Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature of the regime: increase repression and “arm the people.”

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet. Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country. continue reading

Thus, “Maduro-phobia” has become viral, people have taken to the streets and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan government are guided by and directed from the Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba’s high command would drag the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though this would mean the end of the “socialist” regime in Venezuela -with the consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula, as well as the income capital sources from health professionals services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro’s significant absence at the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually circumscribed condemnation pronouncements “to the regional rightist coup” – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government’s political and mass organizations and other non-governmental organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba’s part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, since it is known that it is widely infiltrated by Castros’ agents.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro’s agents, so it may be assumed that the regime’s political strategists have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba’s aid workers, which are in Venezuela in the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work in Venezuela as “collaborators” in ALBA programs, in the very probable case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of the Venezuelan regime? Why don’t the official media offer more accurate information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated by the violence incited from power?

Cuba’s past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other remote points of the world’s geography. Fidel Castro, who was never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de facto –  the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the “revolution” have passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very “socialist model “is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in Venezuela.

It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of “the stateless ones who sold out to the empire” in Venezuela, to try to ignite some spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It’s true that times have changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle displayed during Fidel Castro’s funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship. That’s how warped they are. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island’s destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

When Your Ally’s Beards are on Fire*… / Miriam Celaya

From left to right, Raúl Castro, Bruno Rodríguez and Nicolás Maduro, at an ALBA meeting (EFE/Archive)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2017 — According to an old adage, when you see you neighbor’s beard on fire, go soak your own*. The maxim should be applied to the elderly Cuban dictator, especially if we take into account that the erratic performance of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is largely attributed to the bad advice he received from the founders of the Castro dynasty, in addition to the deficient or lacking mental capacity of the absurd southern leader.

It is disastrous that, while Venezuela is experiencing the worst political crisis of the last 20 years, most Cubans on the Island are not only lacking in information but – even worse — are being subjected to a real bombardment of misinformation by the government’s press monopoly. continue reading

As a result of decades of lies and “secrecy” — which journalist Reinaldo Escobar has defined as “the euphemism that disguises what is in reality a policy of censorship of the press” — and the requirements of the struggle for daily survival in a country marked by shortages and poverty in perpetuity, common Cubans live alienated from reality and are apathetic to any political scenario, whether inside or outside Cuba.

In fact, the shortage of information in the official Cuban media about what is happening in Venezuela is truly extraordinary, even though its government is the closest ally to the Palace of the Revolution. The presence of tens of thousands of Cuban professionals delivering their services to Venezuela should be sufficient reason for relatives and the population as a whole to be duly warned about the growing political tensions and clashes that are taking place between the government of Nicolás Maduro and his Chávez phalanges, on the one hand, and the opposition sectors supported by thousands of Venezuelans who are fed up with the regime on the other.

But if most Cubans may care very little about the fate of Venezuelans, for which the lengthy meddling of the Cuban dictatorship has so much responsibility, they should, at least, worry about the fate of their countrymen, volunteer slaves in Venezuela, where violence, growing poverty and political polarization make them potential victims of circumstances that, after all, are alien to them.

Who doubts that a possible situation of social unrest and chaos would constitute a colossal danger for the Cuban “missionaries” of health and other fronts of the Castro-Chávez alliance who remain in Venezuela? Does the Cuban General-President have any contingency plans to protect them? Or will he launch them as cannon fodder to defend the autocratic system with totalitarian aspirations that the Castro regime has sown in Venezuela? Will we be witness to a second Grenada, like that of the late Maurice Bishop, where in 1983 Castro the First ordered unassuming Cuban construction workers to offer themselves up against US marines in a sacrifice as irrational as it was absolutely useless?

Venezuela is now a time bomb where the population is satiated with more gloom and the outrages of government than even opposition parties and leaders, a place where the citizens are playing all their cards in street demonstrations. And, while tensions and violence of the “collectives” and police forces are increasing, and the government’s repression against the demonstrators, torture against detainees and arrests against journalists attempting to cover the truth of events are also on the increase, the Castro regime, accessory to Venezuelan suffering and perverse to the marrow, remains silent.

Word is that the immediate future of Venezuela will be defined next Wednesday, April 19th. No one can predict if that day, when the streets will be taken over by supporters and opponents of the Chávez-Maduro government will end in a bloodbath, only to perpetuate another dictatorship in Latin America or to end the most ambitious extraterritorial plan of the Castro Clan. For now, Mr. Nicolás Maduro has already made clear that his path is one of repression, while thousands of Venezuelans remain determined to regain freedom and democracy.

In such a scenario, the Venezuelan Armed Forces could be the key factor to support its own people or to sell its soul to the merchants of the Miraflores Palace or to the infiltrated Cuban officials in the high command of the army of that country, but in any case, XXI Century socialism, which in its heyday proclaimed itself to be “the peoples’ alternative,” has lost the match prematurely, for no decent government or respected international organization will support a government that is imposed by blood and fire.

It is precisely for this reason that the old fraudsters at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution continue to keep discrete silence. They are waiting to see how this hand ends. They count on the proverbial meekness of Cubans, lacking in Venezuelans’ will and courage, but knowing that with Maduro deposed they would lose their last strong political ally in the region and one of their main sources of oil and capital that still sustains them in power, in return for which they lease out their slaves in the form of doctors, teachers, sports coaches, etc.

It is impossible to imagine what new tricks the General-President and his clique may be plotting in order to find a non-“Bolivarian” alternative to the crisis ahead. They have their work cut out for them. It’s not always possible to find allies with the features of the Venezuelan government — brutality, corruption and compromise – all in a neat package, that has enabled the Castro regime for almost 20 years to fully manipulate, for Cuba’s benefit, the riches of Venezuela, and thus extend its own power. They will no doubt think of something, but it is likely that, in order to stay in the game, they will have to satisfy certain conditions to even minimally fulfill their role as “a democratic dictatorship” for the world. For now, in the midst of all the storms, presumably they are soaking their beards*.

*Translator’s note: Akin to the expression in English that begins: “When your neighbor’s house is on fire…”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Oil in Cuba: Dream or Nightmare?

Cuban-Venenzuelan refinery in Cienfuegos (Photo: barometropolitico.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 April 2017 — HAVANA, Cuba. – “Thank goodness oil is something we don’t have in Cuba.” So said the lyrics of a popular song by Cuban musical group Habana Abierta. However, now Cuba’s official media insist the opposite is true: “The enterprise Cuba-Petroleum Union (CUPET), which promotes prospecting projects with the participation of foreign capital, reveals that, “In four wells located in the Economic Zone Exclusive to Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico (ZEEC-GOM) there have been indications of crude.”

Lately, when the disappearance of “high test” and the shortage of “regular” gas in Havana have caused real congestion in the few service stations where some fuel could be found, the news of the alleged presence of large Cuban oil reserves sounds like a bad joke: who cares that there are several billion of barrels of oil of dubious quality, deeply buried in the depths of the Gulf, if there is not a drop of gas at service stations? And, if it were true, how would Cubans benefit from it? Our idiosyncrasy has a special mocking phrase to illustrate the case: “It’s here but not for you.” continue reading

In fact, such fanfare by the press about the dubious and inaccessible discovery that lies submerged in ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico is highly notorious, while the official press has been evasive in informing us about the fuel crisis taking place in the nation, before our very eyes, which is fueling popular uncertainty with the alarming signs of the return to the days when the Soviet subsidy program ended with a stroke of the pen. Many Cubans point out that the unburied ghost of the so-called “Special Period,” with its aftermath of blackouts and famine, is, once again, stalking the nation.

Therefore, the topic of “crude” with which the masters of the hacienda are trying to shake the hopes of the masses, smells like a sting, as long as the cataclysms in the house of the allies cause the Mafiosi of the Palace of the Revolution to play any card palmed in their sleeve to emerge and to continue, unharmed, to place their bet: to conserve power at all costs and at any price.

That is why some suspicious individuals consider that the news is only a beam of light to attract unsuspecting investors, and that it collaterally pursues the immediate effect of reassuring the mood of a population sufficiently shaken by the gradual — although apparently inexorable — return to another cycle of great material hardships, this time with the aggravating issue that has been the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which has been, for the longest time, the most expeditious solution to escape the condemnation of perpetual misery.

Filling up at a gas station in Cuba

Thus, while the economic and political crisis in Venezuela — whose true causes and magnitude are carefully silenced in the official media — keeps deepening, common sense and the experience of nearly six decades of cons suggest to Cubans the existence of a direct relationship between the current gas shortage and the spasms of agony of the Chávez-Maduro regime, incapable of continuing to maintain any longer the already depleted subsidies that have artificially prolonged the life of the Cuban dictatorship.

So now, if we hypothetically assume the possibility that the olive green kleptocracy would soon dispose of another source of hydrocarbons — this time, alas, its absolute property — what would that mean for Cuba’s destiny? Well, nothing less than a sentence to live under conditions of dictatorship in perpetuity, with the acquiescent tolerance of the powers that rule the planet. In fact, many of the staunchest critics of Castro’s “socialism” would become its partners. This would not be a novelty, because it is axiomatic that wealth often grants immunity to dictators.

So if, for once, Cubans decided to climb down the ridge and assume the true position we occupy in the world, which equals that of plankton in the biological chain, we would find that similar plots have already taken place.

A classic example is Equatorial Guinea, that diminutive West African island, formerly known as Fernando Poo, with less than 100 thousand inhabitants, that has been a Portuguese, French, English and finally a Spanish colony until in October of 1968, when it obtained its independence, only to pass onto the hands of dictator Francisco Macías, who imposed a single compulsory party and a repressive regime (1968-1979), until he was deposed by a coup led by Teodoro Obiang. The latter, after having executed the defeated tyrant, promised to end the island’s political repression.

However, far from improving the lives of the Equatoguineans, under Obiang’s control, repression and poverty increased, as did the country’s underdevelopment. Meanwhile, Amnesty International, the UN and numerous world figures have repeatedly accused Mr. Obiang of arresting political opponents, as well as of torture and human rights violations. These accusations have not influenced a process of democratization or, at the very least, improvement in conditions and in the standard of living of three quarters of the population, which continues to be plunged in the most absolute misery.

It can be said that the misfortune of the Equatorial Guineans is due to the utter indifference of the inhabitants of this planet, the majority of whom do not even know of its existence. Additionally, the kleptocrat Obiang is often amicably received by leaders, politicians of high rank, and personalities of renowned prestige from the Western world, who, however, otherwise tear their garments and throw spears for democracy in all international forums.

It turns out that, years ago, in that small spot in the African geography, enormous oil reserves were discovered, whose rights of exploitation belong to foreign companies, mainly Americans, who don’t seem to have any scruples in negotiating with the flaming President who was described at one time as “the most murderous thieving ruler in the world” by a former US ambassador to that nation. Beneficiaries of such massive dividends might be saying among themselves, “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”

Obiang, meanwhile, not only retains absolute power in Equatorial Guinea, but is the founder of a dynasty that has amassed, with impunity, colossal wealth by appropriating the revenues from oil exploitation and safeguarding them in European bank accounts, and perhaps in banks in other continents too. To ensure the continuation of the plunder of the national wealth for the benefit of his caste, his son occupies a relevant political position in the country and has numerous properties inside and outside the little island.

Aren’t there certain suspicious similarities? We Cubans should be warned. It isn’t prudent to be so arrogant as to think that kind of thing happens in Equatorial Guinea “because they are Africans” and that the same thing will never take place in Cuba because we are “westerners.” Sixty years ago nobody would have believed that prosperous Cuba would become a nation almost as poor as Haiti … and we continue our descent.

Personally, far from feeling encouraged by them, the Cuban oil reserves announcements set off every possible alarm in me. Sufficient time has elapsed and dissimilar circumstances have taken place to verify that the precariousness of the rights and freedoms of Cubans do not concern any of the great centers of world power and politics.

In fact, the destiny of the inhabitants of this island is so uncertain and our dreams for democracy still so chimerical that it would suffice for a gambling foreigner to appear, reckless enough to invest huge amounts of venture capital into the oil adventure and that – in fact — such precious hydrocarbons might appear, for the Castro kleptocracy to sprout anew “with that added force,” crushing any hint of hope for Cuban freedom. I don’t have religious beliefs, but, just in case, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Thousand Faces of “Journalism” / Miriam Celaya

A tourist walks along Calle Monserrate, in Old Havana (File)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 March 2017 – An opinion piece published in recent days by El Nuevo Herald gives me a disturbing feeling of déjà vu. It is not the subject – overflowing with a number of articles by different authors – but its focal point, which presents as adequate a number of superficial and highly subjective assessments to validate conclusions that in no way reflect the reality it alleges to illustrate.

With other hues and nuances, it has the same effect in me as the experience of participating as a guest at a meeting of journalists, politicians and academics – primarily Americans – held October, 2014 at Columbia University, just two months before the announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, where the wish to support rapprochement and to substantiate the need to eliminate the embargo was essentially based on colossal lies.

For example, I heard how the “Raúl changes” that were taking place in Cuba favored the Cuban people and a process of openness, and I learned of the incredible hardships that Cubans had to endure as a result of the direct (and exclusive) responsibility of the embargo, of the fabulous access to education and health services (which were, in addition to being easily accessible, wonderful) enjoyed by Cubans, and even the zeal of the authorities to protect the environment. continue reading

To illustrate this last point, an American academic presented the extraordinary conservation state of the Jardines de la Reina archipelago and its adjacent waters, including the coralline formations, as an achievement of the Revolutionary Government. She just forgot to point out that this natural paradise has never been within reach of the common Cuban, but is a private preserve of the ruling caste and wealthy tourists, a fact that explains its favorable degree of conservation.

The Cuba that many American speakers described on that occasion was so foreign to a Cuban resident on the Island, as I was, that I wondered at times if we were all really speaking about the same country.

In my view, the question was as contradictory as it was dangerous. Contradictory, because there is certainly sufficient foundation, based on realities, to consider the (conditional) suspension of the embargo or to show partiality for dialogue between governments after half a century of sterile confrontations, without the need to resort to such gross falsehoods, especially – and I say this without xenophobic animosity or without a smack of nationalism – when they are brandished by foreigners who don’t even have a ludicrous idea of the reality the Cuban common population lives under or what its aspirations are. Dangerous, because the enormous power of the press to move public opinion for or against a proposal is well known, and to misrepresent or distort a reality unknown to that public, can have dire consequences.

But it seems that such an irresponsible attitude threatens to become a common practice, at least in the case of Cuba. This is what happens when overly enthusiastic professionals confuse two concepts as different as “information” and “opinion” in the same theoretical body.

It is also the case of the article referred to above, that its essence is the answer to a question that is asked and answered by the author, using the faint topic of the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba and some conjectures about the continuity of the relations between both governments with the new occupant of the White House.

“What repercussions have the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba had on the Cuban people?” the writer of the article asks, and she immediately answers herself by assuming several suppositions, not totally exempt from logic, but regrettably inaccurate.

“Greater openness to Cuba has undoubtedly meant greater interaction with the Cuban people through the exchange of information from the thousands of Americans who now visit the island”, she says. And this is partially true, but this “exchange of information” about a society as complex and mimetic, and as long closed off as Cuba’s, is full of mirages and subjectivities, so it ends up being a biased and exotic vision of a reality that no casual foreign visitor can manage to grasp.

A diffuse assertion of the article is one that reassures: “Tourism represents the main economic source for the country, and at the same time it leverages other sectors related to textiles, construction and transportation.” Let’s see: It may be that tourism has gained an economic preponderance for Cuba, but that it has boosted the textile, construction and transportation sectors is, at the most, a mere objective, fundamentally dependent on foreign capital investment, which has just not materialized.

In fact, the notable increase in tourist accommodations and restaurants, bars and cafes in the private sector is the result not of the tourist boom itself but of the inadequacy of the hotel and gastronomic infrastructure of the State. If the author of the article has had privileged access to sources and information that support such statements, she does not make it clear.

But if the colleague at El Nuevo Herald came away with a relevant discovery during her trip to Havana –job related? for pleasure? – it is that many young people “believe in the socialist model.” Which leads us directly to the question, where did these young people learn what a “socialist model” is? Because, in fact, the only thing that Cubans born during the last decade of the last century have experienced in Cuba is the consolidation of a State capitalism, led by the same regime with kleptomaniacal tendencies that hijacked the power and the Nation almost 60 years ago.

About the young people she says that “many are self-employed and generate enough resources to live well.” There are currently more than 500 thousand people In Cuba with their own businesses, about 5% of the population, according to ECLAC” [U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean]. This is another slip, almost childish. The source that originally reports the figure of half a million self-employed workers belongs to the very official National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), a Cuban Government institution, and not to ECLAC. This number has remained unchanged for at least the last two years, as if the enormous migration abroad and the numerous returns of licenses on the part of the entrepreneurs who fail in their efforts or who are stifled by the system’s own circumstances, among other factors, did not make a dent.

But even assuming as true the immutable number of “self-employed” that the authorities refer to, on what does the writer base her assumptions that the self-employed generate sufficient recourses to live well? Could it be that she ignores that that half a million Cubans includes individuals who fill cigarette lighters, sharpen scissors, recycle trash (“the garbage divers”), are owners of shit-hole kiosks, repair household appliances, are roving shaved-ice, peanut, trinket and other knickknack vendors, and work at dozens of low-income occupations that barely produce enough to support themselves and their families? Doesn’t the journalist know about the additional losses most of them suffer from harassment by inspectors and the police, the arbitrary tax burdens and the legal defenselessness? What, in the end, are the standards of prosperity and well-being that allow her to assert that these Cubans “live well”?

I would not doubt the good intentions of the author of this unfortunate article, except that empathy should not be confused with journalism. The veracity of the sampling and the seriousness of the data used is an essential feature of journalistic ethics, even for an opinion column, as in this case. We were never told what data or samples were used as a basis for the article, the number of interviewees, their occupations, ages, social backgrounds and other details that would have lent at least some value to her work.

And to top it off, the trite issue of Cuba’s supposedly high educational levels could not be left out. She says: “While it is true that education in Cuba is one of the best in the continent, the level of education is not proportional to income, much less a good quality of life.” Obviously, she couldn’t be bothered going into the subject of education in Cuba in depth, and she is not aware of our strong pedagogical tradition of the past, destroyed by decades of demagoguery and indoctrination. She also does not seem to know the poor quality of teaching, the corruption that prevails in the teaching centers and the deterioration of pedagogy. We are not aware of what comparative patterns allow her to repeat the mantra of the official discourse with its myth about the superior education of Cubans, but her references might presumably have been Haiti, the Amazonian forest communities or villages in the Patagonian solitudes. If so, I’ll accept that Cubans have some advantage, at least in terms of education levels.

There are still other controversial points in the text, but the most relevant ones are sufficient to calculate the confusion the narration of a reality that is clearly unknown can cause to an unaware reader. It is obvious that the writer was not up to the task, or is simply not aware of the responsibility that comes from a simplistic observation. And she still pretends to have discovered not one, but two different Cubas. Perhaps there are even many more Cubas, but, my dear colleague: you were definitely never in any of them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Mysterious Closing of Plaza Carlos III Causes Distress

Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center, Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 March 2017 – It is almost noon on Sunday and a young couple, with their two young children in their arms, stops, frustrated, in front of the closed gate of the Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center. For a moment they are confused, they consult their watches and immediately start asking questions of several people who arrived earlier and who, like them, have stopped in front of the gate. Some wait patiently outside from very early, “in case they open later”, but in vain.

This scene has been repeated every day since Friday, March 24th, when the commercial center, the largest and most popular of its kind in Cuba, closed down. Dozens of regular customers from several of the provinces have traveled to the capital just to stumble across a small and laconic sign on the gate, warning about the obvious, but offering no useful additional information:

DEAR CUSTOMER
THE PLAZA CARLOS III SHOPPING CENTER
WILL BE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE THIS MIGHT HAVE CAUSED.
GENERAL MANAGEMENT continue reading

Of course, without any official information, the surprise closing of Plaza Carlos III has raised a lot of speculation, especially in neighborhoods surrounding the area, in the heart of downtown Havana, for it is one of the pioneer shopping centers to deal in foreign currency transactions in Cuba, since the so-called decriminalization of the dollar took place, back in the 90’s. From the time it opened as a foreign exchange market, Carlos III has undergone several renovations in different stages, but never before have sales to the public been completely discontinued.

Would-be customers mill around outside the shopping center (14ymedio)

Rumors are circulating that connect this unusual closing with the recent fires that have taken place in other establishments that operate in foreign currency in the municipality

Rumors are circulating that relate this unusual closure to the recent fires that have occurred in other establishments that operate in foreign currency in the municipality. “The management denounced to the fire department headquarters the bad state of the fire-fighting media, because it does not want the same thing to happen to them [as in the last ones], so they are renovating the whole system,” say some residents of the neighborhood who, according to what they say, received that information from some of the shopping center’s employees and officials. There are those who say that “the firemen came and found that there were flaws in the fire protection system.”

These days, however, no metal or metal bars covering the two entrances of the Plaza have been seen to deploy personnel or vehicles specializing in fire-fighting technology, nor have any workers been seen to be reinstalling or maintaining the electrical networks or other similar tasks.

The most visible interior hassle has been the employees of the place, occupied in general cleaning of the floors and windows, who have been reluctant to give explanations to those who are not satisfied with the simple poster and inquire about the date of reopening. “Until further notice,” they repeat, as automatons, those who deign to respond.

Other neighbors speak of a “general audit” that “becomes very complicated” due to the large number of shopping mall departments and the size and complexity of their stores. This conjecture is reinforced, on the one hand, by the experience of decades of cyclical (and futile) raids against mismanagement, administrative corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement, smuggling, black marketing and all other illegalities to be found in a socioeconomic system characterized by growing demand, insufficient supply and the poor management of the state monopoly on the economy. The regularity of which does not escape any establishment where a high amount of state resources moves.

The only information that is offered to those who come to the shopping center entrances is a brief sign. (14ymedio)

On the other hand, the surprise and undisclosed closing -with all the losses it entails in a shopping center that bills thousands in both national currencies- is a sign of the intervention of the highest ranking government auditors to detect irregularities in situ, without giving transgressors time to hide traces of their misdeeds.

If the alleged audit is true, it would be a demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and their failure to prevent unlawful activity in the neighborhood. For several months, the constant and strong police presence around the outer areas of the commercial center has looked like the appalling image of a besieged square, while the “inside” criminals, those who are part of the staff, lived by their own code.

For now, all indications are that it does not appear to have fallen into that sort of epidemic closing that has been coming down hard recently in the capital on several establishments that trade in foreign currency

Last Sunday several trucks continued unloading merchandise in the stores at Plaza Carlos III, which augurs that, on an imprecise but possibly brief date, the center will reopen to the public. For now, all indications are that it does not appear to have fallen into that sort of epidemic closing that has been coming down hard recently in the capital on several establishments that trade in foreign currency, such as the cases of heavyweight hardware departments on 5th and 42nd and at La Puntilla, in the municipality of Playa; The Yumurí and Sylvain, at Zanja and Belascoaín markets in Centro Habana; The TRD Panamericana at Ninth Street, in the Casino Deportivo development, Cerro municipality, and numerous sale kiosks dispersed through different points in the city, just to mention some cases.

While the waiting stretches out and the questions without answers accumulate, the more optimistic habaneros have begun to rub their hands to the intangible expectation that the next reopening of the popular Plaza Carlos III will arrive with renewed offerings, and that, at least in the first sales days, the usually depressed shelves and stands of the different departments will offer more quantity and more variety of products.

Hope is the last thing you lose.

Translated by Norma Whiting

*Site manager’s note: The previous “translation” of this post, which was a complete mess, was a mistake in transmission / my apologies to Miriam and Norma!

Obama’s Unquestionable Imprint / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Obama gave a historic speech at the Gran Teatro in Havana during his visit to Cuba (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 March 2017 — Putting aside the passions of supporters and detractors of the policies drawn up by President Barack Obama for Cuba, there is no doubt that, for better or worse, it set indelible before and after benchmarks in the lives of the Cuban people.

The first benchmark was the reestablishment of relations after half a century of confrontation, which – although it did not even come close to the high expectations of Cubans – did manage to expose the Cuban dictatorship to the scrutiny of international public opinion, thus demonstrating that the regime is the true obstacle to the wellbeing and happiness of Cubans. continue reading

Consequently, although Cubans are no freer, after two years of rapprochement with the former “imperialist enemy,” the Castro regime has run out of arguments to justify the absence of economic, political and social rights, and thus has lost credibility in the International forums and in political circles, where it is being openly questioned.

Just a few days before leaving the White House, Obama took another decisive step by repealing the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, giving up immigration privileges for Cubans in the US, and thereby crushing the hopes of an large number of Cubans who aspired to enjoy the rights and prosperity in that destination, that they can only dream about now, and are unable to demand in their own country.

Thus, in two years, these two Cuban exceptions which seemed eternal, suddenly disappeared: an old dictatorship, long tolerated by the international community when it was considered the “small, heroic and defenseless victim resisting the onslaught of the strongest of world powers,” and the people – equally victimized, persecuted, helpless and subjugated by the dictatorship enthroned in power – who were forced to emigrate, deserving the consubstantial privilege, above that of any other immigrants, to live quietly in the territory of the United States, no longer setting foot in Cuba.

Thus, in the future, the Castro regime can be considered as what it really is: a prosaic dictatorship without heroic attire, while those Cubans who flee it without making the slightest effort to face it, will not be described as “politically persecuted,” but as any other run of the mill immigrants, such as those throughout the world who aspire to enjoy the wellbeing and opportunities that residing in the most developed country on the planet offers. No more, no less.

That is to say, though Barack Obama did not improve or worsen the Cuban crisis, we, nevertheless, must thank him for putting things in their right perspective, whether we like it or not. But it may be that some, or perhaps too many, find it much more comfortable to steer the direct burden of the current state of affairs in Cuba – including increases in repression – while others (more astute) here and there toss their hair and tear their patriotic garments against the “betrayal” of the former leader, generally with the untenable intention of making a political career or of continuing to thrive in the Cuban calamity.

These are the “hard hand” theorists who will attempt to use it as a trump card to overthrow the Castro dictatorship, this time with the hypothetical support of the new US President, as if that strategy had not proved ineffective during the previous 50 years.

The sad paradox is that, judging from the present reality, the Castro way of government – like other known dictatorships – will not “fall,” defeated by the indignant people, fed up with poverty and oppression. Neither will it be crushed by the tenacious struggle of the opposition or the pressures of some foreign government. Most likely, instead of falling, the Castro regime will gently slide down of its own accord into another advantageous form of existence in a different socioeconomic setting.

For, while not a few Cuban groups from both shores wear themselves out and gloat over mutual reproaches and useless lamentations, the olive green mafia continues behind the scenes, distributing the pie, quietly accommodating itself in the best positions and palming its cards under our clueless noses, to continue to enjoy the benefits and the privileges of power when the last remnants of the shabby backdrop of “socialism, Castro style,” which is all that barely remains of the glorious revolutionary project, will finally fall.

To the surprise of the army of disinherited survivors of the communist experiment, the progeny of the historical generation and their accompanying generals could emerge, transmuted into tycoons and entrepreneurs, thus consummating the cycle of the swindle that begun in 1959. This is, so far, the most likely scenario.

Perhaps by then 60 years of totalitarianism would have elapsed, and eleven presidents will have passed through the White House, but until today, only one of them, Barack Obama, will have influenced, in such a defining way, in the political future of Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Private Sale of the Official Press is Legalized / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Satisfactorily completing a three-day course is necessary before completing the contract and obtaining the license to take over a newspaper stand as a self-employed activity. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2017 — On one of the side walls, inside a small newspaper stand on Avenida 26, in Nuevo Vedado (Havana), an unusual sign announces: “This stand became private property.”

The event is unique. The elderly self-employed man behind the counter is normally cautious. Survival instinct has taught Cubans to mistrust those who ask too many questions, particularly when what’s in play is the relative security of some additional monetary income to round off the meager retirement income.

However, when an informal conversation is established, some information and small details always surface which, at least in principle, confirm that a new secret experiment has been initiated by the State-Party-Government: the process of legal privatization of the sale of the main ideological weapon of the revolution: the press. continue reading

The truth about the new measure that includes the commercialization of the official press as a sole proprietorship activity was confirmed by Yordanka Díaz, director of the Cuban Postal Service, Habana-Centro

It is obvious, in addition, that this event is taking place barely three months after the death of the infamous creator of the information monopoly, as soon as the last prop tears of his faithful have dried up and in the midst of constant invocations in the press “to his memory, his legacy and his work.” No one can ignore that the colossal Castro press, and especially the Granma newspaper, was the apple of Fidel Castro’s eye, who commanded it for decades from his office, from where he was taken daily through the tunnel connecting the Granma building with the Palace of the Revolution, for his final approval, before going to press.

The true nature of the information about the new measure that includes the commercialization of the official press as a sole proprietorship activity was confirmed to this publication by Yordanka Díaz, director of the Cuban Postal Service Habana-Centro, in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. “It is necessary to satisfactorily complete a 3-day course, after which the contract is made and then the worker must go to the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) to try to obtain his license.”

The official director added that, in the municipality under her management, there are at least three vacant places to negotiate a newspaper stand. So far, those who have filled the previous vacancies are retired workers or housewives returning to the workforce.

Although the vendor at the Avenida 26 location has misgivings that make him seem unwilling to reveal many details, it is obvious that he is more satisfied with his new status as self-employed, than that of his former status as an employee of the State. “Before, the State paid me a salary of 120 Cuban pesos a month, now I must pay 10 pesos a day. The price of a newspaper is still 20 cents in national currency, so I would have to sell 300 newspapers to earn 3 pesos, but people ‘help me’, some leave me a peso or 50 cents The state does not have to pay me a salary, but it charges me 300 a month; they win, I earn more now …and everyone is happy.”

The State will not distribute the newspapers to the sellers working as “self-employed,” which is another advantage, as it frees itself from transportation costs

The vendor does not reveal that, in fact, his greatest gain is in the established practice of selling wholesale to unlicensed street dealers, or informal home delivery, where there is a fixed minimum monthly rate of 30 Cuban pesos, which may be higher if the customer receives more than one daily newspaper. It is not a business that yields significant profits, but it does not require much effort or investment, and it helps to put food on the table.

Something else that’s new is that the State will not distribute the papers to the sellers working as “self-employed,” rather it will be the responsibility of the vendors to pick up and transport the papers to their individual stands, which is another advantage for the State, since transportation costs from the printing locations to the stands throughout the city are no longer the State’s responsibility. There is also a fixed allocation of newspapers for each seller, in order to avoid hoarding.

The vendor becomes more talkative as the conversation progresses. “They say they are going to repair the kiosks, which are in very bad condition, they are going to fix the ceilings and paint them, but I’m not sure about that. The stands are theirs, the sales, mine.”

Sign placed at the Avenida 26 Post Office in Havana, with guidelines to follow in the distribution of number of copies of publications to be delivered to self-employed newspaper vendors. (14ymedio)

“But I can only sell newspapers, no magazines, no books, no calendars or anything like that,” the old man explains. “But it’s okay, I don’t complain. It’s always easier to unload newspapers; people buy them more readily than they do magazines. They even buy old newspaper… imagine, of course they’ll sell, seeing how difficult it is to get toilet paper!”

At this point, everything has a certain logic, though it would seem, at least paradoxical, that the airtight press monopoly – so pure, so anti-capitalist, so Marxist – has consented, at least partially, to the commercialization of this important “trench” to the private sector, even if it is such a humble and low-profit activity as the sale of newspapers, usually taken over by retirees or other low-income workers.

However, taking into account the calamitous economic situation and the high costs arising from this archaic way of disseminating information, the State is compelled to exploit any way of lightening the load that results from the maintenance of a printed press monopoly in a country where limited and costly internet access, coupled with the Government’s imperative need to control information, prevents the absolute digitization of the media.

This way, the government is tied to its own Gordian knot: the monopoly of the press and the country’s laughable internet access are musts for the regime if it wants to keep the population uninformed or ill-informed, without other alternative sources of information about what is happening in the world or even within the nation, and without the possibility of comparing the news offered by the official media. But this, in turn, forces the government to sustain an unaffordable industry of the press in the middle of an economic crisis that produced negative numbers in 2016 and threatens an even more unfortunate 2017.

Allowing the sale of newspapers as a non-state activity, the government has simply legalized another black market item, since, for many years and to date, the private (illegal) sale of the official press has existed

In reality, the rationing process of the official press machinery has been showing signs for a long time. Recently, the country’s main newspaper, Granma, with only eight pages (four flat sheets) renewed its old and recharged design, not so much to improve its print quality and presentation – which remain aesthetically deplorable – but to save ink. For a long time there has been only one national edition in circulation.

Now, by allowing the sale of newspapers as a non-state activity, the Government has simply legalized another black market item – a phenomenon that has marked the entire “list” of what is regulated for the private sector – since for many years and to date the private (illegal) sale of the official press has existed, carried out by elderly and needy people who, not trying to disguise the act, and with their face uncovered, loudly yell out the headlines and sell without fuss in the middle of the road, buying the papers at 20 centavos and selling them at the price of one peso in national currency. In short, the black market of the official press has been legalized.

Curiously, this new form of self-employment has not been reviewed by the official press, although it is news of a clear symbolic meaning.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Ten Years of Raulism: From “Reformism” to the Abyss / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro (caraotadigital.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 February 2017 — As the second month of 2017 comes to a close, the Cuban panorama continues to be bleak. Material difficulties and the absence of a realistic economic recovery program – the ineffectiveness of the chimerical Party Guidelines has been demonstrated in overcoming the general crisis of the “model” – in addition to the new regional scenario, the socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela, the leftist “allies” defeated at the polls, the repealing of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy of the United States and, with it, the closing of Cubans’ most important escape route, Donald J. Trump’s assumption of the US presidency, and his having already announced a revision and conditioning of the easing of measures of the Embargo dictated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, are increasing the fears for an eventual return to the conditions of the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the so-called “real socialism.”

At the social level, one of the clearest indicators of the deterioration and inability to respond on the part of the government is, on the one hand, the increased repression towards the opposition, and, on the other hand, the increase of controls on the private sector (the self-employed) while the economy and services in the state sector continue to collapse. The most recent example is in the area of passenger transportation, one of the most active and efficient in the non-state sector; the State’s response to this efficiency has been to impose a cap on fares, which now cannot exceed 5 Cuban pesos for each leg of the trip. continue reading

Weeks after this measure was implemented, transportation in the Cuban capital has plunged into a lamentable crisis, demonstrating the great importance of the private sector for this service. The measure has resulted in not only a noticeable decrease in the numbers of cabs for hire the “almendrones” as they are called, in reference to the ‘almond’ shape of the classic American cars most often used in this servicein the usual or fixed routes formerly covering the city; but also in their refusal to pick up passengers in mid-points along their routes, which could be interpreted as a silent strike of this active sector in response to the arbitrariness of the government’s measure.

As a corollary, there has been increasing overcrowding in the limited and inefficient state-operated buses, and the resulting discomfort for the population, which now must add another difficulty of doubtful solution to the long list of their pressing daily problems.

Far from presenting any program to improve its monopoly on passenger bus service, the official response has been the threatening announcement that it will launch its hordes of inspectors to punish with fines and appropriations those private sector drivers who intend to conspire to evade the dispositions of the Power Lords.

For the olive-green lords of the hacienda, the “cabbies” are not even independent workers who are part of a sector to which the State does not provide any resources nor assign preferential prices for the purchase of fuel or spare parts, but simply driving slaves: they and their two-wheel open carriages are at the service of the master’s orders.

The infinite capacity of the Cuban authorities to try to overcome a problem by making existing ones worse and more numerous is the paroxysm of the absurd. For, assuming that in the days to come a true avalanche of inspectors is unleashed on the hunt for private carriers who don’t comply with the established prices, the outcome of such a crusade cannot be less than counterproductive, since, as is well-known, the inspectors constitute a formidable army of corrupt people who, far from guarding the funds of the public coffers, the fulfillment of the service of each activity and the health of the tax system, find the possibility of lining their own pockets in every punitive action of the State against every “violation,” through the extortion of the violators.

For its part, the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) which serves as “support” to the inspectors, is another leech also dedicated to bleeding the private workers dry, who are, in fact, the only useful and productive elements in this chain. So, every governmental offensive against “the private ones” means a juicy harvest for the pairing of inspectors-PNR, who usually feed like parasites on the most prosperous entrepreneurs and, invariably, the final harvest results in the deterioration of services and an increase in their prices – because whatever the private workers lose in compensation paid as bribes must be made up for by an increase in prices – and the “normalization” of the corruption in the whole society, generally accepted as a mechanism of survival in all spheres of life.

The cycle is closed when, in turn, the passenger, that is, any common Cuban, is forced to perfect his mechanisms of resistance that will allow him to equate the increase in the cost of living, and seek additional income sources, probably illegal, related to contraband, thievery, or “diversion of resources” (a fancy term for stealing) from state-owned enterprises and other related offenses. Anything goes when it comes to surviving.

And, while the economy shrinks and the shortages increase, the General-President remains alien and distant, as if he had no responsibility for what happens under his feet. Cuba drifts in the storm, with no one in command and no one at the helm, approaching, ever so close, to the much talked about “precipice,” which Raúl’s reforms were going to save us from.

Paradoxically, given the weakness of civil society and the lack of support for it by most of the democratic governments of the world, busy with their own internal problems, the salvaging of Cubans depends fundamentally on the political will of the dictatorship in power.

But Castro II is silent. Apparently, he has virtually retired from his position as head of government well before his announced retirement date of 2018, and after the final death (as opposed to the many announced but not real deaths) of his brother and mentor, has only loomed from his lofty niche from time to time, not to offer his infamous directions to the misguided “ruled” of the plantation in ruins, but to serve as host at the welcoming ceremonies for distinguished foreign visitors. At the end of the day, he is another native of these lands, where almost nobody cares about the fate of one another… Isn’t it true that, for many Cubans, the world begins beyond the coral reefs?

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Subtle Dissent of Revolutionaries / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Image of Fidel Castro at the Union of Cuban Journalists UPEC (cmkc.icrt.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 February 2017 — An editorial piece published February 14th on the Havana Times website under the title “Official Journalism in Cuba: Empty Nutshells,” revisits a recurring issue that has been going around in the Castro media and is threatening to become fashionable: to be or not to be a dissident.

In fact, several young journalists of these media have shown themselves to be discreet critics, not only of the current Cuban reality, but also of the dullness of the press, the censorship that is often applied to their work, the lack of access to certain spheres of public administration that should be held responsible for the mismanagement of services and of the economy and of the sanctions imposed on colleagues who openly question public media editorial policies or other issues that officials consider “sensitive” to the security of the socio-political system. continue reading

That is to say, in recent times there has been a kind of juvenile anti-gag reaction on the part of the new generations of professionals of the press, to whom the narrow limits of “what is allowed” are too narrow.

Perhaps because they clash against the challenge of narrating a triumphalist and intangible reality in the media that in no way resembles the harsh conditions they experience on a daily basis. Or because of the contrast between their meager income as journalists of the official press and the much more advantageous income that can be derived from collaborating with alternative digital means. Or because they belong to a generation that has distanced itself from the old revolutionary epic of “the historical ones” whose original project failed.

Or because of the sum of all these and other factors, the truth is that young journalism graduates integrated into the official media are showing their dissatisfaction with the ways of antiquated journalism a la Castro of (not) doing and (not) saying.

The response of the champions of the ideological purity of Cuban journalism has not dawdled; thus, the more fervent ones have chosen to accuse the bold young people of being “dissidents.” And it is understood what that demonized word means, the worst offense to a Cuban revolutionary, as well as certain punishment: marginalization and ostracism.

For its part, the counter-answer of the reformist sectors – let’s call them that, the ones who defend a new type of official press, let’s say kindly, more truthful and transparent – is the defense of their right to “dissent”… or, better yet, to diverge, because when it comes to nominalism, they prefer to move away from the dangerous definitions that have been applied to “others.”

And there’s no need to transgress because of excesses in expectations. They are barely subtle dissenters. For if there is any positive initiative that tends to refresh the arid informative world of the Cuban official media or to push the limits of what’s allowed by the ironclad censorship – understanding that, given the long-lived government press monopoly, any break in the immobility could eventually have a favorable result in an aperture process, currently unthinkable – this does not mean that the official journalists who are claiming more rights for their self-expression are defending the true right to freedom of expression endorsed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not only because they conceive the free expression exercise just from positions of “socialists” or “revolutionaries from the left,” but because – as a remedy to the very monopoly of the press that silences them – they insist on disqualifying (for being “stateless, mercenary and anti-Cuban”) any proposal or opinion that differs from the socio-political system by which eleven million souls are supposed to be ruled ad infinitum, and which was chosen, without consultation, by a privileged caste almost six decades ago.

The article referred to at the beginning of this text – which is authored by Vicente Morín Aguado – quotes two very eloquent phrases from a young journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). According to her, “the issue is not in being a dissident, but what an individual is dissident against.” And later: “We have allowed those who understand little about principles and patriotism to snatch our words.”

This way, she misses twice. One is a dissident or not, beyond the program, proposal or belief we disagree with. Being a dissident is an attitude in the face of life, it’s questioning everything, including what we have ever believed in, which presupposes the most revolutionary of all human conditions. Therefore, one cannot dissent “from immobility, demagoguery, from those who are complacent and from the hypercritical, from inertia, from limited commitment, from hollow discourses” and from the whole long list that the young woman quotes, and at the same time, remain faithful to the system and to the government that generated those evils. One cannot be a half-way dissident.

On the other hand, it is not explicitly stated who those who “understand very little of principles and patriotism” are, but we know that such is the stigma usually pinned on all the dissidents that make up the Cuban civil society, including Independent journalists, such as this writer. I cannot share, as a matter of principle, such a narrow concept of Motherland conceived as the exclusive fiefdom of an ideology. It is a sectarian, exclusive, false and Manichean concept.

Unfortunately, Morín Aguado falls into similar temptation when he says that “every day the real dissidents increase within the universe of Cuban information.” Not only does he suggest the existence of a “non-authentic” dissidence, which he never quite mentions- perhaps for reasons of space, or for mere lack of information – but that also leaves us with the bitter aftertaste of feeling that what is at issue in this libertarian juvenile saga is substituting an absolute truth for another… just as absolute.

Official journalistic dissidence, then, is chemically pure. It is not mixed with any other. It is subtly dissident, which determines that, until now, it results in just an attempt at a struggle for partial freedom of expression. They seek to replace the “freedom of expression” of the official press monopoly for their own freedom, to improve the so-called Cuban socialism “within the revolution.” That is to say, a subjection of the whole press to an ideology as the only source of legitimation of “the truth” is maintained, which – it must be said – limits the whole matter to a simple generational little war.

However, this is good news. Of wolf, a hair, my grandmother used to say when things brought at least a minimal gain. We can never tell what any slight movement can generate in a mechanism that has been immobile for so long.

Personally, I will continue to exercise dissidently my most irreverent right to express what I think, not obeying ideology or any political fashion. My homeland is much more than 110,000 square kilometers of earth, more than a flag, an anthem and a coat of arms, and far more than the defense of the interests of a cohort of authoritarian elders who not only kidnapped the nation, but also – painfully – the willpower of several generations of Cubans. Let it be known that I will also defend the right of expression, under any circumstance, of those who think very different than me, communists and socialists included.

Why We Don’t Have A Lech Walesa In Cuba / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The Government requires “labor prowess” of workers but does not allow freedom of association. (Juventud Rebelde )

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 January 2017 — I recently had the opportunity to participate as guest in a forum held at Florida International University. Among other topics, the issue of labor rights in Cuba and the role of journalism in the defense of these rights were discussed.

At first glance, the proposal does not seem incongruous. The relationship between journalism and workers in the struggle for the exercise of labor rights in Cuba had its beginnings as far back as the second half of the nineteenth century, when the first trade union periodicals of the region were founded in Cuba – La Aurora and El Artesano – (Castellanos, 2002), an indication of both the worker’s recognition of the importance of the press and the timely proficiency they developed in union organization.

The independent press denounces the constant violations of all rights, including the most basic one: earning a deserved living wage.

On the other hand, labor rights of domestic workers is one of the most recurrent and polarized issues of current official and independent Cuban journalism, though from two opposite ends. Contrary to the official monopoly of the press, in charge of praising the supposed guarantees of the State-Party-Government labor rights – though the new Labor Code does not even recognize such universal achievements as the right to strike, free recruitment and free association – the independent, press denounces the constant violations of all rights, including the most basic one: earning a deserved living wage. continue reading

Numerous independent journalists have addressed the issue of labor rights. Among them are the articles of historical analysis on the Cuban trade union movement, its achievements and errors, developed by the researcher Dimas Castellanos, some of which are cited here.

However, while the independent journalism sector has had the most sustained growth within the Cuban pro-democratic civil society in the last decade, its scope and real possibilities should not be overestimated. Much less can we hope that the press works the miracle of transforming society separate from the human beings who compose it.

The demand for labor rights is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the workers themselves within the extent of their groups

Journalism can support and complement the actions of individuals in their struggle for the full exercise of their most legitimate rights, but it cannot assume the functions of the institutions that those same individuals must create. Neither is it capable of changing reality all on its own. Thus, just as the triumphalist discourse of the official press does not turn into practice the rights it touts as “conquests of the Revolution,” neither is the independent press able to function as an intangible union, apart from the collective workers.

Unions, as organizations created to defend workers’ interests from employers (State, managers, companies), cannot be replaced by the press or, as in the case of Cuba, by the State. It is worth noting that nor is it the role of the (marginal) political parties of the opposition is not to assume such a demanding mission, especially considering that, under the Castro regime, opponents don’t usually have any labor ties nor have they have successfully influenced large sectors of the population, and even less so in workers’ State or private labor collectives.

In other words, the demand for labor rights is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the workers themselves within the extent of their groups, as subjects with the capacity to organize spontaneously and autonomously in defense of their interests as a group, developing a strong trade union movement capable of dealing with the powers that restrain those rights. It is the essential premise for the press – in this case, the independent press – to expand, thus increasing the effect of the workers’ labor demands or for the opposition to rely on trade union movements.

The official policy of manipulating the different social organizations has abolished the possibility of the existence of true trade unionism in Cuba

The working social base is so significant in mobilizing changes that a prominent union leader who counts on its support could become a political leader, such as the well-known case of Lech Walesa, or the well-known union leaders of the Latin American left, Lula Da Silva and Evo Morales, who eventually reached the presidency of their respective countries. But the inverse does not take place: political leaders do not usually become trade union leaders.

In fact, the powerful Solidarity trade union, with its effectiveness in overthrowing the puppet government of Moscow in Poland and putting an end to the so-called “real socialism” in that country, is an essential reference point when we are talking about which path the Cuban transition should follow: A great working organization with strong leadership, able to face and bend the Power.

Regrettably, such practice is not possible in Cuba, where sufficiently strong or autonomously organized labor groups in key positions in the economy do not exist, where the relatively better paid jobs are in the hands of joint venture foreign capital companies and in those of local, dominant military caste where, in addition, the deep national and civic feeling characteristic of the Polish peoples has never existed.

This leads directly to the historical fragility of the civil society in Cuba, demolished completely, especially in the 60 years after the arrival of the Castros to power, and hijacked by the leaders of the Revolution to put it at their service, subordinating it to the ideology of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The official policy of manipulating the different social organizations, which operated autonomously and were self-financed before 1959, has abolished the possibility of the existence of true trade unionism in Cuba, whose dependence on the political will of the Government is equally evident, since numerous calls for plenary meetings and “workers” congresses stem from the Political Bureau of the PCC and not from so-called trade union organizations, and the workers’ laws and “rights” are also stipulated by the political power.

In November 1961, the loss of autonomy of trade unionism was enshrined, when delegates renounced almost all the historical achievements of the labor movement

But even though political manipulation of Cuban trade unionism became absolute after the “revolutionary triumph,” pre-1959 alliances of some trade union leaders with political parties had already strongly undermined the trade union movement, detracting from its autonomy, undermining its foundations and fragmenting it into its structures.

This is how Castellanos summarizes it in one of his writings on the subject: “The subordination of trade union associations to political parties, which began in 1925, intensified in the 1940’s with the struggle between workers in the Authentic and Communist Parties for control of the labor movement. In 1952, when Eusebio Mujal, then General Secretary of the labor movement, after ordering the general strike against that year’s coup d’etat, ended up accepting an offer from Batista in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC*.” (Castellanos, 2013)

The death of Cuban trade syndicates was sealed in 1959, when the CTC was dissolved and replaced by the (CTC-R). The 10th Congress of the workers’ organization took place that year, and its Secretary General, David Salvador Manso, said during his speech that “workers had not attended the Congress to raise economic demands but to support the Revolution.” At the 11th Congress, held in November 1961, the loss of autonomy of trade unionism was enshrined, when delegates renounced almost all the historical achievements of the labor movement, among others, the 9 days of sick leave, the supplementary Christmas bonus, the 44-hour work week, the right to strike and a raise of 9.09%. The CTC became, in fact, a mechanism of government control of the workers. (Ibid)

Far from improving the situation, the exploitation of Cuban workers has diversified and consolidated since the arrival in Cuba of foreign-funded enterprises

Needless to say this has been maintained until now, with the aggravating fact that the Cuban autocratic regime has achieved the positive recognition of all the international organizations responsible for ensuring compliance with labor rights, which increases Cuban workers’ hopelessness.

In fact, far from improving the situation, the exploitation of Cuban workers has diversified and consolidated since the arrival in Cuba of foreign-funded enterprises – which employ Cuban workers indirectly, entirely through contracts signed with the State rather than with the workers themselves – and with the leasing of professionals, especially health workers, who are sent abroad under collaborative projects in countries allied to the Castro regime.

Raúl Castro’s rise to the head of the government, as successor to his brother, the so-called historic leader of the revolution, seemed to open a brief period of expectations, encouraged by a reformist speech followed by a set of measures meant to bend the extreme centralism in Cuba’s domestic economy.

Such measures allowed for the emergence of small sectors of private entrepreneurs, grouped under the generic name “self-employed,” which have faced a number of constraints – such as high taxation, harassment by corrupt inspectors, absence of wholesale markets to provide their businesses, among others – and initially constituted an opportunity to encourage autonomous venues that could eventually pave the way for the emergence of groups of workers organized in defense of their interests, independent of the State.

Private workers were quickly absorbed by the government’s political officials who run the sole Cuban workers pivotal labor shop. The self-employed also meekly accepted the official “unionization”

However, the private workers were quickly absorbed by the government’s political officials who run the sole Cuban workers pivotal labor shop. The self-employed also meekly accepted the official “unionization” that represents the interests of the boss: the tower of power.

Thus, though Cuba has been a signatory of the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Covenants since 2008 – which recognize, among others, the right to work and the choice of employment – and the Civil and Political Rights Convenants – whose written text includes freedom of the Press, expression, association and assembly, which are also essential for the existence of trade syndicates – there are no real trade union organizations in the country or areas of freedom to make them possible. The Cuban government has not ratified the signatures of these Covenants, and United Nations officials responsible for ensuring compliance with their contents are often extremely complacent with the Cuban authorities.

A long road traveled and a longer one yet to go

In spite of the historical shortcomings of Cuban civil society, the reality is that labor movements demanding workers’ rights began relatively early in Cuba. The strength achieved by the workers during the Republican period, organized and grouped in unions, determined political transformations as important as Gerardo Machado’s departure from power after a powerful workers strike that paralyzed the country.

During the same period, collective bargaining was another struggle method that gave trade unions the ability to influence the enactment of laws based on workers’ demands. Politicians recognized in the working masses a social fiber so powerful that the governments of Grau San Martin, Carlos Mendieta, and Federico Laredo Bru promoted labor legislation that included such rights as the eight-hour day, labor striking, paid and maternity leave, and collective bargaining. (Decrees 276 and 798 of April of 1938). (Castellanos, 2002)

The 1976 Constitution reduced labor rights to six minimal articles, omitting almost all the gains of the trade union movement of previous periods

Later, the 1940 Constitution legally recognized the results of previous years’ union struggles by dedicating 27 articles of Title VI to the collective and individual rights of workers. These ranged from the minimum wage to pensions due to the death of the worker. Paradoxically, once the government “of the poor, with the poor and for the poor” came to power, not only were unions lost by a stroke of the pen and absorbed by the new dictatorship of a supposed military “proletariat”, but Chapter VI of the 1976 Constitution reduced labor rights to six minimal articles, omitting almost all the gains of the trade union movement of the previous periods, endorsed in the Constitutions of 1901 and 1940.

Currently, the Cuban socio-political and economic situation is extremely complex. Not only because an economic crisis has taken root permanently, but there has been a wave of layoffs and no salaries in Cuba are sufficient to even acquire basic foodstuffs. Social actors capable of reversing that scenario cannot be found in our country.

The opposition has proposed a few attempts for independent unions. However, such proposals have not made progress, not only because of the repression that is exerted against any manifestation of dissidence within Cuba, but because these alternatives have no social bases or real support. In fact, since they are marginalized by the system, Cuban opponents do not usually have any labor ties – if they had held a state job they would generally have been fired — so they have no chance of representing Cuban workers.

The constant Cuban exodus, mainly composed of working age individuals, is another factor that contributes to the weakening of the work force

The constant Cuban exodus, mainly composed of working age individuals, is another factor that contributes to the weakening of the work force, the result of the system itself but one whose solution is already beyond the reach of a government to which any deep change might cost the loss of its power.

So far, it does not seem that the vicious circle that keeps Cuban workers and the whole of society in a motionless state will be broken in the short term. The road to recovery will be long and tortuous, and will only begin when the omnipotent power that has hijacked the nation for almost 60 years disappears. Because without rights, there will be no unions, and without unions there will be no force capable of legitimately representing the interests of that endangered species that was once called “the Cuban workers.”

*(CTC): The Central Union of Cuban Workers [Central de Trabajadores de Cuba] originated as the Confederation of Cuban Workers [Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba] in 1939. The original leaders of the organization were forced to flee after Castro’s seizure of power in 1959.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Learned Illiterates of the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Poster on Avenida de los Presidentes, Havana (albertoyoan.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 January 2017 — – I have often heard or read about the supposed Cuban “culture and education,” a fabulous academic record based on official Cuban statistics and, of course, the Cuban Revolution and its (literally) ashen leader.

A few weeks ago, during the prolonged funerals of the Deceased in Chief, while walking through some streets of Centro Habana in the company of a foreign colleague – one of those who, either because of her gullibility or her sympathy, has swallowed the story of “the most educated island in the world” — I had occasion to show her several categorical examples of the very renown solid and expansive Cuban culture.

Beyond the filthy and cracked streets, the mounds of rubble and the containers of overflowing debris, which by themselves speak of the peculiar conception of the hygiene and health culture in the Cuban capital, posters everywhere overflowed, plagued by spelling mistakes: “we have striped coconut” [rayado means striped, rallado, grated] read a sign at a market on Sites street; “Mixed coffee” [misspelled mesclado, should be mezclado] offered another ad on a menu board in a private coffee shop; “forbidden to throw papers on the floor” [proibido instead of prohibido] on a sign a bit further on. continue reading

The menus at restaurants, both privately and state-owned, also abound in terrorist attacks on the Spanish language that would have the illustrious Miguel de Cervantes shaking in his grave. “Fried Garbansos“, [garbanzos] “smoked tenderloin” [aumado for ahumado], “breaded fillet” [enpanisado for empanizado], “paella valensiana” [instead of valenciana] and other such similarities have become so common that no one seems to notice them.

The “Weekly Packet,” by far the most popular cultural entertainment product and the one most available among the people, is ailing from the same malady. There, among the video title archives, one can find misspelled jewels of colossal stature, such as “Parasitos acesinos,” [for Parásitos Asesinos], “Guerreros del Pasifico,” [instead of the correct Guerreros del Pacífico], “Humbrales al Mas Alla” [correct spelling: Umbrales al Más Allá] and many more.

There are those who consider the correct use of language as superfluous, especially in a country where daily survival consumes most of one’s time and energy, and where there are not many options for recreation within the reach of the population’s purses. Cubans read less and less every day, which contributes to a significant drop in vocabulary and the deterioration of spelling. In any case, say many, who cares if the word garbanzo is written with an “s” or a “z”, when the important thing is having the money to be able to eat them? What is more essential, that a video file has a correctly spelled title, or that the video itself is enjoyable?

It would be necessary to argue against this vulgar logic that language constitutes a capital element of the culture of a nation or of its population, not only as a vehicle of social communication for the transmission and exchange of feelings, experiences and ideas, but as an identifying trait of those people. Furthermore, language is even related to national independence and sovereignty, so, when language is neglected, culture is impoverished; hence, truly cultured people demand the correct use of their language.

The systematic destruction of language in Cuba is manifested both verbally and in writing, and among individuals at all educational levels, including not a few language professionals. Thus, it has become commonplace to find essays of journalistic analysis where unusual nonsense appears in common words and is frequently used in the media, such as “distención” for distensión or “suspención” instead of suspensión.

The relationship could be extensive, but these two cases are enough to illustrate how deeply the Spanish language culture has eroded among us, to the point that it also shows up among sectors that, at least in theory, are made up of people versed in the correct use of language.

Llebar for llevar, carné for carnet, espediente for expediente, limpiesa for limpieza (Author’s photo)

What is worse is that a pattern of the systematic destruction of language stems from the national education system itself, since spelling mastery has been eliminated from the curriculum of skills to be acquired by students from the elementary levels of education. In fact, the very posters and murals of numerous state institutions and official organizations exhibit, without the least modesty, the greatest errors imaginable, both in syntax and in spelling.

This is the case of an official notice on the door of a state-owned office in the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo – on calle Peñalver, between Subirana and Árbol Seco — whose image is reproduced in this article. On a poster written by hand on wrinkled paper, in atrocious penmanship, the neighbors were summoned to resort to that sort of mournful collective spell, the so-called “Ratification of the Revolution Concept,” which all Cubans were asked to sign an oath to, after the death of Fidel. The poster reads:

Call for the ratification of the concept of the Revolution (Author’s photo)

Of course, it is understood that the notice contained information about times and places where the revolutionary mourners should come to shield with their rubrics the “concept” of the spectral utopia (so-called “revolution”) that died decades before its maker finally met his. Which may be “politically correct”, but the poster is linguistically atrocious without a doubt.

Paradoxically, one of the locations mentioned in the notice, the Carlos III Library (incidentally, the first library founded in Cuba, dating as far back as the 1700’s), is — more or less — the official headquarters of The Cuban Academy of the Language, whose functions, far from ensuring its knowledge and protection, are reduced to the eminently bureaucratic-symbolic and, above all, the reception of monetary and other benefits sent from the central headquarters of that international institution, in Spain th Royal Academy of the Spanish Language.

The truth is that people in this country increasingly speak and write worse, given the absolute official indifference of institutions supposedly responsible for watching over the language. What really matters to the authorities is that they remain faithful to the ideology of the Power, the rest is nonsense.

Meanwhile, the lack of freedoms impoverishes thinking, and along with it, language, its material casing and an essential part of cultural identity, is also ruined. Although the official media, the international organizations and many bargain–basement pimps insist on parroting that Cubans are one of the most educated peoples on the Planet.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Dry or Wet? Thinking with our Feet / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

AFP

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 17 January 2017 — The announcement of the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which gave Cuban immigrants the special privilege of remaining in the US without being deported, just by touching American soil, ended Thursday, 12 January 2017, like a cold drizzle on the citizens of this island who had hoped for a better life in that country, using any illegal way to attain it.

As is often the case among Cubans, this decision by President Barack Obama just eight days before his departure from the White House has uncovered emotions. The issue, without a doubt, has dramatic implications, not only for those who are stranded on the migratory route from the most dissimilar geographical points of the planet or the Florida Straits, but also for those who have gone, leaving behind a family that would join them “afterwards,” or for those who have sold all their properties in Cuba with the fixed goal of reaching their American dream, facing the risks of an unpredictable journey at the mercy of human trafficking networks that have become a lucrative business for not a few gangs of delinquents of the region. continue reading

The cold rain of the sudden news was followed by the acid rain of those who release their resentment and frustration against the outgoing American president and accuse him of being a great service to the Castro regime. Of course, the main critics of Obama’s new stance are the same ones who have been opposed from the outset to the policy of rapprochement and the reestablishment of relations between both governments. “Castro won,” “the regime got away with it,” “another gift for the dictatorship” are some of the diatribes directed at the president less than a year after he stole Cubans’ esteem during his visit to Havana.

Could it be that in the no less cruel dilemma of “wet” or “dry” that has prevailed for more than 20 years, Cubans have ended up thinking “with their feet”?

It is appalling that the children of this land feel gifted with some divine grace that makes them deserve exceptional gifts and prerogatives just because they were blessed by being born in this miserable fiefdom. It is obvious that we need a good dose of humility and common sense.

However, putting aside the undeniable human impact surrounding the fact, it is necessary to assess it rationally. As much as we pity the broken dreams of so many fellow citizens, the truth is that the existence of a privileged policy for Cuban immigrants above those of other countries in the world – including people fleeing from nations at war or wherever there are living situations of extreme violence – is not justified in any way.

The pretense that Cubans, unlike other Latin Americans, deserve differential treatment because they are living under the boot of a dictatorship, collapses before the unquestionable evidence that only a very small portion of those fleeing may be classified as being under true political persecution. That is an irrefutable truth.

The huge expenditures by the public treasury of that country for assistance in food and other benefits to Cuban immigrants has an effect on the pockets of the American taxpayer, including Cubans already residing in the United States. Add to that the Coast Guard’s expense for patrolling the Florida Straits, the rescue of rickety vessels at risk of shipwreck and other expenses associated with the constant Cuban migration with its extraordinary franchises.

It is illogical that those who criticize – with reason – the preposterous costs of the Cuban dictatorship in marches, mobilizations and war games, as well as in gifts to its followers, at the expense of the depressed national coffers, assume that a foreign government has to squander its wealth on us.

As if this were not enough, those thousands of Cubans who, upon their U.S. arrival declare that they are under political persecution or at risk of being repressed if they are sent back, return to visit Cuba [one year + one day] as soon as they obtain their residence (green card), in what constitutes a real mockery to the American authorities, the institutions of the country that offered them asylum and support, and the taxpayers who have covered those expenses.

That’s why the winners across this Obama ball toss are Americans, ultimately the most legitimate beneficiaries of their government’s policies.

Furthermore, what other gift has Obama made to Castro? It remains to be determined what the previous gifts have been and how much they have favored the regime. None of the measures approved by the US administration in the last two years has resulted in the exuberant and swift benefits expected to be obtained by the Castro regime.

In any case, we are the ones who have given almost sixty years of our lives to the longest dictatorship in the Western world.

In practice, far from gaining any profit from the elimination of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, the Cuban regime initially lost an important outlet to relieve domestic pressure and increase family remittances. It also loses the mockery and ridiculous argument that this policy was the main stimulus for emigration from the island. Because, without a doubt, Cubans’ incessant fleeing will continue until the socioeconomic and political reality in Cuba has changed.

Another consequence of Castro’s alleged “victory” is that, when the “stimulus” of the US government’s special immigration policy toward Cuban illegal immigrants ceases, the regime will be forced to respond to the region’s governments for the crisis created by thousands of immigrants stuck in several countries in their journey to the U.S. Cuba has not yet rendered them any assistance, leaving that responsibility and its costs to the other countries’ governments. It’s time to finally reveal who the real villain of this story is.

Thus, once again, the emperor is standing on the roof wearing no clothes. There is no longer any excuse to place the blame on the United States. The regional political cost for the immigration stampede through our neighboring countries, or for the latter to guarantee the care and security of the Cuban émigrés while they blast the evil neighbor to the north with accusations.

But before the new reality that is beginning, the proverbial self-pity of Cubans continues betting on the political and material solution of our national evils outside our geographical limits. Thus, they believe that it is the obligation of other governments to resolve what is our problem. The embarrassment of others is felt by the eternal cadre of the “poor little Cubans,” who are so brave that they face the dangers of the sea and the jungles – sometimes irresponsibly dragging their young children through such an uncertain adventure – but so cowardly in reality, when the time comes to demand their rights from the regime that is the original cause of the problem.

If they were not so busy contemplating their navels, perhaps some political analysts would discover the possibilities that will open up a push for our rights inside Cuba.

In its official statement, that metaphysical entity that calls itself “the revolutionary government” has announced that it will “gradually adopt other measures to update the current emigration policy.” It would be good if, at least once, Cubans inside the Island and those abroad would join their forces and their willpower to make use of these “measures.”

That is to say, if it’s OK for Cubans to get equal treatment vis-a-vis other citizens of the world, if it’s believed that there are no special reasons to offer differential treatment to Cubans who emigrate illegally in the future, going forward there is no justification for the differentiation that the regime makes between Cubans who reside in Cuba and those who reside outside the country.

Because, since the dictatorship is patting itself on the back that “going forward, the same procedures will be applied to Cuban citizens who are detected in this situation” they will apply “the same procedures and immigration rules as the rest of émigrés from other countries,” then the moment has also come for the exceptionality in the treatment of the Cuban émigrés on the part of the regime to end, and their rights to be recognized.

More directly, this is an opportunity that requires the olive green gerontocracy to recognize, without further delay, equal rights for all Cubans, regardless of their country of residence, to enter and leave Cuba whenever, without a timeframe, with complete freedom – which implies eliminating the absurd and unjustified two-year “permit” – respecting the right to maintain their property in Cuba, setting the same cost for Cuban passports for Cuban residents as for those who live abroad, for emigrants to have the ability to invest in their country of origin preferentially over foreign investors, to be able to choose and take part in all matters that have to do with national life, and so on.

There is nothing to lose, on the contrary. It may still be a long stretch to recover our rights as Cubans; but if we decide to demand them instead of whining or begging third parties for them, at least we will have regained our dignity.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Naive Commentary about Two False Currencies / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Retail store that accepts payment in both currencies. Sign: Now! Easy to pay in CUP (Cuban pesos). (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 January 2017 — It is not common, in the middle of all the gloom and the torrents of noteworthy dates that constitute the bulk of the official press, to find a journalistic work that brings to light — even partially — the obstacles that derive from one of the most stubborn problems of the Cuban economy: the double currency system.

A report published this Sunday in Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) evauated the sales results in both national currencies (CUP and CUC) in the so-called shopping centers. The report indicates that almost three years after the start of this “experiment,” it becomes apparent that the resulting benefits are reduced almost exclusively to the simplification of the exchange process. continue reading

The only improvement is that shoppers who only have ordinary currency (CUP) interested in making purchases at the foreign currency shops do not need to exchange their currency into CUC at the currency exchanges before they shop

In the case of more comprehensive terms, the improvement is that shoppers who only have ordinary currency (CUP) interested in making purchases at the foreign currency shops do not need to exchange their currency into CUC at the currency exchanges (Cadeca) before they shop, thus avoiding the consequent inconvenience of long lines, wasted time and sometimes traveling from distant places, as they can now transact their purchases in the stores themselves in CUP.

Another advantage that, without going into the sordid details, reporters mention, is that with the undifferentiated use of both currencies “the illegal currency market has been restricted to a minimum.” In practice, this does not mean that the underground exchange markets have disappeared or been weakened — as the article implies — but that the excellent health the illegal transactions continue to enjoy occurs in closed spaces. As is well known, some go this route when they sell their properties intending to emigrate, so they can take some hard currency capital (in dollars or euros) with them.

In contrast to the two modest improvements mentioned, the report lists a string of difficulties, among which are the errors derived from the lack of training of personnel in how to operate with the two currencies, which has caused numerous mistakes; the instability of the specialized labor force and the “lack of experience” in the “accounting treatment of monetary duality”; along with the “insufficient capacity of safes and cash registers” to store the cash in the stores.

The lack of an automated system to register operations with the new payment instrument — that is, Cuban pesos — is another problem, which means “accounting errors” or “differences in the daily schedule due to errors in the operation of cash registers”, among other limitations, not attributable to the stores, but related to the eternal governmental improvisation and emergency strategies to alleviate deep and old evils.

A recurring problem is the displeasure of those customers who pay in CUP and get their change back in CUC

A recurring problem is the displeasure of those customers who pay in CUP and get their change back in CUC. The lack of coins and small bills in the shopping centers is ever-present, so that customers are short-changed, which harms their buying power and benefits the employee in charge of collecting payments, who, at the end of the day, pockets the overage from the cash register. The matter is aggravated by the increased demand for stores to keep available change in CUC, because it is mandatory that customers paying in CUP be given their change in hard currency.

Among the most interesting points, although scarcely mentioned tangentially in the report, is the complaint of an interviewee who criticizes the confusion created by the buy-sell in two currencies, especially by the exchange rate that the stores apply (where 1 CUC is equivalent to 25 CUP), while in the currency exchanges, the Cadecas, the exchange of 1 CUC is equivalent to 24 CUP.

Stores go beyond their function as commercial entities when they carry out a banking operations or currency exchnages that would legally be the job of the National Bank, a distortion proper to a system where the bankrupt economy cannot offer real financial support to its currency, so money has no realistic value. On the other hand, there is a single entity, the State-Party-Government, as sole administrator and owner of everything, from Banking to commercial establishments and most services, so that the currency has a virtually symbolic function and, significantly, is only valid within the national territory.

Since we are talking about monetary distortion, the most palpable reflection of the ambivalence of such a fictional* currency as the CUC is the capricious difference in values that it acquires in its popular usage, depending on whether it is whole or fractional currency. In the informal market, the fractional currency – that is coins – loses value.

Mysteriously, there seems to be an unwritten law where the use of coins in CUC currency places it in the informal market at an equivalence of only 20 pesos in CUP

This aberration manifests itself in every informal transaction, for example, in what the passenger of a private sector taxi pays for the service: if the trip costs 10 Cuban pesos (CUP) and the passenger pays with a CUC, he will probably get 14 CUP in change, the equivalent of the CUC at a rate of 24 CUP, which is the same value one finds in the Cadecas.

However, if that same passenger pays for the service with coins in CUC currency (say, 50 cents), the norm is that he won’t get any change back, though the driver is supposed to give back 2 CUP. Mysteriously, there appears to be an unwritten law where the use of coins in CUC currency places it in the informal market at an equivalent of only 20 pesos CUP.

The same thing happens if a one peso CUP purchase is made (informally, 5 cents CUC), as in the case of a plastic bag or newspaper bought from street vendors, usually elderly retirees looking to increase their meager income in this way.

Another notorious issue that is mentioned is the high prices of store products, which become more evident when the payment is in CUP. Obviously, the use of the CUP in the commercial and service networks highlights the enormous inflation that has been enthroned in Cuba which is masked, somehow, when the sale is transacted only in CUC.

It does not cause the same psychological effect to buy a bag of powdered milk at 5.65 pesos CUC as it does to pay 141.25 pesos CUP, which is 35.3% of the average Cuban monthly salary (400 pesos CUP). In addition, there is talk of “high prices” in Cuba when we should be discussing the devaluation of the CUP currency and workers low wages, which depress the consumption capacity of the average Cuban to a minimum.

We shouldn’t overlook the efforts of those who, from the dictatorship’s monopoly of the press, strive to pull the monkey’s chain, even if they continue to fear him

Other many collateral points of the report deserve to be mentioned, such as the refusal of most commercial establishments to offer statements to the official press — a formidable obstacle that constitutes the daily bread of the independent press trying to question officials, official institutions, or to cover supposedly public events — and the reporters’ allusion to the informative, cultural, social and civic role that they must fulfill. But it is not possible to cover in one article the extent of the debates these subjects deserve.

Despite everything, with its successes and evasions, the article in Juventud Rebelde gets credit for uncovering at least the tip of the iceberg of some of the most serious wrongs that the Cuban economy exhibits, and implicitly points to the urgent need to put an end to the dual currency system, a thorny question that – inexplicably — was not on the agenda at last December’s National Assembly sessions.

None of the problems nor their solutions were there. The villain remains hidden behind an army of scapegoats and small-time officials. We shouldn’t overlook the efforts of those who, from the dictatorship’s monopoly of the press, strive to pull the monkey’s chain**, even if they continue to fear him.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Translator’s notes:
* Despite its name, Cuban Convertible peso, the CUC can only be exchanged for foreign currencies within Cuba, and in fact it is illegal to take Cuban currency out of the country.
** A common expression in Cuba – referencing ordinary people’s relationship to power – is “You can play with the chain but not the monkey.”

Castro II’s Island is Adrift / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 5 January 2017 – It is well known that for almost six decades we Cubans have not had a real government program, unless the old “five-year plans” are defined as such. These were programs Castro I copied from the USSR in order to plan and control Cuba’s socialist economic development, and applied without the least success in Cuba.

It is worth remembering that, even in the USSR, these plans were not successful. In fact, almost one hundred years after the first Marxist social experiment, it has been sufficiently established that communism and success are irreconcilable, antagonistic categories.

In the end, Castro I departed this world leaving behind a crowded inventory of useless speeches and a history of failures as a ruler. In his decades at the helm of a country which he assumed as his personal property which, as such, he ruined with impunity, the would-be demiurge only managed to play victoriously one intangible card: his personal symbolic commitment as a “world-class revolutionary leader,” which allowed him to gather solidarity and subsidies which, undeniably, contributed to the support of his long dictatorship and helped to mask the national economic disaster provoked by his regime. continue reading

The year 2016 ended with two facts relevant to Cubans: the definitive death of the founding patriarch of this whole ill-fated circus and December’s anticipated announcement by the National Assembly that worse times will soon be upon us, not as a consequence of the failure and unfeasibility of the Cuban socio-economic “model” and the long demonstrated incapacity of the political guide of the country, but due to the “unfavorable” international scene, in the words of Castro II, the substitute head of the rink.

In his words, this scenario is derived from the capitalism crisis, and mainly from the “negative effects generated by the economic, commercial and financial blockade (…) which remains in force,” which means that “Cuba is still unable to carry out international transactions in US dollars” and this “prevents important business from materializing.”

In fairness, it is necessary to recognize that the panorama is really unfavorable for the Castro regime. The regional left has fallen into disfavor, several allied presidencies have collapsed, presidencies whose corruptions favored the entrance of foreign currency to the Palace of Revolution for a time, and, to put the icing on the cake of the misfortune of the olive green power, Venezuela is threatening to turn into a chaos that will drag in its wake that other second-rate dictator, Nicolas Maduro, which would slam the last source of subsidies for the Antillean autocracy.

Fifty-eight years later, the collapse cannot be hidden anymore, and Cuba seems to have entered a stampede phase. While the economy slows and the recession knocks on the door, the only Cuban production that continues to grow unabated is emigration, thus aggravating the outlook for the future of the nation.

Such a gloomy scenario, however, fails to move the government and the country’s economic policy and decision makers towards the search for real and effective solutions.

The Government, Ministers and Parliament gathered at the meeting of the first Assembly after the death of the Autocrat in Chief simply repeated the eternal formula (also eternally unfulfilled): more work, more controls and more savings, instead of proposing a viable program based on elementary and possible issues, such as liberating the economy, allowing greater participation of the private sector, removing investment barriers, reunifying the currency or stimulating the development of small and medium-sized enterprises.

There was talk of greater constraints when it was necessary to speak of more freedoms; of a slower pace when there should be more haste.

If we have had a bad leader and bad economic strategies to date, now we have neither leader nor strategies. This, however, is not necessarily worse. In the absence of a way out, sooner or later the second heir will have no choice but to move one of his tokens, against his better judgment. And history has shown that every move made within a closed and immovable regime will produce changes.

Meanwhile, 2017 has begun for Cubans with a general feeling not unlike disorientation, an aimless unguided journey, and skepticism. The same disorientation seems to seize the General-President, now orphaned by the mighty tree that gave him shade and protection throughout his life.

At least that was the image he projected during his brief address at the inaugural session of the National Assembly. Haggard and tired, the old deputy cast a speech full of cryptic phrases, complaints, reprimands, and even warnings at undisclosed recipients.

There were no promises, no itineraries, and no symbolic cut-throat shots fired. If anyone expected to hear a captain in command of the ship in the midst of the storm, he only found a hesitant and inexperienced helmsman.

But in a country where secrecy prevails, every gesture or word can be a signal to search for hidden meanings. That is why it was remarkable that instead of the triumphal “Motherland or Death” of the Fidel era, or “Always towards Victory” of the Guevara bravado, the General-President opted for a much more realist and meager closing: “That’s all,” he muttered almost in a sob.

And then he descended from the podium amidst the applause of his docile amanuenses, not the political leader of the rampant Revolution from which we could expect salvation in moments of crisis, but this tired and contrite old man. It is obvious that the government of the hacienda in ruins doesn’t fit. It is way too big for him.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Parliament Sessions Predict Somber Times / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s president Raúl Castro, and first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, at the session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. (EFE / Abel Padrón Padilla)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 December 2016 — On December 27th, at the Havana Convention Center, the Eighth Session of the Eighth Legislature of the Cuban Parliament opened, with a balance sheet on the socio-economic results of the year ending and the proposed draft of the National Budget Law for 2017.

This time, there is no good news or triumphant speeches. 2016 ended with a 0.9% drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the report presented by Ricardo Cabrisas, Minister of the Economy and Vice-President of the Council of State, and there are no reasonable grounds to date to believe that the forecast of a 2% growth of the GDP for 2017 will be realized. In fact, that was the modest growth prediction for the second half of this year, which finally failed. continue reading

Even more somber, Cubans will start the New Year with overdue payments to suppliers. “It has not been possible to relieve the transitory situation we are experiencing in the current payments to suppliers …”, indicated the general-president, Raúl Castro, in presenting the central report, although he announced, without going into details, “a number of measures that will alleviate the described scenario”.

“It has not been possible to relieve the transitory situation we are experiencing in the current payments to suppliers …” indicated the general-president

As for the 2017 budget plan, he cautioned: “I must warn that financial tensions and challenges will persist that could even increase in certain circumstances.” The current difficulties related to the economic downturn in 2016 will affect next year, the president stated, unless three “permanent and decisive” objectives are met: guaranteeing exports and working immediately to create the conditions to increase them in successive years; identifying the possibilities in the national production and substituting any level of imports; and reducing possible non-essential expenses, among which he indicated trips abroad by the cadres and leaders at different levels.

“We will have a definitive solution to these traditional deficits if we produce more goods and services, both internally and externally, and reduce expenses as much as possible,” said Cabrisas. But the proposed solutions revolve around the usual jingle of the last decades which is never fulfilled, such as the one that proposes the substitution of imports based on the development of national productions “with a well-designed program” encompassing the entire national industry, including the military, or a “greater requirement of the efficient use of carriers to avoid purloining and theft,” in addition to increased controls in this area.

The Cuban president said that he attaches “great importance to the need to boost foreign investment in Cuba” as an essential road for the country’s economic development. However, he made it clear that there are forces opposing this solution, which are blocking this inflow: “I recognize that we are not satisfied in this area and that excessive delays in the negotiation process have been frequent. We need to overcome, once and for all, the obsolete mentality of prejudices against foreign investment and, to resolutely make strides in this direction, we must shed false fears towards foreign capital.”

The report by the Minister of the Economy detailed an opaque and unpromising scenario for now and for the future, because of “the persistence of existing financial constraints due to the non-fulfillment of export earnings, the difficulties faced by some of our main partners due to the fall in oil prices, and by the commercial and financial blockade, strengthened by large fines to international banks that transact business with our country.”

While figures on investments and imports are expressed in dollars, the State’s income and budget -including so-called subsidies and other social benefits -are expressed in CUP

In general, the budget plans for 2017 are similar to those of 2016, except for lower fuel imports, which should stimulate the growth of electric power generation from better utilization of the national capabilities.

One confusing aspect is that, while figures on investments and imports are expressed in dollars, the State’s income and budget – including so-called subsidies and other social benefits – are expressed in Cuban pesos (CUP, that is the “national currency”). This creates a distortion that masks the actual amount of profits and expenses.

For instance, it is stated that the State proposes to invest $1,750,200,000 in food for the population ($82,000 more than in 2016), although total imports in physical terms are similar to 2016. However, we do not know the total amount of foreign exchange revenues generated mainly from tourism, a sector that is controlled by the generalship.

The official reports remain mysteriously silent on this subject. Something similar happens with the issue of monetary duality, an insoluble distortion pending a solution and not mentioned among the great problems that hinder foreign investment in Cuba.

Another problem of the domestic economy during 2016 was the positive reaction of agricultural production, but the industry was unable to respond to production, thus affecting the high level of imports to meet the demand of the population. This is a situation that the Government will try to reverse in the 2017 plans through an “accelerated medium-term program to recover this industry and enable it to respond to both domestic consumption and visitors.”

Another problem of the domestic economy during 2016 was the positive reaction of agricultural production, but the industry was unable to respond to production

The transportation sector is another old and pressing problem, although it is officially acknowledged that “it is strategic for any of the branches of social and economic development of the country”, therefore, its boost is projected for 2017.

In this sense, the State proposes 3% growth compared to 2016, guaranteeing the essential services of national bus companies, transportation for workers and for school children, as well as taxi and cooperative services, in addition for guaranteeing necessary fuel “for buses manufactured in 2017”.

An interesting note was the Minister of the Economy’s reference to maintaining “the current production capacity of bicycles and spare parts” as well as the importation of tires. In the present circumstances, the mere mention of producing bicycles casts over the Cuban population the lugubrious and counterproductive memory of the hardest years of the Special Period.

Other figures for the 2017 plans were the program of 9,700 homes and the start and development of an additional 4,890, similar indicators to those in 2016, which were not met. This program will prioritize the homes affected by Hurricane Matthew in Guantánamo and “those affected by previous hurricanes in Pinar del Río and Santiago de Cuba”.

But the most serious problem is that the solution to our economic ills, foreign investment, remains extremely low at just 6.5% of the plan. In other words, the provisions of Guideline 78, which gives an essential role to this investment, are not fulfilled. Cabrisas stated: “These projects need to be energized,” starting with making a list of investment projects for development that will guarantee the economic development plan until 2030, “concentrating the efforts in strategic and prioritized sectors.”

Thus, 2017 investment takes into consideration supporting priority tourism programs in Havana, Varadero, the Northern Keys, Holguín and in the infrastructures of the Special Development Zone of Mariel (ZEDM) or fuel storage, among others. Measures have also been developed to increase salary systems in the development of tourism and ZEDM sectors.

2017 investment takes into consideration supporting priority tourism programs and in the infrastructures of the Special Development Zone of Mariel (ZEDM) or fuel storage

An increase in the income levels of the population and the absorption capacity of the State is projected in the plans. Productivity will grow by 6.6% and the average wage by 3.5%. To accomplish this, it is essential to avoid payments without productive results, the consistence between the indicators, and taking into account added value, in order to avoid monetary imbalance.

The preliminary draft of the 2017 budget foresees revenue growth of 1.525 million pesos, mainly from taxes on profits, an investment of the state enterprise sector with 6.330 million pesos in increase in expenses with respect to 2016, and an 11. 454 million fiscal deficit, 12% of the GDP.

The report of the Finance and Prices Minister, Lina Peraza, did not offer much detail, other than that of the Minister of the Economy. It seems that the “solution” for the Cuban economy has been reduced to a simple list of elementary considerations, such as deepening the country’s financial obligations, assessing the impact on credit levels, guaranteeing exports and substituting imports, making progress on foreign investment projects, increasing controls in the use and pilfering by energy carriers and stopping the decreasing trends in production, among others. These are about the same solutions as in previous years.

“The plan we are presenting to this Assembly is tense, (…) but we believe we can meet it,” Cabrisas said. “The above calls for willpower, decision, organization, discipline and attention prioritized to all these matters” especially by those responsible for enforcing them.

Apparently, the Cuban economy’s “solution” is reduced to the same solutions as in previous years.

It has been a redundant day to announce the dark clouds that hang over an unborn 2017, a somber gloomy Parliament on a somber Island. No one expected an economic miracle, but perhaps the most candid were trying to picture see some sign of change. For the time being, everything indicates that Cuba is on its leaderless way, tottering towards some enigmatic horizon.

Curiously, the greatest novelties now are what’s missing: this is the first session of Parliament without the shadow of a Fidel Castro -not sufficiently alive or completely dead -vigilant and omniscient; there was no Council of Ministers prior to the sessions, so that the last one, held on July 25 of this year, was referred to; the full plenum of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) was not held, and the former Minister of the Economy, Mr. Marino Murillo, who accompanied the “Raúl reforms” for a long time, was not seen at the sessions.

What these signals might mean would be material for another analysis.

Translated by Norma Whiting