And The Day Arrived…

There is no shortage of those who see the arrival of the Internet as a way of diverting attention from the serious problems that Cuba is going through. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 7 December 2018 – There is always room for pessimism, because it worms its way in from all sides. After six decades of unmet promises, many Cubans were skeptical about the coming of web navigation on mobile phones and, in part, they are right after so many years of delay at the hands of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa). It is normal that the enthusiasm has “cooled.”

One more “bucket of cold water” on the joy is the high prices the State telecommunications monopoly has imposed on its data packages which, as of Thursday, have been marketed to the cellular network’s customers. Paying between 25% and 100% of the average monthly salary for plans that cover between 600 megabytes and 4 gigabytes is too much.

On the other hand, there is no shortage of those who see the arrival of the Internet as a way of diverting attention from the serious problems that the country is currently facing, with a bankrupt economy, a private sector that is troubled by the regulatory measures that are going into effect on 7 December, and authorities unable to lay out a plan for the future, as if it’s not constrained by the rigid articles of a Constitution that have been cooked up by those “up there.” continue reading

However, even though all the pessimists and skeptics have good reason to be cautious about this new form of connectivity, it would be much more powerful and effective to assess the potential that is opening up before us as citizens. This is not a crumb that has been thrown at us, but the victory of a demand long yearned-for, one earned by our “sweat.”

More than a decade ago, when I opened my blog Generation Y, those of us who used the few cybercafes on the island, opened the first digital blogs and dared to create accounts on Twitter, were immediately labeled as “cybermercenaries.” Those were the days when the web was presented in the official press as a tool created by the CIA and Cuba’s outdated military called for “taming the wild colt of the Internet.”

On the other hand, from the opposition, we bloggers were seen as “kids” who had it easy because we wrote from our keyboards and were going to change the Island tweet by tweet, duped by the idea that with a phone in our hands we could stop the blows of the repressors or put the Plaza of the Revolution in check. Nor was there any lack of those who labeled us “agents of State Security” simply because they “let” us write on the web.

Time has passed and we have won. Now, without any self-criticism, most of the ministers have a Twitter account, president Miguel Diaz-Canel fills his timeline on the network of the little blue bird with slogans, and Etecsa, the technological arm of the repression, has had to open up mobile navigation services after several resounding failures and a flood of complaints from its customers.

All the dissidents I know have a cell phone, YouTube accounts have become an effective way to report human rights violations, and numerous independent media have emerged in the country with a journalistic quality and rigor that force the official press to report things ranging from an armed assault in a school to the ravages of dengue fever. The skeptics of yesteryear ended up joining the new technologies.

Now, although no doubt a good part of the money the inefficient Etecsa will raise with the navigation service will be used to buy uniforms for the police and to feed the officials who plan the surveillance of the opposition and activists, we will also win. There is no doubt. Because the step they have taken this December will have a much greater cost to them than all the dollars they might pocket.

In every corner of Cuba they are exposed, in every town there is someone with a phone connected to internet, fingers ready to report an injustice, denounce a corrupt official, through the reality that differs so much from that reported in the official media. People who will have access to another type of information, far beyond the boring pages of the official newspaper Granma.

I can imagine that, in a short time, some part of communications between Cubans will be traveling encrypted by the internet, chat forums will offer those rooms of debate that we lack in the physical world, and State Security will be forced to develop new techniques of surveillance, new methods to keep track of millions of Cubans in cyberspace.

The private economy will also benefit. Businesses, online purchases, home deliveries will be enhanced with this new service and even if they do not manage to rescue the country from the deep crisis it is in, it will probably ease the lives of thousands of families. Knowledge, distance-learning, and participation in forums will also come to our lives on a daily basis, little by little.

The process will be long, but we have started down a path and it depends on us if we want to see it as a trap, or if we start to explore it with the aim of taking advantage of it so that it brings us closer to freedom.

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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.

López Obrador or the Art of Launching Too Many Promises

Andrés Manuel López Obrador during an event in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Mexico, last September. (Yoani Sánchez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 December 2018 – Nobody had to tell me about it, I was there. The sun pricked my skin in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Mexico, a town still half destroyed by the earthquake that just a year earlier ravaged the region. Andrés Manuel López Obrador arrived to give a speech, but not everyone in the audience applauded or seemed to believe his promises. Some shouted clear and harsh slogans: “Out of the Isthmus!” (of Tehuantepec), they yelled.

That day, when by accident Amlo – as the president is known in Mexico – and I crossed paths, I thought I would find a passionate flood of his supporters but it was not like that. In fact, in Oaxaca there was talk of “the betrayal of Obrador,” the about-turn he had made between his campaign to reach the presidency and the gestures he made after being elected. One could already sense disenchantment and frustration over the contradictions that were beginning to show. continue reading

Schooled in the oratory of populists, that day I sensed in his discourse the haughty turns of language used to seek applause and call from the audience a response more devoted than reflective. I remember hearing him say that he would build “concrete roads” and that he would make the area an “industrial park.” He talked about employing everyone, raising wages and ending poverty in the area.

Noon arrived and the orator finished his speech. He quickly left through the back of the platform while the shouts against him rose from one side of the stage. I felt that I had been watching a theater performance, calculated but awkward, a professional staging that to my ears as a citizen born and raised in authoritarianism sounded familiar and dangerous.

On December first, the man I heard speaking in Juchitán de Zaragoza was sworn in as president of Mexico. On his shoulders he carries the hopes of millions who elected him, tired of traditional politicians, corruption and the scourge of insecurity. For them, Amlo is a wager to achieve healthy institutions, develop social programs that improve the lives of many Mexicans, and present an adequate response to violence.

Although his term is just beginning, it is easy to venture that he will not be able to fulfill so many promises, in part because some of them are completely chimerical. Others he will achieve at a cost harmful to the nation, appealing to the practices of patronage and accumulating too much decision power in his hands, under the justification that it makes everything more expeditious or better. The greater risk is that he ends up devouring the institutions with his person and that he swallows up the imperfect Mexican democracy under the pretext that the country needs a profound renovation.

Certain visions of a personality cult are beginning to emerge in Amlo’s Administration. Public mobilization rallies, during which the president uses words to hypnotically develop his theme, had already become part of his way of governing even before he donned the presidential sash. His followers do not admit criticism, he evades answers when questioned and his relationship with the press is beginning to get testy, especially when he treats reporters as children or kisses a journalist to avoid an uncomfortable issue. He presents himself as the redeemer of a nation, and expects in return the unlimited veneration of Mexicans who will give him their absolute confidence to resolve the national wrongs.

His obstinacy, which undoubtedly attests to the several attempts he made to reach Los Pinos, can be a virtue when the time comes to apply solutions, but also a double-edged sword that leads to the most ferocious voluntarism. It will be a challenge for his ministers and closest officials to maneuver with this human whirlpool, a man who believes he has the answers to all the problems and knows how to resolve each quagmire.

For now, the first “Amlo effect” that Mexicans will have to deal with is polarization. That confrontation that settles in society and threatens to sit at the table of every household. The half measures are over, now one can only applaud or reject his management, a dichotomy that undermines the healthy debate and moderation that public discourse in any democracy needs.

Confusing the nation with a Party, the homeland with an ideology and the people with a man, as has happened in the sad case of Cuba, has devastating consequences for citizen sovereignty, the independence of institutions and freedom of expression. That one individual stands as the savior of millions of people should scare us as much as coups d’état. They start by distributing perks and end up locking us in the authoritarian cage. Nobody had to tell me, I’ve lived it.

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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.

Will Today Be The Day?

To connect by mobile phone you have to go to a wifi point. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 4 December 2018 — Will today be the great day when the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) finally tells us – with precision, transparency and honesty – the date on which we Cubans will be able to enjoy internet service on our phones?

The state monopoly, one of the most inefficient companies on the planet, promised a few months ago that we would be able to surf from our cell phones before the end of this year. After three tests that were a resounding failure, Etecsa has not mentioned the matter again and now only 27 days remain until the end of the month. We do not accept excuses, we want to be respected as customers.

If Etecsa CAN’T (as it seems), the authorities should let other foreign companies with more experience and infrastructure come in to offer stable, modern and cheap connectivity. Professionals across the country are crying out for this, because every day they spend not as internet users their knowledge is outdated and their ability to innovate and create ceases to be competitive. continue reading

Entrepreneurs would also be able to scale to a new level if they could offer their products and services through the web (can you imagine Über arriving in Cuba?), and teenagers, students, housewives, and even retired people who stand in line for the newspaper, would have greater opportunities, new channels of information, more chances of interacting with their emigrated relatives and with the world.

In other words, the country would benefit. But the thing is, there are some who see nothing good coming from our being connected. They are those who have spent years been trying to “tame the wild colt of the internet,” the mediocre people who have gained prominence with their subsidized (and privileged) access to the web where they go to repeat their slogans. The lifelong censors who tremble just thinking about people having their hands on a device directly connected to the great world wide web, able to report an abuse in a matter of seconds, to record political violence, the chronic shortages, the popular discontent, to denounce a corrupt official… to question the system.

They are those who even fear people enjoying “the frivolity” of the web… because every song we listen to on iTunes, every dating site we visit, every product we “covet” on Amazon, will be time spent beyond the influence of official propaganda, far from the carefully packaged primetime newscast. It will be time in which we may seem apathetic, but at least we won’t be “fanatics.”

Anyway, Etecsa, how long until mobile internet arrives?

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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.

First Ladies: An Untapped Potential in Latin America

After more than five decades in which the power had hair on its chest and only used skirts as a secondary support, a woman accompanies the president on his international engagements. It is a serious problem that she does not say anything.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 27 November 2018 — In times when there is so much talk of women’s demands, of campaigns with #MeToo-style labels, and of questioning the treatment of women in the media, it is worth reflecting on the figure of the First Lady in so many governments in Latin America.

In contrast to some European nations, and of specific moments in the administrations in the United States, in this part of the world that ranges from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, the person accompanying the president has barely used her influence and media exposure to bring messages of renewal to a female audience. She has been, rather, a “beautiful adornment” that follows the president to his public speeches, to the signing of agreements or on international tours, but she has been far from carrying herself as someone with a voice of her own who addresses the nation.

What if she used her position to influence something beyond clothes or hairstyles? The Latin American first ladies should break the mold of a beautiful face that assents to everything her husband does and throw themselves into promoting new roles, demanding spaces and launching those life stories that help the women of this region shake off disrespect and violence. continue reading

There are very gray cases, such as that of the recently premiered first lady of Cuban Lis Cuesta, the first female name that is officially linked to a president in more than half a century. After more than five decades in which power had hair on his chest and only used skirts as a secondary support, we see a woman who takes the president’s hand and accompanies him on his international engagements. It is a serious problem that she does not say anything, but we do not know if it is because of her own desire for “invisibility” or because she is prevented from doing so.

It matters little whether she shares spaces with the highest Chinese authorities or walks through the streets of London, the big problem is that we Cubans do not know the tone of her voice or what she thinks about the most critical issues of the nation.

In other Latin American countries the problem would be one of media over-exposure or the banal use of the figure of the first lady by the gossip media or fashion press to discuss the inches of her hemline or the quality of her makeup. However, in countries like this island where I live, the voice of the ruler’s wife seems to be suppressed as her very existence is shown as a “weak” diversion of the ideology in power, a “mannered” gesture of authority.

It is already time for this person who accompanies the highest office in the country to stop being pure decoration. She should not be presented like a flowery curtain that does not speak, like a beautiful vase and – much less – like an artificial flower that should always look fresh and perfumed, even in the worst moments.

A first lady must be the mirror for many Latin American women to see their potential reflected, a powerful call to realize projects and a reflection of what will come in the future. Will the ladies of the Palace be willing to subvert their wardrobes for real influence, to exchange heels for social endeavors? We all hope so.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

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, A Risky Trip For Pedro Sánchez

Pedro Sánchez during the XXVI Ibero-American Summit held last week in Guatemala. (Moncloa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 20 November 2018 – Pedro Sánchez will arrive in Cuba and will put an end to a long period of 32 years during which the island has not hosted an official visit by a President of the Government of Spain. The former Motherland hopes to reaffirm its business presence and reconquer the land that the United States won with a diplomatic thaw. The visit, however, planned as promenade of smiles and handshakes, presents many possibilities for failure.

During his stay in Havana, Sánchez will be surrounded by three fires whose flames will point at him from different positions. There is no way he will not be burned, or at least singed, on this trip, but it would be good if he knew the extent of the fire before delving into it. continue reading

If the Spanish president has chosen Cuba because it is a seemingly comfortable plaza that avoids his reaching nations that are nearer but with which there are too many outstanding issues, he may pay dearly for his mistake. As in 1898, this may be the place where the fleet of his illusions is sunk. Especially because it comes at a time when his visit may generate more resentment than benefits.

One of the fires that will burn the head of the Spanish Executive will be that of the almighty Government, a true master in diplomatic choreography, which designs every step so that the visitor does not depart from an agenda meticulously planned to the last detail. This itinerary has a clear purpose: to show the benefits of the Cuban system and, incidentally, to put a hand in the guest’s pocket so that he grants soft loans to the island’s ailing economy.

Miguel Diaz-Canel will show off the visit as an accolade to his Government and a success of his newly inaugurated mandate. If Madrid “sanctifies” this handpicked president, it is very likely that Sánchez will be followed by other European dignitaries who do not want to miss out on the red carpet in Havana. After all, many of them think that Cuba is a country of beautiful beaches and smiling people where a “heavy hand” is needed to keep things under control.

Ministers, officials and apparatchiks will surround Sánchez and, with a gesture of a hand or a raise of an eyebrow, they will drop the idea that soon, very soon, the country will enter on a path of deep reforms and that all of today’s deficiencies will be tomorrow’s achievements. Dressed in suits and ties or the traditional guayaberas, they will sell him the mirage of a change that is just around the corner, one for which only a little more money is needed.

Perhaps it will be a handshake with Raul Castro who, although he no longer sits in the presidential chair, continues to pull the nation’s strings from his watchtower as general secretary of the Communist Party. With a constitutional reform about to conclude, the octogenarian general may try to raise Sánchez’s arm with his fist raised, as fellow travelers, a gesture he has made with others.

To exorcise the demons that might manipulate his words, Sánchez should demand, as Barack Obama did, an opportunity to speak directly to the people of Cuba, live and in real time. Not the typical intervention of a press conference, where the official journalists will crowd the space asking him to speak out against the US embargo, but a speech without censorship or intermediaries.

Fleeing excessive protocol and guided tours will be another challenge. In this case, as well, he could learn from the experience of the former US president who tempered his more formal agenda with some escapes to several areas behind the curtains of propaganda. What he sees there will not resemble the tourist postcards but it will leave him with a more authentic impression of our reality.

The other burning coal that Pedro Sánchez will have in front of him is the political opposition and activism. So far, it has not been reported that he is going to meet with any opposition figures, nor whether the independent press will be able to cover some of the events in which he participates. Maybe that information has not been revealed yet, to avoid annoying the susceptible official hosts, but not announcing it generates strong criticism that would be worth tackling.

If the presidential plane takes off from this Island without the president having heard a version of Cuba other than that of the Palace of the Revolution, this will have been a useless and incomplete trip.

From the voice of the dissidents, Sánchez will be able to learn of the persistence of repression, now masked in subterfuges such as condemning opponents for “attack on authority” or “disrespect,” codified as common crimes. They can also detail how in recent years many activists have been “regulated,” a bureaucratic euphemism that hides a prohibition on leaving the island. That, together with the surveillance and the execution of critics’ reputations, remain common practices in this country.

But the flames do not end there. Sánchez lands in a nation where more than 150,000 citizens have become nationalized Spanish citizens thanks to the so-called law of grandchildren. These cubañoles are also waiting for a response to their demands on issues they assume as rights. Financial aid, greater support for food and medicine for the elderly, and intercessions so that the Plaza of the Revolution finally recognizes dual citizenship.

This community of cubañoles, the vast majority of which has never traveled to the Spain but rather has spent their entire lives in the island, will not speak to Sánchez as they might speak to a foreign visitor who arrives for a short time and whom one tries not to annoy, but as those who are addressing their representative, a public servant of a nation that owes them answers, protection and solutions.

Nor will Sánchez find rest outside of those three fiery tongues. Each commercial agreement that he signs during his visit, each loan that he grants, and each debt that he forgives to the Cuban Government, will be in direct contrast with the economic and business segregation to which the citizens of this country are subject.

Under current legislation, it is forbidden for a group of neighbors, who can range from prosperous owners of paladares – private restaurants – to owners of rental houses for tourists, to invest, for example, in fixing the paving of the street where they live. However, if a distant Asturian, Basque or Galician disembarks in that same block to erect a hotel, they will be allowed to do so.

Sánchez arrives at a moment when the piñata has already been shattered and the governing elite has divided the most succulent pieces of the national economy, in chicanery with foreign investors. Investors who close their eyes to the lack of rights of their employees and the absence of equity of opportunities for those born in this land, under the argument that “if we do not invest, others will.”

In this Cuba, fractured economically and politically, it will be a real miracle if this presidential visit does not end more in criticism than applause. The fire of public opinion waits to make firewood from this tree.

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Editor’s Note: This text has been published this Tuesday, November 20 in the Spanish newspaper El País.

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-Brazil: The Battle of the White Coats

Cuban doctors who stay in Brazil will be forbidden entry to the island for eight years. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 19 November 2018 – We saw the conflict coming. From the moment Jair Bolsonero won the elections in Brazil, Cuba’s official discourse increased in rhetoric against him and prepared public opinion for the rupture that was imminent.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for the Plaza of the Revolution was the statements by the president-elect in which he warned that he would change the conditions of the agreement under which more than 8,300 physicians from Cuba work in Brazil’s Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program.

Last Wednesday, tensions escalated to their highest point when the Cuban Minister of Public Health announced that he was cancelling the contract and removing his professionals from the South American country. The official notice, read out on all of the island’s the news programs, repeated that Bolsonaro’s threats would not be tolerated but deftly ignored some of his words. Particularly those where the rightist leader insisted that the Cuban doctors should receive their full salaries and be able to bring their families to stay with them while they were in the program. continue reading

The Cuban government has made medical missions a lucrative business. With professionals deployed in more than 60 countries, the money raised by this practice is Cuba’s largest source of foreign currency, estimated to exceed $11 billion annually.

In the case of Brazil, Havana pockets 75% of the 3,300 dollar salary Brazil pays for each doctor, while the health professionals only receive a quarter of the total. On the Island, in a bank account which they do not have access to, their “Cuban” monthly salary of about 60 dollars accumulates, which they can only collect if they return to the island.

Those who leave the Mais Medicos program under their own will are considered deserters and are banned from entering Cuba for eight years. During the time the Workers’ Party (PT) was at the head of the Brazilian government, the doctors who escaped from their contracts were pursued by the Brazilian police and could be returned to the Island if they were arrested. None were allowed to bring their family members to be with them during their missions, and they were often housed in overcrowded hostels shared with other doctors, nurses and hospital technicians.

Despite so many difficulties and the low earnings, the missions were very much desired by the doctors because they were able to buy goods that are not available in Cuban markets, and to make contacts that would later allow them to return to Brazil privately, with a contract to work in some clinic.

Beyond its ability to provide healthcare for many Brazilians in the poorest areas of the country, the Mais Medicos program hid a political operation to build support for the leftist Workers’ Party and guarantee it the votes of the lower classes. It was clear that Cuba’s interest in this outcome was not going to continue with Bolsonaro in charge, thus it was only a matter of time before Castroism removed its healthcare professionals from Brazil. It only remains now to ask how many of them will actually return to the island.

The president-elect of Brazil has announced that he will grant political asylum to all Cuban doctors who request it and it is expected that a considerable number will benefit from this offer. Those who do so will lose the right to return to their homeland for many long years, they will be called traitors and, most likely, their families on the island will be under pressure. The battle of the white coats has barely begun.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

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.

Keys To Understanding An Emergency Tour By Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel

Díaz-Canel did not choose to visit closer or more lucrative markets, in part because he is not looking for contracts but rather alms. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Lima, 13 November 2018 — If it were not for the two stopovers, one in Paris and the other in London, which Miguel Díaz-Canel made during his first official foreign tour at the head of the Cuban government, the map of his trip would be reduced to a group of countries that share ideological similarities and that are, for the Plaza of the Revolution, old allies from lost political battles.

In “the world according to Diaz-Canel” there are only as few nations as fingers on a hand, Moscow is located a few kilometers from Havana, and both the Americas and Europe have disappeared from the map. It is a planet scuplted in the geology of authoritarianism and created at the will of all-powerful parties, a land where the fragile grass of democracy hardly grows.

During his journey through that reduced world, the 58-year-old engineer was officially received by leaders from five countries: Russia, China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos. The trip generated abundant declarations of “total support and solidarity” between the rulers, several visits to mausoleums housing the remains of controversial leaders, and the signing of some trade and cooperation agreements.

This latter seems to be the core of so much hectic activity, because beyond the official rituals, the journey was marked by urgency and driven by the despair of a leader at the head of a bankrupt nation. It was a trip in search of patrons, a “pass of the hat,” to achieve an economic relief from the tense situation on the island.

The scope of the agreements reached in this tour and their impact on the economy will only be verified in the coming months, but according to the headlines in the official newspaper Granma, we can already read that the compañeros visited on the trip have not been very benevolent. There has been no lack of agreements or signatures for exchanges, but there have been few loans or donations after so many handshakes, beyond having obtained 60 investment projects and a loan of 50 million dollars to buy weapons.

With productivity in the toilet, foreign tourism that will fail to reach the 5 million promised visitors, and the default of investors lacking enthusiasm to buy a piece of the Cuban pie, Havana is experiencing an acute lack of liquidity that is deepening the daily problems. Nevertheless, despite this tense situation, Díaz-Canel did not opt to visit closer or more lucrative markets, in part because he is not looking for contracts, but rather alms.

In addition to help and donations, the trip aimed to reaffirm the concept of “continuity” that has become the cornerstone of Cuba’s rulers. To reassure those who, like Kim Jong-un, could fear that, with the help of a younger leader, Havana might undertake economic and political reforms that would allow it to strengthen ties with Washington, Brussels and other democratic governments.

To all of them the message was clear. Nothing moves in the politics of the Island without the consent of the Communist Party and the generational change is totally under control. With this mantra, late Castroism tries to renew the support provided by these five nations in international forums, following the crisis facing regional entities such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

A third reason to undertake this “path of complicity” has been to annoy the United States and to make it clear to the European Union that it is not a priority on the Cuban agenda. And, in passing, slam the door on Latin American administrations that believed that without a Castro in power dialogue with the island would be easier. By preferring not to travel through the countries of the area, Cuba’s government has shown its low regional spirit and its disdain for its

Now, once this tour of necessity and ideological myopia is over, it remains only to wait for the real benefits it will have in everyday life. The millions of dollars agreed upon in exchanges are just a drop in an ocean of needs and are unlikely to deter those who plan to escape the island. Those thousands of Cubans who each year set a course for countries not included in the small world preferred by Miguel Diaz-Canel.

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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.

Private Versus State, Novelties and Fossils

The restaurant in the mansion at 3rd and 8th in Havana’s Miramar district is very close to a place privately run by self-employed workers. “House Rules” [Briefly] 1. No one under 18 at night. 2. Appropriate dress. 3. Do not bring your own food and drink, it will be confiscated. 4. No pets. 5. No photos without permission. 6. Behave yourself or you will be permanently barred. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation 7, Havana, 8 November 2018 – The distance between them is a hundred yards and an abyss. The restaurant in the mansion at 3rd and 8th in Havana’s Miramar district is very close to a place privately run by self-employed workers. Both serve food, both are located in beautiful buildings with columns and arches, but the differences are so profound they might be two different universes. The first is under state management and the second is private, a word that the authorities avoid mentioning.

In the Cuba where I was born and grew up everything was state-owned. The snack bars, the pizzerias, the newspaper kiosks and the funeral homes. Most of those places are still administered by the government sphere; they are socialist businesses that have not demonstrated a very efficient management. But in the field of gastronomy there has been a significant and positive change in recent years. In this field, where the Ministry of Internal Commerce once ruled, it is now the self-employed who are leading the sector. continue reading

On this Island the fossilized remains of the Soviet era coexist with businesses that could be competitive in New York, Berlin or Madrid. Back-to-back are state services unable to adapt to the new demands of their customers, and private ones trying to stay afloat despite the high taxes, the absence of wholesale markets, and the ill-will professed by Communist Party bureaucrats.

The collapse of the state company is evident, with all its harshness, in the mansion at 3rd and 8th  Streets in Miramar, where a woman jingles some coins outside the bathroom: a gesture to demand tips from the customers who use the stinking cubicle, lacking toilet paper and water. Half the dishes listed on the menu are unavailable, an absence the waitress justifies by the lack of chicken and pizzas. There are no napkins on the tables and in the kitchen five employees vegetate while talking loudly.

The stately patio, with its palms and ferns, is occupied by a metal container that serves as a storeroom and the plants in their stone beds show symptoms of neglect. A piece of paper stuck on a door announces that in the room on an upper floor where videos are shown there are currently no films. The tablecloths are splashed here and there with spilled food and on the TV set over the tables a horror movie is showing images of disemboweled people while the customers sink their teeth into hamburgers.

Just when the customers think it can’t get any worse, the administrators organize a “lightening meeting” with the cooks and servers which paralyzes service and causes a crowd to pile up at the bar. Some, annoyed by the long wait, the missing menu items and the bland dishes, decide to cross the sidewalk and patronize the paladar (private restaurant) offering Spanish tapas. The walk between yesterday’s Cuba and tomorrow’s is a journey between a failed model and another one, possible and desired.

“Everything on the menu is available,” the waiter states proudly to the incredulous customers who have escaped the state premises. No one is able to explain very well how the private restaurant manages to maintain a supply of pork, beef and fish in a country where, in the last year, shortages have worsened, but everyone knows that some of the ingredients travel in the suitcases of innumerable passengers and others come from the black market. “Do you want your paella with seafood, rabbit or vegetables?” asks the waiter. Two tourists take pictures in front of a poster of bulls and another dares to ask for a vegan dish that arrives in a few minutes: varied and without traces of animal protein.

I fear that the mansion at 3rd and 8th may have many years ahead of it, offering bad cooking, the worse service, and the poor flavors that flow from its cauldrons. Meanwhile, the nearby paladar does not know if it will survive, because it has exposed the mammoth futility of a whole system. For this it may pay dearly.

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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.

Weapons for What?

Miguel Díaz-Canel was received by Vladimir Putin on his visit to Russia. (@DiazCanelB)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 November 2018 – A cart is being unloaded at the butcher’s in Havana’s Carlos III Plaza. The crowd throws itself on it. There are shouts, shoves and occasional blows while two men grab several boxes of frozen chicken shouting, “This is mine!” It’s Tuesday and just a couple days since it transpired that Russia will grant Cuba credits for the acquisition of weapons.

The news of the 50 million dollars Moscow is giving to the island to strengthen its military sector has been received as a slap in the face by many Cubans who see the food shortages and the rising prices. In the midst of increasingly pronounced scarcities, it is difficult to understand that one of the agreements reached with the Kremlin will used to train troops, buy munitions and repair equipment for war.

The destiny of those resources is even more absurd because Cuba is not involved in any armed conflict, faces no disputes within its territory and is unlikely to be attacked by any foreign power. Wasting this money only makes sense if it can be explained as part of a geopolitical plan the Kremlin can boast about to the White House. A frequent thing on an island that, so many times, has been a diplomatic chess piece between these two countries. continue reading

For some years now, the ghost of the Cold War has returned with plans for Cuba, and the latest diplomatic approaches between Vladimir Putin and Miguel Díaz-Canel are reminiscent of those times when the country orbited around the Soviet Union, deployed its soldiers in Africa to please Moscow and received substantial resources from the Russian coffers to be able to demonstrate social achievements far removed from its true economic potential.

Cuba was a showcase, a spearhead and cannon fodder for the USSR and now it is the launching pad for Putin’s expansionism in Latin America. A sad destiny for a country whose authorities repeat the rhetoric of sovereignty while they depend, more and more every day, on other governments to forgive our debts, give us funds or subsidize – in one way or another – our unsuccessful system.

Playing at war is not only ridiculous, at this time when the national economy can’t even raise its head and thousands of Cubans are packing their bags to escape the island, tired of waiting for a recovery that does not come, but it is also evidence of the disconnect between the Plaza of the Revolution and the streets. While some are thinking about how to poke a finger in Washington’s eye, citizens want policies that promote prosperity, development and improvements in services.

With the announcement of the $50 million to buy weapons, it is very difficult not to be reminded of the number of lost hours that several generations of Cubans have had to spend on military training, evacuation drills and ridiculous maneuvers to defend ourselves against an enemy that never arrived. Those were the years when official propaganda very skillfully used the fear of a foreign invasion to force us to close ranks and shut up. The presumed immediacy of an armed conflict was used as a gag, a distraction and a decoy.

However, the war story is becoming less credible. The real battle is the one that we experience every day to be able to find food, to travel from one place to another, to get medicines, and the ongoing struggle with the excessive bureaucracy. All those weapons that will be purchased are not designed to deter an enemy, but to frighten us as citizens. They are bullets of persuasion and threat that will fall on us.

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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.

Bolsonaro and the Shadow of Lula

In the second round this Sunday, Haddad (right) could pay for the corruption linked to Lula, who has been his mentor, to the benefit of the extremist Bolsonaro (left).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 October 2018 — If everything goes as the polls predict, on October 28 the far right Jair Bolsonaro could win in the second round of the Brazilian presidential elections.

This possible victory would be underpinned not only by the weariness of a large part of the population in the face of corruption and the inefficiency of the political class, but also by the dead weight that his closeness with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has represented for the candidate Fernando Haddad.

While Bolsonaro fulminates against everyone, crusades against whomever and, like a chameleon, has toned down his speech to some degree in recent weeks, Fernando Haddad is linked to a fidelity with Lula which, right now, is his principal burden. From the presidential candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT), the shadow of the mistakes made by the former president, now in prison, and also by his successor Dilma Rousseff, colors everything. continue reading

Bolsonaro, with his nostalgia for the military dictatorship, has undertaken a slight turn towards the center to appease fears and win a greater number of voters among those areas of Brazilian society who resisted, until recently, to mark his name on their ballots. Their ranks grow every day, however, as people opposed to the PT are willing to punish at the polls the management of a group that began with promises to make a new kind of politics and ended up muddied in the miasma of corruption, patronage, influence peddling and ideological bullying.

Haddad, trapped by his proximity to his mentor, is unable to launch criticisms against the previous administrations of the PT, to promise a radical change with respect to his predecessors or to renege on the figure who has elevated him to these presidential elections. The pulling of strings that control Haddad from the Curitiba prison are too evident and the suspicion that once he rises to the Planalto Palace he could decree an amnesty that would free Lula dissuades many from supporting him.

In Brazil, not only is a new president being elected. If the citizens give the nod to Bolsonaro they would also inflict a devastating blow on the most authoritarian left which, two decades ago, began its ascent to the highest positions in numerous nations in Latin America. That era in which Lula posed in a family photo with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega, Raul Castro, Rafael Correa and many others, is about to receive the coup de grace at the ballot boxes of Brazil.

The problem is what will come next. When the punishment vote passes to spite the PT, it will be defeated. Can Bolsonaro moderate his behavior and govern for all Brazilians? Will he banish from his discourse the exclusions and dogmatism he has promoted to prevent society from becoming further polarized? Will he be able to give the country back its once thriving economy and lower unemployment? Will his mandate contribute to new Latin American alliances more focused on the welfare of the people than on the ideologies?

The answer to all those questions is a big question. Analysts have not ceased to sound the alarm about what can happen with a man so unpredictable and extremist in the presidency. Whatever happens, much of the responsibility falls on Lula’s shoulders.

This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page.

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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 Official Silence in the Khashoggi Case

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohamed bin Salman (right), receives Salah bin Jamal Khashoggi (left), one of the sons of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, to personally convey his “condolences”. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 October 2018 — A journalist enters a consulate and never comes out again. All indications point to the fact that within those walls he was reduced to a pile of body parts that were destroyed to erase all the evidence. The assassination of Saudi Jamal Khashoggi, presumably ordered by the absolutist monarch of his country, has provoked a wave of indignation that has not yet arrived in Cuba.

Khashoggi, a deep connoisseur of power networks in Saudi Arabia and a contributor to The Washington Post, is one of the latest victims of the excesses by authoritarian governments to silence the press. The profession has taken on a new life and the journalist’s death has revealed how economic conveniences cause the few who dare to criticize Riyadh to do so quite tepidly.

In recent days there have been protests in front of Saudi consulates in various parts of the world, declarations of support from countless media, and diplomatic demands expressed to King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. However, from Havana not a single complaint has come through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nor has there been a statement from the official Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC). continue reading

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been emphatic in suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the murder of the journalist, although analysts rationalize this firmness by the smaller volume of trade between Berlin and Riyadh. This Thursday, the European Parliament is also expected to hold a vote on a joint resolution of condemnation, the result of which is still unknown due to the fact that opinions on the issue remain divided within the bloc.

Washington, slower to respond, has announced that it will revoke the visas of those Saudi officials supposedly implicated in the reporter’s death and that it will also subsequently impose other punishments as the investigations progress.

In the midst of this clamor, the silence of the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, and of UPEC, becomes more apparent. The reasons for such caution are as mundane and pragmatic as are those of others.

In 2016, Cuba signed an agreement with the Saudi Development Fund for 80 million dollars to export products from the Arab country and to finance infrastructure in the Island’s deteriorated hydraulic sector. Later Cuba received another credit of more of 26 million dollars for the Rehabilitation and Construction of Social Works Program of the Office of the Historian of Havana.

Everything seems to indicate that the Cuban authorities do not want to offend, with their demands, one of the few pockets willing to continue putting money in the island.

Castroism has always been motivated more by economic interests than by ideological affinities, hence its closeness to the caudillo Francisco Franco, its exchanges with Videla’s military dictatorship in Argentina and its willingness to receive Israeli businessmen with open arms, although its propaganda attacks that country with a constant stream of expletives.

At the moment there is no group of official journalists protesting in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Havana, because money has prevailed over ideals and because the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a minor issue for a regime that, in exchange for investments, credits and donations, knows how to turn a blind eye.

For that reason, no guest will speak up for the silenced reporter on Cuban TV’s Roundtable program, no commentator on primetime news will point to the Saudi regime as responsible for his death, and in the Cuban foreign ministry no diplomat will be given the task of transmitting to the Arab monarchy a message of displeasure. For all of them, conveniences take priority over the death of a journalist who only wanted to do his job.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Temper Tantrum Unleashed at the United Nations

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 October 2018 – At first one can even be sympathetic: an elementary school classmate who flaps her arms while screaming. Later, comes the rudeness as the saleswoman’s mouth clenches before she spits out, “Girl, why did you even take that off the shelf if we haven’t marked the price yet?” Or the soldiers practicing on Independence Avenue while chanting a motto that ends in the phrase, “y nos roncan los cojones.”

Thus, over several generations, we Cubans have grown up with the idea that screaming, saying bad words, insulting others, calling them mocking nicknames and not letting others speak makes us look brave, superior or “macho.” This has undoubtedly contributed to what can be called “revolutionary trash talk,” that effrontery in the use of language and manners to make us seem more proletarian, more humble.

Within that code of socialist morality and Cuban uncouthness it is accepted and admired to use the vocal chords at full volume to prevail in a discussion. If, in addition, the person who is most vociferous intersperses swear words referring to the masculine sexual organs, he will be applauded as the winner of the debate and homage will be paid to him for being a true Cuban. continue reading

However, relating vulgarity with humility is one of the great errors that this system has instilled in us. My grandmother lived all her life in a tenement in Cayo Hueso and I don’t remember ever hearing a single bad word from her. I know thousands of examples of people who eat only once a day and yet continue to repeat to their children those maxims of “poor but honest,” “poor but clean,” “poor but decent.”

On several occasions I have had to witness the sad spectacle of acts of repudiation against me, with this practice of shouting so that I cannot express myself, accompanied with offensive gestures and rudeness. Experiencing it as an individual is something that everyone handles in their own way (I confess I’ve often laughed at them), but it is something else to see the name of the country where you live associated with such boorish manners.

I can’t stop feeling embarrassed for the Cuban delegation and the lamentable spectacle they displayed at the United Nations. I know that they do not represent all Cubans, not even the majority, but I can’t help thinking that for those present in that room and for all those who watched on TV or online the screaming, the banging on the tables and the mouths distorted by the anger of those shock troops must represent to them “Cuba.”

I want to apologize on their behalf, even if I do not have an ounce of responsibility for what happened and I disapprove of those practices and the government that drives them. However, I do have to apologize because we have allowed this Island to remain in the hands of people who do not have the moral stature or the decency to represent us.

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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.

Díaz-Canel and the Mask of the Modern President

Miguel Díaz-Canel has tried to present an image of a modern president close to the people.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 16 October 2018 — The first months in the highest office of the nation have been frantic for Miguel Diaz-Canel. We have seen him touring industrial zones, visiting several provinces, dancing in New York and even establishing a Twitter account. All these actions are aimed at creating an image of a modern president close to the people, an illusion that ends as soon as he opens his mouth.

The man who in his teens sang songs by Silvio Rodríguez, who listened to The Beatles and earned a degree in a profession with a strong pragmatic foundation — electrical engineering — wants to connect with those generations of Cubans who have turned their backs on politics, tired of the immobility and the outdated thinking of the governing elite.

To achieve that connection, Díaz-Canel has turned to gestures that range from the simple to the grandiloquent. In some of them he is accompanied by his wife, going to receptions, events and meeting with Hollywood celebrities during his visit to the United Nations in the United States. For a people who, for nearly six decades, did not know – for certain – who the president’s wife was or whether he liked movies, this alone marks a difference. continue reading

Going from a vist to La Demajagua in Granma province, to the other end of the Island, in Pinar del Río, in just a few hours, is also a novelty. Our octogenarian leaders moved very slowly or did not move at all, as when Hurricane Irma devastated part of the north central coast and Raul Castro did not visit the affected areas but preferred to mask his absence with written and televised messages.

The opening of a Twitter account on October 10 also marks a new hallmark for Díaz-Canel, because he becomes the first Cuban ruler in more than half a century to have a direct channel, without intermediaries, with the population. In other words, if a resident of Central Havana decides to complain on that social network about the serious problems with the water supply and street paving that characterize that district, the president will no longer be able to say that he did not know about it.

Unlike the Castro brothers who could always argue that they were not aware of the difficulties that Cubans were experiencing every day, or the desire of our emigrants to recover all their rights as citizens, Díaz-Canel cannot claim that the information never got to him or that some undisciplined official did not pass on the details. He is on Twitter and cannot hide what he hears about.

Now, all those attempts to present him as just like us, or as someone who arrives with fresh ideas, collapse as soon as he speaks in front of a microphone. At that moment, a twentieth-century politician emerges, with stereotypical and outdated ideas, with a not at all modern vision of the world and, what’s worse, anchored to a series of commitments made with his predecessors that leave him little or no room to maneuver.

If, on the outside, he wants to show himself as a good-natured and understanding statesman, his words show that his entire discourse is built on a rancid intolerance. We have seen him, before being handpicked as president, rail against the independent press and threaten it with greater censorship; we have heard him denigrate private cultural productions and even affirm at the United Nations that his Government represents “continuity, not rupture.”

To top it off, he has filled his Twitter account with slogans and calls to end the US embargo in a boring singsong that can barely connect with anyone other than the forced workers of state media and other institutions that have been given the task of following the president’s timeline. In that social network the partisan positions and the militant language are immediately noticed and what is pure propaganda cannot be considered spontaneous.

Díaz-Canel is a man caught between the image he wants to project and the agenda his government follows. He wants to appear as a statesman who looks to the future and is capable of facing the arduous tasks that urgently need to be addressed in the Cuban reality, however, he can not contradict or criticize his predecessors even the slightest bit, because they are precisely the ones that have raised him to the power.

The new president must follow the course of the leaders of the Communist Party and accept it, or at least pretend to like it and agree. If he wants to maintain his position, he is obliged to wear a mask of fidelity and docility, delivering a demeaning discourse that is half a century behind. The problem is that when you wear a mask for a long time, it ends up becoming your face, the only skin that remains after years of pretending.

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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.

Fifty Years Ago, the Cuban Government Was Silent Before the Tlatelolco Massacre

This October 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre. (EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 October 2018 — 1968 was a tumultuous year in Cuba. The Revolutionary Offensive that had swept away the last vestiges of private enterprise was followed by Fidel Castro’s support for the Soviet tanks in Prague and the complicit silence of the Plaza of the Revolution in the face of the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico, half a century ago this 2 October.

For many Mexicans who were activists on the left, this silence led them to distance themselves from the Cuban model. The disappointment was stronger among those whose admiration towards the young Revolution had prevented them from seeing the close ties that connected the Cuban Government with Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

After the massacre, the Cuban official press avoided any headlines that discomfited members of the PRI and no diplomatic condemnation came from the leaders’ lips. Nor was single report published in the Cuban press about the people who were machine-gunned, detained or disappeared through the violence of the police and the Mexican army. Long years had to pass before the universities of the Island were able talk about what happened. continue reading

The omission was full of irony if one takes into account that many of those university students took as a reference point during their youth mobilizations not only what was happening in France, Czechoslovakia, Italy or the US, but also what was happening in Cuba. Their ideology even highlighted figures such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara, who had died in Bolivia a year earlier.

With information censorship and diplomatic muteness, the island compensated the Mexican government for its support and for its repeated denunciation of the expulsion of Cuba from the Organization of American States (OAS). The Aztec nation had also used international forums to demand an end to the US embargo and continued to maintain commercial ties with Havana.

At the end of the 60s, Castroism had already entered a stage of ideological radicalization, in which many of the leftist movements that gained ground in Europe and Latin America were seen as revisionists and removed from the manuals of the strictest Marxism. The consolidation of that stage was marked by repression, with greater control and vigilance over society.

And it was precisely in 1968 when the screws of Cuban authoritarianism were tightened. The state gained hegemony and the figure of Fidel Castro accumulated much more power, sweeping away opponents within the party’s own ranks and imprisoning anyone who seemed to be a dissident. The nuances ended and one could be only a “revolutionary” or “counterrevolutionary.”

The Soviet model, marked by Stalinism, gained ground on the island. In the midst of that scenario, any show of solidarity by the Castro regime for the thousands of young students who took to the streets in Mexico demanding greater liberties, would have been like shooting themselves in the foot. By then, any university autonomy had been dismantled on the island and street protests had been banned.

That movement in Mexico, which culminated in a bloody attack and in which professors, intellectuals, workers and housewives also participated, was a terrible example for the docile society Castro sought to have on the island.

Still today, in Ecured, the official version of Wikipedia, that should explain the slaughter of Tlatelolco appears empty and the event that is only mentioned in passing in the entries dedicated to personalities related to it and in the general description about Mexico. Twelve words* seal what happened and try to repair, with their bare presence, a half century’s silence.

*Translator’s note: 13 words in English translation: “In 1968, it was the scene of the massacre of the Tlatelolco demonstrators.” 

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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 and the End of the Historical Generation

Three Cuban presidents (past, present and future) in a photo taken during the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 September 2018 — Nearly 60 years after its triumph, the Cuban Revolution today does not resemble what it was or what it pretended to be. In almost six decades, those bearded youth who came down from the mountains went from generating dreams to provoking fear or apathy. Their formula for staying in power has been a mixture of obstinacy and political cynicism.

Of those one hundred founding figures, rebaptized today as the “historical generation,” there are barely a dozen survivors of whom only four occupy key positions. Fidel Castro’s ashes repose in a stone and his brother Raul has passed on the powers of the Government while preparing for his replacement at the head of the Communist Party.

A quarter of a century after the collapse of socialism in the countries of Eastern Europe, and in the midst of a crisis of the left in Latin America, Cuban socialism has had to adapt to new times on a globalized planet where the concept of “capitalist countries” encompasses virtually the entire rest of the world. In order to not perish it has borrowed practices and formulas that it once rejected. continue reading

One of these cyclical make-overs is happening right now with the process of constitutional reform. This process is marked, on one hand, by the stubbornness of official thinking, which maintains that the system is irrevocable, and, on the other, by an excess of hopefulness among the reformist sectors which are betting on the Constitution being a step on the long road toward the transformation of the country.

Outside these two postures is positioned the extensive bloc of pessimists, who think that as long as there is no change in what has to change everything in Cuba will remain the same.

Irrevocability

The Constitution, which is being cooked up under the strict surveillance of the only party allowed in the country, maintains the concept that “socialism and the established political and social revolutionary system are irrevocable.” Thus, when Cubans go to vote on the constitutional referendum, on 24 February 2019, they will be ratifying or rejecting a straitjacket.

Raúl Castro has prepared a meticulous framework of 224 articles to leave the new generation of officials with a cast-iron system, in which it is almost impossible to promote a change of direction from within. The Constitution is the road map that can’t be deviated from by a single inch, or at least that is what the ex-president has planned.

Not even Parliament has the power to reform this principle of irrevocability that functions as a legal constraint for the new generation preparing to take the helm of the national ship, a generation that may be tempted to take the reforms too far, once the group of the historical generation has finally been extinguished.

The extensive text is the last move by the olive-green octogenarians to control the country beyond their deaths, to win the game of biology and continue to determine the fate of Cuba.

Reformist hopes

The most optimistic believe that despite the rigid bars imposed by some articles of the Constitution, other articles open a space for greater economic and social freedoms.

In the new Constitution that is now being promoted, the use of the word communism to define the final goal of the Revolution has been removed, the explicit purpose of eliminating the exploitation of man by man has disappeared, private ownership of the means of production has been accepted and the market’s role in the economy is recognized.

These adjustments open the way for the eventual establishment on the Island of a model in the Chinese or Vietnamese style, where the Party maintains rigid political control while the State renounces its monopoly on property. Economic centralism is undermined by the acceptance of other forms of management, but it is clear to entrepreneurs that they cannot grow or enrich themselves beyond a strict limit.

Other points, such as the acceptance of equal marriage or the regulation of the maximum age of senior officials in the country, are part of an attractively wrapped package within which they want to hide the poisoned candy of the Constitution. With these flexibilities, the ruling party wants to attract the LGBTI community and other reformist groups to endorse the document, despite the fact that the rest of the articles have an immobile and reactionary character.

In the public debates being held on the project, many voices are heard calling for permission for nationals to have the right to invest on equal terms with foreigners and it has been proposed to eliminate the article that inhibits “concentration of ownership in natural or legal non-state persons.” But so far these are only proposals and nobody knows if they will be reflected in the final document.

Optimists also worry about the oscillations or the backward steps that accompany each advance.

While it appears that the long dreamed of aspiration to be able to access the internet will be realized by the end of this year through connections from mobile phones, the ruling party has launched an offensive against the independent dissemination of content and the non-governmental press, which has had its climax in the enactment of Decree Law 349, which tightens the screws on cultural censorship.

Laws have recently been enacted to control entrepreneurs, who are not yet allowed to export or import and who lack a wholesale market to supply them with resources. The new enemy of the Cuban Revolution is – and has been for some time now – the private sector that is outperforming the State in services and quality.

For the Government, self-employed workers are a group that they suck the blood out of with taxes and fines, but also a group that should not be given wings to expand too much or allowed to organize themselves in unions. It is precisely in this area of ​​civil liberties that the system is most reluctant to take steps forward, fearing that a small opening that allows free association will jeopardize the monopoly of the Communist Party.

All or nothing

Despite the surveillance and repression, the sector of discontented Cubans has grown significantly in recent years and numerous nuances have appeared. This critical sector encompasses citizens who suffer, without protesting, the harsh reality where a salary is not enough to feed a family, where market shelves are empty and public transport has collapsed, but also activists who take to the streets to shout slogans demanding democracy and respect for human rights.

Among the latter, especially, the idea prevails that the only solution to the country’s problems necessarily involves “the overthrow of the dictatorship.”

According to this point of view, there is no other way, given the fact that the generational change in power is being cemented by the irreversibility of the system and a single party that presents itself as “the leading force of society and of the State.”

However, outlawed and with few resources, without access to national media and constantly monitored, the likelihood of activists decapitating the system seem nil.

For the opposition, the constitutional referendum could become the only opportunity in a long time to send a message to the regime. For years, disunity, personal conflicts and the constant work of the political police have taken a toll on dissident groups. The diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana deepened that fracture and divided civil society between those who accepted the rapprochement and those who rejected it.

Now they are at the crossroads of uniting around a No vote in the constitutional referendum or allowing the Government to end up closing the cage with a Constitution that aims to perpetuate the system. In the coming months, the decisions taken by the most important opposition leaders will become clear.

For the moment, there are already many arguments which could convince the ordinary citizen of the need to reject the Constitution. The promise of a bright future that Castroism offered as one of its most important popular pillars has vanished from so much failure to deliver. Nor is there a charismatic leader capable of dragging the masses to new heights of sacrifice.

In the national context the new generations lack enthusiasm, both to surrender their youth to the socialist utopia, and to rebel against the regime. The escape valve of emigration that functioned for decades has been largely closed by the end of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy in United States, the main destination of Cubans.

It is a moment of fragility for that process called the Cuban Revolution. A system that arrives at six decades of existence without having been able to fulfill a good part of its promises, but with the intention of staying in power by force and with a Constitution that consecrates it for eternity.

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Ed. note: This text has been published by the newspaper La Prensa Gráfica which authorizes this newspaper to reproduce it.

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.