Opposition Alliance Calls To Open An Inclusive National Dialog / 14ymedio

Cuban activists founding the MUAD. (14ymedio)
Cuban activists founding the MUAD. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 December 2016 – The Democratic Action Unity Roundtable (MUAD) has made a call to open a national dialog a few days after the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro. The opposition alliance believes that the country is entering a new stage in its history, according to a declaration signed by its spokesperson, Boris Gonzalez Arenas.

MUAD said that for many Cubans the memory of the political leader is marked by “injustices and inhumane detentions” and the “unjustifiable loss of human lives.” The statement also references the “uprooting suffered” by thousands of islanders “on seeing themselves forced to abandon (…) the land in which they were born.” For these people, Fidel Castro will remain “a totalitarian dictator” the document emphasized.

However, for other Cubans he will always be considered as the ruler “who opened the doors and gave them opportunities for themselves and their families that they did not have before the revolutionary process initiated in 1959.” In the memories of this part of the population Castro will remain “the hero, the father, the ‘at your orders’ Commander in Chief,” the statement says.

The declaration focuses on “a new generation of Cubans” who have “their own interpretation of our history and our reality.” They are individuals with “desires for a respect for diversity of thinking and for freedom,” and who dream of “a truly plural Cuba with respect for human rights and oriented to the benefit of all.”

The challenge for the current government is to put into practice “a set of measures that really impact the economic and social environment” and that allow “wide participation of all Cubans, wherever they are,” MUAD emphasizes.

The renewal of the national legislative political order also is called out as an urgent matter, in the document made public by the opposition coalition.

“The only path we have to achieve all the economic, social and political transformations that we want for Cuba is an inclusive dialog,” says the final paragraph of the statement.

MUAD brings together more than thirty independent civil society organizations. In the middle of this year the alliance suffered a serious reversal with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the largest opposition organization in the country, left its ranks. The same thing occurred with the United Anti-Totalitarian Front (FANTU), led by Guillermo Fariñas.

Lights After The Ashes / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Despite the mourning, some have dared to put up Christmas decorations. (14ymedio)
Despite the mourning, some have dared to put up Christmas decorations. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 December 2016 – Timidly, without much noise or fuss, Havanans are shaking off the national mourning decreed for Cuba, as of last Saturday, for the death of Fidel Castro. Despite cultural activities having been cancelled, the closed theaters and the bars without alcohol, the first Christmas decorations are beginning to be seen in some homes.

The owners of these houses adorned with lights and garlands risk being reprimanded by those closest to officialdom or by the police.

In a city where the authorities have severely reprimanded those who play loud music in their homes, or who plan any kind of festivities, to install Christmas decorations is true defiance, a gesture of irreverence more daring and forceful than an opposition slogan shouted in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Thousands of families across the capital city are waiting for the end of this period of seclusion imposed by the powers-that-be to prominently display their tree with a star and snow made out of cotton. These are the symbols of the new times, of the holidays that will inevitably come after the great funeral.

The Death of Fidel Castro: What Awaits Us Now? / Iván García

One of the many billboards that went up all over Cuba after Fidel's death. Source: Infobae
One of the many billboards that went up all over Cuba after Fidel’s death. Source: Infobae

Iván García, 28 November 2016 — It was half past ten at night in the privately-owned Perla Negra bar in Havana’s populous La Viñora neighborhood and thirty minutes by car from the center of the city, where the locals were drinking mojitos, caipirinhas and even stout. No one had yet learned of the death of the Fidel Castro.

The dominant sounds were salsa music, reggaeton and Marc Anthony ballads along with the clinking of glasses, the shuffle of canapés and the whispers of couples in love.

No one thought to interrupt the party to announce the death of the old guerrilla leader. At midnight, Oscar Lopez —an engineer who was celebrating his birthday with his wife — was walking the nine blocks to his apartment in the Lawton neighborhood. He did not notice anything out of the ordinary other than a short line of four or five people waiting to buy ground pork patties for their children’s breakfasts. Continue reading “The Death of Fidel Castro: What Awaits Us Now? / Iván García”

As is customary at this time of the morning, sales clerks at small food service businesses were yawning in front of shelves of confections and cold-cut sandwiches, drunkards were lying on the covered sidewalks of Tenth of October Avenue, and a few gay and transvestite prostitutes were trolling for customers.

“I swear, nobody was talking a about the news. I didn’t even notice any extra police deployments. The night that Fidel Castro died was a night like any other. I found out about his death at two o’clock in the morning when my brother, who lives in Miami, phoned to tell me,” says Oscar as he waits in the line to purchase bread, which Cubans have bought from the state using their ration books since 1962.

When you ask ordinary Havana residents what they were doing when they heard the news of Castro’s death, they respond without any hint of drama. More than a few of them found out through text messages sent from Miami. This is not surprising given that a large segment of the Cuban population does not typically watch state television.

Most people watch TV through illegal satellite antennae or they rent a compendium of programming known as the Packet, which offers melodramatic Mexican soap operas and mediocre audience participation programs from the other side of the Florida Straits.

Unlike Miami, where Castro’s death took place on the day after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and hundreds of people celebrated with bottles of rum and roast pork, the news here was received here with little notice or fanfare.

For Cubans, Fidel Castro essentially died on July 31, 2006, when an unexpected illness forced him to give up power. By the time his passing was announced on a cool autumn night ten years later, his death had been long expected.

Sahily Téllez, a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore, says Fidel was a distant figure to her. “Unlike my parents, I did not grow up seeing him as a dominant figure in my life. To me, he was old news, a man who led a revolution and built a society that barely works. Fidel and other elderly officials like him seem anachronistic, conservative. Among people of my age, Fidel and Raúl are not very popular. It’s just that many of us aspire to live in a consumer capitalist society. We associate Fidel with poverty and his speeches were full of ideology.”

What most worries Daniel Pereda, a self-employed taxi driver who drives a dilapidated 1954 Chevrolet, is what could come after the death of Fidel Castro.

“The situation isn’t pretty. There’s the crisis in Venezuela. If Nicolás Maduro loses power because he is shipping oil to Cuba at rock-bottom prices, it will impact Cuba and our lives. Then there is the victory of Donald Trump in the United States. He is an unpredictable guy who will probably not continue Obama’s friendly policies towards Cuba. This must be giving quite a few people in the Palace of the Revolution (the seat of government) anxiety attacks,” he says as he swerves to avoid potholes in Cerro Avenue.

Already the state press has begun broadcasting extensive special programming eulogizing the life and work of Fidel Castro. The funeral planning committee has announced that on November 28 and 29 people will be able to visit the José Martí Memorial in the Plaza of Revolution to pay their well-deserved respects.

People are also being called upon to do something that seems mind-boggling: “Sign the solemn oath to fulfill the concept of Revolution as expressed by our historic leader on May 1, 2000 as an expression of the will to give continuity to his ideas and our socialism.”

At 7:00 P.M. on November 29, a commemorative rally will be held in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The transfer of Castro’s ashes will begin the following day, retracing the route that The Caravan of Freedom followed in January 1959. The journey will end with another rally in Santiago de Cuba on December 3, this time in the city’s Antonio Maceo Plaza.

The internment is scheduled for 07:00 A.M. on December 4 at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. It was also reported that the Military Review and Combatants March, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Granma landing (December 2, 1956), and Revolutionary Armed Forces Day are being postponed until January 2, 2017.

Suspicions and rumors are spreading throughout Havana. Marino Ruiz, a grocery store worker, believes that “Fidel Castro died days ago. Everything fits perfectly. A weekend that correlates with December 2, the 60th anniversary of the armed forces and a month and six days after the 58th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution,” he observes. But the truth is that Fidel Castro met with the president of Viet Nam, Tran Dai Quang, at his home on November 15. And photos of the meeting were taken by his son, Alex Castro, and his personal photographer.

According to Ignacio Gonzalez, a nurse, the memorial events will be a nine-day nuisance. “There will be dozens of programs on radio and television eulogizing the ’maximum leader.’ And all this racket will no doubt go on for one or two months. You have to wonder what awaits us. If only I could fly to the moon.”

With no power to rally supporters or a message that resonates with the average Cuban, Castro’s death has caught the divided dissident community off guard.

“Difficult days lie ahead,” according to Carlos Díaz, an independed sociologist.” I would not want to be in Raúl Castro’s shoes. He is faced with an ongoing economic crisis, a system that does not work, a very erratic Donald Trump as president of the United States and the impending fall of Chavismo in Venezuela. He will have to move very carefully to avoid being the one who brought down the revolution his brother Fidel led. I believe the government will accelerate new and more significant economic reforms. But the political process will remain closed and they will continue exerting iron-fisted social control as long as they can.”

Julio Aleaga — head of the opposition group Candidates for Change, which advocates nominating dissidents for the few elected offices for which private citizens can compete — believes that “the death of Fidel Castro, a very negative figure, can be the catalyst for profound change. The conservative wing of the ruling party has lost a powerful symbol. And in medium term change is unstoppable.”

Diana Armenteros, a political science graduate, is not so optimistic. “Castroism has a lot of life left in it. They won’t be able to bury Fidel just yet. Let’s not forget that the military controls 80% of the national economy. Untangling this mess won’t be so easy,” she claims.

At the moment it is too soon to analyze what effect the death of Fidel Castro will have on the current situation. The funeral ceremonies have only just begun.

The legendary Plaza of the Revolution is being prepared to receive millions of Cubans who will pay their last respects to Fidel. And the Communist Party propaganda machine will continue to run at full throttle.

For a few days — probably for a couple of months — the place Cuba will most closely resemble is North Korea.


Fidel Castro’s 13 Most Notorious Failures / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Fidel Castro promoting the 10 million ton of sugar harvest from 1969 to 1970. (Archive)
“Now it begins, The Great 10 Million [ton] Harvest.” Fidel Castro promoting the 10 million ton of sugar harvest from 1969 to 1970. (Archive)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 30 November 2016 – Cuba’s official press and, oddly, a good part of the international media, never stop repeating that Fidel Castro brought Cubans free education and healthcare for all. Cuba was already, however, one of the most developed countries on the continent before the Revolution, much more so even than some European countries such as Spain. Currently, the healthcare system is in a calamitous state since the USSR and Venezuela suspended their enormous subsidies for Havana, and education, despite being universal and free, is totally at the service of an ideology.

These are the 13 most notorious failures of the last 57 years, all attributable to the Maximum Leader. Continue reading “Fidel Castro’s 13 Most Notorious Failures / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

  1. One of Fidel Castro’s first promises in 1959 was to drain the Zapata Swamp, the largest wetland in the Caribbean islands, and to use it for planting rice. After investing substantial resources and mobilizing a large labor force, the project was abandoned. The failure of this idea of Castro’s was fortunate for the ecosystem, and today the area is included in the National System of Protected Areas and is a breeding ground with more than 10,000 rhombifer crocodiles, a species native to Cuba. A natural resource that would have been lost with the expansion of agricultural crops.
  2. In a public speech in the sixties, Castro said that in a short time there would not be a single marabou bush to be found anywhere on the island. Five decades later, the advance of this invasive plant has hampered agriculture to the point that his brother Raul re-issued the promise in a speech in July of 2007, during the annual commemoration ceremony for the assault on the Moncada Baracks, but the problem remains unresolved.
  3. In the early sixties Fidel Castro promised that milk production in Cuba would be so great that although the population was expected to triple, Cubans would not be able to consume all the milk that was going to be produced. Currently, milk is a rationed product distributed only to children under seven (and those with special medical needs), who receive a kilogram of powdered milk every ten days. In 2007, Raul Castro expressed a desire that all Cubans would be able to “drink a glass of milk” every morning.
  4. The October Crisis, also known as the Missile Crisis, represented a major defeat for the Maximum Leader, when the Soviets ignored him and made an agreement with the United States to withdraw their nuclear arms without considering his opinion. The Cuban people were barely aware of how close they came to perishing in a global cataclysm. In the streets of the island people chanted, “If they come, they stay,” and “Nikita, pansy, what is given isn’t taken back,” (in a rhyming version in the original Spanish), an allusion to the withdrawal of the warheads.
  5. Starting in late 1968 the island began preparing for a 10 million ton sugar harvest in 1970, but managed to produce only 8.5 million tons. The country turned its entire attention to the cane cutting, with the end of year holidays suspended to concentrate on harvesting and sugar production. The economy was left in ruins, fields dedicated to other crops were turned over to sugar, and the damages to the environment were never revealed.
  6. The Alamar neighborhood to the east of the capital, built through a system of microbrigades – people diverted from their normal workplaces to construction brigades – was exposed as the Cuban model of socialist architecture. In Alamar’s concrete blocks would live the “New Man,” an individual without ambitions who would know nothing of markets or exploitation. Today the Alamar apartments represent the lowest price point in the capital’s housing market. Not only for their architectural ugliness, but because this bedroom community lacks an adequate cultural, economic and commercial infrastructure.
  7. In 1967 it was proposed to create what would be called “the Havana cordon” around the capital, with the planting of coffee interspersed with pigeon peas, a miraculous bean to feed cattle. Thousands of Cubans were mobilized for the cultivation and the official press predicted a notable improvement in food supplies. The project was abandoned and its final fate never explained. [Ed. note: Among other problems, Havana does not have a climate conducive to coffee growing.]
  8. In the late seventies it was planned that the Isle of Youth would be Cuba’s first communist territory. Experiments were established to eliminate money and extend free goods and services. Numerous schools were built to welcome students on fellowships from 37 countries. Today most of these schools are abandoned, their hallways and classrooms overrun by vegetation.
  9. The genetically superior cow was one of the most persistent obsessions of the Comandante en Jefe. Crossing Holsteins with native cattle would create the F-1 and later F-2 animals that would guarantee the national cattle herd. The emblematic animal of this project was a single cow named White Udder, which set several records, producing more than 100 liters of milk a day. The year 2015 closed with slightly more than 4 million cows on the island, almost two million fewer than in 1958, while the population had doubled.

Fired “Like A Dog” For Satirizing Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Apologies: The video is in Spanish without subtitles

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 November 2016 — Leamsy Requejo Lorite, who worked as a curator at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, was expelled from his workplace on Tuesday, after publishing on the social network Facebook an ironic text about the death of Fidel Castro, accusing him of owing him thousands of pesos that he was never paid for the work of his whole life.

“Good morning to those who know the true reality of Cuba,” Requejo said in a video posted on his Facebook profile in which he denounces his dismissal. “It saddens me greatly to use my Facebook profile to give this news. The abuse here in Cuba is becoming more evident,” he adds. Continue reading “Fired “Like A Dog” For Satirizing Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

On November 26, a day after the death of Fidel Castro, this 31-year-old Cuban wrote a post for which he was fired. According to what he explained to 14ymedio by telephone, his co-workers reported him to the museum administration.

“I feel so sad, but so sad, that a person died who was paying my monthly salary,” his Facebook page said.

“He left and didn’t pay me what he owed. He left owing me thousands of pesos.”

“On Monday I approached Oscar Antuñu, deputy technical director of the museum, and he berated me for having posted these words on Facebook. He had not yet made the decision to fire me, but it was already rumored. A day later, he told me to get out because I’m not trustworthy,” says Requejo.

“They have not given me the pink slip, but at least verbally they kicked me out. They have told me I can not even enter the museum,” he adds.

The reason offered by the administration for his firing was the negative comment against “an idol of the Cuban Revolution.” Requejo asked what kind of idol is someone he never voted for to represent him.

“In one of the discussions they threatened not only to kick me out of the museum, but that I would never work in a state institution again,” he says.

Faced with the possibility of not being able to support himself and marked as a “counter-revolutionary,” Requejo threatened to call the international media to report his case, which finally precipitated the decision to dismiss him.

“They categorized me as untrustworthy and verbally abused me,” he explains, but says he didn’t fall short of words to defend himself against the attacks.

Requejo worked as a conservation specialist with six other colleagues, earning 365 pesos (14.60 dollars) per month, which was supplemented by 12 CUC (roughly 12 dollars) a month given to him to pay for his lunches.

“It was a shitty salary, but as bad as it was, it was what supported me,” he says. “In the two years I had been in that department I was always the best, but now they fire me like a dog.”

“I can not understand what my personal Facebook has to do with my workplace. I was fired from the museum simply for stating a political opinion, that goes against every right.”

Requejo says he is afraid of the pressure of State Security on him and it grieves him that this event destroyed his working life.

His immediate boss, Anniubys Garcia Blanco, refused to answer multiple calls from 14ymedio for comment, as did the deputy technical director of the museum, Oscar Antuña.

“I do not know what will happen to me, because I also work at the museum,” said Requejo’s mother, Barbara Lorite. “The only thing clear is that they threw him out, he’s out. Probably, they will fire me too when I return from my vacation,” she added.

The "Dry Law" After the Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García

"Sale of alcoholic beverages prohibited" says a sign in a hard-currency shop in Holguín. Taken from 14ymedio.
“Sale of alcoholic beverages prohibited” says a sign in a hard-currency shop in Holguín. Taken from 14ymedio.

Ivan Garcia, 29 November 2016 — Cintia will never forget the day Fidel Castro died. Not because she had affection for the old guerrilla or felt devoted to the figure of the ex-comandante in chief.

One month ago, Cintia’s parents had reserved a room, paid for sessions of photography and makeup, and invited some 100 people to a party to celebrate her 15th birthday.

No expense was spared. More than 2,000 convertible pesos, some 2,400 dollars, four years’ salary for a professional. The adolescent’s birthday coincided with the nine days of official mourning that the Regime decreed for the death of Fidel Castro. Continue reading “The "Dry Law" After the Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García”

In accordance with the provincial government’s regulations, bars, night clubs, shops and markets were prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages.

Cintia’s parents had already invested around 500 convertible pesos in clothing and 400 in photo sessions and videos. The date of the birthday celebration, with plans for a dance group, a professional presenter and a bottle of aged rum on each table, was to take place on Sunday, November 27.

As a precaution, Cintia’s family, preparing for a shortage of beer, had already bought 15 cases of Cristal. But they figured they could buy the rum, which was always available on the shelves of the hard-currency stores, the day before the party.

The first problem came with the renting of the salon, a State center that was used at night as a discotheque. On Saturday morning the administrator returned their money, explaining that “because of the national mourning after the death of Fidel, recreational and cultural activities were suspended.”

Cintia’s family understood the reasons. “Look, here almost all the businesses are State property. So we decided to rent a private house. The trouble happened later, when we went to buy rum, red wine and champagne,” the mother says.

They went to dozens of markets and saw that black nylon had been put over the alcoholic beverages on the shelves, as a sign of mourning. “Señora, I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you. If they catch me selling alcohol I’ll lose my job,” a clerk told her.

When asked where this regulation came from, they pointed toward the roof. “From above, from the Government.” As always happens in Cuba, when you want to know the name of the officer or minister who approved an absurd law, the web of bureaucracy conceals the one who implemented it.

Telephoning departments of the Ministry of Interior Commerce, which administers the hard-currency shops, the answers were the same: “We’re in national mourning for the death of the comandante.”

So what do you do with those who wanted to celebrate their birthdays or their weddings between November 26 and December 3? Or the devotees of Santa Barbara who always celebrate on December 4?

Although the official press hasn’t announced it, the Dry Law is extended to the whole Island. The journalist Lourdes Gómez, in Diario de Cuba, reported that “strangely, you don’t see anyone drinking alcohol. A cafeteria worker said that they received a directive prohibiting the sale of alcohol for the next nine days, the period decreed by the Council of State for national mourning.”

We Cubans are used to getting silence for an answer. Right now, Fidel’s death is the priority. He’s a genius and an important figure up to the grave, after his death, built up with a gibberish worthy of a Cantinflas comedy.

The celebrated tenor, Placido Domingo, who was going to make his Cuban debut in the Gran Teatro de La Habana, on Saturday, November 26, had to pack his bags and leave until further notice. Those who love baseball or football in the European leagues have to spend the equivalent of two days wages to get on the Internet to find out the results, since the official press and other media like radio and television are only giving news about the trajectory of the Maximum Leader.

By State decree, the army of drunkards in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and the rest of the provinces can’t drink beer or rum. “This would be in poor taste, to have people drinking and partying in the middle of national mourning. Where’s the pleasure in that? After December 4 they will have plenty of time to booze it up,” answers a police officer.

Those not suffering from the unexpected tropical Prohibition are the usual drunks. “Those people will even drink dog piss. The ones selling “chispa de tren“* are making a fortune now, since it’s not easy to spend nine days of this fuss without having a drink,” says the owner of a cafe on the outskirts of Mónaco, south of the Capital.

Private bars, restaurants and cafeterias can’t serve or sell alcohol either, but under the table, rum and beer are sold for consumption on the premises.

Coming back to Cintia’s family: At the last minute they were able to buy several bottles of rum and red wine. Of course they paid dearly for them. Finally they could celebrate her birthday, with the music at low volume. So as not to offend Fidel Castro in his national mourning.

*Translator’s note: Literally, “train spark,” referring to the sound made by train wheels on the tracks. A cheap, homemade rum, distilled from sugar and mixed mainly with kerosene or residue from petroleum refining. The toxic rum of the poor.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Only And Final Beer / 14ymedio

At Jose Marti International Airport in Havana rum and beer are still for sale despite the countrywide ban due to Fidel Castro’s death. (14ymedio)
At Jose Marti International Airport in Havana rum and beer are still for sale despite the countrywide ban due to Fidel Castro’s death. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 November 2016 — For many tourists who have experienced recent days in Cuba it has been especially difficult to enjoy a mojito, relax with a daiquiri, or sip a beer to deal with the heat. With the declaration of national mourning, the government has prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages for nine days, and also cancelled all cultural activities and placed tight controls over music in public and private places.

However, at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, rum and beer are still for sale, but only in the area beyond the security controls and emigration booths. This Wednesday, the line at the café in Terminal 3 was longer than usual. Many wanted to once again feel “something cold that soothes the soul” on their tongues, said a Spanish traveler.

Only inside hotels and in the restricted areas of the airport terminals has the sale of these products been allowed. The restrictions include the emblematic Floridita Bar, which will be closed until after the mourning period, and the Bodeguita del Medio, which right now is empty and sad; both are famed for the “regulars” who drank there, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ernest Hemingway, among others. “This is the only and last beer I’ve been able to drink in Cuba,” joked the Spaniard from Madrid, while enjoying a cold Cristal, tempting and unattainable for those on the outside.

The Political Testament Of Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Revolution is ... (14ymedio)
Revolution is … (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 29 November 2016 – Under the shadow of national mourning after the death of Fidel Castro, Cubans have been called to sign, as an oath, some words spoken by the former president in May of 2000, in which he left for posterity his concept of Revolution.

“Revolution is a sense of the historic moment; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others as human beings; it is emancipating ourselves by our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces within and outside the social and national sphere; it is defending the values we believe in at the price of any sacrifice; it is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism; it is fighting with audacity, intelligence and realism; it is never lying nor violating ethical principles; it is a profound conviction that there is no force in the world capable of crushing the force of truth and ideas. Revolution is unity, it is independence, it is fighting for our dreams of justice for Cuba and the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism.” Continue reading “The Political Testament Of Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

More than a definition, the text should be understood as a personal assessment of the political process in which Fidel Castro played the starring role. In the absence of a solid theoretical thought, the exegetes of the Commander in Chief have made use of the poetics of his rhetoric to extract, something like that, as a political testament.

The phrase chosen has the turns of an oratory delivered to captivate those congregated in a plaza, where almost all license is permitted, while sounding good and conquering the ears. But read at a distance and analyzed as a thesis, it lacks programmatic solidity.

In the phrase, the term Revolution is ambivalent and is presented both as a result obtained and reached for. At other moments the statement seems a method to achieve certain goals, the final fruit of a process, or a tie to moral values close to the Decalogue of good behavior.

The contradictions of the concept stated by Castro for more than fifteen years ago have discouraged academics of the official environment and organic intellectuals from analyzing it. Instead, they have chosen to sanctify the verse so as not to be seen to be committed to rigorously dissect it.

When Castro mentions that Revolution is the sense of the historic moment, it only confirms that he lacks the political instinct to perceive the wealth of opportunities that such processes trigger, something that rests exclusively in the capacity of certain individuals to take advantage of the situation.

On the other hand, the substantial difference between Revolution and reform resides in the way transformations are realized, but these words avoid pointing out the violent and radical character of the process they promote. The absence of this precision constitutes the most important conceptual deficit of the text.

In the horizon of almost all social revolutions is equality, but a process of such a nature is not needed to try to achieve it. Freedom has historically been most affected by revolutions. In particular, the freedoms of expression and association, and, in the case of socialist revolutions, economic freedoms.

The inaccuracies in the text does not end there.

In the words extolled today, Castro defines his creature as the capacity to treat others and to be treated as human beings. It is the promise of the lowest profile that a politician could project and, most obvious, that includes a concept for posterity that is, at least, a disturbing gesture.

The confusion rises in tone when the leader invites us to “emancipate ourselves by our own efforts,” without specifying if he speaks from the working class that must shake off the “chains” of exploitation, or if it is a nationalist-style demand to eliminate dependency on some foreign power.

In the first case, it would be renouncing alliances with other sectors such as the peasantry, while following the second to the letter leads to renouncing proletarian internationalism.

The act of “challenging dominant forces” differs if you are in an insurrectional period, or it is several years after the beginning of the Revolution. When Castro stated this concept, power in Cuba lay in the Communist Party and especially in his own will, which did not accept the slightest challenge.

The voluntarism of the orator stands out when he calls for “paying whatever price necessary,” while he appropriates Christian values by promoting modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism. The call to never lie or violate ethical principles reinforces the character of the commandments of a religion.

The text also extols audacity, intelligence and realism, guidelines that are more appropriate to succeed in business than to drive social transformation. Emphasizing these assertions with the conviction that “there is no force in the world capable of crushing the strength of truth and ideas”: pure idealism, alien to the dialectical materialism of Marxist inspiration.

Unity does not make the Revolution, nor is independence a conquest in the midst of a globalized world that has put an end to borders, so all that is left to the orator to base his concept on is “our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism “and to fight for “our dreams of justice,” without substantiating any.

The conceptual gap of the definition of Revolution that, as of this Monday, millions of Cubans have signed, leaves their hands free for whatever future decision is taken by whoever relieves the current historic generation. On this foundation stone, one can erect anything.

Fidel Castro Was Anything But Courageous / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer

Fidel Castro harangues the crowd. (Archive)
Fidel Castro harangues the crowd. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer, 28 November 2016 – It is not elegant to criticize someone who has just died, but seeing the messages from the heads of state around the world exalting the supposed courage of the recently deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the truth must be told: Castro was anything but courageous. On the contrary, he was a coward.

In the first place, he was a coward for not allowing a free election in 57 years, from the time he took power in 1959. Only someone who is afraid of losing doesn’t desire to measure himself against others in a free election.

In the second place, Castro was a coward because he never allowed a single independent newspaper or non-government radio station or television channel. His critics didn’t even have access to the official channels. It was as if they did not exist. Continue reading “Fidel Castro Was Anything But Courageous / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer”

Castro gave the vast majority of his interviews to journalists, models or sports figures who revered and honored him. And the few interviews he gave to serious journalists were monologues, in which he did all the talking.

I remember in the late 1980s, when I asked the Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez to intercede for me to ask for an interview with Castro. He laughed and said: “Why do you want an interview with Fidel? He never says anything in an interview that he hasn’t said in one of his five hour speeches.”

Castro’s fear of losing his omnipresent image as Maximum Leader was such that he forbade the media to talk about his private life. He had to be portrayed as a demigod who had sacrificed his life for the public good. For decades, the names of his wife and children were a state secret.

When I traveled to Cuba in the early 1990s, a journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) the communist youth paper, told me he had been reprimanded by his boss for trying to publish a photo of Castro eating dinner. The commander could never be shown eating, said the journalist.

Even the circumstances of the death of Castro may have been a government montage: Cuban official media say he died on November 25, which is the same day that Castro and his guerrillas left the Mexican port of Veracruz on the yacht Granma in 1955 to start their armed insurrection in Cuba.

Did they tamper with the date of his death to show it as a heroic journey to the afterlife, which coincides with the date of the beginning of his revolutionary epic six decades ago?

Third, Castro was a coward because he did not allow any independent political party. According to the Cuban Constitution drafted by Castro, only the Communist Party, which he presided over for decades, is allowed on the island.

Castro used the United States trade embargo as an excuse to prohibit independent political parties and freedom of assembly. Even after he handed the presidency to his brother Raul, although he remained a powerful figure behind the scenes, the Cuban regime intensified repression of the peaceful opposition despite the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba that began under President Obama in 2014.

According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an unofficial group, documented political arrests have soared from 6,424 in 2013 to 9,125 so far this year.

Fourth, Castro was a coward because he never allowed international financial institutions to monitor or verify the positive economic statistics of his government.

Castro boasted that Cuba reduced poverty and improved health and education, and much of the international press believed it, unquestioningly. But unlike most countries, Castro never allowed the World Bank or other credible international institutions to undertake independent studies on the island.

He boasted of the educational progress of Cuba, but never allowed Cuba to participate in the International Student Assessment (PISA) testing program. In fact, many studies show that other countries such as Costa Rica made more social progress than Cuba, without paying the price of mass executions, imprisonments and exiles.

Fifth, Castro never allowed international human rights organizations to conduct on-site investigations into human rights abuses. According to the research group Cuba Archive  Castro was responsible for 3,117 documented cases of executions and 1,162 cases of extrajudicial executions. In any other country, he would have been declared a war criminal.

I am sorry, but the conventional narrative that Castro was a courageous revolutionary who defied ten US presidents and survived numerous assassination attempts does not impress me at all.

Courageous leaders are those who have the courage to compete with others in free elections. Castro was a coward who never dared to allow the Cuban people to exercise their basic rights, and who condemned his island to misery.

His death should be a reminder that there is no such thing as a good dictator. Whether a right-wing autocrat as Augusto Pinochet or a leftist like Castro, all dictators are bad and, deep down, cowards.


Editor’s Note: This article was previously published in Spanish in the newspaper El Nuevo Herald. It is reproduced with the permission of the author.

Cuban Government Imposes Mourning By Force / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Hundreds of citizens in Havana came on Monday to say goodbye to Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)
Hundreds of citizens in Havana came on Monday to say goodbye to Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 29 November 2016 — Eulalia has two obsessions in her life: listening to music and sitting in her easy chair in the doorway of her home in the city of Alquízar, Artemis. There, she watches the evening fall and keeps an eye on her chickens so they won’t end up “in other people’s pots.” As of Saturday she has not listened to her boleros because the police are patrolling the streets to prevent people from drinking alcohol, listening to music, or holding any celebrations that contrast with the national mourning decreed for the death of Fidel Castro.

“I was here in the doorway when they picked up the pedicab driver,” said Eulalia, a retired 80-year-old with two children in the United States. The woman watched a scene this Sunday she will never forget: a uniformed officer stopped the driver because “he had some speakers with music and they told him to turn them off.” Continue reading “Cuban Government Imposes Mourning By Force / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez”

The entrepreneur refused to comply and the scene ended with a violent arrest. “In this town not even a fly moves,” said the elderly woman, who believes that everyone should honor their dead however they please. “But to force a whole nation… that seems like extremism to me,” she added.

The scene is repeated everywhere. “My daughter turned 15 on Sunday” — a milestone birthday in a girl’s life often celebrated with as big a party as the parents can afford — “and we had to cancel the planned party because the police came by a few hours ahead of time and told us not to do it,” explained Ramon Carvajal, a resident of Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood. “We had planned to play the music softly behind closed doors, but we couldn’t do even that.”

On the other hand, in the emergency room of Calixto Garcia Hospital one of the guards welcomes the measure because, “since they suspended the sale of alcohol it’s quiet here, peaceful.”

There are also those who want to sincerely express their sadness at the death of the man who dominated the life of this island for more than half a century. That is the case for a cameraman with the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) for whom the president “was like one of the family, like a father who has always been close and now is gone.”

This pain is shared by Humberto, who drives for the Panataxi company, and fears that Raul Castro will not follow the path of his brother, “because he is not the same and there is a great difference in terms of charisma.” He also fears that after the funeral “everything will be forgotten and the government itself with throw aside what has been achieved here.”

“We lost the Great One,” said a newspaper seller this Sunday outside the Payret movie theater in Old Havana. “That man had a power, aché, and he was protected by a powerful dead,” explained the man, referencing the Afro-Cuban religions and the energy of the universe. “But I hope that now he will look after us from the other side.”

Nights in Havana are unrecognizable. “Nobody wants to risk their neck and people are waiting for all this to be over,” says Mizzy, a transvestite who frequents Las Vegas caberet on Infanta Avenue. “What’s going to happen when they open up the sales of rum and beer again… there are going to be deaths and injuries in the lines,” he jokes. “Even inside our homes we have to be careful, because the chivatón, the snitch, is making waves,” he explains, speaking of the whistleblowers who alert the police if there are celebrations in any home.

However, it is not only amusements and drinks that are regulated. “I’m building a house and I have to haul out some debris but no trucks want to move in these conditions,” says a resident of La Timba neighborhood. “I had arranged with some friends to take the left over wood and bricks, but they say there is a lot of control on the streets.”

The government intends to present a picture of massive acknowledgement and pain. It seems to have achieved it because the foreign press doesn’t look any deeper. The scenes on national television are of mourning and homage to the deceased, the announcers are wearing barely any make-up and two well-known presenters were captured on an open camera discussing whether to open the program with the usual “Good morning.”

“I’m looking for a DVD with movies because no one can stand this,” a retired ex-official from the Ministry of Foreign Trade told one of his daughters, looking at the repetitive programming flooding the national TV channels. “This is counterproductive, television is going to lose the little audience that remains and then they won’t be able to complain that people prefer the Weekly Packet,” he added.

In Sancti Spiritus, the residents are complaining that the Rapid Response Brigades are roaming the streets and the city appears to be under a state of siege. “People stay inside, there are a lot of uniformed police and black berets,” source who prefers to remain anonymous told 14ymedio.

At dawn on 26 November, a few hours after the announcement of Castro’s death, two evangelical pastors were arrested in Manatí, in Las Tunas province. The police forcefully entered the home of Rafael Rios Martinez and his wife, Maria Secades, and arrested them for the mere fact spreading their religious message through the speakers used during their worship service.

No one wants to cross the line to disturb officialdom. “You have to sit out the weather and wait,” says Eulalia from her doorway in Alquízar. The woman says that all these controls are designed to “prevent scenes like in Miami, people are toasting and celebrating.” However, despite her age, she is determined to celebrate the event: “On New Year’s no one will forbid me from singing and getting drunk; it will be late but it will be.”

Long Lines In the Plaza Of The Revolution To Say Goodbye To Fidel Castro / 14ymedio

People walking to the Plaza of the Revolution to view the quasi-altars set up for Fidel Castro.
Cubans walking to the Plaza of the Revolution to view the quasi-altars set up for Fidel Castro.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 28 November 2016 — The memorial to José Martí in the Plaza of the Revolution opened its doors on Monday so that Cubans could say goodbye to former president Fidel Castro, who died on the 25th, and whose ashes have been installed in this emblematic place in Havana where they will remain for two days. People arriving in groups from their workplaces, and schools are assigned gathering points near to the Plaza.

Hundreds of people lined up from the early hours waiting for 9:00 in the morning (14:00 GMT) to render tribute to the Cuban leader in the same iconic scene where he delivered the greater part of his long harangues. The authorities asked people to come dressed in red, blue or white, without caps or hats. Some brought gladioli, others roses. Continue reading “Long Lines In the Plaza Of The Revolution To Say Goodbye To Fidel Castro / 14ymedio”

At the same hour that the tribute commenced there were, simultaneously in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, 21 gun salutes in homage to the Commander in Chief of the Revolution, who died at 90 years of age, after a decade removed from power because of health problems.

In the Plaza of the Revolution three different entry points have been set up to expedite people’s access, to three tributes, exactly alike, in none of which the presence of the ashes can be observed with the naked eye. All these points are presided over by a large photograph of Fidel Castro, in which he is seen in full body view looking at the horizon and wearing his iconic olive green uniform.

There are also two wreaths, one from the Communist Party of Cuba and one on behalf of the Cuban people, as well as an exhibit with the major awards Fidel Castro received in life.

Flanking these quasi-altars is a bodyguard of members of the Ceremonies Battalion of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and representatives from the Council of State, among whom are the Comptroller General of the Republic, Gladys Bejerana, the Minister of Transport, Adel Yzquierdo, and the Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, Homero Acosta.

Windows everywhere displayed posters of Fidel Castro
Windows everywhere displayed posters of Fidel Castro

Currently Cuban President Raul Castro is not present at the memorial, nor are other family members of the deceased leader such as his wife, Dalie Soto de Valle, or his sons.

People file past smoothly: there are women throwing kisses, many drying their tears with handkerchiefs, and some who cannot help sobbing, which resonates above the whispers and the sounds of cameras, in the solemn atmosphere that prevails.desesperaba-escuchaban-protestas-laborales-intentaban_cymima20161128_0085_17

“I have come to due to patriotic and revolutionary duty, in hone or our commander in chief, who died as an undefeated comandante,” said Jesus, an 85-year-old man who engaged in the clandestine struggle before the Revolution in Ciego de Avila.

Also reluctant to say goodbye to the comandante were high school students such as Idolaris, 16, who while waiting in the long ling to enter the memorial felt “tremendous pain” for having lost a leader of his magnitude, although “his memory is always present.”

“There is a lot of sadness here. We are all very upset by the death of our comandante because we all love him from the bottom of our hearts, without hypocrisy,” Felix Jardines, a 58-year-old lawyer told EFE, while waiting in line to enter the tribute.

Although Cuba has experienced two days of mourning of the nine decreed by the government, this event marks the beginning of a week of funeral rites that will culminate this coming Sunday with the interment of Fidel Castro’s mortal remains in Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. The residents of Havana will have until tomorrow to pay tribute to Castro in this plaza where, at 7:00 PM, there will a massive act of farewell, attended by leaders and personalities.

Fear, Dry Law and Funerals / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Cubans still manage to get some alcohol in the middle of the 'dry law' imposed by the official mourning. (14ymedio)
“Prohibited, the sale of alcoholic beverages.” Cubans still manage to get some alcohol in the middle of the ‘dry law’ imposed by the official mourning. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 28 November 2016 — The always busy corner of Infanta and Carlos III was a desolate wasteland Sunday. Since the death of Fidel Castro was announced, Havanans have gathered at home. The official media say that it is from pain, but fear is the protagonist of days in which the sale of alcoholic beverages has been prohibited and the biggest funerals in contemporary Cuba are arranged.

Foreign journalists are arriving in the country by the hundreds and are seen in the streets trying to interview every passerby. Many pedestrians look down and refuse to give interviews. When the reporters finally manage to get some statements, they are only from those who agree with the official discourse. Inside people’s homes everything is different. Continue reading “Fear, Dry Law and Funerals / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

“Luckily we had a bottle of rum left over from a party,” says Chicho, a retired teacher who has waited decades for this moment. “It is not that we’re celebrating the death of a human being, because this man made us all believe that he was not one… that he was above life and death,” he tells 14ymedio.

Chicho has a nine-year-old granddaughter who will go to school early this Monday, although there are doubts about how the week will go in schools and workplaces, in the midst of the national mourning that has been decreed for nine days. “I’m sure that they aren’t going to teach classes, there is going to be one event and another until the day the ashes reach the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery,” says the grandfather.

For Mileidis, a resident of Havana’s Regla neighborhood, there is another concern. “My brother is a son of Changó,” (an orisha of the Afro-Cuban religion who is the equivalent of Saint Barbara). The celebration of the saint is held every December 4, the same day the national mourning concludes. “I don’t know how we are going to get the brandy and rum,” the young woman worries.

The festivities on the eve of Saint Barbara are very popular on the island, fueled by drumbeats, Yoruba songs and a great deal of alcohol. With the sale of alcohol prohibited, many Santería rights are in danger of collapse. Distilled alcohol has doubled in price in barely three days of the “dry law.”

A well-known bar on Reina Street is deserted and the drinks list has been put away. Nearby, in El Curita park, three regulars of the place get together on a corner and pass a plastic container that looks like it contains cola. In reality it is distilled alcohol, better known as “train sparks” for the effects it occasions in the stomach when ingested.

Police patrol cars and uniformed officers approach, and the three men hide the bottle. “This is my thing, I can’t live without it,” says one of the men, justifying his transgression. “What fault is it of mine that He can no longer take a drink?” he reflects, slurring his words.

Posters with the face of Fidel Castro are everywhere. Since the celebration of his 90th birthday in August, the tone of the personality cult has noticeably risen, such that Cubans seem to be used to Fidelmania.

“Will they change the bust of José Martí in the schools for one of Fidel?” a seven-year-old girl asks her mother. In the street, Havana residents speculate about the anticipated tributes to Castro and expect the establishment of an official order in his honor, his face on a banknote, a multi-story iron relief with his silhouette in the Plaza of the Revolution — like the ones for Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos – some street with his name, and a museum in his memory in the heart of the city.

The most daring even predict a change in the only political organization allowed in the country. “It’s a good moment to shake off the communist label,” an official academic who asked for anonymity told this newspaper. “It’s possible that at the next plenary session of the Cuban Communist Party or at an extraordinary congress they will re-baptize it the Fidelista Party.

In tune with popular predictions, the illegal lottery, known as la bolita, has seen an increase in bets on the numbers that mean ‘police,’ ‘great death,’ and ‘horse,’ the later for Fidel Castro’s nickname, “El Caballo.”

Authorities Attempt to Impose Mourning on Cuban Churches / Mario Lleonart

Mario Lleonart, 27 November 2016 — What is happening to the poor people of the island – as the also deceased former president of El Salvador, Salvador Flores, might have once told Fidel Castro to his face —  is utterly intolerable. It is as though the authorities want to impose, almost by decree, a period of mourning that very few Cubans want to observe. They have already had to endure so much suffering during the lifetime of the deceased. And to top it off, they are now expected to endure public expressions of grief when it is more likely, judging from history, that they have more than enough reasons to celebrate, as their brothers and sisters in Miami have been doing in an atmosphere of freedom. That is what multitudes of people on the island would really like to be doing.

It is not just that alcohol sales have been suspended during the period of national mourning, presumably in an effort to make sure no one who has had a few too many dares to give full reign to his repressed desires. Popular festivities such as the celebration in the town of Taguayabon have also been cancelled, an action which led its residents to express their displeasure. It is not as though the tyrant had not already disappeared from their lives back in 2006 when he transferred power to Raul. Continue reading “Authorities Attempt to Impose Mourning on Cuban Churches / Mario Lleonart”

In the realm of religion, what is happening far and wide throughout of the island today is unprecedented, making what those of faith had to endure from the early 1960s until the present seem small by comparison. Many churches are self-censoring, foregoing the routine use of music in religious services out of fear. Congregations which have not done this “voluntarily” are receiving official reprimands of one sort or another.

Several pastors related stories like the one below, though I prefer not to reveal their identities out of concerns for their safety:

Things remain complicated here, my friend. Today, I received news that many churches have suspended adoration and prayer services and that others are singing without accompaniment out of “respect for national mourning.” Just as Daniel prayed three times a day with the window open in the manner to which he was accustomed,* so we celebrate our Sundays as usual, though we now only use a piano and play it softly so as not to seem disrepectful of those who “feel the loss.”

The president of the local Ministry of Justice and one of her officials showed up between Sunday school and Mass, asking to speak to me. They told me that they were bringing me orders to cancel Mass that day and suspend all other services we had scheduled through December 9 because of the country is in mourning. Can you imagine? You know what I told her?”

“You can go fetch the police or anyone else you want but I am not going to suspend any masses and we are not going to stop singing. We sing and hold adorations even when one of our own dies. That does not show a lack of respect. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and unto God what is God’s. Kill me, jail me, but we are not going to suspend Holy Mass.”

We talked a bit more, they softened their tone and she finally said, “Well, at least tone it down.”

I quickly told the everyone in the church about it (some 200 of us). I told them my response and added that, if anyone wanted to leave Mass, they could go home. Everyone replied “Amen” to everything I said and no one left. IT WAS A GLORIOUS SERVICE, LIKE IN THE EARLY CHURCH.” Praise be to God!!! Keep praying for us. Blessings and hugs.

*Translators note: A reference to the biblical passage, Daniel 6:10. “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

The Myth Died, Cuba Must Change / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

There are no copies of the official daily Granma at the newsstands. (14ymedio)
There are no copies of the official daily Granma at the newsstands. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 27 November 2016 — Fidel Castro has died. The mythic figure has died. The event will be discussed for a long time and from many points of view. Nine days of mourning has been decreed in Havana, the flag is at half mast; in Miami they are partying, the same Cuban flag held high.

The Fidelistas mourn, the anti-Fidelistas party. The vast majority of the island’s population, eager for changes, are waiting. It could not be any other way. Since the attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, Fidel Castro’s imprint on Cuba shapes our days. The government is ready to maintain total control over the streets. Its mass organizations are mobilized to prevent and counteract any demonstrations against him.

But like the myth, his charisma and his influence are not inherited. We can affirm that a political cycle in Cuba has ended: the eclectic sum of conceptions that make up Fidelism, populism, authoritarianism, neo-Stalinism, statism and bureaucratism, just received a mortal blow. A stage of inevitable changes opens. Continue reading “The Myth Died, Cuba Must Change / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos”

Raul Castro, since he assumed power in 2006, promised to undertake important reforms, replaced many officials, and began dictatorially implementing a set of measures that he consolidated and expanded in both Cuban Communist Party Congresses held since then, but without establishing a legal framework that guarantees them.

During these years, the bureaucracy, laws, regulations and customs of Fidelism, established over almost 60 years, have prevented such reforms from being fully deployed.

Raul Castro now has the opportunity to demonstrate whether his reformist proposals are real or were just a deliberate attempt to counter the resistance within the system and seek international recognition and funding.

Cuba’s economic situation requires that the changes set forth by Raul be deepened and expanded, that all state monopolistic barriers to domestic and foreign markets for capital investment, enterprise development and productive initiatives of all kinds be broken.

However, it does imply that the Fidelistas abandon their positions in the government and the Party and that many regulations and customs of traditional statism be removed. This will be very difficult if, in parallel, there is no democratization process that permits deep criticism of the Fidel regime, the adoption of new forms of organization in the economy and politics, and the emergence and development of new entrepreneurs and unprejudiced leaders at all levels the society.

Cuba is facing inevitable changes. The death of the mythic figure favors them. The Cuban people also demand them. Everyone, those inside and those outside, regardless of their political ideas, must have the right to participate in the reconstruction of the nation. Achieving it more or less peacefully will depend on those who still hold power in Cuba.

It is time to assume, with decency, José Martí’s homeland: With all and for the good of all.

Fidel Castro Dies for Real / Iván García

Fidel Castro with his wife and the president of Vietnam shortly before his death. See details at end of article.
Fidel Castro with his wife and the president of Vietnam shortly before his death. See details at end of article. (El Nuevo Herald)

Ivan Garcia, 26 November 2016 — At midnight no one was talking about the biggest news story of the year along crowded Tenth of October Avenue. A group of drunks was downing white rum from little cardboard cartons, cheap hookers were plying their trade in a tiny park in Santa Catalina, and four transvestites in high heels were on the hunt for clients right across from La Vibora’s Red Square.

Ten minutes after a shaken Raúl Castro announced the death of his brother Fidel on state television, the event had barely registered in the darkened streets of Tenth of October, one of the island’s most densely populated areas.

No extra police were seen being deployed. Dozens of young people were climbing up steep Patrocinio Street to El Túnel nightclub next to the Los Chivos Park, intent on dancing to reggaetón music and drinking Cristal beer. Continue reading “Fidel Castro Dies for Real / Iván García”

Two bored employees at a state-run coffeehouse near the old La Víbora bus stop were talking about the the latest soap opera. People first heard the news only when asked about it.

The reaction was low-key, without any drama: “Is Fidel really dead? He has been killed off so many times before.” And the responses from those who had already heard the news were along the lines of “He’s had a long life” and “We all have to die sometime.”

Eduardo, a driver on the P-10 bus from Vibora to Playa de Marianao does not believe things will change much after the death of Fidel Castro. “The government has everything locked up. There may be some economic changes but, as usual, ordinary people like us won’t see them. It’s not just Fidel Castro that is the problem; it’s his cronies in the ruling class who don’t want to open things up so Cubans can make some money.”

Sometime after eight o’clock on Saturday morning, November 26, a number of people are standing on the corner Acosta and Tenth of October, speculating about what Castro’s death might mean for the future.

Lidice, who sells pirated DVDs, believes that, “with Fidel’s death, Raul can lay one era to rest. This gives him free reign to carry out real economic reform, not the band-aid solutions he has been using. Otherwise, the country is going to fall apart. If he wants to hold onto power, he has to let private businesses prosper.”

Diego, an information technology worker, is more cautious. “It would be easy to say that everything bad in Cuba is because of Fidel. The problem now is with the system, which is worn out, and the gang of corrupt officials who live off it. Castroism is not going to die with Fidel. The best option is to head for Miami, Madrid or Canada. It doesn’t matter where. The main thing is to leave here before it all goes to hell,” he says.

Denise, who has a degree in history, worries about the future after the death of Castro I. “After the funeral services are over, after the televsion channels have aired all their old footage extolling Fidel, then we will ask ourselves what will happen in Cuba. The country will not put up with any more lies. People want change that will affect their daily lives. Fidel was a guy with an outsize personality. His death has left a huge leadership vacuum. Have you noticed that the current leaders don’t have a political message to sell? They don’t express themselves well and don’t even know how to laugh. The worst thing that can happen to a politician is to not be able to offer his constituents any ideas,” she observes.

Julio Aleaga — head of the opposition group Candidates for Change, which advocates nominating dissidents for the few public offices open to citizen participation — believes that “the death of Fidel Castro, a very negative figure, can be the catalyst for profound change. The conservative wing of the ruling party has lost a powerful symbol. And over the medium term change is unstoppable.”

The death of Fidel Castro has come as a blow to the dissident community, which is clearly feeling disoriented. Without a popular base of support and unable to summon more than a hundred people for a public march, Victor Manuel Domínguez, a journalist and freelance writer, feels that there may be tough times ahead for the opposition.

“The current situation is frightening. Venezuela, the teat providing us with petroleum, is experiencing a ferocious economic, political and social crisis. Chavismo has an expiration date. Cuba lives in almost perpetual economic crisis and with a system that is a failure. The looming demographic time bomb, with a third of the population over sixty, is troubling. Emigration has led to the exodus of a quarter of a million Cubans over the last four years and the figure is likely to double. And now we have the election of someone as unpredictable as Donald Trump in the United States. The regime has already used up all its political time. It did not take advantage of the outreach from Barack Obama. Either Raul Castro takes on profound economic reform or the country collapses,” predicts the journalist.

Domínguez also believes repression will increase. “The regime has lost its greatest symbol. I believe that the physical attacks on opponents at the barricades will worsen. They’re going to play hardball.”

So begins a waiting period to see if the physical absence of Fidel Castro will lead to major reforms or will provoke greater retrenchment by the most conservative wing of the military dictatorship. But that is a story yet to be told.

Photo: On December 15, ten days before his death, Fidel Castro met with Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang (third from left) and a Vietnamese delegation. The woman behind Castro is his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle. The photo was arranged by Castro’s son Alex and his personal photographer, and is probably one of the last public images of the elderly leader. From El Nuevo Herald.