Miguel Diaz-Canel, A Future Lenin Moreno?

Miguel Díaz-Canel, the current Cuban vice-president (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 4 August 2017 – Each ruler leaves his imprint. More than a decade ago Fidel Castro relinquished power and his brother promised continuity; but he dismantled the boarding high schools in the countryside, the army of social workers and the open anti-imperialist rallies. This coming February, Miguel Diaz-Canel could assume the presidency of Cuba and those who believe he will follow the script to the letter underestimate the vicissitudes of politics.

In recent days the news about the Venezuelan crisis has failed to overwhelm the political impact of what is happening in Ecuador. The country, which until recently was led by a man of arrogant discourse and aggressions against the press and his opponents, now has a more sedate president who is – at top speed – marking distances with his predecessor.

Lenin Moreno came to power wrapped in the controversy over a distortion of the vote in his favor. Last June, during a conference in Madrid, his main electoral opponent, Guillermo Lasso, defined that victory without circumspection: “In February there was the most brazen fraud that has been seen in Ecuador,” he said. The doubts about the cleanness of the elections and the closeness of the official candidate to Rafael Correa augured nothing good. continue reading

Nevertheless, a few months after assuming the highest position of the state, Moreno seems ready to chart his own course. He has huge motives to separate from Correa because the scandal of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht is stepping on the heels of the previous administration and the country has a debt of more than 24 billion dollars. A figure that the outgoing president tried to hide before leaving, but that has finally been revealed by the current executive.

Moreno has come to converse with several opponents, including the former president Abdalá Bucaram (1996-1997) exiled for years in Panama. This is a step that shows a clear change of direction for the Palace of Carondelet, which until recently fought those who disagreed politically with blows, insults and threats.

This week, the difference between the two most recent presidents went one step further and Moreno revoked the powers of the vice president Jorge Glas, a kind of tutor left by Correa to watch over the course of the so-called Citizen Revolution. The schism threatens to fracture the Alianza País party, shaken between those who support the former president and those who clamor for the decisions of the current president to be respected.

From distant Belgium, Correa burns with anger at what he considers a betrayal. His impetuous character, fed even more by ten years in power, has led him to write numerous critical messages against Moreno on the social network Twitter. His successor has become an antagonist and has refused to follow the path laid out by the 54-year-old economist for his party colleague.

In these months Moreno, as will happen to Diaz-Canel, has had to face his people and the international community. He has realized that it is one thing to be the designated heir, while something quite different to take the helm in the control room of a country that has long been ruled by the whims of one man. To lead with some efficiency, in both cases, requires breaking with those who placed them in those positions.

The differences between the Ecuadorian and Cuban cases are marked. While the government of Rafael Correa lasted a decade, on the island the Castro brothers have controlled every detail of the economy and politics for more than half a century. The imprint left by the Correa’s time in power in Ecuador is intense and is evidenced in a greater polarization along with a weakening of civil society, but the effect of Castroism is much deeper.

Moreno has managed to distance himself from his predecessor because, among other reasons, there are democratic structures in the country that support him in this effort, something far from the Cuban landscape. In spite of the international questions about his election to the presidency, the Ecuadorian has the approval of the majority of the governments of the region and of international bodies, some of whom see him as a concerned administrator trying to impose order on the asylum.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, less charismatic and grayer, will have biology in his favor. While it can not be ruled out that Rafael Correa will put an end to his Belgian retreat and try to reassume the Ecuadorian presidency, the current Cuban vice president will witness the deaths the members of the historic generation, people who now consider him a manageable upstart, with no battles or dead to show in his favor.

However, the economic gulf that the island dauphin will inherit will be even more unfathomable. The country that he will receive in February is experiencing a process of economic stagnation, has failed to resolve the dual currency system, is experiencing a slowdown in the expansion of the private sector and has not even been able to convince a significant number of foreign investors to put their money in the Island.

Sitting in the presidential chair and with the script of each step written on the table, Miguel Díaz-Canel will face the dilemma of having to make his own decisions. With the stares of commanders and generals fixed on the back of his neck, he is likely to opt for submission. But something of his imprint, his personality, will creep into the agenda. One day, out of bravery or fear, he will end up giving some mortal blows to Castroism.

The Betrayal Of The Minstrel

Silvio Rodríguez lost the ‘blue unicorn’ of his creativity many years ago. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 July 2017 — Songwriters are often confused with prophets or leaders. The output of numerous troubadours has ended up molding consciences, erecting political slogans and becoming unquestionable mantras. Every social movement needs its musical soundtrack and in Latin America these loners of the guitar have sonorously accompanied more than one.

Chroniclers equipped with melodies most commonly take these songs literally, confusing the characters of their stanzas with the flesh and blood being who ascends the stage. Under the lights, in the intimate atmosphere of a theater, they intone those phrases that are later later subverted for thousands of spectators into slogans and postures. continue reading

After the hard years in which a ballad could cost them their lives or prison, Latin American troubadours who shaped the protest songs now exist in a stage of permissive tranquility. The fiercest battle is waged against reggaeton, not against censorship. Their greatest fear lies not in swelling the blacklists, but in the audience moving the dial to look for some other, “more moving,” music.

They are no longer the focus of the reviews and the critics, and find themselves in the boring corner of the consecrated who no longer fill stadiums nor provoke sighs. They live on past glories and rarely does one of their songs make it to the top of the lists, although on TV they are still presented as “unsurpassable” or “indisputable.”

Among these shaggy ones of the easy verse, the most roguish have ceded their guitar to some power they criticized years ago, to vegetate in the shadow of festivals, tributes and interviews. The few darts they still throw in their lyrics mix the most recurring commonplaces of progressive discourse, while their clothing maintains every trace of a disguise of calculated sloppiness.

The best-known names of a few decades ago, today they caress the discs with which they assembled crowds and made their consciences throb. In the absence of those emotions, they are now engaged – without score and with weakened voice – in their professorships of how to behave civically or how to incite a rebellion that they themselves dismissed as unprofitable.

Some of those musical themes they composed, when they breathed the air of making love not war, have been hijacked by militants and extremists who sing them – neck veins bursting – in front of their political opponents. From libertarian musical expressions they became the gags to silence differences, mere hymns of blind battle.

The times of rhyming and believing each verse have given way to cynicism. Many of the minstrels who put rhymes to nonconformity moved away from the public scene; others parked their uncomfortable songs in search of greater income, while the majority, having lost the muse, have become defenders of whatever cause can hide their creative drought.

Nostalgic for a time when crowds gathered, more than one has chosen to sing to the powerful and dedicate his refrains to certain unpresentable populists. They compose to order, exalting in their refrains faded revolutions transmuted in dictatorships, and so they earn a space on the official platforms where the promises abound and the sincerity is lacking.

These are not the times when Victor Jara took his art to the ultimate consequences. “I do not sing for singing / nor for having a good voice, / I sing because the guitar / has meaning and reason,” said the Chilean who died at the age of 40 with dozens of bullets embedded in his body. Now there are plenty of artists who take care with every word to avoid moving beyond the scheme of the politically correct. Composers of polished rhymes and well-combed hair who walk through government palaces and whose honoris causa is welcomed.

They are a part of that plethora of intellectuals and artists who appear in the family photo, pointing out anyone who confronts them as the cause of all problems. Bitter anti-imperialists, false ecologists and distrustful of wealth – as long as that phobia does not affect their own pockets – they star in cantatas against distant powers and governments under which they do not live.

About four years ago, the Spanish singer-songwriter Luis Eduardo Aute said that he identified with President Rafael Correa’s Citizen Revolution. The statement was made at a time when the Ecuadorian ruler was engaged in a tough fight against the media in his country and put strict limits on freedom of the press. The irreverent poses always involve a lot of myopia, of not seeing beyond the fabricated irreverence. Under the influence of his own refrains, Aute believed in the character of his songs and that: “They say that everything is tied / And well tied to the markets,” when in reality he forgot that other powers also like to control every detail, especially words.

In Cuba lives an extreme case. Silvio Rodríguez lost the ‘blue unicorn’ of his creativity many years ago. As his subjects were filled with visible seams and boredom, his public outlook became closer to the official discourse. He stopped writing unforgettable songs to engage in diatribes against “the enemies of the Revolution.”

Recently, the singer added his signature to the manifesto Let the Catalans Vote, asking the Spanish Government to allow a referendum on independence in Catalonia. Rodríguez’s name is accompanied by other figures such as artist Yoko Ono, African-American philosopher Angela Davis and Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú.

Rodriguez, author of Ojalá, initialed the statement that “a large majority of Catalans have repeatedly expressed in various ways the desire to exercise the democratic right to vote on their political future.” He considers that “preventing the Catalans from voting” contradicts democratic principles, precisely those that Cubans have been unable to enjoy for decades in their own land.

There is nothing left in this Rodriguez of the rebellion that characterized his first tunes. In 2003, he signed the Message From Havana To Friends Who Are Far Away, in which a group of intellectuals offered justifications for the imprisonment of 75 dissidents on the island. The document also supported the decision of Fidel Castro’s government to shoot three men who hijacked a passenger ship to try to escape to the United States.

With a comfortable life, a recording studio authorized by the Government and with a full table, the minstrel went astray in bows and silences. His music, which once accompanied the disobedience of so many citizens in this part of the world, is now a part of the official lyrics, of the symphony of power.

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Editorial Note: This text has been previously published by the Spanish newspaper  El País  in its edition of Sunday 30 of July.

Missing Words

A group of high school students share audiovisual content through a cell phone. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 July 2017 — The man forms a trumpet with his hands in front of his mouth to warn of the presence of an informant. It is a transcendental gesture warning not to blab in a daily life were people constantly appeal to body language, obscene words and metaphors. Failing to do so leads to jokes, scares those selling things under the table, and generates mistrust among friends.

The official media is expressing concern about the deterioration in Cubans’ oral expression. Several television spots in recent weeks have tackled the shouts and rude terms that fill talk on the street. Journalists attribute this poverty of vocabulary to the family and insist that the epidemic of vulgarities that plagues the country is incubated at home.

Another culprit pointed to is reggaeton. The songs loaded with lust and machismo cultivate an expression filled with denigrating concepts and sexual allusions, say the specialists who speak on these TV programs. According to the opinions of these sociologists and psychologists – linguist are seldom invited – listening to acts such as El Palo Divino makes teens utter more insults per minute. continue reading

So far, each one of the analyses aired has failed to point to any institutional responsibility for verbal degradation. They ignore that for decades everyone who has spoken “nicely” and has dared to pronounce all the letters in every word has been labeled “unpopular,” “arrogant” or “lacking in humility.”

Foul language is a distinctive feature of the revolutionary language that has been imposed in Cuba since January 1959. Since then, expressing oneself with the rudeness of a stevedore has become one of the many strategies that opportunists assume to disguise themselves as proletarians. Offending others has also been fashionable in this political uproar established in the country more than half a century ago.

Now, the authorities are shocked because young people insert a bad word in every sentence they utter. They blush for the constant allusions to sexual organs in conversation, a real trifle compared to the using the derogatory gusano, worm, against a political opponent, as was coined and promoted by the government.

After accusing those concerned about the correct use of language of being bourgeois, now they are afraid of this vulgar generation that was born of so many verbal castrations. After pursuing the free and frank word, today from government institutions, they complain of the incoherent monosyllables that so often arise when these children of censorship are asked about politics, human rights or the leaders of the country.

Many years ago, here, talking stopped being a way to communicate and instead become the fastest way to relax. Not only does expressing an opinion cause problems, but the style in which it is expressed can also be a source of conflict. Understanding the danger of articulate language has been one of the most successful survival mechanisms developed by Cubans in the times we have been living in.

Not recognizing the implication of the political system in this linguistic deterioration is another way of doing damage to the vocabulary… by not calling things by their names.

The Simple Story Of Roof Sealant

Short circuits in ceiling lamps, leaks and stains are some of the consequences of poor placement of a sealing cover on the roof. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana 20 July 2017 — One day they came carrying rolls of roof paper to waterproof the roof of this concrete block where we live with more than a hundred families. Those state employees were deaf to the warnings. “We do not need coverage here,” some neighbors told them. “No apartment leaks when it rains,” said others. However, the installation continued its course without listening to the citizens, like all directions “from above.”

There was no way to convince the authorities that this multifamily building, built in the years of the Soviet subsidy, had other emergencies. Water pipes have collapsed over the years and the lightning rod has been inactive for decades. “What we have is a roof sealer and that is what we are going to install,” said the head of the team of workers who for several days toiled over our heads. continue reading

Shortly after, the cover began to breakdown in several places. The rainwater accumulated underneath and, as it could not evaporate in the sun, leaked into the houses. The residents on the top floors have suffered all kinds of problems as a result from that awkward decision. Short circuits in ceiling lamps, leaks and yellow stains that increasingly cover a larger area in the ceilings. What should have been a solution, has become a real headache.

Now the community is battling to remove the sealing sheets, but the authority to do so does not arrive at the same speed with which some bureaucrats ordered it to be installed. The most daring residents have ripped off the pieces above their own apartments, while the most cautious wait for official directions from above.

During the years the cover has remained in place, several areas of the roof have been filled with mold and have developed cracks due to moisture, a damage that, now, each affected resident must repair with the resources of their own pockets.

A few yards away, in the neighborhood of La Timba, several families have been demanding that they be given roof paper — at affordable prices — to repair their homes. With summer rains, their homes “get wetter inside than outside,” they say. Some have approached our concrete building to get what we obtained in the lottery of state inefficiency.

The history of this sealing or roof paper is just one of the thousands of absurdities that Cubans are forced to deal with every day. A sample of how the country’s resources are wasted on superfluous tasks designed to fill in the numbers or meet irrational goals while the real difficulties are avoided or hidden.

The useless roof covering has not only left significant damage in several apartments, but has further hurt the decision-making ability of a community, a group of neighbors that does not even have sufficient autonomy to remove the shreds of the mistake that remain on our roof.

Parliamentary Karaoke

Cuban members of the National Assembly of People’s Power lodge in the Hotel Tulipán during their regular sessions (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation y, Yoani Sanchez, 14 July 2017 — Wednesday night. The neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado is sliding into the darkness. Catchy music resonates in the Hotel Tulipán where parliamentarians are staying during the current regular session. They dance, drink under the sparkling lights of the disco ball and sing karaoke. They add their voices to a programmed score, the exercise they know how to do best.

With only two sessions a year, the Cuban legislative body gathers to stuff the population full of dates, figures, promises to keep, and critiques of the mismanagement of bureaucrats and administrators. A monotonous clamor, where every speaker tries to show themselves more “revolutionary” than the last, launching proposals with an exhausting generality or a frightening lack of vision. continue reading

Those assembled for this eighth legislature, like their colleagues before them, have as little ability to make decisions as does any ordinary Cuban waiting at the bus stop. They can raise their voice and “talk until they’re blue in the face,” and enumerate the inefficiencies that limit development in their respective districts, but from there to concrete solutions is a long stretch.

On this occasion, the National Assembly has turned its back on pressures that, from different sectors, demand new legislation regarding the electoral system, audiovisual productions, management of the press, same sex marriage and religious freedoms, among others. With so many urgent issues, the deputies have only managed to draft the “Terrestrial Waters Bill.”

Does this mean that they need to meet more often to fix the country’s enormous problems? The question is not only one of the frequency or intensity in the exercise of their functions, but also one of freedom and power. A parliament is not a park bench where you go to find catharsis, nor a showcase to demonstrate ideological fidelity. It should represent the diversity of a society, propose solutions and turn them into laws. Without this, it is just a boring social chinwag.

The parliamentarians will arrive on Friday, the final day of their regular session, in front of the microphones in the Palace of Conventions with the same meekness that they approached the karaoke party to repeat previously scripted choruses. They are going to sing to music chosen by others, move their lips to that voice of real power that emerges from their throats.

Leopoldo López Returns Home… Now what?

Leopoldo López greets the Venezuelans who gathered in front of his house to celebrate his release. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 July 2017 — Authoritarian regimes must learn some lessons: imprisoning opponents increases their prestige. The government of Nicolás Maduro forgot that basic political truth and is now harvesting the fruits. This Saturday’s release of Leopoldo López from Ramo Verde Prison will bring unpredictable results for the dictatorship installed in Miraflores Palace.

Lopez has rejoined his family, although freedom is still far away. Now he must remain under house arrest, an electronic bracelet controls his movements and the operation around his house seems unbreachable. He’s stuck in a new perimeter, but he has the relief of hugging his kids, kissing his wife and looking out the windows at his city.

Leopoldo Lopez is in good health and happy to be home, according to his family

Every ladder has a first rung and today the one that leads to full freedom for the government opponent has been delineated. Venezuela’s oil oligarchy has released him from jail, hoping that this gesture will reduce the tension in the streets and allow the government to impose a Constituent Assembly so it can cement the totalitarian system within the country. A dismal calculation. continue reading

Lopez radiates freedom wherever he is. It doesn’t matter if he can’t access a phone, write a tweet, or accompany his compatriots in the protests. The symbols are there without being there, and in this he has become the founder of the Popular Will party. It has escaped the ruling party that putting him behind bars converted him into a symbol.

The Maduro government has chosen a fairly elegant excuse for granting release to Lopez, who has been in prison since 2014 and who was sentenced to almost 14 years; it is because of “health problems,” according to Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ).

However, the first images of the prisoner upon arriving home show him vital and smiling. The excuse of an illness only tries to mask a truth as big as a mountain: the protests in the streets have forced the government to yield. The move from prison to house arrest is a victory for the Venezuelan opposition.

Chavismo is shaken and now must deal with a Leopoldo Lopez who no longer knows the narrowness of a cell, who again wakes up with his family, and more expeditiously receives information about what is happening beyond the walls of his house. His political reach grows by the hour.

One of those historical images … a man returns home … his country awaits him.

Every day that passes within that domestic enclosure, Lopez will continue to accumulate support. Letting him out is a headache for the populism that has hijacked the South American country, but keeping him in prison is worse. The Venezuelan government is up against an insoluble dilemma: if it releases the opponent, it loses; if it continues to hold him, it also loses.

Nicolas Maduro’s time is past, although right now he is surrounded by opportunists who applaud and nod. Leopoldo Lopez is the future, even though his cell is the size of a house filled with love but lacking in freedom. All that’s left is to get around those walls.

Fidel Castro In Humor And Oblivion

The man, who in life was the target of thousands of jokes about his death, has been dead for more than half a year without popular humor deigning to mention it. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Havana, 3 July 2017 — For decades Cubans were bombarded by official propaganda filled with materials about Fidel Castro’s supposed genius. In these vindications he was not only a father, but also a strategist, visionary, pedagogue, farmer and cattle rancher, among other lofty characteristics and pursuits. However, that prototype of patriarch, scientist and messiah had some “soft spots.”

Over time, many of us came to understand that the Maximum Leader was not as outstanding as they wanted to make us believe. Counting against him, he had several capital defects: with a complete lack of any capacity for self-criticism, he never engaged in debate, and he was not given to irony or humor, the most difficult and elevated scales of the human intellect.

Despite all the ill-advised decisions he made, Castro died without saying “I’m sorry,” contrary to those who say “to err is human but to rectify is wisdom.” My generation waited in vain for his apology for the high schools in the countryside, and other sad educational experiments, just was we waited for a mea culpa for the victims of the Five Grey Years, the Military Units in Aid of Production (UMAP) or the Stalinist purges. continue reading

Nor was controversy the terrain of the Commander-in-Chief. He shunned diatribe and prepared himself with selected data and later spewed it out over unsuspecting foreign journalists and crowds gathered in the Plaza of the Revolution. He liked them to say: “What a well informed man!” When in reality he was only a ruler with access to information that was not allowed to his citizens.

Castro drowned, in long hours of discourse, what could have been sound political talk and a constructive discussion to improve the nation. We had to worship him or applaud him, never contradict him. He never ceded the spotlight, fearing perhaps that we would realize that “the king is naked” or that the guerrilla had “not the least idea” of what he was talking about.

All the times the late leader approached controversy he was caught short. When he exercised that egregious sport that is verbal fencing, he was beaten in the first act.

All the times the late leader approached controversy he was caught short. When he exercised that egregious sport that is verbal fencing, he was beaten in the first act. His way of dealing with these defeats was to overwhelm the other with long speeches or to get his acolytes to destroy the reputation of his opponent. He was mediocre as a gladiator of the word.

Nor were jokes his forte. Although Castro was the target of thousands of humorous stories, at no time in his life did he demonstrate a gift for humor. In a country where there is always a parody waiting to break the surface, that corpulent character – dressed in olive green with his serious and admonitory phrases – was the constant butt of mockery.

His death has highlighted that lack of charming banter. The man, who in life was the target of thousands of jokes about this death and his presumed arrival in hell, has been dead for over half a year without popular humor deigning to mention him. Not even Pepito, the eternal child of our stories, has wanted to “portray” the deceased.

Sad is the fate of those who are not remembered in a single joke. Poor is the man who never said “I was wrong,” who never knew the pleasure of engaging in arguments with an adversary, and who couldn’t even manage to taste the grace of humor.

A Cuban Fight Against The Demons Of Machismo

All these stupid prejudices, which have hardly diminished on this Island, pave the shortest way to deprive us of women’s talents. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 July 2017 — A man looks over my shoulder because I talk about cables and circuits. He grimaces in disgust when he sees my clumsy nails cut short and is annoyed because I reject his “compliments,” which I should accept with pleasure and gratitude. He does not say it out loud, but to him I’m just a creature who should look “pretty,” care for his home and bear his children.

It is an exhausting battle. Every day, every hour, every minute, Cuban women – and so many women in other parts of the world – have to deal with this accumulation of nonsense. “You can’t, let your husband do it,” is one of the more pleasant phrases we hear from them, although I have found others who insist that “women should only talk when hens piss*,” a coarse way of saying that we should be seen and not heard.

A journalist asks me in front of the camera how I combine being a mother with the task of running a newspaper. Although I try to lead the conversation down a professional path, he insists on referring to my ovaries. A political policeman mocks me because my hair is tangled. Probably my texts bother him more, but he feels a special pleasure in “attacking” my femininity. He is wasting his time.

At the end of the day, I have had to evade a thousand and one attempts to force me into a mold. That box where we must be silent and endure; smile and bear it; laugh with grace at the machistas** and act flattered by their repartee. A twisted mechanism that results in society losing out on our cores and being left only with our shells.

All these stupid prejudices, which have hardly diminished on this Island, pave the shortest way to deprive ourselves of the talents that we possess, not only as women, but – mainly – as human beings.

Translator’s notes:
*This expression derives from the fact that chickens do not urinate (as we know it).
**Male chauvinists.

The Impossible Letter

“You will write a letter addressed to Fidel Castro thanking him for free education,” the center’s educator told the students. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 June 2017 — “Today we are going to practice writing a letter,” announced the fourth grade teacher at a school in the Plaza of the Revolution district in mid-June. Immediately, Lucia, age 9, thought about writing a letter to her grandmother telling her about her latest acrobatics on skates, but the recipient had already been decided. “You are going to write a letter addressed to Fidel Castro thanking him for a free education,” declared the educator.

The girl froze. It never would have occurred to her to address a letter to a dead person, nor to anyone who wasn’t a friend or a member of her family. She scribbled the date on the top of the page and then stopped, with the pencil suspended in the air, not knowing what to do. “Lucia, you have to thank him for building schools and teaching Cuban children to read,” ordered the teacher. continue reading

The student remained paralyzed. “Come on, it is very likely that on the test they will ask you to write a letter to the Comandante and you have to practice.” The pencil didn’t move a fraction of an inch. “Look, I’m going to dictate some sentences to you and then you can continue on your own,” the teacher said, her tone increasingly irritable. “Fidel, without you I would have no shoes and no books and I would be illiterate,” she dictated. But the girl didn’t make a single mark.

When she got home the sheet of paper still had only the day and the month in one corner. So it was her mother’s turn to insist, “Think that you are writing another person and then later put ‘His’ name on it,” she proposed as a trick to get around the problem. Lucia imagined she was telling her grandmother about the games in the park, and thanking her for her affections and then signed it, squeezing in her name next to a drawing of a flower.

Last week the final exam included the request to write a letter. But this time it was addressed to the teacher and had to respond to the question, “What do you do to help your mom with the housework?” The girl stopped for several minutes with the pencil suspended over the paper without knowing what to do. No one came to dictate the sentences.

* This story is not literature, but absolute reality. The student’s name has been changed to avoid retaliation.

These Are Good Times For The ‘Weekly Packet’

A Cuban accessing the Weekly Packet’ from his laptop at home. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, generation, Yoani Sanchez, 27 June 2017 — Official propaganda has been euphoric since Donald Trump spoke at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami. The government discourse rages with an intensity that hasn’t been seen since the campaign for ‘The Cuban Five’, the spies serving sentences in the United States. Faced with this saturation of slogans, many opt to take refuge in the ‘Weekly Packet.’

The Cuban Government seems to be advised by its worst enemies in terms of content dissemination, in view of the excess of ideology and ephemeris of the national media. The result is the galloping loss of viewers who opt for the informal networks of distribution of audiovisuals, series and films.

Each line of the incendiary political tirades published in the written press equals more than one los reader, tired of so much rhetoric. It is easy to detect through the comments on the street how the ‘rating’ of the media controlled by the Communist Party is collapsing these days, especially among the youngest. continue reading

It is easy to detect through the comments on the street how the ‘rating’ of the media controlled by the Communist Party is collapsing these days, especially among the youngest

In the past, television viewers tired of so much empty talk had to watch anyway, in the absence of other options, but now Cubans live in the age of USB memory and external hard drives.

Now, while the national media rant against the United States president’s new policy toward Cuba, the informal market is awash in entertainment material that has nothing to do with politics.

A bad quality copy of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, or Wonder Woman featuring Patty Jenkins, along with the eighth installment of Fast and Furious, grab the attention of the fans of the Weekly Packet, and offer nothing but a headache for the government propagandists who don’t know how to attract that lost audience.

It is significant that science fiction, fantasy and car racing triumph where politics loses ground. Cubans escape reality through fiction, they evade propaganda by choosing programming far removed from ideology.

The Hijacking Of Social Networks

In Cuba users connect through a Wi-Fi network in parks or at strategic points in their different cities. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 June 2017 – More than five years ago social networks were roiled by the Arab Spring, while the screens of their mobile phones lit up the faces of the young protesters. In those years Twitter was seen as a road to freedom, but shortly afterwards the repressors also learned how to publish in 140 characters.

With a certain initial suspicion, and later with much opportunism, the populists have found in the internet a space to spread their promises and capture adherents. They use the incredible loudspeaker of the virtual world to set the snares of their demagoguery, with which they trap thousands of internet users.

The tools that once gave voice to the citizens have been transformed into a channel for the authoritarians to enthrone their discourses. They assimilated that, in these post-truth times, a tweet repeated ad nauseam is more effective than billboards along the side of the road or paying for advertising space. continue reading

Totalitarian regimes have gone on the offensive on the web. It took them some time to realize that they could use the same networks as their opponents, but now they launch the information police against their critics. And they do it with the same methodical precision with which for years they have surveilled dissidents and controlled the civil society of their nations.

Totalitarian regimes assimilated that, in these post-truth times, a tweet repeated ad nauseam is more effective than billboards along the side of the road 

From the hacking of digital sites to the creation of false user profiles, the anti-democratic governments are trying everything to help them impose frameworks of opinion favorable to their management. They count on the irresponsible naivety with which content is often shared in cyberspace as a factor that works in their favor.

One of these radical about faces has been made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During the 2013 protests, when he was prime minister, he wanted to enact several laws to restrict the use of Facebook and Twitter. He described the network of the little blue bird as “a permanent source of problems” and “a threat to society.”

However, during last year’s coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan relied on these tools to summon people to the squares and to report on his personal situation. Since then he has dedicated himself to expanding his power through tweets, reaffirming in the virtual world the dictatorial drift of his regime.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dedicated himself to expanding his power through tweets, reaffirming in the virtual world the dictatorial drift of his regime.

Last March, Twitter administrators had to admit that several of their accounts, some linked to institutions, organizations and personalities around the world, had been hacked with messages of support for Erdogan. The sultan urged his cyberhosts to make it clear that, even on the internet, he is not playing games.

In Latin America several cases reinforce the process of appropriation that authoritarianism has been making with the new technologies. Nicolás Maduro has opened on Twitter one of the many fronts of a battle through which he intends to stay in power and to quell the popular riots that erupted since the beginning of April.

Venezuelans not only must deal with economic instability and the violence of the police forces, but for many the internet has become a hostile territory where the chavistas shout and threaten with total impunity. They distort events, turn victimizers into victims and impose their own labels as they launch the blows.

The Miraflores Palace responds to images of protesters killed by the Bolivarian National Guard with hoaxes about an alleged international conspiracy to destroy chavismo. The social networks have taken up against the general prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz, where Maduro’s supporters have branded her, at the very least, as a crazy person.

Nicolás Maduro has opened on Twitter one of the many fronts of a battle through which he intends to stay in power and to quell the popular riots that erupted since the beginning of April.

With so many attempts to manipulate trends and adulterate states of opinion on the web, Venezuelan officialdom has ended up getting caught with its fingers in the door. Recently, more than 180 Twitter accounts, which repeated government slogans like ventriloquists, were cancelled. The penalty could be extended to the accounts of other minions linked to government institutions and media.

Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas defined this suspension of accounts as an “ethnic cleansing” operation and Maduro threatened microblogging network administrators with a phrase fraught with outdated triumphalism: “If they close 1,000 accounts, we are going open 1,000 more.”

With his well-known verbal incontinence, Hugo Chavez’s successor was revealing the internet strategy that his regime has followed in recent years. That of planting users who confuse, lie and, above all, misrepresent what is happening in the country. A strategy taught to them by a close ally.

With his well-known verbal incontinence, Hugo Chavez’s successor revealed the regime’s internet strategy… confuse, lie and, above all, misrepresent what is happening in the country.

In Cuba, the soldiers of cyberspace have long experience in shooting down the reputations of digital opponents, blocking critical sites and unleashing the trolls to flood the comment areas of any posting that is especially annoying to them. But the main weapon is to limit internet access to their most reliable followers, and to maintain prohibitive prices for the majority.

“We have to tame the wild colt of new technologies,” said Ramiro Valdés, one of the Revolution’s historical commanders, when the first independent blogs and Twitter accounts managed by opponents began to surface.

Since then there has been a lot of water under the bridge and the Castro regime has launched an effort to conquer those spaces with the same intensity that it brings to its rants in international organizations. Its objective is to recover the space that it lost when it was suspicious of adopting new technologies. Its goal: to silence dissident voices with its hullabaloo.

The Castro regime’s goal: to silence dissident voices with its hullabaloo.

Even in the most long-standing democracies, technologies are being hijacked to inflict deadly blows on institutions.

In the White House, a man puts his country and the world at the edge of the abyss with every tweet he writes. Every night that Donald Trump goes to bed without publishing on that social network, millions of human beings breathe a sigh of relief. He has found in 140 characters a parallel way of governing, one with no limitations.

These are not the times of that liberating network that linked dissidents and served as the infrastructure for citizen rebellion. We are living in times when populism and authoritarianism have understood that new technologies can be converted into an instrument of control.
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Editorial Note: This text has been previously published by the Spanish newspaper El País in its edition of Saturday, 24 June 2017.

 

Two Solstices Seen From Our Newsroom

The winter solstice (above) and the summer (below) seen from the newsroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 June 2017 — It has been six months since a photo taken from 14ymedio’s newsroom, last 21 December, captured the moment when a reddish sun was about to sink into the longest night of the year. This Wednesday the image reflects the other extreme and the reporters of this newspaper look out over the day with the most light: the summer solstice.

From the municipality Diez de Octubre to Old Havana the restless star has traversed the landscape of our balcony. A brief route before the eyes, but incredibly transcendent for nature and life. Spring has ended in the northern hemisphere and the 93 days that summer “officially” lasts have begun, although the thermometers have us believing that we are already in the hottest season. continue reading

On this terrace it is impossible to ignore the resounding news that today, at noon, the sun will be at its highest point of the year and will illuminate us for the longest number of hours. In the southern hemisphere winter will begin and it will be the longest night. Meanwhile, in the street, life remains oblivious to how the stars place themselves above us.

The rainy season has also begun, although El Indio seems reluctant to cede prominence to the downpours and insists on mistreating with its rays the already affected Cuban landscape, which is suffering the most grueling drought in a century.

It is true that there will be scarcely any difference between today and tomorrow, that our spring is as close to the summer as one can imagine, and that the sun strikes equally in June as in August, but an avalanche of events has occurred in the six months since that other solstice. In December we were in a total diplomatic thaw with the United States and today we grind our teeth amid the political glaciation, led by President Donald Trump.

In half a year we have also had to say goodbye many times to the friends who have left, the official press has been filled with obituaries, and in our newsroom the gray hairs are sprouting and the impetus to report grows. I only wish that on this day, the longest of the year, the light will accompany us in both its real and metaphorical sense, and give us clarity to know what news is and what it is not; what sinks us and what saves us.

The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos

The presidents of Cuba and Angola, Raúl Castro and José Eduardo Dos Santos during the signing of bilateral agreements, in the Palace of the Revolution of Havana. (File / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 June 2017 — His mother died, his brother emigrated and now no one brings flowers to the tomb of one of those many young Cubans who lost their lives on the African plains. His death served to build the authoritarian regime of José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, a caudillo who, since 1979, has held in his fist a nation of enormous resources and few freedoms.

At 74, Dos Santos knows the end is near. His health has deteriorated in recent months and he has announced that he will withdraw from politics in 2018, the same year that Raul Castro will leave the presidency of the Cuba. Both intend to leave their succession firmly in place, to protect their respective clans and to avoid ending up in court.

For decades, the two leaders have supported each other in international forums and maintained close co-operation. They are united by their history of collaboration – with more than 300,000 Cubans deployed in Angolan territory during the civil war, financed and armed by the Soviet Union – but also connected by their antidemocratic approach. continue reading

Longevity in their positions is another of the commonalities between Castro and Dos Santos.

The Angolan, nicknamed Zedu, is an “illustrious” member of the club of African caudillos who continue to cling to power. A group that includes men like the disgraceful Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 37 years, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has governed for almost 38 years Equatorial Guinea.

Their counterpart on the Island surpasses them, having spent almost six decades in the control room of the Plaza of the Revolution Square, as a minister of the Armed Forces or, following his brother’s illness, as president. Neither Zedu nor Castro tolerate political opposition and both have fiercely suppressed any dissent.

Angolans also live amidst the omnipresence of the royal family. On the banknotes, the face of Dos Santos shares space with that of Agostinho Neto, and in political propaganda he is represented as the savior of the country. One of the many tricks of populist systems, but very far from reality.

What has really happened is that the family and the African president’s closest allies have made colossal fortunes. The largest oil exports in Africa today have fueled this oligarchy, which, ironically, was built on the efforts of thousands of Cubans who left their lives or sanity in that country.

Isabel dos Santos, nicknamed by her compatriots the Princess, has wasted no time in taking advantage of the prerogatives that her father grants her. Forbes magazine calls her the richest woman in Africa, with a fortune of around 3.1 billion dollars, and last year she was named head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, the country’s most important economic pillar. She also controls the phone company, Unitel.

She resembles Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela in her taste for giving statements to the foreign media and presenting herself as someone who has achieved everything “by her own efforts.” She projects an image of a modern and cosmopolitan businesswoman, but all her businesses prosper thanks to the privileges she enjoys as the daughter of her father.

Her brother, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, also economically advantaged, sits at the head of the Angolan sovereign fund that manages 5 billion dollars. An emulator of Alejandro Castro Espín, whom many credit for the impressive voracity that has led the Cuban military to seize sectors such as hotel management.

However, Zedu has preferred to choose a puppet as heir to the post of president and head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA): Angola’s Defense Minister, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. A figure who will be the public face while the true dauphins try to continue sucking dry – like voracious leeches – the resources of a country that is not experiencing good times.

Gonçalves Lourenço is seen as a moderate, as is his emulator in Cuba, first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canal. Men who will try to give a face-lift to personality-centered systems to silence the voices of those who assert that the “historical generation” does not want to abandon power. Neither has been chosen for his abilities, but rather for his reliability and meekness.

Gonzalves arrived in Havana in mid-May with a message from President Dos Santos to Raul Castro. In Angola, 4,000 Cubans work in sectors such as healthcare, education, sports, agriculture, science and technology, energy and mines. It is one of the countries that most appeals to the Island’s professionals for the personal economic advantages that serving on an “internationalist mission” there affords them.

Gonzalves’ trip, of course, also included a commitment to continue to support the Island, perhaps with some promise of credit or oil aid to ease Cuba’s currently complicated situation. Most likely the heir to the throne came to tell the aging monarch not to worry, that Angola will continue to count itself among its allies. They are words that could be blown away in the wind before the uncertain future that awaits both countries.

For years the Angolan regime benefited from significant foreign investment and high oil prices, the main source of income. However, the fall in the value of crude oil in the international market has complicated the day-to-day situation of citizens subject to economic cuts, a rise in the cost of living and a decline in public investment. The discontent is palpable.

On the Island, not a week goes by without an obituary reminding us of the reality that the “historical” generation is dying off. The brakes are about to be applied to the thaw with the United States, and the mammoth state apparatus isn’t about to adapt itself to the new times. The double standard, corruption and diversion of resources undermines everything.

Neither Castro nor Dos Santos will leave power in the context they dreamed of. One falls ill, after having negated in practice his ideological roots, and senses that history will destroy his supposed legacy. The other loses control over Venezuela, that mine of resources that prolonged the life of Castroism. His worst nightmare is that young Cubans care more about Game of Thrones than the revolutionary epic.

Populism Cuban Style: Conquests, Threats and Leadership

Fidel Castro in his gangster era when he belonged to the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Union (UIR). Here, in 1947, in the company of Rafael del Pino and Armando Gali Menéndez. (D.R.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 6 June 2017 — The leader speaks for hours on the platform, his index finger pointing to an invisible enemy. A human tide applauds when the intonation of a phrase demands it and stares enraptured at the bearded speaker. For decades these public acts were repeated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, shaping the face of revolutionary populism.

However, Fidel Castro’s extensive speeches constituted only the most visible part of his style of governing. They were the moments of collective hypnotism, peppered with promises and announcements of a luminous future that allowed him to establish a close bond with the population, to incite class hatred and to extend his growing power.

Castro has been the most complete product of Cuban populism and nationalism. Evils that sink their roots into national history and whose best breeding ground was the Republican era (1902-1958). Those winds brought the hurricane that shaped a young man born in the eastern town of Biran, who graduated as a lawyer and came to hold the military rank of Commander-in-Chief. continue reading

The political framework in which Castro was formed was far from a democratic example. Many of the leaders of that convulsed Cuba of the first half of the twentieth century did not distinguish themselves by presenting programmatic platforms to their constituents. The common practice was horse-trading to obtain votes, along with other aberrations such as stealing ballot boxes or committing fraud.

From his early days, the young attorney elbowed his way into the milieu of those figures who relied on gangster like behavior, rather than the transparent exercise of authority. He quickly absorbed many of the elements of demagoguery that would be greatly useful to him later when the time came to subject an entire nation.

Unlike republican populism, whose purpose was the conquest of electoral favor, revolutionary populism had as its goal the abolishment of the structures of democracy. From January 195,9 the civic framework was systematically dismantled and the laws were subjugated to the disproportionate will of a single man.

To achieve this dream of control, the Maximum Leader persuaded the citizens that they could enjoy a high degree of security if they renounced certain “bourgeois freedoms,” among them the ability to elect their leaders and a system of power in which leadership alternates.

The so-called Moncada Program outlined in History Will Absolve Me, is a concentration of these promises in the style of a tropical Robin Hood. The pamphlet was presented as Fidel Castro’s plea of self-defense during the trial in which he was indicted for the armed attack on the Moncada Barracks, the main military fortress of Santiago de Cuba, in July 1953.

Until that moment, this man was practically unknown as a political figure. The boldness that characterized the action enveloped him in an aura of heroic idealism that set him up as the leader of the revolutionary alternative to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

In his manuscript, where he described the problems the country faced, he never warned that solving them would require the confiscation of properties. He limited himself to detailing the necessity of an agrarian reform that would eliminate the latifundio and distribute land to the peasants. These were proposals that rapidly earned him sympathies among the poorest.

Upon leaving prison, Castro was convinced that the only way to overthrow the dictatorship was by force. He organized an expedition and opened a guerrilla front in the mountains of the eastern region of the Island. Two years later, his triumphal entry into the capital and his charismatic presence made him the beneficiary of a blank check of political credit, endorsed by the majority of the population.

The first populist ruse of the new regime was to present itself as democratic and to deny any tendency that could identify it with communist doctrine. At the same time that it presented itself as the enabler of freedom, it expropriated the newspapers, the radio stations and the television channels.

The regime struck a deadly blow to civil society by establishing a network of “mass organizations” to bring together neighbors, women, peasants, workers and students. The new entities had in their statutes a clause of fidelity to the Revolution and perform – still to this day – as transmission wires from the power to the population.

The first revolutionary laws, such as the Agrarian Reform, the rent reductions, the Urban Reform and the confiscation of properties, constituted a radical rearrangement of the possession of wealth. In a very short time the State stripped the upper classes of their property and became the owner of everything.

With the enormous flow of treasure, the new power made multi-million investments in social benefits that allowed it to achieve “the original accumulation of prestige.”

From its original proclamation in April 1961, the socialist system declared the irreversible nature of the measures taken. Maintaining the conquests achieved required the implementation of a system of system backed by a legal structure that would make it impossible for former owners to recover what was confiscated.

The new situation brought with it a powerful apparatus of internal repression and a large army to deter any external military threat. The most important bars of the cage in which millions of Cubans were trapped were erected in those early years.

To the binomial of an irreversible conquest and an undisputed leader was added the threat of an external enemy to complete the holy trinity of revolutionary populism.

Conquests

The main conquests in those initial years focused on education, health and social security. Economic centralism allowed the new ruling elite to establish ample gratuities and to distribute subsidies or privileges in exchange for ideological fidelity.

Like all populism that rises to power, the government also needed to mold consciences, impose its own version of history, and create from the teaching laboratories an individual who will applaud greatly and question little.

In 1960 the Island was already among the Latin American countries with the lowest proportion of illiterates, but even so the Government summoned thousands of young people to isolated areas to teach reading and writing. Participation in this initiative was considered a revolutionary merit and dressed in heroic tones.

The text of the primer to teach the first letters was openly propagandistic and the literacy campaigners behaved like political commissars who, on reading the phrase “The sun rises from the East,” needed to add as a clarification “and from the East comes the help we are given by the Socialist countries.”

At the end of the process, a massive plan of boarding schools operated under military methods began, the goal of which was to remove students from the influence of their families. Mass teacher training also began, thousands of schools were built in rural areas, and privately run schools were taken over by the Ministry of Education.

From this rearrangement the “New Man” was supposed to emerge, free from “petty-bourgeois laziness.” An individual who had never known exploitation by a boss, paid for sex in a brothel, nor exercised his freedom.

The fact that there was not a single child left on the island who didn’t attend school became a dazzling paradigm that blocked the view of the shadows. To this day, the myth of Cuban education is being used by the defenders of the system to justify all the repressive excesses of the last half century.

The state monopoly turned the education system into a tool of political indoctrination while the family was relegated to the role of a mere caretaker of the children. The profession of teacher was trivialized to an extreme degree, and the costs of maintaining this giant apparatus became unsustainable.

Many of the achievements that were put into practice were unworkable in the context of the national economy. But the grateful beneficiaries had no opportunity to know the high cost these campaigns imposed on the nation. The country was plunged in an inexorable decapitalization and the deterioration of its infrastructure.

For decades, the media in the hands of the Communist Party helped to cover up such excesses. But with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the massive subsidies that the Kremlin sent to the island, Cubans came face to face with their own reality. Many of these supposed advantages vanished or were plunged into crisis.

The Maximum Leader

One of the hallmarks of populism is the presence of a leader who is given full confidence. Fidel Castro managed to turn that blind faith into obedience and a cult of personality.

The merging of the leader with the Revolution itself and of Revolution with the Homeland gave rise to the idea that an opponent of the Commander-in-Chief was “anti-Cuban.” His flatterers called him genius but in his long speeches it is difficult to find a theoretical nucleus from which a conceptual core can be extracted.

In the oratory of the Maximum Leader, a preponderant role was played by his histrionic character, the cadence of his voice and his playbook of gestures. Fidel Castro became the first media politician in Cuba’s national history.

Voluntarism was perhaps the essential feature of his personality and the hallmark of his extended mandate. To achieve his objectives at the necessary price, to never surrender before any adversary and to consider every defeat as a learning opportunity that would lead to victory, served him to conquer a legion of fidelistas.

The target dates for obtaining the luminous future promised by the Revolution could be postponed again and again thanks to Castro’s apparently inexhaustible political credit. The demand for people to tighten their belts to achieve well-being became a cyclical political stratagem to buy time.

There were some rather abstract promises, in the style of there would be bread with freedom, and others more precise, such as the country would produce so much milk that not even three times as many people could drink it all. The largest zoo in the world would be built on the island and socialism and communism would be constructed at the same time.

In December 1986, after 28 years of failed efforts, Fidel Castro had the audacity – or desperation – to proclaim before the National Assembly the most demagogic of all his slogans: “Now we are going to build socialism!”

The Enemy

Populist regimes often require a certain degree of tension, of permanent belligerence, to keep the emotional flame burning. Nothing is better for that than the existence of an external enemy. Even better if it is a powerful one that makes alliances with the regime’s political opponents.

From the time he was in the Sierra Maestra commanding his guerrilla army, Fidel Castro determined who that enemy would be. In a letter dated June 1958, he wrote: “When this war is over, a much longer and larger war will begin for me, the war that I will launch against them [the Americans]. I understand that this is going to be my true destiny.”

Between April and the end of October 1960 there was an escalation of clashes between Washington and Havana. The expropriation of large tracts of land held by US companies, the suspension of the sugar quota enjoyed by the Island, the nationalization of US companies based in Cuba, and the start of the embargo on goods from the North are some of the most important.

During that same period, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan visited Havana, diplomatic relations were restored with the USSR and Fidel Castro met in New York with Nikita Khrushchev, who went on to say in an interview: “I do not know if Castro is a communist, but I am a fidelista.”

In the eyes of the people Fidel Castro’s stature rose and he begin to take on the outlines of a world leader. The exacerbation of nationalism, another characteristic of the populists, reached to its fullest expression when Cuba began to be shown as the little David facing the giant Goliath.

Revolutionary arrogance, driven by the conviction that the system applied in Cuba should extend to the whole continent, led many to believe that fomenting the Revolution beyond the borders was not only a duty but a right protected by a scientific truth.

The populist root of this “liberator of peoples” thinking led tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers to fight in Algeria, Syria, Ethiopia and Angola as part of the geopolitical interests of the Soviet Union in Africa, although wrapped in the clothing of a disinterested Revolutionary internationalism with other peoples toward whom there supposedly was a historical debt.

The enemy was not only “American imperialism” but the South African racists, the European colonialists, and any element that appeared on the international scene that could become a threat to the Revolution.

Convinced, like the Jesuit Ignacio de Loyola, that “in a besieged plaza, dissidence is treason,” every act of internal opposition has been identified as an action to contribute to that enemy and by the official propaganda every dissident deserves to be described as a “mercenary.”

However, the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States in late 2014 has shaken the thesis of a permanent danger of invasion. The death of Fidel Castro, the decline of leftist forces in Latin America and the announced stepping down of Raul Castro by February 2018 diminish what remains of revolutionary populism.

On the other hand, younger Cubans have a less grateful and more critical perception of those conquests in the field of education and healthcare that were presented as a generous gift of the system.

The reappearance of notable social differences arising from the urgent acceptance of the rules of the market and the growth of the economy’s “non-state sector” – the authorities are reluctant to call it “private sector” – have rendered unrepeatable the slogans of biased egalitarianism espoused by the ideological discourse that justified the obsolete rationing system for food products.

Haute cuisine restaurants and hotels of four or five stars, once exclusively for tourists, are now within reach of a new class of Cubans. The elimination of the exploitation of man by man, an essential banner of Marxist-Leninist socialism, has not even been discussed.

The widely shared conviction that the country has no solution is one of the main drivers of emigration in recent years. But this lack of hope for the future, combined with fierce repression, also limits the work of the opposition.

The system that once counted on enthusiasm is now supported by virtue of reluctance. The so-called historical generation still in power is fewer than a dozen octogenarians in the process of retirement and the new offspring are more inclined to business than to the podium. Today’s grandchildren of those populists have more talent for marketing than for slogans.

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Editorial Note: This text is part of the collective book El Populismo del Populismo , which will be presented this Tuesday at the Casa de América, in Madrid. The coauthors are, among others, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Mauricio Rojas, Roberto Ampuero and Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo.

The Swamp Of Wealth

Limiting wealth requires specifying how much a person can possess and where the prohibitions begin. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 June 2017 — Almost a quarter of a century ago, the government launched a battle against illicit income that ended with the detention of dozens of criminals but also of prosperous entrepreneurs. During the dreaded Operation Flowerpot, you could be denounced just for having a freshly painted house, wearing new clothes or sporting a gold chain.

Popular humor has coined a joke that describes the arrest of a “New Rich” in 2030, where the infraction is possessing three cans of condensed milk and two brooms. Jokes like this point out the weakest part of the raids against the well-to-do. What’s the starting point for someone to be considered wealthy or a hoarder? continue reading

The relativism surrounding such definitions has come to the fore again during the last extraordinary session of Cuba’s Parliament, which supported a prohibition against accumulating property and wealth. Such limitations remain to be expressed in a law that establishes a clear limit on the possession of material goods.

The deputies of the National Assembly could see fit to define the amount of money that the savers will be allowed to keep in their bank accounts, how many clothes they can hang in their closets, the number of pairs of shoes they can wear and even the amount of shampoo they’re permitted to use when they wash their heads…

The champions of such prohibitions are, in most cases, people who do not even have to put their hands in their pockets to buy food

Such an enumeration seems absurd, but limiting wealth consists of specifying the quantity allowed and where the prohibitions begin. Without these exactitudes – generally ridiculous and elusive – everything remains in the realm of subjectivity, at the mercy of the whims of those who apply the punishments.

To add moisture to that legal swamp, the champions of such bans are, in most cases, people who do not even have to put their hands in their pockets to buy food. They live on privileges, free supplies and perks that insulate them from the daily life and the hardships of most Cubans.

They, who have accumulated all the wealth, fear that someone who has not assaulted a barracks, wielded a gun or shouted slogans, could move in a few feet from their mansions, run a hotel more competitive than those run by the Armed Forces and manage – and this is their worst nightmare – to have the economic autonomy to launch a political career.