What People Are We Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos

Havana (El Nuevo Herald)

Dimas Castellanos, 18 January 2016 — A commentary on five foreign policy issues raised by the Cuban president, Raul Castro, on December 29, 2015 during the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

1. Since 2015 there have been benefits from mutually advantageous, cooperative relationships with various countries, particularly the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

True, but these benefits are the result of a relationship that does not follow the normal laws of commerce. The reduction or total loss of Venezuelan petroleum subsidies and its impact on Cuba would be a repeat of what happened with subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Both examples illustrate the impossibility of sustaining an economy that is not self-supporting and the government’s inability to learn from past lessons. The cold, hard fact is that events in Venezuela help explain the real cause of the reported decline in GDP in 2015. continue reading

2. At the close of the last regular session of the National Assembly, I noted that an imperialist and oligarchic offensive has been launched against progressive Latin American revolutionary undertakings, which our people will challenge with determination.

We are sure that new victories will come to the Bolivarian and Chavez Revolution under the leadership of Comrade Maduro against the constant, destabilizing onslaught from the right, encouraged and supported by outside forces.

We rely on the commitment of the Venezuela’s revolutionaries and its people, overwhelmingly Bolivarian and Chavista, to follow the legacy of the unforgettable President Hugo Chavez.

We are convinced that the Venezuelan people, as they did in 2002, and the civil-military alliance will not allow the achievements of the Revolution to be dismantled and will know how to turn this setback into victory.

Cuba will always stand beside the Fatherland of Simon Bolivar and call for an international mobilization to defend the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela, and for acts of interference in its internal affairs to cease.

To claim that what has occurred in Venezuela is the result of an imperialist offensive is to sidestep the incompetency demonstrated by the Chavez regime. The use of a substantial portion of the bonanza generated by the high price of petroleum in order to export Bolivarian populism to the region instead of using it to diversify an economy entirely dependent on the production of oil only proves this point. The obsession for expansion over diversification has had a greater negative impact than any “imperialist offensive” in creating the disastrous situation in which this South American country finds itself.

To say that events there will be confronted by “our people” is to deny that the majority of Venezuelans, after supporting Chavez for years, cast a protest vote. Given this situation, one must ask the following questions. What people are we talking about? Do the millions of Venezuelans who voted for the opposition candidates not also make up the people? Who and what criteria define who the people are? When were “our people” asked to challenge the decision by those categorized as non-people?

Suggesting that new victories will come to the Bolivarian revolution led by Maduro, evoking commitments by revolutionaries to the legacy of Chavez and ignoring the popular will as expressed at the polls is a manifestation of interference in the internal affairs of another country, something that the government of Cuba has always accused the United States of doing.

All indications are that what occurred there could occur here if truly democratic elections were held. It seems, however, that the takeaway lesson is to postpone once again any step that could lead to democratization. The great danger is that without democratization there will be no solution to the numerous and serious problems facing Cuban society. Nevertheless, the process underway is unstoppable, especially given the change in mentality that is occurring among Cubans since diplomatic relations have been restored with our neighbor to the north. Democratization will come one way or another, but it will come. Trying to stop it is a march against history, against the winds of change sweeping through the region, against the destiny of the Cuban nation. And therefore it will fail in the end.

3. The proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace by all the heads of state at the second CELAC summit, which took place in Havana in January 2014, is a solid basis for developing relations between our countries and internationally. 

At this conclave the Cuban president stated, “For years our region has been a zone free of nuclear arms… but we believe that is not enough. We believe it is necessary for the region’s heads of state and heads of government to formally agree that any difference, any conflict, shall always be resolved through the dialogue of negotiation and that it will never end in threats or the use of force.”

Contrary to these emotional words, the decision to challenge the results of democratic elections in Venezuela could lead to civil war. Then the declaration of Latin American and Caribbean countries as a zone of peace would be nothing more than an empty slogan if these nations do not renounce the domestic use of violence. It would reveal a lack of political will to achieve it whenever peace is threatened by revolutionary populism.

4. As indicated in the Declaration of the Revolutionary Government, published on December 1, the “wet foot dry foot” policy, the Parole Program for Cuban doctors and the Cuban Adjustment Act remain the principal incentives driving the abnormally high level of emigration from Cuba to the United States.

The principal incentives are not US policies. For one action to be the cause of another, it has to precede it. The massive and continuous exodus that has turned Cuba from a country to which people immigrated to one from which people emigrated began in 1959, before these policies even existed. The real cause is the nature of the totalitarian system itself, which — while depriving Cubans of their civil liberties — has been unable to develop a viable economy capable of satisfying the basic needs of its citizens.

Beyond the impact that the prolonged conflict between the two governments might have had, it is only logical that there would be migration from a country with a poor economy to one with the most advanced economy in the world.

Given this reality, the only thing that could halt the exodus would be a structural transformation capable of guaranteeing Cubans’ basic needs, something that ideological entrenchment prevents.

The best proof of this is the increasing emigration from other parts of the world to destination countries which have not adopted anything even resembling the Cuban Adjustment Act. People simply move from areas where conditions are bad to where they are better, something that even certain species of animals do, including migratory birds, who do not relocate because of some “wet wing–dry wing” policy.

Also, the United States is not the principal country to which doctors are fleeing. They have to be recertified there, which involves paying for licensing exams and getting by until they are granted permission to practice medicine.

The only doctors going to the United States are those willing to work at anything or the few cases in which family members assume the costs of recertification. A bigger factor in the exodus of doctors is the fifty thousand physicians rented out to other parts of the world, a situation in which the level of exploitation is not difficult for them to understand.

5. We have reiterated that, in order to normalize bilateral relations, the government of the United States must lift the embargo and the seizure of territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base without insisting that Cuba abandon the cause of independence or renounce the principles and ideals for which several generations of Cubans have fought for a century and a half.

As stated, these demands are not feasible. Once bilateral relations have been reestablished, solutions must be sought through bilateral negotiation. If the Cuban government does not want to make concessions to a foreign government, it must make concessions to its people, who are denied means of expression, institutions, rights and freedoms.

If it acts in this way, it would strengthen the position of the US president, who has demonstrated a willingness to move towards full normalization of relations with Cuba, weaken the position of the members of Congress opposed to lifting the embargo and advance the goal much more quickly than by levelling accusations and condemnations through the United Nations. More than ever, the solution ultimately depends on the course of conduct the government of Cuba decides to follow.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

Five Points: Sorting Through Raul Castro’s Economic Speech

Dimas Castellanos, 16 January 2016 — A commentary on five economic issues raised by the Cuban president on December 29, 2015 during the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

1. The president stated that, though the effects of the US blockade remain unchanged and external economic constraints have worsened in the second half of the year, Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 4% in 2015.

Not only have the effects of the “blockade” changed, financial constraints have eased. Measures taken by the White House after the announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries have led to a relaxation of the embargo. Meanwhile, negotiations to reduce external debt have eased economic constraints, especially after the Club of Paris wrote off three-quarters of Cuba’s debts. continue reading

With regards to GDP, the Cuban government has acknowledged that, in order to achieve significant development, the annual growth rate must reach 7%. However, from 2011 to 2014 it grew by only 2.3% on average, with a growth rate of 1.3% in 2014. In July 2015 Raul Castro reported that the slowdown in GDP growth had been reversed and estimated that by year’s end it would be in the neighborhood of 4%, now the reported target figure.

In order to understand this reduction in growth, one has to keep in mind that between 1989 and 1993 GDP fell by 34%. However, whether the 4% forecast is realistic or not, it would not mark a true recovery, as we can see from the following four examples.

A – According to economics minister Marino Murillo, the sugar industry grew by 16.9% in 2014. However, this fell short of the 73,000 ton target, requiring the transfer of some 30,000 tons intended for domestic consumption to fill the gap in the export supply.

B – The manufacturing sector grew 9.9%, but obsolete technology in the industries that make up this sector led to considerable shortages of products intended for sale in the network of hard currency retail stores. As a result thousands of tons of chickens and thousands of cases of beer had to be imported, with a resulting reduction in hard currency earnings.

C – The transport sector grew, but inefficiencies in cargo delivery impacted other sectors and the time cargo vessel spent in port led to additional costs.

D – Agriculture grew but, due to a shortfall, 50,000 additional tons of rice and an additional amount of milk had to be purchased to fill the gap. Given these deficiencies, the 4% figure says little and has even less impact on the lives of Cubans.

2. Next year gross domestic product will continue to grow but at a lower rate of 2%. As a result, financial constraints associated with falling income due to lower prices on the world market for traditional exports such as nickel are projected.

First of all, if arithmetic is independent of ideology, then half of four is two. Therefore, if GDP goes from 4% to 2%, that does not mean a better growth rate in 2016. That is a decrease.

Secondly, if debt was reduced through write-offs and negotiations — the Club of Paris, for example, forgave Cuba $8.5 million of its $11.1 million in debt — and if improved relations with the United States increased family remittances from $1.4 billion at the end of 2013 to $2 billion, and if tourism and medical services continue to generate additional billions of dollars, the projected decrease cannot be explained simply on the basis of alleged financial constraints without mentioning other causes, among them the possible reduction or total loss of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, which Cuba receives on a daily basis from Venezuela.

3. Though the number of visitors from overseas has risen to three and a half million, it cannot be overlooked that this has occurred in spite of the fact that Cuba is still the only country in the world that US citizens are prohibited from visiting as tourists.

The number of visitors from overseas did not increase in spite of the fact that American citizens are prohibited from visiting Cuba. On the contrary, this was achieved in large measure because President Obama expanded the twelve categories established by the Treasury Department under which tens of thousands of Americans and tourists from other places of origin have been able to travel to the island since the beginning of last year. Without this action, the increase would not have been possible. Similarly, further growth will be considerably influenced by the imminent arrival of new, regularly scheduled flights and the advent of ferry service, all of which are expected as a result of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States.

4. In spite of economic constraints, the fulfillment of commitments made during various negotiations to restructure debts with foreign creditors has reinforced the trend towards gradual recovery of our economic credibility internationally. The latest evidence of this was the agreement reached on December 12 with the Club of Paris. This agreement facilitates access to financing in the medium and long term, which is essential in securing the investments projected in our development plans.

Rather than the fulfillment of commitments, the outcome resulted from a) the pragmatism of the creditors, who realize that the critical condition of Cuba’s finances make it impossible to recover their loans, b) pressure by companies from creditor nations to invest in the island under the new scenario, knowing that detente with the United States creates opportunities on which Americans cannot yet capitalize, c) expectations arising from the resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States, and d) persistent propaganda by the Cuban government to demonstrate “economic recovery.”

The actions of the Cuban government are driven by a different logic. The failure of its economic reforms and the crisis in Venezuela have exacerbated the cash shortage. Therefore, access to short and medium term financing, especially from Club of Paris member countries, breathes new life into the economy without having to broaden relations with the United States.

What has been forgiven, however, is the enormous amount of interest accumulated over the years. The principal remains as outstanding debt. The Club of Paris forgave Cuba $8.5 billion of its $11.1 billion in debt, but the agreement imposes stiff penalties if the Cuban Government defaults again.

Thus, the game starts over with a gesture of generosity but with clear rules: Cuba must honor its commitments, which it has never been done. This will be impossible in the medium to long term if the structural changes that the economy and society require are not instituted. Undertaking this is as necessary as it is impossible without the corresponding political will. Fear of commitment seems to explain Marino Murillo’s statement to the National Assembly last December. He noted that, if we do not achieve sustained growth in the economy, “we must work towards a sustainable debt.”

5. It is up to us to maximize excess capacity, concentrate resources on activities that generate export earnings and encourage domestic production, make the investment process more streamlined and grow investments in the manufacturing sector and infrastructure, prioritizing sustainable power generation and increasing the efficiency of energy providers.

This is more of the same. We can find hundreds of proposals like this in speeches given by Cuban officials for more than five decades without any result whatsoever. Excess capacity does exist but it is elsewhere. It is in reform, for which — given its situation — Cuba cries out.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

The Cuban Exodus: Causes and Effects / Dimas Castellanos

A raft is transported to the coast during the ’rafters crisis’ in 1994. (WILLY Castellanos)

Dimas Castellanos, 30 November 2015 — The unstoppable exodus of Cubans has become a crisis once again. While thousands of our compatriots are stuck at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the Government of Cuba chooses to ignore the main cause.

In recent months, thousands of Cubans have been traveling through Central America for the United States. On 15 November the Nicaraguan authorities blocked their way. On 17 November, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations stated that these Cubans are “victims of the politicization of the immigration issue by the Government of the United States, of the Cuban Adjustment Act and, in particular, of the application of the call ’wet foot-dry foot’ policy.” continue reading

On 24 November the foreign ministers of the nations that make up the Central American Integration System met find a regional solution to the crisis. And on 26 November the Government of Ecuador decided to require visas to Cubans as of 1 December.

Human migration is a geographical shift that occurs when the natural or social conditions of a place make it impossible for residents to meet their needs, or threaten their lives. Emigrants leave places where things are bad and go to places where they are better. Thus, thousands and thousands of refugees are arriving in Europe even though there is no country in that region with an  “Adjustment Act.”

As statistics show, throughout its history Cuba has been a country of immigrants. Suffice it to recall that between 1910 and 1925 the island absorbed one-third of migrants from Spain to the Americas, and in 1920 11,986 immigrants were admitted to the island, while in 1920 the figure rose to 174,221.

The permanent exodus began in 1959 with the diversion of ships or aircraft and the abrupt breaking of diplomatic missions and desertion of those from missions abroad. First white Cubans, and later those of all colors, including adults, seniors, children and youth.

This is therefore, a process that has been sustained before and after the embargo (1961), before and after the Cuban Adjustment Act (1966), before and after the timid and partial reforms undertaken by the government of Raul Castro (2008), and before and after the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US (2015).

An exodus whose critical moments include Operation Peter Pan (sending unaccompanied children to the United States), and the departures crises through the ports of Mariel, with the Mariel Boatlift, and through Camarioca and the Guantanamo Naval Base.

Its long duration, the sociological diversity of migrants, the damage caused and threats faced by those taking the opportunity to leave, are reasons enough to set aside the unsuccessful escapes and confront once and for all the true causes, among them: miserable wages, a prohibition on entrepreneurs in their own country, the direct recruiting of foreign companies, the terrible state of transportation, an untenable housing situation, multiple obstacles to rural producers and the absence of civil, political and economic rights.

In the same year Law 989 was enacted with “measures toward real estate and personal property, or any other kind of value, etc., towards those who abandon the country with unforgivable disdain toward the national territory.” At the same time, new labels were applied to regime opponents who were called traitors to the homeland and the nation, scum and antisocials, and emigration was used to throw out the malcontents. Still today, the authorities still do not accept that any Cuban, despite his or her high level of education, may have a different idea in political, economic and cultural matters.

In “the other Boatlift” of Camarioca, in 1965, 2,979 left; in April of 1973 260,000 Cubans left by aire. In the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, 125,000 left the country. By way of the Guantanamo Naval Base in 1994 about 33,000 others left. During those three massive waves any number of tragedies occurred. Suffice it to mention the case of the 13 de Mar Tugboat which, on 13 July 1994, with 72 people on board and seven miles out from the bay of Havana, was purposefully rammed and sunk by other tugboats, with a toll of 41 dead, including ten children.

All of this is indisputable proof that, regardless of any external factors, the root cause lies in the unworkability of the economic model and the lack of civil liberties, such that none of the measures taken since 1959 to today have been able to stop steady flow of Cubans to other parts of the world. That picture has made of the diaspora a process sustained over time through as many pathways as the imagination and desperation of Cubans can design.

Besides the loss of life, the family separations and the multiple tragedies recorded, two of the side effects of permanent exodus are:

1. The decline and aging of the population at the rate of developed countries but in this case in one with a sustenance economy; and

2. The loss of the professionals (university graduates, technicians and skilled workers) who had constituted one of Cuba’s comparative advantages relative to other countries in the region.

Between 1931 and 1940, 9,571 Cubans emigrated to the United States; between 1941 and 1950, 26,313 did so; and between 1961 and 1970, 208,536 left for the U.S.

According to the Population Census of that country, in 2010 there were 1,213,418 Cubans living in Florida, representing an increase of 45.6% compared to the Census of 2000.

The solution to the immigration crisis is impossible without solving the structural crisis in which we are immersed, for which a heavy dose of political will is required, something absent to date.

The many measures taken by the Government of Cuba since 1959; the lack of a regional solution that could be offered by the Central American Integration System for Cubans stranded between Costa Rica and Nicaragua; Ecuador’s decision to require visas for Cubans in order to stop the migratory flow; and accusations against the United States; all these point but to effects but still fail to address the causes, which are internal and structural, so the exodus has continued and will continue at its own pace.

The closing of the chance to leave by way of Ecuador, one of the measures of the effects, will be reflected in illegal departures by any other means, including the return to the fragile marine vessels. The only solution is to attack the causes and this involves removing the political, social and economic model that generates this massive and ongoing exodus.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 31 July 2105 — According to a report presented by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, in the Fifth Ordinary Sessional Period of the National Assembly of Popular Power, during the first haf year of 2015, the GDP grew by 4.7%.

In reference to transport, among other things, he said: in the first half year of 2015 this sector grew 6.5%, but the goods sector fell short by 700,000 tons, so that there is production which could not be transported and raw materials which was not delivered on time to its destination; between 20 and 25% of the $2,100,000 which, up to the month of March, was paid for demurrage of containers and ships was caused by deficiencies in the railway system and road transport. In order that delegates might understand the importance and characteristics of transport, he explained that for journeys of over 280 km the best way to transport things is the railway, so that, it is important that its activity levels return to normal. continue reading

A quick look at the history of railways in Cuba permits a clearer evaluation of his proposals

Among the freedoms conceded by the cities to the Creole-Cuban landowners at the end of the 18th century was the right to import machinery, whose introduction onto the island was a decisive move for the sugar industry.

In 1794, during Francisco de Arango y Parreño and Ignacio Pedro Montalvo’s first technical study journey, what most attracted their attention was the steam engine. Arango y  Parreño saw in that the solution to the bottleneck in the Cuban sugar factories. In order to experiment he ordered a Watt, as these machines were called, named after their inventor. [1] Although the steam engine was not invented for specific purposes, the one acquired for Cuba was the first in the world which was applied to sugar production. [2] From 1820 on its use increased, continued in 1840 with the vacuum evaporator, as substitute for the open Jamaican trains, (a reference to the type of pails used in the processing machinery, and nothing to do with railway trains) and from 1850 on with the centrifuge to mechanise the purification operation. All of this made Cuba into the world’s largest sugar producer.

With the application of the steam engine to the wheels of the wagons, came the locomotive in 1804. In 1825, the first public railway in the world was opened in England and, in 1830 the first line for the haulage of passengers and goods. Arango y Parreño, being aware of the latest advances in the technology, understood the importance of its introduction on the island. On November 19, 1837, only twelve years after England, the fourth railway in the world was opened in Cuba. That day Havana was linked up with Bejucal. The following year the Havana – Güines line was completed, and twenty years after that all the sugar-producing areas in Cuba were joined by rail.

The railway dealt with the high cost of transportation, which was one of the brakes on the sugar industry. Up to 1830 the shipment of sugar from Güines to Havana represented 25% of the value of the product and, when the railway started up between those two points (1838), the transportation costs fell by 70%. But, apart from the economic considerations, the railway accelerated the unification of the island which had begun at the end of the 17th century, creating a similar physical and social picture throughout the island, leading to the emergence of Cuba as a social and economic entity.

Between 1899 and 1908, the Cuba Central Railway and the Cuba Eastern Railway were created. One of their objectives was to integrate the railways which had been constructed since colonial times. That process was speeded up by Military Orders 34 and 62 enacted by General Leonardo Wood, during the government of occupation, which developed the sugar industry as much as it did the railways. In 1909, when Major General José Miguel Gómez took on the presidency of Cuba the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba were already connected by the Central Railway.

Taking into account the fact that Cuba is a long thin island, it was understood since colonial times that the railway was the ideal mode of transport and consequently an efficient infrastructure was created which united the country from north to south and east to west.

Owing to the deterioration suffered after 1959, the Revolutionary government proposed the building of a central double-track line, 1,149 km long, for high-speed trains. On January 29, 1975, Fidel Castro opened the first 24.2 km section, but the plan collapsed, as such things nearly always did. Thirty-one years later, the same Fidel said: “We were intending to construct a new line employing all the technical resources required. Many curves were straightened out, but the work could not be finished, not just because we did not have the experience, but also for international problems which were arising. ..” In the same speech, delivered in 2006, he added: “Today we have just taken delivery of 12 locomotives, and not just any old locomotives; they are simply the best we have ever received in our country; the most modern, the most efficient, and the most economical.” [3]

From the year 2006 up to the present the official Cuban press provides information on what happened regarding the railway. The deterioration due to lack of attention in a 15 metre strip on both sides of the track, including some stretches which remained buried under rubble, required, in the year 2010, 30 million pesos to clean up and restore. [4]

With an integrated focus on the matter, Cuba arranged the purchase of 550 wagons, tankers and rolling stock, while at the same time investing in 112 Chinese-made locomotives. [5]

They did not put enough effort into solving the difficulties presented by the railway lines; in spite of spending nearly 600 million dollars in the last five years on the acquisition of equipment, machinery, tools, material and new productive lines capable of reversing the grave deterioration in the railways.

On January 20, 2011 capital repairs were started on the 40 km of the Central Line, planned for that year. According to the engineer Bárbaro Martínez, principal specialist in the National Company of Lines and Construction Works of the railway, “The damage ws such that we had to carry out a very major reconstruction task, equivalent, you could say, to building a new line.” [7]

The deficiencies in the tracks continue to be the principal cause of accidents. Interviewed by the newspaper Granma, the engine drivers of railcar 2125, Jorge Inerarity Estrik and Joan Camayo del Pino, recognised that, apart from the deterioration of the track, many accidents occur due to crew negligence, basically due to getting drunk, and other violations, and not complying with instructions. And frequently the cattle owners intentionally let their herds wander and wait with bags and knives until they are run over [because it is illegal to kill a cow in Cuba]. [8]

In 2011, manual maintenance of more than 7,000 km of track was realised, more than that delivered in 2010. Nevertheless, in spite of the achievements in the rail system, there are still factors obstructing all the effort put in to deal with all the accumulated deterioration over decades as well as the difficult economic situation in Cuba.

The Capital Industrial Works Company (Railway Sleepers)  of Villa Clara last year was unable to meet its production plan, in spite of having built a new line with Italian technology, and a surface treatment plant. There was no lack of concrete or ballast, but there were difficulties with plastic for the excavation mechanism, the cleaning, the die-making, the service provided by the national mechanical industry, and other problems.  and other problems. “For these reasons they failed to complete 45 thousand units, which prevented the renovation of 24 km of track.” (one km of track needs 1,800 railways sleepers. Right now, they are working with the left-overs from the last half-year of 2011, having not received any supplies.

From the foregoing analysis we can draw at least three conclusions:

1 – that the importance of the railway was understood by the ranchers over two hundred years ago, and from then up to 1959 the railway worked efficiently, so much so that you could set your clock by the punctual timekeeping of the trains;

2 – the goods left untransported in the half year examined is not news, it is the result of problems related to a common factor: the non-viability of the present Cuban model; and,

3 – the surprising fact is that in spite of the effect of the railway on the other sectors of the economy, the latter increased by 4.7%.

Footnotes

1: James Watt (1736-1819) Scottish engineers who invented the double-action steam engine
2: “The sugar factory, Cuban economic and social sugar complex” (Fraginals, Manuel Moreno)
3: Juventud Rebelde (Cuban daily paper). Alina Perera Robbio “We have procured the best locomotives in the world”, Sunday January 15th, 2006
4: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Clean up the mess next to the railway track”.
5: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “The railway is waiting for its time”, Thursday, August 19, 2010
6: Granma, Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Investments which move trains” Friday May 28, 2010.
7: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Opening the way for the Central Line” Granma, Friday, 11 February, 2011.
8: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Accidents keep happening on the railway”. Granma, Thursday February 17, 2011.
9: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña. “Railway renovation moving on.”, Granma, Thursday, May 17, 2012
10: Lourdes Rey Veitía. “Without linking things up, the railway won’t advance” Monday, March 5, 2012.

Translated by GH

How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 17 September 2015 — 120 years ago, between 13th and 18th September 1895, twenty delegates selected from the five corps that the Libertador’s Army was divided into, and formed into a Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of Jimaguayú.

This Constitution, different from others in that it wasn’t structured in three parts — organic, dogmatic, and with a reform clause — but rather contained 24 consecutive articles without divisions into titles, sections or chapters. In it the Government of the Republic resided in a Government Council with legislative and executive powers. The executive power devolved upon the President (Salvador Cisneros Betancourt), while the legislative power stayed in the hands of the Government Council. In addition to a judicial power, organised by the Council, but functioning independently. The posts of General in Chief and Lieutenant General were vested in Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo respectively. continue reading

Appearing in the people’s history as a counterpoint to absolutism, constitutionalism is fundamental to governability. The constitutions reflect the requirements for social development. In that sense, the Magna Carta of Jimaguayú was an expression of the need of the new political and legal order of the Republic in Arms. It constitutes an important link in Cuban constitutional history.

On its 120th anniversary, the weekly Trabajadores of Monday September 7th and the daily Granma of 16th of the same month each included reports,  under the headlines: “Neither Marti nor radical”, and “120 years after Jimaguay respectively, which I am going to comment on.

1 – In Granma the historian Rolando Rodríguez is cited, who stated that Jimaguayú is a document of overwhelming importance in the history of Cuba, an indication of the legal and republican idea and the determination to provide a constitutional direction to the Cuban insurrection.

If that constitutional text is recognised as a necessity of the new political and legal order demanded by the island and an important link in our constitutional history, how can the official historiography consider it as a “document of significant importance in Cuba’s history”, without a critical reference to the present Cuban constitutional situation, which has little or nothing to do with — starting off with the divisions of power — the legacy of Jimaguayú?

2 – The article in Granma says that “Martí longed to drop the authority that the Cuban Revolutionary Party had awarded him at a representative meeting of the Mambisa combatants …” [Ed. note: term used to refer to any pro-independence fighter in the Wars of Independence]

In José Martí’s War Diary — referring to his encounter with Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómezon May 5th 1895 in La Mejorana — he wrote “… Maceo and Gómez talk in low voices, near me [1]: hardly speak to me. There in the hallway; that Maceo has another idea about government; a council of  generals with authority through their representatives, – and a Secretary General: the land, and all its functions, which create and support the army, like Army Secretary. We are going to a room to talk. I cannot sort out the conversation for Maceo: but V. stays with me, or he goes with Gómez? And he speaks to me, interrupting me, as if I were the continuation of the shyster lawyer government, and its representative … I insist on being ousted by the representatives who are meeting to form a government. He does not  want every operational head sending his man, his creation: he will send four from the Oriente: “within 15 days they will be with you. – and will be people who will not let  Doctor Martí mess with me there …” [2]

One may deduce from this text that in La Mejorana Martí considered his removal. These were his words: “I insist in being deposed before the representatives who are meeting to select a government.” That is not a longing, but a demand to not be removed other than by an assembly of representatives.

If the Revolutionary Party of Cuba started off on the basis of an analysis of the Ten Years’ War as an organising and controlling entity, and one which promotes awareness and is an intermediary link to get to a republic and that great mission had hardly got under way, it is difficult to accept that their hope was to shed their authority.

Also, if Martí’s attachment to institutionalisation and democracy led him in 1884 to move away from the Gómez Maceo plan, when he took the opportunity to write to the General in Chief: “But there is something which is higher than all the personal sympathy which you can inspire in me, and this apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to contribute one iota by way of a blind attachment to an idea from which all life is draining, to bring to my land a personal despotism, which would be more shameful and disastrous than the political despotism I am now supporting.” How can it be affirmed that Martí “was longing to be shot of the authority afforded him by the Revolutionary Party of Cuba”?

3. Granma says: “It is also established that every two years there would be an assembly charged with proposing necessary changes in accordance with changed circumstances, which would elevate it to a higher position than that approved in Guáimaro.”

If the 1959 revolution is seen as heir and continuation of the constitutional legacy, it would seem to be contradictory that, on taking power, instead of re-establishing the 1940 Constitution as it had promised to, it replaced it with statutes known as the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, without convening any constituent assembly.

Cuba remained without a Constitution until 1976 when there was approved the first revolutionary constitution modelled on the that of the Soviet Union, which prohibited any modification before 1992. Then, in 2002, the system installed in 1959 was declared irrevocable. With that decision, the Cuban constitution ceased to reflect ongoing changes which occur in any society, and became a braking mechanism on society.

The question is: How can our constitutional history be praised from the standpoint of a reality which negates it?

4. In the Trabajadores weekly paper, Antonio Álvarez Pitaluga states in En la de Jimaguayú that there was no balance of power and nor did they defend Martí’s thesis. It is said that Enrique Loynaz del Castillo and Fermín Valdés Domínguez defended  José Martí’s hypotheses, but I think that it is now difficult to sustain that position, because if you look through the documentation, above all the minutes of the Council of Government, you see that in all the Assembly’s discussion there was not a single mention of Martí, nor of his documents, nor any analysis of his thoughts. That is to say, they avoided it; you don’t necessarily  have to say they did it intentionally, but rather unknowingly, because many of the people there knew him, his work, his revolutionary activity, but not his thinking or his documents.

The questions are: 1 – Was Fermín Valdés Domínguez unaware of José Martí’s thinking? And 2 – if Fermín Valdés Domínguez, followed by the majority of the delegates, defended the division and limitation of powers, which was one of José Martí’s republican ideas, was the important thing that his name should appear in the documents, or that the majority should defend and impose his ideas, as actually happened?

The 120th anniversary and the two articles published demonstrate that you cannot deal with any historical event, much less one of such importance as the constitutional text of Jimaguayú, without relating it to the present in order to show that  we have either gone forwards or backwards. If we do not have regard to the limitations of the present constitution which cry out loud for fundamental reform, how does history help us?

[1] In the original, “I hear” is crossed out

[2] Martí, José. Texts chosen from three volumes. Volume III, p. 544

Translated by GH

What Human Rights Are They Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 6 February 2015 — The conversations about normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States, which were held in Havana on 21st and 22nd January, didn’t, as far as we know, advance the matter of human rights, because of differing understandings about the topic.

From the Magna Carta in 1215, up to the international treaties of 1966 — by way of the Act of Habeas Corpus (1674), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the Declaration of American Independence (1776), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), and the Universal Declaration (1948) — human rights, at least in the west, are universal, indivisible, and interdependent and are expressed in concepts and principles to do with recognition, respect, and observance of judicial guarantees which protect the integrity and dignity of the human being. Therefore, the referred-to difference lies in reasons unconnected with this concept. A quick look at our constitutional history will demonstrate this. continue reading

In 1811, Father José Agustín Caballero, representative of the growing creole class, set out an Autonomous Government Bill for Cuba. This Bill envisaged an Assembly of Deputies of the People with power to pass laws and an Executive Power formed of a representative of the monarch, accompanied by a Council, which would give a collegiate character to the government.

In 1812, the independent-minded lawyer, Joaquín Infante, put together the Constitution Bill for the island of Cuba. This contemplated the division of powers (legislative, executive, judicial and military), tolerated religions, giving predominance to Catholicism, observed the rights and social duties related to equality, liberty and property and recognised freedom of opinion.

In 1821 the Constitution Professorship was created in the seminary of San Carlos. In his opening speech, Father Félix Varela, who was the head of that institution, declared: I would call this professorship, the professorship of liberty, of human rights, of national guarantees, of the regeneration of the illustrious Spain, the source of civic virtues.

In 1832, Father Varela presented to the Courts an Education Bill for the Economic, Political and Autonomous Government of the provinces of Ultramar, geared to Cuban circumstances. This Bill, which was not discussed due to the restoration of absolutism, disapproved of the putting in place of political  liberties and rights exclusively for white creoles. On this basis there was put together the first Cuban Bill for the abolition of slavery.

In 1869 the Constitution of Guáimaro was approved, which applied to the territories occupied by the Mambises. In this, the division of powers was endorsed, and it established that the House of Representatives could not attack the freedoms of worship, publishing, peaceful gatherings, education and petition.

In 1878, as a result of the Zanjón Pact, Spain established in Cuba, among other things, freedom of the press, of meeting and association, which gave birth to  Cuban society.  From those freedoms, the first political parties sprang up, fraternal associations, unions, journalism bodies and the first strikes.

In 1895 in Jimaguayú and in 1897 in Yaya, the second and third Mambisa constitutions were approved. In the first, military authority was split from civil and the civil government was devolved to a Government Council with executve and legislative functions. In the second, the Government Council had the right to pass laws and regulations in relation to the Government of the Revolution and military, civil and political life.

This included a part dealing with individual and political rights, in which everyone in the country had their religious opinions and worship protected, and had the right to freely express their views and also to gather and join together for legal purposes.

The 1901 constitution endorsed the division of powers, the idea of habeas corpus, freedom of expression, rights to gather and join together, and freedom of movement. Under its protection, a whole range of civic associations were created, and an immense network of newspapers and broadcasters. Its effect was reflected in the Protest of the Thirteen, struggles by the peasants, students, and especially the manual workers, who achieved the legalising of the First of May as Labour Day, and played a decisive role in the overthrow of Gerardo Machado in 1933 and the abolition of the Platt Amendment in 1934.

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by GH 

 

The New Scenario and the Absence of the Citizen / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellenos, Mexico City,  1 September 2015 — In Cuba, the concurrence among the failure of its totalitarian model, the aging of its leaders and the society. For this impact to be a positive one requires the presence of a missing factor: the citizen. If this thesis begs the question of how it is possible that in a country that is part of the Western world, and which has distinguished history of struggles, the citizen does not exist, the answer leads us to a complex phenomenon that demands more attention than has been given to it up to now.

The most immediate–although not the only–cause is contained in the dismantling of civil society that took place in Cuba in the Revolution’s first years, and in its later institutionalization. Civic education, the foundation of the citizen, began in Cuba in 1821 with Father Félix Varela[1], who upon assuming the post of head of the Constitution Department at San Carlos Seminary, defined it as the “institution of liberty and of the rights of man,” and conceived it as a means “to teach civic virtues.” continue reading

His work was continued by José de la Luz y Caballero[2], who arrived at the conclusion that “before revolution and independence, there was education,” and from this vision he conceived the art of education as being the basis of social change. This mission was carried on by succeeding generations of Cuban educators and thinkers up through the first half of the 20th Century.

Cuban civil society, which emerged as a result of the Pact of Zanjón in 1878, played an important role in the political/social problems of the Republic. This can be seen in the Protest of the Thirteen; the peasant struggles of San Felipe de Uñas, of Realengo 18 and of Ventas de Casanova; the strike movement that toppled the Gerardo Machado dictatorship; the student struggles for university autonomy and the repeal of the Platt Amendment; the Constitutional Assembly that gave rise to the Constitution of 1940 and the struggles against the coup d’etat of 1952; among other events.

The level of development that had been achieved by Cuban civil society was expressed by Fidel Castro during his trial for the assault of the Moncada barracks, when he said, “There once was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its liberties; a President, Congress and Tribunals; everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with total liberty. The government did not satisfy the people, but the people could change it, and there were just days left before doing so. There existed a public opinion that was respected and observed, and all problems of collective interest were discussed freely. There were political parties, educational hours on the radio, discussion programs on television, public acts, and enthusiasm reverberated in the people.”

Despite those educational efforts and the advances of civil society, the level of maturity attained was not sufficient to impede its dismantling. In 1959, the Constitution of 1940 was replaced by the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State; power was concentrated in the hands of the leader of the Revolution, and property was transferred to ownership by the State, whose final stroke was the “Revolutionary Offensive” of 1968, which liquidated the more than 50,000 small businesses that still remained in the country. The result was confirmed in the Constitution of 1976, which institutionalized the total, absolute control of the State over the nation’s politics, economy, culture, communication media, and all persons.

If to this is added the negative effect of the loss of ethical values, frustration, despair, apathy, and the sustained exodus from the country, the Cuban reality appears to us in its nakedness and shows us the extent of the damage done as well as that which is to come.

By their very nature, all totalitarian models are destined to fail. The difference between one and another model lies in its capacity to last for a short or long time, which in turn depends on the degree to which each one is capable of limiting the freedom of individuals. In Cuba’s case, before the failure and the possibility of losing power, the revolutionary elite reinforced political, economic and cultural repression, and intensified its monopoly over the educational system and communication media. It was a step backwards, guided by the policy expressed by Fidel Castro in 1961, “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.”

Held back by this idea, with a society disarmed of civic institutions and spaces, in the absence of the most basic civil and political liberties, Cuban society–conditioned by the growing breach between wages and cost of living–took refuge in survivalism, being obliged to carry out supplementary activities, almost always outside the law, in search of alternative sources of subsistence.

This behavior, carried out over decades, transformed what was acceptable social morality. The Cuban, having been dispossesed of the condition of being a citizen, responded thusly: to low wages, alternative activities; to the absence of civil society, a hidden life; to the lack of material goods, theft from the State; and, when all possibilities were exhausted, escape from the country.

This scenario, which characterizes the Cuba of today, requires a cultural action, which as Paulo Freire[3] would say, “is always a systematized and deliberate form of action that bears upon the social structure, in the sense of, variously, maintaining it as it is, effecting small changes in it, or transforming it utterly.”

Why is this? Because, as the engineer López[4] would certainly affirm, “the properties of a system are ultimately determined by the properties of its components and the linkages among them, which therefore ensures that the quality of the system cannot be better than its components nor design, being that these act as limiters on the quality of the system as a whole.” Therefore, a better Cuba is not possible without better Cubans.

Building this culture requires, paraphrasing the concept of affirmative action, an educational action, equivalent to those that are put in place to ensure the participation and development of marginalized sectors. The realization of such a culture includes two simultaneous and interrelated processes: 1- Citizen empowerment, which will result from the measures implemented by the White House, and which the Cuban government will, on its part, need to implement if they are to be fully accomplished; 2 – Changes to the interior life of the individual, which contrary to the first process is not doable in the short term, but without which other changes will be of little use.

For the reasons outlined above, Cubans are excluded from the decision making process, but the participation in this process does not begin until there is awareness of each individual’s responsibility toward the destiny of his or her country. And this responsibility begins when each one makes a personal commitment and, based on this, seeks the collaboration of other people. It is a matter of a lengthy, but inevitable, process that proceeds from the interior to the exterior, from the individual to society, from the nation to the world.

The transformation of Cubans into public citizens, into political actors, is a challenge as complex as it is unavoidable, an unreachable goal without first feeling change to be not just something necessary, but something possible. And the only way forward lies in participation, in learning by doing, in making mistakes and starting over until we become effective, until we become true citizens.

Given all that has been outlined above, education curricula must include instruction in responsibility, which begins with the individual, flows to society, and extends ultimately to the international community. Thus, liberty, responsibility, rights and duties comprise an interrelated and indivisible whole.

Therefore, the effect of the concurrence between the failure of the totalitarian model, the aging of its leaders, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States depends, above all, on our capacity to change so as to recover our condition as citizens which, in turn constitutes an inescapable necessity if we are to emerge from the stagnation in which we live.

[1] Félix Francisco José María de la Concepción Varela y Morales (1778-1853) was born in Havana and died in St. Augustine, Florida. He studied at the San Carlos Seminary, and the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Jerome in Havana, was ordained a deacon in 1810, and a priest in 1811. In the seminary where he studied, he occupied the chairs of Latin, Philosophy and Constitution.

[2] José de la Luz y Caballero (1800-1862), was born and died in Havana. He studied at the Convent of San Francisco, at the Royal and Pontifical University of Havana, and at the San Carlos Seminary. Educated in a religious ambience under the influence of his maternal uncle, the presbyter José Agustín Caballero, his love for his neighbor inclined him to the clerical life and the cloister.

[3] Paulo Freire (1921-1997), famous Brazilian educator. Among his most recognized works are Education as a Practice of Liberty (1967) and Cultural Action for Liberty (1970).

[4] José Ramón López, “Individual and Society,” article published in the digital magazine Consenso, Issue #5, 2005.

Previously published (in Spanish) in DiariodeCuba.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba’s First Independent Think Tank Forms / 14ymedio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuba Will Change To the Degree That We Cubans Change / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 3 July 2015 — The leaders of Cuba and the United States have just announced the first and most important result of the process of normalizing relations between the two countries: the reopening of their embassies in Washington and Havana.

The 196 days elapsed between 17 December 2014 and 1 July 2015 is 100 times less than what passed between that 3rd of January of 1961, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to break diplomatic relations with government of Cuba. Because of its significance, that brief period will remain recorded in the history of the two nations, but especially in that of Cuba, creating as it does a favorable scenario for the changes that the “Largest of the Antilles” urgently needs.

Time will tell how long it will take to recover what was destroyed in more than half a century. In that sense, the opening of the embassies is only the first step in a long and complex path, for the magnitude of the anthropological damage that has been suffered will require much time, effort and will to recover. But, without a doubt, resuming diplomatic relations will produce an inevitable impact in the medium-long term on the fundamental liberties and the reconstruction of the citizenry, which constitute the two greatest deprivations of the Cuban people. continue reading

January of 1959 burst into Cuban history brimming with hopes, but the turn towards totalitarianism, suffered by the revolutionary process insofar as civil liberties were concerned, took Cuba back to an era as remote as 1878 [1]. This regression, which constitutes the first cause of the deplorable state of Cuban society–from its economy to its spiritual life–is a paradigmatic example of what should never have been, but whose positive aspect is that it shows us what should not and cannot be repeated in our history.

Therefore, more useful than calling out the guilty parties (although they exist) in the present and future view, is to highlight the level of responsibility of all or almost all Cubans. In the same way that not knowing the laws does not excuse the responsibility of the lawbreaker; all of us who, in one way or another, for reasons that extend from ignorance to the perversity harbored within some egos, in lesser or greater measure, are co-respondents in what has occurred. I wish, therefore, in a few lines, to highlight one of our ancestral maladies: personal responsibility transmuted into social indifference.

As to the question regarding the significance of restoring diplomatic relations, the answers comprise a spectrum ranging from those who consider the problem to be resolved, to those who believe that nothing will change here; but the most generalized aspect of the responses is the absence of the Cuban’s role as an active participant in this process–a crucial fact that cannot be ignored if one wants to understand, and transform, our reality.

Cubans, bereft of the liberties and spaces that breathe life into citizenship, lost the notion of civic responsibility. Their participation throughout more than half a century was reduced to supporting or rejecting what was induced by the powers-that-be. Those who today are older than 70 years old were only 14 back in 1959; all they have known is subordination to a totalitarian authority. Thus the generalized indifference toward current events is a logical consequence.

In the Gospel of Mark (1:14-15), the story is told of the a Christian experience that has as much validity today as 2,000 years ago. According to Mark, when Jesus returned to Galilee, he began to announce the good news of God, saying: The time has come, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your way of thinking and living, and believe the gospel.

From that perspective, the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States can be an important factor in the recovery of lost liberties, and of the condition of citizenship. But this factor will be for naught without a change in the Cuban people’s way of thinking and living. To paraphrase Jesus, the time has come–which must be accompanied, as He did, with actions directed, in the first place, to a change in conduct, which includes assuming some responsibility for the change.

Therefore, the historic transcendence of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US depends on the degree to which we are capable of changing to recover the condition of citizenship–which, in turn, is an unavoidable necessity for getting out of the stagnation in which we live.

The US leader’s speeches, from 17 December through today, do not demand civil liberties as a condition for reestablishing diplomatic relations. The statements contain an explicit renouncement of continuing a failed policy, and the recognition that if something is not working, we can and will change it.

With that turn, without renouncing the commitment to human rights, the Cuban government is stripped of its arguments of the “plaza under siege” and “the enemy,” which allowed it to quash all critical demonstrations within Cuba. Now, in the new scenario, the changes that Cuba really needs depends on a change of conduct, similar to that contained in the words of Jesus in Galilee.

If the package of measures announced by the White House opens a process of transformations that favor the rebirth and strengthening of civil society, the result will depend on the disposition, capability and intelligence of Cubans to take advantage of a scenario that, in the medium-long term, will remove the bases that enabled the government to decide the fate of the country and of every one of its inhabitants.

The foregoing lends to the renewal of diplomatic relations (even if this is only the first step of a long and difficult path) a dimension that places it as the most transcendental political event in Cuba after the 1st of January of 1959.

Without ignoring the great obstacles yet to be overcome, the reestablishment removes a way out that was threatening violence and a massive emigration to the United States–while at the same time it will remove the bases that permitted the totalitarian model to decide the fate of the country and of every one of its inhabitants.

This is why the decision is useful to US interests, useful to the Island’s government, and useful to the Cuban people, as long as we are capable of change, and of maximizing this favorable scenario to advance our empowerment.

Therefore, the success of the measures announced by the White House, and the resumption of diplomatic relations, do not depend so much on the will of the regime as of that of the Cuban people; something that neither Obama nor any outside force can supply: Cuba will change to the degree that we Cubans change.

Footnote

[1] With the signing of the Pact of Zanjón, which brought to an end the Ten Years’ War, a set of civil and political liberties were instituted that gave rise to Cuban civil society, legally endorsed.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

More But Still Falling Short / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 25 May 2015 — The goal was to match the results obtained in 1912. Failure to meet this target is nothing new, nor are the reasons why.

At the closing session of the XI Congress of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) on May 17, the second secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) said in reference to the sugar harvest, “We will produce almost 300,000 tons more than last year, but we did not meet our target.”

Such failures are nothing new. It has happened year after year due to negative impacts of voluntary work brigades and nationalization of the economy. In the case of sugar production it fell from 8.2 million tons in 1989 to 1.1 million tons in the 2009-2010 harvest, the same amount produced in 1904. continue reading

The measures adopted to halt the decline focused on low productivity and poor organization but sidestepped the root causes. In 2001, a year when there was less sugar produced than in 1919, a general was appointed to head the Ministry of Sugar. New measures were adopted which included plans to produce fifty-four tons of sugar cane per hectare, to extract eleven tons of sugar for every hundred tons of cane, and to close “inefficient” factories. Nevertheless, the decline continued its relentless march. The general was replaced, the Sugar Industry Business Group (AZCUBA) was created and an annual growth target of 15% was set for 2016. But again the root causes were ignored.

Faced with the shortfalls of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 harvests and after taking appropriate measures, AZCUBA announced that the upcoming 2013-2014 harvest would be better than any of the previous decade. The plan was to produce 1.8 million tons, 200,000 more than the previous year, which had been 1.6 million tons. The PCC’s second secretary, Machado Ventura, toured a sizable number of sugar mills on the island, appealing to workers’ consciences and urging them to plant more and better, noting that “the main limitation is insufficient sugar cane and low agricultural yields.” In spite of this effort, “the best harvest of the last decade” barely surpassed that of the previous year, even though sugar mills remained in operation until June, when sugar levels in the cane are considerably less and summer rains halt the harvest.

Once again without seriously addressing what the sugar industry required or implementing even limited measures, a new goal was set. The 2014-2015 harvest would reach two million tons, 400,000 more than the previous harvest, the same amount Cuba produced in 1912.

According to official press reports, operations began in July and by late November producers had completed 80% of the work. Resources arrived in the country on time. Two more sugar mills went into operation. A synthetic fertilizer, Fitomas-M, was applied to more than 100,000 hectares, resulting in greater concentrations of sucrose in the cane. A technological solution was devised to make harvesting feasible and sustainable under wet conditions. More than 3,400 existing hauling trailers were refurbished and put into service. Fifteen million dollars were budgeted for equipment to repair roads and irrigation systems. More than 90% of the harvesting process was to be mechanized and the amount of raw cane going directly into the hopper was to increase by 50%.

According to the president of AZCUBA these measures were part of five key strategies for meeting the goals of the current harvest by 1) restoring agro-industrial efficiency, 2) streamlining the harvesting and transportation systems, 3) maximizing capacity, 4) ensuring the quality and purity of the sugar and 5) working with human capital. Consequently, plans included a 23% growth in sugar production, a potential capacity above 70% and sugarcane yields of no less than forty-three tons per hectare. 

Providing his own distinctive touch, the second secretary of the PCC resumed his now customary tour of the provinces.

In December he praised the harvest at the Boris Luis Santa Coloma mill in Madruga, which confirmed the success of its investments and repairs. On December 25 he chatted with managers and employees of the Antonio Sanchez mill in Cienfuegos. He did the same on July 14 at Ciudad Caracas, where he expressed appreciation for its strong performance in the initial phase of the campaign. He toured cane fields and mills in Villa Clara and visited the colossal Uruguay mill in Sancti Spiritus. In Ciego de Avila he spoke with the directors of the Ciro Redondo, Primero de Enero and Enrique Varona mills. And he did the same in Camagüey at the Batalla de las Guásimas, Argentina and Brazil mills.

In January he reviewed the results at five mills and plantations in Granma province. In Satiago de Cuba he visited the America Libre, Julio Antonio Mella and Dos Rios operations, where he reiterated the need to produce more cane to ensure sustained growth. In Holguin and Mayabeque he demanded better results, singling out the poor performance of the Hector Molina mill, where he noted that “an inability to find solutions to recognized technical problems persists.” But he acknowledged the strong performances of the Boris Luis Santa Coloma operation in Madruga and the Manuel Fajardo operation in Quivican.

At the conclusion of the so-called little harvest on December 31, in which forty-two of the fifty mills completed production, it became clear that the results were better than those of the previous year, both in terms of harvesting and processing. Everything pointed to the growth targets being met. However, there was sugar cane being left unprocessed, production time was being lost, and problems in harvesting and transportation remained. At the end of January, milling operations were already five days behind schedule. At the end of February only 91% of the harvested cane had been processed. The journalist Ana Margarita Gonzalez reported in the weekly magazine Trabajadores on Monday, March 23 that, due primarily to equipment failures, production was only at 68% of capacity. At 6.93%, downtime was also quite high. By the third week of March the production shortfall was already at 8%.

Faced with impending disaster, officials once again turned to a much used but ineffective tool: the appeals drive. By the first week of April, production was at 77.2%, so union organizers and AZCUBA summoned workers, technicians and managers to a special day-long event intended to help meet the target. It was dubbed “For a Victorious April.” Its official notice stated that workers “have the responsibility to fulfill the designated production goals of each plantation and mill. Victory in the harvest shall be determined by the results we achieve this month.”

In spite of these efforts, by April 23 production was off by 9% from projections. And as is normally the case by this date, the pace was beginning to slow. For every fourteen operations that had fulfilled their quotas, three failed to meet their targets. Finally, on May 17 Jose Machado Ventura announced, “We will produce almost 300,000 tons more than last year but we have still fallen short.”

Agricultural and industrial inefficiency is a direct result of the state’s monopoly on property. Contributing to the problem has been the abolition of the colonato, a system that dating back the 19th century that ensured an adequate supply of sugarcane without political officials having to issue appeals or to tell producers what they had to do. Other factors include inadequate salaries and a loss of interest on the part of producers. The failures of the last twenty-five years — a period that spans from 1989 to 2014 — serve as incontrovertible proof of a failed centralized state planning system. They point to the need for structural reform of property laws, for salaries that reflect actual living costs and for lifting bureaucratic impediments that prevent growth. Instituting these changes is the only way to motivate workers in the sugar industry, previously the nation’s most productive sector and its chief export earner, which could in turn have a positive impact on GDP and improve the lives of all Cubans.

Previously published in Diario de Cuba.

Causes and Dangers of the Government’s Erratic Course / Dimas Castellano

The Antecedents

The Revolutionaries who took power in 1959 substituted the 1940 Constitution for the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State*, the Prime Minister assumed the powers of the Head of Government, and the Council of Ministers replaced the Congress. Measures for “the benefit of the people” were decreed that legitimized the power acquired through force. At the same time, civil society was dismantled and civic and political liberties cut. Power was concentrated in the leader, private property passed into the hands of the state, institutionality was undone, and the condition of being a citizen disappeared.

Economic inefficiency was superseded by Soviet subsidies until the collapse the socialist bloc sunk the country into a profound crisis. In response, the government introduced some provisional reforms subordinate to political power. With the triumph of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela a new godfather emerged, and the Cuban government, freed from the pressure of the crisis, put a stop to the reforms. Between that moment and the substitution of the Leader of the Revolution [when Raul Castro stepping in for Fidel Castro], between July 2006 and February 2008, economic deterioration determined the start of new changes within a context of modernizing the model.

The Failure

The transfer of power among the same forces that had held it since 1959 preordained that the order, depth and speed of the changes would remain subordinate again to political interests. This condition disabled the Minimal Plan of Reforms put forth by General Raúl Castro, which aimed to achieve a strong and efficient agriculture, reduce imports, increase exports, attract investments, halt illegalities, check corruption, deflate the public payrolls, and propel self-employment.

continue reading

The subordination became instititutionalized during the First Conference of the Cuban Communist Party that took place in 2012. These proceedings revitalized the line suggested by Fidel Castro when, during the Cultural Congress of 1961, he asked, “What are the rights of revolutionary and non-revolutionary writers and artists?” and which he answered himself by saying, “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing. And this would not be any exceptional law for the artists and for the writers. This is a general principle for all citizens.” As it was not difficult to predict, in the absence of democracy, the change of form to preserve the content did not provide the expected result: the efficiency in preserving power could not be transferred to the economy.

Three years after commencing the modernization of the model, the decline has continued: farm production is deficient; sugar quotas are not reached; the reduction of imports and increase of exports are pending subjects; foreign investments have not reached the expected levels; the relationship between wages and cost of living worsens; illegalities continue their inexorable pace; and the limitations placed on self-employment and “cooperatives” have impeded these sectors taking off.

 The Transfer of Power

For biological reasons, the generation that took power in 1959 will exit the political scene in the next three years. This generation is confronting the need to legitimize its successors through different pathways than those through which they legitimized themselves. To do this, they would have to reform the state, including the constitution and the electoral law, against which emerge two simultaneous obstacles: the failure to modernize the model, and the reestablishment of relations with the United States.

The first obstacle is economic stagnation, a situation quite different from when they assumed power in 1959, and confiscated warehouses allowed power that had been acquired by force to be legitimized through the distribution of pre-produced goods. Added to this was the ever-growing exodus from Cuba, uncontrolled corruption, and the rise in citizen discontent, all of which prevents a transfer of power in conditions of prosperity.

The second obstacle is the White House’s new policy towards Cuba. The package of measures announced on 17 December 2014 will have an impact on the empowerment of Cubans, which is the weakest factor in changes for the Cuba of today. Throughout the unfolding of this process, the concept of the “external enemy” will begin to be eclipsed, hence the foreign contradiction — which played such a useful role in preserving power — will gradually be replaced by the contradiction between the Cuban people and government, which complicates the transfer of power.

If to these two great hindrances is added that the government is responsible for all that has occurred, good or bad, throughout more than half a century; that during this time the nomenklatura has acquired vested interests; that there are within it diverging opinions about how far the reforms should go; that the average age of its members militates against the vitality needed to undertake profound changes; and that for decades they have been able to govern unopposed — then the conclusion is that the government is not prepared to take on the contradictory propositions of making the reforms that the country requires, reestablishing relations with the United States, and preserving power. In this contradiction, which will continue setting the pace of the process in the short term, is contained, from my point of view, the explanation of the government’s erratic course:

On 17 December 2014, the Cuban president challenged the US government to adopt mutual measures for improving the bilateral climate, and advancing towards the normalization of ties between the countries (a step forward). On 28 January 2015, at the Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States [CELAC], he set forth four demands and said, “If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States will not make sense (a step backward). On 11 April, at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, Raul Castro reduced the demands and said that the principal obstacles to opening the embassies was the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the provision of banking facilities to enable financial transactions by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington (a step forward). Even though on 12 May, during goodbyes to French President François Hollande, he declared that when Cuba is finally removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism we will be able to name ambassadors, then on 20 and 21 May, during the third round of talks, the Cuban delegation entrenched itself in their interpretation of the Vienna Convention regarding the limits, the form, and the conduct becoming to North American diplomats (a step backward).

The American position could not have come as a surprise. Prior to departing for the summit in Panama, Barack Obama said, “Our new policy towards Cuba will also facilitate a greater connection to the Cuban people, including a greater flow of resources and information to them, and this is already showing results. We have seen an increase in contact between the people of Cuba and the United States, and the enthusiasm of the Cuban people towards these changes shows that we are taking the right path.” During the summit, Obama said, “Civil society is the conscience of our nations. It is the catalyzing force of change. It is the reason for which strong nations do not fear active citizens. Strong nations accept, support and empower active citizens… And when we engage with a civil society, it is because we believe that our relationship should be with governments and with the people they represent.” He made similar statements during the meeting he had with civil society representatives from Latin America, and in his personal encounter with Raúl Castro.

For her part, US delegation chief Roberta Jacobson, prior to the third round of negotiations, said during her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the relationship of the US Interests Section in Havana “with the broadest cross-section” of Cubans “will grow once diplomatic relations are established with Cuba.”

That is to say, if despite those declarations there was progress in the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and the provision of facilities for banking transactions in Washington, it makes no sense to delay the opening of the embassies because of some “interpretation” of the Vienna Convention.

Upon the conclusion of the third round of talks, the difference between the two delegations could be seen. In the press conference, in answer to the question about a fourth round, Josefina Vidal — from the Cuban side — responded that there has been progress, but that there remained pending topics to discuss forthwith. Meanwhile, Roberta Jacobson said more or less that for those topics another meeting was not necessary. Her position was that the diplomats would conduct themselves such as they do in other regimes similar to that of Cuba, where US diplomats have permission to travel within the country for periods that vary “between 24 hours and 10 days.”

The Dangers of the Erratic Course

The government of Cuba, for the reasons outlined, decided to introduce changes too late. For this reason the interrelation between economic stagnation, wage insufficiency, generalized corruption, popular discontent, and a growing exodus are incompatible with the slowness of the changes.

If this slow march is appreciated by the power structure as a guarantee of its stability, it is not so by Cuban society. The insistence on preserving power and the delay in initiating transformations have led to an extremely complex situation, internally and externally, which requires political will to act in keeping with the gravity of the matter.

To not act as a consequence of this scenario could lead to a fatal result, because an abrupt exit — for whatever reason that might cause it — would lead to a situation in which there would be no peaceful transition, and in which all, without exception, would be losers. Should this occur, the responsibility would fall on those who still hold the reins of power.

The prospect of relations with the United States — the most significant political event for Cuba since the 1959 Revolution — has generated an opportunity that should not be wasted. It is useful to the Cuban government, being that it provides it with “an honorable way out”; it is useful to US interests, for its own reasons; but above all, it is useful to Cubans, because it is a favorable context for their empowerment, and for them to once again become citizens.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba, 24 Jun 2015

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

26 June 2015

The Reestablishment of Civil Society: An Unavoidable Necessity / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 10 April 2015 — If by “civil society” we mean a group of autonomous associations, public spaces, rights, and liberties by which citizens exchange opinions, make decisions and participate in political, economic and social matters that interest them–with no more authorization than what emanates from the laws of the land–then we need to agree that this institution existed in Cuba since colonial times, developed during the Republic, disappeared after 1959, and is now in a process of resurgence.

Early Existence

Starting in the first half of the 19th century, illustrious figures such as Father Félix Varela, who called the constitutional studies program at the San Carlos seminary a “curriculum of liberty and the rights of man” and strove to provide an education in virtues; José Antonio Saco, who from the Revista Bimestre Cubana (Cuban Bimonthly Magazine) generated debates that fostered civic consciousness; Domingo Delmonte who, when this medium and other spaces were closed down, found in conversational gatherings a way of continuing the debates without official authorization; and José de la Luz y Caballero, who devoted himself to civic education as a premise of social change, with their labors forged the field for citizen participation. continue reading

Upon this ground, in 1878–when Spain, in compliance with Pact of Zanjón, granted Cuba freedom of the press, assembly and association–there sprouted Cuban civil society: political parties, newspapers, labor unions, societies of blacks, fraternal organizations, and other diverse groups.

Development

With the birth of the Republic in 1902, civil society, having spread throughout the country, took part in the struggles of labor unions, peasants, and students, and in the intelligentsia’s debates conducted via the print press, radio, and television, about the problems afflicting the nation.

The importance of civil society was highlighted by Fidel Castro during his trial for the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, when–referring to the limitations suffered by civil society with Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’etat in 1952–he said, “There once was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its liberties; a President, Congress and Courts; everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with full liberty. The government did not satisfy the people, but the people could change the government, and there were only a few days left to do so. There was public opinion that was respected and heeded, and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, educational hours on radio, debate programs on television, public acts, and the people could sense enthusiasm.”

Disappearance

Having become a source of law, the 1959 Revolution–instead of fully reestablishing the Constitution of 1940–substituted it (without public consultation) with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State*, and thus began a fatal process for Cuban society: the concentration of power, the elimination of private property, and the dismantling of civil society.

The organizations that fought against the Batista government were merged into the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, which in 1963 became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution, and later, in October, 1965, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).

The diverse youth movement disappeared to give way, first, to the Young Rebels Association and, later, the Communist Youth Union. Women’s organizations of all types became the Federation of Cuban Woman. The associations of university students became the University Students Federation, and the pre-university-level ones became the Union of Secondary-School Students.

The labor movement was taken over, while the principle of university autonomy, endorsed in Article 53 of the Constitution of 1940, disappeared under the University Reform of 1962.

Organizations of employers met the same fate. The Landowners Association of Cuba, the Association of Settlers of Cuba, the Tobacco Harvesters, and the National Peasants Association, were substituted by the National Settlers Association, which was later renamed the National Association of Small Farmers.

The print, radio and television media, the enormous network of cinemas, the publishing domain, and cultural institutions were limited to the boundary set by the regime, with the intervention of the Chief of the Revolution during the 1961 Cultural Congress, when he asked, “What are the rights of the Revolutionary and non-Revolutionary writers and artists?” and he answered himself thus, “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, no right.” And there would be no exception to the law for artists and writers. This is a general principle for all citizens.

The organizations that made up civil society before its dismantling were not subordinate to the State nor to the administration in power at a given time. They were autonomous, a necessary condition without which they would have been unable to carry out the role they played in the Republic.

The subordination took practical shape with the adoption of the Constitution of 1976. Article 5 stipulates that the Communist Party is the supreme driving force of the society and the State.

Accordingly, Article 53 [1] recognizes freedom of speech and of the press insofar as these conform to the aims of the socialist society, and Article 62 provides that none of the liberties accorded to the citizens can be exercised against what is established in the Constitution and the nation’s laws, nor against the existence and aims of the Socialist State.

The resurgence of a civil society movement emerges from the stagnation and regression in the economy; from the generalization of corruption caused by the inadequacy of wages; from the growing exodus of Cubans and the aging of the population due to the diaspora, and the reluctance of Cuban women to bear children in those conditions; to the point of bringing the country to a dilemma: either change, or erupt in violence.

It demonstrates that the structural crisis in which Cuba is immersed has its root cause in the absence of fundamental liberties, in the decimation of autonomous civil society, and the non-participation of the citizen.

Even so, during the process normalizing relations with the United States — and on the eve of Cuba’s participation for the first time in the Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Panama [April 2015] — the Cuban Government, instead of recognizing the role parallel to the State’s that corresponds to an autonomous civil society, insists on proving the obsolete, absurd and unprovable: that any association that does not respond to the objectives of the Communist Party is an external creation and its members are paid operatives of the Enemy.

During the Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in Costa Rica, on 28 January 2015, Cuban President Raúl Castro asserted that the US counterpart should not try to relate to Cuban society as though there is no sovereign government in Cuba. A retrograde statement intended to continue denying the existence of civil society sectors that are not under Government control.

And during the Ninth Extraordinary Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which took place on 17 March in Venezuela, Castro reiterated that “Cuban civil society will be the voice of the voiceless, and will unmask the mercenaries who will present themselves as being the civil society, as well as their sponsors.”

In accordance with the conduct, the Party and the State have in recent days mobilized hundreds of official associations in the “Forum for Civil Society of the Seventh Summit of the Americas,” and in the forum, “Youth and the Americas We Desire,” among other events, to defend an indefensible past, without understanding nor accepting that, even in these official associations, as was evidenced in the above-mentioned events, voices were heard declaring that it was necessary to create an atmosphere conducive to debate, and create sites where the views of civil society can be confronted, so as to derive a collective interpretation of the country’s issues.

Normalizing relations with the US will not be enough to pull the country out of crisis if it is not accompanied by the reestablishment of fundamental liberties. There should be no doubt that these relations will contribute to citizen empowerment and to the reestablishment of autonomous civil society and of citizenship.

[1] Article 53 reads, “The University of Havana is autonomous and is governed according to its Statutes, and to the Law to which they should conform.”

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s Note: Also referred to as “The Fundamental Law of the Cuban Revolution”

Computerization The Old-Fashioned Way / Dimas Castellanos

The Information Society (IS) is an effect of a process of convergence among technological advances, the democratization of information, and communications, which erupted in the 1980s with such force that it caused the United Nations to call a world summit on information, which took place in the Swiss city of Geneva in 2003. At this summit, a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action were adopted, whose principal beneficiaries are individual persons who have the training for intelligent and creative use of modern technologies, without which social and cultural progress would be impossible.

Among the demands of the new information technologies, arising from their transformative character, is the need for immediacy when introducing them. One peculiarity that distinguished Cuba since the colonial period: the steam engine, patented in 1769, was introduced into Cuban sugar production almost immediately. The railroad, inaugurated in 1825, linked together the towns of Havana and Bejucal in 1837. The telegraph, which sent the first long-distance message in 1844, initiated its first line in Cuba nine years later.

continue reading

The telephone, which premiered its first service in 1877, came to Cuba in 1881. The electric light bulb, which in 1879 was enjoyed in only a few important cities in the world, by 1889 was being utilized in Havana, Cárdenas and Puerto Príncipe, and in theaters such as Payret and Tacón. The motion picture, patented in 1895, was exhibited in Havana in 1897. Radio, which commenced in 1920, was launched in 1922 in Cuba. Television, almost parallel with the United States, began broadcasting from the first Cuban station in 1950. While the Internet began officially in Cuba in 1996, more than 10 years after it was in use in other latitudes.

This past February, the First Vice President of the Council of State, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, at the closing of the first National Computerization and Cybersecurity Workshop, set forth some issues regarding the Information Society that call for discussion, debate and consensus.

1. Internet access implies at the same time challenges and opportunities, and constitutes an action necessary for the development of society under current  conditions.

If the Information Society is distinguished by the generalized and efficient use of modern technologies in the era of globalization, when information has transformed the raw material of all activity and of each person, nobody could deny that, besides being necessary, it contains challenges and opportunities that must be faced. Regarding this thesis there cannot be disagreement.

2. Its access strategy should become a fundamental weapon of the Revolutionaries to achieve social participation in constructing the project for society that we want, starting from an integral design of the country. And I add that the usage strategy of this tool must be lead by the Party and should involve all institutions, and society, to achieve the fullest use of its potentialities in service of national development.

If we start from the premise that it is a necessity for all, then Internet access strategy cannot become a fundamental weapon of the Revolutionaries, but rather of all, because the Revolutionaries are only one part. And the project for society that we want (if that “we want” includes everyone) has to be agreed-upon by all.

Therefore that inclusive stragegy should not and and cannot be led by a party, which, as its meaning indicates, represents a “part,” whereas development is incumbent on all, not only on the Revolutionaries and the members of a party. This statement contradicts another part of the speech in which Díaz-Canel said that “we need to distinguish ourselves by a computerization with all, and for the good of all.”

3. Regulations and rules that govern access to the Internet and its use, should be coherent with current legislation, and align with the general principles of the Constitution and other laws, and adjust to the changing needs of social development.

Rather, besides being led by the Party and being a fundamental weapon of revolutionaries, Internet use should be coherent with the general principles of the Consitution and other laws. Here, the contradiction is so flagrant that it becomes inadmissible.

A phenomenon as modern and changing as the Information Society cannot be subordinate to a Constitution that urgently calls for profound reform, unless the purpose be that computerization should face the same fate as other projects in the country that remain stagnant.

The argument should be the opposite: the changes implied by an information society obligate us to reform a constitution that for a long time now has not met the needs of development, above all with regard to citizens’ rights and liberties, which constitute an unavoidable need of the Information Society, and which in the current Constitution are subordinate to one ideology and one party.

The preceding material demonstrates that the Information Society inescapably implies the respect for and complete defense of human rights, the recognition of their universaility, indivisibility and interrelation, and democratic access to the infrastructure and services of information technologies.

Díaz-Canel’s speech was uttered two decades after the official start of the Internet. It also came after President Barack Obama stated that Cuba has one of the lowest rates of Internet access in the world, that the cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitatantly high, and that the services offered are extremely limited.

Among measures intended to empower the Cuban people, President Obama listed the need to increase Cuba’s access to communications and its capacity to freely communicate, and so would authorize the commercial export of equipment to improve the capacity of Cubans to communicate, including the sale of communication devices and articles to establish and update related systems.

The delay in introducing these measures has been accompanied by restrictions that seek to ensure that information obtained online corresponds with the Revolutionary ethic, and will not endanger national security.

In 1996, Decree 2091 was issued, whose articles state that the basis of Internet access policies will prioritize the connectivity of legal persons and those institutions of greatest relevance to the life and development of the country; that to guarantee fulfillment of the principles laid down in the Decree, access to networked information services of global scope would be selective; and that direct access from the Republic of Cuba to global computer networks would have to be authorized by the Interministerial Commission created by the Decree. [1]

Later, in 2003, Resolution 1802 resolved: Charge the Telecommunications Company of Cuba to employ all technical means necessary to detect and impede access to Internet navigation services via telephone lines that operate in national, non-convertible currency, starting as of 1 January 2004. [2]

The creation of the Information Society is incompatible with the priority of the Revolutionaries, with subordination to ideologies, and with a Constitution that endorses these restrictions. The contradiction is there: either the demands of modernity are assumed, or we run the risk of continuing to widen the information gap in the country and of Cubans in relation to the rest of the world.

The full use of the possibilities offered by the new information technolgies to foment online access that is free and autonomous, rich and diversified, plural and thematic, interactive and personalized, is a necessity. Especially in the era in which the diffference among levels of development is measured in terms of Internet connectivity. Simply put, computerization the old-fashioned way must be uprooted.

Footnotes:

1. Decree 209 of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers on Access from the Republic of Cuba to Global Computer Networks; 14 June, 1996.

2. Resolution 180/2003, dated 31 December, 2003, of the Ministry of Computer Science and Communications.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

27 March 2015

Elections Highlight Need for Political Change in Cuba / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 24 April 2015 — Elections for delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power were held in Cuba on April 19. In light of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, they highlight the pressing need to expand the reforms to the political arena.

For the first time close to one million voters, 11.70% of the electorate, did not go to the polls. If we add to this the 700,000 voters who cast invalid ballots, the number of abstentions climbs to 1.7 million Cubans. That amounts to more than 20% of the electorate.

In 2003 the number of abstentions and invalid ballots totaled 6.09%. It 2008 it was 7.73%. In 2013 it reached 14.22%, almost double the 2003 total. This year it topped 20%. Such sustained growth is a clear indication of change in Cuban voting patterns that the authorities cannot afford to ignore. continue reading

The causes are quite obvious. A profound crisis brought on by an unfeasible economic model — exemplified by low salaries, widespread corruption and a mass exodus from the island — has had an adverse impact. Cubans are aware that delegates lack the basic power to effect change. In spite of the risks inherent in a one-party system — one which holds a monopoly on information, and a lack of fundamental freedoms — they have opted to boycott the polls. Or they cross out, nullify, scribble on or turn their ballots in blank. This includes tens of thousands of voters who cast their ballots at the last moment as a form of protest. We also know that for everyone who dares take such actions, there are others who are gradually losing the fear that has paralyzed them. In response to the argument that it is the people who nominate candidates, one might add that is also the people who boycott elections and invalidate ballots.

Rather than clinging to the past or continuing to make changes “slowly but steadily,” the authorities should take a critical look at these numbers and acknowledge the need to expand the reforms to political arena, beginning with a real electoral law that allows citizens to choose from candidates who offer a range of options. It is a matter of fulfilling the promise made on January 8, 1959 when the leader of the revolution announced that there would be elections “in the shortest period of time possible.” This period dragged on for no less than seventeen years, when in July 1976 the first post-revolution election law was enacted. Plagued with shortcomings, it was repealed in 1992 when Law 72, which governs current elections, was enacted.

This law limits direct elections to delegates for municipal assemblies. From here candidates for the provincial and national assemblies as well as the presidents, vice-presidents, secretary and other members of the Council of State are chosen by the various commissions for candidacies (as stipulated in article 67), which are made up of members of so-called mass organizations (article 68), all of whom are members of the only party allowed under the constitution.

According to the law, delegates elected directly by the people cannot exceed 50% of the total number of candidates. The other half are nominated by the commissions for candidacies, which has the power to choose people not elected by direct vote (articles 77 and 86), a violation of popular sovereignty.

In his famous book, The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau argued that people joining together to protect and defend their property expresses a general will, making the parties a collective political body. The exercise of this will — an expression of power — is referred to as sovereignty and a people which exercises it is sovereign.

If elections are a manifestation of popular sovereignty, then the Cuban electoral system is a denial of that sovereignty, as demonstrated in the recently held elections. What is needed is a new law that will respond to the interests of the Cuban people rather than simply serve as a means to hold onto power.

During the Tenth Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party it was announced that a new electoral law will govern the 2018 general elections. One might infer that it will set term limits for senior governmental posts and establish a maximum age for those occupying such posts. Such changes, however, are not enough. The new law must be enacted through a popular referendum that itself is the result of consensus, abandoning the practice of simply imposing laws without taking into consideration the interests of the people.

The 1.7 million Cubans who reject the electoral system have a right to choose from other options. Some years ago an opposition figure was nominated in the town of Plaza on two consecutive occasions and the only votes he got were his own and that of his wife. Nevertheless, in the last elections a computer technician, Yuniel López de Arroyo Naranjo, and a lawyer and journalist, Hildebrando Chaviano de Plaza, ran as opposition candidates in preliminary elections and won. In the subsequent municipal elections the former obtained 233 votes and the latter 189.

In other words, voters who abstained or voided their ballots now joined with those who openly voted for the opposition, despite the smear campaigns against the candidates.Given that the nation is a community made up of a diversity of people of equal dignity seeking a common good, one must recognize multi-party democracy as an expression of that diversity. It is, therefore, essential that Cubans’ political liberties be restored so they can begin to play an active necessary role in the destiny of Cuba.

Previously published in Diario de Cuba 

Cuba and the United States, a Return to Politics / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 16 April 2015 — On December 17, 2014 the presidents of Cuban and the United States announced their decision to reestablish diplomatic relations. It was the single most important political event for Cuba in the last half century.

The Revolutionaries who took power in 1959 replaced the existing constitution with a few statutes. The designated prime minister assumed the office of head-of-government and the Council of Ministers replaced the Cuban congress. The promise to hold elections was never fulfilled, political power was amassed by the supreme leader, private property passed to the state and institutions were dismantled.

In response to Cuba’s nationalization of American property in Cuba, the government of the United States broke off diplomatic relations and initiated a policy of confrontation that has been maintained by every U.S. administration from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama. continue reading

As external conflicts tended to suppress internal conflicts, the Cuban government used the disagreement to paralyze society, covering up its own failures and avoiding any commitment to human rights. However, it turned out that its skill at holding on to power was not applicable to the economy.

Upon being named President of the Council of State in 2008, Raul Castro proposed a basic reform plan. However, the 2012 Cuban Communist Party Conference reaffirmed Fidel Castro’s previous policy. In 1961 Fidel had posed a question at the Congress of Culture by asking “What are the rights of revolutionary and non-revolutionary writers and authors.” He responded by saying, “Within the Revolution, everything. Against the Revolution, nothing.” There would be no legal exception for artists or writers. In general this has been the case for all citizens as well.

The reforms were late in coming, limited and contradictory, and thus did not produce the expected results. Low salaries, widespread corruption, popular discontent and a growing exodus have been exacerbated by the impending loss of Venezuelan financial support. Nevertheless, the reforms did away with the conditions that made the regime’s resistance to change possible. In the absence of an independent civil society, a silent consensus for change has been emerging.

The failure of Fidel’s policies and of the embargo are part of a classic pattern in which conflicts first lead to war, then to great losses in human lives and material resources, and finally to the negotiating table.

Although the Cuban government’s intent was to force the United States to lift the embargo without the regime agreeing to democratize the country, U.S. actions simply ignore this fact. Obama did not demand a return to democracy as a pre-condition for restoring diplomatic relations. But measures intended to encourage citizen empowerment such as easing travel restrictions, raising the limit on hard currency remittances and providing greater access to telecommunications have placed the issue front and center in the minds of his own people and the international community.

These measures suggest the gradual empowerment of individual Cubans and the reemergence of civil society. Such an outcome would benefit U.S. interests and provide a “face-saving” way out for the Cuban government. In spite of its inherent contradictions the recently concluded seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama pointed in this direction.

The peculiarity of the process is rooted in the absence of an alternative political force with the ability to influence change internally. The driving force behind these reforms is the same one that has held power since 1959. It has been responsible for everything that has occurred in the last half century and has interests to protect. It has determined that the scope, direction and pace of change shall be subordinate to what political scientist Juan Linz describes as post-totalitarianism. In other words, an abiding desire for totalitarianism without the means to achieve it.

Ultimately, neither the process of reform nor the reestablishment of relations with the United States can be stopped. The government can slow them down but it cannot avoid them, even if they lead to new measures that restore Cubans’ status as citizens.

Published on Opinion page of the newspaper El Comercio, Lima, Peru, April 16, 2015