Democracy Movement Calls Protest of American Airlines ‘Apartheid’ Against Cuban-American Employees

American Airlines launched its scheduled flights to Cuba on Wednesday 7 September. (AA)
American Airlines launched its scheduled flights to Cuba on Wednesday 7 September. (AA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 20 September 2016 — The Democracy Movement called a protest against American Airlines (AA) for Saturday 24, in response to the company’s apartheid towards its Cuban-American employees

The airline, according to information published in recent days, does not allow its workers who emigrated from Cuba after 1970 to serve on the crews of its flights to Cuba, because the Cuban government is requiring that they present, along with an American passport showing that they are US citizens, the Cuban government’s own paperwork that authorizes them to enter the country.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement, in statements to Diario Las Americas, said that this exclusion is applied to Cuban-Americans “with the deliberate intention [by the Cuban government] of receiving an additional income of 400 or 500 dollars [the cost of the paperwork] for each person traveling to Cuba.” Continue reading “Democracy Movement Calls Protest of American Airlines ‘Apartheid’ Against Cuban-American Employees”

The leader of the organization said it has requested permission for the protest, to be held in front of the American Airlines Arena in Miami, since the airline “is allowing the Cuban government to practice a kind of apartheid against its own employees who are Cubans nationalized as Americans.”

Last April, the Democracy Movement organized a demonstration outside the headquarters of Carnival Cruises for a similar reason. The cruise company did not allow Cubans to travel on its ships because of a ban from the Cuban government on their entering the country by sea.

“Many voices joined the campaign, and Carnival changed its position. In the end, the company said that if it could not carry Cubans it would not sail to Cuba. That led the regime to overturning the old policy,” said Sanchez.

The exile told the media that their lobbying strategy includes dialog with the airline’s management in the coming week, the protest scheduled during a Disney event at the American Airlines Arena, and possible legal actions being studied by the organization’s attorneys.

“We are also asking AA to adopt the Sullivan Global Principals [whose aim is that companies and organizations of every size, and a broad spectrum of industries and cultural entities, work to achieve common objectives in human rights, social justice and economic opportunity] which worked in South Africa, and that they not associate themselves with the apartheid practiced by the Cuban government,” he added.

The Democracy Movement is not opposed to commercial flights to Cuba, “because they have brought a drop in prices and tariffs and now the Cuban regime earns less because of the competition.”

“We bought the death of my brother” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

 Dunieski Eliades Lastre (left) and Edelvis Martínez Aguilar (right), Cuban migrants killed in Urabá, Colombia. (Courtesy)
Dunieski Eliades Lastre (left) and Edelvis Martínez Aguilar (right), Cuban migrants killed in Urabá, Colombia. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 September 2016 — “With the money from the sale of my mother’s house, we bought the death of my brother.”

Spoken with indescribable bitterness, these were the words of Edgardo Nordelo Sedeño, brother of Dunieski Eliades Lastre, age 25, murdered in Colombia on 8 September along with the young woman Edelvis Martínez. Both were Cubans and were trying to sneak through the jungles and borders that separated them from their goal: the United States and their dream of a free life.

Although Forensic Medicine has ruled out for the moment the alleged rape of Edelvis Martínez, the prosecutor has revealed gruesome details in the tragic ends of these young migrants trying to reach the United States. Continue reading ““We bought the death of my brother” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Edelvis Martinez Aguilar was an accountant for a paladar, a private restaurant in Havana. She left with her boyfriend Liover Santos Corria, 35, heading to Guyana. After crossing Venezuela and Colombia they met up with Eliades Dunieski who apparently traveled to Capurgana to get to the Darien jungle. That day, two of them were killed in a Colombian swamp.

“We can not say that Martinez had been raped, at least there is no macroscopic evidence of that. Forensic Medicine did the research, collected samples from the body and are undertaking a conclusive analysis of the issue,” an official with the Columbian Attorney General’s office told 14ymedio, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We have found clear signs of torture in both victims before the murder,” he added.

The alleged perpetrators were identified as Johan Estiven Carreazo Asprilla, alias ‘Play Boy’, age 20, and Carlos Emilio Ibargüen Palacio, age 26. According to Santos, the only survivor, the Cuban migrants paid $1,500 to be taken to Panama, but once they arrived at the Gulf of Uraba the smugglers demanded more money. When the Cubans explained that they had no cash, the boaters murdered them with knives and hid their bodies tied to a tree trunk at the bottom of the Matuntugo Swamp. Santos saw his girlfriend beheaded after she was raped, he says, but he was able break loose and escape from the crime scene.

“The young man is under protection on a Navy ship because we fear for his safety,” said the source in the Colombian Attorney General’s office. According to the investigator, it is very likely that there are more people involved in the murder of the Cubans so it is necessary to protect the main witness.

“The boatmen pleaded not guilty, but the prosecution has sufficient evidence to incriminate them,” the source explained.

Following the arrest of suspects involved in the crime, a search of the travel backpacks of those killed found cell phones, cash and clothes. Also seized were a firearm, a smoke grenade, several pieces of clothing related to the crime scene and a wooden boat in which was one of the shoes of the murdered woman.

The alleged murderers of the two Cuban migrants in Colombia. (Colombian authorities)
The alleged murderers of the two Cuban migrants in Colombia. (Colombian authorities)

The identity of those murdered was corroborated by Cuban authorities. According to what this newspaper has been able to confirm, the United States embassy in Colombia has taken up the issue and expressed interest in granting asylum to the survivor.

Although the Cuban consulate in Bogota declined to comment on the matter, the Colombian Foreign Ministry said they have been in contact with the relatives of those killed through diplomatic representatives in Miami to advise them on the procedure to claim the bodies.

“Colombia will provide all the help needed for repatriation, but this is a matter for the family or the Cuban Embassy. Family members can delegate power to the embassy or manage the process independently,” said the Foreign Ministry.

14ymedio spoke with the relatives of the victims in Cuba and in the United States. For Maria Isabel Aguilar, the mother of Edelvis Martinez, her main concern is that so far she doesn’t know what the process is for repatriating the body of his daughter.

“We went to MINREX (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) but there they told us to wait for the authorization of the Colombian government to bring the bodies. We don’t know how to bring my daughter. I only want her here with me,” she said.

Dunieski Eliades Lastre’s brother, Edgardo Nordelo Sedeño, said that the cost to repatriate the bodies is around $3,000 each. The family members who had to privately arrange the trip to MINREX explained via a telephone call that although the Cuban government authorized the entry of the bodies, they will not pay for the costs of bringing them home.

“Dunieski was my younger brother, my mother’s delight. So much so she wanted to sell her house to be able to pay for the ticket so he could have a better life,” explained Nordelo, who arrived in the United States last February by way of Ecuador.

“I don’t understand the motive for the murder. The other boy … told me that my brother told them, ‘Don’t kill me, I’ll give you the number of my brother in the United States so he can send you money. It wasn’t for money. I don’t understand why they did it,” he said.

Eliades Lastre managed to make the crossing from Guyana to Turbo in one week. According to his relatives he had a good trip until he reached the Colombian coast.

“Because of the bad weather they couldn’t take them to where the other coyote was. They returned to the home of a guide and a few minutes before leaving the house where they were hiding, he wrote me to tell me. That was the last time we communicated,” recalls Edgardo Nordelo.

“The blame for the death of our family members belongs to those who pushed them to the jungle and made them seek out coyotes to achieve their dream of freedom,” he said.

Non-Aligned Summit Avoids Condemning North Korean Nuclear Test / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Moment of approval of the Declaration of Margarita, at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. (@MNOAL_Venezuela)
Moment of approval of the Declaration of Margarita, at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. (@MNOAL_Venezuela)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 September 2016 – The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) ended this Sunday on the Venezuelan island of Margarita with commitments to the sovereignty of each country and a call for unilateral corrective measures. The work of the meeting urged the elimination of “weapons of mass destruction” but avoided admonishing North Korea for its recent nuclear tests.

With little political influence in the international arena, the NAM has crossed the threshold of six decades of existence with its importance in check. Born at a time of strong geopolitical and ideological conflicts, in the midst of the Cold War, the bloc has failed to maintain its intended neutrality and several of its nation members have ended up developing economic and political alliances with more than one “superpower.” Continue reading “Non-Aligned Summit Avoids Condemning North Korean Nuclear Test / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

However, the biggest setback for the organization, which includes half the world’s population, is having turned a blind eye at several transcendent moments in its history. The most notable of these was not strongly condemning the Soviet Union’s armed intervention in Afghanistan, which joined NAM in 1961, early in its existence.

This oversight was most striking during the 6th Summit, held in Havana in 1979, when Fidel Castro was named president of the movement. The presence of occupation troops from the Kremlin continued to 1989, but the leader of the organization never made any gesture of disapproval.

This September the silence has been repeated, in complicity with one of NAM’s most fractious members. At the summit, held in the Venezuelan Caribbean to which 120 member countries were invited, no pronouncement was made on the nuclear test recently conducted by the Pyongyang regime.

The Non-Aligned Movement has not only looked the other way as famine and lack of rights has affected the North Korean people, but has also been silent about the danger posed by the more than 20 nuclear bombs and almost a thousand ballistic missiles of different types that have reached the hands of Kim Jong-Un. The Movement did not make a forceful statement against the only country that has tested weapons of mass destruction in this millennium, though it dedicated considerable time demanding “peaceful settlement of disputes and refraining from the threat or use of force.”

NAM now proposes a “refounding” of the United Nations that seeks to expand the Security Council and to transform of the workings of the international organization. But with such oversights and its history of double standards it is difficult to promote a more democratic global and effective entity.

Instead, it could bring to the United Nations the same convenient blindness that it has been practiced for decades.

Drought in Cuba Doesn’t Let Up / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Many Cubans have become accustomed to relying on water tankers for their water. (14ymedio)
Many Cubans have become accustomed to relying on water tankers for their water. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 19 September 2016 — A sign announces the sale of an apartment in Havana and stresses, in capital letters, that the “water never runs out” in the area. Not far away, another sign alerts neighbors of a multifamily building: “Starting today, the water-pump will only operate for one hour.” In the last three years, Cubans have lived with drought and water shortages, and forecasts suggest that the situation will not change in the coming months.

According to a recent report released by the engineer Abel Salas García of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), 48 of the country’s sources of supply are completely dry. Another 200 show partial affects, which means that more than 790,000 people receive water right now on a different cycle than what they were used to, and more than 50,000 receive their supply through tanker trucks. Continue reading “Drought in Cuba Doesn’t Let Up / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez”

To talk about the cycle “they were used to” alludes to the fact that in many places citizens have become accustomed, as a normal situation, to water only flowing to their homes every other day, or sometimes only three times week.

The areas with the highest cumulative rainfall between January and August were Artemisa, Isla de la Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Havana. At the other extreme, the least favored regions are Santiago de Cuba, Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus and Cienfuegos.

In the specific case of Ciego de Avila, as detailed in the INRH report, of the 14 groundwater basins in that largely agricultural province, six are in critical condition.

In January, the reservoirs were filled to around 53% of their volume and, although up to August rains were close to the historical average in the three regions (eastern, central and west), at the end of August this rate was only 52%. In absolute terms, the country had 653 million cubic fewer meters of stored water than is usual for August.

According to experts, rainfall in the Cuban archipelago has been decreasing by around 1.6 inches annually, which they attribute to climate change and other environmental factors caused by the hand of man.

A lack of water caused by erratic rainfall is exacerbated in Cuba by wasteful leaks in the pipes, in over-wide pipes that bring more water to leak out, and in unstoppable domestic drips caused by lack of maintenance in homes where, given the high price of faucets and plumbing supplies, people find it cheaper to let the water flow uncontrolled than to fix the plumbing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Tarará’s Thousand And One Stories / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

An abandoned house in the Tarara district. (14ymedio)
An abandoned house in the Tarara district. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 September 2016 – “This was my house,” says Elena, a Cuban-American who returned to the island this week and visited the place where she spent her childhood. In Tarará she took her fist steps, but the place barely resembles the residential neighborhood of her memories. In five decades it has passed from being an enclave of rich people to hosting a teacher’s training school, a Pioneers camp for schoolchildren, a sanatorium for children affected by radioactivity, and a tourist’s villa.

In the town, located east of Havana in a beautiful coastal area, the city’s crème de la crème settled in the middle of the last century. None of the residents of the 525 houses of this little paradise could imagine that soon after the titles of their homes were released, only 17 families would remain there and the rest would emigrate or lose their property after Fidel Castro’s coming to power. Continue reading “Tarará’s Thousand And One Stories / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

“My father bought the parcel with great enthusiasm, he always said that he would live his last years here,” recalls Elena now. She walks around the house that has lost all the wood of its doors and windows. Weeds have taken over the terrace area and on the floor of the main hall there is evidence of the many bats that sleep in the room every night.

A man sweeping the street asks the newcomer if she passed through “the entry gate” control where visitors must pay for access to Tarará. For five convertible pesos Elena has returned to the place of her nostalgia, with “lunch included” in a solitary cafe by the sea.

She heads in that direction, but not before crossing herself before the lonely church dedicated to Santa Elena, which had gotten its cross back a few years earlier, after its having been removed during the decades when the most rabid atheism ruled the place. “They baptized my littlest sister here,” recalls the woman in front of the chapel.

In the bar of the local restaurant the waiter tells her that during elementary school he spent several weeks in Tarará. Although they swap stories about the same piece of Cuban earth, they seem to be talking about opposite poles. “I liked coming because they gave us yogurt at breakfast and lunch, and in one of the houses I saw a bathtub for the first time,” explained the man who is now over 40.

His memories correspond to the days when the once glamorous villa had been converted into the José Martí Pioneers City. The camp hosted thousands of school age children every year, “they were like vacations except we had to go to school,” explained the man.

The Soviet subsidy supported the enormous complex which included a cultural center, seven dining rooms, five teaching wings, a hospital, an amusement park and even an attractive cable car crossing between the two hills over the Tarará River, which is now a mass of rusted iron.

The cable car has become a tangle of rusty iron. (14ymedio)
The cable car has become a tangle of rusty iron. (14ymedio)

Elena, meanwhile, recalls the backyard fruit trees, the squash court, and the softball field that filled with families on the weekends. However, her fondest memories relate to the drive-in theater located at the entrance to the village, which is now converted into a parking lot. Between her memories and the waiter’s are 30 years, and a social revolution.

“Now the only people who can enter are those with reservations in the few houses rented to tourists in this neighborhood,” explains the employee. They belong to the families who resisted leaving despite all the pressure they received. “Overnight the village filled with young people who came to the countryside to study dressmaking,” he explains.

The few residents who didn’t leave “went through hell” the sweeper says. “They had to travel miles to find a store and all around the houses were places for dancing and checkpoints,” he recalls.

A few years ago the state-owned tourist corporation Cubanacan rehabilitated 274 houses and another state-owned entity, Cubalse, did another 223. However, the projected tourist center hasn’t taken off. “This place lost its soul,” commented the sweeper while gathering up leaves from a yagruma tree that have fallen on the sidewalk. The plaque marking the pier where Ernst Hemingway docked his yacht can barely be discerned in the midst of the undergrowth.

In the nineties, Tarará was the epicenter of a program sponsored by the Ministry of Public Health for children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. They came from Moldovia, Belaruss and Ukraine, shortly after the economic crisis – sparked by the loss of the Soviet subsidy after the breakup of the Soviet Union – had put an end to the Pioneers camp.

The official press explained, at the time, that Cuba’s children had donated their “palace” to those affected by the tragedy, but no one remembers a single meeting at the school announcing the transformation the villa would undergo.

Early in this century 32,048 patients from Central and South America and the Caribbean passed through Tarará in the noted Operation Miracle, funded by Venezuelan oil. They came with different eye diseases such as cataracts and retinitis pigmentosa. They found a haven of peace in the place where only Cuban personnel working with patients and the few remaining residents were allowed to enter.

A decade ago 3,000 Chinese students came in turn to study Spanish and a police school was established in the neighborhood; its classrooms are often used to hold members of the Ladies in White when they are arrested on Sunday after leaving Mass at Santa Rita Church, on the other side of the city.

“This looks like a ghost town,” says Elena loudly as she walks the streets. Successive “programs of the Revolution” that filled the neighborhood have ended and now all that’s left is a development of numerous abandoned houses and others were a few tourists take the sun on the terraces. The beach where the visiting Cuban-American found her first snails is still there “as pretty as ever,” she says.

Under Cuban Socialism Something Was Always Missing / Iván García

Source: Panamerican World
Woman with money and her ration book in a state ration store. Source: Panamerican World

Ivan Garcia, 12 September 2016 — In the best of times, when there were two ration books, sixty-year-old retiree Juan Alberto was happy. One was for food, which allotted you half a pound of beef every fifteen days, and one was for “manufactured goods,” which allowed you to buy a pair of domestically produced shoes once a year.

During that period, neighborhood stores carried condensed milk and Russian canned fruit, employees could buy oranges at their workplaces and regime supporters could afford to throw cartons of eggs at the “scum” who were trying to leave the country from the port of Mariel. Juan Alberto admits, however, there were more restrictions and censorship and less freedom than there are now. Continue reading “Under Cuban Socialism Something Was Always Missing / Iván García”

“It has always been a dictatorship but, in the supposedly happy 1980s, believing in God, being a Jehovah’s Witness or watching pornographic films could get you into trouble. You couldn’t stay in hotels, travel overseas or sell your house. And if you left the country permanently, the state would confiscate it,” says Juan Alberto, who is thinking of emigrating to the United States in a few months through a circuitous Central American route.

Carlos, a sociologist, notes that, when comparisons are made between the two eras of Cuban communism, “something is always missing in each. Before, the ration book meant people were guaranteed a certain amount food and clothing. More products were available in the free or parallel market, you could have milk in your coffee for breakfast and salaries had real purchasing power. But it was illegal to possess hard currency or buy home appliances in hard currency stores. And social control was much more strict. Now, because of social pressures and new technologies, there is a certain amount of personal freedom. But not enough freedom to change the current situation, bring about serious reform or participate in government.”

Official academics will not admit it but the role played by the peaceful opposition and alternative press has been a silent lever, strong enough to prod timid but necessary reforms from the regime.

All the changes carried out under Raul Castro’s presidency (2006-2016) were intended to address the demands of opposition groups from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. These included unrestricted internet access, the use of mobile phones, the elimination of apartheid-like practices in tourism, the ability to buy and sell homes and automobiles, and the relaxation of laws on emigration.

Are there differences between the Cubas of Castro I and Castro II? Of course.

Both rulers are autocrats but Fidel Castro was a strongman with delusions of grandeur. Under the guise of volunteerism or on a whim, he concocted schemes for agriculture, housing and highway construction, coffee and banana farming. And during hurricanes he became a meteorologist.

He ignored rules and regulations and even the constitution itself. He created a parallel government with companies like CUBALSE and CIMEX and managed the nation’s treasury as he saw fit.

Fidel Castro handed himself a blank check and ruled as though he were a landowner and the country were his farm. The anthropological damage he caused the nation is legendary.

Perhaps future studies will demonstrate that the state and its media created polarization within society by attacking people for just thinking differently. Or for believing that the political experiment was nonsense. Or that Marxist ideology and totalitarianism destroyed the social fabric and the economy of the island.

There should also be studies done on the “collateral damage” to Cubans themselves, such as the harm caused by encouraging denunciation, snitching, monitoring of neighbors and creating family divisions over simple political disagreements.

If a future military regime decided to build a more pluralistic and democratic society — one with a market economy, small and medium-sized businesses operating under an appropriate legal framework, independent business cooperatives and citizen involvement in government decisions — the Cuban economy could reach the level of the so-called Asian tigers: South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. But it would take two or three generations to re-instill key human values.

There are fewer restrictions now, private business owners have more options (though under the gaze of authorities), intrusions into people’s private lives have diminished, and the long speeches and tiresome political portraits have largely disappeared. But in the ten years of Raul Castro’s presidency, there has still been no significant improvement in the quality of people’s lives.

The housing shortage, which affects more than one and a half million people and forces three generations to live under the same roof, is worse now than during the rule of his brother Fidel. The proliferation of impoverished neighborhoods is striking. In Havana alone there are more than a hundred slums where residents have no potable water and live crammed into huts with tile roofs and walls made of cardboard or aluminum.

Education and public health have fallen apart. Thousands of cattle die annually from hunger and thirst. The livestock industry is half what it was in 1959. The sugar, agricultural and fishing industries are shrinking or not expanding fast enough. Orange juice as well as snapper and shrimp are luxuries in Cuba.

The prosperous and sustainable socialism that Raul Castro promised is only a slogan. Material conditions today are insufficient to support strong economic growth.

His government’s biggest achievements have been in the international arena. It reestablished diplomatic relations with the United States, brokered a peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels and negotiated a significant reduction of the national debt with the country’s creditors.

He also approved an investment law which, despite limitations such as not allowing local business owners to invest in their own country, is intended to serves as an enticement to international investors. But due to concerns about a judiciary that is not independent, a form of capitalism that is controlled by the Cuban military, a system which does not allow employers to pay their workers directly and the uncertainty about the nation’s future after Raul Castro’s retirement, the law has not generated sufficient investment to jumpstart the economy.

In Cuba life is too much of a burden. As soon as you get up in the morning, there is something you already ack, whether it be water, electricity or coffee for breakfast. You venture outside and mass transit is chaotic. And the food shortage remains a big headache.

Fifty-six years after Fidel Castro seized power, the overall sense is that Cubans are tired of everything. That is why so many are deciding to leave. They see no solution in sight.

Martí Noticias, September 9, 2016

 

A Restaurant Cooperative’s Uphill Battle / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Casa Potín passed through several stages since its days of excellence in the middle of the last century. (14ymedio)
Casa Potín passed through several stages since its days of excellence in the middle of the last century. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 15 September 2016 — At night the corner is illuminated and the new awnings surprise passersby. The Casa Potín restaurant, for decades, embodied the decline of state services, but now it is experiencing a rebirth in the hands of the cooperative. So far, as a cooperative, it has managed to increase the prior monthly salaries of 300 Cuban pesos (about $12 US) by ten times. However the managers of the establishment feel that the lack of a wholesale market and the high costs of renting the site are obstacles to the development of the business.

Located on the corner of Linea and Paseo Streets in Havana, Casa Potín has passed through several stages since its days of excellence early in the last century when it was privately run. Many years after being nationalized, and with the arrival of the so-called Special Period, the place declined due to limited menu, lack of hygiene and the poor professionalism of its employees. Continue reading “A Restaurant Cooperative’s Uphill Battle / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

Three years ago, when it was converted into a non-agricultural cooperative and received bank credits equivalent to one million CUPs, it began to climb out of that hole. Most of the money was invested in refrigeration equipment, furniture and restoring the premises. In addition, the members of the cooperative worked to form a unique opportunity to try to recover the singular menu and the lost prestige.

The centrally located establishment is one of the 189 dining cooperatives that have been approved in recent years in Cuba. At least 80 of them are already operating and the rest are in the midst of making repairs and applying for credit before opening to the public.

“This place has changed, there was a time when it was in trouble and had a very limited menu,” says Ramon, 72, a neighbor of Casa Potín. The retired engineer is a self-confessed “devoted customer” of the place, which he has seen transformed from “disaster to glory.” However, he believes that the prices “are not within the reach of many pockets and continue to be high.”

“When we took over the management of this restaurant through this new method [government permission for non-agricultural cooperatives], the place had been closed for months because the previous management had accumulated a debt of half a million [Cuban] pesos and we had to assume that,” said a member of the cooperative who requested anonymity. The woman is optimistic and added, “If everything continues as it is now, we will pay off the debt at the end of this year.”

The reason for the large amounts of imported products consumed in the restaurant is the absence of a wholesale market where the products can be bought, according to Casa Potín’s managers. “We were very excited when the Zona+ wholesale market [owned by Cimex, a government entity] opened in Miramar, but in reality there is no difference between the costs of buying there and at the other market,” said a waitress at the restaurant.

The centrally located La Casa Potín restaurant is one of the 189 dining cooperatives that have been approved in recent years in Cuba. (14ymedio)
The centrally located La Casa Potín restaurant is one of the 189 dining cooperatives that have been approved in recent years in Cuba. (14ymedio)

The legislation allows this state entity to raise the prices of some products sold in the dining network cooperatives, a sword of Damocles under which they must work. Similar measures applied to the agricultural markets and private transport have contributed to shortages and loss of quality in goods and services.

“We have had problems the whole summer with supplies from the Beverages and Soft Drinks Company,” says one of the cooperative’s employees, “so we can’t guarantee a stable supply of domestic beers or malts.”

Cooperatives have the prerogative to import equipment for commercial purposes through the Cimex Corporation, something that is still closed to self-employed workers.

Not only is it an uphill battle for the managers of Casa Potín to get basic supplies. Of the 18 initial workers who initially became part of the cooperative, only three remain at the forefront of the management of the restaurant-bar.

“People think that this is something where you don’t work very much and earn a lot, but that is not the case, we sweat it every day, making the numbers at the end of the month is not easy,” adds the employee, who acknowledges that when the place was managed by the state many products from the warehouse “were lost” and “there was a lot of diversion of resources.*”

The transformation into a cooperative has not changed the ownership of the property which remains with the state and each month the Havana Restaurants Company charges about 13,000 Cuban pesos (CUP) for rent. “It’s hard, very hard, but we have more autonomy and many customers are returning to Casa Potín.”

*Translator’s note: “Diversion of resources” is an all-encompassing term used in Cuba for what is generally theft by employees.

“Us”: The New Class / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Poleo

”There is no bread for lack of flour.” Commodities that are scarce in Venezuela are sold illegally on the Petare black market. (Twitter)
”There is no bread for lack of flour.” Commodities that are scarce in Venezuela are sold illegally on the Petare black market. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rolando Polea, Caracas, 15 September 2016 — It’s 6:00 am on June 28, I drive slowly along the Panamerican highway, my view lost before the long line of people in shelters between the fog, the drizzle and hunger. Pressing up against each other as if for warmth. Almost a mile separates the last person in line from the entrance to the supermarket. It is the same image as the previous day. Everyone is waiting for the store to open so they can buy any regulated product that arrives, no one knows what, nor do they know how many they will be able to buy, much less if any product will show up at all.

And the agents of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” National Guard have arrived, dressed in their usual olive-green uniforms and some Robocop protectors, who with rifles, helmets and shields, monitor the line. Continue reading ““Us”: The New Class / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Poleo”

I step in front of the closed door of the supermarket, flanked by the big truck of the anti-riot troops, only to notice that on the other side, extending for about 700 yards, is another line made up of the elderly. Many young people among them, these are the “liner-uppers,” family members, grandchildren, children and people who hold other people’s places.

It’s hard to get rid of that metallic taste left by the “shedding” of dignity.

Suddenly my mind, which strives to focus on the road and the radio to forget the tastelessness, is dejected by a call to the radio station, a complaint, from a lady who speaks, more words, less words, warning about the irresponsible favoritism of the officials charged with the sale and control of regulated products, allowing certain categories of public officials – like firefighters, doctors or security agents – to go ahead of the other public employees, a situation that doesn’t seem fair.

Almost immediately a “public official” calls the radio station, specifically a firefighter, to call the lady’s attention to the fact that his work saving lives and the long shifts make it impossible “to stand in line for 10 hours” to buy the regulate products of the basic market basket, and he demands that the woman complaining have some “understanding and civility.”

In the space of hardly a breath, the newscaster takes another call in which a “public employee” takes the firefighter to task, insisting he recognize that the difference between “officials” and “public employees” is governed by an internal scale in the government structures, but that eventually “everyone has the same right”…

The diatribe ends with the silence of the newscaster, and then a brief, “There you have a complaint for the authorities to consider,” followed by music, just music. What more can be added.

I think that in the midst of this whole string of unhappy complaints it’s worth remembering the public employees who, while a firefighter, police office or even a Bolivarian National Guard, work long and arduous shifts, whether saving us or repressing others, they simply, for the most part, “suck lives.”

Amid the government inefficiencies, there are some few employees or officials whose mystique and honesty are shrunk in the morass of corruption and bureaucracy. My acknowledgement, congratulations and honor to those heroes who survive that oasis in a desert of the convinced.

How far did the class struggle go… destroying the historical materialism of Marx and the classes in the productivist terms of Max Weber, the founding fathers of modern sociology, they should be appalled, the war of the proletariat.

What was heard had to have deep roots in the thinking of modern Venezuela, the misery of the totalitarian state, in which, after the ruin and disappearance of virtually all private initiative, is all that’s left standing.

Its inefficiency has plunged the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, one whose oil industry was considered one of the most efficient in the world, into a war economy, and achieved an equalization of misery, using the control of hunger and terror as weapons of social dominance.

While launching international campaigns to sell the wonderful utopia of “21st Century Socialism,” we Venezuelans die of poverty and famine.

At last, I have arrived at my job. The everyday job, the one that pays taxes, creates employment and whose productivity is seen in the results. The effort of private initiative, the only kind not stopped after the presidential decree, a decree that reduced the working hours of public employees to a half day, from 7:30 AM to 1:00 PM starting in late February this year, in order to address the energy disaster caused (for the second time) by the El Niño phenomenon, for which they never made provisions.

I am part of the private effort that continues to work a full day and that doesn’t shorten the workweek to two half-days, which the parasitic government decreed at the end of April this year, with its announcement that public employees would work only on Mondays and Tuesdays.

I’m part of one of the lowest classes in “21st Century Socialism.”

The society is divided into two blocks, consisting of castes:

Those Above:

Bolibourgeois: The highest framework of political, economic and military power, privileged and amalgamated under a corrupt system in which one has to have to have “wet hands” to belong and not represent a danger to the rest. For them there is no humanitarian crisis nor shortages and they are the ones who do not understand why those below “don’t eat cake, when there is no bread.”

Businessmen survivors: Simply entrepreneurs who are committed to working in Venezuela, whose lives abroad are assured, as are their possessions and in many cases their families. However, they are still here and on them depends a large number of direct and indirect jobs and they support virtually the entire weight of the low production and taxes.

Political opposition: Formed by the union of old and new leaderships, which are determined to return the democratic spirit of the nation through constitutional means. Enemies of the status quo, traitors to the “Bolivarian” ideal, political prisoners.

Those below:

Public officials: Those whose activities cannot be cancelled. Important people in the areas of healthcare, control, repression or “protection.” They are the first to get food…

Public employees: Those employees whose activity can be cancelled without stopping the running of the country. I offer as proof, months of no activity and everything is working. They are second in line for food.

Elderly: Older adults, some pensioners, other survivors, must stand in line or they simply don’t eat.

Bachaqueros: (a word derived from bachaco, a voracious ant-like insect) A criminal class that plays on the hunger and health of its peers, new proprietors whose networks are fed by the bolibourgeois, the “connected,” the corrupt or the Local Committees of Supply and Production. I don’t know exactly where to put them because they move like mafiosos, in the shadows.

Paramilitaries and Colectivos: Criminal fiefdoms, charged with extrajudicial state security. Official paramilitaries susceptible to extermination when they try to take private initiatives. Generally, they are the best armed in the country. They gather in mega-bands with specific territories and strategic alliances.

Us: Those of us who continue to work every day, who sign, validate, provide the masses for the opposition marches, the nonconformists, those who have no time to stand in line because if we don’t work the country stops, the employees of small initiatives, small businesses and merchants, artisan producers, service-oriented microenterprises. Those of us who use the weekends to get whatever food we can find.

Others: Survivors, the needy, those who rise at midnight to get two bags of rice and two packages of flour, to feed seven or eight people, because they cannot afford produce, those who die of scarcities because they can’t get or can’t afford medicine. Those who die in a hospital for lack of a catheter. Those who stand in line with their children who no longer attend school because they can’t feed or clothe them properly. Those who go through the trash of the supermarkets looking for an onion or a tomato they can eat. Those who are angry because they feel cheated. Those tossed out of the public administration because they were denied their right to claim indemnization on penalty of losing their money forever, or who don’t have the power to work in a public institution. They were fired for signing petitions against the government or for having different political preferences, simply because being a public official or employee requires submission to the one-party government.

Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world. (EFE)
Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world. (EFE)

The Others are the growing rage of a society devoid of values. The Others are the silent society, the timebomb of a savage revolution, without ideology or principles. Because they are the ones with their education and their human condition snatched from them, the ones who fall back on their instincts, return to the jungle.

I should also mention, without downplaying their importance, those who left, escaped, found asylum, dreamers and hopers who survive, the majority, in a diaspora spread across the planet. They are the displaced, part of a refugee and nomadic humanity, so much in vogue these days.

And to think that the food and medicine that is still gotten and shared is produced by the surviving Businessmen and by Us.

I should also mention without downplaying Those, those who left, escaped, asylees, and hopeful dreamers, who survive, most in diasporas spread across the globe. They are displaced, part of a refugee and migratory humanity, so fashionable has set.

And to think, that food and medicines and still get spread, are produced and carried by survivors Company and Us.

Venezuela is more than this. We Venezuelans must be more than this. But the mass seems to prefer eating crumbs forever, rather than rising up and changing, to make a change.

Who Violates the Rights of Whom in Cuba … Washington or Havana? / Somos+

Raul Castro front row center with capo and sunglasses, walking with senior Cuba leadership and others.

Carlos Raúl Macías López, 15 September 2016 — Starting in the second half of the twentieth century, the world has witnessed a phenomenon without parallel in the history of mankind, one which has been strengthened by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, and has increasingly expanded to encompass virtually all strata of society. We are talking about globalization, whose significance has upset politics, economy, technology, culture, trade, bringing a gradual increase in communications and greater interdependence among the world’s different countries.

Human beings’ most basic rights have not escaped the advent of this trend, where international institutions have joined their best efforts and resources to ratify what is inherent and essential for every person, regardless of race, sex, gender, ideology, religion, etc. Continue reading “Who Violates the Rights of Whom in Cuba … Washington or Havana? / Somos+”

Outside from these realities, the the official government discourse in Cuba has employed with tragic repetition the term “political isolation” to refer to the treatment that the United States government has applied, from almost the very triumph of the Revolution, to “try drown the Cuban people in hunger and need, and to generate in this way, discontent and destabilization.”

According to this line of reasoning, it would seem that the only source of dissatisfaction that the Cuban people might experience in their daily lives, comes from outside (imperialism), and never from the poor governance within. Undoubtedly, the government conveniently has known how to take advantage of this doctrine, and with impunity to undermine attention to such an extent that there are still a few of the ideologically blind (intentional or not), who blame all the ills that afflcit us on “the Americans.” Confirming the saying: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

If we objectively stick to the facts, we can not deny that in foreign policy the Americans have made their lamentable “blunders” and miscues (the embargo/blockade), since after 57 years of this policy the same priestly caste remains in power in Cuba. Even the current occupant of the White House, as part of recent bilateral negotiations, acknowledged that “it was time to reconsider the methods and to change them.”

None of this negates the fact that in Havana there is a regime that rules a hard and rigid hand. Events conclusively demonstrate that the true and most fearsome isolation plaguing us is not coming from Washington, but from the capital of all Cubans. Given this argument, I can not but hold that for things to move forward as they should, the dialogue should be primarily between the government and its own people, and not primarily with our northern neighbors. Because, what does it serve us to get along with those who live next door to our house, if we are at odds with those living inside it? Unlikely coexistence.

In order to shed light on the subject at hand, I must point out that human rights, the Cuba case is controversial and appeal internationally. International organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the World Organization Against Torture and others have repeatedly submitted information and reports, with abundant evidence of violation of human rights.

Moreover, the defenders of the Castro government appeal to the fact that in developed countries human rights are violated, in a much more critical way, arguing further that in 2007 the United nations removed Cuba from its list of states that violate rights humans, and that in most of the Antilles the human Development Index (HDI) is among the highest in the continent, comparable even with developed countries in the first world.

This last parameter (HDI) includes health, education, culture, which are ultimately second generation or social human rights, but the crux of the matter is that, for years, the great ruler, and then his brother, have spoken boastfully that these human rights are often raised as trophies of socialism, but ultimately a nation cannot overstate the human rights of second generation, to the detriment of the first generation, or to put it another way, it is improper to base the existence of certain human rights as a justification for desecrating others.

This has been our pathetic reality. To accept this thesis, would be like consenting willingly to be slaves, because we enjoy certain rights, because our master supplies us with food, a place to sleep, books, and heals us when we get sick, but at the same time prevents us from going where we want to go, speaking and associating with whom we want, writing about the subjects we want, etc …

What I find even more disturbing is the fact that, in order to justify certain abuses, the Cuban political system is organized on the basis of the lordship of state power over the basic human rights being breached, violated, transgressing these rights capriciously, on behalf of the government’s own interests and to the detriment of a completely vulnerable individual at the mercy of it. A simple scrutiny of the Cuban Constitution shows that the interests of the socialist state, as casually defined by the system itself, are above all else. See Article 62.

The questionable phrase “the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism” is simply a euphemism for sidestepping the truth: the government’s ideology is above individual rights and guarantees, since it deprives the individual in the full exercise his or her freedom, and catalogs as a punishable offense the mere attempt to change this decision. As noted, it is not an objective, comprehensive, fair and impartial law but a law dyed with an ideology, therefore, unjust, biased, diffuse, which ultimately depends on the willingness of whomever has the power to decide what it believes is “best for the people.”

The the question asked in the title of this article — “Who violates the rights of whom in Cuba… Washington of Havana?” — the evidence points only in one direction: the Cuban government.

Free Information Is “Food For The Brain,” Said Alan Gross / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The US contractor Alan Gross on Tuesday at the Cuba Internet Freedom in Miami. (14ymedio)
The US contractor Alan Gross on Tuesday at the Cuba Internet Freedom in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 September 2016 — The last day of Cuba Internet Freedom Forum (CIF), which is meeting in Miami this week and was attended by dozens of experts in the use of networks, explored the importance of recognizing internet access as a fundamental human right and analyzed trends in the digital market on the island and the landscape of independent journalism, among others. The event, organized by the US Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and the first of its kind in history, seeks to promote new ways to increase connectivity in one of the countries with the worst internet access index in the world.

Among the most relevant events of the day was the Internet Freedom: Fundamental Human Right workshop, which involved the US subcontractor Alan Gross who spent five years in prison in Cuba for “acts against the territorial integrity of the state.” Continue reading “Free Information Is “Food For The Brain,” Said Alan Gross / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Gross’s first words were “¿Qué bolá?, asere” – what’s happening, dude. Gorss said that “information is food for the brain” and, therefore, should be considered a human right.

The former prisoner, cigarette in hand, also noted the island’s need to “land” in the 21st century. “If we believe that the Cuban government says about the the need for exports to improve its economy, we have to think that it would facilitate contacts between producers and foreign markets, and that can only be done through the internet,” he added.

In the panel on trends in the digital market in Cuba, the founder of the site Apretaste, Salvi Pascual, explained the results of a survey conducted through this new initiative, which allows information to be collected through Nauta email. The results show that the majority of those consulted on the island want internet, although they would have to pay a fixed monthly fee. The survey also showed that a high percentage of the inhabitants on the island want the government rationing system to be maintained.

“Internet is a universal human right and that is why the Castros fear it,” said Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio in a video message addressed to the public forum.

In another panel, dedicated to independent journalism on the island, the analyst Miriam Celaya recalled the background of this phenomenon. Other participants such as Rolando Lobaina, Ivan Garcia and Ignacio Gonzalez also addressed the issue from the plurality of independent sites and the awakening being observed in other media in which official journalists participate, such as El EstornudoOnCuba and El Toque.

Lobaina raised the challenge of organizing an event of this kind on the island, but said government repression towards the independent press “would probably prevent it.”

The Internet Freedom Forum Cuba closed its doors Tuesday in Miami. (14ymedio)
The Internet Freedom Forum Cuba closed its doors Tuesday in Miami. (14ymedio)

The event presented the work of the digital site Martí Noticias, which has about six million visits to its website and an average of more than nine minutes of time spent on the site.

“It is an excellent opportunity for an exchange between those of us on the island and those in exile. The future of the internet in Cuba we are going to guarantee for everyone,” Joanna Columbié, a member of the Somos+ Movement (We Are More). The activist added that this type of event has a real impact on ordinary Cubans, because it provides tools to facilitators who, once in the country may continue the educational work there.

According to Rachell Vazquez, a freelance journalist who contributes to 14ymedio, it is increasingly necessary that the information produced in Cuba not only reflect the reality of the capital, but also the interior of the island.

“Freedom, both of expression and on the internet, is fomented when people of a neighborhood or a municipality see their lives, their concerns and their hopes reflected in the work we do. That’s the best way to contribute to the change of mentality in Cuba,” she said.

“We Have to Get the Police Out of Our Heads” / 14ymedio, Yania Suarez

Erick Jennische, Swedish sociologist and journalist, author of ‘We Have to Get the Police Out of Our Heads'
Erick Jennische, Swedish sociologist and journalist, author of ‘We Have to Get the Police Out of Our Heads’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yania Suarez, Stuttgart, 12 September 2016 – Erik Jennische, author of “We Must Get the Police Out of Our Heads” declared that the book was written to enlighten the Swedish reader about the democratic movement in Cuba and its current state. However, the Cuban reader will not find much of use in this reporting, even though it is the most complete that exists on the subject.

Despite their efforts at transparency, despite that in recent years the presence of dissidents on the web and on TV in Miami, they are still a mystery for the majority of those living on the island. The stigma of official propaganda against them still prevails and, above all, the idea still prevails that they are a group of conspirators, plotters, filled with secrets, who work in the shadows (reality is not like this, but what is reality, on the other hand?). The consequences of this general ignorance are considerable: in the collective imagination, opponents are isolated and inaccessible, because people do not usually participate in what they do not understand, and they also tend to fear it. Continue reading ““We Have to Get the Police Out of Our Heads” / 14ymedio, Yania Suarez”

Jennische’s book eliminates this prejudicial enigma about them and tries to explain them in almost all their aspects (leaving the task of scorn for the enemy).

We find in it everything from the path a person can take to become an opponent of the regime (a subject that interested the sociologist Jennishce in its time), to certain keys to understand the new relations with the United States; from the first steps of the movement, to its current shape and direction. The result is extremely enjoyable, the book reads with the nimbleness of a story – a form it uses more than a few times – despite the flawed translation.

An interesting chapter examines the principal organizations in Miami, about which we know little. Another talks about the indirect influence of Gene Sharp in the recent direction of the democratic movement. Another evaluates the advantages of the internet – which the government fears because, among other reasons, it establishes certain social conditions that Fidel Castro exploited for this struggle and later eliminated when he came to power.

The unveiling of undercover agents that happened during the trials of the 2003 Black Spring, the author derives that the function of those infitrated was merely propagandistic: they offered no “secret” information from espionage because all of these opposition figures had been public and didn’t spy on anybody; nor was very consistent evidence needed for the convictions.

Rather, “the results of the participation of those agents in the democratic movement for year, were simple defamations… they described the democratic activists as cowardly, avaricious, imbeciles and contentious,” as if it were a telenovela (one could add that they also conferred on them the mystery that today distances others from them, having been “revealed” to the people through an “espionage operation”).

“We Have to Get the Police Out of Our Heads” has generated some controversy when, at the end of the book it suggests that we have perhaps overestimated the ability of the secret police to stop the progress of the democratic movement. The efficient Stasi, the author argues, couldn’t stop it in Germany despite their growing files, and the reason is that they are incapable of processing the information they collect into a good analysis of society. Surveillance, on the other hand, only serves to intimidate the indecisive and to publicly stone a person.

Certainly, the question raised is much more interesting than the conclusion above. In Cuba there are experienced leaders with more than a little responsibility such as Jose Daniel Ferrer, who pay a lot of attention to the issue of infiltrators in their groups, because state security is also engaged in sabotaging, through agents, the activities of the opposition.

But the contribution of Jennische, even in that controversial fragment, is always intelligent, always worthwhile. The reader will appreciate the discrete analysis that guides it and the abundance of data gathered. It is not a definitive book: the history of the democratic movement remains to be written and some will find missing pieces. But it is a good step to moving us beyond that difficult shadow.

‘Laptops’ Now Have a Place on the ‘Little Regla Ferry’ / 14ymedio

The Regla ferry connects that town and Casablanca with Havana across Havana Bay. (14ymedio)
The Regla ferry connects that town and Casablanca with Havana across Havana Bay. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 September 2016 — Residents and visitors of Regla and Casablanca can now travel with their laptops on the maritime vessels that connect the historic center of Havana with these two towns. For decades, travelers with computers were obliged to make the trip in buses or cars, due to a prohibition from the authorities.

Several of these boats, known as lanchitas de Regla, were the scenes of immigration incidents prior to the 1994 Rafter Crisis. Controls at the terminals at both ends escalated started at that point and prohibited carrying passengers with scissors, bottles with liquid, cakes for parties, and electronic equipment like laptops.

As of last week, and without the official press having published the information, people with laptops are allowed to board the ferries. One of the employees responsible for inspecting passengers told 14ymedio that “now you can travel not only with one, but with all the computers you want.”

The relaxation happened after a restructuring of urban transport implemented beginning in August. Given the decline in the number of buses now serving the towns of Regla and Casablanca, the authorities have removed what many considered an “absurd prohibition.”

Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 September 2016 – Limits on property tenure and wealth accumulation are prominent in discussions about the documents issued by the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). “The Talibans” – as the hardliners are often referred to – demand precision and the entrepreneurs also need it, for different reasons, to understand the subjective opinion of the local overlord who is going to determine whether someone has become too prosperous.

With only 15 days left to complete the analysis of the Conceptualization of the Bases* of the National Development Plan, issued by the congress, these documents have been discussed only by “the membership of the party and the Young Communists Union, and representatives of mass organizations** and large sectors of society.” Continue reading “Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

In December, if the deadlines are met, a plenary session of the PCC Central Committee will put the final touches on the these directives, perhaps with some modifications or additions. The principles that govern the country’s economic activities in the coming decades will not have been subjected to the scrutiny of a significant number of citizens.

This Monday one of these debates took place with several district delegates selected from the Santa Clara’s People’s Council. According to the official newspaper Granma, among the most debated topics was Paragraph 104 of the Conceptualization, which rejects the idea of “the concentration of property and wealth in natural or legal persons.”

As the official Party organ, Granma usually chooses with care the opinions it publishes, and in this case it published the opinion of several delegations about “the need to define how far it will allow this phenomenon [tenure of property and wealth] to go, and the imperative of defining limits.” Others called for “strict supervision by the competent bodies, with their control system to prevent the proliferation of new rich in Cuba.”

Such fears are consistent with the implementation of a new measure where it is stipulated those receiving monthly salaries exceeding 500 Cuban pesos (CUP, about $20 US) must make a special contribution of 5% to Social Security. A decision that also includes workers at state enterprise earning up to 5,000 CUP (about $200 US), who will have to also pay a personal income tax of 3%.

However, a self-employed person who has a personal net income of 60,000 CUP a year (an average of 5,000 per month) faces a tax rate of 50%. This is a clear obstacle to the development of private entrepreneurs, which the government has had to tolerate given the economic collapse of the country, but against whom it maintains a stubborn animosity.

Following the recent closed-door discussions, it is probable that the limits of wealth concentration in the hands of Cuban citizens will be defined with more precision. It is very likely that when the definition is written precedence will be given to the voices insisting “this is and will remain a Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.”

With this thundering no one can sleep, grow or prosper. If, given that a successful entrepreneur who manages to earn the equivalent of about $200 US a month will be placed on the top of the food chain and pay the highest tax rates, what can be expected from the corrective they will reserve for those who start a small or medium sized business?

During the five years in which the Guidelines from the Sixth Communist Party Congress were in effect, Point 3 of the economic management model was designed to prevent the concentration of property. Some analysis suggested this point would be eased in the Seventh Congress, but instead it was strengthened by adding the word “wealth.”

A superficial glance could lead to the conclusion that those incapable of creating, moved by envy, want to tie the hands of those who through risk, imagination and personal effort put their goals above the prosperity managed by the generosity of a paternalistic and controlling state. Surely there are better arguments to explain these blunders.

Translator’s notes:
*“Base” in this context refers to what in other, non-totalitarian contexts, would be called the “grassroots,” that is Party organizations at the local level.
**”Mass organizations” refers only to government controlled entities such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the University Students Federation (FEU), and so on.

“Farmers Have Awakened To The Reality Of The System, Although They Can Not Protest Openly” / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez

A Cuban farmer plows the land with oxen (CC)
A Cuban farmer plows the land with oxen (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 12 September 2016 – Rolando Pupo Carralero is a self-declared lover of the countryside, despite having begun working the land by necessity, when he abandoned his studies in economics.

Currently a member of the national executive of the Cuban Independent and Democratic Party (CID) and coordinator in the western region of for political group, Pupo has worked for many years growing tobacco. From his experience in the fields, he believes it is very difficult for regime opponents to own land, and believes the farmers have become aware that the “Revolution” pays them one-forty-fifth of the value of what they produce.

Ricardo Fernandez.  How is it possible that within the opposition there are no independent farmer organizations?

Rolando Pupo Carralero. In Cuba, they don’t allow members of the opposition to have land. It is not a written law, but the land is in the hands of the state, and it is distributed to those who are “suitable” and opponents are rarely in that category. Continue reading ““Farmers Have Awakened To The Reality Of The System, Although They Can Not Protest Openly” / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez”

People who inherit land can be part of the opposition, but even so, the government has ways to pressure them not to be. Among these, the strongest are the requirement to be associated with a cooperative with a “legal personality” because otherwise they cannot buy supplies and services or sell their crops.

There is still no private sector in Cuba capable of buying one farmer’s entire production, nor is there a legal market where you can buy fertilizer or supplies if you are not affiliated with the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).

RF.  Does that mean that the peasantry is in agreement with the Cuban system?

RPC. The fact that they can not belong to the active opposition does not mean that they do not oppose the system, but the farmer does not have freedom or autonomy. Despite the mechanisms used by the government to indoctrinate and repress the peasantry (cooperatives, ANAP and other institutions of that type), farmers are not completely subjugated. You have to be at a meeting of the cooperative, which convenes monthly, to see the high level of dissatisfaction and the harshness in the well-founded opinions expressed by the members.

RF.  How have the farmers changed their position on the government?

RPC. Initially the peasantry supported the Revolution because it brought some benefits, but the accounts have been made clear over time. For example, in the case of tobacco, the state buys the first quintal (more than 70% quality) for 2,574 pesos, for which you need 1,300 cuttings, with a large expenditure of resources in planting, cultivation, harvesting and drying.

But that quintal of tobacco contains 12,800 leaves (80 cujes of 160 leaves each) and if we figure that for a first quality cigar you need only three leaves, the quintal is the equivalent of 4,266 cigars for export, and an amount equal or more in hard currency.

So they pay the farmer 102 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, about $102 US), when the real value of the production is 45 times higher. These absurd inequalities mean that from their work they earn barely enough to live, which is why they have awakened to the reality of the system; although they can not protest openly.

RF.  Are there opponents with ties to the countryside?

RPC. I am one of them. I cannot be an owner, but I do cultivate land with my stepfather, who is an owner. Many opponents work in agriculture, some out of necessity and others for love. Although government pressures have made themselves felt, with threats to the owners who employ dissidents, the farmers no longer let themselves be intimidated.

For example, State Security periodically threatens my stepfather, saying they will take away his land if I keep working on it; but he defends his position with my right to work and live together because I am his family.

Gone are the days when being an opponent was a stigma for society. The peasants don’t hire people based on whether they are communists or opponents, they look for work performance regardless of political position.

RF.  How has it been for you linking agricultural work with the opposition?

RPC. Sometimes it is a bit complicated because some underestimate the farmers, associating them with terms such as peasant or brutish; but there are a lot of smart people working in the fields.