The Chavez Disaster: A Brief Recapitulation / Dimas Castellanos

The amazing results of the Venezuela elections were unexpected. Hugo Chavez’s government has just lost the complete control he held over the National Assembly for a decade, making it impossible, from now on, to pass new laws that require the approval of parliament without consent of the opposition, which limits their pretensions re-election.

The centuries of social injustice, lack of democracy, warlordism, violence and government corruption, exacerbated by the failure of developmental projects and neoliberalism generated in Venezuela a degree of social discontent that manifested itself in several attempts to repeat the experience of the Cuban revolution. Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez, after failing in a coup attempt in 1992, tried to come to power through elections, and in the 1998 elections presented himself with a nationalist message and captured a large segment of the population dissatisfied with the existing inequalities. Upon assuming the presidency in 1999, Chávez announced a “peaceful and democratic revolution” and called for a referendum to amend the Constitution, which, when approved, strengthened presidential power, eliminated the Senate, took power from the unicameral legislature in the Assembly and established national and greater state control of economic activity and the media.

In 2001 Chávez called for the creation of the “Bolivarian Circles,” a copy of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Cuba, and with aggressive language began to blame everything bad on the “external enemy.” To be reelected in 2002 for another six-year term, the President announced a profound transformation of the economic and social structures of the country and requested special powers from the National Assembly to legislate by decree in economic, social and public administration matters, which generated a wave of strikes and clashes with the opposition, which described Chavez’s measures as dictatorial. Violence and civil disobedience led the coup that overthrew Chavez in 2002 followed almost immediately by his return to power. However, the persistence of his intentions to perpetuate his power, led again in the same year, to military and civilian demonstrations against him, including the taking of the Plaza Altamira in Caracas and the general strike, including employees of the PDVSA oil company who demanded the resignation of the President. The response was the laying off of thousands of workers who supported the strike. The climate of violence created continued until 2003, when thanks to the mediation of the OAS, the Carter Center and “friends,” the government and the opposition signed an agreement.

Returning to the non-violent path, the opposition opted to call for a recall referendum, collected the required signatures and the National Electoral Council announced a referendum for August 2004. At that time, Chavez has concentrated his efforts on the most marginalized and those who did not go to the polls in previous elections. The result was 5,553,209 votes (59.06% of those cast), almost two million more than in the elections of 2000, while the opposition gained more votes than previously as well, but their growth was lower than that obtained by the President.

In 2006, Chavez called for a consultative referendum to amend 69 articles of the Constitution in order to increase his powers, however, most said NO to the reform; but winning again in 2008 regional elections, the President took his success and once again urged the National Assembly to out forward another referendum in 2009, this time to reform a single article, which would allow his re-election in 2012, which he won with about 55% of the vote.

The Venezuelan president, submerged in his desire to remain in power, lost sight of the fact that electoral victories are nothing more than a challenge and an opportunity. That is, success is measured not by majority vote but by the structural changes intended to address the accumulated debt of social justice and participatory democracy, as demonstrated by Ignacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, who proposed by social justice to increased production, but did not take the wealth of the owners for redistribution to the dispossessed.

In Venezuela, although oil hit a price that exceeded $144 per barrel, GDP declined, inflation rose, the real value of wages fell, while corruption and violence soared. In the end, Chavez was unable to transform the revolutionary populism into effective action, while the Venezuelans have learned to make use of effectively institutionalized democratic mechanisms. The mixture of demagoguery, militarism, aggressive language and control of political power, and his self designation as the “Bolívar” of today, is a new aspiration to totalitarianism in a region where this style is simply exhausted.

The result is clear: the populist caudillo can not find the solution of the backwardness of Latin America, which explains why the percentage of the population does not share Chavez’s policies has held steady in the ongoing elections at about 40%, preventing the government from reaching the two-thirds of the Assembly needed to pass anything they propose. Government and Opposition were tied with regard to the elected representatives in the Latin American Parliament (five for each side) and in terms of popular vote, the opposition for the first time pulled off a dead heat, which predicts that attempts to re-elect the President will fail.

What happened in Venezuela contains at least seven valuable lessons:

1. Venezuela has been an important demonstration of accepting, at each opportunity, the results of elections, which is a test of maturity, and a guarantee of social peace and future prospects.

2. The division of votes in the recent electoral process, split about half each between Government and Opposition, both legitimizes each to the other and Venezuela and the world, which prevents both parties speaking for all the people of Venezuela.

3. Chavez, in his quest to develop a revolution in the image and likeness of Cuba, and making use of the additional powers granted him, limited, but could not sweep away, the existing civic spaces, mechanism and procedures. It is a lesson: the establishment of a revolution, albeit through the ballot box, has to be constantly revalidated by the polls.

4. The attempt to lead modern nations as a personal cult under the hegemony of one party over others, leads to totalitarian governments that ultimately deny the freedoms in the name of which came they to power.

5. If the loss of control of the National Assembly is not surprising, nor will Chavez’s failure be in the 2012 presidential election. His possible re-election depends on the willingness to transform revolutionary populism into something positive and permanent, something nearly impossible and too late.

6. Venezuelans, for or against Chavez, have learned to make use of democratic mechanisms institutionalized, which is a valuable civics lesson, especially for the Cubans, who have no such mechanisms and institutions.

7. What is happening in Venezuela will have an impact on the new Cuban scenario, characterized by timid reforms inside and search for outside funding sources, which will force the acceleration of the process of change if they don’t want the outcome to be similar to that which caused the demise of socialism in the Soviet block, because the current terms of trade with Venezuela are very fragile, since they are based on a political relationship. At the same time it indicates the way forward for Cuba — the only country in the region without legal opposition and the support of elections — with regards to the public policy debate and the winds blowing in the region.

September 28, 2010

More on Crossed Signals and Other Absurdities / Fernando Dámaso

  1. A few days ago I wrote all about self-employed vendors Tulipan Street, first evicted and then located in a small park at Loma and Tulipan. I wrote that I hoped they would let them stay in that place.
  2. The peace lasted exactly one week. And they were forced to disappear again. It happens that the manager and the players continue with the crossed signals. Or maybe it happens that the team owner, who is directing it, is bypassing the manager.
  3. Today I was surprised not to find plastic bags in the foreign currency stores (in the Panamerica it is common), nor the usual old men and women who resell them at the entrances to the farmers’ markets. The first is becoming routine. The second is due to a police operation against them, making them disappear, despite the fact that they are compensating for the lack of pensions, the miserably retirement which is not enough to survive.
  4. The people selling in the market stalls complained that sales had declined, as buyers, having no bags, could not carry their products. It happened to me: I couldn’t find any bags, so I didn’t buy anything.
  5. We all know that the model does not work. It’s so bad that they are are incapable of producing even simple plastic bags or simple paper cones to carry products sold in stores. We must devote more attention to bread and less to the circus.

October 7, 2010

An Outdated Model / Rebeca Monzo

Although the worn-out model hasn’t worked, not even for the country which recommended it, there are people who believe in the reincarnation of the liberators, and insist on implanting it, despite its failures, one after another, where they are copying it, they don’t react. Sure, there are those who took more than seventy years to realize it, others have taken more than half a century, but it seems that they don’t realize (unless it has slipped their minds), that they no longer know how to reverse such a great disaster.

This morning, listening to the shortwave, my blood froze, listening to the new measures taken, in great haste (before January) by the reincarnated one; when the new deputies are debuted it will be very difficult to act.

I thought, how is it possible, having examples so close, to insist on repeating what doesn’t work. But I was thinking of the ordinary people. These others think only of themselves; to perpetuate themselves in power at all costs. Then I realized that the famous outdated model worked very well for them. It doesn’t matter what industries fail, that negligence extends the length and breadth of the country, that violence reigns in the streets, that the press is muted by censorship. The only thing that matters to the reincarnated one is that his power endures.

October 13, 2010

Media Silence About the Fire in the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital / Katia Sonia

The Hermanos Ameijeiras Surgical Hospital suffered the blow at 10:00 am, October 12, a fire following the explosion of a steam boiler, located in the basement, which blew up for lack of maintenance, without the regrettable loss of, while the media ignored the event.

According to hospital workers they had been having problems preparing of food because of defects in the unmaintained boilers. At 10:00 am there was a thunderous explosion in the basement which started a fire classified by specialists as Q-103 class. The fire stations 1, 5, and 15 from the Havana Fire Department responded along with the Search and Rescue Brigade. An aggravating circumstance was that in that same area there is a storeroom for oxygen and carbon dioxide nitrogen, the latter a highly explosive element.

Several burns were reported along with injuries from getting run over, there was no reported loss of life. On the 1:00 pm news and in prime time at 8:00 pm no mention was made of the events, nor was their coverage in other media.

As part of the rescue nuns of the Congregation of Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul were evacuated, from property owned by the local hospital, where the Havana Children’s Home is now located.

October 16, 2010

The Cuban Government Is Playing Sly On Human Rights Agreements / Laritza Diversent

While both the European Union and the United States condition their relations with the Island’s Government on progress on human rights, the Cuban State remains silent concerning its ratification of the international agreements in this area.

On February 28, 2008, four days after Raul Castro assumed power, the former Chancellor Felipe Perez, signed the International Agreement on Civil and Political Rights and the International Agreement on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in New York.

Was this intention, or was it a simple strategy?

I’ll explain. Since December 1966, these two Agreements have been open for signature and ratification by all of the member states of the United Nations. Havana signed these agreements two years ago, but has yet to ratify them. The International reaction has been positive. The new government gave the impression when it signed the agreements that it was emerging from its isolation and was guaranteed legitimacy. There was even talk of possible changes within the closed Cuban system and of a visit to Cuba by Manfred Nowak, the UN’s special envoy on Torture. But there were neither changes nor was the UN’s special envoy able to travel to visit the Island’s jails.

In spite of announcing (and then failing) to lift the prohibitions, the government managed to end the European Union sanctions and a private dialogue, without results, on human rights. However, to date, the Cuban State not has given its consent to enter into international commitments on human rights.

Who can make this decision?

The Cuban Constitution of 1976 and the Decree-Law 191/99, regulate the internal procedure for the ratification of international treaties. The respective decisions or agreements of the Council of Ministers and of the Council of State must be integrated in the process. The Council of Ministers approves, while the Council of State ratifies. No other country has this process in which the approval of the Government is divided in two acts.

As the procedure is different in Cuba, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to wait for both consents, both that of the Councils of State and Ministers, and then prepare the instrument of deposit or diplomatic note to ratify the UN agreements.

What is the reason for this delay?

According to specialists that I consulted, the two Covenants have not been ratified because the application of these international agreements in the country is seen as a threat to the dynasty of the Castro brothers. And because States that ratify these Agreements, undertake to take appropriate measures to enact the necessary legislation so that the civil, political, social and economic rights of their citizens are respected.

This would mean that the Cuban Government would have to carry out major reforms in its legal system. It should, for example, to repeal Law 88 (the gag law), which prevents the freedom of expression.

It would have to abolish Law #989 enacted on December 1961, that enforces that permission is required to enter or exit the national territory, as well as the definitive abandonment and the confiscation of property of emigrants. It would also be required to abolish Decree 217 that regulates internal migration to Havana, and prohibits residents from other regions from establishing a household in the capital.

The validity of the Agreements would require a reformation of the Constitution, which penalizes the exercise of the rights of those opposed to the existence and purpose of the Socialist state. In addition, it implies a serious change in the political system, particularly as regards the existence of a single party. The Constitution recognizes to the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), as the “top leading force of society and State.” This recognition includes its ideology.

Political pluralism is legally forbidden. The PCC does not support equality with other parties, nor recognize the legitimacy of any different ideology. The law of associations also contemplates the existence of other political organisations. The current rules and peculiarities of Cuba’s legal system contradict the principles supported by the Pact of Civil Rights, which recognizes the freedom of opinion, movement and association.

The delay in these ratifications to the United Nations, is the responsibility of the Cuban Government. The main reason for the delay, as an independent lawyer sums it up: “If the regime ratifies and puts into effect the International Covenants on human rights, it would be shopping for rope for its neck”.

What Roque Pérez — who was subsequently fired — signed in New York in 2008, was only a strategy of distraction by the Cuban Government to win political time.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tony D. Saiz

September 21, 2010

Justo J. Sanchez, Reason #550 / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida: You’re a journalist, curator and art critic. You have written for Sotheby’s and specialized magazines. You’ve been interviewed for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, RAI, CBC, NBC Nightly News. Anyway, like it or not, you have a known profile. Tell me something about you, something no one knows. How do you see yourself?

Justo J. Sanchez: As a chubby subversive with an unflattering profile. (Laughter.) But seriously: as a man of insatiable curiosity, rebellious, provocative, a believer in dialogue. My revolution removed the terra firma armed with the question: Anything else? My inner struggle is inspired by Foucault and Thoreau. A secret wish? To slip, swift and silent (like the angels in Wings of Desire) into Havana. To emerge on Diez de Octubre Avenue at the Church of the Passion, perhaps to visit the chapel of Santo Cristo de Limpias on Corrales street. To give thanks for my absence, to mourn for my deceased mother, mourn the crushing paradox that is Cuba. A man’s encounter with chaos, destruction and the cruel absurdity opens the door to the deepest sadness. I can not imagine otherwise.

JJA: I was reading your blog “Ink and Poison,” clearly you have something abandoned and your readers protest. It’s bold, exciting, irreverent, immodest, descriptive … and enviable. How, in what circumstances and why the idea of the blog?

JJS: From the Greek idea of “The Pharmakon,” dual nature as a poison and cure. My ink would be a “Pharmakon” with an effect therapeutic or lethal. Thanks, JJ, for portraying me as “immodest” because in reality “Ink and Poison” has self-indulgent moments when Gallicisms abound and references are reanalyzed.

How did it come about? As an act of rebellion against the stupidity institutionalized in the Spanish press. El Nuevo Herald, Univision, Telemundo, El Diario / La Prensa based on the assumption that on crossing the Straits of Florida, the Rio Grande or arriving at an airport one loses one’s intelligence. The mission of the “Latinalia” in the U.S. media is to disconnect the reader or viewer from strongholds such as El Clarin, El Tiempo, La Jornada, El Pais, El Mundo from Spain to Latin America that are the pride of the profession. Meanwhile the less they think and the more they entertain — with soap operas and JLo’s buttocks — the more prizes they win.

JJA: I read you had a friend who is a spy. Describe to me briefly this feminine James Bond. Did she try to recruit you one day, get important information out of you or uncover your closely held secrets?

JJS: Let us make two adjustments: it was friend and with regards to James Bond, I would say that Vicky Pelaez and her husband worked like Austin Powers, a spoof on spies. We were coworkers at a New York newspaper. The Peruvian that now cleans the streets of Butovo was no more than a bourgeois agit-prop. With converted rubles and dollars she paid for piano lessons for her son. She lived (courtesy of the SVR — the Russian Intelligence Service) in one of the most dull suburbs of New York. She was paid by the director of a newspaper who published her string of slogans — written during trips paid for by Cuba — like front page news. The writings of the spy Peleaz, like those of the director Gerson Borrero (Borrico? Borrego?) appeared in Granma and Cuba Debate. Thus we can measure their editorial objectivity. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists never investigated the case. I never liked the spy Pelaez. My political ideology made it impossible to join up with this so-called “vermin.” She always made be feel like she was a slogan-repeated jukebox.

This whole little group sounds like Chomsky and Galeano as if they were systematic and rigorous observes through an acute progressive lens. I still communicate with writers, journalists and activists in the “Latino” world. In addition to writing with spelling mistakes, all of them, their so pompous friends included, repeat clichés about as sophisticated as those on a Che T-Shirt and, SO HAPPY! I wonder: do you think there is anyone in the Latin American left or is it all a pose? It’s not like this in the Anglo world where Professor Michael Harrington, professor at Yale, joined a group of union activists who carefully reviewed the political praxis. In London the New Left Review is published. In North America we have Mother Jones and The New Republic, which are reflective journals. Neither in Cuba nor in other Latin American countries am I aware of any serious thinkers of the academic left.

JJA: We met in a corner of Miami. We started to talk, you caught up with me and told me that the Cuban authorities will not allow you entry to your country. What explanation do they give you? Why not hop on a boat or an airplane and show up in Havana? Why accept the violation of a civil right?

JJS: The reaction is very simple and is numbered. Is reason # 550. My emails to Cuba are returned consistently with: “The user is blocked, reason 550.” Maybe we’ll have to look at texts of number theory, some multiple of “i” the imaginary number, some imaginary world like the Borgian “Tlön” where 550 is meaningful. One publisher wanted to send me to Havana for a study of colonial art. Not even through a European government where he resides, could he get me the visa. A feudal lord and his entourage do not have to give reasons for its provisions. It is executed.

Remember that in the operas of Wagner there is the concept of sacrifice. Brunilda immolates herself at the twilight of the gods. Tristan and Isolde have a “Liebestod,” a “love death.” Do you see me immolated in Cuba? For whom do I suffer my “Liebestod”? Can I visualize myself as Siegfried in his day? How to speak of Wagner when there all you hear is Van Van? What boat or plane would take me to Havana? That of Penelope or Odysseus? Who waits for me in the Ithaca?

JJA: Why would a man of your height own such a small car?

JJS: I don’t have the budget for nor do I need a grown-up car. I loved this little car in Berlin and as soon as it went on sale in American my sister bought it for me. I’ve always driven small cars. In Miami, the car, the outrageous ready-to-wear clothes, are measures of stratification of the brain dead. I assure you, friend, I refuse to participate.

Thank you for the interview and for your friendship.

JJS: You have a friend at your disposal. I admire your simplicity, kindness, gentleness and humility in the Christian sense. You are a warrior of peaceful resistance. Don’t change.

October 19, 2010

Discontent Over High Taxes On Private Work / Iván García

In the vicinity of Fraternity Park, near the Capitol in the heart of Havana, private taxi drivers passionately debated new regulations to self-employment.

They’re mad. Carlos, owner of a dilapidated 1949 Ford, flies into a rage. “I have to take it in stride, because it could give me give a heart attack. It is unfair that the government is planning those high taxes. What are they thinking, that those of us who work for ourselves are rich! As always, the ‘Mayimba‘ (leaders) don’t have their feet on the ground,” he says aloud.

Noteworthy is the disgust of those who work on their own. In addition to the very high taxes, there is little legal protection, they have no supplies of raw materials from wholesalers and there are no bank loans.

“The State offers nothing to individuals and intends to collect their earnings as if they were feudal lords. They have moved from socialist paternalism over-exploitation of capitalists,” says René, who fills cigarette lighters in the La Vibora neighborhood.

The government of General Raúl Castro doesn’t have it easy. The economy is taking on water. And the measures to assist people are very unpopular. It is true that they are necessary. Any government that wants to get the country moving would have to apply shock therapy.

Fifty years of apathy, with an inefficient social system par excellence, the situation becomes more serious. Dimas Castellanos, dissident scholar, believes that the measures are necessary, but are poorly implemented.

“There is no reference point; the regime has no opposition with a reasonable alternative proposal. In the absence of political disagreements, the opposition is the government itself. When Fidel Castro abolished all vestiges of private work in 1968, he made a big mistake, now we are paying. He never should have closed the small businesses. When, in 1994, he authorized self-employment, he did so faced with the difficult social situation and not because the government saw fit to welcome private initiative. Now the same thing happens. My opinion is that it won’t work,” he predicts.

Castellanos thinks that if you want the particular sector to flourish, the first rule is to keep taxes low. “I do not see how the government will sell raw materials and supplies to the self-employed. Where will the money come from to provide bank loans. Ideally, they would make radical changes, recognizing that the current model has failed. But it is asking too much. From my perspective it is betting on an outdated version of savage capitalism,” says the opponent.

Not only the dissent sector is pessimistic. The ordinary people will not see much sense in getting a license and having to pay between 25% and 40% of their income in taxes. In the Carlos III shopping center, Herman, retired, is trying to make a living as a parking attendant.

On a good day takes home 30 convertibles pesos. But that is not every day. “I agree with paying taxes. But they should not exceed 10% of the profits. The current taxes are arbitrary and will force people to break the law” he says while reading an article in the Granma newspaper on the subject.

In Havana, many feel distrust toward government. After self-employment was approved in 1994, with the result that many people raised their standard of living, they began implementing a series of regulations and excessive control by state inspectors.

At its peak, 200,000 people were working for themselves. At present, it’s no more than 40,000. Hounded by the taxes that began to rise gradually and various prohibitions, licenses began to be returned.

Now, with the taxes through the roof and some leaders fearing that people will make money, new game rules issued by the government are not appreciated by hardly anyone on the island.

With over one million unemployed workers around a year from now, and with few legal guarantees offered to the exercise of private activities, the solution of the problems will be a personal matter. People will have to continue living through “invention” (theft) and illegalities. As always.

The feeling palpable in the streets of Havana is that the measures are too little too late, and too harsh. It’s like losing a game and in overtime.

Text and photo: Iván García

October 15, 2010

Cuba: Homophobia is Not Eliminated With Laws / Laritza Diversent

Mariela Castro Espin, 48, Director of the National Center for Sex Education and one of the four children president Raul Castro had with the engineer Vilma Espin, is probably better known overseas than in Cuba. Her conferences and interviews usually receive good press coverage in the nations she visits.

When the island launched a campaign for sex education in 1975, Mariela was 13-years-old. It was her mother, president of the Federation of Cuban Women, who made is possible, thanks to the work and dedication of two experts: the Cuban doctor Celestino Álvarez Lajonchere and Monika Krause, a sexologist from the old German Democratic Republic and inspiration for the film The Queen of the Condom.

In her most recent globe-trotting, through Italy, Switzerland and Germany, the woman who is also Fidel Castro’s niece, said that the next challenge will be to include the rights of gays, transvestites, lesbians and transsexuals in The Family Code. “Hopefully the Santeria God Changó is listening. The situation of gays in Cuba is better than in past years, but they are still a long way from being respected and having full rights, like gays in the developed countries of Europe,” remarked a gay Cuban living in Switzerland.

For two years, there has been talk of including homosexuals in the Family Code. It’s true that the Cuban authorized the celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, on May 17, as well as sex change operations. Positive actions, but viewed with suspicion among the public, where there are still many prejudices.

Some think homosexuality s a smokescreen. Pure show. And the historic leadership, above all the related General Raul Castro, could be trying to turn his daughter into a presidential figure. It is no secret that she has to opportunity to propose legislative because she is “Papa’s daughter.”

The center that Mariela Castro directs is not a social organization of the masses, like the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Nor is it a legal entity recognized by the Constitution to propose laws to the National Assembly of People’s Power, the Cuban parliament.

We can deduce, then, that she would use family relationships to achieve her goals. A possibility not open to any opposition group such as the Christian Liberation Movement, of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who presented the Varela Project in 2002 and was rejected.

Without the intervention of Raul Castro’s daughter would the high levels of power interest themselves in addressing the rights of homosexual Cuban? The gay, lesbian and transvestite Cubans, for that matter, are not organized into state-recognized associations. The possibility that they can be represented in parliament and participate in the political life of the nation is remote.

Other people see the Castro descendant as a public relations official. With a more agreeable presence than other members of the region, her mission would be to show the world that human rights are respected in Cuba. Almost always her declarations echo the foreign media, not the national media.

Inside, things are quite different. The local media do little to raise awareness and promote tolerance toward the homosexual in such a macho society as Cuba’s. A mentality that could change if people could see documentaries on TV like Another Carmen and The Mistaken Body, based on real experiences.

Not everyone on the island agrees with the legal proposals being made by the most famous of the Castro Espins. They argue that other realities have a higher priority, like freedom of expression and association, free access to the internet, and the elimination of permits to leave and enter the country.

Apart from some other criteria, what guarantees could homosexuals have to exercise their rights, if the rest of the human prerogatives recognized in the national legal system are seriously violated? It would be the same as it is with racial discrimination. It is proscribed by the Constitution of the Republic, but no court has jurisdiction to accept a case of racism.

Homophobia is not removed by laws. Meanwhile, gay and transvestite Cubans are the victims of police abuses, of drug addiction, alcoholism and prostitution. In recent times they have become a strong attractive for sex tourists. When it gets dark, it’s enough to walk around the central areas of Havana, like La Rampa and the Malecon, to prove it.

In other times the Malecon was called “the wall of sin,” because heterosexual couples gave loose rein to their ardor along it. Now it’s called “Galapagos Islands,” for the great number of gays and transvestites who meet there at night.

Laritza Diversent and Tania Quintero

Photo: Laritza Diversent

Note: After this article was written, a long interview with Mariela Castro Espin was published on a Swiss site. Mariela Castro lied in Switzerland about the Military Camps in Aid of Production (UMAP)*; the first correction to her assertions appeared in the on-line news magazine Cubaencuentro.

Translator’s note: UMAP was a system of work camps where homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others deemed to be hostile to the communist regime were imprisoned.  Mariela Castro Espin recently claimed that Fidel Castro was unaware of this.

October 16, 2010

Mechanisms of Ongoing Control / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

How often should a restless dissident be called to the account, how often should the dumbbell of repression fall heavily upon them?  It’s possible that the answers to such questions could be established in the withered manuals of the operations of confrontation with the enemy which the Cuban political police keeps guarded behind various locks.  It could be that they simply are just improvisations of the agents of each neighborhood or municipality.  Whatever the reason is for the harsh banging on the door, the vigilant motorcycles driving through the streets where dissidents live all night long, and the half-open windows of the neighbors, they do not change from one day to another.

When they took me to the police station this past October 9th, I soon found out that the dissident Jose Antonio Triguero Mulet was also there with me, just as has occurred on other occasions.  This is a man who is 67-years-old and has participated in protest marches, has been beaten, and has told the “authorities” more than four phrases that they wish they would have never heard.

Triguero, at an age which is nearly twice that of most of the people who surround him, has slept in parks and terminals in order to evade vigilance, but also to accompany his brothers-in-disgrace.  He gets up on those high trucks to travel from one extreme to another on this Eastern land, and he is always willing to spit out the truth, to tell it like it is to whomever wishes to listen to his reality.  On one occasion he was detained by the henchman known as Rodolfo Cepena at the exit terminal of San German, heading towards Holguin.  He was being accompanied by his three-year-old grandson, and although he asked his repressors to halt such actions in front of the child, they paid no attention to this and sent him back  home.  The discussion changed in tone, and both suffered the shame of it, because they had no other options left.  Many people witnessed this event, and they will not be able to forget about it easily.  Another incident which has marked him is the pain he has felt when the repressors go searching for him at his house, in front of all his daughters and grandkids.  They come looking for him, a man who only does good deeds and simply thinks differently than those who govern Cuba.

One day, he told me that he was raised amid a family who only knew how to work to try to do the right thing.  During each detention, he has told me that they talk to him about the tomb of his parents, but they know that he is not a delinquent.

How often do they have to call a dissident to account? How many weeks or months apart do they have to remind him of the grim faces of the interrogation specialists, with their slaps and their pistols on their belts?

How often do they have to ring the door, hand out their papers crossed in red ink, the deafening whistles, the family shaken awake and let to know that “Security” is still after them?

Translated by Raul G.

October 18, 2010

With a Homeland, but Without a Master / Ernesto Morales Licea

On the morning of Wednesday, July 7th of this year 2010, I received a peculiar visitor in my house: actually, I received him on the porch.  I invited him to sit down, next to me, on the small bench that delimits my home’s garden.  The living room in the house, the interior of my living space, is only destined for friends or people I don’t know but whose presence I have solicited.

Since this visitor didn’t meet either of those two conditions, he was kindly received on the porch.

His name is not important right now.  Only, that it was the official from the State Security whose visit I earned on “my own merits” since my first texts appeared on the web (at that time this blog was not thinking about being created).  No rebel, no one who stands up, no honest man, no inquirer stays in my Cuba of today without his own respective official.  It is a right we all have.

Well, my Security official’s visit had a concrete purpose that morning:

–          I’ve come to negotiate with you – he said, with sarcasm.

I want to make something clear: unlike the bird-brains they have assigned to counteract this blog, poor devils with no brain nor meritorious reasoning, the official who “attended” to me was the most decorous they could have assigned me.  Someone with good manners, knowledgeable about his occupation, cordial when the time demanded and energetic when my words offended his institution. He was not stupid, a good debater.  Someone who, if we took  away his occupation of persecutor of political miscreants, and overcame that innate arrogance of those who take advantage of the impunity that the authority grants them, would be one of the people whom I would receive in the living room of my home.  He could have been my friend.

So, we moved on to what he was coming to negotiate.

–          What advantage do I get from your business offer? I asked, in a funny way.

–          A Visa to the United States – he said, proud of his judgment.

I smiled, once again.  It was ten in the morning, and the dark circles under my eyes certified the 500 miles from Havana to Bayamo that I had traveled the night before.  I was coming from my interview at the United States’ Interest Section in Cuba.  They had just granted me, good until this coming December, a Visa in order to be able to reunite with my family members in Miami.  A Visa which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with my political posture, something that my official admitted as if known by all: I would leave Cuba just like another member of a family to reunite.  Just that.

The juicy “business” they proposed was elemental:

–          Behave- he said fluidly – and we won’t put any barriers towards your leaving the country.

You should understand: behave meant, in a more direct language: stop writing.

I can’t hide how enjoyable, grotesquely, that proposition was to me.  Benevolence in exchange for my silence.  The approval of the owners of this beautiful island, in exchange for my “good behavior”.

I don’t remember my exact answer. I think I faked that I would evaluate his proposal, very interesting and beneficial, really.

I had already evaluated it, actually.  Two days later, on July 9th, I posted the “Prologue to the Little Brother”.  I had just founded this space that counts today, after three and a half months, 31 published articles.

Looking back on what my life has been in the past three months, I must admit that it has had more charm and sleepless nights, more stress and delight, than ever before in my 26 years.  And above all, truth be told: more danger than I ever thought possible, like an entirely free man, in this country which I love from one end to the other.

I have experienced the brilliant pleasure of sitting down to write, each day, with the enviable sensation that everything I say is my deepest truth.  A truth crowded with subjectivities, points to analyze, polemic and personal opinions.  But in the end, a truth that, as I said in that Prologue, does not admit blindfolds nor does it tolerate disadvantages.

I have discovered, thanks to my decision to be a journalist as independent from the official press as from the sensational opponents, the real meaning of freedom of speech.  What I have published on this blog has only been approved by my conscience, my aesthetic standards and my ethical perceptions.  I have not asked anyone for accountability, I have not asked anyone for acceptance.

I have learned to value, and to respect, the fear of those who stay quiet out of necessity, from feeling defeated before the immensity of the retaliations: “I have a family, Ernesto; I have a son who I need to support.  I feel an immense envy for what you are doing, I would love to be able to do it also, but if they fire me from work like they did, how would I feed my family?”  I nod, and I give them a hug, even though I can’t defeat my depression all day, and I thank them for sneaking in, in the refuge of their homes, a memory stick that will go from one hand to another, copying and reproducing the texts that I publish here every three days.

And I have also learned, how couldn’t I, the size of hate and of repression in almost all its forms.  And I underline “almost”, because except physical violence and the gray bars of prison, I have already experienced on my own flesh, in my individual essence, the high price implied by being consistent with the Marti perception which prays: “Liberty is the right that each man has to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy” in my totalitarian Cuba.

Many friends have been warned, they have been terrified on account of me: “If you mix with a social scourge like him, you will be treated as such.”  Of course: many have abdicated my friendship.  They have put our links on standby until these times of bad smell and pests pass, even though it is likely that by that time, their friendship will be hollow, unnecessary.

My telephone, tapped with aberrant notoriety, has only remained in the address books of a few suicidal friends.  A virtuous painter, a Buddhist engineer, an Argentinean soccer fan on his wheel chair, and another handful of Bayameses (people from Bayamo) who might even fear for their own existence, but are more fearful of surviving without the irreducible friendship that we have known how to nourish for so many years.

Too many slanders have been raised against me.  Dirty, vile hits, for which I was always ready, but even then they don’t stop surprising me, and lead me to question myself about the limits of human degradation.

The founders of so much barbarity and so much social exclusion should have to answer to their children, to their grandchildren, all their questions.

That is why I, who maintain my friends on the verge of collapse, who have had to make my family lose their sleep, who have gained the disapproval of many for putting my stability, my personal security at risk, I ask them for forgiveness for my acts, but with humbleness I confess: I would not change a single second of these last three months of my life, for all the peace and all the protection of the planet.

I also confess, for whoever takes me as their enemy – they are not my enemies: I don’t have, inside of me, space for enemies; nor would I make any deals with them, nor with them would I ever conduct any business that included a single one of my articles,  one of my words.  I don’t gamble with my truth.  I am neither a blackmailed brain nor pen.

The longing to reunite with my family again, who now live in real freedom, is immense, and for that I have been willing to do almost anything.  Except biting my lips.  If the final punishment for being consistent with myself is imprisonment inside this green Island, I will accept it with the dignity of someone who still has much to do, much to write, much to live in this country that made me, with pride, a Cuban.  I will accept staying on this side of the ocean, with a homeland, but without a master.

Someone who is sheltered by books, by music, by scriptures and the unconditional love of his partner; someone who saves in his chest of relics the friendship of the incorruptible, the sincere; someone to whom God gifted with an immense spirituality to feed him during  harsh times, during sufferings, during the death of loved ones and the betrayal of friends for silver coins; to conclude, someone who deep inside has the antidote against all hate; someone like this cannot be repressed nor frightened.

Liberty is a spiritual state said Mahatma Gandhi, and I do not have words to thank him for the favor of giving me that maxim as a life premise.

At three and some months from writing this kamikaze blog, in which each time I offer the best and worst of me, I do not stutter in thanking all who dedicate 5 minutes of their time on reading it, and whose good energies inevitably come to me; nor do I stutter when thanking myself for taking this, the most assertive and committed decision of my young years of existence.

Translator: Angelica Betancourt

October 16, 2010

“Akiro” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Known by the name “Akiro,” thanks to his martial arts talent and his involvement with combat sports, Juan Luis Rodriguez Desdin has been confined to the provincial jail of Holguin. There, he has been condemned to suffer two years due to a supposed act of “disrespect,” which in Cuba can be anything from informally addressing a cop, lifting a fist to a G2 official, or mentioning the name of the mother of the “Reflector-in-Chief”* in an unimaginable fashion.

On this past 21st of September, Rodriguez Desdin sewed his lips shut with a wire to protest how the authorities had cut telephone communications with his family members. He stayed like that, with the wires, until the 23rd when they decided to allow him the mandatory phone minutes.

Some of the denunciations of the violations that were being committed there have to do with the fact that a common prisoner, Eliecer Sanchez Gonzalez, who is 21 years of age and is confined to the same prison, is kept under high security along with him along with various other prisoners classified as maximally dangerous. Desdin explained that the prison authorities of Holguin have said that the prisoner Sanchez Gonzalez cannot be sent to the center for minors in “La Cuaba” because of his crime, which has been labeled as Theft and Sacrifice of Major Livestock, in other words — he ate a cow. And this a priority level case. Sanchez Gonzalez also stated that in the center for minors they have also put prisoners who have been sentenced for 30 years, while they don’t allow them to be among those who make up his age group.

Desdin also adds that the military officers place the prisoners in the areas that correspond, as a benefit or as a regulation, according to convenience, while refusing other cases, which has led to quarrels, abuses, and theft, an act that constitutes a violation of the rights of people who are imprisoned in the penitentiary.

He also told me in a letter that officials from the Interior Order do not want to offer medical attention to the common prisoner called Maikel Sanchez Martinez, who suffers from nervous system issues, and is suffering greatly under prison life. According to Desdin, Doctor Elvis, who is the director of the prison hospital, is the one who is supposed to order the isolation or hospitalization of the sick Maikel Sanchez. He then goes on to tell me that Sanchez only receives promises from officials and paramedics that are never kept. Other young prisoners who live with this 23-year-old have constantly asked authorities to tend to him but they only receive evasive responses. He also pointed out that the common prisoner, Luis Miguel Arias Cala, a minor of 21 years of age, finds himself confined to a detachment of maximum severity, together with prisoners sentenced under homicides and murders, despite his delicate health.

Arias Cala suffers from a heart condition, with grade 3 arterial hypertension and heart murmurs. He was moved from the “Yayal” prison (commonly known as “CUBA SI”), and the officials lost his clinical history. Because of this, the medical professionals in the provincial hospitals refuse to treat him. Desdin argues in his letter that such a responsibility falls directly to Dr. Elvis, who refuses to proceed as the norms require.

In the same letter, he continues detailing the serious health situation of the prisoner Ramon Herrera Delgado, who suffers from a progressive withering left arm, loss of vision on his right eye, and constant headaches, without any effective medical treatments on behalf of the doctors.

The political prisoner Rodriguez Desdin adds that Herrera was sentenced to 6 years under the pretext of armed robbery, yet he had already been taken to the Axial Computerized Tomography (Somaton), in Santiago de Cub,a when he was sentenced for buying a copper wire to sell in a re-collection store where he used to work.

The officials of the Order of the Interior from the provincial prison of Holguin informed Herrera Delgado that his clinical history had disappeared. Such lost documents have led the doctors of the V.I. Lenin Hospital of Holguin to refuse to give him any treatments or to carry out any medical exams. Amid such a situation, Ramo Herrera and his family have spoken out, but Dr. Elvis, the director of the prison’s hospital, has not decided to carry out a medical exam to solve the issue, said Rodriguez Desdin.

Juan Luis Rodriguez Desdin is a delegate of the Political Prisoner Association “Pedro Luis Boitel” in Holguin, and is also an activist of the Eastern Democratic Alliance.

When I finished composing this post, I was informed of the good news that Rodriguez Desdin had been nominated for the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Dignity Award this year. It is something he deserves; he has more than demonstrated his worthiness. That prize had been previously given to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, and other brave prisoners from the Eastern region of Cuba, due to their honorable behavior under prison conditions.

Great news for “Akiro.”

*Translator’s note: A play on words referring to Fidel Castro’s regular newspaper column titled “Reflections.”

Translated by Raul G.

October 12, 2010

Operation Exile / Iván García

Reina Tamayo, mother of the opposition prisoner Orlando Zapata, with family members in Laura Pollan’s house, site of the Ladies in White in Havana.

I remember when my mother was doing the bureaucratic paperwork to emigrate to Switzerland at the end of November 2003, She told me she had seen a strange acronym — HP — on the cover of a folder that the immigration officials used to identify her case.

Of course the government is not giving free advertising the Hewlett-Packard. In “good Cuban” HP stands for “hijo de puta” — son-of-a-bitch. We already know how the regime uses its macabre humor to refer to dissidents or to Cubans who simply wish to emigrate.

For many years they were called “gusanos” meaning “worms.” The more than 120,000 Cubans who emigrated in the Mariel Boat Lift in 1980, after “exemplary acts of repudiation” were carried out against them, were given the epithet “scum.”

Against opponents and free journalists they have a collection of insults in the drawer: traitors, sell-outs, lackeys of the empire, mercenaries, employees of Washington.

I have no doubt, from the time the authorities told the Catholic Church to serve as the negotiating partner with the Ladies in White and the political prisoners who would be released, the strategy to undertake an operation to clear the opposition from the island had already been designed.

The Castros had a strong and reasonable hypothesis. In general, human beings don’t have a vocation to be martyrs. They are not made to be heroes.

If we add to this the premeditated harassment by the Security Services against the majority of the opposition, acts of a verbal lynching and beatings carried out by the mobs against the Ladies in White and their marches, and the harsh conditions in Cuban prisons, then, reasoned the smart guys, very few imprisoned dissidents are going to resist the temptation to leave their country.

It is logical that this happens. With all malice aforethought, in a kind of mental and psychological torture, the 8 or 10 political prisoners who have decided not to leave Cuba have been left at the end of the line.

Imagine a man who spent more than 7 years in prison, caught in the dilemma of what would happen if the Castros changed their plans for and for some tiny little reason decided to renege on the releases.

Although the released dissidents have made that decision on their own will, in practice it is a kind of diplomatic exile that reaches them by phone in the pleasant voice of Cardinal Jaime Ortega or another high figure of the Cuban Catholic Church.

Now, seeing the success of their maneuvers they have proposed to a certain number of dissidents, Ladies in White and independent journalists, in desperation, that they go into exile.

Now Monsignor Emilio Aranguren, of Holguín province. about 500 miles from Havana, has contacted Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of the opponent Orlando Zapata, who died last February after 86 days on hunger strike.

Reina, the only one of the Ladies in White who will not see her son knock on the door, duffel bag in tow, in a wise decision — there is no doubt that she is one of the people most harassed and vilified by the groups loyal to the regime — has declared that she will only leave her native Banes when the government delivers to her the mortal remains of her son, Zapata.

The regime wants to kill two birds with one stone. In the new phase of difficult economic conditions ahead, it would not be a good thing if hundred of opponents were on the march in the country.

It is already enough to have to deal with a great number of unhappy people with no jobs. They had to release the pressure on the pot. The trick of encouraging a maritime emigration to Florida is a non-starter. The gringo generals have said that any wave of migration would be understood as a declaration of war by the Cuban government. The Castros are not naive. They play with the chain, but not the monkey.

And they have considered it prudent to cleanse the green alligator of its dissidents, sending them to the U.S. or any other country that will take them.

The measure has more benefits than costs. When, at the turn of the year, the prisons are emptied of political prisoners, for a time they’ll lose the stigma of being human rights violators. And the tough guys from State Security won’t have to work overtime to control the internal opposition.

They are trying to decrease the size and strength of the dissidence. The proposal to leave Cuba could be expanded to other people the government finds inconvenient.

If they can consolidate a dissidence that takes flight like the swallows, it would be a triumph for the authorities. It’s a difficult decision, because it involves the future of your family. In my case, unless I am threatened with imminent imprisonment, nothing would make me leave Cuba. That is my position.

October 18, 2010

New Reports About Operation Nicaro / Luis Felipe Rojas

Rolando Pérez Rodriguez, a director at the René Ramos Latour nickel plant of Nicaro Holguín who has been in custody since February of this year is severely ill and hospitalized and sources close to his family told me.

Pérez Rodríguez, an engineer, is on trial along with other executives from the Holguin nickel industry. The sources told me that doctors say he has pulmonary ischemia, and they have extracted two quarts of liquid from his lungs.

As a patient Perez Rodriguez is in Ward A, Room 10 in the men’s ward at the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Provincial Hospital.

In conversation with another source it turns out that for months Rolando’s family has been demanding his transfer to a hospital, because of the damp conditions where he was being held in preventive detention. But the prison officials of the State Security Operations Center in Pedernales, on the outskirts of the provincial capital, have refused, alluding to the their need to follow the procedures of an investigation.

The reasons he was taken, as a prisoner, to the hospital are not known, but many presume it was because of his delicate state of health.

Engineer Rolando Perez was exposed to the contamination nickel are in the mines of the Nicaro processing plant in Mayarí, Holguín.

October 16, 2010

Work / Regina Coyula

Photograph by L. Diversent

If you did the homework I gave you months ago (Noisy Bell, Elusive Cat…), the new labor market situation can’t have taken you by surprise. The concern of state employees about the “reduction of inflated payrolls” hasn’t diminished, and rightly so.

At school they taught me that economic crises were a feature of the capitalist mode of production because, unlike socialist planning, its way of producing is anarchic. In the socialist economic order, it was unthinkable to have excess workers because there would always be jobs satisfying the necessary and growing demands of society.

Here, where an economic crisis is called “Special Period in Time of Peace,” where workers will not be unemployed but “available,” it is no surprise that it was the Union, and not the Labor and Social Security Ministry, that was charged with divulging the bad news, in the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee’s official journal no less!

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 18, 2010