On Racism There is Still Much to Discuss / Dimas Castellanos

Roberto Zurbano
Roberto Zurbano

This past March 23, the prize-winning essayist, critic and literary investigator Roberto Zurbano, who up until this moment functioned as the director of the Editorial Fund of Casa de las Americas, was dismissed from the position.  This measure was taken a few days after the US newspaper “The New York Times,” published an article under the headline “For Blacks in Cuba the Revolution Hasn’t Begun.”  In an interview given to The Associated Press, in which he clarified that the headline he gave his article was “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Ended,” Zurbano reaffirmed his essential ideas on the subject when he stated that, “on racism there is still much to discuss.”

Rather than driving an objective reflection on the subject, the aforementioned article unfortunately provoked a bit of throat-slashing on the part of some Cuban intellectuals who did not share his opinions.

As it is, the ensuing controversy tested Zurbano’s proposal about the survival of racism in Cuba.  As this thesis coincided with opinions that I have shown in various works on racial discrimination in Cuba, I took advantage of the opportunity to return to the vital point of social relations in Cuba and their effect on the life and social development of the dark-skinned population in Cuba and consequently on all Cubans.

The essential point is that throughout our history racism was not treated in the comprehensive way that such a complex phenomenon requires. This failure is one of the causes for its endurance and continuation throughout the 20th century, in spite of half a century of revolutionary power. To augment this claim, I will briefly list in the form of a thesis a group of key facts, aspects and moments related to this social phenomenon. continue reading

The concept of race as a group of hereditary characteristics is certainly without foundation. As a social construct it has a damaging effect on human dignity. In Cuba, it stems from a complex phenomenon intertwined with our economic, sociological and cultural history which is replicated over time.

From a sociological point of view the nation is the fusion of the principal social factors which make up a country, resulting from a long process of gradual cohesion as well as social, cultural, and economic integration that gradually moves, in time and at a given moment, towards unity across differences.

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. They became runaways, formed apalencamientos* 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 sharing common goal on top of the 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 persistence of inequalities and 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.” However, this principle was left incomplete in the never enacted 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.

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. In colonial times there was no interest in solving the problems of the black man. The issue was recognized during the republican era, which allowed for the right of association and political debate, addressed it in the constitution and achieved certain advances. These, however, were not accompanied by corresponding institutional measures.

The consequences of racism are reproduced and continue to be present in our society, where the decision to increase the proportion of blacks and people of mixed race en some bodies, as has happened in the National Assembly of People’s Power, gives evidence that the problem is still present.  The most recent proof is exactly the controversy around the black intellectual Roberto Zurbano.

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 in Cuba, whose fundamental lines  emerge  from studies, public 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, as in necessary projects directed to this goal.

* 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.

Published in Convivencia

8 July 2013

Cuba: The Relationship Between Wages and Corruption / Dimas Castellano

Raul to anppExperience, supported by social sciences, teaches that interest is an indispensable engine for achieving goals. In the case of the economy, the ownership of the means of production and the amount of wages decisively influence the interests of producers. When that interest disappears, as happened in Cuba with the process of nationalization, the impediment to ownership and/or receiving wages that correspond to one’s efforts, forced Cubans to seek alternative sources to survive through the appropriation of the supposed property of the whole people.

Such conduct, prolonged over too great a time, becomes the moral component, that is, the socially accepted norms that are generalized throughout the whole society. To low wages Cubans responded with alternative activities; to the absence of civil society, with life underground; to the lack of materials, theft from the state; and to the closure of all the possibilities, with the escape into exile. Actions expressed in the same way in the nineteenth century; but now, not to abolish slavery and achieve independence, but to fight to survive. A collection of behaviors summarized in the popular expression: “Here what we must not do, is die.”

Given this reality, the government’s response focused on repression: police, surveillance, restrictions, inspectors and inspectors of the inspectors, expulsions, convictions and imprisonment. Actions on the effects, without taking into account that solutions require recognition of and action on the causes. continue reading

At the closing ceremony of the National Assembly of People’s Power on 7 July, the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), Raul Castro, said that the implementation of the Guidelines requires a permanent climate of order, discipline and exigency in Cuban society and the first step is to delve into the causes and conditions that have led to this phenomenon over many years.

He also added: We have perceived with pain during the 20-plus years of Special Period the growing deterioration of moral and civic values, such as honesty, decency, modesty, decorum, honor and sensitivity to others’ problems.

He enumerated the negative manifestations, known by everyone, including that to a part of society it has come to seem normal to steal from the State, concluding that: It is a real fact that the nobility of the Revolution has been abused when the full force of the law has not been utilized, however justified that might be, giving priority to persuasion and political work, which we must recognize has not always been sufficient. And recognizing that we have regressed in citizens’ culture and civics.

Despite what he declared, he failed to recognize that the grants received from abroad, based on ideological relationships and therefore beyond economic laws, were useless to promote development and that in its place, this “help” overlapped the inefficiency of the Cuban model until the collapse of the socialist camp revealed the falsity of the foundations that underpinned it.

At that time, instead of finally redirecting itself toward the creation of a proper and efficient economy, the Government limited itself to circumstantial changes in hopes of better times, until new subsidies, from Venezuela, allowed it to stop the reforms.

The attempt to ignore that the interrelated system of the elements that make up society suffers permanent mutations, which if not addressed in time compel us to reform the entire social structure, has characterized Raul Castro’s government. He is endowed with sufficient political will to preserve power, but without the need for structural reforms, decided to deepen the changes aimed at achieving a proper and efficient economy, but subordinated them to the maintenance of power, which explains the limitations and failures of commitment.

Amid these efforts, the disputed presidential elections in Venezuela in early 2013, triggered an alarm about the fragility of subsidies from the South American country, which has made the order of the day, with no possibility of retreat, the urgent need to deepen reforms already begun.

However, both the first measures implemented, like the most recent, occurring in the absence of a civil society with the capacity to influence them, has determined that the subject of the changes is the same that came to power in 1959. Given its prolonged duration, it has interests to defend and is responsible for everything that has happened, good or bad; a characteristic that prevents it from acting as might a movement that comes to power for the first time. For this reason the scope, direction, speed and pace of the changes have responded to the conservation of power.

Immersed in contradiction of advancing without structural reforms, the Government is facing the huge obstacle signified by the mismatches that have occurred in the social system for decades. Among these is the damaging effect of the disproportionate relationship between wages and the cost of living, as reflected in the prevailing corruption.

Read wages should at least be sufficient for the subsistence of workers and their families. This means that the minimum wage must provide a living, while incomes below that limit mark the “poverty line.” Since 1989, when a Cuban peso was worth almost nine times what it is worth now, the growth rate of wages began to be less than the rate of increase in prices, which explains why, despite increases in nominal wages, purchasing power has decreased to the point that wages are insufficient to survive.

With the average individual monthly salary, around 460 pesos (less than 20 CUC, which is less than $20), one can not cover basic needs. A study of two family units, one of them consisting of two people and the other of three, showed that the first family earns 800 pesos and spends 2391, almost three times more than its income; while the three-person family earns 1976 pesos and spends 4198, more than double what they take in.

The first family survives through remittances sent by a son who lives in the United States, while the second will not declare how they make up the difference. This disproportion is the main cause that, given the loss of the purchasing power of wages, the Cuban family dedicates itself massively to seeking alternative sources of income to survive, in most cases through activities outside the law.

Because it can only distribute what is produced, the government faces a complex contradiction. Cubans, unmotivated by salaries unrelated to the cost of living, are not willing to produce, and without increased production living conditions cannot improve.

The solution is not ideological calls for the people to step up, but to recognize the state as the main cause of the anomaly and so to decentralize the economy, allowing the formation of a middle class, freeing up everything that slows the increase in production, and even making possible the unification of the two currencies which would permit wage reform.

All this implies deepening the reforms to make them comprehensive in nature, including, of course, the restoration of civil liberties, something that so far the government has refused to do.

From Diario de Cuba

1 August 2013

If the Model Isn’t Working, What Hope Is There for the Copy? / Dimas Castellanos

In the second half of the 18th century Creole capabilities along with the effects of the English occupation of Havana and the Haitian revolution created favorable conditions for turning Cuba into a sugar powerhouse. Land owners understood the importance of rapidly developing the island’s agriculture before Haiti could recover. It was necessary to look to the neighboring island not only with compassion, said Francisco de Arango y Parreño, but also through political eyes. As a result Cuba became the main producer and exporter of sugar in the world.

Sugar production, which in 1860 was 447,000 tons, had reached 1,400,000 by 1895. In 1919 it exceeded 4,000,000. In 1925 it reached 5,300,000; in 1952 it was 7,200,000. In 1970, after a colossal effort that disrupted the entire Cuban economy, 8,500,000 tons were produced. After that, it began to decrease to the point that in 2001 it was no more than 3,500,000, a figure lower than that of 1919.

To reverse the decline General Ulises Rosales del Toro was appointed to head the Ministry of Sugar (MINAZ). The Sugar Industry Restructuring initiative and the Álvaro Reynoso Project were also implemented. The goal of the former was to achieve 11% output (to extract 11 tons of sugar for every 100 tons of sugar cane); the goal of the latter was to produce 54 tons of cane per hectare (according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization the world average was 63 tons).

The results of both projects led to 2.2 million tons being produced in 2002, 2.1 million in 2003, 2.52 in 2004 and 1.3 million in 2005 (a 40% decrease from the previous year). Results for 2006 and 2007 were similar to 2005. 2009 saw a slight increase to 1.4 million tons (the same as in 1895). The figures hit a low point in 2010 when only 1.1 million tons were produced. The annual average over ten years has barely topped 1.8 million tons. The harvest in 2011 remained below 1.3 million tons.

In response to its failures, MINAZ was replaced by the state sugar monopoly AZCUBA. With the two major factors that led to significantly reduced production on everyone’s minds, the organization made sure to plant enough cane and at the outset managed to secure almost all the necessary resources it had contracted for the 2012 harvest. Nevertheless, it was still only able to fulfill a target of 1,450,000 tons, and even then it did not meet its target date. Finally, in December 2012 — the beginning of the current harvest — AZCUBA decided to pool its accumulated knowledge and proposed a production quota of 1.7 million tons of sugar (20% higher than the previous harvest). It also announced that a majority of its factories would close before May to avoid the negative effects from that month’s heat and rain, factors which reduce the quality of sugarcane.

Difficulties quickly mounted. By the beginning of February there was a production delay of 7.8%. By the middle of March the state-run press noted that most of the thirteen sugar producing provinces would have to continue refining operations past the target date in order to be able to produce 1.7 million tons. By the end of March production delays had reached 18%. At the beginning of April the country was refining at 65% of its normal capacity due to a shortage of sugarcane. Cienfuegos and Artemisa provinces have reached approximately 90% of their goals. Matanzas has a shortfall of 30,000 tons while Villa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Las Tunas, Granma and Mayabeque are milling at 60% of normal capacity. At the end of May it was discovered that Camagüey, one of the provinces that had hoped to fulfill its quota, was lagging behind. Now, in late June, the end of the current harvest has still not been announced.

Results from the Uruguay central sugar refinery in Sancti Spiritus province, which for the last six years has fulfilled its technical economic quota, produced 8,000 tons more than the previous year and achieved an 11.95% rate of gross economic output, the highest in the country.

In summation, a change of management, the Sugar Industry Restructuring initiative, the Álvaro Reynoso Project, the closure of some one-hundred sugar factories, the reallocation of a large percentage of fields reserved for sugar cultivation to other crops, the replacement of MINAZ with AZCUBA and a varied package of economic and structural measures have not been sufficient to raise the per-hectare production of sugarcane or planned industrial output.

The 2013 harvest suffers from the same problems as those that preceded it: late starts, sugarcane shortages, low agricultural and industrial output, transportation problems, inadequate maintenance, industry-wide breakdowns, poor repairs to agricultural equipment, aging raw material, lack of spare parts, poorly trained personnel, administrative incompetence and high per-ton production costs, among other factors.

Although twenty years is nothing according to the popular tango anthem by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Lepera*, in economic terms it is long enough to know it is time to get rid the current model. Whether discussing the obsolete or the updated version, it simply does not and cannot work. This is because economic issues remain subordinate to ideology. State ownership of property predominates and the system of economic planning has no relationship to reality, having been copied from the Soviet model. The situation is similar to that of Cuba at the end of the 18th century when solutions imposed by Spain were no longer appropriate given the changes that had occurred on the island. Francisco de Arango y Parreño summed it up nicely when he said, “If the model no longer works, what hope is there for the copy?”

Havana, June 3, 2013

1 Ponte Domingo, Francisco J. Arango y Parreño; estadista colonial cubano, Edición del Centenario, Havana, 1937, p. 27.

*Translator’s note: A reference to a line from Volver, a popular 1934 tango by Argentinian singer and composer Carlos Gardel and lyricist Alfredo Lepera.

Published June 17 in Diario de Cuba

The Cuban Communist Party and the Workers Central Union / Dimas Castellanos

The XCIII Plenary of the National Council of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC) that recently met under the chairmanship of the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), agreed to postpone the celebration of its XX Congress, create an Organizing Committee and appoint Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento to its leadership.

The postponement of the XX Congress was made so that the newly created Organizing Committee would have more time to organize the event, which has a pending discussion on the Draft of the Labor Code Bill and on the Congress Rules document.

Considering that another Plenary of the National Council of the CTC in which the progress of the organization efforts for the Congress were discussed took place just a month ago, the following questions arise: Why wasn’t the date for the Congress proposed at the time? Why was Carmen Rosa López ratified at the front of the CTC until the celebration of the XX Congress? And why wasn’t the Organizing Committee created during the time of the convening or last month at the Plenary?

The answers seem to be related to the difficulties encountered in the preparatory meetings. If so, doubts point to a poor preparation and to the inability of the Second Secretary of the CTC to reach the goals set by the Communist Party (PCC). This assumption is based on the fact that Carmen Rosa López had been appointed as the head of the PCC until the celebration of the event and had been elected Member of the State Council, which indicated that she was going to be “the chosen one” as Secretary General in the XX Congress. However, surprisingly, she had just been replaced by Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, who was the Secretary General of the PCC in the Province of Artemisa two weeks ago.

The discussion topics, according to the preparatory meetings of the XX Congress, will be related to the economy and represent an unavoidable duty for the CTC and its unions to achieve the conscious mobilization and participation of all workers in the fulfillment of the economic and social policies that were passed in the VI Congress.

Nonetheless, in the preparatory meetings the inadequacies that conspire against what the PCC expects from the union movement were highlighted. By that I mean keeping the CTC as the only labor union under the control of the PCC to ensure support for the implementation of the recent reform Guidelines; for such purpose it would be necessary to enroll all workers under the same union, the CTC, particularly those self-employed from the private sector, who would tend to grow and provide the strength without which reaching the expected results would be impossible.

Some of the criteria expressed during the process shed light on what happened. Salvador Valdés Mesa explained in Matanzas, on March 8th, that even when retirees, state and non-state affiliates, represent three sources of affiliation with different interests, it is the self-employed who are demanding special attention because of the novelty they represent to the union movement. Then later that month,  in the report to the XCII Plenary, Valdés emphasized in the shortcomings faced in the functioning of the organization, in the affiliation of workers and he made a call to combat crime, illegalities and to perfect the workers’ guard service.

Meanwhile in an interview published in Granma on April 27th, Carmen Rosa López said, “We still frequently find in the collective convening of workers that they have not been affiliated because of the shortcomings of our work,” and she also said that in all of the questionnaires and assessments completed this year the statements from the assembly members make reference to wages; which shows that the goals set took a different path from that of the workers’ concerns.

The recurring concerns expressed by the workers show their non-recognition of the unions as representatives of their interests, especially after the statement made by the Workers Central Union (CTC) in September of 2010 in favor of the layoffs, a measure that directly affected workers and their families. The statement said: Our State cannot nor should it continue to sponsor companies, institutions of production and services that are budgeted with inflated payrolls and result in losses that drag down the economy, which is counterproductive, generates bad habits, and distorts the codes of conduct of workers.

To summarize, the main goal of the Congress is to emphasize the performance that is expected from workers by the PCC in the implementation of the Guidelines for reform, not to address their particular problems, such as the insufficient wages and pensions in relation to the cost of living, among others, which has led Cubans to survive on the fringes of the law turning their backs on the so-called ideology while creating a negative attitude that hinders the realization of any social project.

We have to remember that unions in Cuba emerged to defend the interests of workers  when paid work began replacing slave labor; that the labor movement became widespread with the General Law of Associations of 1888 and then with freedoms and rights recognized in the Constitution of 1901; that it showed its strength with the founding of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba in 1925 and with a general strike in 1933 that toppled Gerardo Machado’s regime; that it achieved the passing of a number of labor laws, including the most important in Cuban labor legislation — Decree 798 of 1938 — which was subsequently endorsed in the Constitution of the Republic; that this development led to the birth of the CTC in 1939; and that joint committees were created to set a minimum wage standard, the terms to the right of collective bargaining and other measures in line with the established by the International Labor Organization.

Therefore, unions became an important sector of Cuba’s civil society to the point that in 1945 the CTC became the second largest trade union in the region with half a million members.

The takeaway is that workers’ participation in programs from the State or a political party, if it takes place, must be based on the interests, needs and decisions of workers themselves, a vital premise to the defense of their own interests.

Therefore, the postponement of the date of the Congress, from November of this year to the first trimester of 2014, has its roots in the conversion of the CTC into an auxiliary organization to the goals of the PCC, resulting in the loss of its independence and leading to the distortion of its original purpose. It is a situation beyond the capabilities of Salvador Valdés Mesa, Carmen Rosa Lópeza, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento or any other individual appointed to the leadership of  Cuban labor unionism.

The only way out, which depends on a political will so far nonexistent, is not in changing political figures or in modifying documents pending for discussion, it is in the freedom of association. This way the PCC could keep the CTC as an auxiliary organization and allow those workers who do not want to be CTC members to form other labor unions and freely join them. This would also be a response to the remarks and recommendations that were given to Cuba in a recent evaluation by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by Chabeli

3 June 2013

20 May 1902, The Possible Republic / Dimas Castellanos

Decorations for the birth of the Cuban Republic 20 May 1902
Decorations for the birth of the Cuban Republic 20 May 1902

Once the flag of the stripes and stars was lowered amid popular rejoicing on 20 May 1902, Generalissimo Máximo Gómez proceeded to raise the national ensign at Palace of the General Captains. “I think we have made it,” were his words that day.

After four centuries of colonialism, three decades of independence wars, and more than three years of foreign occupation the Republic of Cuba was officially born. This new date altogether with January 28, anniversary of the birth of the Apostle (José Martí), October 10, the Cry of Yara, February 24, the beginning of the War of Independence, and December 7, the fall of the Bronze Titan (Antonio Maceo), would form a pentarchy of illustrious anniversaries, with a singularity when it comes to political material; May 20th taught us a lesson: negotiation.

In an attempt to reduce its importance and to shape this event into a particular ideology and into the objectives of those in power, May 20 has been compared to the military coup d’etat of 1952, and it has even been denied as the event that marked the birth of the Republic. An example of the latter was the opinion expressed by historian Rolando Rodríguez who said that May not be remembered as the day that marked the birth of the Republic because the Republic had already emerged in Guáimaro on April 10th of 1869… “That is where the origin of the Cuban Republic is,” he said. continue reading

Guáimaro, undoubtedly, is inseparable from the foundation of the Republic. It represents the beginning of that process, but that is different from the moment when it became a reality, when Cuba, despite the imposed limitations, debuted as an independent country, recognized by the international community. Guáimaro is the building block, but the advent, despite what our personal inclinations may be, was in 1902. Rolando simply confuses process and results.

His rejection of the date is not illogical. It is true that the Republic was not born with absolute independence or full sovereignty, but his reasoning does not take into account that this outcome did not only result from the effort and bloodshed of Cubans, as was desired, but also from the entry of the US Army into the war due to the geopolitical interests that were being defined in the international arena by the world powers of that time period. Like it or not, beyond our desires, that is what happened.

After Spain’s defeat and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the occupying government issued Order No. 301 on 25 July 1900, calling the Cuban people to a general election to appoint the delegates of the Constitutional Assembly that would develop the Constitution and would define Cuba’s relationship with the United States. A commission charged with the task of defining US-Cuba relationships, but their result was rejected by US authorities. After multiple discussions, procedures and disagreements, the delegates received a final blow.

The Platt Amendment, passed and signed by the president of the United States, was delivered to the delegates to be incorporated into the Constitution, and it included a note signed by the Secretary of War stating that the President “is required to comply with [the ultimatum] and to execute it as it is […] he can neither change it nor modify it, add or take out anything,” as a condition of ending the military occupation.

What were the factors that led those Cubans to approve a document so lacerating to independence and national sovereignty? Simply, that they could not count on anything else, but their commitment, dignity, intelligence and capability to fight in the political arena. And that is what drove them, regardless of whether one or the other may have felt some sort of admiration for the occupying government. To add to this quandary, the Liberation Army had been demobilized, the Cuban Revolutionary Party dissolved, the Nation had not reached a crystallization point and lacked a Republic, with a State and a government of its own, and the people were exhausted from by the prolonged war.

The events that took place in March of 1901 attested to this. After the objectives of the Platt Amendment were publicly known, a demonstration of about 15,000 people walked through the streets of the capital toward the Martí theater, the headquarters of the Consitutional Assembly, to the residence of the military governor in Arms Square, demanding independence and sovereignty with an invocation directed to the American people.

However, a few days later, when a delegation of Cubans embarked to the United States to discuss our nonconformity only about 200 people showed up for their departure and barely a few dozen attended their return: a clear expression of the exhaustion and helplessness of the people in general.

In this situation, although intransigence might have seemed very patriotic, it was groundless and of no use. Choosing belligerence would have been suicidal before the superiority of the occupier.

The “all or nothing” expressed in “Freedom or Death,” “Independence or Death,” “Motherland or Death,” or “Socialism or Death” has proved itself unreal. Life went on after 1878 when we were not able to get our freedom. Life went on after 1898 when we did not completely win our motherland. Today, while this totalitarian Socialism is dying out, life goes on, which proves that intransigence, despite its solemn declarations, has contributed very little.

However, despite that this Republic of incomplete independence and limited sovereignty was not precisely the one José Martí dreamed of, Cuba joined the international community with a juridical personality of its own and closed the doors to annexation; the occupying army was withdrawn, and our destiny would not be that of Puerto Rico, Guam or the Philippines.

Time proved our wisdom. In 1904 the Hay-Quesada Treaty was signed, and our sovereignty over Island of Pines was recovered in 1925. In less than 20 years, Cuba managed to emerge from the economic stagnation and the social upheaval caused by the war; civil society strengthened; in 1934 we got rid of the Platt Amendment, and in 1939 the Constitutional Assembly convened, from which later emerged the brand-new 1940 Constitution that served Dr. Fidel Castro to support his defense at his trial for the Moncada Barracks assault in 1953.

Reminding ourselves that this Constitution endorsed the fundamental rights in the First Section of Part IV would be wiser than judging the Cuban delegates: the essence and spirit of habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association for all legal purposes and freedom of movement. Freedoms/rights, inherent to human beings, that are the foundation of the respect and observance of legal guarantees, of citizen participation and the realization of popular sovereignty. Rights that are mostly absent today.

Published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by Chabeli

31 May 2013

Political Marginalization and the Citizen / Dimas Castellano

Published in Curazao, issue 24

May 3, 2013

The marginality, an effect of exclusion, is a phenomenon that prevents or limits the enjoyment of certain rights. It manifests itself in all social relations, including politics. In these lines I circumscribe the case of Cuba, where the revolutionary process swept civic participation mechanisms and replaced by others, created and subservient to the state.

Citizens participate independently in matters of interest through civil society organizations of which it is part. Also involved electing representatives to positions in government; in this case there is the risk that the elected turn their back to their commitments to the voters, as repeatedly occurred during the Republic. Precisely this fact served as an argument to the insurrectional process that took power in 1959 with a commitment to restore the 1940 constitution and call elections immediately.

The elections are important for the people as long as they express the public opinion. But public opinion and electoral democracy are the foundation of the building. Then comes the building, meaning, the system of government as a hierarchical structure where power goes from the majority to a minority. So depending on decisions made by that minority whether or not they represent the best interests of their constituents, we face a democratic or undemocratic government, demonstrating that elections are necessary but not sufficient.

The seizure of power by the revolutionaries in 1959 provoked a violent break with the established system. It replaced the Constitution of 1940 and with it the institutional base. Then the revolution, which has become a source of law, swept away civil society and all the spaces that were instruments of civic participation. The country headed towards the totalitarianism that penetrated the entire social fabric, liquidated political pluralism and thus eradicated the concept of citizen. Seventeen years later, in 1976, a constitution was adopted that legalized the marginalization of the people in politics.

Since then, Cubans were limited to electing district delegates. Thereafter, where  the destiny of the nation is decided, the Candidacy Commissions created by the same power, decide the candidates for all positions in government, from the municipality to the National Assembly of People’s Power; meanwhile the people are reduced to confirming the propositions of said Committees. As an end result there exists a government that has been predetermined. This explains the excessively prolonged time leaders remain in positions of power, indicating the nonexistence of democracy and evidence that the elections, as a manifestation of popular sovereignty, are something that remains pending.

The Cuban case demonstrates that democracy — the best instrument of the people to exercise their freedoms — is fragile. Its strength depends on civic education, the rebuilding of civil society independent of the state and the reconversion of Cubans into citizens; it is the only way out of political marginalization.

Translated by Roots of Hope 

27 May 2013

The Constitution of La Yaya and the Future Cuban Constitution / Dimas Castellanos

1352037605_conztituicion-300x168On the 29th of October of 1897 in the pasture of La Yaya, in Sibanicú, Camagüey, the drafting of what would become the last mambí Constitution came to an end. The resulting text represented a qualitative leap forward in Cuba’s constitutional history. This was due to the inclusion, for the first time, of a dogmatic part that included the most advanced individual political and civil rights at the time: habeas corpus, freedom and confidentiality of postal communications, freedom of religion, equality before taxation, freedom of education, right to petition, inviolability of the home,  universal suffrage, freedom of expression and the right of assembly and association.

This result was determined by multiple causes; particularly because the always-present interdependence between development and individual freedoms in every social project is reflected in the constitutional history of human rights. continue reading

For example: the Magna Carta imposed by the English nobility on John Lackland in 1215, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1674, the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the United States’ Declaration of Independence of 1776, and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. These, among other documents, spread at a global level, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, put into force in 1976.

Cuba’s constitutional history began in the colonial period with the Project for an Autonomous Government in Cuba, drafted in 1811 by Father José Agustín Caballero. In 1812, Joaquín Infante, an attorney from Bayamo, drafted the Constitutional Project for the Island of Cuba, and in 1821, priest Félix Varela drafted the Project of Instruction for the Politically and Economically Autonomous Government of the Overseas Provinces. Later, during the wars of independence, in a context of contradictions between military and civil law, Cuba’s constitutional history was enriched by the mambí legislation.

On the 10th of April of 1869, the Guáimaro Constitution, in which an emphasis on civil law was imposed, was signed. This Basic Law based on a tripartite division of powers, gave the legislative power to a House of Representatives that had the authority to appoint and depose the President of the Republic in Arms and the Commander-in-Chief. The executive power was in the hands of the President, and the judiciary was independent.

Despite the facts that it was created during the war of independence and that the House of Representatives was granted authority over the Republic’s sovereignty, the Constitution’s emphasis on civil law? allowed for the rights and freedoms of all Cubans to be protected? in Article 28 as follows: “The House cannot attack the right to freedom of religion, freedom of the press, peaceful assembly, education and petition, or any inalienable right of the people.” According to Dr. Oscar Loyola, in Guáimaro, the possibility of a military dictatorship, always latent in a historical process of this nature, was programmatically eliminated.

From the 13th to the 18th of September of 1895, at the rebirth of the war of independence in Cuba, a new Constitution was drafted in Jimaguayú, which reflected the experience gained from The Ten Years War. As M. Sc Antonio Álvarez expressed, three groups of interests intersected in this document: predominance of military power, José Martí’s principles and an exacerbated anti-militarism, between those who had a pact of interests reflected in that the highest authority of the State was concentrated in a Council of Government with powers to dictate all matters relating to the civil and political life of the revolution; in other words, this body had executive and legislative powers. Article 24 limited the validity of this Constitution to a period of two years.

In compliance with this article, a new Constituent Assembly met in La Yaya from the 13th to the 29th of October. The resulting Constitution readopted the civilian character from Guáimaro. It consolidated the organization of power in civil institutions, and closed the cycle of the type of constitutionalism that had resulted from the wars of independence (Guáimaro, Baraguá, Jimaguayú, and La Yaya), which, obstructed by the American occupation and the imposition of the Platt Amendment, gave way to the Republican Period. The best evidence of the scope and importance of La Yaya is that the civil and political rights enshrined in this document were readopted and enriched in the constitutions of 1901 and 1940.

The advocates of the supremacy of militarism wondered: Why did the Basic Law include a dogmatic part whose immediate purpose was to serve as judicial instrument during wartime? The answer to this question had been already answered in several writings by José Martí, for whom the Republic had become the definition of the democratic soul of the nation.

Martí established a logical genetic relationship between war, independence, and the Republic, where the first was a bridge to reach the last one.  This is why he clearly defined the purposes of the war, so that after that conquest of immediate independence, these then would become the seeds of tomorrow’s long-lasting independence. He believed that, in times of victory, only the seeds that were planted in times of war thrive.

In his speech, “With All and for the Good of All,” delivered in November of 1891, Martí said: “Let’s close the doors to a Republic that is not founded on means worthy of the decorum of men, for the good and the prosperity of all Cubans!” In April of 1893, he expressed: “That is the greatness of the Revolutionary Party: that to found a Republic, it has started from a Republic. That is its strength: “that in the work of all, are the rights of all.” In the Montecristi Manifest, he wrote: “Our motherland must be built, from its roots, upon feasible ways that are self-born, so that a government that lacks truth and justice cannot lead it to the path of favoritism or tyranny.”

The post-1959 events are what best proves the importance of the civil law emphasis of the Constitution of La Yaya.  After 17 years of government under The Basic Law of the Republic of Cuba, the Constitution of 1976, which abolished the Constitution of 1940 and made political and civil rights were subject to the legitimization of the Communist Party as the maximum leading force of the State and society, was approved; something alien and contrary to the day when a new Constituent Assembly, elected by the people, assumes the task of drafting a Magna Carta that includes our constitutional heritage and shapes it into the reality of today’s Cuba and of the winds blowing across the universe.

Originally published in El Diario de Cuba

Translated by: Chabeli 

1 November 2012

Why the UBPC Cooperatives Failed / Dimas Castellano #Cuba

cpa peopleindexLast August, the Cuban Council of Ministers approved a new General Regulation for the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC), which was complemented by a packet consisting of 17 measures. The purpose, according to the daily Rebel Youth on September 23, consists of liquidating the dependency of those with respect to state enterprises.

The original Regulation issued in 1993, although it did not recognize the legal character of the UBPC, which is to say, the capacity to acquire rights and contract obligations, stipulated in its foundational points the correlation between production and income and the effective development of management autonomy.

The breach of those and other positive aspects was reflected in the poor results. Of the 170 thousand hectares that the existing 1,989 UBPCs possess, almost 40% of their lands remain idle; although their extent represents 27% of the agriculture surface of the country, they produce only 12% of the grains, tubers and vegetables and 17% of the milk; only 27% have satisfactory results; the rest, to greater or lesser extent, present difficulties; in the year 2010 15% of the UBPCs closed with losses and another 6% did not even present a balance sheet; and their losses exceed 200 million pesos.

The UBPCs were created when it was demonstrated that the concentration of the country’s arable land in the hands of the State had generated disinterest of the agricultural workers, the generalized debasement of agricultural products and enormous expansions of vacant lands infected with the marabou weed. A deplorable picture aggravated by the loss of the subsidies provided by the socialist countries of Eastern Europe.

In that context the country’s authorities decided to convert a part of the unproductive state lands into cooperatives, but without giving the requisite freedoms nor waiving the monopoly of property. The ignorance of the essence of cooperativism and the subordination of economic laws to ideology explain both the cause of the failure and the effort to repair that decision with the recent measures.

The Declaration of Cooperative Identity, adopted in 1995 in the 2nd General Assembly of the International Cooperative Alliance (ACI), defines the cooperative as an autonomous association of people who voluntarily join to address their economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations by means of a business of jointly and democratically controlled property.

In accordance with this definition — of an organism like the ACI, that since1985binds and promotes the cooperative movement in the world — the UBPCs are not classified as true cooperatives since they were not created voluntarily by the owners of land and means of production but emerged from an agreement of the Communist Party.

In spite of the new General Regulation (Resolution 574 from August 13, 2012) the UBPCs will count on legal personality; the power to elect the administrators for the majority of the General Assembly of Partners; to buy products and services from any legal or natural person; to establish direct contractual relations with the input provider companies; and to decide the percentage of the utilities to distribute among the partners; other vital aspects are still missing.

Again it is the State and not the agricultural workers who make the decision to join in cooperatives. If it is added to that that those workers are not owners but usufructuraries (a kind of lessee) of a state property, it is not difficult to envision that we are facing the beginning of a new failure and therefore the need to implement new reforms, good for the current government or good for the successor, until the UBPC members become collective owners of the land they work.

The virtual lack of agricultural cooperatives before 1959 is understandable because of the advances in the sugar industry since the end of the 19th century which had generated enormous landholdings through the dispossession of thousands of small owners. What is absurd is that with a revolution that declared itself socialist, cooperativism, akin to that social system, has been absent and in its place they have experimented with arbitrary and subjective forms applied vertically by the revolutionary State.

Before 1959 there were in Cuba some hundred thousand landowners, to whom were added another hundred thousand to whom the Revolution delivered ownership titles with the First Law of Agrarian Reform of 1959. Those two hundred thousand farmers constituted the basis for the development of a true cooperative movement. Nevertheless, the concentration on the part of the State of 70% of the arable land was a coup de grace to a process of association that had contributed much to the Cuban economy and society.

The first manifestation of state arbitrariness in the agriculture cooperativization was the creation in March 1960 of the sugar cane cooperatives in areas that previously belonged to the sugar mills. Nevertheless, the decision to monopolize landownership made these businesses become property of the State. Then the true cooperativism was limited to a few associations formed over the base of private farmers.

Fidel Castro himself once expressed: “those cooperatives have no real historical basis, given that the cooperatives are really formed with the farmer landowners. In my judgment we were going to create an artificial cooperative, converting those agricultural workers into cooperativists. From my point of view, and maybe applying some of the verses of Marti, slave of the age and the doctrines I favored of converting those cooperatives that were worker cooperatives and not farmer cooperatives into state enterprises.”

Not satisfied with most of the soil in the hands of the State, instead of promoting voluntary cooperativsm, there began a process aimed at diminishing the quantity of independent farmers. In May 1961 the National Association of Small Farmers was created, and a policy aimed at trying to “cooperativize” the 200 thousand farmer owners began. Farmer associations were created, then came the Mutual Help Brigades and next the Cooperatives of Credit and Services (CCS),made up of farmers who maintained ownership of the land and the means of production but lacked legal character.

cpaindexAfter 1975, with the thesis of the 1st Congress of the PCC concerning the need for cooperativization of the land, the development of the Cooperatives of Agricultural Production (CPA) were promoted, formed by farmers who united their farms and other means of production “voluntarily” as a means of socialist development of the countryside.

At the end of 1977 the number of CPAs was 136 and in June 1986 it was 1,369, representing 64% of the farm lands, at the same time that state ownership had increased to 75% of the arable land due to the reduction of volume of land in the hands of private farmers.

The results were not long in coming; Cuba has to buy from outside agricultural products that are perfectly growable in our soil, as is the case with the coffee that we have had to acquire in Vietnam, a country that Cubans taught how to reap the grain. That’s why insisting on reforms of the cooperatives without permitting the farmers to be the ones to voluntarily organize and without counting on the collective ownership of the land that they work, is to insist on failure.

Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012: http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/14133-por-que-fracasaron-las-cooperativas-castristas

Translated by mlk

November 26 2012

The Worst Evil of Bad People is the Silence of Good People / Lilianne Ruiz

Antonio Rodiles (left) leading a panel discussion at Estado de Sats

Antonio Rodiles continues to be held in the dungeons at Acosta and 10 de Octubre streets, for 9 days now. Perhaps the political police won’t free him before they trial they intend to hold, to avoid the bruises from the beating they gave him becoming public.

Socialist legality is a set of traps to bring down anyone who does not follow the path of the regime. A peaceful protest can be translated by a prosecutor into “disorderly conduct.” Similarly, if a man does not passively allow three State Security officers to beat him — officers in plain clothes who never identified themselves as authority before the blows began to fall — “revolutionary law” translates an action of legitimate self-defense by the victim into “resisting arrest.”

But it was not an arrest which State Security (DSE) agents carried out against Rodiles and a dozen people waiting outside State Security’s Department 21 — after having exhausted other avenues such as calling 106, the police information number — for the authorities to give them information on the whereabouts of Yaremis Flores, who was arrested with similar arbitrariness that same day.

It was an attack and not an arrest that the DSE agents carried out.

They did not communicate to Rodiles who they were, nor that they were going to arrest him. No police officer with a badge and arrest warrant showed up. Simply three men in plain clothes without the mediation of words attacking Rodiles who, according to Revolutionary law, “shouldn’t resist.”

There are too many cases of opponents of the regime who are driven to jail through some legal trap: Darsi Ferrer, Jorge Vázquez Chaviano are just a couple, there are many more.

Rodiles is the leader of Estado de Sats. As Ailer Gonzalez, his partner, explained to me once, the space took the name Estado de Sats from the Anthropology of the Theater, by Eugenio Barba (Odin Theatre). Estado de Sats is the movement of negation that leads to action: to cast the first stone you have to pull back your arm. The action takes place in an organic way. In a country uprooted from its vital centers, to talk and exchange ideas, images — art and thought — is an alternative that the powers-that-be recognize as “dangerous.”

Since last August, just after the arrest of Rodiles during the funeral of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement Oswaldo Paya, the repressive organs of State Security have tried to block the realization of Estado de Sats in multiple ways. From a siege around the site to block the audience from attending, to the arbitrary arrest of Professor Dimas Castellanos and of the poet and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

Rodiles himself went, at the time of those arrests, to State Security’s Section 21 to demand the release of those arrested. In the words of a member the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) who was arrested by this same Department 21 of State Security, the agents told him “Even if Rodiles turned out to be the second coming of Padre de las Casas*, he was going to jail.”

This is how they intend to do it: through traps and sheltered by a “legality” that always protects the State and never the rights of the citizens.

On Wednesday, November 7, when they arrested Rodiles a wave of mass arrests of opponents took place in Havana, with virtually no communication because they cut off the phones of many of the detainees and their families and friends.

Rodiles’ father appeared before the police in a T-shirt bearing a decal for the liberation of his son and this caused a scandal for the authorities.

Faced with the pain of others, we must remember that if we do not share the responsibility of preventing the purposes of those who are creating the human rights crisis in Cuba, the deceptions of these regimes could continue to thrive in the heyday of dictatorships.

There is no State, no Church, no institution, no ideological, political or religious excuse to violate human rights. The extreme left-wing communist States have found a systematic way,  protected by their Constitutions, to carry out these violations of human rights which are their only guarantee for perpetuating their own political power.

*Translator’s note: Padre de las Cases was an early hero of Cuban history.

November 16 2012

Sunday, September 2, at 5 pm in SATS: Literature of Liberty: With Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo and the winners of the Cuban New Thought Contest / Estado de Sats, For Another Cuba

Today Sunday, Sept. 2, at 5 pm in SATS

Literature in Liberty:
With Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo and Cuban New Thought contest winners
(e-Maro, Frank Correa, Orlando Freire Santana, Dimas Castellanos)

Ave 1ra %46 y 60 #4606. Miramar, Playa. La Habana.

This meeting is rescheduled as we could not hold it yesterday, Saturday, September 1st at 7:00 pm because of the arrest to Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

OLPL’s message of liberation:

We will continue meeting as Estado de Sats, neither threats, nor arrests, nor repudiation rallies nor police operations will stop us.

We are free citizens and we want another Cuba, there is not brute force that can beat that!

SATS Update:

It is now 4:20 pm and a large police operation is deployed around the headquarters of Estado de Sats.

Yoani Sánchez complaints from Twitter (@ yoanisanchez):

#Cuba this “fateful weekend” does not end. The graffiti artist El Sexto just sent me a text saying “I am a prisoner” :-(

#Cuba Also arrested were Luis Eligio de @ OmniZonaFranca and his girlfriend Kizzy

2 September 2012

Oswaldo Payá, a Part of Our History / Dimas Castellano

From: europarl.europa.eu

Yesterday, Sunday the 22nd of July, through a telephone call from a friend, I learned of the tragic death of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in a traffic accident that occurred in Granma province.

The versions about what happened are dissimilar and will surely vary. What will not change is the loss of one of the most consistent, best known and most honored Cuban opposition figures, author of the project with the greatest impact, the Varela Project.

Payá, regardless of any differences with his project or personal leadership, will occupy a place in Cuban history for his work of more than two decades, his persistence, for his remaining in Cuba and many other things.

The greatest tribute is to continue his work, that is the fight for the democratization of our country.

July 23 2012

The Harvest of 2012 or the Last Call / Dimas Castellano

“It seems that every year is the first harvest the country has ever done. Every year we start fresh, even though we’ve been producing sugar for more than 200 years. If we are talking about the need for change, the first thing we have to change is the routine.” So begins, “Attacking the problems and not waiting for the autopsy,” a report by Sheyla Delgado Guerra, published on Monday, May 30th, in the newspaper, Granma.

The Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy, adopted at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party in April last year, set out among the central tasks, to increase the production of sugar and the derivatives of the cane, a branch of the economy where it is assumed Cuba has long experience. However, the results of the 2011-2012 harvest confirmed the failure of that purpose.

The harvest, programmed to produce 1.45 million tons of sugar (a figure that was produced in the late nineteenth century), finish milling on April 30th. There was enough sugar cane and 98% resources needed to produce the programmed amount of sugar but, according to Sheyla, the same problems occurred as in previous years: industrial breakdowns, operational disruptions, difficulties in the supply of cane, unstable grindings, aging of the raw material, poor quality of repairs of agricultural machinery, late harvesting, poor technical skills of staff and poor utilization of potential capacity. As a result the milling did not end on the date set by central planning, not was the programmed figure for tons of sugar achieved.

This was confirmed at the meeting to review the results, held 29 days after all the plants should have completed the milling. Although as in previous years, the amount of sugar produced has not been published, in the meeting it was admitted that the setbacks of this season were higher than results obtained. According to Sheyla’s report, the cane not ground because of the late harvest in 21 of the 46 centers participating, together with the low capacity utilization and failure of planned efficiency are among the main causes of the terrible result.

This time, although all the cane needed was grown, to the point where they could have crushed more than the planned amount, the production of sugar fell short again. In the industrial phase only 60% the capacity is used, a figure even lower than the harvest of 2010-2011, and of course lower than was planned for this crop. While there was a modest over-fulfillment in the production of white sugar, in terms of direct target it barely reached 8%. In addition, seven of the mills which after being inactive for several years, produced 54% of their potential, which is why some 27,500 tons of sugar was not produced.

To this is added the low yields due to weather conditions in May, for 29 days after the scheduled closing several plants were still milling in the rainy season, which accentuates the sugar decline, which is nothing new, the same thing having gone on more than two decades; the 1998-1999 harvest could not exceed 3.8 million tons of sugar, a figure lower than that produced in 1920, when it exceeded 4 million tons.

The failure is higher if one considers that the country has dozens of schools and agricultural research centers throughout the country, which have graduated thousands of engineers and technicians in these fields, and that this time, from the beginning of the harvest, nearly all the resources were available to fulfill the plan, all of which indicates we should look elsewhere for the source of the failures.

Reforms related to sugar production, like the rest of those that have been implemented, do not have the depth required, nor do they move at the speed that the situation demands. Clearly, the lack of interest of the producers — the workers because of low wages and the proprietors because of the constraints imposed on them — is present in the results of the current harvest as in the previous failures.

The essence of the problem is that the reforms introduced by the Cuban government start life subordinated to the ideology and the interests of power, so the proposals therefore perversely preserve an obsolete model that has consistently proven to be nonviable.

Adverse outcomes of central planning, manifested in the 2011-2012 harvest, should be the last call, which will definitely draw attention to the aspects that the reforms have ignored so far. I am referring to the urgent need for profound changes to include, once and for all, the ownership structure. Since half a century seems sufficient to indicate the gap between managers and owners, between command and control and employee participation, aspects which in turn imply reforms in the area of rights and freedoms, to validate the previous.

It would be useful to proceed with these changes and not continue pointing fingers at the “deadbeats” as one of the senior officials did when he appeared on May 29 on Cuban television. Having participated in the meeting to review the harvest, he said, “I’ve told you, they have to change,” something that has become the custom year after year.

Posted in June in Diario de Cuba.

Translated by: Hank Hardisty

June 11 2012

Why Doesn’t the Land Belong to Those Who Work It? / Dimas Castellanos

With the title “The Land Belongs to Those Who Work It,” the newspaper Granma published an editorial on May 17, in commemoration of “Peasant’s Day” from which I have selected three points that invite reflection.

One: The Agrarian Reform was a basic need for economic liftoff.

An affirmation that I share, since the concentration of large tracts of land was, and is, in addition to a generator of social injustice, a major obstacle to the diversification of agricultural property, roots, the sense ownership and development.

In the beginning, in the sixteenth century, large tracts did not hinder the formation of a class of small owners. It was the growth of the sugar industry, accelerated by the Haitian Revolution, which ruined the economy of this neighbor island, which led to the fact that from the late eighteenth century Cuba occupied the number one position in the production and trade in that product. That leap accelerated the conversion of cattle ranches common estates — haciendas — and multiplied the number of mills by promoting the growth of small and medium ownership. It was from 1860, due to increased production capacity, that the larger mills swallowed up the smaller ones, leading to the separation between agriculture and industry and the emergence of the figure of the tenant farmer. However, these transformations did not lead to the concentration of large land areas, as the tenant farmer, who settled on tens of thousands of farms, supplied the necessary cane.

It was in the late nineteenth century, resulting from the struggle for raw materials, where the competition between mills for more land originated, from which emerged the modern large estate. This process accelerated after 1902 with the orders issued by the Government of Occupation, which authorized the investors to purchase and expropriate land for railway lines and to install new plants. As a result, the penetration of foreign capital concentrated in about 180 mills, a fifth of the country, as reflected in the 1946 census. Of a total of 159,985 farms, fewer than 12% had 76% of the land, while 24% of the remaining area was scattered in 142,385 farms, with their respective owners.

That anomaly so vital to the Cuban nation, attracted the attention of illustrious figures of our history, from the Bishop Espada in 1808 to Manuel Sanguily in 1903, passing, among others, José Antonio Saco, Francisco de Frías, José Martí, Enrique Jose Varona, Martín Morúa Delgado and Fernando Ortiz, who argued for the need for small and medium land ownership and the existence of a national middle class. However, the social struggles, the measures taken by the Republican leaders, and the brake on large estates, endorsed in the 1940 Constitution, were insufficient to reverse the ownership of land to those who worked it.

Two: It was precisely the Agrarian Reform Law that defines the Cuban Revolution.

In his legal brief, History Will Absolve Me, in 1953, Fidel Castro — taking into account the adverse effect of large estates and in order to win the support of the peasantry — proposed to grant land ownership to all who hold parcels of five or fewer caballerías (one caballería equals about 33 acres). This project, launched in October 1958 during the insurrectionist struggle, formed the basis of the First Law of Agrarian Reform, which liquidated the estates in the hands of Cuban and foreign companies, benefiting some 100,000 farmers and defining the 1959 Revolution as advanced, agrarian, and democratic.

However, 40.2% of the confiscated lands remained in state hands. Then, with the Second Agrarian Reform Law of 1963, the thousand farms that had more than five caballerías went directly to swell the collection of state land, which increased to 70% of the country’s arable land. So sudden was the turn, that if the First Law was allowed to define the Revolution as advanced, agrarian and democratic, the Second Law marked it as totalitarian, in concentration an amount of land greater than that possessed by the great estates that had been confiscated.

In 1974, the fifteenth anniversary of the Agrarian Reform Law, the chief of the Revolution urged the peasants to tackle “higher forms of thinking about production, since the course of development of the country can not be stopped, since the growing needs of the population necessitate a constant modernization of our agriculture, and an optimal use of all the land ” [1] .

With this supposed end, they developed a process of induced formation of cooperatives, through the creation of Embryonic Cooperatives, Mutual Aid Brigades, the Credit and Service Cooperatives (the only ones in which the farmers retained ownership of the land and means of production, but they lack legal status), and Agricultural Production Cooperatives; meanwhile state ownership rose to 75% of arable land.

Three: The Law established the principle that the land belongs to those who work it.

Given the decrease in production and efficiency brought about by State ownership, Raul Castro, in his speech in Camagüey on 26 July 2007, acknowledged the shortcomings, errors and indolent or bureaucratic attitudes as reflected in fields infected with the marabou week, and argued that the rising cost of food in the international market forced us to produce it in Cuba. However, nothing was said of the unworkability of the State-owned large estates, nor of the fact that in privately owned lands the marabou week is kept under control. At that juncture they enacted, in 2008, the Decree Law 259, for delivery of vacant land in usufruct*.

If usufruct consists of enjoying the use the property of others, in this case the huge properties of the State, and the land becomes idle, what is the reason for the private producers, who have demonstrated the ability to produce efficiently, to be tied to usufruct agreements — that is to be essentially tenant farmers — and for the State, responsible for inefficiency, to be the owner? Why doesn’t the land belong to those who work it?

Translator’s note: Usufruct is the right to use and enjoy the profits of something belonging to someone else. In Cuba, Decree 259, of 2008, established a system of limited term usufruct to turn over idle lands to people who want to work it.

[1] J. MAY. Two decades of struggle against landlordism. Brief history of the National Peasant Association, p. 21

21 May 2011

Tracey Eaton’s Interview with Dimas Castellanos

Tracey Eaton, a Florida-based journalist, has been traveling to Cuba for a long time, and more recently has been undertaking a series of interviews with Cubans ranging all across the ideological spectrum. He has now begun the work of subtitling these videos in English.

Here are links to Tracey’s blogs/sites: Along the Malecon; Cuba Money Project; Videos on Cuba Money Project; Video Transcripts; Along the Malecon News Updates.

Family and Migration / Dimas Castellanos

(Published in Laborem, voice of the Movement of Christian Workers/Cuba. Year 9, No. 36, October-December 2010)

There is a close relationship between the family and migration. The family is a group constituted by blood ties or marriage that, besides preceding other forms of social relationships, due to its functions constitutes the very marrow of society.  It is the school of love, of education and participation in people’s lives, while it gives its members company and security.  Migration, which is as ancient as the family, is a form of reaccommodation in order to survive when material and/or social conditions in the place of residence become insufficient to guarantee the conservation and development of life.

With the exception of the nomadic tribes that moved around with all their members, contemporary migration separates one part of its members, often a married couple.  It is a phenomenon that, becoming universal as globalization develops, affects the traditional functions of the family.  In the particular case of Cuba, the economic crisis, the lack of proportion between income and the cost of living and the prohibition on leaving and returning to the country, among other factors, generate individual as well as mass migration, as the Cuban family immersed in the struggle to satisfy its most elemental needs, when separated, loses a good part of the reasons that held it together.  This has occurred both before and after the embargo, before and after the Adjustment Law and before and after the “Battle of Ideas” and so it will continue.

Migration, with no possibility of returning, besides affecting the family–especially the youngest, who are the principal beneficiaries of its instruction, education and love–also affects the nation, since the flight of professionals is decapitalizing and aging our society.  Perhaps that is why John Paul II, in his homily to the family, told us, “Cuba, take care of your families so that you keep your heart healthy.”

Translated by S. Solá

January 17 2011