Little War Games / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 29 November 2016 — In October, Hurricane Matthew struck the eastern side of the Island, creating destruction and desolation in Maisí, Baracoa, and other communities of the territory, from which their inhabitants–given the precariousness under which they were already living–will take years to recover. This is especially so being that much of what is reconstructed today is of a temporary character, due to the lack of durability and resistance to natural phenomena of the materials utilized.

The national economy continues to be in crisis, and the lack of supplies can be seen in the empty shelves of the freely-convertible currency (CUC) stores, in the service stations bereft of gasoline, and in the pharmacies that don’t stock basic medications. Other essential services also show their deterioration and affect the Cuban people. Continue reading “Little War Games / Fernando Dámaso”

Against all logic, from the 16th through 18th of this month, the authorities carried out the Bastion 2016 Strategic Exercise, which practically paralyzed the country for those three days. As if this were not enough, they added two “Days of Defense,” the 19th and 20th, with the goal of perfecting the country’s preparedness to confront a supposed enemy, under the concept of “War of All the People.”

In the conclusions published in the official press, the solution to wartime problems was declared “successful” by the ministries in charge (the same ones who are incapable of resolving the problems of peacetime) as were the exercises carried out with the mobilized population (infantry exercises, arming and disarming of weapons, shooting, grenade launching, disguise and others). In addition, there were assurances that “Cuba’s invulnerability to military aggression” had been confirmed.

In today’s world, with the level of arms development and technological advances in all spheres, no country can consider itself invulnerable, including the major powers. It is absurd to declare this with respect to a small and poor country such as Cuba, equipped with obsolete and recycled weaponry.

Now the practice runs were underway for a great military parade, in the style of those from the Cold War era, on 2 December, for the 60th anniversary of the Landing of the Granma and in honor of the “historic leader’s” 90th birthday–which has been moved to 2 January 2017, due to his death on the evening of 25 November and the activities surrounding his funeral.

It is true that all of these events, except the (albeit expected) demise, was long planned. But prior to Hurricane Matthew and the results of the United States elections. they could have been reconsidered.

It is no secret to anyone that these happenings required resources of all types and exacted great physical and economic costs. The questions by many citizens were: Why, instead of being squandered, were these means not applied to relieve–in the shortest time possible and with greater quality–the problems in the communities affected by the hurricane?

The explanations provided by the authorities–including the one about the exclusion of Guantánamo, a poor province with few resources, from these activities–satisfied very few. In the context of the improvement of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, do they not insert unnecessary noise?

Could it be that with these little war games, there was an attempt to “cohere” to the regime the ever-less “cohered” Cuban people?

Could it be a pathetic attempt to “play an old hand” for the benefit of the next tenant of the White House?

Given the recent events, much should change.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Flag "Bearers" / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 12 September 2016 — In light of the proliferation among Cubans of garments adorned with elements of the United States flag and, to a lesser degree, the flag of England, some “defenders” of the national identity and of patriotic symbols have proposed making the Cuban flag more visible, as “many Cuban flags.”

Being that the natives of this Island tend to outdo ourselves and we forget that there is a happy medium, some sportswear items have appeared (awfully designed for the Río de Janeiro Olympics)–shirts, shorts, caps, purses, tote bags, and even aprons–bearing elements of the national standard or, simply, reproducing it without any creativity. Continue reading “The Flag "Bearers" / Fernando Dámaso”

Now, following the beat of these pioneers, other “purists” have raised their voices, demanding a prohibition against the use of the flag on items of clothing, because it is unnecessary to import “bad customs” from other countries. In the first place, to categorize the habits of others as “bad” or “good” seems a bit petulant: they are customs and should be respected, even if not imitated.

Besides, why this late defense of patriotic symbols, when in fact, officially speaking, they have been quite disrespected? Examples abound: utilizing the flag during any political activity, no matter how trivial; leaving it suspended eternally in closed-off areas, even exposed to the elements; printing it on paper and, later, allowing it to be strewn on the floor like so much trash, trampled on by passers-by; hanging it up in state-run establishments as a curtain on doorways and windows to block the sun; printing images of historic and not so historic figures on it; and, as if all this weren’t enough, having the Historic Leader write his signature on it with a felt-tip pen during a public act on the staircase of the University of Havana.

Let us not even mention the national coat of arms, for it has been obviated and forgotten, having not been present, as was customary before 1959, in government buildings, but rather, in observance of a blatant personality cult, substituted by photos of living personages.

All of this racket is due to some “dogmatics” who, from an “idiotological” point of view, want to confront a foreign custom that has been taken up in our country.

I think there are real problems that are more important to confront, unless this is one more entertainment designed to lull Cubans with cheap patriotism.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Period of National Mourning, or Curfew? / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 27 November 2016 — On Saturday 26 November of this year, my telephone rang at almost 2 in the morning. I picked it up with trepidation because normally at that hour one expects to hear bad news. The reality, however, was different: a friend was calling to inform me of Fidel’s death. I was relieved because, what with my family being out of Cuba, I had expected the worst.

The news did not stir any kind of feelings in me, neither pity nor joy. It was something that had been expected and that many of us wished would just be over.

What did surprise me was that Raúl so quickly made the event public knowledge. We had always thought that this would be something that would be kept hidden from us for a while and that we would find it out from relatives and friends outside the country. But the social networks and the immediate impact they cause made the current president react this way.
Continue reading “Period of National Mourning, or Curfew? / Rebeca Monzo”

They have decreed a national mourning period of nine days, which in my opinion is rather exaggerated. They say it is so that everyone can say goodbye and pay their respects before his ashes. I am convinced that the majority of those who will go to do so will not go spontaneously, but rather will be transported by the Young Communists Union, the University, the Cuban Workers Center, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and all the rest of the governmental mass organizations of which the country boasts (and which are under the direction of the government, even though it publicly declares that they are not, which is totally false).

The state-run television has all the channels lined up with programs broadcasting only images of the deceased, extolling the personality of a leader who died in full decline. Only his “successful” episodes are shown. There is not a single children’s program on the air, being that children, too, are obliged to observe an enforced mourning period.

They have prohibited all public and cultural spectacles. The greatly advertised and one-time-only concert by the Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo, who traveled to our country with 500 guests, has been suspended–which for him must have been “disconcerting.” Also, the sale of alcoholic beverages has been prohibited in state-run and private restaurants, as well as in all the stores throughout the country.

I have learned that they are visiting establishments that rent out private rooms, to investigate whether any journalists are among the guests.

The city is practically deserted at night. Is this, really, a period of mourning, or a curfew? You decide.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Dictator’s Fortune Exceeds 900 Million Dollars / Hablemos Press

castroHablemos Press, 26 November 2016 — The dictator Fidel Castro has died in Havana this 25 November. He was among the military men who ruled the Island with an iron fist for 49 years, amassing a great fortune–despite being a critic of capitalism.

Hablemos Press, 26 November 2016 — The dictator Fidel Castro has died in Havana this 25 November. He was among the military men who ruled the Island with an iron fist for 49 years, amassing a great fortune–despite being a critic of capitalism. Continue reading “The Dictator’s Fortune Exceeds 900 Million Dollars / Hablemos Press”

According to the North American magazine Forbes, “the retired military man’s fortune exceeds $900 million dollars.”

Many friends on our social networks are sending us comments, asking, “Will the fights among his children and wives be publicized on the national media?”

Will children emerge who were previously unknown?

Who will inherit this fortune?

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Assassins, Accomplices, and Victims (II) / Ángel Santiesteban

Abel Prieto, Cuban Minister of Culture, Eduardo Galeano and Roberto Fernández Retamar, President of Casa de las Américas. AIN FOTO/Omara García Mederos

Ángel Santiesteban, 2 September 2016 — After writing what will now be considered the first part of this post, and publishing it under this same title, I was arrested by State Security; however it was not the writing, and much less the visibility that it would attain in my blog, that was the real cause for the arrest. My captors, in the height of contempt, tried to make me believe that I was a trickster, a vulgar swindler. In a flash I became, again, a dangerous offender. I confess that I even got to imagine myself in the shoes of some famous swindlers whom I met in movies, but this was not at all a game, and the cell was not a movie set.

I have dug around a great deal in their procedures up to now, and I know their falsehoods, which was why I urged them to let me know the details of my mischief. What was the cause? What would they do now to present me as a swindler? Continue reading “Assassins, Accomplices, and Victims (II) / Ángel Santiesteban”

First would be to convince me of that strange condition of con artist that even I did not recognize in myself. Time and again, fraud would be cited in their arguments, with no trace of it when the facts were compiled. Diffusion, accusation…so that the crook I was would contradict himself and ultimately see the error of his ways. Which ways?

They themselves would offer me very few details. Everything had occurred a year ago, and on the Isle of Pines–that island south of the larger one which, arbitrarily and without popular consultation, the government decided to rename the Isle of Youth. While I was shut away in a dungeon, my “interlocutors” mentioned a fraud which they were not able to explain very well, only to later refer to a packet of leaflets which, supposedly, I had given to the photographer and human rights activist Claudio Fuentes, who was also detained.

Try as the hired gun might to convince me of the “misdeed” and that I had no option other than to recognize my “crime,” I could not help but burst out laughing. The allegation was so ridiculous that I could have dignified it with many guffaws such as the one it provoked at the start, but these spurious accusations have no intention other than to ruin the lives of we Cubans who think differently, and laughter is a good thing.

I had not other option than to let them know that I was well aware of those strategies, that I was sure that they were trying to make me believe that Claudio had denounced me, and how that was a well-worn tactic–even in the movies and police novels. “I do not think the same as you. I am not a coward, nor am I your ’comrade.’ I am not a lackey.” That’s just what I said to them.

Then they laughed, but their laughter was not that of a victor, it was the nervous laughter of someone who’s about to lose. I confess that I felt frustrated; I have always dreamed of taking on an intelligent adversary, an enemy convinced of the rightness of his actions. This would be much better, but this time again it was useless to pine for such a thing, and the worst was that those gendarmes had not the slightest idea what the words “liberty” and “democracy” mean.

I was so annoyed that I started to speak of my childhood, of those days when I believed that Cuban State Security was one of the best in the world, even mentioning out loud the titles of a few novels: “Here the Sands are Whiter,” and “If I Die Tomorrow,” and “In Silence It Has Had to Be.” I mentioned the mark that those works had left on a bunch of proud adolescents who, still, believed that what which those fictional officials were defending actually existed in reality–and that we even believed, naively, that on this Island was a concerted effort to create a lasting prosperity.

The bad part, I assured them, was when I knew the whole truth, when I understood that those agents were only after ensuring the perpetual rule of the Brothers Castro. I mentioned the moment in which I crossed the line, that line that placed me, irreversibly, on the opposite side. I spoke of my discontent with a totalitarian regime, and about how I discovered the true essences of those killers in the service of the Castros: people capable of abusing women, of planting false evidence for the prosecution (after brutalizing them) of those who fight for change in Cuba. They would laugh, nervously…and with no segues they arrived at a new argument, undoubtedly the most important one, the one that caused them to shut me away.

What had truly annoyed them was a post that I had published regarding Roberto Fernández Retamar, in which I called him an assassin. According to them, I had not considered the fact that Roberto was my colleague. “I don’t have colleagues who are assassins,” I told them, and they replied that my attack had not achieved any importance, that it had already been forgotten, and that Fernández’ true comrades had made a tribute to him immediately. Then why, I asked, were they holding me there? Why were they mentioning that post? For sure, they were contradicting themselves–but I was already used to that, and once again I smiled, sardonically.

I thought of a version of Silvio Rodríguez whom I had seen on TV making tributes, in song, to Fernández, which made me suspect that it all could be a reply to my post. My detention had nothing to do with the leaflets nor with any fraud– that seizure was orchestrated after I accused Roberto Fernández Retamar of having signed a death sentence against three youths who only wanted to get out of an extremist country where they no longer wanted to live.

I had already received some news about the comments that had been incited by that post, and I also knew of the vexation that it had provoked in some writers, who judged it excessive that I should call Fernández an assassin. Again it was I who was the monster, I who committed savageries, I the irreverent and cruel barbarian–while Fernández was presented as the venerable elder, the respectable and virtuous man, the honest citizen, even after having signed a death warrant.

My detractors, the same who became his defenders while forgetting that the poet was one of the signatories of that judgment that would send three youths to the execution wall, denigrated me again, but never mentioned that the “revolutionary” poet lent a veneer of legitimacy to the death of those three young men, whose only sin was to have tried to leave a country that was tormenting them, to separate from an Island and from the dictators that have been ruling it for more than 50 years. Is that a crime?

Those who were annoyed by the post are the same who repeat the charge against me that the official discourse prepared some years ago. Those who claim that I was unjust toward Roberto Fernández Retamar did not defend my innocence when I went to jail. They saw me be taken away, they knew I was shut away in a cell, and they were silent. They never had doubts, they never confronted a power that decided to accuse of me of physically mistreating the woman who was then my companion. Those who again judge me and cast me aside are also guilty of my imprisonment.

Those who today are annoyed because I accused the president of the Casa de las Américas, did not lift a finger to request, at least, a thorough investigation of my case. They believed in the “dignity” of that woman, and today turn a deaf ear to the statements by my son. They, whom my post angered so, are the same who remain silent when “State Security” beat the Ladies in White, a “State Security” that beats women who are demonstrating peacefully. What kind of security is this? Of what State? This shows their double standard and hypocrisy. Those who signed the accusation against me today are irritated by my “attack” on the poor poet Fernández, following the orders of Abel Prieto, who at the same time was following those of the highest hierarchy of a dictatorial government.

My attackers defend only their permanence in that official union that is the UNEAC. They who seek to tarnish me want to preserve their membership in the official delegations sent to any event taking place outside the Island. They who raise their voices to attack me defend the shoes and sustenance of their children. They who attacked my liberty because, supposedly, I was beating the mother of my son, said not a word after the thrashing that State Security delivered to the actress Ana Luisa Rubio.

That woman who found herself so vulnerable, so trampled, had no choice but to leave Cuba–and what else could she do, if the UNEAC did not offer her any support nor did it organize a demonstration to confront that power that decided to batter her. No woman was to be found confronting the janissaries that bashed Rubio. In those days there was no book going around collecting the signatures of indignant UNEAC members, if any there were. Nobody went out on the street–apparently, they were amusing themselves by protecting the crumbs they get from the powers that be for their services to the “fatherland.”

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

A Disappointing And Unfair Report / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

cpj_logo-354x354Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 30 September 2016 — The most recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the state of journalism in Cuba is, more than disappointing, worrisome. It is not that its authors are uninformed about the Cuban reality. Rather, they have manipulated the information at their disposal so as to emphasize—at the expense of traditional independent journalism, whose presence is concealed—that journalism which is done on the Island more or less outside of state control. However, the sector to which they devote so much attention is not really quite so outside of that domination as the authors seem to wholeheartedly believe; either they are too naïve or too optimistic about the situation of journalists who work under the conditions of a dictatorship.

This report reinforces a tendency which could be seen emerging in recent months: that of obscuring and making obsolete the journalism that is most critical of the regime so as to present the pro-government bloggers and journalists who work in foreign outlets or alternative media of recent vintage—On Cuba, Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo, El Toque, Progreso Semanal, La Joven Cuba—as the new protagonists of a free journalism on the Island. Continue reading “A Disappointing And Unfair Report / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez”

And I was calling this worrisome because this type of analyses, arising from who knows where, which try to make the case that Cuba is changing by giant steps in rhythm with the Raulist reforms, turn into a type of “trending topics,” become viral, and are later unstoppable.

The report obviates the fact that the independent journalism that has obtained in Cuba since the first half of the 1990s, and which ever since then has had to endure repression pure and simple, and which brought to light the prohibitions, and enabled the very existence of those alternative media whose collaborators are set on clarifying that they are not dissidents, complaining about the scoldings and warnings they receive, as if they were wayward sheep, from government bigwigs.

Regarding journalism which is critical of the regime, the report makes sole* reference to 14ymedio, but praises its middle-of-the-road tone. Lacking this tone, Primavera Digital, for example, is ignored, even though it continues to come out every Thursday on the internet despite the fact that it has not received a single cent of financing for more than two years. By the way, when 14ymedio started, Primavera Digital had already been around for more than six years—a fact that does not prevent the repeated assertion, mantra-like, that 14ymedio “was the first independent news outlet in Cuba.”

It is laudable that these young communicators from the alternative media have appeared, speaking of a Cuba more like the real one than what is portrayed by the official media. There are excellent ones, such as Elaine Díaz, or the team at El Estornudo with its literary journalism—and even Harold Cárdenas, why not? Despite his pretensions of “saving the Revolution” and making himself out to be more socialist than Marx and Engels combined. But when speaking of quality in the field of the independents, I have to say that it is the dissidents who have for many years now been incomparably plying their trade—journalists such as Miriam Celaya, Tania Díaz Castro, Iván García, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Juan González Febles, Víctor Manuel Domínguez, Jorge Olivera, among others.

More than unfair, the angle the CPJ report takes in characterizing TV and Radio Martí as “mostly irrelevant” is insulting. It would be interesting to know, keeping in mind the powerful interference of their signal and the blockage of their web site in Cuba, how TV and Radio Martí might increase their audience and have greater relevance compared to, let us say, Granma or Radio Rebelde. However, even this would not be enough for the CPJ, which lumps the official press with Radio and TV Martí insofar as they both “have become echo chambers for ideologues at both extremes of the political spectrum. As they are currently structured, neither is capable of providing the type of transformative journalism that could help to achieve the changes longed-for by the majority of Cubans.”

Bearing in mind that this section of the report was written by Ernesto Londoño, a journalist who when it comes to Cuba sees only what he wants to see and make seen (remember those editorials in The New York Times that heralded 17D?*), I believe I understand the changes to which he is referring. The problem is that these are not exactly the changes that are desired by the majority of Cubans, who desperately aspire to others of much greater significance.

Neither is it just for the report to not acknowledge the relevance of such outlets as CubaNet—not that it is blocked in Cuba occasionally, but rather that it was occasionally not blocked for almost a year. Since a few weeks ago it has begun being blocked again (as has Diario de Cuba), several of its journalists have been arrested, and the political police have confiscated their equipment. It would be interesting to know which formula CubaNet could employ to be in Havana the same way that On Cuba is. I say this because both outlets are based in the United States and the journalists who contribute to them are Cubans who live on the Island.

The CPJ’s concern for Cuban journalists is all well and good, but it should be for all, equally—the official and semi-official ones (it is often hard to tell them apart), and those who are lately turning the screws even more—but also for the independents, those truly critical ones, those who do not remain on the surface or who try to hide the fact that they definitively have gotten out from the “innards” of the Revolution: those who, in the CPJ’s report, have been diminished, or simply ignored.

About the Author

Luis Cino Álvarez (Havana, 1956) is a journalist in Cuba currently visiting the United States. Cino has worked as a professor of English, in construction, and in agriculture. He entered the field of independent journalism in 1998. Between 2002 and Spring 2003, Cino was a member of the reporting team at De Cuba magazine. He is assistant director of the online magazine, Primavera Digital [Digital Spring], and is a regular contributor to CubaNet since 2003. A resident of Arroyo Naranjo, Cino dreams of being able to make a living from writing fiction. He is passionate about good books, the sea, jazz and blues.

See also: Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists inCuba to “Cross the Red Lines”

**Translator’s note: As Americans say “9-11” instead of September 11, 2001, Cubans say “17D” instead of 17 December 2014, the day Barack Obama and Raul Castro jointly announced the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: Tallies and Tales of the Reforms / Vicente Botín

Vicente Botín, Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), The Hilton Miami Downtown Hotel, 29 July 2016.

Once upon a time…

A female cat fell in love with a handsome young man and prayed to the goddess Aphrodite to turn her into a woman. The goddess, pitying the cat’s yearning, transformed her into a beautiful maiden, and the young man, captivated by her beauty, married her. But, on the wedding night, Aphrodite wanted to know if the cat, now a woman, had changed inside as well, and so she let loose a mouse in the bedroom. The cat, forgetting her status as a woman, rose from the bed and chased the mouse so as to devour it. At that point, the goddess, grown angry, returned her to her previous condition, turning the woman back into a cat.

With this fable, the Greek philosopher Aesop means to tell us that, “The change in status of a person does not cause her to change her instincts.” Which the wise collection of popular sayings might translate as, “You can dress up a monkey in silk, but she is still a monkey.”

“Why this eagerness to dress the monkey in silk?” I asked myself, when I saw, incredulous, the Chanel parade in Havana. The Adidas tracksuit which Fidel Castro has been sporting for years was outshone by fashion czar Karl Lagerfeld’s diamond-studded jacket and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen’s beret (albeit without the star that adorned Che Guevara’s cap in that famous photograph by Alberto Korda). Continue reading “Cuba: Tallies and Tales of the Reforms / Vicente Botín”

Could it be that vileness can be disguised by glamour? Is is possible to wrap in gift paper, as though it were a box of chocolates, the Penal Code in force in Cuba, which brutally punishes all forms of dissidence?

Can repression and the lack of freedoms be combined with haute couture? Is the march by the Ladies in White along Fifth Avenue compatible with the pageant of Chanel models along the Paseo del Prado?

Giusepe Tomassi de Lampedusa puts in the mouth of Tancredi, one of the characters in his novel, “The Leopard,” this utterance directed to his uncle Fabrizio, Prince Salina: “Everything must change if everything is to stay as it is.”

In political science, “leopard-like” or “Lampedusian” are descriptors for the politician who initiates a revolutionary transformation but which, in practice, alters the structures of power only superficially, intentionally keeping the essential elements of those structures.

Raúl Castro is a lot like the Lampedusian Tancredi, because he seems to want to change everything, but his intention is for everything to stay as it is.

When I arrived in Havana in early 2005 as a correspondent for Televisión Española, everything was much clearer, or, to be more exact, seemed less confused. There were no fireworks. Any glamour, for want of a better term, was provided by Fidel Castro, with his eternal olive-green uniform, and the parades were not directed by Karl Lagerfeld, but rather by the dictator himself, on the Malecón, in front of the then-US Interests Section, now the US Embassy.

Of course, then these demonstrations were called “Marches of the Embattled People.” The other marches, those of the Ladies in White, were repressed without pity, and concerts, such as those by the group “Porno para Ricardo,” were nothing like those by the Rolling Stones: they would end with their leader, Gorki Águila, in jail. There is where the dissidents could be found, the ones from the Black Spring of 2003, and other, newer ones, who were continually being thrown into the prisons.

At that time, Havana was falling to pieces. There were power blackouts, and the ration book was entirely insufficient to meet the basic needs of the population. The US was the imperialist ogre, the culprit of all the evils afflicting the country, and the spies, “The Five,” were heroes. There were no shades. Everything was black or white.

Now I ask myself, “Has all that changed? Is it all part of the past?”

When he was named the successor, and with his brother still physically present, Raúl Castro started his own trajectory. He proceeded like a good bureaucrat, without rhetoric, step by step, convinced that, in order to survive, the Revolution needed a facelift. So he pulled out of his hat a jar of makeup, a tube of lipstick and a comb, and with an oriental patience (it is not for nothing that they call him “the Chinaman”*), he began to embellish the corpse of the Revolution until he made unrecognizable… unrecognizable for the gullible who let themselves be fooled by Photoshop.

Cuba is in fashion, and the mirage of the reforms serves as a screen to cover the reality that Cubans live, or rather, suffer. Could it be that they are invisible who inhabit the Island? Do they no longer have to steal or deceive in order to survive? Do they no longer have to “resolve” their problems?

There has been too much speculation over the nature of and the time it will take to implement these reforms that have been announced so many times, like the Byzantines used to speculate, in the 15th Century, about the sex of angels, while the Ottomans were besieging Constantinople.

Could it be that the Turks are at the gates of Havana?

The Turks, probably not, but the Cubans yes, who for more than half a century have lived besieged within a fortress, commanded by an apprentice and witch doctor, who is performing a balancing act to contain the demands of a people beleaguered by penury and the lack of freedoms.

The foreign correspondents who work in Cuba confront the dilemma of rummaging through the trash or going with the flow. During the four years that I spent on the Island, I suffered all types of pressures to force me to sweeten my reports. The censors were not concerned with political criticisms, after all, the Cuban government enjoys no few sympathies throughout the world. What bothered them was the pure and simple description of the difficult living conditions of the Cuban people. The shameful condition of the hospitals, the precariousness of the housing, the cut-offs of water and power, the scarcity and bad quality of the food, the lack of transportation, and let us not mention the prostitution, as a express route to access consumer goods.

All those topics were taboo. They could not be mentioned, under threat of expulsion. The paradox is that currently, all of those problems continue, they have not disappeared, but they appear to no longer be a problem for anybody. Simply put, they are not spoken of. They are swept under the rug.

The first “reformist” measures announced by Raúl Castro provoked an effect similar to hypnosis. Like an expert prestidigitator, he exchanged the bread and circuses of the Romans for self-employment licenses, cell phones, cars, houses and microwave ovens, despite their high cost in Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC).

But Cubans, after so many “absurd prohibitions,” celebrated them joyously and, beyond that, the announcement of new promises–among them, the suppression of the double currency, the revaluation of the Cuban peso, and the end of the ration book which, in Cuba, ironically enough, is called the “provision” book.

But it is well known that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Eight years later, those good intentions have yet to be realized, especially the suppression of the double currency, which not only has not been resolved but has become even more complex, with the application of different exchange rates.

For Raúl Castro this is the cause of “an important distortion, which will be resolved as soon as possible.” It will not be put off until the Twelfth of Never, the dictator has said, but at this rate, it will be resolved when hell freezes over.

The dual monetary system — the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible peso (CUC) — is cause for no few arguments among brainy analysts who do not tire of debating over the consequences of solving that problem through a type of shock therapy or, conversely, doing it in phases.

While the dispute rages on over whether they are greyhounds or wolfhounds, until the Island’s government solves the enigma, Cubans will suffer the consequences of that distortion that suffocates them, because their salaries are paid in Cuban pesos, but they must use CUC to buy practically everything they need at a 25% markup.

The minimum salary on the Island is 225 Cuban pesos, and the median monthly salary is 625, which come out, respectively, to about 9 and 25 CUC or roughly the same in US dollars. What can one do with that amount of money? What would you be able to do with an income of $25 per month?

The cost of the products in the “basic basket,” subsidized by the government is, approximately, 10 Cuban pesos per month. It it is simply impossible, however, that one person, especially a retiree, with no other resources but his pension, can subsist all that time, with just a few pounds of rice and beans, the basic food of Cubans, to which are added a few ounces of pasta, coffee and salt.

The ration book also provides for five eggs per person per month, and a few more more for 10 pesos: a bit of oil, another bit of ground soy meat, a bar of soap… come on, it’s as if one had just come out of a war zone.

Aside from the ration book, one can purchase (also with Cuban pesos) certain unregulated products, but the true foodstuffs, beef and fish, primarily, can only be bought with CUCs.

And although the government recently lowered the price of some basic products, these continue being very high. For example, one kilo of frozen chicken costs 2.35 CUCs, and a half kilo of powdered milk, 2.65. Just these two products account for 20 percent of the median monthly salary.

In the world in which we live, it seems absurd to speak in these terms. Has any one of you ever told a guest that you cannot make her an omelet because you have already consumed your five monthly eggs?

Cubans do not live in our world. To not understand that is to turn on its head the myth of Plato’s cave and to accept that the people inhabiting Cuba, chained and in the shadows, live in the real world and we, on the other hand, in an apparent reality.

Allow me to ask you some questions. Has any one of you recently visited a house in Centro Habana? A great number of them are propped up to prevent collapse and, even so, this occurs almost daily, with a high number of fatalities.

Did you know that in the hospitals, the sick must bring their own sheets, their food and even a bottle of bleach for sanitation, due to the abysmal hygienic conditions, and that infections in the operating rooms result in a high rate of deaths?

I invite you to visit, for example, La Balear hospital in San Miguel del Padrón. It is not in Haiti, but rather in Havana, the capital of the country that publicizes its health system as one of its greatest accomplishments.

Are you aware that diabetes patients only receive, on a monthly basis, between two and five sterile, single-use syringes of insulin, and that the rest that they need they must buy them on the black market or, as recommended, boil the used ones?

Do you know that hopelessness is causing a stampede toward the United States, and the exodus to that country has quintupled in the last five years?

Do you know the number of boat people who escape to the United States for lack of a travel permit, despite the much ballyhooed migratory reform, and perish in the Florida Straits?

All of this occurs, continues to occur, while the eyes of the world are turned to the reforms that have been implemented in recent years, although it remains to be seen to what extent they will be affected by what Raúl Castro has euphemistically called “tensions” and “adverse circumstances” provoked by, among other factors, the crisis in Venezuela, which has substantially reduced the shipments of oil to the Island.

The reforms yet to come are discussed, exhaustively, in forums such as this, but there are always more questions than answers because only the government of the Island holds they key to what it will do and when.

And the Cubans? What role do they play in all this? Are they and their circumstances also an object of study?

If you allow me I will parody Shakespeare in “The Merchant of Venice” to say, “Does a Cuban not have eyes? Does a Cuban not have hands, organs, proportions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us do we not die?”

Cubans do not have a dog in this fight. They attend, mute, to the government’s hot air and do what they have always done under the dictatorship: survive.

And surviving in the towns of the interior is much more difficult than in the capital. The living conditions of millions of Cubans are pitiful. The metaphor of Italian writer Carlo Levi would have to be employed, and say that Christ was detained in Havana, because further out from the capital, Cubans live outside of history, crushed by poverty.

But the government, insensitive to the privations of Cubans, walks and walks toward the precipice.

Among the litany of lamentations over the failure to fulfill the economic plans, during the recent sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power, voices of alarm were heard before the possibility that the situation will deteriorate even further and produce a social outburst, with a repeat of street protests such as those of the Maleconazo of 1994. As a precaution against such incidents, the government is sharpening its knives.

But the spotlights, at present, are shining on the enormous cinematic stage which Cuba has become for the world, and especially on the proposals of the VII Congress of the Communist Party, which took place this past April.

Essentially, what was discussed there was what the government understands as the “conceptualization of the socioeconomic model,” which in reality is nothing more than the continuation of the so-called “Alignments of the Social and Economic Policy of the Party and the Revolution,” presented during the previous Congress and which, like all good resolutions have been left half-baked.

The conceptualization is now in its eighth version and only 21 percent of the 313 Guidelines have been implemented; the rest, that is, the 79 percent, is “in-process.” At this rate, it will take decades to put the well-worn guidelines into practice.

Similarly, the Mariel Special Development Zone has dropped anchor: of the 400 investment projects that were predicted, only 11 have been accepted; within a century, perhaps the rest will have been approved.

The government continues to beat around the bush and appears not to fear that it is past its prime. Meanwhile, it maintains control over the means of production, what it calls the “predominance of the property of all the people,” although in the last five years the state sector diminished, from 81 to 71 percent, while the private and cooperative sector expanded.

The government of Raúl Castro is confident in the new Foreign Investment Law’s capacity to attract capital, authorizing outside investment in all sectors of the economy, except in health, education, armed forces and communication media.

But there is much mistrust on the part of the investors regarding the guarantees they will receive on acquired properties and the transfer of utilities in foreign currency. The law is very ambiguous in this regard, as it establishes the freedom of investors to repatriate their profits, so long as doing so does not constitute, and I quote, “a danger to the sovereignty of Cuba.”

Another negative aspect is that joint ventures or enterprises funded by foreign capital will continue to not have the power to contract their employees directly; they will have to do it through government entities charged with negotiating salaries and other working conditions.

This practice was in place under the previous law and implies an infringement of the rights of workers who are without free unions to represent them.

More than a few discriminations are suffered by Cubans, without the new laws, the laws of the much -vaunted changes, protecting them.

The current Foreign Investment Law allows Cubans who reside overseas to invest in Cuba, but not those who live on the Island. They are prohibited from investing in their own country.

The executive director of Cuba Archive, María Werlau, recently made a presentation to the US Congress denouncing the repugnant business of human trafficking carried out by the Island’s government, and which has become its major source of revenue: something more than $8-billion, compared to the $3-billion produced by tourism.

According to official data (I quote María Werlau), around 65,000 Cubans work in 91 countries, with 75 percent (approximately 50,000) in the health sector. Their services are sold abroad, and the greater part of their salaries is confiscated by the Cuban government.

The violations of universal labor rights, which such a practice implies, infringes international accords signed by Cuba and by the majority of the countries where these exported workers are laboring, including conventions and protocols against the trafficking in persons, and of the ILO, the International Labour Organization.

The wage vampirism practiced by the Cuban government attains its most repulsive aspect in the trafficking of blood. The massive drives to obtain donations made voluntarily and altruistically, even using coercive methods, cover up a lucrative business, which some sources estimate brings in some $30-million per year. The government sells the blood of Cubans overseas, with no concern for the shortage of reserves in the Island’s hospitals.

The doses of capitalism which Raul Castro is introducing in Cuba ma non troppo, as the Italians might translate Castro’s slogan “without haste but without pause,” do not alter in the least the stone tablets of the current Constitution that is in force, which establishes an “irrevocable” one-party regime, of “Marxist-Leninist ideology and based on the thought of Martí,” as an “organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, primary leading force of society and of the State.” And to overlook this means to not understand what country we are talking about.

In Cuba, there are no political prisoners, according to Raúl Castro. But in fact, there are, and many. It is enough to consult the statistics put out monthly by human rights defense organizations.

Are you familiar with the Article 72 of the Penal Code? If you have read “1984,” the shocking book by George Orwell, you will recall that the “thought police” would go after “thoughtcrime,” crimes of the mind.

So, then, Article 72 of Law Number 62/87 of the Cuba of the supposed changes, is a carbon copy of the Orwellian laws.

That article says the following: “The special proclivity in which a person is found to commit crimes, demonstrated by the conduct he observes, in manifest contradiction to the norms of sociality morality, is considered a state of dangerousness.”*

In other words, the police can detain anyone suspected of hiding subversive ideas in the deepest part of of their consciousness.

The appointment of Miguel Díaz Canel, 56 years old, an “apparatchik” of the Communist Party, as first vice-president of the Council of State, and the announcement, made by Raúl Castro himself, that he would cede power in February 2018, could mean that the regime was heading towards renewal, at least generationally. But, once again, it was apparent that all was purely cosmetic.

If, in fact, Raúl Castro reiterated, during the VII Congress of the Communist Party, his intention to resign from his position as President of the Councils of State and of Ministries, he was reelected “Bulgarian style”** with 100 percent of the vote, as First Secretary of the Party for the next five years, that is through the year 2021, at which time he will or should reach, if God does not intervene, the age of 90 years.

At that time, Raúl Castro will turn over the secretariat of the Party and also, in his words, “the flags of the Revolution and of Socialism, without the least trace of sadness or pessimism, with the pride of duty accomplished.”

As Don Quixote says, “for empty words, the noise of bells.”

And what did the President of the United States try to do by going to that Island situated beyond all comprehension? Like Hank Morgan, the hero of Mark Twain’s celebrated novel, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Barack Obama was transported to the land of never again, convinced that normal diplomatic relations and a surge in commerce will give way, in the end, to greater liberty for Cubans.

Hank Morgan was saved from death by fire by knowing when a solar eclipse would occur, but Barack Obama, lame duck that he is, was slowly roasted over a barbeque.

For the exegetes of the Revolution, Obama did not go to Cuba, as he said, with the purpose of “burying the last remnant of the Cold War on the American continent,” but rather with more nefarious intentions. The United States, according to Raúl Castro, has changed its former hostile strategy for “a perverse strategy of political-ideological subversion that threatens the very essences of the Revolution.”

As the song says:

Not with you and not without you

are my sorrows eased

with you because you slay me

without you because I die.

The United States has taken giant steps in the normalization of its relations with Cuba, and the Island’s government is taking good advantage of this. But it has not changed its rhetoric, nor has it advanced one millimeter on the path that leads to democracy.

The rapprochement between the two countries has provoked an enormous controversy between supporters and detractors, while Raúl Castro and his minions observe the bullfight, with satisfaction, from the sidelines.

For The Washington Post, the policy of the Obama Administration toward the Cuban government has stymied the efforts of those who fight for democracy on the Island: the activists who have spent their lives struggling against the regime at enormous personal cost.

It is they, and the Cuban people, who should lay the foundations of a new nation with democracy and liberty, and not those who, illegitimately, have usurped that right and want to continue doing so through deceit.

The Cuban Revolution is a corpse, but that corpse has not yet been buried, and its stench will take time in going away. Meanwhile, Cubans continue to live inside a cage with heavy bars, which the government is now sugar-coating, like sugar-coating a pill to hide its bitterness.

As in Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Raúl Castro shows a benevolent face, but his smile is the reverse of a mocking grimace. His tactic is tall tales; his strategy, maintaining his position in power.

Allow me to end my contribution by reading a brief poem of León Felipe, a Spanish writer exiled in Mexico after the Spanish civil war. It is entitled, “I Know All the Tales,” and I believe it reflects very well the great deceit of the Cuban government’s reforms.

It says:

 I do not know much, it is true.

 I only tell what I have seen.

 And I have seen:

 that man’s cradle is rocked by tales…

 That man’s cries of anguish

 are drowned out by tales…

 That man’s weeping is tamped down with tales…

 That the bones of man are buried with tales…

 And that the fear of man…

 has invented all the tales.

 I do not know much, it is true.

 But I have been lulled to sleep with all the tales….

 I know all the tales.

Thank you very much.

 Translator’s Notes:
*In fact, Cubans call Raul Castro not “El Chino,” as in the original text here, but “La China” — The Chinese Woman — as a slur on his parentage and his sexuality.
**”Pre-criminal dangerousness” is a crime in Cuba’s Penal Code and carries a sentence of 1-4 years in prison.
*** An expression that alludes to the former Soviet bloc, and decisions made unanimously–more out of fear or coercion than by conviction–during Communist Party meetings.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Vicente Botín, the Spanish Journalist Who Can’t Get Cuba Out of His Mind / Mario Lleonart

At either edge of this photo, Mario Félix Lleonart and Yoaxis Marcheco; in the center, María Werlau, between Vicente Botín and his wife.

Mario Lleonart, 24 September 2016 — During this past July 28-30, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2016 meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, held in Miami, as part of the panel discussion,”Transitional Justice and the Longed-For Cuban National Reconciliation.” My paper was on “The Longed-For National Reconciliation: Challenges, Realities and Hopes.” However, it is not my paper to which I will refer here.

During this timeframe, on Friday, July 29, a special luncheon took place that provided a pause in the midst of the 18 interesting panels and their debates. For this occasion, the Spanish journalist Vicente Botín, who also served as the special guest commentator on the panel in which I took part, gave a talk that was thought-provoking for all present. Continue reading “Vicente Botín, the Spanish Journalist Who Can’t Get Cuba Out of His Mind / Mario Lleonart”

Botín is a journalist and writer who specializes in international politics, particularly in Latin America. He has produced numerous documentaries in many countries as the managing editor of a well-known television program, including one in Cuba for which he interviewed Fidel Castro. He served as a correspondent for Televisión Española from 2005-2008, and later published two books about Cuba: “Castro’s Funeral,” followed by, “Raúl Castro: The Flea That Rode the Tiger.” Today he is a columnist for El País, El Mundo, and other Spanish newspapers, and resides in Madrid.

His words made so much sense to me regarding the Cuban reality that, upon the conclusion of his remarks, I congratulated him and sought his permission to post them on my blog–receiving from him a most cordial assent–but which unfortunately I have been unable to do until now because of technical problems on my blog which I have only recently been able to resolve.

But, because Botín’s voice still resounds so vibrantly in my mind, with words that have not lost one iota of their relevance–quite the opposite–I share them now with great pleasure so as to place in cyberspace these thoughts which are so sympathetic to the catastrophe of the Cuban people, by someone who also has been directly immersed in our reality, and who cannot get us off of his mind, nor out of his heart.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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

The Stasi’s Sad Footprint / Hablemos Press, Armando Soler Hernández

Author Timothy Garton Ash
Author Timothy Garton Ash

Hablemos Press, Armando Soler Hernández, 1 August, 2016 — Timothy Garton Ash is a well-known journalist, editorial writer and British researcher. His books on history are notable, above all for their distinctive focus on recent contemporary history.

During the 1970s, Ash became interested in researching the period of anti-Hitler resistance in Nazi Germany. While seeking firsthand information, he resided for a considerable time in what were the two halves of that European nation divided at the time. Continue reading “The Stasi’s Sad Footprint / Hablemos Press, Armando Soler Hernández”

Years later, following the fall of the so-called “Socialist Camp” and as details began to be known in the West about the police control and espionage waged on the populations hidden behind the “Iron Curtain,” the British historian had the idea of again visiting the territory of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) and verifying those facts with his own experience.

In 1992 the infamous archives of the Ministry for State Security in East Germany, the Stasi, were made publicly available. The revelations contained within the enormous cache of documents ignited old and new controversies within a population already in the throes of massive social and political upheaval.

Knowing full well the gigantic number of citizens of the GDR who were spied-on and on whom files were kept, Ash had an idea: what if, being a suspicious individual from “Western Capitalism,” he had also been watched? Was there a file on him?

The historian went to the center where the files were gathered (in a quantity equivalent to 178 km), having been salvaged from the massive intentional destruction carried out by the political police following the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. When the civilian preservation agency in charge of the archives, which is headed by a Protestant pastor, receives an information request, it first confirms whether a Stasi file on the applicant exists. If so, a photocopy is made for the applicant, redacting information on any other person that may appear there but who has no bearing on the applicant’s case.

When the British researcher requested the file that had been created about him, he received the chilling confirmation that he, too, had been spied-on. The code name used by the totalitarian espionage services for him was “Roman.”

What was noteworthy was that the copy of the file contained a high number of reports. All were filled with intelligence about him covering all spheres of his activity while living in the GDR, painstakingly detailed by “extra-official employees,” which is how the Stasi would refer to their informants.

Ash was amazed at the number of documents about him, especially because, as a visitor, he had resided for a relatively short time in the GDR. But the most surprising thing he found was that the majority of the reports concerned persons whom he had known and spent time with, i.e. who became friends, and participated in his researches or socialized with him.

Faced with this incontrovertible evidence, and making a 180-degree turn from his original purpose, he decided to embark on an unusual investigation for his new book: he would interview every one of the informants and functionaries who spied on him. The book he published about this experience is entitled, “The File.”

In conducting interviews, Ash was not seeking to reveal the identity of these persons nor reproach them for what they did. He simply was interested in discovering what motivated them to serve, for the most part, as informants for the despotic regime that also oppressed them, and to know the course their lives took after the years elapsed from the end of the GDR.

The reactions of each member of this long list of ex-“collaborators” upon newly encountering the subject of their spying varied greatly, too much to relate here in this brief space. Suffice it to know that the motives of most of them, arising from the oppressive atmosphere of a totalitarian regime as well as the pressure on them to “collaborate,” were ridiculous and pitiful: to obtain permission to travel to the West; a better job; a special scholarship for a disabled child, and so forth.

The most interesting part was when the British historian interviewed ex-officials of the Stasi who guided and monitored the surveillance they maintained on him the whole time without raising his suspicions. Their justifications for having secretly trailed him for being a suspected spy were absurd and exceeded all such operations they were masterminding, resulting in an enormous cumulative waste of personnel, time and money.

This book will be of great interest to readers concerned with the enjoyment of liberty—those who do not consider it normal to live one’s whole lifetime being watched over by a state and its repressive apparatus, when what is common, natural and right is the other way around.

Facts about the Stasi:

The headquarters occupied 41 buildings. The organization utilized 1,181 houses for its agents, 305 vacation homes; 98 sports facilities; 18,000 apartments for meetings with spies. There were 97,000 agents working for this repressive institution: 2,171 read mail; 1,486 tapped telephones; 8,426 listened-in on telephone conversations and radio transmissions. The Stasi had more than 100,000 active, extra-official “collaborators,” and one million other persons provided information on a sporadic basis. There were secret files on 6 million persons, and being that there is no chip worse than the block, there was a section devoted exclusively to watching the members of the Stasi itself.

Comparative data:

During the period between the two world wars (1933-1939), the Gestapo employed only 7,000 agents. However, the population of Nazi Germany (60 million) was more than three times that of the GDR (17 million).

Sources:

The File: A Personal History (Timothy Garton Ash, Random House, 1997).

The Firm: The Inside History of the Stasi (Gary Bruce, Oxford University Press, 2010).

The History of the Stasi: East Germany’s Secret Police 1945-1990 (Gens Gieseke, Berghahn Books, 2014).

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

ICHR Accepts Denunciation of #CUBA for Violation of Ángel Santiesteban’s Human Rights / Ángel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 30 March 2016 — The denunciation of the violation of Ángel Santiesteban’s human rights has been accepted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The organization has given the Castro dictatorship a three-month deadline to respond.

– The Editor

[A translation of the letter from the IACHR, addressed to Ángel Santiesteban’s editor, Elisa Tabakman, follows below.] Continue reading “ICHR Accepts Denunciation of #CUBA for Violation of Ángel Santiesteban’s Human Rights / Ángel Santiesteban”

14 March 2016

RE:  Ángel Lázaro Santiesteban Prats
P-1004-13
Cuba

Dear Madam:

I have the pleasure of contacting you on behalf of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) regarding the above-cited petition in reference to the situation of Ángel Lázaro Santiesteban Prats in Cuba, which was received by this Executive Secretariat on 13 June 2013.

I hereby inform you that by way of a note dated today, the parts of your petition pertinent to the Government of Cuba have been remitted and a due date of three months has been from the date of transmission of the present communication for a presentation of observations, in accordance with Article 30 of the Rules of the IACHR.

The present information request does not constitute a prejudgment regarding the decision that the IACHR will eventually make on the admissibility of this petition.

Likewise, you are informed that based on Article 40(1) of the Rules of the IACHR, at any phase of the investigation of a petition or case, by its own initiative o upon the request of the parties, the IACHR will make itself available to the petitioners and to the State, with the goal of reaching an amicable solution founded on the respect for human rights established in the American Convention, the American Declaration, and other applicable instruments.

I take this opportunity to give you my most cordial greetings,

Elizabeth Abi-Mershed
Adjunct Executive Secretary

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The 26th, Again / Fernando Dámaso

moncada
The Moncada Barracks attacked on 26 July 1953

Fernando Damaso, 25 July 2016 — Tomorrow, a new anniversary of the 26th of July–that failed insurrectional action of 1953–will be commemorated. This date, one of the principal ones of the Castro regime’s calendar, served as the title and standard for the political movement that emerged from the event. The province of Sancti Spíritus has been selected as the headquarters for the celebration–not for being the best choice, but rather for being the least bad one.

There will be “popular” gatherings, official festivities, cultural merrymaking, and even speeches with pretensions of historical authenticity. The script is repeated every year, varying only with regard to the secondary actors, being that the principals have remained in their roles for 58 years, despite the boredom they provoke among the spectators.

Throughout the course of a few days the inhabitants of Sancti Spíritus will enjoy abundant beer, one or another foodstuff, and much dance music, in addition to the traditional carnaval. Afterwards, all will return to the usual boring dailyness, with its meager wages, shortages, street violence, abuses, bureaucracy, and many other misfortunes–and the commemoration, as it does every year, will remain forgotten until the next one, if indeed it takes place, in a new chosen province.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuban Officials in the Panama Papers / Hablemos Press

PP_Cuba_-1080x670

Hablemos Press, Cuban Journalists and others* (see below), 13 May 2016 — Officials of the Cuban Communist Party hired a Swiss attorney to establish offshore companies for their global business activities, the Panama Papers reveal. The unprecedented leak of 11.5-million documents from the legal firm Mossack Fonseca in Panama exposed the offshore actions and suspicious financial transactions of chiefs of state, government officials and celebrities worldwide.

Cuban law does not include any specific legislation regarding State functionaries and offshore enterprises, however such activities would be questionable in the strictly communist country. Continue reading “Cuban Officials in the Panama Papers / Hablemos Press”

The documents reveal that Albert-Louis Dupont Willemin, a lawyer from an aristocratic Swiss family, was a high-level legal advisor and intermediary in more than 20 offshore concerns with commercial ties to Cuba. Dupont Willemin, who also represents Guatemala as honorary consul in Geneva, created two offshore companies, located in the British Virgin Islands, via the registered agent Mossack Fonseca—Curtdale Investments Limited, and Ardpoint Company, Inc. Dupont Willemin’s office stated that he had no interest in commenting on this matter.

Hernán Aguilar Parra, member of the [Cuban] National Assembly of People’s Power, appears in the Panama Papers as director of both companies. Parra ceased being a member of the Assembly in November 2015, a year after the general elections of 2014.

According to the leaked information, the tax havens are associated with Grupo Empresarial Tabacuba, a state-run company that controls all production and sale of Cuban tobacco. Parra also served as director of Tabacuba until 2015. It is believed that Parra has left the tobacco business.

“The deputies (of the Cuban assembly) have restrictions,” said a spokesperson from the Cubalex Center for Legal Information. “The function of the deputies is ad honores (they do not seek compensation) and cannot be utilized for personal gain. It is one of the duties established by existing law.” The spokesperson continued, “The law does not impose on the managers or directors of companies any restriction with respect to establishing relations with private firms. However, it would not be very well regarded for a State official, taking advantage of the function of his position, to establish commercial relations with private companies.”

The former director of production for Tabacuba, Inocente Osvaldo Encarnación, was also tied to the offshore Ardpoint Company Inc. During a telephone interview, Osvaldo Encarnación confirmed that he held shares in a company, but declined to name it. Likewise, he also refused to comment on his ties to Ardpoint.

The records of Mossack Fonseca were obtained by the German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with colleagues of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

Offshore Interests

Although the leaked data do not indicate any specific violation of the law, they do offer an intriguing perspective on the web of relationships.

Corporación Panamericana, headquartered in Havana, is the responsible party for providing the services of Mossack Fonseca to Cuban companies. According to the documents, the Cuban attorney Katiuska Penado Moreno has been the firm’s legal representative. During a brief telephone interview, Penado Moreno claimed to have no ties “currently” to Mossack Fonseca nor to Corporación Panamericana.

Penado Moreno’s name appeared in the Panama Papers in relation to four offshore companies: Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd., Mercaria Trading, Caribbean Sugar Trader, y Sanford Financial Management. Penado Moreno appears as “beneficial owner”—a legal term for when property rights belong to one person despite the legal title belonging to another. Dupont Willemin appears as director of the four firms.

Through Mossack Fonseca, Dupont Willemin founded Racuza S.A., a firm that sells computers, peripherals and software to the Cuban market.

The general director of foreign investments for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Commerce, Déborah Rivas Saavedra, is named in the Panama Papers as director of Racuza. Similarly, she appears as director of Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd and Caribbean Sugar Trader. After two days of trying to contact Rivas Saavedra, her office directed requests for information to Roberto Berrier Castro, director of the Center for Foreign Commerce and Investment. Berrier said that he had no information on the matter.

Among Racuza’s assistant directors are José L Fernández de Cossío, former Cuban ambassador to Japan, as well as Porfirio Medero Paiva and Hermes Vaillant, two Cuban attorneys who work for Panamericana. Paiva, Cossío and Vaillant also are listed as directors of Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd and Caribbean Sugar Trader. It was not possible to locate any of them for comments.

The Panama Papers expose the legal agreements between the Cuban government and Mossack Fonseca.

International Juridical Consultants (CJI) is a Cuban law firm that lends assistance and legal consultation to privately-owned businesses and companies. It is also a legal partner of Mossack Fonseca. The firm became the principal agent between the Cuban government and Mossack Fonseca in charge of providing legal services.

Upon being contacted, CJI directed information requests to attorney René de Jesús Burguet Rodríguez, whose name also appears in an email exchange between CJI and Mossack Fonseca. No reply had been received as of press time.

The leaked data include other links between officials and offshore enterprises.

The Union of Hydraulic Research and Projects is a consulting service of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), the government agency in charge of hydraulic networks and sewerage systems on the Island. The Union appears as a shareholder in Técnica Hidráulica, an offshore company headquartered in the British Virgin Islands and created through Corporación Panamericana. The company, property of a commercial enterprise of INRH called Técnica Hidráulica S.A., operated until 2015, when, according to the Panama Papers, it was liquidated.

CJI was in charge, according to a contract, of representing the legal affairs of the offshore companies of Técnica Hidráulica S.A., which are run by Mossack Fonseca.

The Panama Papers identified Wilfredo Leyva Armesto, also known as William Leyva, as the director of Técnica Hidráulica. Leyva could not be contacted for comments.

A spokesperson for Cuba’s National Assembly said that they could not respond to questions related to the Panama Papers.

*This work is a collaboration of the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Independent Cuban Journalists, Cubanet and Diario de Cuba.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: A Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism? / Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima

What does "a prosperous and sustainable socialism" mean for citizens who must wait for more than two hours for a bus? Photo/ HP
What does “a prosperous and sustainable socialism” mean for citizens who must wait for more than two hours for a bus? Photo/ HP

Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima, Havana, 16 April 2016 — It has been much-emphasized by Cuban officialdom that we are in the process of constructing an indigenous or distinctly Cuban socialism, prosperous and sustainable. But the phrase could turn out to be a hollow one, being that its realization continues to be delayed as time goes on without any concrete progress being attained to lend it credibility. This concept deserves some analysis.

Time and again there have been attempts to codify, at the worldwide level, a theory of socialism and communism. Hybrid models of the two have been tried, which have concluded in total disaster. With regard to our country, it is not precisely socialist ideas that govern us. From the start this process was distinguished by a strong Stalinist influence on how we faced the future, and whose political totalitarianism contaminated Continue reading “Cuba: A Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism? / Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima”

any attempt to legitimize and develop an alternative that would signify social and economic advancement. The fact is that without a systemic change, nothing is possible.

This coming 16 April marks 55 years since the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution was proclaimed, and of a profound crisis that has been its shadow ever since. This time span was more than sufficient to achieve a state of wellbeing in keeping with the needs and aspirations of the most humble among us. But were it not for some attempts that brought about paltry results, the venture could be categorized as unfruitful, and this period in the life of the Cuban nation declared a loss.

A pound of pork costs the equivalent of four days' salary of any Cuban worker. Photo/ HP
A pound of pork costs the equivalent of four days’ salary of any Cuban worker. Photo/ HP

When the conditions of economic and social decline reached critical mass, then the complaints of the people were echoed in the highest echelons of our society. Our “government think tanks” let loose their imagination and created the magical “Guidelines” which, according to them, will move our distressed economy forward and lay a strong foundation for the future of our descendants.

Once the Guidelines were officially set over economic and social policy, the slogan for the new historical moment was rolled out: to achieve the construction in Cuba of a “Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism.”

But this new socialism which we have not had the pleasure to meet has already given off its poisonous essence and shown two completely different faces. On the one hand, it pretends to give a vision of a do-gooder Cuban society replete with opportunities for everyone. On the other, it reveals this society’s worst defects and starkest truths. Therefore it begs the question, who is entitled to enjoy the prosperity, and who must provide the support for this prosperity?

Our national hero, José Martí, poetically compared the homeland and its citizens to a statue. And, as if to curb any ambition to power that might seek to arise above the public interest, he expressed that “the homeland is an altar and not a pedestal.”

What is happening is very simple. The current options for development and wellbeing are for a few citizens within an inner circle, which constitutes the “establishment.” This is the highest link or pinnacle of Cuban society, to which access is exceedingly restricted.

Those within the circle are the authentically privileged, who maintain this rank while they exhibit an abjectly opportunistic and demagogic conduct. These are the ones who are called to prosperously enjoy a full life—that is, they pretend to be the altar of the figurative statue—and to hoard the promised Cuban prosperity, personalizing it for themselves.

Outside of these are the poor and irredeemable majorities for whom the riches left over by the insatiable elites will never be enough. These popular majorities constitute the pedestal that sustains the fictitious society which comprises the statue, the many who must sacrifice themselves so that the aspirations of a few may flourish.

We should not be fooled by this new socialist alternative. What is left to each one of us is to ask ourselves where our place will be in this heralded socialism: will it be in the segment of the prosperous altar, or in the enormous supporting pedestal?

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Inability to Differentiate?…or to Recognize Injustice? / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera

Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, the research scientist’s workplace. Photo/HP
Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, the research scientist’s workplace. Photo/HP

Hablemos Press, Dr. Eduardo Herrera, Havana, 16 April 2016 – Juventud Rebelde newspaper, in its “Letters” section—in which they usually publish cases of social injustice or irregularities—ran an article this past 16 March titled, “Inability to Differentiate,” which recounts how a research scientist with the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute was slapped with a fine for trying to sell an Argentine national soccer team jersey.

The scientist’s name is Marité Bello Corredor, resident of No. 1714, Seventh Street, between Second and Acosta Avenue, Casino Deportivo district, Havana. At the time of the incident, she was on unpaid leave, caring for her sick mother. Continue reading “Inability to Differentiate?…or to Recognize Injustice? / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera”

Bello decided to sell the garment because she needed the money, but despite explaining to the inspectors that she is a worker, they imposed a fine on her of 1,500 Cuban pesos (about US$60), according to the article by journalist José Alejandro Rodríguez.

The columnist sees this event as an injustice, and I do not doubt that it is, because the matter pertains to a scientist, someone who makes significant contributions to society. Regardless, in my opinion there is an error in focus, because as it turns out, everyone, equally, should abide by the laws of the land, being that all citizens enjoy equal rights and are subject to equal duties, according to the Constitution.

What is shameful (for the Cuban state) is to see someone who makes a great social contribution having to sell an article of clothing at a bargain price just to survive.

In Cuba, many people who provide important benefits to society do not make a salary that can guarantee them a dignified life. Therefore they are liable to commit crimes without knowing.

A scientific researcher can make approximately US$60 a month—insufficient to feed himself properly, let alone feed a family, even a small one.

Personally, I would have titled José Alejandro Rodríguez’ article, “Incapacity to Recognize,” being that in our country, people’s work is not recognized, because workers are not compensated as they should be. Thus, citizens are discouraged from making greater contributions to society.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison