Rejecting Fidelism and Empowering Citizens / Diario de Cuba, Dimas Castellano

diariodecubalogoLooking back on the history of the conflict, Cuba and the United States tried to impose their political philosophies through confrontation only to have them run aground on the negotiating table. They opted for war as a continuation of politics in order to return to politics as a substitute for war. The presidents of both countries have now announced their willingness to normalize relations, which have been suspended since 1961.

The encouraging news has generated a variety of opinions ranging from those who believe that the problem has been solved to those who believe that nothing in Cuba will change. Some believe that changes are already taking place while others question the intentions of the Cuban government and America’s Republican legislators. Some — I being one of them — think the resumption of relations will be beneficial, albeit difficult continue reading

and prolonged, for Cuban democratization. This optimism is based on six considerations.

1. In his speech the U.S. president distanced himself from previous demands that Cuba democratize before the embargo is lifted. Instead, he proposed a series of measures that would encourage the empowerment of citizens and serve as a precursor for a discussion in Congress on repealing the law. This shift means there is no more  “enemy” to fight and no need to “circle the wagons.” On the Cuban side, there was a tenant of Fidelism, which held that Cuba had already changed in 1959 so there was no need for further change. This has given way to the Raulist viewpoint, which is inclined to see some things change.

2. The shift by the United States is a response to the failure of a policy whose goal was to promote change in Cuba as well as to the regional and international self-isolation that resulted from the policy. Cuba’s shift, though presented as a victory, reveals a failure of economic leadership, meager results from efforts at reform, mass exodus, widespread corruption and growing dissatisfaction. It occurs at a time when the fragility of Venezuelan oil subsidies is a topic of discussion and no new financial savior has appeared on the horizon.

3. The series of measures by the White House includes an increase in authorized travel to Cuba, management training for private Cuban businesses and farmers, an increase on the limit of remittances to individuals and donations to humanitarian projects, an expansion in the sale and commercial export of goods and services from the United States including to Cuba’s private sector, expanded communication access from Cuba and the ability to communicate freely, and allowing U.S. telecommunication providers to offer internet services at lower prices.

4. Since assuming power in 2006, the Cuban president has expressed a willingness to normalize relations with the United States and to adopt some domestic measures such as emigration reform. On the other side there has been a relaxation of certain policies by the American president since 2009, which paved the way for the joint announcement on December 17, 2014.

5. The measures by the White House assume an orderly and peaceful transition. This policy serves as a guarantee to those in power, to those who are responsible for everything both good or bad that has happened over a very long period of time. Nevertheless, I think the government of Cuba will try to slow the process even though its leaders know it is unavoidable. They realize that, if it all ends in violence, they will be the losers. Organized democratization guarantees stability and the future of the Cuban nation.

6. Cuba was able to mobilize individuals, institutions and governments to subvert the embargo. Several Latin American figures were involved or served as intermediaries. Canada and the Vatican also played a prominent role. With the enemy gone and the threat allayed, the previous rhetoric has become meaningless. These committed forces expect changes in Cuba in response to Obama’s speech. Denying this would mean losing the support achieved so far.

In order to evaluate the significance of these measures, it is worth analyzing the stagnation and reversals suffered during the period of confrontation. These include the disappearance of civil society, the absence of basic liberties, the subordination of the economy to politics, the loss of the Cubans’ status as citizens and other ills. Under a regime which might more accurately be defined as Fidelist, a key characteristic of which was confrontation, there was a refusal to back down until the opponent backed down. Better for the country to sink into the ocean, as was stated on one occasion.

As external conflicts supplanted internal ones, military confrontation became a way to avoid making any compromises on human rights. As the effects of the above-mentioned negotiations begin to take effect, however, external tensions will gradually give way to the tensions between people and government. What happens after that will be the sole and exclusive responsibility of Cubans themselves.

Given current conditions, doubts over the normalization of relations will be kicked aside at the negotiating table. Previous rescues were financed by subsidies from the Soviet Union and Venezuela, but the former has disappeared and the latter is bankrupt. There has also been little success at attracting foreign capital and there is no chance a new financial savior will suddenly appear.

It is a phenomenon unprecedented in history. A government that came to power by force has — despite fifty-five years of ongoing ineffectiveness and economic mismanagement — spearheaded this change without any other person, group or party managing to establish an alternative power base. With apparent continuity, Fidelism is being discarded in the name of Fidelism. It is an oddity that calls for detailed analysis, debate and research. How did a country with a western orientation and a civil society that arose in the first half of the twentieth century and lasted until mid-century — a country that had one of the most advanced constitutions for its time – manage to regress to a point of such economic, spiritual and societal decay?

The normalization of relations, although important, is only a first step. Lifting the embargo now depends more on the Cuban government than the United States. It involves moving beyond an expressed willingness to actually implementing measures to empower citizens and weaken opposition to repealing the law in Congress. Otherwise, it will work to the advantage of opponents of normalization. It is quite simple: lifting of the embargo is in the hands of Cuba, in domestic actions implemented for the benefit of Cubans.

In spite of this difficult hurdle, there will be a gradual and civilized process of transformation, whose success will depend on the commitment of the Cuban people, who have been deprived of the freedom and opportunities that are the lifeblood of a nation’s citizenry. It is one whose sense of civic responsibility has been lost but which can now no longer be ignored.

The shifting landscape will allow for a restructuring of the foundations that determine the fate of a nation and each of its people. Therefore, the importance of restoring diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States will depend to some extent on the behavior of both governments, but above all on the will and actions of Cubans themselves, a responsibility that can not be assumed by any government foreign or domestic.

19 January 2015

The Death of “Fidelism” and the Collapse of the Embargo / Dimas Castellano

The decision of the president of United States to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, the interruption of which was so negative for the Cuban people, such that everything that happened in the last 53 years is related to this event, especially the setbacks suffered in material well-being, freedom and rights, which returned the country to a situation similar to that which existed on the island before 1878.

The antecedents to the rupture date back to 1959, when the revolutionaries replaced in 1940 Constitution with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, the prime minister assumed the duties of the head of government, and the Council of Ministers the functions of Congress, together marking the start of the concentration of political and military power in one person, the concentration of property in the hands of the state, and the dismantling of civil society.

The result was a totalitarian system which we call Fidelismo, characterized among other things by volunteerism, economic inefficiency, and hostility toward the United States; a system that began it decline starting in 2006. continue reading

The escalation had as a starting point the nationalization of American properties and the response by the United States to break diplomatic relations and implement the embargo; the confrontation of over half a century that brought material losses and armed conflicts with tens of thousands of deaths, pain and suffering.

The reestablishment is the result of multiple factors, among them:

1 – The unworkability of Fidelismo, incapable of satisfying the most basic needs of the people.

2 – The failure of Venezuela, multiplied by the sharp fall in the price of oil and its effect on the subsidies to Cuba.

3 – The frustration of American policy intended to promote changes within the island.

4 – The use made by the Cuban government of mistakes in this policy to affect relations between the United States and the other countries in the region.

5- The use of the dispute by the Cuban government to justify the failures of it model.

6 – The shift in American policy since the first term of Barack Obama.

7 – The changes introduced since Raul Castro assumed the leadership of the state.

As an external conflicts tend to demobilize internal conflicts, the Cuban government utilized the dispute to block the rearmament of civil society, excuse the inefficiency, and avoid any commitment to human rights, and 18 years after taking power it institutionalized Fidelismo.

In the image and likeness of the Soviet Union it approved a the Constitution which endorsed the Communist Party as the leading force in society and of the state, and created a unicameral parliament that confirmed Fidel Castro as chief of state and the government.

The collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe unveiled the failure. The government had to introduce a package of short-term reforms that were paralyzed as soon as they begin to give birth to a middle-class.

The inefficiency resulting is reflected in the loss of any relationship between wages and the cost of living, the growth in the activities outside the law to survive, the massive exodus and the decline in population.

In this context General Raul Castro assumed leadership of the state and implemented a package of measures that demonstrated the exhaustion of Fidelismo, because the efficiency to conserve power turned out not to be transferable to the economy.

Worsening conditions and despair begin to march at a rhythm faster than that of the changes, one of its manifestations was the growing exodus, which represented a potential danger for the United States

To this we add a foreign-policy deployed by Cuba toward Latin America that managed to affect American influence in the region. As a result of these and other events the dispute became detrimental for both parties. The Cuban government failed in the attempt to manage an efficient economy and the United States government failed to yield to Cuba: Fidelismo failed and the embargo failed.

This no-win situation led to indirect contacts which led to direct and secret conversations, accelerated by various factors, the most decisive of which was the danger that the American citizen Alan Gross would die due to the worsening of his health.

Without ignoring the major obstacles to be overcome, the reestablishment will prevent an exit strategy that threatened violence and a massive immigration to the United States, and at the same time will remove the bases that allowed the totalitarian model to decide the fate of the country and each one of its inhabitants.

Because of this, the decision is useful to the interest of the United States; useful to the Cuban government, to whom it provides a “decent” exit; and above all, useful to Cubans in creating an environment favorable to their empowerment

The intention of the Cuban government, more than renouncing the confrontation, consisted in forcing in the United States to relax the American measures without undertaking internal changes that threaten the power of the Cuban government. However President Obama’s speech and the communication from the White House do not respond directly to this intention.

What’s more, the US president did not mention the Government, but rather Cuba and its people, announcing together with the instructions to reestablish relations, a package of measures directed to create conditions for citizen empowerment, in a context characterized by the end of the Fidelismo and growing discontent among Cubans.

Obama’s speech, although it doesn’t directly require the Cuban government to reestablish civil liberties, places it in an awkward position in its own country and before the international community. With that in place, the “enemy” is in the foreground of the Cuban government’s conduct with its own people. The rest is up to us.

Although the government and its press tried to make us believe that what happened was a limited exchange of prisoners and the reestablishment of relations, going forward attention will focus on the relationship between the people and the government, such that the news of this December 17 is the death certificate of Fidelismo and the event of greatest political significance in Cuba since 1959.

More important than agreeing or not agreeing with what happened, is taking advantage of the positive brought by the new scenario to fight for the recovery of the condition of citizenship. The success of the measures announced by the White House depend not so much on the will of the regime but on that of the Cuban people; something that cannot be brought by Obama or any external force, but only by ourselves.

The controls on a people lacking the arms of civic institutions will slow the effects, but they cannot avoid them. The government’s first manifestations of resistance was to remain silent about the measures proposed by the White House and to simply say that with a people like ours we can reach the 570th year of the Revolution.

However, the transformations that are happening in the economy will move inexorably to other sectors of society. And in this process, the speed, the rhythm and the direction, which were defined by the Cuban government before the normalization of relations, will suffer serious alterations, among others the emergence of a middle-class, the rebirth of civility, and the recovery of the condition of citizenship.

Published in Diario de Cuba

2 January 2015

“I Always Did What My Conscience Dictated” / Dimas Castellano, Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Oscar Espinosa Chepe in his house in Havana

One of the central figures of the Cuban opposition, who participated in the revolution before its ultimate victory but ended up being sentenced to 20 years in Castro’s prisons, was the independent economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who died in Madrid. He recounts his life and ideas in this interview.

Born in Cienfuegos on November 29, 1940, Chepe joined the revolutionary movement while studying at the Instituto de Segunda Enseñanza in that city. After 1959 he held various positions in the Socialist Youth (JS) and in the Association of Young Rebels (AJR), in the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), in the Central Planning Group (JUCEPLAN) and in the office of Prime Minister Fidel Castro.

He was punished for his opinions by being made to collect bat guano from caves and to work in agriculture. While on the State Committee for Economic Collaboration he was in charge of economic and technical and scientific relations with Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. He served as economic adviser at the Cuban Embassy in Belgrade and as a specialist at the National Bank of Cuba, from which he was fired for his beliefs in 1992.

Thereafter, Chepe worked as an economist and independent journalist, for which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in March 2003. He was released on parole in November 2004 due to ill health.

The following interview of Chepe was conducted by Dimas Castellanos in Havana in 2009.

DC: You are described as an economist or an independent journalist, but we know little about the other aspects of your life. What were your early years like, your family environment?

OEC: I was born in Cienfuegos. My parents were from humble origins. They had business dealings with a string of pharmacies. My mother was also involved in the real estate business and together with my father came to own a drugstore in partnership with other people. I had a happy childhood but I was always interested in history, politics and social justice. My father encouraged these interests. He was a member of the old Communist Party and participated in the struggle against the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado, a cause for which he spent time in prison. During my undergraduate studies, I established contacts with members of the Socialist Youth (Juventud Socialista, or JS). continue reading

I participated with the JS and other students in demonstrations against the Batista dictatorship. During the sugar strike of 1955 students were going to workers’ assemblies to encourage them to join the strike. At these activities I met union leaders who would later belong to the People’s Socialist Party (PSP).

Did you suffer any consequences as a result of your activities?

In 1957 I was accused of a sabotage attack in Cienfuegos. I had no involvement but I was imprisoned and tried by the Emergency Court of Santa Clara. At the trial I was defended by the man who would later become President-of-the-Republic, Dr. Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado. I was acquitted but the threat from the chief-of-police of Cienfuegos forced me to leave town. For that reason I came to Havana and began my studies at a school called Candler Methodist College, where I continued my political activity. That’s why I was expelled from the school in early 1958.

In what political organization were you active at the time?

I was a member of a student movement called the March 13th Revolutionary Directorate until the triumph of the Revolution. Then, after the JS was reorganized and it became the youth organization of the People’s Socialist Party, I re-established ties with the organization. I was its president in Cienfuegos and a member of the provincial committee in the former province of Las Villas until youth organizations were folded into the AJR. I was then in charge of propaganda for the provincial committee in Las Villas and served on the national committee. While in this organization, I helped set up committees in Cienfuegos as well as those in rural areas that had opposed the government.

I remember a peasant leader who was working with us, Juan Gonzalez, who was later killed in an ambush. Much later, when I was on the Provincial Committee, one of our drivers was killed in another ambush. His name was Hector Martinez. He was a humble young peasant and, like all of us, very eager.

It was a very sad period, a time when Cubans were caught up in a war that made no sense because it was a war between brothers. The government cruelly evicted many families from the mountains. They lost their land and their belongings because it was thought they were cooperating with the rebels. The departure of these families created ghost towns in Pinar del Rio and other provinces.

It was a bloody period, one when hatred prevailed. It lasted several years and in the end totalitarianism won by instilling fear in society. Cubans as a whole, including those who risked their lives for an ideal, were shattered.

Was there anything from that period that had an impact on you?

There were many things. While I was in Cienfuegos, I remember the first militias that went to fight in Escambray. I was part of a battalion that was took over Cayo Loco, where we found remnants of Batista’s navy, which were under suspicion. I also remember the enthusiasm of that era, when the revolution had overwhelming support.

Another emotional moment was when the revolution was declared to be socialist. I was speaking at an AJR assembly in Sanctus Spiritus and suddenly there was a huge crowd in the street waving red flags and shouting, “Long live the socialist revolution!” And Fidel Castro made the proclamation in Havana on the eve of the Bay of Pigs.

The next day, after we found out about the landing on the beach, I boarded a jeep with 30-caliber machine guns — not knowing where we were going — to protect the airport at Santa Clara. I was somewhat like a commissar, with militiamen who did not have much experience but had a total willingness to sacrifice. Our mission was to protect this strategic location, which was not far from the Ciénaga de Zapata, from aerial attack. Fortunately, nothing happened.

Those experiences had a big impact on us. We thought we were going to turn Cuba into a paradise and people were full of hope. We had total confidence in the future, in our leaders, especially in Fidel, in Che, in Raul. To many of us from the JS our greatest inspiration was Raul Castro. We knew he had been in the JS. It was a time of tremendous enthusiasm and naivete, feelings that subsequently gave way to colossal frustration.

After that first experience in the youth movement, did you join any other political organization?

I joined the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI). I became core secretary at the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), where I was departmental head when the party was forming within the ORI. There was Antero Regalado, an old peasant leader, and other directors who held high-level positions in INRA.

 At that time was the INRA something of a parallel government?

Yes, yes, it was a government. Even the agrarian development zones were almost republics. The heads of those zones confiscated land and had tremendous power. In supply planning, where I worked, they first put a Latin American in charge, but the man turned out to be a disaster. There was no one else to take his place, so they put me in charge. I was about 21 or 22-years-old and my only qualification was a high school diploma.

I remember at the time they fired an engineer, Santos Ríos, from INRA. Fidel Castro was President but in effect he was running the agency. After they removed Santo Ríos, they appointed Carlos Rafael Rodriguez president of INRA. I was given a position I didn’t want because he knew I had no experience. My goal at the time was to study economics at the University of Havana. There were also some special plans over which only Fidel Castro had control. Three weeks after completion of the one-year plan, Fidel’s envoys appeared with different plans, so all our work had to be thrown out and resources had to be reallocated to other planning projects. It was crazy.

After that did you hold some other position within the government?

Later I transferred to JUCEPLAN. There were big turnovers there and they asked Carlos Rafael for additional personnel. I was one of those selected. I went to work in the agricultural sector as department chief in the Supply Plan for Agriculture and Fisheries. I worked by day and studied economics by night at the University of Havana until the economic research teams were created. Then I was chosen to work on the livestock team.

A few months after these teams were formed, it seems that Fidel Castro decided he wanted some of them to work directly with him. We were relocated to 11th Street, near the home of Celia Sanchez. I did as I was told. I was assigned to a group specializing in artificial insemination. It was crazy because insemination is supposed to be done with animals specially selected for certain traits. Instead, they were inseminating any cow who happened to come along.

At the time I went to the countryside and realized what a mess it was. It was the peasants themselves and the INRA directors who showed me how bad things were. Around this time I began reading the works of some socialist economists. Among the Soviets I remember Liberman. Among the Poles there was Oskar Lange, W. Brus and M. Kalecki, who provided critiques within a socialist framework.

I began to realize a lot of things. Working with Fidel I understood that some things were irrational, such as the abolition of material incentives, which Che had championed, the systematic gutting of accounting systems and economic controls, and especially the mass confiscation of private property.

I was a spectator to the conflict between Che Guevara on the one hand and his defense of the budgetary finance system, which proposed to monopolize the entire economy, and Carlos Rafael Rodriguez on the other and his support for a more rational and flexible style of self-management.

I later discovered, however, that in such a dysfunctional system this too was impractical. When it came to theory, Carlos was brilliant but, though he was astute, he did not engage with Che directly but rather through third parties. Che was a man who was completely wrong when it came to economic theory. History has amply demonstrated this and the budgetary finance system is not even mentioned in Cuba today.

In light of the situation, I shared my views with my team. After I defended them, they took me to a meeting to try to dissuade me from my “misconceptions.” I remained unconvinced so they then took me to have a discussion with José Llanusa Gobel, who at the time was Minister of Education and someone very close to Fidel Castro.

What happened at this meeting?

We had a heated discussion. He tried to convince me, which made me increasingly more steadfast in my beliefs about the very things he was talking about, such as building communism and abolishing money. I asked him what the economic and rational basis for this was. I acknowledged that there had to be moral incentives, but at the same time you had to pay people more, in accordance with the quantity and quality of the work they performed. This is the position Raúl Castro himself ultimately adopted. Llanusa told me I was evil.

A short time later they bought a bull in Canada that looked like an elephant. We got word that we should go see it. Fidel was there. He was very impressesd, walking all around it. Later, the bull was discovered to have been injured. It seems they took too much semen from him before he was sold, which made him damaged goods. Llanusa arrived while I was there and went off to talk with Fidel, so we left. The next afternoon Fidel arrived at our office with his bodyguards and began saying offensive things to me.

“We know who you are hanging out with and who you are meeting.”

I said, “Look, Comandante, you have been misinformed. I am not meeting with anyone  nor hanging out with anyone. I am just telling you what I have been taught at the University of Havana.”

He took that as a sign of disrespect and became enraged. I only told him the truth. My point of view was based on what I had studied at the university. Many of our classes were taught by Soviet or Hispano-Soviet professors and our basic textbook was Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. From that moment I wanted in some way to oppose his program. I could not remain silent in the face of so many blunders and nonsensical policies which, among other things, were direct contradictions of basic Marxist principles.

Did this lead to any repercussions?

Two or three days later the head of the team called me in and told me I had to leave. That was in June 1967. They sacked me but kept sending a paycheck to my house until January 1968. At that time the “micro-faction” trial was taking place. Then the party secretary in Havana, a man named Betancourt, called to ask me what I thought of the trial since the statements of the accused happened to coincide with some of things I had done. Then he asked if I still felt the same way.

I said, “Yes. If I told you that I had changed, I’d be lying. Do you want me to lie?”

He said, “Then we’re going to send you on a heroic mission in order to reform you. And what you’ll find is that you have never worked so hard in your life.”

They sent me to clean bat guano out of caves such as La Jaula, which is on the road towards Escalera de Jaruco in Quivicán, and in Pinar del Río, where I got sick. As a result they transferred me from there to the Havana Green Belt to work in brigades of people convicted of petty crimes. It was very humiliating for me because I considered myself a revolutionary. It was a hard time but I still believed in the revolution, still thought mistakes were being made and had to put up with it until they were corrected, but time passed and nothing was resolved.

After all that how was it possible you went to work in the foreign service?

After almost two years of punishment I wrote to Carlos Rafael Rodríguez and also to Osvaldo Dorticós, who had known me in Cienfuegos. Then one fine day Llanusa called me and apologized. He told me he had made a huge mistake, that he had never ordered them to do this to me and asked if I would go work for him. I told him no, that I would not work with him. He asked me where I wanted to work. I said in the Ministry of Sugar with Miguel Ángel Figueras, an economist who had been my professor and who was vice-minister there. He picked up the phone, called him and immediately I began work at the ministry, though I was really very disillusioned.

One day I went to the Technical Assistance Center (CAT), where Humberto Knight was the coordinator. He was a little leery and asked if I really wanted to work there. I said yes because I had always admired Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, who headed that office. Carlos Rafael was a very intelligent and educated man. He had been a member of the old Communist Party. I started working there in an auxiliary capacity but I devised a comprehensive methodology for evaluating the work of foreign specialists and was congratulated by high-level officials from other organizations. Then Carlos Rafael called me in to explain it to him. When we started talking, I told him, “Doctor, you were commissioner in Cienfuegos at the end of the revolution of ’33.”

He asked me, “How do you know that?” He then looked at me and blurted out, “Oh, aren’t you the son of Oscar Espinosa?”

It so happened that my father once told me that he had participated in the creation of a soviet, was taken prisoner and was sent to Havana. Then Carlos Rafael, who held a position in the Hundred Days’ government, looked at him and said, “Come along. You’re going to be a prisoner of the revolution.”

Then my father responded, “This isn’t a revolution; it’s a piece of shit.”

This offended him. At times my father could be somewhat aggressive and the Communist Party of that era was extremely arrogant and sectarian. Carlos Rafael told me the same story during our conversation and said to me, “Your father was a shithead. Are you going to be like him?”

In short I worked with him, a few yards from his office in the Palace of the Revolution, dealing with relations with Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Then I also began dealing with the economic and scientific-technical ties with Yugoslavia. I must admit that, in terms of opportunity, I enjoyed working alongside Dr. Rodriguez, as he was respectfully referred to overseas. I learned a lot, especially in regard to his penchant for anti-dogmatic opinions and open dialogue. Given the position he held, he reserved his personal opinions for a narrow circle of people, though there was never any doubt he was a committed Marxist.

What did you do there?

I sat on intergovernmental commissions and served as secretary on those commissions. I also held discussions with our foreign partners on setting up accords, general conditions of co-operation and state credit agreements, some with special governmental powers. This was quite unusual considering I was never a member of the  Cuban Communist Party, which was a basic prerequisite for participating in these types of negotiations.

Later we moved to First and B streets in Vedado. It was then that I began to travel. My first trip was to Hungary in 1973, which I made with Carlos Rafael. It was awful. There was an enormous number of documents to be signed and when I looked over them, I realized half of them had not been signed. Carlos Rafael and Miklos Ajtai, the Hungarian vice-president, were supposed to have signed them. I thought this was going to be a disaster. I spoke openly with Carlos Rafael and explained to him what had happened. He said, “No problem. Bring them over,” and the two of them set about signing them, even though the signing ceremony had already been televised.

I also spent many years as secretary for Czechoslovakia and participated in many conferences with vice-presidents of the Cuban government. With José Ramón Fernández, Ricardo Cabrisas and other senior leaders for example. My department also oversaw the commercial interests of the State Committee for Economic Cooperation. We had a good working relationship, but I think he appointed me departmental head because of the problems he had with Fidel Castro.

What was not approved?

I was never formally appointed. It was a position with the Central Committee but I was not appointed. I was there for ten years, negotiating millions of rubles worth of business. We later went to the ministries, and ministers the vice-presidents provided signatures. It was for different types of business, such as sending young people to work in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. I am talking about volunteers. I worked out the language in all those documents. In the case of Czechoslovakia I held discussions with the Czech vice-minister.

But things did not go well. What happened was that they told the kids they could not bring this thing or that thing, that they could keep only a portion of the money they were paid and the rest they had to turn over to the government. Nevertheless, the kids were dying to go. The Czechs and Hungarians also complained that our young people were all in love and always screwing around but, when it came time to work, they were better than those from other countries.

How long did you do this type of work?

I dealt with Hungary and Czechoslovakia until 1984, when I was made economic advisor in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. I had an office and a lot of autonomy. This situation created a lot of tension with the ambassador but in terms of the work itself I had no problems. It was the beginning of perestroika and I had said that I was in agreement with Gorbachev.

When a Yugoslav man approached me, I immediately informed the security office of what had happened but I waited a few hours before informing the ambassador. They took advantage of the situation and used it as a pretext to get rid of me. Fidel had been there during a visit to Belgrade and had seen me. From the look on his face it was obvious he was not happy I was there. Then, when I went back to Cuba in April of 1987 for vacation, they told me I could not go back. They told me they were trying to protect me, that the enemy was trying to do me harm. They didn’t even let me go back to collect my things. My wife Miriam was also a diplomat in charge of cultural affairs, press releases and sports. They let her go back to collect our belongings and she kept working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but I was prevented from working in the diplomatic field and was sent to work at the National Bank.

I was a specialist dealing with businesses affiliated with the National Assembly of People’s Power and the Ministry of Domestic Commerce. I started making statements about the need for reform. In March 1992 I was summoned to a meeting where they even brought up my problems with Fidel. They told me that I was raising issues that had already been discussed at the last party congress. I stated that I did not have to accept what the congress had agreed upon because I was not a party member. I began arguing with them, citing the congress’ own statistics. I was then removed from my post at the bank and sent me to work at a tiny bank near my house, which you and I both know, dealing with paperwork of no importance.

Anyway, little by little I began typing articles and sending them around, sharing them with friends. That’s how you and I became acquainted. Colleagues of Oswaldo Payá also began having contact with me. You later helped me transcribe the articles I typed onto  a computer. Then my circle of acquaintances significantly widened. I had a program on Radio Martí called “Talking to Chepe” until I was arrested in 2003 and was was given a 20-year prison sentence.

What effect does a prison sentence have on a person like yourself who has dedicated his entire life to the revolution and to socialism? 

It was very difficult, including what was a very delicate moment for me when I was being transported to Guantanamo to serve my sentence. Even the Batista government would have been more forthright in the way I was tried. The charges they brought against me were so crude. They accused me of being an American agent when everyone knew that I had never agreed with American policy. They accused me of meeting with certain American congressmen when they knew that I had told those congressmen they should lift the embargo. It was really awful.

I came to the conclusion that I had followed the revolutionary line but that it was the government itself that gone against that line, that it had become stagnant, conservative and counter-revolutionary. It wasn’t even nationalistic because through its actions it had distorted the national identity. It had forced millions of Cubans to leave the country while making a significant portion of the remaining population want to leave the island as well.

Do you feel hatred to some of the people who caused you harm?

No, I try to avoid hate because it stifles your intellect. You have to look for a point of reflection in order to try to understand because some things are not easy to understand. I have come to the conclusion that in Cuba there can be no end to the crisis without reconciliation. Cubans have only one possible path, like in Spain, like in Chile. Of course, there can be justice — justice for everyone — but Cuba has no way of solving its problems unless it is based on national compromise and reconciliation. We have to look for compromise.

I envision initiating a dialogue that might end — as happened in the 1930s — with a new constitution that resembles as much as possible the constitution of 1940. The situation now is so serious that we have to take a series of measures such as granting peasants access to the land, increasing the range of self-employment options, legalizing small and medium-sized private businesses and later establishing a truly representative constituent assembly like the one in 1940 that included conservatives, Christians, communists, liberals, everyone. That’s my proposal.

Before, however, you felt hatred. Does this mean you have evolved?

Yes, that was a phase. I have to acknowledge that I came from the communist ranks, where they used to talk about class struggle and where in a certain way they preached hate, but I have overcome all that. I  have realized that it doesn’t get you anywhere, that it doesn’t allow you to be analytical, because you start off with a series of prejudices which leads to a biased analysis.

Of course, I am human and I have feelings. They have haunted me at times and at any given moment this type of sentiment can disrupt any analysis I might be doing, but I try to avoid it. I don’t get upset about it. I look at Cuban leaders in a positive light when they say things I believe to be correct.

For example, Raúl Castro gave a speech on July 26, 2007 that I believe to be that of a realist and I have said so. Many people have attacked me for that and for many other things that I said about people who are not exactly friends of mine. I think I must stick with this approach so that hatred and prejudice do not blind me and prevent me from looking at things analytically. There is a rule I try to follow, though I don’t know if I always succeed, which is to have a warm heart and a cool head.

After revolutions succeed and their leaders come to power — becoming the law unto themselves — do other revolutionaries end up being the victims?

I am aware of that but that’s not revolution. What has happened here has been an attack on power by people who crave power above all else. That does not qualify as revolution. The fact that a revolution may have been violent does not mean that all revolutions have to resort to violence. There are many revolutions in different spheres of human life that have led to advancement, to development, to progress. I don’t necessarily associate revolution with violence.

Given all that has happened to you, have some of your ideas changed?

I have come to the conclusion that no one doctrine has a monopoly on truth. I believe, for example, that those promoting private property and those promoting public property are not mutually exclusive. They can co-exist. There are countries in the world where there is real public property — not like in Cuba, where it’s an illusion — and private property as well. There are markets; there is competition. In other words, the two things are compatible. The most successful societies in the world are those that have adopted this model in one way or another.

For example, in terms of living standards, wealth per capita, transparency and low levels of corruption as measured by the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index, nations like Holland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada and Denmark rank high. Each has its own peculiarities, so they cannot be copied. But that is the way.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the recent world economic crisis have demonstrated that neither extreme individualism nor total state control offers solutions. We must go in search of a society where private property exists because the desire for social status and material success — within certain regulatory boundaries and controls — can be extremely beneficial.

But at the same time public ownership is also useful because in many sectors the potential profits are not large enough to spur private initiative and therefore the state must play an important role. Although they do not produce high returns, certain activities such as education, public health and other areas require the state to be involved for the reasons discussed or for strategic considerations. I am referring, of course, to a democratic state.

Do you consider yourself to be a Marxist?

No, frankly I would say no. When asked if he was a Marxist, even Marx himself said no. Marx is a man who must be looked at in the context of his time. The problems of the 19th century are not those of today. To look to Marx for solutions to our current problems is a mistake. Even some of his basic proposals did not come to pass.

His follower Rosa Luxemburg recognized through her own analysis that his theory of the impoverishment of the working class did not hold up. The prediction that socialism would first triumph in Western Europe, where there was a larger and more developed working class, also did not come true. I don’t think Marx had aspirations to be a soothsayer. There is only one passage in the Critique of the Ghota Program which speaks about the future. For that reason I am not a Marxist; I find that absurd.

I believe the world needs a series of solutions that can be found in neither the 19th nor the 20th century. They have to be devised now. Even institutions that were valuable in the 20th century, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, will have to adapt to new circumstances. Some concepts which were valid in the past are obsolete today given the unstoppable advance of globalization, science and technology. By necessity new ways of thinking and interacting in the world will have to be implemented.

I believe that international cooperation will play a much more important role than it has so far. In turn there will be a better chance of fighting ignorance, hunger and poverty on a global scale, as well as the challenges to human life brought on by environmental impacts. I’m sure this process will lead to the strengthening of the United Nations, giving this institution a much wider mandate.

Were you released “on parole?” What is that?

“Parole” for medical reasons means that I can go back to prison whenever I am considered cured, which is ridiculous since my illnesses are chronic. They summoned me to the Playa Municipal Provincial Court two years after my release to remind me of this, to tell me that I could not leave Havana without permission, that there was a commission in the neighborhood supervising me and, depending on what I say, I could  go back to jail.

Above my apartment here, in #8, there is a State Security office that I think is monitoring me. They don’t even let me go outside. They apply different policies to different people. They allow some of those freed to leave. I have asked to go to the United States but they turned me down. I have even been invited to events in Poland, Puerto Rico and other places and, even though I have filed all the necessary paperwork, I have never received the authorization to leave: the famous White Card.

How did you see the relationship of economics to politics?

They are inseparable. In this regard Marx might have had some valid arguments. He used to say that society is based on production relationships and I still believe that, though I don’t deny that there is a relationship between the foundation and the framework above it. I believe that if there is more economic freedom, there will be more political freedom. Fidel Castro is very clear about this. He denies that there is economic reform because he knows that one thing leads to another and the consequences are inevitable.

The United States has imposed enormous restrictions on economic trade with Cuba: they don’t offer credit, you have to pay in advance, they don’t buy anything, you have to use foreign vessels. Nevertheless, with all these obstacles, the United States is now at least Cuba’s fourth largest trading partner. That is bound to have an impact. If there were more freedom, we would feel more in control of our own future. That would give us the motivation to fight for our political freedom, for the creation of a favorable economic environment.

The new law allowing individuals to lease agricultural land is full of snags and that is not by accident. It was carefully designed to make sure that people do not feel like owners. That is why I believe there is a very big correlation between economics and politics. Cuba is a country that has a geographical position and socio-political traditions are better than China’s. But even in China, with all its economic changes, people are beginning to push back. The protests there over the economic crisis and the closing of factories are huge, to say nothing of Russia.

Freedom is also an aspect of production. I defend this thesis because I believe competition plays a more important role than freedom of movement or freedom of thought. It allows you to choose the best option in a world with ever more choices, where dialogue and responsible, civilized debate are essential for sound and sustainable development.

From your standpoint what might be the main obstacles to change in Cuba?

The first is having the political will to move forward in a gradual way. I would begin with agriculture, giving land to people, giving them the means to pay for it, a way for people to come together on a voluntary basis. The state can retain a role in certain areas. There’s no contradiction there.

What the private sector will be and what the public sector will be will depend on results and concrete conditions. I think public involvement can be very efficient when it comes to education, public health and other sectors. Before the revolution students in Cienfuegos went from private primary schools to public secondary schools. It wasn’t because the public schools were free; it was because the quality was better. Private-sector education can be allowed to operate within certain guidelines, as was the case before 1959.

I came to Havana to go to a private school. You still had to pass the state exams. You have to avoid extremes. State extremism fell with the Berlin Wall and extreme capitalism fell the current economic crisis. Now Obama wants to guarantee health insurance for more than 40 million Americans and to improve public education, so he is being called a socialist. That’s nonsense. We must promote private initiatives as a key aspect of social progress and economic development but subject to regulation to curb excessive ambition and unjust enrichment.

Do you believe American policy is partly to blame for Cuba’s problems?

I do believe American policy has a degree of responsibility for this, a big one. I have always said that the Cuban government had two great allies. The Soviet Union gave a huge amount of economic support to the regime. But on the political side there has been the United States, with its unwavering stance, that has fostered totalitarianism. American policy and the embargo was like oxygen to the most conservative factions within the party.

Your book Chronicles of a Disaster? was published in 2003 and in 2007 Revolution or Devolution was published. Is there a direct relationship between them?

There is a direct relationship. They are collections of articles that express my viewpoints about the genesis of the Cuban drama, theories on how to overcome the crisis and proposals for national reconstruction in a framework of reconciliation that sets aside the hatreds that for so long have poisoned Cuban society. They cover different eras. Chronicles of a Disaster is about one era and Revolution or Devolution? is about another. I would say they represent a maturation in thinking, one achieved through reflection, dialog with others — including some with whom I disagree on several issues — and many years spent in opposition to totalitarianism.

For example, in the last book there is a series of articles I wrote about the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN. This led me to collect a significant amount of data and to study the history of Cuban economic theory, all of which showed that Cuba before the revolution was not the disaster that government propaganda would have us believe. This research has led me to the conclusion that, although there were serious problems hampering national development, from 1902 to 1958 Cuban had progressed in spite of its various governments and not because of the desires of those governments.

Cuban civil society had made advances in education and public health. In some significant ways such as the number of doctors per capita, life expectancy and infant mortality, the public health situation was better than that of European countries. Advances in education as well as in public health were comparable to those of Europe, not to Latin America, where the only countries comparable to Cuba were Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and perhaps Costa Rica.

Cuba did not begin in 1959, regardless of the fact that great strides were made in medicine and that educational efforts became focused on areas that had previously been marginalized, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, even these accomplishments, which were achieved through the efforts of the people, are currently being undone due to the lack of necessary financial support.

In the introduction to Revolution or Devolution? Carmelo Mesa Lago writes, “The writings of Oscar Espinosa have inspired and influenced the work of many Cuban economists living overseas.” What does that statement mean to you and how did your training allow you to reach that level of professionalism? 

Well, I am very flattered that a person whom I greatly admire and whom I consider to be the greatest living Cuban economist, someone who works for the International Labor Organization, has made this assessment of my work. For me that’s very heartening.

What I have done is to examine data and information, summarize and research official statistics, and look for misrepresentations. I rely on data from CEPAL, the UN, foreign publications and the Cuban press. If you were to go to my house, you would find thousands of clippings from periodicals and journals such as El País, ABC, El Mundo, El Nuevo Herald, The Economist and even official domestic publications such and Granma and Juventud Rebelde. I use them to analyze the economy as well and social and historical events. I really like history. It’s what I like most. I am a history nut. I always have a history book in my hand.

Often I see parallels in Cuban history. Many things seem to repeat themselves. For example there was Spain’s obstinate refusal to for carry out reforms and its rigidly conservative stance. Its insistence on not taking any action at that time became one of the root causes of the Cuban wars of independence. And now there’s something similar going on: the obstinance of the Cuban government means all doorways are closed off. So far there has been no danger of things blowing up, but no one knows if that will continue to be the case.

You have made important recommendations but the government, which would have to implement them, is not considering them. What is the significance of your work?

It is gratifying to know that my articles are read and heard on foreign radio stations. It is gratifying to know that some people access them through the internet or read them in newspapers published overseas. That some television interviews I give to foreign broadcasters make their way back here. That people tell me, “I saw you on television!” It is gratifying that friends are generous enough to make copies of them.

This is just the beginning; I am sure things will change for the better. Not too long ago we didn’t have the internet. Though there are a lot of hassles, we now have it. Who knows if one day soon I might also have it in my home.

Do you believe this tiny seed might germinate at some point?

That’s the idea, to sow the seeds of the future. I might live to see it or I might not, but I am modestly trying to independently collaborate on that because, as you know, I don’t belong to any organization. Sometimes I am asked to join a collaborative effort and I agree to do it. And if I don’t want to, I don’t agree to do it. And that’s how I participate, by offering my ideas. I do what I can. I even think that my work might, as you put it, be useful to the government itself. I hope it might help lead Cuba towards democracy. I would have no objection to that but I do not have any personal ambitions.

What do you feel would be the optimal outcome and what might be the possible outcome for Cuba?

To me the optimal outcome for Cuba would be something along the lines of the 1940 constitution. It seems to me that such a Cuba would be an expression of José Martí’s desire for a “republic with everyone and for the good of everyone.” It would be one in which individual aspirations are supported, one with private ownership where market forces are an important tool for the distribution of resources, where there is competition and the opportunity for improvement. There would be significant public participation that complements private initiative, but always within a democratic framework. There would be debates and political parties but we would not have to wait until an election is held to make decisions.

I think these things are possible; I don’t think it is a dream. It is something that other countries have achieved and I ask myself why we cannot also achieve the same thing through tenacity and through major investments in education and culture, which would lay the groundwork for fulfilling our destiny. I believe that throughout our history the Cuban people have demonstrated such motivation and aspiration, and can do so again.

What events have had a big impact on you personally?

Some things have had a big impact on me both positively and negatively. After the victory on January 1, 1959 I had a lot of dreams, though it all ended in enormous national frustration. It was a day I will never forget.

I was active in the youth movement and later I served as a diplomat, working to obtain advantages for my country. I have always fulfilled my duty and followed my conscience. Perhaps mistakes were made but they were always made with the best of intentions, trying to do something useful for Cuba.

As far as negative aspects go, there are also events that have had an impact on me. In 1967 I was expelled from economic research teams and was sent to clean dung out of caves and to work alongside criminals. In 1987 I was forced to leave the foreign service. In 1992 I was fired from the National Bank. They sacked my wife Marian from her job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just because she decided to stay with me. Another terrible blow came when I was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to twenty years in prison under inhuman conditions. All this was very hard but, you know, life goes on, thank God. I don’t know why. I’ve always pulled myself back up, though it wasn’t easy.

When your mother died, you were in jail…

My mother died a few weeks after I was released from prison, so I was able to be with her. By then she was very badly off. Much of the time she was unconscious and was suffering a lot. She was an example of hard work, of tenacity, of struggle and at the same time she was very tolerant. She never was a communist. She always rejected those theories. She was very devout but very tolerant. Even when I was involved in Marxist activities, she never objected. She respected my decision just as she respected it when I decided to oppose totalitarianism.

Do you feel fulfilled?

I feel fulfilled. I feel that I did something for my country. At certain times it was difficult because I was misunderstood by many countrymen, but I can also see the fruits of my labor. People have become aware and many countrymen — many intellectuals, valuable people — have joined the opposition movement. I think the struggle to achieve the kind of society I have hoped for — one of national reconciliation, a vision that I have carried around with me for many years — is paying off and that is quite comforting.

Do you have friends and/or enemies?

I don’t consider anyone to be an enemy, though some do consider me to be their enemy. I don’t hate anyone because hate doesn’t allow you to think. As a human being I can at any given moment become infuriated and anger takes over, but I try to let it go. I have a lot of friends, people I really admire, including some whose viewpoints are different. You yourself were one of those people. We have discussed them on occasion, arguing over our ideas, but we are still friends. There are people overseas with whom I have never spoken in person but have spent years talking on the phone: economists, scholars, journalists. So I have many people to help me, who want to support me in my fight.

Your mother was Catholic. Did her beliefs have any influence on you? 

My mother was Catholic and very devout but never wanted to impose her beliefs on me. My father was a communist but ended up being religious too. He left Cuba and ultimately died in New York. In his later years he completely rejected this system and died a Christian — a very, very devout Catholic. He was an intelligent man. Even when he was a communist, he enrolled me in a Methodist elementary school — the Elizabeth Bowman, which was run by American missionaries — of which I have very fond memories. Even before he was a believer, he encouraged me to study the Bible because he considered it to be valuable.

Then I met other communists who felt the same way. For example, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, who knew the Bible very well and quoted it extensively. Or Juan Marinello who on one occasion, when asked if a library were burning down, what one book would be rescue, said the bible.

As you look back on your life, is there anything you would have done differently or are you at peace?

I am at peace with everything I have done in my life. I am very proud that I always did what my conscience dictated. When I worked with Fidel Castro, I could have done what everyone else did and I would not have had any problems. I could have taken an opportunistic approach and accepted everything he said at the time.

When I lost my job in foreign affairs, I could have adapted. I had a comfortable position, signing documents on behalf of the government even though I was not a party member. I was sent as an adviser to different countries, to Granada where I met with Maurice Bishop, to North Korea where I met with Kim Il Sung. I don’t go looking for problems. But my conscience told me to do something else and it made them look at me as though I were an enemy, which brought me to where I am now.

When all is said and done, I have to thank them. All the persecution and harassment led me to understand that the Cuban situation cannot be solved with tepid reforms. What is needed is a radical change to the whole dysfunctional system that has led the nation to disaster.

I am the son of the bourgeoisie. My family had money. My mother owned a pharmaceutical company and real estate in Cienfuegos and Havana. I left all that behind and joined the revolution without any interest in material benefit. I did not join the revolution out of class interest or out of any other interest but out of a concern for social justice and sincere love for my country.

I have come to the conclusion that democracy is essential. It is a political weapon, a social weapon, an economic weapon. Democracy and freedom are essential for a nation’s development in every area. Respect for individual sovereignty within a democratic legal framework is one of the determinants for the advancement of a people. I think one of the great advantages of American society and other societies is that they have managed to maintain balance and a capacity for self-criticism across generations.

What other national historic figures have had an influence on your personal development?

There are historical personalities whom I consider to be irreplaceable figures. First of all there is Félix Varela. When one reads about him, one wonders how a man of his era could say the things he said. It’s not what he said, but when and with what insight he said them.

There is also Martí, a key figure in Cuban history, to say nothing of military and political geniuses such as Antonio Maceo y Máximo Gómez. We also cannot forget Fernando Ortiz, the third discoverer of Cuba, a cornerstone of Cuban culture, a man who rejected tempting political offers and eschewed party politics so that he could carry out his research without other commitments.

There’s Juan Gualberto Gómez, a slave who became a remarkable figure. There’s Enrique José Varona… There are even figures whom we have to reconsider in light of independence. Although they made mistakes, as is the case with some who sought mere autonomy, they played an important role in the formation of the national consciousness by cleverly using the limited freedoms granted by the Spanish government to create conditions that would later allow those who sought independence to show that there was no alternative other than complete separation from Spain.

These include Jorge Mañach and Ramiro Guerra, whose book Sugar and the Population of the Antilles is one of the most important treatises to have been published in Cuba. The list of extraordinary men that our small island has produced is enormous.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I believe that what really matters is what one says. That’s what I can say.

From Diario de Cuba

13 December 2013

Wages in Mariel: One Good Thing and a Lot of Bad Things / Dimas Castellanos

From cubacontemporanea.com

In accordance  with the new Foreign Investment Law*, workers will be engaged by an State-run employing organisation. When you factor in the fact that the only union permitted is the one representing the interests of the State, we are looking at a capitalist-style relationship in which the workers have no-one to defend them. Although we already knew about this, the information provided by the Director General of the regulating office of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) is surprising just the same. Let’s see: continue reading

First of all, the ZEDM workers will receive 80% of the pay rate agreed between the employment agency and the investors. Next, payment will be in Cuban pesos (CUP), so that, in order to pay for nearly all their daily necessities they will have to convert them into convertible pesos (CUC). Thirdly, they won’t exchange what the workers are paid into CUC at the official conversion rate of 24 CUPs to 1 CUP, but at a special rate giving the workers only 10 CUPs for every 1 CUC.

The first of these is relatively good, because up to now Cuban workers contracted to entrepreneurs or countries never received 4/5 of the amount paid amount for their work. The second one is bad.

Let’s suppose that a foreign entrepreneur pays $1,000 a month for the services of an electrician; the employment agency converts the dollars into 1,000 CUC, of which the electrician gets 800. With this money, which he has earned, he could lead a decent life without having to “fight” or “invent” anything to survive.

The third part is the worst, because with the special rate of 1 CUC for 10 Cuban pesos, the 800 dollars is no longer 800 CUC, it gets converted into 333 CUC. And in the end the state grabs two-thirds of the $1,000 paid. In this way the worker is hurt by the foreigner but more than anything by the State.

On the other hand, the worker will retain the rights contained in Art 27 of the  Foreign Investment Law, which indicates that the investor has to comply with the employment and social security legislation applying in the Republic of Cuba.

But the fact is that the employment legislation, contained in the Employment Rules Law, passed 29 December 2013, in spite of the fact that it constitutes a step backwards from the Law of Labour Information Commissions of 1924 (enacted in order to channel the employer-employee conflicts related to loading sugar), nevertheless, having disappeared, it is impossible to know exactly what it says.

The disparity between the level of pay and the cost of living in Cuba is primarily due to the decades of totalitarian socialism, especially from 1989 on, when price inflation began to outstrip salary increases, leading up to the present crisis, one of whose manifestations–with the most negative impact–is inadequate pay.

That problem is so worrying for Cuban workers that it was referred to in an interview with Carmen Rosa–who is right now leading the preparation for the 20th Congress of the CTC (Workers Central Union of Cuba)–published in the newspaper Granma dated 27th April: in all the analyses carried out this year the recurrent theme of the assembly members’ proposals relates to salaries. That shows that the organisers’ objectives go in a different direction to the worries of the unemployed.

The 1940 Constitution affirms the following in Art. 61: The Law will set up a process for periodic review of salaries or minimum wages, by way of joint committees for each employment sector; in accordance with the living standards and particular circumstances appurtaining in each region and each industrial, agricultural or commercial activity.

Today, not only do the workers not participate in this process, but they also do not know how the calculation works out. By definition, the minimum wage is the basic amount you need to subsist. Using this definition, most of the salaries in Cuba, being insufficient to cover basic necessities, are in fact lower than what the minimum wage should be.

Because of that anomaly, people have to look for other employment outside of the wage relationship–almost always on the edge of what is legal–and Cubans are forced to keep shifting from one place to another, from one activity to another and one profession to another, without regard to vocation or training.

The official press has stressed that thousands of jobs are going to be created with much higher salaries than the current average of 20 CUC a month. Nevertheless, the way in which they are paid, which in any other part of the world would lead to union protests, in the case of Cuban workers, having no space or institutions to defend them, they can only express their discontent in private, at the same time as they go to the employment agencies to try to improve their position, because that mechanism, in spite of the abuse and mockery, permits them to receive a higher wage than the national average.

It has to be added that one of the main worries of foreign investors is whether they can count on efficient workers, and therefore it suits them to pay them a salary capable of motivating them and awakening their interest in the results of their activities.

Having said that, the current analysis shows us that the way in which workers will be paid now can act as an obstacle to the objective of attracting foreign investment. Therefore, they need to change the proportion from one good thing and many bad things to the opposite of one bad thing and many good things, because asking for everything to be good would be like asking for the moon.

*Translator’s notes: This refers to foreign investment into Cuba, not the reverse.

Translated by GH

Originally published in Diario de Cuba.

22 April 2014

One Night: A Critical View of Cuban Social Reality / Dimas Castellano


Una Noche
(One Night) is the film which best reflects why it is that young people leave Cuba. That’s how a female friend of mine, who is a lover of the seventh art, laconically replied to my question, after visiting the film exhibition in the 34th Festival of New Latin-American Cinema, which took place in Havana from 4th to 14th December 2012.

Because of the social theme it deals with, because of the magnificent photography of Trevor Forrest and Shlimo Godder, Roland Vajs’ and Alla Zaleski’s sound quality, and also director Lucy Mulloy’s script, the British-Cuban-North American co-production Una Noche constitutes an important cinematographic work, which, with its truthful narrative, gets close to documentary cinema; and, due to the authenticity of the people and social events it focuses on, it gets close to naturalism. Shot in Havana, with local actors, dealing with a national theme, the film can be considered to be part of the filmography of the island.

una-nocheShot between the years 2007 and 2011, the 89 minute film received international resonance with the news that the three principal protagonists, Javier Núñez, Anailín de la Rúa and Daniel Arrechada, deserted the artistic delegation going to the XI Tribeca Film Festival in New York, in the month of April 2012.

The first two did it as soon as they touched down on North American soil in Miami, the third, after receiving the prize in Tribeca. The event, something quite ordinary for Cubans, attracted international attention to the film and served to confirm the film’s story.

continue reading

Una Noche gained three of the prizes awarded in the Tribeca Film Festival. Javier Núñez Florián, jointly with Dariel Arrechada–neither with acting experience before Lucy Mulloy selected them in a casting session–were awarded the category of Best Actor; it also obtained the Best Direction and Best Photography awards, which made it the most recommended film in the New York festival.

Then, in the 43rd Film Festival of India, Mulloy’s debut film received the jury’s special prize, the Silver Peacock, worth $27,500. In the first Brasilia International Film Festival it picked up Best Script. It next entries–in the Deauville Film Festival, in France; in the Vancouver International Film Festival in Canada; in the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival; and in the Rio Festival–are likely to attract further awards.

In Cuba, the film opened in the month of September in a sexual health fair, organised by the National Centre of Sex Education, in the cinema La Rampa, and more recently in the 34rd International Festival of New Latin American Cine in Havana, included in the “Made in Cuba” section, in which were included audiovisual productions made in the island without the right to compete for the Coral awards.

On each of these occasions it was shown just once, and because of that only a few Cubans have had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the multiprize-winning film which deals with a very significant aspect of their lives.

The feature film focuses on the social phenomenon of illegal emigration, especially concerning young people going to the United States, which constitutes one of the worst tragedies in Cuba because of the large number of people who have died in the process, because of the split families, and because of the brain drain of Cuban professionals (a theme I will return to later).

The principal cause of the Cuban migration phenomenon lies in the absence of civil rights such as being able to freely enter and leave the country, which has developed into a flight to realise human aspirations, which, although they are basic ones, are impossible to satisfy within our frontiers.

We are talking about a general permanent flow which Una Noche presents on a personal level in terms of the story of three young people who escape in a fragile craft, made of car tyres.

In spite of the fact that the director spent several years in Havana, gathering information for the feature, it remains suprising that, without being Cuban, she manages to get so deeply inside the behaviour of a part of the society and show in sound and vision the conduct of a section of present-day Cuba, its shortages and frustrations.

Lila, one of the film’s protagonists, tells how people leave Cuba via different routes, but she never imagined that Elio, her twin brother, could abandon her. The story begins when Elio starts to work in the kitchen of the Hotel Nacional, and there makes the acquaintance of Raúl.

From that moment on, Lila’s worry that her brother might leave her begins to give her horrible nightmares which prevent her sleeping. Right away the film starts to look into the social settings and digs about for the possible reasons for flight.

In another scene Lila comments that in Havana you can get what you want. The shops are empty, but if you know the right person, everything is for sale; a statement about the reality of daily life in the capital, which is demonstrated by way of Raúl and Elio’s vicissitudes as they seek the things they need to cross the dangerous Straits of Florida: tyres, compass, wood, a motor, food and glucose.

In each process we see highlighted the mistreatment by state organisations, the environment and language of the slums, the under-the-counter business, the loveless sexual relations, the domestic violence, the moral deterioration in the bosom of the family, the destruction and lack of hygiene in Havana, the robberies, and police repression and abuse. An asphyxiating climate which is illustrated and accentuated by rap and reggaeton music.

In the same way, the camera, which can penetrate further than the human eye,  and the microphone, which can register sounds undetectable by the human ear, make incursions into the homes of the protagonists.

In the twins’ house, the macho attitudes, the disagreements between the parents and the material misery they live in; in Raúl’s apartment, the dirt, the physical and moral destruction, where his mother, who is getting on in years, and is suffering from AIDS, has to work as a prostitute, and the absence of a father, who left Cuba and does not keep in contact with them.

Along with the above, mixed in are scenes of groups of young people and adolescents behaving irresponsibly, bathing in the contaminated waters of the Havana Malecon, or risking their lives cycling about in the middle of the traffic; the old man singing dementedly in the street, whose daughter married an Italian and never came back to see him; the woman selling religious artifacts who completes the picture with false predictions in return for money.

The climax, which concludes and summarises what has happened in the events narrated, expresses the key to the story. In the boat, the dramatic conflicts, the superficiality, and the lack of foresight, show themselves.

Elio loves Raúl and Raúl loves his sister; discussions about prostitution and Elio’s and Raúl’s superficial approach to their future in Miami; Lila’s fall into the water; the shark attack, and the sinking of their boat which leads to Elio’s death, while the shipwrecked Lila and Raúl desperately cling on to a piece of polystyrene, until they are rescued by a sea scooter on a Florida beach. The film ends with Raúl’s detention in Havana, where we see dream and reality mixed up and confused.

The treatment of social phenomenon on the screen is nothing new. Information about the discovery of one of the pioneers of the seventh art, French theatre director and actor, producer of Viaje a la Luna (Journey to the Moon), George Méliès (1861-1938), shows us cinema as a way of interpreting and forming reality; and the North American film director David Wark Griffith (1875- 1948) director of Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, this last considered to be the artistic culmination of the silent screen, who looked at history as a source of cinematographic experiences.

In that sense, Una Noche, with its penetrating analysis of Cuban immigration, may be said to occupy a place in the history of social criticism in our country centred on that way of observing social reality at the margin of official apologetics.

That current, which was present in Cuba since the silent film era, started to show itself after the Revolution with the documentary PM–a short film about the ways in which a group of people in Havana had fun, which was produced in 1961 by Orlando Jiménez Leal and Sabá Cabrera Infante–which showed us a modern look at the Revolutionary reality, and became, because of that, the most problematic film in Cuba’s audiovisual history, at a time when the priority for the Cuban Institute of Cinema Arts and Industry was propaganda about class struggle and the fight against the threats of imperialism.

PM was censored and it was forbidden to show it, which produced controversy among the artists and intellectuals which led to the discourse of the Leader of the Revolution on 30 June 1961, known as Palabras a los intelectuales  (Words to the intellectuals), in which he introduced the restrictive idea: Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing. From that moment on, culture, which precedes and transcends politics, became a prisoner of the Revolution right up to today.

In 1971, in the fictional feature film Una pelea cubana contra los demonios (A Cuban struggle against demons), its director, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, proposed: in any time or place it is unrealistic to develop human existence in any authentic manner, if you impose limits on the process, if you define limits of acceptability of group social behaviour, if, with the starting point of a moral interpretation of society (whether it’s called bourgeois or socialist, religion or liberal) you prevent people freely discussing their own visions of the world …

The intellectual, he said, is the specialist who is most able to express clearly the semantic incoherences which have arisen within the Revolution. In the ’90’s of the last century, among the 60 cinematic works of fiction produced, there emerged important works of social criticism.

In the 21st century, among the many film directors who have made incursions into social phenomena, I would like to focus on the prize-winning creator Fernando Pérez, who has clearly shown the potential of cinematographic criticism for encouraging reflection among Cubans.

In La Vida es Silbar (Life is to Whistle) (1998), Fernando dealt with the search for happiness by way of inner liberation, the truth and social communication, and in Suite Habana (Havana Suite) (2003), he decided to convert our contradictory reality–as seen in Una Noche–into an inexhaustible source of inspiration for love and inner liberty: love of a neighbour and of a city, which, in spite of its neglected and destroyed condition, he shows us to be beautiful and full of possibilities.

In that respect, Una Noche and Suite Habana are radically different. The first one concentrates on showing the harshness of the physical and moral destruction, the second turns away from that destruction in order to show the hidden beauty and the possibilities of getting beyond it. Between the two of them they offer a comprehensive close-up on the general reality of Havana and Cuba.

On the same lines, the film producer Alfredo Guevara, President of the New Latin American Cine Festival, in its 33rd event in 2011, said, “The Cuban Revolution, which, in 1959 could …” This Revolution now requires the privatisation of Cuban Society, freed from the state bureaucracy, which corrupts everything.

The 2011 festival showed us a group of films whose common theme was social criticism: Casa Vieja de Lester Hamlet (Lester Hamlet’s Old House), a film which talks about who we are and how to understand Cubans’ lives from the standpoint of emotional commitment. Esteban Insausti’s Larga Distancia (Long Distance), in which he shows the frustrations caused by emigration in our society.

Boleto al paraíso (Ticket to Paradise) by Eduardo Chijona, inspired by real events, deals with the degradation of youth, going as far as deliberately catching the AIDS virus in order to be able to have a better life in a sanatorium. Afinidades (Relationships) by Jorge Perugorría and Vladimir Cruz, in which corruption leads to emptiness, taking refuge in your instincts, using sex as a way of discharging electricity, manipulating people near to you as a means to reaffirming your damaged personality. Martí el ojo del canario, (Martí , the eye of the canary), by Fernando Pérez, a masterwork of cinema as historical investigation.

Just as Lucy Malloy outlines some of the causes of emigration, her film offers the opportunity to show, as a kind of accompaniment, some thoughts about the migration problem in Cuba, which could be useful for those people who, having seen the film, feel inclined to get to understand a bit more about contemporary Cuba.

The economic inefficiency, the loss of civil and political rights, the inadequacy of salaries in relation to the cost of living, among other things, have had very negative effects: corruption, a phenomenon which was present in the political administrative sphere in the republic before the revolution, spread into all levels of society; while immigration, which had characterised the country since earliest times, changed after 1959 into a diaspora, that’s to say, with people moving out all over the world, as shown in the statistical data.

On 9 January 1959, the government enacted Law No.2, to restrict the right of freedom to leave the country on the part of those who wanted to go. This provision was amended by Law No. 18, which stipulated that any Cuban in possession of a valid passport issued by the Ministry of State, who wanted to travel to another country, had to obtain an “authorisation to that effect , which would be provided by the Chief of National Police”.

In 1961, the Ministry of the Interior instituted the notorious “exit permit” and laid down the length of time Cubans could remain abroad. In 1976, Law No. 1312 was enacted, by way of which permission to leave was confirmed.

In spite of these measures, the number of Cubans in the United States, who, in 1959, amounted to some 124,000, increased substantially after that date. Firstly by way of people linked to the overthrown regime or who lost their property, along with the thousands of children who left by way of Operation Peter Pan (1960-62), and then the first massive outflow via the port of Camarioca and the air bridge from Varadero, with 260,000 Cubans leaving between 1965 and 1973.

In April 1980, after a bus violently crashed through the fence of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, and its passengers requested refuge, thousands of Cubans invaded the embassy with the same intention. The result was another 125,000 Cubans left the island.

Between May and August 1994, groups of Cubans invaded the Belgian and German embassies and also the Chilean consulate, at the same time as various boats were seized.

On August 5th of the same year, Fidel Castro accused the United States of encouraging illegal immigration, and said: either they should take measures or we will not prevent people who want to go and seek their family members.

As a result, during the summer of 1994 approximately 33,000 Cubans escaped from the island, of whom about 31,000 were provisionally detained at the Guantánamo Naval Base.

During those three huge wave–Camarioca, Mariel and Guantánamo–there also occurred innumerable tragedies. Cautious estimates suggest that at least 25% of the boat people didn’t survive their journey in their variety of very different floating objects.

Nevertheless, as the main cause of the emigration was the economic deterioration and the absence of liberty, none of these laws was able to hold up these individual departures, in groups or en masse.

The Cuban diaspora constitutes a continuing process over a period of time by all the different ways of which Cuban imagination and desperation could conceive, which is reflected in the 2010 United States Census, which showed a total of 1,800,000 Cubans, which, added in to all the others who spread out all over the world, takes us past 2 million; that’s to say, that 18% of all Cubans are abroad.

Family members separated for years, or all their lives; married couples who have grown old with the pain of not being able to return to their children; kids grown up in other countries who will never more be able to see their parents. Suffering which has caused anthropological damage in many Cuban homes, where the family ceases to be the school of love, education and security and becomes instead a place for ideological disagreements, grudges and mental upsets, exactly what Lucy Mulloy was stressing in Una Noche.

The diaspora, resulting from the absence of liberties and economic inefficiency, has had, in turn, other negative effects. The rate of demographic increase was altered during the years 2001-2010 by a negative migration balance of 342,199 people, to a rate of on average 34,000 per year; a process which is converting Cuba into the only country in America with a declining population.

In the same way, it has led to a brain drain of professionals, as Cuba, which had managed to achieve a very high proportion of higher education graduates, has changed into one of the countries which is losing its professionals and technicians due to emigration.

In the last 30 years tens of thousands of doctors, engineers, qualified in various specialties such as mid-range technical people, and skilled workers, have emigrated, which amounts to a present day and potential future threat to the country.

The fact is that the illegal departures before and after the Ley de Ajuste (U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act), and before and after the migration accords which have been agreed, clearly shows it is directly related to the Cuban internal crisis.

The production of Una Noche, a film which shows the role of cinema in the way we see, interpret, and form reality; comes at exactly the moment when the Cuban government decided to modify the current migration legislation, although the change does not give Cubans back all the rights which were violated by the legislation described.

The need to obtain permission to leave the country disappears, but certain categories of Cubans, either because of the positions of responsibility they occupy, or because of studies undertaken, continue to be subject to the same limitations as previously, which will be the cause of further young people abandoning their studies and fleeing in order not to be caught by the new law.

In this sense, Una Noche is the precursor to new migratory changes up to the point where Cubans will recover the right and freedom to leave their country just like any other citizens in the world.

***

Published in German in edition 60 of TRIGON magazine, entitled “Fliegen oder bleiben?; hintergründe zum film Una noche. (To fly or to stay? background to the film One Night)

Translated by GH

25 February 2014

No Rush… and No Results

In 1953, in his self defense statement [as he appeared at his trial for the Moncada Barracks attack] History will absolve me, Fidel Castro addressed some key issues pending in our country: land reform for instance. He announced on that opportunity, as a priority in his program, giving productive land to those in possession of five or less acres; a nationalistic and democratic project that had its first episode in October, 1958, when, in the middle of the guerrilla war a bill of law was issued from La Sierra Maestra. Once he took power, actual laws were passed–on May 1959 and October 1963–in which property titles were issued to 100 thousand farmers, but 70% of productive land remained in government hands.

The new monopoly of the land and the elimination of the institutions of the civil society related to the agricultural (farming) activity generated a progressive decrease of the agricultural efficiency, while about 40% of the productive land of the country became idle; a regression that was continued until Cuba lost the subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Since then, the government had spent millions of dollars to buy food supplies that otherwise could had been produced locally.

With such an obvious deficiency of the agricultural production, just five months after taking over the presidency of the State council and of the Cabinet, General Raúl Castro, conscious of the deplorable condition of economy, expressed emphatically: We have to focus on the land! We have to get it to produce! And he added, that sooner than later laws and regulations will be passed to (once again) lease idle lands to farmers on the condition they make them productive as soon as possible.

One week after his speech, the Official Gazette of Cuba published the Decree Law 259 on that regard. This measure, could not solve such a serious problem on its own, might have been valid if this law had been conceived as the first step in a long way to go, for which a strong political will is need to face the historical problem of private property in Cuba, worsened during the Revolutionary government which promoted large state farms (collectivism). continue reading

For its content, the Decree Law 259 of July, 2008 dictated from the totalitarian optics, evaded the root of the problem. This same law was just meant to lease small pieces of land of 30 – 100 acres infected with the marabu weed, and accompanied by multiple prohibitions such as: no building of houses, warehouses or infrastructure and no hiring of employees.The absurdity was that the Decree-Law, issued to attack an inefficiency whose primary cause if the inability of the State to make the land produce, is limited to offering parcels in usufruct (a kind of leasing arrangement), that it enjoying the fruits of the work of others, while the inefficient State reserves the right to keep the property. The results obtained in these conditions aren’t what was hoped for.

However, even though the above mentioned Decree-Law lacked the power to increase agricultural production, the law itself was an implicit recognition of the need for a change. Its main fault consisted of ignoring the possession of the property in hands of the producers and keeping the economic decisions subordinated to politics. Given its unsatisfactory results and the zigzagging process without the political will required, in December, 2012, Decree-Law 259 was repealed and replaced with the Decree-Law 300.

The new regulation made some advances such as: allowed the construction of housings, stores and other facilities; also allowed farmers to hire permanent or temp workers; and let farmers lease up to 5 acres, though limited to those that already had leased contracts and were associated to official entities: State farm, and State Cooperative Farms.

Decree-Law 300 brought the same fault of the previous one, the State kept the monopoly of land and private producers subordinated to the State. In its article 11 it states that the lessees can join as workers State Farms as legal entities, or as member of a cooperative farm, for which “the lessee yields the right of the land and other infrastructure to the entity to which he joins, such entity decides whether he continues working this land or not.”

In addition, the Decree-Law 300 preserved other limitations such as inputs and services not tied to the mentioned entities, with clear disadvantages for individuals regarding the term of the contract. Such limitation revealed once again there was not a strong political will to bring agricultural production to a profitable level and a desire to avoid creating domestic entrepreneurs.

The new failure is very well adjusted to the government reforms slogan of ” no rush but not pause “, in January, 2014 Law 311 was passed, which modifies Law 300, to extend the leases to up to 150 acres to the most productive sector of the peasantry, especially to people working for state farms, that were excluded in the previous legislation. However, the lease depends on there only being credit and services cooperatives in the municipality; and b) the State farms as legal entities, basic units of cooperative production and cooperatives of agricultural production in the municipality are located at a distance exceeding three (3) miles of the requested area.

This official data does not explain the fact that after leasing 3.7 million acres of idle lands (since Decree-Law 259 was adopted in 2008), there has been reported increase in production; although there is another 2.5 million acres of land idle of the  total 15.6 million acres of potentially productive land in the country. This negative result reminds us of that phrase of Jose Marti: “Cuba has an enormous potential to become a wealthy nation, but that is impossible if Cubans cannot be wealthy as well.”

Translated by: Rafael

From Diario de Cuba

2 March 2014

Cuba and the European Union: A Change of Tone and a New Dynamic / Dimas Castellano

cuba eu flagsindexIn a statement issued on Tuesday, February 11th, Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, reported that the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union (EU) had authorized the European Commission and the EU’s senior representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, to begin negotiations on a political dialogue and cooperation agreement with the Republic of Cuba. He added that “Cuba will consider the invitation from the Europeans in a respectful and constructive way and within the context of Cuba’s sovereignty and national interests.”

This represents the possible start of negotiations on a bilateral agreement, which depends on the Cuban authorities’ willingness to accept the invitation. In this regard Catherine Ashton said, “I hope Cuba will take up this offer and that we can work towards a stronger relationship,” but added “the decision is not a policy change from the past,” which can be interpreted as a change of tone, not of substance. Meanwhile the EU ambassador to Cuba said that the policy is the same but there is “a new dynamic” and called the decision a “big step forward for a possible agreement,” adding that the agreement would “formalize cooperation at all levels on a firmer legal and policy basis.”

Transitions towards democracy are dependent on both internal and external factors, with the latter assuming greater or lesser importance in relation to the strength or weakness of the former. In retrospect we can see that this has been exactly the case with Cuba.

When revolutionary forces came to power in 1959, they became the source of all laws and led the country towards totalitarianism. The constitution of 1940 was replaced with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, which allowed the designated prime minister to assume the role of head of government and the recently created Council of Ministers to take over the functions of Congress. Subsequently, power became concentrated in the hands of the strongman and property in the hands of the state. Civil society was dismantled, and civil liberties and human rights were restricted. As a result Cubans were relieved of vital tools and opportunities for civil discourse, which meant losing their status as citizens.

In 1996 the countries of the then European Community, which maintained bilateral relations with Cuba, established the Common Position in order to “encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement of the living conditions of the Cuban people.” That decision, which provided moral support to the island’s opposition, sharpened differences between the EU and the Cuban government. When the European Commission delegation took up residence in Havana in 2002, it  welcomed Cuba’s request to sign on to the Cotonou Agreement (1), opening a new stage in bilateral relations. However, the imprisonment of 75 peaceful dissidents in 2003 and the execution of three young men who attempted to commandeer a boat to escape the country led the European Union Council (2) to reaffirm that its Common Position remained valid and in force.

In 2008, when hurricanes deepened the country’s internal crisis, the government signed an accord restoring relations with the EU and agreed to restart a political dialogue. The European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba issued a statement announcing the decision, with the Spanish government playing a key role, repealing the Common Position. However, just as Spain assumed the EU presidency in 2010, two events dashed the arrangement: Cuba refused entry to Spanish EU deputy Luis Yanez and the Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died the following month of a prolonged hunger strike.

If the Cuban government were now to accept the EU’s offer, it would have to agree to a dialogue on the subject of human rights and proceed to reestablish what it should never have abolished in the first place. Interestingly, we are not operating under the same conditions as in the past, when then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, said in reference to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, “If the EU were to drop its insistence on a sterile and confrontational voting procedure, then Cuba would be inclined to sit down with the EU to work out a plan.” He added that Cuba “would feel a moral responsibility to abide by the European decision and would sign the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the next day, indicating that we had entered a new stage in our relationship.”

Judging from the words of Catherine Ashton, certain demands would have to be on the table for EU countries to agree to negotiations.

She noted that, first, Cuban statutes would have to be brought into compliance with the United Nations Charter and all its instruments of international law such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 30 of this document states, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as conferring any rights to a state, group or person to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” It is a provision that for Cuba has special significance, as it was one of the sponsors of and signatories to this important document. Secondly, it would  also have to ratify human rights conventions it signed 2008, which form the legal basis for the principle of personal dignity and guarantee that the planned changes will have a positive effect on Cuban society.

To meet the first requirement, the Cuban government would have to halt political repression and summary imprisonment. EU countries would encourage exchanges with civil society so that Cubans might gradually emerge from the political margins to recover their status as citizens. This would help promote popular sovereignty so that Cubans might become the protagonists of their history and destiny.

In addition to other issues on the table there should be a requirement that the soon-to-be drafted Labor Code once again include the right to form free trade unions and the right to freely hire workers, two things that were part of the Labor Legislation of 1938 and the Constitution of 1940. Similarly, the new Investment Law should allow participation by Cuban nationals since the programs in which foreign investors are being invited to participate will be worthwhile only if Cubans benefit from these changes by having their rights restored. In the case of the Mariel Special Development Zone, the project will be of enormous benefit to the Cuban economy provided it helps lead to the country’s democratization. Otherwise, these steps will only strengthen the current economic and political model and condemn Cubans to continued civic, political and economic poverty.

(1) A comprehensive partnership agreement between the EU and 79 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Article 9, paragraph 2 states: “The Parties undertake to promote and protect all fundamental freedoms and human rights, whether civil and political or economic rights.”

(2) Name for the European Community’s heads-of-state and heads-of-government summit, which takes place regularly, at least every six months.

From Diario de Cuba

14 February 2014

Cuban Baseball: Declining Slowly but Surely / Dimas Castellano

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

By Dimas Castellano

As if what happened during the first three days of competition on Margarita Island was an exception and not a manifestation of the stagnation experienced in all spheres of Cuban society, a sports commentator on the television show Morning Journal said that “the team from Villa Clara did not meet expectations.”

In baseball, which is the topic before us, what happened could not be a surprise. The avowed superiority of “free” versus “slave” ball was not confirmed in practice. The challenge launched against professionalism in 1960 did not stand the test of time. But the acceptance of this fact by the Cuban authorities—though without public acknowledgement and coming too late—is still good news, because this decision requires them to banish the ideological slogan and return to the path that they never should have left.

In 1948, at the meeting of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation held in Miami, representatives of the professional leagues of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela formed the Caribbean Series. From the inaugural event in February 1949, when the Almendares team went undefeated to take victory in Havana until the close of participation in 1960 with the victory of Cienfuegos in Panama, Cuban teams won seven out of twelve championships: irrefutable proof of the quality of “slave” ball during those years. continue reading

Sports after 1959, separated from civil society, was monopolized by the state, and subordinated to politics and ideology. At a prohibitive cost for a third-world country, a supremacy was established in Central American, Pan American and worldwide amateur competitions for decades, which was heralded as the victory of free baseball over slave baseball.

Amidst that unfounded euphoria, in January 1967, the leader of the revolution said: “Professional sports has been eradicated, especially in one of the most popular sports: baseball … But the most interesting thing is that no professional athlete, whose business is sports, has played with as much enthusiasm, as much bravery, as much courage, as that demonstrated by our athletes, who are not professional.”

And in October 1975 he declared: “If in other Latin American countries no social revolution exists, if they don’t develop the social revolution, then no matter how many techniques they use, how many coaches they hire, how many things they dream up, they will not be able to achieve the successes that Cuba achieves in sports.”

The decline was slow but sure. The defeats in the World Classics, but above all the one suffered last year at the last stop, against the U.S. team, composed of university students between 19 and 23 years of age, who despite their weak offensive output swept five games from the supposed “amateurs” from the largest of the Antilles.

Now, 54 years after that decision, after the setback suffered and the loss of many talents who left “free” baseball in search of contracts in the Major Leagues, Cuba returned to the Caribbean Series with the winning team from the 52nd National Series, at a time when the rest of the participants exhibit a superior level to our baseball.

Villa Clara, reinforced with several of the most experienced top Cuban players—twelve of whom have been integrated into the Cuban team—faced the champions of the winter leagues from Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Three days were all it took to show the gap between them and us.

The first day we lost 9-4 to the Hermosillo Orange (Mexico), the second day to the Magellan Navigators (Venezuela) 8-5, and on the third day the Licey Tigers (Dominican Republic) beat us 9-2, to set a record: the worst performance by a Cuban team in the Caribbean Series.

On February 4 we saved face against the Mayagüez Indians (Puerto Rico), but now our inclusion was pure imagination and wishful thinking. As Oscar Sánchez Serra wrote in the newspaper Granma on February 4: “If the Orange win today against Puerto Rico, and if they lose tomorrow against Venezuela, and if the Dominican Republic wins one more time, then on Thursday, first place from the qualifying phase will play against the king of the 52nd National Series.”

We returned to “slave” ball at a distinct disadvantage. Teams like the Magellan Navigators, from an ALBA-member country, just as Cuba is, which can also count many active players in the U.S. Major Leagues, has in its ranks some Cubans who left the island, illustrating the tardiness of Cuba compared with similar countries.

Cuba has conditions and prospects: the permissibility, though still under state control, of some players participating in foreign leagues; the increase of wages to players, though still insufficient; Cubans can again enjoy Major League Baseball games on local television, though still with limitations; new programs have been implemented, such as one I enjoyed a couple of days ago that allowed an interview with the legendary Camilo Pascual. All this indicates that we are on the way, but the results of this first step, and some of the next, will not reach Cuba’s full potential, because it is one thing to decide to change, and another to rebuild what was destroyed.

After the night, however long it seems, follows sunrise. That we still have to listen to the likes of Yulieski Gurriel say that he hopes to get permission from the Cuban authorities to play abroad, or that the Cuban authorities still have not given him permission, indicates the presence of obstacles to be overthrown in order to achieve the freedom that our athletes have lacked, and determines the decline that we are paying for with defeats.

Translated by Tomás A.

From Diario de Cuba

10 February 2014

Currency Unification: Causes and Limits / Dimas Castellano

The road to exit the crisis is clear; what is lacking is the political will to travel it. Among the partial reforms the government of Raul Castro announced was the enforcement of a timeframe for measures to eliminate the dual currency, implemented following the loss of Soviet subsidies.  A look back at the topic helps to identify some of the causes and limitations of the announced timeframe.

In the period between the two great wars of independence that took place in the second half of the Cuban 19th century, the Island became the first country to exceed a million tons of sugar, of which more than 90% was exported to the United States.  That permitted the neighboring country to impose on Spain the reciprocal trade agreement known as the McKinley Bill, through which was established the free entry of Cuban sugar into that nation.

At the same time there was a high concentration of land ownership, especially in American companies.  In that condition of economic dependence, at the end of Spanish domination, the occupation government introduced the dollar as the basic monetary standard, which was imposed until the disappearance of the other currencies (French, Spanish, Mexican), which explains the presence of the dollar in the first years of the Republic born in 1902. continue reading

In that context, with the nationalist purpose of diminishing the dependence with respect to the American dollar, the government of General Mario Garcia Menocal dictated in 1914 the Law of Economic Defense, which gave birth to the national currency. That law established a gold standard as the monetary unit with the same weight and purity as the dollar. So, from a nationalist decision emerged the first version of dual currency in Cuba, which lasted until the ’50’s of the last century.

In a different way, in 1991, the disappearance of the Soviet Union provoked the loss of the enormous subsidies based on ideological relations, which overlapped decades of inefficiency of the Cuban model.  That fact, united with the depression in sugar prices, drove the country to a profound structural crisis baptized with the euphemism Special Period in Times of Peace. In answer to the crisis, the Cuban government, instead of undertaking a profound reform aimed at achieving a proper and efficient economy, defined a strategy aimed at saving the model and maintaining power. With that goal it introduced several contingency measures.

In 1993 the Basic Units of Cooperative Production were created, by which a beneficial interest in idle state land was given to workers; farmers markets and self employment were authorized; tourism and foreign investment were introduced; family remittances from abroad were admitted; possession of the dollar was decriminalized, and, in 1994, its free circulation was authorized, giving rise to the current dual currency.

As one might appreciate, the dual currency introduced in 1914 was motivated by reasons diametrically opposed to what happened in 1994. The first created the introduction of a national currency parallel to the dollar, the second legalized the dollar as a parallel to the national currency.

The road and political will

The causes that led to the dollarization in 1994 have their roots in the first revolutionary measures, whose declared goal was the disappearance of all commercial relations and, with them, the disappearance of money.  In 1960, all domestic and foreign banking entities that existed in Cuba were nationalized, in 1961 they were centralized in the hands of the State, while the direction of those activities was placed in the hands of the revolutionaries from the armed struggle.

The same thing happened with figures whose conception of the economy differed from those of the leader of the revolution, as happened with the economist Felipe Pazos Roque, founder and first president of the National Bank of Cuba since its foundation in 1948, who in spite of abandoning that responsibility because of his position against the Coup of 1952 and being named again as head of that institution in 1959 was replaced some months later by commander Ernesto Guevara.

The course of the process was more or less the following: the dollar was introduced in 1994; the convertible peso (CUC), a second national currency as an alternative to the dollar and the same value as the dollar, was created; in 2004 the circulation of the dollar was eliminated; then a tax of 10% was imposed on the dollar, and the CUC was re-valued relative to the dollar by 8%; in March of 2011 the original one-to-one value was resumed but the 10% tax remained. In summary, the duality was maintained thanks to which Cuba is the only country in the world with two national currencies, neither of which is really convertible.

The dollarization and the dual currency, besides magnifying social differentiation, increased the loss of value that the Cuban peso already had, one of whose manifestations was the expressed inflation in prices on the black market, the drop of wages and the discouragement of production.

Cuban currency, a representation of money, lost or reduced its functions as a means of value, an instrument for acquisition of goods, a means of accumulation of wealth, an instrument of liberation from debt and a means of payment. That’s why monetary unification, even if it constitutes an essential step for the current or for any other Government, will not resolve the current structural crisis, due to the fact that Cuban currency is not backed by the Gross National Product, that is to say, by the sum of goods and services that permit it to resume its functions and to be compared with foreign currencies.

The way out is in prioritizing productive efficiency, for which domestic and foreign investment is required, which would provide the country with capital, technology and markets, which in turn demands a new Law of Investments and the elevation of current salaries, which do not manage to cover more than one-third of basic necessities.  But as one can only distribute what is produced, the Government faces a complex contradiction: without increases in salaries, Cubans are not ready to produce, and without production, it is impossible to raise salaries, which will make monetary unification by itself futile.

In short, a comprehensive project that includes the decentralization of the economy, permits the formation of a middle class, removes the obstacles that stop production and restores citizens’ rights and liberties is missing. The road is clear, what is lacking is the political will to travel it.

Translated by mlk.

Taken from: Diario de Cuba
17 December 2013

Current Ideas / Dimas Castellanos

One hundred and twenty-five years after his death on August 11, 1888, the scientific results that the eminent chemist, physiologist, agronomist, industrial technologist and science writer Alvaro Reynoso y Valdez bequeathed us are still on the waiting list.  While the official Cuban press pays exaggerated attention to events and people linked to politics and wars, it limits mention of Reynoso as part of the celebrated anniversaries without investigating his work or pressing for his contributions to become productive results.

Alvaro Reynoso, one of the Cubans who collaborated through science for the progress and formation of the basis of the Cuban nation, studied at San Cristobal (Carraguao) college, graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the Havana Royal and Literary University, continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he graduated in 1856 and obtained a doctorate, becoming one of the best chemists of his era.

From the earliest years of study he began to publish his scientific results: a new procedure for the recognition of Iodine and Bromine; diverse new combinations of ammonia in ferrocyanides; action of the bases on salts and in particular on arsenides; separation of phosphoric acid from its combinations with metallic oxides; the presence of sugar in the urine of sick hysterics, epileptics and its relationship to respiration; the effect of bromide on poisoning by curare (a poison used by Indians to poison their arrows); studies about the artificial breeding of freshwater fish, and others.

On graduating in 1856 some twenty of his works had been presented in specialist publications in France and Spain.  He was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Madrid and the Royal Academy of the History of Spain, he received the Royal Order “Professor of Chemistry Applied to Agriculture and Botany” from the Havana General Preparatory School and the “Professor of Enlarged Organic Chemistry” at the Central University of Madrid, among many honors.

On returning to Cuba in 1858 with a laboratory endowed with the most modern equipment and instruments, an excellent mineralogical collection and a valuable scientific library, he took possession of the Chemistry Chair and in 1859 replaced Jose Luis Casaseca as the director of the Havana Institute of Chemical Investigations, an institution that he converted into one of the world’s first agronomic stations.

Parallel with his investigative work he dedicated himself to writing.  In 1868 he began to collaborate as scientific writer for the Marina Daily, where he had a column in which he published articles about drinking water; he reviewed the first trial carried out in Cuba in April 1863 of the Fowler steam-powered plow, with which he began the mechanization of sugar cane in Cuba; he was a writer of the Annals and Memories of the Royal Development Board and the Royal Economic Society; he published in the Magazine of Agriculture of the Ranchers Circle on the island of Cuba and in other press organs.

Among his published works are: Details About Various Cuban Crops, where he compiled his contributions about non-sugar cane agriculture such as corn, coffee, cotton, tobacco; Progressive Studies on Various Scientific, Agricultural, and Industrial Subjects, a collection of articles published in the press about the cultivation of sugar cane in all its phases, as well as experimentation plans by the Institute of Chemical Investigations and the planting of sweet potatoes, yams, corn and rice destined for human and animal consumption.

In the middle of the 19th century, when Cuba was first in the world in production of sugar and the last in productivity, supporting his thesis that the true making of sugar is in the reeds, he devoted himself to resolving this contradiction. The results were gathered in his crowning work Study of the Culture of Sugarcane where he integrated all the related operations with the culture and harvest of the grass, from the negative effect of the logging of virgin forests to fresh grinding for avoiding alteration of the juices.  This work published in 1862 was re-published in Madrid in 1865, in Paris in 1878 and in Cuba in 1925 where it was re-printed in 1954 and 1959 in addition to being published in Holland.

An aspect of his ideas which is barely mentioned, is that Reynoso considered the autonomous participation of the Cubans in the political estate reform of the colony as a legitimate demand.  That’s why, in his systematic analysis he never avoided the topic of agricultural property.  He considered, just the same as Francisco de Frias and Jose Antonio Saco, the need to establish a sugar cane agriculture with native small farmers and immigrants, where the incentive of ownership, much different from the slave system, was a basic component to push forward the modernization of the agricultural economy.

However, in the year 2001, when due to the continuous decrease in sugar production, less than 3.5 million tons, the then Sugar Industry Minister, General Ulises Rosales del Toro announced two projects to reverse the situation: one, to restructure the sugar industry aimed at achieving industrial performance of 11% or extracting from each 100 tons of sugar cane, 11 tons of sugar; and the other one baptized with the name of the distinguished scientist with the objective of reaching 54 tons of sugar cane per hectare.  With both projects, as announced then, Cuba could produce 6 million tons of sugar (the amount produced in Cuba in 1948).

Towards that end, instead of taking into account all the elements which participated in the production process as taught by Reynoso, some 100 sugar factories were closed, with the land distributed for the use of other crops and sidestepping the damaging state monopoly on land ownership.  The amount of 2002-2003 harvest – the first after the implementation of the “novel task and one of the worse of all times” – was 2.1 million tons, barely half of the production in 1919.

From there and until the present time the industry inefficiency, the unavailability of sugar cane, the low results of land usage and the high cost of production per ton has repeated year after year.  In the last harvest, 2012-2013, the plan of 1.7 million tons was not reached for many reasons, but especially because of the unresolved problem of the land tenancy was attempted to be resolved through the leasing approach known as usufruct, maintaining the inefficient State as owner and the economy subordinated to politics and ideology; which shows not only in the sugar production but in the agricultural production and all facets of the economy.

Taken from: Diario de Cuba

14 August 2013

Free Baseball vs. Slave Baseball / Dimas Castellanos

The facts and news about the sport of balls and strikes, learned during the recently concluded month of July, settle the dispute between amateur and professional baseball in favor of the latter.

It started with the debut of Yovani Aragón in the World Port Tournament of  Rotterdam, a less demanding event than the Olympic Games and the World Classic, where the spiritual mentor captured the ninth title for Cuba.

It was followed by the series between the U.S. collegiate national team and the Cuban team, in which the Antillean team displayed the weakest performance in recent international matches: weak hitting, a high number of strikeouts, failure of the first batters, flawed tactics, errors in fielding and throwing to bases, and they stole 15 bases in 16 tries. For its part, the American squad also had a weak offense, but had 12 pitchers throwing between 93 and 98 miles per hour.

The Cubans, who had defeated the student selections in 8 of 10 tries, with more experience and with an average age of 26.6 years, were defeated by a team whose ages ranged between 19 and 23. The Cuban mentor, Victor Mesa, who hoped to win three or more games, had to settle for a crushing defeat. Something similar to what happened in the third World Baseball Classic, when he said “We will win the Classic. That’s why we came, not for anything else”; but he failed to improve on the fifth place finish in the second Classic.

To these two facts the following news was added:

1 – The Granma native Alfredo Despaigne, hired by the Campeche Pirates of the Mexican League, hit 6 for 6 on July 24, equaling the record set in 1936 by the “Immortal”, Martin Dihigo.

2 – Yasiel Puig, from Cienfuegos, was awarded the Best Player and Rookie of the Month for June, after his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 26 games he led in batting, was the leader in on-base percentage, hit seven home runs and drove in 16 runs. With 44 hits he was second on the all-time list of rookies in their first month, four behind the mark set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

3 – Jose Iglesias, infielder for the Boston Red Sox, was selected Rookie of the Month in the American League. In 25 games he batted .395 with four doubles, two triples, one homer, six RBIs, 17 runs and eight walks, had 11 games with two hits or more and a streak of 18 straight games with base hits.

4 – Jose Fernandez, pitcher for the Miami Marlins, with little more than three months in the major leagues, was named to the All-Star Game along with Aroldis Chapman of Holguin, closer for the Cincinnati Reds, while Yoenis Cespedes from Granma, of the Oakland Athletics, won the home-run competition during All-Star Week.

5 – Veterans of the Industriales team played several games during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the club in Miami, where the Industriales players from the island faced off against Industriales players living in the U.S.

JORGE EBRO el Nuevo Herald

The facts and news take us back to the time when professional baseball was abolished. Until then Cuba had a large presence in international events. After the First World Amateur Baseball Series, held in London in 1938, the following five were held at La Tropical Stadium in Havana, of which the island won four. Meanwhile the Caribbean Series was created at the request of Cuba, when in 1948 it proposed to delegates from Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela, to hold an annual series among the champion teams to decide the best of the region. Havana was host to the first in 1949. From there, until 1960, Cuba won 7 of the 12 series, the last five in a row.

In keeping with a longstanding relationship between politics and sport, the leader of the Revolution made a long speech about baseball. On January 2, 1967, he said: professional sport was eradicated, and above all, it was eradicated in that sport, which was one of the most popular: baseball… But more interesting is that never did any professional athlete whose business is the sport, play with such enthusiasm, so bravely, with such courage, as do our athletes, who are not professionals.

Certainly the Revolution took baseball to all the people in the country, constructed several stadiums, renamed the Grand Stadium the Latino-American Stadium of del Cerro, and added new bleachers. In exchange, it prevented Cuban players, with the qualities of stardom, from measuring themselves against the best players in the world and deprived the Island’s fans of the enjoyment of professional baseball which, live or on the radio and television, they had enjoyed from anywhere the country.However, professionalism was not eradicated, rather it was hidden. If a professional is someone who is paid by salary for the work performed, the players of the National Series, who received their salaries for that work, have been professionals from then until today.

With that “free” baseball Cuba established supremacy for decades in the Central American amateur, Pan American and global competitions. It proclaimed the great victory over “slave” baseball. Brimming with pride, in October 1975 it said: if in other Latin American countries there is no social revolution, there is no development of the social revolution; regardless of technique, regardless of how many trainers they hire, regardless of how many new things they devise, they can’t match Cuba’s successes in the sport.

The illusion vanished. Cuba had been beating the amateurs with a professional team. When the match-ups with the presence of professionals began, “slave” baseball proved superior to “free” baseball, as in the Classics. The results started to disappoint. But the worst has been the hundreds of players who have defected in search of “slavery,” which has affected especially pitchers. Almost all of the best pitchers of the last 20 years left the Island: From René Arocha to Odrisamer Despaigne and Misael Siverio and with them hundreds of players from all categories.

After a long and brilliant baseball history, measured against the best in the world and having triumphed, countries with no tradition in this sport beat us, or we win by scaring them. The climax has been, not the loss against other professionals, but against college students, true amateurs who faced the “amateurs” of the greatest of the Antilles and swept them in five games.

Cuba is in decline relative to the rest of the world. The dispute between amateur and professional baseball is decided in favor of the latter. The strategy outlined in 1961 needs to be abandoned. Although not publicly acknowledged, which is too much to ask, the most important thing is to accelerate the steps being taken to return to the road we should never have abandoned. For now Cuba will attend the upcoming Caribbean Series to be held in Margarita Island, Venezuela, but the dream of many fans and many of those who now shine in Professional Baseball, is to represent Cuba in the next Classic. It is not a big demand, it is simply to allow Cuban players residing abroad to defend the colors of their flag, as do players from the rest of the 15 countries participating.

Taken from: http://www.diariodecuba.com/deportes/1375365754_4465.html

6 August 2013

Political Opposition and Negotiations in Today’s Cuba / Dimas Castellanos

Interview of Dimas Castellanos by Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, published on April 26 and 29, 2013 in Cubanet.

Although still uttered timidly, recently you have begun to hear the word “negotiation” in some statements by the Cuban political opposition. Despite having diverse opinions about it, a negotiation is, in general, a process in which two or more parties try to find a mutually satisfactory solution to their problem, be it labor union, financial, military, commercial, political, etc.

The American expert on the subject, Herb Cohen, believes that “everything is negotiable” and defines negotiation as “a field of knowledge and action whose objective is to win the consent or the favor of the people from whom you want to get something.” He also says that the three main factors of a negotiation are power, information, and time.

In order to approach, from a Cuban historical perspective, an issue so complex, but which has had such importance for determining fundamental political changes in many countries and eras, we talked with sociologist and historian Dimas Castellanos, also known for his independent journalism in the digital magazine Consensus, in Diario de Cuba, and in other media.

Cubanet: Do you think there is still no pressure in Cuba that requires the government to negotiate?

Dimas Castellanos: First, this is not the case of an armed movement that occupied a region of the country over which the government now has no control, as in Colombia. Another thing that may force a government to negotiate is that the opposition has such influence over a sector of the population that it can create difficulties for the authorities.

In Cuba there is great discontent, manifested for example in the elections: almost fifteen percent of the voters did not go to the polls or annulled their ballots. But they did so spontaneously, by an individual act of conscience. No one should believe that this was in response to some opposition party that has that kind of drawing power.

So the government has no reason, nor anyone with whom, to negotiate. And on the other hand the opposition is not strong enough to prevent the government from doing what it wants.

Cubanet: What, in your opinion, is the reason for this situation?

Dimas Castellanos: In Cuba, there were always forces that at some point could compel those in power to do certain things. These forces do not exist today. When the revolutionary government took power, the first thing it did was to dismantle the whole network of institutions that existed, mainly civic institutions. So all the citizen organizations, which had been here since the end of the Ten-Year War, disappeared.

Civil society, which erupted with force in the Republic, achieved admirable results, as the strike by apprentices and masons demonstrated in 1901 and 1902, which spread to other sectors.

By 1910, the government was forced to enact several legislative measures favorable to the working class, such as the eight-hour day for government workers, payment in cash and not in tokens and vouchers (as before), and paid holidays.

The labor movement accomplished all that because it had real strength and could, for example, paralyze sugar mills or transportation. Cubans now are not as poor as they were, but we do not have unions and other civil society organizations able to play that role.

Cubanet: So is it essential, first of all, to set up the network again?

Dimas Castellanos: It’s hard to understand that this is a long-term battle. And you have to pace yourself and take advantage of all the gaps and openings to help the civic formation of citizens. Many dissidents want change for Cuba, just as I do, who am also part of the opposition, but I try to be as realistic as possible.

The government is sometimes forced to take some step, more for external reasons than from pressure from within Cuba. After more than fifty years, it has the luxury of making reforms from the same position of power, and therefore can determine the pace and direction they take. They can make a change in one direction, then take back a little, then shift it forward again, and play with it, but there is no internal force able to avoid it.

The government will negotiate when there is a force that compels it to negotiate, and that force has to be formed over the long term.

Cubanet: Do you share the opinion of many Cuban historians that the Protest of Baraguá represents a milestone in our history as a method of negotiating without compromising dignity?

Dimas Castellanos: I regret that the Zanjón Compact has not received the historical recognition that it should have, and that only the Protest of Baraguá has been glorified, because it demobilized the rebel troops in exchange for Spain allowing in Cuba a regime very similar to that which existed in Spain itself or in Puerto Rico.

The laws of the metropolis governed here starting from the Zanjón Compact, and from it came freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, among other benefits.

Despite all the limitations that it kept, there Cuban civil society was born and the first political parties were created. The union movement grew, newspapers spread, there were organizations of all kinds – political, fraternal, labor – that began to take on an enormous burden within society.

The burden was such that you cannot understand the beginning of the war in 1895 without the work that civil society did in the whole colony. That was a time, in terms of freedoms, very superior to what currently exists.

Due to the shortness of time that this form of communication offers and at the same time, due to the interest and to the meaty responses from Dimas Castellanos, we have divided this interview in two parts which will be available to the readers in a coming edition.

Cubanet: In his first responses for this two-part interview, Dimas Castellanos explained the reasons why, in his view, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba is not yet in a position to force the government to sit at a negotiating table. He also set out his criterion from examples of notable negotiated events that took place throughout our history. Just for this aspect we return to the theme.

Cubanet: How do you assess the role played by civil society in Cuba, as far as negotiation is concerned, in the Republican era, from its beginnings to 1958?

Dimas Castellanos: Negotiation played a role of obvious importance. The Constitution of 1901 is an example. The interventionist U.S. government allowed the formation of a Constituent Assembly and created the conditions for it, but, as it had the force of the occupation, it made sure that the Platt Amendment was incorporated to secure their power over the country.

More progressive Cuban forces strongly opposed the amendment and even traveled to the United States, but failed except for a few small changes. Although during the revolution those who signed the Platt Amendment were condemned, the truth is that there were only two options: either sign the addendum to the Constitution or the United States maintained its military control over the country.

And there were no longer mambises nor the Cuban Revolutionary Party, nor an economy; and a people, moreover, tired of wars. The best minds saw that they could lose everything and accepted the Amendment – although it was an insult, a humiliation – as a tactic, to then gradually remove it, as they did.

In 1934 the Platt Amendment was finally abrogated. And it was all through negotiation.

Cubanet: And in terms of the Constitution of 1940?

Dimas Castellanos: It was a master class in negotiating in which the participants ranged from communists to the extreme right. They arrived at a Constitution that provided balance, though perhaps, in my opinion, it was above the civic potential of the Cuban people. That is why afterward our military tradition manages to prevail.

There was not a strong civic tradition, but rather a dictatorship tradition, which is demonstrated in the governments from 1902 until the fall of Machado in 1933. Between that year and 1940 was very turbulent. After 1937 they managed to calm the situation a little and finally return to a democratic exercise that culminated with the Constitution of 1940.

Batista cleanly won the presidential election. Then Grau defeated him in 1944 with the Aunténticos, winning again in ’48 with Prío, and in 1952 he looked certain to defeat the Orthodox Party, which was nothing more than an offshoot of the Authentic Party, whose main argument was the prevailing political and administrative corruption.

Curiously, this corruption did not affect society, because, even though we were not very advanced in public spirit, the morality of the Cuban people was very high. After the 1952 coup, those who wanted to overthrow Batista were divided into two camps: on one side,  the civic forces (the Law Society, the Medical Association, the Lions Club, Rotary Club, etc..), and on the other, those who opted for armed struggle.

Cubanet: We now know which was the winning side. What is not well understood, especially by the Cuban population, is what later happened with the negotiating capacity of our civil society.

Dimas Castellanos: The Revolution became the source of power, without any compromise with what existed before and swept it all away.

Actually, the Revolution had the support of only one part of the population (the fighting was carried out by a few thousand men in a population of six million), mainly peasant farmers, but the massive support occurred afterward and the Revolutionary government acted with skill. The result: it disarmed Cuban civil society, all the autonomous movements disappeared (of peasants, students, women, workers, etc.).

The unions were taken over in January 1959. Many who disagreed with that course thought that if Fidel Castro had taken power by force, he could also be overthrown by arms, but all violent resistance was defeated.

Cubanet: When can you say that Cuban civil society finally woke up, after the long slumber imposed by the Revolution?

Dimas Castellanos: In the late 80s and early 90s opposition organizations and political parties began to emerge, but very weakly, because of government repression first of all, and because many of the people continued to identify with the power, despite its failure, because the mindset does not change very quickly. Also because of the monopoly the government maintains over the media. It can say whatever it wants about the opposition and it is hard to deny internally. So it is isolated and marginalized.

From my point of view, the political parties that were created in the 90s are now worn out. That hurts a lot and no one likes to be told that, but I personally come from one of those parties, the Socialist Democratic, which has disappeared.

But a kind of proto civil society began to develop and there are movements with a very stable work, although they are not talked about much, such as Dagoberto Valdés, in Pinar del Rio, who has a method of advancing step by step and for years has insisted on the power of the small, with a theoretical basis for change, an accumulated political thought that should be used at some point.

But the problem of dictatorship continues, which we have always suffered with.

Cubanet: And what about the current conditions for strengthening the bargaining power of the opposition?

Dimas Castellanos: Now the government is exhausted and the model has proved unworkable.

With lack of freedoms there can be no development of anything, from the economy to sports. Everything is damaged, and the rulers do not want to engage in the suicide of promoting reforms that bring them to the end of the road, and result in their criminal prosecution.

To advance the economy and get out of the disaster, the government knows it has to connect back to the developed world, especially Western Europe and the United States, which conditions the relationship on respect for human rights, so it has begun to make small concessions.

In any event, the developed world believes that these reforms are still insufficient. That’s why the government is going to have to make more changes.

Cubanet: Do you think then that the new circumstances and the new waves of opponents are creating the conditions for a possible negotiator?

Dimas Castellanos: Whatever happens, the time for negotiation will come, though not in a situation like now exists.
The example is in the release of political prisoners, where there was no negotiation between the government and the opposition. Although many criticized the Church, I find that there was no other way and that civil society, which the Church is part of, was strengthened. Although the Church was able to meet some of its own demands, I don’t really think it was because it has common interests with the government, except for momentary tactical considerations. Strategically, the government and the Church are not going in the same direction.
There are now 400,000 self-employed workers who do not depend on the state. But what work has the opposition done among these workers? They do not think about human rights, but about their most basic needs. What they want is greater economic liberalization.
These 400,000 self-employed are a field in which we must work. We ought to create many more spaces, small schools about Cuban history, political courses, lessons about what a constitution is, about rights, because people will gradually come around.
The opposition has not given the importance that it should to the formation of civic society. You cannot fight for change if people do not even know where they have come from or where they are going.
The day that the opposition can say that the fifteen percent of the population that does not attend the elections is on its side, it will be a minority against the remaining eighty-five percent, but it will represent a great force because then it would be structured, and then it would be realistic to see the possibility of negotiations.

That’s what we have to work for. If we look at the history of Cuba, we see that we have always been changing, and yet we are now more backward in human rights than in 1878, because we backtracked on civil liberties. The Revolution of 1959 seemed like the greatest thing, but we fell into a trap and ended up worse than before. So our work has to be from the ground up and with patience.

Translated by Tomás A.

10 May 2013

The Morality of the Survivor / Dimas Castellanos

At an extended meeting of the Council of Ministers held last Friday, May 13, the head of Foreign Commerce and Overseas Investments reported finding irregularities in business operations involving foreign capital and international contracts. Likewise, the minister of Finance and Planning spoke of irregularities and evidence of criminal activity related to fuel sales. Meanwhile, the Comptroller General of the Republic acknowledged that, though recent audits have shown the situation is improving, serious problems and vulnerabilities persist.

Any objective analysis of this issue must begin by banishing euphemisms that just serve to sugarcoat reality. It is not an issue of irregularities but of marked ethical deterioration, of corruption, that while it did not begin in 1959, it was only after that date that it moved from the arena of political administration to all aspects of society, becoming not only part of the culture but an impediment to the government’s own efforts. This phenomenon which began with the economy and later seeped into Cubans’ spiritual consciousness is one of the factors pointing to the structural nature of the current crisis and the failure of attempts to overcome it through limited changes to the economy.

Among the factors contributing to this situation were the disappearance of tens of thousands of business owners and their replacement by “bosses,”[1] making absolute the “property of all the people,” and inadequate salaries and pensions, a combination of noxious factors that has led to theft, bribes and deceit in order to survive. It happens this way because morality is an amalgam of socially accepted standards of conduct which evolve in response to changes in goals, interests and social conditions; therefore, survival has become part of our morality stemming from the profound structural crisis in which we find ourselves.

The changes being implemented in Cuba under the title of Political, Economic and Social Guidelines of the Communist Party are stymied by the worst decline in moral conduct ever seen in our history. The struggle to survive, which stems from multiple frustrations, has led to apathy, hopelessness and escapism as reflected in a morality that employs various forms of patriotic vocabulary. The struggle now is not about abolishing slavery, achieving independence or overthrowing tyranny; it is simply about surviving. Nor is it a matter of “Freedom or Death” or “Fatherland or Death” but rather “Life or Death,” the slogan of the survivor.

The explanation for all this is that the primary moral and human imperative is the preservation of life. When social conditions preclude any hope of fulfillment, people are left with only two options: to renounce life or to survive. This is why Cubans, faced with inadequate salaries, turned to illegal activities; faced with the impossibility of being entrepreneurs, to the “Estaticular[2]” way, in other words, expenses for the State and dividends for the individual[3]; faced with shortages, to theft from the State whose property actually belongs to “all the people.” To the absence of opportunity, they respond by escaping into exile. To ideological entreaties, they respond with apathy. Certain verbs — to escape, to struggle, to resolve — have come to mean acquiring that vital “something extra,” in other words, to survive.

Faced with this obstinate reality, the State’s only option is repression: more police, more surveillance, more restrictions, and inspectors — actions which only address the symptoms without taking into account their causes, among which was the turn toward totalitarianism, that erased the citizen from the Cuban political scene. But what is most striking, as we can see from the examples below, is the stubborn focus on effects and the disregard for causality.

On May 22, 2001 the newspaper Juventud Rebelde published an article, “The Hunter of Deceptions” about a popular inspector in charge of rooting out instances of fraud in the quality, weight, price and sale of unauthorized goods in State stores. According to this inspector, when a violator was presented with evidence of his crime, customers became upset and actually came to the the man’s defense. In other words the victims stood up for their victimizer, demonstrable proof that the morality of the survivor enjoys popular acceptance.

On Saturday, November 28, 2003 Granma published “Price Violations and the Never-Ending Battle.” In it an official with the Ministry of Finance’s Office of Price Supervision reported that in the first eight months of this year there were irregularities found in 36% of the establishments inspected. In the case of farmers’ markets, festivals, outdoor food stalls and other points of sale for produce, the figure was 47%. In the food-service sector it was over 50%.

Granma reported that on Saturday, December 24, 2005, in an address to the National Assembly of People’s Power, Pedro Ross — then Secretary General of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC) — said, “There are workers who respond but there are others who don’t and who continue to justify theft and other wrongful conduct.”

On February 16, 2007 Granma reported in the article “Cannibals on the Towers” on the theft of the metal braces that support the transmission towers for high voltage electricity. In 2004, 1,648 pieces of bracing disappeared from a 220,000 volt power grid and 545 from a 100,000 volt grid. In 2005, 532 and 544, respectively, were stolen from these two power grids. In 2006 — after stepping up surveillance, applying technical solutions and imposing sanctions — 267 and 1827 disappeared. There was a decrease in thefts from the 200,000 volt network only because screws and bracing up to a six-meter height were welded together, but the tenacious “fighters” climbed higher. Similarly, electrical transmission cables were stolen from the power grid for their aluminum and copper.

On Friday, October 26, 2010, Granma published an article called “The Price of Indolence” which reported that in the Villa Clara’s municipality of Corralillo 300 homes were built using stolen materials and resources. Some 9,631 meters of roadway material had been used in 240 of the inspected homes; 82% of them had train tracks taken from the Ministry of Sugar, disrupting 25 kilometers of rail lines; and 59 pieces of steel bracing from high-voltage electrical towers were used.

Even more recently, February 19 and 26, 2012, Juventud Rebelde, published an article containing an interview of the Comptroller of the Republic where she said: “According to our findings, the causes of corruption range from the fact of not having contracts overseen because the person who was supposed to do it didn’t do it,  and the person that had to ensure they had reviewed it didn’t review it, or didn’t review it properly.

To that you have to add the constant pocketing of resources, the endless legal processes even to to the level of high ranking officials.

What the newspapers (i.e. Granma, Juventud Rebelde) have failed to show from the journalistic point of view, is the relationship that exists between, on the one side, corruption, and on the other the absolute State ownership of resources, the low salaries and the impossibility to be entrepreneurs.  If they had addressed this, they  would have shown the uselessness of repression if is not accompanied by measures that tackle the causes, because the police, the informers, the simple inspectors, integral inspectors or the inspector of the inspectors are all Cubans with the same needs as the rest of the population and thus they practice the same prevailing morality.

To change the course of the events, the economic changes will have to be extended to the rest of the social spheres, even if quite late; which means that they will have to look again to the civil liberties without which the formation and predominance of the civil morality required by the present and the future of Cuba will be impossible.


[1] That is, administrators, managers, directors.

[2] This is a play on words:  It combines the words Estado (State) and particular (private individual in this context).

[3] Through theft of State property

UPEC and the Freedom of the Press / Dimas Castellanos

The few expectations generated by the Ninth Congress of the Union of Journalists and Writers of Cuba ( UPEC ), held last weekend, ended in frustration. The changes that demand journalism plays an effective role in social transformations were conspicuous by their absence. The conclave ignored the issue of press freedom, a vital issue to delve into the causes of the current crisis and suggest possible solutions, although Cuba has a rich history in this area.

The Camaguey national hero Ignacio Agramonte, in defending his thesis in law said: The right to think freely corresponds to the freedom of discussion, of doubt, of opinion, as phases or directions of that.

The press in Cuba was inaugurated with Papel Periodico (Newsprint) in Havana in 1790; it disseminated the accord reached with the Pact of Zanjón of 1878, thanks to which Juan Gualberto Gomez won the legal process against the colonial authorities which allowed the public disclosure of the ideas of those supporting independence. It was multiplied during the Republic: Diario de La Marina, Bohemia, El País, El Mundo, Alerta, Noticias de Hoy, La Calle, Prensa Libre, Carteles and Vanidades, to cite just ten. In 1930 there were 61 radio stations, a number that placed Cuba 4th worldwide; and as for television, in 1950, almost immediately after the United States, Television Radio Union Channel 4, the third television station in Latin America, followed the same year by Channel 6.

Thanks to the media, from the colony to the Republic , the debate of ideas reached such importance that it is impossible to explain any event in our history without considering the role of press freedom. The best evidence was the allegation of Dr. Fidel Castro, known as History Will Absolve Me, in which he said: Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom. The people were not satisfied with the government, but the people could change it… Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, hours of doctrine on radio, debate programs on television, public meetings…”

The Russian historian, sociologist and politician Pavel Milyukov, in an article entitled In defense of the word, defined the press as the finest and most perfect expression of socio-psychological forms of interaction; he explained that the rules of relationship between man and society constitute the core of human rights and freedom of the press is the only civil liberty can guarantee all the others. continue reading

If, from the ideas expressed, we accept that press freedom is an indispensable factor for social development, any action to preclude it, can only be described as an act against the development of the country and the dignity of the people.

Yes, the nation really is everyone, Communists or not, revolutionaries or not, intellectuals or not, everyone has the right to think, express and disseminate their ideas freely, as active subjects in national issues. The opposite is exclusion, totalitarianism or apartheid. So in the age of the newest information technologies and communications, any restrictions on press freedom in a country with such a rich tradition of freedom are inadmissible.

Suffice it to recall that in difficult years like 1947, 1950 and the day after the assault on the Moncada barracks in 1953, Noticias de Hoy (News of Today), organ of the then Communist Party (People’s Socialist Party) was shut down. However, time and again, thanks to the so-called freedom of the “bourgeois” press, the communists, supported by much of the existing press, demanded that they be re-opened and succeeded, even though Noticias de Hoy advocated class struggle to overthrow the ruling system.

However — returning to the Cuban of today — the member of the Politburo, Miguel Diaz-Canel, at the closing ceremony of UPEC, suggested that what is needed to feed the desire to improve the press and make it more virtuous press is dialogue. That is, the official press is virtuous and those virtues, in his words, lie in having denounced the imperialist campaigns of internal and external enemies, so it is able and has as its mission to contribute to the achievement of a prosperous and sustainable socialism. We need to support — said Diaz-Canel — a set of principles for the Cuban press, extracted from the thoughts of José Martí and Fidel.

The question to Diaz-Canel is if what Fidel said about civil society and citizens’ freedoms during the Moncada trial retains its value, and with respect to Martí it is good to remember the central idea that he presented on the Third Anniversary of the Cuban Revolutionary Party: A people is composition of many wills, vile or pure, frank and grim, hindered by shyness or precipitated by ignorance.

Several journalists from the official press praised the subordination of the press for the purpose of PCC, as in the case of Oscar Sánchez Serra, in his article “The Congress of those we see, hear and read,” published in Granma on 15 July, that posited that the journalist is a builder of socialism.

But the person who more clearly summarized the praises of the subordination of the official press to the PCC was Victor Joaquin Ortega, who in a short editorial appeared in the weekly Tribuna de La Habana, Sunday, 14 July, wrote: “We are the weapon of the Communist Party of Cuba, the only one we need for the struggle, the son of the dignity and creative line of the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded and led by the Apostle [José Martí].”

These and other similar proposals demonstrate that the journalism of UPEC is the journalism of a political party and of a specific ideology, so that it cannot define itself as representative of the Cuban press in general, whose natural plurality extends beyond the communist ideas.

The official press sustains itself on the base of restrictions on the freedom of the press, it as not — as Jorge Barata expressed it well in a dossier on the subject published in Lay Space — plural, nor open, so it is prevented from speaking in the name of Cuban society in total. The PCC defines it politics, based on the limits established in the Cultural Congress of 1961: Within the Revolution everything. Against the Revolution nothing, a limit that should begin by defining what a revolution is and then demonstrating that there is a revolution in Cuba.

The exclusion is not only unjust and unacceptable, but unreal, because the new technologies prevent it. Another press has emerged, parallel and coexisting with the official press. Lay Space, Coexistence, Critical Observatory, Voices, the SPD Bulletin, Cuba Spring and dozens of blogs and websites that do not respond to the PCC, whose importance lies in the decision to participate, without permission, from differing views on the problems of the nation. An alternative journalism, independent, citizen and participatory, reflecting realities ignored by the official press and complying with the requirements of traditional journalism and includes others which are possible with the new technologies, despite the obstacles represented by the lack of freedom of the press.

From Diario de Cuba

2 July 2013

Interview with Dimas Castellanos

Dimas is second from right.

Dimas is second from right.

Interview with Dimas Castellanos Marti, historian and journalist.

From Havana, Felix Sautie Mederos

Por Esto! asks:

“Unravel the causes of the crisis our society finds itself in (…) The concept of race as a group of hereditary characteristics seems to lack foundation, as a social construction it has a damaging effect on human dignity (…) In 1959, the democratic, popular Revolution inflicted the hardest blow in the history of Cuban racism  (…) Then, racism, expelled by law, took refuge in the mind waiting for better times (…)” A pending challenge…

Dimas Cecilio Castellanos Marti is a name that’s repeated in digital spaces, on account of his articles which refer to current problems that impede the development of Cuba and the quest for historical clues that have influenced its emergence and evolution.  Like all people who write and publish their ideas, he has won friends and also detractors.  There are even some who discredit and try to silence him, considering him in the camp of the enemy.  These dogmatic perceptions have been caused by many divisions of Cubans, including between those in favor of social justice and distributive equality.  These are practices we have to eradicate and give a real 180 turn to these narrow minds that contribute little to the development and future and become a very significant indicator of the necessity to achieve the changing of minds that President Raul Castro has reiterated so often.  Perhaps it is because they don’t dare to debate with him about his opinions or because they opt for the easiest way to stay out of problems with what one could call “the established.”

It’s precisely in honor of this change of mind that I’m interviewing friend Dimas, with the goal of making explicit his life and his opinions without exception of any kind; I believe it interesting to express the thoughts of this author who, despite being excluded by some, stays strong in his progressive opinions in favor of peace, liberty, distributive equity and social justice.  I have had the opportunity to know him closely, we have been together in Christian efforts and in theological and Bible study.  I am a witness to his exceptional, unwavering closeness to Christianity.

I consider his research, his origin and his intellectual development worthy of divulging, even more so because of the significance that they have acquired due to the motive of the recent debate over the article published by the Cuban intellectual Roberto Zurbano in The New York Times with the controversial title, “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution hasn’t Begun,” which, according to its author, was a distortion of the original title he sent to the New York paper: “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution hasn’t Ended.”

Felix Sautie: I understand that you were a member of the Socialist Youth in the former province of Oriente and that you participated in the 8th Assembly of the Popular Socialist Party at the triumph of the Revolution.  Is that true?

Dimas Castellanos:  Yes, that happened.  I served in the Socialist Youth (JS), the youth organization of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP).  I was Secretary of my Base Committee, President of this organization in the municipality of Bayamo and Delegate at its last congress.  In 1960 I entered the ranks of the PSP, where I served until its dissolution in 1962.  It’s true that I participated in the 8th Assembly of PSP, celebrated in August of 1960, but not as a Delegate.  It just so happened that when this event was celebrated I was in the PSP National School for Leaders and it was decided that the students would participate in some sessions that were being celebrated in the Comodoro Hotel, very near where the school was located. In this Assembly, which was the last of the PSP, they approved the thesis: “Defend the Revolution and advance it,” which meant propel the democratic, popular revolution to socialism and communism, which were the objectives of the Communist Party of that time.

FS: How did you happen to join this Communist militancy and what has been your evolution since then up till now?

Dimas Castellanos: My joining the communist militancy had family and class roots.  My father, a tobacconist, was a member of the PSP.  He worked in our house along with 7 or 8 other cigar rollers.  From a young age I heard conversations about politics, culture, science and other subjects; something characteristic of this trade that permits talk and debate without interrupting production, which explains the high cultural training that workers in this sector had.  Also, though with less intensity, this happened in the typography trade, in which I worked as an apprentice in various print shops that existed in Bayamo.  In this cultural environment, along with the civics education from public school, my socialist ideas of liberty and social justice hatched and my vocation for politics, history and pedagogy developed. continue reading

As for my evolution I can tell you that in 1956, when the landing of the yacht Granma happened, I was only 14 years old, but I already had a considerable political consciousness.  For that reason I linked with the Socialist Youth and joined the PSP.  Later, in October of 1960, when the JS, together with the youth organizations of the Revolutionary Directorate March 13 and the Movement July 26, integrated into the Association of Rebel Youth (AJR), I was designated as president in Bayamo.  Following that, I held various positions in various municipalities and in the provincial management, both in AJR and in the Union of Communist Youth (UJC), until July of 1962.

From that moment until today, my ideas have evolved from the constant incorporation of new knowledge, from an open mind, from the busy political responsibilities, from participation in conferences and other events, from events I experiences around Real Socialism during my stay in Russia, from my studies in Political Science, from my participation in the Youth Centennial Column in the Cuban Military Mission in Ethiopia.  All of that, along with my constant reading has permitted me to develop a critical analysis of the progress of the revolutionary process.  Even though my socialist ideas (social justice and liberty) are the same, I understood the impossibility of constructing a socialist society on the back of civil liberties. For me, socialism cannot exist unless it’s democratic, which is impossible given the total control of the State over society.

FS: You were a worker starting from a young age, I believe a welder and you had many jobs, but currently you’re at the university level, you have been a university professor and you have a very active intellectual life. Do you want to explain to our readers of Por Esto! this cultural evolution, what are you doing now?

Dimas Castellanos: I started working as a boy, first helping my mother in the selling of clothes in rural areas, in being a distributor of fresh milk, in a workshop that made fine-cut tobacco, selling sweets and eggs in the streets, etc. Later, from age 11 on I worked in various shops as an apprentice of typography, blacksmiths, and welding, which was my final trade.  Precisely because I was a welder, when I left work in the management in UJC, the Commander Joel Iglesas, Secretary General of this organization with whom I had a magnificent relationship, started me in a work position in the construction of the Renté Thermoelectric plant.  Later I moved, within the same position, to the construction of buildings in the Jose Marti District, also in Santiago de Cuba.

Due to my working life, during my childhood I studied irregularly until the 5th grade of  education.  Being in Renté, now 21 years of age, I took an educational test in which I scored as 4th grade and from that level I restarted my studies, always on the night shift.  With the help of a private teacher (Ana Parodi Dominguez) I reached the 6th grade in 2 months and in 1964 I enrolled in Secundaria Obrera (Secondary Adult Basic Education)–one year in duration– and I entered into the Facultad Obrera Campesina (Higher Level Adult Basic Education) that functioned as an annex  of the University of Oriente, where in two and a half years I reached a level “equivalent” to a pre-college student.  In 1967 I was selected to study metallurgy in Russia, since at that time the Government of Cuba had the goal of converting the Island into a metallurgy power.  I stayed for 2 years in that country, but my basic accelerated training turned out to be insufficient to complete the studies: I had spent less that four years from 4th grade to 12th grade.  On my return to Cuba I spent six months in the Youth Centennial Column and in 1971 I enrolled in Political Science, where I was second in my class and I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree.  While waiting for my diploma, because of my condition as Student Aid in Social Psychology, I was allowed to simultaneously take various courses in the School of Psychology at the University of Havana, which helped me develop a much more holistic formation.

Once I graduated I started to work as a professor of Marxist Philosophy in the Agricultural Department of the University of Havana (which became the Superior Institute of Agriculture and Livestock of Havana in 1976), where, for not circumscribing myself to the schematism that was demanded in the teaching of this subject and for not being a member of the Communist Party, I was fired from teaching, despite the excellent evaluations I had obtained.  Following that I relocated as a technician of Information Science, I enrolled in various post-graduate courses and joined my philosophical knowledge with this activity, which they told me was “the philosophy of information.” In 1992 because of my socialist democrat ideas, I was excluded from the Ministry of Higher Education.

Currently, as an amateur historian, I dedicate myself to researching and writing about the relations between the Cuban predicament of today and the preceding history.  I publish the results in El Blog de Dimas and in various alternative digital publications.  I occupy myself with this activity, now that I consider that after having participated in the revolutionary process, having evolved culturally and politically and having an understanding of the role of history in the unfolding of social processes, I can’t do anything but help, from inside my country, to unravel the causes of the crisis which our society finds itself in.

FS: The disciplines that you have studied include Biblical studies and theology. What concepts do you have of spirituality and religious faith?  How do you place yourself in these dimensions of life?

Dimas Castellanos: In the year 2001, 26 years after finishing my bachelor’s degree in Political Science, I enrolled in the Institute of Biblical Studies and Theology (ISEBIT), where I graduated in 2006.  My interest in the study of theology came from lived spiritual experiences that didn’t have an explanation within the Marxist Theory.  I was baptized and joined the Movement of Christian Workers.  Once I familiarized myself with the essence of the Christian ideas I understood their relation with social justice, liberties and politics, which because of their impact on the destiny of people and people could not be far from Christ.  For this reason, I incorporated spirituality and religious faith into my world view.  If one of the manifestations of politics is the fulfillment of needs, or as some like to express it, the art of making the necessary possible, without a doubt Jesus practiced politics.  The debate then moves to explaining the peculiar form in which he did it.  If Jesus was, or was not, a revolutionary.

Revolution is one way to change reality, which overflows with social injustices, but always independent of the form it which it arises, it consists of an intent at an extreme solution which becomes active when legal and/or moderate attempts fail and imposes a radical modification of the existing situation.  The fact is that, by the use of violence, in revolutions it is always imposed on the most capable at work, as irrefutable demonstrated in universal history.

This form of fighting for justice is different from the teachings of Jesus, for whom forgiveness was a cornerstone.  Thus, between the revolutionary form of hoping to reach a “shining world” and the ways employed by Jesus Christ to reach the Kingdom of God, they only agree on the declared objective in favor of justice and the happiness of human beings.  From there they move apart, since forgiveness, love, peace and conviction are the characteristic foundations of the Christian doctrine.  So Jesus was not a stranger to the political dimension in which I placed my life.  More precisely, my adhesion to Christian ideas of ethics and social justice along with my vocation for history has considerably influenced the study of the founders of the Cuban nationality, starting with the Father Felix Varela.

FS: Then what importance do you give studies of history and their use in political and economic analysis?

Dimas Castellanos: All presents have their keys in the past, history becomes an indispensable source and an essential tool for the understanding of social phenomenon.  Men can accelerate or retard the progress of history, but they cannot stop it.  In Cuba, after 1959, they tried to attribute an eternal character to a temporary event, which drove the postponement of the constant transformations that all societies demand. Today, in breaking the stagnation for diverse causes, the country is seeing the obligation to correct the wrong path.  A task which surpasses any man, group, party, or institution and requires, therefore, the participation of everyone and a structural, systemic focus in tune with the crisis in which we are immersed, where historiography–analysis and interpretation of historical events–has a hugely important role to play; since it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to find viable ways out of our problems without taking into account the ideas contained in the civic, political, economic, cultural and scientific thinking of illustrious Cubans who came before us.  This passion for history is reflected in each opinion I present and in all the articles and essays that I write.

FS: I have had the opportunity to read some of your work on the problem of blacks in Cuba and we have sometimes discussed that subject.  In this line of thinking, I’d like to ask you some questions that I consider to be important.  

First of all: Really after everything the Revolution of 1959 has achieved to this date, are there still racial problems that affect the life and social development of the Cuban black and mulatto population?  And if this is true, could you give a brief outline on the subject?  

Dimas Castellanos: Yes, racial problems continue.  The concept of race as a group of hereditary characteristics lacks foundation, as a social construction it has a damaging effect on human dignity.  In Cuba it’s about a complex phenomenon intertwined with our economic, sociological, and cultural history which is reproduced in time.  In this sense I advance in the form of a thesis, some of the aspects and key moments:

Black Africans appeared on the Cuban scene in the beginning of the 16th century, but it was towards the end of the 18th century that their massive entrance transformed the ethnic composition of the population, the geography, the history, the culture and the social structure of the country.

Not being the owners of their own bodies and subjected to inhumane living conditions, blacks responded by rebelling: the cimarronería [1], the apalencamientos [2], and staged uprisings. Through these rebellions blacks almost single-handedly wrote a chapter of our national history.

Faced with total inequality with respect to whites, blacks became creole, but in a different way from white creoles, which, to paraphrase Jorge Manach, precluded their a putting common goal above of their distinguishing features.

During the 10 Years’ War, begun in 1868, land-owning whites aspired to economic and political liberty while blacks aspired to the abolition of slavery. The simultaneous existence of these goals — independence and abolition — constituted the starting point for the formation of a national consciousness in a context where inequality and racial discrimination acted in opposing directions. This war, though it ended without fully achieving its objective, dealt a blow to the institution of slavery by liberating slaves who had participated in battle during the war and legally endorsed some liberties (contained in the Zanjon Convention), which gave birth to Cuban civil society.

In the interim between the 10 Years’ War and the start of the War of 1895, Juan Gualberto Gomez — supported by the colonial resolutions that limited exclusion from service due to race — introduced various principles similar to those that Martin Luther King would use six decades later in the civil rights struggle of American blacks and founded the Directorio Central de Sociedades de Color. From his position as a social activist he mobilized thousands of blacks to resistance. Facing arduous incidents while adhering to the law, he won access to spaces and facilities such as balcony and orchestra seats in theaters as well as to public classrooms, which until then had been limited to white children.

At the re-initiation of the war of independence, when slavery had already been abolished, blacks were newly incorporated, this time with an agenda of social equality. As before, due to their expertise in the use of machetes and living in the jungle, equality and solidarity between black and white fighters overcame racial prejudice.

With the coming of the Republic, where these skills were useless, a sociological program aimed at reducing the economic and cultural gap between whites and blacks was lacking. That lack was reflected in public office, in commerce, banks, insurance agencies, communications, transportation, tobacco stores and even the armed forces, which replaced the Liberation Army was made up mostly of whites, in a country where the 60% of the fighters for independence had been black.

The constant frustrations in the early republican years led to the founding of the Independent Party of Color in 1908 and the armed uprising of its members in May 1912. This last action ended with the most horrible crime committed in our history, because in addition to the thousands of blacks who were killed, killing happened between white-skinned Cubans against black-skinned Cubans, once again hindering the unfinished process of a common identity and destiny.

In the 1930s, various press organs, radio stations and leading figures in Cuban politics and culture engaged in a public debate against racism, thereby aiding the integration and social and cultural development of blacks, and as a result, strengthening the awareness of a common destiny. One of the results was the inclusion, in the 1940 Constitution, of a legal principle essential to the promotion of equality between blacks and whites, that stated, “all discrimination on the basis of race, color or class or any other cause harmful to human dignity is illegal and punishable.” However, this beginning was left incomplete in the never enacted complementary criminal law against discrimination.

In 1959, the Democratic and Popular Revolution dealt the most serious blow to Cuban racism throughout its history. However, with the dismantling of the existing civil society, in addition to its benefits also lost were the civic instruments and spaces that had contributed to the progress made so far. The mistake was to believe that racial discrimination existed as a result of social classes, so that once these were eliminated, they proceeded to announce its end in Cuba. Such a significant “achievement” led to the decision to remove the subject from public debate. Thus, racism, expelled by law, took refuge in people’s minds, waiting for better times.

Nevertheless the equality of rights among blacks and whites proclaimed by law had a weak spot: inequality that had been inherited and left unresolved. In other words the starting point, seemingly the same for both blacks and whites, put the former at a serious disadvantage. This explains why universities that had been primarily black and mulatto re-acquired their previous racial profile over time. Why was this? Among the reasons were that black families, with rare exceptions, could not give their descendents’ studies the importance they required given their own backgrounds. (I remember my father, the grandson of a slave, telling my mother, “Leave him be! He will study when he is big.”) In other words the familial support so necessary to success was missing, which facilitated a return to the former status quo.

Even during the very real crisis Cuban socialism experienced in 1989, blacks did not emigrate for well-known historical reasons and missed out on the much-anticipated cash remittances from relatives overseas. Evidence of this can be seen in the re-appearance of social inequities, in the high proportion of blacks in prison, in their significant presence during the mass exodus of 1994, in their concentration in poor, marginalized neighborhoods and subsequently in the re-emergence of discrimination.

In short, throughout our history racism was not treated in the comprehensive way that such a complex phenomenon requires, as consequence it continues into the present in our society, through half a century of revolutionary power. The most recent proof of the debate is about the black intellectual Roberto Zurbano, director of the Editorial Fund of Casa de las Americas, suspended from this responsibility because of his article which The New York Times published under the headline “For Black in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” even though in an interview, he clarified that the original title was really that the revolution “hadn’t ended,” but reaffirmed his ideas that “on racism there is still much to discuss.”

In this polemic there are two distinguishing aspects: one, whether racism is present in Cuba or no; the other, the treatment of the subject given by Zurbano’s critics.

Regarding the former, exactly related to the theories presented, I will only refer to the two basic questions posed by Zurbano:

The economic difference created two contrasting realities that persist today.  The first is that of the white Cubans, who have mobilized their resources to enter into a new economy driven by the market and to reap the benefits of a kind of socialism that is supposedly more open.  The other is the plurality of the blacks, which is witness to the death of utopian socialism.

This statement confirms the similarity between the situation between the blacks higher up in the Republic, lacking economic means and instruction, and the lack of positioning today, to participate under conditions of equality when faced with the measures of economic liberty that are being dictated.  One fact that reveals the reproduction of the causes, one of the sources of Cuban’s participation are foreign shipments, before which blacks are at a total disadvantage.  Therefore, dark-skinned Cubans continue to be unequal from the start.

Racism has been hidden and has been reinforced in Cuba in part because it is not talked about.  The Government has not permitted racial prejudices to be debated or confronted either politically or culturally.  Instead, they frequently pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Here lies another key to the continuation of racism.  They suspended debate on the subject and now, 54 years later, it’s not only uncomfortable to accept it, but a few of the intellectuals who have attacked Zurbano even go so far as to deny its existence.

Regarding the second aspect, referring to the treatment given the subject by Zurbano’s critics, what jumps out is an additional difficulty in the eradication of racial discrimination in Cuba: the absence of cultural dialogue and debate that has essentially nullified the social sciences.

In Cuba it’s not possible to have a basic, objective dialogue without transgressing the limits imposed by the dominant ideology.  This is a sufficient obstacle to destroy the effectiveness of debate over solutions to social problems.  In this sense the statement of Guillermo Rodriguez Rivera: The Cuban Revolution not only began the struggle against racism and discrimination but nor can one can say that this struggle had never been so deep as in this moment of our history, it’s a proposal that completely lacks foundation.

In another part Rodriguez Rivera noted that Zurbano should investigate the subject with his elders.  This and other proposals of Zurbano’s critics reveal the limits established by the powers-that-be which comply in part with intellectuality; a behavior which tends to paralyze thought and debate, at the same time classifying within the absurd and worn down categories of friends and enemies those who think differently from what is permitted.

Without failing to recognize the role played by some emerging spaces for debate, the complexity of the subject of race in Cuba makes necessary public debate, where, paraphrasing Victor Fowler, all points of view participate.

Racial discrimination is and continues to be a serious obstacle towards sharing a common destiny among all Cubans.  For all of these reasons, the controversy provoked by Zurbano’s article should be converted into a road towards reaching a consensus among all possible solutions to the unresolved subject of racial discrimination.

FS: My second question is about the problems of persistent racism is: from your point of view what could be the essential lines of a solution?

Dimas Castellanos: I believe the essential lines towards a solution should emerge from research, political debate and consensus.  No one holds the truth in his hands, but we can shape it among all of us.  What is clear, as history has shown us, is that eradication does not only depend on the proclamation of laws, which is what has been done since the birth of the Republic until today, but also from a multidisciplinary analysis of its origin, development and treatment.

FS: And my third question on the subject: What relations might these problems have with the definition, evolution and development of our national identity?

Dimas Castellanos: If we understand that a nation–from the sociological point of view–is the fusion of principle social factors that make up a country, resulting from a long process of closeness and social, cultural and economic integration that gradually drives unity across difference, in a moment of history and in a determined territory, then the relation of the subject of racial discrimination is determined by the evolution and development of our national identity, since sharing a common destiny is impossible in conditions of inequality.  This is the remaining challenge.

FS: Finally, I should tell you that this is the first time we are interviewing you; perhaps in the future we will have to come back to these subjects, but before we finish I want to ask you if you have something you’d like to add to this publication.

Dimas Castellanos: The Conviction that the situation in Cuba will not find a viable exit, until both liberties and rights are permitted, first of all, the reconstruction of the concept of citizenship, today absent, and from there confronting the many challenges that Cuban society has in front of itself, to be able to insert itself into the age of globalization, information and new communication technology which has its starting point in the total incorporation of Cuba into the international agreements on human rights.

fsautie@yahoo.com

Notes:

[1] Cimarrones are runaway slaves: slaves fleeing their masters who lived solitary lives in the hills.

[2] Apalencados, stable communities of runaway salves, were located in areas difficult for their persecutors to access, such as shantytowns. Made up of a series huts, they were characterized by economic self-sufficiency.

[3] T. FERNANDEZ ROBAINA. Black in Cuba 1902-1958, p. 144

Unicorn, Sunday June 16, 2013

From Por Esto!

24 July 2013