Social Criticism Widespread in Cuban Films / Dimas Castellanos

The 32nd Festival of New Latin American Cinema, which ended in Havana last December 2, showed that the seventh art is on the upswing in Latin America and that Cuba is no exception.

Among the over 500 participants, the Cuban films–independently of their themes, of their directors’ degree of success, and of the quality of the actors and scripts–for the first time all critically reflected the social reality of the country. This is proof that culture, even if it is subjected to being a prisoner of ideology, as is our case, by its nature and functions transcends even such a negative imposition. A short review, limited to the four fiction-category feature films that participated in the competition, is evidence of this.

Casa Vieja (Old House), by Lester Hamlet, based on the theatrical work of the same name by Abelardo Estorino, uses the narrative of an individual case, the return to the heart of the family of a Cuban after 14 years of living abroad, to reveal the negative effect the Cuban political system has had on the economic and moral penury in which society finds itself trapped.

According to its director, “it is a film that speaks about who we are and how I see Cubans’ life from the point of view of the affective compact”. With that vision, with heavy emotional weight, he delves into one of Cuba’s many current problems. The film, which had received the Grand Prize for the Best Feature Film Fiction Book at the VIII Pobre Humberto Solás International Film Festival, this time won the popularity prize, the Cybervote Prize of the Latin American and Caribbean Film and Audiovisual Portal of the New Latin American Film Foundation and the Jury Mention for Fiction.

Larga Distance (Long Distance), by Esteban Insausti, gives us the story of four friends who, because of the deep crisis produced by the disappearance of real socialism in Eastern Europe, could not keep their oath to never leave each other. Ana, one of the four, on reaching the age of 35 and no longer having friends to celebrate her birthday with, throws an imaginary party, evoking memories of old friends.

From a sociological point of view, it is a critique of the impact of emigration on Cubans’ lives, due to the inability of the Cuban system to provide opportunities inside the country. The life of her parents shows the persistence of problems through generations and the complete failure of the project to create a New Man in Cuba. In the end, social malfunctions resulting from the system have triumphed over resistance in return for the impoverishment and moral ruin of a considerable number of the sectors of society.

Boleto al paraíso (Ticket to Paradise), by Eduardo Chijona, was inspired by accounts of real events that happened in 1993, collected in the book Confesiones a un médico (Confessions to a Doctor) by Jorge Pérez Avila. The film tells the story of several adolescents who, as a result of their families’ material and spiritual poverty, link their destinies to run away from home in search of a non-existent paradise and end up getting infected with the AIDS virus and “enjoying” life in a sanatorium–a simultaneous pact of love and death.

Afinidades (Affinities) by Jorge Perugorría and Vladimir Cruz, with script by Cruz, goes into a facet of the administrative corruption of civil servants relating to the management of mixed (public/private) businesses, which is nothing less than the expression of the general decline of Cuban society since a salary stopped being the principal source of income; in it this sector is bureaucratic and invested with powers that allow it to enjoy privileges denied to the average Cuban, thanks to the almost absolute government institution of “property of all the people” under the control of a few. A benefit that leads to sentimental transgression and aggression against dignity, the deliberate manipulation of one’s fellow man. Although the film deals with a problem of contemporary life, in Cuba it is inseparable from the Cuban structural problem, caused primarily by contradictions inside the country.

Martí, el Ojo del canario (Martí, Eye of the Canary) from prize-winning director and scriptwriter Fernando Pérez, is a film inspired by the infancy and adolescence of the Apostle, the result of the search to answer the question, “How, in full Colonial times, was it possible for such a brilliant and high-minded figure as José Martí to have been created?” In my opinion, it is the best film of the festival, a combination of the sensibility, ethics, love and quest that define its director.

It is precisely Fernando Pérez who, with his concept of cinema as a way of seeing, interpreting and forming reality, has shown the potential for critical cinematography to promote critical thought among Cubans; a practical demonstration of intellectuals’ responsibility as aesthetes of change, critics of our deficiencies and sources of connection between our traditions and universal knowledge. The principal message, among the many this film offers, is an appeal to rescue our dignity.

The film has already won the Colón de Plata Prize for Best Director and Best Photography at the Huelva Film Festival. It just won the Coral Prize for Direction and the Artistic Direction Prise for Erick Grass and the Best Poster to Giselle Monzón. In addition the Alba Cultural Latin America First Copy Grand Prize (Ex Aequo); the Film, Radio and Television Prize of the Association of Cuban Artists and Writers; Prize of the Cuban Association of Cinematographic Press; El Megano Prize of the National Federation of Film Clubs; 2009 Caminos Prize of the Martin Luther King Memorial Center; Roque Dalton Radio Prize from Radio Habana Cuba; Cined Prize from Educational Cinematography; Vigía Prize from the Matanzas branch site; and UNICEF Prize.

Social criticism, which has been present in the history of Cuban fimmaking for several decades, has evolved from isolated appearances to becoming a general critical current, which doubtless has much to do with the critical conscience that is steadily gaining strength in our society and which is even beginning to be reflected in the most recent, but still weak, signs of changes in the circles of power.

Translated by S. Solá

(Published in www.diariodecuba.com on December 27, 2010)

January 3 2011

Work and Migration / Dimas Castellanos

(Published in Laborem. The Voice of the Christian Workers’ Movement / Cuba. Vol. 9, No. 36, July-September, 2010)

Work and migration are closely linked. If the former radiates the riches that sustain the material and spiritual life of man, the second serves to rearrange things when work is incapable of guaranteeing the preservation and development of life. With respect to the church, there are a number of documents that are required reading, among which the following encyclicals stand out.

The Rerum Novarum (1891) of Pope Leon XIII contains valuable reflections on the redistribution of the product of social work by means of a salary. The Pacem en Terris (1963) of Pope John XXIII proposes that the church must share man’s historical adventure. The Populorum Progressio (1967) of Paul VI approaches poverty from the point of view of justice and recognizes that the church must help overcome these problems. The Laborem Exercens (1981) of John Paul II says that the justice of a socio-economic system and its just functioning deserve to be valued according to the way in which human work is remunerated, that fair remuneration is the key problem of social ethics and that a fair salary is that which permits one to start and honorably support a family and ensure its future. From these proposals one can deduce that a salary is an important indicator of social justice, and that it shows if the economy is or is not in the service of man. The four encyclicals mentioned demonstrate the preferred option in favor of the poor as a basic element.

In Cuba, the lack of connection between income and the cost of living made a salary no longer the principal source of income, with terrible consequences for the economy, for spiritual life and for social relations in general. Contrary to this, official statistics gave out one of the lowest unemployment rates in the universe, while thousands of Cubans of employment age escaped from the country in search of better living conditions. This happened even when it had not been recognized that there were over a million excess workers.

Without human migration our makeup as a people cannot be explained. From the first inhabitants who arrive from the arc of the Antilles to the first half of the XX century, our country has been characterized by immigration. That trend took a 180 degree turn in the second half of the century. Our emigration, in contrast to the massive exoduses in other parts of the world, is a sustained and growing process that began in 1959, continued with Operation Peter Pan, with the departures through the ports of Camarioca, Mariel and the Guantanamo Naval Base and has continued in different forms that go from navigating an inner tube to abandoning a foreign mission, a phenomenon sharpened by the lack of any right to freely enter and leave the country.

The duration of this phenomenon, the sociological diversity of the emigrants and the damage to the nation are sufficient reasons to understand that the fundamental cause of this situation lies in the inability of the current model to satisfy the needs of the population. For this reason, the individual must be made the end and not the means, implying that salaries and property must be restructured, and civil rights implemented as well.

Repeating the words of Jose Marti: May all who want the nation to prosper help to establish things in the country so that every man may work in an active job that contributes to his personal independence.

Spanish post
January 20 2011

Reform without Freedom / Dimas Castellanos

The difficulty in understating what is happening in Cuba in the area of social change relates to the peculiarities of the current economic reforms. While the Guidelines approved by the VI Communist Party Congress have begun to be implemented, the government remains stuck in other areas, without which it is impossible to get results. This contradiction, which applies to the whole group of Guidelines, shows up particularly in the area of international relations.

Due to the systemic nature of social phenomena, any manifestation of the multiple contradictions contained in the approved Guidelines will be sufficient to lead to failure unless the rules of the game are first changed. I will refer to only two of them: 1- the need for financing and 2- the interest of the workers.

The first, because of the level of deterioration, obsolescence and destruction of the means of production in productive sectors, from agriculture and fishing to industry, requires an amount of investment that the Cuban state by itself cannot manage.

Without discounting the ideological solidarity of the Venezuelan government with Cuba, the great world-level financial centers demand democratic changes in Cuba as a prerequisite for the needed financial support. Among these are the European Union and the United States.

This shows the need for relaunching an internal human rights and civil liberties policy aimed at improving conditions for Cubans and, at the same time, changing Cuba’s image in this respect. This is what was achieved, partially, by the freeing of the political prisoners and the approval of the Guidelines. In addition to the insufficiency of these two measures, the decision to keep strict control over all dissident activities inside the country has led to a spiral of repression whose result conflicts with the need for external financing.

In the end, just before the suspension of the European Union’s Commom Position and the Carter visit to Havana as an indication of the beginning of a conversation with the neighbor to the North, the repressive internal policies have once again removed the possibility of external financing. As a result, Europe maintains its common position and the United States applauds the changes but considers them insufficient.

The other means of financing, insufficient due to the greatness of the needs but still considerable, is the possibility of allowing Cubans to participate as business owners in the changes that are taking place, so that part of the remittances from abroad are converted into capital. But this requires a substantial change in the totalitarian mentality of Father State, who insists that Cubans, inside or outside the country, only participate in what he decides and in the way he deems best.

The government wants domestic calm for the changes, but the decision to implement changes having been made at such a late date makes this impossible. So the alternatives are to permit a certain freedom of opinion, which the country needs for these very changes to occur, or to continue repression of everyone who thinks differently.

What is going to happen? I don’t think anyone can predict this without a high margin of error, but reflecting on some issues might help. In the first place, the inertia has been broken and the government cannot or has few possibilities of going back due to the level of social disagreement and the changes that are taking place outside the control of the state in international relations as well as internally.

All roads lead through the gradual implementation of human rights but, for this, interest in retaining the model that brought about the current state must be put in the background, to be judged by history, which will either praise it or denounce it depending on the option taken.

Translated by S.Solá

June 17 2011

Cuba: the Illogic of the Single Party / Dimas Castellanos

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(Published Friday May 27, 2011 on the site: http:www.vocescubanas.com)

The common characteristics that identify the human race also have important differences that cannot be ignored. The social character–the most defining and essential peculiarity of man–manifests itself in the diversity of associations that he creates for collaboration, promotion and the defense of his interests; reality that has its reflection in the philosophical concept of unity in difference.

As the etymology of the word indicates, political parties are associations not of all of society but of a part of it; as a consequence, any intent to convert a part into a Representative of the whole, with the diversity of interests and concepts that characterize it, constitutes a violation of the right to equality before the law and political freedom. For this reason every political party self-declared to be a sole force or superior force of society, in order to impose its will has had to violate the most elemental civil and political rights of the citizens: an act against the social nature of the human race, against dignity and consequently against social progress, which has let to the global failure of single parties throughout history.

In 1878, in Cuba there were created the Partido Union Constitucional/Constitutional Union Party and the Partido Liberal/Liberal Party, one of which represented the feelings of the Spanish and the other that of the Cubans. At the end of the XIX century, the Partido Autonomista/Autonomous Party was founded; it had a reform tendency and coexisted with the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (PRC)/Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC), which supported independence. In 1899, Diego Vicente Tejera created the Partido Socialista Cubano/Cuban Socialist Party because the interests of the workers were not represented in the liberal and conservative parties at that time. In 1925, the Partido Comunista/Communist Party was founded by a group of Cubans who believed in that ideology. In 1947, Eduardo Chibas Founded the Partido Ortodoxo/Orthodox Party because the Partido Autentico/Authentic Party he belonged to did not satisfy part of its members. Fidel Castro, who came out of the Partido Ortodoxo, after the assault on the Moncada Barracks founded the Movimiento 26 de Julio/26th of July Movement, since his insurrectionist ideas did not fit the existing associations. Each leader or social group, depending on its interests, founded one single party; none proposed the absurd idea of founding several at the same time, which makes it ridiculous to justify the current single party state under the pretext that Marti organized a single party.

The Partido Comunista de Cuba/Communist Party of Cuba, self-proclaimed “superior guiding force of society and of the state”, after offering undeniable proof of its inability, such as the violation of the time limits in its own statutes for holding congresses every five years; of not respecting agreements made in previous congresses; of lacking personnel to rotate leadership roles; when it has been obliged to initiate reforms that violate declared principles, proposes to maintain the single party rule that is one of the causes of the failure seen.

Three recent facts demonstrate that the declared intention to change everything that must be changed does not include the single party system. In the Address to the VI Congress of the Communist Party on April 16, it was proposed that the National Conference to be held in January of 2012 have among its objectives to accomplish “for today and always” the content of Article 5 of the Constitution of the Republic, which sets out the single party system. The following day the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power said “it must be taken into account that this Party is really the political organization of the Cuban nation, the legitimate heir of the Party of Marti.” But even more eloquent was the article entitled “The Idea of a Single Party is the Legacy of Jose Marti”, published on April 8 in the newspaper Granma. Since this article proposes to attribute the authorship of the single party system to the most brilliant Cuban politician of all time, I will consider the direct quotations from Marti to demonstrate the absurdity of the arguments put forward in the article.

The first quote is taken from a letter written by Marti to General Maximo Gomez in July of 1882: To whom does Cuba turn at the defining moment, now near, in which it loses all its new hope at the end of the war, the promises of Spain, and the Liberals’ policy have made it hold? It turns to all those who have found a solution outside Spain. But if this does not work, eloquent, proud, moderate, profound, a revolutionary party that inspires, by the cohesion and modesty of its men, and the sense of its projects, enough confidence to quiet the longings of the country–to whom should it turn but to the men of the annexationist party that rose up at that time? How to keep all the fans of a comfortable freedom from following them, since they think that with that solution they at the same time save their fortune and their conscience? That is the serious risk. That is why it is time for us to stand up.1

Here, as we can see, Marti proposes the need for not the party but for a party, to attract those who would follow another party, which implies the existence of others. He does not propose to substitute or eliminate but to compete. Contrary to the article in Granma, he recognizes that “at a time when political struggle is expressed increasingly between political parties that are perfectly structured and organized a party is needed that would inspire confidence due to its qualities: cohesion in its ranks, the modesty of its members, the sense of its proposals.”

The second quotation was taken from the letter to Jose Dolores Poyo of November 1887: “At some other time our war could have been a heroic outburst or an explosion of sentiment; but having learned from twenty years of fatigue (…) the Cuban war is no longer a simple military campaign in which blind bravery followed a famous leader, but rather a very complicated political problem, easy to solve if we take into account its various parts and adjust our revolutionary conduct to it, but formidable if we pretend to create a solution without paying attention to its realities, or challenging them. (…) And what is most fearful about the revolution for the very ones who want it is the confusing and personal character with which it has been presented up to now; it is the lack of a revolutionary system, with clearly objective ends, that removes from the country the fears that the revolution inspires today and replaces them with a deserved confidence in the greatness and vision that the ideals of the war will carry with it in the cordiality of those that promote it, in the stated purpose of making war for a free and dignified peace, and not for the benefit of those who only see war as a way of achieving their own power or fortune.”2

Here no commentaries are necessary. Marti clearly refers to the need for an organization, in this case a party, in order not to repeat the errors of the past. But at no time does he speak of a sole party.

The third, dated April 30, 1892, says: “Unity of thought, which in no way means servitude of opinion, is without doubt indispensable to the success of every political program, (…) To open the thinking of the Cuban Revolutionary Party to disorderly thought would be as terrible as reducing the thought of a people composed of different factions, just as is humanity, to an impossible unanimity. If by its thoughts, and by its actions based on them, the campaign of the Cuban Revolutionary Party is to be efficient and most glorious, it is most necessary that, whatever the differences of fervor or social aspiration may be, there not be seen any contradiction or inflammatory reserve or vile partialities or regretted generosity in the thinking of the Revolutionary Party. Its thought must be seen in its deeds. Man writes himself with works. Man only believes in works. If we inspire faith today, it is because we do all that we say. If our new, strong power is in our unexpected union, we would voluntarily relinquish our power if we removed its unity from our thought.”3

In this quotation Marti emphasizes the need for unity of thought within the PRC as a condition for success, but he clarifies that this would be as dangerous as reducing its thought to an impossible unanimity. And he adds something that would be good to remember: Thoughts must be seen in deeds. many must write with his works. Many only believes in deeds. The idea of the unitary party seems to have only been in the mind of the author or authors of the article, since in the quotations used that idea is obviously lacking.

According to the article, once the Spanish power was eliminated and the American military occupation imposed, Estrada Palma considered the mission of the PRC to be finished and proceeded to dissolve the party, with which he mutilated an important part of the ideas of Marti, which foresaw using the Party not only in the war against Spain but also in the founding of a republic “with all and for the good of all”. In this conclusion the article confuses the ends with the means, since Marti’s proposal was to generate the Republic out of the war.

In the resolutions of the PRC nothing appears relating to its work after the victory, while its bases clearly define that the PRC is formed “to achieve with the common efforts of all men of good will the absolute independence of the Island of Cuba and to promote and help that of Puerto Rico”; and it is not proposed to perpetuate in the Cuban Republic “the authoritarian spirit and the bureaucratic makeup of the colony but rather to found in the frank and cordial exercise of man’s legitimate capabilities a new nation and sincere democracy capable of overcoming, through the order of real work and the equilibrium of social forces, the dangers of a sudden freedom in a society composed for slavery”; and that “it is not the objective to take to Cuba a victorious group that considers the Island as its prey and dominion but rather to prepare, with as many efficient means as freedom from the foreigner permits, war that must be made for the decorum and well-being of all Cubans, and to deliver a free country to the entire country.”4

Marti established a genetic relationship between War and Republic, in which the latter had to incubate from within the former. He project the founding of the Republic, which in his ideas was form and final destination, as opposed to the war and the party, conceived as intermediate links to arrive at it [the Republic]. For this reason, in the speech “With all and for the good of all” he said: “…let us close the path to the republic that is not prepared by worthy means of man’s decorum, for the good and the prosperity of all Cubans”5; and on December 5, 1891 he wrote to Jose Dolores Poyo: “It is my dream that every Cuban be an entirely free political man…”6

Let us examine other essential Marti ideas about the PRC.

1-While in New York in January of 1880, Marti presented a critical study of the errors of the Ten Years’ War in which he included the various factors that explained the failure and consequently pointed out its causes, among them the lack of unity among the revolutionaries, in which he deduces the need for an organization to forge it.

2- In June of 1882, in a letter to Maximo Gomez, he outlined the objectives of the PRC as follows: “…I only aspire that, forming a visible cohesive body all those selfless strong men appear united by the same serious and judicious desire to give Cuba true and lasting freedom, capable of repressing their impatience as long as there is no way to remedy the evils in Cuba with a probable victory in a rapid, unanimous and grand war…”7. Faithful to those principles, Marti separated from the Gomez-Maceo Plan in 1884 and wrote to the Generalissimo: “…But there is something that is above all the personal regard which you inspire in me, and even beyond all apparent reason: and it is my determination to not give an inch, through blind love for an idea for which my life is dedicated, to bringing to my country a regime of personal despotism that would be more shameful and terrible than the political despotism it suffers from now…”8.

3-In December, 1887 he notified Maximo Gomez that the country was stumbling toward war and that it lacked “a plan that unites it and a political program that calms it.”9. Precisely for this reason he founds the PRC, as an organizing, creating and controlling institution with a conscience focused on taking the place of spontaneity and immediate action.

4-In the Resolutions of November 1891, he stated that: “The revolutionary organization must not forget the practical needs derived from the constitution and history of the country, or work directly for the current or future predominance of any class, but by its grouping, according to democratic methods, of all the living forces of the country, for the brotherhood and common action of the Cubans living abroad, for the respect and assistance of the republics of the world, and for the creation of a just and open republic…raised with all and for the good of all”10.

5-On February 17, 1892, in Our Ideas, he said: “And it is not appropriate to ask if the war is attractive or not, since no faithful soul can be attracted to it, but to organize the war so that with it comes republican peace, and after it the upheavals that have had to be suffered will not again be justifiable or necessary…”11.

6-On April 10 of the same year, in the founding act of the PRC, he reiterated that the party be created: “so that in the achievement of the independence of today go the germs of the definitive independence of tomorrow” April 12, 1893 he said: “Greatness is that of the Revolutionary Party: that to found a republic, it has begun with the republic. its strength is that: that in the work of all, the right of all. It is an idea that must be brought to Cuba: not a person”13. It appears that the content of these two quotations led the author of the article published in Granma to think they referred to a supposed task of the PRC after the victory.

7-In the Manifesto of Montecristi signed jointly with Maximo Gomez on March 25, 1895, he stated that war is not “the unhealthy triumph of one Cuban party over another, or even the humiliation of one mistaken group of Cubans but the solemn demonstration of the will of a country that is fed up as proven in the previous war to launch itself lightly into a conflict that must end only with a victory or in the tomb”14.

The common point in the quotations taken from the Granma article, and in those I add, is that the founding of the PRC was conceived as an organizing, controlling and consciousness-raising institution in order to take the place of spontaneity and immediate action, encourage unity among the combatants, replace caudillism, personalism, and direct the war as a tactical necessity part of a larger strategy, as an intermediate link in order to give birth to the Nation and construct the Republic with all and for the good of all. Its functions were laid out so that from its center would arise the seeds of a definitive independence, not to represent a social class or the revolutionaries but all Cubans, not for elective gain, not to dominate and prohibit the existence of different parties after the victory, not to cancel out popular participation, not to declare that the street and the university belong to the revolutionaries, not the jail those who think differently. Realities that demonstrate Marti’s democratic and humanistic ideas are not only far from but contradictory to the practice of a single party system.

The unnatural character of the makeup of Cuba’s single party system is such that for its establishment they had to eliminate all the other political parties and the variety of existing associations, from which process emerged a “perfect” model of a totalitarian regime and, with it, stagnation and failure.

Even accepting the absurd thesis that Marti foresaw after the victory using the Party in the founding of the Republic, one would have to also accept the contrary thesis that, due to his deeply democratic philosophy, he would do it in competition with the existing parties, not by declaring on his own that his would be the only party. Neither did any of the delegates to the constitutional assemblies of Jimaguayú (1895) and de la Yaya (1897)–among which there were followers of Marti’s ideas such as Fermín Valdés Domínguez and Enrique Loynaz del Castillo–propose to include any article of that type, which demonstrates the absence of such an intent. Another resounding proof is the difference of interests and of social composition of the revolutionary groups in Florida, New York and inside Cuba, a diversity that Marti called on for the war but which after the victory manifested itself naturally in the variety of classifications and purposes.

For all of these reasons, the purpose of defining the role of the Communist Party as the organized vanguard of the nation in the coming National Conference should be corrected, for the good of all Cubans and in respect for Jose Marti. And in its place political differences should be legalized and the right to free association instituted, so that in the presence of other parties, the Communist Party might demonstrate or not its capacity to call itself vanguard, but above all, so that Cubans become citizens and play the active role that belongs to them in the destiny of the nation.

1 MARTI, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 2000. Volume I, p. 326.

2 Marti, Jose. Complete Works. Havana, Editoria de Ciencias Sociales, 1991. Volume I, pp 211-212

3 Marti, Jose. Complete Works. Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1991. Volume I, p. 424

4 MARTI, JOSE, Selected Works in three volumes. Volume III, pp.26-27

5 MARTI, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. Volume III, pp.9-10

6 MARTI, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. Volume III, pp 24-25

7MARTI, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. V I, P.325

8 MARTi, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. V I, p.459

9 MARTI, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. V II, p.211

10 MARTI, JOSE. Resolutions taken by Cuban emigrants in Tampa and Key West in November 1891. Selected Works in three volumes. V III, p.23

11 MARTI, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. V III, p.65

12 MARTI, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. V III, p.99

13MARTI, JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. V III, p.192

14MARTI JOSE. Selected Works in three volumes. V III, p.511

Translated by S. Solá

June 3 2011

Present Urgencies, Future Imperatives for Cuba / Dimas Castellanos

Last Thursday April 28, as part of the lecture series that regularly takes place in the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Room, Mr. Roberto Veiga, editor of the journal Lay Space, took as his topic “Present Urgencies, Future Imperatives of Cuba,” which was presided over by an emotional and illustrated introduction from Brother Manuel Uña, rector of the Dominican Center. Veiga began expounding on the theoretical assumptions of his thesis, structured around three core concepts: equality, freedom and fraternity.

Based on the beliefs of Father Felix Varela, he defined equality as the right that every person possesses, to have his merits and perfections appreciated. After that he delimited three kinds of equalities: natural, social and legal. The first one indicates the identity of the human being; the second one equal participation in social goods and the third refers to the assignment of rights and the imposition of rewards and penalties, that is, equality before the law. From this conceptual framework he failed to mention some vital aspects, from which I selected 12:

1. Racial equality, guaranteed by law but transgressed in daily basis. Regarding this matter he admitted the existence of a debate and established the need to facilitate it ,widen it and incorporate cultural and educational policies in order to solve it.

2. About the economic model he stated that the material and human precariousness we suffer damage freedom, equality and fraternity. Therefore, the need for its readjustment, for the decisive role of work to resolve full employment and make society more equal, fraternal and free; this represents a difficult task because it is impossible to be profitable with the current over employment.

3. About economic decentralization, he warned that it may increase the unemployment rate, generating more poverty and weakness. Therefore it is necessary to decentralize, at the same time creating means to ease the pain and to create jobs as soon as possible. Also, he considered that wide foreign and investment should be a priority every initiative coming from the citizens should be insitutionalized; for that purpose it will be necessary to establish fraternity as a social culture.

4. He considered that education should be free and obligatory up to the 9th grade, which, of course, led to the valid opinion of allowing this education to have a private variant. He also said that too much of a differentiation in basic education could originate an educational unbalance and lack of integration of the new generations. Therefore, the public school system should incorporate some academic freedom, pedagogical plurality and the possibility of learning religion and the most broad scope of philosophical, sociological, legal, economic and political knowledge.

5.He stated that to enjoy the equalities required by the human implies access to greater shares of freedom. But the current Fundamental Law limits the freedoms to be exercised in conformity to the goals of socialism and as a logical result the exercise of freedom is conditioned to this boundary. Mr. Veiga prefers a society that guarantees the broadest political and ideological spectrum, but assured that he would feel satisfied if we deploy all these ideals and means in a participatory and consensual manner.

6. He spoke of the crucial issue of political freedom, which limits citizens’ real capacity to act, especially when the citizen diverges from the official ideology. Addressing the question of how to guarantee the political freedom under such conditions, he considered that the best solution is to open the possibility to allow other political associations.

7. About the debate on the documents of the Sixth Congress of the PCC, said the ongoing dialogue process, mainly on economic issues, signals the existence of attitudes that can derail the path of achieving a consensus. On one side there are groups opposed to the government, with an enormous incapacity to recognize its legitimacy and to establish a dialogue with it. On the other side an official class that, in many cases, is afraid of any change and tries to strangle any debate. It is sad because we are living at the right time to jointly contribute to the search for a Cuba where we all can fit together.

8. In this regard, he stressed that a generalized agreement over the principles on which Cuban society should be based and the means to realize it, designed in a way shared by the population, could provide the national enthusiasm to devote to sculpting a community effort based on fraternity and diversity. At this point he reminded us that the Cuban bishops, in the Pastoral letter, Love Endures All Things, proposed a dialogue between Cubans, frank, friendly and free, not to get even and establish responsibilities, nor to silence the adversary and vindicate the past, but let the other to have a vast discussion; a dialogue not so much to find out the whys, but the what fors, because all the whys always discover a blame and all the what fors bring by themselves a hope. A consensus that could lead us also towards an important and necessary constitutional reform.

9. He stated the importance of the family for the formation of people and nations, its condition as the fundamental cell of the society, requires it to be guaranteed all the rights it demands and intensive support so that a responsible development can be achieved.

10. When referring to the political arena, which traditionally possesses a substantial influence in the social and institutional conduct of the country, he inferred the need for an institutional public network through which every citizen could fraternally contribute to achieve his or her freedom and equality and that of others, which he named the democracy of consensus.

11. He referred to the administration of the court system, which must gain relevance in comparison to the all other public institutions and offer a highly professional treatment, given its character as a guarantor of justice. Regarding the National Assembly, he stated that all candidates should be elected as a result of an authentic process in the heart of social organizations which represent different sectors of the population, and act as a catalyst between the society and the state. About this he said, “What I can say is that in the future this should imply that the people can directly elect the top figure in the government, as well as revoke his office, which would result in a widening of freedom and equality.”

12. To close, he stated that the current president , Raul Castro, has the historic mission of facilitate this process, but also he comprehends, he said, that there is a little time left for such a huge task.

At the end of his exposition, clear and precise, Mr. Veiga was rewarded by his audience with one of the most prolonged ovations in the history of that academic auditorium.

(Published in the Diario de Cuba (www.ddcuba.com) on May 13 2011.

Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez

May 13 2011

Albear, a Patriot of Construction / Dimas Castellanos

Any nation whose history is full of acts of violence diminishes relevance to figures or events that are removed from this kind of acts. If violence is also promoted as the paradigm of behavior, the concept ends up entrenching so deeply in the conscience of society that it establishes a false identification between war and history, between revolutions and patriotism, thus minimizing other forms of patriotism, and other ways of making history and promoting the culture.

In Cuba, the history of violence—conquest, colonization, pirate attacks, slavery, abolition struggles, separatists, independence support, annexation support, civil wars, racial crimes, state coups, gangsterism, terrorism, insurrection struggle, armed counterrevolution—conceal figures and events that, due to their dimensions, constitute the foundations and columns of the motherland and the nation. Colonel Francisco de Albear y Fernández de Lara, a giant of Cuban engineering, born in Havana on January 11, 1816, is one such example.

In 1835 he traveled to Spain to study at the Academy of Engineering. He returned to the island in 1845, loaded with the culture and prestige that enabled his appointment as Engineer for the Royal Board of Agricultural and Commercial Development of the Island of Cuba, from which post he undertook a vast engineering career.

From the renovated Saint Augustine Convent of Havana—his first job—to the construction of the Isabel II aqueduct, we can find in his work all the distinctive engineering projects of the period. It would be enough to mention the Trinidad Cavalry Headquarters, his acknowledgment of the Zaza river for canalization purposes, his study on the widening of docks in Cienfuegos, the Commerce Marketplace, the Botanic Garden and the School of Agronomy, the docks, platforms and cranes of the coast of Havana, most of the roads from the capital to neighboring regions, the installation of the first telegraph lines in Cuba, the design of the Havana street plan, the train and central road projects, among others.

In the topic of hydraulics: In spite of the Royal Trench—built between the last decades of the sixteenth-century to canal the waters from the Chorrera River; in spite of the Fernando VII Aqueduct built between 1832 and 1835 to conduct water through iron pipes; and in spite of the 895 cisterns and 2,976 wells in place, the supply of drinking water to the San Cristóbal village of Havana was still insufficient during the first half of the nineteenth-century.

Facing this crisis, General Concha, who was Captain General of the island at the time, entrusted a commission—headed by Albear—to come up with a solution. This event presented the illustrious engineer with the opportunity to develop his master work, which consisted in providing a modern aqueduct—which would raise the water from the phreatic surface and transfer it through underground pipes—to the capital city to solve its problem of scarcity and insalubrity of contaminated waters from cisterns, wells and older aqueducts.

Once the preliminary studies were concluded, Albear chose the Vento springs out of all the options, because they were situated at over 41 meters above the sea, and because of the feasibility of the collection, conduction, quantity and quality of their waters. Afterwards, he proceeded to do an exhaustive research on the transfer of the vital liquid to the Palatino deposits; he demonstrated the negative influence of solar light over the collected waters; he modified the geology of the terrain as to adapt it to the protection of the canal; and—through the use of meager mechanical means—he succeeded in making it travel underneath the Almendares River.

No similar project could be repeated until the mid-twentieth-century, when the tunnel under the Bay of Havana was built: both works are part of the Seven Wonders of Cuban Engineering of all times.

For his ensemble of magnificent projects, Francisco de Albear was awarded—first in Philadelphia and then in Paris—a Gold Medal and an Honorable Mention that reads: “In recognition of your work, which deserves extensive study even in its minimal details and which is considered a Master Work”; the Royal Development Board qualified him as the most famous of Cuban engineers. And to this distinguished eminence of engineering, Enrique José Varona dedicated these beautiful verses:

To make a foundation for faith where excess doubt is found,

To make light in the middle of the night,

To take nothingness and found the work,

That, Albear, is to be great… And great you are!

At the time of his death, Albear possessed—deservingly so—the titles of Marquis of Saint Felix; Brigadier of the Royal Corps of Engineers; the Great Cross of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Hermenegildo and the Order of Military Merit; Cavalier of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Fernando; Professor of the Special Academy of Engineers; Correspondent Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Madrid; Member by Number and Credit of the Royal Academy of Medical, Physical and Natural Sciences of Havana; Partner of Merit of the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Nation; Honorable Member and Correspondent of the British Society for the Development of Art and Industry; Founding Partner of the Geographical Society of Spain; Member of the Scientific Society of Brussels; and Member of the Society of the Working Classes of Mexico.

In recognition of his work, the aqueduct that was initially named after Isabel II was renamed after him, and the Havana City Hall erected a statue in his honor at Monserrate Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, in Old Havana. However, the recognition of this eminent engineer as a patriot of construction and one of the forgers of Cuban culture, whose masterly work continues to supply a great part of the water we consume today in our dear Havana, is still pending.

Translated by T

January 28 2011

Let’s Talk About Martí on His 158th Birthday / Dimas Castellanos

(Published in Cuba Daily, www.ddcuba.com, 28 January 2011)

The birthdays of figures who marked our history in past times and are observed today constitute an excellent opportunity to return to their ideas. This is the case of the 158th anniversary of José Martí’s birthday, who, at this opportunity, coincides with the start of the changes that the government is introducing in the economy, but will have to be generalized to all social spheres.

José Julián Martí Pérez, son of a family with a limited education, thanks to his sensitivity and intelligence, to the love of his mother and uprightness of his father, and to his relationship with the director of the Boys’ School of Havana, Rafael María de Mendive; he became a historian, poet, literate, orator, teacher, journalist, and the Cuban politician of the largest stature.

Nonetheless, despite the quantity of pages about him that have been written, his essential ideas are barely known. Having attributed the intellectual authorship of the Assault on the Moncada Barracks to him and placing him next to Marxism as the foundation of the process which led to a totalitarian system, he has provoked some Cubans — especially the youngest — to show rejection of this alteration of his person. From there, the importance of calling attention to simple, but racial, aspects of his work which remain valid for today’s Cuban. With that end, I advance eight of those aspects.

  • His humanism, putting man at the beginning and end of his libertarian work; to dream that with the first Law of the Republic there might be full human dignity, which is impossible without the freedoms that serve to sustain him. A humanism expressed in the love for one’s neighbor that, like Jesus, he extended to his own enemies and whose best proof consists in that, despite the inhuman treatment he received in the Political Presidio, he never expressed hatred for Spain, or that when he was an enemy of American expansionism, he was also a fervent admirer of the culture of that country and its people. From that humanism emanated his ethic, which in its political action constituted a distinctive element expressed in his human dimension and in the correspondence between thought and action.
  • His deep capacity for analysis, thanks to which he performed a critical study of the errors committed in the Ten Years’ War and demonstrated that Spain didn’t win that contest; rather that Cuba lost it. From that study he derived a system of principles that included: revolution as a form of evolution, the inclusion of all components in the analysis of social phenomena, the union of differing factors, and time in policy. In this system are the cement of a theory of revolution that includes the function of necessary war and the role of the Party.
  • His iron-willed opposition to autocracy, which took him to refuse participation in the Gómez-Maceo Plan of 1884, of which he left perseverance to the General: “A people doesn’t found itself, General, like one commands a camp”; an idea so simple as essential, whose consequence showed itself all throughout the Great War and remained reserved in his Campaign Diary, 14 days before his death: “… Maceo has another concept of governing, a junta of generals with command power, by their representatives – and a Secretary General: the Fatherland, then, and all her officers, who create and animate the army, as a secretary of the army”. An idea that had been repeated time and again, as in April 1894, when he expressed: “A people is not the will of a single man, as pure as it may be… A people is a composition of many wills, vile or pure, frank or stormy, impeded by timidity or precipitated by ignorance[1]. Ideas that should be incorporated into today’s textbooks.
  • His conception of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) as an organizing institution, controlling and creating of conscience to direct the war that the Republic had to carry out; not to dominate and prohibit the existence of different parties following victory, not to work for predominance, of any kind present or future; but by grouping, conforming to democratic methods, of all the living forces of the Fatherland; by brotherhood and common action of Cubans resident on the island and abroad[2]. For, as remained recognized in the Basis of the PRC, to found a new people and of sincere democracy, capable of overcoming, by the order of true work and the balance of social forces, the dangers of sudden freedom in a society composed for slavery[3]. And he insisted that it was an idea that Cuba had to carry, not just a person[4]. Thoughts completely foreign to the single-party system implanted in Cuba.
  • His concept of the Republic, conceived as a form and station of destiny, different from War and of the Party, conceived as mediating links to arrive at it. A republic as a state of equal rights to everyone born in Cuba; a space for freedom of expression of thought, of many small businessmen, of social justice, which implied love and mutual pardon between the races, built without foreign assistance nor tyranny, so that every Cuban might be a fully free politician.
  • His doctrine of Fatherland, of which he conceived as a “community of interests, unity of traditions, unity of ends, most kind and consoling of love and hope”. An ambition condensed into the following words in “Wandering Teachers“: “Mankind has to live in a state of peaceful enjoyment, natural and inevitable from freedom, as they live enjoying air and light” and “The independence of a people consists of the respect that public powers demonstrate to each of their children.”
  • His enmity for violence, despite having suffered much himself. In May of 1883, he wrote: “… Karl Marx studied the methods of putting the world on new bases, awakened the sleeping, and taught how to throw away broken props. But he walked quickly, and a little in the shadows, without seeing that they weren’t born viable, not in the hearts of the people in history, nor in the heart of the woman at home, the children that haven’t had a natural and laborious birth … They dream of music, dream again of the chorus; but we note that they aren’t of peace.”
  • His rejection of State Socialism, of which he left evidence in “Future Slavery”, where he proposed that “the poor, who are used to losing all to the State, will soon stop making any effort for their own subsistence”; “that when the actions of the State become so varied, active, and dominant, it will have to impose considerable charges on the working part of the nation in favor of the impoverished part”; that “as all public necessities come to be satisfied by the State, functionaries will acquire the enormous influence which naturally comes to those who distribute some right or benefit.” And that “To be a slave to oneself, it will come to man to be the slave of the State. To be a slave of the State, as they call it now, one will have to be a slave of the functionaries. A slave is anyone who works for another who has dominion over him; and in that socialist system would dominate the community of mankind, to which the community will dedicate all its work.”[5]

Just as people who are ignorant of their history are condemned to repeat once and again the errors of the past, and in Cuba political matters have regressed to the 19th Century, we have to be advised that Marti’s political thought continues to be effective, for we are detained in a time in which he would have lived. The republic of all and for the benefit of all is a pending matter. Once the model of totalitarian socialism has failed — exclusive by its nature — Marti’s thought, a combination of love, virtue, and civics constitutes a legacy we cannot depreciate.

Havana, 25 January 2011

[1]MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol III, p. 359
[2] “Resolutions taken by Cuban emigration of Tampa and Key West in November of 1891”. MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol III, p 23.
[3]MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol III, p. 26
[4]MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol III, p. 192
[5]MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Complete Works. Vol 15, pp 388-392

Translated by: JT

January 31 2011

CIVIC MANIFESTO TO CUBAN COMMUNISTS / Dimas Castellanos, Eugenio Leal, Miriam Celaya

The informal announcement of the VI Congress of the PCC, to be held in April, 2011, has been accompanied by the publication of the Draft Guidelines which summarize the topics to be covered at the most important meeting of the only party in Cuba. This document contains some positive aspects, especially those showing a clear understanding of the deep structural crisis that the country is experiencing and others, showing the direction the proposed solutions are headed. But its limitations, its unilateral and sectarian character, and the unjustifiable omission of matters of dire importance to the present and the future of the nation, have motivated us to comment on basic elements not considered by the top leadership of the PCC, without the inclusion of which it won’t be possible to make strides of any depth or speed.

Some of these fundamentals are:

* The project is a straitjacket made without consultation, designed to truncate debate about issues that affect all Cubans and cover all spheres of national life. It is the outline of an agenda that, in the absence of essential rights and freedoms of democracy, rules out the participation of citizens in its proposals.

* It is inconceivable for a political party to avoid political debate and at the same time to try to keep the economy subject to ideology, a method that has already demonstrated its unviability for over half a century.

* The current situation clearly reflects two possibilities: either the Cuban model is unachievable, or the government has failed in its application. Therefore, essential self-criticism must be imposed wherever failure of the model that the government has followed to date is officially recognized, and the governing body’s responsibility in its implementation.

* If the model failed, it is not wise to update it, but to change it, which would also imply a referendum to change the players.

* The measures the government has been proposing in recent years in order to reverse the critical national socio-economic plight are transitory, outdated and clearly inadequate, because they suffer from a lack of realism. The Cuban crisis will not be reversed as long as the effect that the applied conceptions regarding property issues have had on the failure of the model are not recognized, and until they are fundamentally changed. This should be coupled with the necessary inclusion of nationals in the proposed investment processes. Maintaining the system of excluding Cubans — far from enhancing productivity and economic progress — establishes an obstacle to productive development.

* Any attempt to improve the situation in Cuba goes through the full implementation of human rights in its indivisible nature, whose Covenants, signed in February of 2008, have not yet been ratified by the Government. The consummation of this achievement not only implies the unconditional release of all political prisoners, but in-depth legal modifications that tolerate the legalization of political dissent.

* We have already exceeded the time limit for the implementation of partial reforms. No reform in Cuba can be confined to the domestic economy sphere, since the crisis spans the whole system. It requires, therefore, proposals of a systemic nature that cannot derive exclusively from the ruling party that has not even proposed a new program to replace the previous one — fruit of the Third Congress of 1986 — failed and forgotten.

* Cuba is urged to overcome the philosophy of survival. People aspire to live and prosper, not to resist. Cubans have a right to prosper from the proceeds of their efforts. A ban on the demonization of prosperity must be imposed.

* Any new model that is proposed should emphatically proclaim the end of the so-called Special Period and the beginning of a period of normality, based on agreed-upon principles which can be relied on, as part of a new social pact.

* The Cuban government has implicitly acknowledged that the country is economically dependent on foreign capital. However, external assistance should only be subject to compliance with internationally recognized principles with respect to rights, and full people-participation, which, up to now, Cubans lack. Investors may not become rich as a result of the absence of rights in Cuba. Paradoxically, the violation of these principles obliterates the intentions to establish social justice stemming from the socialist system.

* The updated model proposed by the Government is not “a model for man” but calls, instead for “Man for a model.” Man is subordinated to the economic and ideological interests of the ruling party. By keeping the sacrificial status of individuals in this system it is clear that this is not a humanistic model.

* Economic advances are not possible if they are separate from exchange and free access to information. The government monopoly on information networks denies the potential of a people who achieved high levels of education and constitutes a violation of their rights.

* The absence of alternation, nepotism, and the lack of limits on the terms in public office become a brake on development. The responsibility in the face of failures, linked to the accumulation of interests on the part of a group established in power in perpetuity, also tends to perpetuate the Cuban crisis and makes the collapse of the system irreversible. Reality demands a reform in this plane so that the existence of other policy options will force the government to successfully fulfill its mission at the head of the nation’s destiny.

This manifesto is signed on December 1st, 2010 by:

Dimas Castellanos

Miriam Celaya

Reinaldo Escobar

Rogelio Fabio Hurtado

Eugenio Leal

Rafael León

Rosa María Rodríguez

Wilfredo Vallín

Estrada Palma and the Re-election / Dimas Castellanos

estrada-palmaThe current state of Cuba confirms the impossibility of social progress without civic participation of citizens. The structural crisis in which we are immersed and the obstacles to overcome it, are closely related to the absence of popular participation as a dependent of history. A reality exacerbated by the fact that our country, in terms of freedoms, has receded to the point where it was in 1878. Therefore, changes in the economy are as unavoidable as changes in human rights to promote civic participation from civil society in the decisions of the nation.

The importance of the political — the scope of social reality referred to the problems of power — is that it provides a vehicle to move from the desired to the feasible and from the feasible to reality, an area that implies the State as much as society. The attempts towards progress that ignore this truth, as has happened so far, are illusory.

The relationship between what is happening right now in our country with the public reappearance of the ex-chief of the Cuban State — phenomenon which is unsustainable in the short-term for the ungovernability that it generates — has as a common denominator with previous eras of Cuba the absence of the Cuban as a historical subject. To demonstrate that continuity, I will take this opportunity to look at the first attempt in Cuba of a presidential re-election bid.

The 1901 Constitution, in Article 96, referring to the duration of the presidential term, said that the office will last four years, and no one may be president in three consecutive terms. Therefore the conflict over the re-election bid in 1906 is not in the illegality, but in something else.

Tomás Estrada Palma (1835-1908), joined the Ten Years War from the beginning, where he received the rank of General. In the Government of the Republic in Arms he served as Secretary of War, of Foreign Affairs and President. In 1877 he was taken prisoner and released after the Zanjón Peace. He emigrated to the United States, where he founded a school for Latin Americans. In 1895 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Cuba in the U.S. and was the center of the Revolutionary Council in New York. In 1901 he was elected President of the Republic of Cuba.

Estrada Palma concentrated in an important enterprise, the austerity in the management of public assets. However, while he considered that the people had no training for living in freedom, he did not endeavor to strengthen the spaces and institutions to achieve it. That decision, conscious or not, is a manifestation of Messianism, a pious hope in the ability of an earthly being to lead a people to salvation. In the absence of the general public, his administration was limited to a political elite devoid of civic culture. For example, the enactment of laws became very difficult because for approval it required the presence of two-thirds of the congressmen, whose attendance, since it was not mandatory, was exploited by political parties (Liberal and Moderate) to hinder the work of legislation in their struggle for dominance in Congress. In this situation, President Estrada Palma, who had refused to join any of the existing parties, decided to join the Moderate Party, to try, together with the work of the Executive Branch, to obtain a quorum and to enact laws and necessary measures.

With regards to the theme of re-election, Estrada Palma created the War Cabinet to guarantee victory and get a majority in the Senate and the House; he pushed it to use all governmental force, including the use of violence and fraud against the Liberal Party, which responded with the abstention, and consistent with our culture of intransigence and machete, took up arms. A process that caused heavy damage and loss of life before and during the conflict, among them the killing of Colonel Enrique Villuendas in Cienfuegos and General Quintin Banderas in Havana, whom I shall address in my next article.

The rebels, in a manifesto dated September 1, 1906, proposed, inter alia, the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of peace, freedom for those detained or prosecuted for activities related to elections and declaring vacant the positions of president and vice president of the republic, provincial governor and provincial council, covered in the last election period. Estrada Palma for his part required them to lay down their weapons first and then talk. The intransigence of the parties and accordingly the failure of the mediation of a group of veterans, among whom were the generals Bartolome Maso, Mario García Menocal and Cebreco Augustine, who rose to confirm the office of president and cancel the rest of the elected offices.

The intransigence led to the outcome. Between 8 and 12 September, Estrada Palma suspended the guarantee, requested the sending of warships and intervention; a request that the U.S. president himself considered inappropriate. According to Hortensia Pichardo, Theodore Roosevelt exhausted all available means to avoid that step. Among these the media quoted his letter to Gonzalo de Quesada, 14 September 1906 and his telegram to Estrada Palma, on the 25th of the same month. In the first, Roosevelt reveals, among other arguments, that:

“Our intervention in Cuban affairs will be realized only if it is shown that Cuba has fallen into the habit of insurrection and lacks the necessary control over herself to realize peaceful self-government, and so that its rival factions have plunged into anarchy.”

In a letter to his friend Teodoro Pérez Tamayo, dated October 10, 1906, Estrada Palma argues that the settlement through the pact with the rebels was the worst thing that could have been thought of, as the secondary problems that would arise later — so many and so difficult to solve — weakening, of not losing, the moral force of legitimate power and no authority other than the settlement of disputes, which I repeat would be so many and so difficult, these problems, which would lead to the country being kept for many months amid constant agitation, as pernicious as the effects of the war itself. So, he says, he decided to irrevocably resign the Presidency, to completely abandon public life and look within his family for a safe haven from many disappointments. His ultimate sacrifice, in his words, to make it impossible that the Government should fall into criminal hands. A decision that led him to notify the Government of Washington:

… “of he true situation in the country, and the lack of measures by my Government to provide protection to property, considering that the time had come for the United States made use of the right conferred by the Platt Amendment. So it did” …

For these reasons, on September 28, together with the Vice President and the secretaries, he submitted his resignation to Congress and the country came under a provisional government headed by the Secretary of War the United States, William H. Taft, which constituted the second American intervention in Cuba.

The lack of civic culture, the absence of the citizenry in the decisions regarding the destiny of the nation, the tendency to violent solutions and Messianism, demonstrated itself in the work of the Cuban political elite. A portrait put forth magisterially by Carlos Loveira in his republic of “General and Doctors. ”

According to Hortensia Pichardo, the first Cuban republic had been killed by its own children. I would say that at the hands of a handful of its children, because the vast majority, as in other political events, was absent from those decisions. The teaching of this episode in our history, and of others we attempt, indicates that the preparation for political participation is a long and difficult, but much safer than we have traveled so far, where the majority of Cubans have very little to do with what is happening.

Translated by uncledavid

August 2 2010

Quintín Banderas and the Little War of August / Dimas Castellanos

quintin-banderasA victim of power, violence, social injustices and racism during the Little War of August of 1906 — generated by the conflict among the political elite of the age with the goal of the presidential reelection of Tomás Estrada Palma — Army General & Liberator Quintín Banderas Betancourt, a black freeman who gave 30 years of his life to the fight for the abolition of slavery and the independence of Cuba, was killed as one of the heroes of Cuban independence.

Black, of medium stature, physical force, with an easy smile and natural intelligence, Quintin formed his personality in the Santiago neighborhood of Los Hoyos. His work as a bricklayer from an early age prevented him from learning his basic letters. He traveled to Spain as a stoker and cabin boy on a boat where he learned the trade of marine merchant. He became a soldier in the Ten Years War and ended as a Division General. He participated in the invasion of Las Villas, in the Protest of Baraguá, in the organization of the Little War, in the War of Independence of 1895, and in the Western invasion of 1897. He was judged and separated from the service by a Military Council, but once the war was finished, the Hill Assembly ratified his grades of Brigade and Division General with retroactive status.

His insubordinations, related to his rebellious character, were produced in an environment vexed by racism and intrigue. Quintín, with quite brown skin, had as his bosses and subordinates white-skinned Cubans. Figures of the caliber of Calixto Garcia, for example, conditioned their participation in the war on the leadership being in white hands. The unquestionable is that General Banderas was one of the Cubans that put his country’s interests before his own personal interests. At one point he wrote, “Never did I think of the benefits that would come to me from war, only freedom directed my steps and to its achievement I have dedicated my youth, my comfort, my entire life.” The sad outcome of his life is connected with the racism and violence in the rough process of forming our nation.

Nations, the result of complex historical processes, reach their peak at the time when awareness of identity and belonging to different communities leads to a unique and stable community. In Cuba, this process is still not complete, was looming in the early twentieth century. Spaniards and Africans, transformed into Creoles and Cubans, accelerated their identity in the midst of war. However, the great differences in social, economic and cultural rights and opportunities, consolidated over several centuries of slavery, prevented the formation of a common purpose — still not achieved — to rise above the differentiating elements.

After the war, equality among Cubans, recognized formally in the 1901 Constitution, was not accompanied by practical measures to reduce the large gap between blacks and whites. For example in Article 13 read: “… every person may freely either learn or teach science, art or a profession, and establish and support education and training facilities …” However, in 1905, they were still trying to create a center for upper primary education and secondary education for young blacks who lacked financial resources to receive such instruction. As a result, blacks were still what they were before the conflict, just black.

The double discrimination suffered — by Cubans, as compared to Spaniards and by blacks as compared to whites — coupled with economic and cultural disadvantages, was reflected in the employments. Jobs in commercial establishments in U.S. companies (telegraph, telephone, electricity and sugar mills) and also in public offices of the state were virtually reserved for whites, while blacks had to work in construction, agriculture and some other trades . The best evidence of this was the creation of republican armed forces, where blacks, who had constituted 60% of the fighters of the Liberation Army in 1907 were less than 15% of soldiers and police. Blacks moved from war heroes to unemployed in the Republic.

In such an unfavorable environment, the General of the three wars sent letters, requested interviews and tried to fill vacancies without results. The New Creole of August 25, 1905, published, as an example of racial discrimination, the refusal of President Estrada Palma to receive him. Sometimes forced to work as a carter and others in a section of waste collection, he managed to survive thanks to loans, collections and public functions organized his friends. In addition, with the justification that he had been sanctioned, he was denied veteran’s pension, a false argument, because as we said before, the Cerro Assembly recognized his ranking as a General retroactively. Faced with such a critical situation he chose to participate in politics. In 1899 he accompanied Juan Gualberto Gomez in an attempt to organize the veterans of the Eastern Province. All roads closed and in 1906 he joined the so-called Liberal Revolution of August with a small group of men, against the reelection of Don Tomás Estrada Palma.

In that contest he was the first to initiate combat actions: He raided the Havana-Guanajay train, attacked and seized weapons and supplies in several villages of La Habana. Once the armed attempt failed, from his camp he sent a letter to the authorities for safe passage out of the country. The answer was the order to assassinate him. Four bullets and seven machetes ended his life. According to the forensics, he died of accidental injuries.

The only thing we must understand, said Juan Gualberto Gómez, is that without freedom there can not be equal brotherhood. And the truth is that at the time of the assassination of Quintin, there was no economic life, culture, nor consciousness of a common destiny, defining elements without which we can not consider that a human group has become a nation. And Fernando Ortiz said: “Without the black Cuban there would not be Cuba.” He could not therefore be ignored. But sadly for all Cubans, this ignored problem has not yet been resolved definitively.

His promotion to General was an example of black participation in the Liberation Army, and his murder, a symbol of the injustices in the Republic. After he died he was placed in the pantheon of martyrs and his figure was manipulated by political parties of the time to rally the black vote, which as we know, were more than a few.

Translated by: D. Brazzell

August 8, 2010

Cuba and the European Union: The Ratification of the Treaties / Dimas Castellanos

On the 25th of October, 2010, almost four months after the beginning of the release from prison of political prisoners in Cuba, the Council of the European Union (EU) considered insufficient the steps taken by Havana and decided to maintain the Common Position. In its place the European Commission was granted a mandate to negotiate and explore, inside the framework of the critical dialog, new forms that might stimulate its Cuban counterpart to continue more deeply on the path it set out upon.

The Common Position adopted in 1996 — when the member nations of the EU had bilateral relations with Cuba — was reaffirmed in 2005. In it is stated that the goal of its relations with Cuba “is to encourage a process of transition to a pluralistic democracy and towards the respect of human rights and of fundamental freedoms, as well as a sustainable recovery and the improvement of the living conditions of the Cuban people”.

Despite the opposition of the Cuban government to the aforementioned measure, the events on the Island between February and July of 2010 caused a turn that lead to a compromise to liberate all the political prisoners of the Cause of the 75*. A little before this decision, the government itself had recognized the inefficiency of the Cuban economy, classified the production of foodstuffs as a national security problem, and announced a reform baptized as an “update of the model“. The relation between these events lies in the fact that this reform requires foreign sources of financing, access to which must pass through the demands for democratization of those who have the money, among them the EU.

The failure to meet the deadline given to the Government by the Catholic Church for the liberation of those imprisoned in the spring of 2003 demonstrates that the Cuban authorities remain bound to their totalitarian vocation. In this complex context the European Commission has the mission to search out some formula that permits the completion of releases and undertaking new measures. The final decision, be what it may, will have to consider some aspects that remain crucial — from the Common Position or from bilateral relations — to contributing toward the democratization of Cuba:

– Three characteristics of the present moment.

One, the Cuban Government is the same one that debuted in 1959, such that in addition to the interests it is disposed to defend, it is responsible for all the good and all the evil that has occurred in this half century. Two, despite being almost the sole owner of the means of production and of the absence of an autonomous, juridically endorsed civil society, the government ignored the role of time in social changes; thus it lost the opportunity to undertake limited reform in a specific social sphere such as the economy, and to decide the starting point, the speed, the depth and direction of that reform, which would have permitted them to introduce partial changes without opposition from private interests. Three, as a result of the delay, along with the structural character of the crisis and citizen discontent, the changes have to be integrated.

– The absence of a true political will.

The revolutionary government, in its zeal to impose state property in absolute form, to eliminate small and medium property that offered production and services that the State never managed to supply, generated disinterest by the producers; adding to this, the fact that salaries never corresponded to the cost of living meant that the results was economic inefficiency. Nonetheless, through totalitarian control over society, reinforced by the almost total absence of an independent civil society and by the ideological solidarity with the Soviet Union, first, and with Venezuela later, the Government managed to save an exhausted, obsolete, and nonviable system for decades, despite a galloping rate of deterioration, until finally facing a profound structural crisis.

– Limited and contradictory character of the measures in the process of implementation.

Not only can the government keep in prison those who refuse to accept its terms and be exiled, by not effecting changes in current legislation the government can refill the prisons with new prisoners charged with the same offenses as those who now leave them. Adding to this the non-existence of human rights and civil liberties, the two work together to impede the resurgence of an autonomous civil society. In short, the anti-democratic and totalitarian mentality hasn’t changed. Labor reform, the consequence of a mistaken policy of “full employment” imposed against all economic logic, began to be applied after approving “majority employment” and increasing the age necessary for retirement: two means that suppose the need of labor, when it really exceeds 20% of what is used. The expansion of Self-Employment, which with few exceptions is limited to the legalization of activities that formerly occurred on the margins of the law, comes accompanied with high tax rates imposed in a country where no fiscal culture exists. Not to mention the lack of a wholesale market, bank loans, and the basic right of independent association.

Such measures cannot make up for the incapacity of the State to produce, being ignorant of the necessity of small and medium businesses, the formation of a business community, and the payment of salaries that correspond to the cost of living. But the worst of all is that these transformations are being applied to a society disarmed of rights, liberties, and civic institutions for its defense.

The interesting thing about the present scenario is that, as opposed to earlier times, the decision to change emerged from the need of the government itself, which makes it much more difficult to retreat, in a context in which the international community is paying attention to the state of civil liberties in Cuba and citizen discontent accelerates. Nonetheless, by the contradictory characteristics of the sociopolitical situation in Cuba, the change process — although zigzagging — is probably irreversible. In this sense, as much for the external agents as for the internal ones, the road to democracy will depend on critical dialog, which must build itself on a departure point, an essential concept, a governing principle, and permanent strategy.

In order for the projected changes to have a positive effect, besides completing the liberation of political prisoners, they have to ratify the Treaty of Civil and Political Rights and the Treaty of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights — in effect since 1976 in other nations and signed by the Cuban Government since February of 2008 — as well ensure that internal laws conform with these documents. Therefore, in the agenda of critical dialog with the Cuban government the urgency of its ratification cannot be absent.

Havana, 7 November 2010

* Translator’s note: The “Cause of the 75” is the release of 75 political prisoners who were arrested, tried on trumped-up charges, and imprisoned in what is known as the Black Spring of 2003.)

Translated by: JT

Property, A Fundamental Problem / Dimas Castellanos

copia-shu6(Published Friday, 12 November 2010 in number 3 of the digital magazine Voices, on the site www.vocescubanas.com/voces)

The Cuban crisis continues to become more profound. The ideological ties, created interests and the totalitarian vocation rise as an obstacle to the transformations that society requires; to it are added the incomprehension of the role of time in social processes, the errant road to encourage an efficient economy and an obvious lack of political will. For all that, the changes that once were feasible to produce in a private sphere are today impossible, since the depth of the crisis and its structural character demand integral reform. The Cuban economy, whose Gordian knot has its roots in the relation of property, constitutes a proof of this necessity.

Different from animal life, human beings, gifted with cognitive capacity and structured communication with his own species, are not starting from zero, rather each generation supports itself on accumulated culture. During thousands of years, the economy — which moved forward together with the human race — was hoarding experiences and conforming with norms that regulated its function. Thanks to culture, today’s man has very little in common with his forebears, while the chimpanzee — the animal with greatest similarity with the humans — lives and does the same things he did hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Long before psychology became a science and would describe the role of interest in human activities, economic relations had demonstrated that this constitutes a powerful source of motivation, without which it is impossible to obtain advances in production in a sustained form. When a political system arbitrarily alters this reality, the stubbornness of economic law leads to results such as that of the structural crisis in which we find ourselves. Ideology is a more recent phenomenon. It arose precisely thanks to advanced development in economic relations, especially those of property. The same interacts with the economy and can serve as much as an accelerator as a brake, depending upon the understanding its subjects have of its laws and functions. It is unjustifiable that well into the 21st Century — in the midst of globalization and the information society — those who govern Cuba cling to an ideology, behave like animal species, repeating what humanity has demonstrated down the length of its existence and has accumulated and organized in databases placed at their disposition.

Private property emerged from the first forms of community life, extended itself with slavery, changed form with feudalism, returned to mutate itself with the capitalist system, and into the few spaces that totalitarian socialism has permitted its subsistence, it has demonstrated to be a highly efficient form of economic development. That which has changed with time and will keep changing is the proportion in which what is produced is distributed — that is to say, referring to social justice, what comes from redistribution but that does not depend only on the globally created product, but also on other factors such as the natural differences in people, their dispositions and aptitudes, of invested capital and technology. The product of work, therefore, cannot correspond integrally to the producer, who doubtlessly is an essential factor but not the only one who intervenes and makes redistribution possible. If private property has been employed for the exploitation of some men by others, the solution is not in abolishing it, rather in perfecting the form of redistribution of the product of work.

The violation of this principle makes the economy unnatural and converts it into a prisoner of ideology, which is the same as condemning it to death, as the dissimilar projects of socialism based on the artificial imposition of State property have evidenced. In the Soviet Union it ended in a round defeat. In China, it led to generalized hunger until they undertook the reforms that have converted it into one of the motors of the world economy. In Vietnam, the planned economy system sunk the country into misery until they started the little Vietnamese Renovation, with which a sustained growth was achieved in production and productivity until they occupied second place in the world in the exportation of rice, by which the United States stopped opposing the concession of credits, suspended the embargo and established diplomatic relations. North Korea doesn’t qualify, since it deals with a feudal-slavery socialism in its final phase. And Cuba has managed to survive thanks to a solidarity-based subsidy coming from ideological alliances.

With regards to real property or the means of production we have to add knowledge. The technological revolution and communication are transforming the industrial society into the informational society. These changes interfere with the totalitarian intent to subordinate the universal right to education and information to ideology. The University cannot be only for the revolutionaries and information cannot be edited to suit the ideological interests of the State.

The Cuban president has recognized that in nine years the cultivable area of the country has been reduced by a third; that without people who feel the need to work to survive … we will never stimulate love of work; that without the conformance of a firm and systematic social rejection of the illegal and diverse manifestations of corruption, they will continue — in no small measure — enriched at the cost of the sweat of the majority; that if we maintain inflated payrolls in almost all national undertakings, and we pay salaries unlinked with results, we can’t hope that prices will stop their constant climb, deteriorating the purchasing power of the people.

Nevertheless, the response has been limited to the promulgation of Decree Law 259 about the delivery in usufruct of land — land which the State was incapable of making productive — to the farmers capable of doing it; the labor reform that will leave more than a million unemployed; and a list — of a rather feudal nature — of approved self-employment activities that are practically limited to generating taxes “on personal income, on sales, public services, and for the utilization of the workforce, besides contributing to Social Security”, with a load of regulations and limits that impede self-employment from playing an important role in production and delivery of services.

On the other hand, nothing is said about the rights of association of those workers who face a scenario without organizations independent of the State to represent them, much less to encourage the founding of small and medium enterprises. To stimulate the growth of this sector, instead of trying to avoid the formation of a national business community, they would have to add a policy characterized by low taxes and bank credits, creation of a wholesale market, implementation of rights of association and free access to information, which implies the implementation of human rights, the basis of the dignity of the person. Only thus can the Cuban be converted into a subject interested in change.

The integral concept of property is the road to sustained and sustainable economic development and for the formation of a national business community. In Cuba, thinkers and politicians of all eras were worried about the widespread promotion of small and medium property. It is enough to cite Bishop Juan Jose Dias de Espada, Jose Antonio Saco, Francisco de Frias, Enrique Jose Varona, Julio Sanguily, and Manuel Horta Duque[1], and of course, among them Jose Marti, who considered rich a nation that has many small proprietors[2]. They and others argued the importance of encouraging a diverse economy of small agricultural producers and the formation of a national middle class.

If the end of whichever social model is the human being, then economic relations — and, inside of those, those of property — constitute a means subordinated to that end. Therefore, in any of its forms, property has a social function that consists in incentivizing economic development for human life. The dilemma is not in the choice of one or another form, rather in the capacity to consider, at a determined time, place, and conditions, which of the forms is most advantageous for development, that which makes the institution of property a fundamental of social order.

We all agree that Cuba needs an efficient economy, but that proposition becomes unviable if the producers are prohibited from being proprietors, from receiving a salary to satisfy the most elemental necessities, from having free access to the Internet and from enjoying such elemental rights as the freedom of association in the defense of their interests. We would convert property and salaries into levers of economic development, and the only guarantee of achieving it is in the implementation of human rights.

The ratification of human rights treaties signed in the year 2008 and the conformance of domestic legislation in harmony with those documents constitute unavoidable premises to get out of this present crisis. In this sense, we have to return to the vision of the 1901 Constitution, which recognized the freedoms of expression — written, spoken, or in any other form — the rights of assembly and association, and the freedom of movement to enter or leave the country. We also need to look at the Constitution of 1940 which, with the consent of the Communists taking part in the congress, added to the freedoms of 1901 the declaration that all acts of prohibition or limitation of the citizens’ participation in the political life of the nation is a crime, and the existence and legitimacy of private property in its highest concept of social function.

But it is enough that the Government, owner of nearly all the means of production, assume the political will necessary to put the citizen in first place, and proceed to untie the Gordian knot of relations with property, together with integral changes, so that the deepening of the present reforms are the rebirth of small and medium enterprises, the diversity of the forms of property, and the formation of a national middle class.

[1] Manuel Horta Duque (1896-1964), professor and jurist who laid out a plan of agrarian reform that he defended in the 1940 Congress.

[2] Marti, Jose. “Complete Works”, Vol 7, Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1991, p 134.

Translated by: JT

November 15 2010

Cuban Labor’s Lack of Autonomy / Dimas Castellanos

The newspaper Granma, on Monday, September 13, issued a statement from the Cuban Workers Union (CTC) which is a good reason to discuss the autonomy of trade unions, looking at the scenario that is emerging in Cuba.

According to the document: “The leadership of the Government has been working on a set of measures to ensure and implement the changes necessary and urgent to introduce into the economy and society…: In correspondence with the process of updating the economic model and the economic projections for the period 2011-2015, the Guidelines provide for a reduction in the coming year of more than 500,000 state workers…; Our State can not and should not continue to keep businesses, productive entities, with inflated payrolls and budgets, and losses that weigh down the economy…; The union is responsible to act in its sector at a high level of exigency and to maintain systematic control of the progress of this process from start to completion, taking the appropriate measures and agencies to inform their superior organizations and the CTC…”

The selected fragments, like the rest of the document, show the total lack of independence of the CTC. There is no mention of the interests of the workers this organization allegedly represents, such a mismatch between wages and the cost of living. The investigation of why the unions have become the appendage of the state, requires a look back at the history of the Cuban labor movement.

In Cuba, the unions arose during the substitution of slave labor for wage labor, starting from the year 1865 with the creation of the Association of Tobacco Workers of Havana, the debut of strikes and the establishment of workers newspapers. The growth and strengthening of this movement led to the creation of the great twentieth-century labor unions, which, supported by the freedoms and rights recognized by the Constitution of 1901, staged a major strike movement aimed mainly at wage increases and decreasing the length of the workday, while playing an important role in political events such as the overthrow of the Machado regime by the general strike on August 5, 1933, an unprecedented event in the history of Cuba.

Thanks to the strength of the labor movement, labor legislation was passed which recognized the legal existence of trade unions, the right to strike, the eight-hour day, the minimum wage for sugar workers, job security, holidays and sick leave and maternity pay, among other measures, which were complemented by the enactment of Decree 798 of April 1938, the most important labor law in the Republican period. Likewise, many workers’ demands became law. Another manifestation of power and autonomy was the construction of modern building of Carlos III for the Retiro Power Plant and its leasing to the Power Company, the construction of the Havana Hilton hotel by the Culinary Union and the Grafico development by the Graphic Arts Union.

Since 1925, however, there began a process of subordination of trade unions to political parties. In that year, almost simultaneously, the National Workers’ Union of Cuba (CNOC) and the Communist Party of Cuba were both founded. Since 1934, with the founding of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (commonly known as the “Authentics”), a struggle began with the Communist Party for the control of organized labor, which worsened with the victory of the Authentics in the 1944 elections. During the 5th Congress of the CTC –, which was actually two congresses, one controlled by the Authentics and the other by the Communists — a Ministerial Resolution declared the Authentic congress to be legitimate at the expense of the Communists.

The subordination of unionism increased sharply before the coup d’etat of March 10, 1952. Eusebio Mujal, who had ordered a general strike against the coup, accepted an offer from the Batista government in exchange for retaining the rights acquired by the CTC, another blow to Cuban labor. In 1953, with the resurgence of strikes, the union leadership was trapped: support labor and be in conflict with the government, or support the government and lose labor; Mujal chose the alliance with the dictatorship.

The government that took power in 1959 the needed the trade union movement to succeed, and a general strike from January 1 to 5 consolidated the revolutionary power; thus the labor movement was said to be a decisive factor in the revolutionary triumph. However, on January 22, 1959, came the first coup against the unions. The CTC was dissolved and replaced by the “Revolutionary-CTC” (CTC-R). The resistance to was immediate. The Humanist Workers Front was created, combining 25 o the 33 industry federations under the slogan, “Neither Washington nor Moscow.” This opened a period of conflict which was resolved at the X Congress of 1959, where David Salvador, designated Secretary General, when asked if he was for the workers, replied firmly and laconically, “Whatever the Comandante says.”

Before the vote, Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of the Government, proposed a vote of confidence on the candidacy of David Salvador, leaving the communists and anti-communists out. However, after the Congress, Augusto Martinez Sanchez, then Minister of Labor, achieved the impossible during the sessions: he dismissed directors, and took the side of unions and federations, a process that concluded when the majority of the elected leaders in the X Congress were excluded.

Already in the XI Congress of the CTC-R, held in 1961, there were no vestiges of the former labor movement. For the first time a candidate ran for each position and delegates, representing the Government renounced almost all the historical achievements of the Cuban labor: the nine days of sick leave, the additional Christmas bonus, the working week of 44 hours and a constitutional raise of 9.09%, among others. The association was under state control and CTC became the auxiliary arm of the Communist Party. The results were reflected in the 1976 Constitution, in which only six articles of Chapter VI are dedicated to the rights of workers and they ignore almost everything achieved by the union movement since the creation of the CNOC in 1925.

In short, this is a consequence of considering that people are reducible, a form of organization where people act as mere executors. What happened in Cuba with the union movement corroborates this indisputable thesis: without autonomy the existence of genuine trade unionism is impossible. Now, faced with the acceptance of failure, the Government is undertaking some reforms under the name of updating the model, a decision that will have a strong impact on workers due to the absence of genuine trade unionism, since the absence of independent civil society, including unionism, makes Cuba an unarmed society that allows the state to decide by itself and asking for the support of the workers, as evidenced by the current Statement of the CTC-R.

The update of the model, if it is conceived to be for the good of Cubans, must begin by giving workers effective participation and ceasing to consider them as a mass. The restoration of independent trade unionism, therefore, is a requirement.

September 14, 2010

The Challenges of the New Cuban Scenario / Dimas Castellanos

Introduction

The exhaustion of the “model”, united with the interaction of a mixture of internal and external factors, has formed a box which — paraphrasing Lenin — is a result that those from below don’t want and those from above can’t follow indefinitely. In that context, the death of the political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the repressions against the Ladies In White (Damas de Blanco), the hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas, and the mediation of the Catholic Church — among others — sharpened the Cuban crisis and put the limits of immobility into the order of the day.

Nature and society change constantly; the difference between one and the other form of change consists in that the those of nature respond to objective laws while the social changes are performed by men who, although they can accelerate or slow History, cannot stop it. The Cuban Government, based on the absurd concept that Cuba changed in 1959 — truth that converted itself into a lie through trying to convert a temporary event into an eternal one — opted to conserve an exhausted model, obsolete and unviable and managed to postpone (natural) transformations for decades. The resulting scenario of this retarding action began to yield with the transfer of power carried out in July 2006 and the election of a new Council of State in February 2008, to the point of admitting the failure of immobility, a reality that the recently announced reforms explain.

The decision of the Government to undertake reforms doesn’t mean that sufficient political will exists for the democratization of Cuba, but the democratization takes the reform path, which creates a certain common tactical platform for the change in a new state with better possibilities than the previous one.

Totalitarianism, a point of departure

The revolutionaries who assumed power in 1959, being unaware of diversity, imposed a centralized organization under the tutelage of Father State, which gradually led to the loss of consensus and was flooded by social complexity. The present situation demonstrates that when temporary changes fix themselves into a concrete social organization and this form is declared definitive, one is on the path to totalitarianism; from the loss of public spaces and the conversion of the State into the only concern.

About totalitarianism, José Martí, in “Future Slavery”, said more or less the following: if the poor are accustomed to losing everything to the State, they will stop working for their subsistence and like public necessities, they would come to be satisfied by the State. Thus, the functionaries would acquire an enormous influence and the poor would go from being slaves of the capitalists to being slaves of the functionaries. And he pronounced: A slave is anyone who works for another who has dominion over him; and in this socialist system the community would dominate the man, who would turn over all his labor to the community.[1]

For Ortega y Gasset, the biggest dangers that today threaten civilization are “the ‘Statification’ of life, the intervention of the State, the absorption of all social spontaneity by the State; that is to say the cancellation of historical spontaneity, which in the end sustains, nurtures and drives human destiny”[2] … That which is summarized in the thesis of Benito Mussolini, ‘Everything for the State, nothing outside the State’.”[3]

Fortunately, even under the iron control established by the State, as Hanna Arendt would express it, the faculty of citizens to act politically would not disappear completely. And she added: “A revolution that proposes to free men without raising, in parallel, the need to create a public space to permit the exercise of that liberty can only lead to the liberation of individuals from one dependence to lead them to another, perhaps more of an iron fist than the previous”.[4]

Entering into the new stage, the challenge consists in converting the Cuban into an active subject who effectively participates in all aspects of his interest, including national definitions. In this sense, the question becomes: “Why did previous changes lead to the deep structural crisis in which we are immersed?” From my point of view, the principal cause has its roots in first, the weakness, and later the disappearance, of civil society, understood as an interrelated system of associations, public spaces, rights, and liberties, that constitute the base for an interchange of opinions, of shared agreement on conduct and decision-making, without the added authorization than emanates from law. The former leads us to the process that swept Cuban civil society, whose seeds reach back to the claims of the Havana Creole oligarchy of the first half of the 18th Century, approaching the place its class occupied in colonial society, although the legal existence of civil society was embodied by the Pact of Zanjón in 1878.

That civil society carried out an estimable work in our history and existed until its liquidation by the revolutionary power which, in 1959, together with the first means of the people’s democratic character, started a process of concentration of property of the hands of the State and power in the hands of an elite headed by the Chief of the Revolution, who swept out existing associations and substituted, for them, others created initially, for, and at the service of the Revolutionary State until — with the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 — the last vestiges of Cuban economic independence were ultimately liquidated.

This process of dismantling took place against the backdrop of the Cold War between the great powers of the time within which the disagreements with the U.S. led first to the deterioration of relations between the two governments, and later to confrontation. The effect was logical, since conflicts between states tend to weaken the conflict between them and their citizens. In addition, if one state tries to assume a leading role in the other, the legitimacy of the promoters of internal change are affected; this worsens when the country trying to assume this role has a bulging file of intentions on the other — as is the case with the United States with respect to Cuba — which offers enemies of change a priceless historical argument in their defense.

For this reason, among others, the commercial embargo imposed by the United States, instead of contributing to the strengthening of our spaces, made them more scarce; instead of protecting us from the arbitrariness of the State, collaborated with it; instead of promoting climates of trust for the advancement of human rights, made them step back. The dispute with the United States became a factor that worked against whatever institution, personality or country tried to come to binding agreements with Cuba that would have implied the restoration of the civil society. Thus it happened in 2003 with the possible entry of Cuba into the Coutonou Agreement; in 2009 with the rejection of the accord which would have conditioned the re-entry of Cuba into the OAS agreement that conditioned the reinstatement of Cuba on the acceptance of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which demands respect for human rights and fundamental liberties; and most recently, in 2008, with the signing of the two UN covenants of human rights which haven’t yet been ratified. External conflict served as an argument for Government to justify the absence of civic rights and liberties of its citizens. So important is this fact that Cuba — a Western country which had made progress on civil and political rights to the point of creating and enforcing the Constitution of 1940, which served as a basis for all subsequent civic and political struggles, including that of revolutionaries who seized power in 1959 — after seventy years (still) lacks such a vital institution.

The update of the model and democratization

As the update of the model requires external sources of finance, access to the same happens by claims of democratization of by the holders of these sources, which explains — in part — the present process of prisoner release. The challenge in this direction consists in converting the liberation of the political prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring into, first, a moment which should be complemented with the liberation of the rest of the political prisoners, and with other measures aimed at the rescue of fundamental liberties of the citizens. It is a question of a difficult, but not impossible, process. The new stage differentiates itself from earlier times in which change arose not only as a claim of the opposition or from some external power; but rather also from the need for self-government to conserve power, which made retrogression much more difficult — as happened with other opportunities. Now the proposition to update the model is growing, but in an unfavorable international context, at a time when the international community is showing growing attention to the state of civil liberties in Cuba, which will contribute to making the road towards democracy difficult.

Among the first announced measures are labor reform which will leave more than one million workers unemployed and the widening of the variations of self-employment, including the contracting for cheap labor in some of its activities. Nonetheless, said measures demonstrate that the State has not renounced the totalitarian vice of deciding everything.

The exclusion of sectors or social groups in decisions has been a constant of our history. Since the claims hoisted by Felix de Arrate in the mid-18th Century, until the revolutionary process which assumed power in 1959 — with the exception of Father Felix Varela and afterward Jose Marti, who conceived the modern republic with and for the good of all — different movements and figures staged various events toward the end of improving the relative conditions of Creoles vis-a-vis Spaniards, improving the condition of the Spanish province, increasing its autonomy, and achieving independence; but always from and for the social class they represented, to the detriment of other classes or sectors of the Island. The difference lies in that the totalitarian model, far from resolving this injustice, ended up reproducing its evil in its most developed form: the exclusion of all society by the State.

Labor reform is a consequence of the errant policy of “full employment”, which imposed itself against all economic logic to artificially exhibit before the world the superiority of the Cuban system, while the extension of self-employment responds to the intent to diminish the impact of current massive layoffs and the disaster of absolute state ownership. Both measures, before and now, were implemented by the State with no citizen participation and both are pregnant with insufficiencies and limitations.

The official press has published a list with 178 self-employment activities, within only 83 of which can the self-employed person contract for the labor of others; 29 already existing were not granted authorization; another 9 will remain limited and only 7 appear to be new, which demonstrates the announced enlargement is reduced to giving legal form to what already existed. For a person who opts for self-employment, the wholesale market needed to support this activity will not be able to create itself within the next few years, and the bank loans that would be required to put such activities in motion are still in the “analysis phase”; thus, they are starting, once again, without having prepared the minimum conditions for success, and ignoring the negative experience of Decree Law 259 of July 2008, which was condemned to disaster at birth. This Decree parcelled out idle land in usufruct — that is a “loan” of public lands to individuals for a set time period, but not a granting of title — without any consideration for bank loans or wholesale suppliers of necessary equipment and supplies, which guaranteed that more than half of the land parcelled out remains unused. In the case of self-employment, that which remains well-defined is that taxes will have to be paid “on personal income, on sales, public services, and for the use of a labor force, besides contributing to Social Security”. Nevertheless, nothing is said about the right of association of these workers, who enter into a scenario without organizations independent of the State to represent them, and much less is said about encouraging small and medium-sized businesses.

What permits the State to keep deciding the destiny of the nation all by itself? In the first place, that fact that it is almost the sole owner of all the means of production, which permits them to introduce reforms without opposition from other ownership interests and without depending on external forces; in the second place, as I expressed in ‘Towards a new February 24th‘[5], social changes are generally produced under the direction of new forces that assume power, while in Cuba, the initial subject is the same force that has retained power for more than a half-century, which makes it easier for them — in the absence of an independent civil society — to determine the starting point, the speed, the depth and direction of changes; in the third place, since logical alternation — that is periodic changes in who controls the government — have not existed with respect to power, the force that has governed during the last half-century is responsible for all the good and all the evil which has occurred; in the fourth place, because this force has contracted certain personal or group interests that influence its conduct.

The foregoing explains why errors were committed in the Revolutionary Offensive of March 1968 aren’t recognized, which eliminated in a single blow tens of thousands of small proprietors, many of whom employed contracted manual labor and offered services and products that the State could never manage to supply. By eliminating small proprietorship, besides the appearance of inefficiency, the State enterprises became estaticular — a term which can be defined as “the property of the State for the profit of the individual,” or, in simpler language, “corrupt”[6] — provoking the surge of a network of products and services on the margins of the law, those which, not being able to count on provisions of raw material, tools or replacement parts, led to widespread thievery, baptized with the verbs ‘escape’, ‘fight’, and ‘resolve’, which designate actions whose goal is survival. That measure was a product of the desire to control everything and prevent the formation of a middle class, ignoring that in Cuba — from the Bishop Juan José Díaz de Espada at the beginning of the 19th Century until Julio Sanuily in the 20th Century, through José Antonio Savo, Francisco de Frías, Enrique José Varona, and José Martí — countless thinkers argued the necessity of encouraging a diversified economy of small agricultural producers as well as, simultaneously, a national middle class.

From all the foregoing one deduces the need of a social structure which guarantees the participation of all citizens with legal rights and a concept of ownership in which its various forms might coexist and live together, then property — be it individual, family, cooperative, private or of the State — should have the social function of mobilizing the potential and initiative of people to produce; therefore, each of its forms has every right to exist and coexist as long as it accomplishes that function.

Human Rights: Guarantee of Success

The guarantee that the changes projected by the Government might have a positive effect has its roots in the implementation of human rights, based on dignity of the person. Nevertheless, owing to the absence of an independent and legally authorized civil society, the advance from the release of the prisoners to the re-establishment of civil society will have to depend — to a certain degree — on the support of the international community, which must include in the agenda of its dialog with the Cuban government the ratification of all human rights treaties signed since 2008, along with making domestic law consistent with these documents. Our political history precisely constitutes an in vivo demonstration that changes, in the absence of citizen civic participation, take us directly back to the starting point, which explains that in matters of civil liberties we may have returned to the state in which Cuba found itself in the second half of the 19th Century. That story tells us that economic changes are as unavoidable as in the subject of human rights.

Towards this end Cuba has a long and rich history in the subject of rights, from the Plan of Self-Government For Cuba[7] — prepared in 1811 by Father José Agustín Caballero — to the Constitution of 1940. The Constitutional Plan For the Cuban Island — prepared in 1812 by Joaquín Infante, the lawyer from Bayamón — already distinguished the division between the Legislative, Executive, Judicial, and Military powers, as well as the observance of the social rights and duties directed at equality, liberty, property, and safety. The Instructional Plan for the Economic and Political Self-Government of the Overseas Provinces — prepared by the presbyter Félix Varela in 1823 — considered that putting political liberties and rights into effect exclusively for Creole whites constitute prejudice[8]. The Constitution of Guaimaro, of 1869, endorsed the classic division of powers and sanctioned that no legislative Chamber could attack the freedoms of religion, press, peaceful assembly, teaching and petition, nor any inalienable right of the people. The Constitution of La Yaya, in 1897, included for the first time a dogmatic section — dedicated to individual rights and political rights — where it reads that all inhabitants of the country remain protected in their religious opinions and in the exercise of their respective religious worship, and have a right to proclaim their ideas with freedom and meet and associate among themselves for the legal goals of life.

In the Republic, the 1901 Constitution recognized the freedoms of expression — written or oral, by means of the press or other process — and also the rights of assembly and association “for all legal goals”, the freedom of movement to enter or leave the country. The 1940 Constitution maintained those rights recognized in 1901, and added others, such as: the right to demonstrate and form political organizations contrary to those of the regime, the autonomy of the University of Havana, the declaration as a crime all acts of prohibition or limitation against the citizenry’s right to participate in the political life of the nation, as well as the recognition of the legitimacy of resistance for the protection of individual rights, and with respect to property, directly recognized the legitimate existence of private property in its highest concept of social function.

The 1976 Constitution, the first since the 1959 revolution, recognizes the freedom of speech, of press, of assembly, of association and of demonstration. The difference with its predecessors stems from that fact that all these rights are subordinate to Article Five, which recognizes the Communist Party as the superior directing force — as much for society as for the State — to build socialism and advance towards communism. In 2002 this Constitution suffered a new modification, in the year the majority of Cubans “approved” its “irrevocable” character such that the current system — obsolete and unviable — could not be reformed, and also prohibiting the necessary adaptation of the fundamental Law in response to changes that occur in every society. With this last reform, the government succeeded in converting the Constitution into a social braking mechanism, and in the era of globalization and information this meant anchoring the country in the past.

The challenge consists in being able to convert present governmental reforms into a step towards democracy, that which puts in first place the implementation of human rights and fundamental liberties, and guarantees the participation of all Cubans in the destiny of the nation. And above all that the subordination of the individual to the State disappear from our scene, a proposition that the daily newspaper Granma just rejected again, on Friday, September 24, noting that self-employment “is one more alternative, under the watchful eye of the State”, which is to say under the watch of the same institution responsible for the stagnation in which we find ourselves.

1. MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Complete Works, Volume 15, pp 388-392.
2. José Ortega y Gasset. The Rebellion of the Masses. El País. Classics of the Twentieth Century. Madrid. 2002, p 164.
3. José Ortega y Gasset. The Rebellion of the Masses. El País. Classics of the Twentieth Century. Madrid. 2002, p 166.
4. Schmitt, Carl and Arendt, Hannah. Consensus and Conflict; the definition of politics. Colombia, Editorial de la Universidad de Antioquia, 2002, p. 147
5. Toward a New February 24th, published in the digital daily Encuentro en la Red, February 22, 2008.
6. Estaticular (property of the State and profit of the individual), Today’s Cuban Morals, published in the digital daily Encuentro en la Red, in March 2001.
7. H. PICHARDO. Documents for the History of Cuba, Volume I, p 210.
8. J. IBARRA CUESTA. Varela the Precursor, a Study of the Era. Havana, Editorial de Ciencias, p 72, Sociales, 2004.

Translated by: JT

(Originally published Tuesday, September 28th on the website www.cubanalisis.com)

Published on Dimas’s Blog on October 15, 2010

Training the Citizenry to Stop Being “The Masses” / Dimas Castellanos

Cuba is immersed in the deepest structural crisis in its history. To emerge from it will require an understanding of its causes and the political will to undertake changes, among which citizen participation in public affairs stands as an unavoidable necessity. Hoping to find new solutions in the behaviors of the past will lead nowhere.

The Cuban government, having exhausted all possibilities of keeping the “model” unchanged, has decided to introduce some reforms, and although this is still far from getting to the root of the problems, it has broken the inertia. In the new context of citizenship education, lack of a history of our country must occupy a central place. In this regard it is interesting to recall the teachings of Cuban figures who were concerned about, and who addressed, this long-standing gap.

When Cuba was a colony, Father Felix Varela realized that civics was a prerequisite for independence and therefore chose education as a path to liberation, so he insisted this must be thought about first. José de la Luz y Caballero came to the conclusion that education came first, before the revolution and independence. Men rather than academics, he said, is what we need in our time. And José Martí began a critical study of the errors of the War of 1868, which revealed negative factors such as immediacy, strong-man rule and selfishness, which are closely related to a weak civic education.

During the period of the republic, Enrique José Varona, in “My Advice,” written in 1930, complained that the Republic had entered into crisis because many people believed they could ignore public affairs. Cosme de la Torriente and Peraza, convinced of the futility of the use of violence to found peoples and form nations, directed his steps towards reconciliation and dialogue as ethical and cultural foundations of political action. Gustavo Pittaluga, an Italian physician who lived in Spain and emigrated to Cuba in 1937, in his “Dialogue of Destiny,” showed that violence is the harbinger of the fate of Cuba and insisted that the settlement of disputes could only be reached from politics and understanding.

Fernando Ortiz, in “The Cuban Political Crisis: Its Causes and Remedies” (1919), emphasized that among our limitations are: the Cuban people’s lack of a historical preparation for the exercise of human rights; the psychological weakness of the Cuban character marked by impulsiveness and psychological laziness, which often lead to strong performances, but quick, hasty and unpremeditated violence. White Jorge Manach, said: “Every person has their little aspiration, their little ideal, their little program; but what is lacking is an aspiration, an ideal, a program for everyone. And,” he added,” the inhibited individualism in our race makes each one of us a Quixote on his own adventure. Generous cooperative efforts are invariably undermined. The selfless Leaders do not emerge. There is a vague anxiety for a better state; but this does not translate into a struggle to realize it.”

The above observations place us face to face with people’s lack of preparation for the exercise of political rights, which has led most Cubans not to pursue public affairs, a past and present weakness which constitute a serious obstacle to overcoming the current structural crisis.

To move from the present context to a democratic country requires training in a culture of human rights. In other latitudes the concept of affirmative action defines laws and projects focused on the social inclusion of groups traditionally neglected. Paraphrasing this for the Cuban context implies the need for a similar educational activity, because experience shows that efforts aimed at democratization will fail if there are not citizens capable of demanding, promoting and stimulating the changes.

Without that culture, even were the Government to introduce economic and political transformations, and restore rights and freedoms, people will never be able to assume the responsibilities imposed by living in a democracy. It is no accident that, in 1878, civil liberties were established across the whole colony, civil liberties that today no longer exist. It is therefore imperative, as we work to shape a culture of laws as the foundation of the new Cuba, to stop our march into the past.

In “The Revolt of the Masses,” referring to the crowds that are impetuously form as a subject of social changes, said José Ortega y Gasset said, “It ma,y in fact, be a transition to a new and unparalleled organization of mankind, but it can also be catastrophe in the destiny of humanity. There is no reason to deny the reality of progress, but we must correct the notion this progress is secure.” He added, “Everything, everything, is possible in history, the triumphant and undefined progress as well is the periodic regression. (1)

Despite the few spaces and the many difficulties we can progress along different paths: the study of the Universal Declaration and the Covenants on Human Rights which Cuba signed in 2008; the debate of ideas in the small circles that are emerging from public discontent; the growth of citizen journalism and the different seeds of autonomous civil society; the teaching of courses on law and the history of Cuba; and the airing of films and documentaries. These and other avenues should be encouraged and multiplied in order to promote analysis and exchange of views. In the future, these actions will have to be incorporated into the educational system

The challenge is to ensure that awareness of citizenship and the holistic vision of human rights become deeply and solidly incorporated into the culture. Undertaking this work in a context dominated by the moral of survival, mental frustrations, the trend towards escapism, and the lack of a humanist viewpoint, is a highly complex task, but an essential one. Educational activity, using a phrase from the Apostle, is where the seeds of tomorrow’s democracy will be planted. Where no political elite can offer itself as the representative of what it calls “the masses.”

(1) J. Ortega y Gasset. The revolt of the masses. El País. XX Century. Madrid. 2002, pp.119-120.

November 8, 2010