Coins and Birthday Wishes for Havana / Iván García

After going through a black iron gate, hundreds of Habaneros, tourists and religious, calmly wait to take three turns around an ancient ceiba, throw a handful of coins at its roots and quietly ask for their desires or make promises.

It is the ritual with which every November 16 marks the anniversary of Havana. This city, humid, hot and noisy and is 491-years-old. With its cracked streets and drinking water lost to the sea due to the deplorable state of the pipes. With a terrible infrastructure and urban transport that is a calamity.

Despite all these disasters, the Cuban capital has a ceiba tree located in The Temple, its true icon. Every good Habanero, once in their life, has visited it. Just outside the old Palace of the Captains General, next to the Castillo de la Fuerza and the Santa Isabel hostel.

Very near the Cathedral and the Bodeguita del Medio with its scrumptious black beans, these days the Havana ceiba welcomes thousands of people who yearn for a better luck for their city. And almost in a prayer they supplicate their God, Catholic and Yoruba, to bring improvements to their lives.

People do not go to the ceiba of the Temple people because the State called them to do it, nor do they listen, there, to inflammatory speeches. No. People go from genuine and natural impulses. Here, for a few minutes, they cast aside the mask of mendacity and hypocrisy. They forget the party slogans and clichés. While they make their three orbits, they park their enmity and hatred.

All cities have their hymns, songs and shrines. In this old part of this mixed Havana of Joseíto Fernandez and his famous Guantanamera, of the masterful Ignacio Jacinto Villa — nicknamed “Snowball” — and of politicians and humanists such as José Martí, there is a historical ceiba waiting for their wishes and coins.

November 21, 2010

Corruption Made in Cuba / Ernesto Morales Licea

The news, in keeping with tradition, was common knowledge long before the establishment gave the order to publish it. On November 6, when it was already an open secret, the Gramna province newspaper La Demajagua published an “Official Note” that seemed like it didn’t want to be read, hidden away as it was on a page otherwise devoted to praising the production of rice, and honoring state agencies.

What did this handicapped little note say, with nothing to call attention to it on the second page of the paper? Merely something as inconsequential as that the governor of Granma province, President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power, had been “liberated from his duties for grave errors in the performance of his duties and in his personal life.” His name: Jesús Infante López, logically super-well-known in these precincts for having held the post for a considerable number of years.

As the note more than said by remaining silent, the vox populi again did the work for which the journalists are paid, filtering out the half-truths, truths sprinkled with fictions, and confirmed facts according to the upper echelons.

Jesús Infante, former governor of Granma province

Apparently the mayor of my city had earmarked some money to build vacation homes in the Cuban capital, and in his personal life a son linked to the consumption (or perhaps trafficking in, it’s not clear) of drugs in Havana clouded his judgment.

I cannot confirm the accuracy or completeness of this information: when the secrecy of power relegates the citizens to a plane of almost complete disinformation, and where there is no transparency in the relationships between the directors and the directed, the exercise of journalism is converted, at times, into mere speculation.

What is known is that no official media has denied this popular version, and we all know what silence implies.

I do not think, however, that what just happened with Jesús Infante in Granma comes as any surprise to anyone at this point. On second thought, I wouldn’t have given it more than a half-hidden corner in the daily La Demajagua either.

Because while the demotion (a more correct term, legally speaking, than the ridiculous “liberated”) of political and government officials is not something all that usual in this country, common knowledge of administrative abuses, and the galloping corruption within the circles of power, strengthens our collective consciousness every day, so this was no cause for surprise.

And if the public demotion of high officials has not been a frequent event — although this has changed drastically in recent times — this is due to a power structure where the citizens have no access to those who act in their names, and where neither the press nor independent organizations can assess what these politicians do when they step away from their pose of revolutionary honesty and enter the privacy of their own homes.

Rogelio Acevedo, former head of Civil Aviation in Cuba

This recent local case swells the list of the previously unmasked corrupt, whose excesses were never made clear to the people: the head of Civil Aeronautics, Rogelio Acevedo, sponsor of commercial flights that filled his pockets with hard currency; Carlitos Valenciaga, ex-patron of a female harem located at the former Lourdes base, where, among porn videos and revolutionary campaigns, computer science was also studied; and a long list of cases usually swept under the rug, which includes a large number of small-time Party leaders and provincial authorities.

Without going too far, in the city where I live we were recently taken by surprise by the proliferation of brand new cement and glass, when the senior military leaders decided to construct their modest dwellings in privileged areas.

Without mincing any words: they are true mansions, masked with external austerity and possessing, inside, the human and the divine, lacking not even solar panels for hot water, garden areas and spacious garages. Understand: this is the life style of those who demand frugality and sacrifice from their poorly-fed workers, in a country where before we talk about hot water we need to understand that, for many, running water is a luxury.

All these cases, from those sparking the most media interest like that of “Lage-Perez Roque,” to the most timid, like that of my neighbor Infante, confirm an absolute truth: the corruption that exists in the leadership of this country is of incalculable proportions. This time the adjective “incalculable” is not just a figure of speech: it is accurate. The guarantees to access the accounts of financial dealings of those who govern us are invalid, impossible, Utopian, and only occur when another, more powerful, higher level becomes annoyed by the bonanza of a subaltern and decides to put an end to his golden ride.

Against this background, my question is not who will be the next to be cast into the furnace, but rather: how many of the ones who demand dignity and cleanliness as a standard of this process, who punish and demand strict compliance, how many of the leaders we see launching tirades against the private businessman or the neighborhood thief who lives off ill-gotten gains, how many of them will take their secrets of embezzlement and waste to the grave?

How many of those whom we now see on banners, and whose words are quotes on billboards to illuminate us with their privileged lights, will be laughing at us from the next world for having been able to live at our expense without our ever making them pay for it?

My concern arises from a simple analysis, very simple: casting a glance at the ages of those thrown in the fire we can see for ourselves that it never approaches the gray hairs and the ancestral medals. In every case, it’s the new pines (more or less new) in the art of making Revolution. The historic generation, the true owners of this beautiful land, have never been touched even with the petal of a flower.

The main problem continues to be the sickly meekness that paralyzes the veins of today’s Cubans. I think a single visit to the homes of the leaders in this town would be enough, a single tap on the door of those austere ones who harangue us, for the whole make-believe house to come crashing down.

But are the Cuban politicians the only ones who steal? Who fill their coffers at the expense of the people they fleece? Of course not. Are the Cuban officials the only ones who play favorites, steal, and divert resources that in theory belong to the masses they govern? No again. It is enough to look at the news that a truly free press, and consequently half the world, publishes on their covers.

What is unique to the Cuban class, the native, is on the one hand the hard-nose discourse of a socialist paradise full of selfless leaders, of brave countrymen, and on the other hand the impossibility of the ordinary citizen being able to broker his own slice of the economic pie.

I, who came of age watching the Foreign Minister Robertico Robaina tying himself in knots to confirm that he wasn’t a Yankee; who was taught that as a student I should revere my Minister of Education Luis Ignacio Gomez despite his Hitler mustache that always left a bad taste; I, who one day heard Carlos Lage’s express order prohibiting my countrymen from accessing Yahoo or Hotmail, and who, in my brief passage through institutional journalism was in a couple of meetings with the recently purged Jesús Infante, listening to him talk about revolutionary strength and commitment, I think that with my few years I can dare to say, like the poet León Felipe: I don’t know many things, it’s true, I just say what I have seen. But I have slept with all the stories. And I already know all the stories.

November 21, 2010

Estulin, Castro’s New Ally / Iván García

Fidel Castro is back with the force of a tropical hurricane. Active as in his best days and apocalyptic as ever. He looks good physically.

But his predictions of nuclear holocaust and that we earthlings have been the puppets of a global club of the rich and powerful who run governments at will, makes one wonder.

Either Castro wants to be in the headlines or his mental health is doubtful. His regular presence in the media of the island has become tiresome.

At first, after four years in bed, it was thought that he had reappeared publicly to overshadow the news of the release of 52 peaceful dissidents.

But with the passage of time, it feels like Castro has put himself into the role of the savior of mankind. To confirm his outlandish theories he appeals to analysis, articles and sites like Wikileaks, written by Western journalists and writers.

Castro’s new “strategic ally” is a writer, journalist and researcher, Daniel Estulin (Lithuania, 1966). A good writer with an overflowing imagination, with Estulin science fiction fell short. No wonder they call him the “discoverer of mysteries.”

Both born in the month of August, forty years apart, the commander of the Sierra Maestra and the author of “The True Story of the Bilderberg Club” recently met in Havana. Pleasant chat about conspiracies and threats. And they agreed on the theory that the man should emigrate to other planets if he wants to save and preserve the earth.

According to Castro and Estulin, even the passion for the Beatles is prefabricated. In a world of imperfections, one can not believe that the types who make up the enigmatic Bilderberg Club, design the future design of these are indecipherable characters which are humans.

I would like to believe Estulin. But before I would like to ask him to write about the government of total control mounted the Kremlin in the Soviet era. He should also talk about the abuses of the Red Army in Budapest, Prague and Afghanistan.

And Fidel Castro would have more credibility if he admitted that the first time the world came close to a nuclear conflagration was in October 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The same loquacious old guy who will shake hands with Daniel Estulin in 2010, on October 26, 1962, proposed to Nikita Khrushchev that the Soviets should launch a first strike nuclear attack against the United States.

Thank God, Khrushchev did not pay attention to the bearded young man. Four days later, he replied: “That would not be a hit, but the beginning of global thermonuclear war.” And he recalled that “in the fires of the war Cuba would burn.”

Castro again wrote to Khrushchev: “We knew, and we did not assume you to be ignorant of the fact, that we would have to be exterminated, as implied in your letter, if nuclear war broke out.”

Hopefully after his stay at the island, Daniel Estulin will interest himself in the days when Russians and Cubans put humanity on the brink of a third world war.

If not, it’s all the same. For my mental health I avoid reading catastrophic books. Even if they are best sellers.

September 1, 2010

Destination USA At Any Price / Iván García

The US Coast Guard confirms that one of every three rafters who attempts to cross the shark-infested Florida Straits dies in the attempt.

Official figures don’t exist. But in 50 years, as many as 10,000 Cubans could have disappeared in the turbulent tropical waters. Clandestine emigration is a deadly game of Russian Roulette. There is a 33% chance of being a snack for the dogfish or of perishing in bad weather.

This way, the lack of a future and despair manage to impose themselves. And one night some Cubans decide to throw themselves at the sea in a precarious wooden raft, in pursuit of the American dream. Being a Cuban citizen is an invitation to play with your life. Starting in 1966, the US Government conceded residence to those Cubans who demanded asylum from US soil. But since the migratory agreements of 1994, that changed.

Present US law rewards risk and encourages illegalities. With its “wet foot, dry foot” policy, they turn the daring passage into a more complicated and longer trip. Before ’94, if you were caught by the Coast Guard, you had a right to demand asylum.

Now they’ll return you to Cuba, with the promise of the local authorities that they won’t send you to prison, which has given a new tone to the risky adventure. When Cubans decide to throw themselves at the sea, now they consult experts in seamanship, with the intent of deceiving the Coast Guards of both nations.

Ramón, 34, could have a doctorate in illegal exits. He’s tried it twelve times. And always he has been captured by the Coast Guard off of Florida. In a short time, he returns to try again. It’s his habitual routine. He believes that liberty has its price.

Since 1994, more than 320,000 people have emigrated from Cuba in a legal and orderly manner. But those who don’t meet the requirements to travel to the United States look for other options.

It’s a drama. Illegal exits have turned into a risky business. Humberto left Cuba in 2001. His family, living in New Jersey, had real estate investments and wanted their nephew — an audacious university student — to participate in their enterprise. One of Humberto’s uncles called some guys in Miami. A week later, he met with them and agreed on a reasonable price: 8,000 dollars to bring him safe and sound to American territory.

Visiting in Havana, Humberto tells his story. “They called me one afternoon and told me that I should get in contact with an individual who lived in the Miramar district. After agreeing to terms and the date, in five days they came to get me in a bus, apparently a tourism bus, where around 35 people went.

They left them on an islet at the north of the province of Villa Clara. The trip was quick and without mishaps, in a “cigarette boat” with powerful engines. Today Humberto is a successful man in the United States. He traveled with luck.

The opposite happened to Marisela. Her family in Miami paid 42,000 dollars to take her together with her husband, a brother, and three children under the age of 12. They had a fatal accident on the high seas and one of the children lost his life. They were rescued by the gringo Coast Guard and returned to Havana. Even still, Marisela maintains her wish to go. By any means. And at any price.

In its policy to detain the waves of rafters, the Cuban authorities have used violent and reprehensible methods. On July 13, 1994, military forces assaulted and sank the tugboat 13 de Marzo, which with 72 people aboard was attempting a clandestine exit. The scorecard was tragic: 41 deaths, among them eleven minors.

If the Cuban Adjustment Act is repealed, it could reduce the number of deaths at sea. In the prisons of the island there are more than 100 Cuban-Americans dedicated to the business of illegal exits.

In this autumn of 2010, throwing oneself at the sea continues to be the ace of triumph of desperate Cubans. They pay with whatever they have on hand. They’ll sell their house or their car, if they have one. They will play it all on one card.

Not a few are defrauded by bands of scoundrels who have popped up in Cuba and in Miami. Others go to third countries, such as the Dominican Republic or Ecuador, where sometimes they get bogged down and never make the desired trip with destination USA.

Another way used a lot is through Mexico. The family on the other side of the puddle pays the accounts of the Mexican mafias, who profit from the desperation of human beings. Their relatives run great risks, having to cross the dangerous border.

It’s a reality. Cubans who emigrate are discontent with their lives and the natural shortages of a closed and authoritarian society. In them, the desire to risk their lives is stronger than to continue living without a future. They prefer to fight for their skin before going out into the streets to protest.

Ramón, the frustrated rafter, thinks about trying his luck again. For the thirteenth time. Let’s hope this might not be his unlucky number.

Translated by: JT

November 19, 2010

Juan Juan’s Time Arrived / Iván García


In an interview published on December 14, 2009 in El Mundo/América, Juan Juan Almeida García told me, “I don’t see the time when Raúl Castro will let me leave Cuba.”

Finally, his wish was fulfilled. On Thursday, August 24, he arrived at the Miami airport, where his wife Consuelo and their daughter Indira were waiting for him.

Cubans often leave the island dressed in white, the color of Obatalá, the Catholic Virgin of Merced, considered the patron saint of captives. But Juan Juan — JJ, henceforth — chose to leave in a red shirt, a symbol of Santa Bárbara and Bárbara, the warrior orisha.

It must have been because in order to travel to receive medical care abroad, he fought a true personal war. The son of the nurse Púbila Garcia and Juan Almeida Bosque, one of the historic figures of the revolution, who died in September 2009, J.J. was denied an exit permit from the immigration authorities for seven years.

A lawyer by profession, J.J. is a kind and cheerful. He belonged to the Cuban counterintelligence. And like other descendants of revolutionary leaders, Vladimiro Roca, son of Blas Roca, number one of Creole community, or Canek Sanchez Guevara, Che’s grandson, J.J. looks more and more like his father all the time.

I met him back in 1984, when we both did our military service in the same unit, in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton, near the Ali Bar, the legendary venue where Benny Moré sang in the 50’s.

We had no direct interaction. J.J. belonged then to the world of the ‘Mayimba’ (senior leaders) and I lived very modestly with my grandmother, my sister and my mother, at that time a Cuban television reporter.

Twenty years later, older and with excess pounds, J.J. and I met again. First in the apartment of the blogger Yoani Sánchez, and then during the presentation of a short film by writer and director Eduardo Del Llano.

Later, we ran into each other several times. We talked about his father and the memories he preserves of the countless occasions that he saw the Castros, together or separately. As much as anyone, J.J. believed in Fidel and his revolution.

Not anymore. Long ago he graduated from military life and became a critic who didn’t mince words about the epic to which his father devoted his life.

In 2009, the Spanish publisher Espuela de Plata published his book “Memories of an Unknown Cuban Guerrilla.” On the cover is a photo of him at age 5, dressed in olive green and with a rifle, standing between Raul Castro and a replica of the yacht Granma. But the most Juan of all the Almeidas still has much to tell.

September 3, 2010

A SOLACE OF SANDALWOOD / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

NOVEMBER ESLINDA

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

There is a month in the world when I watch a Cuba film. I watch it in a paleolithic format, on VHS, the only one that preserved the greys from the actual film, without the high contrasts of digital copies. A Cuban film from the ’70s and, as such, a Cuban film fanatically censored in its time. (Even its director denied it in his interviews, but the Cuban Film Insitute (ICAIC) which must publicly ask forgiveness — and not just for this case — if it wants to continue to exist in a forthcoming Cuba that is about to be announced.)

The month is November. The film, of course, is by Humberto Solas, the Cuban director who must be our best filmmaker, the most sensible and subtle, with the least politically propagandistic potential (a defective tic of Titón), until the Syndrome of Historical-Novelistic Blockbuster Productions seduced and shot him. Cuban history and literature are bad company for the cinema, with millions of pesos but in national currency (only of numismatic interest).

I am speaking, almost as on another November day, of the film One Day in November that never premiered in 1972. In fact, despite its occasional posthumous exhibitions, technically A Day in November still hasn’t been released. What’s more, I have no faith that it ever will be released. This black hole protects it from the bureaucracy and the populous.

Lucía, a name we drag out from Lezama Lima (perhaps because of the alliteration of the L), echoes better here than in the three Lucias of some years back, in the prodigious decade of the ’60s. But this beautiful Lucia is much more of a daydreamer, and much less to do with the argument. Eslinda Núñez laughs. She “oozes” womanhood, oozes the scent of a woman. She floats, smokes, fornicates (the sex scene is marvellous despite being prudish and perversely picked at by who knows what National Filmhookers Award).

The lead actor neither acts nor leads. In fact, it was an amateur. A handsome man the intuitive eye of Humberto Solas fell in love with, but later repented through the hallways (love on the Island is forgetful since before the verses of Jose Marti). For me, a perfect fool, precious. Almost a chauffeur moving between the real actors, presenting us with a proletarian Cuba that seem European while he waits for his end. He dies, eats nothing. And the autumn climate is like nothing in Cuba for decades. And the memories stirred up by the underground war. And a childhood of sand. And the sound that picks up more of the noise of the neighborhood than of the narrative’s dialog. And the pines (someone will have to explain the Cuban Revolution’s aversion to pines, which we are all aware of but don’t understand). And again, Eslinda Núñez, Eslinda forever, Eslinda superstar, cold as neon, delineated, lips from a Japanese brush, transparent skin, and a streak of asphalt running through her hair, in a skirt (where the skirt was totally a declaration of eroticism), an Eslinda Never, who I have been waiting for since 1972, sitting on a park bench to offer her the adolescent phosphorus of my heart.

I see the Havana sea and I see the Matanzas see. I was one in November 1972. But I remember everything better than the cretinism that gathers in the buses that are the movie theaters of today. This is a Cuban film of socialist solitude. It wasn’t enough with the enthusiasm to build a better society. The sadness remains. It is as catchy as a slogan. Meanwhile more free, meanwhile more repressed, meanwhile younger and frolicking with Anglo music (still banned, then), worse. Nothing consoles us. Everyone is sad (it is a verse from Virgilio Piñera). And that sadness is lost between one end and another of the propaganda narrative of a Revolution wanting to be a carnival, where “the unnameable feast” of Lezama Lima, is crowned with the following verses from the same stanza: “A drumroll of courtship and reigning newts. The calm sea and bird-free air, sweet horror the birth of the city barely remembered. The grapes and the snail of writing contemplate the parade of prisoners in their sinisterly-limited promenades, painted ephebes in their distant noise, withered angels behind the brief flutes sounding their chains.” (To be born here is an unnameable fiasco?)

November after November (my father liked a Yankee film that I think was called Sweet November), I sit in front of the VHS video and pray that the cassette hasn’t worn out or been overcome by mold, dust or oblivion. I press Play. Almost always after midnight, like now, and let these scenes run of a world lost, but never rotten in my imagination. The same themes, but faded, soft, and yet hyper-real. The music is by Leo Brouwer and the whole universe. The shabby little shirts, the correction as the last glimmer of civility. As of the revolutionaries of that time (because it implicitly assumes that every being on the screen has to be) were shipwrecked, still hoping to find a safe harbor. As if life, paused for a moment by the frenzy of the Revolution, was about to begin for real.

I don’t know. When Eslinda and Esteban cross their bodies, I can’t give any more. When Lucia and Bello join hands after running among the heated rocks of a fjord, Orlando Luis begins to cry delicately. Someone has to do it in the midst of so much viciousness and aridity. Let them mock now, the ever ready chauvinists vigilantes of the web (the guarding of Lagarde and his lameguards). Who screamed (only I heard them) that the mercenaries have no memory and no right to the tissue fine pages of the Ration Book. And who’s fucked, of course. Because my pain is the only patrimony that no one could communalize.

One Day in November deserves a remake. A remake shot in exile, you understand (the original was also shot from the exile of a disconcerting urbanist, modernist Cuba). A movie that doesn’t repeat faces, merely discovers them. Whose characters perhaps don’t have to repeat the parliaments of 1972, but simply look them in the face (another virtue of Humberto Solás) to know that time is running and it is desperate to continue being in the same scene already obscene, anguished that everyone is so simple and yet always goes backwards, and remembers as well those faces we abandoned in a Cuban apartment to go grow old nowhere in particular.

No film critic could understand what it’s about. No profane spectator or erudite audience would agree with me. No wanker in dark room would leave off accosting bodies for this film in black-and-white whose original celluloid is perhaps already fermented (like half the ICAIC archive in the former studios of Cubanacan). This column, then, is private. A secret with the essence of sandalwood that only you know what it knows.

October 29 2010

The Mandarins Come by Boat / Yoani Sánchez

It is a mesh bag, a reddish woven net with five mandarins inside. They’ve been carried here — from Europe — by a reader who discovered where I live thanks to the tracks left in the blog. After I brought him a glass of water, he took the citrus fruits out of his backpack — a little embarrassed — as if he’d come to give me something too common on this island, even more common than the invasive marabou weed, or intolerance. It’s inexplicable, then, why I grabbed the bag and buried my nose in every fruit. Within a few seconds I was shouting for my family to let them know about the orange globes I was already beginning to peel. Sinking my nails into their skin and smelling my fingers, I have a celebration of orange zest on each hand.

A trail of peels covers the table and even the dog is enthusiastic about the scent that is wafting through the whole house. The mandarins have arrived! The almost forgotten scent, the extravagant texture, have returned. My niece celebrates their appearance and I have to explain that once these fruits did not arrive by boat or plane. I avoid confusing her — she’s only eight — with the history of the National Citrus Plan, and the large expanses on the Isle of Youth where oranges and grapefruits were harvested by students from other countries. Nor do I mention the triumphalist statistics thrown out from the dais, or the Tropical Island juices that started out with pulp extracted from our own crops and now are made with imported syrup. But I do tell her that when November and December rolled around, all the children in my elementary school smelled like oranges.

What days those were! When no one had to bring us, from a far off continent, what our own earth could produce.

November 20, 2010

The “Decentralization” of Responsibility / Miriam Celaya

We Believe in You, Revolution

Photo: Orlando Luis
“The first time you deceive me, it will be your fault, the second time, the fault will be mine”
(Arab proverb)

One of the skills we Cubans in the Island have developed in the face of the persistent ability of leaders to “speak without saying,” is figuring out official positions and intentions, not from what is expressed, but, just the opposite, from what is not said. The most recent example of this is reflected in the booklet on the guidelines to be adopted — not “discussed” — during the VI Party Congress of April, 2011, a document that, Cantinflas* antics and euphemisms aside, is still interesting, since it summarizes in just 32 pages the obvious failure of the socialist model imposed for 50 years. Finally, though this may not be what is proposed, it puts things in perspective, at least at the level of the root issue: the country is economically devastated.

Of course, this summary does not include official recognition of the national disappointment, nor does it at all imply the acceptance of any responsibility by the government for the critical economic situation in Cuba today. To recognize such a setback would unequivocally mean the resignation of the President, the Politburo, and of the Central Committee in its entirety, including all its carnival-style puppets (of which there are many); something unthinkable, since this operetta is precisely about trying to retain power even at a cost of (ouch!) introducing some minor changes.

It is easier, then, to pass the hot potato of blame to others who, according to what the Draft Guidelines of the Sixth Congress of the PCC suggests, could mean anyone, such as the Ministries of Economy and Planning, Finance and Prices, Labor and Social Security, or who knows what other scapegoat. Replacing the puppets, in short, that will always be expendable and missed by no one; at the end of the day, all the officials of different ranks here are die-cast, simple ventriloquists, and emerge with the label of “disposable”. If anyone doubts this, you just have to remember Lage, Pérez Roque and Soberón, to name some of the most recently removed from the carnival. And, though the regime has centralized all power for decades and has boasted of control over life and property, it has always shown real expertise in applying the “decentralization” responsibility for failures.

Nobody can understand by what discrete method so many economic and financial blunders could be committed over such a long time, mocking the supposedly efficient government controls. I, for one, do not believe it. There are also no guarantees in place to ensure that countless errors committed over half a century will not be repeated. At the end of the day, though they may change the officials du jour, the rules and the referees of this game will continue to be the same. And, since the crisis is systemic, encompasses all spheres of national life and has –- indeed — irreversible properties, there are no guarantees in place that “now” things will be different for the better. We cannot overcome social crises with assemblies, but this is something that, I am sure, the hacienda owners are aware of, so I suspect some hidden conspiracy behind the apparent good intentions and ill-specified good intentions of the government with a sudden celebration of a meeting that is eight years overdue, of a “political party?” that has pertinently demonstrated its ineptitude to govern. By the way, as I see it, the PCC –- just as it happens with the revolution — does not really exist, unless we are calling a “political party” that immense herd incapable of making decisions, designated to pay a monthly fee and, in addition, applauding the antics and commands of the Gerontocrats-in-Chief.

The Supreme Orate recently told the international press that, if there was an official responsible for the persecution of homosexuals in the decades of the 60’s and 70’s in Cuba, he was the one. But the unusual, almost posthumous revelation, cannot even qualify as repentance, because it was not accompanied by the appropriate apologies for the huge share of the suffering that the openly homophobic policy of “the revolution” caused. More than a mea culpa, his was an open, cynical, and boastful expression that almost amounted to saying: “Yes, it was me; I did it… so what?” That is the essential spirit of the dictatorship that is also revealed now, when it intends to “renew the model” not admitting, prior to that, the failure of an experiment that has cost several generations of Cubans so many tears and misery. Does it make sense to renew that which doesn’t work?

Today, despite the failure of the proposed “reforms,” the geriatric caste knows that a precarious card is being played in their runaway bet for more time in power, and they are asking Cubans for a new vote of blind faith. How many will be willing to bet on them?

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 16, 2010

Mirage / Regina Coyula

Photo: Ana Torricella

In our population of eleven million, in round numbers, five million make up the workforce. And next year one in five workers will have to find another way to make a living because, in many cases, they are sustained not by the salaries, but with the subsidiary advantages of their job. (Share of petrol, construction materials, food, office supplies, use your imagination).

There is no mention of the laid off Cuban workers receiving unemployment benefits, though you can see the job security of some European countries; if our future “available workers” came to hear of it they would wonder what happened to the workers’ and farmers’ state, convinced as they were that this gorgeous paradise was in Cuba.

November 19, 2010

“The Little Rafter” and His Fourteen Attempts / Laritza Diversent

People in his neighborhood call Pedro Luis García El Balserito, the Little Rafter, because of the number of times he has attempted to flee the country – always by sea. He has yet to reach his goal, but he says he’ll never cease his efforts, and that the only way to stop him is to lock him up.

El Balserito can recite from memory Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rapping: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and to choose to reside within the borders of a state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

In Cuba, exiting or entering the national territory is subject to legal requirements. Failure to comply with the law is a crime punishable by fines of 300 pesos to 500 thousand pesos, or a sentence of up to 3 years imprisonment, or up to 8 years if the offender used violence or intimidation against other people or used forged papers.

No one would believe that “rafter”, who is just over five feet tall and under 100 pounds, has made fourteen attempts at illegal departure from the island. Nine of his adventures, which occurred between 1998 and 2004, were frustrated by U.S. authorities.

He was returned in compliance with the existing imigration agreement between Cuba and the United States, in place since 1994, signed after the mass exodus that took place at various coastal sites in August ’94. Pedro Luis was then a 12-year-old adolescent.

Despite its being a crime, he was never punished. The State, in compliance with the bilateral treaty, agreed to suspend the application of legal sanctions against the boat people who were repatriated to the island.

In four of his last attempts, the “rafter” had to return voluntarily, given the poor technical condition of the raft, as these rustic boats are referred to in Cuba. In the latest attempt, less than eight months ago, he was caught red-handed by Cuban border guards, nine miles from the coast.

It unfolded in the same manner as the previous attempts. But this time, when he returned home, there was something different. A month later, the Captain of the Port of Havana reported a decision in which the rafter and every one of his traveling companions had to pay a fine of eight thousand pesos for violating the regulations on possession and handling of boats.

Pedro Luis and the others were guilty of four of the 14 violations that are covered by the Decree-Law 194, “From the infringements on the possession and operation of ships in the national territory,” described as ‘very serious’ by the decree itself.

The fine was for boat-building without authorization, for using illegally obtained means, for operating without being registered in the Port Authority, and for navigating waters without permission.

The decree, issued by the State Council, authorizes the Port Authority to apply the forfeiture and civil penalties, the amount ranging from 500 pesos to 10 thousand pesos, depending on the classification of the violations: minor, serious and very serious. It also punishes recidivism or the commission of several offenses.

Pedro Luis did not expect this. In fact, he didn’t even know there was such a rule. He does not understand why the Port Captain citation made no reference to leaving the country illegally. “Well, if not for one thing, it’s for another, they always keep an ace up their sleeve,” he says.

Anyway, the “rafter” has no income or assets to pay the fines. On the other hand, he is convinced that he should attempt to flee the country. “Better to die trying and much better than ending up in prison for not paying a fine.”

Translated by Karen Chun

November 19, 2010

Property, A Fundamental Problem / Dimas Castellanos

copia-shu6(Published Friday, 12 November 2010 in number 3 of the digital magazine Voices, on the site www.vocescubanas.com/voces)

The Cuban crisis continues to become more profound. The ideological ties, created interests and the totalitarian vocation rise as an obstacle to the transformations that society requires; to it are added the incomprehension of the role of time in social processes, the errant road to encourage an efficient economy and an obvious lack of political will. For all that, the changes that once were feasible to produce in a private sphere are today impossible, since the depth of the crisis and its structural character demand integral reform. The Cuban economy, whose Gordian knot has its roots in the relation of property, constitutes a proof of this necessity.

Different from animal life, human beings, gifted with cognitive capacity and structured communication with his own species, are not starting from zero, rather each generation supports itself on accumulated culture. During thousands of years, the economy — which moved forward together with the human race — was hoarding experiences and conforming with norms that regulated its function. Thanks to culture, today’s man has very little in common with his forebears, while the chimpanzee — the animal with greatest similarity with the humans — lives and does the same things he did hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Long before psychology became a science and would describe the role of interest in human activities, economic relations had demonstrated that this constitutes a powerful source of motivation, without which it is impossible to obtain advances in production in a sustained form. When a political system arbitrarily alters this reality, the stubbornness of economic law leads to results such as that of the structural crisis in which we find ourselves. Ideology is a more recent phenomenon. It arose precisely thanks to advanced development in economic relations, especially those of property. The same interacts with the economy and can serve as much as an accelerator as a brake, depending upon the understanding its subjects have of its laws and functions. It is unjustifiable that well into the 21st Century — in the midst of globalization and the information society — those who govern Cuba cling to an ideology, behave like animal species, repeating what humanity has demonstrated down the length of its existence and has accumulated and organized in databases placed at their disposition.

Private property emerged from the first forms of community life, extended itself with slavery, changed form with feudalism, returned to mutate itself with the capitalist system, and into the few spaces that totalitarian socialism has permitted its subsistence, it has demonstrated to be a highly efficient form of economic development. That which has changed with time and will keep changing is the proportion in which what is produced is distributed — that is to say, referring to social justice, what comes from redistribution but that does not depend only on the globally created product, but also on other factors such as the natural differences in people, their dispositions and aptitudes, of invested capital and technology. The product of work, therefore, cannot correspond integrally to the producer, who doubtlessly is an essential factor but not the only one who intervenes and makes redistribution possible. If private property has been employed for the exploitation of some men by others, the solution is not in abolishing it, rather in perfecting the form of redistribution of the product of work.

The violation of this principle makes the economy unnatural and converts it into a prisoner of ideology, which is the same as condemning it to death, as the dissimilar projects of socialism based on the artificial imposition of State property have evidenced. In the Soviet Union it ended in a round defeat. In China, it led to generalized hunger until they undertook the reforms that have converted it into one of the motors of the world economy. In Vietnam, the planned economy system sunk the country into misery until they started the little Vietnamese Renovation, with which a sustained growth was achieved in production and productivity until they occupied second place in the world in the exportation of rice, by which the United States stopped opposing the concession of credits, suspended the embargo and established diplomatic relations. North Korea doesn’t qualify, since it deals with a feudal-slavery socialism in its final phase. And Cuba has managed to survive thanks to a solidarity-based subsidy coming from ideological alliances.

With regards to real property or the means of production we have to add knowledge. The technological revolution and communication are transforming the industrial society into the informational society. These changes interfere with the totalitarian intent to subordinate the universal right to education and information to ideology. The University cannot be only for the revolutionaries and information cannot be edited to suit the ideological interests of the State.

The Cuban president has recognized that in nine years the cultivable area of the country has been reduced by a third; that without people who feel the need to work to survive … we will never stimulate love of work; that without the conformance of a firm and systematic social rejection of the illegal and diverse manifestations of corruption, they will continue — in no small measure — enriched at the cost of the sweat of the majority; that if we maintain inflated payrolls in almost all national undertakings, and we pay salaries unlinked with results, we can’t hope that prices will stop their constant climb, deteriorating the purchasing power of the people.

Nevertheless, the response has been limited to the promulgation of Decree Law 259 about the delivery in usufruct of land — land which the State was incapable of making productive — to the farmers capable of doing it; the labor reform that will leave more than a million unemployed; and a list — of a rather feudal nature — of approved self-employment activities that are practically limited to generating taxes “on personal income, on sales, public services, and for the utilization of the workforce, besides contributing to Social Security”, with a load of regulations and limits that impede self-employment from playing an important role in production and delivery of services.

On the other hand, nothing is said about the rights of association of those workers who face a scenario without organizations independent of the State to represent them, much less to encourage the founding of small and medium enterprises. To stimulate the growth of this sector, instead of trying to avoid the formation of a national business community, they would have to add a policy characterized by low taxes and bank credits, creation of a wholesale market, implementation of rights of association and free access to information, which implies the implementation of human rights, the basis of the dignity of the person. Only thus can the Cuban be converted into a subject interested in change.

The integral concept of property is the road to sustained and sustainable economic development and for the formation of a national business community. In Cuba, thinkers and politicians of all eras were worried about the widespread promotion of small and medium property. It is enough to cite Bishop Juan Jose Dias de Espada, Jose Antonio Saco, Francisco de Frias, Enrique Jose Varona, Julio Sanguily, and Manuel Horta Duque[1], and of course, among them Jose Marti, who considered rich a nation that has many small proprietors[2]. They and others argued the importance of encouraging a diverse economy of small agricultural producers and the formation of a national middle class.

If the end of whichever social model is the human being, then economic relations — and, inside of those, those of property — constitute a means subordinated to that end. Therefore, in any of its forms, property has a social function that consists in incentivizing economic development for human life. The dilemma is not in the choice of one or another form, rather in the capacity to consider, at a determined time, place, and conditions, which of the forms is most advantageous for development, that which makes the institution of property a fundamental of social order.

We all agree that Cuba needs an efficient economy, but that proposition becomes unviable if the producers are prohibited from being proprietors, from receiving a salary to satisfy the most elemental necessities, from having free access to the Internet and from enjoying such elemental rights as the freedom of association in the defense of their interests. We would convert property and salaries into levers of economic development, and the only guarantee of achieving it is in the implementation of human rights.

The ratification of human rights treaties signed in the year 2008 and the conformance of domestic legislation in harmony with those documents constitute unavoidable premises to get out of this present crisis. In this sense, we have to return to the vision of the 1901 Constitution, which recognized the freedoms of expression — written, spoken, or in any other form — the rights of assembly and association, and the freedom of movement to enter or leave the country. We also need to look at the Constitution of 1940 which, with the consent of the Communists taking part in the congress, added to the freedoms of 1901 the declaration that all acts of prohibition or limitation of the citizens’ participation in the political life of the nation is a crime, and the existence and legitimacy of private property in its highest concept of social function.

But it is enough that the Government, owner of nearly all the means of production, assume the political will necessary to put the citizen in first place, and proceed to untie the Gordian knot of relations with property, together with integral changes, so that the deepening of the present reforms are the rebirth of small and medium enterprises, the diversity of the forms of property, and the formation of a national middle class.

[1] Manuel Horta Duque (1896-1964), professor and jurist who laid out a plan of agrarian reform that he defended in the 1940 Congress.

[2] Marti, Jose. “Complete Works”, Vol 7, Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1991, p 134.

Translated by: JT

November 15 2010