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

Why didn’t they write to the General-President? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 12 December 2016 — In a curious coincidence with the fifth meeting, held last week in Havana, of the Bilateral Commission in charge of the dialogue process between the United States and Cuba, about one hundred Cuban “entrepreneurs” have just addressed a letter to Donald Trump, the newly elected President of that country to the north, whose term will begin on January 20, 2017, asking the controversial magnate for continuity of the policy of rapprochement and dialogue with Cuba, initiated two years ago by the outgoing president, Barack Obama, as well as the lifting of the Embargo.

The note, promoted by the company Cuba Educational Travel and the group Engage Cuba, is not relevant in itself. A group of Cuban small business owners – united under the officially vilified term of “entrepreneurs” – is appealing to the solidarity and understanding of a great “successful entrepreneur” so that, in his new role of maximum political leader of his country, he might favor the “economic commitment among nations” for the mutual benefit of both sides, a disguised political plea, nothing short of a sly complicit wink among “colleagues.” continue reading

Of course, it is praiseworthy that such an incipient and fragile sector has taken the (spontaneous and autonomous?) initiative to come out in favor of the advances of the slimmest of conquered spaces. In fact, in their letter, the Cuban entrepreneurs equally enthusiastically defend the rights of US businessmen to trade with and invest in Cuba as if the Americans, and not the Cubans, were the ones lacking in democratic institutions and laws. Clearly, this is a short letter, but one that makes us want to read it over numerous times.

The concerns of the Cuban embryonic private sector is understandable, taking into account Trump’s well-known statements about his intentions to reverse the process of “rapprochement” if the Cuban side does not show strides in political and religious freedoms, something that would directly affect the influx of American tourists that has been taking place since the re-establishment of relations between both governments, which has clearly favored private lodging, restaurant and transportation businesses.

However, the aforesaid letter is vague on essential matters, and it stands out for its baffling omissions, details that deserve particular attention. The first blunder is its origin, and lies in the improper selection of the recipient on the part of the Cuban proto-entrepreneurs: no less than a president of a foreign country that even today, despite the current policy of détente, is still demonized by the Castro regime’s monopoly of the press as the cause of all the past and future national evils.

This simple fact not only calls into question the much-vaunted national sovereignty – by placing the solution of matters that are the responsibility of the internal economic policy in the hands of a foreign and intrinsically hostile government – but suppresses the Cuban regime’s responsibility for the constraints (if not the smothering) imposed on the private sector, be it the high tax burden, the absence of a supply wholesale market, the punishment for the “accumulation of wealth” or the numerous absurd and unjustified bans that prevent greater prosperity and the development of private businesses.

Likewise, measures which favored the private sector significantly, dictated by President Barack Obama, were hindered by the Cuban government itself from being effective.

None of the official restrictions that the “businessmen” ask to quell in Cuba relate to the embargo, nor do they depend absolutely on the political will of the American government.

In addition to this, the signers of the letter belong to a social sector which tends to express an open rejection of political issues and, on the other hand, voluntarily joined the only union in the world that embodies the interests of the most powerful employer represented by the Government-State-Party, described by them in this letter as the promoter of the reform that allowed the existence of private businesses. To whom, then, could they legitimately make demands other than to this despicable monster, who is both benefactor and exploiting boss?

Therefore, the recipient of the entrepreneurs’ letter should have been the General-President, Raúl Castro, and not the President elected by Americans last November.

Another noteworthy detail is the select club of signers to the letter, mostly entrepreneurs who classify as “successful” within Cuban standards. The problem is not one of phobia against economic success, but quite the contrary. There is nothing we need more in this ruined hacienda than a flood of successful entrepreneurs and autonomous sectors willing to defend their own interests

But it doesn’t seem very honest to claim particular measures on behalf of the entire Cuban people and – even more unseemly – on behalf of the American people, especially when the shocking absence of the more modest signers is evident, who are, paradoxically the most numerous in that economic sector, whom the letter writers estimate at half a million individuals. Weren’t there humble cart vendors, bicycle-taxi operators, DVD vendors, scissors grinders or even retired master dishwashers ready to subscribe to such a remarkable epistle? Were they even informed?

Obviously, the acute social differences of today’s Cuba continue to set the tone, denying the old egalitarian speech that continues to be repeated from the power base. So it happens that, among the private businesses of the idyllic socialist society, there are some that are more equal than others. And, as is often the case, the least equal speak on behalf of the whole.

In the end, in a quasi-foolish brushstroke, the signers make an evident effort to be politically correct in the eyes of the Castro regime, thus remaining halfway between the legitimate defense of their own interests and the ideological commitment demanded by the olive green power authority in return for the corseted ease they enjoy.

Too many doubts in this epistolary chapter suggest the existence of certain powerful hidden hands that, of course, did not sign the letter, including promoters abroad. When it comes to Cuban issues it’s well known that conspiracies are never lacking. But let’s not be suspicious, after all, if our most successful entrepreneurs choose Trump to communicate with, it must be because they think that matters are better handled by entrepreneurs.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Ancient Dictator Died Long Ago / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Fidel Castro celebrates his 90th birthday in the Karl Marx Theatre.
Fidel Castro celebrates his 90th birthday in the Karl Marx Theatre.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 November 2016 — The official media have just announced the last and definitive death of Fidel Castro, and I think I have perceived more relief than bereavement in the mournful message. If I were a religious person, I would feel at least a tiny bit of grief, but that is not the case. Definitely, pity toward despots is not among my few virtues. And, as I have always preferred cynicism over hypocrisy, I am convinced that the world will be a better place without him.

At any rate, to me, the old dictator had died a long time ago, at an unspecified date, buried under some dusty headstone, without epitaph in the deepest recesses of my memory, so I can only be curious about what this expected (exasperated) outcome might mean for those who have kept their destinies tied to every spasm of his many deaths.

Nevertheless, just because I had given him an early funeral doesn’t mean that his irreversible departure from this world is not a momentous event. The image of the defeated specter he had become will now disappear, and his passing will also cease to gravitate over the superstitious temperament of the nation as an unavoidable doom. We will finally find out whether the prophecy Cuba will really change after Fidel dies is true or false, because it seems that, for almost all Cubans, waiting for changes that result from nature’s course is easier than taking the risk to do it themselves. Peoples who feel ashamed of their fates often blame their rulers for their own collective irresponsibility. continue reading

There are also the superstitions, a nice wild card for the national lethargy. There are too many people that believe in some god, in a sense of fatality, in the tarot, in the zodiac signs, in the I Ching, in the Tablet of Ifá or other prophecies of the most varied kind. I have never believed in any of them, perhaps because accepting the mysteries of these predestinations as true would have made me feel I was cursed just for having been born in Cuba in 1959. Far from it, such an adverse coincidence became the challenge that I accepted gladly, so I never experienced the deep feelings of frustration that oppress several generations of Cubans, choked under the effects of the power of a sort of superhuman entity that seemed to sum up all creeds in it and that intervened in every destiny. An impostor, in short, pretending to be god, oracle and mantra all at once.

For almost all Cubans, waiting for changes that result from nature’s course is easier than taking the risk to do it themselves

Nevertheless, all my memories are intact. They have survived every cataclysm in good health. How could I go back on them if our spirit is pure memory? I reminisce without love, without resentment, without bitterness and without regrets, as if I were observing, in an old movie, my own story which is the same for millions of Cubans like me. There are even some chapters I find amusing. How could we have once been so naïve? How did our parents and grandparents allow us to be manipulated in such an atrocious way? It was because of fear. Fidel Castro’s true power was never the love of Cubans, but the unspeakable fear they felt toward him, an irrational and irate leader, and an individual whose limitless egomania could only be matched by his inability to feel empathy. Sometimes fidelity is only a resource for survival.

Looking back on the first 20 years of my life, I remember Fidel Castro as a sort of omnipresent magma that invaded every space of public and private life. He seemed to have the gift of ubiquity and to appear everywhere at once. My earliest memories of childhood are invariably associated with that image of the bearded man who never smiled, dressed in a military uniform, whose portrait could be found anywhere, whether on the wall of a building, on a fence, on the covers of magazines, newspapers, or in a carefully framed picture in the halls of revolutionary Cubans, who were a majority back then.

That same man very often appeared on the screen of my grandmother’s television (in my mind, I thought he lived inside that device), or he invaded every home from the radio stations, thundering and fierce, making long threatening and scolding speeches, loaded with harangues. He was always irritated, so I was a little afraid of him and tried – with little or no success – to stay away from his vibrations. My elders swelled with ecstasy and even cried out, excited about the false prophet’s this or that bravado. “It’s El Caballo!* that’s how it’s done!” The admirers of the new hard man would bellow, drunk with a fervor that I did not understand but which, over time, succeeded in infecting me.

In any case, “Fidel” was one of the first words uttered by the children of thousands of families which, like mine, had discovered that on the dawn of January 1, 1959 they were suddenly revolutionaries. And thus, also suddenly, in a nation traditionally Catholic, quite a few proclaimed themselves as atheists and renounced God only to accept a new faith, Fidel Castro as savior, and communist dogma as catechism.

Fidel Castro’s true power was never the love of Cubans, but the unspeakable fear they felt toward him

Meanwhile, countless families were fractured by political polarization and emigration. Parents and children, siblings, uncles, cousins who had always lived in harmony, clashed, became filled with grudges and distanced themselves from one another. There were those who never spoke to each other again, and died without the embrace of reconciliation. Many survivors of this telluric rupture are still picking up the pieces and trying to recreate some parts of our battered lineages, at least out of respect and homage to our estranged departed family members, all because of an alien hatred.

Then came the militias, the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis, the compulsory military service, the rationing card, the monumental harvests, the Revolutionary Offensive, Angola, the in-field schools and the schools in the countryside, and the permanent consecration of endless delusions of the Great Egomaniac. And with the passage of time, the signals of the ruin we insisted on ignoring began to arrive.

The increasing shortages were silenced with slogans and with gigantic plans doomed for failure, all freedoms were buried and rights disappeared, sacrificed on the olive green altar under the weight of once sacred words and now debased by speeches (“homeland,” the most tainted; “liberty,” the most fraudulent), while – unnoticed and blind – we Cubans ourselves helped to build the bars of our prison and, docile, left the keys in the hands of the jailer.

The first great schism between the lunatic orator and me were the events at the Peruvian embassy, and especially the Mariel stampede, between April and May, 1980. They were not, however, isolated events.  The first conversations (they are often referred to as approaches) had taken place in 1978 between the dictatorship and a group of emigres living in the United States, which resulted in the opening of family visits in 1979, although only in one direction: from Miami to Cuba.

Cubans themselves helped to build the bars of our prison and, docile, left the keys in the hands of the jailer

Suddenly, the stateless-wormy-counterrevolutionaries were not that, but “our brothers from the Cuban community abroad,” who had been able to preserve their original cultural values and their own language in foreign lands, and who were being offered the right to visit their country of origin and reunite with their families. Now they happily arrived, weighed down with gifts for the beggars who had chosen a revolution that proclaimed poverty as a virtue. Naïve or not, many of us felt the manipulation and discovered that we had been scammed, and although one does not wake up at the first bell after a long and deep lethargy, we began to live on alert and to question the system.

Then, without expecting it, the New Man, forged under the principles of that celebrated whore called Revolution, witnessed in surprise the spectacle of the hordes gathered at the Peruvian diplomatic headquarters and the mass flight through the port of Mariel. And we were perplexed by the thousands of deserters and horrified by the repudiation rallies, the beatings, vexations and insults towards those who were emigrating and the impunity at the barbarism that was only possible because it had been instigated and blessed from the power.

By then I was sporting my new motherhood, and before every fearful scene I would cling to tenderness for my son. I think it was then that I began to definitively tear all the dense veils of the lie I had lived for 20 years and became obsessed with the search for the truth in which I would bring up my children: freedom as a gift that we carry inside, which nobody grants, which is born with the being. So ended Fidel Castro’s leadership of me, dragging in his fall any possibility of future glitches in my spirit.  The dissident, living in silence within me, emerged that year, and the paradigmatic leader of my adolescence began to transmute into an enemy.

The feelings his existence infused in me were fear, admiration, respect, devotion, doubt, disbelief, resentment, contempt, and, finally, the most absolute indifference

That is why the difficult events and the Fidel battles that followed my conversion did not make a mark: the Ochoa case, the associated executions, the Special Period resulting from the collapse of real socialism, the Maleconazo, the Balseros Crisis, the rescued child rafter Elián, the Open Tribunes, the Roundtables, the Five Spies, the Black Spring, the Battle of Ideas, the Energy Revolution and so much nonsense that resulted in swelling the ranks of the discontented and the disenchanted, widening the rift between the power and millions of Cubans.

My feelings for Fidel Castro went through several stages. It could not be any other way, since I was born in 1959, since I grew up in a family of Fidel fans and since I’ve spent my whole life in Cuba. The feelings his existence infused in me were fear, admiration, respect, devotion, doubt, disbelief, resentment, contempt, and, finally, the most absolute indifference.

News of his death, then, does not stir emotions. A friend recently wisely told me that Fidel Castro was not cause, but consequence. It seems to me an accurate sentence to summarize the history and idiosyncrasy of the Cuban nation. Because we Cubans are not (we have never been) the result of Fidel’s existence, but the reverse: the existence of a Fidel was possible only thanks to Cubans, beyond political or ideological tendencies, beyond our sympathy or resentment. Without all of us the power of his long dictatorship would not have been sustained.

That is why I take this, the occasion of his ultimate death, to sincerely make a toast, not to his memory, but to ours. May our memory never falter, so that we do not forget these decades of shame, so that no more Fidels are repeated on this earth! And I also offer, with all my hope, to celebrate the opportunity that this happy death unlocks to the new life that all Cubans will finally build in peace and harmony.

*The Horse: Fidel Castro’s nickname among Cubans

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez and Norma Whiting

The Power and Paladares*, an Ambiguous Relationship / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Paladar Don Quijote, on centrally located Calle 23 in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood (14ymedio)
Paladar Don Quijote, on centrally located Calle 23 in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 November 2016 — Rarely does the official press offer journalistic work of any interest, so a report that was published a few days ago is greatly appreciated. The work was published following controls recently directed by the Government to a total of 32 private restaurants in Havana (“Private Restaurants in the Capital Control and Success, in that Order?” by Yudy Castro Morales), a piece that reflects, in an unusually objective manner, some of the limitations that hinder the performance of private restaurants in Havana.

Weeks earlier, the State press monopoly had made mention of certain irregularities that had been detected in the sector, such as violations in urban planning regulations, illegalities in procedures for the sale of homes, “the importation of goods for commercial purposes,” tax evasion and violation of established limits related to activities for which licenses were issued.

The unprejudiced use of terms as demonized as “private restaurants,” “business” and “prosperity,, among others, is surprising

Indirectly, it also suggested that some of these establishments had become “scenarios for the dispensing of drugs, pimping and prostitution,” as well as for money laundering, which collaterally constitutes tacit acknowledgement of the proliferation of unspeakable evils within the impeccable socialist culture.

All of this, in addition to the closure of numerous restaurants and cafés and the suspension of the issuing of new licenses for this type of self-employment business created a climate of uncertainty about the fate of the private restaurant industry, popularly known as paladares*.

This uncertainty is now beginning to dissipate, at least partially, when the most official newspaper of Cuba not only deals with the results of the mentioned inspection in the capital, but disseminates critical testimony and demands from several owners of some of Havana’s privately owned restaurants.

The absence of revolutionary slogans and of political-ideological allusions of the kind that usually overload articles in the official press is another unusual feature of the article, and equally surprising is the unprejudiced use of terms as demonized as “private restaurants,” “business” and “prosperity,” among others.

Some insightful rumors considered that the official strategy consisted in selecting certain prestigious restaurants and offering them legal advantages in exchange for adhering to certain norms

In fact, problems detected by the State audit during inspections do not, in themselves, constitute a novelty: closing schedule violations, direct hiring of performers that liven up some private locations –without going through a State Agency where they are required to be registered – problems with employees’ contracts, noise pollution, illegal merchandise, smuggling and the crime of receiving stolen goods are real and well-known transgressions, in both the private and the State sector.

For that reason, some insightful rumors considered that the official strategy consisted in selecting certain renowned restaurants and offering them legal advantages in exchange for adhering to certain norms and commitments with sectors of the State entrepreneurship. The State-Godfather protects those who are loyal to it, in its best Mafioso style.

Should this rumor be true, it would not be anything new. It is popularly spoken of – though obviously unverifiable – that the owners of some of the most successful paladares have some kind of link with the power authorities and have enjoyed official tolerance in exchange for political compliance, whether fake or not.

The ideological commitment/control mechanism is (also) a longstanding practice in the gastronomic sector. During the decades of the 70’s and 80’s, restaurant, bar and cafeteria management – all of them State-owned – were very coveted jobs, since they were consistent and secure sources of illicit proceeds from the smuggling of products diverted from the official network and resold at premium prices in the black market.

Whoever has not lived in a society accentuated by shortages and subjected to a ration card to acquire their sustenance may not understand the enormous economic power that is derived from the management of foodstuffs.

So significant were the gains in the gastronomic industry that the Upscale Restaurant Enterprise in the capital gave those jobs to “team-players” of the Communist party and to intermediate leaders with a proven historical track record of loyalty to the system.

So significant were the gains in the gastronomic industry and so coveted the management jobs at prestigious restaurants, such as El Polinesio, La Torre, El Conejito, el Mandarín, Las Bulerías, Montecatini, among many others – some of the famed restaurants as well as many others – that the Upscale Restaurant Enterprise in the capital gave those jobs to “team-players” of the Communist party and to intermediate leaders with a proven historical track record of loyalty to the system.

This clientele-centered procedure created a sort of undercover middle class, whose advantages over the working class were based on their ability to access consumer goods and services that were just not available to the latter, in the same way that the standards of living and the ability of the current private owners of the most successful paladares are far beyond the possibilities of the vast majority of Cubans.

The difference between those State administrators of yesteryear and the current owners is that the former dealt with public goods, since private property was banned then, and the latter operate with private capital, but the common denominator among them is that the power — which arbitrarily dispenses approvals, punishment or pardons — controls and manipulates them from the point of view of their dependence on improprieties in following the laws in order to thrive, on both sides.

Thus, the prosperity of the ‘Private Manager’ depends, to date, on his ability to misappropriate State assets entrusted to him without being discovered, while the success of the ‘Private Owner’ depends on his ability to violate the law, be it accessing the underground market to acquire the goods that he needs or through the evasion of taxes and other regulations.

The prosperity of the ‘Private Manager’ depends, to date, on his ability to misappropriate State assets entrusted to him without being discovered, while the success of the ‘Private Owner’ depends on his ability to violate the law

But what is really novel in the journalistic report in this case is that it has given space to the voices of the presumed victims in the Government press — the ever-demeaned private owners, or “entrepreneurs” — and that these voices have expressed themselves so critically and so freely about the multiple constraints imposed by the State system that regulates self-employment.

Included among the major constraints that were listed are the lack of wholesale markets and the insufficient supply of the retail networks, the unfeasibility of joining importing entities in order to acquire consumables and equipment that are lacking in retail networks, the express prohibition for the private sector to import products that are not commercialized in the State entities, among them, certain types of alcoholic drinks that are in high demand, the restriction of allowed seating (50 chairs in total, whether under a cafeteria or a restaurant license) which “negatively affects the business,” especially those that provide services to the official tourist agencies which, on occasion, in the face of the great demand and the limits on authorized seats, push the license-holders to violate those limitations.

Criticisms were even directed at State and cooperative management nightspots, described by owners of paladares as deficient in “not offering quality services,” which makes one think that perhaps soon, and in light of the growing wave of tourists, this kind of establishment, which at the moment is exclusively State owned, might become privately owned.

What is really novel of the journalistic report in this case is that it has given space to the voices of the presumed victims in the Government press and that these voices have expressed themselves so critically

“We are willing to pay the established taxes (…) but we want profitable businesses,” stated an owner, implicitly demonstrating the financial capacity that the elite in the industry has attained.

But, in addition, the report allows us to perceive certain nuances that make a small but significant difference, in a journalism that is habitually flat and uncritical. There is a case, for example, of an owner who, as a taxpayer, demanded to know more about the fate of the taxes he pays the State, something that was considered a heresy until recently.

Of course, these are wispy and sparse signals, but they forecast the possible evolution of private capital, though reduced to an elite sector that, despite its fragility, begins to feel independent and to consider itself useful and necessary for the survival of an obsolete and unproductive system in crisis.

Of course, official responses to the claims of private owners have not been published. No one knows for sure how much was “allowed” or how audacious this infrequent journalistic report and these demands really are. At the moment, it is worth paying close attention to the direction of private Havana restaurants. Let’s not forget the old saying: “God writes straight with twisted lines.”

*Translator’s note: Paladar (plural: paladares) (Portuguese and Spanish for “palate”) used in that sense in the Spanish speaking world, however in Cuba, it is used exclusively to refer to restaurants run by the self-employed. Mostly family-run businesses, paladares are fundamentally engaged to serve as a counterpart to State-run restaurants for tourists seeking a more vivid interaction with Cuban reality, and looking for homemade Cuban food.

The term in popular usage has its origin in the Brazilian soap opera Vale Tudo”, broadcast in Cuba in the early 1990s. Paladar was the name of the chain of restaurants. The airing of that soap opera coincided in time with the first issue of licenses for the self-employed in Cuba, so popular culture gave this name to the then-new type of establishments.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Another Point For The Cuban Human Rights Agenda / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

There are a number of Cuban emigres who are campaigning to demand that their right to participate in Cuban elections be endorsed in Cuba’s new electoral law
There are a number of Cuban emigres who are campaigning to demand that their right to participate in Cuban elections be endorsed in Cuba’s new electoral law

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 20 October 2016 — An article I wrote was published on this site in March 2015, on the subject of the announcement in the official Cuban press that a new electoral law was to be enacted in Cuba in March 2018. The article raised more than a few stings because – among other topics on the subject in question – it launched the idea of demanding that the new law include the right of Cuban emigres to vote in the Cuban elections, especially since, from the point of view of the Cuban authorities, a large part of them are considered as ‘nationals’, and their right to enter their native country is consequently subject to compulsorily carrying their Cuban passport which identifies them as such.

Another element in favor of the proposal was the advantage emigres have of living in a free society and of being able to develop campaigns through different media demanding that elementary civil right, and to propose candidates.

As an added advantage, Cubans residing abroad, especially in the US, are today one of the most important sources of foreign exchange in Cuba, therefore they have emerged as an economic engine of paramount importance for the country. If emigres are a substantial economic force, it is fair that they should also establish a political force with full participation and rights. Seen in perspective, this exodus can be a formidable political pulse to force changes within Cuba. continue reading

Some commentators were shocked at what they considered “legitimization” of Castro’s electoral farce, others accused me of “pandering to the regime,” while the most benevolent and patronizing branded me as naive.

Well-known Cuban personalities who live abroad, with whom I shared my thoughts and substantiated my views, had similar attitudes, though I must admit they showed an interest in the subject. In any case, the matter was not an absolute novelty. Years ago, the prominent Cuban opponent Oswaldo Payá was taking advantage of cracks offered by the Constitution to promote a referendum through the Varela Project, and surprised public opinion when around 25,000 signatures of voters within Cuba were collected, despite the repression and all the risks involved in so daunting a task in conditions of dictatorship.

There were those who mistakenly believed that the Varela Project was a failure. On the contrary, not only did it demonstrate the ability to seek the will of thousands of Cubans and to mobilize international public opinion, but it placed the dictatorship on the defensive, forced it to activate a scandalous plebiscite that revealed the government’s farce and brought to light the weaknesses of the Castro regime’s own laws.

Currently, voices and projects have emerged that propose substantial changes to consider in the new electoral law, announced by the government for 2018, including the right of all Cubans to vote. Fortunately, many groups among Cuba’s internal independent civil society and among its diaspora consider the moment conducive to influencing, from an inclusive legal framework, a move towards a democratic Cuba.

Of course, recognizing the emigres’ rights to participate in the elections would imply a profound and radical transformation of the current electoral law, which to date has not only had an ideologically narrow-minded nature, but also is instituted based on ‘geographical’ budgets. Except for those on official “missions” abroad, who can vote in polling places set up where they are at the time, voters must cast ballots for a candidate in the constituency where they are registered, and can only exercise this right if they are within the national territory; and ‘biographical’ since they vote on the candidate’s profile, made up by the Municipal Electoral Commission itself (CEM), led by the Communist Party (PCC) and not by a government program promoting the candidate.*

Since it’s only been about voting for this or that candidate at the service of the same government, and not for genuine representatives of the interests of the electorate, the first change that the new electoral law should contain is precisely to endorse the right to true elections for all Cubans, independent of his country or area of residence. To this should be added the demand for general elections and not for mere local officials without real power and without any commitment to the electorate.

Obviously, we shouldn’t expect that the olive green elite has the intention to voluntarily give up their “election” privileges. Hence the role of the body of emigres to add additional value, given its ability to influence public opinion and policy areas from their places of residence in order to put pressure on the Cuban authorities.

The worst is that not just the Cuban guerrilla gerontocracy shows records of obstinacy, nor is it the only one that has great interests to protect, but that it slows down any transition or opening in Cuba, even under the rapprochement favored by the Obama’s administration.

Certain groups of the “so-called historical emigration” (any resemblance to the “historic generation” of the Palace of the Revolution is no mere coincidence) are often as wedded to confrontation as the ancient Cuban dictators themselves.

In this vein, perhaps the political representatives of the Cuban emigration in the US might get better results if, instead of opposing so obtusely the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana and the dialogue process between the two governments, it would decide to take advantage of the new political scenario and consider forcing the White House to include in the human rights agenda the demand from members of the Cuban community to fully exercise their rights as citizens in the country in which they were born.

And, given that before the fait accompli hangmen tantrums are useless, the time is right to set aside shady interests that have nothing to do with alleged patriotic jealousy and take advantage of the rapprochement.

A large number of Cuban emigres is already campaigning to demand that their right to participate in elections in Cuba be endorsed in the new electoral law. It remains to be seen if they receive some support from politicians who claim to represent them, or if those on the US side, supposedly willing to consider all proposals and criteria, and entrusted with dialogue with the Cuban dictatorship on human rights, will include on their agenda the legitimate claims of those others, disinherited of homeland and rights by the laws of the Castro regime: the émigrés.

*Translator’s note: Under Cubans current laws governing elections, candidates may not actively campaign and are presented to the voters only through a single-page biography that is prepared by Communist Party officials and posted in a window in their district. Candidates are not allowed to state “positions” on any issue. Thus, in recent elections where two opposition candidates made it through the early selection process, their biographies described them as “counterrevolutionary.” One candidate’s biography read, in part: “In 2006 he joined the little counterrevolutionary groups. From 2011-2014 he received training in computers and journalism, organized by the United States Interest Section in Havana. Currently he dedicates himself to publishing articles against the Revolution financed by international organizations and counterrevolutionary organizations abroad, who have also organized and paid for his trips abroad.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Ruperto “In Reverse” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Left: the TV character "Ruperto". Right: "Ruperto in reverse" aka Cuban president Raul Castro
Left: the comic TV character “Ruperto”. Right: “Ruperto in reverse” aka Cuban president Raul Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 27 October 2016 — “Ruperto ‘In Reverse’“ is the nickname the popular Cuban sense of humor has bestowed on General-President Raúl Castro, referring to a character in the popular sit-com “Living on Tall Tales” broadcast on Cuban television Monday, just after the National News’ prime time broadcast.

We could not dream of a better analogy. Ruperto, of the television program is the embodiment of an old man who just woke from a long coma. He received a blow to the head and remained in a vegetative state since the 1980’s. Obviously, the guileless Ruperto not only missed such shocking events for Cuba as the collapse of the USSR and the socialist camp, the Special Period, the Maleconazo, the Mariel boat lift, the arrival of the previously-evil foreign capital, the decriminalization of the US dollar, the dual currency, etc. – all of which explains that his declarations are retrogressive, extemporaneous and misplaced – but, in addition, as a result, his motor-skills have been affected, and he walks in a peculiar manner: one step forward and one back. continue reading

It also does not seem fortuitous that Ruperto, without doubt the most subtle and best conceived satirical characterization of the show, tends to cling stubbornly to the past or to attribute to himself qualities and unrealizable aspirations which do not correspond to his age or physical and mental condition.

Relatively speaking, his counterpart in real life seems to live in similar circumstances. After more than a decade since assuming the “interim” government, and more than eight years since his appointment became official with the symbolic blessing from the National Assembly, the supposed “reformist” General, who initially took office with a promise, yet to be fulfilled, of a daily glass of milk for every Cuban, and implemented such bold measures as land leases, authorized the sale and purchase of homes and cars, and enabled small private businesses, has not only failed in his experiment of “updating the model” but he now seems to be driving the country in reverse.

The regression is reflected both in economic and social life, and in the official discourse, increasingly aggressive and virulent against “imperialism and its interventionist policies” when barely two years have passed since the re-establishment of relations between Washington and Havana, and in spite of the ongoing process of “dialogue and rapprochement” between both governments, and though each encounter between their representatives has been qualified as “positive, constructive and respectful” by the Cuban authorities.

The consistent anti-American onslaught associated with animosity and not with a process of dialogue and rapprochement, strikes against all angles, from the neighbor’s purely political questions (interference?) to domestic and cultural issues of the northern country, which are demonized or ridiculed in the official Cuban media. What people with common sense keep asking is “what’s the point of re-establishing relations with a government so full of bad intentions and bent on subverting Cuba’s political order?”

Simultaneously, and in obvious relation to the already near-ritual before the United Nations General Assembly, where in October each year the Cuban delegation presents its “Report of Condemnation of the US Embargo,” the curators of the Castro press have unleashed a fierce “anti-embargo” campaign in Cuba, accompanied by student organizations and organizations at the service of the government, in which aggressive speeches, ultranationalist slogans and violent language abound.

Pure fanfare and cyclical sterile jingoistic hullabaloo in a scenario of widespread shortages, of markets without merchandise, of inflation and uncertainties that, far from achieving genuine popular support, has the immediate effect of confusing national public opinion and providing an image of the insecurity of a system well-versed in intrigues and confrontations, but obviously misplaced when it comes to harmony, diplomacy and dialogue.

As a result of such bipolarity in the government, Cuba’s population, broadly pro-American, permeated by a dream of the “American way of life,” is alienated from the official policy and focuses on the immediate – daily survival – and on the practical – survive as best one can a failed system whose end most Cubans await and long for.

Because it is becoming increasingly clear that the movements of obvious advances and undeniable halts – if not outright regression – by the General-President, alias Ruperto “in reverse,” rather than a strategy, indicate a lack of it, and show the fragility of such a primitive and rigid totalitarian system that cannot afford the slightest concession in the country – not to mention the political level – but at least in the economic confines, without the risk of precipitating its own end.

Of course, one must understand that Ruperto does not have it easy. The challenge of the Castro autocracy at this critical time for its own survival is attaining access to the financial capitals of the enemy Empire without making concessions, without betraying its caste, without making advances on Human Rights and without losing its power. It is an impossible mission, unless an inopportune savior of villains makes his appearance at the last moment. If anything is clear in this whole saga of confusion, it is that the olive green caste, headed by Ruperto, has absolutely no idea how to get out of the mess.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday
Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 October 2016 — The second round of talks on Human Rights took place this past Friday between the governments of Cuba and the United States, as part of the ongoing dialogue initiated when relations were restored.

In line with the importance of the issue and in relation with the relevance that the US government has granted him, this Saturday, Thomas Malinowski — Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor- who co-chaired the US delegation, together with Mrs. Mari Carmen Aponte, Acting Assistant Secretary for Affairs of the Western Hemisphere — met with independent journalists Ignacio González and Miriam Celaya, to discuss topics that were debated on that occasion.

Unlike the previous meeting held in Washington on March 31, 2015, this time both sides delved deeply into human rights issues, on which they hold opposing positions. continue reading

Malinowski: “I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba”

“I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba, but we consider human rights as an important and permanent item on our agenda,” said Malinowski. While acknowledging the opposing stances of the two governments, he considers that these meetings are of great value because, on the one hand, they reflect the common agreement of both governments on addressing that the issue of human rights in the rapprochement process is legitimate; and on the other hand, it has been established that the basis for these freedoms is upheld in international standards that establish the universal character of human rights, recognized and signed by our two countries.

“The result is positive. At least the Cuban government is not refusing to discuss human rights, and does not deny that they are also applicable to Cuba, though the legal interpretation of the principles is defined differently in our countries”.

Both sides discussed related laws and international treaties that confirm the universality and protection of fundamental rights, such as freedom of association, freedom to join unions, and electoral systems, among others. About the last item, the US side fully explained the characteristics of its electoral system and inquired about the Cuban system, particularly the obstacles faced by opponents and critics of the Cuban government to aspire to political office.

“For our part, we recognize that our system is not perfect. But in the US human rights violations are made public, and there are ways and mechanisms to force politicians to fulfill their commitments and obligations”.

Cuban laws, however, are designed so that the Power can manipulate them according to its interests, with no civic or legal mechanisms to force the government to observe the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948.

Malinowski asserted that the US government is committed to the debate on human rights at every meeting with the Cuban authorities, but he insists that it is not their place to interfere in Cuban politics, which is a matter for the government and the people of Cuba. He believes that dialogue is proceeding on the basis of mutual respect, despite differences in respective viewpoints on the subject. However, he believes that frank conversations about the realities of our nations create a more positive and beneficial climate for all than does the policy of confrontation that maintained a breach between the two countries.

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution. Some people assume that it only favors the Castro regime, and complain that the demands of opponents are not represented on the agenda.

In that vein, Malinowski said: “We have maintained contact with all of Cuban civil society. Not only with opponents, independent journalists and other sectors of civil society, but also with representatives of the emerging private sector and even the sectors that are in tune with the Cuban government. We want to hear all opinions, aspirations and proposals to form a more complete picture of the aspirations of the Cuban people. We share and defend the defense of human rights and our government will continue with this policy”.

According to Malinowski, a climate of detente favors the desires to strengthen the ties between our peoples, and to promote a mutual approach after half a century of estrangement and hostility. In fact, in the last two years, exchanges between the US and Cuba have increased and diversified, as evidenced –for example — by the participation of young Cubans in scholarship programs in US universities

When asked how the US government viewed Cuban authorities’ insistence on spreading through its media monopoly a distorted interpretation of the topics discussed at the bilateral meetings, Malinowski stated that this encounter with the independent press was exactly a way to get a more complete view to Cubans about information on the issues discussed between the two delegations.

At the end of the meeting, the Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor recognized the importance of the views and suggestions received by the US delegation from many sectors of Cuban society. “Without their remarks and views, without their participation, our agenda for these meetings on human rights with the Cuban government would not be possible. We appreciate the contributions of all Cubans. We are open to continuing to listen to all proposals, whether they come from those who support the dialogue process or from its detractors”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Reflections Against a “Black Winter” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Ladies in White during a Mass, shortly after the raids of 2003’s Black Spring (Photo: EFE)
Ladies in White during a Mass, shortly after the raids of 2003’s Black Spring (Photo: EFE)

cubanet square logoMiriam Celaya, Havana, 4 October 2016 — CUBALEX, an independent organization dedicated to providing free legal aid to Cubans — an essential service in a society where the abuse of rights is a permanent part of daily life — in recent days suffered a sudden and brutal attack at its headquarters in Havana, by the repressive forces of the government.

This unpredictable event, in which disproportionate and absolutely unjustified violence was applied, marks a new chapter in the escalation of terror that has been taking place in recent months against the independent civil society of the Island in the form of harassment of individuals and of various civic projects.

With this act, repression breaks its own routines and sends a grim message: it is no longer about assaulting and beating dissidents and opponents who demonstrate peacefully in the streets, but the regime is willing to violate their own laws and indiscriminately level private spaces in its attempt to crush any outbreak of dissent. No one is safe; the Constitution and the laws are worthless against the power of the State-Party-Clan Castro. continue reading

Meanwhile, the project Convivencia, the Law Association of Cuba, independent journalists, unions and independent libraries, among others, have also been receiving the unwanted attention of the political police in the last three weeks, with no shortage of summonses, threats, arbitrary arrests, seizures and “visits,” both covert and open, a clear sign that, despite the almost two years since the beginning of reconciliation with the “imperialist enemy” and the end of the belligerence, the top leadership is not even slightly willing to tolerate the existence of areas of freedom and alternative positions to its totalitarian power.

Put in perspective, since the raid of the Black Spring in 2003, the picture has never been so baffling and obscure for independent civil society, a fact that should trigger alerts in civilized societies that defend the principles of democracy throughout the world.

In a clumsy effort to legitimize repression, the Castro regime has also turned up its propaganda machine through its media monopoly, with its old and hackneyed arguments: disqualification of its critics within Cuba, as “mercenaries,” “stateless,, “counter-revolutionaries,” etc. – and accusations against the US government of attempting to subvert the political order in Cuba, to fund, either directly or indirectly, “enemies of the revolution” and perversely maintain “politics of carrot and stick,” since the true intentions of Uncle Sam continue to be reinstating capitalism in Cuba, something that is the well-known wish of millions of Cubans.

Interestingly, this has not prevented the reconciliation process of the Palace of the Revolution with the White House from continuing its course. In fact, both parties consider that it is progressing satisfactorily. Because it happens that the elders in olive green (or in suits and ties, depending on the occasion) are more interested in American dollars than these very “mercenaries of the internal counterrevolution” whom they are accusing.

Repression, then, is not really based on the alleged bad habits of sovereignty and self-determination – two buzzwords as corrupt as everything else in Cuba – as their faithful spokesmen and their regional allies argue. Nor it is that Castro and his claque aspire to a share of the benefits that a normalization of relations with the powerful Northern power would bring about. It is about wanting it all – dollars and power – without intrusion and without question. For that purpose, they need to complete their silent transition to succession without uncomfortable interference from the restless actors of Cuba’s independent civil society. They also have the quiet acquiescence of international public opinion and the approval of democratic governments around the world, looking away distractedly as repression increases in the exemplary Island.

This explains why this upsurge in violence by the forces of power stops being logical, not contradictory. The Cuban reality is now so confusing and controversial that there are no flat-out explanations to interpret the signals in a unique or irrefutable way. The same question may receive a number of different answers, not necessarily related to each other.

For example, the most recent survey presented on the cover of CubaNet had a simple question, as is to be expected of an inquiry of this nature. It sought responses to whether the current escalation of repression of the Castro regime is due to the impunity it enjoys before the international community. And indeed, just 24 hours after the survey, more than 80% of respondents (including this writer) did so in the affirmative.

Though impunity is indeed a factor of great importance in this case, because it stimulates the violent actions of the Castro hordes, it is just one element to explain the repression, but it is not its essential cause. In fact, there is not one essential cause, but several; and they are all essentially within Cuba and not just in the international political arena.

In that cluster of underlying causes – which are, in turn, the result of the failure of the Castro model and its inability to stand on its own so-called “socialist” founding principles—include, among others, an increase in social discontent and dissident sectors (and others “who disagree”) in the country, with the corresponding increase in activism and social groups potentially receptive to proposals for alternative solutions to the regime; greater visibility of critical sectors from the standpoint of the use of new information technologies and communications to penetrate the official information monopoly, despite the still precarious and insufficient capacity of Cubans to access to the Internet; hopelessness and lack of prospects of a better future for new generations, dramatically reflected in the sustained outflow of people from the country and the whole crisis that stems from it; and the fading myth of the “external enemy” which has created numerous pores in the monolithic structure on which absolute power was based.

Add to this the current boom of new critical actors, in this case under the same or similar ideological designation used by the Castro regime (socialist, Marxist, José Martí-based and others), which move in two different trends: those who advocate participatory and democratic socialism to allow opportunities for all Cubans, regardless of their political color; and those faithful followers of the thought and labor of the Revolution, who recognize the historic generation and ignore the political otherness but refuse to slavishly repeat the official line, while claiming their participation in political decision-making, an unthinkable heresy to the totalitarian power.

Following the logic of a regime that encompasses the worst of the traditions in all other Latin American dictatorships and totalitarianisms in the rest of the planet, we can only expect more repression and terror in the immediate future. The Castro regime seems to be preparing for what is being proclaimed as a Black Winter. Paradoxically, every new repressive action that aims to provide the image of strength and curb outbreaks of internal dissent exposes more clearly the vulnerability of the regime and its own fears of losing the absolute control exercised for nearly six decades.

Independent civil society’s response against the dictatorship’s escalation in repression has been the same in all cases: don’t give up, keep the will to continue fighting peacefully for democracy in any circumstances, an attitude that deserves greater recognition, respect and support from democratic governments and international organizations that demonstrated so much solidarity at times when they rewarded the oldest satrapy of the Western world with their applause, their approval, or their silence.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Youth Leadership, a Dangerous Sequel to the US-Cuba Rapprochement / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban youth (Photo: aulasabiertas.net)
Cuban youth (Photo: aulasabiertas.net)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 September 2016 — This Friday, 30 September 2016, the fourth session of the Cuba-US Bilateral Commission is meeting in Washington, an occasion which the Cuban regime has selected to present their rejection of “endorsing programs that Washington is promoting without the consent or consultation by the official channels established for exchanges of this kind.”

This statement by Mr. Gustavo Machín, vice president of the Cuban Foreign Ministry in the United States, refers to the summer scholarship program that the non-governmental World Learning Organization grants young students around the world, although the official Press in Cuba and officials instructed in the case have been orchestrating in recent weeks in an all-out media spectacle aimed at convincing domestic public opinion that this is another grisly imperialist plan aimed only at encouraging young Cubans to subvert the political and social order within the country. continue reading

It would seem that the roughly 40 Cuban students who have had the opportunity to pass these summer courses in 2015 and 2016, respectively, constitute a real threat to the stability of a dictatorship that has survived for nearly 60 years in power. Or that the White House has concocted the bright idea of annually forging a handful of youth leaders who, after several weeks of classes in a free society, where they will exchange with other young people from the US and other countries, will be willing and prepared to end Castro’s revolution.

Such presumption suggests, on the one hand, the fallacy of the ideological solidity of the Cuban youth, so touted by the olive green regime; and on the other, that the political system has begun to suffer from a butterfly fragility in the heat of the exchange programs promoted by the US after the restoration of relations between the two governments.

The apotheosis of nonsense is the list of “subversive” practices acquired by students benefitting from World Learning summer course scholarships, shown on the organization’s website, citing verbatim the press monopoly scribes of the Castro regime: developing public speaking skills, teamwork, negotiation, consensus building, conflict resolution, defense of one’s rights and troubleshooting.

Only for a reality like that of Cuba could such a program be termed “subversive”. No leader with a modicum of decency – especially in our underdeveloped, poor countries with serious institutional problems – would be offended in the least by their country’s youth receiving this type of instruction and acquiring these skills that, according to the website, “help the next generation of world leaders to get a greater sense of civic responsibility, to establish relations across ethic, religious and national lines, and to develop skills and knowledge to transform their communities and their countries.”

But it is not difficult either to understand the alarm of the Druids of the Plaza of the Revolution, well-versed in subversions. Nothing is as dangerous to them as a “leader” who does not emerge from the “Ñico Lopez” Party High School where, nevertheless, dozens (or more) guerrilla leaders have been formed who have sown conflict, war and death in this region. Not a few leaders of the FARC and other leaders of the most corrupt Latin American radical left have passed through its classrooms and have received diplomas and awards from their mentors. Some have even attained the president’s chair in their own countries, with known disastrous results.

Young participants in World Learning programs (blogs.worldlearning.org)
Young participants in World Learning programs (blogs.worldlearning.org)

And not to mention the indoctrination and systematic brainwashing of thousands of young people from the Third World who have studied Medicine and other specialties in Cuba over the last decades. The Castro regime, the most perversely “generous” dictatorship in recent history, has even extended its “charitable” mantle to lower-income American students, though it has not requested their government’s permission to do so.

And it is specifically at that point where the apex of insular authoritarianism reveals itself. Assuming that the US government and the NGO World Learning need to go through the prerequisite of requesting authorization from the Cuban government to provide summer scholarships for Cuban youth, they are placing the young people in an obvious position of slaves who need the benevolence of their masters (the State-Party-Castro Dictatorship) to access certain training. At the same time, the government places itself in the position of the feudal lord who turns down success opportunities for his serfs.

At the same time, they ignore once again the leading role that should belong to the young people’s parents and relatives, who would be best suitable to decide and support, or not, their children’s education, especially since the timing of such instruction – student’s vacation period – will not interfere with the school year set by the Cuban educational system.

Far from it, and to legitimize the “national outrage” of the colossal offense, the Cuban authorities have ordered middle school, pre-university and technical school students to engage in the traditional protests against the twisted imperialist maneuver leading them down the wrong path. The most histrionic teenagers have screamed their heads off chanting slogans and waving nationalistic signs, they have learned by heart the speeches they might have to utter before the news cameras and the world press, while their own government has yet to offer an alternative with a future.

I see these fresh faces, hear their voices repeating the thousand platitudes of several generations lost in the national shipwreck, and I cannot stop thinking about how this corrupt regime has sown duplicity in the spirit of the nation. I just hope, for the sake of these young people and of Cuba, that scholarships like these will become more prevalent, that our youth will be taught as free individuals and that they will be granted lofty dreams and strong wings so they can achieve them. By then, they will have forgotten the slogans and will provide ideas and actions to overcome the long Middle Ages of the Castros. Meanwhile, let more “subversive like this” scholarships come, until Cubans won’t have to leave their national borders to learn to lead the destiny of their own country.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: Cuban government website: Cubadebate.cu
Source: Cuban government website: Cubadebate.cu

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 September 2016 — In recent days, the Cuban official media announced the implementation of a tax on personal income for workers in the State’s business sector, as well as an extension of payments called Social Security Special Contribution (CESS) – that workers at the so-called “perfecting entities” were already paying into.

The new measure will take effect on October 1st of this year and will involve over 1.3 million workers who will “benefit” from the Business Improvement System (SPE) along with those receiving payments for results and profits. Such an arrangement “confirms the redistributive function of tax revenues and allows a decreasing participation of the State budget in the financing of public expenditure,” according to officials quoted by the official press. continue reading

The payment of taxes will be deducted directly from State company workers’ income by the State company, which will forward it to the State Budget. That is, workers will collect their a salary after deductions are taken by their State employer for payment to the State.

Contrary to what might happen in a moderately democratic country, where workers can join together in free trade unions and make demands against measures that affect their wages and income, in Cuba there have been no demonstrations, strikes or insubordination in the labor groups affected by this arrangement. Nor is this expected to occur. Against the grain of what some imaginative foreign digital media may claim about “over one million angry workers,” to date no event in the Cuban scene justifies such a headline.

Actually, Cuban State workers, deprived of such a basic right as free association, have developed in recent decades other peculiar ways of processing their dissatisfaction with government actions that harm them, such as being less productive and increasing theft and “diversion” of resources to round up their depressed wages with additional “profits” from such diversions; or emigrating to the private sector – which has been becoming more frequent and expeditious – or permanently leaving the country to seek prosperity away from the costly “protection” of the Castro regime.

For its part, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC, Cuban Workers Center), the only “union” legally recognized in Cuba, not only has failed to fulfill the functions it supposedly was created for, and – on the contrary – is developing a whole strategy of support for the government, holding meetings at the grassroots level so that union leaders may enlighten workers about the need to contribute to the State Budget as a way of contributing to the fabulous social benefits they are enjoying, especially with regard to health and education.

For this purpose there have been commissioners who, either due to their lack of mental capacity, out of sheer perversity, or for both reasons, mention among these “freebies” the public’s use of battered highways and roads, the calamitous sewer system or even the precarious and almost nonexistent system of streetlights.

However, implementation of the new tax measures should not surprise anyone. Since the 2011 Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the Guidelines framed on Fiscal Policy announced that “higher taxes for higher incomes” (Guideline 57) would be established, and that the tax system would gradually “advance widely to increase its effectiveness as an element of redistribution of income.”

In that vein, on November 2012, Law 113 (of the Tax System) was approved, repealing Law 73 of August 1994, establishing a special provision that reads: “Personal Income tax on salaries and other qualifying income, in accordance with the special rules and Property Tax on Housing and vacant lots to Cuban-born citizens and foreign individuals permanently residing in the national territory, will be required, if economic and social conditions warrant its implementation, which will be approved by the Budget Act of the corresponding year.”

In April 2016, the VII Congress of the PCC once again took up the issue of the need for the population to develop a tax culture, stressed the inability of the State to continue assuming the costs of social benefits and announced that it was studying the implementation of a system of personal income tax… when suitable conditions existed.

In light of today, it becomes obvious that these “conditions” did not refer specifically to an increase in workers’ purchasing power, which is still insufficient despite the much vaunted 54% increase in the average wage in the State business sector from 2013 to the present, which places the wage at 779 Cuban pesos (about US $31) according to official figures. Rather the “conditions” are the State’s increasing inability to ensure the already deficient social security by itself, plus the budget deficit, which the government’s own media places at 1.2 billion Cuban pesos, which must be covered by the treasury.

As officially reported, the State budget for 2016 is 52.4 billion Cuban pesos, of which 5.7 billion (more than 10% of the total budget) went to social security.

Hence Resolution #261 of 2 August 2016, by the Ministry of Finance and Prices, which sets out in detail the tax rate aimed at complementing Law 113 of the Tax System. This should have been applied starting in the second half of the year, but – apparently – nothing could be allowed to mar the Ex-Undefeated One’s 90th birthday celebration in August, so, during the last regular session of the National Assembly of People’s Power it was agreed to postpone the implementation of the resolution until the fourth quarter, starting with September’s income.

Of course, in a “normal” society, an increase in social benefits coincides with a rigorous compliance with a realistic tax policy. The problem is that Cuba does not have either of these two premises: it is neither a “normal” country nor does it have a “realistic” tax burden, but quite the opposite.

In fact, Cuba’s own laws demonize prosperity, limit and discourage production capacity, and discourage and penalize the “accumulation of wealth.” At the same time, there is colossal inflation and a deviant monetary duality: the country operates with two currencies, the Cuban peso (CUP) and the so-called Cuban convertible peso (CUC). For the most part wages are paid in the first currency, while a large portion of the necessities of daily life are sold only in the second. With an exchange rate of 25 Cuban pesos for 1 CUC, this creates an unbridgeable gap between Cubans with access to hard currency, CUCs, and the always insufficient living wage in national currency, CUPs, creating a distortion between official projections, real wages and workers’ cost of living.

Other accompanying factors to the tax culture of a nation, not reflected so far in the government’s plans, are the economic freedoms of those who produce the wealth – the taxpayers – and a necessary transparency in financial figures. Both the source of funds of the State Budget and the destiny of the revenue that feeds State funds through fiscal policy are occult matters of science, under the management of only a small group of anointed ones.

There are certain benefits of collateral privileges for some sectors, which are also not in the public domain. For example, the population does not know what percentage of the national budget is allocated to the cost of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), although both ministries were the first to apply the SPE, while their employees enjoy higher wages, as well as prioritized plans for housing construction and free or irrationally cheap vacations at resorts with prices that are prohibitive for the pockets of common workers. They also get guaranteed transportation services, the largest motor home park in the country, preferential access to food products and a long list of freebies.

In addition, there has been no information on the relationship between the tax and the pensions that retirees get. That is, how many State workers should pay taxes to cover the pensions of all retirees, and what are the projections in this direction for a population that is aging at an alarming rate, and that is, in addition, being hit by the growing and constant exodus abroad of its labor force.

At the moment, workers – suddenly converted to taxpayers without economic rights – have not been liberated of their patriotic obligations such as the “donation” of a day’s pay for the National Militias Troops, a shell entity which nobody sees or belongs to, but with a fixed quota, or of the union fees for an association whose primary function is to defend management. Cuckolded and beaten.

What is uncontested is the efficiency of the State in sharpening its pencils and doing its math. It is known that 1736 State-owned businesses have average salaries in excess of 500 Cuban pesos at which the tax goes into effect; therefore, their workers will begin to take on the new tax burden that will make their incomes dwindle. The bad news is that, presumably, many State workers will give up their jobs to look more promising ones elsewhere. The good news is that Daddy State will stop bragging about so many expensive freebies.

The “gains” made by the workers through half a century of “Revolution” are quickly blurring.

Translated by Norma Whiting

For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Photo: laopcion.com.mx)
(Photo: laopcion.com.mx)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 26 August 2016, Havana — It’s been said that radically opposite ends end up looking alike. That truism has become irrefutable for those of us who are dedicated to independent journalism in Cuba, especially those who practice the basic right of free expression through opinion columns and end up subjected to relentless crossfire, both from the dictatorial power with its powerful monopoly of the press, and from the anti-Castro opposition, and even from “colleagues” of the profession, who are supposedly champions of freedom of expression.

Specifically the press, whose Cuban origins date back to 1790 with the emergence of the newspaper Papel Periódico de la Habana, founded by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País*, was one of the most solid pillars of the 1902 Republic, where dozens of newspapers and magazines circulated. In 1922 the first radio station emerged, and by 1930 the number of stations had grown to 61. Television, meanwhile, arrived in Cuba in 1950, and included new informational and news programs. continue reading

Somehow, over half a century a twisted and pernicious political system has ended up undermining the social foundations so deeply that perhaps the same amount of time will be needed — if not more — to recover, at least partially, the weak republican civic fabric that was taken from us since the “Revolutionary victory.”

If we add to this the newsreels that existed previously, it can be concluded that Cuba had a strong media tradition that promoted the development of public opinion and political formation of a good part of the population through a range of views of the most diverse trends in different subjects of interest to national life.

With its lights and shadows, journalism during the republic enjoyed a healthy development until Castro I took it over and “nationalized” it to found his private press monopoly and place it at the service of the government’s power, its role today. Nevertheless, its counterpart — independent journalism — emerged in the 90’s, and in recent years, driven by the use of new information technologies and communications, has managed to gain space and even grow under truly precarious and hostile conditions, against repression, harassment, and other adversities.

The history and ups and downs of Cuban independent journalism are too extensive to address in this text, since we would stray from the essential issue, which could be summed up in one cardinal question: are parties and opposition leaders prepared to assimilate the democratic paradigms which the Castro dictatorship is presumably facing? Or, more directly, do they have a clear awareness that freedom of expression is a basic, inescapable element of any society that aspires to be considered as democratic?

Judging from my personal experience and the reactions I’ve received from some leaders and their staunchest followers when I questioned their proposals, attitudes and methods, I fear that not all “democratic fighters” in Cuba and in exile are ready to take on the challenge of a free press. In addition, I would argue that the dangerous virus of “intransigence” has undermined the proto-democratic corpus of Cuba’s independent civil society and — together with the miasma of autocratic government, authoritarianism, and its evil companions — is replicating patterns of the system it iss trying to topple.

For certain “illuminati,” criticism of the opposition it is not only harmful, but practically an act of “treason” – a term very much in vogue in the media — as it “panders to the dictatorship” or “discredits” leaders “who are really doing something.” As the General-President Raul Castro always points out, some opponents consider that there is “a right place and a right time” for criticism. That moment, in his view, has not come, and since they feel personally attacked, they react with insults and reproaches, not with arguments, in an unadulterated Castro style.

A frequent accusation launched against any question or opinion that differs from one of these illustrious champions of democracy is that criticism tends to “divide” the opposition, and unaware individuals might think that it was once united. It is also the position of another obstacle: the opportunists; who, in the absence of their own limelight take the opportunity to pose as practical and as conciliators, paternally scolding the transgressor journalist and brandishing one of the most inaccurate phrases often repeated in the corridors: “at the end of the day, we are all on the same page.”

As if instead of politicians and journalists, positions commonly in tune in fairly healthy Western societies, we were school children who bicker for a treat at summer camp.

However, what is most alarming in this senseless contrapuntal — since a truly democratic leader infused by a truly democratic sense should be more interested in the well-argued criticisms he gets than in the servile adulations always at hand — is that reality is being reflected in the self-censorship on the part of some independent journalists, who often, with greatest dishonesty and hypocrisy, silently approve the criticisms that their boldest colleagues publish, so they utter low and furtive congratulations and keep quiet their own disapproval, for fear of being branded “politically incorrect” or “agents,” this time from the antipodes of the Castro regime.

There is also no shortage of neo-chiefs who get offended when some irreverent journalist, like this writer, refuses to be of service or to become a chronicler of his personal scrapbooks. They can’t imagine how anyone could be so “lacking in solidarity” that she decides to prioritize other topics rather than their heroic campaigns and unparalleled demonstrations of patriotism and bravery.

If, to be exact, the journalist of yore prefers to avoid in his writings such bombastic phrases as “the hyena of Birán,” “the blood-spattered tyranny” or other similar theater affectation to qualify the autocrats of the Palace of the Revolution, he becomes de facto a suspicious subject.

Is any similarity to the anointed of the olive-green dome pure coincidence?

It feels like something trivial, however, it is really worrisome for the health of journalism that tomorrow’s censorship is taking shape in certain niches of the opposition today. If it continues, the end of the Castro dictatorship would only mean a change in the color of the political power’s muzzle over the free expression of citizens, and the beginning of an authoritarianism with a different emblem, but equally restrictive.

Barring our having chosen the exercise of opinion in the press as a profession, let’s have enough sense of ethics and respect for ourselves and for our readers to continue doing that uncomfortable journalism that keeps politicians today and tomorrow under the rigor of public scrutiny, just as they should be in a democratic society.

Personally, I reject sappy and complacent journalism, journalism’s subordination to any leadership, and, particularly I reject impunity. That may not be what is expected of independent journalism by the very controversial “servants of the people”; but it certainly is what good Cubans expect.

*Translator’s note: Sociedades Económicas were established in the Spanish colonies (Havana’s is the only one that still survives to date, since 1793) whose mission was that of promoting local economic development, Members were generally drawn from the local aristocracy, scholars, professionals and skilled artisans. Some of the groups strayed into activities that bordered on the political, and were punished by having their legal licenses revoked.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana's Revolution Square April 16, 2011.
Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana’s Revolution Square April 16, 2011. Reuters

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 August 2016 — Recently, during my brief stay in Miami to participate in an academic meeting on legal issues, I was surprised to hear from a Cuban emigrant – fairly old in age – about his wish that, in a future democratic Cuba, a law of compulsory military service would be maintained. His proposal was based on the assumption that military life imposes discipline and maturity in young people. Virtues – his opinion – which are practically extinct on the island.

Very frequently and with minimal variations, I’ve heard this phrase in different scenarios for Cubans of the most dissimilar political ideas or with no political ideas at all. The common denominator is the age of those who think this way: usually adults over 55 or 60. continue reading

It would seem that the experience of the failed Republic, where so many presidents came from military life, and the nearly six decades of this calamitous revolution, led and directed ad infinitum by the military, there are some that just don’t get the damage inflicted by this entrenched militarist tradition in our history.

There are still those who think that certain “misguided” young people can “become men” after being forced to complete their military service, preferably in so-called combat units. “The boys have to go through hard work and get to know what hunger and hard life are in order to have discipline,” state many venerable septuagenarians. However, if such a principle were true, we Cubans who have been born and raised under the Castro regime would be among the most disciplined people on the planet.

The strange thing is that the same principle has been valid for both Tyrians and Trojans. Suffice it to recall that supporters of Fulgencio Batista were convinced that the country’s leadership should be in the hands of a “strong man,” even if it meant the violation of constitutional order, a perception that made the March 1952 coup possible, which opened a new door to military violence.

Just a few years later, another “strong man” was beating popularity records among Cubans, when he took power by force of arms, overthrew the earlier “strong one” and imposed the longest military dictatorship that this hemisphere has known.

That same militaristic thought made possible the existence of the notorious Military Units to Aid Production, created with the aim of amending and “making men,” through the rigor and discipline of military life, out of homosexuals, religious, “softies,” petty bourgeois and other elements whose tendencies and attitudes did not seem worthy enough to the “macho” olive green power elite.

And, on behalf of that bellicose national spirit, invoked from Law 75 (or the National Defense Act), thousands and thousands of young Cubans have been called to the military ranks. Castro-type military testosterone planted in several countries of South America and Africa in the form of guerrillas has not just been exported from Cuba, but hundreds of young Cuban recruits who completed the Compulsory Military Service were sacrificed uselessly in the war in Angola. Those who returned alive still carry the trauma of war to the present day, although there has never been a single patient officially reported with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Young people who refused to go to war, meanwhile, suffered military prison for “treason.”

The chimeric moral superiority of military training in men is directly correlated to the machista Cuban culture and is reflected even in familiar popular phrases. Who has not heard of “if you do not like it, go lead an uprising in the Sierra”; or “don’t act so brave, you have never fired a shot,” because being “one who fires shots” is not only an irrefutable sign of manly courage, but also the source of legitimacy of the force imposed over arguments.

Undoubtedly, those who advocate the supposed virtues of military discipline as a solution to the crisis of Cuban social values forget that over half a century of Compulsory Military Service, far from forming the character of our young people, has been a source of humiliation and deprivation, having only succeeded in enhancing the resentment and frustration of being forcibly subjected to an activity for which they do not feel the slightest vocation. I cannot think of a worse way to “become men.”

Keep in mind that a mechanism for corruption has been promoted from the standpoint of purchasing permanent deferments at recruitment offices by parents of young men subject to the draft, often with forged medical certificates alleging their adolescent children have some sort of handicap and are unable to undergo the rigors of a combat unit. Another way is through bribing the officials in charge of enlisting, who, for a set amount in hard currency, make the candidate’s file disappear, and he is not called to serve.

But the military band of men in Cuba extends beyond the compliance of active duty, since once he is “licensed,” the soldier becomes part of the country’s military reserve and is subject to mobilization whenever the Party-State-Government declares some imaginary threat or craves a show of force.

In so-called combat units, an inaccurate term for referring to the camp and shooting areas, weaponry and exercises, most of the recruits’ time is spent clearing fields and cleaning, or in some activity related to repairing and maintaining the headquarters’ kitchens. At the end of their active duty, many of them may only have “practiced” shooting their weapons once, and some not even that, so they are very far from being trained to carry out a war or to defend the country in case of aggression.

Of note, among other factors in the “training” of young recruits in Cuba, are poor living conditions in the units, poor health, poor diet, lack of drinking water or sanitary services, forced labor, mistreatment by officers, among other hardships that have nothing to do with military training, with preparation for the defense of the country or with the forging of character in discipline and high ethical and moral values which they would have to aspire to.

Compulsory Military Service has not only served the regime as a clamping and blackmail mechanism over Cuban adolescents – restricting the continuance of their studies, travel abroad or holding jobs – but it constitutes one of the most backward obstacles we need to get rid of as soon as possible. In a democratic Cuba the army should not replace the functions of home and civilian schools in forming our youth’s values. In fact, most Cubans who have lived for nearly six decades in this prison of olive-green uniformed guards, who have endured a regime of orders and control as if instead of citizens we are obedient soldiers, wish to be present at the conclusion of the detrimental cult of the epaulets and the philosophy of “people in uniform.”

A simple look at the most emblematic figures of Cuban civic history reveals the primacy of civilian-humanist over militaristic thought in forging the nation. Examples abound, but we quote only emblematic names like Félix Varela, José de la Luz y Caballero and José Martí, champions of virtues very distant from the staunch Hispanic militarism breath that has choked our spirit since 1492 until today.

A separate topic would be the future existence of military academies, where officers with real military vocations would be trained in different specialties, and would lead a well-paid professional army, properly prepared and much smaller in numbers than the substantial hordes of hungry and resentful rookies that are bundled in the armed forces today, who, in an imaginary case of aggression, would only serve as cannon fodder.

It is not reasonable that a small, poor and malnourished country that is not at war or under the threat of an armed conflict has more men lazing about wasting time in an unnecessary army than producing the wealth and food so urgently needed.

However, it remains true that in a future Cuba we will need a formidable army, only not an army of soldiers, but of teachers, professionals from all walks of life, from the labor forces, from our peasant population, our merchants, businessmen, free citizens. They will shoulder a much greater responsibility than a thousand regiments of warriors: the material and moral reconstruction of a nation ruined specifically by the military caste planted in power in the last half century, which has been more pernicious and destructive than the sum of all wars fought in the history of this land.

Translated by Norma Whiting

A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)
Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)

It is a crime to manipulate a child’s conscience for the adulation of a dictator.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 15 August 2016, Havana – This Saturday, August 13, 2016, was the culmination of true torture after months of putting up with the fanfare in the official media on the occasion of the ninetieth birthday of the Specter-in-Chief.

Against any reasonable forecast, the responsibility for the birthday celebration was delegated to the members of the children’s art troupe “La Colmenita,” (The Little Beehive) and was presented to an audience that was beyond unusual: a theater crowded with adults dressed in military accoutrements or in pressed white guayaberas, Cuban dress shirts.

In the front row, flanked by the president of Venezuela on his left and his brother Raúl Castro on his right, the Orate Magnus in the flesh writhed in his seat and turned to whisper something to the Venezuelan catafalque, without paying much attention to the apotheosis of bad taste that was taking place on stage. Undaunted and haughty, as he has always been, he remained indifferent to the adulation, as if the whole deployment of major sucking-up were not exclusively devoted to him and his irreparable 90 years. continue reading

However, it this upside-down granddaddy, to whom the children narrated stories, is not what this commentary is about, but specifically about the child actors who were charged with the responsibility for the pathetic spectacle, whose most salient feature was a waste of a repulsive cult towards the ancient dictator.

An alienated representation of Abdala, José Martí’s well-known theater piece, where the hysteria and the over-acting of the two young performers stood out in stark contrast to the firm, serene and happy mood behind this work of Martí, was the strong dish that attempted to draw a parallel line between the hero of the play–young Abdala marching off to war—and Cuba’s ex-chief.

Meanwhile, the girl in the role of the mother of Patriot Abdala rendered herself on the stage with the same deranged passion of a slum tango, to the delight of all spectators… except one. Poor children, victims of the political manipulations of their elders! Poor Martí, so used and abused by the power of a satrapy that has turned Cuba into exactly the opposite of what he dreamed of!

Meanwhile, on the backdrop, images from the Wars of Independence were projected, followed by other, real ones, of the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra, the Bay of Pigs battle and the thousand useless fights tussled by the ex-Undefeated from his climate-controlled headquarters. The same ossified scheme of the aesthetics of socialist realism rooted in the years of the Cold War. The consecration of mediocrity.

And just in case the show wasn’t tasteless enough, the City Historian and a decrepit Omara Portuondo were brought onto the stage. In a shaky voice, Portuondo sang (again!), “The era is giving birth to a heart.” Castro I sat in an armchair because his dreadful state of health no longer allows those incendiary speeches standing on his feet before the public. The City Historian, one of the most notorious pimps of Castro I, made a grotesque and vulgar tribute praising the culture and genius of the nonagenarian honoree, his astonishing knowledge, his aptitude for speaking (and supposedly also “for listening”), the beauty of his hands and that “Fidel” had given him a tie 20 years ago.

The children’s feigned passion, the fake joy of the director and the artificial rigidity of the public provoked embarrassment among the rest of the people, but it especially arouses indignation to note how brainwashed these children are. Their carefully learned scripts, their acting gestures, the projection of their voices; everything indicates thorough indoctrination, long hours snatched from the play and joy of that brief period of their lives, to be submitted to obedience and sacrifice in order to satisfy the vanity of the old tyrant.

The U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child should condemn this practice as a criminal violation, suitable to Nazism, to manipulate the conscience of defenseless children in serving the ideological interests of adults.

The children arouse pity. In a not-too-distant day, when the revered specter of today is just a bad memory next to a pile of ashes, they will discover that they were used in the service of an outdated ideology and that their candor was sacrificed at the foot of a statue of the past, with the willing consent of those who should protect them: their parents. I would like to think that at least the children will have the opportunity to change course.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba in Crisis: the Pressure is Building / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro
Raul Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 July 2016 — Some claim that “nothing ever happens in Cuba.” However, the signals we have been receiving of late indicate otherwise.

The price increases at the produce markets since the last quarter of 2015, accompanied by periodic (and frequent) cycles of shortages of food and other basic items in the TRDs,* accompanied by fierce raids against the self-employed – and particularly against the well-known pushcart vendors – the closing down of the only wholesale produce market in Havana, and the accumulation of problems without solutions, have been increasing the pressure inside Cuba. The most expeditious solution has been the exodus stampede, which has already turned created a crisis in some areas of South and Central America. continue reading

As if such a scenario were not enough, during the sessions of the Seventh Ordinary Period of the current legislature, the National Assembly has once again begun to thresh the usual litany of failures: lack of completion of building plans and housing repairs, aqueducts and sewage system networks, insufficient food production, the new debacle of the last sugar harvest, the insurmountable difficulties in public transportation, the drought problems, the climate’s ill turns, the chronic lack of liquidity as an essential feature of the national economy, and even the damages we are encountering because of low world prices for nickel…. and oil (!?!?).

Reports presented by ministers and other Cuban senior leaders in the ten working committees, as well as “debates” that have been taking place among deputies, are proof of the healthy and uninterrupted march towards a national debacle, under the experienced guidance Castro II.

It is a well-known fact that we are living in the midst of a disaster. What’s new is that now the dark prophecy of the impending advent of (more) difficult times is being delivered by the official spokesmen themselves, not by the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ from here and over there.

The report presented to the Economic Affairs Commission by Economy Minister Marino Murillo referred to – without much fanfare – saving measures and adjustments that have been taking place to combat what he called “a tense liquidity situation.” He noted that the expected revenue in the economic plan did not materialize for this period, and that it is unlikely that the well-heralded 2% GDP growth will take place by year-end 2016.

As usual, such “predictions” are not only made when the national drama is in full swing, but they are not accompanied by a package of solutions. Instead, the “measures” of the highest echelons of power to alleviate the crisis had preceded the omen. For several weeks they have been cutting working hours, transportation service for workers, “subsidized gasoline” and other perks, such as lunches or snacks – in the few centers that belong to “strategic sectors” the state still has – of the workplaces of the capital.

Air-conditioning service is being reduced at the TRDs, from 2 PM until closing. They have also started to increase the blackout periods in different areas of Havana.

The new savings plan includes the elimination, starting the week of July 11th, of night shifts in several orthodontic offices, including at the Orthodontic School.

Shortages in oil and regular gasoline at the gas stations (Cupet), where they are sold, is another factor being felt in the transportation systems, both state-owned and among private carriers. Assignations to the state fleet have been dramatically limited – including those intended for the transportation of goods from warehouses to the TRDs, thus aggravating the shortages – while the private service has been decreased, suggesting an upcoming transportation price hike.

Almost simultaneously, meetings have been held with the militants of numerous Cuban Communist Party (PCC) base organizations to alert them to the need for increased vigilance and support for the institutions responsible for maintaining order, and also to be ready to counter manifestations of violence, increased corruption and other criminal activities characteristic of crisis situations.

The communist base is being warned about the importance of being vigilant against any outbreak of discontent that could lead to an anti-government revolt likely to be exploited by the enemies of the Revolution. Everything indicates that what is worrying the power elite is not exactly “what’s going on” but what might happen in the short term.

And since – in direct line with the worsening crisis choking the lives of Cubans – discontent is what continues to grow most in the country right now, and militants can’t rest in their mission to safeguard the interests of olive-green caste.

Meanwhile, in the interior of the island frustration increases and the migratory stampede continues to assume cyclopean dimensions. With the capital of the masses’ faith drained to the dregs, power will be forced to multiply its spending to sustain the formidable repressive forces needed to repress an entire people, a task that will not be as easy as beating, arresting and imprisoning peaceful dissidents.

In the interior of the island frustration in creases and the migratory stampede continues to take cyclopean dimensions (photo: AP)
In the interior of the island frustration in creases and the migratory stampede continues to take cyclopean dimensions (photo: AP)

Paradoxically, the government’s stubbornness and political clumsiness impel the outcome it is seeking to avoid. An insistence on trying to lead the nation as if it were an army in the full campaign of war, rather than promoting a broad and deep economic opening that cleanses the domestic economy, allows the development of the potential of the private sector, and gives a break the national anoxia, shows the meanness of a caste that prefers the sacrifice of an entire people before losing power.

To accentuate the absurd, the leaders of the Palace of the Revolution have the effrontery to launch this new report of forced austerity at the same time they are debating strategies and the government’s economic plans out to the year 2030. No moderately reasonable government would announce a period of energy cuts and other unpopular measures while running a public consultation of such importance. Undoubtedly, the General-President and his claque rely excessively on the powerful social control they have exercised so far, and the gentleness of a people who have forgotten how to assert their rights.

However, although no one doubts that Cuba is navigating toward a major disaster, one cannot rely too heavily on the accuracy of official reports. Especially if there is no access by citizens and independent institutions to primary sources or macroeconomic data, which remain the secret patrimony of the State-Party-Government and its most faithful servants. This means statistical figures are not reliable even when they are unfavorable to the country’s leadership.

We can’t forget that just days before the gloomy reports of the National Assembly, official media reported optimistically the increasing numbers of foreign visitors who are bringing hard currency in the tourism industry, and rubbed their hands with glee over the numerous signings of technology exchange agreements and declarations of intent from foreign investors.

For this reason, and without denying the great influence of the Venezuelan situation on the Cuban economy – which has a profound impact on a country as dependent on aid and subsidies as is Cuba – it cannot be affirmed with a scientific certainty how much of a real urgency there is in the “complex scenario” of the island’s economy, and the political blackmail maneuvers by the Castro regime’s highest levels of power, intended to pressure the United States government, and it congress and political forces for a final lifting of the embargo, which would allow the dictatorship quick and direct access to credits, a flood of foreign investments and a flow of hard currency that would guarantee its permanence in power.

Thus, to magnify the effect of the virtual collapse of Chavismo in Venezuela and that country’s economic crisis as the main source of the current Cuban crisis is to place (once again) the causes of Cuba’s problems beyond its frontiers, when in reality the key to all our ills is found in the inefficiency of an elite of cunning bandits who have hijacked lives and property, looting the nation at will for decades.

Because with or without Venezuela – as before with or without the Soviet Union, with or without the “Socialist Camp,” with or without foreign investors – the truth is that the Castros have done more damage to Cuba than all the epidemics and wars this nation has faced throughout its history, and will continue to be a hindrance for all Cubans regardless of who remains in the seat of power.

This summer, then, promises to be very hot and not because of the greenhouse effect. The compasses of tens of thousands of Cuban continue pointing to the promising north and the stampede from the island is expected to once again take the maritime route. If this is the General-President’s strategy to ease the internal pressure and achieve his interests in perpetuity, he should know it is a risky game and could be counterproductive for everyone, especially for those who have more to lose.

At this point, we could rewrite as its inverse that bombastic phrase of a certain chimeric allegation, which could well serve as an epithet on the tomb of Castroism: “Absolve them. It doesn’t matter. History will condemn them.”**

Translator’s notes:

*”TRD” is the acronym for the official name (in Spanish) of these government stores which does not even attempt to hide their intended function: Hard Currency Collection Stores.

**Fidel Castro concluded his four-hour speech in his own defense at his trial for his leadership of the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks with the words: “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Blackboard Mafia / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

High School Students in Havana (14ymedio)
High School Students in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 5 July 2015 — “Everyone knows which teachers accept money,” a group of young people tells me. In fact, some not only accept, but clearly require it from students who know they would not be able to pass the exam on their own.

The final days of the 2015-2016 school year are here, and once again the recurring theme of fraud by students and teachers surfaces, poor preparation of students, low quality of education and the shocking loss of values among not a few education professionals.

A group of five 10th and 11th graders of the pre-university Gerardo Abreu Fontán, of Centro Habana, agreed to offer their testimony on the subject under conditions of anonymity, in an interview that lasted more than two hours and uncovered before me a broad and deep network of corruption. continue reading

“You know you are going to have to come straight with me…” says a professor to a bad student, in a full classroom and in the presence of all other students. A phrase that, from a pure semantics point does not say much, but that in marginal code says it all. The aforementioned understands and abides: the game’s move is set.

Around this sunspot there is a whole system of tariffs and strategies that work seamlessly interlocked with the precision of a Swiss watch. Impunity in this maze of fraudulent trickeries is almost absolute.

The teacher acting as proctor will charge 5 CUC for each student thus strategized in the case, of which he will pay a portion of the professor who teaches the subject and another to the person in charge that year.

There is a kind of unwritten agreement In Havana that stipulates an approximate rate, depending on the type of examination (whether oral or written), the period evaluated (if the test is partial or final), the neighborhood where the school is located (which is usually indicative of the purchasing power of the student’s family) and quality and/or experience of the professor.

Thus, to achieve a good grade on a mandatory mid-term (known as a “Partial Control Work” with the initials TCP), a student from a relatively solvent family who is generally behind must pay between 2 or 3 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) to the subject’s teacher. Some teachers, however, charge at a rate of 4 CUC per grade per question, so, considering that a TCP contains three questions; the cost can go up to 12 CUC for each TCP for each core subject.

Meanwhile, the final exam contains five questions, but the system and the going rate in this case vary, depending on what manoeuver is used. For example, a variant is that a certain number of students previously disclose to the subject’s teacher their interest in paying for the proctor during the exam so he will let the students cheat, whether it is looking up each correct answer in books or notebooks or copying among themselves.

The proctor, in turn, charges 5 CUC for each student involved in the plot, from which he will pay a portion to the professor who teaches the subject and another to the person in charge that year, who will turn a blind eye when he makes the classroom rounds to guarantee the transparency of the evaluation process.  So the circle of what we might call a blackboard mafia is closed.

Assuming that there are four subjects with written finals—Spanish, Math, Biology and History—and that there are an increasing number of students interested in using this negotiated evaluation process, it is easy to conclude that the dividends to these “educators” stemming from fraud far exceed their paid wages.

Dividends obtained by these “educators” through fraud far exceed the amount of their wages.

Another variation, usually applied when the teacher has a close relationship with the student and his family, is to conduct the review of examinations at either the home of the student or teacher, where the professor will dictate the correct answers to the student, thus allowing for corrections of mistakes made in the classroom. In these cases, payment is not in the form of cash, but masked in the form of a more or less expensive gift, accompanied by the corresponding eternal “gratitude” of the adolescent’s family.

Finally, there is also the old trick of altering official assessment records, so the teacher gives the student a higher grade than the grade received in the evaluations, which raises the student’s rank so he will have easy access to better university career choices once he finishes high school.

However, the juiciest peculiarity takes place at the provincial level, where the tests are prepared and the final exams and revaluations are “guarded.” According to the students interviewed, both can be bought for a price of about 30 CUC, although the student or his family must know the right person to contact, because otherwise it could mean severe sanctions.

Meanwhile, the new form of oral assessment for subjects like Physics and Chemistry in pre-university education, which was established in the 2014-2015 school year to “facilitate” student grades and elevate their advancement, has only managed to diversify the corruption behaviors of teachers to defraud the system.

These tests are performed through paper forms known as “ballots,” developed at the provincial level. The procedure is simple: the “paying” student will speak to that subject’s professor, who in turn will coordinate the gimmick with some member of the hearing panel to whom he will deliver a list with the names of those students who will pay for their grade in advance. Meanwhile, on the date of the exam, the corrupt faculty panel member, once he has verified the student’s name on the list, gives the student a ballot containing the answers, or he points out the answers to the incorrect ones written by the student, in cases when the student chooses to fill out the ballot himself.

Another variation is to conduct the review of examinations at either the home of the student or teacher, where the professor will dictate the correct answers to the student.

Each subject has a different price, depending on its complexity. A Physics test, for example, costs 15 CUC this year. Chemistry is often cheaper, 5 to 10 CUC, or a gift, which can be anything from perfume, a wallet, or any article of clothing to a bottle of rum.

Evaluations of subjects that are “not important,” such as Political Culture, English, or Computing, almost always are bought, because they are cheap and almost everyone can do it, and so you get it off your mind easily with 2 or 3 CUC or a modest gift, if it is a TCP”.

For a final exam, those who can will pay 5 CUC so they won’t have to make a presentation at the evaluation seminars, which is how they are evaluated. “Sometimes you pay the teacher to give you seminar from a previous year, and you can then transcribe it, as if it was your own work.”

“And all that without taking into consideration that, in addition, on Teachers Day, they get lots of presents,” says M, the most lively of the students interviewed.

But the corruption of the education system is not limited to the evaluation process. According to testimonies from students and parents, access at the end of the ninth grade (secondary school) to a pre-university slot higher than the student’s rating would entitle them to, costs about 100 CUC, paid directly to the school board, or it is “negotiated” through some municipal official with the Ministry of Education (MINED) responsible for the “grants.”

Judging by these statements, corruption is decaying the previously formidable Cuban educational system and it is sprinkling into everyday life, so much so that even students who have not succumbed to the mechanism of fraud—whether for moral reasons or their family’s financial limitations—perceive it as commonplace, perhaps a questionable issue, but not a crime at all.

Each subject has a different price, depending on its complexity

“It’s normal to some extent,” states G, an 11th grader who dreams of making a career in design. “It’s not that I feel respect for those corrupt professors, but I don’t care. It’s not my problem.”

In the case of R, an adolescent with beautiful features and pleasant manners who wants to be a doctor, he believes that what these educators do is not right, but “each person is worthy of respect, that is their livelihood.  If we had a different economy, other wages, different teacher training … perhaps it would be different.”

Once again, M intervenes with a sharp reflection for his young age.  He expresses himself with ease: “The problem is that the Government doesn’t pay them enough. It doesn’t invest in professors or their training, because they don’t produce immediate gains, as in the case of doctors, for instance, who go to foreign assignments and the government takes almost all the money they get paid abroad. Of course teachers are looking for any way to make money, especially the younger ones, who want to go out, have fun and buy fashionable clothes and shoes, just like us.”

All the teens assent in tacit agreement, while something akin to despair invades my being. These youngsters have offered me a glimpse of the true dimension of the damage inflicted to the spiritual body of Cuban society, not just to the economy. I am impressed by the colossal task that will be entailed in rebuilding the moral fragments of our nation, once the long nightmare of the Castro regime has ended. Of course, I don’t accept defeat in advance, but, for now, corruption is continuing to spread its tentacles and threatening to win the game.

Translated by Norma Whiting