Plebiscites and Elections in Cuba: Between the Illusory and the Possible

(Photo taken from the internet)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 27 June 2018 — After more than a year since the death of Castro I, and just a few weeks after the symbolic withdrawal of Castro II from his post at the head of the Cuban government, the only verifiable changes within today’s Cuba are the accelerated and unstoppable deterioration of the living conditions of the population, the increase in material shortages, the growing scarcity of markets and the increase in repression.

All this, framed in an extremely confusing political and economic reality, where the highest authorities of the country announce at the same time, in a constitutional reform — under the assumption of adapting the legal framework to the “reforms” introduced by the government of General Raúl Castro — a “very, very tense” economic and financial situation for the second semester of the year 2018. More poverty on the Cuban horizon, while discontent and despair also grow in a society sunk in an eternal state of survival, suffocated by the accumulation of old and new problems, never overcome. continue reading

In the midst of such a scenario, it is perfectly understandable that political apathy should spread among a population that increasingly distances itself from the power elite. An epidemic apathy that continues to sow disbelief in the population, and that should be the appropriate breeding ground for the advance of proposals of the opposition, but that – unfortunately — is being projected, also to a large extent, towards the so-called opposition leaders and their projects.

Thus, paradoxically, the widening of the gap between government and the governed is not being interpreted at a sociopolitical level into a proportional approach of those governed to the different opposition projects.

It is true that all responsibility for this cannot be attributed to the opposition, at least not in an absolute way. The failure of numerous proposals over decades and the backlog of current opposition projects is associated, even more so than with the nature of the legitimate acceptance the opposition claims, with the repression and harassment suffered by activists, with the lack of spaces available to express themselves freely, with the helplessness and harassment suffered by those who disagree with the government in a country where there is no freedom of association (or any other civil liberty), and with the colossal campaign that is applied to them from the official press monopoly that defames and demonizes them, simultaneously sowing fear and social distrust towards everything that might mean confronting the totalitarian power of the Castro regime.

However, the opposition is not immune to the ills that afflict Cuban society, since it is the fruit of the same reality. This explains why dozens of proposals have been spoiled by the combination of the aforementioned adversities, but also by other evils not attributable to dictatorial power, such as the frequent internal fractures between parties and opposition movements that almost always involve confrontations and mutual disqualifications; the excessive self-interests of many leaders, the sectarian and often exclusive character of some projects, the lack of consensus and common strategies, as well as the inability to articulate truly realistic programs, among other limitations.

The sum of all these calamities and the unquestionable social base insufficiency make the Cuban opposition a marginal sector within Cuba, which moves in parallel direction without being able to penetrate the critical masses with viable and effective proposals which might eventually generate enough force to stand up to the government and begin — finally! — a democratic transition. This is, essentially, the biggest weakness of the opposition proposals.

Let’s view it from today’s perspective. It is enough to look at social networks to see a constant anti-Castro media boom, a flood of activists — almost exclusively from outside Cuba — and a permanent brawl between one project and another, one leadership and another, without absolutely any benefit for anyone.

This is how we see unrealizable plebiscites roaming only the virtual universe, fable “elections” and hallucinatory calls to demonstrations or street uprisings to “overthrow the dictatorship” which all who feel the daily rhythm within Cuba know very well will not happen, other than in the imaginations of some of today’s extremists.

Projects that, in principle, would be perfectly valid if they came together with an instruction manual that would indicate to “the masses” how to make them possible.

Because, in good faith, a plebiscite in Cuba would not solve anything except to “demonstrate” the dictatorship’s known bad nature, which will abort any attempt to carry it out. An “election” would not be possible without the existence of political parties, without freedom of expression, communication and the press, without the existence of institutions that certify the transparency and legitimacy of the process and without due legal guarantees. This, without taking into consideration the catastrophic results of a popular uprising in the streets.

Neither would any proposal be of help, whether in the form of a peaceful plebiscite or a violent assault on power from the streets without a master plan for “the day after.” How to establish changes from an event (and not a process), especially in a society so tense and so devoid of civic culture? How will the violent settling of accounts be avoided, how will justice be guaranteed, how will the excesses of a social polarization that has been fed from power for decades be controlled?

But let’s abstract from the reality we know so well and give these projects the benefit of the doubt. Imagine that a plebiscite can be held and that it will demonstrate (at a minimum) that there is an important segment of society that aspires to greater political participation and that demands a multiparty system and other freedoms such as freedom of expression, information, press, rights, economic, etc. How could we ensure that the dictatorship will respect the results of the polls and open the spaces claimed by that segment, when the reality of their actions proves otherwise?

If this is a challenge, we can imagine what it would be like to call for elections in a nation that has not had a government democratically elected at the ballot box since 1948 and where, for 60 years, the existence of a political party or a true public debate on any matter of common interest has not been permitted. Is the Cuban population (those living in Cuba and a good part of those living abroad) prepared to confront the responsibility of the most decisive exercise in civil law? I don’t think so.

As for taking power by force, it is scary to think of the human crisis that would bring unleashed violence in the streets, the social unrest, the consequences of unleashing the beast. Who would assume the consequences and how would we recover from such a long and definitive fracture? Who would be saved from this new Haitian Revolution?

Many readers will assume this analysis too pessimistic or defeatist. There will not be a lack of those who accuse me of promoting divisionism or even label me with worse epithets. However, the Cuban situation is so desperate and urgent that we should not continue to use time and bullets to confront one another, but to conceive answers for a possible solution. Such is the task of the opposition parties, in case they had not realized it: to propose alternatives and a route to attain them.

I must clarify, finally, that I do not consider the plebiscite proposals and (eventually) elections in Cuba totally misguided, but only incomplete. All efforts have the courage to break the inertia, promote action. But it is necessary to abandon, once and for all, the cravings for personal wishes to be in the limelight and find one or several feasible solutions in the shortest time to overcome the Castro nightmare. Right now, the “who” is not so important, rather the “what” and especially the “how” are. Cuba languishes while some walk around, thriving in its name and contemplating their belly-buttons.

Or, who knows? Maybe there is already a solution properly thought out and strategically realizable, as an old friend always tells me, “momentarily locked in a desk drawer of some good Cuban, who is waiting for the right moment to bring it to light.” Or maybe the miracle will finally take place and the wills of many Cubans from all over will come together to allow light to shine and open the way. Only this thought exposes me for what I am: an incurable optimist.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The “New” Cuban Constitution: Defeat or Opportunity? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

A billboard celebrating the 35th anniversary of the current Cuban constitution. “Party, People, Government, State, a Single Will”

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, West Palm Beach, 28 June 2018 — A recent inquiry by colleagues Ana León and Augusto César San Martín about the expectations of several citizens, in the face of the constitutional reform, arouses reflection on some of the numerous gaps in the field of civic culture and rights ailing the Cuban population.

Perhaps an illustrative example, which portrays the colossal work of citizen education that will have to be developed in an eventual transition scenario towards democracy, is the evidence of the almost absolute ignorance of the Law of laws by at least some of the Cubans questioned on the subject.

However, ignorance and even disdain regarding constitutional issues are not the only existing factors. In fact, illiteracy in legal and civil rights issues in Cuba is practically a congenital social disease, something perfectly understandable in a country governed for decades by autocratic voluntarism, through decrees and improvised regulations that commonly overcome — and even contradict — the letter, the spirit, the strength and the legal hierarchy of the Constitution itself. continue reading

Add to this that both the content of the Constitution and the laws, the courts that must enforce them and the institutions that must ensure order, exist in order to guarantee the privileges of Power, not the rights of citizenship, which determines that the subject (let’s call him the “citizen”) is constantly forced to commit crimes because of the imperatives of survival, and tends to alienate himself from a legal body that neither represents nor favors him.

Such legal confusion is also reflected in the opinions reaped by León and San Martín, where a segment of the participants, whom the authors define as “more radical,” believe that in the current constitutional reform process “everything must be changed, starting with the political vision from which the new document will be written,” while another imprecise number of testimonies show “modest aspirations,” of which only one is revealed: “increase in salaries and pensions.” A longing that would be related to a specific law in any case, but not to a Constitution.

Unfortunately, we do not know the number of subjects involved in the aforementioned journalistic survey, and we also lack other information about them, such as their ages, occupations and places of residence, which may be useful for venturing additional assessments. For this reason — scarce in testimonies and abounding above all in opinions issued by the authors — the text does not meet the expectations suggested by the title.

However, it is appreciated that León and San Martín bring up a topic as important as the preparation of a new constitution in Cuba. Especially if one takes into account the environment of conspiracy in which the new Statute is being cooked, the peculiar moment in which its drafting has been decided — marked by the transfer of the presidency of the country from the so-called “historical generation” to the “generational relay” — and the inexplicable fact that such a complex task is headed precisely by the ex-president, General Raúl Castro, who had the opportunity of convening a Constituent Assembly and amending the Constitution during the more than 10 years of his ill-fated mandate, but didn’t do it.

And since the corset that will truss the “new” Constitution from its inception was already announced — socialism’s irrevocable character and the role of the Cuban Communist Party as the leading force of society and of the State — it can be assumed that the novelties the new Statute brings are simple accommodations to disguise the subtle return to capitalism that has (illegally) been taking place before our eyes.

Clearly, the Constitution of Castro II will legitimize the highly vilified “exploitation of man by man,” which returned decades ago to successfully emulate the already previously sacramental (though never explicit) exploitation of man by the State; the privileged presence of foreign capital; the exclusion of Cubans and the perpetuation of power, all camouflaged under the innocent euphemism of “the Cuban model.”

So, if the official media have made reference to the debate by the National Assembly of Peoples Power of less conspicuous issues, such as equal marriage or revision of the Family Code, I do not think it intends to catapult Princess Mariela Castro towards future political stardom — in such a macho and homophobic country, much more is needed than the support of an army of gay revolutionaries to assume the presidency — but to create a smokescreen, a mere distraction that offers the world the image that, in effect, Cuba is changing and that it is more democratic and inclusive than many developed countries. From the UMAP* to the Palace of Marriages… Now that is the will to change, gentlemen!

As for the political and economic freedoms for Cubans, we already know that this option is vetoed. The olive-green mafia, now dressed in elegant suits and neat guayaberas, will move only the chips that certify their political interests, endorse their capital and maintain social control and “political balance.”

And in addition, they may astutely throw some legal crumbs that favor the minimal and undemanding private sector — a wholesale market, even if it is not stocked or offering better prices than the retailer, for example — in order to win their support and compliance. It is known that, as a general rule, the goals of long-term societies are not related to being freer, more prosperous and independent, but also to the petty aspiration of not belonging to the majority sector, the poorest members of the population.

And assuredly, the remnants of the Castro regime and its political heirs will make their legalistic move so well that they will be able to show the world how some eight million idiots will go docilely to the polls to consecrate with their vote the perpetuity of the dispossession of their rights. We have already seen it before.

Except that (who knows?), the “masses” should understand that, this time, only they have the possibility to surprise us, and to use the power of their vote to say “NO” to a Constitution that is born mutilated and spurious. Maybe we are facing an opportunity and not a defeat.

Perhaps some opposition leaders, so engrossed in defending their own little egos, are missing a golden opportunity to show the world that there are a large number of Cubans who deserve recognition and support in their democratic aspirations, and — in passing — to clarify to the autocracy that they can no longer count on a unanimous and monotonous herd.

A tiny step, yes, but a step forward. It’s true that it would be an arduous task for leaders and activists to mobilize this time to get people to go the polls – rather than to boycott them – and to cast NO votes to oppose the conspiracy of Power. It is also true that this would not produce money or allow for personality cults, but on the contrary: it would cost capital and blur the leadership into “all of us.” For the first time the common leader would be the electorate. But, if what it really is about is the future of Cuba and of all Cubans, it would be well worth the effort.

*The UMAP, Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción, (Military Units for Aid to Production) were forced-work agricultural labor camps operated by the Cuban government during the mid-1960’s. Scant information available has characterized the camps solely as an instance of gender policing, though it was created for individuals who, for religious or other beliefs were not able to serve in the regular military units.

Miriam Celaya is a Cubanet journalist, resident in Cuba, who is visiting Florida

Translated by Norma Whiting

Migrations From the Viewpoint of the Receiving Country / Miriam Celaya

Migrants protest on the Mexico-US border (AFP)

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, West Palm Beach, 1 June 2018 – The moving images of dozens of Central American children held in federal facilities in the United States, after being forcibly separated from their parents when they were detained as illegal immigrants by the National Guard after crossing the Mexican-American border, have been overwhelming media and social networks these days, stirring emotions and promoting bitter debates.

According to what the US government has acknowledged, from mid-April until the end of May, around 2,000 minors have suffered family division in this way, a trauma that adds to the hardships experienced in their countries of origin and the dangers and shocks typical of the journey through Central America and Mexico in pursuit of the tempting American dream. continue reading

The zero-tolerance policy for illegal immigration, applied to the letter by the current resident of the White House, is causing a flood of opinions that tend to be located in two diametrically opposed poles: at one extreme, those who support the high-profile leader in this and all positions, in an absolute and uncritical way; and in the opposite extreme, those that are ready to launch an attack against any initiative of the current administration.  There are no gradations in any of these two sides, neither in the Trump supporters nor in the Trump critics. Their common denominator is the field of emotions.

And in the midst of government politics, debates and emotions, are the plight of migrant families and the tensions that irregular migration creates within the receiving countries; a phenomenon that has become a crisis and is affecting internal policies in the main developed hubs of the western world: Europe and the United States.

There is no doubt about the solidarity aroused by the helplessness of migrants. But, what if we momentarily situate ourselves on the other side of the spectrum, that is, the receiving part of all that migratory avalanche? Who will assume the social costs of uncontrollable and massive entry into their territory? And, looking at the details, who is directly responsible for the fate of those minors held at the US border?

Demonization of migrants in the Trump era?

It is known that the problem of illegal immigrants – (“irregulars”), to avoid hurting susceptibilities – that penetrate the porous US borders is a long-standing issue of such complexity that it exceeds the simple political confrontation between presidents of one party or another, or the political interests of either Democrats or Republicans.

In fact, the fundamental cause of migration from Latin America to the US lies in the economic, political and social crises of the countries of departures, and not – or at least not directly – in the “pro-immigrant” or “anti-immigrant” actions of successive US administrations. And this is precisely why the solution of the evil begins with the respective countries of origin of the migrants, regardless of the migratory policies of the White House.

In any case, no nation, however developed and rich it may be, and no matter how much or how little territory it encompasses, can allow the unstoppable entry of irregular immigrants that has been going on at the US borders, subjected to a virtual hounding.

On the other hand, while a powerful and rich nation such as the United States is capable of absorbing a huge number of immigrants from all over the world, it is no less true that the much-needed “right to emigrate” ends where the sovereign right of each country becomes vulnerable to accept or reject the entry of a flood of immigrants whose cultures and customs are dissimilar to theirs. And this is the reverse logic that reluctant governments employ to refuse the entry of an infinite flow of immigrants.

To the rhythm of wars, gang wars, economic and political crises, epidemics, famines and all the infinite litany of calamities that loom over poor nations – previously called “third world” and now, euphemistically, “underdeveloped or developing countries” – hundreds of thousands of human beings face the dangers of exodus each year and illegally cross or pile up at the borders of countries that are almost always called “interfering enemies” when they intervene in the internal policies of “motherlands” of the migrants, though many of the migrants consider themselves political refugees and place the responsibility for their national misfortunes on Europe and the US, without taking into consideration the burden they create on the economies of those countries they wish to enter.

Another point is the irresponsibility that’s involved in enlisting minor children in an adventure as dangerous as it is uncertain, practically using them as currency or emotional blackmail in order to achieve the regularization of their immigration status. This is what is happening on the US border. Curiously, no media scandal or waves of protests over the situation of these children took place in any of the intermediate borders or nations. Neither did the army of quasi-indigent families of migrants seem to have queued to request asylum before the embassies of proletarian paradises such as Cuba, Venezuela or Bolivia, countries that presume to be societies where equality and social justice prevail. No. They march straight towards the abominable empire of xenophobia, discrimination, racism and social exclusion… The dispossessed of our Latin American nations are such masochists!

For the record, I am absolutely in no way a supporter or a sympathizer of Trump or of his policies, but rather the opposite. Only that the extreme polarization of the migratory crisis in the US borders that is simplified as an image of the (always) good migrant and the (always) bad government is too schematic, plots against the complexities that characterize the reality of the current world and does not allow for a reasonable solution to the problem of the millions of migrants who are forced to seek, far from their home nations, the opportunities for the life and prosperity they aspire to as an elementary right.

True, Trump does not verbalize or carry it out in the best way, but it is indisputable that the United States as a nation – and not just Obama, Trump, or the next president – has the right to regulate the entry of migrants into his territory, beyond the national tragedies of our respective countries, be they an emporium of dictatorships or cardboard democracies.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Rafael Alcides: May He Rest In Peace / Luis Cino Alvarez

Rafael Alcides (EFE)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 20 June 2018 — The writer Rafael Alcides, who died in Havana on June 19 at the age of 85, had a warehouse of novels and unpublished poems in his home. It had been more than three decades since a book of his was published in his homeland. First it was because the commissars, unable to make him submit, did not want to publish him. Then, it was Alcides who did not want to be published. He made it clear: he said he would not accept it until the day his books could be in Cuban bookstores along with those of all the Cuban authors prohibited by the regime.

He resisted fearlessly, without losing heart. And, industrious and stubborn as he was, without failing to write for a single day.

The author of Agradecido como un perro (Grateful as a Dog) had the stubborn patience of poets, who do not rush because they know themselves to be the absolute owners of time and words. continue reading

Born in 1933 in Barrancas, a remote hamlet in eastern Cuba, Rafael Alcides was one of the main colloquialist poets of the so-called ’50s generation.

Once he believed in the Revolution. But poets, if that is what they really are, can not sing in the chorus. The praise bores them. They are reluctant to follow orders and commands, they do not accommodate themselves nor fit within the battalion of the submissive. And that is why he broke with the confining official culture and stepped aside, to witness the sad parade of the mediocre, servile and coryphaeus. He continued to listen to “the rumor of what life was before the future came,” warning that “nothing is as we supposed.”

His time of vain illusions passed, converted into ashes, without smoke or grudges. The poet did not answer to illusions. He lived between the past and the future, warning — he said in verses — that: “Everything we had we lost and it was more than we could have.”

He spent his last years surrounded by the affection of his loved ones, at peace with his demons, without fear, decent, unwavering.

I had the privilege of enjoying the friendship of Rafael Alcides. I used to visit him in the small apartment in Nuevo Vedado he shared with his wife, blogger Regina Coyula and her son. His conversation, always lucid and interesting, never ceased to inspire courage. Not even when cancer was about to win the game.

Rest in peace Rafael Alcides, if the souls of poets can ever resign themselves to rest and stop dreaming.

luicino2012@gmail.com

The Irreversible Failure of the Castro Regime / Miriam Celaya

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro (Reuters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Festival in Washington: One More Victory for Castroism / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Omara Portuondo and Aymée Nuviola (Credit: Kennedy Center)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 15 May 2018 — Omara Portuondo, Ballet Nacional, Pablo Milanés, Haydée Milanés, Los Van Van, Teatro El Público, Aldo López Gavilán, Jorge Luis Pacheco, Orquesta Faílde, Teatro El Público, Orquesta del Liceo de La Habana… The top drawer talent went to Cuba, to the Kennedy Center, to the Artes de Cuba festival. The best and most reliable, the ones who can be trusted to not defect or say something inappropriate–because it would not be to their advantage to do so.

It matters not if Pablito Milanés, who has been whining lately, were to make some controversial statement, because this would only show that Cuba has changed, that we are completely transparent, and that dissent is allowed (of course it is!)—provided, that is, that the dissent is expressed as the Maximum Leader wanted: “within the Revolution.” * continue reading

As the journalist Yuri Nórido wrote, with utmost optimism, a few days ago in the Trabajadores newspaper: the Kennedy Center patrons will see for themselves that in Cuba, “questioning and committed” (we all know to what) art is made.

You will pardon my cynicism, but I do not trust the assurances given by Alicia Adams, the festival curator, that the Cuban government did not intervene into the selection of artists. With a regime like this one, I’m not buying that story…

What a coincidence that among the more than 250 performers selected by Adams—let’s say we believe that she alone made the selection—there are no independent artists (except the Mal Paso dance company, which, it is true, does not receive state subsidies)—and even less any of the writers, filmmakers, painters and other artists who are censored and condemned to be ostracized, such as those plastic artists who, at this very moment and while being harassed by State Security, are holding an alternative Bienal in Havana.

What a coincidence that among the artists in the Cuban diaspora—let’s not call it “exile,” that ugly word—who are fewer, were not included, for example, such virtuosos as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Could it be because they are openly anti-Castro?

By the same token, just to allay any such suspicions, the quintet of New York-based saxophonist Yosvany Terry, and the singer Aymée Nuviola, who lives in Miami, were at the Kennedy Center. Neither of them have ever made a peep against the regime, which Adams must have taken into account when making her selections. Because we wouldn’t want the festival to be politicized…

It’s not that artists must spend their lives making political statements, but in the case of individuals who have been forced to leave their country for reasons that always, one way or another, can be traced back to politics, it would well be worthwhile if, occasionally, when it’s relevant, they would declare themselves, speak plainly and leave off the subterfuge. They should follow the example of Alicia Alonso and Omara Portuondo, who whenever they have the opportunity to do so, they give witness to their unbreakable loyalty to castroism.

Speaking of Omara Portuondo, her fan Aymée Nuviola appears to be trying with her what she was unable to do, no matter how hard she worked, with Celia Cruz: to prosper in her shadow. Maybe she’ll even get to cut a duo record with the Diva of the Buenavista Social Club. And continue taking trips to Havana, where, to some people who don’t care about put-downs, snubs and payoffs, applause sounds sweeter than in Miami.

For the moment, the Cuban regime is winning another propaganda battle. With so many good artists at the Kennedy Center—the majority of them “educated in the art schools created by the revolutionary government,” as they insist on pointing out—anyone would think that the official culture in Cuba is a marvel, another “achievement of the Revolution.” Perhaps this, and not so much the building of bridges between Cuba and the US, is the objective of this Cuban art festival, the largest celebrated outside the Island.

luicino2012@gmail.com

*Translator’s Note:  A reference to Fidel Castro’s “Words to the Intellectuals” speech of June 30, 1961, in which he set limits to the free expression of artists and writers: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Latin America: Peace in the Abstract/ Miriam Celaya

Source: Reuters

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 May 2018 — Few words carry such an unmistakable meaning – and contradictorily – such dissimilar interpretations, as that brief 5-letter-word: Peace. Contrary to the destruction caused by wars and the crises arising from the numerous conflicts that affect Humanity, the lack of a universal concept of Peace has continually hindered attempts to measure the degree of pacifism of each country or region.

Finally, in May 2007, the British weekly The Economist published for the first time the Global Peace Index list, an instrument that established the numerical ordering of more than 140 countries according to the absence or presence of violence, as measured by indicators such as crime rate, the existence of internal or external wars, military spending, political stability, the number individuals serving time in jail, and respect for human rights, among others. continue reading

Despite certain inaccuracies arising from the exclusion of important parameters, such as gender and child violence, or the dubious reliability of data and sources in the case of some countries – for example, Cuba – the GPI has great referential value, not only for being the first to identify the elements that intervene in peace, but for constituting a permanent record that allows us to observe the mobility in the levels of peace of the different countries and regions that make up the list, where the lowest scores correspond to the most peaceful countries, and vice versa.

Collaterally, the GPI research establishes a clear correlation between levels of peace and levels of income, education, transparency, corruption and democracy in the countries analyzed.

Due to its methodological contribution and its systemic nature, which facilitates the evaluation of advances or setbacks in terms of peace over a period of time and in specific territories, the GPI established an inescapable precedent for any subsequent proposal and for the ability to trace political strategies in pursuit of the conquest and sustainment of peace.

Peace… in Latin America?

Seven years after the first report of the GPI, 33 member-countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), meeting at its Second Summit held in Havana (January 2014), unanimously declared this Region as a Peace Zone, allegedly “with the objective of promoting cooperation and maintaining peace and security in all orders among its member countries.”

The aforementioned Declaration was not accompanied by a strategic design that would explain the criteria or parameters followed by those 33 leaders in order to consider as a “Peace Zone” a region permanently crossed by the conflicts and violence imposed by guerrilla wars, drug and human trafficking, gang violence, disappearances and kidnappings, human displacement due to poverty and crime, constant migration, border crises, paramilitaries, assassinations, corruption reaching even the highest political strata, human rights violations, offenses against freedom of press and expression, repression against demonstrators, and an countless crimes that depict in somber tones a geographic and political scene diametrically opposed to what might be called Peace.

Neither did the CELAC establish in its Second Summit a program of proposals to overcome regional problems that threaten peace, methodology to measure improvements or retractions in each country, nor a special commission charged with supervising a joint project of the member countries to guarantee results that might turn Latin America into a true “Peace Zone.”

In fact, today’s stubborn reality indicates that violence and conflicts in our region, far from diminishing, have the propensity to increase. The political and social instability that already existed in Venezuela before 2014 has been joined by the political crisis in Brazil, and more recently in Nicaragua. Mexico continues to exhibit staggering crime rates linked to drug, arms, and human trafficking, gender crimes and targeted killings, amid a climate of insecurity augmented by swift impunity; criminal gangs continue to spread terror in Central America, while the Peace Accords – also signed in Havana – between the narco-guerrillas of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of that country are very likely to end up in a complete failure.

And as if it were not sufficiently spurious that such a Peace in the abstract should be declared in a happy conspiracy of all the democratic governments of “our America” with this hemisphere’s longest dictatorship – responsible, directly or indirectly, for several regional conflicts and incapable of propitiating spaces of dialogue and harmony with its own people – these days Havana is, once again, the base and guarantor of another “sham peace process.” which this time will take place between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army, the Communist guerrilla organization that persists in armed violence.

Now that we have heard the evidence, it is obvious that the dreams for regional peace are just another kind of Latin American myth, something like the legend of El Dorado or the Fountain of Eternal Youth: a promise full of frustrations that transcended into just a fantasy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Transition, Cuban Style / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s new president Miguel Díaz-Canel (center), with Bruno Rodríguez, Mercedes López Acea and Raul Castro (and his grandson/bodyguard in shadow) at the Plaza of the Revolution this May Day (cubadebate.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 7 March 2018, Havana – Since the transfer of the government from the hands of General Raúl Castro to Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez last April 19th, much has been speculated in the foreign media about the possible beginning of a political transition in Cuba. For some inexplicable reason certain colleagues – perhaps well-intentioned, though somewhat clueless – identify the new Cuban president as a sort of helmsman who will lead the sinking island of Cuba towards the fortunate port of democracy.

The defenders of this thesis base their arguments as much on objective questions as on more subjective reasons.  Among the objective questions is the pressing need to create openings within the Island that serve to oxygenate the agonizing national economy and improve the difficult living conditions of Cubans.

Among the more subjective reasons we can especially find the generational change of the political leadership of the country – which would eventually replace the positions still occupied by the rest of the diminished historical generation, with the additional benefit that the new leaders at the head of the Government, who, although they did not take part in the epics of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, the sailing of the yacht Granma from Mexico to Cuba with the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries, and the guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra on which the supposed legitimacy of the autocratic power of the Castro regime was based, neither do they carry the weight of the firing squads, the dispossession of property, the forced labor camps and all the atrocities committed by the Cuban dictatorship in the last six decades. continue reading

In defense of this purported transitional agenda – to date more desired than possible – to which some seduced foreign media refer, it could be mentioned that there are in today’s Cuba, in effect, socio-political similarities with countries that carried out processes of democratic transition after long dictatorships in the last third of the XX century, among them, Portugal and Spain, the longest-lived dictatorships in Europe, although not as long-lasting as the Cuban one.

In fact, the Castro regime’s almost sexagenarian autocracy is but a failed attempt at a transition that ended up being betrayed: the drift of the pro-democratic revolution came to power in January 1959 under the pretext of overthrowing the previous dictatorship, which was imposed by Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état in March, 1952. This awards Cubans the dishonorable privilege of having lived uninterruptedly under conditions of two consecutive dictatorships for the past 66 years.

However, and except for the reasonable variations of nuances, among similarities of the current Cuban reality and the conditions of the aforementioned countries at the moment when their respective transitions took place, there is the presence of an autocratic power based on a unique and egocentric ideology, the intense and permanent propaganda of governmental thought, coupled with the most inflexible censorship on any alternative political opinion or current alternative politics, the official worship of the leader, which is intended to extend beyond his death in the Cuban case, the exaltation of a heroic historical past that supposedly justifies the ideology and leadership of the dictatorial Power and that, moreover, defines the national standard up to the present and towards the future, social control through the repressive political police and the pro-government organizations (selective repression to sow fear and silence in society), and the State’s economic corporate doctrine, which in Cuba is, all at the same time, Government and Single Party.

However, the differences, though fewer in their quantity, are more profound and decisive in explaining the delay, or rather, the non-existence, of the long-awaited process of democratic transition in Cuba.

In the case of Portugal, the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship was the result of a military uprising that would become known as the Carnation Revolution (April 1974), led by the Movement of the Armed Forces (MFA), a rebel faction of the army led by a group of officers dissatisfied with the government, fundamentally due to the stalemates in the wars in the Portuguese colonies of Africa and East Timor.

Precisely because of the importance of the military elite in perpetuating ownership of the colonies, the army was an important political pillar for the Portuguese government, hence the possibility of a military conspiracy of great proportions in Portugal not only seemed contradictory or almost impossible for the regime, and thus was able to take by surprise the powerful political police, the most effective guardian of the Salazar regime. The capacity for organization, military discipline and the extension of the MFA, made it possible for the dictatorship to be overthrown in just a matter of hours, and after two years of political turbulence, democracy was established in the country.

The Spanish transition, meanwhile, started in 1975 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and was a complex civil process. In addition to the changes ordered by King Juan Carlos I as successor, previously appointed by the old head of the State as its leader, the broad support for the King played an essential role, both among a major sector of capitalists within Spain and among many Western countries, and led to the consensus reached by the political parties of the most dissimilar ideological tendencies – including elements of the old Franco regime – which eventually contributed to the creation of the new constitution, the referendum that approved it, and its enactment as the official precept of the government on December 1978, the rule of law being enshrined.

It is true that pitfalls were not lacking throughout the process, but the success of the Spanish transition also played a fundamental role in the support of sectors and personalities of the old Franco regime, who bet on the peaceful and gradual evolution towards democracy and worked towards its consolidation.

A glance is sufficient to discover that, while the similarities between the current Cuban reality and the scenarios that favored the democratic transitions of Portugal and Spain have been determined by their respective dictatorships, the departure of the autocrats from power and the processes of evolution to democracy in both European countries were made possible by social and political actors that do not exist in Cuba, or at least that have not been revealed to date. Namely: elite sectors of duly organized disgruntled military willing to change the political order, reformist elements within the political power itself that favor an orderly transition, national economic power groups capable of influencing pro-democracy changes, an opposition duly articulated and willing to generate political consensus in the interest of a common democratic destiny and, not least, an international community positively interested in supporting the emergence and consolidation of a true democracy in Cuba.

Faced with the lack of rights and the civic squalor of Cuban society, and given the lack of consensus among the opposition sectors, the Castro regime of late, now represented by a new generation of servants, holds all the trumps for a prolonged stretch in Power. To do this, it is ready to legitimize the new era of the dictatorship through a new constitution that must be submitted to a referendum in the future, and that – as expected – has already begun to notch another schism among the opposition: on the one hand, those who take on the challenge as an opportunity to say “NO” to the regime, to one party and to compulsory socialism; on the other, those who not only deny that possibility, but choose to wear themselves out in the disqualification of the former, accusing them of trying to “legitimize” the dictatorship.

It does not seem reasonable, in the midst of such a regrettable scenario, to speak of a Cuban transition. As far as many Cubans are concerned, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez is nothing more than the heir and follower of the dictatorial regime until he demonstrates otherwise. In any case, what is currently offered is a “transition, Cuban style,” a process equivalent to transition from a dictatorship of a life-long government to a government with handovers of power, but a dictatorship nonetheless.

Except that (who knows!) along the way, new actors and circumstances may appear, the miracle of a consensus among the Cuban democrats may take place and, surprisingly, the dreamed about transition to democracy might yet begin in Cuba

But those enthusiastic colleagues of the foreign press, as divorced from the aspirations of Cubans as they are ignorant of our reality, should note that until such a wonderful moment arrives – if it does – it is neither legal nor realistic to talk about a political transition in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Millionaire Guerrillas and Angelic Drug Traffickers / Miriam Celaya

(Front, l to r) Juan Manuel Santos, Raúl Castro and Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño (prensa.com)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 April 2018 — Long before what the most skeptical anticipated, the failure of the new “Peace Accords” between the Colombian government and the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – today metamorphosed into a political party today – is a real possibility on the horizon of that South American nation.

The pacts were negotiated in Havana for four years before being signed in Colombia, with much fanfare, on September 26, 2016. A plebiscite held on October 2 of the same year received a resounding NO, but after making several modifications to the initial version, the pact was finally signed at the Colón theater in Bogotá. From the moment of its first steps, the pact has been on shaky ground, and it is now on the verge of tumbling. continue reading

The recent imprisonment of former FARC guerrilla leader Jesús Santrich, accused of having links to drug trafficking, and his possible extradition to the United States – a situation that, as the high commissioner for the Peace of Colombia has declared, should be clarified judicially and not through debates between the government and political actors – deepens the doubts about the seriousness and veracity of the commitment of the leaders of the now called Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC) to leave behind a past of violence and war that marked half a century of national Colombian life.

However, this episode is just another nail in the coffin of a handful of Agreements that evidently lacked the broad popular support that was attributed to them from the beginning, as demonstrated by the results of the October 2016 plebiscite, and more recently, with the popular rejection that the FARC leader received in his political campaign tour related to the presidential elections, from which he chose to withdraw.

On the other hand, public opinion is not greatly surprised by the arrest and incarceration of Mr. Santrich. It was an open secret that, after losing the financial and logistical support of the former Soviet Union, the Marxist fighters of the Colombian jungles, once champions of the cause of the poor, had rapidly evolved into narco-guerrillas.

The trafficking of cocaine and the extraction of gold which, it is claimed, were always part of the fighters’ “self-financing”, thus became essential sources for the economic and material support of the war and, at its core, for the enrichment of the members of its power elite.

It is not surprising, then, that after the signing of the Havana Peace Accords, the FARC leaders – far from looking like the leaders of an army made up of peasants, workers and other poor and “oppressed” sectors of society – in truth were transformed into administrators of goods and assets of about $345 million, according to an estimate from a list delivered to the Government of Juan Manuel Santos by the UN Mission in Colombia in August of 2017.

However, it is baffling (at the very least) that instead of the gang of the needy one would expect from those who, in theory, have suffered the privations of war and jungle, the harshness of fighting and the persecution of the army, the cream of the crop of the former guerrilla force are in a position to fulfill the obligation to have gold, money, land, livestock, means of transportation and other assets to pay to the fund for reparations to the victims of the armed conflict, as settled in the Agreements.

In this way, due to these difficult paradoxes of reality, the fruits of systematic crime, kidnapping, extortion and terror which was planted in Colombian society for decades, is today part of the safe-conduct for impunity that, though not necessarily forced or required, leaves a bitter taste on the mouths of the victims.

That is why it is even the more brazen that the cynicism with which the FARC – and here I refer to the “political party” – pretends to pose as a victim of political persecution, when one of the members of its clique has been caught in flagrante delicto of drug trafficking, according to the Colombian authorities, breaking with what was agreed in the Peace negotiations.

These days, his colleagues in arms and misdeeds affirm that poor Santrich is in his 15th day of a hunger strike, which “has begun to wreak havoc on his health” and one we hope he is determined to continue to its ultimate consequences.

Since the accused does not have the one act-farce style, so often used by the regional left when defeat circles its wagons, this angelic image that’s being offered of a poor, unjustly incarcerated blind man (and two other companions (cronies?) locked up in the same prison), who is willing to sacrifice his life to prove his innocence, denied the assistance of his own doctors by the authorities, is almost tender. It would seem that those kidnapped and murdered until recently by FARC guerrillas had received a lot better treatment and considerations.

But perhaps such a plaintive stance only tries to mask, as far as possible, the ramifications that drug trafficking reaches among that dark amalgam of Marxist-drug-traffickers-guerrillas-politicians, for whom perhaps the failed Peace Accords – not coincidentally negotiated in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution by their historical allies, the Castros – are too much like a capitulation of their olive-green glory days, when they camped at will, kidnapping, extorting, trafficking and murdering in the jungles and towns of Colombia.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Preliminary Assessment of an Announced Succession / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro salutes Diaz-Canel (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2018 — The first question regarding the succession of power in Cuba, that is the one about who would be elected, was finally clarified on April 19th with the confirmation of the selection of Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as the new president of the State Council of the Castro regime. He will assume the dubious privilege of inheriting the address of the hacienda in ruins.

Contrary to the announcements of the darkest of soothsayers proclaiming the eventuality of a dreaded dynastic succession by Raul’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, who would have been designated by purely consanguineous motives, the election of Díaz-Canel, far from surprising anyone, coincides with signals from the cupola that marked him as a favorite for the position. Castro Espín, for his part, isn’t even among the members of the Council of State (CE). continue reading

If the fissures and struggles between two tendencies of the Power cupola – one “Raulista” and the other “Fidelista”— are true (and certain signs suggest that they are), it is certain that such discrepancies were not reflected in the results of the ballots voted by the 604 deputies who participated in the “election” of the CE. But by themselves, these results do not deny the existence of such a crack, rather they suggest the possibility of agreements between both tendencies in order to safeguard economic, political, and even personal interests and privileges which are common to them, since they are a class that has held power for six decades and that has direct responsibility in everything that happened during that time and in the deep socio-economic crisis that suffocates the nation.

The election process initiated in the month of October 2017 culminates in these two days of sessions of the Ninth Legislature of the National Assembly. However, they were not exempt from surprises, among which stands out – with differences – the strange and unexplained exclusion of Marino Murillo, a member of the Political Bureau and Head of the Implementation and Development Committee of the new CE.

His absence seems all the more confusing because in his inaugural speech the new Cuban president expressed the will and commitment to continue with the implementation of the Guidelines and the Economic and Social Development Plan until 2030, drawn up by his mentor and predecessor, Raúl Castro, to whom – by the way – he dedicated an exaggeratedly laudatory segment.

Murillo should be, at least in theory, an important player with regards to the “continuist” economic policy announced by the incoming president, so his elimination from the CE – without any announcement of his transfer to “other important functions,” as explained in the case of Mercedes López Acea, following the official jargon’s cryptic style – opens the door to speculation about this high official’s possible fall from grace.

Another curious fact in the composition of the new CE is the almost nonexistent presence of any active military. Beyond the symbolic olive-green uniforms of the historical old commanders Guillermo García and Ramiro Valdés – ratified among the five vice-presidents of the CE – General Leopoldo Cintra Frías has been the only minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces who was ratified as a member.

No less notable was the postponement of the election of the Council of Ministers until the next ordinary session of the National Assembly, scheduled for July 2018 as proposed by the president himself, Díaz-Canel, taking into account the country’s complex current circumstances. The proposal was approved unanimously, in accordance with the tradition of the Assembly.

In general, and contrary to what one would expect from these momentous days, when after almost sixty years the departure of the Castro clan from the presidential armchair has finally happened, there are more unknowns left to unravel in times to come than there are certitudes that the new Cuban president had to offer.

His speech held no promises, certainties or proposals for a more promising course for the millions of the governed, who – for their part – lack hopes or expectations for the “new” government. Perhaps the only miniscule novelty of the presidential discourse was the mention, on two occasions, of the word “prosperity,” towards which, according to the “young” ruler, socialism must lead us.

Nevertheless, in spite the heir’s manifest orthodoxy, his language of the barricades and his frequent attacks against anything that differs from the path marked by the leaders of the “Revolution,” we will have to carefully watch his next steps. Rehashing old speeches is not the same as facing the reality of a country in urgent need of deep changes or refusing to take the necessary steps to reverse the calamitous legacy he has just been handed. Because changes in Cuba are not just an option, but a requirement, beyond the interests of the Power claque, its tendencies, its interests or the desires of the brand-new, freshly unveiled, president.

Going forward, what Raúl’s dauphin “says” will not be as important as what the Cuban president “does.” Without a doubt, the shadows of the two Castros – one a ghost, the other a phony reformer – will continue to perniciously influence his mandate for a time. Unfortunately, “time” is not what this new honcho has a lot of, and betting on continuity and pauses, he could end up as the scapegoat of the Castro regime. His only options are to leap forward or bear the entire responsibility for the bad works and ineptitude of his predecessors, while maintaining the balance between the factions of the old power. He won’t have it easy, but this is what he wished for. Meanwhile, for ordinary Cubans, the horizon continues to be as gloomy today as previously, but, at the end of the day, April 19th was the first day of a government without Castros. And only that minutest circumstance is, in itself, good news.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Corruption, the End of Impunity and the Latin American Political Street Gangs

Lula and ex-president Dilma Rousseff (AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 April 2018 — With the recent imprisonment of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the regional left has just received another hard setback. In fact, it could almost be said that Lula’s fall from grace has been the most serious blow suffered by Latin American progressives in the midst of the relentless bashing that its leaders have been weathering in recent times.

Lula is, without a doubt, one of the few heads of state of the left under whose government (2003-2011) extraordinary economic and social improvement was seen, reflected in a high rate of GDP growth, increases in exports, anticipated liquidation of external debts, strengthening of the national markets, significant decreases in unemployment, increases in salaries and the creation and diversification of microcredits, among other important reforms. continue reading

If Brazil reached a relevant position in the world economy in just eight years, and if ever the developing countries looked with hope at what was known at the time as “the Brazilian miracle,” it is largely due to the political talent and the economic reforms promoted by Lula, which explains his enormous popularity in his country and the considerable political capital which he still has, even in the midst of the judicial process – a corruption plot not yet concluded – that has landed him in jail.

But, along with all of Lula’s merits listed above is that other essential component of the best exponents of political populism: a mixture of charisma and histrionics that the former President, now a defendant, has deployed astutely, in the purest style of the television soap operas produced by his country, to manipulate the exalted spirits of his followers in his favor. Staying in the political game, despite everything, is one of the most common tricks of populist leaders, regardless of their ideological alignment.

The hoax reached its climax precisely at the end of the 48 hours of the weekend in which he remained resistant – self imprisoned, it could be said – in the face of the order to surrender to the authorities to begin to serve a 12-year prison sentence, when, surrounded by militants of his own party (Partido de los Trabajadores, PT) and other allied parties – among which the everlasting scarlet shadow of the Communists could not be absent – Lula used popular sentimentality to invoke the memory of his late wife on the first anniversary of her death, with a Catholic mass that served to close a chapter in what promises to be an extensive and complicated saga.

Afterwards, before surrendering to the authorities, the beginning of messianism and megalomania surfaced in one who, now purified by his punishment, assumes himself as metamorphosed into the Illuminati of the poor, to harangue his enlightened discourse, with a mystical touch: “I will not stop because I am no longer a human being, I am an idea (…) mixed with your ideas.” And “in this town there are many Lulas.” Apotheosis of the peoples. The crowd cheered deliriously, tears flowed and hugs for the martyr abounded. Curtain down.

It is not personal. It is known that the defense of those who are condemned must be allowed, even from the guillotine, and that those who are hanged also kick about. However, as far as it has transpired, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was prosecuted with the corresponding guarantees under the Brazilian judicial system rules, and he is being convicted of corruption, not because of his political ideas.

Ergo, even though Lula’s downfall benefits his political adversaries, it was Lula himself who, in committing the crime, deeply harmed the PT and dirtied the “cause” of his followers. It is not, then, a “political trial,” as his regional leftist allies want others to believe, and some of them are beginning to fear they could also be splashed by this great mess of putrefaction.

Beyond all that Lula did well, no one is above the Law. After all, whoever is corrupt should be prosecuted and imprisoned, especially those who hold political office. It is true that, in good faith – and judging by the corruption scandals that are being uncovered in recent years among the political classes of any alignment – it would be said that, in order to imprison the dishonest public servants, prison capacities would have to be expanded rapidly, especially in Latin America.

In fact, the history of our region is so lavish in examples of political and administrative decay at all levels that this last uncorking, which continues to expose long chains of corruption and to implicate numerous high level politicians, should not surprise anyone. The novelty – and this, only to a certain extent – is that they are being judged, condemned and imprisoned.

We must not forget the case of the former Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello (who governed between March 1990 and October 1992) as the young politician who assumed the first presidency of a democratic Brazil. He won the elections in the second round – precisely against Lula da Silva – for the right-wing National Reconstruction Party, with the promise of ending the illicit enrichment of public officials.

Paradoxically, just over two years later, Collor de Mello was forced to resign because of investigations of corruption – acceptance of bribes in exchange for political favors – and influence peddling, followed by a Congress that officially requested his dismissal. A technicality in the court process prevented his being found guilty of political corruption, and that saved him from prison. However, Congress did consider him guilty and condemned him to eight years of suppression of his political rights. So far, Collor de Mello has not succeeded in his political career, although he has again attempted to venture into it.

Now, Collor de Mello’s asking his supporters back then to publicly demonstrate against what he called a “coup d’état”, seems to be part of a desperate recourse followed by presidents fallen into disgrace, beyond their political color. Years later, Dilma Rousseff took that same stance when facing her own destitution.

And these are only Brazilian references. We can also mention recent cases of fallen angels in other countries of the region, such as the left-wing Argentine president, Cristina Fernández – also said to be “persecuted politically,” the poor thing – or the right-wing Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. It has been said that corruption is not an ideological disease, but a moral one.

And while the spiral of corruption continues to expand, dragging more and more prominent figures of regional politics in its dizzying cone, Latin Americans who are followers of one leader or another – or one party or trend or another – continue to show civic immaturity and the proverbial political infantilism.

So, instead of taking on the challenge of the moment and embracing the end of impunity as an essential principle that, without distinction or privileges, will reign over all public servants, they prefer to project themselves as if this were all a brawl between street gangs, where what really matters is not to prove one’s innocence but to accentuate the guilt of the adversary. It isn’t so much that “mine” is corrupt, but that “yours” is more so. And so it seems that we will continue to the end of time.

To paraphrase a well-known Cuban poet: It’s Latin America, don’t be surprised at anything.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Victorious Failure of the Castro Regime / Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s ‘leaders’

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 March 2018 – On April 19th, when the enigma is finally cleared up about who the new Cuban president (not elected by the people) will be, for the next 10 years, the members of his brotherhood won’t be able to figure out whether to congratulate him or to offer him their condolences.

The new leader will not only be inheriting that old unburied corpse that they stubbornly insist on calling “The Cuban Revolution,” but he will have the colossal task before him of prolonging – theoretically ad infinitum – the funeral of such a long-lived mummy, and in addition, he would also be doing it under the rigid rules (supposedly “Guidelines”) dictated by the outgoing president. continue reading

At least this is what translates from the minimal information published by the official press monopoly on the 5th Plenum of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), in whose framework – which covered two days of “intense work” – “important issues of the updating of the Cuban economic and social model were analyzed,” such as the project of the “Housing Policy in Cuba” and “a report approved by the Political Bureau on the studies that are being conducted for a future reform to the Constitution.” The latter will ratify “the irrevocable nature of our socialism and the leading role of the Party in Cuban society.”

That said, and until the next Congress of the PCC to be held in 2021, General Raúl Castro will continue to lead the “superior leadership force” of Cuban society, unless nature decides otherwise. Then it will be him in this last instance, and not the brand-new President, who makes the political decisions of the country, and who controls the fulfillment of what is ruled under his administration.

And as if all this straitjacket from internal politics were not enough, the incoming president will be the first in the saga of “Cuban socialism” that will face endemic economic ruin without counting on the juicy external subsidies – first, from the extinct Soviet power, then, from the Venezuelan “chavismo,” today ruined and wavering – which their predecessors, the Castros, enjoyed. How the economic crisis and the social discontent will be mitigated without external support and without implementing real reforms will be a challenge that will have to be followed with interest.

Add to this the marked retreat of the leftist regimes in the region, partly as a result of the bad policies that have made them lose the trust of their voters, who have punished them at the polls, but also due to the wave of corruption scandals related to the Brazilian transnational organization Odebrecht, which has involved numerous governments and whose spillovers have already reached Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace, the closest ally of the Castro regime. In this regard, it could be only a matter of time before some of the compromising ‘details’ begin to appear in relation to the Lula-Castro-Special Mariel Development Zone and the aforementioned company.

Thus, the the “new” Cuban government’s margin to maneuver in favor of “apertures” or “reforms” that would differentiate the before-Castro and after-Castro eras should wait at least three more years in the domestic policy order, unless the difficult circumstances of the country, together with the changing external conjunctures create an appropriate scenario for it. And all of this, taking into account the doubtful event that the president “elected” this April has sufficient political capacity, intelligence, and the inclination for change to take advantage of the moment and promote the necessary transformations that will bring Cubans their long-postponed prosperity.

But, in any case, this 5th Plenary Session of the PCC has been perhaps the outgoing president’s last wasted opportunity to demonstrate some capacity in his late leadership after 12 years of erratic hesitations, of tiny advances followed by resounding setbacks, and of so many unfulfilled promises.

Had he lived up to his own commitments, Castro II would have had to leave at least some essential formulas, such as the new draft Electoral Law, announced before the celebration of the Seventh Congress of the PCC; the proposal of a monetary unification plan – with its corresponding execution schedule; and the much-vaunted new rules for self-employment, including the re-establishment of granting of licenses, arbitrarily suspended since August 2017.

So, according to the progress report presented during this Fifth Congress, the evaluation of the implementing of policies authorized in the Guidelines yielded “unfavorable” results – a term which softens the disastrous truth – which is reflected, among other adverse factors, in the mistakes made, in the deficiency of the controls, in a “limited vision of the risks,” in the absence of adequate legal norms, in the information gaps, in the lack of a tax culture and in another string of stumbling blocks that – for a change – are attributable only to “the base.”

“There is a wasteful mentality,” the general-president lectured. But, despite such a catastrophic performance and the failure of what we could generously call his “government program” (the Guidelines, approved during the VI Congress of the PCC, on April 18, 2011), he assures us that “the situation today is more favorable.” He did not clarify how “favorable” or favorable for what.

And since we, the “governed,” have been making mistakes on our own without understanding the clear guidance of this leader through regulatory improvisation for seven years (more), now it is up to us to wait another indefinite amount of time until the wrongs can be straightened out. How will they do it? Well, as always, by bureaucracy and re-centralizing the economy.

To begin with, the new “legal norms” are being created that will ensure self-employment integrity. There will be a greater participation of the central organs in the controls of the fulfillment of each guideline and of each measure, and finally, a “work training” will be undertaken, not only of the leading cadres, inspectors and officials of the structures in charge of the control, but also of the 580,000 self-employed who – according to official figures – exist in Cuba, so that they learn, once and for all, how things should work.

Mind you, what has not appeared in the press to date, and we don’t know if it was discussed in the Fifth Plenary Session of the PCC, is when a training course will be held so that, after 60 years of experiments and “victorious” failures, the lords of the leadership and the rest of the cohort can learn to govern.

Translated by Norma Whiting

When You Invite the “Obnoxious One” to the Party / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 March 2018 — There is no doubt that with the Castro presence in international forums, the same thing happens as when they invite “an obnoxious one” to a party: he will always end up sabotaging everyone’s good time.

The examples of Castro’s “diplomatic” outbursts abound throughout the decades of the olive-green rule. Suffice it to recall the well-known diatribes and public tantrums of Castro I in dissimilar world conclaves against any government, official or just a journalist who was not to his liking, or who suggested the smallest slight toward his government. His anger was such that he seemed close to suffering a sudden stroke. continue reading

Such behavior, far from disappearing from the official practice, has become the style of the school of Cuban diplomacy. It consists essentially of exchanging the absence of arguments with verbal and at times even physical aggression, as was demonstrated during the VII Summit of the Americas, held in April 2015 in Panama, where the well-trained hosts of the “civil society “of the dictatorship violently attacked the representatives of Cuba’s independent civil society, who were invitees to the same forum.

The show was deplorable and will be engraved in the memory of those who had the questionable privilege of witnessing it. The worst thing, however, is that despite all this previous experience, the organizers of these forums continue to invite the “obnoxious one”.

Behold, the obvious inability of the Cuban Government to behave correctly in the democratic programs of the world was once again demonstrated by the rude behavior of the Cuban Ambassador to Peru, Juan Antonio Fernández, within the framework of the Hemispheric Dialogue held on March 21st in Lima, in preparation to the forthcoming Summit of the Americas.

This time the outburst of the Cuban amanuensis took place in the midst of a comment from José Luis Vallejo, the Peruvian representative of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy (RLJD). Vallejo’s “sin” was to make reference in his speech to the ceremony to grant the Oswaldo Payá Awards in Havana, remarking that the prize winners have not been able to attend two of the ceremonies in a row by the express prohibition of the Cuban authorities. Vallejo also expressed his enthusiasm to attend the third award granting ceremony in Havana.

“Don’t even dare mention that name in my presence” the “diplomat” shouted to Castro Vallejo, in an intimidating manner. “I’ll ask you not to stick your nose in Cuban matters. Stop hassling us and stick to whatever you need to discuss.”

And representatives of the regional left claque, fulfilling its traditional mission, immediately applauded enthusiastically from their seats.

Because of his language and his attitude, it seems as if the faunal pawn of the insular dictatorship, instead of participating in respectful dialogue on foreign soil like the rest of the delegates, and in the presence of numerous representatives of various civil organizations in the region, was behaving as if he were on– any Centro Habana street corner, facing some troublemaker trying to sneak in the line to get his coveted quota of rationed potatoes.

The picture is more Kafkaesque because minutes before, during an intervention by the uncompromising official — as had previously been done by his compatriot and associate, Yamila González Ferrer, vice president of the ruling Union of Jurists of Cuba — he had launched a fierce attack against the RLJD, without having been interrupted by the representative of said organization.

However, this unfortunate event is just the prelude to what will be the presence of Castro’s groups at the VIII Summit of the Americas. Only, unlike the previous Summit, where after half a century of isolation, the “new” president of Cuba was given the opportunity to demonstrate that he was at the height of this important regional democratic forum — to which the General responded by blasting the alternative spaces of the Summit to encourage his pack of faithful servants to lash out against other Cubans — this time the Peruvian hosts do know, or at least they should know, what to expect.

In light of today, for many commonsensical people, the presence of the longest dictatorship in this Hemisphere is incomprehensible in a conclave that the Venezuelan government was excluded from, precisely because it did not respect the rights of its people. Without a doubt, the proselytizing work developed by the Castros through their doctor/slaves and other vassals has penetrated the political interests sufficiently strong – though not in democratic feelings – of more than one government in this region.

So, when this coming April we witness once again the shameful Panama experience and the loud troops of the Castro regime’s mob sabotage the VIII Summit of the Americas, let the hosts not complain, and let the rest of the representatives of the democratic governments and civil society organizations not be surprised, because an old Arab proverb will be fulfilled.  It goes like this: “The first time they deceive you, it will be their fault. The second time, the fault will be yours”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Transportation In Cuba: Multiple Problems For One Solution / Miriam Celaya

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cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 March 2018 — One of the most pressing and old problems never solved in the Cuban capital has been that of public transportation. There are countless causes, beginning with the extreme centralization that placed in the hands of the State the transportation administration and “control” for decades – with the disastrous consequences that this policy has brought in all spheres of the economy and services – to which could be added a long list of adversities inherent to the system, such as the aging of the vehicle fleet, the lack of spare parts to repair the buses’ constant breakdowns, the incongruence between the price of the (subsidized) fares and the cost of keeping the service running, and the chronic lack of cash that hinders the purchase of new and more modern effective buses, among other limitations.

As if such difficulties were not enough, in recent times, Havana residents have habitually used the most economical mode of transportation, the articulated “P” buses (40 cents CUP per passenger), which cover routes in high-demand and have the greatest passenger capacity. They have recently noticed longer waiting times between buses, which causes the corresponding crowding at the bus stops, the chaos at boarding time and all the inconveniences associated with it. continue reading

This time, however, it is not a problem of shortage of equipment, but of drivers. The truth about a growing popular rumor about this new fatality has just been confirmed by the director of the Provincial Transportation Company of Havana (EPTH), according to the official press. The aforementioned director said that, currently, the EPTH deficit is 86 drivers, which means – always in their own words – that, on a daily basis, 700,000 passengers cannot be transported in Havana, which represents about 60,000 pesos less in revenues and an average of 500 fewer trips.

The matter is not trivial. Among the four terminals most affected by the exodus of drivers are two with the highest demand: the ones at Alamar and San Agustín.

So, following “the vision of the directors of this company,” the (new) problem in the capital’s public transportation service, that is, the shortage of drivers, is due to “more tempting offers of salaries and hours at other work centers, as well as the increase in inspectors’ demands and actions so what is established in the sector is fulfilled.” (The underlined section contains the author’s views).

There wasn’t the slightest reference to fundamental issues that affect the transportation sector, and in particular, public transportation drivers, such as the salary incompatibile with the always ungrateful task of driving a heavy vehicle, loaded with irritated passengers, circulating through obsolete, insecure roads, full of potholes; the constant harassment of state inspectors, and the obligation to follow to the letter the sacrosanct commandments written by bureaucrats far removed from the actual work from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices.

However, the brainy directors of the EPTH have conceived a solution to “alleviate” the crisis: “in the coming weeks, a contingent of drivers from several provinces will arrive from the provinces, and the call for all those who wish to join the workforce will continue.”

All of which demonstrates the infinite capacity of the leading cadres of the socialist state enterprise to create several problems for each solution instead of one solution for each problem. Because one doesn’t need to be a genius to see that – except for the possible existence of inflated records – if drivers from the interior provinces are the solution to the transportation crisis in the capital, wouldn’t that be creating conditions for a transportation crisis in those provinces?

Another vital point of the matter: in Havana, aren’t there enough housing problems and insufficient shelters for thousands of victims who have lost their homes due to building collapses or evictions? How is the State going to guarantee accommodation and living conditions for those provincial drivers who will come to “save” the passengers of the capital for an undetermined period of time?

The experience of decades of massive “contingents” mobilized towards the capital – for example, policemen and builders from the eastern provinces, mainly during the 1970’s, though the practice has not completely disappeared – shows that this is a boomerang strategy: it not only increases the problem that is being solved but also generates new ones, mainly in the area of housing.

Although we must recognize that the topic of contingents in Cuba is all a State policy: in any crisis situation – which is the norm, not the exception – the creation of a contingent is always proposed. A contingent can serve the government (and only it) in all cases. Thus, there have also been contingents of teachers, doctors, sports coaches, cultural instructors, etc., whose common denominator is not having solved any problem, but the complete opposite.

And it could not be otherwise because, as is known, the word contingent defines something eventual, not definitive; which is why you cannot face a crisis – be it public order, housing, transport or any other – with a “contingent.” It is necessary to deeply reform the roots of the system that generates the evil, otherwise the contingent will end up being the one that takes root.

But, returning to the issue at hand, it would be interesting to know how the EPTH managers suppose that keeping an open call to increase the workforce of the company will resolve the deficit of drivers. Isn’t that the same type of negotiation that called for drivers to work at other locations that provided better wages and more manageable hours? So, what makes them suppose that the next influx of drivers will remain faithful before the helm, and facing the ferocious harassment (supposedly “demands”) of the inspectors, for the same salary and with the same schedule that determined the stampede of the previous drivers?

Paradoxically, in this case, as in many of the complex problems that overwhelm Cubans today, the solution is very simple and not at all new: allow the creation of autonomous cooperatives of transportation workers, give the fleet to these cooperatives, allow for those cooperative members to purchase fuel at reasonable prices and import cars and spare parts and apply a fair tax burden that encourages work for the sector. In summary, allow the freedoms and rights of workers in the sector. Only then will the eternal transportation crisis disappear, not in the capital, but in all of Cuba.

Because we Cubans have only one problem: an obtuse and failed sixty-year-old political system, which threatens to become eternal.

And in Cuba everything, even a humble bus driver’s employment post, is a reflection of the general crisis of the political system, and as such, constitutes a potential threat that must be “solved” deep down from the structures at the service of the regime. And while we’re waiting around, we can only exclaim what our grandparents used to say: “what a mess!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Censorship, El Estornudo and Fung’s “Liberation T-Shirts” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Image: definicion.mx)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 March 2018 – Recently, several media have reported the consummation of another attack by Cuban authorities on the freedom of expression. This time the jealous guardians of political correctness blocked access to the digital magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze) – an entertaining and well-written journalism project – in what constitutes another demonstration of the totalitarian vocation of the island’s government.

Thus, El Estornudo, is added to the censored list by the commissars of the Palace of the Revolution. A list, by the way, that is extensive, old and of varied tones, qualities and styles, but with one common denominator: narrating a reality that does not reflect the apologists – that is the “journalists” – of the Castro press. continue reading

For their part, the promoters of the magazine have responded with an editorial that does them honor: not only do they openly refuse to bow to the pressure of the Censor, but they declare that such arbitrariness “is not going to modify one iota the editorial line of our magazine nor is it going to make El Estornudo dialogue with the political power on the terms that the political power expects.”

This has been another chapter in the sad repressive repertoire that has been marking the general-president’s departure from the scene, a man who a decade ago was emerging as a possible reformer who would open a path towards relatively favorable changes for Cuba and Cubans.

However, far from making the promises of his initial speeches a reality, Raúl Castro’s last days at the head of the Government have been a clear step backwards that has been reflected particularly on two fronts: the unjustifiable crusade against the small and active private sector – where some minimal advances were being made in terms of the internal economy – and the new onslaught against the sectors of dissent or critics of the political system.

Faced with this reality and after almost 60 years of totalitarianism, it could be assumed that even the most optimistic Cuban would seriously question the health of human rights in Cuba. Especially of economic rights and the freedom of expression and information, so systematically and openly violated. But this is not the case, as evidenced by the interview recently granted by a young Cuban businessman, an emigrant named Juan Pablo Fung, to the news agency EFE.

Fung, great-grandson of a Cantonese Chinese who arrived in Cuba a century ago and settled permanently on the island, emigrated to China seven years ago thanks to a student scholarship. After finishing his studies he decided to stay in that country working for a better future which, obviously, he could not aspire to in Cuba.

Now Fung is about to realize a project dreamed up by him and for which he has been saving and working for the last three years: the production of “smart and free t-shirts” under the Dirstuff brand – carriers of “infinite and interchangeable messages” – soon to be on the market.

What is provocative about the case, however, are not the T-shirts themselves or the fact that they incorporate a personalized QR as a novelty – a technological resource that has already been used on the Island by independent activists – but the (very legitimate) aspiration of Fung to produce these “liberty T-shirts” in his native homeland in a future that, judging by his words, would seem close.

Fung also believes that this would be “the first private company in Cuba,” because “Cuba is changing” starting from an opening that began a few years ago and that will eventually lead to “the legalization of private companies” on the island.

What Fung evidently ignores, is that several years ago there were private capital companies on the island, not only those of foreign and “mixed” capital legalized by the State’s interests since the 1990s, but also those managed by Cubans “from inside.” It is just that the government does not define them as private companies but as “non-state forms” of economic management.

As for the promising “opening” that was announced precisely at the time that Fung left Cuba, currently it is in clear decline.

Nor is it clear whether Fung would invest as a Cuban “from within” or as a resident or Chinese citizen, that is, as a “Cuban émigré,” which for the purposes of the current socio-political and economic model “is neither the same nor is it equal.” In the second case – that is, as an exiled Cuban – the young man would find it impossible to invest on the Island, at least under current laws. Unfortunately, Cuba has not changed as much as Fung supposes.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the theme of the shirts is the conflict they would spark in a political context as confrontational as that of Cuba. Fung declares that, although his product “advocates freedom of expression,” he does not want it to be politicized, because many people have been meditating on the Cuba issue “using the problems of politics as an argument and justification.” He does not want his T-shirts to become a political platform for these ends so that some profiteers can make money at his expense, which is also his legitimate right as creator and producer.

Being an expert in T-shirts is one thing, but in matters of politics, rights and freedoms the picture is different. Especially if we are talking about Cuba. It is enough to understand that if the Cuban authorities unleash such rage against independent and alternative digital spaces, to the point of censoring them and persecuting their animators – despite the insignificant Internet connectivity suffered by Cubans on the Island and the limited social reach of these media within the country – to know that the suspicions that the production and on-site commercialization of T-shirts carrying “free” messages which the explicitly apolitical Fung dreams of, are incalculable.

We can almost imagine the Central Committee’s Department of Political Guidance assuming the reins of production of “the first private company in Cuba” – Fung’s, of course – to flood the foreign tourism market with clothes, which would carry slogans such as “Commander in Chief, At Your Service!” or ” Fatherland or Death, We Will Conquer!” Or that other pearl that has been incorporated more recently into the official propaganda repertoire: “I am Fidel.” Dantesque. Even for such an optimist as Fung.

Because it turns out that Juan Pablo Fung does not believe that in Cuba “there is no freedom of expression.” For him it is only a problem of definitions around “a complicated issue.” A point on which the young man seems to agree with the censors in the service of Power, and another confusion for which we will have to forgive Fung.

In the end, settling in China can mean a discreet advance for a common Cuban in matters of financial prosperity, but it does not mean an advantageous change in terms of freedoms and rights. Perhaps that is why for Fung in Cuba “there is freedom of expression.” Yes, of course Fung, and “neither” in China.