The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: Cuban government website: Cubadebate.cu
Source: Cuban government website: Cubadebate.cu

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 September 2016 — In recent days, the Cuban official media announced the implementation of a tax on personal income for workers in the State’s business sector, as well as an extension of payments called Social Security Special Contribution (CESS) – that workers at the so-called “perfecting entities” were already paying into.

The new measure will take effect on October 1st of this year and will involve over 1.3 million workers who will “benefit” from the Business Improvement System (SPE) along with those receiving payments for results and profits. Such an arrangement “confirms the redistributive function of tax revenues and allows a decreasing participation of the State budget in the financing of public expenditure,” according to officials quoted by the official press. Continue reading “The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The payment of taxes will be deducted directly from State company workers’ income by the State company, which will forward it to the State Budget. That is, workers will collect their a salary after deductions are taken by their State employer for payment to the State.

Contrary to what might happen in a moderately democratic country, where workers can join together in free trade unions and make demands against measures that affect their wages and income, in Cuba there have been no demonstrations, strikes or insubordination in the labor groups affected by this arrangement. Nor is this expected to occur. Against the grain of what some imaginative foreign digital media may claim about “over one million angry workers,” to date no event in the Cuban scene justifies such a headline.

Actually, Cuban State workers, deprived of such a basic right as free association, have developed in recent decades other peculiar ways of processing their dissatisfaction with government actions that harm them, such as being less productive and increasing theft and “diversion” of resources to round up their depressed wages with additional “profits” from such diversions; or emigrating to the private sector – which has been becoming more frequent and expeditious – or permanently leaving the country to seek prosperity away from the costly “protection” of the Castro regime.

For its part, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC, Cuban Workers Center), the only “union” legally recognized in Cuba, not only has failed to fulfill the functions it supposedly was created for, and – on the contrary – is developing a whole strategy of support for the government, holding meetings at the grassroots level so that union leaders may enlighten workers about the need to contribute to the State Budget as a way of contributing to the fabulous social benefits they are enjoying, especially with regard to health and education.

For this purpose there have been commissioners who, either due to their lack of mental capacity, out of sheer perversity, or for both reasons, mention among these “freebies” the public’s use of battered highways and roads, the calamitous sewer system or even the precarious and almost nonexistent system of streetlights.

However, implementation of the new tax measures should not surprise anyone. Since the 2011 Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the Guidelines framed on Fiscal Policy announced that “higher taxes for higher incomes” (Guideline 57) would be established, and that the tax system would gradually “advance widely to increase its effectiveness as an element of redistribution of income.”

In that vein, on November 2012, Law 113 (of the Tax System) was approved, repealing Law 73 of August 1994, establishing a special provision that reads: “Personal Income tax on salaries and other qualifying income, in accordance with the special rules and Property Tax on Housing and vacant lots to Cuban-born citizens and foreign individuals permanently residing in the national territory, will be required, if economic and social conditions warrant its implementation, which will be approved by the Budget Act of the corresponding year.”

In April 2016, the VII Congress of the PCC once again took up the issue of the need for the population to develop a tax culture, stressed the inability of the State to continue assuming the costs of social benefits and announced that it was studying the implementation of a system of personal income tax… when suitable conditions existed.

In light of today, it becomes obvious that these “conditions” did not refer specifically to an increase in workers’ purchasing power, which is still insufficient despite the much vaunted 54% increase in the average wage in the State business sector from 2013 to the present, which places the wage at 779 Cuban pesos (about US $31) according to official figures. Rather the “conditions” are the State’s increasing inability to ensure the already deficient social security by itself, plus the budget deficit, which the government’s own media places at 1.2 billion Cuban pesos, which must be covered by the treasury.

As officially reported, the State budget for 2016 is 52.4 billion Cuban pesos, of which 5.7 billion (more than 10% of the total budget) went to social security.

Hence Resolution #261 of 2 August 2016, by the Ministry of Finance and Prices, which sets out in detail the tax rate aimed at complementing Law 113 of the Tax System. This should have been applied starting in the second half of the year, but – apparently – nothing could be allowed to mar the Ex-Undefeated One’s 90th birthday celebration in August, so, during the last regular session of the National Assembly of People’s Power it was agreed to postpone the implementation of the resolution until the fourth quarter, starting with September’s income.

Of course, in a “normal” society, an increase in social benefits coincides with a rigorous compliance with a realistic tax policy. The problem is that Cuba does not have either of these two premises: it is neither a “normal” country nor does it have a “realistic” tax burden, but quite the opposite.

In fact, Cuba’s own laws demonize prosperity, limit and discourage production capacity, and discourage and penalize the “accumulation of wealth.” At the same time, there is colossal inflation and a deviant monetary duality: the country operates with two currencies, the Cuban peso (CUP) and the so-called Cuban convertible peso (CUC). For the most part wages are paid in the first currency, while a large portion of the necessities of daily life are sold only in the second. With an exchange rate of 25 Cuban pesos for 1 CUC, this creates an unbridgeable gap between Cubans with access to hard currency, CUCs, and the always insufficient living wage in national currency, CUPs, creating a distortion between official projections, real wages and workers’ cost of living.

Other accompanying factors to the tax culture of a nation, not reflected so far in the government’s plans, are the economic freedoms of those who produce the wealth – the taxpayers – and a necessary transparency in financial figures. Both the source of funds of the State Budget and the destiny of the revenue that feeds State funds through fiscal policy are occult matters of science, under the management of only a small group of anointed ones.

There are certain benefits of collateral privileges for some sectors, which are also not in the public domain. For example, the population does not know what percentage of the national budget is allocated to the cost of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), although both ministries were the first to apply the SPE, while their employees enjoy higher wages, as well as prioritized plans for housing construction and free or irrationally cheap vacations at resorts with prices that are prohibitive for the pockets of common workers. They also get guaranteed transportation services, the largest motor home park in the country, preferential access to food products and a long list of freebies.

In addition, there has been no information on the relationship between the tax and the pensions that retirees get. That is, how many State workers should pay taxes to cover the pensions of all retirees, and what are the projections in this direction for a population that is aging at an alarming rate, and that is, in addition, being hit by the growing and constant exodus abroad of its labor force.

At the moment, workers – suddenly converted to taxpayers without economic rights – have not been liberated of their patriotic obligations such as the “donation” of a day’s pay for the National Militias Troops, a shell entity which nobody sees or belongs to, but with a fixed quota, or of the union fees for an association whose primary function is to defend management. Cuckolded and beaten.

What is uncontested is the efficiency of the State in sharpening its pencils and doing its math. It is known that 1736 State-owned businesses have average salaries in excess of 500 Cuban pesos at which the tax goes into effect; therefore, their workers will begin to take on the new tax burden that will make their incomes dwindle. The bad news is that, presumably, many State workers will give up their jobs to look more promising ones elsewhere. The good news is that Daddy State will stop bragging about so many expensive freebies.

The “gains” made by the workers through half a century of “Revolution” are quickly blurring.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban State Media Monopoly Denounces Internet Freedom Conference / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera

The Cuban state seeks to maintain its information monopoly at any cost.
The Cuban state seeks to maintain its information monopoly at any cost.

Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera, Havana, 30 August 2015 — During a recent broadcast of Televisión Cubana’s national news program, the government denounced the first ever Cuba Internet Freedom Conference, scheduled for 12-13 September in the city of Miami, which members of Cuban civil society will attend to participate in the debate.

The argument utilized for the occasion is that, with the interest in establishing the World Wide Web on the Island, the US is endeavoring to topple the revolutionary government.

Of the millions of people interested in Cubans being able to fully enjoy the Internet in our country, the most interested are we ourselves, who for more than 50 years have been in the dark with regard to world developments. Continue reading “Cuban State Media Monopoly Denounces Internet Freedom Conference / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera”

During his visit to the Island, among the points that Barack Obama emphasized pertained to US assistance in communications, and facilitating the use of the Internet—which is currently still immensely restricted by the authorities.

The Cuban government’s installation of fee-based WiFi service in many areas of the country does not yet meet the needs of the citizenry.

The hourly charges for the service are 2 CUCs, equivalent to more than two dollars. In a country where the average citizen’s salary is less than one dollar per day, this is a high price for a service that is inexpensive for many people around the world, and in some cases is even free.

One must also consider that access depends on a server, one which allows the transmission of convenient information as well inconvenient information, as well as the connection’s low speed.

It was said that, some day, home service would be implemented, but this promise has yet to be met—all developments take place at an exceedingly slow pace. The State seeks to maintain its monopoly on information at all costs, violating even the people’s right to be informed.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Chile Returns To Its Old Populist Ways / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

protestas-AFP-Chile-realizandose-Twittermariseka_CYMIMA20160828_0002_16
Protests in Chile against the AFP have been underway for several days throughout the country (Twitter/@mariseka)

14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Santiago de Chile, 28 August 2016 – I have arrived in the country in the middle of a cacophony, fortunately peaceful and civilized. It is Sunday, and tens of thousands of people are protesting against the AFPs.

They complain about the “Pension Fund Administrators,” a retirement system founded on individual capital accounts, more or less like the 401(k) and the American IRA. One contributes a part of his salary to an account that belongs to him, and thus, after a certain age, he can dispose of his resources or leave them to his heirs when he dies. The money is his. It does not come from the benevolence of other workers. Continue reading “Chile Returns To Its Old Populist Ways / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner”

The AFPs are private financial companies that invest the money that the workers entrust to them in reasonably safe instruments, so that the risks are minimal. They charge about 1.5% to manage these resources. There are a few so that competition exists in price and services.

Since the economist Jose Pinera created the AFPs at the beginning of the 1980’s, the average annual return has been 8.4%. The government merely establishes strict rules and carefully monitors the financial entities. So far, in 35 years, there has been no collapse or scandal.

Today the mass of savings generated by the AFPs is approximately 167 billion dollars. That is very convenient for the stability of the country. A third of these funds comes from workers’ direct deposits. Two-thirds, the rest, are interest generated by these deposits. Without doubt, it has been a great business for the prospective retirees.

Until the creation of the AFPs, the distributed funds model prevailed in Chile, as in almost the whole world. The worker’s investment went to a general fund that was used to pay the pensions of retirees or finance the fixed expenses of the growing public workforce. In many countries, often, the money of elderly retired people ends up in the pockets of devious politicians and officials or is dedicated to other purposes.

As happens in Europe and the United States, the relationship between the number of workers and retirees is more problematic with each passing year. Fewer people are born, especially in developed or developing countries, and they live many more years.

Hence the retirement systems based on the distribution model are in crisis or heading towards it. They tank just as “Ponzi Schemes” always end badly; named for Charles Ponzi, a creative scammer who paid good dividends to investors … as long as there were new investors to meet the commitments.

When the capitalization system began, there were seven workers in Chile for every retiree. Today there are fewer than five. By mid-21st Century there will be two. The individual capitalization system, rather than a maniacal predilection of liberals dictated by ideological convictions, is the only possible model of retirement in the medium term. It is much safer for a worker to have control of his savings than to leave that sensitive task to intergenerational solidarity or the decisions of politicians.

What has happened in Chile? Why are they complaining? Half of Chilean workers, especially women, do not regularly save, or they have not done so in a long time, and since they have not saved enough, the pensions they receive, consequently, are small, and they are not enough for them to survive. That is why they protest and want the state to assume responsibility for their old age and give them a “dignified” pension, without stopping to think that the supposed right that they are angrily soliciting consists of an obligation for others: those who work must give them part of their wealth.

At the same time, students passionately demand free university studies, while many Chileans demand the “decent” living promised by politicians in the electoral fracas, to which are added modern and effective medical services, also “free,” proper to a middle class country like Chile currently is. It is not well understood why, by the same reasoning, they do not seek free food, water, clothes, electricity, and telephones, all items of absolute necessity.

It is a shame. A few years ago it appeared that Chile, after a 20th Century of populism from the right and left, with a population dominated by an incompetent and greedy government that had bogged down in underdevelopment and poverty, finally had discovered the correct road of individual responsibility, the market, the opening up and the empowerment of civil society as a great entrepreneurial player and the only wealth creator.

There was enthusiastic talk of the “Chilean model” as the Latin American road to reaching the First World. With 23,500 dollars per capita GDP (measured in purchasing power), Chile has put itself at the head of Latin America and boasts a low crime rate, honest administration and respect for institutions. It would not take long to reach that development threshold that economists set at about 28 to 30 thousand dollars per capita GDP.

It may never happen. A recent survey shows the growing irresponsibility of many Chileans convinced that society is obliged to transfer to them the resources that they demand from the state, which means from other Chileans.

It is a pity. A substantial part of the population has returned to populist ways typified by claiming rights and evading responsibilities. If Chile again sinks into the populist quagmire, we Latin Americans all will lose a lot. Prosperity and, who knows, even liberty. We will be left without a model, aimless, and in some sense, without a destination.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Zika Reveals the True Character of the Cuban Health Service / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 18 August 2016 — While wards 3-A (they have also prepared 3-B) and 4-A, on the third and fourth floors of the  “Lucía Iñiguez Landín” Clinical Surgery Hospital in Holguín, notable for their absence of basic health care requisites, welcome Cuban patients with confirmed and suspected cases of Zika, Dengue Fever and Chunkunguya, ward 5F of the same hospital accommodates foreigners with similar symptoms, in very different conditions.

“The photos I sent you reveal that this is a health service focussed on showing a face which is acceptable to international opinion, and that the enormous difference between the service received by sick foreigners and Cubans has nothing to do with the everlasting claims of lack of resources due to the blockade, but rather the indifference of the government, the state, and MINSAP (Public Health Ministry) toward the health of Cubans.” I have copied the exact words written to me by of one of the doctors working in that hospital.

“The laboratory tests, which are carried out on each patient who is admitted with suspected Zika, Dengue Fever or Chikunguya, are sent to the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK) in Havana, because,” he added, “it is the only place where there is the technology to confirm, or not, the existence of Zika. And this, along with the constant holdups in transport and institutional bureaucracy, means patients have to stay too long in hospital waiting for the results.”

“But the most bizarre part,” adds the doctor indignantly, “is that the unexpected increase in patient admissions, and the time they are there waiting for results, have generated a lot of extra work at Lucía Iñiguez in Holguín, especially cleaning, which is, inexplicably, being covered by female prisoners, who have, basically, been tried for prostitution, with the service contracted to the provincial office of the Ministry of the Interior Prison Directorate.”

Translated by GH

The Country of Mari­a la O / Rebeca Monzo

The country of María la O (Spanish musical comedy dating back to 1930)

Rebeca Monzo, 29 August 2016 — In this city, incorrectly named Maravilla (Wonder), because in reality it is a nightmare, any ordinary person’s life is like that of María la O. You get dressed, eat, sell your car, tidy the house, wait an hour for a bus, or walk … and so on and so on.

I have some friends who, having got to a certain age, and having realised they don’t have enough money to improve their quality of life, have found themselves obliged to sell the family car, which they could hardly afford to run and used only for urgent trips, due to the high cost of gas in convertible currency (CUC), and the cost of parts and tyres.

Many retired professionals who were in senior positions in companies and organisations, and who sacrificed a lot to buy a Russian-made Lada car, have also found it necessary to sell it in order to be able to afford to do up a room in their house, rent it out to strangers, and so be able to live on this modest income, because their miserable pensions in Cuban pesos (CUP) hardly allow them to buy food. Now they worship María la O — you either walk, or you don’t go anywhere.

Translated by GH

General Francis is Out of the Game and Raul’s Grandson Ascends / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 29 August 2016 — The most powerful of all the Cuban generals, Division General Humberto Omar Francis Pardo, was replaced in his job as Head of the General Direction of Personal Security (DGSP).

The position is now filled by Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, who is known by various nicknames, like “The Crab,” “Grandson-in-Chief,” Raulito” and even “The Arnol-mal,” this last one from his frenetic addiction to steroids and exercise.

Before creating the Commission of Defense and National Security, which Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín directs today, the Direction of Personal Security was the invisible apparatus with the most power on the island. Under this nomenclature, like the current “Commission,” ministries, institutions and all the MININT (Ministry of the Interior) divisions were subordinated. Continue reading “General Francis is Out of the Game and Raul’s Grandson Ascends / Juan Juan Almeida”

“After a long period of stress, and multiple disagreements, Francis suffered a cerebral stroke. He was admitted to the hospital but now is at home,” said a family member of the dismissed General.

The DGSP, intended to protect the force of the myth, the fiscal and moral integrity of Fidel Castro and the rest of the so-called leaders of the first level, has succeeded in amassing more cash than some armies.

The DGSP’s empire 

The DSP relies on a section of the transport police in order to review the fastest road or route for moving the leader. It has a film group, with experts in the art of photography, where they touch up the images of the “untouchables.” Another section is dedicated to documentation and migration matters and also functions as a trip coordinator; an anti-attack brigade consists of snipers and experts in every type of explosive; and a medical department, in addition to having a clinic for everything, has a fixed allocation of doctors, nurses, radiologists, physical therapists, laboratory technicians and other health workers.

They have a division of technology and telephone, workshops, diving masters, gymnasiums, coordinators; a very effective counterintelligence service that, in coordination with other State agencies, looks for, manages and controls all the information of that brotherhood, the family circles and friendships; a department of international relations that coordinates with other secret services the visits to Cuba of people of interest and personalities (friends or not), whether they are presidents, governors, heads of State, members of Congress, religious leaders, etc.; a purchasing group in charge of pleasing even the most bizarre tastes; a department that checks the news that should or should not be released about the Cuban leaders; and a unit to contract service staff (maids) who later work in the houses of those chosen.

With this new appointment, Raúl Castro, in addition to putting his grandson in a key post, captures a vital space reserved uniquely to Fidel, to control even the most insignificant thing, like the ruling class’s privacy in their homes. This method can have a possible boomerang effect, because it also assures the rejection from a good part of a strategic force that, older and in the military, were always faithful to General Francis.

Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, taking care of his grandfather in Panama.

All the body guards of this prestigious group belong to the DSP. Their work consists of taking care of them, protecting them and satisfying them even in their most quirky desires, in addition to spying, recruiting and blackmailing, in order to maintain, at any price, the “moral purity” of the Cuban politicians. This convoy is in charge of avoiding any type of problem of the leader and his closest family. And when I say “any,” it’s any, from the most absurd up to the most complex, whether it’s financial, political or legal.

In Cuba, nobody can prosecute, criticize or punish a bigwig or family member, without the authorization of the DSP.

Translated by Regina Anavy

40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas

José Lezama Lima, Cuban author. (Image from YouTube)

Luis Felipe Rojas, 9 August 2016 — He was the son of a colonel in the army, but was born to be the literary father to several generations. José Lezama Lima departed this life on 9 August 1976, and left a vast canon of work in which he wanted to embrace literary criticism, poetry, and narrative (stories and novels). The fat Lezama Lima continues to spell trouble for the Cuban government, because the much-vaunted post mortem promotion does not fit  with the ostracism in which he was obliged to live the last ten years of his life.

With his novel Paradise and his posthumous book of poems Fragments to his Idol, he left tracks in both genres. The giants Julio Cortázar and Octavio Paz prologued (and possibly prolonged) both works and in each explanatory text they set out their admiration for the writer who had created a different subsoil. Continue reading “40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Every type of literature has to be started by someone, a bricklayer who contributes to building the wall of the “great literary house.” Cuba had them in Villaverde and Martí, in Casal and La Avellaneda (Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga, 19th century Cuban-born writer). Lezama was a kind of restorer of that wall, on which we recline today to read a country. The Cuban narrative canon is made up of three fundamental novels: Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World, Cabrera Infante Three Trapped Tigers, and Lezama, with Paradise.

His poetic work is jumbled and inscrutable, based on insinuations and taking obscure liberties with good sense. Nevertheless it is in Fragmentos a su imán where Lezama seems to have taken a break from all his running about, and pushing to unsuspected limits the force of his literary searching.

The secrecy which he boasted of, including the evil they accused him of on many occasions, was left behind in Fragmentos …: “I am reducing, / I am a point which disappears and returns / I remain whole in the alcove. / / I make myself invisible / and on the other side I get back my body / swimming on a beach, / surrounded by graduates with snowy banners, /by mathematicians and ball players / describing a mamey ice cream.” (El Pabellón del Vacío).

He died alone, behind the backs of groups of intellectuals who attacked him when the Castro epic was started up as a new and highly polished epoch of an ancien regime, and decided to eliminate the bourgeois vestiges of the Republic. 1959 was the funeral of Lezema and of a literate republic. What came in the ’70’s was the opening and closing of the grave into which had fallen the intellectuals who had gone into obligatory exile or had stuck themselves in Cuba, never again to leave, as happened to Lezama; although the false recognition of the ’80’s had dazzled some and served for others to wash the vile hands of the censor.

Lezama raised himself with his own work, evaporated in the gossip of the island, which at that time was acclaimed as socialist and just, in order to make itself important and internationally recognised. His absence for years from national bookshops and the stupid limited space that Cuban universities now dedicate to him is an example of an official stoning.

To silence him is unforgivable. To lift him up as a false cultural policy is no more than throwing mud at his gravediggers.  Long life, maestro.

Translated by GH

For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Photo: laopcion.com.mx)
(Photo: laopcion.com.mx)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 26 August 2016, Havana — It’s been said that radically opposite ends end up looking alike. That truism has become irrefutable for those of us who are dedicated to independent journalism in Cuba, especially those who practice the basic right of free expression through opinion columns and end up subjected to relentless crossfire, both from the dictatorial power with its powerful monopoly of the press, and from the anti-Castro opposition, and even from “colleagues” of the profession, who are supposedly champions of freedom of expression.

Specifically the press, whose Cuban origins date back to 1790 with the emergence of the newspaper Papel Periódico de la Habana, founded by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País*, was one of the most solid pillars of the 1902 Republic, where dozens of newspapers and magazines circulated. In 1922 the first radio station emerged, and by 1930 the number of stations had grown to 61. Television, meanwhile, arrived in Cuba in 1950, and included new informational and news programs. Continue reading “For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Somehow, over half a century a twisted and pernicious political system has ended up undermining the social foundations so deeply that perhaps the same amount of time will be needed — if not more — to recover, at least partially, the weak republican civic fabric that was taken from us since the “Revolutionary victory.”

If we add to this the newsreels that existed previously, it can be concluded that Cuba had a strong media tradition that promoted the development of public opinion and political formation of a good part of the population through a range of views of the most diverse trends in different subjects of interest to national life.

With its lights and shadows, journalism during the republic enjoyed a healthy development until Castro I took it over and “nationalized” it to found his private press monopoly and place it at the service of the government’s power, its role today. Nevertheless, its counterpart — independent journalism — emerged in the 90’s, and in recent years, driven by the use of new information technologies and communications, has managed to gain space and even grow under truly precarious and hostile conditions, against repression, harassment, and other adversities.

The history and ups and downs of Cuban independent journalism are too extensive to address in this text, since we would stray from the essential issue, which could be summed up in one cardinal question: are parties and opposition leaders prepared to assimilate the democratic paradigms which the Castro dictatorship is presumably facing? Or, more directly, do they have a clear awareness that freedom of expression is a basic, inescapable element of any society that aspires to be considered as democratic?

Judging from my personal experience and the reactions I’ve received from some leaders and their staunchest followers when I questioned their proposals, attitudes and methods, I fear that not all “democratic fighters” in Cuba and in exile are ready to take on the challenge of a free press. In addition, I would argue that the dangerous virus of “intransigence” has undermined the proto-democratic corpus of Cuba’s independent civil society and — together with the miasma of autocratic government, authoritarianism, and its evil companions — is replicating patterns of the system it iss trying to topple.

For certain “illuminati,” criticism of the opposition it is not only harmful, but practically an act of “treason” – a term very much in vogue in the media — as it “panders to the dictatorship” or “discredits” leaders “who are really doing something.” As the General-President Raul Castro always points out, some opponents consider that there is “a right place and a right time” for criticism. That moment, in his view, has not come, and since they feel personally attacked, they react with insults and reproaches, not with arguments, in an unadulterated Castro style.

A frequent accusation launched against any question or opinion that differs from one of these illustrious champions of democracy is that criticism tends to “divide” the opposition, and unaware individuals might think that it was once united. It is also the position of another obstacle: the opportunists; who, in the absence of their own limelight take the opportunity to pose as practical and as conciliators, paternally scolding the transgressor journalist and brandishing one of the most inaccurate phrases often repeated in the corridors: “at the end of the day, we are all on the same page.”

As if instead of politicians and journalists, positions commonly in tune in fairly healthy Western societies, we were school children who bicker for a treat at summer camp.

However, what is most alarming in this senseless contrapuntal — since a truly democratic leader infused by a truly democratic sense should be more interested in the well-argued criticisms he gets than in the servile adulations always at hand — is that reality is being reflected in the self-censorship on the part of some independent journalists, who often, with greatest dishonesty and hypocrisy, silently approve the criticisms that their boldest colleagues publish, so they utter low and furtive congratulations and keep quiet their own disapproval, for fear of being branded “politically incorrect” or “agents,” this time from the antipodes of the Castro regime.

There is also no shortage of neo-chiefs who get offended when some irreverent journalist, like this writer, refuses to be of service or to become a chronicler of his personal scrapbooks. They can’t imagine how anyone could be so “lacking in solidarity” that she decides to prioritize other topics rather than their heroic campaigns and unparalleled demonstrations of patriotism and bravery.

If, to be exact, the journalist of yore prefers to avoid in his writings such bombastic phrases as “the hyena of Birán,” “the blood-spattered tyranny” or other similar theater affectation to qualify the autocrats of the Palace of the Revolution, he becomes de facto a suspicious subject.

Is any similarity to the anointed of the olive-green dome pure coincidence?

It feels like something trivial, however, it is really worrisome for the health of journalism that tomorrow’s censorship is taking shape in certain niches of the opposition today. If it continues, the end of the Castro dictatorship would only mean a change in the color of the political power’s muzzle over the free expression of citizens, and the beginning of an authoritarianism with a different emblem, but equally restrictive.

Barring our having chosen the exercise of opinion in the press as a profession, let’s have enough sense of ethics and respect for ourselves and for our readers to continue doing that uncomfortable journalism that keeps politicians today and tomorrow under the rigor of public scrutiny, just as they should be in a democratic society.

Personally, I reject sappy and complacent journalism, journalism’s subordination to any leadership, and, particularly I reject impunity. That may not be what is expected of independent journalism by the very controversial “servants of the people”; but it certainly is what good Cubans expect.

*Translator’s note: Sociedades Económicas were established in the Spanish colonies (Havana’s is the only one that still survives to date, since 1793) whose mission was that of promoting local economic development, Members were generally drawn from the local aristocracy, scholars, professionals and skilled artisans. Some of the groups strayed into activities that bordered on the political, and were punished by having their legal licenses revoked.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: Journalism on Demand / Iván García

Journalism on Demand
Journalism on Demand

Iván García, 27 August 2016 — I still remember that two-day trip to Pinar del Río. I stayed in a Communist Party hotel at the side of the old central highway. I visited the province’s outstanding factories, cooperatives and work centers.

Then in Havana, I wrote three or four sugar-coated articles about the excellent management of the Peoples’ Power and the “enthusiasm” of the workers’ collective at the Conchita factory after winning a banner of socialist excellence.

No one told me how to do journalism. I experienced it for four decades. I was studying primary education and during school recesses, at the request of my grandmother, my mother [Tania Quintero, now living in Switzerland], a former official journalist, took me with her when she had to do reports in the cities of the interior. Continue reading “Cuba: Journalism on Demand / Iván García”

In that epoch – and now, according to what they tell me – journalists covered the subjects indicated by the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which weekly dictated the guidelines to the communication media.

Most official journalists are scribes rather than reporters. They write on demand.

With the arrival of new information technologies and the transition from a personalistic and totalitarian society to an authoritarian country of incipient military capitalism, dozens of State journalists now publish with their names or pseudonyms in alternative digital media, generating a reprimand from their bosses.

It’s precisely in blogs and on independent sites that these correspondents can express their talent, tell their stories and pour out opinions that they never would publish in the dull, propagandistic Government press.

The most notorious case is Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), spearheaded by Elaine Díaz, ex-professor of the University of Havana Faculty of Communication and probably the best journalist in Cuba. After dropping the official ballast, Díaz published excellent research on communities and citizens that never appeared in the Party media.

Doing independent journalism in Cuba brings risks. You won’t get a pension when you retire; you will suffer harassment from State Security, and the Taliban hard-liners will try to assassinate your reputation with every type of crude accusation. But those who manage to do it are free persons.

In my case, I choose the topics and how I’m going to present them. The only censorship is that imposed by reason or by the sword of Damocles represented by the Gag Law, which obliges you to revise the content with a magnifying glass so you don’t get tangled in a crime of defamation or accused of denigrating the President of the Republic.

Certainly, the chief editors with whom I collaborate make recommendations. Up to now, they haven’t censored the content nor the style of drafting. Only on two occasions did they not publish one of my articles (a right that newspapers or websites have). Then I uploaded them to my two blogs.

That an independent journalist doesn’t write on demand means that inside the Island several opposition organizations and dissident leaders try to use you at their convenience.

It seems legitimate to me that a dissident project aspires to having the best media impact possible. That’s not what I’m referring to. It’s the deplorable obsession of certain dissidents who want to manage the work of a journalist.

They use different strategies. One is to invite you to meetings where they paint a superficial picture of their organization and their chimeric plans. The story is like that of the Government, but in reverse. They exaggerate the number of members and present a battery of proposals that are forgotten after a few months.

If you ask uncomfortable questions, they simply take you off the list of their meetings and press conferences. If you’re too critical of the dissidence, they prepare a reprimand.

They never tell you that they disagree with you. They start the discussion by pointing out that you’re wrong. If voices are raised, accusations begin: that you’re an undercover agent of State Security, a traitor to the cause, or you’re providing arguments to the “enemy” (the Regime) that later will be used to discredit the opposition.

Another strategy, in mode among certain opposition groups, is that in addition to “renting” a journalist, they enroll him in their cause. A huge mistake. Keeping a distance is the first rule of journalism.

If you are for democracy, that doesn’t mean you should march with the Ladies in White through Miramar. When that happens, the journalist misjudges the profession.

Sometimes the debates caused by a journalistic article are civilized. Other times they set up a “repudiation meeting” for you.

The Sunday of March 20, hours before Obama landed in Havana, I was with the Ladies in White in Gandhi Park, to write an article about the aggressions against the group of women on the part of the repressive bodies.

There I had to put up with the insolence of Ailer González, a member of Estado de Sats, asking me what I was doing there and refuting my assessments. I answered her briefly and told her that she didn’t have to read me.

This type of journalism by genuflection, habitual in Cuba, sometimes tries to pass itself off as freelance.

Everyone is free to have an opinion and reproduce it. Sometimes our commentaries or stories provoke controversy and irritate the local or exile dissidence. But at least I don’t write to please anyone.

If a handful of ungagged journalists have been able to defy an olive-green autocracy for 20 years, I don’t believe that the pride and intolerance of some dissidents should inhibit us.

Authentic journalism is always in search of the truth. Whatever it costs.

Photo: Elaine Díaz and Abraham Jiménez, directors of the digital media Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) and El Estornudo (The Sneeze). Taken from Brotes de periodismo cubano (Outbreaks of Cuban Journalism), an article by Pablo de Llano, El País (The Country, a daily newspaper in Spain), March 22, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Paternalism Kills Creativity / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

A worker sweeps in front of a propagandistic ad in Havana (EFE). The ad reads: Liberty Cannot Be Blockaded/Here There Is No Fear
A worker sweeps in front of a propagandistic ad in Havana (EFE). The ad reads: Liberty Cannot Be Blockaded/Here There Is No Fear

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 27 August 2016 – When I was small, I suffered from asthma for several years. I remember that my grandmother would not let me leave the house if it was slightly cloudy; I also had to wear shoes and thick socks although all the other children of the neighborhood ran barefoot through the gutters filled with puddles where one could experience the pleasure of feeling the mud between one’s toes.

Overcoats, blankets and mosquito nets did not manage to improve my health. However, a sports instructor did manage the miracle of not only an improvement but the definitive cure of this illness that tormented almost my entire childhood. Continue reading “Paternalism Kills Creativity / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila”

Contrary to the opinion of my relatives, the then-student of Physical Culture who for us would always be Loriet, taught a group of us adolescents in the seventh grade that “the body and spirit can be shaped by a force that is greater than all illnesses or limitations, a transformative and colossal force call willpower.” At first these words sounded strange and distant to us. Only years later did we understand their significance.

I began training in taekwondo, drowning every time I ran 20 meters or did 10 pushups. Unable to breathe, I looked towards everyone around me to approach the nearest person, I suppose in search of some support in order to feel more secure. On one occasion, someone protested to the teacher, saying: “Don’t you see that this boy is purple?” However, Loriet displayed not the least pity or concern, at least not visibly. He just told me instead: “None of them can help you, only you can manage it yourself, the problem is yours and you have the option of overcoming it, but you have to work hard, learn to breathe and recover without yielding and continue advancing. I promise you that this will not last forever.” And so it was!

After two years, my health took a radical turn. I could endure whole afternoons of practice and fighting, I added weight training with the teacher Mario (the strong) and even participated in some city competitions in both disciplines. For the coming “green” medical checkup, as they call it in the Compulsory Military Service, no one remembered any longer my nights of intensive therapy, eating a breakfast, lunch and dinner of aerosol hydrocortisone. I passed each test, and they gave my condition “Fit 1,” thus totally ready for the rigors of military training, which by luck was commuted for me mostly because of the “mission” of teaching physics and mathematics in senior high school, given the province’s lack of teachers and my notable educational results.

Later I continued occasionally practicing taekwondo, even in university. I did not win many fights in competition, but I always felt proud of having overcome my own natural vulnerability.

I give you a little of my own history in order to talk about something much more important that concerns not only me but all Cubans born on the Island after ’59. I am referring to the false paternalism that the government still continues assuming with the pretext of protecting us when in reality it deprives us of the possibility of exploiting our strengths as individuals and, as a whole, as a nation.

For four generations, we have carried an umbrella against foreign propaganda, an overcoat to avoid ideological deviations, anti-communism socks, safety goggles for different information, and a powerful aerosol that kills any germ of personal creativity or inspiration for entrepreneurism.

Even today, when the times have changed, the world has changed, people have changed, still there appears on television a young journalist warning us of the “grave dangers” that “so-called inter-connected societies” bring, like the “loss of privacy” or “the alienation caused by the game Pokemon Go,” when the vast majority of Cubans cannot even access a landline.

Nothing is more advisable for managing any tool than to use it in a natural and everyday manner. The lack of practice by our citizens with respect to basic elements that characterize modern societies is visible in the behavior that we adopt on finding ourselves exposed to an environment where the minimum personal effort is required to find solutions or answers for ourselves. Simply, we are not accustomed to solving our problems without depending on someone or something.

During my last airplane boarding at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana, I carefully observed the conduct of several people, especially those who had to be between 50 and 60 years of age. Cubans that I bet had some university degree were incapable of interpreting posters, signs or signals of any type in the airport, or on or inside the airplane. Facing the simple issue of finding a departure gate or a seat identified by a number, the first reaction was not to try to understand the symbols or signs, but they opted to ask constantly about the slightest detail, brandishing the easiest argument for their insecurity: “It is that I am not accustomed to these things.”

Something very different drew my attention when I left Cuba the first time and lived for four months among Europeans. There people spent several minutes before a map at a train station or configured a mobile app that offered the needed information, but rarely did they yield to the temptation of asking or complaining without first making an effort. That attitude of absent-minded ease is very widespread and, unlike Cubans, there exists a respect or almost a cult of self-management, the capability, initiative and talent of getting along with ease in any circumstance. Because there and in other parts of the world (coincidentally the most developed) it is autonomy and not dependence that has been instituted as a value in society.

It is not unusual to see three French teens comfortably disembark in Latin America with a map and backpacks, in stark contrast with a Cuban engineer who lands in Paris who, if someone doesn’t pick him up he might die of cold without daring to tackle the subway system by himself.

I could cite thousands of daily examples of how our dependent personality manifests itself, but the essential reflection that I want to share is that it is not a change of system that is going to bring a change of attitude in Cuba’s citizens and, therefore, a better and more prosperous society, but the reverse: without a change in the people, in their expectations, values, behaviors, they will never be able to overcome the system and its effects. Because the system does not consist only of a government and a system of laws, but it consists of the whole of the beliefs, myths, schemes and behaviors that we daily assume, accepting and resigning ourselves to suffer as from a chronic illness, one that can be overcome with a minimum of risk and individual effort from each of us.

A totalitarian and repressive political system can suffocate a society like asthma can suffocate our lungs. If we shed the overcoats, thick socks and mosquito nets on which we depend and go out to run, to discover and confront our obstacles, surely we will discover how incredible and marvelous it is to be able to breathe deeply all that oxygen that was always there, waiting for us.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

 

Renting Fidel Castro’s Yacht for 5,000 Dollars a Day / Juan Juan Almeida

Fidel Castro Ruz

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 August 2016 — Renting Fidel Castro’s yacht will be the new publicity backdrop that will be the next thing to enter the arena in order to convert the “Acuarama II,” as it is named, into an appetizing bait.

For some time, the auto rental business, Grancar, has been renting a couple of replicas of his legendary Russian limousine; unpublished photos of the ex-Comandante en Jefe are sold in various auctions as collection pieces, and now, exceeding all imagination and surpassing a whole flotilla of boats designed for the good life, the new boat bamboozle that the tourist group Gaviota will offer emerges: a sophisticated trip in the boat of the modest, humble and simple leader, Fidel.

With such purpose and in order to satisfy the most demanding of tastes, as General Raúl Castro puts it, “without haste but without pause,” using polyurethane of great consistency for protection and beautification, in its usual berth, the tidal basin of Caleta del Rosario, the hull was cleaned up and repaired (Code P-6, according to the nomenclature of NATO), along with the four diesel engines, model M-50 F-2, of 1200 horsepower. The rest of the reconstruction was done, with rigor and commercial conscience, from July 9, 2014 up to April 1, 2016. Continue reading “Renting Fidel Castro’s Yacht for 5,000 Dollars a Day / Juan Juan Almeida”

Expert carpenters, specialists in boat furniture, worked without a break, while the ship was in drydock at a border guard unit of Barlovento Bay west of Havana. There, respecting the original design in its most minute detail, they changed the woodwork and applied an extra marine varnish of high strength to the new doors and the whole interior oak; they changed the nuts and bolts and the upholstery coverings. They also installed two new refrigerator housings and re-equipped the radio, navigation equipment and control room with the ultimate in advanced technology.

A new boat, a new life. At 89.63 feet (27.3 meters) in length, 4 heads, first-class cabins, air conditioning, televisions, a bar and satellite navigation, the rent comes to about $780/hour. However, a tiny discount will be given only to special clients. We are talking about up to $5,000 dollars for the first 8 hours. Whoever rents it can enjoy a romantic escapade, a family reunion, a party with friends, a dream of a fishing trip, a work reunion or a wedding celebration in a pretentious environment that for years was reserved exclusively for the ex-communist leader and his high-class guests.

As now few things amaze me, who knows if in the next few days the news surprises us that, as a new source of income, foreign tourists can visit Punto Cero and bring back as a souvenir a photo with the Comandante.

The truth is that, for now, while many people continue trapped in an absurd, aberrant and almost infinite cycle of anger, vengeance, violence and false patriotism, Fidel Castro continues to be the most profitable commercial trademark that the Cuban Revolution has.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván García

View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.
View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.

Ivan Garcia, 22 August 2016 — The breeze coming from the coast is a blast of hot air that barely cools things off. The sun reverberates and the tourists take refuge from the insufferable irradiation in a swimming pool in the form of a huge shell, split in two by a cement walkway.

Others escape from the heat wave by tossing down beer like British hooligans or drinking insipid mojitos one after another. The Russian and Serbian tourists continue doing their thing: drinking vodka with ice as if it were mineral water, leaning on the bar rail of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort hotel, nestled into Cayo Coco, in the archipelago of the Jardines del Rey, north of Ciego de Ávila, a province some 360 miles to the east of Havana.

In the tiny shop, Mexican tourists ask where they can buy El Cuervo tequila. Close by, a group of Spaniards follow on television the performance of their compatriot, Mireia Belmonte, in the Olympic swimming finals in Rio 2016. Continue reading “Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván García”

There are very few Cuban tourists. Even fewer black people. Past 2:00 in the afternoon, the Memories Flamenco hotel seems to be a plenary session in miniature of the United Nations: East and West Europeans, Mexicans, Hindus, Asians and Americans, who try not to call attention to their clandestine tourism at Cayo Coco.

“Traveling to Cuba isn’t a problem. You can justify it with any of the 12 categories authorized and, although it’s not permitted legally, no institution in the United States asks if we’re doing tourism when we travel to the island,” comments a North American of Peruvian origin on vacation with his wife and two kids.

The five-star hotel is located on the highway that connects Cayo Coco with Cayo Guillermo. It has 624 rooms; 12 are suites and 4 are adapted for the handicapped. At this moment, half of the rooms are empty. “We’re in the low season. And even though the number of visitors to Cuba continued growing in 2016, hotel occupancy isn’t more than 50 percent,” says a receptionist.

Like 70 percent of Cuban tourist installations, the Memories Flamenco hotel is administered by the Gaviota S.A. military emporium, a business that appeared in 1989 under the auspices of Fidel Castro, on the pretext of testing the profitability of the incipient tourist business.

“When the tourist boom began, since so much in Cuba is stolen, it wasn’t known for sure whether a hotel would generate profits. Gaviota reduced expenditures and raised productivity on the basis of low salaries and internal controls,” says an employee.

Another employee, driving an electric cart that transports the recent arrivals to their rooms, says with total frankness that “most of us workers don’t agree with the deal they give us. Gaviota contracts only with foreign businesses to administer their hotels. The salary is shit; I earn 500 pesos (almost 20 dollars) a month, and since it’s a hotel with ’everything included,’ tipping is scarce. The luggage handlers and the maids are the ones who get extra money. But it’s always better to work in a hotel than to be a policeman.”

Every day a maid cleans and prepares 12 rooms. Her base salary is 465 pesos/month and about 18 dollars as a stimulus. “When it’s not Juana, it’s her sister. The truth is that we never receive a salary that matches the number of tourists staying in the hotel. I get by, more or less, thanks to the guests who give me two or three CUCs as a tip, and leave me clothing and useful stuff when they go, although getting it out of the hotel is a problem,” confesses a maid.

According to a gardener, most of the Cubans who work in management changed their military uniforms for white or blue guayaberas and black shoes. “They arrive from military life thinking that a hotel is operated the same as a barracks. In addition to being rude to us, they’re arrogant. I don’t leave, because for better or for worse, working in a hotel is better than cutting cane.”

Most of the employees of the Memories Flamenco live in Morón, a town 50 minutes from Cayo Coco. “The work routine is very demanding. I work seven days and get three days off. The management is treated differently. In spite of the hotel’s good results, Gaviota doesn’t let our families enjoy the facilities. Even the food they give us workers is different. In general it’s very little, and poorly prepared,” confesses a bar worker.

In addition to Memories Flamenco, there are on Cayo Coco, among others, the hotels Memories Caribe Beach Resort, Meliá Cayo Coco, Meliá Jardines del Rey, Pullman Cayo Coco, Pestana Cayo Coco All Inclusive Beach Resort, Tryp Cayo Coco, Colonial Cayo Coco, Sol Cayo Coco, Playa Coco, Playa Coco Star, Iberostar Mojito, Iberostar Cayo Coco and NH Krystal Laguna Villas & Resort, with more than 6,700 rooms total.

The zone is designed to be an example of true tourist apartheid. At the entrance to the isle, a police official, guarded by several soldiers with red berets, checks the people and vehicles that enter and leave the Ciego de Avila key.

Almost all the hotels located on Cayo Coco are administered by Gaviota, which has plans to continue growing in the coming years. Several brigades are building three new hotels, which will increase room capacity even more.

Many tourists aren’t pleased with the strategy of being confined in installations far from towns and cities. “It’s annoying; it prevents you from interacting with people. When they put you in hotels in Havana you can chat with Cubans on the street, but it’s impossible in the rest of the tourist zones,” says Eusebio, an Andalusian who lives in Seville.

The same thing has happened with the construction of the Hotel Kempinski, in the heart of the capital. Gaviota’s management prefers to hire foreign chefs and directors before Cubans.

“It’s absurd to bring bricklayers from India or cooks from Spain. They pay them fair salaries, but not us. It seems that whoever directs Gaviota hates Cubans,” complains a kitchen assistant.

The dream of one of the tourist promoters is to hook up with a foreign woman and leave the country. “My goal is to work in Miami Beach, Cancun or Punta Cana,” he says, and he runs for cover from a drizzle that barely alleviates the leaden heat.

When night falls, the lobby bar fills up, and in an adjoining theater, the guests take their chairs to see the performance of Divan Sotelo, one of the Reggae musicians in style at the moment, who was born in Havana in 1996.

At this hour, one of the maids is waiting for the worker transport that will take her home. Today was a decent day. Four convertible pesos in tips and two half-filled bottles of shampoo that a couple of Japanese tourists gave her.

Now she is looking for a way to take them out of the hotel without calling attention to herself. Tomorrow, perhaps, she will have better luck.

Martí Noticias, August 19, 2016

Translated by Regina Anavy

Viñales Pool Owners Rebel Against the Bureaucracy / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Casa Nenita pool (14ymedio)
Casa Nenita pool (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Vinales, 23 August 2016 – The tables are ready, the glasses shine on the tablecloths and the bar displays a wide variety of beverages. Nevertheless, the restaurant is closed. Some months ago, the ample dining room of Casa Nenita, in Viñales, was full of tourists, but the construction of a pool resulted in the cancellation of the owner’s license for renting rooms and selling food.

The drama that Emilia Diaz Serrat (Nenita) is living through is repeated all over the beautiful valley of Viñales among those dwelling owners who decided to build a pool. The local authorities have required that these entrepreneurs demolish what was built or convert into enormous flower beds the works intended for a refreshing dip.

A muffled fight, which newcomers barely notice, strains the paradisiacal valley crossed by wooded hills, caves and fields of tobacco. More than five years ago and before the touristic flowering of the region, self-employed workers devoted to renting rooms took a further step to diversify their services and began building their own pools. Continue reading “Viñales Pool Owners Rebel Against the Bureaucracy / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

However, at the beginning of this year and by surprise, the Municipal Administration Council decreed the closure of all of them and cancelled the rental licenses of those who resisted obeying. The local authorities even used satellite images to detect those striking blue circles or rectangles in the backyards of houses.

Roque, 38, is a private taxi driver who makes the trip between Havana and Viñales every day. Born in the beautiful Pinareño town, he knows each story of the place like the back of his hand. “What they have done here has no name,” he comments while driving his car through the unpaved streets on the periphery of the tourist epicenter.

“They say that the problem is the water, but in recent months it has rained a lot here, and the Jazmines Hotel pool (state-owned) is always full,” complains the man. So are those of La Ermita lodging and the popular campground Dos Hermanas, which belong to the state. Like a good many local residents, Roque believes that the measure is “an extremism” by the authorities against “those who produce more money in the area.”

The Viñales hosts pay the Tax Administration Office (ONAT) about 35 CUC every month as a license fee for each room that they rent. To that is added 10% of their income and payments for social security.

At first there were plastic pools bought in stores like those of Plaza Carlos III in Havana for a price of between 600 and 1,800 CUC. Hardly a water reservoir where customers could cool off from the torrid summer and fulfill their dreams of an idyllic vacation on a Caribbean Island.

The accommodations with a pool had an advantage in a town with 911 dwellings that are licensed for renting and in which more than 80% of tourists who arrive in the Pinar del Rio province spend the night. Offering a swim in the garden was a plus for attracting clients.

Little by little, the temporary became permanent. Glamorous designs replaced the plastic of the first, almost infantile pools. Beautiful ones, with islands of coconut palms set up in the center, an irresistible blue depth and sophisticated pumping system, began to appear everywhere. The investments in some cases exceeded 8,000 CUC.

In Cuban stores they barely sell the bleach compounds, disinfectants or products necessary for cleaning pools, but a thriving informal framework provides everything needed for their maintenance. In most cases the products are imported personally and receive authorization for entry in Customs, or they are diverted from the state sector.

The Viñales self-employed had to overcome all those obstacles, and at no meeting of the group of Dwelling Landlords or in the Delegate “Accountability Assemblies” were they warned to discontinue their renovations, a detail that they now reveal in order to try to stop the official assault.

Some sought solutions in order not to depend on water supplied through the pipes that arrive from the street. “When they told us that the problem could be the water, I hired a state brigade to dig a well, but not even that way could we stop this curse from above,” says M., owner of one of the houses whose license was withdrawn and who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

The onslaught came from all sides. Thirty-two rental licenses were withdrawn and only the homeowners who obeyed the sudden order to demolish or fill in their pools with dirt kept their permits. Those who raised their voices to complain about what is happening have received the treatment for “counter-revolutionaries” and a greater surveillance of their movements, they protest.

“We have hired a lawyer, the head of a provincial firm, in order to advise us, but so far it has not helped at all,” complains M. “We have gone many times to the People’s Municipal Power and the Municipal Party, but we have not gotten coherent answers.” He clarifies, however, that they do not want to turn this “into a political issue, because otherwise they will never arrive at a solution.”

Dozens of these owners even spent a night in a park in order to have a meeting with the president of the Provincial Assembly of the People’s Power, but the meeting never took place. They were surrounded throughout the wee hours by agents of the Special Brigade, two police patrols and a bus from the Technical Department of Investigations (DTI) as if they were a gang of dangerous criminals.

“Here the state invests little and demands a lot,” explains an employee of the Olive Tree restaurant, located on the main street of Viñales. “We have raised this place up, the entrepreneurs, because twenty years ago this place was half dead and today it is one of the country’s most important tourist destinations.”

In September 2014, Resolution 54 from the Institute of Physical Planning made clear that it would not award new licenses for the construction of pools, but the majority of the 28 that are in dispute today in Viñales were built before that date. In January of this year, the Official Gazette introduced new fees for the use of pools in the private rental sector.

A letter sent to Raul Castro in June by a group from the area of rental property owners affected by the prohibition is still unanswered. “We decided to make this report to you so that you may know that the doors to development in this country are closing,” say the claimants in the missive. Some of them talked hopefully this weekend of a prompt correction of the measure, but their predictions are more like hopes than certainties.

Viñales Vally landscape (MJ Porter)
Viñales Vally landscape: tobacco growing in the foreground, “mogotes” in the background. (MJ Porter)

They do not understand a decision that they think was made in a “precipitous manner” and “without taking into account the consequences that this would bring for tourist development” in the area. In the text that they delivered to the Council of State’s Office for Attention to the People, they characterize the measure as “unjust, disproportionate and out of step with the times in which we live.”

“I’m not going to empty the pool,” Nenita emphatically says under the inclement August sun, and meanwhile on her whole property not even the buzz of a fly was heard. The residence has been empty for weeks although in the streets of the tourist center visitors are stacked up in search of a room and on the TripAdvisor booking site her house is the best rated in the area.

Six other hosts also are prepared to “continue fighting” to keep their pools, in which, right now, no tourist bathes and which are only beautiful mirrors of water reflecting the mogotes, Viñales’ striking landforms that played an important part in its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana's Revolution Square April 16, 2011.
Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana’s Revolution Square April 16, 2011. Reuters

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 August 2016 — Recently, during my brief stay in Miami to participate in an academic meeting on legal issues, I was surprised to hear from a Cuban emigrant – fairly old in age – about his wish that, in a future democratic Cuba, a law of compulsory military service would be maintained. His proposal was based on the assumption that military life imposes discipline and maturity in young people. Virtues – his opinion – which are practically extinct on the island.

Very frequently and with minimal variations, I’ve heard this phrase in different scenarios for Cubans of the most dissimilar political ideas or with no political ideas at all. The common denominator is the age of those who think this way: usually adults over 55 or 60. Continue reading “The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

It would seem that the experience of the failed Republic, where so many presidents came from military life, and the nearly six decades of this calamitous revolution, led and directed ad infinitum by the military, there are some that just don’t get the damage inflicted by this entrenched militarist tradition in our history.

There are still those who think that certain “misguided” young people can “become men” after being forced to complete their military service, preferably in so-called combat units. “The boys have to go through hard work and get to know what hunger and hard life are in order to have discipline,” state many venerable septuagenarians. However, if such a principle were true, we Cubans who have been born and raised under the Castro regime would be among the most disciplined people on the planet.

The strange thing is that the same principle has been valid for both Tyrians and Trojans. Suffice it to recall that supporters of Fulgencio Batista were convinced that the country’s leadership should be in the hands of a “strong man,” even if it meant the violation of constitutional order, a perception that made the March 1952 coup possible, which opened a new door to military violence.

Just a few years later, another “strong man” was beating popularity records among Cubans, when he took power by force of arms, overthrew the earlier “strong one” and imposed the longest military dictatorship that this hemisphere has known.

That same militaristic thought made possible the existence of the notorious Military Units to Aid Production, created with the aim of amending and “making men,” through the rigor and discipline of military life, out of homosexuals, religious, “softies,” petty bourgeois and other elements whose tendencies and attitudes did not seem worthy enough to the “macho” olive green power elite.

And, on behalf of that bellicose national spirit, invoked from Law 75 (or the National Defense Act), thousands and thousands of young Cubans have been called to the military ranks. Castro-type military testosterone planted in several countries of South America and Africa in the form of guerrillas has not just been exported from Cuba, but hundreds of young Cuban recruits who completed the Compulsory Military Service were sacrificed uselessly in the war in Angola. Those who returned alive still carry the trauma of war to the present day, although there has never been a single patient officially reported with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Young people who refused to go to war, meanwhile, suffered military prison for “treason.”

The chimeric moral superiority of military training in men is directly correlated to the machista Cuban culture and is reflected even in familiar popular phrases. Who has not heard of “if you do not like it, go lead an uprising in the Sierra”; or “don’t act so brave, you have never fired a shot,” because being “one who fires shots” is not only an irrefutable sign of manly courage, but also the source of legitimacy of the force imposed over arguments.

Undoubtedly, those who advocate the supposed virtues of military discipline as a solution to the crisis of Cuban social values forget that over half a century of Compulsory Military Service, far from forming the character of our young people, has been a source of humiliation and deprivation, having only succeeded in enhancing the resentment and frustration of being forcibly subjected to an activity for which they do not feel the slightest vocation. I cannot think of a worse way to “become men.”

Keep in mind that a mechanism for corruption has been promoted from the standpoint of purchasing permanent deferments at recruitment offices by parents of young men subject to the draft, often with forged medical certificates alleging their adolescent children have some sort of handicap and are unable to undergo the rigors of a combat unit. Another way is through bribing the officials in charge of enlisting, who, for a set amount in hard currency, make the candidate’s file disappear, and he is not called to serve.

But the military band of men in Cuba extends beyond the compliance of active duty, since once he is “licensed,” the soldier becomes part of the country’s military reserve and is subject to mobilization whenever the Party-State-Government declares some imaginary threat or craves a show of force.

In so-called combat units, an inaccurate term for referring to the camp and shooting areas, weaponry and exercises, most of the recruits’ time is spent clearing fields and cleaning, or in some activity related to repairing and maintaining the headquarters’ kitchens. At the end of their active duty, many of them may only have “practiced” shooting their weapons once, and some not even that, so they are very far from being trained to carry out a war or to defend the country in case of aggression.

Of note, among other factors in the “training” of young recruits in Cuba, are poor living conditions in the units, poor health, poor diet, lack of drinking water or sanitary services, forced labor, mistreatment by officers, among other hardships that have nothing to do with military training, with preparation for the defense of the country or with the forging of character in discipline and high ethical and moral values which they would have to aspire to.

Compulsory Military Service has not only served the regime as a clamping and blackmail mechanism over Cuban adolescents – restricting the continuance of their studies, travel abroad or holding jobs – but it constitutes one of the most backward obstacles we need to get rid of as soon as possible. In a democratic Cuba the army should not replace the functions of home and civilian schools in forming our youth’s values. In fact, most Cubans who have lived for nearly six decades in this prison of olive-green uniformed guards, who have endured a regime of orders and control as if instead of citizens we are obedient soldiers, wish to be present at the conclusion of the detrimental cult of the epaulets and the philosophy of “people in uniform.”

A simple look at the most emblematic figures of Cuban civic history reveals the primacy of civilian-humanist over militaristic thought in forging the nation. Examples abound, but we quote only emblematic names like Félix Varela, José de la Luz y Caballero and José Martí, champions of virtues very distant from the staunch Hispanic militarism breath that has choked our spirit since 1492 until today.

A separate topic would be the future existence of military academies, where officers with real military vocations would be trained in different specialties, and would lead a well-paid professional army, properly prepared and much smaller in numbers than the substantial hordes of hungry and resentful rookies that are bundled in the armed forces today, who, in an imaginary case of aggression, would only serve as cannon fodder.

It is not reasonable that a small, poor and malnourished country that is not at war or under the threat of an armed conflict has more men lazing about wasting time in an unnecessary army than producing the wealth and food so urgently needed.

However, it remains true that in a future Cuba we will need a formidable army, only not an army of soldiers, but of teachers, professionals from all walks of life, from the labor forces, from our peasant population, our merchants, businessmen, free citizens. They will shoulder a much greater responsibility than a thousand regiments of warriors: the material and moral reconstruction of a nation ruined specifically by the military caste planted in power in the last half century, which has been more pernicious and destructive than the sum of all wars fought in the history of this land.

Translated by Norma Whiting

A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)
Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)

It is a crime to manipulate a child’s conscience for the adulation of a dictator.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 15 August 2016, Havana – This Saturday, August 13, 2016, was the culmination of true torture after months of putting up with the fanfare in the official media on the occasion of the ninetieth birthday of the Specter-in-Chief.

Against any reasonable forecast, the responsibility for the birthday celebration was delegated to the members of the children’s art troupe “La Colmenita,” (The Little Beehive) and was presented to an audience that was beyond unusual: a theater crowded with adults dressed in military accoutrements or in pressed white guayaberas, Cuban dress shirts.

In the front row, flanked by the president of Venezuela on his left and his brother Raúl Castro on his right, the Orate Magnus in the flesh writhed in his seat and turned to whisper something to the Venezuelan catafalque, without paying much attention to the apotheosis of bad taste that was taking place on stage. Undaunted and haughty, as he has always been, he remained indifferent to the adulation, as if the whole deployment of major sucking-up were not exclusively devoted to him and his irreparable 90 years. Continue reading “A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

However, it this upside-down granddaddy, to whom the children narrated stories, is not what this commentary is about, but specifically about the child actors who were charged with the responsibility for the pathetic spectacle, whose most salient feature was a waste of a repulsive cult towards the ancient dictator.

An alienated representation of Abdala, José Martí’s well-known theater piece, where the hysteria and the over-acting of the two young performers stood out in stark contrast to the firm, serene and happy mood behind this work of Martí, was the strong dish that attempted to draw a parallel line between the hero of the play–young Abdala marching off to war—and Cuba’s ex-chief.

Meanwhile, the girl in the role of the mother of Patriot Abdala rendered herself on the stage with the same deranged passion of a slum tango, to the delight of all spectators… except one. Poor children, victims of the political manipulations of their elders! Poor Martí, so used and abused by the power of a satrapy that has turned Cuba into exactly the opposite of what he dreamed of!

Meanwhile, on the backdrop, images from the Wars of Independence were projected, followed by other, real ones, of the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra, the Bay of Pigs battle and the thousand useless fights tussled by the ex-Undefeated from his climate-controlled headquarters. The same ossified scheme of the aesthetics of socialist realism rooted in the years of the Cold War. The consecration of mediocrity.

And just in case the show wasn’t tasteless enough, the City Historian and a decrepit Omara Portuondo were brought onto the stage. In a shaky voice, Portuondo sang (again!), “The era is giving birth to a heart.” Castro I sat in an armchair because his dreadful state of health no longer allows those incendiary speeches standing on his feet before the public. The City Historian, one of the most notorious pimps of Castro I, made a grotesque and vulgar tribute praising the culture and genius of the nonagenarian honoree, his astonishing knowledge, his aptitude for speaking (and supposedly also “for listening”), the beauty of his hands and that “Fidel” had given him a tie 20 years ago.

The children’s feigned passion, the fake joy of the director and the artificial rigidity of the public provoked embarrassment among the rest of the people, but it especially arouses indignation to note how brainwashed these children are. Their carefully learned scripts, their acting gestures, the projection of their voices; everything indicates thorough indoctrination, long hours snatched from the play and joy of that brief period of their lives, to be submitted to obedience and sacrifice in order to satisfy the vanity of the old tyrant.

The U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child should condemn this practice as a criminal violation, suitable to Nazism, to manipulate the conscience of defenseless children in serving the ideological interests of adults.

The children arouse pity. In a not-too-distant day, when the revered specter of today is just a bad memory next to a pile of ashes, they will discover that they were used in the service of an outdated ideology and that their candor was sacrificed at the foot of a statue of the past, with the willing consent of those who should protect them: their parents. I would like to think that at least the children will have the opportunity to change course.

Translated by Norma Whiting