Vulgarity: The Revolution’s Bastard Child / Miriam Celaya

Acto-de-repudio-1“Reagan wears a skirt, we wear pants, we have a commandant whose balls roar! (revolutionary slogan made famous by Felipe Pérez Roque)

Sunday, January 19, 2014 | Miriam Celaya

Havana wakes up early, and before 8:00 am and there is a swarm of voices and movement. Old cars and buses rattle around the city, people crowd at bus stops and at the curb, the new day of survival sizzles. Just one block from Carlos III, a main avenue, dozens of teenagers huddle around the “Protest of Baraguá” middle school staving off morning classes as much as possible. Regardless of gender, lively, haughty, irreverent, almost all speak loudly, gesticulating and shouting from one group to another, from one sidewalk to another.

A neatly dressed and beautifully groomed student stands on her toes while she places her hands on either side of her mouth, like a megaphone:

“Dayáááán … Dayáááán ! Hey, you, don’t pretend you can’t hear me…I’m talking to you, what the f… is it with you?!”

The kid in question, half a block away, turns to the girl and laughs:

“Hey, Carla, what’s the problem? Did you catch the hash? Now you can’t stop itching and I gotta go and “scratch” it?”

“Oh, honey, you wish! You aren’t man enough for that!”

The brief dialogue is accompanied by exaggerated, lewd gestures.

Dayán approaches and they greet each other with a friendly kiss and much fondling. They join an adjacent group of classmates chattering among themselves. Every once in a while, strong words fly, like the morning sparrows in nearby trees. I look carefully at the big picture. Greetings among these young people can be a spank on the bottom, a kiss, or an expletive straight from a tavern of pirates, with an ease borne of habit. Continue reading

Happy 2014. And Sin EVAsion Turns Six / Miriam Celaya

Although several days late, I take advantage of a brief opportunity to connect to wish all readers a happy New Year and to wish them every success in 2014. As a special note, this blog is turning six years old around these days, so I intend to renew it in the coming weeks. I have been a bit away from this website due to other work commitments.

I was very busy during 2013 but greatly satisfied, including seeing the book Cuba in Focus published, which was co-edited by my colleagues Ted Henken and Dimas Castellanos and has come out in its English version. We aim to have it published also in Spanish, for better circulation in Cuba.

At any rate, we will continue move forward with our work, hopes and optimism.  I wouldn’t know how to face life in any other way. I will return soon, eager with new passing pursuits. Thanks and a big hug.

Translated by Norma Whiting

3 January 2014

The Continuity of Raul Castro / Miriam Celaya

fidel_raul_castro_JUNTOS-300x195HAVANA, Cuba , December, – After more than seven years since Castro I’s famous “Proclamation”, which marked his departure from the management of the government, Castro II’s performance has failed to find a path capable of leading to a happy port to end the cruise of a shipwrecked revolution.

A look at the socio-economic and political Cuban landscape lets us discern a confusing scenario in which no significant economic progress is taking place that allows for overcoming the permanent crisis, while the social sphere continues its decline, reducing the performance and quality of services, particularly in the areas of health and education, while, politically, the totalitarianism of the military elite continues. New regulations are being established that will attempt a “more flexible” system in order to wash the regime’s face and offer a gentler image outward, at the same time as repressive methods are increasing and extending inward, against dissident sectors and the general population.

The failure of the system has been sufficiently demonstrated after 55 years of dictatorship. However, the situation does not seem to point to its finale — in the face of the erratic government policies, the absence of independent institutions capable of influencing the most relevant changes and the lack of freedom of the press and information, among other factors — the reality provides an inaccurate picture in which the urgent need for radical change and the uncertainty about the future coexist simultaneously.

generales-1It is known that social transformations take place independent of the will of governments. However, these can slow or accelerate said processes. In Cuba, the tower of power has convincingly demonstrated its willingness to defer, as much as possible, a transition that would end up snatching its political power, so it is betting on a different type of strategy that will allow for its continuity beyond the changes that the system may undergo. A difficult challenge, but perhaps not so unlikely if -given the weakness of domestic civil society to prevent it- the international scenario feels complacent towards the regime or deems it propitious.

Post Totalitarianism

Many analysts agree in pointing out the unequivocal symptoms of the breakdown of the Cuban socioeconomic system as it existed under Fidelismo. Others, more optimistic, even claim that we are in a stage of post-totalitarianism. Right or not, the fact is that the Cuban reality is not the same as it was five years ago, and there is the impression that we are witnessing the end of a long period that will give way to a new era. For better or worse, Cuba is changing, but the relationship between the regime and society remain despotic and power at the top remains intact. What’s more, the historical gerontocracy seems to have found a way to perpetuate itself as a class by having mutated on itself, while avoiding a social mutation. Thus, two simultaneous and parallel systems are currently presiding in Cuba, wherein the rules of market economies, which benefits only the elite, coexists with a “socialist” distribution, which endangers the rest of Cubans. Such is the “transition” conceived by the government.

generales-2-300x237Now then, in its linguistic meaning, transition is the change from one mode or state to another one which is qualitatively different. In politics, it is the equivalent to the process of transformation from one system into another, and it has been widely used in the definition of a transition towards democracy after dictatorial governments or systems, independent of its duration and its varying repressive signs. Therefore, in the case of Cuba, it would mean a transition towards democracy, whose fruit would be the rule of law, with an inclusive constitution, not governed by political parties of ideologies of any kind, with separate powers and respect for social and individual rights, inasmuch as public power would be subordinate to a set of laws.

Autocracy in Perpetuity

Assuming this definition, it is obvious that the changes implemented based on the roadmap (“The Guidelines) born of the VI Congress of the PCC, don’t point towards a transition, but seek to legitimize the perpetuity of the autocracy. This is really an official strategy for sui generis continuity, where changes regulated by the government do not seek to preserve the system (so-called “socialist”) itself, but the political power and privileges of an elite class.

The success of this strategy would depend on the behavior of several factors, among which stand out, on the one hand, the growth and strengthening of the opposition and of independent civil society groups to the point of representing an alternative to power, and, on the other hand, the policies of democratic nations in their relation with the dictatorship or with the opposition. At present, the wear and tear of the regime and its lack of credibility are undermining its profile, both inside and outside Cuba, while the slow consolidation of the opposition and its related sectors does not indicate that foreign or domestic support will become more effective. This is equivalent to a relative stagnation in the overall situation, reflecting a precarious internal balance consisting in increases in social discontent, the growth of the opposition and its activities, and an increase of repression in varying degrees, from coercion to beatings, arrests and imprisonments.

In a general sense, and with Raul-style power nearing the end of its fifth year, the advances promised by the government have not taken place. Instead, Cubans feel that the grip of the general crisis of the system has worsened, while the government continues to score new failures in its main objectives: stopping and eradicating corruption, creating a strong inflow of hard currency and pushing forward the domestic economy, which not only makes an negotiated transition impossible to attain, but it also seriously undermines the aspirations for the continuity of the dictatorship.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Cubanet, 17 December 2013

North Americans Eye Opener in Havana / Miriam Celaya

norteamericanos-dusfrutan-bandera-cubana-al-fondoHAVANA, Cuba, December, – During the days when the cruise ship Semester at Sea was anchored on Cuban territory, over 600 visitors, including students and teachers -mostly Americans– carried out a tight schedule of “meetings” with Cuban university students and toured “sites of historical and cultural interest”.

The December 11th edition of Granma published some of the opinions of the young northerners during “a brief meeting with reporters”: “I had never been so well received by the population as we were here,” commented a student from the University of Nebraska, while another one from the University of Virginia said that “Cubans are very welcoming”.
CUBA- UNIVERSITARIOS NORTEAMERICANOS DEL CRUCERO  SEMESTRE AT SEA VISITAN LA UNIVERSIDAD DE LA HABANABut according to some in Havana who tried to contact the visitors, there was a strong undercover operation, with agents dressed as fruit vendors, pedicab drivers and even “pompously attired mulatto women” -those who dress in costumes around Old Havana to entertain tourists- monitored the area the whole time the cruise ship was anchored at port.

Other undercover individuals were posing simply as regular Cubans. However, Cubans’ sense of smell was not fooled when it came to identifying members of the pack of hounds.

Cubans who were interviewed by the visitors in each of the official program activities were selected among the most loyal communist militants, while Castro journalists covered the visit with their usual triumphalism, as if this were about another one of Castro’s achievement.
Norteamericanos-escalerilla-cruceroBut despite the careful planning of the visit’s programming by the Cuban authorities in the interests of the government’s political promotional agenda, and despite the students’ lack of contact with the population or with the diverse independent civil society, a group of them, despite controls of the political police, attended songwriter Boris Larramendi’s concert offered at the home of Antonio Rodiles (Estado de Sats), where they held a live dialogue with those in attendance, according to testimony of blogger Walfrido López, who was later detained at a police station after being violently arrested along with Rodiles and other activists and dissidents.

These students heard first-hand testimonials from those who are vying for a new Cuba, and they learned of repression and terror. They were also witnesses of the repudiation rally organized outside the home of Rodiles, in which the authorities had no qualms about using elementary school children, high school teens, and musicians who are eager to keep their perks and travel privileges, as in the case of Arnaldo y su Talisman. Arnaldo may need a huge talisman someday to explain his criminal complicity with those who repress other Cubans.
norteamericanos-morro-al-fondoThere may probably be other trips and exchanges with these and other American students. Many of them reported the lack of information they have about the Cuban reality and about the true nature of the dictatorship. Hopefully these visits, laden with messages to the free world will recur. Totalitarian regimes don’t have antidotes against openness, and the satrapy will definitely not be able to keep hidden any longer the slavery and repression it has imposed upon Cubans for 55 years.

Miriam Celaya.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Cubanet, 15 December 2013

Mandela: My Belated Personal Tribute / Miriam Celaya

Photograph from the Internet: No Comment.

Time goes on and the funeral of the famous first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, still occupies the pages of the press. Almost everyone feels indebted to praise the infinitely glorious Madiba, re-editing, in countless paragraphs, the deceased leader’s life and seeking to enhance his virtues persistently, to the point that we no longer know for sure if Mandela was a human being or a saint on earth. It is praiseworthy to remember with admiration and respect people who have realized valuable deeds, but I don’t personally react well to icons, paradigms or however they are defined.

Well, then, for all good things Mandela did for his people, for his example of relinquishing power when he could have retained it, due to his charm and charisma, his ability to forgive, so necessary and lacking among us, and all the good things he did throughout his long life, but I prefer to remember him as the man he was, an imperfect individual, as all of us human beings are, which puts him in a closer and more credible position in my eyes.

So, in the presence of so many stereotyped speeches and so much politicking brouhaha deployed at the funeral of a deceased who may have wished less fanfare, I decided to honor him in my own way: celebrating his existence because he lived to fulfill such lofty mission as freedom and justice for his people, during the pursuit of which he suffered repression and imprisonment, just as Cubans aspiring to the same ideals for their people are still suffering, as those who have lived in the confinement and injustices of a dictatorship not just for 27 years, but for over half a century.

But I will allow myself a special tribute to Madiba by modestly imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation: I forgive you, Nelson Mandela, for the friendship with which you paid tribute to the vilest dictator my people has ever had, and for the many instances on which you exalted him and gave him your support. I forgive you for having been wrong in granting privilege to the oppressor instead of the oppressed, for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine. I forgive your accolade to the myth that was built on violence, although you were a symbol of peace for humanity. I forgive you for having condemned us though you hardly knew us, forgetting the tribute in blood that my people made in Africa for which you, like a fickle mistress, thanked the satrap, who has never had the dignity to sacrifice himself for us, for you, or for your kind.

I forgive you, then, and I am reconciled with your memory to keep remembering and respecting the best in you. I know many, with vulgar hypocrisy, will demonize me for questioning you, but they won’t hurt me, because my soul is hardened by virtue of having been attacked and criticized before. It is my hope that this time my detractors will be so consistent with your preaching of kindness they seem to admire so much that they will eventually forgive me. May you also forgive this Cuban’s audacity and irreverence, who believes in the virtue of the good works of men, because she has no gods, but I was not able to resist the temptation to also utter what’s mine in the hour of your death.

And if either you or the mourners of the day won’t forgive me, I don’t care. At any rate, it will be further proof that, deep down, you’re not perfect; at least we’ll have that in common. Don’t take offense, in either case, you were a great person, and I will never match any of your many merits. Rest in peace, sincerely.

13 December 2013

Warning to Investors (2) / Miriam Celaya

Foreign Investment

Foreign Investment

HAVANA, Cuba, November, 2013, The present and the immediate future does not look very encouraging for the Cuban government. The socio-political and economic instability in Venezuela after 14 years of populism, the death of the partner leader and the arrival to power in that country of a president of proven ineptitude, signal a dramatic conclusion to the romance between Caracas and Havana. In fact, oil subsidies have declined because of the economic crisis in the South American nation, and collaborative programs with Cuba have also suffered significant cuts.

Castro II has failed at his attempt to implement economic reforms without the slightest change in the political system and without surrendering one iota of power and control. In fact, he has strengthened the ruling military class by granting it extraordinary economic powers, and by placing his most senior, loyally proven members on the forefront of all strategic development sectors.

The regime’s great deficiency, however, is the capital to finance a sustainable dictatorship, so that the ace up the sleeve of the General-President is to once more attract foreign investments. Hence the ZEDM and new legislation to “legalize” the satchels of capitalism in a system that declares itself as Marxist, to have unsuspecting investors feel a mirage of legal safety.

Legality and transparency

But, what kinds of guarantees could investments hold in a country that not only has repeatedly seized property and finances, but whose government also dictates and repeals laws and is, at the same time, partner in the investment, judge, and a piece of the business? Thus, what today is allowed could be eliminated whenever the government decides, according to its own interests and in the interest of international situations, whether or not they are favorable to the regime.

And when it comes to legality and transparency, potential investors should consider that conducting business in Cuba today also implies the violation of relevant international laws that condemn the working conditions of Cuban workers in those companies.

On the other hand, in an authoritarian system, and in the absence of rights for Cubans, investments are not only an important financial risk and a moral commitment to a military dictatorship, but reflect deep contempt toward Cubans and the genuine hope for change of large sectors of Cubans of all shores, who remain excluded from both, participation and the economic benefits of such investments, even though the émigrés capital supports Cuban families and yields permanent revenue to the government’s coffers, a factor that should be considered by foreign entrepreneurs seeking a long and prosperous stay on the Island.

Translated by Norma Whiting
Cubanet, 25 November 2013

The “Forbidden” and the “Mandatory” / Miriam Celaya

Rafters - Picture from the Internet

Rafters – Picture from the Internet

In numerous conversations with Cubans, émigrés as well as those “on the inside” (I share the experience of living every day under this Island’s sui generis [unique] conditions with the latter) surfaces a phrase, coined through several decades, whose credibility rests more on repetition by its own use and abuse in popular speech than on reality itself. “In Cuba, whatever is not forbidden is mandatory”.

I must admit that the former is true enough. If anything abounds in Cuba it’s prohibitions in all its forms: those that truly are contained in laws, decrees, regulations and other provisions of different levels, all aimed at inhibiting individuals and controlling every social or personal activity, what the coercive nature of the system imposes on us, even if not legally sanctioned, (for example, male students can not wear long hair, music of any kind may not be broadcast through radio or TV, people may not gather in certain places, etc.) and those we invent, that is, the self-imposed prohibitions of people who since birth have been subjected to fear, indoctrination, permanent surveillance and to the questionable morality of everyday survival that forces one to live thanks to the illegalities, that is, violating injunctions established by the government beyond common sense. It is natural that transgressions abound most wherever greater number of taboos exist.

Now, the “mandatory” is another matter. It is rather about a total legend that, be it through ignorance or for another number of reasons (irrational at that) it’s a legend that serves many Cubans to unconsciously justify their behavior and to embed themselves in the civic mess that is choking us. The list of “obligations” would be endless, but some of the handiest can be summarized as follows: belonging to organizations that are pure pipe dream, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, Territorial Militia Troops, Cuban Workers Central, Pioneers Organization, High School Student Federation, University Student Federation, etc., all of them with payment of dues and attending different rituals according to the agendas, also supposedly of a “mandatory” nature.

But many Cubans seem to consider it mandatory to vote for the Delegate, attend meetings and accountability meetings, to shout slogans, sing the National Anthem, salute the flag, honor the martyrs of the revolutionary calendar, to sign political commitments, other documents and a very long list.

Actually, there is the assumption that failure to comply with these “obligations” would result in some reprisals, such as the loss of one’s job, our children not being accepted in some study centers, not being eligible for certain child-care or semi-boarding services for children of working mothers, etc.. However, many of us have found from experience that none of the above mentioned is in truth mandatory, but it constitutes the general answer to the fundamental prohibition that weighs over this nation: it is forbidden to be free.

Oh, Cubans! If ever the courage that drives so many to brave the dangers of the sea in an almost suicidal escape, to create a new life away from here, to survive in such precarious conditions inside, and to succeed against all obstacles outside of Cuba, could be turned into overcoming the fear of the regime, how different everything would be! If so much energy could be directed towards changing our own reality, we would make the world of prohibitions disappear in no time, that world that has kept us in chains for half a century, and we would stop feeling compelled to be slaves forever.  It is not mandatory, but it is also not prohibited.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 November 2013

Cuba in the HRC: Punishment and Penance for Democracy / Miriam Celeya

UN Human Rights Council

The recent election that resulted in Cuba joining the membership of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for a period of three years has aroused contradictory positions in various opinion sectors, both within and outside the Island. No wonder, since it means the recognition of a totalitarian government that has curtailed all individual and collective freedoms for Cubans for decades, and even today continues to deny rights as essential as those of association, freedom of press, speech and information, just to mention some of the most hard to conceal.

Some optimists, with exaggerated candor, consider that the presence of representatives of the Cuban government – not “of Cuba” — in the HRC could be positive as leverage over the government, since the authorities would be subject to greater scrutiny from the organization, and to fulfill the obligations characteristic of democratic systems, which would lead to an eventual easing or transformation of the human rights situation in Cuba.

Pragmatists, however, are of the opinion that, up to now, belonging to international organizations and commissions that, at least de jure, and with varying degrees of success in advocating the defense of economic, political and social progress for Humanity, has not been an important or sufficient element to promote democratic change in Cuba.

In fact, as the official press release boasts, “Cuba was a founding member of the Council, where it remained until 2012, (…), so we are returning to the forum after a year as a State observer” (Granma, November 13th, 2013, p. 5) without an incidence of any sensible improvement on human rights in Cuba. Additionally, the Cuban government has received recognition in such sensitive areas as health, education and nutrition on more than one occasion, despite the deterioration suffered by the first two items and the chronic failure of the third. Many Cubans interpret so much recognition as a mockery of the plight in which they live and as an affront to decades of resistance, sacrifices and efforts by the essentially peaceful internal dissent.

Of course, the official press is ecstatic. A Granma editorial (Wednesday November 13th, 2013, front page) proclaims Cuba’s election to the HRC as an “earned right” and “a resounding recognition of the work undertaken by our country in this matter”. And, so there be no doubt that the government will persist in applying human rights their own way, using the same excuses as always, that edition’s page 5 editorial reprinted a statement by Anayansi Rodriguez, the regime’s ambassador to the Geneva-based international organizations.

She said that this “is a victory of the Cuban peoples that have learned how to withstand more than five decades the U.S. embargo”, and later warned that “there are no unique democratic systems. Each nation has the right to determine, in a sovereign way, what is the most convenient system for its full realization of human rights”, an ambiguous phrase that Cubans know how to clearly interpret as “the Castrocracy will continue using access to international agencies as another resource to legitimize the oldest dictatorship that the civilized world knows and adulates”.

This is nothing new under the sun, which sometimes seems to show more spots than light, as demonstrated by other obscure members also elected to the HRC on this occasion: Russia, China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, Namibia and Mexico, countries in which, independent of nuances and gradations, violation of human rights is part of everyday reality.

Obviously, for the United Nations and its various forums, the precarious global balance requires certain concessions, even those that hurt democratic values. Thus, for better or for worse, the Cuban dictatorship will have another three years grace to try to destroy this international organization.

It is known that, beyond Cuba’s negligible human or financial support to the UN, the primary mission of Castro diplomacy is to jeopardize the functioning of all the forums created for the promotion of democracy, to thin out discussions, to distort agendas, to create antagonism, to polarize the minds and to make use of the venues as platforms to attack the governments of free nations, particularly the US, though that country – of its own choosing — does not belong to the HRC.

The democracy dreams of Cubans, orphans of rights, will gain little or nothing with this pat on the backs of the Castros. The consolation prize (for chumps) is that they will not win over the HRC or democratic countries with such dubious membership either. To some extent, except for the gaps, we will both suffer punishment and penance.

Translated by Norma Whiting

15 November 2013

Díaz-Canel: Imaginary Dialogue and State Cynicism / Miriam Celaya

palospHAVANA, Cuba, November 2013, – It is known that cynicism is one of the handiest tools for dictatorial regimes, where democracy and demagoguery become synonymous terms to legitimize the interests of the authorities. It is a policy that could well be defined as “State cynicism”. While this aberration tends to increase towards the final stages of the system in question, in truth it becomes progressively ineffective when it appeals excessively to the feelings and emotions of the masses, even when it is evident that that leaders have lost the popular support.

The deep dichotomy between the official doctrine, the intentions of the ruling class, the social environs, the lack of rights and the alienation of ordinary people regarding politics emphasize the absurd, as evidenced by the words of Miguel Díaz-Canel, First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers, during his recent visit to the province of Las Tunas on Friday November 1st, where he met with members of the Associación Hermanos Saiz, university students and media workers.

An article published in the libel Granma (“Diaz-Canel Appeals for Promoting Dialogue,” Saturday November 2nd, 2013, front page), sketches Castro’s emissary in his visit to the province as something that led to “deep reflection as to how much can and should be done even in the whole country, in order to defend the true Cuban culture, confront social indiscipline, alien to the values of the Revolution, and productively address the best experiences…”

Diaz-Canel urged his audience to work together to “end the banality, vulgarity and indecency present in certain items as the expression of the pseudo-culture that the enemy is looking to impose through their programs of political and ideological subversion against Cuba”.

The government’s favorite ventriloquist did not offer any examples in this regard, but they can be inferred: There is concern and fear on the part of the upper echelons of power about new cultural trends being manifested in Cuba, especially in the capital, such as recent and spontaneous Halloween celebrations with costumes and candy, and the proliferation of 3-D movies and videogame screenings, which have spread among private businesses, escaping government censorship controls. Up until their recent direct ban and shutdowns, they were among the most accepted recreational options by Cubans.

The government, creator of vulgar repudiation rallies and the most indecent slogans, is repulsed by any influence of U.S. origin that filters through to Cubans, including holiday celebrations, which are difficult to avoid, given the steadily increasing number of Cubans living in that country with family ties in Cuba, as well as the taste of these peoples for that nation’s cultural goods, such as music, TV shows, movies, etc.

Since society’s growing discontent is known, in the presence of the permanent general crisis and the government’s inability to deliver solutions, Díaz-Canel seems to have been commissioned by the conclave of olive-green caste of elders to provide an image of democracy, strength and control. To that end, “he called on to generate an ongoing dialogue that will generate proposals” (a redundancy of Granma’s writer) and — something worthy of occupying the place of honor among the phrases generated by State cynicism — he urged to further tap “the broad potential of social networks and new technology to bring the Cuban reality to the world from all social and productive sectors”. All this was stated in one of the most backward provinces, and with the least connectivity, in a country already sharply disconnected from the world.

On the other hand, in Cuba, where there are only two completely unrelated parallel monologues – that of the elitist in power and the other one of the millions of dispossessed Cubans — dialogue has always been notably absent in the relations among both extremes, and recent events around countermeasures applied to the emerging private sector indicate that there is no real intention of dialogue by the authorities, not even with those sectors making financial contributions to the State.

In the midst of the transition to state capitalism XXI century style – a true sign of Raulism — official discourse distorts the image of the real Cuba. The un-government and the un-governed continue marching in opposite directions: the one, to the absolute monopoly of all the wealth and power; the other, to the greatest poverty and hopelessness with fewer rights. What about the “dialogue”? Just another euphemism in a channel of control that only works in one direction… forever downward.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 12 November 2013

Deserters and Granting of “Pardons” / Miriam Celaya

A friend of mine, whom I will refer to as “Greta”, is a doctor and holds a responsible position at a clinic in an “upscale” neighborhood in Havana. Although not well versed in political issues and ideologies in general, or in Marxism in particular, for many years she accepted membership in the PCC [Cuban Communist Party] because being a member facilitated access to certain benefits, such as getting her daughter into a child care facility quicker, a semi-boarding school for her older child, and a little faster advancement in her career, beyond what would be expected of her average talents.

Greta is not, therefore, a communist revolutionary or even a system sympathizer, nor is she of the opposition, but an opportunist, sheltered into the regular rhythm of a system that does not bother you much as long as you pretend obedience and follow the guidelines.

Or at least that’s the way it was until very recently, when a “professional division” of the municipal CCP went to a meeting of militants at her clinic and expressly gave the directive for an ideological mission: because of the increasing attrition of doctors and other health professionals from the so-called internationalist missions abroad, all members of the “party nucleus” of the clinic were required to visit relatives of the deserters to inform them that such defectors should not consider themselves final émigrés, but that they had a period of two years to evaluate their return to Cuba to continue to quietly practice their profession and to enjoy “all rights”, just like the rest of Cubans on the Island. (Yikes!)

Greta dropped her nail file (she uses the nucleus meetings to update her manicure or to check her cell phone). She could not believe her ears. Now, in addition to her daily walks visiting patients, their families and doctors’ offices, responsibilities of her job, which she carries out well, she would have the additional duties of visiting the “deserters” homes because the political authorities generously “pardoned” them. She, who had managed to not participate in repudiation rallies or in sanctioning meetings, would have to “get at the conscience” of the relatives of the doctors and technicians who have left so they would, in turn, convince them of the possibilities of “returning to the motherland”.

Barely a week before, Greta had made her regular visit to the parents of a good friend, a doctor like her, one of those “deserters” who resides in the US as of a year ago and works as an ambulance paramedic. She picked up a few pictures that he had sent and had some delicious coffee sent by the ex-traitor to his parents. Her friend, or anyone who she knows of, would never dream of coming back to reclaim rights in Cuba… not even those who stopped practicing their profession and now work in other jobs in the health care field.

The militants looked at each other, perplexed. Just a few months ago, the clinic’s management had called a morning meeting to condemn the betrayal of a new defector (another one) who had betrayed his people and the revolution and didn’t even deserve a drink of water… What was this crusade now, pardoning those who had never asked to be pardoned and who, it is clear, would never make use of it? It was the height of absurdity.

And that’s the point where Greta’s tolerance collapsed. She rose from her chair and snapped at the “cadre of leaders” that that was their job to do, and not that of the doctors at the clinic. That’s why they had been assigned a salary, an air-conditioned office and a car with a tank full of gas, while she and the rest of the staff of doctors had to wear out their shoes walking the streets in the heat of the sun to accomplish their jobs. That said, Greta picked up her purse from her seat and left the meeting, leaving behind a stunned silence, followed by a murmur of approval, and barely five minutes after that, the meeting came to an end.

Greta is now waiting for the next meeting, at which they will certainly take away her party card and a great burden off her shoulders. I asked if she was afraid of losing her job and she answered, in her usual smiling and mocking way “with the great number of physicians abroad and all the ones that will continue to stay abroad, they will probably ask me to please not leave… In short, it’s likely that, along with my party card, they will take away my administrative duties, so I will fare better than before: more time to dedicate to my patients, to my family and to myself.  I may even start a private practice, like some of my other doctor friends. I will be one more of so many deserters who will be staying.”

Going forward, Greta will have to be careful. This type of desertion of a doctor towards the private sector inside Cuba will certainly not be granted the authorities’ pardon.

Translated by Norma Whiting

8 November 2013

Mariel, Another Cloud in the Olive Green Paradise / Miriam Celaya

Aerial view of the new port of Mariel

Aerial view of the new port of Mariel

HAVANA, Cuba, November — They say that socialism is the long way between capitalism and capitalism. Now the official press itself informs us that there is a shortcut: “Mariel, the Shortest Path” (Juventud Rebelde, Sunday, November 3rd, 2013, pages 4 and 5) is a lengthy article by writer René León Tamayo, who — with the attached comparative charts and a map of the region — lays out the benefits of the first large-scale capitalist work undertaken in Cuba by the “Revolutionary” government, which combines the capitals of Brazil, of the Cuban military oligarchy and of a million-dollar Chinese company, or, to put it more accurately, the company of a Chinese millionaire.

Perhaps a previous commitment of comparable magnitude was building the thermonuclear plant in Juraguá, province of Cienfuegos, in the era of Castro I during the affair with the former USSR, the largest of the hare-brained shipwrecks of the grandiose lunatic, truncated in April of 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster — whose cooling system was the same as would be installed at the one in Juraguá — resulting in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) not approving the launching of “our” brand-new nuclear power plant, thus saving the Island and Cubans here from the danger of disappearing by an (accidental or not) explosion. However, the Cienfuegos nuclear plant was still part of a distinctly socialist project in a program of “solidarity” among communist regimes. In the 80’s, talk of capital in Cuba was total heresy.

Mariel, on the other hand, is, in the words of General-President, “a creation for the present and for the future”, a capitalist project of these times when the official press talks openly about capital investment, including the previously contagious and dirty foreign capital. However, the numbers earmarked are still undisclosed. Some of the questions that were left unwritten by the journalist and his bosses are: how much will Cuban investment amount to, what its source is, how much of the also undisclosed “national budget” is destined to the projects at the Special Zone for the Development of Mariel (ZEDM), what specific benefits the Cuban population will get from this investment, and when.

But some things don’t change, as in the case of ambiguous language and cryptic messages; a journalistic style for generating optimism in an impoverished population that desperately needs good news, but to whom it’s advisable not to disclose too much information. As for domestic and foreign investors, “Mariel opens up a unique opportunity: a niche which offers the advantages that characterize these locations anywhere, but with the added value of being in a country that will be strategically situated in maritime shipping and global commerce when the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2015.”

The article does not seem to say much, but it explains, between the lines, the reason for the Cuban authorities’ growing offensive against the US embargo, a topic which gained prominence in the government discourse only since 1992, after the end of Soviet-socialist protectorate. Elements are sketched for the likely emergence of a new stage in the regional geopolitical map in the medium term in which relations between investor countries, particularly those of Cuba and the U.S., might define the pattern and intensity of trade via maritime channels, among other issues.

So now it turns out that Cuba is not dangerously close to the enemy, as they have repeated to us for decades, but — on the contrary — Cuba enjoys a “geographical blessing” that seems to give it natural advantages over other nations, the same blessing that between the XVI and XVIII centuries drove the fleet of the Spanish crown to cluster in Havana before sailing to the metropolis.

The 465 square kilometers [180 square miles, more or less] from six municipalities in the province of Artemisa, with the possibility that the Council of Ministers might incorporate other areas, “provided they contribute to best achieve the objectives” is in the vanguard of future Special Zones that will be undertaken in other areas of the Island, which is already being heralded by the cymbals and trumpets of the official press. The benefits we will receive remain as inaccessible as the financial secrets of the work. Everything indicates that the ZEDM is the baptismal name that the promising capitalist enterprise of the “communist” cupola has been given, another cloud in the Castros’ fiscal paradise.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 5 November 2013

State Security Tries to Stop Possible Mass Demonstration / Miriam Celaya

seguridad-300x256HAVANA, Cuba , October 2013, Rumors have been circulating in the past few days about an alleged “strike” or “demonstration” of the self-employed to be held in Havana next November 1st. This is not an extended commentary on society, but it’s limited to the self-employed sector, stemming from official countermeasures that aim to increase controls on small family-owned clothing businesses.
Some say that this call to a public and peaceful protest, with a march ending at the Plaza Cívica -(Plaza de la Revolución)- was summoned “from outside”, while others claim that it is the initiative of a group of self-employed who have been affected by recent government restrictions particularly harmful to those who trade in articles of clothing, and that it will soon reach other private businesses.

Whether or not these rumors about the protest are true, places in Centro Habana, some of which were once shops, where now several private workers group together to offer their services, be it merchandise sales, equipment repair or even bodybuilders gyms, have been visited by agents of the State Security (“DTI agents”, according to some people), who have warned the self-employed” that disorder or disturbances will not be tolerated”.

On the real possibility that there will be an autonomous demonstration in Cuba without being suffocated even before it starts, there is every reason for doubt. In fact, some argue that potential marching groups have already been infiltrated by the political police, something that is not new. Nevertheless, government measures that keep limiting or stifling private businesses are accentuating the discontent in a sector that has begun to identify itself as independent, legitimate and self-funded, and the insertion of agents to contain their claims would not be sufficient in the mid-term.  Additionally, there are many self-employed who already view the Party-Government-State as a parasitic entity that feeds on them, and not as the benefactor that, until recently, guaranteed certain social benefits.

52C6F4B4-5B52-4E22-8786-4FB8E28DF279_mw1024_mh1024_s-300x168Other rumors have been anticipating that the turnaround will expand to other private businesses, including to 3D theaters that have been proliferating in several provinces, and more so in the capital, heralding the increase in volume of dissenters who would join the chorus of protests.

If the new edicts of the olive-green caste generate a level of dissatisfaction sufficient to breed a movement of protest and eventually become an alternative social force is something to be seen. However, the deployment of repressive agents around self-employed merchants is evidence of the government’s concern with the potential of a sector that, in current circumstances, brings together the biggest and best conditions to stand up to power.

In any case, even if said protests of the self-employed don’t take place, the acknowledged concern of government officials in the face of a rumor should serve as a sample button to private businessmen about their mobilizing potential to transform Cuba’s reality, not from the meager and illusory “economic opening” dispensed from the cupola as a function of the interests of the authorities, but from the interests, needs, and the will power of independent subjects, an unwanted effect miscalculated by the General-President when he decided to open his Pandora ‘s Box of “reforms.”

By Miriam Celaya

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 29 October 29, 2013