What one learns in Panama / Reinaldo Escobar

Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade, speaks at a Business Forum at the Americas Summit. (Twitter)
Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade, speaks at a Business Forum at the Americas Summit. (Twitter)

Reinado Escobar, Panama, 10 April, 2015 — Intransigence against tolerance, ideological deafness against a willingness to talk, radicalism against moderation, slogans against arguments, and many other pairs of conflicting definition could serve to headline a commentary on what is happening in Panama during the Seventh Summit of the Americas.

The pro-government Civil Society delegations from Cuba and Venezuela have systematically dedicated themselves to boycotting the parallel forums, because for them it is more important to discredit their political adversaries who favor a consensus that could conclude in a message from the civil society of the American people to their respective government. They have opted to beat, insult and denigrate their own compatriots, rather than sit down to civilized debate with them. continue reading

In a business atmosphere, however, Cuban officials have not been shy about conversing animatedly with representatives of the continent’s exploiting class. Radicalism only fits in the message being sent to the spectators, where photos of Che Guevera, little Cuban flags and wanton gestures are flying. At the other tables, among cocktails and smiles, the area’s capitalists are invited to come and invest in the Island.

Anyone might think that it is inconvenient to show both faces on the same stage, but no, the logic is different. The Government is telling prospective investors, “This is how we treat strikers, those who protest against you.”

The lesson for civil society in the countries that retain some residue of democracy is clear. The day when, in their nations, the politics supported by the Cuban government triumph, they will have to learn to conduct themselves like transmission belts, as Lenin defined the role of labor unions in socialism, otherwise they will have to get used to being treated like mercenaries, cockroaches, worms and whatever other vermin those who bet on totalitarianism choose to call them.

Another signal of a traffic signal / Reinaldo Escobar

Went former president Fidel Castro passed by, the escorts turned the light red at the corner of 11 and 12. (14ymedio)
Went former president Fidel Castro passed by, the escorts turned the light red at the corner of 11 and 12. (14ymedio)

Reinaldo Escobar, 6 April 2015 — Recently, there came to light a chance encounter between former Cuban president Fidel Castro and a group of Venezuelans visiting a Havana school. A story broadcast on national TV gave a brief overview of the little school that the then Maximum Leader (today Historic Leader) ordered to be built in the exclusive Siboney neighborhood so that the children wouldn’t have to walk such long distances. Going to school there are the children of the staff serving the place known as “ground zero”, where today Fidel is spending his old age. From his “Castro-mobile” he waved, shook hands, asked questions and offered predictions. “He’s alive,” the excited visitors commented joyously. continue reading

A few miles from his private home, is the block of 11th between 10th and 12th n Vedado. There the commander had another site of work and repose. Those who have visited this sanctuary affirm that it features a gym and a swimming pool and, when “the boss” was enthusiastic about cattle, it came to have one or several cows for experiments. Those were the days when he was more alive than anyone and his compañera in the struggle, Celia Sanchez, shared all her concerns with him in this place.

Each time the motorcade that carried him came and went from that house, the guards turned the traffic light red at the corner of 11th and 12th. Poking out of the windows of the Oldsmobiles, the Alfa Romeos, the Mercedes Benzes, according to the time, were the muzzles of his personal security detail and one had to wait for the parsimony of the soldier on duty for the green light to appear.

Time has passed and many vultures have flown over the Plaza of the Revolution. Nobody important passes through there any more. The old traffic light, independent of the traffic network, no longer makes sense and has been retired, literally ripped down. Its supports and cables hang for no reason over the middle of the street. The checkpoint where the guards relax in the shade remains. You still have to identify yourself to enter the block. A life has become a museum piece, and no longer makes any decisions, only memories, documents, photos, correspondence, that some day will be consigned to oblivion.

A Leader Of Civil Society, A Real Story Without A Moral / Reinaldo Escobar

Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2015 — On a cold November morning in the late eighties, some two hundred of us were trying to come to an agreement to organize a line to buy interprovincial bus tickets at an agency in Havana’s Playa municipality. As usually happens in these cases, the line had two heads, both justifying themselves with loud protestations of their indisputable evidence of having arrived first.

The vast majority of those gathered there were trying to spend Christmas in some province. For inexplicable reasons, two parallel lists had been drawn up, both established at different times. At that time – and to some extent still – the police prohibited these lists, so it wasn’t possible to appeal to the police authority to establish some order in such a confusing situation. continue reading

At six in the morning, two hours from when ticket sales would commence, an angry Hercules type said that if there was no agreement he would be the first to buy a ticket, and he looked around to see if anyone disagreed. From the shadows, a man in his forties made a call for sanity. He was not of robust build and barely five feet tall, but he had a strong voice and seemed to be supported by the conviction that reason, well exposed, always has a chance of prevailing.

Doing his best to hide his obvious nervousness, he yelled as loud as he could, “Pay attention, please!” and calling on some hidden courage to invest himself with some authority, he invited both lines to stand one beside the other. Once that was achieved, he offered the magic formula. “What we have to do here is interweave ourselves.”

His leadership “burned” for the good of others, in an altruistic gesture showing that the most important thing was not “to shine, but to let there be light.”

The solution meant that everyone was further back in the line from where they considered themselves, such that if you were number 10 in one of the lines, now you were number 20. With unusual precision, the spontaneous organizer drew up and handed out numbers* on paper with his signature. Amid protests and agreements, acceptances and rejections of all kinds, the long line was happily established.

I got my ticket to Camagüey, Hercules was at the end and I never knew what became of him. The serene promoter of harmony was two places ahead of me, but he didn’t manage to get tickets to Santiago de Cuba. The natural authority he had displayed had not resulted in his personal gain, just assured him a place in line. His leadership “burned” for the good of others, in an altruistic gesture showing that the most important thing was not “to shine, but to let there be light.”

*Translator’s note: Lines in Cuba generally form by each person asking, as they arrive, “who’s last” and then noting who they are behind. In this way, people don’t actually have to stand in their place in line for what can be hours and hours of waiting. 

An Innocent Proposition / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 March 2015 – The announced intention to promulgate a new Elections Law has already generated controversy.

It is striking that there is no talk of reforming the current law, only of writing a new one. As a blog is no space for legal dissertations, I want to limit myselt here to formulating a completely innocent proposal:

“Let the Cuban voters know how the candidates think.”

Or, to put it another way:

Let every voter have the ability to know how the deputies he or she elects is going to vote continue reading

in the Parliament.

Currently, this is not possible (although everyone assumes that the deputies are going to approve everything proposed to them). The current elections law, in the second paragraph of Article 71, referring to electoral ethics, establishes:

To determine which candidate will receive his vote, every voter will only consider the candidate’s: personal characteristics, prestige, and ability to serve the people.

And it then specifies:

The advertising presented will be the biographies, accompanied by a reproduction of the image of the candidate, and will be posted in public sites or through the mass media or other forms of dissemination, according to the provisions dictated by the National Electoral Commission.

If a miracle were to happen that allowed the candidates to express their unique proposals, then the voters would not be limited to considering only their biographical merits but also, as an essential thing, their political opinions, their platforms.

The homophobic and the homosexual would know who has the idea of legalizing same-sex couples, the private entrepreneur and the state bureaucrat would know who proposes to lower taxes, the baseball fanatic and the opera aficionado would be able to know, before exercising their vote, which candidate proposes to invest in a stadium and which in a theater. And much more. Who is communist or liberal, who is a social democrat or a Christian democrat.

But we leave the innocent formula so as not to upset the enemies of multi-partyism:

“Let the Cuban voters know how the candidates think.”

The potatoes arrived! No more potatoes! / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2015 – Early in the morning Josefina heard on the morning news that Artemisa province had started the potato harvest. She heard that the “planned economy” target was almost 8,800 tons of potatoes and that the harvest would run through the middle of April. Almost intuitively, she looked through the blinds of her 8th floor apartment from where she could see that at the nearby farmers market there were two trucks unloading some sacks.

At that moment her daughter Olivia was staging the daily drama of putting on her primary school uniform and Josefina was faced the dilemma or whether to go stand in line before taking her daughter to school. “The potatoes are here!” her neighbor shouted and half the building leaned over their balconies to confirm it. By twenty minutes to eight she had already left her daughter, hair uncombed, at the door of the school, where an aide asked her, “Is it true? Are the potatoes here?”

The line extended around the corner, but her friend who sells plastic bags outside the market beckoned her to come and stand behind her. Half an hour later, Josefina had achieved her purpose. She hadn’t eaten a real potato for six months, and had only rarely had the hard currency necessary to buy a bag of dehydrated potatoes. The additional advantage was that 20 pounds of potatoes only cost 20 pesos in national money*, less than what she would have to spend for a little packet of instant mashed potatoes.

As she was leaving the market she heard the authoritative voice of the administrator shout, “No more potatoes!” A few steps away two burly young men whispered their proposed alternative, “A ten pound bag, only two fulitas (“little dollars”)**.”

Translator’s notes:

*See this article for a discussion of Cuba’s dual currency system.

**In other words, the black market potatoes cost more than four times the official market price… but they are available.

And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket
Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2014 – It’s been three years since the Communist Party of Cuba’s First National Conference. As can be expected, few are the people, including a great part of that organization’s own militants, who remember what was agreed to at that meeting and, to an even lesser extent, which of the adopted accords remain unimplemented. But, who cares?

The “Work Objectives” approved by the Conference, point 62 of Chapter II, titled “Ideological and Political Work,” outlines the need to “work especially on the conceptualization of the theoretical fundamentals of the Cuban economic model.” Eight months prior to that Conference, the Communist Party of Cuba’s Sixth Congress had revealed the Guidelines (Lineamientos) that would govern the country’s economic and social policies. All pointed to the fact that, since conceptualization could not be the source of inspiration for the Guidelines, it could at least be its after-the-fact theoretical justification.

However, the task of theorizing seems to be more complex than the practical application or, to say it in official jargon, “the implementation” of the Guidelines, which have a structure led by Mr. Marino Murillo, Minister of the Economy. Who is responsible for the conceptualization? What entity is committed to undertake it? No one knows. continue reading

The term “update” has been chosen to define what, in less official settings, is referred to as “reforms” to the Cuban economic model. The genesis of said model was designed based on those economic theses which, in 1975, during the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, put in practice the so-called Economic Direction and Planning System. But, that framework collapsed when in 1986 the comandante unleashed the Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies. All that has come since then has been a chain of improvisations filled with patches intended to find momentary solutions — to keep “resolving.” Today, when speaking of “updating,” no one explains clearly what has aged or where the novelties have come from. That would be the task of conceptualization!

Today, when speaking of “updating”, no one explains clearly what has aged or where the novelties have come from

The first condition needed to achieve this mission impossible of conceptualizing what has been outlined by the Guidelines would be that the formulations bear some coherence to the principles of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine or, at the very least, with one of the vague statements made by the historic leader. Not even Cantinflas would be able to do it. Unless, of course, some enlightened graduate of the Ñico López National School of the Party has found the keys to the new revelation. But the evolution of our reality demands another kind of theoretical orchestration. To appeal to the conceptual tools that lie at the origin of our problems cannot result in the emergence of solutions. That would be like trying to uphold geocentric principles using string theory or explaining Cuban “Bufo” Theater with the Stanislavski System.

We’re a little over a year away from the Communist Party of Cuba’s Seventh Congress. If only as an elemental formality, the conceptualization should be presentable before that event, so that it may be discussed and approved. But, who cares?

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

The Children of Melchior / Reinaldo Escobar

The Magi, the Three Kings
The Magi, the Three Kings

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 January 2015 – January 5, 1957. Under the enormous tamarind tree in the yard of my house in Camaguey, my cousin Alcibiades looked at me incredulously when I read a letter I intended to leave for the Three Kings. We were both 10, but he knew everything about life: where babies came from, how to light a cigar, and the basic differences between a Ford and a Chevrolet.

With his usual insolence he said, “Are you bonkers? Don’t you know it’s your father who puts the presents under your bed tonight?”

“Yeah, of course,” I said, confused, and put the letter in the pocket of my shirt. continue reading

I looked at my father and he returned the look; I couldn’t believe it. He had to be Melchior, even though he didn’t have a beard. I was the son of one of the Three Kings! There was no other explanation.

Years later I learned all the details. Not even their names were in the Bible, where Saint Matthew told how they were astrologers following a star and that they candidly alerted King Herod to the coming of the Messiah and he, in order to prevent it, unleashed the slaughter of the innocents.

Even today I bump into the same naiveté of my early childhood.

The difference is that now I am the infidel Alcibiades, revealing to the gullible that what happened in Cuba in the last half century isn’t even based on a myth, but a scam.

But there will always be another son of Melchior believing that “this” is justice and when I reveal to him that the system prevailing in Cuba isn’t even the socialism described by the classics, he will conclude that my description must be wrong because the country is on the right track.

Far from the Island, the stars continue to follow their imperturbable course.

Are You One of Those Human Rights People? / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 December 2014 — Victims of political illiteracy — as so aptly described by Dagoberto Valdés — many people do not know the difference between being a member of an opposition party, a civil society activist, an independent journalist or a protester in their own right. All are usually accommodated under a single definition: “Those human rights people.”

I’m not going to give a history here — which needs to be written – of the Cuban movement in defense of human rights. In the last thirty years, several have specialized in researching, noting and reporting on violations committed in the country of those rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued on 10 December 1948. continue reading

Such has been the hostility of the Cuban authorities to these claims, that in more than one act of repudiation voices have been heard to vociferously scream the infamous slogan, “Down with Human Rights!” This demonization has reached such an extreme that for many years the mere allusion that you have a right to something has been seen as suspicious.

Who are those who dare to approach, to jump the barriers of fear? Strangers who knock on the door, telephone calls from prison, old friends who reappear. Anyone who has seen their rights violated and has dared to go through their own Via Cruces of legal appeals, including the useless visit to the Council of State’s Office of Attention to the Population, or the call to the prosecutor’s new phone numbers when there is no other recourse, then he or she seeks out one of those “human rights people.”

The moral force of this dreaded spectrum, typecast as mercenaries in the pay of the empire, has been growing. I know of cases that are invoked as a threat, ”If you don’t resolve this problem I’m going to go to those human rights people, and see what you are going to do about it!” says the lady who built an bedroom extension on her house that they now want to make her demolish; or the worker in the process of retiring who claims a few years of service are missing from his file; or those convicted without proof, fined for no reason, the self-employed worker whose license they are going to revoke, someone who suffers a confiscation, a search; in short, all those being run over.

It is not enough to explain that others dedicate themselves to this issue, including journalists, independent librarians, or the creators of a political platform. In the end they don’t understand and they say to you, “I know you are one of those human rights people,” and there is no way to convince them that they should approach another specialist on this issue. We end up hearing the case and helping the injured.

How would you react? Would you, perhaps, tell me that you aren’t one of those human rights people either?

Between confrontation and dialogue / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 31 October 2014 – There has been a lot of talk lately of the presumed improvement in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. In both countries there are tons of supporters for two antagonistic positions, which in summary and without a desire to simplify, can be reduced to two terms: confrontation and dialog.

Rivers of ink and saliva have been spilled to argue both ways and the more reasons are put forward the further away the solution seems. The worst is when the passions lead to personal attacks and the dismissal of those who think differently. And so I renounce mentioning names here and refrain from appealing to disparaging epithets.

If I were forced to choose I would vote for dialog. I resist confrontation.

But it is not enough. We immediately have to respond to another question that introduces a new dilemma: an unconditional dialog or without conditions.

The General President has insisted that he is willing to sit at the table as long as he is treated equally or, and it’s the same thing, under the condition that his legitimacy is not questioned. And of course without being asked to renounce the “bedrock principles of the Revolution.”

What legitimacy are we talking about? If we refer to the number of countries with which the Cuban government maintains diplomatic relations, its presence in international organizations or its ability to dictate laws and enforce them across the length and breadth of the country, then we have no choice but to admit that the Cuban leaders enjoy a high level of legitimacy even though they are considered dictators, usurpers or repressors of their people, and that is very evident in lack of popular will expressed in free elections. continue reading

Is there a universal standard of legitimacy for governments or do various interpretations of democracy and human rights exist? Perhaps we will have to admit that a government can imprison its political opponents, violently repress peaceful activists, fail to sign or ratify international treaties on human rights, deny or prohibit the legitimate existence of an independent civil society, oblivious to the power transmission created by the protection of the only permitted party; denying their citizens participation in the management of the economy so solicitously offered to foreign investors and that everyone has to recognize them because they have reduced child mortality to first world levels and for maintaining a universal system of free education.

It is likely that once the biology performs its inexorable duty, it exponentially raises the possibilities of sitting down to talk

If the norm for measuring legitimacy could change at the will of those seeking to be recognized as legitimate, then everyone would be in this game, from the North Korean regime to Al Qaeda, and if we look in retrospect we would also have to accept the Pretoria of apartheid or the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, not moving beyond contemporary history.

But we are in Cuba and we’re talking about a government rigidly controlled by a highest leadership of octogenarians. Regardless of the promises of continuity made by those on the horizon as the relief team, what is most likely is that once biology performs its inexorable duty, it exponentially raises the possibilities of sitting down to talk.

Because none of those who are going to occupy the government or political offices at that time, it is understood, will be responsible for mass executions, or thoughtless seizures, or even feel guilty about the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, because in that year, if they had been born, they were children or teenagers. Opportunists who applauded in order to rise? Yes, but this is an accusation that does not carry a life sentence.

I have not the slightest doubt that the most optimistic results arise from a dialog between the Cuban authorities and the now disunited and still weak civil society that could bear fruits comparable to Poland’s, to use a well-known example; still less if it is a dialog between the Cuban and American governments, in the absence of the independent civil society on the island and in exile.

I can bet that “the ruling party” is going to negotiate with ferocity for the best pieces of the pie, whose most appetizing ingredients are the guarantee to not be judged and the possibility of maintaining control over the successful sectors of the economy.

But I’m also sure that the path of confrontation—through maintaining the embargo, the inclusion of Cuba on the list of terrorist countries or the dismissal that assimilates the internal opposition into the “subversion financed from abroad”—only serves to consolidate the positions of the dictatorship both on the international and domestic scene.

I would prefer not to have to choose, but I don’t want to keep waiting, and I am not talking about the future of my children, but of my grandchildren.

What You Saved Yourself From Camilo! / Reinaldo Escobar

Camilo Cienfuegos (archive photo)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 31 October 2014 – For the first and last time, I saw him from afar for a fraction of a second on 21 October 1959, the day he passed through Camaguey to arrest Comandante Huber Matos. No one understood anything, but the presence of Camilo in the midst of the confusion gave us confidence that everything would be solved in the best possible way.

The details of the moment when his disappearance was reported (a week later) has been erased from my memory, but I haven’t forgotten that instant when they announced the false news that he had been found. People on the streets brought out flags and pictures of the Virgin of Charity. The joy was brief, but unforgettable.

How is it possible that in all these years, when not a single square yard remains unexplored, that not a single vestige has appeared (…)?

For a long time I was convinced that he might appear at any moment. In the years when I thought myself a poet, I even penned some verses describing his return. All the times I flew between Camaguey and Havana, every time I do it, I wondered what could be the reason for plunging into the sea… how a Cessna, that never flies too high, could fall on a site other than the island platform? How is it possible that in all these years, when not a single square yard remains unexplored, that not even one vestige has appeared, a part of an engine, the propeller, what do I know…

If he had survived what happened and not been involved in another similar incident, Camilo Cienfuegos would today be another octogenarian at the summit of power. If he had not been sacked, imprisoned or shot, he would be burdened today with the responsibility for a national disaster. We would no longer be discussing if he was more popular than the “other one,” but if he was as guilty.

Right now, as I write these lines, students are marching along the Malecon with flowers, the people who work in offices are leaving earlier than usual because they are going to throw flowers in the sea for Camilo. A ritual now lacking the emotions of the first years, when those who went to the shore to pay homage did so with tears in their eyes, and without having to be summoned by the director of a workplace or the principal of a school.

Death has immortalized among us his cheerful and popular image. If there is something beyond, and from that place he is watching us, he must feel happy to have disappeared in time. The death saved him from the ignominy, and the probable temptation of corruption and the humiliation of having been treated as a traitor and as an accomplice.

My October Crisis / Reinaldo Escobar

"The Nation On the Brink of War" -- The Missile Crisis referred to in the official Cuban press.
“The Nation On the Brink of War” — The Missile Crisis referred to in the official Cuban press.

By Reinaldo Escobar — One of my recurring journalistic fantasies consists of managing to reveal some hidden secret. Among my darkest objects of research are two in the month of October: The Missile Crisis and the death of Camilo Cienfuegos. On this occasion I will speak of the first, but as I have no access to the archives I will tell when I myself experienced in that critical episode in our recent history.

I was 15 and was working in the coffee plantations of Guisa, in the Sierra Maestra. That was the first great mobilization of Cuban students for volunteer work, according to agreements reached at the First Confgress of the Secondary Students Union (UES), held on 6 August of that same year, 1962. Thousands of us students participated in this harvest which yielded – according to published data – the highest output in history, over 27 million pounds of coffee.

On Monday, 22 October, more or less at the time that president John F. Kennedy imposed the naval blockage on our island, our backpacks were stuffed with coffee beans, without anyone noticing any alteration in the routine. And so the week ended. Without telephones, electricity or portable radios.

(…) I saw a photo of Fidel displaying the five fingers of his right hand with a headline (…) “The Five Points of Cuba”

The first of November I had to “go down to the town” to visit a doctor because I was suffering from uncontrollable diarrhea. On throwing myself off the cart that left me in Guisa, I ran into a bar where I found rustic facilities to relieve my cramps. At eye height, there were a few sheets of the newspaper “Revolution” – the newspaper Granma didn’t exist yet – stuck on a nail. On looking over the first page, I saw a photo of Fidel displaying the five fingers of his right hand with a headline that said, as I remember, “The five points of Cuba.”

Stunned as I was, I was pulling off the sheets – which someone had had the delicacy to put in reverse chronological order – one by one. My feelings at this moment, apart from the physical, were many. On the one hand I felt guilty for not being behind one of the “cuatro bocas” – the “four mouths” as we called the Czech-made machine guns – at the supreme moment when “the maximum leader” proclaimed “we are all one in this hour of danger.”

(…) While our world was about to burst, our brave little brigade was gathering the coffee beans, abandoned to its fate

At times I had the insane idea that while our world was about to burst, our brave little brigade was gathering the coffee beans, abandoned to its fate, without even knowing the risks, with no one coming to rescue us, to protect us. But every time I this worry came to me, I rejected it because this should be the anguish of my overprotective mother, and not of a “soldier of the Revolution” always ready to give “the last drop of his blood.”

Fifty-two years have passed and there are few things still unrevealed about that crisis. If there is any revelation left to me after telling this personal story it is the detail of what our little group was called, twelve beardless boys answering to the name “Lenin Peace Prize Brigade.” We had been baptized thus because this was the name of the award Fidel Castro had received seven months earlier, from the hands of the Soviet scientist Dmitri Skobeltsyn.

I must confess that at that time I could not hear the contradiction that a leader decorated for his peaceful vocation had been about to trigger the last war in human history.

Shortly afterwards I realized the horror encapsulated in that situation, but it was already over.

The elections we didn’t have / Reinaldo Escobar

1948 Election Propaganda : "The wise distinguish"

REINALDO ESCOBAR, Havana. 6 October 2014 – This Sunday news agencies around the world, especially in Latin America, awaited the results of the first round elections in Brazil. The question of whether Dilma Rousseff will remain president of that vast country, simply the question, will be one of concern and anxiety to many people in Cuba and I’m not just referring to those in the offices of the Plaza of the Revolution who could see this or that project at risk, should the continuity be broken.

The actual experience of political change is a phenomenon alien to our country for the vast majority of the people. In fact the “youngest” Cubans who ever exercised the right to choose between one president and another, are now 88-years-old, because they would have had to be 21 in 1947, which would have allowed them to choose between three candidates: Eduardo Chibás, from the Cuban People’s Party (known as: Orthodox); Juan Marinello, for the Peoples Socialist Party (Communist); and Carlos Prío Socarrás, from the Authentic Party, who was ultimately the winner of that last contested election.

In 1976 citizens were led to believe they would become voters

Since then the concept of elections has become fuzzy, especially since 1976 when citizens were led to believe they would become voters, because they could approve a slate of candidates created by the will of those who were unwilling to relinquish power.

What is curious is that the commentators of whatever media, privately owned by the Communist Party, will speak with the greatest naturalness of the matter of 26 October, when the mystery of the Brazilian second round elections will be cleared up. They will address the subject without daring to say a single word that would make their readers wonder why Brazilians and other Latin Americans have that right and we do not.

If the multi-party system is that “multi-trash” system that renamed the only ex-president still alive, the re-election of Dilma Rousseff should also be considered illegitimate. If Aécio Neves emerges as the winner, they will have to turn to one or more psychiatrists to explain, with the “maneuvers of imperialism,” the irrevocable decision of a free people.

Street people / Reinaldo Escobar

Callejeros-Habana-Buenos-Aires_CYMIMA20140928_0001_16 (2)

In the two photos that I compare here I am not intending to insinuate that it’s the same in Buenos Aires as in Havana, because there will always be people sleeping on the street.

The Havanan (or maybe he is from another province) who sleeps shirtless in the full sun on the centrally-located Avenue of the Presidents at the corner of 23rd, in the heart of El Vedado, has left his shoes in reach of anyone who might steal them, figuring, perhaps, that there’s no one more poor than he. The pants he is wearing are tied with something that clearly isn’t a belt, and one could wager that he has ingested a goodly dose of alcohol. In the background, a reminder of the World Cup, the Argentine flag flies accompanied by one from Germany and another from Brazil.

The Argentine (probably an immigrant) protects himself from a slight chill with perhaps too many clothes and has something like a briefcase for a pillow. His image could illustrate the drama of many unemployed, people who have seen their lives shattered with the latest crisis. Behind him are more or less luxurious cars, contrasting with his misery. On the walls are the libertarian slogans of some graffiti artists that nobody has bothered to paint over. The street looks clean and everyone who passes by ignores him.

If they are sleeping they are dreaming of different, but equally unattainable, things.

28 September 2014

“I am optimistic I will see prosperity in Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Karina Galvez Chiu (14ymedio)
Karina Galvez Chiu (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2014, Reinaldo Escobar – Pinar del Río born and bread, and a member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), Karina Gálvez has made some important decisions in her life. She wants to continue to live in Cuba, to help change the country from civil society and some to recover the piece of patio that the authorities confiscated from her parents’ house. Today she talks with the readers of 14ymedio about her personal evolution, the Cuban economy, and her dreams for the future.

Question: Isn’t it a bit contradictory to be an economist in Cuba?

Answer: When I graduated, the final subject of my thesis focused on the economic effectiveness of the use of bagasse (sugar cane stalk fiber) for boards. The result of the investigation was negative, because making boards in those conditions was expensive and the product quality was very bad. But they ignored us.

Q: Since the conclusion of your studies you have dedicated yourself to teaching. Did you ever instill in your students that socialism was the best way to manage an economy? continue reading

A: Thank God, I have taught subjects that are technical rather than economic theory. Still, I’ve gotten into trouble. In the course on economic legislation, I did research in the school where I included many examples of economic crimes. The “problem” was that I wanted to separate what was criminal according to current laws, from what was immoral. For example, one could say “that to kill a cow is a crime, but it’s not immoral if the cow belongs to you and wasn’t stolen.”

Q: What was your personal transformation to get to where you are today?

A: I was a member of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) and in the late eighties I knew what was happening in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. That helped me open my eyes a little. Criticizing within the ranks of the UJC, I had several penalties, arguments and problems.

Along with these disappointments and my departure from the UJC, I met with a group of people who were in opposition in Pinar del Río. I started to hear something different from them and it got me excited. Later, I learned that the main coordinator of that group worked with State Security. A friend had lent me her typewriter to write some papers and then the political police called her in to interrogate her. When she got there, on the other side of the desk—like one more official—was the man who ran our opposition cell. Imagine the surprise!

Q: So is that what turned you around?

A: Not at all. In the end the balance was positive because in the almost clandestine meetings of that group I met a college professor. His name was Luis Enrique Estrella and he had been fired from his job because of political problems. He was the person who first took me to the Parish of Charity where I met Dagoberto Valdés. He was already running a Civic Center group and that night they debated the subject of the Constitution.

Q: So the Civic Center was already in existence?

A: Yes, it had been founded a few months before, at the beginning of 1993. This initiative was just starting out and once I’d been there the first time I couldn’t let it go. One day Dagoberto asked me to go to a slum in Pinar del Río with him, to offer the simplest course there, which was “We are people.” So I started out as a cheerleader. In the Center for Civic Development we came to have computer classes, music, groups of professionals, educators and computer scientists. Later I joined the editorial board of the magazine Vitral [Stained Glass] until it was taken over and in June 2008 along with other colleagues we founded the magazine Convivencia.

Q: What economic model do you think Cuba needs?

A: I wouldn’t like to name a model, but there are issues that are essential to get Cuba out of this situation in which we find ourselves now. One of these issues is recognition of the right to economic initiative, and the right to private property. We need a financial system that circulates money, which is the “blood” of any economy. Today in Cuba it’s not possible to develop this, given that all the banks are state-owned, the companies are state-owned, and the citizens have no right to invest.

As a third point, and here I turn more to the social, we need a tax system that is efficient and fair, or as fair as possible. We know that in economics, always with fairness, “we have to cut our suit to fit the cloth,” because we still haven’t invented the Kingdom of God. So yes, we must move towards fairness.

Q: That’s the economy. What about politics? What are your preferences?

A: I cannot give it a name, but a political model that is inclusive and admits of dialog. I’m not talking about complacency, but real dialog. In Cuba, where we have such a history of caudillos, sectarianism and authoritarianism, those qualities I just listed would be very important.

Q: Are you optimistic? Do you think you will get to see the change?

A: Yes, and also I will see prosperity in Cuba. I think Cubans have the ability to make this a prosperous nation in a short time.

Perception of Risks / Reinaldo Escobar

There are many who try to imprint their pronouncements with the hallmark of official discourse. To blend in and achieve uniformity with that language, they select certain words, certain phrases and investigate ways to say typical newspaper articles, academic dissertations or legal allegations.

One of the most recent linguistic elements of this nature consists of a curious pairing in which one part is the concept of “risk perception,” and the other part is “vulnerability.” Meteorologists, epidemiologists, traffic safety specialists, economists, don’t hesitate to say that to the point that the perception of risk is higher, one can reduce the vulnerability of the presumed victims of a danger.

I confess my ignorance of the origin of this equation, which not only seems logical to me but even lucid. I suspect that it has been imported from an international academic environment — perhaps from military strategy or scientific language — when some clever member of a Cuban delegation was caught out there sowing it in the fertile ground of lack of originality in the official phraseology. The funny thing is that the verbal combination is not indebted to either Marxist dialectic or the harangues of the barricade. It’s implacably cold, but catchy.

Try it yourself and confirm it. Say, for example, that the lack of information in our press about criminal acts noticeably reduces the perception of risk that a person in the street should have and, as a consequence, increases the vulnerability of a citizen to criminal attacks. The triumphalist tone of the ministerial reports to the Cuban parliament don’t allow an adequate perception of the risks that threaten our society, which leads to greater vulnerability, be it with regards to the economy, education, healthcare, tourism, or anything else.

If we think of all the vulnerabilities that open before us, like cracks on the edge of the abyss, when the lack of perception of risk posed by transparency, secrecy, the verticality of command, the lack of citizen participation in decisions, the absence of political debate, the penalization of dissent, in short, it’s scary.Perceiving the risks, decreases our vulnerability.

27 June 2014