Money Bristles, Yesterday and Today / Miriam Celaya

About the previous post, which -as expected- elicited many well and ill-intentioned comments, I noticed one in particular, a reader commenting about what used to be our digital magazine Consenso, which the commentator himself referred to as having opened a Cuban window on the world. I happen to agree with him and, as part of the management group and the editorial board of that magazine, I thank him for the memories and the praise.

But the truth is that his comment inspired me to search through those articles that were published at the time in Consenso, among which I found one from my friend and colleague Reinaldo Escobar relating to the subject of the debate: money. Because, though some were biased in reading my post and tried to twist the meaning of what I said, attributing it to my personally attacking those “who did not”, when read correctly, it shows that what I attack is the vice of envy, questioning other’s finances, exactly the same matter that Reinaldo Escobar discussed in Consenso in 2007.  Contrary to my habit of not posting here articles I have not authored, I reproduce it today, with the previous authorization of the writer. You be the judge about its worth, and I hope you enjoy it.

Money Bristles

Reinaldo Escobar

It seems almost superfluous to explain that any political activity generates costs, from the essential existence of a professional staff, dedicated to party work on a full time basis, to the development and dissemination of documents, including trips involving transportation, food and lodging outside the cities where they reside; organizing seminars, meetings or press conferences, or simply connecting to the Internet. Can you think how it would be possible to carry out politics without these things?

There isn’t the slightest possibility for an entity in the nascent Cuban civil society to establish anything like a lucrative business to cover the costs of political work. There are no cafeterias, rental rooms, bicycle repair shops or birthday clown entertainers willing or able to meet those expenses. Not even one of the leaders of the internal opposition has his own resources, family assets from before the revolution, or has jewelry to sell or an inheritance to enjoy; most of them do not receive a salary, they are unemployed. However they engage in politics in a professional manner, they secure their own transportation and stays away from home, they undertake conferences, print documents, receive and send emails. Where does the money come from?

The Cuban government’s answer to this question is that the money comes from the US, be it Florida exiles, independent foundations, or the American government itself, which, if there ever was any doubt, has just approved an $80 million budget to this effect. It is known that some EU or Latin American countries also contribute, but it is clear that, according to the official interpretation of the facts, this last source of funds is, when all is said and done, from the US, by way of an extensive and tangled pathway.

Perhaps the most interesting question is not where the money comes from, but under what conditions it is received.

José Martí raised funds for Cuban independence from selfless Tampa cigars manufacturers, but also from wealthy American, Mexican and Cuban philanthropists. There used to be a picture at the Museum of the Revolution, long ago removed, where Fidel Castro was seen sitting at a table in front of a mountain (a small mountain) of dollars. The photo was taken in New York, while raising funds to buy the yacht Granma, plus weapons for the 82 revolutionaries. Were these donations subject to any conditions? Of course they were! The funds were donated, in the first case, to end the humiliating Spanish colony and in the second, on condition to overthrow Batista’s dictatorship. There is no evidence, not even hallway gossip, giving the impression that the money was used for the personal benefit of the apostle [as Cubans call Jose Marti], who always wore the same threadbare black suit, or on luxuries of the foremost leader, who, it is rumored, did not cross his legs in public so none could see the holes on the soles of his shoes.

The triumphant Cuban revolution received lots of aid from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, and I am speaking just of what is euphemistically called “fair trade between poor and developed countries”. I’m talking about ships full of weapons and other war supplies, about college scholarships, technology transfer, collaboration of police intelligence, even of space travel, which would have never happened if Cuba had not complied with the condition of becoming the first socialist country in the Western Hemisphere. It is a historical fact that when Che Guevara traveled to China, a joint communique was issued on completion of his trip, as is the custom, in which the Chinese, bragging with sincerity, objected to the qualification of “disinterested” made by the Cubans about the support the Asian giant was giving the small island.

In those early years, parallel to the subsidy of the revolution, the financing of the counterrevolution began. It is well documented that at least between 1959 and 1965 almost all the opposition activities were directly funded by the CIA, the Pentagon, and the US State Department. The central characters themselves have stated so, and all of them justified this financing, so obviously stipulated by the fact that the government of Fidel Castro was supported by Communist powers.

Today, Cuban dissidents are imprisoned when it is shown, or when there is a conviction, that they have received money from the US. That was, in every case, the heaviest accusations resulting in disproportionate sentences to which the 75 of the Black Spring of 2003 were subjected. This went as far as to include in the same boat journalists receiving payment in exchange for articles in foreign newspapers. It led, among other consequences, to new divisions among the internal opposition: those not receiving money and receiving it through the U.S. Interests Section, and those who did not receive funds from the US, but from independent institutions in Europe and Latin America.

What almost no one asks is where the money comes from today to publish all those costly national and provincial newspapers, organs of the Communist Party, of the Union of Young Communists, or the Central Cuban Workers Union. How were the open forums financed all this time, the militant marches, the whole material base of the “Battle of Ideas”, the campaigns for the rescue of the five combatants of the Interior Ministry, jailed in the United States, the trips abroad, the foreign guests at political events, billboards on highways, t-shirts with slogans, or the little flags.

Would it be possible to pay all that with the monthly member contributions to these organizations, which isn’t even enough to pay the salaries of thousands of professional cadres scattered throughout the whole country, in every province, in every municipality, occupying premises that do not pay rent, where water and electricity are consumed, where there are phones and secretaries, gas-guzzling cars that include a chauffeur?

Political work involves disbursements, be it from the opposition or the government. If the party in power has at its disposal boxes of public funds to cover  expenses and those in the opposition, besides not having even legal recognition, also don’t have, literally, a place to drop dead, what is the recommendation? To let the government do whatever it wants without offering the slightest resistance, or to limit the action only to within earshot, without even a megaphone to amplify it?

The only option the members of the opposition on the island have been cornered into, in order to be able to exercise their specific political tendency, is that of accepting financing from whomever offers it, unless they are OK with being a “family faction” without the least echo in society.  This is part of the deliberate intention on the part of the government to disallow any alternative of political change in Cuba. This intention stretches from a long series of die-hard slogans (socialism or death, we are ready to shed the last drop of blood, the Island will sink in the sea first…) to the modification of the constitution to enact the immobility of the system. The harder it is to dissent, the better for the government. If the material and legal obstacles aren’t enough, if fear of going to jail is not enough, that’s where the ethical scruples (prejudices?) come in, preventing decent people from accepting funds that automatically turn them into mercenaries of the imperialism.

Ideally, the Cuban media should not be the party’s fiefdom, but a public space for all political persuasions; with the state budget partially allocated to fund the work of civil society and of political parties duly registered under the law. If the state, instead of distributing all these funds and resources in an impartial manner, funds that proceed from the working class, monopolizes them only for the favored party, it loses its moral right to ask where the opposition’s money comes from. Additionally, it should not deny anyone the possibility of becoming a disinterested donor or a calculating investor. The state should protect those citizens who have a political proposal, the right to defend it and have it compete publicly and on equal terms, without being forced to sell their souls to the devil.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Posted 9 June 2014 by Miriam Celaya