Preliminary Assessment of an Announced Succession / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro salutes Diaz-Canel (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2018 — The first question regarding the succession of power in Cuba, that is the one about who would be elected, was finally clarified on April 19th with the confirmation of the selection of Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as the new president of the State Council of the Castro regime. He will assume the dubious privilege of inheriting the address of the hacienda in ruins.

Contrary to the announcements of the darkest of soothsayers proclaiming the eventuality of a dreaded dynastic succession by Raul’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, who would have been designated by purely consanguineous motives, the election of Díaz-Canel, far from surprising anyone, coincides with signals from the cupola that marked him as a favorite for the position. Castro Espín, for his part, isn’t even among the members of the Council of State (CE). continue reading

If the fissures and struggles between two tendencies of the Power cupola – one “Raulista” and the other “Fidelista”— are true (and certain signs suggest that they are), it is certain that such discrepancies were not reflected in the results of the ballots voted by the 604 deputies who participated in the “election” of the CE. But by themselves, these results do not deny the existence of such a crack, rather they suggest the possibility of agreements between both tendencies in order to safeguard economic, political, and even personal interests and privileges which are common to them, since they are a class that has held power for six decades and that has direct responsibility in everything that happened during that time and in the deep socio-economic crisis that suffocates the nation.

The election process initiated in the month of October 2017 culminates in these two days of sessions of the Ninth Legislature of the National Assembly. However, they were not exempt from surprises, among which stands out – with differences – the strange and unexplained exclusion of Marino Murillo, a member of the Political Bureau and Head of the Implementation and Development Committee of the new CE.

His absence seems all the more confusing because in his inaugural speech the new Cuban president expressed the will and commitment to continue with the implementation of the Guidelines and the Economic and Social Development Plan until 2030, drawn up by his mentor and predecessor, Raúl Castro, to whom – by the way – he dedicated an exaggeratedly laudatory segment.

Murillo should be, at least in theory, an important player with regards to the “continuist” economic policy announced by the incoming president, so his elimination from the CE – without any announcement of his transfer to “other important functions,” as explained in the case of Mercedes López Acea, following the official jargon’s cryptic style – opens the door to speculation about this high official’s possible fall from grace.

Another curious fact in the composition of the new CE is the almost nonexistent presence of any active military. Beyond the symbolic olive-green uniforms of the historical old commanders Guillermo García and Ramiro Valdés – ratified among the five vice-presidents of the CE – General Leopoldo Cintra Frías has been the only minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces who was ratified as a member.

No less notable was the postponement of the election of the Council of Ministers until the next ordinary session of the National Assembly, scheduled for July 2018 as proposed by the president himself, Díaz-Canel, taking into account the country’s complex current circumstances. The proposal was approved unanimously, in accordance with the tradition of the Assembly.

In general, and contrary to what one would expect from these momentous days, when after almost sixty years the departure of the Castro clan from the presidential armchair has finally happened, there are more unknowns left to unravel in times to come than there are certitudes that the new Cuban president had to offer.

His speech held no promises, certainties or proposals for a more promising course for the millions of the governed, who – for their part – lack hopes or expectations for the “new” government. Perhaps the only miniscule novelty of the presidential discourse was the mention, on two occasions, of the word “prosperity,” towards which, according to the “young” ruler, socialism must lead us.

Nevertheless, in spite the heir’s manifest orthodoxy, his language of the barricades and his frequent attacks against anything that differs from the path marked by the leaders of the “Revolution,” we will have to carefully watch his next steps. Rehashing old speeches is not the same as facing the reality of a country in urgent need of deep changes or refusing to take the necessary steps to reverse the calamitous legacy he has just been handed. Because changes in Cuba are not just an option, but a requirement, beyond the interests of the Power claque, its tendencies, its interests or the desires of the brand-new, freshly unveiled, president.

Going forward, what Raúl’s dauphin “says” will not be as important as what the Cuban president “does.” Without a doubt, the shadows of the two Castros – one a ghost, the other a phony reformer – will continue to perniciously influence his mandate for a time. Unfortunately, “time” is not what this new honcho has a lot of, and betting on continuity and pauses, he could end up as the scapegoat of the Castro regime. His only options are to leap forward or bear the entire responsibility for the bad works and ineptitude of his predecessors, while maintaining the balance between the factions of the old power. He won’t have it easy, but this is what he wished for. Meanwhile, for ordinary Cubans, the horizon continues to be as gloomy today as previously, but, at the end of the day, April 19th was the first day of a government without Castros. And only that minutest circumstance is, in itself, good news.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba Drilling the Deepest Horizontal Oil Well in Latin America

The well is located on the north coast of the island, and is already 6 km deep, although it must reach a record of more than 8.2. (Rincón cubano)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, 4 April 2018 — Cuba is moving along with the drilling that will soon come to be the deepest horizontal oil well in all of Latin America and the Caribbean, located on the north side of the island (Cuba ) where it has already passed the 6 kilometer mark and will soon reach the record of 8.2 km according to a notice this past Wednesday from the official press.

The drilling of the West Varadero 1008 long range well has been supported with financing and guidance from Cuba, which has chosen this technolgy in order to “exploit from the coast, the crude that lies beneath the ocean” and “to lower the cost of investment” as pointed out on front page of the state daily Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). continue reading

The drilling began on the twenty-eighth of December 2016 at Boca de Camarioca, Matanzas and has been complicated “by the geology of subterranean rock” explained the Director General of the state Central Company for the Drilling and Extraction of Petroleum, Marcos Antonio Pestana.

According to the bulletin, CCDEP has produced 8000 tons of petroleum more than was previously planned for the trimester.

“Drilling always brings on new challenges and we are, at this time, drilling six wells which are very promising for company production and for the nation,” added Pestana.

Since January of 2018, operations of the company have reached up to the central area of Ciego de Avila. In Cuba, the first long distance oil well was the Varadero 1000 and today there are already a total of nine active wells with this technology in Cuba.

The Cuban energy system depends almost completely on petroleum although the nation is working towards sources of clean energy.

At this time, Havana is looking for alternative providers in light of the reduction of shipments of crude at subsidized prices from Venezuela, its main regional ally

According to some estimates, in the last two years, Venezuela has reduced its shipments down to fifty-five thousand barrels daily, about half of its peak shipments because of its economic crisis and the fall of the price of petroleum.

Recently the Island announced a new petroleum supply agreement in exchange for medical assistance with Algeria, which in 2017 brought some 2.1 million barrels of crude to Cuba, an amount that could be repeated this year, according to involved sources.

Russia also came to the aid of its former ally and shipped, this past year, 200,000 tons of petroleum for the Cuban company Cubametals under an agreement between the governments of Moscow and Havana.

The Russian state petroleum company Rosneft has also negotiated the development of future projects in conjunction with the production of petroleum within Cuba on land as well as in the ocean.

Translated by William Fitzhugh (Welcome back, from HemosOido!)

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

Corruption, the End of Impunity and the Latin American Political Street Gangs

Lula and ex-president Dilma Rousseff (AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 April 2018 — With the recent imprisonment of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the regional left has just received another hard setback. In fact, it could almost be said that Lula’s fall from grace has been the most serious blow suffered by Latin American progressives in the midst of the relentless bashing that its leaders have been weathering in recent times.

Lula is, without a doubt, one of the few heads of state of the left under whose government (2003-2011) extraordinary economic and social improvement was seen, reflected in a high rate of GDP growth, increases in exports, anticipated liquidation of external debts, strengthening of the national markets, significant decreases in unemployment, increases in salaries and the creation and diversification of microcredits, among other important reforms. continue reading

If Brazil reached a relevant position in the world economy in just eight years, and if ever the developing countries looked with hope at what was known at the time as “the Brazilian miracle,” it is largely due to the political talent and the economic reforms promoted by Lula, which explains his enormous popularity in his country and the considerable political capital which he still has, even in the midst of the judicial process – a corruption plot not yet concluded – that has landed him in jail.

But, along with all of Lula’s merits listed above is that other essential component of the best exponents of political populism: a mixture of charisma and histrionics that the former President, now a defendant, has deployed astutely, in the purest style of the television soap operas produced by his country, to manipulate the exalted spirits of his followers in his favor. Staying in the political game, despite everything, is one of the most common tricks of populist leaders, regardless of their ideological alignment.

The hoax reached its climax precisely at the end of the 48 hours of the weekend in which he remained resistant – self imprisoned, it could be said – in the face of the order to surrender to the authorities to begin to serve a 12-year prison sentence, when, surrounded by militants of his own party (Partido de los Trabajadores, PT) and other allied parties – among which the everlasting scarlet shadow of the Communists could not be absent – Lula used popular sentimentality to invoke the memory of his late wife on the first anniversary of her death, with a Catholic mass that served to close a chapter in what promises to be an extensive and complicated saga.

Afterwards, before surrendering to the authorities, the beginning of messianism and megalomania surfaced in one who, now purified by his punishment, assumes himself as metamorphosed into the Illuminati of the poor, to harangue his enlightened discourse, with a mystical touch: “I will not stop because I am no longer a human being, I am an idea (…) mixed with your ideas.” And “in this town there are many Lulas.” Apotheosis of the peoples. The crowd cheered deliriously, tears flowed and hugs for the martyr abounded. Curtain down.

It is not personal. It is known that the defense of those who are condemned must be allowed, even from the guillotine, and that those who are hanged also kick about. However, as far as it has transpired, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was prosecuted with the corresponding guarantees under the Brazilian judicial system rules, and he is being convicted of corruption, not because of his political ideas.

Ergo, even though Lula’s downfall benefits his political adversaries, it was Lula himself who, in committing the crime, deeply harmed the PT and dirtied the “cause” of his followers. It is not, then, a “political trial,” as his regional leftist allies want others to believe, and some of them are beginning to fear they could also be splashed by this great mess of putrefaction.

Beyond all that Lula did well, no one is above the Law. After all, whoever is corrupt should be prosecuted and imprisoned, especially those who hold political office. It is true that, in good faith – and judging by the corruption scandals that are being uncovered in recent years among the political classes of any alignment – it would be said that, in order to imprison the dishonest public servants, prison capacities would have to be expanded rapidly, especially in Latin America.

In fact, the history of our region is so lavish in examples of political and administrative decay at all levels that this last uncorking, which continues to expose long chains of corruption and to implicate numerous high level politicians, should not surprise anyone. The novelty – and this, only to a certain extent – is that they are being judged, condemned and imprisoned.

We must not forget the case of the former Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello (who governed between March 1990 and October 1992) as the young politician who assumed the first presidency of a democratic Brazil. He won the elections in the second round – precisely against Lula da Silva – for the right-wing National Reconstruction Party, with the promise of ending the illicit enrichment of public officials.

Paradoxically, just over two years later, Collor de Mello was forced to resign because of investigations of corruption – acceptance of bribes in exchange for political favors – and influence peddling, followed by a Congress that officially requested his dismissal. A technicality in the court process prevented his being found guilty of political corruption, and that saved him from prison. However, Congress did consider him guilty and condemned him to eight years of suppression of his political rights. So far, Collor de Mello has not succeeded in his political career, although he has again attempted to venture into it.

Now, Collor de Mello’s asking his supporters back then to publicly demonstrate against what he called a “coup d’état”, seems to be part of a desperate recourse followed by presidents fallen into disgrace, beyond their political color. Years later, Dilma Rousseff took that same stance when facing her own destitution.

And these are only Brazilian references. We can also mention recent cases of fallen angels in other countries of the region, such as the left-wing Argentine president, Cristina Fernández – also said to be “persecuted politically,” the poor thing – or the right-wing Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. It has been said that corruption is not an ideological disease, but a moral one.

And while the spiral of corruption continues to expand, dragging more and more prominent figures of regional politics in its dizzying cone, Latin Americans who are followers of one leader or another – or one party or trend or another – continue to show civic immaturity and the proverbial political infantilism.

So, instead of taking on the challenge of the moment and embracing the end of impunity as an essential principle that, without distinction or privileges, will reign over all public servants, they prefer to project themselves as if this were all a brawl between street gangs, where what really matters is not to prove one’s innocence but to accentuate the guilt of the adversary. It isn’t so much that “mine” is corrupt, but that “yours” is more so. And so it seems that we will continue to the end of time.

To paraphrase a well-known Cuban poet: It’s Latin America, don’t be surprised at anything.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Children and Childish Journalism

Students from a primary school in Havana say goodbye to the 2016-2017 academic year. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 April 2018 — On Friday, April 6th, The National Newscast on Cuban Television (NTV) devoted a few minutes of its midday and evening editions to broadcast a critical report by journalist Maray Suárez about parents’ lack of attention to their children. In her own words, this situation, which is becoming worrisome in current Cuban society, negatively affects the education and the formation of children’s values.

It is refreshing to see that someone finally cares about this issue despite the slow reaction of the government press when it comes to addressing the multiple and pressing problems of society. continue reading

The report is based on Suarez’s two particular personal experiences. The first took place 4 o’clock in the morning, when the reporter was on her way to work and she encountered a group of teenagers, between 12 and 15 years old, gathered on a corner of Havana’s Vedado district. The second, when she attended a choreographed performance by a large group of children from the primary school Quince de Abril, in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre, on the occasion of the celebration of the 57th anniversary of the Organization of Pioneers of Cuba. The reporter showed the video recording of that performance in conjunction with the report.

It’s heartening that someone finally cares about this matter, despite slow reaction by the government press when it comes to addressing the problems of society

In the first case, Suárez stopped to talk with the night-owl boys, asked them their ages and reflected on the families’ lack of supervision that allows these children to stay up late at night in the street, with all its implied risks.

In the second case, the video presented on NTV shows a group of children at the Pioneer celebration, dressed in their school uniforms, dancing provocatively to the sound of reggae music, sensually swaying their hips, glutes and waists. Suárez believes that the celebration should have included the sort of music which is more appropriate to a children’s audience than that which led to a vulgar, erotic display that played out on the school’s stage.

“Are these the spectacles we want from our children?” the worried reporter of the official press asks rhetorically. The journalist insists on the importance of “the interaction of the child with the family,” underlining that the development of minors is an obligation “that the whole society should be concerned with.” All of which is (or should at least be) true.

However, perhaps driven by her passionate interest in the education and care of children, Maray Suárez forgot to inform us if – as one would expect – she consulted or asked the families of those children for their authorization before exposing them publicly performing their obscene dance in a video broadcast by the Cuban TV news media, which did not take the trouble to have anyone pixelate their innocent faces.

Could it be that this media professional not know that exposing images of children publicly constitutes a crime in any moderately civilized society in the world?

Could it be that this press professional did not know that exposing images of children publicly constitutes a crime in any moderately civilized society in the world? Where, then, are her own ethical values as a journalist? Does she find it very educational to act with such flagrant disrespect to minors and their families?

Unfortunately, since Cuba is not a State of Laws, the parents and children thus vexed are defenseless: they cannot sue the colossal official press apparatus or the reporter in question.

Although the reporter addresses the issue of family supervision, it would not hurt to introduce reflections on the role that the teachers and the primary school management played in this case. Ultimately, it was they who allowed – and perhaps even promoted – these children’s vulgar dance display at school.

For the problem to be really corrected, the official press should put aside all the hypocritical puritanism that mediates each article of information and take on the challenge of describing and exposing the dark and dirty cracks lacerating the current Cuban society.

The official press should put aside all the hypocritical puritanism that mediates each article of information and take on the challenge of describing and exposing the dark and dirty cracks lacerating current Cuban society 

The task is particularly impossible if we take into account that to find a solution to sensitive issues such as the one we are dealing with, it is necessary to stop beating about the bush. Instead of flirting with the effects, you must first identify the causes of the malady.

But faced with a deep problem in education, it will not be the communicators of the government press who air the dirty laundry.

Because, at the end of the day, the official journalists are also a bit like children: to publish each and every one of their lines or tidbits they need the consent of the principal responsible for the disaster: the Government. And the journalists of the Castro regime are, Yessir, respectful and obedient children.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Concerning When We Ate Cats in Cuba / Iván García

Iván García, 7 April 2018 — “I was born during the Special Period, in 1990. Twenty years later, my parents told me the truth: my birth brought them to tears,” says Ricardo, today a university graduate.

I can understand that. In my house, too, we went through difficult times when my sister gave birth during the height of the “Special Period in Times of Peace.” As ostentatious as that was the official name given to one of the blackest intervals suffered in 59 years by the Cuban people–and that is saying a lot.

An old proverb says that a child comes into this world with a loaf of bread under his arm. But in the 90s, to have a child in Cuba meant the opposite: to lose an arm, if not both, just to get a piece of bread. continue reading

The story of this war-without-cannon-blasts could fill multiple tomes. In 2018 the mere mention of the Special Period to a Cuban is enough to send shivers down his spine.

The first time I had any notion of the “Special Period” was in the summer of 1989. Upon inaugurating an AKM rifle manufacturing plant in Camagüey, Fidel Castro made mention of what we would be facing. Later, during a function at the Karl Marx theater in Miramar, he half-jokingly told the women in attendance, “Take good care of your wardrobes–you’ll need them in the coming years.”

The people on the Island never lived abundantly. There was always a shortage of something. Besides holding back individual liberties (about which those of us born after the Revolution had no concept), Father State guaranteed to each of his citizens a poor life, but a dignified one. Thanks to the petroleum pipe from Moscow.

Prior to that silent war, we could buy two pairs of pants a year, three shirts and one pair of shoes, with a ration book for “industrial products.” These were paid for in Cuban pesos, the national currency.

The ration book for groceries back then was more generous. Nothing to write home about, but less emaciated than in later years. There were foodstuffs for sale in unregulated venues. At the dairy stores, boxes with bottles of fresh milk, yogurt containers, and cheeses would be delivered at dawn, and nobody even entertained the thought of stealing them.

That was in the 70s or 80s. Back then we could not imagine the “surprise” that the olive-green* socialism had in store for us. It was terrible. People dropped weight as if they were going to a sauna every day. We were always hungry. Lines would form for half a day to buy pizza topped with boiled potato instead of cheese.

Starving and toothless old people would jam into the little cafés just to down a kind of infusion made with orange or grapefruit rind. As for animal products, you can only imagine. Culinary monstrosities appeared. The state laboratories hastily churned out soy hash, “meat” mass, oca pasta, and fricandel [a kind of “mystery-meat” hot dog], among other horrible inventions.

The dollar was prohibited, and what few valuable items there were, people would sell to afford food. When in July 1993 the dollar was decriminalized, my mother sold her record collection of Brazilian music for $39.

Others sold their furniture or exchanged it for a pig, which they would hide in the bathtub. It became fashionable to breed chickens on balconies and roofs. Many cats ended up in pots, in place of rabbits.

Exotic diseases appeared, such as polyneuritis, optical neuritis, and beriberi. On the streets, more than one person dropped like a fly from locomotive deficiencies. Public transportation disappeared and in its place emerged horse-drawn wagons, which are still functioning in rural towns. Tractors were replaced by ox-pulled plows.

The bicycle became the official vehicle of the people. The top brass, of course, continued getting around by car. There was serious talk about Option Zero, a plan to have army troops go though neighborhoods giving out food.

What prevented people from starting to die off in massive numbers from hunger, and Cuba becoming the North Korea of the Caribbean, were the measures adopted by Fidel Castro. Venturing far from socialist philosophy, and taking a liberal and market economy approach, the government allowed small business start-ups. The possession of hard currency was legalized.

All of this proved effective. Hundreds of citizens were able to progress, and the government stashed millions of dollars into its coffers.  But in 2009, a real crisis emerged that affected the entire planet. Facing a worldwide drop in oil prices, coupled with internal instability and squandering, Hugo Chávez–the new ally–whispered a message to the Castros: “I am running out of cash.” The Brothers from Birán** took the hint. And they started proclaiming the same decades-old speech they have sold to the Cuban people: Savings must be made. The belt must be tightened. One more time.

And so we go. In the midst of a storm. Without umbrellas. With an economy that is taking on water. And with foreign partners who view the regime with distrust for the absurdity of its investment laws and the dishonesty of its dealings. With thousands of Cubans leaving the country or trying to leave, to go anywhere, tired as they are of the aged government, and never forgetting the crude reality of the Special Period when in Cuba we ate cats.

Translator’s Notes:

*A reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders. This epithet is often used by dissident Cuban writers when alluding to the Cuban government, its socio-political system, and its bureaucrats.

**A reference to the town in eastern Cuba that is the birthplace of Raúl and Fidel Castro.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Daniel Duarte Responds to Excessive Punishment

‘El Lobo’ still does not know if he will be reinstated if his suspension is cancelled. (Guerrillero)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, 29 March 2018 — On March 20, the captain of Pinar del Rio’s baseball team, Donal Duarte Hernandez — El Lobo (the Wolf), as he is called — was sanctioned by the Baseball Commission of his province to a year’s suspension and forbidden to play on any other team. The provincial commissioner was also sanctioned for having reported the measure, but leaving Duarte free to play with the team that called him.

Fans are speculating on the true causes of this sanction. The official statement said that the reason was the player’s absence from the Provincial Series. However, it did not sound convincing, because that absence was not complete, and especially because El Lobo is one of the most respected and admired athletes in his province, a genuine captain who, in any case, did not deserve such severity. continue reading

Now, in an interview with the newspaper Guerrillero, Duarte stokes the doubts, as he described the measure as “quite unfair.” Given that he is 35, the seventeen National Series he has played in, and his history, the sanction seems excessive. Some specialists believe that, for veterans, it is too much to participate in a Provincial series and train for four months and then play another three at the National level.

“They have sanctioned me knowing that it was not because of a ‘provincial’ problem. It’s not my fault alone that Pinar del Río did not do well in the second round, because the team is not Donal Duarte,” said El Lobo, insisting that the director, Pedro Luis Lazo, had told him that he “had to play in the provincial.” However, several personal problems forced him to be absent.

It is well known that Duarte and Lazo were teammates for years and good friends. That fraternal relationship between director and captain seemed very propitious to the team’s success. In the last season, Duarte turned down a contract to play abroad to lead the team and support the rookie mentor Lazo.

To the question of whether that friendship has been damaged the interviewee replied: “I always wanted it because I have never hurt anyone, I have stopped being with my family to do good for others, I never interfered with his decisions about the team. I offered my opinions and my beliefs, that’s why we never had problems.”

But would the player rejoin if the penalty is suspended? Duarte says that does not depend on him, because that would be a situation that he would have to take up with his family. “It’s not as if tomorrow they lift my sanction and we just forget everything that has happened,” he clarifies. Although he thanks those who have defended him and expressed their disagreement with the measure.

The takeaway from the interview is that Duarte has filed a judicial appeal and his lawyer has a paper signed by director Lazo and by the provincial commissioner who “exempted him from playing.” Therefore, the captain says, the final result will tell who is right.

Translated by Jim

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

The Victorious Failure of the Castro Regime / Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s ‘leaders’

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 March 2018 – On April 19th, when the enigma is finally cleared up about who the new Cuban president (not elected by the people) will be, for the next 10 years, the members of his brotherhood won’t be able to figure out whether to congratulate him or to offer him their condolences.

The new leader will not only be inheriting that old unburied corpse that they stubbornly insist on calling “The Cuban Revolution,” but he will have the colossal task before him of prolonging – theoretically ad infinitum – the funeral of such a long-lived mummy, and in addition, he would also be doing it under the rigid rules (supposedly “Guidelines”) dictated by the outgoing president. continue reading

At least this is what translates from the minimal information published by the official press monopoly on the 5th Plenum of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), in whose framework – which covered two days of “intense work” – “important issues of the updating of the Cuban economic and social model were analyzed,” such as the project of the “Housing Policy in Cuba” and “a report approved by the Political Bureau on the studies that are being conducted for a future reform to the Constitution.” The latter will ratify “the irrevocable nature of our socialism and the leading role of the Party in Cuban society.”

That said, and until the next Congress of the PCC to be held in 2021, General Raúl Castro will continue to lead the “superior leadership force” of Cuban society, unless nature decides otherwise. Then it will be him in this last instance, and not the brand-new President, who makes the political decisions of the country, and who controls the fulfillment of what is ruled under his administration.

And as if all this straitjacket from internal politics were not enough, the incoming president will be the first in the saga of “Cuban socialism” that will face endemic economic ruin without counting on the juicy external subsidies – first, from the extinct Soviet power, then, from the Venezuelan “chavismo,” today ruined and wavering – which their predecessors, the Castros, enjoyed. How the economic crisis and the social discontent will be mitigated without external support and without implementing real reforms will be a challenge that will have to be followed with interest.

Add to this the marked retreat of the leftist regimes in the region, partly as a result of the bad policies that have made them lose the trust of their voters, who have punished them at the polls, but also due to the wave of corruption scandals related to the Brazilian transnational organization Odebrecht, which has involved numerous governments and whose spillovers have already reached Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace, the closest ally of the Castro regime. In this regard, it could be only a matter of time before some of the compromising ‘details’ begin to appear in relation to the Lula-Castro-Special Mariel Development Zone and the aforementioned company.

Thus, the the “new” Cuban government’s margin to maneuver in favor of “apertures” or “reforms” that would differentiate the before-Castro and after-Castro eras should wait at least three more years in the domestic policy order, unless the difficult circumstances of the country, together with the changing external conjunctures create an appropriate scenario for it. And all of this, taking into account the doubtful event that the president “elected” this April has sufficient political capacity, intelligence, and the inclination for change to take advantage of the moment and promote the necessary transformations that will bring Cubans their long-postponed prosperity.

But, in any case, this 5th Plenary Session of the PCC has been perhaps the outgoing president’s last wasted opportunity to demonstrate some capacity in his late leadership after 12 years of erratic hesitations, of tiny advances followed by resounding setbacks, and of so many unfulfilled promises.

Had he lived up to his own commitments, Castro II would have had to leave at least some essential formulas, such as the new draft Electoral Law, announced before the celebration of the Seventh Congress of the PCC; the proposal of a monetary unification plan – with its corresponding execution schedule; and the much-vaunted new rules for self-employment, including the re-establishment of granting of licenses, arbitrarily suspended since August 2017.

So, according to the progress report presented during this Fifth Congress, the evaluation of the implementing of policies authorized in the Guidelines yielded “unfavorable” results – a term which softens the disastrous truth – which is reflected, among other adverse factors, in the mistakes made, in the deficiency of the controls, in a “limited vision of the risks,” in the absence of adequate legal norms, in the information gaps, in the lack of a tax culture and in another string of stumbling blocks that – for a change – are attributable only to “the base.”

“There is a wasteful mentality,” the general-president lectured. But, despite such a catastrophic performance and the failure of what we could generously call his “government program” (the Guidelines, approved during the VI Congress of the PCC, on April 18, 2011), he assures us that “the situation today is more favorable.” He did not clarify how “favorable” or favorable for what.

And since we, the “governed,” have been making mistakes on our own without understanding the clear guidance of this leader through regulatory improvisation for seven years (more), now it is up to us to wait another indefinite amount of time until the wrongs can be straightened out. How will they do it? Well, as always, by bureaucracy and re-centralizing the economy.

To begin with, the new “legal norms” are being created that will ensure self-employment integrity. There will be a greater participation of the central organs in the controls of the fulfillment of each guideline and of each measure, and finally, a “work training” will be undertaken, not only of the leading cadres, inspectors and officials of the structures in charge of the control, but also of the 580,000 self-employed who – according to official figures – exist in Cuba, so that they learn, once and for all, how things should work.

Mind you, what has not appeared in the press to date, and we don’t know if it was discussed in the Fifth Plenary Session of the PCC, is when a training course will be held so that, after 60 years of experiments and “victorious” failures, the lords of the leadership and the rest of the cohort can learn to govern.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Vietnamese Company Will Produce Sanitary Pads and Diapers in Cuba Starting in 2019

Construction Underway in the Mariel Special Development Zone (zedmariel.com)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 27 March 2018 — A Vietnamese company will start producing disposable diapers and sanitary pads starting in the first half of 2019 in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), the largest project on the island dedicated to attracting foreign investors.

The Director General of the Thai Binh Investment Trading Corporation, Vi Nguyen Phuong, explained on Tuesday to the Cuban media that the investment in the project, which is currently under construction, is estimated at over 9 million dollars and is expected to produce 40 million diapers and 150 million sanitary pads annually. continue reading

The Vietnamese company, with a presence in Cuba for nearly 20 years and and approved to develop in the Mariel Zone since 2016, has set the purpose of “offering the consumers local, high quality items made in Cuba”, according to the representative, cited by Island media.

In Cuba, there is not currently a factory for disposable diapers. It was announced last november that a Cuban-Italian company will build a plant to produce disposable diapers in the ZEDM, which is the business center and merchant port located about 45 kilometers west of Havana.

Disposable Diapers sold in hard currency stores on the island are imported and often sold out due to the high demand for these essential health products.

The Vietnamese board also revealed that the company plans to extend the investments in Mariel with the construction of a detergent plant capable of producing 50,000 tons per year.

This new project will be joint creation in partnership with the Cuban trade company “Industrias Nexus S.A.”. They intend to present the Mariel office with the proposal in April with plans of starting in 2020.

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Translated by: Michael Minshew

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

Martí, the Dubious “Sacred Brand” / Miriam Celaya

‘I Want to Make a Film, by cinematographer Yimit Ramírez. (poster)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 March 2018 – It is quite possible that when Yimit Ramírez – until recently a young and unknown Cuban filmmaker – decided to make his first feature film, he did not aspire to become a sort of sacrilegious monster himself. Even less would he think he was turning his team into a bunch of apostates.

I Want to Make a Movie (Quiero Hacer Una Película) is the title of a motion picture whose projection was planned as a work in production with an included debate, at the theater on 23rd Street and 12th in the center of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, within the Special Presentation section of the XVII Muestra Joven Show, held between April 3rd and 8th. At the last moment, the work did not pass the test of the low barrier of the official censorship of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) due to a detail found unacceptable by the Torquemada1 of such a virtuous institution. During a brief segment of the film, a young adolescent character refers to the most famous hero of the Cuban independence, José Martí, by the offensive terms of “mojón” (turd) and “maricón” (faggot). continue reading

As a result of such mockery, the film was relegated to a quasi-symbolic exhibition in the small Terence Piard screening room, with capacity for a small audience of only 24 spectators, the reason for the filmmakers’ decision to retire the movie from being shown.

The ICAIC not only suspended the press conference where the filmmakers would give their own views on the matter, but also divulged their own statement explaining their intolerance to what they consider “an insult to Martí.”

The reaction was immediate. The ICAIC not only suspended the press conference where the filmmakers would give their own views on the matter, but also divulged their own statement explaining their intolerance to what they consider “an insult to Martí.” The film producer and the coordinators of the event used the social networks – obviously, they knew that they would not be granted space in the official media – to express their disagreement with the ICAIC’s decision and to promote a public debate.

As a greater irreverence, the filmmakers exhibited a fragment of the movie where the above offensive epithets against Marti that led to censorship takes place, making public precisely aware of what the official “watchmen of virtue” sought to silence.

Everything indicated that, for the purposes of national public opinion, the matter would remain on social networks, that is, circumscribed to the small segment of Cubans who have access to the Internet, and within the usual gossip of those “in the know”. However, the censorship and scolding seemed insufficient punishment to the art curators, so that the powerful monopoly of the official press has also lashed out – with even a stronger force, the Apostle (as Cubans call José Martí) would have said – against the filmmakers.

The most recent (journalistic?) pearl about the subject has been an extensive article by Luis Toledo Sande, taken from Cubarte and reproduced over six columns in the Sunday edition of the Juventud Rebelde newspaper entitled Fatal Bullets against José Martí (With the Objective of a Movie in Production).

The article is a difficult read, and too bombastic to be credible, where the abundance of accusations against the young filmmakers contrasts with the lack of clarity in language and arguments.

Judging by the angry speech of Toledo Sande, it could be said that Cubans are a people given to the veneration or idolatry of the founding fathers of the nation

Judging by the angry speech of Toledo Sande, we would say that Cubans are a people given to the veneration or idolatry of the founding fathers of the nation, when in fact the excessive tendency to derision that characterizes the natives of this island results in nothing – or almost nothing – seeming sufficiently sacred to them.

In any case, the closest examples of veneration evidenced in Cuba are the procession of Our Lady of Charity – Cachita, as she is more popularly known – who corresponds to the deity Oshún (or Osún) in the popular tradition of the Yoruba religion heritage, and the numerous yearly pilgrimages to Rincón, to fulfill promises or to ask for healing miracles to San Lázaro, or Babalú Ayé, also in the Yoruba religion. In both rituals there is a strong base of superstition and practicality, rather than a feeling of true holiness.

But in the heat of his revolutionary delirium, Toledo Sarde considers that the movie makers have not only mocked the “massive veneration” of Martí, who has been granted “the brand of the sacred” in Cuba, but they have crossed the limits of freedom of creation to become practically traitors to the nation, just like the shadowy “enemies of the Revolution”, who invoke the name of Martí to destroy Cuba.

“The dialogue in particular (disclosed by the producer of the film on social networks) contains rudeness that had not reached any of the most bitter Martí detractors,” exclaims Toledo Sande, indignant. Which justifies censorship because “the nation would be in very bad straits if, blackmailed by the maneuvers of its enemies (…), would even tie its hands so as not to stop what must be stopped”.

And, since “at this point it’s senseless to speak of the ‘trusting ones’,” Toledo Sande says that the affront to the Apostle in the case of the aforementioned film constitutes no less than a “poison”.

Now, beyond so much hypocritical patriot scorn, this attack on an unfinished movie, unseen by the public and against a small team of unknown filmmakers, is extremely disproportionate. The point is not that reviling Martí or your neighbor is right or wrong, but seeing the facts in their proper dimension, without tears or tango passions.

Beyond so much hypocritical patriot scorn, this attack on an unfinished movie is extremely disproportionate.

Sticking to the mere object of the scandal – just a few “bad words” in the dialogue of a feature film – what could be the insult? Is it that the official homophobia in this misogynistic and patriarchal society cannot tolerate that the National Hero be branded as queer? The defenders of revolutionary virtue should clarify the point: if Marti’s transcendence is derived fundamentally from his actions for Cuba’s independence, why would attributing a certain sexual orientation to him be so offensive? Would Mariana Grajales2 lose her title as “mother of our country” if some archival document is found indicating she was a lesbian? Would someone who referred to her as “Mariana the Butch” be labeled a traitor?

There are written testimonies of participants in the emancipatory deed that assure that both Máximo Gómez -the flamboyant Generalissimo of our two Wars of Independence- and the ultra-brave Antonio Maceo – labeled with the nickname “Bronze Titan” – an epithet that today would accuse a certain suspicious whiff of racism – felt an undisguised disdain for José Martí, whom they called contemptuously “the Delegate”. Yet, both Gómez and Maceo have a high focal point in the pantheon of patriotic glories.

However, the really rude thing is that the Cuban government, specifically the late Fidel Castro, has insulted so many times and with impunity the memory of the Apostle Martí by pinning the José Martí National Order, conceived in 1972 to distinguish “Cuban and foreign citizens and Chiefs of State or Government for their great deeds in favor of peace, friendship and humanity’s progress”, on the chests of representatives of repressive regimes – such as Soviet Leonid I. Brezhnev, Ethiopian Mengistu Haile Mariam, Romanian Nicolae Ceausescu or Czechoslovakian Gustav Husak, for example – and even on the chest of worldwide repudiated genocidal individuals – like Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe and Cambodian Heng Samrin – without anyone in this Island, pregnant with virtuous admirers of Martí, having raised their voices in protest against such scandalous affront.

What really hides under all the commotion around a simple fiction movie is the unspeakable fear of the leadership and its servants before an uncertain national and regional horizon

What really hides under all the commotion around a simple fiction movie is the unspeakable fear of the ruling dome and its servants before an uncertain national and regional horizon.

And all this without forgetting what an insult it is to bestow Martí with the intellectual authorship of a violent, armed assault, in broad daybreak, against military barracks where soldiers of the constitutional army were sleeping – and not criminals – an attack that today would classify as a terrorist act and one that, at the time, only served to satisfy the dreams of glory and greatness of a megalomaniac, who ended up becoming the leader of the longest and most destructive dictatorship that this island has ever known.

But more than the ridiculous divinization of the Apostle or the alleged defense of our national values by the commissaries of the Castro regime, what really hides under all the commotion around a simple fiction movie is the unspeakable fear of the leadership and its servants before an uncertain national and regional horizon, in the midst of which the transfer of the government of the ex-guerrilla elders to a new generation of supposedly “faithful ones” must take place.

The point is not that a presumed veneration of the Apostle is crumbling, but that every little civic irreverence seems to remind the autocrats that, for them, there will not even be pedestals.

1 Tomás de Torquemada (1420-1498) Spanish Dominican monk, first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition

2 Mariana Grajales and her family served in the Ten Year’s War, the Little War (1868-1878) and the War of 1895. She was the mother of José and Antonio Maceo Grajales, who served as generals in the Liberation Army from 1868 through 1878. During her time serving in the war, Mariana ran hospitals and provision grounds on the base camps of her son Antonio, frequently entering the battlefield to aid both Spanish and Cuban wounded soldiers.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

When You Invite the “Obnoxious One” to the Party / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 March 2018 — There is no doubt that with the Castro presence in international forums, the same thing happens as when they invite “an obnoxious one” to a party: he will always end up sabotaging everyone’s good time.

The examples of Castro’s “diplomatic” outbursts abound throughout the decades of the olive-green rule. Suffice it to recall the well-known diatribes and public tantrums of Castro I in dissimilar world conclaves against any government, official or just a journalist who was not to his liking, or who suggested the smallest slight toward his government. His anger was such that he seemed close to suffering a sudden stroke. continue reading

Such behavior, far from disappearing from the official practice, has become the style of the school of Cuban diplomacy. It consists essentially of exchanging the absence of arguments with verbal and at times even physical aggression, as was demonstrated during the VII Summit of the Americas, held in April 2015 in Panama, where the well-trained hosts of the “civil society “of the dictatorship violently attacked the representatives of Cuba’s independent civil society, who were invitees to the same forum.

The show was deplorable and will be engraved in the memory of those who had the questionable privilege of witnessing it. The worst thing, however, is that despite all this previous experience, the organizers of these forums continue to invite the “obnoxious one”.

Behold, the obvious inability of the Cuban Government to behave correctly in the democratic programs of the world was once again demonstrated by the rude behavior of the Cuban Ambassador to Peru, Juan Antonio Fernández, within the framework of the Hemispheric Dialogue held on March 21st in Lima, in preparation to the forthcoming Summit of the Americas.

This time the outburst of the Cuban amanuensis took place in the midst of a comment from José Luis Vallejo, the Peruvian representative of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy (RLJD). Vallejo’s “sin” was to make reference in his speech to the ceremony to grant the Oswaldo Payá Awards in Havana, remarking that the prize winners have not been able to attend two of the ceremonies in a row by the express prohibition of the Cuban authorities. Vallejo also expressed his enthusiasm to attend the third award granting ceremony in Havana.

“Don’t even dare mention that name in my presence” the “diplomat” shouted to Castro Vallejo, in an intimidating manner. “I’ll ask you not to stick your nose in Cuban matters. Stop hassling us and stick to whatever you need to discuss.”

And representatives of the regional left claque, fulfilling its traditional mission, immediately applauded enthusiastically from their seats.

Because of his language and his attitude, it seems as if the faunal pawn of the insular dictatorship, instead of participating in respectful dialogue on foreign soil like the rest of the delegates, and in the presence of numerous representatives of various civil organizations in the region, was behaving as if he were on– any Centro Habana street corner, facing some troublemaker trying to sneak in the line to get his coveted quota of rationed potatoes.

The picture is more Kafkaesque because minutes before, during an intervention by the uncompromising official — as had previously been done by his compatriot and associate, Yamila González Ferrer, vice president of the ruling Union of Jurists of Cuba — he had launched a fierce attack against the RLJD, without having been interrupted by the representative of said organization.

However, this unfortunate event is just the prelude to what will be the presence of Castro’s groups at the VIII Summit of the Americas. Only, unlike the previous Summit, where after half a century of isolation, the “new” president of Cuba was given the opportunity to demonstrate that he was at the height of this important regional democratic forum — to which the General responded by blasting the alternative spaces of the Summit to encourage his pack of faithful servants to lash out against other Cubans — this time the Peruvian hosts do know, or at least they should know, what to expect.

In light of today, for many commonsensical people, the presence of the longest dictatorship in this Hemisphere is incomprehensible in a conclave that the Venezuelan government was excluded from, precisely because it did not respect the rights of its people. Without a doubt, the proselytizing work developed by the Castros through their doctor/slaves and other vassals has penetrated the political interests sufficiently strong – though not in democratic feelings – of more than one government in this region.

So, when this coming April we witness once again the shameful Panama experience and the loud troops of the Castro regime’s mob sabotage the VIII Summit of the Americas, let the hosts not complain, and let the rest of the representatives of the democratic governments and civil society organizations not be surprised, because an old Arab proverb will be fulfilled.  It goes like this: “The first time they deceive you, it will be their fault. The second time, the fault will be yours”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Internet from the Shore / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 16 March 2018 — (Text published in the bulletin of the 2018 Internet Freedom Festival) Cell phones have been used commercially in the world since 1995, but we Cubans couldn’t have our own cell phones until 2009. Internet access through prepaid cards in public places dates from 2015. In Cuba, the year 2017 will be remembered for the introduction of 3G technology and access to the Internet for the first time from home via ADSL-fixed telephone lines.

The only telecommunications business that operates in the country announces an increase in access, but it comes at the cost of high prices, censorship of pages critical of the Government and self-censorship, with the user suspecting that all navigation is traceable. continue reading

I learned about the Internet in 2009, during a trip to Spain, and it was love at first sight. When I went back to Cuba, I decided to open a blog, and I asked my neighbor, the blogger Yoani Sánchez, for help. I spent months posting blindly thanks to friends abroad who uploaded the contents from content I emailed to them.

My first time on the Internet in Cuba, I wasted a prepaid card that gave me an hour of connection from a hotel, since I was so nervous and inept that I forgot the password and spent an hour of virtual onanism rereading my posts, discovering the comments…and nothing more.

I had to learn how to swim in those waters, as they say. I had to “empower myself” to be not just someone who reads email and opens a page on Facebook. Studying came to me easily because it encourages the illusion that I’m not getting Alzheimer’s like I feel with my son (I have to say that I came to motherhood late) when we’re discussing applications and programs.

And together with this familiarity that I established with the Internet, I became conscious that it’s a tool that is too powerful to be left in the hands of governments and/or businesses. As a Cuban, I feel that they have denied us entrance into the 21st century, that this digital divide is difficult to remedy and is even more serious in a literate population with a high rate of middle and higher education, which, in addition, is growing old.

We can’t blame our technological backwardness on the Blockade-Embargo (what it’s called varies according to one’s viewpoint) alone or to the long dispute between the governments of Cuba and the United States, although it has its part.

Beyond the material limitations that it supposes, there exists a domestic political will to keep us isolated and uninformed. José Martí, our greatest thinker, said it simply: “Don’t believe; read,” but we Cubans don’t want to be spoon-fed bits of information seasoned by the governmental point of view. That day when I forgot my password, I decided not only to swim, but also to help others who look out from the shore.

Translated by Regina Anavy

No More Appointments For Visas To Panama Until The End Of May

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, 17 March 2018 — The website of the Panamanian Government for visa procedures has collapsed due to extremely high demand, especially from Cubans and Venezuelans. Javier Carrillo, the Migration Director General, has confirmed this to 14ymedio.

“We set up this site to offer 50 daily appointments in our Havana consulate, but demand is very high and the system shut down as soon as we ran out of availability,” said Carrillo by telephone from Panama City. continue reading

The Panamanian authorities created the website in the middle of last year after doubling the number of visas for Cuban citizens to 1,000 per month. Eight thousand residents of the Island benefited from the new measure in 2017.

“We already have the whole month of May full. We post the dates two or three months in advance so people have time to get their papers,” explains Carillo. “In one hour we ran out of appointments, leaving a lot of people hanging. In April we’ll open up to take care of the next two months.”

Number of Cubans traveling to Panama. Source: Panama Migration Service

When the appointment dates run out, the system automatically eliminates the button “fill in the form” and only the words “reprint appointment” appear.

The electronic system allows someone to ask for an appointment to get a “stamped” visa in the Panamanian consulates in Cuba, Venezuela and China. In the case of Cubans as well as Venezuelans, it’s very difficult to get an appointment because the quota fills up. This doesn’t happen with China, which has much less demand.

Screenshot of the Panama Migration page without the button to fill out the form. (CC)

On average, by year, more than 10,600 Cubans have visited Panama. In 2017 there were more than 71,700 Cubans who chose Panama as an option for tourism or purchases, while in 2010 there were barely 6,000. Cubans who live in the U.S. or who have European citizenship don’t require a visa to travel to Panama.

Panama was a country of transit for thousands of Cubans who left for the U.S. during the last migratory crisis. After the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy in January 2017, more than 300 Cubans remained stranded there, and they received material support from Panama to return to Cuba.

For Zenia Escalona, the possibility of getting an appointment online to be interviewed in the Embassy of Panama in Havana is a great advantage. Zenia, 52, tried for more than six months to schedule an appointment by telephone, but was unsuccessful.

“On Thursdays, the phone was always busy. Half of Cuba was calling. It was terrible,” explains Escalona, who lives in Trinidad and wants to go to Panama to make purchases in the duty-free zone of Colón. Before the online platform existed, the Embassy of Panama in Havana scheduled appointments only by telephone on Thursdays at a certain time.

Ed. Note: Our apologies for not having subtitles for the two videos in this article.

Escalona got her passport last year to take advantage of the benefits of importing in the national money that Cubans who live on the Island have. “Customs allows you to bring back 100 kg of non-commercial imports by paying the taxes in Cuban pesos. That’s the advantage we who live here have. You leave, you buy clothing, shoes, televisions and air conditioners, and then you can resell them and make a little money,” she explains.

Although connecting to the Internet on the Island is generally complicated, because it’s done in public spots, Escalona says that “it’s worth the trouble” to pay a dollar to try to access the Panama Migration page.

The trips of Cubans to the duty-free zone of the Panama Canal and to other popular destinations like Cancún to buy things has flourished since the Cuban Government, in 2013, passed a law that eliminated the exit permit, which for decades prevented Cubans from traveling freely.

Faced with the absence of a wholesale market for the private sector in Cuba, many entrepreneurs pay the passge for mules to buy merchandise they need for their businesses at an affordable price.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Cuba: Avoiding Reality / Iván García

From the Central Havana Scenes series, produced in January 2018 by the photo reporter Juan Suarez for Havana Times.

Ivan Garcia, 9 March 2018 — From the loudspeaker of a hot filthy state-owned bar in Diez de Octubre, a thirty minute drive from central Havana, Micha’s voice is blaring out — he sings reggaeton like a dock worker.

“Twist round tight on your toes,” Micha sings. A couple of mulatas with fat stomachs, with their faces stuck in the plastic cups of cheap beer in their hands, move their hips to the rhythm, up close to a fat guy blinged up with chains round his neck. continue reading

They are pissed. Like almost everybody in the windowless stinking bar which seems like a sauna at midday. It’s a working day. But the bar is packed, and, in between shouting and swearing, the regulars discuss the Caribbean Series and Alazanes de Granma getting knocked out. Or talk about under-the-counter business. Or women. Or nothing. And they down one beer after another in the wretched bar in Havana.

Please, don’t discuss politics here. These people have had enough of it. They reply with slogans, like “there is nobody who will fix it, and no-one who will end it.” They take it as read that Fidel Castro’s revolution will last 100 years — at the very least.

“I’m outa here”, says Eduardo. “Plumber in a team with the Havana Water Company”, he repeats with emphasis. When I can, I pinch stopcocks to sell later to a private guy who has a licence to sell plumbing things. Half of the money, 200 or 300 pesos, I spend on food to take home. The rest of it is for drink or cheap prostitutes. Nothing left after that, dude. If you don’t chill out, the system drives you mad,” he adds, while he buys a round of beers, and casts a lecherous eye over the mulatas dancing one reggaeton after another, as if they were dolls on a string.

“They’re happy. When they give you the eye, a hundred cañitas (refers to coins, not drinks in this context), and they all gather round”, the plumber says, as if he’s teaching me something. He looks at the clock and adds, “And if not, you go off with another one. After three in the afternoon, they close in on the guys with no bread and for ten cuc you can have sex both ways”.

The best description for these groups of Cubans who are trying to get away from everything, from misery, from a nothing future, and from the revolutionary chanting (although they make out they are not political), was given by Carlos Manuel Álvarez, probably the best Cuban writer nowadays: he called them the tribe.

There are tribes located on the bottom rung of the poverty ladder. The people who rummage around in the refuse. The crazy street people. The homeless tramps. The incurable alcoholics. The people who touch themselves up in public. The cheap night-time prostitutes. Or the indifferent people who always ask what’s available at the convenience store or the butcher’s, but look vacant when you ask them about anything to do with politics.

These people have switched off. Floating. They survive watching soap operas, dancing reggaeton and boozing. In private, they complain. But, when they are in front of a foreign reporter’s camara, they pretend to talk about other stuff. And, they go and vote, so as to not stick out, and join in the Primero de Mayo processions, because “it’s party time”.

Two kilometers away from the dirty state-owned bar where Eduardo is hoping to make out with a local prostitute, there is an elegant and expensive air-conditioned private bar called Melao, where a Cristal beer costs 2.50 cuc, and a caipirinha made with cane sets you back 5 cuc. In the bar, various girls quietly alert the barman, who yawns if someone comes in, and they flirt with any customer who walks by.

It’s a different tribe to the other one, because it has a slightly better life style and culture than the poor people drinking state beer or cheap rum in the state bars. In this tribe,

you meet football specialists (Florentino, if you are looking for a substitute for Zidane, take a look around Havana). Guys with fitted shirts, tight pants, hairdos with too much gel, and shiny pointed shoes, who closely analyse for you the four-three-four play arrangement and explain to you that Cristiano Ronaldo is now rubbish, and that the future is Mbappe or Neymar.

Perfect jacks-of-all-trades. People skilled in getting you to offer them a  beer. Looking for chicks and drugs, who please whoever has the cash. They are a human equivalent of the iPhone Siri. They talk about anything. Apart from politics.

“What do you think about the next elections? How would you rate the Cuban government? What about Miguel Diaz-Canel? Those topics get in their way. So, they come over as cynics. “Change the record, my friend.I t’s swimming and keep an eye on your clothes. Find out how to make money without getting any mud on you. I’ve had it with politics. I’m into partying and pachanga,” says Adonis, a young night-lifer.

The Miami press is more interested in Gladiador’s problems than analysis of the Cuban political and socio-economic situation. When they emigrate, they don’t change their spots. They remain indifferent, apolitical, and frivolous, just like on the island. They care about buying the latest car or iPhone, seeing if they can come up good in the Miami lottery or win some money in the Everglades casino.

Nearly all of these urban gangs are allergic to talking to dissidents. They look the other way when they repress the Ladies in White, or independent journalists. And, to distance themselves from the Castro opposition, they call themselves socialists, neocommunists, social democrats, liberals, evangelists, masons, followers of santeria cults …

Nevertheless, the security folk, who are always ahead of things, don’t waste any time in labelling them. They are all counter-revolutionaries: they don’t respect the guidelines from the country’s highest leadership.

You can understand the indifference of lots of people, and that they use sex, alcohol, football and reggaeton as an escape valve from the madhouse they have had to live in for 59 years. But, for honest thinking people, the avoidance of reality can only be explained by one word: fear.

 

Translated by GH

Reasons and Lack of Reasons Surrounding Political Dialogue

Cuban President Raúl Castro tries to raise the arm of US President Barack Obama after a press conference in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 March 2018 — When, in December 2014, the US President at the time, Barack Obama, and Cuba’s General-President Raúl Castro unexpectedly announced the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the reactions on both sides of the Straits of Florida were immediate.

As is often the case with Cuban political affairs, there was a strong polarization among those who expressed themselves in favor of dialogue as a way to find a solution to the conflict, which in the end could imply benefits for Cubans on both sides and in particular for those living in Cuba, and the ever-intransigents, who considered the events as an undeserved concession to the Castro dictatorship and as a betrayal to the yearnings for democracy of thousands of our countrymen, who for decades had suffered harassment, prison, persecution and exile for their fight against totalitarianism. continue reading

The schism was even greater among the opposition groups. There were no nuances. Overnight, a war seemed to have been declared: the radical groups not only considered the process of dialogue between the two hitherto opposed governments unacceptable, but also disparagingly pinned the labels of “traitors” and “dialoguers” to those broad sectors of dissidents that considered the new policy of the White House as a more propitious strategy to gradually push the long-awaited changes inside Cuba.

It is worth mentioning that the radicals conveniently ignored one small detail. Many members of that large group of political prisoners and persecuted citizens were in favor of the dialogue proces.

The matter became a defining moment, where the most rabid enemies of diplomacy – faithful to their violent and intolerant nature – used verbal aggression and even attempted physical violence against supporters of dialogue in some cases, although the latter were just being consistent with the pro-relations and anti-embargo discourse that they had been defending for decades.

The very brief period that elapsed between the beginning of President Obama’s policy of flexibilization and his departure from power did not make, and obviously could not have mad a significant shift in Cuban politics, but it did have the benefit of undermining the unbending Castro anti-Yankee discourse and completely exposing the lack of political will of the dictatorship to take advantage of the US measures that, if permitted to be carried out as Obama conceived them, would have meant prosperity for Cubans, in particular for the incipient businesses that emerged under the timid attempt of the so-called “Raúl reforms.”

In any case, the “failure” of a rapprochement policy that did not have enough time to show results – and it is known that time is a category of capital importance – was not due to the supposed ingenuity of the American president but to the inveterate stubbornness and totalitarian vocation of the Castro regime. If the dictatorship responded to the flexibilizations of its northern neighbor with repression against dissent and the suffocation of the private sector, it is an account that we cannot attribute to Obama or the restoration of relations, as certified by decades of arrests, imprisonments, executions and despotism that took place in Cuba under the pretext of the existence of the powerful “external enemy” long before the Obama era.

If the dictatorship responded to the flexibilizations of its northern neighbor with repression against dissent and the suffocation of the private sector, it is an account that we cannot attribute to Obama

And since time is a consideration, it is worth remembering that, in fact, in about a year and a half after the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana, the US measures of flexibilization allowed thousands of tourists from the U.S. to enter Cuba, which brought discrete economic benefits, not only for the tourism industry of the Castro regime, their native entourages and their foreign associates, but also – to the alarm of the olive-tree hierarchs who felt threatened by the sudden rise of self-employed Cubans – for a considerable number of private businesses, especially those dedicated to lodging and food services, which in turn generated many jobs associated with their respective facilities.

The election of Republican Donald Trump in November 2016 and his inauguration on January 20th, 2017 not only put an end to the brief era of diplomacy, but it has constituted a clear setback in the rapprochement initiated by his predecessor, to the delight of the recalcitrant opponents to dialogue.

A delight that, nevertheless, is not justified in certainty, since until now Trump does not seem to have intentions to make the two great demands of the most radical sectors a reality, that is: the rupture of diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government and the reestablishment of the ‘wet foot/dry foot’ policy, repealed by Obama a few days before leaving power.

Interestingly, fundamentalists on both banks remain silent on this point. And in general, whether he’ll act or not, Trump remains the unquestionable hero of the fanatics in Cuba.

The silence of the anti-dialoguers is more outrageous these days, when the arrogant Donald Trump has declared his intention to establish a dialogue with none other than the current North Korean satrap

But the silence of the anti-dialoguers is more outrageous these days, when the arrogant Donald Trump has declared his intention to establish a dialogue with none other than the current North Korean satrap, the mass murderer heir to the long power of the Kim dynasty. And this is not necessarily a political error for Trump. In any situation it is more desirable to resolve differences with words and agreements rather than with missiles, especially nuclear missiles.

Only that, following the logic applied to the Obama-Castro dialogue, wouldn’t this President of the world’s greatest power also be “legitimizing” a miserable dictatorship that represses and murders its people? Where are the angry defenders of human rights who are so offended by the US-Cuba dialogue? Could it be that some dialogues are “good” and others “bad”? And in this last case, who is the referee that defines the appropriate adjective in each case?

For the time being, and until they prove otherwise, everything indicates that the exalted atheists of the Cuban opposition have either run out of arguments or they were never very clear. Perhaps in reality what they understand as “politics” is just the reductionist and sectarian vision of a bench of most passionate sports team fans. And there are still some who think of themselves as presidential leaders for the future Cuban democracy. God help us!

Translated by Norma Whiting

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Transportation In Cuba: Multiple Problems For One Solution / Miriam Celaya

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cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 March 2018 — One of the most pressing and old problems never solved in the Cuban capital has been that of public transportation. There are countless causes, beginning with the extreme centralization that placed in the hands of the State the transportation administration and “control” for decades – with the disastrous consequences that this policy has brought in all spheres of the economy and services – to which could be added a long list of adversities inherent to the system, such as the aging of the vehicle fleet, the lack of spare parts to repair the buses’ constant breakdowns, the incongruence between the price of the (subsidized) fares and the cost of keeping the service running, and the chronic lack of cash that hinders the purchase of new and more modern effective buses, among other limitations.

As if such difficulties were not enough, in recent times, Havana residents have habitually used the most economical mode of transportation, the articulated “P” buses (40 cents CUP per passenger), which cover routes in high-demand and have the greatest passenger capacity. They have recently noticed longer waiting times between buses, which causes the corresponding crowding at the bus stops, the chaos at boarding time and all the inconveniences associated with it. continue reading

This time, however, it is not a problem of shortage of equipment, but of drivers. The truth about a growing popular rumor about this new fatality has just been confirmed by the director of the Provincial Transportation Company of Havana (EPTH), according to the official press. The aforementioned director said that, currently, the EPTH deficit is 86 drivers, which means – always in their own words – that, on a daily basis, 700,000 passengers cannot be transported in Havana, which represents about 60,000 pesos less in revenues and an average of 500 fewer trips.

The matter is not trivial. Among the four terminals most affected by the exodus of drivers are two with the highest demand: the ones at Alamar and San Agustín.

So, following “the vision of the directors of this company,” the (new) problem in the capital’s public transportation service, that is, the shortage of drivers, is due to “more tempting offers of salaries and hours at other work centers, as well as the increase in inspectors’ demands and actions so what is established in the sector is fulfilled.” (The underlined section contains the author’s views).

There wasn’t the slightest reference to fundamental issues that affect the transportation sector, and in particular, public transportation drivers, such as the salary incompatibile with the always ungrateful task of driving a heavy vehicle, loaded with irritated passengers, circulating through obsolete, insecure roads, full of potholes; the constant harassment of state inspectors, and the obligation to follow to the letter the sacrosanct commandments written by bureaucrats far removed from the actual work from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices.

However, the brainy directors of the EPTH have conceived a solution to “alleviate” the crisis: “in the coming weeks, a contingent of drivers from several provinces will arrive from the provinces, and the call for all those who wish to join the workforce will continue.”

All of which demonstrates the infinite capacity of the leading cadres of the socialist state enterprise to create several problems for each solution instead of one solution for each problem. Because one doesn’t need to be a genius to see that – except for the possible existence of inflated records – if drivers from the interior provinces are the solution to the transportation crisis in the capital, wouldn’t that be creating conditions for a transportation crisis in those provinces?

Another vital point of the matter: in Havana, aren’t there enough housing problems and insufficient shelters for thousands of victims who have lost their homes due to building collapses or evictions? How is the State going to guarantee accommodation and living conditions for those provincial drivers who will come to “save” the passengers of the capital for an undetermined period of time?

The experience of decades of massive “contingents” mobilized towards the capital – for example, policemen and builders from the eastern provinces, mainly during the 1970’s, though the practice has not completely disappeared – shows that this is a boomerang strategy: it not only increases the problem that is being solved but also generates new ones, mainly in the area of housing.

Although we must recognize that the topic of contingents in Cuba is all a State policy: in any crisis situation – which is the norm, not the exception – the creation of a contingent is always proposed. A contingent can serve the government (and only it) in all cases. Thus, there have also been contingents of teachers, doctors, sports coaches, cultural instructors, etc., whose common denominator is not having solved any problem, but the complete opposite.

And it could not be otherwise because, as is known, the word contingent defines something eventual, not definitive; which is why you cannot face a crisis – be it public order, housing, transport or any other – with a “contingent.” It is necessary to deeply reform the roots of the system that generates the evil, otherwise the contingent will end up being the one that takes root.

But, returning to the issue at hand, it would be interesting to know how the EPTH managers suppose that keeping an open call to increase the workforce of the company will resolve the deficit of drivers. Isn’t that the same type of negotiation that called for drivers to work at other locations that provided better wages and more manageable hours? So, what makes them suppose that the next influx of drivers will remain faithful before the helm, and facing the ferocious harassment (supposedly “demands”) of the inspectors, for the same salary and with the same schedule that determined the stampede of the previous drivers?

Paradoxically, in this case, as in many of the complex problems that overwhelm Cubans today, the solution is very simple and not at all new: allow the creation of autonomous cooperatives of transportation workers, give the fleet to these cooperatives, allow for those cooperative members to purchase fuel at reasonable prices and import cars and spare parts and apply a fair tax burden that encourages work for the sector. In summary, allow the freedoms and rights of workers in the sector. Only then will the eternal transportation crisis disappear, not in the capital, but in all of Cuba.

Because we Cubans have only one problem: an obtuse and failed sixty-year-old political system, which threatens to become eternal.

And in Cuba everything, even a humble bus driver’s employment post, is a reflection of the general crisis of the political system, and as such, constitutes a potential threat that must be “solved” deep down from the structures at the service of the regime. And while we’re waiting around, we can only exclaim what our grandparents used to say: “what a mess!”

Translated by Norma Whiting