Consensus and Dissent in the Face of Trump’s Cuba Policy

Hundreds of people gathered in the vicinity of the Manuel Artime Theater to show their disagreement with the change in policy toward Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2017 – Over the weekend the official media have repeated ad nauseam the declaration of the government in response to Donald Trump’s speech about his policy toward Cuba. The declaration’s rhetoric recalls the years before the diplomatic thaw, when political propaganda revolved around confrontation with our neighbor to the north.

Beyond these words, many on the island are breathing a sigh of relief because the main steps taken by Barack Obama will not be reversed. The remittances on which so many families depend will not be cut, nor will the American Embassy in Havana be closed.

On the streets of Cuba, life continues its slow march, far from what was said at the Artime Theater in Miami and published by the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

Julia Borroto put a bottle of water in the freezer on Saturday to be ready for the line he expects to find waiting for him Monday outside the United States Embassy. This 73-year-old from Camagüey, who arrived in the capital just after Trump’s speech, remembers that Trump had said “he was going to put an end to the visas and travel, but I see that it isn’t so.”

The retiree also had another concern: the reactivation of the wet foot/dry foot policy eliminated by Obama last January. “I have two children who were plotting to go to sea. I just sent them a message to forget about it.”

The hopes of many frustrated rafters were counting on the magnate to restore the migratory privileges that Cubans enjoyed for more than two decades, but Trump defrauded them. Hundreds of migrants from the island who have been trapped in Central America on their way to the US were also waiting for that gesture that did not arrive.

Among the self-employed, concern is palpable. Homeowners who rent to tourists and private restaurant owners regret that the new policy will lead to a decline in American tourists on the island. The so-called yumas are highly desired in the private sector, especially for their generous tips.

Mary, who runs a lodging business in Old Havana, is worried. “Since the Americans began to come, I hardly have a day with empty rooms.” She had made plans on the basis of greater flexibilities and hoped “to open up more to tourism.”

On national television there is a flood of “indignant responses from the people” including no shortage of allusions to sovereignty, dignity and “the unwavering will to continue on the path despite difficulties.” The Castro regime is seizing the opportunity to reactivate the dormant propaganda machinery that had been missing its main protagonist: the enemy.

However, away from the official microphones people are indifferent or discontented with what happened. A pedicab driver swears not to know what they are talking about when he is asked about Friday’s announcements, and a retiree limits himself to commenting, “Those people who applaud Trump in Miami no longer remember when they were here standing in line for bread.”

Of the thirteen activists who met with Barack Obama during his trip to Havana, at least five expressed opinions to this newspaper about the importance of the new policy towards Cuba.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was at that table in March 2016 and was also mentioned on this occasion by Donald Trump during his speech. The activist had planned to be in Miami for the occasion, but at the airport in Holguin was denied exit and was subsequently arrested.

“It is the speech that had to be given and the person who could have avoided it is Raul Castro,” the former political prisoner asserts categorically. Ferrer believes that Obama did the right thing whenhe began a new era in relations between the two countries but “the Castro regime’s response was to bite the hand that was extended to it.”

In the opinion of the opposition leader, in the last 20 months repression has multiplied and “it was obvious that a different medicine had to be administered” because “a dictatorship like this should not be rewarded, it should be punished and more so when it was given the opportunity to improve its behavior and did not do so.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, was also prevented from flying to Miami to attend the event. For her, the words of the American president were clear and “if the Cuban regime accepts the conditions that Donald Trump has imposed on it, Cuba will begin to change.”

Soler believes that the Cuban government’s response is aimed at confusing the people, who “do not know exactly what is going on.” She says that Trump wants to maintain business with Cuba “but not with the military, but directly with the people,” something that the official press has not explained.

Opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who manages the platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), is blunt and points out that “returning to failed policies is the best way to guarantee failure.” The measures announced by Trump, in his opinion, do not help the changes, and they once again give the Cuban government “the excuse to show its repressive nature.”

The dissident believes that the new policy tries to return the debate on democracy on the island to the scenario of conflict between Cuba and the United States, “just when it was beginning to refocus the national scenario on communication between the Cuban State and its citizens, which is where it needs to be.”

The director of the magazine Convivencia, Dagoberto Valdés, believes that there is a remarkable difference between the discourse itself “which seems a return to the past with the use of a language of confrontation, and the so-called concrete measures that have been taken.”

For Valdés there is no major reversal of Obama’s policy. “The trips of the Cuban Americans, the embassy, ​​the remittances are maintained… and the possibility of a negotiating table remains open when the Cuban Government makes reforms related to human rights.”

Journalist Miriam Celaya predicted that the speech would not be “what the most radical in Miami and the so-called hard line of the Cuban opposition expected. What is coming is a process and it does not mean that from tomorrow no more Americans will come to the Island and that negotiations of all kinds are finished,” she says.

In her usual poignant style, she adds that “regardless of all the fanfare and the bells and whistles, regardless of how abundant the smiles, and no matter how much people laughed at Trump’s jokes, it doesn’t seem that the changes are going to be as promising as those who are proclaiming that it’s all over for the government.”

Celaya sheds light on the fact that the official statement of the Cuban government “manifests its intention to maintain dialogue and relations within the framework of respect.” This is a great difference with other times when a speech like that “would have provoked a ‘march of the fighting people’ and a military mobilization.”

Instead, officialdom has opted for declarations and revolutionary slogans in the national media. But in the streets, that rhetoric is just silent. “People are tired of all this history,” says a fisherman on the Havana Malecon. “There is no one who can fix it, but no one who can sink it.”

Three “Paladares” Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In Havana

Lungo Mare is another of the Havana closed in the middle of this week.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2017 – The closure of three private restaurants in Havana last week has sparked doubts among owners of food service businesses. The fact that the three paladares – private restaurants – were rated “excellent” on Trip Advisor, one of the most important travel sites on the web, has fueled fears that the authorities are acting against the more prosperous businesses.

The police closed El Litoral, Dolce Vita and Lungo Mare, all located in the Vedado neighborhood, after a high-profile operation and the seizure of many goods, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Alejandro Marcel Mendevil, the visible face of El Litoral, which operates under the name of his mother, Nardis Francisca Mendivil, had previously had legal problems when working for a company linked to the Ministry of Tourism, according to an employee of the place who preferred to remain anonymous. On that occasion he was “under investigation with other employees” for an alleged diversion of resources detected in the entity, which operated with foreign capital. continue reading

That investigation ended without charges but according to the same employee “the suspicion clung to him that he was laundering the embezzled money through El Litoral.”

Nardis Francisca Mendivil, legal owner of El Litoral, refuses to talk to the press so as not to harm her son, who is imprisoned in 100 and Aldabó and subject to a warning from State Security, but she does deny the version published by some media according to which he was the proprietor of the three closed paladares.

“We have nothing to do with Lungo Mare,” said the mother of the detainee. Other sources stated that her son also managed that paladar at one time, but had sold it “a few months ago.”

In addition, Señora Mendival complains that it is not the first time that they have tried to impute false crimes to her son; in the past he was accused of the death of a police officer who, according to Señora Mendival, shot “himself in a patrol car,” a few yards from the restaurant.

The closing of the restaurants took place after an exhaustive search by the Technical Department of Investigations in cooperation with police forces.

The news of what happened circulated through emails in the Cubapaladar newsletter on food service businesses. Its organizers were quick to remove the premises from their list of recommendations and asserted that they will never include an establishment that is “under a legal investigation or involved in any case that violates any Cuban law.”

This Thursday, an improvised sign with the word “Closed” was the only visible sign to customers at door of number 161 Malecón between K and L where until recently the El Litoral was overflowing with activity. The area is now deserted.

”Paladar” Dolce Vita. (14ymedio)

The operation and the confiscation of numerous belongings from the premises were the subject of comments from the whole neighborhood. “I saw many things: air conditioners, drinks of different brands they had in the cellar, chairs, tables, they even took the cutlery away,” says a neighbor.

According to an employee who spoke to 14ymedio, agents also took everything that was in the basement where a new space was going to be inaugurated for “tasting exquisite drinks and Cuban cigars.”

The site, with a wide-ranging menu specializing in seafood and fish, soon became a emblem of the new era for Cuban entrepreneurship after the flexibilizations for the self-employed sector promoted by Raúl Castro’s Government as of 2010.

“From the moment you walked through the door, you felt that you were not in Cuba because of the variety of dishes and the efficiency of the service,” says Grégory, a Frenchman who has visited Cuba more than a dozen times in the past decade, where he has “two daughters and many friends.”

However, those times of bonanza and glamor seem to have ended in the large house with a view directly to the sea.

The scene at El Litoral is repeated in the restaurant Dolce Vita, specializing in Mediterranean food and also located on Havana’s Malecón. The restaurant, which was a bustle of waiters and customers, is now closed, lock stock and barrel.

At the corner of Calle 1a and C, in Vedado, silence has also taken over the outside terrace and the interior area of ​​Lungo Mare. Underneath its distinctive red and white striped awning there is no longer the noise of the silverware or the clinking of the glasses. “This is dead and it will take a long time for it to rise again,” jokes a newspaper salesman who mourns the situation.

“The whole neighborhood benefited from this restaurant because many people came and I could sell some of my newspapers at a slightly better price,” he explains.

“This happened because it stood out a lot,” says Luis Carlos, a young man who delivers agricultural products for several restaurants in the area. “El Litoral became a reference point and many foreigners and diplomats came,” he explains. “Here they sold the best croquettes in Havana and that’s not a joke.”

No other private restaurant or coffee shop owner in the area has wanted to comment on the case.

Trump And Cuba, Or How To Bet On The Wrong Winner

President Donald Trump (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 June 2017 – In less than 72 hours President Donald Trump will declare in Miami the new basis for the United States government’s policies towards Cuba. At that time the decisions of his predecessor Barack Obama, during the process of normalization of diplomatic relations with the island, could be paused or reversed.

The magnate will make the announcement into a spectacle like so many he has starred in since he has been at the head of the greatest power on earth. He will gesticulate, commit himself to human rights and elicit enthusiastic applause, but then he will return to the White House and the Island will fall off his agenda.

Why entrust the fate of this country to a man who has failed to keep a single one of the election promises he made to his own people? Is the policy toward Cuba the only thing that will turn out well from someone who has behaved like a political bull in a china shop? continue reading

Trump will try to please the voices asking him to tighten the screws on Havana. Sanctions, cutting back and revoking the measures taken during the thaw are among the demands of those who bet on confrontation, a strategy that has had half a century to demonstrate its ineffectiveness.

The president will especially address himself to those who insist on “turning off the tap,” cutting off communication and shutting down supplies to the longest dictatorship in the West, as if such measures will cut off the electricity, water supply or internet access to the homes of the Community Party elite.

It is symptomatic that demands for economic strangulation rarely spring from those who wait long hours for a bus, depend daily on the bread that is distributed in the rationed market and have to stretch a monthly salary that is barely enough to survive on for a week.

On the other hand, blaming Obama’s “soft hand” for the wreck of normalization leads one to forget that those in charge in Cuba did not seize the opportunity for fear of losing control. They were more frightened by Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana than by any threat of military intervention.

Those who have aspired for decades to unconditional surrender, to revengeful justice, and to “all or nothing” with Castroism, did not lose any time in putting roadblocks in the way of the process started on 17 December 2014. Starting this Friday they will be forced to accept everything that happens after Trump’s decisions, or to recognize this is not the way to emerge from a dictatorship.

The figures for arbitrary arrests compiled by the Cuban Human Rights Commission are unlikely to decline significantly, the Ladies in White will still be unable to march down Fifth Avenue in the west of Havana, and opposition groups will remain illegal and persecuted by the police.

What will be the foreseeable consequences on the Island of a return to the politics of the cudgel? An increase in repression and a better positioning of the more conservative sectors. The Plaza of the Revolution, the tyranny of the Castros, the regime… or whatever you prefer to call it, will not be alone in facing the tightening of the screws from Washington.

Russia, China, Angola, Nicolas Maduro and comrades from North Korea, Congo, Zimbabwe and Iran will rush to take sides with Raul Castro. Meanwhile, in the streets of the Island the population will mark Trump’s measures with renewed “marches of the fighting people,” shouting anti-imperialist slogans and accepting the postponement of the old promises of the Revolution.

Faced with “the new onslaught from the empire” the government will reinforce its aptitude for entrenchment. In the upper echelons of power there will be no cracks or disagreements. Persecutors will strengthen their power and enjoy the impunity to crush any resistance.

Trump will not achieve, with his new measures, a new march by university students with a “Down with the Dictatorship” poster, nor will the unions call for a general strike against the government, nor will the farmers march to the cities demanding land.

It is not even clear whether the president will serve out four years in office, cornered as he is by political scandals, alleged Kremlin intervention in the elections that brought him to power and his unfortunate way of managing politics through incendiary treatises or threats.

His decisions will not provoke another Maleconazo on the island like the one of August of 1994. That popular protest was spurred by the desire to escape the country, not change it. Those dramatic events were not sparked by the opposition, nor did they generate political changes, just the Rafter Crisis.

Such an outbreak would be a nightmare for a leader with a marked nationalism and an evident anti-immigrant phobia.

This Friday the American president will have his moment in front of the Cuban exile. The applause for him will be short-lived. The placebo effect of his announcements will dissipate to give way to the stubborn reality that no decision of a foreign government will change Cuba, regardless of whether Barack Obama or Donald Trump is at the head of it.

The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos

The presidents of Cuba and Angola, Raúl Castro and José Eduardo Dos Santos during the signing of bilateral agreements, in the Palace of the Revolution of Havana. (File / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 June 2017 — His mother died, his brother emigrated and now no one brings flowers to the tomb of one of those many young Cubans who lost their lives on the African plains. His death served to build the authoritarian regime of José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, a caudillo who, since 1979, has held in his fist a nation of enormous resources and few freedoms.

At 74, Dos Santos knows the end is near. His health has deteriorated in recent months and he has announced that he will withdraw from politics in 2018, the same year that Raul Castro will leave the presidency of the Cuba. Both intend to leave their succession firmly in place, to protect their respective clans and to avoid ending up in court.

For decades, the two leaders have supported each other in international forums and maintained close co-operation. They are united by their history of collaboration – with more than 300,000 Cubans deployed in Angolan territory during the civil war, financed and armed by the Soviet Union – but also connected by their antidemocratic approach. continue reading

Longevity in their positions is another of the commonalities between Castro and Dos Santos.

The Angolan, nicknamed Zedu, is an “illustrious” member of the club of African caudillos who continue to cling to power. A group that includes men like the disgraceful Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 37 years, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has governed for almost 38 years Equatorial Guinea.

Their counterpart on the Island surpasses them, having spent almost six decades in the control room of the Plaza of the Revolution Square, as a minister of the Armed Forces or, following his brother’s illness, as president. Neither Zedu nor Castro tolerate political opposition and both have fiercely suppressed any dissent.

Angolans also live amidst the omnipresence of the royal family. On the banknotes, the face of Dos Santos shares space with that of Agostinho Neto, and in political propaganda he is represented as the savior of the country. One of the many tricks of populist systems, but very far from reality.

What has really happened is that the family and the African president’s closest allies have made colossal fortunes. The largest oil exports in Africa today have fueled this oligarchy, which, ironically, was built on the efforts of thousands of Cubans who left their lives or sanity in that country.

Isabel dos Santos, nicknamed by her compatriots the Princess, has wasted no time in taking advantage of the prerogatives that her father grants her. Forbes magazine calls her the richest woman in Africa, with a fortune of around 3.1 billion dollars, and last year she was named head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, the country’s most important economic pillar. She also controls the phone company, Unitel.

She resembles Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela in her taste for giving statements to the foreign media and presenting herself as someone who has achieved everything “by her own efforts.” She projects an image of a modern and cosmopolitan businesswoman, but all her businesses prosper thanks to the privileges she enjoys as the daughter of her father.

Her brother, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, also economically advantaged, sits at the head of the Angolan sovereign fund that manages 5 billion dollars. An emulator of Alejandro Castro Espín, whom many credit for the impressive voracity that has led the Cuban military to seize sectors such as hotel management.

However, Zedu has preferred to choose a puppet as heir to the post of president and head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA): Angola’s Defense Minister, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. A figure who will be the public face while the true dauphins try to continue sucking dry – like voracious leeches – the resources of a country that is not experiencing good times.

Gonçalves Lourenço is seen as a moderate, as is his emulator in Cuba, first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canal. Men who will try to give a face-lift to personality-centered systems to silence the voices of those who assert that the “historical generation” does not want to abandon power. Neither has been chosen for his abilities, but rather for his reliability and meekness.

Gonzalves arrived in Havana in mid-May with a message from President Dos Santos to Raul Castro. In Angola, 4,000 Cubans work in sectors such as healthcare, education, sports, agriculture, science and technology, energy and mines. It is one of the countries that most appeals to the Island’s professionals for the personal economic advantages that serving on an “internationalist mission” there affords them.

Gonzalves’ trip, of course, also included a commitment to continue to support the Island, perhaps with some promise of credit or oil aid to ease Cuba’s currently complicated situation. Most likely the heir to the throne came to tell the aging monarch not to worry, that Angola will continue to count itself among its allies. They are words that could be blown away in the wind before the uncertain future that awaits both countries.

For years the Angolan regime benefited from significant foreign investment and high oil prices, the main source of income. However, the fall in the value of crude oil in the international market has complicated the day-to-day situation of citizens subject to economic cuts, a rise in the cost of living and a decline in public investment. The discontent is palpable.

On the Island, not a week goes by without an obituary reminding us of the reality that the “historical” generation is dying off. The brakes are about to be applied to the thaw with the United States, and the mammoth state apparatus isn’t about to adapt itself to the new times. The double standard, corruption and diversion of resources undermines everything.

Neither Castro nor Dos Santos will leave power in the context they dreamed of. One falls ill, after having negated in practice his ideological roots, and senses that history will destroy his supposed legacy. The other loses control over Venezuela, that mine of resources that prolonged the life of Castroism. His worst nightmare is that young Cubans care more about Game of Thrones than the revolutionary epic.

Populism Cuban Style: Conquests, Threats and Leadership

Fidel Castro in his gangster era when he belonged to the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Union (UIR). Here, in 1947, in the company of Rafael del Pino and Armando Gali Menéndez. (D.R.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 6 June 2017 — The leader speaks for hours on the platform, his index finger pointing to an invisible enemy. A human tide applauds when the intonation of a phrase demands it and stares enraptured at the bearded speaker. For decades these public acts were repeated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, shaping the face of revolutionary populism.

However, Fidel Castro’s extensive speeches constituted only the most visible part of his style of governing. They were the moments of collective hypnotism, peppered with promises and announcements of a luminous future that allowed him to establish a close bond with the population, to incite class hatred and to extend his growing power.

Castro has been the most complete product of Cuban populism and nationalism. Evils that sink their roots into national history and whose best breeding ground was the Republican era (1902-1958). Those winds brought the hurricane that shaped a young man born in the eastern town of Biran, who graduated as a lawyer and came to hold the military rank of Commander-in-Chief. continue reading

The political framework in which Castro was formed was far from a democratic example. Many of the leaders of that convulsed Cuba of the first half of the twentieth century did not distinguish themselves by presenting programmatic platforms to their constituents. The common practice was horse-trading to obtain votes, along with other aberrations such as stealing ballot boxes or committing fraud.

From his early days, the young attorney elbowed his way into the milieu of those figures who relied on gangster like behavior, rather than the transparent exercise of authority. He quickly absorbed many of the elements of demagoguery that would be greatly useful to him later when the time came to subject an entire nation.

Unlike republican populism, whose purpose was the conquest of electoral favor, revolutionary populism had as its goal the abolishment of the structures of democracy. From January 195,9 the civic framework was systematically dismantled and the laws were subjugated to the disproportionate will of a single man.

To achieve this dream of control, the Maximum Leader persuaded the citizens that they could enjoy a high degree of security if they renounced certain “bourgeois freedoms,” among them the ability to elect their leaders and a system of power in which leadership alternates.

The so-called Moncada Program outlined in History Will Absolve Me, is a concentration of these promises in the style of a tropical Robin Hood. The pamphlet was presented as Fidel Castro’s plea of self-defense during the trial in which he was indicted for the armed attack on the Moncada Barracks, the main military fortress of Santiago de Cuba, in July 1953.

Until that moment, this man was practically unknown as a political figure. The boldness that characterized the action enveloped him in an aura of heroic idealism that set him up as the leader of the revolutionary alternative to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

In his manuscript, where he described the problems the country faced, he never warned that solving them would require the confiscation of properties. He limited himself to detailing the necessity of an agrarian reform that would eliminate the latifundio and distribute land to the peasants. These were proposals that rapidly earned him sympathies among the poorest.

Upon leaving prison, Castro was convinced that the only way to overthrow the dictatorship was by force. He organized an expedition and opened a guerrilla front in the mountains of the eastern region of the Island. Two years later, his triumphal entry into the capital and his charismatic presence made him the beneficiary of a blank check of political credit, endorsed by the majority of the population.

The first populist ruse of the new regime was to present itself as democratic and to deny any tendency that could identify it with communist doctrine. At the same time that it presented itself as the enabler of freedom, it expropriated the newspapers, the radio stations and the television channels.

The regime struck a deadly blow to civil society by establishing a network of “mass organizations” to bring together neighbors, women, peasants, workers and students. The new entities had in their statutes a clause of fidelity to the Revolution and perform – still to this day – as transmission wires from the power to the population.

The first revolutionary laws, such as the Agrarian Reform, the rent reductions, the Urban Reform and the confiscation of properties, constituted a radical rearrangement of the possession of wealth. In a very short time the State stripped the upper classes of their property and became the owner of everything.

With the enormous flow of treasure, the new power made multi-million investments in social benefits that allowed it to achieve “the original accumulation of prestige.”

From its original proclamation in April 1961, the socialist system declared the irreversible nature of the measures taken. Maintaining the conquests achieved required the implementation of a system of system backed by a legal structure that would make it impossible for former owners to recover what was confiscated.

The new situation brought with it a powerful apparatus of internal repression and a large army to deter any external military threat. The most important bars of the cage in which millions of Cubans were trapped were erected in those early years.

To the binomial of an irreversible conquest and an undisputed leader was added the threat of an external enemy to complete the holy trinity of revolutionary populism.

Conquests

The main conquests in those initial years focused on education, health and social security. Economic centralism allowed the new ruling elite to establish ample gratuities and to distribute subsidies or privileges in exchange for ideological fidelity.

Like all populism that rises to power, the government also needed to mold consciences, impose its own version of history, and create from the teaching laboratories an individual who will applaud greatly and question little.

In 1960 the Island was already among the Latin American countries with the lowest proportion of illiterates, but even so the Government summoned thousands of young people to isolated areas to teach reading and writing. Participation in this initiative was considered a revolutionary merit and dressed in heroic tones.

The text of the primer to teach the first letters was openly propagandistic and the literacy campaigners behaved like political commissars who, on reading the phrase “The sun rises from the East,” needed to add as a clarification “and from the East comes the help we are given by the Socialist countries.”

At the end of the process, a massive plan of boarding schools operated under military methods began, the goal of which was to remove students from the influence of their families. Mass teacher training also began, thousands of schools were built in rural areas, and privately run schools were taken over by the Ministry of Education.

From this rearrangement the “New Man” was supposed to emerge, free from “petty-bourgeois laziness.” An individual who had never known exploitation by a boss, paid for sex in a brothel, nor exercised his freedom.

The fact that there was not a single child left on the island who didn’t attend school became a dazzling paradigm that blocked the view of the shadows. To this day, the myth of Cuban education is being used by the defenders of the system to justify all the repressive excesses of the last half century.

The state monopoly turned the education system into a tool of political indoctrination while the family was relegated to the role of a mere caretaker of the children. The profession of teacher was trivialized to an extreme degree, and the costs of maintaining this giant apparatus became unsustainable.

Many of the achievements that were put into practice were unworkable in the context of the national economy. But the grateful beneficiaries had no opportunity to know the high cost these campaigns imposed on the nation. The country was plunged in an inexorable decapitalization and the deterioration of its infrastructure.

For decades, the media in the hands of the Communist Party helped to cover up such excesses. But with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the massive subsidies that the Kremlin sent to the island, Cubans came face to face with their own reality. Many of these supposed advantages vanished or were plunged into crisis.

The Maximum Leader

One of the hallmarks of populism is the presence of a leader who is given full confidence. Fidel Castro managed to turn that blind faith into obedience and a cult of personality.

The merging of the leader with the Revolution itself and of Revolution with the Homeland gave rise to the idea that an opponent of the Commander-in-Chief was “anti-Cuban.” His flatterers called him genius but in his long speeches it is difficult to find a theoretical nucleus from which a conceptual core can be extracted.

In the oratory of the Maximum Leader, a preponderant role was played by his histrionic character, the cadence of his voice and his playbook of gestures. Fidel Castro became the first media politician in Cuba’s national history.

Voluntarism was perhaps the essential feature of his personality and the hallmark of his extended mandate. To achieve his objectives at the necessary price, to never surrender before any adversary and to consider every defeat as a learning opportunity that would lead to victory, served him to conquer a legion of fidelistas.

The target dates for obtaining the luminous future promised by the Revolution could be postponed again and again thanks to Castro’s apparently inexhaustible political credit. The demand for people to tighten their belts to achieve well-being became a cyclical political stratagem to buy time.

There were some rather abstract promises, in the style of there would be bread with freedom, and others more precise, such as the country would produce so much milk that not even three times as many people could drink it all. The largest zoo in the world would be built on the island and socialism and communism would be constructed at the same time.

In December 1986, after 28 years of failed efforts, Fidel Castro had the audacity – or desperation – to proclaim before the National Assembly the most demagogic of all his slogans: “Now we are going to build socialism!”

The Enemy

Populist regimes often require a certain degree of tension, of permanent belligerence, to keep the emotional flame burning. Nothing is better for that than the existence of an external enemy. Even better if it is a powerful one that makes alliances with the regime’s political opponents.

From the time he was in the Sierra Maestra commanding his guerrilla army, Fidel Castro determined who that enemy would be. In a letter dated June 1958, he wrote: “When this war is over, a much longer and larger war will begin for me, the war that I will launch against them [the Americans]. I understand that this is going to be my true destiny.”

Between April and the end of October 1960 there was an escalation of clashes between Washington and Havana. The expropriation of large tracts of land held by US companies, the suspension of the sugar quota enjoyed by the Island, the nationalization of US companies based in Cuba, and the start of the embargo on goods from the North are some of the most important.

During that same period, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan visited Havana, diplomatic relations were restored with the USSR and Fidel Castro met in New York with Nikita Khrushchev, who went on to say in an interview: “I do not know if Castro is a communist, but I am a fidelista.”

In the eyes of the people Fidel Castro’s stature rose and he begin to take on the outlines of a world leader. The exacerbation of nationalism, another characteristic of the populists, reached to its fullest expression when Cuba began to be shown as the little David facing the giant Goliath.

Revolutionary arrogance, driven by the conviction that the system applied in Cuba should extend to the whole continent, led many to believe that fomenting the Revolution beyond the borders was not only a duty but a right protected by a scientific truth.

The populist root of this “liberator of peoples” thinking led tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers to fight in Algeria, Syria, Ethiopia and Angola as part of the geopolitical interests of the Soviet Union in Africa, although wrapped in the clothing of a disinterested Revolutionary internationalism with other peoples toward whom there supposedly was a historical debt.

The enemy was not only “American imperialism” but the South African racists, the European colonialists, and any element that appeared on the international scene that could become a threat to the Revolution.

Convinced, like the Jesuit Ignacio de Loyola, that “in a besieged plaza, dissidence is treason,” every act of internal opposition has been identified as an action to contribute to that enemy and by the official propaganda every dissident deserves to be described as a “mercenary.”

However, the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States in late 2014 has shaken the thesis of a permanent danger of invasion. The death of Fidel Castro, the decline of leftist forces in Latin America and the announced stepping down of Raul Castro by February 2018 diminish what remains of revolutionary populism.

On the other hand, younger Cubans have a less grateful and more critical perception of those conquests in the field of education and healthcare that were presented as a generous gift of the system.

The reappearance of notable social differences arising from the urgent acceptance of the rules of the market and the growth of the economy’s “non-state sector” – the authorities are reluctant to call it “private sector” – have rendered unrepeatable the slogans of biased egalitarianism espoused by the ideological discourse that justified the obsolete rationing system for food products.

Haute cuisine restaurants and hotels of four or five stars, once exclusively for tourists, are now within reach of a new class of Cubans. The elimination of the exploitation of man by man, an essential banner of Marxist-Leninist socialism, has not even been discussed.

The widely shared conviction that the country has no solution is one of the main drivers of emigration in recent years. But this lack of hope for the future, combined with fierce repression, also limits the work of the opposition.

The system that once counted on enthusiasm is now supported by virtue of reluctance. The so-called historical generation still in power is fewer than a dozen octogenarians in the process of retirement and the new offspring are more inclined to business than to the podium. Today’s grandchildren of those populists have more talent for marketing than for slogans.

_______________

Editorial Note: This text is part of the collective book El Populismo del Populismo , which will be presented this Tuesday at the Casa de América, in Madrid. The coauthors are, among others, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Mauricio Rojas, Roberto Ampuero and Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo.

Private Carriers in Santiago de Cuba Complain About Inspections

Inside a truck retrofitted for passenger transport that circulates through Santiago de Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2017 –Authorities have taken a firm stand with private transportation in Santiago de Cuba and have begun to demand exhaustive proof of fuel purchases from the state gas stations to verify that they are not from the black market.

“Last Friday there was a massive operation, and four drivers were detained in the Micro 9 unit,” says activist Jose Antonio Lopez Pena, who closely follows the transportation issue in the eastern province. At least one of them had to sign a warning, to which this daily had access, in which they confirm that he cannot operate as a carrier if he does not buy fuel in the state gas stations. continue reading

The warning is issued by the Ministry of Transportation and signed by Wilfredo Ramos, an official with the province’s State Traffic Unit (UTE).

The application of the rule, which was already widespread in Havana and in the west, has been extended to the eastern zone since the end of May and deeply disturbs the carriers who resort en masse to the black market to buy fuel. Most of that gasoline comes from diversions from the state sector.

“The police and inspectors know that we can’t make a living if we buy oil and gasoline from the State,” explains Ramon, who drives an old truck from the middle of the last century to make the route between several Santiago municipalities.

Warning which confirms a private carrier cannot act as a driver if he does not buy fuel in the service centers.

The private carriers complain about the large sums of money they spend on licenses, taxes and vehicle repairs, so they try to make money by acquiring fuel on the black market at a lower price than the official rate.

During recent months instability in the petroleum supply from Venezuela caused significant cuts in distribution within the state sector. This situation triggered the price of the product in the informal market which is fed by diversions from businesses, entities and personal allotment that is given to some professionals like doctors.

From eight Cuban pesos (CUPs) per liter, petroleum suddenly rose to 15 on the so-called black market, while in the state service centers the equivalent is sold for 24 CUPs per liter (roughly 1$ US, or about $4 a gallon).

The government has responded by setting prices for private transportation in some places like Havana and also started a cooperative that tries to compete with individuals. However, the vintage taxis and trucks managed by the self-employed continue to be one of the most popular forms of transportation among the municipalities and provinces.

The carriers guild is quite big in the country but lacks its own union which could press for an improvement in work conditions. More than 80% of self-employed workers, according to official data, belong to the official Workers Center of Cuba.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Ministry Ratifies the Expulsion of Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the University of Las Villas

Dalila Rodriguez, ex-professor for the Central University of Las Villas, whose dismissal has just been ratified

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 June 2017 – The Ministry of Higher Education (MES) ratified the expulsion of Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the Marta Abreu Central University of Las Villas. A letter dated May 9 and delivered this Friday to the academic, responds to her earlier appeal and confirms the revocation of her teaching status, as Rodriguez explained to 14ymedio.

The document is signed by the MES legal advisor, Denisse Pereira Yero, and by the chief of the Legal Department, Jorge Valdes Asan. The officials will not consider an appeal by Rodriguez because “an infraction of Article 74 Subsection (d) suffices to lose Teaching Status directly.”

On April 11 the professor received an order of dismissal from her position on the Humanities Faculty, issued by the dean Andres Castro Alegria, and it invoked Article 74 of the Regulation for the application of the Higher Education Teaching Categories. continue reading

The argument put forward to justify the expulsion was that the professor had not managed “to rectify a set of attitudes that deviate socially and ethically from the correct teaching activity that her teaching status demands, and that can affect the education of students.” Rodriguez received the news with surprise.

The philologist, 33 years of age and a resident of the Villa Clara township of Camajuani, was, until her expulsion, studying for a doctorate in Pedagogical Sciences after having obtained a master’s in Linguistics and Publishing Studies. She was active in the union and in February received an excellent evaluation.

From the beginning of 2015, the academic experienced pressure from State Security. Several agents interviewed her in order to find out if she had contacts with the activist and evangelical pastor Mario Felix Lleonart. There were also interested in knowing about relationships of her father, Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso, coordinator of the Patmos Institute, an independent organization that defends religious rights in Cuba.

Dalila Rodriguez asserts that she does not belong to any dissident group, nor does she even attend events convened by independent entities on the Island. “They have done all this to make my father feel guilty,” she says.

Dissident Leonardo Rodriguez, father of Dalila Rodriguez. (Courtesy)

When they told her of her dismissal, the first vice-dean, Ossana Molerio Perez, and the legal advisor also informed her that she would not be allowed to appeal via the union, and they warned her that she must not “set foot” again in the University.

The dismissal process was plagued by irregularities, Rodriguez complains. According to regulations, her case should be reviewed first by the commission in charge of teaching categories and she should be offered seven days to appeal. Nevertheless, the dean made the decision directly and without respecting deadlines.

Rodriguez then decided to write to the Minister of Higher Education, Jose Saborido, but the answer received this week asserts that in her case, “there is no violation” because “it does not involve a disciplinary process but a special administrative proceeding.”

In a phone conversation with 14ymedio, the professor called it “incredible” that, shortly after having been evaluated with the highest marks in her work, she has turned into someone “with serious ethical and social problems who damages the education” of students.

She said she felt “totally helpless after working for 11 years in that university,” and she said that the teaching authorities “have not been able to show any evidence against her.”

Journalism student Karla Perez Gonzales was expelled a few days later from the same university after being accused of belonging to the Somos+ Movement and “having a strategy from the beginning of her studies to subvert youth.”

Her case inspired a wave of indignation, and official voices spoke in her favor, like that of singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, who wrote on his blog: “What brutes we are, fuck, decades pass and we don’t learn.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

They Deceived Us With Tourism

Luxury development along Varadero beach (RepeatingIslands.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, 29 May 2017 — There was a time when I saw it as natural. I understood, to say it in a certain way, that Varadero beach was not ours despite its being in Cuban territory.

My unconscious viewed the image of that strip of land, like many, as if it were part of another country to be destined to the enjoyment of the foreign tourist. Economic progress was needed and in an island with favorable climate and geography the resources are mainly provided by tourism, hence even feeling proud of it.

But the years go by and as part of a macabre plan the areas where ordinary Cubans live are deteriorating, and in contrast every day the are more tourist centers supplied with amenities, luxuries and the latest technology to better serve the foreign visitor. They put make up on facades so that people who come to visit don’t see how the rest is falling down little by little. continue reading

Once, with my family, we “dressed like tourists” and started to enjoy the, until then, unknown part of Cuba. We arrived with the children who we’d warned ahead of time about how to behave and carry themselves, and we got there on transport from Havana, planning to spend an exquisite day.

The place was full of persecutors and police who did not hesitate to return a ball to the son of a tourist but at the same time were “programmed” to detect and prevent Cubans and their children from swimming in the transparent waters of the spa.

Before long, we were detected by two police officers who ordered us to leave the area, as if we were criminals, and told us to go to Santa Marta, the village beach.

Today, Varadero is even more elitist, restricted and impassable.

Today a citizen struggles to get some bricks or some cement to repair their crumbling house and, even more painful, foreign companies are hired to carry out the construction of tourist hotels, preventing a professional or a national worker from earning a better salary.

We were deceived and it is time to stop believing that the profits that the tourism leaves will trickle down to the people and the most needy.

Another Friday Without Water for Thousands of Havana Residents

The new pipes will allow a smaller volume of water to run than before.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 June 2017 – The water supply pipe from the South Catchment area that suffered a rupture a week ago began to operate on a trial basis Thursday morning, according to a report by the Havana Water enterprise. Nevertheless, service has still not been re-established in all of the capital’s municipalities as 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Three tanker trucks supplied water Thursday afternoon to the Tulipan Hotel which housed the deputies who attended the last special session of Parliament. The scene of trucks and people moving buckets or tanks was repeated in the streets and avenues of the capital’s most populated zones on Friday morning.

Industry authorities assured the official press that the connection of 1.2 kilometers of the first two lines of high density polyethylene was concluded in the stretch where the rupture occurred. But the replacement pipes have a smaller diameter and will only gradually allow the transfer of some 1,300 liters per second. continue reading

This volume is half that which flowed through the original conduit, built 60 years ago and whose central, 36-kilometer line is composed of pipes two meters in diameter.

During the first six days after the break, the number of those affected exceeded 800,000 people throughout the city. The price of water shot up on the black market, and a medium-sized “pipe” doubled in price to more than 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

As of a week ago, more than one hundred construction workers from the Institute of National Water Resources and from the Ministry of Construction worked in order to repair the breakdown, which affected 50 meters of the South Catchment area in the Quivican municipality of Mayabeque province. It is estimated that the investment to repair the pipes is about five million Cuban pesos (roughly 200,000 CUC/US$).

The tests are targeted to fill the Palatino central tanks in the neighborhood of Cerro, which supplies water to the municipalities of Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, Plaza de la Revolucion, Cerro, Diez de Octubre and part of Boyeros.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuban Catholic Bishops Express Solidarity with Venezuela

Dionisio García Ibáñez, archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. (Networks)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 May 2017—Cuba’s Catholic bishops are not “on the fringes of the suffering and uncertainty experienced by Venezuelans,” according to a letter released this week signed by Dionisio García Ibáñez, archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba .

The letter, addressed to the Venezuelan episcopate, refers to the “difficult moments” that the South American country has experienced since the beginning of protests almost two months ago in favor of and against the Government which have degenerated into acts of violence and left a 59 dead. continue reading

“We send them our prayer of solidarity,” adds the bishops’ statement and calls for “the paths of forgiveness, constructive and sincere dialogue as well as the yearnings for truth, justice and a commitment to constitutional legality to lead to a stable and true peace.”

The missive extends “firm support” to the Venezuelan Church in “the wishes expressed in its repeated interventions in favor of peace and concord.”

Recently, during the opening of the XLIII Special Plenary Assembly held in Caracas between May 16 and 18, the president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Diego Padrón Sánchez, drew attention to the “picture of barbarism and violence” installed in the country that has returned to “an anti-culture of death.”

The priest said that the “state of affairs” that has led “the current ruling political system is reasonably unjustifiable, ethically illegitimate and morally intolerable.”

Activist Joanna Columbie Deported to Camaguey

Joanna Columbie last Monday afternoon in Vivac when they were taking her to receive a visit. (Somos+)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 June 2017 – The principal of Academy 1010 and Somos+ (We Are More) Movement activist, Joanna Columbie, was deported Friday from the Vivac detention center in Havana to Camaguey province, as reported to 14ymedio by the leader of the Somos+ organization, Eliecer Avila.

“Joanna called from Vivac to say that she was going to be taken to Camaguey on a bus along with other detainees,” the dissident added. “The police have mounted an operation around the bus that looks like they are transporting dangerous criminals,” he said sarcastically.

“They have given her a warning about subversive activity and enemy propaganda,” he added. continue reading

The crime of enemy propaganda can carry “a sanction of incarceration from one to eight years” according to the Penal Code. It applies to those who prepare, distribute or possess “oral or written propaganda” that “incites against the social order, international solidarity or the socialist State.”

At the time of her arrest the opposition leader was carrying with her several compact discs “with material about Academy 1010,” says Avila.

Columbie was arrested a week ago in the Arroyo Naranjo township by State Security just two days after her temporary permit for residence in the capital had expired.

The activist’s permanent residence is in Cespedes, Camaguey where she was a victim of a robbery at the beginning of the year, but the police so far have arrested no perpetrators.

Joanna Columbie’s arrest and deportation add to a series of repressive actions against Somos+ in recent months. The expulsion of journalism student Karla Perez (member of the independent group) from the University of Las Villas and the raid on the home of Eliecer Avila are some of the most recent actions by State Security against this opposition group.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Cuban Parliament Closes Ranks Around Nicolás Maduro

A session of Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 June 2017 — A statement of support for “the people and the Government of Venezuela” came at the last minute in the extraordinary session of the Cuban Parliament this Thursday and was unanimously approved. The text salutes “the constant calls for dialogue” made by President Nicolás Maduro.

Deputy Yoerkis Sánchez, a member of the parliamentary group of friendship with the South American country, presented the statement denouncing “the serious escalation of internal violence and international intervention that has destabilized” Venezuela.

The document criticizes harshly the role of “the media of the oligarchy that distort the reality of the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution.” An informative line that supposedly hides “the barbaric coup of the right, including the murder of young people.” continue reading

The members of the National Assembly had hard words for the Organization of American States (OAS) and its secretary general Luis Almagro, who they accused of “double standards.” According to the document, the entity seeks to “surround and overthrow the government of Nicolás Maduro, while silencing other serious manifestations of violence and the breakdown of democracy in other countries of the region.”

Deputy Yoerkis Sánchez, a member of the parliamentary group of friendship with the South American country, presented the statement denouncing “the serious escalation of internal violence and international intervention that has destabilized” Venezuela

Criticism against the OAS comes within hours of the organization’s foreign ministers failing to agree on a statement on the Venezuelan crisis on Wednesday and setting another meeting before the June General Assembly in Cancun.

The Cuban deputies called for “the cessation of any intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela” and invoked “respect for the determination of its people and their right to build the model of society it determines.”

The statement included a call to the legislators of the world to show solidarity with the South American country.

Since the protests began two months ago, there have been marches convened by the opposition against Maduro’s government, which have resulted in at least 59 deaths. There have also been 2,977 arrests, of which 197 were ordered by military courts, according to the Venezuelan NGO Penal Forum.

The Swamp Of Wealth

Limiting wealth requires specifying how much a person can possess and where the prohibitions begin. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 June 2017 — Almost a quarter of a century ago, the government launched a battle against illicit income that ended with the detention of dozens of criminals but also of prosperous entrepreneurs. During the dreaded Operation Flowerpot, you could be denounced just for having a freshly painted house, wearing new clothes or sporting a gold chain.

Popular humor has coined a joke that describes the arrest of a “New Rich” in 2030, where the infraction is possessing three cans of condensed milk and two brooms. Jokes like this point out the weakest part of the raids against the well-to-do. What’s the starting point for someone to be considered wealthy or a hoarder? continue reading

The relativism surrounding such definitions has come to the fore again during the last extraordinary session of Cuba’s Parliament, which supported a prohibition against accumulating property and wealth. Such limitations remain to be expressed in a law that establishes a clear limit on the possession of material goods.

The deputies of the National Assembly could see fit to define the amount of money that the savers will be allowed to keep in their bank accounts, how many clothes they can hang in their closets, the number of pairs of shoes they can wear and even the amount of shampoo they’re permitted to use when they wash their heads…

The champions of such prohibitions are, in most cases, people who do not even have to put their hands in their pockets to buy food

Such an enumeration seems absurd, but limiting wealth consists of specifying the quantity allowed and where the prohibitions begin. Without these exactitudes – generally ridiculous and elusive – everything remains in the realm of subjectivity, at the mercy of the whims of those who apply the punishments.

To add moisture to that legal swamp, the champions of such bans are, in most cases, people who do not even have to put their hands in their pockets to buy food. They live on privileges, free supplies and perks that insulate them from the daily life and the hardships of most Cubans.

They, who have accumulated all the wealth, fear that someone who has not assaulted a barracks, wielded a gun or shouted slogans, could move in a few feet from their mansions, run a hotel more competitive than those run by the Armed Forces and manage – and this is their worst nightmare – to have the economic autonomy to launch a political career.

Cuba’s Parliament Positions Its New Straitjacket

The Constitution of the Republic does not establish that the deputies have the obligation or the assignment to analyze documents issued by the Communist Party. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, 1 June 2017 — With its usual unanimity, the National Assembly of People’s Power, on Thursday, supported the documents submitted to it by the Council of State. The extraordinary session put the final stitch in the straitjacket that the Communist Party of Cuba (CCP) is placing on the Parliament and other organs of power for the coming years.

Since Wednesday, the committees gathered at the Havana Convention Center have expressed their support for the Conceptualization of the Cuban Social Economic Development and Social Model and the updating of the Party Policy and Revolution Guidelines for the period 2016-2021. continue reading

The final versions of the documents were presented to the deputies, after a long process of debate that included modifications, additions and deletions. The Third Plenum of the Central Committee had given them the green light in mid-May, and all that was left was for the members of the Eighth Legislature to raise their hands to ratify their support.

In the Constitution of the Republic, where the powers of the Parliament are specified, it is not established that the Members have the obligation or the assignment to analyze documents issued by the PCC, nor those that the Council of State presents before them.

The absence of a healthy and democratic division of powers that the country suffers has become more visible in the last hours, with the act of parliamentary meekness that has meant that the non-partisan entity supports the documents emanating from the structures of a militancy.

The absence of a healthy and democratic division of powers that the country suffers has become more visible in the last hours, with the act of parliamentary meekness

So as not to overstate the confusion about responsibilities, the government chose the verb “to back,” rather than “ratify,” “vote” or “approve,” for what happened on June 1. In the selection of the word, the formal character of what happened was evidenced, for under no circumstances would the deputies have had the power to disapprove the documents.

If anyone had a question about parliamentary autonomy first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel was responsible for dissipating it when he stressed that “everything that is approved here comes as recommendations prized by the higher echelons of the Party.”

When the Party “submits to the consideration” of the National Assembly its programmatic guidelines, it is not subordinating itself to this supreme body of state power, but using it as a docile executor of its policy. It makes the legislature the implementer of the narrow limits which Raul Castro wants to leave as a frame for the political class of the country before vacating the presidential chair next February.

Not in vain, the General stressed in his closing speech of the session that the documents backed by the legislature will permit “changing everything that should be changed,” but at “a speed that allows us to reach consensus.” An affirmation with which he reiterates his preferences that the transformations happen “step by step” or “gradually,” but in which he also reveals his fears.

When the Party “submits to the consideration” of the National Assembly its programmatic guidelines, it is not subordinating itself to this supreme body of state power, but using it as a docile executor of its policy

But the unanimity reached in these two days is not that strong either. In several of the speeches, the deputies made clear the distance between the theoretical postulates that were established as inviolable laws in the construction of socialism, and the times in which the island is living. Under the apparent uniformity lies the clash between entelechy and reality, plans and results.

In several historical moments and national instances in which this tension has manifested itself, the Solomonic – or chameleonic – formula has been called on to be able to continue to say that the country is guided by Marxist-Leninist doctrines, but shaded with “our own realities and experiences.”

The dominance of social property over the means of production and the exercise of power by a single party are the two pillars on which the whole program is dispersed in guidelines, conceptualizations and programs. However, there is no longer talk of eliminating the exploitation of man by man, nor is the superior society aspired to defined as “Communism.”

The National Assembly expects another bitter drink, because the Party does not legislate, at least directly. The PCC will have to instruct the deputies to determine the amount of wealth that citizens will be able to accumulate, and whether the redistribution of resources generated in non-state forms of production will be accomplished by way of taxes or confiscations.

At that time, the parliamentarians will be pushed to sew fine stitches and to reinforce with them the guide to action left to them by “Castroism.” It will be the last chance this organ of the Popular Power has, before becoming a total ventriloquist of the Party.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago: “The Cuban Government Panicked After Obama’s Visit”

Cuban economist and academic Carmelo Mesa Lago. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Maité Rico, Madrid, 1 June 12017 — Carmelo Mesa-Lago (born Havana, 1934) has spent a good part of his life trying to open a breach of good sense in the wall of absurdities with which that the Castro regime has ended up plunging into bankruptcy a country that was, in the 1950s, the third most developed in Latin America after Argentina and Uruguay.

A Professor Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, he has just presented in Madrid the only study on the private sector in Cuba (Voices Of Change In The Cuban Non-State Sector, published by Iberoamericana-Vervuert), based on interviews with 80 self-employed individuals. continue reading

Armed with the best statistical data, this economist views with perplexity how the economic reforms announced by Raúl Castro in 2010 are being diluted (“the Government takes one step forward and four steps back”), and how the country is losing the opportunity that was offered to it last year by the reestablishment of bilateral relations with the United States.

It was precisely Barack Obama’s outstretched hand that sowed panic in the Government, which fears that economic openness will lead to political change. Now there is a brake on the reforms, there are no investments, and the crisis in Venezuela, which replaced the USSR as Cuba’s economic supporter, has plunged the country into disaster.

Rico: Is Cuba entering a new “Special Period” [a euphemism to describe the period of hardship that followed the fall of the USSR and the end of aid to Cuba]?

Mesa-Lago: The situation is similar, but not so dramatic, because the dependence on the Soviet Union was much greater than that on Venezuela. That said, the trade volume with Venezuela has dropped significantly (from 42% to 27% in 2015) and the supply of oil has declined from 105,000 barrels a day to 55,000.

Cuba sold a part of that oil in the world market, and it was an important source of income that has also fallen by half. And another income that has fallen is the most important one: the sale of professional services (doctors, nurses, teachers) [to foreign countries], which went from 11 billion dollars in 2013 to 7 billion. In 2015, GDP growth was 4.4%. In 2016, it was minus 0.9%. Everything points to a very strong crisis, but I do not think it reaches the level of the Special Period.

Rico. At least, within this parasitic economy, tourism remains.

Mesa-Lago. There is a boom, for the first time they exceeded four million tourists and took in about 4 billion dollars. The problem is that this gross income has to be subtracted from the value of imports of goods and supplies for tourists. Cuba has to import everything. And that data is no longer published. So it’s not 4 billion. It’s less, but we do not know how much.

Rico. Despite the announcement of the investment plan and Obama’s trip, foreign investment has not materialized and the Special Development Zone in the Port of Mariel, the big Brazilian bet, is quite inactive.

Mesa-Lago. It is inexplicable. Cuba needs [new investments of] at least $2.5 billion a year. Until last month there were some 450 proposals for foreign investment, some of them already established in Cuba. And they have only approved some twenty of them. According to their figures, since the opening of the Port of Mariel Special Development Zone the cumulative figure has not reached 2 billion dollars. Why do they do this? It does not make sense to me.

Rico. But what can Cuba offer, beyond cheap labor? The system of production is destroyed.

Mesa-Lago. The infrastructure is a disaster. And the workforce, which is qualified, works extremely slowly. For the construction of the Manzana hotel, Kempinski brought workers from India because they were more productive. The problem is that the Cuban worker earns very little and is paid in Cuban pesos (CUP), and has to buy most things in convertible currency (CUC), and they can’t support themselves. There is no incentive, and it is a vicious cycle. Between 1989, the year before the crisis, and 2015, the purchasing power of Cubans fell by more than 70%.

Rico. And when are they going to solve the problem of the dual-currency system?

Mesa-Lago. Raul has announced it many times and two years ago made a very complicated resolution, full of equations. But nothing happened. The problem is that inflation will be about 12% this year, it is very high. And the unification of the currency, by itself, generates inflation. So I find it difficult to see them doing it in the short term. In addition, they must first do it in the state sector, and there will be companies that will cease to be sustainable, and then comes the population. It’s going to be a longer process than in Vietnam and probably in China.

Rico. How many workers has the state fired since the reforms began?

Mesa-Lago. They announced that between 2010 and 2015 they were going to lay off 1.8 million unnecessary workers, but in the end it was half a million. The private sector did not advance as rapidly as needed to create all those jobs, and there would have been a social explosion.

Rico. But why does private activity grow so slowly?

Mesa-Lago. Because of all the obstacles. It is as if the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. There are many activities that the Government has closed down or rescinded [the permission for, after initially granting licenses]: clothing sales, 3D movie theaters … now they have begun to regulate prices for private taxis and on the sale of homes, and to interfere in the free agricultural market. Taxation is brutal. There are something like seven taxes. The Government punishes those who succeed and who could help the State solve its problems. It is not logical.

Rico. And how do you explain it?

Mesa-Lago. The only explanation I have is that in Cuba there is no unified leadership with a single opinion, but there is a group that resists. Obama’s visit had a very positive impact on the population, but the government panicked. From there came a a paralysis. The most hardline group, the most orthodox, came out stronger than ever.

Rico. Are the Armed Forces putting obstacles in the way?

Mesa-Lago. Yes, and the Party, but the Army is more important because it has economic power. And it has like a reverse Midas touch. Everything it touches it turns to garbage … Restaurants, hotels … It is impressive.

Rico. The self-employed people interviewed agree on their problems: scarcity and lack of inputs, regulatory overspending, taxes, difficult access to the internet …

Mesa-Lago. Yes, and in spite of the continuous obstruction of the State, 80% of them are satisfied with what they do (although not with what they earn). And 93% made profits, and most reinvested them into their business. That is extraordinary.

Rico. Will the team in power be able to make the transition?

Mesa-Lago. If Raúl Castro, in ten years, has not pushed the reforms, I doubt that his successor can be more successful. Political logic prevails over economic logic. And they fear losing control.

_____

Editorial Note: This article was previously published in the Spanish newspaper El País and we reproduce it with authorization of the author.