Cuba: Toward a New Political Scenario / Dimas Castellanos

nuevo-escenarioThe elimination of civil society within Cuba — solid base of totalitarianism and source of immobility — was accompanied by a foreign policy based on confrontation. The dispute with the United States, the rejection of re-entry into the OAS conditioned on the acceptance of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which requires respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, non-entry into the Cotonou Agreement — binding relations of cooperation — the refusal to ratify human rights conventions signed since 2008 and the conflicting relationships with the European Union, form a strategy to avoid any commitment to restore civil society, respect for human rights and democratization, and closer ties with countries and institutions where these requirements do not exist or are circumvented.

In early 2010, the convergence of a set of internal and external factors made the order of the day the limiting of immobility. Attempts to homogenize the social diversity, to convert the citizenry en masse, to ignore the vital role of rights and freedoms and to determine what, when and how to do everything, to override the human person, leading first to stagnation and decline until ending in a fiasco, which translates, to paraphrase Lenin, in which the underdogs don’t want to and the top dogs can’t, and a recognition in official discourse of the decision to update the model.

Emerging from the permanent crisis has its starting point in the economy: the lack of productivity, the stagnation, the importing of food that could be produced in Cuba, the decline in exports, the inability to return foreign funds deposited in local banks, etc., among other ills. An urgent need because of the fragility of the terms of trade with Venezuela, which are based on a political relationship that could vary sharply if changes occur in the South American country, as happened with the Soviet Union.

The first obstacle to this plan, known as an update of the model, lies in the need for external sources of financing, access to which passes through the release of Cuban political prisoners, which explains one reason for the current process of release from prison. Some colleagues say that the release of prisoners is a government maneuver aimed at changing the external image to access funding sources. Although this idea has its basis in previous events, it loses sight of who we are in transition to a new scenario that precludes such a purpose.

The politics of confrontation arose in the context of the Cold War and was sustained by the aid from the former Soviet Union. The conservation of this policy after the Cold War was made possible by the cooperation of Venezuela, for other than economic reasons, which could disappear at any time. For this and many more reasons, I am inclined to think that the updating of the model consists of the introduction of some reforms that, while lacking the political will for democratization in Cuba, will form a new context. The release of prisoners and economic measures such as a generalization of self-employment, including hiring labor, point in that direction.

The new stage, marked by a turn from the politics of confrontation to understanding, the emergence of new actors, public discontent and the consensus for change, could lead to deeper economic measures and other demands of Cuban society, such as the right to enter and leave the country freely, free Internet access, or freedom of expression, to name three of the most pressing problems for Cubans. Ultimately, politics has less to do with desires than it does with what is possible at each moment. The challenge is the ability to turn that possibility into reality, and that has little to do with complaints or hasty judgments.

The weakness of the internal forces due to the absence of an independent civil society and legally recognized, have to rely to some extent on the international community, which together with the release of prisoners, the Cuban government should require ratification by human rights treaties signed since 2008 and bring domestic laws in line with these documents. That and the inability to update the model without accompany the implementation of human rights, the basis of dignity and self-interest, the purpose of leaving the economic crisis is void.

If updating the model means preserving totalitarianism, the attempt contain an insoluble contradiction, for without the participation of interested citizens as active participants in the destiny of the nation, emerging from the crisis will be impossible. The State and civil society are two elements of the same system and the field of politics goes beyond the State, therefore imposing in the short or medium term a replacement of the totalitarian model for another more democratic and participatory. In short, for socialism, in all its variants, there is only one thing it cannot do and that is deny the idea of democracy, and so this implies structural changes that can not be subject to ideology. That is the challenge of the powers-that-be, and the strength of the forces of change.

The political history of Cuba is a demonstration that changes in the absence of civic participation of citizens always lead back to the starting point. This explains how, in terms of civil liberties, we have regressed to the state Cuba was in in 1878. People’s willingness to follow this or that leader, has resulted in a politics monopolized by elite figures or characterized by the rule of personality, messianic leaders, the use of physical and verbal violence, and the control over the private domain by the public power. That story tells us how inescapably vital are the changes in the economy and human rights.

Right now, the public reappearance of former head of the Cuban state has, as a common denominator with the past, the absence of the citizen as subject of history. That is our Achilles heel. It is not about imminent or nuclear war, but about that fact that we Cubans, regardless of that war, are threatened by serious problems in our backyard and we most solve them. Perhaps our greatest contribution to conflicts in other parts of the world would be to solve our own problems to demonstrate our ability and responsibility. And this has more to do with converting Cubans into active participants, than with trying to persuade President Obama.

August 12, 2010

Laid-off Workers and Self-employment: A Critical Analysis / Dimas Castellanos

After exhausting all possible avenues to run the economy from a totalitarian concept, the Government has taken the path of reforms under the name of updating the model. Among the first measures announced are labor reform that will leave more than 1 million workers without jobs, and the expansion of the allowed variants of self-employment, including hiring labor. However, these measures show that the government has not renounced the totalitarian vice of ignoring totalitarian citizen participation and deciding everything from the state, which augurs new failures.

The exclusion of sectors or social groups in decision-making has been a constant in our history. Since the claims raised by Felix de Arrate in the mid-eighteenth century — with the exception of Father Felix Varela and then with José Martí, who conceived the idea of the modern republic with everyone participating — the movements and the figures who starred in the different episodes, whether it was Spaniards versus Cubans, the fight between status as a Spanish province versus autonomy versus independence, always represented the social classes they came from to the detriment of other classes or sectors on the island. The process initiated in 1959 with the stated purpose of finishing the struggles started in the nineteenth century, ended up reproducing the evil in its most developed form: those excluded by the state are not one sector, but the entire society.

The two closely related measures announced recently are attempts to correct serious errors. Labor reform is a failure of the policy of “full employment” imposed against all economic logic, with the intention to display artificially to the world the superiority of the Cuban system, while the promotion of self-employment is an attempt to lessen the impact of current layoffs and the failure of absolute state ownership. Both measures, past and present, were implemented by the state, ignoring participation of citizens, which is impossible without the existence of a civil society, understood as an interrelated system of associations, public spaces, rights and freedoms, which form the basis the exchange of views, consultative behavior and decision making, without further authorization by those who make the laws.

When the state abrogates civil society, as has happened in Cuba, it can impose its decisions; what it cannot achieve is a positive outcome. Hence, the implementation of fundamental rights and freedoms constitutes a prerequisite for overcoming the current structural crisis, whose root causes lie precisely in the absence of the freedoms that underpin human dignity, What peculiarities of the new scenario allow the State, after all of its failures, to continue deciding the destiny of the nation by itself? In the first place, the State has the advantage of being almost the sole owner of the means of production, which allows no opposition reforms, only special interests, without relying on external forces.

Secondly, as I have stated in other articles, the social changes usually occur under the direction of new forces which take power, while in Cuba, the initial actor is the same force that has held power for more than half a century, which facilitates, in the absence of an independent civil society, its determining the starting point, speed, depth and direction of change. And third, as the logical alternation of power did not exist, the force that has ruled for the past half century is responsible for everything good and everything bad that has happened, which explains its return to self-employment while it doesn’t speak of its own error with the Revolutionary Offensive 1968, which eliminated most small property. Finally, fourth, because the powers-that-be act on their own personal interests or those of the group that influences their conduct.

This explains that in neither of the two cases do they recognize the mistakes committed, because the Revolutionary Offensive of March 1968 eliminated at a single stroke tens of thousands of small landowners, many of whom employed contracted labor and offered goods and services that the State was never able to supply. As a result of the totalitarian desire to control everything and to prevent the formation of a middle class, they ignored both foreign and domestic experiences. Because in Cuba, from the Bishop Juan José Díaz de Espada in the early nineteenth century, until Julio Sanguily in the twentieth century, passing through José Antonio Saco, Francisco de Frías, Enrique José Varona and Jose Marti, innumerable thinkers argued the need to promote both a diversified economy of small farmers as well as a national middle class.

By eliminating the small proprietor, inefficiency appeared as State enterprises assumed everything, resulting in the emergence of another vast network of production and services, at the margin of the Law, which, lacking a supply of raw materials, tools and spare parts, led to widespread theft, renamed with verbs such as “to escape,” “to fight,” and “to resolve,” setting off behaviors which survive today, having become part of the predominate morality of today’s survival.

Effectively turning citizens into prisoners distorts the economy and even makes it a factor in the material and spiritual poverty of the nation. It requires a social structure that guarantees the participation of all citizens, with legal rights and conception of property coexisting and cooperating in various forms, because ownership, whether individual, family, cooperative or state, fulfills the social function of mobilizing the capacity and initiative of individuals to produce; thus every form of ownership should be allowed to exist and coexist to support this function.

There can be no return to the stagnation, nor simply an engagement in criticizing the measures, but rather changes need to be encouraged from a critical position so that they can transcend simply updating the model and lead to the path of democratization, that is to say that Cubans must be freed of their function as “the masses” and become active participants in defining their own nation.

September 22, 2010

Updating the Model Versus Comprehensive Changes / Dimas Castellanos

(Originally published on Monday, October 10, 2010 on the site www.diariodecuba.com)

In updating the model — a euphemism used to describe the changes that are taking place in the Cuban economy —  what is happening is the same thing that happened with Spanish colonialism in the late nineteenth century. Spain took so long to grant autonomy to the island that when it did, in 1898, the war for independence was about to exhaust its every last drop of blood and even its last penny, as required by the motto of the stubborn president, Antonio Canovas del Castillo.

Although the declared ideological underpinning of Cuba’s totalitarian system is Marxism, its leaders ignored that the foundation of the materialist conception of history is the law of correspondence between productive forces and the relations of production, which, in his Contribution to the of Critique Political Economy, Karl Marx summed up something like this: “The totality of these relations of production constitute the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.”

When you reach a certain stage of development productive forces come into contradiction with the relations of production, that is with the property relations within which they have operated hitherto. From this point forward, the relations of production, ways of development of the productive forces become its fetters, opening a time of social revolution.

In absolute inconsistency with its ideological framework, the Cuban government replaced the Marxist thesis by voluntarism and, in parallel, accommodated itself to support from overseas, which prevented the formation of a national business structure. After the removal of foreign companies and large national enterprises it proceeded to liquidate small and medium enterprises, the climax of which endeavor came with the Revolutionary Offensive of March 1968, when more than 50,000 manufacturing establishments and services were closed or taken over by the government.

With this “triumph” the Government delayed the necessary reforms to put property relations in correspondence with productive forces. The results were immediate: a poor economy, lack of labor discipline, lack of workers for a successful outcome, morals molded to the survival, hopelessness, disbelief, apathy and mass exodus, which was reflected in a long chain of failures, some thunderous as that of the sugar harvest of 1970, demonstrating the unfeasibility of a “model” based on absolute state ownership.

If, before the current disaster, it had been still possible to make limited changes to the productive sphere, after the damage caused — from economics to the spirituality of Cubans — it is now impossible to introduce reforms in the material base without simultaneously (following Marx’s thesis) making changes in the legal and political superstructure. Currently, any governmental action aimed at increasing production and productivity, delivered from the totalitarian mentality is doomed to failure, again.

If an expansion of self-employment is aimed at providing employment for the million and a half workers to be laid off, and at generating outputs and services that the state is unable to create, then the list of 178 activities permitted will need to be annulled and replaced with a list of only the few things that are not permitted. The rest will be taken care of by citizens’ initiatives which have given ample proof of their potential, much more so in a country like Cuba with such a high level of education.

To stimulate the growth of this sector, instead of trying to avoid the formation of a national business, we should add a policy characterized by low taxes and bank credits, creation of wholesale trade, implementation of the rights of association and free access to information, which involve the implementation of human rights, the basis of human dignity.

Only in this way can Cubans come to have an interest in the changes. However, despite the statements about changing whatever is necessary to change, the ideological bonds and the responsibilities and interest incurred for more than half a century act as an impediment to the Government with regards to the political will necessary to make the structural changes that our reality demands.

This limitation of the Government did not make light of the attempt to update the model, as the measures being implemented generate a scenario more promising than the stagnation that has prevailed until now. Ultimately, the process of democratization has to be brought forward with the reforms. The limitations of the proposed measures themselves reveal the absence of a genuine willingness to change, and are generating new contradictions, at a time when changes inside and outside the country prevent any going back, as has happened in the past.

The update of the model must come, on the one hand, from self-employment rather than the revival of small and medium enterprises; on the other hand, the process requires a variety of forms of ownership and management that would enable real participation of workers through service cooperatives, self-management and private property, which in turn implies the putting in place the rights and freedoms for citizens’ civic participation.

This is about a process, although the initial impetus may be the preservation of power, the evolution of limited changes could lead to real democratization for Cuba. It is a challenge for the Cubans, especially those for whom the nation is greater than ideologies and political parties. Therefore, the problem is not to oppose the updating of the model, but to turn it into a step toward comprehensive change and the democratization of Cuba.

The Chavez Disaster: A Brief Recapitulation / Dimas Castellanos

The amazing results of the Venezuela elections were unexpected. Hugo Chavez’s government has just lost the complete control he held over the National Assembly for a decade, making it impossible, from now on, to pass new laws that require the approval of parliament without consent of the opposition, which limits their pretensions re-election.

The centuries of social injustice, lack of democracy, warlordism, violence and government corruption, exacerbated by the failure of developmental projects and neoliberalism generated in Venezuela a degree of social discontent that manifested itself in several attempts to repeat the experience of the Cuban revolution. Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez, after failing in a coup attempt in 1992, tried to come to power through elections, and in the 1998 elections presented himself with a nationalist message and captured a large segment of the population dissatisfied with the existing inequalities. Upon assuming the presidency in 1999, Chávez announced a “peaceful and democratic revolution” and called for a referendum to amend the Constitution, which, when approved, strengthened presidential power, eliminated the Senate, took power from the unicameral legislature in the Assembly and established national and greater state control of economic activity and the media.

In 2001 Chávez called for the creation of the “Bolivarian Circles,” a copy of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Cuba, and with aggressive language began to blame everything bad on the “external enemy.” To be reelected in 2002 for another six-year term, the President announced a profound transformation of the economic and social structures of the country and requested special powers from the National Assembly to legislate by decree in economic, social and public administration matters, which generated a wave of strikes and clashes with the opposition, which described Chavez’s measures as dictatorial. Violence and civil disobedience led the coup that overthrew Chavez in 2002 followed almost immediately by his return to power. However, the persistence of his intentions to perpetuate his power, led again in the same year, to military and civilian demonstrations against him, including the taking of the Plaza Altamira in Caracas and the general strike, including employees of the PDVSA oil company who demanded the resignation of the President. The response was the laying off of thousands of workers who supported the strike. The climate of violence created continued until 2003, when thanks to the mediation of the OAS, the Carter Center and “friends,” the government and the opposition signed an agreement.

Returning to the non-violent path, the opposition opted to call for a recall referendum, collected the required signatures and the National Electoral Council announced a referendum for August 2004. At that time, Chavez has concentrated his efforts on the most marginalized and those who did not go to the polls in previous elections. The result was 5,553,209 votes (59.06% of those cast), almost two million more than in the elections of 2000, while the opposition gained more votes than previously as well, but their growth was lower than that obtained by the President.

In 2006, Chavez called for a consultative referendum to amend 69 articles of the Constitution in order to increase his powers, however, most said NO to the reform; but winning again in 2008 regional elections, the President took his success and once again urged the National Assembly to out forward another referendum in 2009, this time to reform a single article, which would allow his re-election in 2012, which he won with about 55% of the vote.

The Venezuelan president, submerged in his desire to remain in power, lost sight of the fact that electoral victories are nothing more than a challenge and an opportunity. That is, success is measured not by majority vote but by the structural changes intended to address the accumulated debt of social justice and participatory democracy, as demonstrated by Ignacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, who proposed by social justice to increased production, but did not take the wealth of the owners for redistribution to the dispossessed.

In Venezuela, although oil hit a price that exceeded $144 per barrel, GDP declined, inflation rose, the real value of wages fell, while corruption and violence soared. In the end, Chavez was unable to transform the revolutionary populism into effective action, while the Venezuelans have learned to make use of effectively institutionalized democratic mechanisms. The mixture of demagoguery, militarism, aggressive language and control of political power, and his self designation as the “Bolívar” of today, is a new aspiration to totalitarianism in a region where this style is simply exhausted.

The result is clear: the populist caudillo can not find the solution of the backwardness of Latin America, which explains why the percentage of the population does not share Chavez’s policies has held steady in the ongoing elections at about 40%, preventing the government from reaching the two-thirds of the Assembly needed to pass anything they propose. Government and Opposition were tied with regard to the elected representatives in the Latin American Parliament (five for each side) and in terms of popular vote, the opposition for the first time pulled off a dead heat, which predicts that attempts to re-elect the President will fail.

What happened in Venezuela contains at least seven valuable lessons:

1. Venezuela has been an important demonstration of accepting, at each opportunity, the results of elections, which is a test of maturity, and a guarantee of social peace and future prospects.

2. The division of votes in the recent electoral process, split about half each between Government and Opposition, both legitimizes each to the other and Venezuela and the world, which prevents both parties speaking for all the people of Venezuela.

3. Chavez, in his quest to develop a revolution in the image and likeness of Cuba, and making use of the additional powers granted him, limited, but could not sweep away, the existing civic spaces, mechanism and procedures. It is a lesson: the establishment of a revolution, albeit through the ballot box, has to be constantly revalidated by the polls.

4. The attempt to lead modern nations as a personal cult under the hegemony of one party over others, leads to totalitarian governments that ultimately deny the freedoms in the name of which came they to power.

5. If the loss of control of the National Assembly is not surprising, nor will Chavez’s failure be in the 2012 presidential election. His possible re-election depends on the willingness to transform revolutionary populism into something positive and permanent, something nearly impossible and too late.

6. Venezuelans, for or against Chavez, have learned to make use of democratic mechanisms institutionalized, which is a valuable civics lesson, especially for the Cubans, who have no such mechanisms and institutions.

7. What is happening in Venezuela will have an impact on the new Cuban scenario, characterized by timid reforms inside and search for outside funding sources, which will force the acceleration of the process of change if they don’t want the outcome to be similar to that which caused the demise of socialism in the Soviet block, because the current terms of trade with Venezuela are very fragile, since they are based on a political relationship. At the same time it indicates the way forward for Cuba — the only country in the region without legal opposition and the support of elections — with regards to the public policy debate and the winds blowing in the region.

September 28, 2010

The Virgin of Charity of Cobre / Dimas Castellanos

After a mass at her shrine by the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre began on 8 August a pilgrimage across the country, with a message of dialogue and reconciliation, which will run until 10 December 2011.

The precession, commemorating the 400th anniversary of her appearance in Cuban water, coincides with a profound structural crisis provoked by the failure of the totalitarianism that monopolizes the politics, economy, and communication media, and eliminates civil society and independent civic spaces, generating a series of losses reflected in the despair, apathy, generalized corruption and the exodus; its repair requires a huge dose of spirituality. In this context the pilgrimage of the patroness of Cuba begins, through all the towns and cities of Cuba, with a message of freedom and love, two concepts which represented a turning point with Christianity, and without which it would be impossible to overcome the current crisis.

Freedom, the birthright of man, establishes that the inner conscience of human work is the freedom granted by God. Love, understood as a relationship that abandons the narrow context of only the Jewish people to include all men and all peoples, becomes an instrument of transformation to create a community where all men are brothers. So, live, the first condition of the concept of Christianity, stands as the highest form of free will, while its infrastructure is freedom.

The worship of Mary had earlier manifestations in Cuba but with the appearance of the image of the Virgin of Charity, floating in the waters of Nipe Bay — found by two aborigines and a black man — which was identified as Mary by the Spaniards, as Atabey by the aborigines, or as Oshun by the natives of Africa, deities associated with water, the sea, the moon and motherhood, which represent the universalization of love. Attributes that, from its appearance, turned it into the most Cuban of the Mary devotionals and part of our country’s history as evidenced by the following facts:

In the mines of Cobre de Santiago del Prado, site of the Shrine of Charity, history locates the first mass rebellion against slavery and the first liberation of the slaves. In 1731, due to mistreatment, the slaves in the mines in the surrounding mountains rose up to defend their freedom. In this conflict, Pedro Agustín Morell de Santa Cruz, a leading figure of the Catholic Church, not only acted as a mediator between the Governor and the rebellious slaves, but sided with the latter. Seventy years later, copper miners, led by Father Alejandro Ascanio, gained their freedom by royal decree, which was read before the Virgin, 19 May 1801.

Carlos Manuel Céspedes, on taking the city of Bayamo on October 20, 1868, celebrated a solemn mass in honor of the Virgin, putting his revolutionary army under her protection and in November of the same year he went to her Shrine to present her his arms and honor and to ask her in her position as Queen and Mother of Cubans, for the freedom of Cuba.

In the war diary of Ignacio Mora, one of the patriots of Camagüey who rose in November 1868, he wrote on September 8, 1872: “The fiesta of the Virgin of Charity of a delirium for him (the people). Without eating, they dedicate these days to looking for wax to have a mambí-style fiesta, that it they light many candles and assume that the image of the Virgin is present. On all the farms there is not a single cooking fire, only candles lit for the Virgin of Charity!”

General Antonio Maceo, who during the war would wear an insignia with the image of the Virgin, once told his men: “We must all give thanks to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, because she is also fighting in the jungle.”

At the conclusion of the War of Independence, representatives of the Liberation Army were excluded from the signing of surrender, which is why the General Calixto Garcia ordered his General Staff, with General Agustín Cebreco at the front, to advance to the Shrine to celebrate the triumph of Cuba over Spain in a solemn Mass with a Te Deum at the foot of the statue of the Virgin, a fact regarded as the Mambisa Declaration of Independence of the Cuban people.

In September 1915, a group of veterans of the War of Independence led by Major General Jesús Rabí, asked Pope Benedict XV to name the Patroness of Cuba and September 8 as the date of her celebration. The petition argued: “…(because) in the heat of the battles and major events of life when death was closer or we were nearer to despair, there was always a light dissipating any danger, or consoling water sprinkling for our souls, the vision par excellence of this Cuban Virgin, Cuban by origin and by secular devotion and Cuban because… having proclaimed our soldiers, all of them praying to her for victory, and for the peace of our unforgotten dead.” The request was granted by papal bull.

Fermín Valdés Domínguez, a close friend of José Martí, said: “The miraculous Cuban Virgin of Charity is a saint who deserves my respect because she is a symbol of our glorious war.”

For these reasons in December 1936, by delegation of Pope Pius XI, the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Bishop Valentín Zubizarreta, crowned the statue of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre facing Santiago Bay. Between 1951 and 1952, as part of the fiftieth anniversary of the Republic, the Virgin made her first pilgrimage around the island. In November 1959 her image was moved to Havana and placed on the altar of the José Martí Plaza to celebrate the mass of the closing of the National Catholic Congress. In 1977, Pope Paul VI elevated the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity to the dignity of a Basilica. In 1998, Pope John Paul II crowned the Virgin of Charity of Cobre a second time, where he said: “From her sanctuary, not far from here, the Queen and Mother of all Cubans — without distinction of race, political opinion or ideology — guides and sustains, as in the past, the steps her children to the heavenly realm and encourages them to live in a such a way that authentic moral values will always reign supreme in society, which is the rich spiritual legacy inherited from our elders.

With a historical and divine foundation, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre is an enormously valuable spiritual force in our history. Like a supporter for a phenomenon as painful as childbirth, her presence is significant at the moment of delivery. For all these qualities, for the fact that she is Cuban, that is for her identity with and belonging to the culture of Cuba, the image of Mary personified in the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, is with is, speaks to us, unites us and fills us with the strength that emanates from faith and from hope, love and freedom. Hence, the relevance of this pilgrimage in this critical moment of our nation’s life.

September 9, 2010

What Does Martí Have to Do with a Single Party? / Dimas Castellanos

un-solo-partido1The official Cuban press insists on justifying a single-party system. Some of the arguments are based on the fact that Martí created a single party, how lack of unity led to revolutionary failures, how the very existence of the nation depends on preserving unity, and how a multiparty system would be co-opted by imperialism. The last time these arguments were presented, they were published in the Tribuna de la Habana newspaper on Sunday, August 15, under the headline “What is the Role of the PCC in Maintaining Revolutionary Unity?”

To expose this mishmash of half truths and absurdities, I will quote six paragraphs written by José Martí containing the core ideas that led him to found the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC, by its Spanish acronym).

  1. In January of 1880, in New York, Martí presented a critical study on the mistakes of the Ten Year’s War which concluded with the Pact of Zanjón. In it he said: “Those who try to solve a problem can’t ignore any of its antecedents…”, and then proceeded to enumerate multiple causes, among them the negative consequences of the lack of unity.
  2. In July of 1882, in a letter to Máximo Gómez about past wars, he outlined the objectives of the Party thusly: “…My sole aspiration is that by forming a visible and tightly-knit body, bound by a shared solemn and judicious desire to give Cuba true and lasting liberty, all of those selfless and strong men will appear united, capable of repressing their impatience in the absence of a means to remedy all ills in Cuba with a probable victory in one quick, unanimous, and grandiose war…”
  3. In the Resolutions of November of 1891, considered to be the prologue of the PRC’s platform, he proposed: “The revolutionary organization should not be unaware of the practical necessities derived from the makeup and history of the country, nor should it actively work towards present or future control by any particular class; but rather towards the association, conforming to democratic methods, of all the living forces of the homeland; towards brotherhood and common action by Cubans residing abroad; towards the respect and aid of all the republics of the world, and towards the creation of a just and open republic… elevated with all and for the good of all.”
  4. In April of 1893, he stated: “That is the greatness of the Revolutionary Party: that in order to found a republic, it has begun with the republic. That is its strength: that by the labor of all, it confers rights to all. It is an idea, not a person, that must be introduced to Cuba.”
  5. In April of 1894, on the anniversary of the founding of the PRC, he said: “A people is not the will of one man alone, no matter how pure that will… A people is the composition of many wills, vile or pure, natural or grim, impeded by timidity or hastened by ignorance.”
  6. In the Montecristi Manifesto, signed jointly Máximo Gómez on March 25, 1895, before committing himself to the armed struggle, Martí proposes that war is not “the unhealthy triumph of one Cuban party over another, or even the humiliation of a mistaken group of Cubans; but rather it is the solemn demonstration of the will of a nation exasperated, as proven in the previous war, and disposed to hurl itself lightly into a conflict ending only in victory or burial.”

The contents of the six quoted paragraphs demonstrate: that there were multiple causes of the revolutionaries’ failures, not just the divisions among them; that the function of the Party consists of leading the war out of which the Republic should be founded, with true and lasting liberty; that the Party should not work towards the present or future predominance of any particular class; that its strength is rooted in that the labor of all, bestows rights upon all; that a people is not the will of a single man, no matter how pure his will, but rather the composition of many wills; and that the end of war does not signify the triumph of one Cuban side against another.

The PRC was founded as an intermediate link between planting the seed of the Homeland and molding the Republic, not to dominate and prohibit the existence of different parties after victory was achieved, not to annul popular participation, not to declare that the streets and university campuses belong to revolutionaries, not to imprison those who think differently, all of which demonstrate that Martí’s democratic and humanist ideas have been ignored and distorted to confer upon them an ill-fitting mantle: the genesis of the Cuban single-party system.

Additionally, it should be said that politics are founded on the fact that men are social and diverse beings. In that sense, parties, as the etymology of the word indicates, are a part of a whole that by its diverse and plural nature consists of other parts, wherein each represents the interests or tendencies of a sector of society. This reason explains why, when the ideas of independence were not represented among the existing parties, José Martí founded the PRC. Diego Vicente Tejera created the Cuban Socialist Party in 1899, because the interests of workers were not championed by the liberal and conservative parties. The Communist Association of Havana in 1923, the Communist Party in 1925, and the Orthodox Party in 1947 all arose for similar reasons: because the Authentic Party did not satisfy a segment of its constituency.

The single-party system is unnatural. The best proof of this is that, in order to establish a single-party system, totalitarian regimes must destroy all other political parties or subordinate them and their interests, allowing for the most perfect and complete model of totalitarian regime, and along with it, stagnation and failure. In Cuba, the existence of one sole party was the result of a reverse process initiated during the era of insurrectionist struggle in the Sierra Maestra mountain range that culminated in 1965 with the founding of the Communist Party as the sole political force, subsequently ratified into the Constitution; a process foreign to the ideas and work of José Martí.

From this, the necessary restoration of the right of assembly and decriminalization of political differences are inferred, so that Cubans can play the active and determinant role that they are entitled to in the destiny of the nation. The irreducible diversity and exhaustion of the current model have created the need for a multiparty system as the order of the day.

1 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VI, p.216

2 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VI, p.235

3 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Resolutions Recorded by the Cuban Communities of Tampa and Key West in November of 1891. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.23

4 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.192

5 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.359

6 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.511

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 27, 2010

Essay from Voices 1 by Dimas Castellanos / Posted in: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The Limits of Immobility
By Dimas Castellanos

The multiple factors that made possible the paralysis of our history in recent decades, while interacting on a different stage, have placed the limits of immobility on the daily agenda.  The attempts to convert citizens by the masses, to ignore the vital function of rights and liberties, and to determine from above when and how every single thing needs to be done, ultimately killed personal interest, generated stagnation and lead to a profound structural crisis with immeasurable material and spiritual damages. It is a publicly recognized fact, by way of the country’s authorities themselves posing the need to cambiar todo lo que sea necesario (change everything necessary); even though they did not manifest the corresponding political will to face said changes.

Like I have expressed during other opportunities, the coincidence between the exhaustion of the model, the unhappy citizen, the stagnation of the nation, the deterioration of the exterior image, external pressures and the citizen’ consensus for change, has shaped a scene that summarizes that los de abajo no quieren y los de arriba no pueden seguir como hasta entonces(those below don’t want to and those above can’t until then).  In that context, it interrupted a chain of events in the year 2010, among them: the prohibition of entry into Cuban territory of the Socialist MEP (Member of the European Parliament), Luis Yánez, the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo during a prolonged hunger strike, Guillermo Fariñas’ hunger strike, the repression against independent journalists, bloggers, Damas de Blanco and other opponents, during a time in which, thanks to information technology, power began to loose its monopoly over information.

Immersed in the complex social framework, the Government announced in the congresses of the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas or Communist Youth Union (October 2009) and the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños or National Association of Small Farmers (May 2010), the “actualización del modelo” (updated model), an impossible proposition without first replacing the foreign policy of confrontation with the acceptance of critical dialogue, whose first and most basic requirement is the release of political prisoners, a fact which created a shift in the Cuban authorities, whose main event was to call on the Catholic Church to mediate before the Damas de Blanco and Fariñas’ strike, and initiate a process of gradual release of those incarcerated in the spring of 2003. Something to which they had refused for seven long years. Although that shift is not synonymous with the political will for democratization, it expresses at least an awareness that without changes their own proposals are unthinkable, equivalent to the failure of immobility.

If in the new conditions, the intention of the Government is to liberate prisoners to change the image and accept plans for cooperation and sources of funding, it is on the path to flat-out failure; since the release of the first prisoners, regardless of the form or pace at which it is occurring, will become, like it or not, a prelude to other urgent demands from Cuban society. Not ignoring the grave dangers that new stagnancy would represent, the liberalizations will lead, sooner than later, to other changes.  Stopping on this point, it is important to note that since 1902, when it the Republic was established, Cuba has changed many times only to return to the starting point again, a reality that forces one to take into account the causes of the regressions when faced with evident prospects for change.

Among them, these cases highlight the weakness of civil society, independent and legally recognized in the first half of the twentieth century, and then its disappearance between 1959 and 1968, without whose existence it’s not possible to advance personally or socially toward modernity. In the absence of civil society and civil and political rights, the concept of the citizen was eclipsed until it came to be considered a pejorative term. This means that at the time that Cuba is approaching changes, it lacks the essential tools and spaces to realize them. A reality that constitutes the most complex challenge for the many transformations that don’t leave to a return to the point of departure. Everything depends on the capacity of the pro-change forces, of intelligence in the form of action, and also of the hidden forces that oppose this process.

In the next installment I will discuss various figures of the Republic emerging from the revolutionary movement who opposed the extension of Gerardo Machado’s powers, who, from the Army or the student population, were characterized by the use of physical and/or verbal violence, and by personalizing public affairs; these are phenomena closely related to the current situation, so this analysis may give rise to valuable lessons for the present. In this article I will concern myself with a man who was essentially characterized by the fight against corruption.

Rene Eduardo Chibas y Rivas (1907-1951), journalist and politician, exalted character, talkative, bold and eccentric, joined the Student Directorate Against the Extension of Powers in 1927. He was highlighted in the Student Directory of 1930, was arrested, imprisoned and exiled on several occasions: in 1925 for his participation in the rally demanding the release of Julio Antonio Mella; in 1929 accused of wanting to kill Machado; in 1931 imprisoned in the Castle of Prince and the Island Prison Pinos; in March 1935, he spent six months back in the Castillo del Principe; and in 1950 her served six months in prison handed down by the Emergency Court.

A member of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, founded in February 1934, in 1939 he was elected delegate to the Constituent Assembly, and sat in the House in 1940 and in the Senate in 1944. In 1947, the result of an internal split in the Authentic Party, founded together with other leaders of the Party of the Cuban People (Orthodox), he ran for the presidency of the republic. From March 1928, he published his first statement in El Mundo, and he made intense and repeated use of the freedom of the press. As early as 1934, the Silver Anniversary edition of the magazine Bohemia, he appeared among its collaborators. In addition to The Crucible and other media of the printed press, he used the radio station CMW Voice of the West Indies, the CMQ, and from 1946  the COCO. His denunciations and controversy formed a new style in Cuban politics, based on the use of the media to stay in the limelight of public interest. He defined himself, in this work, as leader of the Moral Revolution.

He was essentially controversial and contradictory, constantly going from defense to aggression. Some examples: In September 1933, when it was agreed to dissolve the government known as the Pentarchy, he proposed Grau San Martín for president; then, in January 1946, praised the work of President Grau with the following words: In the educational order, we have cash, for the first time in the history  of Cuba, which was a dream of Martí and a desire Estrada Palma: that the republic would have more teachers than soldiers. However, in June 1948 he accused Grau of: emulating the Borgia, the greatest pretender that has been given to the world since the time of Caligula, at whose side I have sacrificed twenty years of my life, without asking or accepting anything.

Consummate anti-communist, he presented at the Constitutional Convention a motion of solidarity with Finland on its invasion by the Soviet Army and among other things said: Stalin has betrayed the teachings of Lenin by transforming himself into an imperialist despot in the style of Ivan the Terrible. And in July 1940, during the signing ceremony of the Constitution, he denounced “that it already is being violated in spirit in favor of some who signed it.”

He employed the accusations, mainly corruption, in a systematically way. In May 1939 he accused Blas Roca of treason; in 1942 the chief of police of overstepping his boundaries; in 1943 he filed two motions in the House against Batista and against Congress; in July 1945 he accused Carlos Miguel de Céspedes of the sale of a piece of Paseo; and in January 1947, in a letter read on the radio, he challenged Grau for alleging intending to be reelected; in 1950 he accused President Prio of the assault on a correctional court, and stealing the documents of a charge of embezzling hundreds of thousands of pesos; in 1951 he accused Rolando Masferrer of a placing a bomb in the house of Roberto Agramonte, and so on.

His behavior earned him friends and enemies. Considered crazy, he replied: I’d rather be a mad person with shame than a shameless thief. When Carlos Prio won the 1948 election, he said: Chibas has been a fraud all his life. Not exactly crazy, but abnormal. Chibas doesn’t know where his heart is and is not aware of the existence of truth. With others, Chibas dueled with swords, guns and fists. The defense of what he considered useful at any time led him to make critical assessments.

In February 1946, he established a distinction between a revolutionary attack and simple terrorism. He said: The use of the bomb can be explained when it is used as a crack of rebellion against a regime of terror … but never when used against a government which is the product of national will.

Death was in his work and in his speech. In November 1939, on the eve of the election of delegates to the Constituent Assembly, he was wounded and when asked who had been the aggressors, he said: Do not worry about finding out, I die for the revolution, vote for Grau San Martín; but the popularity from having been shot gave him second in the voting.

In January 1948, at a meeting of the party, he jumped on the head table and began to shout, Throw out your heart! Orthodoxy needs a martyr! In May of that year, during a campaign tour in the East, he said: The day that Chibas is thinking about warning of an extinction or a decline in the civil love, part of a shot to the heart, not for cowardice before the failure, his sacrifice will lead to the victory of his disciples. In 1951, unable to prove the charge against Aureliano Sánchez Arango, he shot himself on August 5, from which he died on the 16th of same month.

In The Crucible of August 7, 1944, setting forth the reasons for authenticism, he said that it only needed a group of Cubans ashamed of the government of the State to break the circle that is suffocating the Republic, and condemning us to the status of outcasts in our own land. Then, to create  the Orthodox Party, which was considered the only political force that provides the people of Cuba  a new perspective, one that opens new avenues into the country. As a result of his work and his style, in a survey conducted in June 1950, Chibas was the strongest candidate for the presidency, which was confirmed with another held on May 20, 1951, which gave him 29.70% of the vote against 19.03% for Fulgencio Batista.

The idea of administrative honesty was the essence of the political movement that started from the Authentic Party and continued from the initiation of the Orthodox Party: The bad politicians, he said, steal from the rich people, all domestic political struggles are rooted in lack of honesty, it is essential therefore to put the reins of the Republic in clean hands. Chibas reduced the moral — a cultural component responsible for regulating human behavior in social relationships — to administrative honesty. The simplification of the concept allowed him to use it as a weapon against his enemies in elections, but it was unusable as an instrument of profound changes in the political class and the people. It had a purpose: to draw attention to administrative corruption at a time when the disease was becoming a public menace. The slogan Shame against Money!, served perfectly to achieve power as an immediate objective, but not to build the nation honored with social justice that he himself professed.

The program of his party had three main directions: economic independence, political freedom and social justice, but in those times, as in the present, Cuba needed a change capable of breaking both the elitist monopoly of the economy as a policy to access social justice. Because it was necessary to strengthen existing civil society. Chiba devised a perfect paradise to be imposed on a complex reality, mentally constructed from his imagination: expel the thieves of power and put in place an honest man, servant of the nation. That man had to be his own person, who did not desire nor need the national patrimony, and thus the changes advocated had to be realized from the damaging pattern of focusing on personality and warlordism, two of the negative cultural phenomena rooted in our political history.

The concept of immediacy, characteristic of the revolutionary changes, did not allow the drafting of a policy to respond to the existing conditions and  social psychology of Cuba. On one occasion he said: Our people are reporting the theft of the rulers with the same calmness that they read the pages of color comics or listen to radio programs. So he called desperately to the public conscience of the indifferent Cuban citizens: People of Cuba, wake up, not realizing that the changes within people do not respond to revolutionary emergencies. So, quite rightly, someone said at his death: Chibas was a man imbued with messianic ideas about history, morality and politics. He dedicated no time to thinking of the new order, because ultimately, the new order was himself, a chronic disease that we still suffer from.

Chibas is a paradigmatic example of the impossibility of social change if it is not accompanied by a corresponding civic culture and arises from a strong civil society, as a condition of participation. That’s one of the main lessons that comes to us from this martyr to cleaning up society. An experience that tells us now that the release of political prisoners can not be more than the starting point for other rights and freedoms, without which Cubans remain marginalized in the decisions of the nation. These include: the right to freely leave and enter the country, whose absence explains the continuing mass exodus by any means; free Internet access, without which superior technical and professional qualifications are devalued in the knowledge era; and freedom of expression, the foundation of all other freedoms.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

August 16, 2010

The Teachings of Chibás

adjuntar20chibas1The Cuban government, shackled by a chain of failures after seven long years of inflexibility, decided to begin releasing political prisoners jailed in the spring of 2003, in order to change its image abroad, to seek aid, and to proceed with a reform called “update the model.” This shift underscores the failure of inflexibility and the decision to change certain things. Though it certainly does not mean that the Government is moving toward democracy, the attempt itself entails the introduction of certain measures, such as the release of prisoners, which lead to a more favorable scenario for additional steps.

In the face of this challenge, it is important to consider why, since the emergence of the republic in 1902, Cuba has changed again and again and again, yet has always returned to the starting point. The principal cause of these setbacks is the lack of citizen participation as agents of change, due to the weakness of civil society up to 1959, and its disappearance after that date. That is, we approach possible changes from the past, representing a real threat of repeated setbacks.

The absence of the people, not as followers of this or that leader, but as agents of change has resulted in politics being monopolized by elite figures or characterized by personalism, messianism, the use of physical and verbal violence, and the use of public power as a private reserve, a fact that should be taken into account to avoid the upcoming changes once again ending in regression. To that end I will try to highlight some roots of these evils by analyzing facts and figures. This time I’ll spotlight a man who became involved in the fight against political and administrative corruption.

Eduardo René Chibás y Rivas (1907-1951), journalist and politician, exalted character, talkative, bold and eccentric, joined the Student Directory, 1927 and 1930. He was imprisoned and was exiled on several occasions. He was a member of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (known as the Authentic party) founded in 1934, and was elected in 1939 to the Constituent Assembly, representing the House in 1940 and Senator in 1944. In 1947, as a the result of an internal split in the Authentic Party, he founded, along with other leaders, the Party of the Cuban People (known as the Orthodox party),and was nominated for the presidency of the Republic in the elections of 1948 and 1952.

Chiba proclaimed himself as leader of the Moral Revolution. Bad politicians, he said, “steal from the people to enrich themselves”; all domestic political struggles are rooted in dishonesty, it is essential therefore to put the reins of the Republic in clean hands, however it would be wrong to reduce moral responsibility to regulate human behavior in social relationships with administrative honesty. The simplification of the concept allowed him to use it as a weapon against their enemies in elections, but it was unusable as an instrument of profound changes in the political class and the people. It had a purpose: to draw attention to administrative corruption in a time when that evil was widespread. His slogan, Shame against Money!, was used to achieve power as an immediate objective, but not to build the nation honored with social justice that he himself professed.

Chibas made heavy use of freedom of the press. As early as 1934, the Silver Anniversary edition of the magazine Bohemia, he appeared among his colleagues. In addition to The Crucible and other newspapers he used the CMW radio station CMW The Voice of West Indies, the CMQ and COCO, forming a new style of Cuban policy, based on the use of the media to stay in the limelight of public interest.

A relentless accuser, controversial and contradictory, he constantly turned for defense to verbal aggression. In 1933, with the dissolution of the Pentarchy, he proposed Grau San Martín for president; in 1946 he praised the work of Grau with the following words: “In education we have been effective for the first time in the history of Cuba, which was a dream of Marti and a desire of Estrada Palma: the republic has more teachers than soldiers.” But in June 1948, he called Grau a rival of the Borgias, “the greatest pretender given to the world since the time of Caligula, whose side have sacrificed twenty years of my life, without asking or accept anything.”

He used accusation in a systematic way. In May 1939, he accused Blas Roca of treason; in 1942, the chief of police of overstepping his boundaries; in 1943, he filed two motions in the House against Batista and against Congress; in July 1945, he accused Carlos Miguel de Céspedes of the sale of a piece of Paseo; and in January 1947, in a letter read on radio, he challenged Grau for supposed intentions to be run for reelection; in 1950, he accused President Prio of the assault on a correctional court, for which he stole the documents in a cause for embezzlement; in 1951, he accused Rolando Masferrer of placing a bomb at the home of Roberto Agramonte, and so on. His behavior earned him friends and enemies. Characterized as crazy, he replied,” I’d rather be an honorable crazy man than a shameless thief.” He engaged in duels with sabers, pistols, and fists several times.

The defense of what he considered useful at all times, led him in 1946 to defend something indefensible: terrorism. He established a distinction between revolutionary and simple attack terrorism. He said, “The use of the bomb can be explained when it is used as a cry of rebellion against a regime of terror… but never when used against a government which is the product of national will.”

Death was in his work and in his speech. In November 1939, on the eve of the election of delegates to the Constituent Assembly, he was wounded by a bullet and when asked who had been the aggressors, he said: “Do not worry about finding out, I die for the revolution, vote for Grau San Martín”; but the popularity sparked by his having been shot resulted in his coming in second in the voting. In January 1948, at a meeting of the party, he jumped on the head table and began to shout, “Put your heart into it! Orthodoxy needs a martyr!” In May of that year, on the campaign trail in the East, he said, “The day that Chibas believes he is headed for extinction, or a decline in the love of citizen, he will leave with a shot to the heart, not because of cowardice before his failure, but because his sacrifice will lead to the victory of his disciples.”

Because of his popularity polls showed him as a favorite to win the 1952 elections, but on August 5, 1951, unable to prove the charge that he had made against Aureliano Sánchez Arango, he shot himself, from which he died on August 16.

The concept of immediacy, characteristic of the revolutionary changes, did now allow him to draft a political project that would respond to Cuban conditions and the social psychology; he simply asked people to follow him. On one occasion he said, “Our people are reporting the theft of the rulers with the same calmness that they read the colored comics pages or listen to the radio.” Because of this he called out desperately to the conscience of the indifferent citizen, “People of Cuba, wake up,” without understanding that interior changes in people don’t respond to revolutionary urgencies. So, quite rightly, someone said of his death, “Chibas was a man imbued with messianic ideas about history, morality and politics. He gave no time to thought about the new order, because ultimately, the new order was he himself, a chronic disease from which we still suffer.”

At that time, as in the present, Cuba needed a change capable of breaking both the elitist monopoly of the economy as well as the politics to access to social justice. For this it was necessary to strengthen civil society, without which there can be no progress, personal or social, toward modernity. Chibas devised a perfect paradise to be imposed on a complex reality, built from his own imagination: to expel the thieves of power and put in place an honest man, servant of the nation. That man had to be his own person, who did not want or need the national heritage; the changes he advocated had to be made from the damaging pattern of staff and warlordism, two of the negative cultural phenomena rooted in our political history.

His experience shows us that the current release of political prisoners must be accompanied by the implementation of rights and freedoms, and above all the promotion of civic culture, so that the destiny of the nation does not depend exclusively on messianic leaders, who so often arise in our society.

Everything Changes!

3-tablero-ifaMovement is a universal property: nature changes and society  changes. The difference is that changes in nature respond to  objective laws which operate with or without human involvement, while  history is made by men, allowing them to hasten or delay change, but not to stop it. The  need for social change manifests itself as a permanent dissatisfaction with  what has been achieved, which makes society a perfectible entity.

In Cuba,  the convergence of various factors – internal, external, historical, sociological  and cultural – at a specific time and geopolitical space, led to the prevailing immobility of the recent decades. But these same factors, together with new ones, have placed the limits of immobility on the agenda. A  reality that the authorities of the country, long entrenched in the  idea that Cuba has already changed, have acknowledged in their discourse – the  need to change whatever needs to be changed, or update the model, or both.

Attempts  to homogenize the pluralistic society, changing the citizenry en masse, ignoring  the vital role of rights and freedoms to determine what, when, and  how to do things, first led to stagnation, then to decline, and finally resulted in a  resounding failure with significant material and spiritual  damage.

Although  the infeasibility of the model has brought the economy to the point of collapse, the  system continues to cling to an ideology with no future, to the point that, to  paraphrase Lenin’s definition of a revolutionary situation, the coincidence in Cuba of: the exhaustion of the model; the stagnation of the nation;  public discontent; external pressures; and consensus for change, forms an objective picture showing that those underneath do not want, and those above are not able, to continue as before. In this context, while clinging to immobility and the politics of  confrontation, a series of events happened very early in 2010: the government denied entry to Cuba to a Member  of the European Parliament, the Socialist Luís Yáñez; the  political prisoner Orlando Zapata  Tamayo died following a  prolonged hunger strike; a similar strike was started by the dissident Guillermo  Fariñas; and there were various manifestations of repression against the  Ladies in White, which formed a new scenario at the very time when the  government announced the “update of the model.”

Behavioral  change was manifested in accepting and allowing previously unacceptable acts, such as: allowing Rosa Diez, leader of the Spanish Progressive and Democratic Union, what had earlier been forbidden to Luis Yáñez – to enter Cuba with a  tourist visa and meet with several dissidents; the Cuban foreign minister  meeting with the Troika of the European Union, where they raised the proposal of Cuba’s  willingness to continue dialogue despite the alleged “media campaign  against Cuba”; and the meeting of the Cuban head of state with authorities of the Catholic Church, where they addressed the issue of the  Ladies in White, Fariñas’s strike, and the release of prisoners.

But while this change in behavior does not mean that the political  will exists to democratize Cuba, there is an important practical result: the failure  of inaction, as the issue of the prisoners could be a prelude to other  urgent claims of society. I refer to rights  relating to freely leaving and returning to the country, free Internet  access, or freedom of expression, to name just three of the many needs of Cubans.

If the  government’s tactic consists only in releasing prisoners to change the external  appearance and to gain access to plans of cooperation and funding sources, it is on  the way to a new and resounding failure. To avoid  this it is important that, in the absence of an independent civil  society with the legal recognition to act within Cuba, the international community,  while encouraging the release of prisoners, should place on its agenda with Cuba  the need to ratify human rights pacts signed more than two years ago and put  the domestic legislation in line with those documents. It would be a  grave mistake to implement aid to the government without it demonstrating its readiness to go beyond the liberation of political prisoners, which  did not help either the government or Cuban society.

The desire to change must be demonstrated  with the implementation of human rights, based on the dignity of the person, and the acceptance  that, along with the government’s attempt to update the model, citizens  enjoy the right to propose alternative models, which implies renouncing the strategic interest of remaining in power forever. Citizen participation parallel to that of the State is a requirement of modernity. Cuba has changed  throughout its history and yet we are in a deep structural crisis, one  of the causes of which has been the weakness or absence of civil  society, that place of interaction and coexistence of diverse interests,  where their autonomy and independence from the state constitutes an  irreplaceable instrument for citizen participation.

The demonstration  of the ability to retain power cannot be extrapolated to progress in  the economy, which also indicates that it is insufficient to stop history. Everything  changes, and Cuba is changing.

Translated by: Tomás A.

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The Church and Mediation: Pérez Serántes

Monseñor Enrique Pérez Serantes, born in Galicia, Doctor of Philosophy and Theology, ordained in 1910 and professor of the Seminary San Carlos and San Ambrosio for six years. In the diocese of Cienfuegos he held the positions of Visor and Vicar General, where he founded the St. Paul Council of the Knights of Columbus. In 1922 he he was ordained as a bishop and was appointed second bishop of Camaguey by Pope Pius XI. In 1948 the Holy See appointed him archbishop of Santiago de Cuba.

Pérez Serantes was the bishop most committed to the social problems of Cuba, he called attention to the working world, became the prototype of a missionary bishop and one of the leading apostles of the Cuban church. His activity was inspired by the Rerum Novarum Encyclical (1891) of Pope Leo XIII, who favored the creation of groups, associations and Catholic unions, the germ of the current Social Doctrine of the Church. When the Moncada Barracks were assaulted on July 26, 1953, he assumed an attitude of commitment, as reflected in the circulars with which he assaulted the Batista government, and that involved the Church in the convulsive sitaution in Cuba.

The first circulars were Peace for the Dead, on July 29 of that year, and the Letter to Col. Rio Chaviano, the following day. Later he issued To The People of the East, on May 28, 1957, a pronunciation for social peace; We Want Peace, on March 24, 1958, a new call to seek peace, aimed at mediating between the government and the guerrillas; the circular With Regards to the Explosion of the Powder Keg of Cobre, on April 16, 1958, where he tried to show that those who set off the explosion didn’t think it would cause major damage at the National Sanctuary, avoiding any accusation against the Rebel Army; We Invoke the Lord, on August 22, 1958, issued during the counteroffensive of the Rebel Army; Walk Macabre, on October 7, 1958, where he castigates the parading of the corpse of a young rebel through the streets of the city and calling it a barbarism; and Enough of War, on December 24, 1958, in which he stated that “no one should idly enjoy themselves, while millions of Cubans writhe and groan in the anguish of intense pain and misery.” This position explained that in the act celebrated on January 2, 1959 in Santiago de Cuba, on hearing Fidel Castro for the first time, Monsignor Pérez Serantes was the first to make use of the word.

I heard one version that says Sarría saved him because he was following orders, and Fidel’s wife was the daughter of a politician very close to Batista, who had interceded for her husband. Regardless of which version may or may not be true, the fact that I want to emphasize is that, in the Letter to Col. Rio Chaviano of July 30, Pérez Serantes established his determination to intercede for the fugitives and his readiness to serve as a guarantor for their lives, a decision that allowed him to participate in the transfer of Fidel from the place he was captured to Santiago de Cuba, preventing his assassination. This latter was confirmed by General Juan Escalona Reguera in an interview with the journalist Luís Báez, in which he said that, being in Siboney, near where Fidel Castro was arrested, he could observe the moment when Sarría and Pérez Serantes were talking on the road with Col. Perez Chamont, who demanded that they turn over Fidel Castro, who was in custody.

In May 1960, after Fidel declared the socialist character of the Revolution, Pérez Serantes issued a circular in which he defined the position of the Church with regards to such a definitive turn of events: With communism nothing, absolutely nothing. After an ecclesiastical life, characterized by a commitment to social problems in Cuba, before and after the Revolution, and interceding for the life of Fidel Castro, Monseñor Enrique Pérez Serantes died in Cuba on April 19, 1968.

The contradictions between Church and Revolution were becoming more acute event to the point of open conflict. A proof of the worsening of relations was the detention for several hours in Camaguey — in December 1960 during a return trip to Santiago de Cuba — of the first speaker of the event held on January 2 in Santiago de Cuba, where Fidel Castro addressed Cubans publicly for the first time.

After a prominent ecclesiastical life, characterized by a commitment to social problems before and after the Revolution, and interceding for the life of Fidel Castro, as did other men of the Church in conflict situations in the history of Cuba, men such as Pedro Agustin Morell, Antonio María Claret and Olallo José Valdés, Monseñor Enrique Pérez Serántes died in Cuba on April 19, 1968, at 84 years of age.

Pedro Agustín Morell, Antonio María Claret, Olallo José Valdés and Enrique Pérez Serantes are not alone, but are representative of the importance of ethics, courage, commitment and willingness to confront conflict. The facts, which are part of our history, are little reported and they contain many lessons for the present case of Cuban prisoners of conscience and for many other problems faced at the negotiating table.

The Church and Mediation: Fray Olalla

1-foto-fray-olalloIn 1833, when Havana was ravaged by cholera and there was a shortage of doctors, a boy of 13, immersed in the care of the sick, discovered his true vocation. When asked by one San Juan de Dios friars who observed him with curiosity whether he would like to serve God by caring for the sick, he answered, “Yes, Father, it is my greatest dream.” Almost immediately he took his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and became part of the Brothers of St. John of God, a hospital order which had representatives in Cuba from 1603. This child who become a monk, and who had been placed by his parents a month after his birth in the Real Casa Cuna of St. Joseph the Patriarch, was Brother Olallo José Valdés.

In 1835, when the cholera epidemic was raging in Port-au-Prince, where dozens of patients died, Olallo was sent to reinforce the brothers who worked the San Juan de Dios Hospital — supported by the order since 1728 — where he remained for 54 years, sweeping, washing sheets and bandages, bathing the elderly, healing and feeding the mourners. In this noisy place, accompanied by his readings he became the Head Nurse, using the best techniques to cure ailments, practice surgery and act as a pharmacist.

His strength of character, his dedication, his commitment to the suffering and above all his faith enabled him to deal with the variety of complex situations.

In 1842 Cuba had implemented the decrees of secularization, by which the religious orders were suppressed and their property seized by the government. That is why the Port-au-Prince Hospital became public charity. At that time, although the hospital’s brothers were forced to become state employees and submit to demands beyond their ordinary work, Brother Olallo, ignoring the order, continued his work, preventing the poor patients from suffering the negative consequences of the measure. In 1868, at the outbreak of the Great War, the military authorities occupied the Hospital, turning it into a military garrison and ordering a halt to the care of sick civilians. Olallo not only opposed this measure, but acted as a mediator, to ensure that the only patients discharged were those who could continue their treatment outside the hospital premises, thanks to which, the rest could remain in the hospital.

But it was in 1873 when his name was permanently inscribed in our history. On 11 May of that year Major Ignacio Agramonte was killed in combat on the field of Jimaguayú and his body was taken to Port-au-Prince. The next day, his lifeless body, carried on horseback, was put on display in the middle of the Plaza as a warning and a trophy of war, with orders that no one could touch it. Learning of this, Olallo ordered a stretcher prepared and went to the scene where he told the military authorities that the only higher orders that he followed were those of the Lord. He then loaded the body, took it into the hall of the Hospital and with his handkerchief, he wiped the face covered in mud and blood. The body was then transferred to the infirmary, where it was washed and shrouded, thus preventing the military from being able to further pursue the remains of the Major.

In addition to participating directly in several epidemics, as occurred with cholera, smallpox and yellow fever in 1871, he cared for cholera patients directly and never caught the disease. When Brother Juan Manuel Torres, the only member of the Order left alive, contracted leprosy in 1866, took over Olallo took over this grooming and feeding and cared for the priest until his death ten years later. The final proof of his care for the most seriously ill occurred in 1888. In the presence of witness and before a notary, he stated that all his possessions, including an inherited house and the money that was owed to him by the public administration, would be left to the Hospital de San Juan de Dios in Port-au-Prince, where he served for more than half century.

At 69 years of age, March 7, 1889, ill, but while still attending dozens of patients every day, he died at the Hospital where he exercised his charitable work. He lived for the poor, died poor, and his body was borne by the poor and among them was buried. On his tomb inscription reads: This monument would be in heaven, if it were formed by the hearts of the poor, grateful to Father Olallo who cared for them for 53 years in the Hospital de San Juan de Dios in Port-au-Prince.

In March 1989, the Catholic Church in Camagüey processed a claim for sainthood. In December 2006, Pope Benedict XVI signed the decrees that recognized him as Venerable. In November 2008, the Mass of Beatification was celebrated in the city of Camagüey, where they declared canonically that Brother Jose Valdes Olallo Beato was beatified, a valuable example of the participation of figures of the Church in the political and social issues of Cuba throughout history.

Sugar, Half a Century of Failures

55-21The article by Juan Varela Pérez, faulting the control and dedication in the sugar harvest, published in the daily Granma on May 5, 2010, is evidence that the critical condition of Cuban sugar production reflects the situation of agricultural production and the of the economy in general.

Among other things Varela said that “the current year’s harvest, 2010, can be described as poor in production and efficiency,” it has been “the poorest since 1905,” and the Ministry of Sugar  and the Business Groups had no control and had to enforce organizational alternatives that would allow them to solve the difficulties which as of March 25 resulted in “a deficit of over 850,000 tons of sugar cane,” that cane yields in 2005-2008 “grew 24 tons per hectare to 41.6, again depressed and showing a costly decrease,” and that to reverse the current crisis demands a comprehensive review and recommendations to analyze how to improve the cane yield “whose production is now the lowest paid work in agriculture.”

To understand the magnitude of the disaster, we review some data of Cuban sugar production in the last 115 years. In 1895 for the first time the country produced 1.4 million tons of sugar, an amount that fell with the incendiary torch during the War of Independence. In 1903 production was 1 million tonnes and in 1907 reached 1.3 million, in 1919 4.0 million was exceeded, and in 1925 the figure reached 5.3 million, in 1948, 6.1 million and in 1952 the country achieved the colossal figure of 7.2 million tonnes. In 1959 there were more than 6 million tonnes and in 1970 it reached 8.5 million, a record number in our history, with the drawback that the determined effort to accomplish this disrupted the entire Cuban economy.  Then the harvests between 1982 and 1990 were close to that of 1970, until 1999 hardly reached 3.8 million tonnes.

To address the decline of sugar, Ulises Rosales del Toro, Major General and Chief of General Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), was appointed Minister of Sugar. In that position, he forecast a recovery and in 2001 reached the figure of 5 million tonnes. To that end he directed two projects: the Sugar Industry Restructuring and the Alvaro Reynoso Task. The first was aimed, among other things, at achieving an industrial output of 11%, which meant removing 100 tons of cane, 11 tons of sugar, but in 2002, 71 of the 156 sugar mills closed and 60% of the land was redistributed from cane to other crops, even though Cuba has enviable conditions for its production. The second, which is named after the famous Cuban Alvaro Reynoso, intended to achieve a yield of 54 tons of cane per hectare (well below the world average), which was also unsuccessful.

The strategy proved to be unfeasible. In 2001 there were 3.5 million tonnes produced instead of 5.0 million, an amount similar to 1918, and in 2002 it dropped to 2.2 million tonnes, the lowest in 80 years. In 2003 it dropped to 2.1 million and in 2004 there was a slight recovery which reached 2.52 million, then it fell precipitously in 2005, which produced only 1.3 million, the worst sugar harvest in the last hundred years — a figure that was produced in Cuba in 1907 — while the yield per hectare, as explained by Juan Varela, suffered a slight increase before continuing to decline.

The other measures taken for the agricultural economy have been, essentially, the enactment of Law 259, on the distribution of land in usufruct, and changes of staff in charge of the ministries.

The first measure, Act 259, is limited to handing over idle land in usufruct for 10 years; these are lands which were invaded by the marabou weed, to the point that the area of cultivated land between 1998 and 2007 decreased by 33%.  Despite this, the Law retains ownership in state hands. On Thursday, May 13, on the television show The Morning Journal, the journalist Ariel Terrero said that although Act 259 increased the number of farmers, they lack the equipment, resources and experience, and that Cuba is importing 80% of consumed agricultural products; that the yield of bananas grew over the previous year, a year which was also very bad for cyclones, but yield decreased in many other areas such as taro, fresh vegetables, etc., and that half of the land given by Act 259 is still not producing.

The second measure, changes of staff, has not had any positive effect; Ulises Rosales del Toro, after eight years without being able to stop the decline in sugar production, “based on his extensive experience of leadership and political authority and the need to enhance agricultural production, of the country,” was appointed Minister of Agriculture and in his place, as Minister of Sugar, Luis Manuel Ávila González, was appointed but later dismissed. More recently, the First Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, was promoted to Minister and Ulises Rosales and elevated to the post of the comprehensive care of the Sugar Ministry, Agriculture and Food Industry.

The essence of failure both in sugar production and the rest of the economy, is the subordination of the economy to politics, the inefficient current structure of ownership and wages that do not correspondence to the cost of living. A millennium of experience and economics have shown all over the world that human beings act depending on their interests, so when the interest is gone, as has happened in Cuba for the reasons discussed, the result can be no other: preventing citizens, by law, from ownership, and paying them an insufficient income, means what instead of engaging in production they will remain outside the law, with the consequent detrimental ethical deterioration.