There’s Nothing to Celebrate / Miriam Celaya

miriam-adentro-1MAY DAY - Even Karl Marx would be surprised at the only parade of slave workers

HAVANA, Cuba – All the official media is in a raging fanfare summoning to “the united people’s great mobilization which will take place in squares and avenues” this May 1st. Cymbals and trumpets are pleased with the wild benefits achieved by the Cuban working class.

Among the expected events collateral to “the party” was a lackluster celebration that took place on the 144th anniversary of Lenin’s birth on the hill bearing his name in the Havana municipality of Regla, while during the week, acts have taken place throughout, awarding certificates to union leaders. This year, there will be a “superior parade”, because during the closing ceremony of the XX Congress of the Cuban Workers Syndicate (CTC), the General-President called for an “earth-shaking” event. Continue reading

Just Another Miscalculation / Miriam Celaya

1398445396_etecsaAccording to a recent official statement by Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA) [Cuban Telephone Company], the technical difficulties in messaging service and other cell phone problems are due to errors in miscalculating demand.

It is the system’s universal principle to come up with an inverse explanation to every difficulty, which could be interpreted as follows: it is not really the inability of the only telephone company in Cuba, but that there are too many users. That is, we are more addicted to communication than officials imagined.

Since this past March 3rd, when the new cell phone e-mail access system (nauta.cu) went into effect, considerable delays were experienced in SMS access, as well as additional service outages. Now the Central Director of Mobile Services, Hilda María Arias, stated that for over a year they carried out research and completed investment processes required for this service, however, they “did not calculate the fast pace for its demand in this short period of time”, and, due to transmitting of data, “more network resources are being used”, which has slowed e-mail, SMS reception, and cell phone service

Of course, while this official explains that steps are being taken to counteract the difficulties, the solution must come from an increase in forecast investments.

ETECSA, as we know, is the name of the communications monopoly in Cuba, controlled by military business leaders, who have now committed to expand services through new base stations that expand possibilities for Internet access, transfer the balance between cell phones and extend the expiration date of cellular lines.

Indeed, if this promise is fulfilled, this would be good news for those of us who are addicted to information and communication. In any case, to justify the current service difficulties after one year of researching the project, and knowing the huge demand for cellular service among Cubans, despite its high cost, seems more than mere miscalculation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 April 2014

Magic Formula to Revive Socialism / Miriam Celaya

Raúl praying

Raúl praying

Will investors be able to save the conquests of the olive green caste by soaking their hard currency in the Castros’ holy water?

HAVANA, Cuba: In recent weeks, the new Investment law–the latest magic formula to overcome the endemic crisis of “the model”–has been preeminently occupying space in the official Cuban press.

Commentaries, interviews with officials and experts on the subject, and reviews that look at the advantages and benefits of assimilating foreign capital as the most expeditious way to finally give birth to the socialism that spent over 50 years in the gestation phase, emerge from the pages from government pamphlets and television news announcing that the good “new” capital is the philosopher’s stone for development. So let’s forget all the ideological catechism defended until now, because our rulers have discovered that soaking hard currencies in the Castros’ holy water will safeguard the “conquests” …of the olive green caste.

And it is precisely about the conquests of the elderly druids and their acolytes that the foreign investment law was born with congenital deformities that require deep reconstructive surgery if they really intend for it to work.

The most important flaw that is obvious from the outset is the legal aberration of expressly excluding the rights of Cubans on the island to participate as investors in their own country, an issue that is unparalleled in any civilized nation, and that alone disqualifies the best intentions beforehand. Another issue, no less twisted, is the exclusion of free contract (that is, allowing foreign investors to hire Cuban workers directly). Both elements are unsustainable since they are not justified or serve any function other than to maintain absolute control over the population to prevent the weakening of political power.

Dilma Ruseau and Raúl Castro inaugurate the Mega Port at Mariel

Dilma Ruseau and Raúl Castro inaugurate the Mega Port at Mariel

Therefore, the Castros’ hired applauders are saddled with the thankless task of challenging independent journalists’ criticism of the law, since new technologies allow other opinions to circumvent the official information blockade and reach the population. Fundamentalists will now take to the trenches to fight another battle against freedom of opinion.

So an obviously poorly trained journalist did take to the trenches when he approached the subject from an article in the Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspaper (“Good investments and ‘skeptical’ versions”, Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar, Sunday, April 20th, 2014, pg.3), which misses the mark from its own opening paragraph, when referring to the authors of the inquiring articles as “preachers of a policy aimed at promoting foreign interests over national affairs”. This cluelessness indicts the rookie’s inexperience, when he refers in such terms to the critics of a law that precisely favors “foreign interests” at the expense of the Cuban people.

Havana’s International Commerce Fair

Havana’s International Commerce Fair

Yoerky’s errors did not end here.  He obviously has access to the independent press but does not dare to reproduce the arguments of the criticisms of said law. It is untenable to be a representative of the people while advocating, at the same time, in favor of legislation that strips the people of their essential rights, contained in international pacts and declarations ofwhich Cuba is a signatory.

“One of the causes for the media’s ‘skepticism’ is related to the fact that the law prohibits foreign investors to directly contract with workers, a role that will be up to national employer organizations,” Yoerky indicates, and he explains to us that such a measure “protects our human resources, considered as the country’s most important asset.” Unfortunately, he forgot to explain how stripping Cuban workers of their capacity for free and individual contract constitutes “protection” for them and what “guaranties” this offers the investors.

“Who better than us to select employees, taking into account taxing requirements which will contribute to higher solvency and satisfaction to all parties…” wonders this Beefeater, immersed in a “collective us” that always emerges when the lords try to convince the herd about the need for sacrifice. Maybe he is ignoring that, when they sold us out as a “pseudo-republic,” foreign companies freely hired Cuban workers, who did not need a government agency to determine their suitability, their wage levels or the taxes they would pay to the State, so the current investment law implies a serious labor rights setback.

In short, far from being enlightening, the referenced writing stirs the murkiness of a law that holds more questions than answers. We continue to not know how the “investment portfolio” is defined, or what devices will manage it or prevent favoritism, influence peddling, corruption, patronage, and other ills.

There is no mechanism or information system that will allow Cubans–its supposed beneficiaries–to find out what items, who, and how to go about investing, much less verifying amounts, earnings, and how the wealth to be gained will be distributed. The “exceptional reasons of social interest or public utility” that will determine expropriations haven’t been clearly established either, and they will be left at the government’s discretion, while rampant widespread corruption–in spite of many battles and comptrollers–continues unabated and constitutes a threat to any investor in a country in which the actions of individuals are patterned for survival.

It takes a lot of magic to revive Cuban socialism

It takes a lot of magic to revive Cuban socialism

Yoerky does not say, perhaps because a servant is not able to understand it, that in the absence of civil liberties and democratic changes no palliative measure will be able to overcome the crisis. Undoubtedly, investors will always turn up who are ready for an adventure with the regime, and thousands of Cubans will probably flock to apply for jobs of “our own procurement” because nothing motivates a crowd as much as a poverty auction. Maybe by then this young man, an undertaking of the official media, will see this as another “victory of the Revolution.” I will not attempt to argue the point: I have spent 54 years attending them without any benefit whatsoever.

Translated by Norma Whiting
Cubanet, 22 April 2014 | Miriam Celaya

Driving in Reverse / Miriam Celaya

Image from the Internet

(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled ” Raul Castro Goes in Reverse”)

Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law “approved” by the usual parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the town on the topic of “Cuba”, for the Island’s official as well as for the independent and foreign press.

With the relaxation of the existing law–enacted in 1995–the new regulation is aiming to throw the ball to the opposite field: if Cuban residents of the US cannot invest in Cuba currently, it would no longer be because the regime bans it, but because of the shackles imposed by the embargo, a trick of the elderly olive green crocodile that continues with its wiles and snares despite the collapse of the system.

Amid the expectations of the government’s and of aspiring investors, there stretches a wide tuning fork of the ever-excluded: the common Cubans, or the “walking Cubans” as we say, whose opinions are not reflected in the media, magnifying their exclusion.

This time, however, the cancellation of the innate rights of Cubans is causing social unrest to multiply, in a scenario in which there are accelerated shortages in the commercial networks and persistent and increasing higher prices and a higher cost of living.

Rejection of the Investment Law

Shortages, as well as inflation, indexation and bans for certain items of the private trade, have caused many family businesses to close since January 2014 due to the uncertainty surrounding the heralded–and never properly explained–monetary unification.

In addition to the lack of positive expectations, these are the factors that thin out the social environment and lead to generally unfavorable reviews of the new law and its impact within Cuba.

An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the “approval” that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49 were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic about laws–in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various aspects of the law.

The main reasons for the people’s discontent are summarized in several main points: the new law excludes, arbitrarily and despotically, Cuban nationals, which implies that the lack of opportunities for the Island’s Cubans is being maintained.

Foreign investors will not only have great advantages and tax considerations which have never been granted to the self-employed, tariff concessions with respect to imports (which is just what traders in imported items asked for and was not granted); the State will remain the employer of those who will labor in foreign-funded enterprises, implying consequent hiring based on Party loyalty–be it real or fake, and taxed wages; widening social gaps between sectors with higher levels of access to consumption and the more disadvantaged sectors (the latter constantly growing).

At the same time, many Cubans question the vagaries of government policy which, without any embarrassment, favors the capital of the expats-–the former “siquitrillados*, the bourgeoisie, gypsies, worms, traitors, scum, etc.”–over those who stayed behind in Cuba.

The logical conclusion, even for those who stayed relatively associated with the revolutionary process, or at least those who have not openly opposed the regime, is that leaving the country would have been a more sensible and timely option to have any chance of investing in the current situation. There are those who perceive this law as the regime’s betrayal to the “loyalty” of those who chose to stay, usually Cubans of lesser means.

Another topic that challenges the already diminished credibility of the government is the very fact of appealing to foreign capital as the saving grace of the system, when, the process of nationalization of 1959, it was deemed as one of the “fairer measures” and of greater significance undertaken, to “place in the hands of the people” what the filthy bourgeois capital had swiped from them.

Cubans wonder what sense it made to expel foreign capital and 55 years later to plead for its return. It’s like going backwards, but over a more unstable and damaged road. Wouldn’t we have saved ourselves over a half a century of material shortages and spiritual deprivation if we had kept companies that were already established in our country? How many benefits did we give up since the State, that unproductive, inefficient and lousy administrator, appropriated them?

What revolution are you taking about?

At any rate, the majority has a clear conscience that the revolution and its displays of social justice and equality are behind us, in some corner of the twisted road. “Do you think this new law will save the revolution?”

I provocatively ask an old man who sells newspapers in my neighborhood. “Girl! Which revolution are you referring to, the one that made Batista flee or the one that is making all Cubans escape? The 1959 revolution was over the moment ’this one’ handed over the country to the Russians, now the only thing the brother wants is to give it back to the Americans and to keep himself a nice slice.”

I probably never before heard such an accurate synthesis of what the history of the Revolution means today to many a Cuban.

*Translator’s note: Those who lost investment and personal property when companies were nationalized in 1959 and early 1960’s. From one of Fidel’s speeches, “we broke their wish bone and we will continue to break their wish bone”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

11 April 2014

The Voices of Cubans? / Miriam Celaya

Arrogance is a personality trait impossible to hide for those who suffer from it. In fact, it becomes more obvious when an arrogant individual tries to cover his proverbial petulance under a cloak of feigned humility. The worst of such a subject, however, is his histrionic ability that allows him to deceive considerable groups of people, particularly those who desperately need someone to speak “for them” or those who, quite the opposite, enjoy the blessing of authority.

In the case of Cuba, where freedom of speech, of the press, of information and of association are among the major shortages of this society, it is not difficult that, from time to time, some savior may appear self-proclaiming to be “the spokesperson for Cubans” which–it’s obvious–betrays immeasurable insolence, not only because it lacks the allocation of powers, but because it previously assumes an often repeated lie that, for some chumps, has become the truth: Cubans have no voice. Allow me, Mr. Arrogant and his troupe, to correct your mistake: Cuba’s Cubans do have a voice, what they lack is the means to be heard, not to mention the great number of deaf people in the world.

But, of course, a shining hero will always appear–usually with credentials and even with a pedigree–who, from his infinite wisdom, will quickly delve into the deeper intricacies of the Cuban reality and will be the only one capable to interpret it objectively because he, balanced and fair, “is not at the end of the spectrum”. Interestingly, these specimens proliferate virulently among accredited foreign journalists on the Island.

Since I don’t wish to be absolute, I suppose that there are those who are humble and even respectful of Cubans and of our reality, only I have never had the privilege of meeting them. It may be my bad luck, but, that said, to practice journalism in Cuba armed with credentials of a major media outlet and with the relative safety that your work will be published and–very important–duly financially rewarded, seems to have a hallucinogenic effect on some of them.

Such is the case of quasi-Cubanologist Fernando Ravsberg, to whom I will refer as “R” as an abbreviation, a journalist recently fallen from grace with his (ex) employer, the BBC, who has written a plaintive post following his clash with the powerful medium and, oh, surprise! after many years of working as a correspondent in Cuba and having collected his earnings has found that “he does not share their editorial judgment” as stated in his personal blog, Cartas Desde Cuba. R, inexplicably, took longer to find out the editorial standards of the BBC than to get acquainted with the intimacies of such a controversial society as that of Cuba. Continue reading

The Beginning of the End / Miriam Celaya

Venezuela-queman-bandera-cubana

The note pinned to the Cuban flag being burned says “Out of Venezuela”

HAVANA, Cuba – The stunning images of the National Guard repressing marches in Venezuela reveal a stark contrast between the capability achieved by mankind to communicate globally at breakneck speed and the existence of apelike behavior: the authorities using their beasts against unprotected civilians.

Things are not going very well in a nation whose president, supposedly democratically elected at the polls to lead to a successful destination all its citizens and not just his followers, has adopted repression as a resource to establish “peace”, while he stokes the fires of hatred and polarization as a means to “solve” the crisis, behavior which evidences the failure of his political performance beyond the period of time he may yet stay in power.

The complexity of the situation in Venezuela is also reflected in that the protests being held steadily since February 12th are not initiated or led from the well-known opposition figures, but are mostly student and civic demonstrations against a government trying to establish itself as a dictatorship. The discontent has been growing from within society, not only because of the increasing shortages and the growing gaps and civil liberties violations, but also since President Nicolas Maduro’s Parliament sought and obtained full freedom to exercise despotism at will.

And, though control of the situation has slipped from Maduro’s fingers, (if he ever had any control), and though he is deserving of, but sadly destined to go down in the country’s history as the perfect scapegoat of the Castro-Chávez experiment that seems to be reaching its end, the truth is that the late Hugo Chávez would not have been able to sustain indefinitely the Bolivarian project either, in the presence of an economy that had begun its countdown at the time of his death, after 14 years of nonsensical policies. The outcome is only a matter of time.

The end of an alleged paradigm

It goes without saying that any leftist project inspired by a “Cuban Marx-Fidel-Martí” ideology — and for some years also “Chávez-Venezuelan” — which manages to achieve political power in Latin America, carries in itself all the essential elements that, though originally intended to perpetuate the new ruling class, leads instead to its failure: contempt for property, populism as a platform to support the political-ideological government programs, the destruction of the infrastructure and of the institutions inherited from earlier periods, the elimination or limitation (radical or gradual ) of civil liberties, the reformulation of the legal basis in favor of the interests of the new controlling power and the identification of an external enemy that hinders or prevents achieving government programs, among others.

This last element, which decades ago allowed F. Castro to polarize society from his power base by establishing a watershed between the government and its supporters (the worthy ones, the Patriots) and those in the opposition (the evil ones, the stateless), currently constitutes a political immaturity that is not delivering the dividends of previous decades, since the ever-villain U.S. government is not showing too much interest in taking part in Latin-American conflicts, an issue that weakens the regional nationalistic outbursts of a sub-continent with a historical past plagued by the interventions of its powerful northern neighbor.

And if that were not enough, the so-called “Bolivarian revolution” supports, in addition, an extra burden: while Castro’s revolution assumed, relatively successfully, a regional symbolic leadership managed to date – this must be acknowledged — with great skill by the Cuban leadership, Chávez’s revolution risked economic leadership by subsidizing the region’s leftist and other related projects, squandering generously Venezuela’s natural energy resources with the consequent deterioration of its very economy, ultimately leading to the current crisis. In short, just like Fidel Castro long ago depicted himself as an image of the Messiah, Hugo Chávez, in his time, ended up as the image of a patron saint, while the fickle masses will end up someday seeing Maduro as “the guy who ruined everything.”

As for the rest, and for the detriment of the radical leftists, Venezuelan oil is the lifeline of that pipe dream called ALBA, conceived as an economic locomotive of the “Latin American integration” which has allowed so much nationalist populism to be reborn in a region particularly addicted to sentimentality and caudillos. Little fortune could be predicted in an alliance whose central axis has its household upside down. Just in case, each fairly astute chieftain should be reviewing his accounts and stuffing his personal savings under the mattress. When XXI century socialism eventually stops developing in its Chávez cocoon, it will drag with it whatever parasites are feeding on Venezuela. It is possible that, at least in that nation, a very long sleep awaits the fundamentalist left.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 24 March 2014, Miriam Celaya

Putin Looks to Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Barco-MorroHAVANA, Cuba.-The crucial dispute in which the geopolitical, economic, and military interests of major world powers are played is the most relevant one in escalating individual conflicts that have been taking place in other regions–the Syrian and Venezuelan crises are two examples–perhaps of lesser effects globally, but where hegemonic interests also have some influence. Thus, in numerous media, alarms have gone off heralding the Cold War, an old ghost which many believed had been banished.

Review Notes

The term “Cold War ” was coined during the late 1940s to define tensions of multiple natures (economic, political and ideological, military, scientific, technological, etc.), that characterized the relations between the communist bloc, under the aegis of the dominant USSR, and the capitalist, led by the U.S., after the end of World War II.

The ongoing power struggle between the two axes to achieve global hegemony constituted a permanent threat to world stability and peace, branding many of the major events of the second half of the twentieth century up to the time of the elimination of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the disappearance of the Soviet Union (1991).

The US bloc and its allies had won the game; however, tensions between East and West have never really been overcome. Currently, competing interests go beyond the ideological aspect that defined that almost 50-year span, but the global threat of conflicts between the powers remains intact.

[WELCOME TO CUBA HONORED RUSSIAN PRESIDENT, VLADIMIR PUTIN] Havana street sign, 2000

[WELCOME TO CUBA HONORED RUSSIAN PRESIDENT, VLADIMIR PUTIN] Havana street sign, 2000

Meanwhile, those countries under the influence of the super powers continue as test sites in the show of force of world power centers, and also as blackmail scenarios of the worst of dangers, just as the 1962 Russian nuclear threat against the U.S. from the Cuban mainland. No wonder, then, that the mere mention of the Cold War can be a source of apprehension to many Cubans, especially now, when there are surges of the unmistakable signs of intentions of using our region, and in particular, our country, as platform for Russian imperialist expansion in this hemisphere, in full defiance of the U.S.

Good and Evil Empires?

At first glance, it might seem that the Russian intervention in the Crimea, the Russian arms sales to Venezuela, and the presence of a Russian spy ship in Havana, are unconnected events. However, declarations by the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, about their intentions to open military bases in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba (in the latter case these would “reopen”), information which was not published by the Cuban official media, show that Mr. Putin, seasoned in intrigue and sordid affairs since his days in the KGB, is ready to step up the tone, moving his historical adversary’s line of dispute in Latin America which, despite everything, remains an American sphere of influence.

Meanwhile, “leftist” governments in this region are sounding the alarm against “Yankee Imperialism”, but at the same time they meld alliances with the Russian Empire, whose importance might not be wise to underestimate, despite its post-Soviet era of decline, while others remain indifferent to these events.

Thus, Russia, with its culture and history completely unrelated to ours, and with a lack of traces in our national emotional memory, today has the enthusiastic connivance of the same old Cuban conspirators and their regional disciples, and the acquiescent silence of our Latin American brothers/step-brothers.

Obama and Putin, Mexico 2012

Obama and Putin, Mexico 2012

For Cubans, such a plot could not be taking place at a worse time, when the military power cast holds the monopoly of the economy, and the gerontocracy has been consolidating its international political legitimacy–though not its prestige–thanks to the collusion of governments that met in late January at that aberration called CELAC, and of other international organizations that decided to give the Havana regime a boost, thereby increasing the defenselessness of Cubans against the power’s game for political gains.

For now, some Russian entrepreneurs have begun to invest in sectors of economic interest on the Island, such as tourism, and reportedly also in the Special Development Zone in Mariel, indicating that Cuba remains a point of strategic interest for “the Northern Bear”, the only empire that, at a time when it was Cuba’s “ally”, at the goriest time of the Cold War, placed us in the epicenter of what had the potential to become a global conflagration which, in a matter of minutes, could have wiped us from the face of the earth.

It is terrifying to remember that there were Cubans back then, to whom the government denied the existence of those dangerous Russian artifacts on Cuban soil, who, immediately and massively, got up “in arms against the US imperialist threat”. Such a sad paradox, the enemy was, and continues to be, at home.

More than 50 years later, the scenario is different but some facts are repeated, creating–due to lack of information–the most diverse speculations. The same irresponsible government retakes up the affair with its former allies, perhaps with the collateral intention of indirectly pressuring for the repeal of the U.S. embargo, among other possible plans. Concerns abound, because, if the first part of that forced marriage was bad, we can bet that a second part could even be worse.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 12 March 2014, Miriam Celaya

More Chalas Than Carmelas / Miriam Celaya

conducta_02-500x400HAVANA, Cuba- I confess that I have some animosity against Cuban fiction film, so prone — with few exceptions — to clichés, stereotypes, overly cryptic messages, implied story morals, or what is perhaps worse, the search for easy and superficial acceptance through humor, catharsis or bad satire. I will not list examples, because there are too many, but anyone who has seen a vernacular film of the last 15 to 20 years knows exactly what I mean. Personally, I hate the delight in trying to provoke laughter at the expense of our own misfortunes, derived largely from the pernicious tendency to exploit mockery in order to avoid deep reflection and collective responsibility for the reality that chokes us.

Only a handful of movies from this period preserve dignity, and most of them do not properly fit the genre of fiction, they are documentaries, such as the masterful and unforgettable Suite Habana (2003), directed by Fernando Pérez, to quote a valid example.

That is why, since the beginning of this cinematic phenomenon called Conduct, with the fanatic public filling theaters and with the general approval of viewers and critics, I decided to go see it, only after a process of self-estrangement, and to not write about it as cinematographic product film — something the critics and a whole host of admiring amateurs have already done — but from the perception of the public’s reaction and what it means.

It is fair to recognize that, in the presence of this movie, it is impossible for a Cuban to put distance between the screen and his emotions. The imagery, the dialogue, the plot and sub-plots, the settings and the conflicts it exposes so crudely, are elements that combine to place before a viewer’s eyes the reality of the lives we share and which we hardly notice, immersed in the necessity of an existence full of shortages and unresolved problems.

The plot consists of a central drama, a child of an alcoholic and substance abusing mother. At the same time he pursues elementary school studies, the child also works tending fighting dogs and raising pigeons, which he sells in order to earn money, thus helping his mother. He simultaneously maintains a close bond with his teacher, an experienced educator and very dedicated to her profession, her main reason for living. The child (Chala) and his teacher (Carmela) are characters of great strength and intensity, perfectly articulated and credible. Continue reading

Jurassic Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Mass demonstrations in Venezuela. Image taken from Internet

The news agencies don’t have a moment’s rest these days: a satrap in Ukraine has been overthrown through demonstrations and street protests amid the harsh winter, people stand on long lines to see with their own eyes the pomp and pageantry in which the ex-ruler, an ally of Russia, lived.

In Venezuela, student demonstrations continue, supported by opposition leaders finally came together to confront the Maduro government. In Ecuador, the opposition has just delivered a commendable blow to the government authorities by winning an unquestionable majority vote during local elections this Sunday February 23rd in important places like Quito and Guayaquil, putting the brakes on the rampant President of the “citizens’ revolution.”

The world is moving at breakneck speed, changing scenarios and uncovering new players, while we in Cuba remain in the political Jurassic era, with a government of dinosaurs perpetuated in power. Continue reading

Tax Culture in Totalitarianism / Miriam Celaya

Estado-ladrón-MiriamApproximately four years into the process of the reinstatement of private labor in Cuba, official data acknowledges the existence of over 400,000 “self-employed” throughout the country, representing a percentage of workers that pay taxes to the State, a force to be reckoned with, given their great tax contribution to the State and the jobs they generate, that is, close to half a million individuals producing foods and services, offering income to others, and contributing to the country’s economy, supporting at the same time the State and its many institutions which are just as parasitic.

The authorities, through their media, have been insisting on how important it is for Cubans to gain experience and awareness regarding the “tributary culture” (paying taxes), since the era of “state paternalism” ended, along with its policies of subsidy; everyone should strive to earn a living based on their own capacity and resources to safeguard the revolution’s social benefits, namely the supposedly extraordinary standards of health and education that we enjoy on the Island.

Cynicism aside, the logic of the need for a tax culture is undeniable in any moderately functional society. But in the case of Cuba – are we ever going to stop being a “case”? — It appears that the tax culture that we now aspire to, which was destroyed by the government with the Revolutionary Offensive, is destined to flow in only one direction: from those who provide the tax to the tax institutions, but never the other way around.

Thus, a particular economic variant comes into play in virtue of which the producers must assume the burden of a heavy tax to the State, but the State is not required to report the amounts collected or the fate of the funds collected.

Silent tGaceta-oficialaxes

But there are longer standing taxes whose fate is also unknown. For decades, Cubans have contributed taxes to the Sate-party-government through a system of evaluations from multiple quasi-State organizations that it created.

For example, if we use the official statistics, which indicate there are about 3 million State employees whose average salary is 400 pesos, and if we consider that they are affiliated with the Workers Center of Cuba and, as such, they donate one work day each year destined for a non-existent territorial militia, their contribution in this context would be about $50 million annually — about 16.66 pesos per capita — not counting what they pay in dues to their unions, which, paradoxically, represent the interests of employers, who benefit both from what the employees produce as well as what they pay into the unions.

Recently a friend and colleague speculated about the contributions of the 800,000 members of the ruling and only party. Using an extremely conservative estimate, my friend found an estimated 50 pesos per year per militant, which produced $40 million annually in contributions to the State.

In addition to these estimates, there are taxes collected from mass organizations, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women, a minimal amount, but significant because of large number of their affiliates, or the Young Communists Union, “the revolution’s youth vanguard”, in which both students and workers are active.

National Tax Administration Office

National Tax Administration Office

All these organizations, in turn, are supported by a monstrous (and expensive) infrastructure ranging from office buildings, furniture, fleets of vehicles, employees, materials and resources, even wages, fuel costs and electricity, etc., producing absolutely nothing.

As for the huge bureaucratic apparatus of government and its repressive forces, it is impossible to calculate their living costs. In this sense, many Cubans, especially the so-called “self-employed”, have begun to do their accounts and they wonder if it is not too much of a contradiction to help support the same system that plunders and represses and that, in addition, continues treating them like lepers.

Because, at the end of the day, the tax culture is not — as the government pretends — the imposition of a consciousness of servitude to the Master State in order to keep supposed supreme ideals that, so far, only benefit the State. The tax culture is born and consolidated from the self-awareness that individuals acquire when they reach economic independence, a road that sooner, rather than later, will have to start to flow in both directions.

Cubanet, 20 February 2014, Miriam Celaya

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

My Friend, La Peregrina / Miriam Celaya

Tula

The recent declaration of the birthplace of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camaguey, 1814-1873) as a National Monument on the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding, originally named Villa de Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe, (today, Camagüey) awakens in me the evocation of a special woman who has always resonated in my spirit.

Tula is that great poet who once chose the pseudonym La Peregrina to publish her poems, never imagining that over 150 years later, this obscure writer would borrow her familiar name to use as the distinctive signature of my own work. Because Tula Avellaneda was my first pseudonym as citizen journalist, a personal way to hide my identity behind the name of a Cuban for whom I have great affection, admiration and respect, as if she were a close friend. The strength of her dynamism was a kind of symbolic shield in the process of exorcism against the demons of fear. Tula is, in short, the only woman for whom I secretly keep a friendly complicity not devoid of a trace of envy.

Because, you know what? I’ve always preferred the Tulas over the Marianas. The nineteenth century was rich in extraordinary Cuban women. Most of them, however, went down in history for their relationship with the wars of independence, and in particular for their link — either maternal or marital- – to men who were the protagonists of these military contests. A few were warriors themselves, so they transcended as patriots for a nation that, unfortunately, has always rendered greater worship to violence than to poetry, love, and literature. Continue reading

Slaves in White Coats / Miriam Celaya

Cuban doctors arriving in Brazil. The joy of the escape.

Cuban doctors arriving in Brazil. The joy of the escape.

In the nineteenth century, slave crews were rented out after the harvest to other landlords, providing the slaves a few trifles. 

HAVANA, Cuba, Feb 12 — The recent “defection” of Cuban doctor Ramona Matos Rodríguez, who provided services in Brazil under an agreement signed between that country and Cuba, part of the program “More Doctors for Brazil” once again brings to the forefront the controversial topic of the exploitation of health professionals by the Cuban regime in its desperate race to obtain hard currency.

Matos’s claims are based on the deception which she stated she was victim of, since she was not aware of the two countries’ agreement providing for a monthly royalty payment equivalent to about $4000 per physician, of which Cuban doctors would only be paid $1000 each month, that is, approximately 25% of the total of the original contract.

Medical Sciences graduates. Professionals to export

Medical Sciences graduates. Professionals to export

In addition, the Cuban government would have violated the contract signed by doctors in Cuba prior to their departure to Brazil, since, in practice, they get just over $300 per month, while the Cuban bank holds back $600 to be accessed by the doctors with the use of a debit card on their return to Cuba three years after completing their “mission”.

A Longstanding Trick

The subcontracting system of Cuban doctors to other countries has become one of the most important sources of hard foreign currency for the Cuban government, plus an instrument of political manipulation for electoral purposes by some populist governments. In this sense, the olive-green caste behaves like the old slave-holding landowners in the nineteenth century Cuban sugar industry aristocracy, whose crews were rented out after the harvest to other landlords for dissimilar tasks, providing the slaves with a few coins of some other trifles. Continue reading