to vote. According to testimonies collected by 14ymedio from representative students, most of the respondents expressed their outright indifference to the referendum and, at the insistence of the pollsters, said they were not decided.

The other survey was conducted by the People’s Opinion Department belonging to the Central Committee of the Party. Their results are considered a  “State secret” and only the recommendations have emerged in the form of “directions” to the media.

What seems indisputable is that if the party-government had overwhelming YES results in a survey on the referendum, it would have been published a while ago. Clearly scruples would not be an impediment.

The countdown can now be expressed in hours. There are many signs that the rulers are nervous, because they are used to winning with majorities close to 100%. Today they know that they will not be able to get the support of 97.7% of the electorate that they supposedly received in the referendum of February 15, 1976.

For revolutionary triumphalism, a YES vote of 70% or less would be a humiliation. In contrast, for opponents, who barely got 1% (plus 1.3% blank and annulled ballots) 43 years ago, a 30% NO vote would be a great victory after an overwhelming campaign by the Government in favor of YES.

*Translator’s note: Annuling the ballot can be accomplished by writing something on it or crossing out everything, but not checking any of the boxes.

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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.

February 24, the Cry of the Ballot Boxes

The defeat of Yes could be the fruit of the sum of gestures, of those who vote No, those who abstain, and those who annul or leave their ballot blank. (Susana González/DPA/México)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 21, 2019 — February 24, 1895 is remembered in Cuban history as the Cry of Baire and marks the moment in which the second War of Independence against Spain began. The insurrection broke out in at least 30 other places on the island, but in the village of Baire, in the east of the country, it set itself in the collective imagination and ending up marking the identity of the event.

History — or legend — says that on that day 124 years ago, an order for an uprising signed by José Martí traveled in a cigar sent to Juan Gualberto Gómez. Underneath the successive plant layers went the message that detonated the last military conflict of that century on the island.

This February 24 no order has arrived from anywhere to produce a cry. Like in Fuenteovejuna, the work of Lope de Vega, the initiative to reject the text of the new Constitution has arisen from the heart of the people. Nobody has the right to claim authorship of the peaceful uprising that might occur at the polling places. continue reading

For the first time in 60 years we Cubans will have, for around half a day this Sunday, the opportunity to shake the foundations of the dictatorship.

It’s fewer than 12 hours during which we must agree. It’s not necessary to join a party or to put oneself underneath a suspicious umbrella. It’s not even necessary to endorse with a signature. It is an ephemeral, voluntary act, which can be public if one opts for abstention, or anonymous if one chooses to vote No, but can also be a defiant and decisive act of which we can feel proud.

Before seven in the morning and after six in the evening each person can go on about their preferred slogans, whether it be demanding the freedom of political prisoners, that the government ratify the treaties on human rights, that the wholesale market be opened, that marriage equality be legalized or prohibited; that taxes be lowered and salaries raised. But, in the time that the referendum will last, the struggle to achieve each one of these different aims goes through whatever is achieved at the ballot boxes.

During those magical twelve hours anyone who wishes “to do something” should support the initiatives of staying home or of writing the two crossed strokes of an X, to demonstrate their will as a voter to not accept either the irrevocability of the system or the primacy of the only party.

If the National Electoral Commission fulfills what is established in Article 137 of the current Constitution, the new Constitution will only be considered ratified if more than half of the registry of voters votes Yes in the referendum. So the defeat of Yes could be the fruit of the sum of gestures, of those who vote No, those who abstain, and those who annul or leave their ballots blank.

What is going to happen this February 24 will not have a geographic location, it will be the Cry of the Ballot Boxes: a magnificent libertarian chorus, the acceptance of a civic challenge, bloodless, peaceful, and civilized.

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 Government Needs More Than Four Million Yes Votes

DIIE officials can calculate that the illegal operation of omitting the names of travelers will go unpunished, among other reasons because the eliminated will not be on the island to demand their presence on the list. (Heriberto González)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 15, 2019 — The referendum on February 24 is not a formality, it is a requisite for the new Constitution of the Republic, approved by parliament on December 22, to come into force. And the rules of this popular consultation do not protect the government from a possible surprise.

Unlike other electoral processes in which district representatives or members of parliament are chosen, the will of the electorate is not determined in referendums exclusively counting valid votes. According to what is established by article 137 of the constitution, still in force, reforming the constitution requires “the ratification by favorable vote of the majority of citizens with the right to vote,” or what is equal to more than 50% of those registered in the electoral register.

So the Yes option could only triumph if it exceeds the combined number of those who opt for No, blank ballots, annulments, or abstentions. For example, if on the register there were eight million voters with the right to vote (there were 8,639,989 voters authorized in the March 2018 parliamentary elections), they would need four million plus one for Yes for the approval of the new constitution and its entrance into force. continue reading

The campaign #YoVotoNo (I’m Voting No), initiated in the middle of last year, has managed to surpass any other that has been carried out from the environment of the opposition. No banging on pots and pans (cacerolazo, in Spanish), request to strike, call to march or to not participate in activities promoted by the government has found an echo as massive as the invitation to mark a civilized little cross in the square that indicates that the voter does not wish to ratify this new constitution.

For the first time, the opposition, or even better, “the oppositions,” have a single and agreed-upon candidate. It has as its name a monosyllable of two letters: No. Evangelicals who believe that the new constitutional text opens the doors to marriage equality are going to vote for that “candidate.” Along with them, paradoxically, those who identify with the LGBTI community, and believe that an opportunity has been wasted postponing for two years the possibility of legalizing marriage between persons of the same sex, will do the same.

People aspiring to start a business, those who are not happy with the acceptance of private property and see in the new text more limitations than openings, will vote No. Believers unhappy with the absence of a true freedom of religion that allows a more widespread evangelization will do the same. Those who aspire to one day live outside the country and have the right to double nationality: No. Those who want a union to demand their rights or to associate freely to share customs and ways of living: No.

Obviously those who have had the clarity to realize that it is unacceptable to institutionalize the dictatorship of a party that intends to keep being the one and only one and impose an irrevocable system will vote No.

For more worldly motives it would be necessary to add those who have spent years waiting for the housing issue to be solved, those whose salary isn’t enough, those who are daily driven to despair waiting for the bus to come to take them to work. The thousands of Average Joes who have by now lost their patience.

Those voters mean many votes and could be rounded to 20% of the hypothetical figure of eight million. Or what is equal to 1,600,000 citizens.

In parallel, and for similar motives to those who will vote No in the referendum, there is a considerable number of Cubans who will opt to not visit the polls, whether out of indifference or because they think that their simple presence in what they consider to be a farce only serves to legitimize the process. Of course, only those who are enrolled in the electoral register can be considered as abstentionists. That group could amount to another 20% of the electorate.

Recently Alina Balseiro, president of the National voting Commission (CEN), confirmed that Cubans who are temporarily out of the country for personal reasons will not be able to exercise their right to vote in the 1,051 polling places that will be set up abroad for the use of those who are fulfilling an official mission of the government. However, she affirmed that these citizens could vote in their country on February 24 because if less than 24 months have passed since their leaving the country, all their rights remain intact.

It is difficult to calculate the number of people with the right to vote (over 16 years old) who left the island between February 25, 2017 and February 23, 2019, and who have not yet returned. Since their names must appear on the voting register, they will swell the number of abstentions. They could be around 2% of the electoral register.

It’s necessary to warn that this figure is easy to cover up, because the responsible body for the voting register is precisely the Office of Identification, Immigration, and Alien Status (DIIE) of the Ministry of the Interior, which has a thorough control over the entries and exits of the country. The DIIE officials can calculate that the illegal operation of omitting the names of travelers will remain unpunished, among other reasons because those eliminated will not be on the island to demand their presence on the list.

To facilitate these exclusions they rely on the argument that any voter who does not appear on the registry, having a right to it, can be added in an almost immediate manner by showing their identity card at the appropriate polling place.

Finally there are the undecided who leave the ballot blank, and the nonconformists who wait for the opportunity to send a message to power by writing an anti-government slogan on the ballot or by drawing something like an obscenity. If added up they reach 800,000, a worrying balance opposite the positive vote could be produced, one that could only be hidden by resorting to a crude fraudulent operation.

Although the champions of No would not win independently, those who propose abstention, annulers, and undecideds could celebrate together the defeat, unimaginable for many, of Yes.

It goes without saying that the government has a wide margin to manipulate the results. However, they could not get rid of the fact that they remain in power supported by a minority.

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.

Ratifying the Constitution Will Institutionalize the Dictatorship of One Party

A majority of negative votes could not be hidden or falsified. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 4, 2019 — If someone wanted to find a definition of what is most current and important from what is happening in Cuba, they could assert that today there is happening a transition of authority from symbol to force of law.

For almost half a century Cuba was basically driven by the personal decisions of Fidel Castro. There are at least two different lines of reasoning, but not opposing ones, to explain how it was possible that an entire nation could be submitted to the will of one individual. One is fear, the other, fascination that cancels all disobedience.

But as fascination can be interpreted in this case as a shift, a collective sublimation to not recognize the humiliating reality one gives into under the pressure of fear, then everything is reduced to the intimidating authority that was built around one person who tried to embody all the symbols: the homeland, the flag and the history, among others. continue reading

This authority distributed shares of power among those who made up what later came to be called ’the historic generation’ of the Revolution. All those who were chosen by him formed a reduced army of untouchable archangels whose superiority depended on their degree of concomitance with the supreme leader. On that personal closeness depended the fear or fascination that they provoked.

From the first of January of 1959 until the constitution of 1976 was proclaimed, the country was practically governed at whim by a pair of military boots. “We are not going to leave even a single trace of private property”; “We will build socialism and communism at the same time”; “We will produce 10 million tons of sugar”; “Here we are going to build a dam”; “We will surround Havana with a cordon of coffee plantations”; “We will have better cows than in Switzerland, the biggest zoo in the world, and hundreds of schools in the countryside to combine study with work.”

The ostensible failure provoked by such political will ended up leading the country to compromise its sovereignty to the dictates of the Soviet Union, the only provider of what was euphemistically called “a just trade between two peoples.” The leaders of the USSR demanded guarantees to continue maintaining “the pipeline” of the subsidy and to convince them it was necessary to carry out the First Congress of the Party in 1975 and, one year later, present a new constitution.

The head of the drafting commission of that constitution was Blas Roca, the last Communist leader from the republican era, as a guarantor that the Law of laws would be backed by the tenth five-year plan of the Soviet Union (1976-1980). As payment for the solidarity of the older brother, the Cuban constitution recognized in its text “the brotherly friendship and cooperation of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.”

With the formalities covered, the supreme leader continued behaving with his habitual political will. On one occasion in which a representative warned him that what had been planned could not be carried out because it contradicted a law, the commander-in-chief responded that if a law didn’t permit an aim of the Revolution, the solution was to change that law immediately.

Those were the times in which the representative Fidel Castro, embodiment of authority emanating from the symbol, inspiration of all fears and of all fascination, consumed at least half the time that the Parliament sessions lasted in front of the microphone. The last feats of his political will as a response to the desmerengamiento* (dismantling and collapse) of the socialist bloc of eastern Europe were to decree the Special Period, put the American dollar into circulation, drive the Battle of Ideas, and announce the Energy Revolution.

In the summer of 2006 an unexpected intestinal ailment forced the supreme leader to rest and transfer his legally recognized powers to his brother Raúl Castro. Knowing that he lacked the charisma of the comandante en jefe, the division general understood that the moment had arrived to work out compulsory norms to guarantee the continuity of the system.

It was then that reforming the constitution of the republic began to be discussed, more to adapt it to the reality of the new times, where there was no longer a socialist bloc, than to retract what had been proposed until that time.

The general president had ten years to accustom the governed to the idea that he was the successor. Although he never received public congratulations from his brother for his performance, not even a lukewarm approval of what he was doing, in November of 2016 it became evident that from that moment on Raúl Castro would make the decisions, among other reasons because there no longer remained anyone alive with the power to give him orders.

Once the main influence that emanated from the authority of the symbol had disappeared and calculating that biology would probably give the successor at most a five-year grace period, it could be concluded that from now it only remained to appeal to the pure and harsh force of the law to subdue the citizenry. That appears to have been the essential reason for formulating a new constitution.

This law of laws not only imposes that the socialist system is irrevocable, but also gives the system’s sympathizers the right to use arms against whomever would try to change it and confirms again that the only permitted party, the Communist Party, is “the superior ruling political force of society and the State.”

That constitution will be submitted on February 24 to the consideration of an electorate that is very distant from the one that in 1976 overwhelmingly approved a constitution that was practically mirrored those that ruled in the socialist countries.

This new constitution, if ratified, will institutionalize the dictatorship of one party and, as a consequence, will be the instrument of control of some inheritors, chosen for their loyalty, who will no longer need the merits of heroism nor the revolutionary mystique to govern.

The factor in favor of the government in this referendum, in addition to those who think that socialism still has reserves to solve the problems of the country, is the apathy of those who believe that the new constitution will change nothing and that even if the majority decided to vote No, nevertheless, they would implement it.

Others bet that a majority of negative votes could not be hidden or falsified and that, by performing the miracle of a massive civic rebellion at the ballot box, sooner or later it would be known and the government would have to recognize its defeat.

Not being able to implement the force of law and without any possibility to revive the authority of the symbol, they would only be left with two options, either resorting to plain force or packing their bags.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro coined the term “desmerengamiento,” which can be literally translated as “the collapse of the cake” to refer to the dismantling of the USSR and the collapse of the Eastern European Socialist Bloc.

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 ‘Every Voter An Observer’ Campaign Invites Citizens To Exercise Their Rights

Credentials for election observers (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, January 23, 2019 — Separate from the heated debates between the supporters of YES, NO, and abstention in the February 24 referendum, a group of activists is preparing to watch over the process so that the norms are followed. The Cuban Association of Electoral Observers (ACOE) tells 14ymedio that so far 400 people in 76 municipalities have joined the initiative, but they hope for more.

Despite the fact that the association, a part of the Cuban Commission for Voting Protection (COCUDE), has not yet received a response to the request for recognition that they sent to the National Assembly of People’s Power, they haven’t given up and have launched the Every Voter An Observer campaign, with which they want the entire citizenry to participate in watching over the vote to prevent irregularities. continue reading

Zelandia de la Caridad Pérez, coordinator of the Cuban Commission for Voting Rights, and Frank Abel García, national coordinator of the Cuban Association of Electoral Observers. (14ymedio)

Zelandia de la Caridad Pérez, national coordinator of the group, explains that several observers “are backed by regional bodies.” Although the law provides for voters to participate in the vote count, few dare to do it out of fear of being seen as people who distrust the electoral process and not as individuals exercising their rights.

“Citizen action from electoral observation is always going to be legitimate,” explains Juan Manuel Moreno, executive secretary of Candidates for Change. In his view, and against those who believe that voting legitimizes the regime, “the system is corrupt, dictatorial, and totalitarian, but it has an army, a currency of legal tender, it issues passports that are recognized at the immigration windows of the rest of the world. Although it’s difficult for us, the system enjoys legitimacy.”

Juan Manuel Moreno, executive secretary of Candidates for Change. (14ymedio)

His opinion is shared by Frank Abel García, national coordinator of ACOE, who thinks that Cubans cannot expect “to live one day in a democratic society without mechanisms that defend the popular will,” something that must begin to be “practiced starting now.”

ACOE seeks to transmit to each voter a sense of accompaniment, of the presence of independent individuals who can keep watch so that nobody is coerced, is impeded from exercising their right to vote, or is discriminated against for choosing one option or another. They cannot change the course of the process but they can track it.

The points that these observers will have to review include from checking that all citizens with the right to vote are on the Electoral Register, to that the established schedules are kept and that the members of the polling places are properly accredited and have whatever is necessary to guarantee the day’s events.

The privacy of the cubicle, the state of the ballot boxes at the beginning of the vote, and that voters have pens to mark their option with indelible ink are other aspects that must be supervised by the observers, who will be witnesses to the count and to the writing of the final record.

Other bodies, like Citizen Observers of the Electoral Process and Observers for Voting Rights, are also planning to monitor the referendum. Whereas the independent organizations Somos Más (We Are More), the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, the Cuban Nationalist Party, the Autonomous Pinero Party, and Citizens for Development, will give information to the ACOE.

In one month, the Cuban government will not only have to deal with the possible figures of abstention, the volume of annulled ballots, and the numbers of NO to the new Constitution, but also will feel the weight of the gaze of these citizens ready to defend their votes with civic responsibility.

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.

A Constitution to Institutionalize the Dictatorship

More than three million copies of the constitutional text are for sale. The referendum will be held on February 24. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 10, 2019 — A close reading of the final version of the new Constitution of the Republic, which will be submitted to a referendum on February 24, allows the conclusion that none of the 760 changes made by the drafting commission does anything to alter the negative opinion that was held of the draft.

Perhaps the best example was the change suffered by Article 5 and not just because of the return of the concept of communism that generated so much discussion, but the mocking introduction of the conjunction “and” to substitute the hyphen in the word “Marxist-Leninist.” According to the explanation, “in the opinion of various academics it was a formulation with a Stalinist tinge.” continue reading

In second place is the balancing act performed to make the controversial Article 68 disappear and in its place introduce similar precepts in Article 82. The celebration that the most conservative anticipated for the supposed victory was frustrated upon realizing that the door that would open the path to marriage equality had only changed places.

However, for the LGBT community the new article also has a bittersweet flavor since it sets a period of up to two years to define who can get married. This postponement evidently seeks to prevent a negative vote in the referendum from those opposed to these unions.

Another change that has passed unnoticed is that regarding legal rights (Article 49), which previously indicated that “no person can be obligated to testify against himself, his spouse, or relatives up to the fourth degree of consanguinity and second of affinity,” while now (Article 95) “common-law partner” is included.

In Article 95 itself the order is expressed that in a penal process, persons can have access to “legal assistance from the beginning of the process.” This has perhaps been one of the most-exhibited aspects as a demonstration of the respect toward rights in the future, but it shows the lack of due-process guarantees from which numerous citizens have suffered since that precept was eliminated.

It would be worthwhile to do a study of the ups and downs that the concept of “concentration of ownership” has been subjected to. Since its appearance in the guidelines of the VI Congress, passing through what was added in the VII Congress’s version and later in the Conceptualization of the Model project, the topic arrived at the final version of the Constitution rather decaffeinated.

Article 22 of the draft said: “The State regulates that no concentration of ownership exists in legal persons or non-state entities, in order to preserve the limits compatible with the socialist values of equity and social justice.”

In the new version Article 30 says this: “The concentration of ownership in legal persons or non-state entities is regulated by the State, which additionally guarantees a more and more just redistribution of wealth in order to preserve the limits…”

Having maintained the concept of the irrevocability of the socialist system and the position of the only Party as the ruling political force justifies the assessment that the main thing that should have changed has not changed.

With the validity of those two pillars any attempt to compare the draft submitted to debate with the final version approved by Parliament is a true waste of time, even when one has the noble intent of itemizing the details that can be considered positive to contrast them with the negative. In addition to a sterile exercise it can be considered a pernicious habit.

The truly useful thing seems to be using space, energy, and talent to find a way to prevent the definitive insitutionalization of the dictatorship. There remains little time and it’s necessary to hurry up and settle on a consensus so that Cubans don’t suffer the same fate as the unsuspecting rabbits from the fable, who wasted their precious opportunity to save themselves debating over the breed of the hunting dogs drawing near.

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.