‘Moviecide’ in Havana

Edison Movie House, converted to apartments and now in danger of collapse. (14ymedio)
Edison Movie House, converted to apartments and now in danger of collapse. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 March 2016 — In its primetime broadcast on Tuesday, The Cuban Television National News (NTV) released a report by journalist Milenys Torres about what were once called “neighborhood theaters,” most of which are entirely shut down or intended for other “social functions.”

With that deviousness that characterizes official journalism and allows reporters to skirt the periphery of the information without committing to the causes or the solutions, Torres briefly interviewed several locals and showed pictures of some of the theaters that once proliferated in the Cuban capital. Since the latter part of the 20th century, they have been closed and have been turning into unsanitary landfills that are infecting neighborhoods and creating sources for disease. Continue reading “‘Moviecide’ in Havana”

Rats, cockroaches and other vermin swarm among sewage leaks and all kinds of filth in places where we Havana citizens used to enjoy an occasional movie, a wholesome entertainment that was cheap and accessible in our own neighborhoods.

No movie theatre management, regardless of the causes, was able to decide, unilaterally and without consultation, on closing down the theaters and throwing away the key

During the Republican era, the great American influence made us avid movie buffs, and we were used to “keeping up” with all film production, not only from Hollywood, but also from Europe and Latin America. From then until the 1980s, the general public in Cuba had the same access to a first-run American movie, a Mexican drama or a French comedy, while the most demanding would enjoy New Wave, Swedish or German movies, among other treats. Of course, Soviet and other Eastern European cinematography also had its glory days in Havana movie theatres.

Although many times, and over a long period, the independent press has dealt very critically with the issue of vanishing Havana movie houses, the recent NTV report tries to present it as a priority of the official press and as if the event had taken place only yesterday and not three decades ago.

Milenys Torres introduces the news almost candidly from the landfill that the old Duplex and Rex Cinemas have become, in the midst of a boulevard in Centro Habana, using an ambiguous phrase that diffuses responsibility in a vacuum: “It is said that it all began when the air conditioning broke down and the movie house was closed.”

But it so happens that all Cuban movie houses have been state-owned since the Revolutionary government nationalized them, also monopolizing film production. No movie theatre management, regardless of the causes, was able to decide unilaterally and without consultation, on closing down the theaters and throwing away the key. Neither should the responsibility be shunned by the Comunales (the local People’s Power organizations), municipal political management entities, and instances of Public Health – all of them State-run institutions – for the loss of those cultural places and the steady accumulation of all kinds of refuse that affect not only the physical aspect but the health of such a densely populated environment.

Making an incomplete list of some neighborhood movie theaters that have been closed, just in the municipalities of Habana Vieja and Centro Habana, the list speaks volumes.

Spirituality and culture did not put food on the tables of a population uniformed in poverty

Besides the movie theatres mentioned above, the following movie theatres no longer exist in Centro Habana: The Majestic and The Verdún (Consulado Street), and The Neptune and Rialto cinemas (street of the same name), The Caprí – later renamed Mégano – and the The Campoamor (corner of Industria and San José, the last one in ruins). The Cuba and The Reina (Reina Street), this last one being used by a dance group, The Jigüe and The América (Galiano Street), currently used for musical shows, The Pionero (San Lázaro Street), The Findlay (Zanja Street), and The Favorito, the current headquarters for another dance group.

The moviecide is repeated In Old Havana, although this municipality never had the large number of theatres that Centro Habana had. Movie houses Guise, Negrete and Fausto (Prado Street) disappeared, as did The Ideal (Compostela Street). The Actualidades (Monserrate Street) remains in operation, but is markedly deteriorated, while The Universal (Bernaza Street) is a ruin converted into a parking lot, and The Habana (Mercaderes Street, Plaza Vieja) was rescued and converted into a Planetarium by intervention of the Office of the City Historian.

While new technologies have brought to households the opportunity to enjoy movies at home, in the rest of the world they have contributed to the closure of old, big theaters which have been transformed into smaller spaces to accommodate fewer spectators. The initial causes of the closure of Cuban cinemas run counter to technological developments, although multiplying the offerings.

The deep unprecedented economic crisis that followed the collapse of socialism and the sharp drop to a situation of survival took precedence over cultural and recreational matters. All of Cuba, and especially the capital, were overwhelmed by emergencies such as food, health and material shortages of all kinds. Spirituality and culture did not put food on the tables of a population uniformed in poverty.

On the other hand, political power began to be questioned in homes and even in public spaces, whether in a covert way, as in the isolated outbreaks of public discontent. Many of these outbreaks occurred precisely in cultural places. On one occasion, when images of Fidel Castro appeared in newsreels, viewers broke out chanting a popular hit song – just released in a Cuban rock-opera – whose lyrics repeated in crescendo “That man is crrrazzzy!” The movie house ended up being emptied by police, though there were no arrests, and no subsequent showings of the newsreel were aired.

The theaters were centers of potential disorder and anti-government political expressions

The authorities thus found out that movie theatres – being public places, where the public congregated and were protected by the anonymity of darkness – were potential centers for disorder and anti-government political expressions, which could easily get out of official control, so they stationed plain-clothes State Security and uniformed police agents in all movie houses.

Deliberately, as the cinemas were deteriorating, they were closed “for repairs” that never took place, until the theatres were sacrificed on the altar of ideology.

Years later, when a handful of private entrepreneurs started up small theaters, they were quickly forced to shut down by the authorities. The State was not able to meet the demands of Cuban moviegoers, but it would not allow public movie transmission out of its exclusive control: nothing could escape the Revolution’s rigid sieve of cultural policy arranged in 1961 by its supreme leader.

Currently, a few State projection rooms have been renovated and adapted to new trends. These are, for example, The Multicine Infanta in Centro Habana; or The Fresa y Chocolate Theatre in the heart of El Vedado. Yet the feverish movie-goer activity that developed in the shadow of the lavish theaters of Havana seems to have disappeared forever. Only, unlike countries where new technologies have brought the glamour of movie viewing to domestic spaces, Miledys Torres’ report is hypocritical and inopportune, when she questions the calamitous state of this or that movie house.

The official journalist seems to be asking naively: “Who shut down the movie houses?” She might find the answer parodying playwright Lope de Vega, but inversely. Because, in this Cuban movie-buff drama we are not only before the consecration of abuse of power, but the culprit was not Fuenteovejuna*, but precisely the Commendador.

*Translator’s note:Fuenteovejuna is a Lope de Vega 1614 comedy of the genre “Comendador” depicting conflict between villains and noblemen, abuse of power and finger-pointing.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The New York Times, a Branch of Granma / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Headquarters of The New York Times (Photo: wikipedia.org)
Headquarters of The New York Times (Photo: wikipedia.org)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2016 – The New York Times (NYT) has just dedicated a new editorial to Cuba. Or, to be more accurate, the article, signed by Colombian Ernesto Londoño, makes a whole accolade about what he — and perhaps the executives of that influential newspaper — depict as the beginning of a process of freedom of expression on the island.

And the unusual miracle of opening up which was announced triumphantly has been taking place just “since the United States began to normalize relations with Havana in late 2014.” So, magically, by the grace of Barack Obama’s new policy, “Cubans have begun to debate subjects that were once taboo, and to criticize their government more boldly.” (Oh, thank you, Barack. Cubans, always so incompetent, will be forever grateful to you!). Continue reading “The New York Times, a Branch of Granma / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Unfortunately, such sublime journalistic purpose is truncated because of the obtuse ignorance editorialists and publishers have about Cuban history and reality. In fact, from his first paragraph, Londoño’s forced rhyme to “illustrate” Cuban advances in matters of freedom of expression could not have been any more unfortunate: “In the past, when a Cuban athlete disappeared during a sporting event abroad, there was no official acknowledgement or any mention of it in the State media.”

Then he refers to the recent extent of athletes defecting, starring with brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel — two young baseball stars who escaped the Cuban delegation during its stay in the Dominican Republic — as “an episode that illustrates how citizens in the most repressive country in the hemisphere are increasingly pushing the limits of freedom of expression”.

This New York Times apprentice is either misinformed or totally clueless, because all Cubans on the island, especially those of us born soon after that sadly memorable 1st of January 1959, are aware of the numerous official statements of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER), a repudiation of what the Cuban government qualifies as defection of athletes who sell themselves to the powers of capital. Who in Cuba does not remember the deep voice and the indignation of the newspaper commentator and sports broadcaster, Héctor Rodríguez, now dead, reading passionately those intense pamphlets against the traitors?

Such official statements have certainly not been released each time a desertion has occurred, but definitely every time they have turned out to be extremely outrageous and blatant, as with the recent case of the Gourriel brothers.

Another noteworthy aspect is the NYT’s overvaluing of the role of the U.S. government “to reduce the culture of fear and the obedience that the State has long-used to control its citizens,” which has resulted in, “Today, a wider section of Cuban society is speaking with less fear.” It would seem that the efforts of opponents, dissidents, independent journalists and other civil society organizations, as well as the natural wear and tear of a whole society subjected to decades of deprivation and deceit by a ruling elite, has achieved absolutely nothing.

Of course, nobody with a modicum of common sense would deny the influence any political change of a U.S. administration has on Cuba, especially when all of the Cuban dictatorship’s foreign (and domestic) policies have based their central axis on its dispute with the U.S. Personally, I am among those opponents who support a policy of dialogue and reconciliation, since the conflict of over half a century did not produce any results, and it is still too early for the Obama policy towards Cuba to be classified as a “failure.” In political matters, every process needs a time period to reach fruition, and we should not expect major changes in just 14 months of dialogue between parties to a half a century of conflict.

However, to grant the new position of the White House the ability to open democratic spaces of expression within Cuba in that short period of time is wrong, irrational, and even disrespectful. Not only because it distorts reality and deceives the American public, but because it deliberately fails to acknowledge the work of many independent journalists who have pushed the wall of silence that has surrounded the island for decades, reporting on the Cuban reality, and who have suffered persecution, imprisonment and constant harassment for their actions, by the repressive forces of the regime.

Nevertheless, the real latent danger in the biased NYT editorial is its presenting as champions of freedom of expression those who are useful tools of the regime in its present unequivocal process of mimicry: the pro-government bloggers, a group that emerged in the shadow of official policy as a government strategy to counter the virulent explosion of independent bloggers that began in 2007 and that two years later had grouped in the Voces Cubanas blogger platform, the access to which from Cuba was immediately blocked by the government.

Blogger Harold Cárdenas, who is Mr. Londoño’s chosen example of a critic of the Castro autocracy, is actually what could be defined as a “Taliban-light,” equivalent to a believer convinced of the superiority of the Cuban system, disguised as a critic. If the Castro dictatorship has any talent, it is the ability to adapt to each new circumstance and survive any political upheaval, a quality that allows it to manipulate the discourse and elect its “judges” at each new turn.

In the present circumstances of non-confrontation with the Empire, Hassan Pérez, an angry and hysterical beefeater, now disappeared from the scene, would be out of the question. Instead, someone like Harold Cárdenas is ideal: he is reasonably disapproving, moves within government institutions (so he’s controllable) and knows exactly where the line that cannot be crossed is. Additionally, sensible Harold remains safely distant from all the independent press, and he uses the same epithets to refer to it as does the government: “mercenaries at the service of imperialism,” or “CIA agents.”

Another dangerous illusion is the alleged existence of a “progressive wing” within the spheres of power in Cuba, to which — according to what Londoño stated in the NYT — Harold Cárdenas is closely related. On this point, the utter lack of journalistic seriousness of the NYT is scandalous. The myth of a “progressive” sector as a kind of conspirators — which is actually a host of opportunistic individuals — close to the tower of power, waiting for the chance to influence changes in Cuba, has been spreading in the media outside the island for a long time, but, so far, this is mere speculation that has no basis whatsoever.

In addition, it is unacceptable to limit the hopes of a better future for Cubans from the inferred recognition of those who are the currently close supporters of the regime. No change in Cuba will be genuine unless it includes as actors, in all its representation and variety, the independent civil society and all Cubans on the island and the diaspora. Nor will there be true freedom of the press as long as the dictatorship is allowed to select its “critics” while it punishes independent thinking of any fashion.

As for the imaginary meetings at all the universities in the country to discuss the political future of Cuba, this is the most fallacious thing that could have occurred to Mr. Londoño, and it exposes a huge flaw in the credibility of the NYT. Could anyone seriously believe that the Cuban dictatorship would allow questioning of the regime within its own institutions? Could it be perhaps that Londoño and the NYT managers have shattered in one fell swoop the Castro principle that “universities are for revolutionaries”?

But none of this is really a surprise. The prelude started in October, 2014, when an avalanche of NYT editorials was written by Ernesto Londoño, noting that it was time to change U.S. policy towards Cuba, an idea I share in principle, but for very different reasons and arguments as those the NYT advocates. Two months later, the restoration of relations would be announced.

By then, Londoño and his employers didn’t remotely have a clue of the Cuban reality; neither do they have any now. But what has become a conspiracy against the rights of Cubans cannot be construed as naive or as good intentions gone astray. Perhaps it is time that this Latin American, whose will has been tamed so appropriately to the old northern colonial mentality, that which considers the people of the subcontinent incapable of self-achievement, should write about the serious conflicts of his own country of origin — which, paradoxically, are being decided in Cuba today — if he at least knows more about Colombian reality than Cuban.

Meanwhile, it appears that the peddlers of Cuban politics have managed to weave much stronger ties with the NYT than we imagined. No wonder NYT editorials seem to have turned that newspaper into the New York branch of Cuba’s State and Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

Translated by Norma Whiting

21st Century Socialism: Rest in Peace? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro, evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega (clockwise from upper left)
Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega (clockwise from upper left)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 25 February 2106 — The crisis of the ghostly 21st Century Latin American socialism has been demonstrated once again with the negative outcome of the referendum on the reform of Bolivia’s constitution that sought to legitimize the candidature of Evo Morales in the 2019 elections. The controversial petty king aspired to remain screwed to the presidential armchair at least until 2025… but most of his countrymen, including native ethnic groups, have given him the brush-off.

So far, and despite the maneuvers that — according to what opposition sectors of the Andean country claim — the Morales government is taking advantage of to reverse its resounding defeat, everything indicates that the NO vote is irreversible.

Within a few months, the decline of the leftist leadership — which started in Argentina with the fall of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the presidential elections, followed by the loss of Chavismo in last December’s parliamentary elections in Venezuela and now with the refusal to allow Evo to hijack power in Bolivia Continue reading “21st Century Socialism: Rest in Peace? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

— shows plainly that the lifetime aspirations of the leaders of XXI century socialism are being left in the lurch.

With this new knockout to the Hemisphere’s progressive leaderships, it has been demonstrated that, in actuality, populism movements with Castro-Chávez-Marxist leanings are neither all that popular nor have they brought with them the changes that voters were hoping for, including the poorest sectors, the supposed “beneficiaries” of “the model.” The rejection by the majority of citizens of the new and, paradoxically, the already exhausted paradigm, makes clear a truism: the neoliberalism of the ‘90s deepened the schism between the richest and the poorest of this continent, heightening the deep social conflicts and ruptures that have historically marked relations between governments and the governed. This gave way to the emergence of socialism of the XXI century, but, before long, it became clear that it is not the holy ointment to heal all of the region’s ills. Instead, it makes them worse.

The late Hugo Chávez was the highest representative of the model he attempted to implement, and it is expected that, together with his model, another ghostly excrescence will also disappear: ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, currently unmentioned, as a relative who has brought disgrace to the family. ALBA is a colossal pipedream, devised by the leader from Barinas himself in a recipe inspired by unadulterated selfishness, a mixture of leftist ideology, anti-imperialism, egotism, messianic in nature and spiced throughout with plenty of corruption. A pipedream stirred into the sea of ​​oil taken from Venezuelans for more three decades with the sole purpose of artificially supporting allies in the region, something that has become unsustainable in the current economic crisis in Venezuela, the largest in its history, born in the shadow of the doctrine of the new socialism.

Without a doubt, the matrix of the radical left has been taking on setbacks of late, almost without pause: scandals involving corruption, drug trafficking, influence peddling, patronage and other similar bits and pieces that keep many leaders under the magnifying glass of public opinion. It’s not so easy to keep people’s eyes under wraps. It is no wonder that the effusive president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has discreetly lowered his profile, putting away his fervent speech for some other symbolic occasion. The Central American drunkard, Daniel Ortega, is also not being seen around much these days. It’s not a good time for the leaders of the operetta.

However, it is still too early to place the tombstone on the tragic fate of 21st century socialism. At least we Cubans know very well how not to underestimate the capacity for survival, not of populist-type ideologies, so entrenched in Latin American veins, but in its “idiocrats” (or should I say idio-rats).

Behold smart aleck octogenarians of the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, who have had so much to do with the harmful leftist regional epidemics. They have been keeping anti-imperialist trappings under their thrones to enter into friendly lobbying ­precisely with “the natural enemy of the people,” Yankee imperialism.

And so, while Cristina has vanished from the political scene, Maduro continues his hysterical tantrum in the swampy Venezuelan panorama, and Evo seeks solace for Sunday’s setback, ruminating one after another his coca leaves in the Palacio Quemado, [The Bolivian Government Palace], the druids of the olive green gerontocracy are decked out in their finery, ready to receive the highest representative of the brutal capitalism whose hard currencies leftist leaders are so attracted to.

Of course, we should not be suspicious. Perhaps it is not a betrayal on the part of Cuba’s General-President and his claque of Marxist and Castro-Chavista principles in Our America, as claimed by some of the ill-intentioned, but a reshuffling of the action in view of the new circumstances. Over half a century of experience as successful pedigree conspirators supports the survivors of these chameleonic “Marxists.” We’ll see how they will recycle slogans and anthems of the proletarian Internationale as soon as leaders of the Castro regime succeed in laying their hands on dollars, since, when it is all said and done, it seems that the end does justify the means.

Because, without exaggerating, the so-called “socialism” with an autocratic soul is like a disease that cannot be cured and often kills. It’s like a mutant virus that changes in appearance and succeeds in multiplying in order to continue making human societies sick. The bad news for Cubans is that such an infection is cured only with a strong dose of democracy, a medication that has been in short supply in Cuba for more than six decades.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Dangerous World of Cuba’s Pushcart Vendors / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Pushcart vendor on a Havana street (CC)
Pushcart vendor on a Havana street (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 13 February 2016 — There is a great poster of general-president Raúl Castro on the façade of a private building in the heart of Central Havana. In the image, he is saluting, dressed in a military uniform, accompanied by the memorable phrase, extracted from one of his promissory speeches he made during his era as an imitation reformist: “Those who are committed to demonize, criminalize and prosecute the self-employed chose a path that, in addition to being mean, is ludicrous because of its untenable nature. Cuba is counting on them as one of the engines of future development, and their presence in the urban landscape is clearly here to stay.” As it is customary to those among his caste, the general was lying, and of those intended engines of future development only a few remain, trying to survive with much difficulty and almost furtively.

However, under the mantra placed in the shadow of their modest Havana trade, those mistaken sellers believe they will be protected from the whims of a regime well versed in denying its own creations, either because they don’t properly subordinate themselves to the interests they were created for, or for considering them to be a potential threat to its supremacy. Is the same simulation game that propelled thousands of self-employed to join the apocryphal official union, which has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the abuse of their members by the most powerful boss on this island, the State-Party-Government, from which no one is safe.

To hold such a conclave amid a starving population would be too cynical, even for the Cuban Government Continue reading “The Dangerous World of Cuba’s Pushcart Vendors / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

While there are fewer operations of confiscation and persecution against the merchants in the squalid private sector, in particular the popular vendors engaging in street selling of agricultural products, an occasional cart starts to appear timidly, usually at dusk, when the inspectors and heads of sectors of the uniformed police have concluded their workday.

According to unconfirmed rumors from official sources, many of the pushcart vendors affected by the crackdown in late 2015 and early 2016 have been informally allowed to trade again, though “quietly and low-key.”

A survey conducted in several districts of the populous municipality of Central Havana is able to prove the effect of the bellows technique — stretch and loosen – that the authorities usually apply, where each raid is followed apparent tolerance, under the careful eyes of the guardians of system, in part to control both the boom of the emerging sector sellers who have proven to be highly competitive against the State sector, and partly to lessen the great popular discontent triggered by the sudden decrease in the flow of food available to feed families.

Some cell phone video images uploaded to the internet which were recorded by ordinary citizens, witnesses of the official crusade against pushcart vendors, have shown the public the true nature of the so-called “Raul reforms” the people’s disdain in the face of official abuse and of its repressive forces, and the spontaneous popular solidarity towards the sellers. New communications technologies, even in a country as disconnected from the web as is Cuba, make it increasingly difficult to peddle the old discourse of “good and fair government” and “happy Cubans.”

On the threshold of the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba nothing is more inconvenient than to implement unpopular measures, particularly when the State is incapable of emulating, in terms of production and food trade, even the fragile self-employed sector. To hold such a conclave amid a starving population would be too cynical even for the Cuban government.

In Cuba, there is a diffuse band of tolerance between legality and crime, as the authorities see fit

For that reason, and without making much fuss, agents and government control officials have notified several pushcart vendors that they can once again sell their products, though they have not yet returned the licenses to the more obstinate ones from whom they were seized.

Yasser is one of them. Although he’s only 30, he has great work experience. He began working as a teenager, after quitting his studies at a technological institute due to poor economic conditions at home, where the only sources of income were his mother’s salary and his grandmother’s pension, a story that has become extremely common in Cuba.

“First I started as bicycle repairman, but I soon discovered that it was more profitable to buy and sell bicycles and spare parts than to be getting my hands dirty and breaking my back repairing old clunkers. That’s where I learned that my true calling was trade: the buying and selling and the constant and hard cash profits. I do my best work in trading,” he smiles, sure of what he is talking about.

When the bicycle business began to decline, he went to work with his uncle at a State agricultural cooperative, in the countryside. “I did not intend to work the land forever, but the agricultural trade interested me. After I stopped working in bikes, I had managed a vegetable stand for a while, through my uncle’s contacts, but it was risky and the profits were low, so I decided to learn more about the countryside and production management first hand. Meanwhile, I would develop a good network of contacts to use later, when I could have my own little business, which was my set idea.”

So that’s how it went. And Yasser, the young man from Havana did so well in that State cooperative he even got a license which legally certifies him as “delegate of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP),” a document that allows him to stock up on products sold in his pushcart as a self-employed person.

Now, with his peculiar charisma and his skills as a merchant, Yasser buys directly from a private producer and ships the products home using private transportation services. To avoid having the goods confiscated, he uses his card as “delegate of the ANAP” and an authorization from a bribed manager of a State co-op “that produces absolutely nothing” but that certifies that his products were bought from that co-op and are destined for a State Agricultural Market (MAE), or to some workplace, or any other place. With these papers of safe passage and his getup as producer, wearing a hat and high water galoshes up to his knees, embedded with mud from the furrows, Yasser has managed to survive in the dangerous world of private business.

General corruption in Cuba is, at the same time, the real support of the “economic model” and of the social balance, the trap that standardizes all Cubans as transgressors of the law

However, he knows perfectly well that he is teetering on a tightrope. In Cuba there is a diffuse band of tolerance between legality and crime, as suits the authorities. Simply put, if an administrator who signs his “passage” falls into disgrace, the chain of beneficiaries will also fall, including Yasser. General corruption in Cuba is, at the same time, the real support of the “economic model” and of the social balance, the trap that standardizes all Cubans as transgressors of the law. Anyone can end up in a dungeon.

“When this business with the pushcarts started, I thought it might be an opportunity for me. I really believed in the premise that, this time, we were really going to be respected as contributors, though my uncle kept telling me that the government was going to change gears and go in reverse, as always. I went as far as owning two carts, which my uncle and my cousin took care of, because I am the owner and the go-between at the same time, and I’m always going between the country and the city, getting the products. Now I only take this one out – he points to a simple chivichana [a rustic skateboard] loaded with the best tomatoes around town, at 12 Cuban pesos – and I am putting out the goods gradually. I do not want evil eyes on me, because, in the end, this business will also go bust, it will be one more deception. As my grandmother says, these people are a lost cause.”

It’s only been a few years since the false blessing of the self-employment industry workers, and the very Government has taken it upon itself to demonize, criminalize and prosecute them, belying its own discourse. “They do not even respect themselves, that’s why nobody believes them, nobody wants them and nobody respects them anymore.” says Yasser with what seems more like a pessimistic old man’s view than the words of a young 30-something. His disillusionment is, by far, the most authentic symbol of a society which has succumbed to the fatigue of almost 60 years of hypocrisy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Leap Year, Creepy Year / Miriam Celaya

The Cuban outlook does not look hopeful for the beginning year (photo taken from the Internet)
The Cuban outlook does not look hopeful for the beginning year (photo taken from the Internet)

Miriam Celeya, Cubanet, Havana 15 January 2016 – The year 2016 has begun under a bad omen. If it weren’t enough with the general gloominess after one year of uneasy peace between the governments of Cuba and the US without any perceived improvement in living conditions, the food crisis has become more acute, and shortages are increasing. Agricultural products are increasingly scarce, of poor quality and high prices, while merchandise at foreign currency stores is very scarce. Many self-employed (cart pushers) have disappeared from the cityscape, while the cooperative stores are showing shortages signaling worse times ahead.

The high expectations arising out of the 17 December 2014 announcement of a reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States are shipwrecked and long gone. The stubborn reality has once again proved to everyone that Cuba’s ills are endemic: they rest only in the evil combination of an obsolete and failed sociopolitical and economic system and the persistence of a politically inept dynastic clique that seized the country 57 years ago, whose beginning and essential end are centered in clinging to power at any cost. Continue reading “Leap Year, Creepy Year / Miriam Celaya”

In other words, the national disappointment is based on placing the prospects of happiness in a miracle that would come from “outside” to save us from the native demon we have in Cuba: Castro-ism, cradle and reservoir for disaster. Hence, in the face of disappointment (delusion?), thousands of Cubans choose to seek abroad the happiness that is denied here.

However, by coincidence, the natural decline of the Castro experiment, which is already exhausted, will have its biggest survival test this leap year. Because, while 2016 threatens to be difficult for ordinary people — that conglomerate of the majority which some are in the unfortunate habit of referring to as “Cubans on foot” — will not be a honeycomb for the olive-green gerontocracy and its brown-nosers.

It is true that the Government-State-Party, embodied in the General-President, continues to hold power at his own free will, but in recent times the circumstances have not turned out to be as favorable as were expected. Despite the many awards and being hosted by governments and international organizations and against the grain of legitimation – useless to date – of the Cuban dictatorship in forums, including those of a financial nature, throughout the democratic world, envisioned foreign investment has not yet materialized, investment which would provide the necessary capital to start to repair the internal economic crisis.

The “new era in relations between Cuba and the international financial community,” according to the French Department of Finance, has yet to bear fruit for the elite of the Palace of the Revolution, while the Foreign Investment Act continues to lack the legal guarantees required by potential investors. Widespread corruption, rooted in the national reality, also advises caution when negotiating. Obviously, the slow pace of “reforms” of State socialism may be commendable in the hypocrisy of the forums, but it is incompatible with the urgencies of capital.

On the other hand, important changes have taken place in the regional political physiognomy, undermining alliances on which the plans of the Castro regime’s eternity rest. “21st Century Socialism” is shaking, and, just like the ‘real socialism’ of Eastern Europe, it tends to “come undone.” While the fallen scepter of populism Kirchner-style in Argentina, Venezuela’s Chávez-style regime also just suffered a tremendous setback, when the opposition won the majority seats in the recent legislative elections amid a national crisis ranging from the greatest food shortages, corruption and citizen insecurity in recent history, to drug charges that point to the President himself and his closest acolytes.

In this vein, Venezuela’s support for the Castro regime through daily oil shipments – already in a phase of decline since 2014 – is hanging by a thread. Raul Castro’s promise of a reform “without haste, but without pause,” has not ameliorated the fear of blackouts that have begun to spread across Cuba, and the increasing uncertainty adds pressure to the valve, which will guarantee the ongoing exodus, mainly to the US.

Add to this scenario is the political crisis generated by the corruption scandal in Brazil, involving the president and his party. The region’s left has fallen into the cone of a tornado and is lagging far behind those glorious days when a jubilant Chávez hurled threats and “anti-imperialist” insults at every podium, and lavishly gave away Venezuela’s national wealth for the benefit of Latin American autocracies and other opportunistic parasites.

In closing, repressive signs in Cuba’s interior have been emphasized. This is an indication of the regime’s growing insecurity, as well as its preoccupation with maintaining control over an increasingly poorer, unhappier, more irreverent and less fearful population.

By natural logic, in this leap year we will witness the last congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) to be led by the so-called historical generation. It is unlikely that a 90-year old Raúl Castro or his spectral, 95-year old brother would be able to direct the 8th Congress in 2021, nor does it seem possible that the shadow of what was once the Cuban nation will be able to survive five more years of Castro-ism.

The 7th Congress of the PCC to be held in April will undoubtedly be the most important domestic political event in Cuba. Like it or not, this improbable Party that lacks a political program, with ranks of less than one million members, and which not a single fairly lucid Cuban believes in “is the highest leading force of society and the state,” as Article 5 of the Constitution endorses, so that, at least the intention of the government on the political future of the country for the next five years should be made clear. It would be unwise to propose 300 more ineffective guidelines.

Another important event of the year will certainly be the proposed new Electoral Law. Given the fear that anything that resembles democratic elections awakens in the gerontocracy, we will have to see what freak of jurisprudence they will propose to “make perfect” (even more in their favor) the electoral system, and how they propose to make it look “more democratic.” In particular, the recent Venezuelan experience will make them cling more strongly to that famous maxim of our former President: “Elections? What for?”

“Leap Year, creepy year,” our grandmothers said. And indeed, so far, all signs point to more poverty, more emigration, more corruption, more repression… and also to the fastest growing dissatisfaction and internal dissent. However, nothing will prevent a change for the better in Cuba, with the help of those who have nothing to lose but their own fear. The picture being sketched is thorny, and it suggests that 2016 will be a decisive year for Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Venezuela, a Lesson for Cubans / Miriam Celaya

A “Venezuelan Che Guevara” after finding out the election results (Internet photo)
A “Venezuelan Che Guevara” after finding out the election results (Internet photo)

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, Havana, 8 December 2015 — Despite all adversities and cheating to attempt to sabotage the opposition’s victory in Venezuela’s parliamentary elections, the forecasts were on target: the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) didn’t just come ahead in surveys, which Maduro was hoping for, but it swept the polls.

The puppets at Telesur, “Latin America’s television channel”, could barely hide their apprehension. The long wait that followed the closure of the polling stations was a clear indicator that the ballots cast were so in favor of MUD that no Castro-Chavista trickery could reverse the outcome. However, announcing the results would turn out to be a bitter and difficult pill for Maduro and Cabello’s patsies to swallow. Continue reading “Venezuela, a Lesson for Cubans / Miriam Celaya”

Well after 12 midnight in Venezuela, Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), officially announced the results in a nervous and stuttering manner, in contrast with her usual energetic and poised style. MUD had risen, so far, to 99 seats in the parliament, well above the 46 achieved by the Chavistas. It is such a crushing blow to the ruling party that until last night [7 December] the results of the remaining 22 seats, completing a total of 167 in Parliament, had not been declared.

A stunned Nicolas Maduro posed as a democrat and pretended to be satisfied with the “triumph of democracy.” An advisor obviously suggested he leave his belligerent stance of the previous days, when he threatened to “govern in the streets” with “a military civic coalition” if Chavistas (Maduro’s party) conceded losing the election. We can imagine the advisor: “Mr. President, ‘the street’ is precisely who voted against you”. Thus, the speech accepting his defeat could not have been more gray and monotonous, recounting past victories which contrasted even more against the failure of the day. The faces of amazement of his audience shouted clearly that the glory days of Chavismo were over. Another one that bites the dust, after the sharp fall of the empty figurine of the Casa Rosada just days ago.

The saga is going to be very interesting. The new Parliament will assume its functions on 5 January 2016, and even the 99 already seats called for MUD will guarantee the simple majority, those who will be allowed to directly rescind root matters, such as electing the assembly board, (‘bye, ‘bye, Mr. Diosdado Cabello!) approving or vetoing appointments, enacting legislation or appointing Supreme Court judges and the Attorney General of the Republic, among other powers that would put an end to 16 years of Chavismo government impunity and authoritarianism enforced through violence, fear and coercion.

Such power in the hands of political opponents, however, would not be the Bolivarian autocracy’s worst nightmare. The most hostile circumstances for the dying Venezuelan regime is that MUD only has to win 11 more seats of the 22 remaining open (two have yet to be announced). Reaching 112 deputies will allow the opposition contingent to get two-thirds of seats, a sufficiently overwhelming force to bring down the whole dictatorial scaffolding erected by Hugo Chavez and his followers. MUD could exercise legislative functions of great scope and depth, such as promoting referendums, constitutional reforms and constituent assemblies.

It is no wonder, then, that however incomprehensible it may be — given the speed and efficiency of an electoral system fully computerized with the latest digital technology — almost 24 hours after completion of the referendum, CNE officials, still mostly Chavistas, had not made public the final results. Maduro’s supporters and his troupe are worried, and they have very good reason to be.

Yesterday dawned with Telesur completely silent on the subject. It would seem that there had been no Sunday parliamentary elections held in Venezuela. Elections which, by the way, the government itself announced would be “historic”. Admittedly, they were right this time. Yesterday, December 7, however, Telesur focused on the French municipal elections…. things of the Orinoco.

Havana’s Reaction

Castro II’s message to his Venezuelan counterpart has a somber tone, like those formal condolences one coldly offers an acquaintance on the loss of a close relative: “We’ll always be with you.” With enough problems of his own, the General-President was sparse, dry and distant with his “Dear Maduro” letter, despite the ‘admiration’ with which he listened to the words of the arrogant president. It ends with “a hug.”

Democratic Cubans, however, are celebrating. The victory of democracy in Venezuela cheers and encourages us, and we hope that MUD knows how to appreciate, in all its worth, the enormous importance of the victory achieved. It is a well-deserved laurel, solidly fought by them at a very high cost, but it is only a first step on a path that promises to be difficult and full of obstacles. Personally, I think it is a beacon of hope for all who aspire to the end of the dictatorship in our own country. The time is right to wish Venezuelans success as they return to the path of democracy.

And it is also opportune for dissidents and opponents here, inside Cuba, to meditate on the need to exploit the cracks of the precarious official legality more effectively. It is true that political parties alternative to the Powers-that-be in Cuba are without any legal recognition, that they are demonized and persecuted, their forces are constantly repressed and that we do not have the legal space that democratic Venezuelans have been able to defend, but the legalistic route has not only proven to be an effective tool, it is the only one that would have international support.

In the last elections, in the city of Havana two members of the opposition opted for the office of district delegates. It was a courageous act, and they were repressed by mobs at the service of the government, and criticized by quite a few of their fellow members of the opposition ranks. However, they both demonstrated that a representative portion of their communities dared to vote for them, and so they broke the myth of the opposition’s absence of roots.

Today, Venezuela’s victory stands not only as a hope, but also as a lesson for us: no dictatorship is too strong to not be defeated. If it happens at the polls, all the better. No space gained from a dictatorship is small or negligible. In the coming year, a new electoral law will be enacted in Cuba. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to push in that direction: pressing hard and with determination against authorities to achieve legal recognition spaces, fighting from these spaces, leaving defeatism aside because “that’s their game.” The distance between the Venezuelan reality and ours is indeed very great, but when results could motivate the change, it’s worth trying.

Translated by Norma Whiting

*Note to readers: Sadly the translation of this post got “lost in the internet ether” and it is now appearing here, very belatedly.

17 December: First Anniversary of a Sterile Marriage / Miriam Celaya

On 17 December 2014, Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the start of restoration of relations (file photo)
On 17 December 2014, Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the start of restoration of relations (file photo)

Miriam Celaya, Havana, 17 December 2015 – At the end of the first year of the restoration of relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba, the expectations that the historical event awakened in Cuba remain unfulfilled. With much pain and no glory, Cubans have continued their struggle with a precarious and hopeless existence, that, far from improving, has witnessed the permanent economic crisis deteriorate further, with increases in the cost of living and consolidation of chronic shortages.

At the same time, the general deterioration of the healthcare and education systems continues – the last stronghold of the official rhetoric – and a new and unstoppable process of emigration has been spawned and become a stampede, amid fears that negotiations between the two governments will eventually lead to the demise of the Cuban Adjustment Act. Continue reading “17 December: First Anniversary of a Sterile Marriage / Miriam Celaya”

With the diplomatic bases settled, the respective embassies in Washington and Havana reopened, and the agendas of a negotiating process that continues running in secret established, the Cuban authorities have set a policy to thwart, to the point of invalidation, the effects of the measures dictated by the US president in favor of opening up Cuba to the benefit of private, not governmental initiatives. The increase of visitors from the neighboring nation and the broad flexibility that renders ineffectual many of the limitations imposed by the embargo have not significantly benefited the Cuban people, although they contribute to foreign exchange earnings for the Cuban government and foreign businesses established in Cuba, especially those related to tourism.

Despite all this, revenues are insufficient even for the ruling clique, burdened by huge foreign debt, lack of access to credit from the International Monetary Fund, the agonizing dependence on external support – an issue which, paradoxically, is used as an element for discrediting and delegitimizing internal dissent – the lack of reaction by foreign capital to the “attractive” new Investment Law, and the urgent need to buy time to ensure their perpetuation of power.

Finally, in the shadow of Uncle Sam, the revolution cycle has closed with an end which, though long-awaited, is no less dramatic. Behold, the agonizing “Marxist-anti-imperialist” gang is working the miracle of recycling itself, metamorphosing from communist to bourgeois precisely thanks to the imperial capital.

Judging from the evidence, and in the absence of authoritative and verifiable information, the almost dizzying avalanche of unilateral proposals from the White House that took place during the course of the year have not gotten any proportional response from the Palace of the Revolution. The Cuban President-General has not only turned out to be incapable of matching in intensity and magnitude Washington’s positive steps towards an approach that would not be for the sole advantage of the ruling elite, but for the direct benefit of Cuban society, but has, instead, taken on the same pace (“no rush”) of the so-called “normalization,” the same rhythm as the untimely Guidelines of the last Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) that were never fulfilled.

From 17 December 2014, though not as a result of that event, the Cuban crisis has grown more acute. With the economy in a tailspin, a large part of the workforce in flight or with aspirations to escape, the aging population, the depressed birth rate, the rampant corruption, the rising inflation and countless other evils to solve, any other government would have taken this moment of relaxation and approach as an opportunity to open a path to prosperity and welfare for its people. Not so the Castro dictatorship.

In response, ordinary Cubans are more politically disbelievers, more indifferent and more pro-American than ever before.

Opponents and dissidents: a growing sector

Contrary to the most widespread criterion, and despite being divided and fragmented into multiple projects, the independent civil society, in particular opposition groups and dissidents, has been gaining in organization and growth. Unquestionable evidence of this is the increased repression against them.

The increasing intensity of the repressive forces does not indicate – as some might suggest, using simplistic logic – a “strengthening of the dictatorship” from the of the process of talks with the US government, but, on the contrary, a sign of weakness that indicates both fear of the impact of US influence in Cuban society and the inability to contain the growth of civic forces, which compels them to apply violence to possibly avoid, or at least slow down, its spread and social contagion. A counterproductive strategy that has achieved just the opposite effect: increasing the dissidence faction and popular discontent.

After the breakthrough generated by the different positions assumed before the process started on 17 December, a period of intense opposition activism has ensued in which all tendencies have gained visibility and spaces. Partnerships have begun to take shape between organizations of the most varied viewpoints, from a common consensus: the urgency to strengthen civic struggle to achieve democracy in Cuba. In this vein, the general agreement is that all forms of peaceful struggle are valid, since they put pressure on the cracks in the system and contribute to its weakening.

In all fairness, we must recognize that the efforts of all opposition groups – whatever their orientation and proposals – not only face the challenge of repressive and violent action of the regime in power, but the almost total indifference of the international community and, what is worse, of insufficient solidarity and recognition by many democratic governments of the world.

Apparently, Western political and business leaders expect from the Cuban opposition the cyclopean task of building a strong coalition or becoming a political alternative to the absolute power of the Castro regime, almost unaided, before recognizing the legitimate right of representation, notwithstanding the colossal difference in resources and opportunities among the dissidents. Compared to capitalist interests, the democratic dreams of Cubans mean nothing.

2016, a pivotal year

Thus, 17 December is the paper wedding anniversary of the marriage of convenience between the governments of the United States and Cuba, but the union has, so far, been fruitless, at least for the Cubans, who we were never invited to the wedding.  The conspiratorial style of the olive-green caste ruled the celebration. However, it would be unfair to attribute Cuba’s current ills to an alleged White House political error. In any case, with this approach to the regime, Barack Obama is doing what is expected of a ruler: looking after the interests of his country and its constituents. Good for Obama, bad for Castro.

Truthfully, the Cuban general crisis existed long before the current US president took office, so the frustrations that the more deluded are experiencing are more a response to excessive and unjustified expectations and an overestimation of the importance of Cuba, barely an insignificant island with delusions of grandeur, governed by an outdated and inefficient system, and lost in the huge regional geopolitical map.

It has been an intense year, but, in retrospect, ordinary Cubans and the opposition at least should have assimilated a valuable experience: no one will come to save us from the wreck.

A year ago, the unthinkable happened just when the most bitter enemies of this hemisphere decided to sit at the negotiating table to settle their differences. This incredible saga teaches us something important: 2016 could be a pivotal year if those who us who aspire to turn Cuba into a country of law can demonstrate that we are capable of doing what now seems an impossible task: creating a civic coalition in the face of a dictatorship that assumes itself to be eternal. It doesn’t seem that we have any other options left.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Choosing between Chaos and a New Order / Miriam Celaya

Why are Sunday’s Venezuelan elections so important? (picture from La Nación)
Why are Sunday’s Venezuelan elections so important? (picture from La Nación)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 December 2015 — Next Sunday, December 6, 2015, when the legislative elections in Venezuela finally take place, not only will they be deciding the short-term political fate of that South American nation but also, to some extent, they will be deciding future policies of various nations of this region, whose regimes — especially the Cuban government — have depended for decades on the dilapidation of the huge Venezuelan natural wealth in the hands of the “Bolivarian” claque.

These past few days, there have been several comments about the Venezuelan suffrage in the media, and various predictions have been made about the possible scenarios that might emerge from the results. The picture is complex. For the first time, since the late Hugo Chávez took office in February, 1999 and began to destroy the country’s civic structures, the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will go to the polls with a significant disadvantage compared to the opposition’s Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and even below the level of independent candidates, according to data released by surveys conducted by Verobarómetro. This is a reality that the country’s president refuses to accept, threatening not to consent to any result that is adverse, and to lead the country into chaos if the “Bolivarian Revolution” loses at the polls. Continue reading “Choosing between Chaos and a New Order / Miriam Celaya”

On gaining control of parliament, the opposition would face the real possibility of curbing the mismanagement that Chávez initiated that has led the country to economic ruin and deep social tension, and open the door to the hope of restoring democratic order as it becomes a true counterweight to the president, a new order which would balance the forces and return power to the civic institutions guaranteeing democracy

Beyond this, the challenge for the opposition to win social spaces and legitimize its capacity as an alternative to Chavez would only have just begun, given the high rates of poverty, violence, shortages of commodities, growing discontent and the colossal inflation, these factors further complicate the already complex Venezuelan landscape. It will represent a daunting task for any alternative political force in the country in ruins.

Obviously, the first responsibility of the new parliament would be to try to solve Venezuela’s internal crisis, which will necessarily involve the control and comprehensive review of managing the national wealth, the oil, which has been the mainstay of expensively unaffordable social programs (“missions”) with which the Bolivarian government won-over the vote of the masses, and the backbone of ghostly alliances such as the ALBA and Petrocaribe programs, among other regional associations.

The “Venezuela effect” for Cuba

Although the octogenarians hierarchs, architects and sextons of what was once the Cuban Revolution, were once the ideological patrons and material beneficiaries of that other creature with congenital malformations, known as the Bolivarian Revolution, now it is obvious that the Castro regime’s survival goldmine is running out.

Falling oil prices and the waning popularity of the ruling PSUV seriously threaten the continuity of the Castro-Chavista alliance and the undeniable failure of the Cuban system is a fact, not only in Cuba but also in its transnational experiment, Cubazuela.

Not by chance have the crafty former Sierra Maestra guerrillas, shortly after the sterile “seeding” of the commander Chavez, been lobbying a hasty and secret reconciliation with the forever ‘enemy’ (and the enemy of all), the US government. They have also desperately auctioned off the crumbs that remain of this island, to make them available to the once depraved foreign capital, although potential investors have not yet resolutely taken the bait.

Another direction that is being depleted for the olive green gerontocracy is the derivative of the very juicy ‘solidarity industry’, centered around the ‘missions’ developed by Chávez at the cost of hiring, under conditions of semi-slavery, Cuban professionals, mainly from the areas of health, education and culture, which guarantee direct inflows to the Palace of the Revolution. However, this has meant a serious impairment to health care programs for Cubans and it has also brought with it the defection of thousands of doctors, who have chosen to leave for more promising destinations or to be hired in the countries where they worked as “collaborators.”

Everything indicates that the Castro-Chávez alliance strategy of domination of power disguised as socialist and nationalist ideology that temporarily combined, fairly successfully, the experiences of the failed Cuban system, the messianic ambitions of Hugo Chávez and Venezuela hydrocarbon reserves, is about to become another bad memory. It is expected that some other aberrations will be flushed down the drain with the Bolivarian Revolution. These aberrations were equally sustained by the merciless plunder of Venezuelan petrodollars, whose main objective has been spewing the leftist epidemic around the region and dealing with the North American influence in this hemisphere.

Meanwhile, ordinary Cubans are rather indifferent to the important electoral succession about to be held in Venezuela. At best, some express some concern about impending blackouts and paralysis in Cuba. Apparently, mere survival imposes too many problems for them to be interested in those faced by Venezuelans. Immediacy is the most important element of daily life in Cuba, and, currently, the subject of emigration occupies a central place in the musings of the Cuban people.

In any case, in the eventuality that a dramatic change takes place in Venezuela that might have repercussions in deepening the Cuban crisis, most likely the result will be an increase and stepping up in the tide of migration to the United States. In the end, a friend jokes that we might not even have to turn off the lights on the Desert Island when the last Cuban leaves “because, without Maduro, there will be not oil left to generate electricity.” This, literally, is a very somber expectation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Serving a Meal, a True Luxury / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Policemen trying to control line to purchase potatoes (file picture)
Policemen trying to control line to purchase potatoes (file picture)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, HAVANA, 6 November 2015 — Hopes and expectations that encouraged Cubans at the beginning of 2015, following the announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the US, have vanished completely. Over the past eleven months there has not been a hint of any economic improvement for the population, and  the end of the year is expected to be grim, judging by, among other factors, rising prices in the food sector, our most important market.

Visits around numerous commercial shops and roving street markets in the populous municipality of Centro Habana, in the neighborhoods of San Leopoldo, Pueblo Nuevo and Cayo Hueso, evidence the shortages in merchandise, the low quality of products and the unstoppable rise in prices. Pork meat – the Cuban indicator par excellence –– fluctuates between 45 and 50 pesos per pound; while black beans go for 10 to 12 pesos. Other grains are priced beyond the reach of most pockets. The price for one pound of red beans has reached 17 pesos, while white beans cost between 18 and 20, and the price of chick peas has risen to 22. Continue reading “Serving a Meal, a True Luxury / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Meanwhile, greens and vegetables are competing in this amazing climb. A pound of tomatoes at the San Rafael market costs 25 pesos; bunches of carrots or beets – a variable, indefinite and inaccurate national-trade measure — are priced at 20 pesos, same as a pound of small onions and peppers, placed on pallets next to the also stunted cabbages, advertised at 15 pesos apiece. Avocado prices may fluctuate between 7 and 10 pesos apiece. However, during the weekends it reaches up to 12 pesos.

Tubers and other vegetables are not beyond the amazing rise in prices. Thus, a pound of taro costs 8 pesos, twice the price of yucca and yams, which are between 3 and 4 pesos. Small to medium plantains sell for 4 pesos apiece.

A quick calculation, taking as a base the so-called Cuban average income – between 400 and 450 pesos (around $23 U.S.) per month, according to official data — results in the obvious conclusion that the purchasing power of the median active labor force has continue to decline, not to mention the growing aging demographic sector, dependent on miserable retirement pensions, or aid from relatives, when they can afford to help, or on the solidarity of some nice neighbor who might occasionally offer a plate of food. Getting a full meal in Cuba has virtually become a true luxury.

Few differences exist between one retail outlet and another, and between the municipalities in the capital. The last four months of the year have shown the highest increases in food prices to date, for a population whose incomes, whether stemming from salaries, retirement funds, remittances from relatives living abroad, or some other source, is increasingly inadequate, not only to satisfy living demands, but insufficient to cover the barest necessities: food, clothing, footwear and shelter.

More than four years have transpired since the ‘updating of the model’, with government experimentation in the retail sale of agricultural products by ‘self-employed’ sellers (pushcart vendors) as well as by non-state cooperative farmers markets, and the upward trend of food prices, far from ceasing, has accelerated its rate, which indicates a failure in the official plans for this important issue – production and commercialization of foodstuffs to satisfy the needs of the population and at the same time replace imports — which was one of the most important items in the guidelines of the April 2011 Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

It is mandatory to hang propaganda posters at the entrances to farmers’ markets and retail outlets. (file photo)
It is mandatory to hang propaganda posters at the entrances to farmers’ markets and retail outlets. (file photo)

The internal situation in Cuba, with its shortages and deficiencies in an ascending mode is looking increasingly more each day like the situation we endured in the 90’s, following the collapse of that house of cards which was once called “the Socialist Camp”. At the same time, the Cuban people’s discontent, despair, and the stampede overseas continue to grow.

The bubble of dreams awakened last December has been popped by the stubborn reality of a system designed for the benefit of the hired applauders who cling to power and to the submission of the rest of society. A general feeling of frustration continues to rise in Cuba, but nobody seems to know how to channel disappointment except by escaping, by any means, from this life-sentence of misery.

Paradoxically, the spiral of poverty that marks everyday life on the Island seems to be the most effective weapon of the regime to maintain social control to date. And, while ordinary Cubans, unaware of tomorrow, continue to rummage with resignation from one market to another, foraging among the small dirty pallets for their scarce daily food, flocks of raptor merchants arrive from overseas to the International Fair of Havana so they may fight for any good slice that the spoils and the ruins of the national-failure-converted-into-merchandise, by guerrillas-turned oligarchs, might offer them. The capital celebration has once again opened its doors in Cuba, but we Cubans are not invited.

Translated by Norma Whiting

To March or Not to March… that is the Question / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

March of the Ladies in White through Havana. (EFE)
March of the Ladies in White through Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 October 2015 — The latest cyber-skirmish unleashed around statements made by Eliécer Ávila, leader of the opposition movement Somos+, about the #Todosmarchamos initiative, once again focuses first, on the need for restraint in political discourse and the importance of not allowing ourselves to be swayed by the provocations of those who pursue only ratings and drama from the comfortable security of their distant geographical locations, and secondly, on the inability to weigh things at fair value, whether by the so-called opposition leaders — regardless of their strategies, their ideological orientation or their political proposals, if they happen to have them — or by public opinion.

In this case, there are numerous myths contained in a sort of Theogony of the opposition, a mirage created and sustained from abroad in an absurd desire to hold on to an opposition epic — which should eventually replace the current revolutionary epic — which, like the latter, creates pockets of prestige and heroism, and even castes and lineages, depending on whether the new heroes are willing to bleed or get slapped on the head. It is a well-known fact that we Cubans are experts at repeating our mistakes, especially those that guarantee future suffering and shredding of vestments.

We Cubans are experts at repeating our mistakes, especially those that guarantee future suffering and shredding of vestments Continue reading “To March or Not to March… that is the Question / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

If there is anything I agree 100% on with Eliécer, it’s the need for the independent press in Cuba to cease to be complacent with the opposition – sadly mimicking the stance of the official press towards the Castro regime — and assume from this day (during the dictatorship) the usual journalistic roles and functions in democratic societies. This includes questioning absolutely everything and everyone, desecrating any public figure whose effect should ultimately be to serve, not to rule. In this regard, here are some observations I propose that might seem unbearable to some extreme radicals. I suggest that the passionate stop reading at this point so they can avoid the usual patriotic tantrums.

I shall not vent my sympathies or personal differences on the opposition — not on a nonexistent “opposition movement” — an environment that I know by heart, since it’s been almost fifteen years since I delved into it. What I know or believe about anyone is completely irrelevant.

I have found many of the most honorable, honest, generous and dedicated people I’ve ever met in my life within the opposition, and also many of the worst and most harmful: ambitious, hypocritical, opportunistic, false patriots and, as Eliezer stated, some corrupt little characters who have made the “struggle for democracy” a way of life. Over the years I have come to understand that that reality is not unique to the Cuban stage or that it is bound by the geography of the Island. There are good and bad Cubans both in Cuba and in the Diaspora, there are those who live for Cuba and those who live from it. Note that I am merely reviewing the facts as a necessary and true evil. It is what it is, period.

There are good and bad Cubans both in Cuba and in the Diaspora, there are those who live for Cuba and those who live from it

Some people prefer to ignore that the Cuban dissidence is as varied in its composition from the point of view of human quality as any other social group. In fact, all the vices inherited from a corrupt and sick system are present in our sector, including atavistic evils, such as an autocratic government, authoritarianism and despotism. There is even what we might call an opposition gerontocracy, firmly clinging to old precepts and unchanging bad habits, incapable of evolving in the light of new scenarios.

When I travel abroad, I’m always surprised to hear someone, perhaps with the best of intentions, refer to dissidents in general, including independent journalists, as “heroes.” And what’s worse, there are characters who “modestly” accept the epithet, as if it were their true right. I will never support a leader who perceives himself as worthy of moral supremacy over the everyone else. In addition, such a prefabricated pantheon of heroes will only serve to cement many present and future ills.

Nevertheless, in those circumstances, and with those actors, we must continue to open the way for Cuban democracy. We optimists believe in the best of scenarios and, with the passing of time, many individuals and proposals will surface which will expand and diversify the options in the political and social milieu, thus covering all interests and including all the trends and options for citizen participation And we will need to learn to live with our differences.

Another one of the most notorious Cuban imaginary myths of all time is based on measuring the value of people by their willingness to “shed blood,” to be beaten in the streets or locked in dungeons. To march or not to march seems to want to establish itself as the moral question for future politicians. It doesn’t matter whether the event is repeated again and again with the same result, and the dictatorial power continues to not move one inch, or that one of those “common” citizens, the ones who are trying to get free from the Castro yoke, has joined in the martyrdom. It is known that no “leader” has attracted followers by becoming the scapegoat of a dictatorship known to be repressive and capable of the worst abuses.

To march or not to march seems to want to establish itself as the moral question for future politicians

It seems to be that what’s truly important is that the more marches and more beatings one gets, the more “courageous” one becomes, and that will get you a place of privilege in the select club of the anti-Castro titans.

But given that no Cuban “peoples” are willing to suffer the already traditional Sunday assaults, the organizers of this Antillean Via Crucis have not only summoned the other dissidents –including those who have been labeled a “naive” and even “traitors” for having acted in accordance with the US administration policy of détente — but they question the reluctance of those who do not abide by the summons.

And they see in this negativism, not the right of others to choose their own methods of resistance or their own path to work for the Cuba we want, but an alleged intention to divide the opposition or “to play into the hands” of the dictatorship. It would seem that if the Castro regime has not failed it is because some of us, whether absurdly or cowardly, have refused to march after attending church. Not believing in God, in the sponsors of the initiative or in their results, is secondary: a herd must follow the alpha male, who — in the purest Castro sense — will assume that those who do not follow him blindly are cowards and are against him.

Thus, Eliécer Ávila’s greatest sin was excessive transparency in a world of masquerades, forgetting that to ignore provocations is the wisest and most expeditious strategy that anyone aspiring for political leadership could employ. The sponsor of Somos+ wasted a great opportunity to keep his subtle silence.

There is no need to conquer freedom. Being free will suffice, though it needs to be done intelligently.

I, for one, while enjoying the privilege that my status as an opinion journalist grants me and my complete lack of commitment to leaders or parties of any political color, take the opportunity to join the commentary of a wise reader: there is no need to “fight” for democracy, practicing it should be enough; there is no need to conquer freedom, being free will suffice, though it needs to be done intelligently. It is impractical to continue implementing strategies that lead to the same result again and again… except when what we seek is that seal of pedigree that has been repeated so many times throughout our history.

In Cuba’s immediate future we will not hear that worn-out phrase that marked our lives and legitimized the rights of the privileged few over the rest of Cubans: “Did you by any chance fire shots in the Sierra Maestra?” It will be replaced with “Did you by any chance march on Sundays down La Quinta Avenida?” God forbid!

Translated by Norma Whiting

Justice Before Delivering Forgiveness?

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Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 September 2015 — The recent visit to Cuba of the Bishop of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, brought a flood of masses and homilies in several different settings, where, among others, two words were often heard in the context of the Cuban landscape: forgiveness and reconciliation. They were all the more curious since they were not evoked at the same time as those other words to which they are unavoidably related: offense, confession and repentance.

In this fashion, Francis urged all Cubans, believers or not, to reconciliation in the abstract and forgiveness of no particular offense, an exhortation so cryptic and watered-down that it well could have been uttered anywhere in the world. Who are the offenders and the offended, what do offenses consist of, whose turn is it to forgive and who will be the forgiven were matters that were left to each individual to ponder. The Pope also spoke of “suffering of the poor,” of “respect to differences” and many other similar phrases that can assume conflicting interpretations according to one’s point of view. Continue reading “Justice Before Delivering Forgiveness?”

In any case, forgiveness and reconciliation have different nuances, depending whether they stem from theology or from politics. Let us assume, then, that Francis remained more attached to the first, given his status as a clergyman, though we must not forget that he is also a head of State, a politician and a diplomacy maker representing very particular interests – beyond his good intentions towards the Cuban people — and with no responsibility at all for solving the serious problems facing our nation.

In case there is doubt, the Pope had announced himself in advance as ‘missionary of mercy’, which strips this visit — at least in the obvious — of any political overtones. It is fair to understand the Supreme Pontiff’s delicate position that aims to sail to a safe harbor. Further considering his complicated role as mediator between God and Catholics, and even between rival governments — as has been plainly demonstrated on issues of the restoration of US-Cuba relations — it could be argued that he played his role with dignity during his stay in Cuba.

Because of this, anyone who had expected the Pope to give the dictatorship a scolding, to extend some considerate gesture towards the dissidence or to adopt a position of outright rejection of the Lords of the Palace of the Revolution has been greatly disappointed. The Pope might have done more, but we already know that the ways of God’s ministers on earth are as inscrutable as the Lord’s.

However, once we acknowledge the unpredictability of words, the time may be is right to put them in context and give them the interpretation they deserve from a closer perspective to mundane issues. Let us try to reconcile Bergoglio’s case against reality, plainly assuming that the Pontiff might have implied that Cubans should forgive crimes and abuses inflicted by a dictatorship about to celebrate its 57th healthy anniversary in power, a regime that has never shown any interest in our forgiveness, never confessed its countless mortal sins, and remains ever reluctant to show any repentance.

Should we merely forgive the oppressors, informers and other despicable humanoid instruments used by the dictatorial power to repress, which they continued to do even at the very moment when the Pope launched his message of peace? Is Bergoglio asking of us, without further ado, to place a veil of piety over victims of the firing squads, over the innocent dead of the “13 de Marzo” tugboat and over all the crimes committed by the Cuban dictatorship over more than half century?

He does not have the right to do so.

If we Cubans want to build a healthy and free nation, devoid of the grudges of an ominous past, if we aspire to the Rule of Law, we must mention the word justice before pronouncing the word forgiveness. We must not make the mistake of ignoring and forgetting the pain of thousands of Cuban families or we will suffer the consequences: revenge, punishment and resentment. Without justice there will be no harmony, because it’s a well-known fact that ignoring the horrors of the past has never been a basis for achieving national peace.

Recent history is rich in examples of processes of reconciliation and forgiveness in different countries. Suffice it to recall typical cases, such as the Spanish National Reconciliation of 1956, a proposal aimed at overcoming the schism caused by the Civil War won by Franco; or that of Chile after the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet; or of South Africa at the end of the apartheid regime and the creation of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, through which the moral condemnation of perpetrators of many violent crimes and of multiple human rights violations was achieved, a process that allowed victims the opportunity to offer their testimonies and publicly accuse their abusers.

Other examples, perhaps less conspicuous though no less valuable, are the Commissions of Truth and Reconciliation that were created in Peru to clarify the acts of violence experienced by the Andean country, victim of terrorism led by the Shining Path and the Tupamaros groups, and the military repression from the late 1970’s until 2000; or that of El Salvador, at the end of its bloody civil war, to unravel the human rights violations that took place in that Central American country during the conflict.

Perhaps someday we Cubans will have to democratically assume the responsibility to choose between impunity or condemnation of the perpetrators for the sake of the reconciliation and reconstruction of our nation’s moral force. Perhaps it will be impossible to fully satisfy the thirst for justice of all the victims. The moral condemnation of the perpetrators, at least of those who have not committed bloodshed, might be preferable for Cuba’s spiritual recovery.

If we opt for generosity, a known character trait of our people, as demonstrated in accepting, at the time, tens of thousands of Spanish immigrants — including the parent of today’s dictators — in the Republic born after the last war of independence against Spain, harmony will exceed grudges, and we will prevent the establishment of the new country over another spiral of hatred and exclusions.

But the patterns of a true national reconciliation will not be dictated by the speeches of mediators or by the practices of the same victimizing power. In order for the country to achieve true spiritual recovery and lasting democracy, Cuba’s own people – whose dreams and voice are still unacknowledged — will need to be the ones to decide to forgive or not their executioners. For now, the culprits have not shown the slightest sign of humility or repentance.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Lots of Bright Colors for Bergoglio / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Carlos III and Árbol Seco (author’s photograph)
Carlos III and Árbol Seco (author’s photograph)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana 18 September 2015 – There is just one day left before the arrival of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Bishop of Rome, and work at the Cuban capital has intensified on the faded facades of buildings flanking the route that the head of the Vatican and his accompanying delegation will travel. A motley profusion of stridently contrasting colors has invaded the city, in an apotheosis of bad taste.

These days, the deployment of supports and scaffolding has been intense around the streets that the sense of humor of people has dubbed “Via Sacra.” As often happens in murky waters, the occasion is also conducive to the illicit sale of paint. Thus, a gallon of water is added to every gallon of paint that is sidetracked for sale, in the watercolor canvas destined to cover the usual filth on the facades. It is an economic law that no opportunity for smuggling should be wasted in a country where the black market is not only the best stocked, but also the most organized and efficient. In addition, the visit will be brief, so Bergoglio will not witness how the layers of bright colors poured out in his honor will fade away under the scorching Cuban sun. Continue reading “Lots of Bright Colors for Bergoglio / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The hustle and bustle also includes the planting of ornamental shrubbery in parks adjacent to the route charted for Francis’s itinerary. In fact, in deference to the visitor, the squalid clumps punished by drought and apathy that surrounded the Central Havana relief image of Karl Marx, on Carlos III and Belascoaín, were replaced by new shrubbery. It is an irony of fate that the site of the father of atheism has been decked out just to honor the most eminent representative of God on Earth. The inventor of communism must be spinning in his grave.

Such a display of brushes and scaffolding responds to a plan that goes into effect in this type of situation, when the authorities need to ingratiate themselves with celebrities who enjoy touring and being engulfed by crowds. Officially, it is termed “The Image Plan”, and consists of investing only minimal resources to temporarily achieve a better image of the settings that visitors will see. The activity does not include any carpentry or mortar cement work for the reparation or renovation of structures. Deteriorated or damaged elements are not replaced, and surfaces are not cleaned, but the low quality paint is applied over the grime, over the exposed rusty reinforcement building supports and over the holes left by crumbling and fallen plaster. The idea is not to improve the city, but to make it look better than it really is. It is part of the scheme: false beauty in a country of false leaders and false devotees.

Carlos III and Subirana, Centro Habana (author’s photograph)
Carlos III and Subirana, Centro Habana (author’s photograph)

Of course, there has been popular criticism of what some consider a waste of resources, a swindle to visitors, and an insult to the growing needs of the population. Hundreds of poor Cubans who fruitlessly rummage through flea markets looking for the most “economic” options to paint their homes wonder how funds materialize when it involves a governmental interest.

Other Cubans question so much deployment of yellow and white Vatican flags, mounted atop public street lights, as in the case on Boyeros, Linea, and Séptima Avenida, among others, especially when, at the start of the recent school year, many primary school children were not able to wear new regulation white shirts because production was inadequate due to shortages of raw materials for garment factories, among other reasons.

But these are secondary issues. In short, including Bergoglio’s visit, three popes have honored us with their presence. It’s not that they have resolved much, but we know the magnitude of Cuban vanity… Three Popes is something not too many countries can brag about, let alone a country like Cuba, where the effects of the blessings have the same duration as the Catholic devotion of the masses: three days. What greater privilege could we wish for!

As a positive note, we know that Bergoglio’s visit will be of some use in smuggling a few messages from the Cuban President-General to the American President as the Pope sets out directly for the U.S. from Cuba. Incidentally, the event will also have been instrumental in the release of more than three thousand incarcerated individuals, some of them common criminals, victims of a system where anything can be construed as a crime. God the Father himself would have to visit us to achieve the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Let’s wait and see if by then there are at least any walls left standing and in need of paint.

Translated by Norma Whiting

What Happens the Day After Pope Francis Leaves Cuba? / The Atlantic, Miriam Celaya

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A bricklayer works on a wall in Havana, Cuba.Reuters

What Happens the Day After Pope Francis Leaves Cuba?
The paradise many Cubans dream of is not in the infinity of the heavens, but a mere 90 miles across the sea.

MIRIAM CELAYA 
The pope is arriving in Cuba, and with him runaway speculation in the media about the impact his visit will have on Cuban society and politics—and particularly the push for greater democracy in the country.

Read the rest of the article in The Atlantic, here.

19 September 2015

The Scandal of the Conflict and the General’s Silence / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The lifeless body of Diomar Tarcisio Arenas Sanguino is transferred through the fence that separates the countries of Venezuela and Colombia. Arenas died of appendicitis in Guasdualito, Táchira, after failing to receive adequate treatment just for being Colombian, said his sister Sulbey Arenas. (EFE / Mauricio Duenas Castaneda)
The lifeless body of Diomar Tarcisio Arenas Sanguino is transferred through the fence that separates the countries of Venezuela and Colombia. Arenas died of appendicitis in Guasdualito, Táchira, after failing to receive adequate treatment just for being Colombian, said his sister Sulbey Arenas. (EFE / Mauricio Duenas Castaneda)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 September 2015 — The paranoid frenzy of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has reached delirium levels, and now, in the midst of the crisis taking place on the border between his country and Colombia, and in the course of his untimely visit to Vietnam, geographically removed from the diplomatic cloud of dust he provoked, he appeared on Hanoi national television and took the opportunity to accuse Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of “turning a blind eye” to the campaign which – he claims to have proof — is being orchestrated in Bogota to kill him.

What began a few years ago as innocent conversations with a bird Maduro claimed to be the ghost of his tutor, the late Hugo Chávez, has ended up becoming a sequence of hallucinations about a true international conspiracy to assassinate him – since he is so famous and important — and destroy the Bolivarian Revolution, as if he himself hadn’t wholeheartedly taken on responsibility for that task. Continue reading “The Scandal of the Conflict and the General’s Silence / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

In addition to all this, he is calling for Latin American and Caribbean nations to help Colombia confront the last decade’s flow of “humanitarian exodus” of Colombians to Venezuela, as they flee “from drug trafficking, paramilitaries, war, famine, homelessness and inhumanity.” Maduro chose to be discreet about the increasing emigration of his nationals to the United States and other destinations, as well as shortages, rising poverty, violence, insecurity and the power of armed groups known as “colectivos” in Venezuela, who kill, terrorize and repress with total impunity.

Meanwhile, the Colombian President has accused his Venezuelan counterpart of causing the humanitarian crisis on the border, by deporting (“repatriating”) over a thousand Colombians settled in Venezuelan soil in that area, and also precipitating the exodus of another 7,000, who chose to return to Colombia rather than to suffer the same fate as their compatriots.

Maduro chose to be discreet about the increasing emigration of his nationals to the United States and other destinations, as well as shortages, rising poverty, violence, insecurity and the power of armed groups known as “colectivos”

At the same time, it has become known that Colombian authorities are prepared to grant citizenship to Venezuelans who are a part of the Colombian families deported by Maduro.
In the midst of such a delicate situation, which must be settled at the September 3rd meeting of the Union of South Nations (UNASUR), after Colombia’s failed request for a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organization of American States (OAS), analysts are wondering how the diplomatic conflict between the two governments will affect talks on the peace process between the Colombian Government and representatives of the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) being held in Havana, in which the Venezuelan government is acting as mediator.

Another conjecture tat intrigues public opinion is the role the government of Cuban General-President Raúl Castro will play in the conflict, given the close relationship and influence which, according to rumors, Havana supremacy brandishes over its Venezuelan counterpart. In any case, the absence of a clear official statement on the Cuban position on this conflict raises a few eyebrows.

However, it is known that the Palace of the Revolution octogenarians are masters of conspiracy, and generally choose to wait out the course of events and possible outcomes before making statements in order to adjust the tone and commitments according to their own interests.

Presumably, in sharp contrast to the chaos of the Venezuelan president, the Cuban General-President will try to maintain a reasonable balance.

However, it has also come to light that Cuban doctors on missions in Venezuela have received guidelines to act “in defense of the Bolivarian revolution” in case of an armed conflict and, according to the official Cuban media, Cuban doctors who carry out their professional duties in the border area of Táchira are continuing to provide their services without interruption, despite the “state of emergency” declared by President Nicolas Maduro, counter to the irregularities that have taken place from this conflict.

Nor is difficult to guess on whose side the sympathies of the leadership of the Cuban power rest, especially when there are reservations about the possible role it played in the steps taken by the Venezuelan president regarding the closure of the border there. In any case, Venezuela remains an important card to the Cuban government as long as there is no verified effective progress in its new relations with the US, and as long as the long-awaited investment of foreign capital in Cuba has not taken place.

We mustn’t forget that the forces that oppose “normalization” and the lifting of the embargo between the circles of political power in the US hang, like the sword of Damocles, over the controversial process of talks between Havana and Washington. Presumably, in sharp contrast to the chaos of the Venezuelan president, the Cuban General-President is trying to maintain a reasonable balance, weighing every step. A collision against Colombia and its allies may be as risky as turning its back on Chavez’s deranged heir. Because, as clearly as an old Spanish proverb indicates: A bird in the hand is worth more than a hundred in flight.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Unusual “bomb alert” at the Carlos III Market / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)
Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana | August 18, 2015 — A crowd of shoppers and dozens of neighbors in the vicinity stood together at around 3 PM last Monday across from the popular Carlos III Market, in the capital municipality of Centro Habana. In a matter a minutes, and in a flurry of confusion, they had been forced to evacuate all shopping departments, eateries and entertainment areas due to a “bomb threat”.

The emblematic shopping center was shut down, and employees responsible for its security, who almost never have anything to do other than to check out the bags of customers suspected of theft, fluttered from one side to the other, trying to keep away the curious while exchanging details in their walkie-talkies, in a showy display worthy of a Hollywood action film like those that air on Cuban TV on Saturday nights. They had become the heroes of the day and were enjoying their role.

We are the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. Continue reading “Unusual “bomb alert” at the Carlos III Market / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

There is so much national apathy here that Cubans are probably the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. However, seeing that nothing was happening that was worthy of more attention, the crowd started to disperse gradually, and towards 6 PM there were barely a handful of neighbors hanging around, more entertained than concerned about an event that broke the neighborhood’s daily routine.

This was the moment this casual writer chose to innocently approach the security guard in charge of controlling the wrought iron fence at the market’s side entrance on Árbol Seco Street, to find out why they had closed before the regular time. “We have a special situation,” a very serious and circumspect guard responded. “And why is that, is there a fire, a new assault on Western Union, another gas leak like the one a few months back?”

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It belonged to a young man in his thirties who had quietly come over to us and had witnessed the brief dialogue. His Suzuki motorcycle, parked at the curb, by the sidewalk, betrayed his status as an agent of the State Security. He approached in a friendly and conciliatory – even condescending – manner: “No. We are going to tell this comrade the truth,” he directed his comment to the uniformed guard, who instantly turned into an unwelcome guest. Then, turning towards me, his hand still on my shoulder, informed me there was a “bomb threat” at the market, and, for security reasons, they had evacuated the place. The threat had been phoned in; they were not even sure whether the bomb had been placed at this store or at another one, so they had decided to close several shops since the previous day, as a precaution.

“Any Cuban might be a mercenary of the Islamic State. We have to be better informed, comrade! Don’t you know what the internet is?” the security dude told me.

I put on my best face of shock and disbelief. “A bomb… in Cuba? Are you sure about that? And if the threat has been known since yesterday, why is the market closed today? A lot of us could have blown up, right?” The agent began to lose his good demeanor and withdrew his affectionate hand from my shoulder: “But why are you surprised, comrade? Don’t you know there was an Italian tourist who died because of a bomb at a Cuban hotel?” I responded: OK, but that was a bomb, not a threat. As far as I know, nobody has placed a bomb in Cuba and later warned that he did. That is something you see in American movies. People who place bombs prefer to let them explode without warning.

By now the young man was showing real disgust with this exasperating inquisition. “Look, comrade, everyone knows that after the triumph of the Revolution there have been lots of bombs and counterrevolutionary terrorist attempts where lots of innocent people have died.” I nodded and added “You’re right, this thing about bombs is nothing new. Even before the Revolution there were revolutionary ‘Action and Sabotage’ groups of the July 26th Movement that would place bombs and petards [pipe-bombs} in movie theaters, parks, and other public places.”

It was a low blow on my part, I know. This time, my impromptu instructor was momentarily speechless, he looked at me suspiciously and began to lose his temper, but he still did not quit his lesson. “Listen, comrade, you should get better informed. Look, if you have any relatives abroad, ask them to tell you what is in the cable news. There is a terrorist group called ISIS that has branches throughout the world, and Cuba has become part of the world and we are globalized, so any Cuban might be a mercenary of the Islamic State, just like the one that was going to place a bomb but was arrested in Florida recently. Are you listening? Ask your relatives to inform you. You need to get better informed, comrade, you have to get in tune with the times! Don’t you know what the internet is?”

“We need to consider that there are many in Florida who don’t want relations between Cuba and the US. I bet they have something to do with the bomb.”

That was the foot in the door I had been waiting for. ”Let me tell you something, young man, as far as I know, we Cubans are so well informed by Granma, all of the national media and Telesur that we don’t need any foreign news show, internet or any cable to know what is happening in Cuba and in the world. What’s more, if they don’t mention this in the national TV news, the business about the bomb is another enemy hoax to sow fear in the population. What’s more, I fail to see any team of firemen, cops, or street closings. People continue to circulate throughout the area and employees continue inside the market. What kind of bomb is it that can only kill customers?”

Obviously, the agent had no answer to that, so he ended the conversation and improvised a crumb: “That’s another matter. We need to consider that there are many in Florida who don’t want relations between Cuba and the US. I bet they have something to do with the bomb.”

I could not help laughing, “Well, finally! It had been slow in coming. So we no longer have an imperialist enemy and now we invent another one. OK. We need to keep up the belligerence somehow. What would happen to the Revolution if it became orphaned of its enemies?”

Suddenly, the young security dude realized that he had been the victim of a scam and scowled, but it was in vain. People around us laughed heartily. An old neighbor from across the street sealed the brief episode with a solemn sentence, “A bomb was placed 56 years ago but it has failed to explode!” A general peal of laughter was the most convincing popular judgment on this unusual “bomb threat” in the Carlos III Market.

Translated by Norma Whiting