The Maleconazo, Cuba’s First Popular Revolt, Happened 23 Years Ago / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 6 August 2017 — Havana, 4 August 1994. Amidst the suffocating heat, 12-hour blackouts, the devalued currency, and the scarcity of food, the sensations felt on the streets of Havana 23 years ago had reached the breaking point.

Frustration and social malaise were in full bloom. People sat on the corners making plans to emigrate. Even the most intransigent Fidelistas, in whispers, suggested urgent changes were needed in the monolithic structures of power.

The question was simple. If Fidel Castro didn’t introduce economic reforms, a great number of Cubans were going to die of hunger. Some of my friends and relatives looked like they’d emerged from Nazi concentration camps because of all the weight they’d lost. My mother lost some of her teeth, and solved a problem of buying food by selling her record collection of Brazilian music for just 39 dollars. continue reading

Chinese bicycles were distributed at workplaces and as they were too heavy, many workers sold them or took them to the countryside to exchange for a pig; if they didn’t have a patio they kept the pig in the house. A doctor we knew, who was 60, spent so much trouble trying to find something to feed the pig, which he kept in the unused bath in his house, that he died of a heart attack.

In 1994, in the midst of the Special Period, an avocado cost one dollar, or 120 pesos under the counter, and rice was 100 pesos a pound, when you could find it. A pound of roast pork was 150 pesos, and old people stood in long lines for a cup of lime tea. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) passed out tickets that gave you the right to eat a Zas* hamburger — one of Fidel Castro’s “inventions” — and drink a glass of soda pop.

Cats disappeared from the city: those who ate them said they tasted like rabbit. More than a few people passed out in the street. The illnesses caused by the lack of vitamins and proteins got worse and worse. If Option Zero was reached, the army would be in charge of distributing food to the blocks. Illegal departures by raft shot up. In this environment of misery and desperation, life passed in the capital.

On the night of 4 August, in the Vibora neighborhood, there was a planned 12-hour blackout from 8 at night until 8 in the morning. Many people put their mattresses on the roofs of their houses and slept like that.

At ten in the morning on 5 August, different versions of what was happening on the Malecon started to spread through the neighborhood. “Listen, this is fucked up. In Colon, San Leopold and Jesus Maria people are throwing themselves into the street. They’re sacking the stores and overturned a police car,” said a gentleman who claimed to have come from Central Havana.

A group of young people and adults, along with the driver on the 15 bus route, who was then at the Vibora stop, decided to travel to the epicenter of the conflict. During the trip the driver was picking up people with big bags, as if they were going on a picnic. It was rumored that illegal sailings were leaving for Florida and anyone who wanted to could get aboard.

Just beside the former Presidential Palace, the combined forces of the police, State Security, and Special Troops, stopped the bus (a converted truck). The driver opened the doors and the we passengers, to prevent the military from taking possession of the truck full of detainees quickly all got off and taking advantage of the human sea already taking shape at that house, we disappeared among the crowds and into surrounding streets.

For the first time I heard shouts of “Down with Fidel.” The huge crowd walked toward the Malecon and the Avenida del Puerto. People with binoculars searched the horizon for boats. The destruction of the “shoppings” and at the Hotel Deauville were obvious. The wide road that runs parallel to the Malecon was filled with stones and pieces of bricks.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, dozens of army trucks, jeeps with mounted machine guns at the back, special unit soldiers and construction workers from the Blas Roca Contingent, armed with baseball bats and thick steel bars were lashing out left and right, beginning to restore order.

Meanwhile, news spread from the TV that Fidel Castro was coming to the area of the revolt.

A military vehicle pulled up in front of the Capitol building. And those who, until that moment, in the area, had been screaming against him, from intuition and fear changed their tune. They began to applaud and shout “Viva Fide,” joined by hundreds of supporters of the government. The mob mobilized by the regime came down Prado Street, shouting revolutionary slogans, with signs and aluminum tubes in their hands.

By eight o’clock at night, the spontaneous popular protest had been controlled by the olive-green autocracy.

What happened 23 years ago deserves an analysis. Could it happen again? Let’s go by step.

During the 1960s, the mass emigration of a middle class made up of politicians, doctors, engineers, journalists and other professionals allowed Fidel Castro to sweep away all the republican institutions, bury the free press and raise his hermetic dictatorship.

Backed by widespread popular support, Castro erected a Soviet-style state. Even the Constitution was a carbon copy. An army that was once the largest in Latin America, a powerful network of agencies that were appendages of the regime, to which was added the effectiveness of the secret services. All this allowed Fidel Castro to found one of the most perfect machines of social control in modern history.

Workers had no right to strike or to form trade unions, and laws condemned those who dared to dissent many years of imprisonment (or death penalty). El barbudo (the bearded one) sowed terror among Cubans.

Opposing the regime had — and still does — a high personal cost ranging from repression and ’murder’ of a dissident’s reputation to verbal lynchings that can end in criminal proceedings.

It is one of the reasons, among others, that explain why Cubans do not rebel. The most they do is complain: the majority of the population is convinced that Castroism is a disaster.

The ordinary citizen perceives the State as a territory of a privileged caste that, due to historical or genetic merits, it is up to them to govern without accountability to the people.

Despite the perpetual economic crisis affecting the nation, it is not likely that in the short term mass protests will occur where Cubans claim their rights or demand democracy.

But, look, any arbitrariness of the regime can trigger small or medium protests. Cases have already been reported. Like the protest of the drivers in Bayamo or bicitaxistas in Havana.

Right now, the new state policies restricting private entrepreneurs could become the embryo of numerous protests. Although, in general, these groups do not have leadership or organizational methods. They are rather spontaneous, driven by government abuses.

The dissidence has failed to connect with that segment of the population that is in conflict with the military junta that governs Cuba’s destiny. And in turn, many disgruntled people avoid contacting the opposition, for fear of being branded as ’counterrevolutionaries’.

But the social upheaval, low wages and distrust towards the regime is present. There are more accumulated social problems than the State’s capacity to solve them.

Today, the island is a box of matches that at the slightest touch can set off a spark. Even fear has an expiration date.

*Translator’s note: “One night [Fidel] asked his consultants to ship some McDonald’s hamburgers to him by air. He wanted to compare them with some burgers he had created and christened “Zas.” After trying the gringo hamburgers, he declared the Cuban versions better. The Zas burgers were sold in cafes that were converted into hamburger restaurants, two per person.” Source: Ivan Garcia earlier post. 

For Cuba? / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 29 July 2017 — The slogan adopted for the so-called 2017-2018 General Elections is “For Cuba.” According to propaganda claims, these elections are unique in the world in that, unlike in most countries, it is not political parties which nominate candidates but rather citizens at the grass roots level. In reality this is not the case.

The party, the only legally recognized party, does it by using official civil society organizations — the only such organizations which are legal — which operate under its direct control. Furthermore, if a “troublesome” candidate should happen to slip past the control mechanisms, the party — once again, working through these same organizations — will do everything in its power to make sure the individual is not nominated. In practice, a candidate has never been nominated who had not been previously approved by the party. continue reading

It is precisely at the grass roots where any real citizen participation begins and ends, where voters “choose” a candidate from those already chosen by the party. Only those nominees who have been previously “filtered” and approved will be on the ballot.

The governing body for municipal, provincial and the national elections is the so-called Candidates Commission, composed of representatives appointed by the municipal, provincial and national leaders of these same governmental organizations (the Cuban Central Workers’ Union, the Commitees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Assembly of People’s Power, the University Students’ Federation and the Pre-University Students’ Federation).

These organizations draw up lists of candidates for the provincial legislatures and the National Assembly without any citizen participation. As is widely known, everything is tightly managed to ensure that the absolute unanimity of voting that characterizes Cuban legislatures is maintained, from the grass roots to the National Assembly.

Since all representatives are required to be nominated and elected by the electoral base, those whose nominations and elections are considered crucial are assigned (or planted) to ensure that none of the party’s stalwarts get left out. This often involves a candidate being nominated based on his or her place of origin or other incidental considerations. As a result, someone may be nominated and formally elected in a place which he has not visited in years and to which he no longer has any ties.

By democatic norms, Cuba’s general elections are undoubtedly “quite original.” Perhaps that is why its “elected” leaders remain in power for decades. In spite of being terrible at governing, spending their terms in office veering from disaster to disaster, they win reelection every time.

Rather than being a democratic electoral process, the Cuban system amounts to a process of dynastic ratification and a way of recycling its buffoons.

Cuba Has No Plan B To Make Up For The Loss Of Venezuela

Cubans are tired of being unable to access foods of animal origin other than chicken. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 4 August 2017 – “It doesn’t matter when, all we get are feathers,” complains the father of a family, disgusted on finding no kind of meat other than chicken in the Hard Currency Collection Stores (TRD), the state chain that sells only in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). Since the beginning of the Venezuelan crisis, Cubans have been bitter about the shortages in retail markets, a problem that will grow in the coming months, according to economist Omar Everleny Perez.

The country cut 1.5 billion dollars in imports in the first half of the year, which will directly affect the population,” said Perez, in conversation with 14ymedio. continue reading

Trade balance: imports (black line) and exports (orange line) in Cuba since 1950.

The abrupt cut in imports stems from the decision to use 2.306 billion dollars to make payments on external debt, renegotiated with the Paris Club and other creditors, adds the former director of the Center for Studies of the Cuban Economy.

“They renegotiated a debt that they had not paid since 1986. Creditors waived up to 90% in some cases, but they had to pay that remaining 10% and could only do so by cutting imports,” he explains.

According to Perez, a contributor to the magazine Temas, the national economy is beginning to show signs of macroeconomic recovery but it is not enough.

“From the macro point of view, it seems that there will be a change in the trend line, but 1% growth does not tell you anything. The country needs to grow from 5 to 7% — and not just for one year — so that people feel it,” he adds.

“With this rate of growth, seeing an improvement in living conditions would take at least 30 years. How do you say that to a 50-year-old?” Pérez quips.

Cuba announced that at the end of this semester the economy had grown by 1.1%, after a GDP fall of 0.9% in 2016. Pérez attributes this positive result to tourism, which grew by 23%, and the sugar cane industry, which produced about 1.8 million tons of sugar.

“Tourism is changing lives in many parts of Cuba. For example, in the municipality of Trinidad, the revenues of the non-state sector surpassed those of state enterprises for the first time. In this municipality the private sector generated 56.9% of the total collected,” he says.

The Havana Consulting Group has just published very interesting data on the increasing contribution of remittances to the functioning of the national economy. The Miami-based consulting firm says remittances grew 2.7% in 2016 to $3.444 billion, surpassing net revenue from tourism that year, according to official sources.

The difference is even greater when compared to net tourism receipts, which will not exceed $1.3 billion after deducting the costs of imports needed to cater for tourists, especially food, as Cuba produces nothing.

Gross income from remittances (orange line) versus tourism (black line).

Pérez Villanueva is worried about the strong impact that the eventual fall of Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela would have on the Cuban economy.

“Venezuela continues to be Cuba’s number one trading partner, despite its crisis. For the past two years, the problems of that country have been growing, but no measures have been taken to counteract the end of that trade relationship,” he says.

Perez believes that Havana should be thinking of sending its highly skilled labor to other countries with oil reserves like Angola or Algeria. “It will never be the same as with Venezuela and those countries could not absorb the number of doctors [that Venezuela has been paying for], but at least it would cushion the blow,” he says.

Trade by country over time.

Cuba could take advantage of currently low oil prices to buy fuel from other allied nations, such as Russia or Algeria, but the lack of credit is a chronic problem, according to the Minister of Economy and Planning, Ricardo Cabrisas, who acknowledged in the Report on Behavior of the Economy and Planning 2017 that the Island’s ability to obtain loans is affected by the amount of debts due.

However, according to Pérez, Cuba is trying to strengthen new mechanisms to generate electricity from renewable sources, but “it needs time and money.” There is also an attempt to revive national oil production, which is declining due to the depletion of the wells.

“If the supply of Venezuelan oil is stopped, it would not be as it was in the USSR. We receive from Venezuela half the fuel we need, and in the time of the former Soviet Union we received virtually all of it,” he added.

“The country should bet heavily on foreign investment,” says Pérez Villanueva, who was ousted after a series of lectures in which he displayed his critical opinion on the economy’s progress on the island.

“The guidelines say that foreign investment is not a complement to domestic investment but rather a part of the national investment, but in practice the level of appropriations is not noticeable,” he adds.

Despite continuing to publish the portfolio of foreign investment opportunities, the investment flagship project, the Mariel Special Development Zone, continues to be bogged down with small investments.

For Pérez, the country has to immediately expand trade on its own, something that seems very distant, especially after the freeze in the granting of new licenses for self-employment announced last Tuesday.

“There is a mass of workers who could leave the guardianship of the State and pay taxes in activities related to what they studied [at the universities]. This would prevent engineers graduating in Computer Science from leaving for Canada or quitting to drive a taxi “.

However, Perez believes that the state does not want healthy competition to exist because the great socialist state enterprise remains its model. “In Cuba, ideology continues to set the tone, not the economy.”

Miguel Diaz-Canel, A Future Lenin Moreno?

Miguel Díaz-Canel, the current Cuban vice-president (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 4 August 2017 – Each ruler leaves his imprint. More than a decade ago Fidel Castro relinquished power and his brother promised continuity; but he dismantled the boarding high schools in the countryside, the army of social workers and the open anti-imperialist rallies. This coming February, Miguel Diaz-Canel could assume the presidency of Cuba and those who believe he will follow the script to the letter underestimate the vicissitudes of politics.

In recent days the news about the Venezuelan crisis has failed to overwhelm the political impact of what is happening in Ecuador. The country, which until recently was led by a man of arrogant discourse and aggressions against the press and his opponents, now has a more sedate president who is – at top speed – marking distances with his predecessor.

Lenin Moreno came to power wrapped in the controversy over a distortion of the vote in his favor. Last June, during a conference in Madrid, his main electoral opponent, Guillermo Lasso, defined that victory without circumspection: “In February there was the most brazen fraud that has been seen in Ecuador,” he said. The doubts about the cleanness of the elections and the closeness of the official candidate to Rafael Correa augured nothing good. continue reading

Nevertheless, a few months after assuming the highest position of the state, Moreno seems ready to chart his own course. He has huge motives to separate from Correa because the scandal of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht is stepping on the heels of the previous administration and the country has a debt of more than 24 billion dollars. A figure that the outgoing president tried to hide before leaving, but that has finally been revealed by the current executive.

Moreno has come to converse with several opponents, including the former president Abdalá Bucaram (1996-1997) exiled for years in Panama. This is a step that shows a clear change of direction for the Palace of Carondelet, which until recently fought those who disagreed politically with blows, insults and threats.

This week, the difference between the two most recent presidents went one step further and Moreno revoked the powers of the vice president Jorge Glas, a kind of tutor left by Correa to watch over the course of the so-called Citizen Revolution. The schism threatens to fracture the Alianza País party, shaken between those who support the former president and those who clamor for the decisions of the current president to be respected.

From distant Belgium, Correa burns with anger at what he considers a betrayal. His impetuous character, fed even more by ten years in power, has led him to write numerous critical messages against Moreno on the social network Twitter. His successor has become an antagonist and has refused to follow the path laid out by the 54-year-old economist for his party colleague.

In these months Moreno, as will happen to Diaz-Canel, has had to face his people and the international community. He has realized that it is one thing to be the designated heir, while something quite different to take the helm in the control room of a country that has long been ruled by the whims of one man. To lead with some efficiency, in both cases, requires breaking with those who placed them in those positions.

The differences between the Ecuadorian and Cuban cases are marked. While the government of Rafael Correa lasted a decade, on the island the Castro brothers have controlled every detail of the economy and politics for more than half a century. The imprint left by the Correa’s time in power in Ecuador is intense and is evidenced in a greater polarization along with a weakening of civil society, but the effect of Castroism is much deeper.

Moreno has managed to distance himself from his predecessor because, among other reasons, there are democratic structures in the country that support him in this effort, something far from the Cuban landscape. In spite of the international questions about his election to the presidency, the Ecuadorian has the approval of the majority of the governments of the region and of international bodies, some of whom see him as a concerned administrator trying to impose order on the asylum.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, less charismatic and grayer, will have biology in his favor. While it can not be ruled out that Rafael Correa will put an end to his Belgian retreat and try to reassume the Ecuadorian presidency, the current Cuban vice president will witness the deaths the members of the historic generation, people who now consider him a manageable upstart, with no battles or dead to show in his favor.

However, the economic gulf that the island dauphin will inherit will be even more unfathomable. The country that he will receive in February is experiencing a process of economic stagnation, has failed to resolve the dual currency system, is experiencing a slowdown in the expansion of the private sector and has not even been able to convince a significant number of foreign investors to put their money in the Island.

Sitting in the presidential chair and with the script of each step written on the table, Miguel Díaz-Canel will face the dilemma of having to make his own decisions. With the stares of commanders and generals fixed on the back of his neck, he is likely to opt for submission. But something of his imprint, his personality, will creep into the agenda. One day, out of bravery or fear, he will end up giving some mortal blows to Castroism.

When The Night Is Darkest

Anyone can be arrested without prior order, here we simply call it kidnapping. (Miguel Gutiérrez / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Poleo, Caracas, 3 August 2017 — Many Venezuelans are exhausted, the dictatorship today posing to us a scenario of fear and despair. There is no public meeting or march that is not repressed even before it begins. The regime’s paramilitary and efectivos flood the streets of Venezuela with murders and arrests. Sniper rifle is no longer unusual at any demonstration, nor is it surprising that most of the bullet impacts against the demonstrators are directly to the head.

Nor are the arbitrary arrests of deputies or their relatives rare, in violation of their immunity. The rights of citizenship have ceased to exist, we are no longer judged by our natural judges, it is now military justice that is responsible for charging any citizen. Anyone can be arrested without prior order, here we simply call it kidnapping.

The most interesting thing about fear is that it leads you to attack those closest to you, who are just as vulnerable as you are. Fear makes you see your own weaknesses and leads you to blame your environment for your misfortune. It’s easier to distance yourself from what really terrifies you. And in psychological warfare this is well-known, demoralizing, deepening the differences, breaking the unit, fracturing it, so powerful is fear. That is why fear is a fundamental part of tyrannies, hope is eaten away, it neutralizes joy and devastates faith, demobilizes and in this spiritually devastated terrain, sows meekness, dependence, ideologies.

Division is good for dictatorships. continue reading

The currency is devaluing at a rapid pace. Just yesterday my wife miraculously got my medicine for tension, though they only sold her two boxes, and when I went to buy another two boxes (a month’s treatment) in the same place, just an hour and a half later, I paid twice as much.

The black market dollar, that is, the only one that obtainable, goes from a price of 10,389 bolivars per dollar on Friday, July 29 to 13,780 on August 2.

Every minute that passes, the darkness closes in on the noble nation of Simon Bolivar. My hope is set in the new dawn. These are hard times, the next few hours are decisive and I am sure that we are all going to put everything we have into survival of our country.

We are pacifists, democrats and a people of faith.

But the dictatorship can never underestimate the strength of a people when they close the windows of freedom. We Venezuelans have shown through 18 years that we are not going to put our knees on the ground. We are going to fight, have no doubt.


Editorial Note: This testimonial is part of a text that the author has published in his blog and has shared with 14ymedio.


Señor General “Going-Backwards” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro next to Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel (Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 August 2017 – In line with the last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held at the end of June, where – according to what the General-President said in his closing speech of the Ninth Ordinary Session of the National Assembly – many deficiencies and problems were analyzed in the self-employment sector (TCP). The Official Gazette, in an extraordinary edition (No. 31) dated Tuesday, August 1, 2017, has decreed the suspension, supposedly temporary, of the delivery of licenses for at least 27 activities of the private sector (“self-employed”), “until the perfection of this sector is concluded.”

In addition, the decree states that in the future – and permanently – no new licenses will be granted to work in the areas of: wholesale of agricultural products; retailers of agricultural products; cart vendors or sellers of agricultural products on an ambulatory basis; buyer and seller of music records; and and operator of recreational equipment.

Despite this, according to what the First Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security told the official press, the provisions of the decree “do not constitute a setback in the development of (self-employed) activity,” but will “consolidate the organization and control of self-employment work so that it continues to advance in an orderly and efficient manner.” But this official did not explain how a process that has been stopped by a government decree could “advance.”
continue reading

And while such a strategy of advancing by going backwards may be paradoxical, more impudent still are the pretexts that were used to justify the retraction of what was announced years ago as a process of reforms that would oxygenate the internal economy and allow the potential for employment for a portion of the labor force let go from government jobs.

It turns out that the fickle old ruler has discovered “deviations in the implementation of the approved policy” for the TCP, ranging from the use of raw materials and equipment “illicit in their origins” to the “breach of tax obligations,” including under-reporting of sales/income, by members in the sector.

The truth is that, although the authorities have frequently expressed that the TCP has reported benefits in “lightening the burden of the State,” in the reordering of labor, as well as in the supply of goods and services – which, by the way, is not, nor should it be the natural aspiration of private labor anywhere in the world – in practice, this sector has become the most propitious villain (after the “criminal imperialist blockade”) to justify the causes of the failures inherent in the Cuban sociopolitical system.

The aforementioned “deviations” include “lack of answerability and timely solution to problems,” “imprecisions and inadequacies in control” and “deficiencies in economic contracting for the provision of services or supply of production between legal entities and lay persons,” among others.

These latter deficiencies, however, are not attributable to those who engaged in the TCP, but to the representatives and government officials responsible for correct compliance, who did not adequately fulfill their obligations, so that – if tabula rasa is used in the application of the law – the posts of state inspectors, officials of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), police officers, and a whole host of bureaucrats related to the implementation and control of TPC should also be suspended and constitute a dense layer of parasites that only tax the increased corruption, which is spread throughout the country in epidemic proportions.

But the new decree of “General Rupert Going-Backwards” also suffers from numerous intrinsic contradictions, such as, that among the activities in this species of temporary “hibernation” are included, first, those who rent housing, rooms and spaces, as well as coffee shops and restaurants (paladares), which is a real folly in a country that – it is said – expects that the number of visitors will reach 4 million this year, and does not have the hotel and food service infrastructure capable of satisfying such demand.

Seen from a more objective perspective, it is obvious that the Cuban government prefers that the foreign tour operators installed throughout Cuba benefit from the influx of foreign visitors, and not the native entrepreneurs themselves. This is not explained as a simple perversion of the system – which it also is – but is making Power panic, in the face of the demonstrated ability, in just a few years, of the private sector to achieve prosperity and autonomy. These entrepreneurs are much more successful and competitive than the State sector, and thus are a potential social force relatively independent from strong government subjection. And it is well-known that the power of autocracies is based on the most absolute social control.

There’s nothing so threatening for the autocratic regime as the possibility of consolidating an autonomous – and therefore potentially free – segment within Cuban society. Hence, the demonization of what they call “accumulation of wealth” and the questioning of the ability of some entrepreneurs to travel abroad and import raw materials and supplies, openly expressed in the aforementioned speech by the General before Parliament.

Equally paradoxical is that during the most recent session of Parliament the existence of a deficit of 883,000 thousand homes in Cuba was officially acknowledged – a figure that should actually be much higher – but at the same time a Decree published today in the Gazette has prohibited the granting of new licenses for private contractors, in direct contradiction to the fact that it has been precisely private construction activity that has marked a slight growth in the manufacture and repair of houses. In contrast, State dependent construction has been accumulating colossal defaults for decades, in a country whose housing is in a calamitous state an whered the majority of the population lacks the resources to attain housing.

Analyzing all the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the new Decree would require dozens of pages, but it is not worth the effort. We are simply facing the latest development of the unrealistic project of “updating the model,” which has been the chimera of Castro II since his arrival to the olive-green throne. There’s nothing so grotesque as trying to implement from the proven imperfection of Power the “perfection of self-employment,” the only segment of the national economy that works with some efficiency.

The General and his claque know it, so this new limitation on the private sector is actually the legal expression of the government’s terror of losing social control in a country where discontent, dissatisfaction and shortages continue to grow. At the moment, everything indicates that the general-president’s reformist disguise will continue to unravel at the seams.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: Killing the Language and Making Beauty Ugly / Iván García

Man urinating in the street. From Cubanet.

Ivan Garcia, 31 July 2017 — Although they speak bad Spanish, with sentences chopped-up and sometimes incoherent, Sarah and Liudmila, in theory, are not illiterate. Their academic certificates show they passed the twelfth grade.

After finishing pre-university with their high school diplomas, they opted for the quickest way to make some money — working as escorts or prostitutes. Equally happy to sleep with a foreigner, of whatever nationality, race, belief or sexual orientation, or a Cuban, so long as they have enough money to pay for a night of fun, alcohol and cocaine.

Liudmila tells Sarah about her latest achievement. She does it in a made up language that they speak in Havana. continue reading

Original version: “Went out last night. Hooked a wild one who was at the pa’comer y pa’llevar (Havana cafe ). We downed a basin-full and then I went with the fool to his “holy room” (reference to a Cuban initiation ceremony). The guy gave me an incredible fuck. In the end he gave me 50 pesos. Today, it’s a second round with this freak; yawanna stringalong, bitch?”

Translation: “What I did last night. I won over an excellent client. We had some beers and then rented a room in a private house.  The guy was the best in bed. He paid me 50 dollars. I’m going to see him again today. Want to come with me?

Sarah and Liudmila, like thousands of young Cubans, prostitute themselves for a fistful of dollars. It’s their right. What is pitiful is the vulgar way they express themselves.

Right now, Cuba is exposed to various interconnected crises. An ongoing economic crisis; and a crisis of identity, with a whole lot of young kids who aren’t interested in their country’s history, or culture, and, fundamentally, the absence of morals and values, which is accentuated by the deterioration of the language. With people who speak worse and worse Spanish and whose conduct is sometimes vulgar and aggressive.

We know that the Castro regime has not done what it should have in economic and social matters.  Starting with services and going on through “revolutionary aesthetics” in design and architecture  – mostly clumsy and in poor taste – and on to its inability to provide meat, fish, seafood or fruit for the people, not just for tourists.

The hardships and shortages could be overcome with a government which is efficient and not corrupt. But, the crisis of values?

It would definitely take a long time to change that. Generations, probably.

You get in a shared taxi and say “good day” and no-one answers. People drop rubbish at every corner, leading to epidemics with who-knows-what consequences. Everyone thinks they have the right to play unbearably loud music in their house, and never mind the neighbours.

People frequently mistreat their children or hit their girlfriend or wife. It’s also become normal to drink beer in a bar and, although there may be a public toilet nearby, the men prefer to urinate in the street. And, in urgent cases, to defecate on the stairs in a building.

A story. I was going to my apartment, when I saw a woman excreting in the entrance to a building round the corner from mine. Seeing me scowling, the woman, the worse for a few drinks, says: “Hey, whitey, don’t act all refined. Everybody taking a shit does it where they can.  I’m not going to keep it bottled up, am I?

But the most lethal attack is on the Spanish language. One way or another, we Cubans have been killing it by incorporating in our vocabulary marginal expressions which many people think are funny or witty.

It’s not a joke. Sergio, a political science graduate, considers that the poor language employed by the official media, a virile and nationalist narrative, with a hint of tropical neo-fascism, has influenced the regression of Castilian Spanish and also affected the rules of civilised behaviour.

“Fidel Castro wanted to sweep away the past and adopted a new language – crude, arrogant and belligerent toward his opponents, inside and outside the country. Compañero and compañera were substituted for lady and gentleman. And he replaced politeness with a “proletarian manner”, which didn’t work in practice. All the government and Communist party propaganda is been filled up with repetitive slogans, initials and a boring lexicon. And that water brings this mud. Now, when they talk, many Cubans don’t have a command of more than five hundred words from the dictionary, they can’t write and their grammar is appalling”.

Sarah and Liudmila, Havana prostitutes, are good examples of this deterioration.

Translated by GH

The Vicissitudes Of A “Regulated” Person

A uniformed Immigration official reported Monday to Regina Coyula that she could not travel because she was “regulated”. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 1 August 2017 — I should be in Panama right now. But on July 31, when I showed up at the desk at José Martí International Airport, I was shown to an office where an Immigration officer informed me that I could not travel because I was “regulated.” The word has unpleasant connotations because the most frequent regulation in Cuba is menstrual regulation. In any case, questioning that official about the cause of such a ban was futile. She did not seem to know anything beyond the bad news, and it is logical that she does not have the details, given the way compartmentalization works (or is supposed to work) within the Ministry of the Interior.

I can deduce with confidence that this measure comes from the department that “attends” opponents of the government, known as Section 21 or the Directorate of Counterintelligence Confrontation. In order to know why I was “regulated,” the old retirement villa of the Marist Brothers in La Vibora district, known Villa Marista, is the place where the questions are asked. continue reading

An officer on duty (‘visitor’, I think they call him) was responsible for hearing my complaint and handling the response. The officer dialed the phone and asked for Lieutenant Colonel Kenia, and explained that I was standing in front of him asking about the reasons for the “regulation.” On the other end of the phone, the person asked for my name and surnames, and after a pause the response was disconcerting: Section 21 is not responsible for my ban on leaving the country.

I, who have an idea – an old idea but an idea at least* – of how counterintelligence works, know that if you do not have a traffic ticket or a charge against you for stepping on the grass, and if you do not work for any state agency, but you do engage in independent and critical journalism, the cabals mark 21.

But the visiting officer, very convinced that my meager record of opposition did not qualify me for the league of 21, suggested that I visit the offices of Attention to the Citizenry for Immigration where – and these were his words and not my interpretation – they would tell me who had “regulated” me and why.

After a few stumbling blocks with the leadership of the place, I arrived at 20th Street near the corner with 7th, in Miramar. I did not omit any details speaking to the official who received me and I was direct: I went to Mexico on June 26, invited to a political meeting and I was not allowed to travel.

At the time I did not inquire about the measure, because it seemed to me part of a strategy to abort or disrupt the meeting since, like me, a large group of would-be attendees was left on land by decision of the authorities. But this July 31, I was not going to a political meeting, I was going to the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Governance Forum, an event sponsored by the United Nations. As I do not belong to any party and I am the leader only of my own opinions, I wanted to know by whose orders and why I remained “regulated.”

The official, a captain, clarified for me first thing was the mistake of the Villa Marista officials; they could not give me information about who decided this part of my life and why, but she would consult on my case with her superior, a lieutenant colonel and head of the Department of Attention to Citizenship.

I spent the wait of 40 or 50 minutes reading. Then the captain wrote down my version and put my phone number at the bottom of the page. She then informed me that the bosses had made the decision to “deregulate” me starting on Wednesday.

“That is, I can get on a plane at one in the morning on Tuesday/Wednesday?”

The captain said yes, and, cheerful, added that, just in case, she would suggest doing it after eight o’clock in the morning.

I thanked her for the attention and I walked out under a tremendous downpour. Just 20 minutes after leaving the Immigration office, the phone rang. It was the cheerful captain with a counter-order: “No, you can not travel until further notice and you will be notified.”

This is when one wonders what is the idea of ​​the political police and the guidelines they receive, because my participation in the event is not newsworthy, but my absence is.

Why is the government so sensitive when it is accused of violating human rights? What Rule of Law do they presume if they do not respect their own body of law shaped during this long authoritarianism? What are they afraid of, it the propaganda always insists that they enjoy the unrestricted and combative support of our working people?

But what am I doing asking rhetorical questions?

*Translator’s note: Regina Coyula, in an earlier stage of her life, worked within Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior

Cubans on the Island Don’t Like Maduro / Iván García

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. Source: Washington Post

Ivan Garcia, 2 August 2017 — Not even the threat of rain accompanied by a slight coastal breeze dampens the terrible heat that of this summer in Havana. People on the street are in a bad mood.

The sun burns, public services are inefficient as always, and empty dinner plates mobilize thousands of capital residents to rummage around for provisions in farm markets plagues with shortages, or hard-currency stores that allow a hot meal.

In Cuba, one lives day to day. The leftovers from last night’s dinner serve as the morning’s breakfast. The number one national priority is food. Next, among other things, is escaping the unbearable heat in front of a noisy Chinese fan. continue reading

This is what Mario, a retiree, does, during the afternoon while the grandkids play in the street and in the adjoining apartment a goat bleats before being sacrificed for a Santeria fiesta, as he watches the Telesur channel with indifference, a channel with a shamelessly pro-chavista slant describing the atmosphere in Caracas the day after the elections of the Constituent Assembly.

To the majority of Cubans, the topic of Venezuela sounds like a broken record. It’s like reviving the past of the “marches of the combative people” in front of the former United States Interest Section in Havana — now the American embassy — screaming the demands of Fidel Castro’s latest whim.

To the retired Havanan, Venezuela brings a feeling of deja vu. “It’s the same shit, but with a different collar.  Poor Venezuelans. If this Constituent Assembly thing goes through they’re done for. Wherever Cuban style socialism goes in there’s nothing but a puppet with a head. These systems are impoverished by nature. They just generate pseudo-patriotic discourse, insults to anyone who thinks differently, and societal polarization.”

Mario has a daughter who “serving on a mission in Venezuela. She is in Carabobo and tells me that there are also protests there. She talks with the Venezuelans, although they do not support the opposition, they do not want to know anything about Maduro either. The man is a thug. With those Mao style shirts he puts on and his speeches wanting to imitate Chavez. This is going to blow up in his face. They don’t even want Maduro in the place. The bad thing for us is that when Venezuela is fucked the oil they give us will be hanging by a thread.”

To be sure, people consulted for Diario Las Americas, including four Cubans who worked as aid workers in Venezuela, do not know how the Constituent Assembly can rescue the South American nation from the economic, political and social crisis that the nation is experiencing.

“I do not this Constituent Assembly. What is that thing?” asks astonished Miladys, who has just returned from Guanabo, east of the capital.

For two and a half years, Asniel was a sports coach in the Venezuelan state of Cojedes. “It’s bad. At night you can not go outside. Poverty is huge. I came back a year ago and I think Venezuela, with its lines, shortages, drugs and violence, is much worse than Cuba. There is tremendous corruption among the rulers. Most Venezuelans are disgusted with Maduro, though many do not trust the opposition either, because most opponents are from the wealthy class.”

A Venezuelan couple living in Vargas state often travel five or six times a year to Cuba to sell “this and that, appliances, smartphones. We are mules. With the chavitos (CUC) we earn, we buy dollars and then we sell them in Venezuela,” says the man and adds:

“The situation in Venezuela is ugly, brother. Many people go hungry, because they only get one meal a day. Many people have lost weight. I was a Chavista, but I would not vote for the pelucones (opponents) either. The country is rotten from top to bottom. Government officials are only interested in making money by stealing and profiting from state assets. Crime is brutal. Whatever you have, they snatch it from you. If Maduro remains in power that can end in a civil war. Those who have money seek to emigrate, the poor will be fighting it out among themselves,” says the Venezuelan couple sitting in a park west of Havana.

Delia, a nurse, has bad memories of Venezuela. “I came back in December of last year. Nothing works there. You see the children of 13 and 14 with pistols and even machine guns. In Venezuela, life is worthless. They kill you for anything, a mobile phone, take your money or just for killing. The Chavistas I met work on favoritism and opportunism. They join state institutions to solve their problems. In the hills there are groups that support the government, but some of these types look like hired assassins. They ride on motorbikes armed to the teeth. They support Maduro in exchange for impunity. Venezuela is a very nice country, but the economic crisis and the stubbornness of Maduro have fucked it up.”

Josué, an old man who sweeps parks, smiles shyly when asked about the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela. “I suppose Maduro set up that whole plan to secure himself in power and rule for a long time, like Fifo (Fidel). Hey, when you hear someone talk about socialism and social justice flee, because they just want to be on the throne their whole life.”

Laura, an engineer, believes that Maduro’s Constituent Assembly is going to bring ’peace’ in a simple way, “dismantling the National Assembly, imprisoning most of the opponents and dismissing the prosecutor Luisa Ortega. He (Maduro) wants to imitate Fidel Castro, who implemented a Soviet-style constitution for ever and ever.”

For many on the island, the parallelism between the social processes of Venezuela and Cuba seems homogeneous. It looks so much like what we’ve experienced it’s frightening.

The Private Sector Accounts For 18% Of The Cuban Economy Despite The Obstacles

The Havana Consulting Group highlights the importance of Cuban exiles in the development of the private sector on the island through their financial support. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 1 August 2017 – The work performed by the self-employed in the island already generates 17.8% of the gross income of the Cuban economy despite difficulties such as high taxes and shortages of raw materials, according to the latest report from The Havana Consulting Group (THCG), which considers this sector as “a necessary and essential force in the development of the country.”

The study by THCG contrasts with the measure announced Tuesday by the government, which, according to a note in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, intends to suspend the granting of several forms of self-employment licenses with the aim of curbing “illegality and disorder.”

The analysis published by the independent consulting firm based in Florida, states that the 535,000 people who work legally in the private sector (plus another 500,000 who do so illegally) on average receive, as a minimum, income ten times higher than what is received in the state sector. continue reading

“This change that is taking shape in Cuban society is irrefutable proof that, if the government were to decide to make a real economic opening and release the country’s productive forces, with a reform like Viet Nam’s or China’s, in two to three years Cuba could take out millions of Cubans out of poverty. In a short time it would be another country,” says THCG.

“This significant difference in earnings has led to the creation of new market segments with different levels of purchasing power, which have consumption patterns different from the rest of the population,” explains the author of the article, Emilio Morales.

Nevertheless, THCG argues that, despite the boom in private activities, “This significant difference in wages has given rise to the creation of new market segments with different levels of purchasing power, who have patterns of consumption different from the rest of the population.”

The report was drafted ahead of the authorities’ decision to limit licensing, affecting nearly thirty occupations such as home rentals and paladares (private restaurants) and cafés. The decrease in the issuance of these licenses may result in still greater increase of the state sector in the economy of the island.

“In the period 2010-2016 there has been a boom in the Cuban private sector. Entrepreneurs have developed very successful and profitable business models,” the study says.

According to THCG, the state agency GAESA, which belongs to the Armed Forces, controls strategic sectors such as 85% of the retail market, 40% of the hotel sector within the Cuban tourist industry, and 27% of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba, among others. However, the independent consultant’s analysis points out that “its business structure only represents 21% of the gross income of the Cuban economy, not 60%, as the media and news agencies have pointed out in recent weeks.”

The report also stresses the importance of Cuban exiles in the development of the private sector on the island through their financial support, “which has managed to create a market of goods and services that is estimated at between 2.5 and 3.8 billion dollars.”

“The fact that Cuban entrepreneurs already control 18% of the gross income of the economy with all the limitations they have is a good sign that the mutation has begun to take shape,” THCG said.

The Betrayal Of The Minstrel

Silvio Rodríguez lost the ‘blue unicorn’ of his creativity many years ago. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 July 2017 — Songwriters are often confused with prophets or leaders. The output of numerous troubadours has ended up molding consciences, erecting political slogans and becoming unquestionable mantras. Every social movement needs its musical soundtrack and in Latin America these loners of the guitar have sonorously accompanied more than one.

Chroniclers equipped with melodies most commonly take these songs literally, confusing the characters of their stanzas with the flesh and blood being who ascends the stage. Under the lights, in the intimate atmosphere of a theater, they intone those phrases that are later later subverted for thousands of spectators into slogans and postures. continue reading

After the hard years in which a ballad could cost them their lives or prison, Latin American troubadours who shaped the protest songs now exist in a stage of permissive tranquility. The fiercest battle is waged against reggaeton, not against censorship. Their greatest fear lies not in swelling the blacklists, but in the audience moving the dial to look for some other, “more moving,” music.

They are no longer the focus of the reviews and the critics, and find themselves in the boring corner of the consecrated who no longer fill stadiums nor provoke sighs. They live on past glories and rarely does one of their songs make it to the top of the lists, although on TV they are still presented as “unsurpassable” or “indisputable.”

Among these shaggy ones of the easy verse, the most roguish have ceded their guitar to some power they criticized years ago, to vegetate in the shadow of festivals, tributes and interviews. The few darts they still throw in their lyrics mix the most recurring commonplaces of progressive discourse, while their clothing maintains every trace of a disguise of calculated sloppiness.

The best-known names of a few decades ago, today they caress the discs with which they assembled crowds and made their consciences throb. In the absence of those emotions, they are now engaged – without score and with weakened voice – in their professorships of how to behave civically or how to incite a rebellion that they themselves dismissed as unprofitable.

Some of those musical themes they composed, when they breathed the air of making love not war, have been hijacked by militants and extremists who sing them – neck veins bursting – in front of their political opponents. From libertarian musical expressions they became the gags to silence differences, mere hymns of blind battle.

The times of rhyming and believing each verse have given way to cynicism. Many of the minstrels who put rhymes to nonconformity moved away from the public scene; others parked their uncomfortable songs in search of greater income, while the majority, having lost the muse, have become defenders of whatever cause can hide their creative drought.

Nostalgic for a time when crowds gathered, more than one has chosen to sing to the powerful and dedicate his refrains to certain unpresentable populists. They compose to order, exalting in their refrains faded revolutions transmuted in dictatorships, and so they earn a space on the official platforms where the promises abound and the sincerity is lacking.

These are not the times when Victor Jara took his art to the ultimate consequences. “I do not sing for singing / nor for having a good voice, / I sing because the guitar / has meaning and reason,” said the Chilean who died at the age of 40 with dozens of bullets embedded in his body. Now there are plenty of artists who take care with every word to avoid moving beyond the scheme of the politically correct. Composers of polished rhymes and well-combed hair who walk through government palaces and whose honoris causa is welcomed.

They are a part of that plethora of intellectuals and artists who appear in the family photo, pointing out anyone who confronts them as the cause of all problems. Bitter anti-imperialists, false ecologists and distrustful of wealth – as long as that phobia does not affect their own pockets – they star in cantatas against distant powers and governments under which they do not live.

About four years ago, the Spanish singer-songwriter Luis Eduardo Aute said that he identified with President Rafael Correa’s Citizen Revolution. The statement was made at a time when the Ecuadorian ruler was engaged in a tough fight against the media in his country and put strict limits on freedom of the press. The irreverent poses always involve a lot of myopia, of not seeing beyond the fabricated irreverence. Under the influence of his own refrains, Aute believed in the character of his songs and that: “They say that everything is tied / And well tied to the markets,” when in reality he forgot that other powers also like to control every detail, especially words.

In Cuba lives an extreme case. Silvio Rodríguez lost the ‘blue unicorn’ of his creativity many years ago. As his subjects were filled with visible seams and boredom, his public outlook became closer to the official discourse. He stopped writing unforgettable songs to engage in diatribes against “the enemies of the Revolution.”

Recently, the singer added his signature to the manifesto Let the Catalans Vote, asking the Spanish Government to allow a referendum on independence in Catalonia. Rodríguez’s name is accompanied by other figures such as artist Yoko Ono, African-American philosopher Angela Davis and Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú.

Rodriguez, author of Ojalá, initialed the statement that “a large majority of Catalans have repeatedly expressed in various ways the desire to exercise the democratic right to vote on their political future.” He considers that “preventing the Catalans from voting” contradicts democratic principles, precisely those that Cubans have been unable to enjoy for decades in their own land.

There is nothing left in this Rodriguez of the rebellion that characterized his first tunes. In 2003, he signed the Message From Havana To Friends Who Are Far Away, in which a group of intellectuals offered justifications for the imprisonment of 75 dissidents on the island. The document also supported the decision of Fidel Castro’s government to shoot three men who hijacked a passenger ship to try to escape to the United States.

With a comfortable life, a recording studio authorized by the Government and with a full table, the minstrel went astray in bows and silences. His music, which once accompanied the disobedience of so many citizens in this part of the world, is now a part of the official lyrics, of the symphony of power.


Editorial Note: This text has been previously published by the Spanish newspaper  El País  in its edition of Sunday 30 of July.

Censorship / Regina Coyula

The filmmaker Miguel Coyula shooting. (Personal file MC)

Jorge Enrique Lage interviews Miguel Coyula (extracts) 6

[Miguel speaking]… I am against censorship, as we’ve seen what happened with that film in the Havana Film Festival in New York; it spreads beyond the geographical limits of the island for extra-artistic interests. I mean, politics touches everything.

The worsening of the position goes back to the censorship of the film El Rey se Muere (translated into English both as “Exit the King” and “The King is Dying”) in 2015. Many people defended Juan Carlos Cremata’s work, saying they did not believe that the censors would interpret the king as being Fidel. That is, they used the language of the government to try to address the problem, when it was clear that the reference point was him. What they should have said was “Yes, it’s Fidel. And what of it?” continue reading

To the extent that artists draw up their mental blueprint to go “as far as they can” there will never be a truly independent art form. It ends up affecting not just the content, but also the form.

Liberty has to be absolute, in order to be able to take risks, and to take off. Nothing can be sacred. At least, that’s how I see art. I’ve never been interested in being part of the political game, of religion, of the consumer society, or of drugs. It seems like a nothing, but a film-maker, interested in social or political issues, who cannot have one of his characters say “when are Fidel and Raul going to die?”, which is a such a common thing to say in Cuban homes, along with much more agressive variants on the theme, is symptomatic of a dysfunctional whole.

The artist documents his time, but, looking at Cuban films made in the island over the last seventy years, you’d think that no Cuban had ever asked that sort of question. Recently I was told, by way of advice: “You can fiddle with the chain, but not with the monkey, otherwise you are out of the game”. To which I replied: “Who said I see it as a game?”

It is essential that film producers are ready to completely defend their work,  because a half-assed attitude only gets you a slow-motion impact, which is inevitably reflected in subsequent works. You can’t give an inch.

But, returning to your question, the most recent case of censorship had to do with Nadie (Nobody), April 15th just gone, when the State Security and the PNR (National Revolutionary Police) blockaded the entrance to the El Circulo Gallery where they were going to show it. This censorship is not an institutional arrangement but a blatant governmental act, a complete invasion of a private space by way of a show of police force.

Many people outside Cuba ask me how can it be possible that no Cuban intellectual living in the island made any public protest about what happened. The film had its international premiere in the Dominican Global Film Festival, where it was awarded the Best Documentary prize, but it has been ignored by the island critics.

We don’t know if it’s good, or bad, or they were left feeling indifferent to it, or if, simply, they were afraid of writing about it, as it’s difficult to make a critical appraisal of Nadie without mentioning Fidel Castro. And, to this day, that’s the line almost no-one has dared to cross.The rock group Porno para Ricardo is one of the few who have dared to confront it, and, well, the price they have paid is that they are not allowed to play in Cuba.

Translated by GH

Machado Ventura Denies Cuba’s Mediation In The Venezuelan Conflict

Machado Ventura and Raul Castro greet each other in Cuba on the 26th of July Celebration. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 26 July 2017 – There were few surprise in Jose Ramon Machado Ventura’s speech this Wednesday during the ceremony for National Rebellion day in Pinar del Rio. The Cuban Communist Party number two reiterated that “the direction of the Revolution is laid out,” and denied that Cuba was participating in the solution to the Venezuelan conflict, as suggested by the British newspaper the Financial Times.

The national celebration of the 64th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Barracks in Bayamo, was the last that Raúl Castro would attend in his capacity as president of the country before his retirement on 24 February of next year, and also the first after the death of Fidel Castro in November. continue reading

The ceremony took place in “a provisional place of the Revolution,” according to local media, in the absence of a permanent space for official ceremonies. Controls on the roads have increased since the weekend and during the day of the event vehicles were not allowed to circulate near the ceremony site.

Machado Ventura, as the main speaker of the event, called for respect for Venezuela’s autonomy and attacked Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose performance he described as “disgusting” and “at the service of imperialism.”

The Cuban vice president strongly criticized Almagro’s appearance before the subcommittee for Latin America of the United States Senate last week, when the OAS Secretary General denounced the “collapse of democracy” in Venezuela.

“In recent weeks, the interventionist and destabilizing actions against the Bolivarian and Chavez government led by constitutional president Nicolás Maduro Moros have increased,” Machado Ventura said Wednesday. He criticized the recent threat of sanctions on Venezuela announced by Donald Trump’s administration.

“A few days ago an influential American (sic) newspaper was discussing the alleged involvement of our country in an eventual international mediation related to the situation in Venezuela,” he said. “Cuba flatly rejects such insinuations and claims absolute respect for [Venezuela’s] sovereignty and self-determination,” he added.

Last week the British newspaper said that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had traveled to Cuba to convince Havana to mediate in the “growing” Venezuelan crisis, which left more than 90 dead after three months of protests.

Those who attempt, from the outside, to give lessons in democracy and human rights while encouraging the violence of coups and terrorism must take their hands off that nation

“Those who attempt, from the outside, to give lessons in democracy and human rights while encouraging the violence of coups and terrorism must take their hands off that nation,” Machado Ventura said pointedly to the island’s senior government officials, local officials and a small number of foreign guests.

The rest of the speech was devoted to the historical review of the revolutionary process and to comparing the current situation of Pinar del Rio with that of January 1959. “We have programmatic documents that set the direction and scope of the changes that we will continue to make with the aim of achieving a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” he explained about the future of the country.

The speech shunned the national reality, ignoring issues such as self-employment or cooperatives that have generated concern among citizens after Raul Castro, speaking to the National Assembly of People’s Power, warned of deviations and irregularities detected in the non-state sector.

Maduro Takes Venezuela One Step Closer To ‘Cubanization’

President Maduro learned from the Cuban regime that he can justify the lack of freedoms with supposed external threats. (EFE / Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 31 July 2017 –This Sunday Nicolás Maduro buried what was left of Venezuelan democracy. He did so in spite of international criticism, national protests that for more than a hundred days have demonstrated disapproval of the Constituent Assembly, and the difficult economic situation that the country is going through. The new organ of power that is born of this vote copies the Cuban model and closes off any peaceful path to a change in the system.

Havana rushed on Monday to announce the official victory in Venezuela. The headlines appearing in the newspaper Granma, an organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, have all the traces of news previously dictated by a Plaza of the Revolution that has neatly packaged Sunday’s election. Not even the reality of poor turnout and the rejection of several Latin American governments has managed to reverse that script. continue reading

Venezuela has begun to walk a path with no turning back. It awaits the dismantling of the few independent structures that could confront the craving for control from Miraflores Palace. From now on, the battle against all vestiges of citizenship will be protected in a supposed entity of “popular power” tailored to the interests of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and a pitiful copy of the Cuban National Assembly.

In his first statements after the vote, Maduro has already signaled what is coming and made threats against Parliament, the Prosecutor’s Office, opposition leaders and the press. This diatribe will intensify in the coming days and, as the president warned, could end up leading those most critical of these events to “a prison cell, under the command of necessary justice.”

As Fidel Castro once disarmed Cuban civil society, pushed thousands of people into exile and imprisoned or shot his antagonists, chavismo is now preparing to ruin Venezuela for political diversity and civic participation. In order to achieve this, Maduro turns to the carrot and the stick, just as it has been done for almost six decades in this Island.

An army of public workers forced to do what the ruling party dictates, thousands of families dependent on subsidized food products, and a rhetoric of hate to frighten his detractors are some of the weapons that Maduro uses to control a Venezuela assaulted by crisis and political absurdity.

Ranged against the totalitarian longings of Hugo Chavez’s heir is a part of the population that tries to recover in the streets what has been taken away in the institutions, but it can not sustain the battle for long against the military and trained police forces. There is also the international community, accustomed to expressing itself in memorandums and declarations with little practical effect.

Maduro knows that time and diplomacy can appease international agencies and foreign governments. He has learned to lobby the United Nations and to buy the blessing of influential figures who bray for the respect of Venezuelan sovereignty. He understands that a dictatorship can be enthroned and can justify a lack of freedoms with supposed external threats, as he has been taught by the Cuban regime.

This Sunday’s fraud barely leaves two possible paths: the capitulation of civil society and the consummation of totalitarianism or the terrible path of social conflict. Whatever happens, the country will be faced, for decades, with the ghost awakened by this Constituent Assembly.

Real Power / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Cuban troops parading in Havana

Cuba Primera Digital, Eduardo Martinez, Rodriguez, El Cerro, Havana, 25 July 2017 –The Cuban people wish for, desire and silently demand changes that can lift us out of this sticky inertia wherein poverty resembles some plasticine or treacly substance that endlessly congeals in our hands.

The demand is silent because we lack access to communication media, although many of us would shout out certain truths.

We average citizens who make up 90 percent of the population—manual laborers and knowledge workers; service employees of all stripes; technicians, including engineers and architects working on projects related to their specialties; and more—we have no voice nor vote, we do not truly boast ownership of the means of production, nor of technical and technological resources. All we have to give is our labor force, our effort and sacrifice. Period. In general, we are treated as one more machine, dispensable and interchangeable, which when no longer serviceable, is traded for a functioning model, or else discarded, kicked aside. continue reading

The remainder of the population also tries to implement the needed changes of which Fidel spoke, and which Raúl knows are vitally important to saving the system.

Once upon a time, Raúl Castro said, “We cannot continue wobbling on the edge of the abyss. Either we change, or we perish.”

The octogenarian generation led by the obstinate Fidel Castro also includes delayed septuagenarians, but all of these together do not comprise even one percent of the total population of our country. They are the superstructure, the historic leaders–figureheads who appear to be running things, but in reality not so.

Between this layer of elders and rulers who are rapidly disappearing and the immense working class below lies another stratum of rich potentates who retain the true power in this nation, although for the moment they are keeping a low profile.

Beneath the veterans who can barely stand up anymore there operates, imperceptibly, a relatively large group of persons, ranging from the level of ministers to those functionaries charged with implementing their orders and directives, and including the military chiefs who command the armed services and the repressive structures of the Ministry of the Interior. These people are the ruling class that actually generates the high-level decisions, holds the reins of power, and runs the country behind the scenes.

One feels a little sorry for the ancient overlords with their greatly diminished capacities and ability to really call the shots. They should stay home and be enjoying a good rest, away from public life; instead, they remain apparently in control, when in fact they are no more than a sad semblance of power.

True power is in the hands of the much younger generals who direct regiments and battalions of armed and well-trained soldiers; the generals of the Ministry of the Interior who manage State Security, the police, and other agents of confrontation that are behind the always-possible and ever-imminent popular uprisings that can flare up at any given time; the generals and colonels who lead the corporations and enterprises in which great investments are made of national and international capital in the productive spheres and foreign tourism; the managers of joint ventures that raise high levels of hard currency; the corporate personnel of the Banco Metropolitano, which finances the army and dominates almost all monetary and financial activity; the ministers and directors of departments in all domains of national life, who determine and issue their own regulations parallel to the elastic and vaguely-defined laws published in the Gaceta de Cuba [Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba], for which our inefficient National Assembly scarcely convenes a couple of times a year.

These highly privileged señores retain real power when it comes to deciding what can and cannot be done, who can approve what, and which changes to allow or not. They decide who will leave the country or be incarcerated, where shopping can be done and by whom, who escapes and who will be taught a lesson. This is a dark intermediate layer, highly corrupt and merciless, which could not care less about the common people below or the old geezers above.

These señores do not want—they will fight tooth and nail to prevent—change of any kind. Any. The feeble government of the octogenarians is no match for them, and the lower classes do not know what to do, or do not seem to know.

Were this to change, the señores who comprise this intermediate layer—a wall of contention immovable in the face of change—would have to give up their good state-owned vehicles; they would not be able to maintain their various private luxury cars; they would lose their special stipends for food and fuel; they would have to vacate their elegant and well-maintained residences in exclusive neighborhoods (generally built during the 1950s with the money of the millionaires back then) where new construction is not permitted, such as Siboney, Cubanacán, Atabey, Nuevo Vedado, Aldabó, etc. They would not be able to constantly travel abroad to make the expensive purchases on behalf of the State so that it can support the 11-million parasites that they say we have become. They would not be able to enjoy the many sweet, efficient and beautiful secretaries at their disposal everywhere. They would not be able carry out that vastly lucrative internal influence peddling that keeps the nation’s wheels turning, and which so much resembles embezzlement.

Were all this to change, these señores would have virtually nowhere to go, and they are well-accustomed by now to living well.

These señores are the ones who keep this country in a permanent state of bankruptcy, spending and squandering the little cash we generate, while they fatten their own bank accounts, hidden throughout the planet, on the backs of the people.

These same señores, on the day they come to realize that on the other side of change the universe looks more lucrative, will not hesitate to execute a coup d’état, will not hesitate to neutralize the octogenarian overlords, will not hesitate to order the troops to the streets to massacre the opposition. And it will be worse than in other places: in Cuba we are all soldiers.

They will become the nouveau riche, as has already happened in so many other nations that went through this process in Eastern Europe.

If you doubt it, take a look at how many ministers and other functionaries have fallen into disgrace in recent years, when the octogenarians tried to apply a few honest touches with what little authority and prestige they have left—as happened to the corrupt General Acevedo, or the previous Education Minister, who traveled abroad on the public dime more than 70 times in barely two years. This could be a long list…

Within that dark layer, subtly and silently, lies the real power. They are the ones who could trigger a sudden upset to our society, were they to consider it prudent or beneficial to do so, for they hold the means and resources in their hands, under their direct control. They have a lot of money and have become used to wielding unlimited power, good students as they are of the aged rulers who are on their way out. This bad seed will become our new opulent capitalists, cruel and merciless. For now, they are the ones who will set the status quo, the clamor for change from average citizens notwithstanding.; Eduardo Maro

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison