The Irreversible Failure of the Castro Regime / Miriam Celaya

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro (Reuters)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 14 June 2018 — The adversities of the lugubrious panorama of the political heirs of the latter Castro regime don’t seem to have an end. Everything seems to conspire against the confused performance of the recently inaugurated Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, including Mother Nature, who in recent days has been punishing the already suffering Island with torrential downpours, deepening the country’s economic drain in their aftermath.

According to the schematic official reports, the territories that suffered the heaviest rain were from the provinces from Pinar del Río (western end of Cuba) to Ciego de Ávila (central region), in which “the main damages were in agriculture, roads and housing,” although “progress is being made in the recovery process.”

The cold outline, however, conveniently overlaps with the drama of those Cuban families who have lost their homes and their few assets, whose misery is in addition to that of the countless affected by other meteorological events that have plagued the island in recent years, whose claims are far from being resolved.

During the substantial analysis of our distinguished leaders, convened last Monday, June 11th, they insisted that the greatest impact “was in the municipality of Ciénaga de Zapata, mainly in Cayo Ramona, where 205 houses were still flooded, because the water is receding very slowly.” For this reason, they pointed out, “more than 3,000 people who were evacuated are still not able to return, including 219 students who are missing school.”

Such a difficult situation provoked a brilliant revelation on the part of the very sagacious Cuban president, who indicated “a detailed study would be conducted of the terrain and the reasons that have caused the area to still be flooded more than 15 days after the rains ceased.”

Obviously, not one of the smarty pants assembled there saw fit to point out to the President that it would be pointless to waste time and resources in such a “study,” since Cayo Ramona is adequately charted on the maps, where it is shown as a slightly elevated land in the midst of one of the largest wetlands in this geographical region called the Caribbean, characterized by the presence of abundant springs or “waterholes,” which causes the soil drainage to slow down even more when its islets are flooded.

On the other hand, what would the specialists propose, then? Drying the bog? It would not be a novelty either. Already in the 1960’s and 1970’s his Majesty Castro I was caressing that idea, when he dreamed to turn the huge swamp into the largest producer of rice in the hemisphere, a project that he discarded perhaps when in one of his many epiphanies he also glimpsed the creation of the largest crocodile farm in the world … “Plan Crocodile,” he called it, although in reality that hallucination was so ephemeral that it was barely given press coverage. Or maybe he had a plan that included raising crocodiles in the paddy fields. We will never know exactly how many hallucinations went through that arcane brain.

But in reality, this flood of “Councils of Ministers” and analyses of the national situation among senior leaders not only reaffirms that what is involved is to deliberately follow the traditional strategy of the Cuban government, whose representatives of the so-called historical generation continue to throw their shadowy shadow, consisting of holding hundreds of meetings from which “commissions” and “detailed studies” are derived, with the sole purpose of lengthening, over time, the solutions to the problems until, finally, the people resign themselves to living with the problem.  It also evidences the uncertainty of a government, tied hand and foot, to an ideology that is no longer useful even for Power.

The current times, marked by the sociopolitical and economic crises of the allied governments of Latin America, the retreat of the left, the epidemic of widespread corruption — in Cuba and the rest of the region — the collapse of the Cuban economy, the failure of the socialist “Model,” national despair and an infinite number of reasons that encourage social discontent and the sense of fatality of a people plunged into dismay, constitute the greatest challenge for a fatigued dictatorship that seeks to perpetuate itself in spite of the reality that surpasses it.

That is why neither the fake elections, nor the “youth” of the stand-in replacement president, nor the useless Guidelines nor the projected new Constitution, weighed down by the same old precepts that led to the “revolutionary” shipwreck, will be able to stop the inevitability of the changes. Because if something is truly irreversible in Cuba today, it is the failure of the Castro regime.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Eight More Deaths in Cuba From the Rains, Which Damaged 9,972 Homes

Heavy rains from subtropical storm Alberto caused major loss of lives, homes and crops. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, via EFE, Havana, 6 June 2018 — Cuba reported this Wednesday the death of one of the two people who disappeared in the intense rains of last week, and 8 deaths were added to the previous total. The rains also damaged 9,972 homes, of which 486 were total collapses, according to information provided in a meeting led by Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel.

With the passage of subtropical storm Alberto, which caused serious flooding and left 115 communities in the eastern and central part of the Island completely cut off, the additional deaths included seven men and one woman died in the provinces of Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Ciego de Ávila, according to official reports.

Last Saturday, initial reports from the General Staff of Civil Defense included a missing a 17-year-old from Villa Clara who might have been swept away by the Arimao River, and a 51-year-old man missing in Chambas, Ciego of Ávila. Both provinces are in the center of the country. continue reading

The state newspaper Granma did not specify today in its report of the meeting — held on Monday — which of the two is the now known to have died.

Díaz-Canel asked the interior minister, Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla, to carry out “a detailed analysis, case by case, to determine the causes that caused those regrettable events,” Granma noted.

The Cuban president said, “there are acts of social indiscipline and recklessness” despite “the constant calls to order” to the population by the authorities of the island, which issues warnings before, during and after the passage of meteorological phenomena.

Diaz-Canel also insisted “that the country should remain alert as intense rains have been predicted in the coming days, for which they must be prepared.”

Due to the storm, 62,000 people were evacuated in the western and central parts of the Island.

Preliminary reports put the homes affected by the rains at 9,972 — of which 486 were totally demolished — according to the Minister of Construction, René Mesa, who assured that they have already allocated resources to compensate for the damages.

In Cuba’s central zone some 700 kilometers of roads were damaged, most of them flooded, so that even today nine places in the Sancti Spiritus province remain isolated.

The “most difficult scenario,” according to the official report, is access to the community of Zaza del Medio, the bridge to which was partially destroyed by the flood waters of the Zaza River.

Due to heavy rainfall, Cuba lost 1,500 hectares of beans, while some 10,000 hectares of other food crops were affected.

“At present, everything is being harvested and taken directly to the markets,” said the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Julio García.

There is also “intensive” work underway to minimize possible losses affecting about 5,000 hectares of rice that continues under water in the western province of Pinar del Río. In addition, 600 tons of rice under water in Ciego de Avila cannot be harvested.

In that same territory, where about 70% of the tobacco harvested on the island is produced, more than 150 hectares of the leaf have been lost, which serves as raw material for the famous Cuban cigars whose export is an important source of hard currency for the country’s coffers.

During the meeting it was also stated that the epidemiological situation on the island “is under control” and “so far no outbreak of disease has occurred,” said Health Minister Roberto Morales.

The intense rains of storm Alberto have filled Cuba’s dams, where some 5 million cubic meters of water are stored, a situation that contrasts with last year, in which the island experienced one of the worst droughts in the last 110 years.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

May Rains Brought More “Drama” to Cubans / Ivan Garcia

Source: Juventud Rebelde

Ivan Garcia, 4 June 2018 — When it started raining on May 2, Eliseo and his wife had already covered the leaks in the roof of tiles with silicone, wooden planks and pieces of plastic. On the deck, outside, they sprayed waterproof paint and reinforced the iron beams on the roof that run through the house, so they do not collapse.

Eliseo and his wife reside in a low-lying area of Old Havana, bordering a railway line, very close to the old Cuatro Caminos Market, and which usually floods any time there is a downpour of moderate intensity.

“Since I have had the use of reason, the authorities have been saying they are going to drain the area and build comfortable buildings. It is a tale. In addition to flooding immediately with any storm, 80 percent of the houses are in poor condition. continue reading

Every year, when the hurricane season arrives (from June 1 to November 30) or it rains hard, the roof of one or several houses always collapses or the walls collapse. The only thing the government does is evacuate you to a safe place. Then, when calm returns, they sell you a couple of mattresses and an electric rice cooker. People have to pay for the repairs of the houses themselves. Those who can’t, because they are subsidized by the State, have been waiting for a lot of years for a new house to be offered to them or for building materials,” says Eliseo, as he checks the walls,

Around here, families establish their own security protocols before a storm hits. “When the rains get worse, my two children go to sleep in the safest part of the house. This time the effects were minor. The roof lasted, only five or six tiles were broken,” says Eliseo, who works as a port stevedore.

Almost four weeks of constant rain in the capital caused more than 200 partial or complete building collapses in the municipalities of Habana Vieja, Plaza and Centro Habana.

“When the sun came out it was worse. In the last seven days there have been around 120 collapsed roofs or walls. Luckily, there was no need to mourn the wounded or the dead. And luckily the rains in Havana were not as intense as in other provinces such as Villa Clara, Cienfuegos and Sancti Spiritus,” says a municipal housing official.

Martí Noticias asked the official if, among the strategies of the new government there is a plan to improve the drainage in the low zones and to build houses for the thousands of Havanans living in precarious conditions and extreme poverty.

“There is talk of increasing the construction of houses. According to the government, in a decade this problem could be solved, at least in Havana. But we will have to see. Between the Yankees’ blockade and that of the Cubans themselves, along with the corruption and bureaucracy, I doubt that the deficit of a million houses can be built,” the official believes.

The problem of housing is a long-standing issue in Cuba. Fidel Castro planned different strategies. From creating brigades of builders with people who had never used a mason’s trowel to promising to build 100,000 homes per year.

The aesthetics and poor quality of most of these constructions meant that even many families residing in houses built three decades ago now need a new dwelling. This is the case for Esther, a primary school teacher, who lives in a ramshackle building built in the late 1980s in a neighborhood in Vedado.

“It was about ten o’clock at night when a piece of the ceiling fell in. Fortunately, my daughter was watching television. It’s not the only problem. Years ago, the neighbors of the building have clogs, and roof and window leaks. Some of the stair steps have collapsed and to climb to the fifth floor, where I live, you have to be an acrobat. And that’s not the fault of the blockade or bad weather,” says Esther.

On May 27, persistent rains also caused he collapse of a part of a building located at the corner of Muralla and Aguiar streets, in Old Havana. “That building had been declared uninhabitable years ago. After 6:00 in the evening, part of the roof collapsed, causing damage to other rooms. The racket was horrible, but no one was injured or killed,” says Barbara, a neighbor of the property.

The intense rains of the subtropical storm Alberto caused 7 deaths and left two missing in Cuba (see note at the end). The greatest damage occurred in the central provinces, especially in Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus.

Thousands of hectares of rice, tobacco, fruit trees and crops were spoiled. “Enjoy bananas and pineapple now, because with the losses in Ciego de Ávila, they will be missing from the market for a while,” predicts Omar, a truck driver who transports agricultural products from the center of the island to the capital.

In the town of Ovas, Pinar del Río, 170 kilometers west of Havana, the rains were also very intense. Ovid, owner of a small farm, believes that “a lot of the responsibility for the loss of the crops belongs to the farmers. It was known that the rainy season was coming and the crops needed to be harvested ahead of time, and then the fields plowed.

But the lands that belong to the state belong to no one and no one cares that the crops are spoiled. Four drops of water fall and people stop working. If they owned the land, that wouldn’t happen.”

At present, Cubans are concerned about the prices of agricultural products will continue to rise in the markets because of Albert. “If there is a drought it is bad, if it rains a lot, it’s bad too. Let’s see how much the prices go up, any bad weather causes things to get even more expensive,” complains Irma, a housewife.

Cuba, a nation that imports everything from toothbrushes to sewing threads, is always exposed to hurricanes, external political situations or the rise or fall of oil prices in the international market. This time it was defeated by the intense rains of a tropical storm.

Note: On June 1, Civil Defense issued the names and locations of the seven deceased persons and the two who remained missing.

Alejandro Enrique Cumbrera Pérez, a native of Bayamo, Granma, disappeared in the Arimao River, Manicaragua, Villa Clara, and Ricardo Perdomo González, disappeared in Chambas, Ciego de Ávila. 

The deceased, all of whom died from drowning, are: Daikel Palacios Martínez, 29, from Herradura, Consolación del Sur, Pinar del Río; Eduardo Ramos González, 35, from Sandino, Pinar del Río; Noel Aranda Guerra, 58, from the Batey Crane Nueva, Primero de Enero, Ciego de Ávila; Jailen Venegas Meneses, 26, from Batey Limones Palmeros, Majagua, Ciego de Ávila; Quintiliano Meregildo Simo Ortega, 77, from Manuel Piti Fajardo, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritu; Rosbel López Ríos, 27, from Cayos Las Vacas, Remedios, Villa Clara; and Ramón Cabrera García, 56, in the Cruceros de los Álvarez reservoir, Colón, Matanzas.

Mobile Phone Recharges in Cuba Are a Headache for Relatives in Miami

The video is not subtitled.  The woman is repeating over and over “don’t ask me for a recharge.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Pentón, Miami | Junio 15, 2018 — “My little brother, toss me a refill.” “Asere, I need a little help.” “Compadre, they are only twenty pesitos.” These are some of the most common phrases repeated every month on the social networks of people living in Cuba. They are addressed to friends, relatives and even strangers abroad, the only ones who can take advantage of the promotions offered by the state communications monopoly Etecsa.

As if it were a hunting season, the gun is that of the telecommunications company itself. “Etecsa informs that a recharge with a bonus will be valid from June 11 to 15. If you recharge 20 you get 60,” says a text message that the company sends to its users’ mobiles on the Island. From then on, the desperate search for benefactors abroad begins. continue reading

“The refills have no name. Every month I have to get strong because if I don’t they bleed me dry,” says Yuralay Batista, a Cuban who has lived in Miami for three years. “Imagine this, the other day a woman who says she was in daycare with me, sent me a friend request, asking if I could help her with a recharge,” she said.

Another Cuban who recently exploded in response to requests for reloads was Nairovis Brooks López, a woman from Santiago who went on Facebook Live to protest against the massive number of requests she received. The video went viral and currently exceeds 360,000 views.

Cubans have had cell phone access only relatively recently. After years of its being a privilege of diplomats, tourists and top leaders of the Communist Party, in 2008 Raúl Castro allowed the use of these telephones to be extended to the population.

In just a decade the country already has more than five million cell phone lines and Etecsa has announced that in the near future it will allow users to surf the internet via smartphones, although it has not revealed the prices.

The costs of mobile phone serve are very high relative to the average monthly salary of the Island, which is just 29.5 CUC, according to official figures. Contracting for a mobile line costs about 40 CUC and a minute of conversation is 0.40 cents CUC, almost half the average wage of a full working day in state companies.

“Etecsa is growing at the expense of the work of people abroad,” said Batista.

Alain González, who resides in Hialeah, told this newspaper that he considers it “an abuse” that Cubans living on the island can not have the right to recharge their mobile phone in national currency and qualify for the Etecsa promotions.

González, who has been working in a factory for five years, travels frequently to the island and admits that he frequently recharges the cell phones of family and friends because that allows them to “keep in touch.”

“My mother lives in Centro Habana. With the recharge she calls me once a week. It’s cheaper than me calling her from the United States,” he says. “Having a landline in Cuba is a luxury. That’s my way of helping,” he adds.

Another important element with regards to the recharges to the Island is that the balances on people’s cellphone accounts have started to be used as a virtual currency. In a country where most transactions have to be made with notes or coins, the use of this tool, for which Etecsa charges 0.30 cents of CUC has grown exponentially.

Some economists have estimated that the state monopoly has realized profits exceeding 2 billion dollars from prepaid cellphone service. More than half of the country’s telephone lines are maintained by recharges from abroad, the sources add.

Etecsa does not provide data on the number of top-ups or the profits obtained through them, but Tania Velázquez, vice president of Business Strategy and Technologies for the company, told the national media that the company prioritizes services with payments from abroad to capture foreign exchange.

The official figures in just 20% of the top-ups made from abroad despite the avalanche of petitions protested by Cubans living abroad.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Has Debts with More than 250 Spanish Companies, says Jaime Garcia-Legaz

The Melia Cohiba Hotel in Havana, Cuba.

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2018 — Spanish companies with a presence in Cuba seek to overcome the financial difficulties they face in order to maintain their privileged position in the market and increase investment, said visiting company representatives this Thursday in Havana.

“Cuba is a market and a country of the future, and when it is finally integrated into the global market, we Spanish companies have to be first in line,” said Alfredo Bonet, international director for the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the XXII Spanish-Cuban Business Committee begun today in Havana.

Representatives of the Spanish business sector and its Cuban counterparts addressed, on the first day of the meeting, ways to overcome “the financial difficulties of the last two years,” according to Bonet, which affect approximately 250 Spanish companies with presence on the Island.

Specifically it has to do with the “the Cuban public sector’s unpaid debts” to these companies, explained the Spanish co-president of the bilateral committee, Jamie Garcia-Legaz, a problem that makes continued business projects as well as new investments on the Island difficult.

“The Cuban government is making every effort that is within its reach in order to make payments, although the macro-economic situation does not help either,” said Garcia-Legaz in relation to the recent bump Cuba experienced as a consequence of the deep crisis of recent years in Venezuela, its principal partner and defender in the region.

Thus, both parties have put in place financial tools in recent years, like the lines of support from COFIDES for the internationalization of small and medium businesses and especially the exchange fund created with 400 million dollars of debt that Spain forgave Cuba in 2015.

This fund, which still finances five operations and is looking at another five, “has permitted co-financing investments by Spanish companies and helping finance everything possible in local currency,” according to the international director of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Bilateral Committee meetings are held annually, though no meeting was held in 2017, and are the main channel of dialogue and connection between the Spanish businesses and Cuban authorities.

During Thursday’s work day, Garcia-Legaz and his Cuban counterpart at the head of the committee, Orlando Hernandez, signed the work program for 2018 and 2019, and tomorrow will conclude the meeting with institutional visits by the Spanish delegation made up of by 88 members.

After China and Venezuela, Spain is Cuba’s third commercial partner, to which it exports about 900 million euros’ of various products, from food to parts and machinery, according to data from the Chamber.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Aurora Suite: An App That Makes a Mockery of Censorship

Cubans connect to the internet on state-owned Wi-Fi networks installed outdoors. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 June 2018 — Aurora Suite is one of the latest applications taking Cuba by storm. Its ease of use and its ability to circumvent censorship of digital sites on national servers have made it an excellent alternative for web browsing.

The application was created to work with the Android operating system, the most popular on the island, and uses the Nauta email service as an intermediary to connect users with the internet. All the architecture on which this ingenious application is based begins and ends in the email inbox.

Its developers take pride in producing “applications that complement the mail services of Nauta de Cuba,” bringing to email a “great added value and enriching its possibilities.” continue reading

The first contact with this application makes a good impression. The simple design guides users in the first steps to convert a mobile phone without access to the network into a terminal from which they can access any web address, even those blocked by the Cuban government.

Once the application is installed, — Version 6.1.0 can be downloaded from the developers page, the Google Play store or through any acquaintance who has it on their phone — the user will get a two-day free trial to explore its advantages and disadvantages.

A user uses the Aurora Suite ‘app’ to surf the Internet from his Nauta email. (14ymedio)

The application contains the Mozilla Firefox browser. When the desired URL is entered, in the background, Aurora Suite sends the request to load the page through the Nauta mailbox. Although a bit slower than the direct online experience, the advantage of being able to visit digital sites from a Cuban cellphone makes the delay easily tolerable.

This operation through email is what allows Aurora Suite to be unaffected by blocked sites. Censorship of content, especially news portals unfavorable to the authorities or opponents’ blogs, can be overridden and the pages can be read with this tool.

Once the 48 hours of free use are up, the customer will receive a message advising them that they must switch to a paid subscription to continue. For a price of 5 CUC per month, users receive about 100 megabytes of downloaded content, good within that month.

The use of mobile transfer as a virtual currency or cashless payment is an interesting feature of this Aurora Suite, because it allows users to renew the subscription every month. As of June 5, the government-run Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) — the only one available to Cubans on the island — allows customers to make three daily balance transfers between cell lines instead of the previous limit of one transfer per day.

All the benefits of Aurora Suite, however, are based on a point that many users perceive as a vulnerability: the operation of Nauta mail, managed by Etecsa. With frequent service interruptions, network saturation and other technology glitches, Nauta’s service routinely fails to perform reliably.

Problems with the 3G network signal, which is not yet widespread throughout the country, also limit the reach of the app. Users moving between zones with 2G and 3G will notice data services go in and out, connections drop, and the time to download a page increases.

Another element users must keep in mind is that registering for the service requires entering into the app the access data for one’s Nauta mailbox. For those who prefer to keep a strict control of the personal information that allows them to access to their email, this is a consideration.

Some users of Aurora Suite have also reported that after registering they begin to receive unwanted emails, which apparently are generated automatically. In most cases these are messages with news taken from the Cuban press, both official and independent. Because internet time is so expensive in Cuba — roughly a day’s average pay for one hour of access — users prefer not to receive unwanted content, ads and spam.

Despite these weaknesses and the added annoyances, this application is an alternative for those who do not want to continue waiting for Etecsa to fulfill its announced promise to enable web browsing on mobile phones before the end of this year.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Mariel, the Cuban Hong Kong That Never Became One

The Mariel Special Development Zone.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 June 2018 — In 2014, Raúl Castro, who promoted the deepest economic reforms since the establishment of the socialist system in Cuba, surrounded by his allies Dilma Rousseff, Evo Morales and Nicolás Maduro, promoted the largest project of his mandate, the creation of a Special Development Zone in the Port of Mariel.

Four years and a Brazilian investment of more than one billion dollars later, the zone that promised to turn Cuba into the Caribbean Hong Kong languishes, waiting for investors, according to Emilio Morales, director of Havana Consulting Group.

“The idea of developing a special zone in the Port of Mariel is good; the problem has been in the management, and (thanks to the thaw with the United States) no Latin American country has had in just two years the number of entrepreneurs, presidents and delegations that have visited Cuba, but they did not know how to take advantage of it,” Morales said in a telephone conversation with 14ymedio. continue reading

Mariel was built at a time when the diplomatic thaw with the United States allowed one to foresee the end of the embargo. The most modern port in the Caribbean could accommodate the huge Super-Panamax ships for which the port’s entrance channel was dredged to a 60 foot depth and a modern container terminal was built.

The resistance of the Republicans in the US Congress against lifting the sanctions, the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House and the decline in trade with Caracas, which according to most experts subsidized the battered economy of the island, undid Raúl Castro’s star project.

The Cuban economy, rigidly controlled from the highest power, remains inefficient. The management of the businesses in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) is under the control of State officials. “Private enterprise is essential for the future development of Cuba and Mariel. But because the only owner is the State, nobody pays for a wrong decision, the money is not theirs, nor the risk, therefore, it remains something abstract, which is called the State,” adds Morales.

At the end of March there were only 35 approved companies (five of them Cuban), of which 10 were in operation and 25 in the process of investment. The official newspaper Granma reported that so far the ZEDM has captured 1.191 billion dollars, only 9.5% of the 12.5 billion dollars that had been planned, at a rate of 2.5 billion per year.

The causes of the poor performance of the industrial zone that promised to accelerate the national economy have to be looked for in “an excessive bureaucracy, a complicated decision-making process that delays the follow-up of the investment offers from foreign companies, and delays in the completion of the infrastructure,” Morales highlighted in an article recently published in Martí Noticias.

The government itself acknowledged in March that the ZEDM is not going “as fast” as the country needs. President Miguel Díaz-Canel, this week, reviewed the program of foreign investments and exports together with a group of ministers and officials of the sector.

“We must make things more feasible, more viable, less cumbersome,” the president said in relation to the obstacles that delay the investment process. Díaz-Canel later expressed his bewilderment about the slowness with which decisions made in the Council of Ministers or in the National Assembly are applied to the project.

The Mariel works were financed by the Brazilian State, at that time governed by the Workers’ Party, an ally of Havana. The multi-million dollar contract was awarded to Odebrecht, the same company whose bribery practices to secure public contracts shook the foundations of many corrupt governments in Latin America. In Cuba, no investigation related to the multinational has been opened to date.

To Emilio Morales, much of Mariel’s failure can be seen in the small number of jobs it has achieved. “This state project has only created 4,888 jobs, compared to more than 570,000 that were generated by the granting of licenses to small private companies,” (cuentapropismo, or self-employment), he says, justifying his idea of opening up opportunities in the ZEDM to the private sector within the Island.

“It’s not possible that they would create a special economic zone in Mariel and leave out the Cubans themselves, without any chance of investing in it. National entrepreneurs should be privileged first, and then the foreigners,” he emphasizes.

The US company Cleber LLC, the first company with 100% North American capital that was going to be in Mariel, ended up being rejected by the Cuban government. The project of the Cuban-American businessman Saul Berenthal and his partner Horace Clemmons sought to assemble Oggún tractors, designed for small farmers to make the land more productive.

“Mariel had several prospects: first to process oil from the northern part of Cuba, to create industrial parks with import facilities and repatriate capital. In addition, Cuba’s geographical position places it at the center of major routes, which could facilitate the establishment of a free trade zone,” says Morales. All these opportunities are still present, but the weight of the State chokes them.

The Mariel Special Development Zone was inaugurated during the 2nd CELAC Summit in 2014, an international organization promoted from the socialist Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, excluding the United States and Canada. Four years later, the CELAC is being dismembered, Chávez has died, Venezuela is plunged into an unprecedented crisis and most of the governments of the region (including the Brazilian) have changed their ideological sign.

“Political decisions cannot continue to govern the Cuban economy because the market has its own rules: the State must — as the Vietnamese advised — liberate the productive forces of the nation and not want to absorb everything,” Morales says.

Video: Raul Castro during the opening of the Mariel Special Development Zone. Not subtitled.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Nicaragua on Edge

Students at the barricades in Managua. 12 June 2018.

Yoani Sanchez, The Voice of Your Rights, Havana, 14 June 2018 — With the roads cut off, the universities turned into barricades or makeshift infirmaries, and a figure of 146 people who have lost their lives in the protests that broke out last April, Nicaragua today is a nation awaiting a decision that must be taken by a single man. Daniel Ortega has in his hands the ability to allow the country to resume the democratic path or to sink into a spiral of violence and death.

The Nicaraguan Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which brings together broad sectors, has called a national strike for next Thursday with the aim of demanding an end to the “repression.” Another of the objectives of this call is to demand the resumption of a dialogue that would allow ending the socio-political crisis in the country. continue reading

The strike is one more among the many signs Ortega has received in recent weeks of Nicaraguans’ rejection of the government formed by him and his wife, vice president Rosario Murillo. However, the former Sandinista guerrilla believes he is the only man capable of leading the Central American country towards a bright future that only exists in his delusions. He considers himself a kind of irreplaceable anointed.

From his Latin American allies and mentors, in the style of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, Ortega learned to hold on to power no matter at what cost. The presidential chair for him is not only a post from which he controls every detail of national life, but also a fortress that protects him from the law. As long as he stays inside the palace he will be safe, he thinks. A mistake made by many of the operetta caudillos who have ruled in Latin America.

Retaining the highest office in the country and not agreeing in time to resign may be the worst of the decisions that Daniel Ortega has made throughout his long political life. The protests have touched an emotional fiber in millions of Nicaraguans, especially among the youngest. Many of them, turned into improvised street fighters, intuit that there is no turning back and that allowing the continuity of ‘Orteguismo’ will result in a prison sentence or death.

That revolutionary fervor Sandinismo once counted on and the social mysticism that elevated it to power is now in the hands of its adversaries. Ortega does not have the support born of ideological passion nor does the enthusiasm of yesteryear animate the people. That connection was broken irremediably and the repression that he has unleashed against the demonstrators has ended by crumbling the little ascendency that was left to Nicaraguans.

Every hour that passes, every second that the caudillo does not negotiate his exit from the presidency, brings him closer to a more violent end.

In Managua, a man addicted to power takes refuge in his stubbornness without being willing to recognize that if he chooses to give up power and retire, when it is still possible, he would save countless lives, including his own.

Originally published in Deutsche Welle

 

Cuba’s ‘Special Period’: Past, Present and Future

What is feared when people talk about the Special Period are the prolonged blackouts, the collapse of public transport and the closure of industries. (Havana Leaks)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 June 2018 — The terminology of officialdom has its euphemisms and its unknowns, among the latter is whether it is politically correct to speak of the ‘Special Period‘ as a thing of the past, an question that became clear in the review published on Tuesday by the state-run newspaper Granma, that discussed Raúl Castro’s meeting with Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leaders. The article alludes to “the difficult moments experienced during the years of the special period,” with the verb in the simple past tense.

Although it is true that in none of the three PCC congresses held in the last 21 years, nor in any session of Parliament or the Council of Ministers, nor even in the ‘conceptualization’ of the country’s socialist model, has the official end of the so-called ‘Special Period’ been officially decreed. And we also know that, in practice, the terrible situation suffered in the first half of the 1990s is no longer suffered. continue reading

The reason for this limbo in definitions with regards to the finalization or the continuity of the Special Period occurs, in particular, because to decree its end it would not be enough to establish that its consequences have ceased or decreased, but it would be necessary to reverse the economic policies established at that time with the declared purpose of “saving the conquests of the Revolution.”

Either those policies — presented in provisional dress — are reversed, or the measures that were announced as temporary are considered permanent.

Reversing the policies would mean, among other things, reversing the opening to foreign capital, the permission to engage in self-employment, and the new business forms characterized by a greater degree of decentralization. It would be necessary to penalize the possession of foreign currency and to return to rigid five-year plans. But for this to happen, to return to the previous situation, the Soviet Union and Comecon would need to be resuscitated.

The problem becomes a political-ideological issue because the aspiration to return to the “promising past” is impossible; to do so it would have to be proclaimed that Cuban socialism does not intend to comply with the rules theorized by its creators and that the invisible laws of the market bring better results.

The reasons that forced Cuba’s leaders to decree the Special Period, or — and it’s one and the same — to partially accept compliance with the laws of the market, are not only the collapse of the socialist camp or the hardening of the American embargo. They respond in equal measure to the accumulation of errors resulting from voluntarism and the continued failure to take responsibility for the means of production that are described as social property, but which in reality have become the private property of the state.

When, from time to time, rumors about the specter of “a new Special Period” threaten to reappear, what is being talked about, what is feared, are the prolonged blackouts, the collapse of public transport, the closure of industries, the reappearance of polyneuritis, and the disappearance of products from the market. However, this set of damages is not the precise definition of that era, but rather the aftermath of a disaster that tried to attenuate itself through decrees of insufficient measures.

The ill-fated fruits of that policy, clinging to a refusal to make concessions on certain principles considered inviolable, are now in sight. Foreign investment has not reached fantastical heights, non-state forms of production are still tied to arbitrary guardianships that impede their full development, tourism is a mirage in which the number of visitors grows without proportionally raising profits, the Mariel Special Development Zone has not taken off, it has not been possible to eliminate the dual currency system, and salaries are further than ever from being enough to ensure the daily survival of the working family.

To all this, uncontrollable external factors are added, such as the frustration of the brief hopes that emerged with the thaw between Cuba and the United States, together with the difficult situation in Venezuela that has brought about a cut in aid flowing to Cuba from that country.

These are now, without a doubt, the least tragic moments of the late Special Period. The exhaustion of those provisional solutions, however, means that Cuba’s leaders must take responsibility and confess that the now deflated life preservers that kept the country afloat in the midst of the storm can not be the territory on which the future is built.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Renewal of Vows: The Red Scarf

Cuban schoolchildren during the ceremony where they take on the red scarf. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 14 June 2018 –Three decades later, the woman is facing a familiar scene. A row of children dressed in their elementary school uniforms receive the new red scarf that replaces the blue one they had previously knotted around their necks. Like a déjà vu, she listens to her daughter repeat the same slogan she shouted out in her own childhood. The little girl, one knee on the ground, swears to follow the example of Ernesto Che Guevara, just like her mother had promised to do so long ago.

The school’s morning assembly started early this Thursday, June 14, the day chosen for the initiation of students who completed the third grade. They now become part of the José Martí Pioneers Organization and have started down a path where ideological excesses and political manipulation will follow them forever. The ceremony has all the traces of a religious initiation, almost mystical, despite of its being centered on an atheist guerrilla, who this very day would have turned 90. continue reading

To conclude the moment, the loudspeakers broadcast a song dedicated to Fidel Castro at full volume. “Louder, Louder!” the school principal shouts to the students, who must sing the boring tune verse by verse. “Louder, louder to be heard up there!,” he reiterates as he points to the sky, where, he believes, his Commander-in-Chief must have gone.

The music is over, the children shout the slogan that they will repeat in the coming years: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che.” Then they leave the ranks and return to the unruly games of any child. The political “renewal of vows” is over.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Human Rights Group: "Cuba Has 120 Political Prisoners"

The Cuban Government refuses to cooperate with international bodies that are experts in prisons. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 June 2018 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) estimates that there as many as 120 political prisoners in Cuba in a report published on Monday. The independent group states that this figure “is very difficult to arrive at when the Government of Cuba refuses to cooperate” with international organizations.

On the island there are between 65,000 and 70,000 people imprisoned and it is “very difficult to define an exact number of political prisoners because they are intermixed,” the report states. “The Castro Gulag is composed of between 150 and 180 high security prisons, correctional centers, settlements and camps.”

This high number of prisons located throughout the Island make up what, in the opinion of the Commission, is a “huge and top-heavy prison system.” continue reading

Cuban authorities refuse to collaborate with international organizations such as the International Red Cross, United Nations agencies or other organizations that can monitor real data inside the prisons.

“In the total of 120 people imprisoned for political reasons, recognized as of May 31,” the CCDHRN has identified “96 people who are opponents of or disaffected toward the regime and 24 prisoners who are accused of employing or planning to use some form of force or violence to perform acts against the security of the State.”

The report emphasizes that the country urgently needs a Law of the Penitentiary System, and “at the same time the Government of the Island must demilitarize the system and subordinate it to a civil organization.”

The report contains two appendices, one that lists “the cases of ten former prisoners of conscience, released on parole — the so-called “extra-penal license” — who remain subject to all kinds of draconian measures, including the prohibition to travel freely abroad with the right to return to Cuba.”

The second appendix details the “21 prisoners who have served between 15 and 27 years in the prisons of the Island under the known subhuman and degrading conditions that prevail in all of them.”

“They are, without a doubt, some of the oldest political prisoners in the Western Hemisphere,” concludes the text’s introduction.

The figure of 120 is slightly lower than the 140 political prisoners that the CCDHRN had estimated on the island as of May 2017.

In March 2016, during the visit of US President Barack Obama to Cuba, a journalist questioned Raúl Castro at a press conference about the existence of political prisoners on the island. “Give me the list of political prisoners now, to release them. Or give it to me after the press conference and before nightfall they will be released,” the leader replied.

Castro, who traditionally did not answer questions from the national or international press, was visibly annoyed by the question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

Amnesty International (AI) contends that the Havana government uses ambiguous legal terms to punish dissidents.

“The laws regarding ’public disorder’, ’contempt’, ’lack of respect’, ’dangerousness’ and ’aggression’ are used to prosecute or threaten to prosecute, for political reasons, opponents of the government,” Amnesty International said in its report on Cuba.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Bishops Express "Their Good Wishes" in a Message to Miguel Diaz-Canel

The Cuban bishops entrusted the new Government to the Virgin of Charity. (COCC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami | Junio 12, 2018 — The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC) sent a private message to recently appointed president Miguel Díaz-Canel “in support of the eminent national service he had assumed,” as confirmed by the president of the Episcopal Conference, Emilio Aranguren, to 14ymedio.

“I sent him a simple epistolary greeting expressing good wishes in support of the eminent national service that he had assumed and I included a quote from the Pope’s speech in Cesena on October 1, 2017 in which he alludes to good politics,” explained the Bishop of the Diocese of Holguín.

In Cesna, Pope Francis defined good politics as “neither servant nor patron, but friend and collaborator, neither fearful or reckless, but responsible and therefore courageous and prudent at the same time.” continue reading

Francis also emphasized the need to increase the participation of people, “their inclusion and progressive participation” in the search for the good of the entire community.

“A politics that can harmonize the legitimate aspirations of individuals and groups keeping the rudder firmly in the interest of all citizens,” the Pope added.

The Cuban bishops, including the first black prelate in the history of Cuba, entrusted the new Government to the Virgin of Charity, the image of Mary that Catholics venerate as the patroness of Cuba. Aranguren said that the new president responded to the gesture with a brief message in which he showed his appreciation for the communication received.

As part of an Extraordinary Assembly of the COCC, the official site of the Catholic Church on the island, Aranguren revealed the established communication with the new government, which caused speculation on the sites of the independent Cuban press.

The Catholic Church has traditionally had the largest number of faithful in the country. According to data from the Pontifical Yearbook, more than half of Cubans are baptized under Catholic rites, although participation in Sunday services is relatively small.

The Cuban bishops have, in the past, issued numerous criticisms of the Government. With the turn towards the Soviet Union and the implantation of Marxism-Leninism as an official ideology, the Church hardened its discourse in favor of individual liberties. In 1993 the pastoral letter Love Hopes All Things — in which the Cuban clergy denounced the difficult conditions in which the people lived and the harassment of State Security — provoked an angry reaction from the government, which carried out massive demonstrations against the Church.

In 2013 the bishops published Hope Does Not Disappoint, a critical and hopeful look at the national reality, in which they recommended, among other things, replacing the paternalist state with a participatory one and creating a new political order with the participation of all the actors of society and promoting the creative potential of the country.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Che’s Face Sets Off a New Controversy in Rosario

Trolleybus Line Q honors Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in his hometown of Rosario, Argentina, on his 90th birthday. (@ MonicaFein)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2018 – The image of Ernesto Che Guevara has reawakened a controversy in Rosario, his hometown, ninety years after his birth. As of this Monday, the Q Line trolleybuses circulate through this Argentinian city with the guerrilla’s face plastered on the vehicles.

The Mayor of Rosario, Monica Fein, announced on her Twitter account that the images on the buses are meant as a tribute on the anniversary of Guevara’s birth, and invited citizens to join the commemorative activities with the hashtag #90VecesChe.

Among the events published on the city’s official website are “The Che Route,” a series of offerings in the square that bears his name, art shows and musical presentations. continue reading

According to the local press, the controversy immediately broke out on social networks between supporters and detractors. The councilman from the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, Gabriel Chumpitaz, opposed the measure, posting on Twitter that the municipality “should honor Rosarinos who through their daily activities enhance our city, and not spend money on this figure who is so controversial and who brought nothing to Rosario.”

Last year, Fundación Bases, a liberal non-profit organization in the city, collected signatures to remove the monument to Che Guevara in Rosario.

“The murderous legacy of communism and this figure do not deserve homages from the state, of a party-ideological nature, financed by taxes paid by all citizens,” read the petition published on the Change.org platform, which obtained around 3,400 signatures but did not achieve its goal of removing the statue.

Guevarismo in Cuba resulted in 10,723 people killed by the communist regime, 78,000 dead trying to escape the island, 14,000 dead in military interventions abroad, 5,300 dead in the Escambray rebellion (mostly peasants and children), persecution of intellectuals, homosexuals and dissidents,” said the petition, which also called for the elimination of other tributes to the Argentine guerrilla, such as plaques and murals.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Fear of Losing Political Control Explains Cuba’s Technological Backwardness

Video: Cuba’s Minister of Communications talking about the implementation of cellular internet. (Not subtitled)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 June 2018 — Facing a mountain of medical records the nurse looks for the patient’s history. She flips through the pages, pulls out the folders, but the clinical report does not appear. “It’ll have to be done again,” she tells the disgruntled gentleman who, that very morning, had read in the official press about the “advances in computerization” in Cuba’s Public Health system.

The VI Latin American Telecommunications Congress, held in Varadero, is serving these days as a launch pad for triumphant headlines in the official press. Those who pay attention only to the reports emerging from this technology congress may come to believe that, on the island, many procedures are accessibly by a click, but the reality is very different. continue reading

A country where the vast majority of people have never completed an online financial transaction, never been able to buy a product from a virtual store, and do not know the enormous potential of distance courses that would allow them to learn from home, cannot be categorized as a computerized nation.

To this we add the poverty level wages that prevent many professionals from signing up on international online resource sites related to their fields, where they could keep abreast of the latest trends. Paying a day’s salary to connect for one hour in a public wifi zone is not an indicator of a connected society, but rather an indicator of the economic penalty that weighs on Cuban internet users.

On the one hand, the Deputy Minister of Education, Rolando Forneiro Rodríguez, stood in front of congress delegates painting an optimistic scenario with a large number of teachers for the subject of Computer Science. However, on the other hand, in countless schools in the country students’ so-called ‘machine time’ comes with an absence of teachers and the deterioration of infrastructure.

Children under the age of ten learn more about technology by exchanging video clips through mobile apps such as Zapya than they do attending boring computer classes where ideology is intertwined with HTML code and the computer programs offered on the official list have more to do with politics than with fun.

For more than two decades, the teaching of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has also suffered from the Government’s attempts to create a “corralito” – a little corral – of filtered content. Those intentions are responsible for sites such as Ecured, a poor imitation of Wikipedia; the unpopular Mochila (Backpack) created to compete with the weekly packet and the failed Tendedera (Clothesline) born to wipe away Facebook.

At a time when the internet is strengthening its role as an environment for activism and a place for debate on issues as hot as the contradictions of democracy, racism or gender violence, Cuban authorities are still trying to domesticate the network and lock the Island’s users into their little guarded plot.

In hospitals and polyclinics the picture is similar. The bulky bureaucracy of the Public Health system still works with paper. The loss of a single sheet can mean months of delay in a treatment and medical appointments, most of the time, are first come first served, to the discomfort of the sick and their relatives.

In the classrooms of the faculties of medicine, the blackboard, the chalks and the plastic models of the human body have not given way to other technologies that might  make the Island’s doctors modern professionals. Saving lives, today, can also happen due to the dominance of devices such as mobile phones or the ability to search for information in the great world wide web.

The fear of the social impact of connectivity and the loss of political control that would be implied by access to other news channels has been the real brake on Cubans’ ability to disembark in the 21st century, an era characterized precisely by social networks, digital content consumption and connectivity.

This fear of the ruling party has a cost not only in national economic development but also in quality of life and education. We don’t have to wait to see result of that delay because it is already visible in each classroom and during each consultation.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Of Traitors and Opportunists / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 11 June 2018 — In the Granma newspaper of June 6th of this year, there is an article by the historian Rolando Rodríguez, under the title “A Hero Courageous Before Every Test,” referred to the patriot Ramón Leocadio Bonachea. In one of its paragraphs it is stated that “he was part of the escort of Major Ignacio Agramonte and participated in the rescue of the man who would later be traitor Julio Sanguily.” No arguments or evidence are offered for the accusation.

As I learned in school and after I read different historians, “Julio Sanguily was one of the most prominent figures of the Revolution of 1868. Taken prisoner by the Spaniards on October 8, 1871, he was rescued by Ignacio Agramonte at the head of 35 men, in a brave and reckless charge. Subsequently, his left foot was crippled and his right hand atrophied, and though he wanted to participate in the War of 1895, he could not do so, being held in prison by the Spaniards and locked in a dungeon in La Cabaña Fortress on February 24, dying in 1906.” continue reading

Regardless of his fondness for the game, which brought him enough problems, I do not understand that he was designated as a traitor. I do not know where this accusation would have come from, although for a few years now, the history of Cuba has been suffering a lot of manipulation and distortion by political interests, and the word “traitor” is applied too often. Events and important personalities of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century are questioned and distorted, and their place is occupied by less important events and personalities.

Due to this, General Narciso López is accused of being an annexationist, although there is no document, declaration or fact that proves it. There is also talk and writings about General Antonio Maceo of the Baraguá Protest on 15 March 1878, but nothing is said of Maceo on 9 May 1878 (55 days later), when he left the fight and left for Jamaica in the gunboat “Fernando el Católico,” placed at his disposal by the Spanish general Martínez Campos.

Nor does anyone speak or write about 28 May 1878 (19 days later), when the Baraguá Protesters accepted the terms of the Zanjón Pact and laid down their arms, with the exception of Brigadier Ramón Leocadio Bonachea, who prolonged a futile resistance eleven months longer, in areas of Camagüey and Las Villas.

And if that wasn’t enough, even José Martí himself, in a stage of exacerbated dogmatism, was questioned for not communicating Marxist ideas and criticizing them. In other words, the “historical opportunism” has grown like the invasive marabou weed.

It would be interesting if Cuban historians, so concerned about the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, decided to jump over the wall of 31 December 1958 and begin to judge the events and personalities of these last sixty years, which are also history, with its lights and its shadows.