The Enigmatic Closing Of Plaza Carlos III Causes Discomfort

Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center, Havana

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

The scene has been repeated every day since Friday, March 24, the day when the commercial center, the largest and most popular of its kind in Cuba, was closed. Dozens of regular customers from various provinces in the interior have traveled to the capital just to stumble across a small and laconic sign on the security gate, which warns the obvious and offers no useful information: continue reading

DEAR CUSTOMER

THE PLAZA CARLOS III SHOPPING CENTER

IT WILL BE KEPT CLOSED UNTIL NEW ADVISORY

Apologize for the annoyances that we may occasion

GENERAL MANAGEMENT

Of course, without official information, the surprise closure of Plaza Carlos III has raised a lot of speculation, especially in the neighborhoods surrounding the enclave, in the heart of downtown Havana, being one of the pioneer shops of the “opening” to foreign currency transactions in Cuba, since the so-called decriminalization of the dollar, back in the 90’s of the last century. Since its opening as a foreign exchange market Carlos III has undergone several renovations in different stages, but never before have the sales to the public been completely discontinued.

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

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

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

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

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

The only information that is offered to those who come to the doors of the mall is a brief communication. (14ymedio)

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

If the alleged audit is, in fact, underway, it would be a demonstration of the nullity of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and their failure to prevent illegalities in the neighborhood. For several months the constant and strong police presence around the outer areas of the commercial center have conferred a deplorable image of a besieged square, while the “inside” thieves, those who are part of the staff, looked after their own interests.

There is every indication, for the moment, that it does not seem to have fallen prey to that closure epidemic that has recently affected several establishments of the capital that trade in hard currencies.

Last Sunday some trucks continued unloading merchandise in the Plaza Carlos III warehouses, which augurs that on an imprecise but possibly soon date, the mall will be reopened to the public. There is every indication, for the moment, that it does not seem to have fallen prey to that closure epidemic that has recently affected several establishments of the capital that trade in hard currencies.

Affected sites include the hardware stores at 5th, 42nd and La Puntilla, in the Playa municipality Playa; the Yumurí and Sylvain de Zanja and Belascoaín stores in Centro Habana; the Pan American TRD on 9th Street, in the Casino Deportivo neighborhood of the Cerro municipality; and numerous sale kiosks spread around different points of the city, just to mention some cases.

While the waiting lasts and the questions accumulate without answers, the more optimistic habaneros have begun to rub their hands in the intangible expectation that the next reopening of the popular Plaza Carlos III will be accompanied with a renewed merchandise, and that at least in the first days of resumed sales the usually depressed shelves of the different departments will offer a greater quantity and variety of products.

Hope is the last thing you lose.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Obama’s Unquestionable Imprint / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Raul Castro (caraotadigital.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Subtle Dissent of Revolutionaries / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A long road traveled and a longer one yet to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Learned Illiterates of the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

AFP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

(AFP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*The Horse: Fidel Castro’s nickname among Cubans

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez and Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting