Cuba’s First Independent Think Tank Forms / 14ymedio

Opening day of the Meeting of Ideas in Cuba (Photo Miriam Celaya)
Opening day of the Meeting of Ideas in Cuba (Photo Miriam Celaya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pinar del Rio, 12 September 2015 – This weekend the first Encuentro de Pensamiento (Meeting of Ideas) for Cuba is being held, sponsored by the independent think tank Center for Coexistence Studies. This meeting is intended to “think about the national home that we desire, contribute to the reconstruction of the human person and the fabric of civil society,” Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, one of the event’s organizers, told this newspaper.

The program begins this Saturday with an opening panel that will address the topic, “The Cuban Economy in the Short, Medium and Long Term.” Among the guest panelists are María Caridad Gálvez, Pedro Campos, José A. Quintana and Dimas Castellanos. The discussion is divided into four subthemes: the economic model, property, work, and social security, according to the invitation to the participants. continue reading

The managers of the event also clarified that “in these laboratories of plural thinking it is not strictly necessary to reach consensus.” They added, “in the Cuba of ideas there will always be diversity and nuances,” while emphasizing that this will be “an academic workshop, that is, about studies. It will not be another political group.”

In welcoming remarks, Valdes Hernandez said, “our mission is to concentrate on a systematic workshop, coordinated with citizens, independent of ideologies and creeds, to support the fabric of a plural nation from a peaceful and inclusive vision.”

Founded in 2007, the Coexistence project is supported by its magazine of the same name, which has already published 45 editions, addressing issues ranging from culture to civics. For its part, the Center for Studies that has recently emerged considers itself to be “a continuation of the work started 22 years ago by the now defunct Center for Civic and Religious Training of the diocese of Pinar del Rio.”

“There Will Not Be A Wave Of Physicians Returning To Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Jeovany Jimenez Vega

 Dr. Jeovany Jimenez in 2012, presenting a protest outside the ministry and Public Health in Havana.(Reinaldo Escobar)
Dr. Jeovany Jimenez in 2012, presenting a protest outside the ministry and Public Health in Havana.(Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Mexico, 7 September 2015 — Late last year, Dr. Jeovany Jimenez Vega decided to go to work in Ecuador on a private contract. From Guayaquil, where he works with his wife, he has read in the official Cuban press the new relaxations that allow healthcare workers who have emigrated to return to the Public Health System in Cuba.*

The doctor, author of the blog Citizen Zero, was separated from his profession in 2006 in retaliation for a protest over low wages in the health care sector. He subsequently staged a hunger strike as a result of which he managed to be restored to his previous job at the hospital in Guanajay. This time, he responded by email to several questions for readers of 14ymedio on the new measures, and the expectations and doubts they generate.

Reinaldo Escobar. To what do you attribute the new, more relaxed policy towards Cuban doctors working overseas?

Dr. Jeovany Jimenez. It’s obvious that this is a reaction to the massive exodus of professionals from the health care sector. The Cuban authorities have had plenty of time, decades in fact, to do everything that they are promising today. But it is only now, when faced with a stampede, that they are implementing a much fairer policy. Our work abroad generates 8 to 10 billion dollars annually, so we deserve a better deal. continue reading

Up until now health care workers been subject to poor pay, despotic treatment and capitalist exploitation of their labor, in the strictest sense of the term. When they go overseas on an official medical mission, they get only 20% of the amount agreed to by the two countries. Not one word has been said about this, though it goes right to the heart of the desertion issue.

Escobar. Do you think that many of these doctors living abroad are planning to return to the Island?

Jimenez. There is not much demand to return from doctors who deserted their medical missions or went to work as individual contractors. They made a firm decision after careful consideration. What is quite clear to millions of Cubans is the deep, systemic and unfortunate deterioration of health care at all levels throughout the country. We have witnessed decades of progressive structural deterioration of doctors’ offices, medical clinics, dental clinics and hospitals. Meanwhile, the Cuban government continues to divert funds to polish its machinery of repression, while the neo-bourgeoisie spends big on luxury hotels and excursions to Turkey.*

Escobar. So you do not see it as a new beginning?

Jimenez. I very much doubt that we are looking at real change from the regime. We are dealing with a government in which everything else continues to operate exactly the same way, one whose internal dynamic is that of a true dictatorship, one that shamelessly and systematically represses opposing ideas and basic human rights. There has not been the slightest indication that would suggest these measures might be the beginning of a new way of thinking which could lead to real change.

We are simply looking at a pragmatic adjustment to deal with new circumstances.

Escobar. What has been the reaction among the doctors you know?

Jimenez. It varies from happiness to disdain to skepticism.

Escobar. Is it possible to reverse the exodus of health care professionals with this new policy?

Jimenez. Every Cuban doctor who makes the decision to work overseas does so as a result of negative personal experiences and because he is looking for different, more promising opportunities. In most cases he leaves because of very trying working conditions: a ridiculously low monthly salary that is gone within a week, disrepect, routine arrogance and even despotism from ministry officials and the government. This professional has experienced a high degree of frustration at having devoted the better part of his life to his occupation without being justly compensated.

This doctor feels defrauded if not betrayed. As a result, his frustration and mistreatment play into the decision on whether or not to return to Cuba.

Escobar. Will there be a wave of doctors returning to Cuban hospitals?

Jimenez. It’s very doubtful there will be a massive return but it is not beyond the realm of possibilty that some people will decide to return after working for a time overseas, especially if the authorities stand by their word for once and put into practice what they have promised. But we all know there is a big gap between what the Cuban government says and what it does.

II very much doubt there will be a wave of returnees, much less that it will happen immediately. There is too much mistrust from decades of broken promises. At the  moment, there are not many people who, having made the most significant decision of their lives, will come back just like that because of an article in the newspaper Granma.

Escobar. Do you think this measure could create an opening for more doctors to leave Cuba once the sanctions for doing so have been eliminated?

Jimenez. The era of fear of reprisal is becoming a thing of the past. At this point it might seem to some people like the shot at the beginning of a race, but there are still many professionals who never left the country because they found other sources of funding. There are those who have chosen to work outside Cuba, or who have received loans from family and friends, or who have saved money from a medical mission abroad.

Escobar. Besides the cost of a ticket, what other obstacles are there to leaving?

Jimenez. In recent months there has been a practice, no doubt deliberate, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries of delaying the issuance of all legal documents.  The obvious goal has been to hinder, as much as possible, physicians and professionals from other fields from leaving the country. This policy can only be interpreted as a deterrent to discourage future escapes.

Escobar. The announcement that appeared in Granma mentioned that those who left after the new Immigration Act took effect in January 2013 may return, but it said nothing about those who left before. What about that?

Jimenez. If that were the case, it would be the perpetuation of a great injustice. Preventing any Cuban citizen from freely returning to his own country is a very serious violation of human rights, one that has been practiced by the Cuban government for half a century. For anyone who still has doubts that this is a vile dictatorship, consider this: a group of officials prevented a doctor from seeing his children for eight years! And for something as mundane as a disagreement over his employment contract. That is all it takes to be accused of “deserting” a mission.

A decision like that, even if it were at odds with the central objective of the new policy, would be made for no other reason than to discourage doctors from leaving and encouraging the return of the greatest possible number of those who have left.

Translator’s notes:

*In a recent statement the Cuban Ministry of Public Health indicated that health care workers who had left the country would be allowed to return to to Cuba to work under “conditions similar to those they previously had,” whether they had left for economic, family or professional reasons. The measure is intended to help stem the tide of medical professionals leaving the country.

**A reference to recent photographs published in the international press showing Fidel Castro’s son Antonoio Castro Soto Del Valle enjoying a luxury vacation in Turkey.

Tourism In Cuba Grew By 17% During The First Half Of 2015 / 14ymedio

Tourists cool off from Havana's heat sitting on the Malecon. (14ymedio)
Tourists cool off from Havana’s heat sitting on the Malecon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 9 September 2015 — The tourism industry in Cuba showed a growth of 17% at the end of the first half of 2015 with the arrival of two million 194,134 visitors to the island. Manuel Marrero, Minister of Tourism, reported the information in a meeting with national press during the opening of the new headquarters of the Faculty of Tourism, which welcomed 400 new students this year, 22 of them foreigners.

To meet the growing demand, hotel construction and improvement projects have been strengthened through an intense effort of investments that could raise their classification from 3 to 5 starts, but the unaddressed issue continue to be the quality of service, where the human factor and training are of primary importance.

According to the minister, the countries with the largest presence as tourists in Cuba are Canada, England, Spain, Mexico, France and Italy. However, the expectation of a possible wave of tourism from the United States may double the final figure by the end of the year.

According to the latest report released by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI), in the first half of 2015, Cuba there were 2,190,134 foreign visitors, representing an increase of 17 percent compared to last year.

The tourism sector, the Cuban economy’s second highest source of income behind professional services (that is, primarily health care professionals sent to work abroad for which foreign governments pay the Cuban state), yielded a revenue of more than 1.7 billion dollars in the first half of 2015, according to official data.

Last year the island for the first time exceeded the threshold of three million foreign tourists, receiving 3,002,745 million visitors.

In 2015, official forecasts expect to exceed that record as well as the contribution of the sector to the economy, estimated at 2.7 billion dollars.

Cachita, Francis and Pinar del Rio / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Taking the road to Coloma. (Juan Carlos Fernandez)
Taking the road to Coloma. (Juan Carlos Fernandez)

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 10 September 2015 — On Tuesday, the Virgin of Charity – Cachita, as we call her – again traveled the streets of the city of Pinar del Río. The procession was led by Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa and the parish priests of the city. With the support of the Provincial Concert Band and a huge Cuban flag unfurled at the head of the crowd, the procession started in the parish dedicated to the Virgin in San Juan Strett, and proceeded to the Cathedral where Mass is celebrated.

The difference this year has been marked by the approach of the visit of Pope Francis and his connection to the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. Perhaps encouraged by these novelties, a greater number of Pinareños attended the festivities for Cuba’s patron saint on Tuesday.

Anselmo, approaching his eightieth birthday, was one of those who would not miss the moment. “I’m here because the Virgin heard our prayers and gave us a pope who has facilitated what many Cubans wanted,” he told anyone who would listen. “Being on good terms with the United States can be a new beginning,” he said.

The speeches and Masses offered for the Bishop of Rome during his visits to Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil have also raised expectations about the words he will express in Cuba. Francis has increased in many hopes for change and renewal, not only within the Church but also in the social dimension. Pinareños also await those winds of change that surround him.

Cesar Ignacio Arocha Dismissed as Transport Minister and Adel Yzquierdo Appointed / 14ymedio

Adel Yzquierdo, new Minister of Transport. (Ecured)
Adel Yzquierdo, new Minister of Transport. (Ecured)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 September 2015 – The Council of State has dismissed the Minister of Transport, Cesar Ignacio Arocha Macid, according to the official media. Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez, currently the first deputy minister of the Ministry of Economy and Planning, will replace him.

Yzquierdo Rodriguez is considered a trusted figure of Raul Castro. According to Café Fuerte in 2012, when he was unexpectedly appointed first deputy economy minister, he came from the ranks of the Ministry of the Armed Forces (Minfar), where he was director of business and head of Planning and the Economy. A mechanical engineer, the same year he was appointed to the Politburo.

The newspaper Granma affirmed that “it was agreed to relieve [Arocha Macid] from his post,” for “renewal” and that “he would be assigned other tasks,” although it does not specify which ones.

More Than A Hundred Activists Arrested, According UNPACU / 14ymedio

Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU. (14ymedio)
Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 8 September 2015 — The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) denounced on Tuesday the arrest of at least 140 activists in the east of the country between members of the organization and the women’s group Citizens for Democracy. Among those arrested was Ovidio Martin Castellanos, member of the board of UNPACU, said Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the opposition group.

The arrests occurred when the activists tried to reach the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity, on the day of the celebrations for the patroness of Cuba. Localities with high numbers of detainees are Mella and Palmarito del Cauto. Some opponents had left their homes at night or Monday at dawn to reach the Mass in the church.

Several of the detainees, according to Ferrer, “were left in remote locations without transport at night.” Among them are the activists Belkis Castillo, Moralina Díaz, Maidolis Oribe, Keila Ramos and Belkis Marta Beatriz Ferrer. The women also reported violence during the arrests and the retention of their mobile phones.

Plea for Cremata / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Laura German (maid) and Pedro Diaz Ramos (King) in the 'The King is Dying' by Juan Carlos Cremata. (El Ingenio)
Laura German (maid) and Pedro Diaz Ramos (King) in the ‘The King is Dying’ by Juan Carlos Cremata. (El Ingenio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Mexico City, 9 September 2015 – If I were Juan Carlos Cremata’s attorney, in a an eventual appeal to be held in the Chamber of Labor, I would argue the following:

According to one of the whereases in the National Council for Performing Arts’ Resolution No. 10, the reason for canceling the theater production El Ingenio (The Genius) and terminating Juan Carlos Cremata’s contract as a theater director, is that the artist made “intemperate attacks” in the foreign press and social networks against the management of the Theater Center and the National Council of Performing Arts, “who legally represent and sponsor him,” and that those attacks are “incompatible with the social purpose for which the project was created.”

As a lawyer, one could have to argue that the artist’s statements were made in a personal capacity, exercising his legitimate rights and not as a gratuitous attack, but to defend himself against what constituted an attack on his freedom of expression, namely, the suspension of the work, “The King is Dying*.” continue reading

Cremata Expresses an Artist’s Bellyful Against Cultural Repression / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

It should be noted that every day Cuban artists undertake actions on their own accounts corresponding to their needs, their preferences, or from a broad spectrum of their artistic projections and political, religious or philosophical inclinations, which are not contemplated within the social purpose of the institutions that pay for or sponsor their projects.

To accept the obligation that every action undertaken by an artist has to obey the letter of the “social purpose” of one of his or her projects, would be to accept a kind of intellectual slavery in which the painter is prohibited from writing verses or the filmmaker is not permitted to rent rooms in his house, only because such actions are not contemplated in the joyous “social purpose” of a project that has been approved by the institutions that sponsor and represent him.

This action of a legal nature executed against Cremata by the Council for the Performing Arts, itself conflicts with “social purpose” for which this organization was established, because in the text where this purpose is defined it states nowhere that the confidence it has in the artists depends on the degree of coincidence that exists between their propositions and the institution’s interests. (I note that I have never read this text, but I say this here to see if they dare to contradict me and make public such an atrocity.)

Finally, I would like to know if the closing of the theater project El Ingenio leaves the rest of the artistic staff unemployed and what support will be provided to them.

As a lawyer, I quote here as witnesses all those artists who now feel threatened with being ostracized the day it occurs to them to defend themselves for having been censored.

*Translator’s note: This play has also been staged in English in the United States under the title “Exit the King.”

Cultural Authorities Cancel Juan Carlos Cremata’s Contract As A Theater Director / 14ymedio

Theater director Juan Carlos Cremata.
Theater director Juan Carlos Cremata

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 9 September 2015 — The contract of the director Juan Carlos Cremata has been cancelled by the Cuban cultural authorities, as explained by the author himself on Wednesday via email. Cremata has made public the details of meeting he was called to last Monday at the Havana Theater Center, in which he was told of the Ministry of Culture’s National Council of Performing Arts Resolution No. 10, in which his theater project El Ingenio [The Genius] was canceled and his contract as a theater director was terminated.

In a text entitled Condemned to Eternal Silence, or the Chronicle of an Announced Ordeal, the artist specifies that a decision of this nature means that he is “eliminated from any possibility of doing theater in Cuba.” continue reading

In the body of the resolution it says the director provoked an ethical-professional conflict with the management of the Theatre Center and the National Council for the Performing Arts, who legally represent and sponsor him.” According to the official explanation, Cremata made intemperate attacks on these institutions through the foreign press and social networks, incompatible with the social object for which the above-mentioned project was created, leading to a lack of confidence in the artist, all of which disqualified his projects as institutional interests.”

The authorities resolved to halt project El Ingenio Project, ending its sponsorship by the Theater Center. Furthermore, they added, the employment contract in the artistic branch of the Director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti, will be terminated.”

In light of this opinion, the artist states, “Thus is censorship and the exercise of ‘freedom of expression’ legally consolidated in our country, in the 21st century.”

Cremata adds that, The measure was taken without consultation with the National Theater Awards or with other artist guilds. It was a simple vendetta. A calculated summary execution.”

The document is signed only by Marvin Yaquis, director of the Theater Center as employer of the artist, although Cremata identifies as directly responsible Gisela Gonzalez, president of the National Council for the Performing Arts.

“And so there is no mercy for those who think differently. “To the wall*” for those of us who refuse to remain silent. What will be the next step to finish burying me?” asks the film and theater director.

Condemned to Eternal Silence, or the Chronicle of an Announced Ordeal / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Cremata

14ymedio biggerOpen Letter from Juan Carlos Cremata, Havana, 9 September 2015


Dear Friends:

On the morning of Monday, September 7, I was summoned to a meeting at the Theater Center of Havana to have communicated to me Resolution No. 10 (the corresponding document is attached) of the Ministry of Culture, the National Council for the Performing Arts and the Theater Centre of Havana itself, where our theater project El Ingenio [The Genius] is cancelled and my contract is a theater director is terminated.

It also means: I am eliminated from any possibility of doing theater in Cuba.

For those who do not have the calm to read the entire document, here is a summary in the style of trending topic or news highlight: continue reading

WHEREAS: In the months of July and August 2015, the theater director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti, who directs the El Ingenio Project provoked an ethical-professional conflict with the management of the Theatre Center and the National Council for the Performing Arts, who legally represent and sponsor him, by undertaking intemperate attacks on these institutions through the foreign press and social networks, incompatible with the social object for which the above-mentioned project was created, leading to a lack of confidence in the artist, all of which disqualified his projects as institutional interests.

And further (…)


FIRST:  The Project El Ingenio, given its representation by the Theater Center’s performing branch, will be halted.

SECOND: By way of the necessary document, the employment contract in the artistic branch of the Director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti, will be terminated.

Thus is censorship and the exercise of “freedom of expression” legally consolidated in our country, in the 21st century.

The measure was taken without consultation with the National Theater Awards or with other artist guilds. It was a simple vendetta. A calculated summary execution.

And so there is no mercy for those who think differently. “To the wall*” for those of us who refuse to remain silent.

It is a sad time and space in which we have had to live.

What will be the next step to finish burying me?

Draw your own conclusions.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The outrageous document is signed only by the Director of the Theatre Center in his role as an employer, but everything was done to cravenly avoid criticism of the real person responsible for this offense: Mrs. Gisela Gonzalez, president of the National Council of Performing Arts. The Director of the Theater Center, Marvin Yaquis even expressed his deep regret at having to do something he did not like, which he was forced to do.

Please, do not blame him.

He is only the spokesman for the ignominy, the one who carries out the sentence of death “in life” to which I have been condemned.

*Translator’s note: Paredón! – meaning “to the execution wall” – was the infamous shout from the crowds at the show trials against its “enemies” with which the Castro regime inaugurated its taking power in 1959.

Clearly The Leaders Don’t Travel By Bus! / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Long lines to board a bus in Havana. (Aitor Herrero Larrumbide)
Long lines to board a bus in Havana. (Aitor Herrero Larrumbide)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 8 September 2015 – The September 7 news broadcast included a report about public transportation in the Cuban capital. Apart from the curiosity of observing the incipient or frank obesity of almost all the leaders who appear on television, they and other workers in the sector are concerned about the vandalization the buses are subjected to, the frequent breakdowns because they are so overloaded every day, the seven million dollars destined for the purchase of new equipment and spare parts, and the efforts of the company and the country’s leaders to improve service. Although it wasn’t mentioned, the city’s fleet was renovated in 2007 and has now experienced eight years of overuse.

For longer than I thought they would, the buses maintained their good appearance, unmarked and clean. I expected to see these buses prove the “broken window theory” and, indeed, when signs of deterioration began to appear it was unstoppable. In addition to filth, the accordions on the articulated buses are cracked, many of the windows are jammed, the sealing strips are missing and if not dealt with in time those strips that are loose will follow the path of the missing. continue reading

The agency buses, added a few years ago to ease the crisis, now pass up bus stops, already full, despite the desperate signals of their would-be passengers. How much do these buses cost their respective agencies to make only two daily trips which require a driver, gas and a mechanic. How much does it cost?

Private transport trucks supplement some of the shortcomings of public transport, but the solution is not to transport people in trucks, not to mention the price is several times higher, given that they offer a deficient service.

Private carriers should have the option of bank loans or other methods to acquire a bus 

The news report mentioned the lack of scruples of those who urinate in the buses, the graffiti “artists,” the rudeness of those who push to get on first, and even sadder, the lack of solidarity for older people or people with children. With summer vacation just ended, I have fresh images of parents who in the desire to give their children some distraction, traveled with their little ones to the beach or the zoo without other passengers offering them a seat. There are seats for the disabled, the pregnant and people with small children, clearly differentiated by their yellow color, but a great many people feel that if those seats are already occupied, too bad. Twice I have spoken up to demand a seat for women with babies, and failed.

The drivers, on more than a few occasions, are a part of the problem rather than the solution. As they are now required to pay out a sum of money before each trip, the informal fare collector has appeared who, on behalf of the driver, collects the fares and encourages the passengers to get on by the back door so as to stop as briefly as possible. The drivers are deaf to passenger complaints of excessive speed, sudden braking or the imposition of their own musical tastes; and I don’t even bother to ask them not to smoke. All this along with the previous paragraph gives an idea of how we travel and our values at the social level.

The idea of turning public transport into a cooperative has often been raised—a different way of trying to resolve some of the city’s oldest problems—but control remains in the hands of the Urban Bus Company.

Private carriers should have the option of bank loans or other methods to acquire a bus and let the trucks go back to carrying goods. These are not new ideas, they have proved their value in practice and have been aired in public forums, specialized meetings and in public opinions surveyed by the written press. There is no explanation for why, in the so-called updating of the country’s economic model, the “lack of haste*” hasn’t resulted in a viable alternative for easing the crisis in public transport.

This is perfectly captured in one of the most often heard phrases at the bus stops: Cleary the leaders don’t travel by bus!

*Translator’s note: From a phrase delivered in a speech by Raul Castro commenting that the update of the economic model would be accomplished “without pause, but without haste.”

Felipe Kast: “There Was No Dialogue, Only Force” / 14ymedio

Chilean congressman Felipe Kast marching with the Ladies in White in Havana.
Chilean congressman Felipe Kast marching with the Ladies in White in Havana.

14ymedio, Havana, 7 September 2015 – The congressman from Chile’s Evopoli party, Felipe Kast, who denounced this Sunday that he had been held for almost three hours for participating in a peaceful demonstration of the Ladies in White in Havana, spoke with 14ymedio about his experience from Santiago de Chile.

The Chilean party deputy Evópoli, Felipe Kast, who reported on Monday that had been held for almost three hours for participating in a peaceful demonstration of the Ladies in White in Havana, talks about his experience with 14ymedio from Santiago.

14ymedio. Why did you decide to go with the Ladies in White and other activists?

Felipe Kast. The Ladies in White have long suffered violent arrests simply for walking peacefully to demand respect for human rights in Cuba. On my visit to Cuba for family reasons, the least I could do was accompany them in their Sunday march. continue reading

14ymedio. How did you make plans to join the march?

Kast. First I greeted Father Pepe Felix, pastor of Santa Rita Church, whom I met when I studied in Cuba in 2000, and then I joined in the walk of the Ladies in White.

14ymedio. What was the march like?

Kast. It was a very peaceful walk with 49 Ladies and about ten sympathizers. Everything was going great and quiet until the official shock group showed up

The walk was attacked by an ambush of several vehicles, buses and approximately 100 people, who intervened violently against those of us who were walking. There was no dialogue, only force.

14ymedio. What was the arrest like?

Kast. It was a violent arrest. About six or seven people beat me to the ground. After immobilizing and handcuffing me, I was put in an official vehicle and was taken to a police station in Vedado.

“During interrogation, they tried to bond with US groups, but found nothing”

During the interrogation, they tried to link me with groups in the US, but found nothing. They asked me questions like, “How many times have you traveled to United States? More than five? More than ten? Then they asked me about the people who had hosted me, but I explained to them that, for fear that later they would bother them or take away their license, I preferred to remain silent. They were increasingly annoyed until in one minute there was another change in attitude. I imagine it was because the Foreign Ministry had called.

14ymedio. Was your departure from José Martí airport already planned for Monday or were you forced to leave?

Kast. From the police station they sent me straight to the airport. Coincidently my return flight was that same afternoon.

14ymedio. Did you talk about human rights with the Cuban authorities?

Kast. I talked to those who beat me, handcuffed me and then held incommunicado. I do not know whether the delegation of officials and businessmen from Chile visiting Cuba addressed the issue.

Financing Heroism / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The May Day rally in Camagüey. (Flickr / CC)
The May Day rally in Camagüey. (Flickr / CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 September 2015 — The old controversy between material incentives and moral incentives seems to return to the fore amid “the updating of the Cuban economic model.” According to an article published in the newspaper Trabajadores (Workers) under the signature of Gabino Manguela, the Heroes of Labor today lack the attention they received at the time when the State was the one that financed this simulation of a union.

The writer notes that “the decision was nothing short of traumatic, but certainly, it was impossible for the economy to sustain this multi-million peso level of financing, which some years exceeded 20 million Cuban pesos.”

In the first half of the ‘80s the stimuli to the “Heroes of Labor” and the “National Vanguards” still consisted of trips to socialist countries. I remember a discussion that I had with an important official of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC) when I was looking for information for a story for the magazine Cuba Internacional. The union leader insisted that these trips were a gift from the commander-in-chief [Fidel Castro] and that this should be reflected. continue reading

I tried to convince him that this was not “politically correct” in our publication (which was, preferably, distributed abroad) because it gave the impression that the commander possessed an enormous personal fortune, which he could dispose of at will. The official stood up and slammed his fist on the desk telling me that I didn’t understand anything. “The most important thing is that this trip is not to go on an excursion abroad, but a gift from Fidel. This is what makes it a moral stimulus!” he shouted.

What has happened now, it seems, is that this “petty cash” has disappeared from the nation’s budget and that in certain circles of power it was mentioned as “the commander’s account.” The final use of these funds was the investment in the Battle of Ideas, dissolved by Raul Castro.

Now it is intended that the material incentives not be considered “undue gratuities” but one more method of payment

Now it is intended that the material incentives, those that cost money, such as a week in a hotel in Varadero, depend on the resources of some company, both for the Vanguards and the Heroes; thus these expenditures are not considered “unearned gratuities” but as another method of payment, deducted from the earnings of the business and obtained thanks to the extraordinary efforts of its best workers.

Trabajadores, the publication of the CTC, wonders if it would be so difficult for entities and ministries that have in their ranks these Heroes of Labor, to finance – with their profits – one week a year with a companion, at no cost, at one of the first class tourist centers. It also suggests that those who have cars are helped to acquire spare parts and tires. There are barely 150 of these nationwide, many of them retired.

The problem is that all this remains restricted under the crass chapter of material stimulus and no longer has the charm of being “a gift from the Maximum Leader.”

The Pope Will Meet With Fidel Castro According To ‘Vatican Insider’ / 14ymedio

Altar being prepared for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana (Luz Escobar)
Altar being prepared for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 September 2015 — Pope Francis will meet with the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, during his upcoming trip to the island, scheduled from 19 to 22 September, as revealed on Monday on the site Vatican Insider.

In the article, it is explained that the Vatican requested the meeting, which has received the green light from the authorities of the Island. The details of the meeting, to be held in Havana are still unknown.

Sources close to the papal entourage consulted by Vatican Insider say there is a good atmosphere for the agreement to kept.

The former Cuban leader was received at the Vatican in 1996 by then Pope John Paul II, whom he met with again two years later in Havana. After this visit, then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio led a task force to analyze the teaching of the Polish pope in the country. In 2012, Fidel Castro also met with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the island.

Sketch For A Debate On Inequality / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Social differences (Photo Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
Social differences (Photo Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

Regina Coyula, Havana, 5 September 2015 — The distinguished researcher Pedro Monreal in his interesting work Social Inequality In Cuba, Triumphal March? which I recommend reading, notes that there is no scientific evidence to support that economic decentralization brings inequality. The inequalities are not the result of economic adjustments implemented in recent years. They are older; only now they are more, greater and more visible. While I do not have a scientific formula, observation of the environment allows one to also diagnose with sufficient empirical logic that Cuban society is experiencing rising inequality.

Economic policy has served to widen the gap between different income levels, more evident since the expansion of self-employment. Previous policies, in their intent to reduce this gap, had the dubious achievement of making a clean sweep downwards, that is, impoverishment. Improvisation and voluntarism still have their day and have been a constant which economists and planners have had to deal with. continue reading

Privileging the term social justice rather than the equality offers better perspectives

The full social equality, liberty and dignity that so many talk about, are relative concepts in our society; the so-called “circumstantial necessity” of inequality seems much more permanent; social equality rests in equality of opportunities, but not of possibilities. To privilege the term “social justice” before that of equality offers better perspectives.

If I understood the Palma coefficient correctly as an indicator of the degree of inequality comparing the richest 10% of society and the poorest 40%; in the study of the statistics a comparative analysis with similar strata of society before the economic crisis of the ‘90s and before the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 cannot be omitted.

Beyond production and productivity, a source of income that has nothing to do with work is remittances—money sent from family or friends abroad. Any citizen who receives just 100 CUC a month lives notably better than the immense majority of Cubans. Nor should we forget the point that remittances are received mostly by residents of the capital and by white people, and the terms of this paragraph are very important when speaking of inequality.

Let passion blind no one: mismanagement of the economy has been the responsibility of the socialist government, no matter how many attacks, “blockades” and “media campaigns against Cuba” have been generated from the exterior. It is not enough to have guaranteed health care, education and social security prior to our hitting bottom in the crisis of the ‘90s, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

The disappearance of Soviet subsidies exposed the vulnerability and the ineffectiveness of the domestic economy; not only had the national project that would bring welfare and justice not been achieved, but along the way, the social cost meant a loss of freedoms, moral and material impoverishment, and massive emigration. This is not the idea of a successful naitonal project.

Policy changes often create expectations that end up being disappointed

Monreal discusses the overlap between the political analysis of inequality and economic analysis. Like the academic adventure itself, policy changes often create expectations that end up being disappointed. I believe that this element, which refers directly to a criticism of the government, is intended to avoid leaving the analysis in the field of the economists.

To mention the Battle of Ideas* strikes a dissonant tone in a study of inequality, because that effort absorbed substantial economic resources for an exclusively political objective. These unknown and difficult to measure figures impede the calculation of a cost-benefit balance, but I have not the least doubt that those resources would have been much better employed had they been used for the construction and repair of houses, for one example.

It will be very hard for the socialist vision to see the workers happy to offer their skins for tanning – according to the Marxist allegory cited by Monreal – if in that way they can finish the month without “production failures” or “diversion of resources.”

This will happen with the coming of foreign businesses paying poverty-level wages, relative to their countries of origin, but yet much higher than current Cuban wages. This is what happened in Vietnam and China, now “revisionists” (a word now fallen into oblivion but so in vogue in the sixties and seventies of the last century) with respect to Marxist theory.

Without proof, I say this more as an observation and common sense, my impression is that Cubans are not entirely satisfied with the maxim “better the known evil”… and feel inclined to take risks and test their strengths in the vagaries of an open economy, and perhaps in this way, feel themselves to be less unequal.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro coined the term “Battle of Ideas” during the custody battle over the Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old lone survivor of a group of Cuban rafters, rescued off the coast of Florida in 2008.


The Arrogance of “Forgiveness” / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Pope Francis I at the European Parliament last November. (Flickr / CC)
Pope Francis I at the European Parliament last November. (Flickr / CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 September 2015 – Pope Francis has just taken an extraordinary step: he has arranged for the Catholic Church to grant forgiveness to women who had abortions during the Holy Year (December 8, 2015 to December 20, 2016) provided they are sincerely repentant of it. This is a temporary authorization for the clergy to exercise love and the infinite mercy of God.

Only time will tell if such a decision, included in the changes launched by Bergoglio since his ascension to the Papal throne, will turn out to be temporary or more permanent in character. However, we must recognize that the step taken by the pontiff is, at minimum, bold. It could not be otherwise, if he really intends to carry out a process that places the Catholic Church — essentially backward — on track to assimilate the dynamics of the twenty-first century, when religious scholastic pruderies are being relegated in the presence of new realities that pose real challenges to old moral orders, such as this and other controversial issues, including the recognition of gay rights and gay marriage.  continue reading

Two thousand years of successful existence suggest that Catholicism has sufficient resources and intellect to adapt to changes

Two thousand years of successful existence suggest that Catholicism has sufficient resources and wisdom to adapt to changes. In fact, no other religion has a political structure as organized as to form a State, and one of the oldest in Europe at that. Let’s hope that it will finally start moving towards this globalized world without any major setbacks.

Good for Francis, who has chosen to stick his neck out for issues so difficult to reconcile, such as the right to life that those condemning abortion proclaim, and the right of women to make decisions over motherhood and their own wombs, a battle that millions of women and Western society feminist movements emphatically defend.

As usually happens with controversial issues, the Pope’s stance is provoking mixed reactions. Those who consider this a cosmetic measure have criticized the move. Others hold that the Church has finally begun to delve into issues that are being discussed at the global level on which there is no consensus. 

We females are much more than mere uterine containers over which male arrogance may decide

In fairness, it is needless to say that the Catholic Church could not do any more, especially when it is an institution so hampered by machismo throwbacks, such as the myth of virginity, celibacy, the exclusion of ordination of women to address parishioners as priests, subordination of nuns to the male clergy and other equally discriminatory practices. But the Church’s truly revolutionary position in this case means a step back in feminine objectives. What political power can claim the right to decide about motherhood?

In any case, the debate on abortion falls, first and foremost, to women, and they should be the ones who ultimately decide on their bodies and the consequences arising from their nature as receptacles for the reproduction of human life. Women are much more than mere uterine containers over which male arrogance may decide. So, the position of “forgiveness” of the stiff Catholic Church is appreciated, but it would be necessary to establish the “guilt” beforehand. It is not clear how the lords of the Church, so far removed from sexual matters and procreation of children in their celibate world could discern this particular point. By the way, perhaps ending celibacy would be a good starting place for the updating of the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, the merciful ecclesiastical forgiveness will be barely a good gesture for the faithful who submit themselves to punishment and remorse for ever having the ability to have decided over their fertility. It will have, above all, symbolic value as a point of departure from the old dogmas. No more.

The mere word “forgiveness” contains a world of arrogance under a cloak of apparent generosity

It is not that abortion, legal or not, is good. Radical measures never are. But it is undeniable that women’s freedom of choice about motherhood is, as is the choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy safely and with the greatest assurance for her own life. This has cost centuries of struggle and countless women’s deaths in clandestine clinics, or as a result of malpractice, often carried out without a modicum of the requirements of health and hygiene. Because there has always been and will always be women who, for countless reasons, opt for abortion in given circumstances that no one, other than they, should judge.

I think the mere word “forgiveness” contains a world of arrogance under a cloak of apparent generosity. Forgiveness presupposes the existence of a morally superior entity fully entitled to label the actions and lives of others, and so arrogant in his own narcissism that he attributes himself the virtue to absolve the supposed sins of others. If indeed there is a God in heaven, He should punish such a great vanity.

Although, on second thought, we women should be generous with the Catholic Church. Let us thank the good intentions of having had, for the first time in centuries, the delicacy of directing its eyes toward us, those eyes usually focused up on high sacred and mundane grounds. Those who have faith in God should pray, pray lots, to save the souls of those men who, with or without cassocks, continue to use our status as fertile females to carry out their politicking. Amen.