Why Do Independent Journalists Matter? / Cubanet, Luis Cino

Hundreds of Havana protesters gathered in the streets of the Diez de Octubre neighborhood after five days without electricity. (Facebook Andy Michel Fonseca)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 11 March 2019 — Oftentimes while traveling in other countries, independent journalists are challenged for, as some say, being “hyper-critical” and “lacking objectivity.” Thus, their dispatches are received with doubts and skepticism. But it turns out that the detractors of Cuban independent journalism do not harbor good intentions.

Among those most critical and skeptical can be found many of the foreign correspondents accredited in Cuba. This should not be so because they know, from their own experience, under what conditions and rules that they themselves – despite the immunity that they supposedly enjoy – are forced to comply with in order to practice their profession. They know that when they try to interview people on the street, these subjects act evasive and seldom really and truly say what they think.

Despite their press credentials, these reporters have little or no access to government functionaries, and they collide with laws that guarantee official silence. Besides, they are under the surveillance of State Security, informants for the CDR and rapid-response brigades – and even by their colleagues in the official press, who tend to provoke and lay traps for them. continue reading

So, why are these foreign press members so critical and demanding, for example, with respect to sources and official data cited by independent journalists who are doing their work under much more disadvantageous and difficult conditions than they?

The foreign correspondents accredited by Havana’s International Press Center (CIP) find it much more convenient and secure to ignore reports by independent journalists, and to quote Granma newspaper and Cubadebate when saying that the majority of Cubans voted “Yes” to the new Constitution, that the update to the economic model is proceeding full steam ahead, that Cubans are happy as clams with cuentapropismo [self-employment or entrepreneurship] – along with repeating the usual refrain about “the fragmented and State-Security-penetrated opposition” that “lacks convening power” and is “incapable of garnering the mass support of the population.”

For a long time, and not just from the official media, there were those who affirmed that the majority of independent reporters were unprepared, individuals of low educational level, who lacked a command of the rules of grammar and composition, and who confused political activism with journalism.

We made ourselves vulnerable to such attacks because of the paternal solidarity (a legacy of socialism’s false paternalism) towards individuals who regrettably demonstrated from the start that despite their great desire and enthusiasm, they would never be journalists. By tolerating ersatz practitioners in the ranks, all we gained was to be discredited. And also to be infiltrated by moles, like that dopey Carlos Serpa Maseira, who turned out to be Agent Emilio.

Not just anybody can be a journalist, just as not just anybody can be a physician. The profession deserves respect. But some of us long-time veterans cannot forget how we got our start in independent journalism. Reporters will always be needed to cover the activities of the opposition and to denounce human rights violations. It can’t all be political analysis, opinion pieces, and columns worthy of Tom Wolfe. We would run the risk of turning into a reduced and exclusive club of snobs. It appears that such a coterie is not what is most needed to win the struggle for democracy and freedom of information in Cuba.

Within the last decade, the quality of independent journalism has improved extraordinarily following the addition of bloggers who are outside of state control, writers who have broken with UNEAC and have joined CubaNet, journalism students, and journalists who have unleashed themselves from the official media to write for alternative sites such as El Estornudo and El Toque.

We independent journalists have no need to invent or exaggerate, to publish diatribes in the style of Granma – on the contrary: we write about what we live daily, not what people tell us or what we suppose.

The topic that the majority of foreign correspondents accredited in Cuba report on the most is the “flourishing private restaurant sector in Havana.” As if there were no blackmailing inspectors and obstacles of all kinds. It’s as if the exceptions were the rule. As if all paladar [private restaurant] owners had the good luck of the proprietors of La Guarida, the setting where some scenes in Fresa y Chocolate were shot and where various pop celebrities have dined.

Who cares about what we independent journalists – hypercritical and overly passionate as they accuse us of being – have to say, given that regarding Cuba, everything that needs to be said and should be heard is said by the international press?

Therefore at times we become discouraged. We know that, in our situation – lacking access to official, trustworthy statistics and relying on sources who will probably retract when facing State Security officials – it is very difficult for us to produce the great news reports we dream of writing.

There is no need to be so pessimistic. There are always subjects that are a few degrees beyond the grasp of foreign journalists and which are not covered in the magical statistics that they cite. We still have the stories about jineteras [female prostitutes] and pingueros [male prostitutes], the garbage dumpster divers, the transvestites who haven’t been coaxed by CENESEX to dance in their conga, the artists who oppose Decree 349, the palestinos who struggle to make it to the capital, the inhabitants of the peripheral shantytowns and the tenements of Centro Habana and 10 de Octubre. But there will always be those who consider these depressing stories to be fiction – and even those who opine that Pedro Juan Gutiérrez does it better in his novels. And then they will again seek in the foreign press the fable of the successful and prosperous entrepreneur, the administrator who is given to reforms, and the soulless and corrupt bureaucrats who hamper her efforts while never showing their faces.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Sixty Years On From Fidel Castro’s First Trip To Venezuela

Visit by Fidel Castro to Caracas in 1959 (Archive photo)

Cubanet, Luis Cino, Havana, 23 January 2019 – Right around this time, 60 years ago, Fidel Castro was making his first visit to Venezuela, in what was also his first official foreign trip as ruler.

Fidel arrived in Caracas on 23 January 1959, accompanied by a large delegation. It was only 15 days since the revolutionary leader’s entry into Havana a week after the dictator Fulgencio Batista fled from the country.

Absorbed in what he called “Operation Truth,” Fidel Castro — self-proclaimed prime minister as well as commander-in-chief — was trying to convince the world that reports about the summary trials and executions of hundreds of soldiers and police officers of the former regime were tall tales spun by the international (especially the American) press. continue reading

The visit to Venezuela ended up being a success, despite the bad omen of a tragic accident on the Maiquetía airport runway, when Francisco “Paco” Cabrera — a commander of the Cuban rebel army who was hurrying nervously to take his place as Fidel Castro’s bodyguard — was utterly decapitated by the airplane’s propeller.

In Venezuela — where exactly one year before, on 23 January 1958, a civil-military movement had overthrown the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez — the Cuban revolutionary leader was welcomed as an idol. A fascinated crowd listened, unwaveringly and enthusiastically, to the bearded revolutionary’s seven-hour-long speech.

Fidel Castro’s itinerary in Caracas was exhausting. But more exhausted were those individuals charged with protecting him, who — despite the warmth evinced by the Venezuelans — thought they detected potential assassins at every turn.

As can be seen in some photos taken by Raúl Corrales of the Cuban delegation, the Comandante’s bodyguards — all of them bearded and with a wild look about them in their slovenly, olive-green field uniforms, with weapons always close at hand — turned the Cuban embassy in Caracas into a replica of the guerrilla encampments of Cuba’s Sierra Maestra.

Some years later, after Fidel Castro would include his old host, President Rómulo Betancourt, in the list of his most hated enemies, the Venezuelans would again see Cuban soldiers — clean-shaven this time and on the warpath — landing around Machurucuto to penetrate the Falcón, Yaracuy and Lara mountains, where Arnaldo Ochoa, later executed by his Cuban bosses, earned his appointment as Deputy Commander of the General Army Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces

Who could have imagined that half a century after the disaster, Cuban military and security types, by the thousands, would be all over the place in Venezuela, providing consultation in the repression of dissidents, to shore up the shamelessly illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro?

Nobody could have known what Fidel Castro was referring to, in that seven-hour speech in Caracas, when he thanked the Venezuelans for the welcome they gave him and the weapons that Admiral Larrazábal had sent to the Sierra Maestra when, in turn, they had received nothing from him.

Forty years later, they would receive — besides subversion and guerrillas — they would receive his adoption of Hugo Chávez, who would turn Venezuela into the replacement for the Soviet Union to subsidize the Casto regime at its most critical moment.

Hugo Chávez’ ascent to the presidency following a failed coup attempt — and thanks to Venezuelans’ fatigue with the politicking and corruption of the Democratic Action and Copei partisans — was the consummation of Castroism’s conquest of Venezuela, which begin on 23 January 1959, when a smiling and friendly Fidel Castro stepped foot on the runway of the Caracas airport.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

From Minint Official To Political Prisoner Incarcerated For “Espionage” / Luis Cino Alvarez

Luis Cino Álvarez, Cubanet, Havana,  5 November 2018 —  The temper tantrum and bunkhouse scene put on recently by Castroism’s anti-diplomats, who grew indignant that the issue of political prisoners in Cuba was brought up at the United Nations, brought to mind a case of which I learned a few days ago via an inmate of Guanajay prison, of a young ex-officer of the Interior Ministry (MININT) who also is confined there, serving a 25-year sentence in terrible conditions.

His name is Jorge Frank Iglesias Fernández. He is 29 years old and was a lieutenant in State Security until February 2015, when he was detained and tried for “espionage.”

Iglesias Fernández refused to commit what he considered to be an injustice, giving warning of the imminent arrest of a Cuban American woman and a North American man who were visiting Cuba and whom State Security were investigating for presumed “counter-revolutionary activities.” continue reading

The authorities also linked to the case the ex-lieutenant’s brother, Víctor Eduardo Iglesias Fernández, 18, and sentenced him to five years in jail – which sentence was later commuted to “limited freedom,” with the added requirement to periodically appear before the enforcement judge.

After being detained for a year at Villa Marista, the head barracks of State Security, where he was subjected to continuous interrogations and enclosed in a cell measuring 3×2 meters, Jorge Frank Iglesias was sent to the maximum security area of Guanajay prison, in Artemisa. They have been holding him there in solitary confinement for almost the last two years. He has no phone privileges. His parents can visit him once a month, for two hours, and always in the presence of a guard.

My source tells me that in Iglesias Fernández’ cell, the guards have not turned off the lights for even one minute since his confinement. This continuous exposure to light has affected his eyesight and he suffers from frequent and intense headaches. When for such reasons they have had to transport him to the prison hospital at Combinado del Este, he has been taken in handcuffs and in the custody of an impressive team of armed guards.

I supposed that in any other country, a crime such as that committed by ex-lieutenant Iglesias Fernández – whom it would be a stretch to classify as a spy, being that he never was recruited by the North Americans – would be punished, as well, but not with such despicable and inhumane viciousness.

Could it be for cases such as this that the regime’s anti-diplomats refuse to speak about political prisoners?

The Cuban government refuses to admit that there are political prisoners in Cuba, and even less, prisoners of conscience. And don’t even mention the conditions of their confinement. The official spokespersons, when they deign to speak of the matter, provide assurances that these prisoners are convicted of crimes referred to in the Cuban criminal code – especially violent criminals, hijackers of planes and ships who had the good fortune to not serve as a lesson by being executed, or various ex-military personnel or intelligence agents convicted of espionage or revealing “state secrets” (which would be the case of  Jorge Iglesias Fernández).

This in a country where a state secret can be how many bushels of plantains were lost in Alquízar, or of tomatoes in Consolación del Sur, because of there being no trucks or fuel to collect the harvest in time.

It would be fitting, so as to evade international pressures, for the governmental cheerleaders to keep in mind the hundreds of peace-loving individuals who, in a country governed by moderately normal and just laws, would not be in prison but in Cuba are locked away, in terrifying conditions, for legal aberrations in the Cuban penal code that are frequently applied against dissidents, such as “contempt,” “disobedience,” and “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

Author contact: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Rafael Alcides: May He Rest In Peace / Luis Cino Alvarez

Rafael Alcides (EFE)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 20 June 2018 — The writer Rafael Alcides, who died in Havana on June 19 at the age of 85, had a warehouse of novels and unpublished poems in his home. It had been more than three decades since a book of his was published in his homeland. First it was because the commissars, unable to make him submit, did not want to publish him. Then, it was Alcides who did not want to be published. He made it clear: he said he would not accept it until the day his books could be in Cuban bookstores along with those of all the Cuban authors prohibited by the regime.

He resisted fearlessly, without losing heart. And, industrious and stubborn as he was, without failing to write for a single day.

The author of Agradecido como un perro (Grateful as a Dog) had the stubborn patience of poets, who do not rush because they know themselves to be the absolute owners of time and words. continue reading

Born in 1933 in Barrancas, a remote hamlet in eastern Cuba, Rafael Alcides was one of the main colloquialist poets of the so-called ’50s generation.

Once he believed in the Revolution. But poets, if that is what they really are, can not sing in the chorus. The praise bores them. They are reluctant to follow orders and commands, they do not accommodate themselves nor fit within the battalion of the submissive. And that is why he broke with the confining official culture and stepped aside, to witness the sad parade of the mediocre, servile and coryphaeus. He continued to listen to “the rumor of what life was before the future came,” warning that “nothing is as we supposed.”

His time of vain illusions passed, converted into ashes, without smoke or grudges. The poet did not answer to illusions. He lived between the past and the future, warning — he said in verses — that: “Everything we had we lost and it was more than we could have.”

He spent his last years surrounded by the affection of his loved ones, at peace with his demons, without fear, decent, unwavering.

I had the privilege of enjoying the friendship of Rafael Alcides. I used to visit him in the small apartment in Nuevo Vedado he shared with his wife, blogger Regina Coyula and her son. His conversation, always lucid and interesting, never ceased to inspire courage. Not even when cancer was about to win the game.

Rest in peace Rafael Alcides, if the souls of poets can ever resign themselves to rest and stop dreaming.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Cuban Festival in Washington: One More Victory for Castroism / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Omara Portuondo and Aymée Nuviola (Credit: Kennedy Center)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 15 May 2018 — Omara Portuondo, Ballet Nacional, Pablo Milanés, Haydée Milanés, Los Van Van, Teatro El Público, Aldo López Gavilán, Jorge Luis Pacheco, Orquesta Faílde, Teatro El Público, Orquesta del Liceo de La Habana… The top drawer talent went to Cuba, to the Kennedy Center, to the Artes de Cuba festival. The best and most reliable, the ones who can be trusted to not defect or say something inappropriate–because it would not be to their advantage to do so.

It matters not if Pablito Milanés, who has been whining lately, were to make some controversial statement, because this would only show that Cuba has changed, that we are completely transparent, and that dissent is allowed (of course it is!)—provided, that is, that the dissent is expressed as the Maximum Leader wanted: “within the Revolution.” * continue reading

As the journalist Yuri Nórido wrote, with utmost optimism, a few days ago in the Trabajadores newspaper: the Kennedy Center patrons will see for themselves that in Cuba, “questioning and committed” (we all know to what) art is made.

You will pardon my cynicism, but I do not trust the assurances given by Alicia Adams, the festival curator, that the Cuban government did not intervene into the selection of artists. With a regime like this one, I’m not buying that story…

What a coincidence that among the more than 250 performers selected by Adams—let’s say we believe that she alone made the selection—there are no independent artists (except the Mal Paso dance company, which, it is true, does not receive state subsidies)—and even less any of the writers, filmmakers, painters and other artists who are censored and condemned to be ostracized, such as those plastic artists who, at this very moment and while being harassed by State Security, are holding an alternative Bienal in Havana.

What a coincidence that among the artists in the Cuban diaspora—let’s not call it “exile,” that ugly word—who are fewer, were not included, for example, such virtuosos as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Could it be because they are openly anti-Castro?

By the same token, just to allay any such suspicions, the quintet of New York-based saxophonist Yosvany Terry, and the singer Aymée Nuviola, who lives in Miami, were at the Kennedy Center. Neither of them have ever made a peep against the regime, which Adams must have taken into account when making her selections. Because we wouldn’t want the festival to be politicized…

It’s not that artists must spend their lives making political statements, but in the case of individuals who have been forced to leave their country for reasons that always, one way or another, can be traced back to politics, it would well be worthwhile if, occasionally, when it’s relevant, they would declare themselves, speak plainly and leave off the subterfuge. They should follow the example of Alicia Alonso and Omara Portuondo, who whenever they have the opportunity to do so, they give witness to their unbreakable loyalty to castroism.

Speaking of Omara Portuondo, her fan Aymée Nuviola appears to be trying with her what she was unable to do, no matter how hard she worked, with Celia Cruz: to prosper in her shadow. Maybe she’ll even get to cut a duo record with the Diva of the Buenavista Social Club. And continue taking trips to Havana, where, to some people who don’t care about put-downs, snubs and payoffs, applause sounds sweeter than in Miami.

For the moment, the Cuban regime is winning another propaganda battle. With so many good artists at the Kennedy Center—the majority of them “educated in the art schools created by the revolutionary government,” as they insist on pointing out—anyone would think that the official culture in Cuba is a marvel, another “achievement of the Revolution.” Perhaps this, and not so much the building of bridges between Cuba and the US, is the objective of this Cuban art festival, the largest celebrated outside the Island.

luicino2012@gmail.com

*Translator’s Note:  A reference to Fidel Castro’s “Words to the Intellectuals” speech of June 30, 1961, in which he set limits to the free expression of artists and writers: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

What Do Cuban Dissidents Think About Diaz-Canel? / Ivan Garcia

On Monday, 22 March 2016, during his visit to Cuba, President Barack Obama met in the United States Embassy in Havana with a group of Cuban dissidents, among them Manuel Cuesta Morua (to Obama’s left), and the independent journalists Miriam Leiva (to Morua’s left) and Miriam Celaya (to Obama’s right). Source: Cubanet.

Iván García, 30 April 2018 — Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a 55-year-old Afro-Cuban historian of average height and thin build, is probably one of Cuba’s most intellectually gifted dissidents.

Morúa’s political proposals are based on a social democratic model. He has tried different strategies, looking for a legal angle that would allow him to carry out his projects legitimately. The military dictatorship, however, has thwarted him. He considers himself to be a man of the left, a position from he articulates his ideas.

The arrival of Miguel Díaz-Canel — a 58-year-old engineer from the town of Falcón in Villa Clara province, about 300 kilometers east of Havana — marks the first time someone born after the triumph of the Cuban revolution has ascended to power. He is part of a generation that, for differing reasons, began to dissent from the Marxist, anti-democratic and totalitarian socialism established by Fidel Castro. continue reading

The hardline, diehard generation is passing away. In the current political climate, the most eloquent spokespersons, both official and dissident, were born during the height of the Cold War. They experienced the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the international communist bastion, the former Soviet Union.

The dialectical struggle will not be resolved at the point of a gun. The system will have to reinvent itself, unleash productive economic forces and rely on the private sector if it wants to bring an adequate level of prosperity to Cubans frustrated by the precarious conditions of their lives.

At one time Díaz-Canel, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Luis Cino, Angel Moya and the economist Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello were all in the same ideological trenches. For reasons of their own, they stopped applauding Fidel Castro and began a long, arduous journey aimed at establishing a democratic society in their homeland.

For Morúa, the transfer of power to Díaz-Canel, “can be read in several ways, all of them interesting. The generational change, no matter who is its public face, puts society on a more equal footing when it comes to dealing with those in power,” he says.

He adds, “The only thing left to do now is make demands. Díaz-Canel is an obstructionist president. He has very little legitimacy. He is not a historical figure and he has not won an election. Every person on the street says, ’I didn’t vote for him.’ The government is incorrect when it claims that Cuba holds indirect elections. Elections here are by acclamation. To date, this president has no agenda. He comes off as a clone.”

When I ask him if he thinks it is time for dissidents to change tactics and devise a strategy to reach out to ordinary citizens, Cuesta Morúa responds, “I think it’s time to think more about politics, to offer a clearer alternative. It’s time to step up to the plate, but in political terms.”

In Lawton, a neighborhood of low-slung houses and steep streets on the southern outskirts of Havana, is the headquarters of the human rights group The Ladies in White. Most of its members are mothers, wives or daughters who had never before been interested in politics.

Their dispute with the regime centers on their demands for release of their sons, husbands and fathers, who were unjustly imprisoned by Fidel Castro. Their protest marches, during which they walk carrying gladiolas, were brutally suppressed by agents of the regime’s special services. The Cuban government’s actions led to strong public condemnations from the international community.

After entering into negotiations brokered by the Catholic church and the Spanish government, Raúl Castro’s regime agreed, for the first time, to release some political prisoners and to grant The Ladies in White space along Havana’s Fifth Avenue to carry out peaceful protest marches.

After their release most of the seventy-five former political prisoners left Cuba. The Ladies in White are still subject to brutal repression by the Castro regime, which has denied them access to the space it once gave them permission to use.

The Ladies in White’s main strategy involves street protests. Angel Moya Acosta, the 53-year-old husband of Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, believes “that the Cuban political opposition needs to confront the regime. If we want people to take to the streets, the dissident community has to take to the streets and to actively persuade the people. This is not a problem about unity. Changing the electoral system in Cuba is up to the opposition and — except for some exceptions such as UNPACU, the Pedro Luis Boitel Front and the Forum for Freedom — that is not happening. Anything else is an excuse for not doing anything.”

According to Moya, the selection of Díaz-Canel was expected. “Nothing in Cuba will change. Repression could even increase. Díaz-Canel indicated that major national decisions will still be made by Raúl Castro. And he ended in inaugural speech with the outdated slogans ’homeland or death’, ’socialism or death’ and ’we will win’.”  Everyone on the island knows that real power in Cuba still rests with Raúl Castro.”

Luis Cino Álvarez, 61, one of the strongest voices in independent journalism, says he “does not expect any political reforms from the Díaz-Canel government except, perhaps, some slight fixes to the economy. He has already stated what we can expect: more socialism and a continuation of the policies of Fidel and Raúl Castro. Stagnation in its purest form. I believe that now is the time for dissidents to come up with a better strategy for confronting the regime.”

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, a 71-year-old economist, thinks that “Díaz-Canel is a person with many illusions. He held a meeting of the Council of Ministers that was illegal, saying that new appointments to the council had been postponed until July. Díaz-Canel feels very comfortable governing. And that is not a positive thing. When they govern, all the word’s presidents feel pressure due to multiple demands from different sectors of society.” She adds,”Cuban dissidents followed the wrong path. They should have taken the road of the people. But with each step they get further and further away from it.”

If there is anything upon which the fragmented local dissident community agrees, it is that the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel represents the beginning of a significant new era. They face two dilemmas: either find a way to motivate thousands of citizens to demand democracy or watch the military dictatorship celebrate the centenary of Fidel Castro’s revolution with a parade though the Plaza.

 

Díaz-Canel: Killer of Illusions / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro (Reuters)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 24 August 2017 — In his hardline speech to Cuban Communist Party (PCC) cadres, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel killed any illusions some may have harbored that a future government headed by him, following Raúl Castro’s retirement,* would tend towards reforms and be less authoritarian and repressive.

Assuming the stance of a prison warden and speaking in a more commanding voice than usual, Díaz-Canel came across as considerably menacing–and not only with respect to the open opposition. Into the same bag of what he called “subversive projects” and “counterrevolution” Díaz-Canel also tossed the loyal oppositionists of Cuba Posible, the pro-government journalists who collaborate on non-state media, centrists and other ideologically diverse actors–no matter if they declare themselves to be within the Revolution.** As if this were not enough, he also warned that there would be no consolidations of a private sector that could break away from the State and turn into an agent of change. continue reading

All of this in a tone that more reminiscent of a State Security official than of a technocrat of the party bureaucracy. So intransigent and backward did Díaz-Canel come across, that in his place could have stood the uncouth Ramiro Valdés, or Machado Ventura himself were he not so busy cleaning up agricultural disasters.

If a medium as mild in its treatment of the regime as OnCuba Magazine irritates Díaz-Canel, we can only imagine what he thinks of Cubanet and Martí Noticias, among others, and what he has in store for independent journalists.

Could it be that the heir apparent, if he wants to make it to February 2018, could not spare any harshness in his lecture? How could he disappoint the little old commie fanatics who keep the fuse lit, even at the risk of it all exploding in their hands?

There is no need to dig deep and expect surprises from Díaz-Canel. For now, he called the play and it truly sets my teeth on edge. It is more of the same. Without much variation in the score.

There was no reason to expect otherwise–why insist on sniffing out a Gorbachev or Deng Xiao Ping in Díaz-Canel? He must have learned in cadre school that this type of system does not allow reforms that do not come apart at the seams; that rats, regardless of how they might beg for it, cannot be fed cheese, because then they will want water, and then more cheese, and will continue begging for it until the pantry runs out.

Actually, it was only the usual naifs, those given to wishful thinking, the extreme optimists, who harbored illusions about Díaz-Canel. He might have been able to appear liberal with the gays and rock fans of the Club Mejunje in his native Santa Clara, back when he had not yet put on weight, would ride his bicycle, and looked like Richard Gere. But once he got to Holguín as first provincial secretary of the PCC, he did not hesitate to order evacuations of marginal neighborhoods: apparently he preferred the invasive marabú* weed to squatters.

Starting now, he is giving advance notice, as if he were just another general–and of the praetorian kind–that he wants a calm and orderly classroom, and that he will not balk at ordering State Security (after seeing to the extinction of the dissident movement) to take care of the insubordinate, lackadaisical and diversionist elements. And it could be that later on, given his inclination to social media, he will tweet–cock of the walk that he is–that “there is no reason to make the least concession to the Yankee imperialists.”

Díaz-Canel is of a younger generation, but as in his school days, he remains disciplined, a follower of orders. And very attentive to what his preservation instinct dictates. Apparently it has not failed him yet. It is no accident that he has gotten to where he is today.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translator’s Notes:

*In 2013, Raúl Castro told the Assembly of People’s Power (the Cuban Parliament), that he will retire from the presidency of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers on Feb. 24, 2018. At the time of that announcement, Díaz-Canel was promoted to first vice-president of both councils.

**A reference to Fidel Castro’s Words to the Intellectuals speech of June 30, 1961, in which he set limits to the free expression of artists and writers: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Miami Has It All, Even Russian Meat / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Some of the Russian foods, toys and perfumes for sale at Marky’s in North Miami (Photo: El Nuevo Herald)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 18 May 2017—A neighbor of mine in Arroyo Naranjo recently had to ask an old friend of his who lives Miami to help him obtain some amitriptyline. A psychiatrist had recommended this medication for my neighbor’s wife to treat a nervous condition that would worsen without it.

This drug, among many others on a very long list, has been off the shelves of Havana pharmacies for months. The official excuse, aside from usual ones such as “the criminal blockade [U.S. embargo],” is that the cash-strapped Cuban state has been unable to square its debts with foreign pharmaceutical companies. continue reading

For the very astute customs officials at Cuban airports, ever on the hunt for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, it is a headache to conduct their painstaking inspections of the troves of medicines and vitamins that are brought in by travelers from the U.S.

Thus, it is no surprise that in Havana at this time, it is easier to find Tylenol than aspirin, and Centrum or Kirkland brand vitamins than the yellow multivitamin powder produced by the state, which some prefer not to use because it “whets their appetite too much.”

Cubans on the Island are evermore dependent on the remittances and packages they receive from their relatives and friends abroad, primarily those in the U.S., whom the regime demonized for decades, called traitors, and tried to cut their emotional ties to Cuba.

Many Cubans depend on the emigres and exiles not only for medicine, sustenance and clothing, and the monthly recharging of their mobile phones. They also request and obtain from them the most varied and sundry goods: from santería necklaces and white garments for the iyabó to school uniforms, and even parts for Russian-made automobiles.

That’s right. You heard it. In various Miami establishments one can find parts for Soviet-era automobile makes such as Lada and Mokvich, and for Ural and Berjomina motorcycles. In today’s Russia it is probably difficult to find these parts, they may not even be produced anymore, but in Miami, I know not how, there is an abundance of them. And obviously they are aimed at Cuba, where Russian cars compete for longevity with the Fords and Chevrolets more than 60 years old that are still circulating.

But do not be surprised by the availability of Russian products in Miami (let us hope this is not a plot by Czar Putin and his intelligence service). When I visited that city last year, I spotted on the shelves of a well-stocked bodega (it being so Cuban I hesitate to call it a supermarket), located on Southwest 27th Avenue near Coconut Grove, nothing less than Russian canned meat. Those very same cans that we would refuse back in the day, the ones we said contained bear flesh or god-knows what other greasy Siberian beast, and that today, after so many years of enforced vegetarianism, cause our mouths to water as though they were the most exquisite delicacy. It appears that in Miami, while hunger is not their motivation, there are Cubans who are nostalgic for Russian canned meat, because I doubt very seriously that the only customers for this product would be the wealthy Russians who reside in Hallandale and Sunny Isles.

In Hialeah, which is like a piece of Cuba transplanted to South Florida (but without the ration books and the CDR) it probably is not very difficult to find those damned cans of Russian meat.

Also there, and in any other part of Miami, one can hear reggaeton and watch the pigswill of Cuban TV. And don’t be surprised if the generation of Bolek and Lolek manage to get their hands on those cartoons they had to watch as children in Cuba, when Pluto, Porky Pig and Donald Duck were considered agents of the imperialist ideological penetration.

Those who cannot resign themselves to watery coffee and bland cigarettes—if they wish to smoke (to the horror of the nonsmokers, always such scolds) stronger cigarettes than American Spirit and the Wranglers sold by the Indians in Kendall—can find in Hialeah, and not too expensive, cigarettes directly from Cuba: H. Upmann, Populares and even the unsmokeable Criollos and Titanes, a.k.a. “chestbusters.”

It seems to be true what I heard from a Cuban American who, as a sort of savior-magus bearing gifts, was visiting his impoverished relatives in Mantilla: “You can find everything in Miami, anything, whatever it is.”

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Castro Conquers Miami With Cannon Blasts / Luis Cino Alvarez

cubanet square logoCubanet, 4 April 2017, Havana, Luis Cino Álvarez — A friend was telling me, horrified, that last Friday at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood Beach, Florida, Cuban reggaetoneros [musicians who perform the musical genre of Reggaeton]–from the Island and from ‘over there’, no way to tell anymore what with all the going and coming–put on a show. The lineup consisted of El Chacal, El Taiger (spelled just that way, not “Tiger”), Diván, Chocolate, Harrison, and Descemer Bueno (the only one of them whom I would classify as a musician).

This Cubatón (Cuban-style reggaeton, guachineo included) spectacle was aptly titled The Cannon Blast, as it was an explosion of “Made in Cuba” vulgarity and bad taste.  And there will be other such events, many more, in Florida. continue reading

To my friend it was all a joke (or a nightmare): The crème de la crème of the reggaetonero set–who would have to include also Yakarta, Baby Lores, Misha, Insurrecto, the detestable Osmany García, and Gente de Zona–profanely performing their low-class crudities, with their sinister appearance and annoying taca-taca beat, on a stage that has recently featured artists such as Don Henley, War, America, ZZ Top and Daryl Hall and John Oates.

No need to be surprised. This particular cannon blast and those yet to come are part of the none-too-slow colonization by the Castro regime of Miami and indeed all of South Florida.  They want to turn it into a type of Hong Kong, to exploit and emotionally blackmail it with nostalgia for fatherland and family. Not satisfied with maintaining their failed regime at the expense of remittances from emigrés and exiles, the Castroites also–in an effort to stir up problems, debase the milieu, and collect even more dollars–send over infiltrators from the G-2, scam artists, provocateurs, short-fused jokers, propagandizing academics, know-nothing cameleons del tíbiri tábara (from the back of beyond and staying out of trouble),TV shows, and…reggaetoneros.

For the record, it’s not that the head honchos of the regime are aware of the damage they do with the reggaetoneros, thus employing them in a macabre plan to penetrate the exile community and turn Miami into one big Hialeah, full of homeboys and every day becoming more like Marianao or Arroyo Naranjo. Save for the minister Abel Prieto, he of such exquisite taste, the top bosses don’t seem to mind the proliferation of reggaeton. On the contrary, their children and grandchildren, as lacking in good taste and class as their parents and grandparents, go crazy to the beat and enjoy it to the max.

Pertaining to music, the bosses export what they have. This is what there is.

My friend would ask himself what became of Cuban music. Little of worth is left in a country that produced Ernesto Lecuona, Sindo Garay, Rita Montaner, Celia Cruz, Benny Moré, and, post-catastrophe, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Chucho Valdés, Polo Montañéz and Juan Formell. Regarding the few good musicians and singers who remain on the Ilsand, the big guns–with their shopkeeper mentality and proverbial bad taste, and their (anti)artistic promoters–believe it not worthwhile to send them to Miami because they wouldn’t sell enough tickets and, worse, might even get away and defect. It’s better that they remain home, making do as best they can (even though they are rarely featured on radio and TV), making music for “the most cultured people on the planet”–even though these people only want to tie one on and hear reggaeton.

Reggaeton is the perfect soundtrack to accompany the breakdown of a dictatorial system that has lasted too long and which, if not finally dissolving, is coagulating.

Vulgarity, bad taste and social alienation were imposed on Cuba. And this is reflected in the music that is broadcast the most. Reggaeton, the apotheosis of low class and degradation, came about at just the right time in the right place. It is the perfect music for the national chaos.

How was Miami to ward off reggaeton, what with so many recently-arrived homeboys who the only things they left behind were their ration books?

If, in the final analysis, we are all Cubans, whether here or there, we bear a common karma, and we must share our misfortune: portion it out, and see if we can reduce it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Taliban Has Returned / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Hassan Pérez Casabona

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 15 March 2017 – At the beginning of the last decade, when Fidel Castro would call a “march of the fighting people” for any reason whatsoever and the multitudes who seemed to have arrived from Pyongyang would chant slogans and wave little paper flags, prominent for his impetuous verbiage was a young man called Hassan Perez Casabona.

Gesticulating like a dervish, with a crew cut, camouflage trousers, and huge Russian military boots that seemed suitable for kicking any dissenters, Hassan Perez, who at that time was the second secretary of the Union of Young Communists (UJC), was the most Taliban of the Taliban of the so-called Battle of Ideas, Fidel Castro’s personal version of Mao’s cultural revolution. In this “battle,” young men like the bellicose Hassan, indoctrinated to the core and supposedly immune to the corruption, were called to play the role of the Red Guards. continue reading

Hassan Perez, who improvised his leftist militant teques* of the barricade with the ease of a Candido Fabré, seemed to have no brake. Nothing contained his quarrelsome and intolerant eloquence. When in 2002, in the Aula Magna of the University of Havana, the former American president Jimmy Carter referred to the Varela Project, quickly and aggressively Hassan Pérez requested the floor to refute him, in the presence of the Maximum Leader, who observed him pleased, although ready to stop his jackal if he let his passion run away with him.

With the retirement of Fidel Castro in July 2006, the Battle of Ideas was fading away, and the Taliban, who with their supra-institutional nonsense represented a nuisance to the succession and the Raul regime reformers, were removed from the scene.

In 2008, in an extraordinary meeting, the National Communist Youth Bureau agreed to work with Hassan Pérez and send him as a professor to a university of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Although they acknowledged his work as a youth leader, first in the Federation of Middle School Students (FEEM) and later with the University Student Federation (FEU) and Communist Youth, this was interpreted as a setback. Especially given that, shortly before, at the Fifth Congress of the UJC, he had not been elect, as expected, first secretary of the organization.

From that point Hassan Perez lectured in full military uniform – which must have been to his liking, in view of his fondness for military attire – as a lieutenant, in the classrooms of the Military Technical Institute (ITM) teaching history classes.

For almost eleven years there was no mention of Hassan Perez. He only saw himself on TV, dressed in uniform and in his delegate’s chair, during a meeting of the National Assembly of People’s Power, where he voted unanimously in favor of everything that was put before him.

But now, the entrenchment of immobile orthodoxy is generating a neo-Stalinist reflux that has once again brought Hassan Perez to the fore. He is now an assistant professor at the Center for Hemispheric Studies and the United States at the University of Havana and his extensive and bizarre articles appear in the official press.

It seems that Castro’s monks do not have too many better options to choose from if they have had to dust off and get to grips with the annoying Hassan Perez. In short, if it is a question of becoming intolerant and frightening in the discourse toward the sheep who want to go astray, the boy does the job well. And in the years that he spent in professorial penance he is assumed to have overcome the immaturity that he was previously reproached for.

*Translator’s note: (Source: Conflict and Change in Cuba, Baloyra and Morris) “El teque is Cuban slang for the unrefrained barrage of official rhetoric that emanates from the state. I is the old, the formal, the staid, that which has become meaningless through repetition. El Teque is the officialese, the discourse of a revolution that is no longer revolutionary.”

Too Young for the Party and Too Old for the Communist Youth / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Harold Cárdenas (dw.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 9 February 2017 — Try as I might—to avoid being a bore and accused of holding a grudge against the boy—I cannot leave Harold Cárdenas, the ineffable blogger at La Joven Cuba, in peace, I just can’t. And the fault is his own, because the narrative he makes out of his adventures defending his beloved Castro regime, and his loyal candor, strikes one as a kind of masochism worse than that of Anastasia Steele, the yielding girl in Fifty Shades of Grey.

In a post on 19 January, Harold Cardenas complained of the terrible limbo, for a communist, in which he finds himself (not to mention that it would be the envy of many militants who accepted the red card because they had no other option): Harold, being past the requisite age, was removed from the Union of Young Communists (UJC), but he is not accepted into the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) because, they explain, he is still too young. continue reading

His situation reminds me of a 1976 song by the British rock band Jethro Tull (which Harold probably doesn’t know, because of his age, and because I can’t imagine him listening to any music other than that of Silvio, Buena Fe and Calle 13). The song tells the story of the disconsolate and hairy motorcyclist and failed suicide, Ray, who was “too old to rock and roll, too young to die.”

Harold Cárdenas rightly intuits, given the entrenchment recently being displayed by the regime, that he has been given the boot—or the bat, as his contemporaries say—from both organizations because of his publications “in other media.” And so he knocks himself out with explanations, challenges his punishers to find one counterrevolutionary line in his writings, “but without taking a line or a post out of its context—conducting a serious search through the totality of the content.”

As if these guys needed to go to so much trouble to suspect someone and consider him an enemy!

The blogger, with his foolish sincerity and wild innocence (Ay, Julio Iglesias!) has annoyed the stony big shots and their subordinate “hard-core” little shots—always so unsympathetic towards those who, even while remaining within the Revolution, dare to think with their own heads and give too many opinions. This is why they consider him undisciplined, hypercritical, and irresponsible, why they don’t want him in the UJC nor the PCC.

Overall, he came out all right, because in other times, not too long ago, who knows what the punishment might have been…

Harold Cárdenas, with his faith intact through it all, assures us that he does not have a single complaint about the Party, although, as he says, it hurts him “how some dogmatists detract from the collective intelligence of the organization.”

As far as Harold is concerned, his punishers do not answer to an official policy, but rather are dogmatic extremists who think themselves more leftist than Stalin. He warns: “We must take care not to confuse sectarian procedures with State or Party politics, even if they try to disguise themselves as such. The individuals who apply them, although they might try to justify their actions as being taken in the name of the Revolution or some institution, are doing it for themselves. They are trying to preserve the status quo of the known, motivated by fear, ignorance or other interests.”

Harold Cárdenas, who seems to believe himself the reincarnation of Julio Antonio Mella (who, by the way, seems to have been assassinated by order of his comrades and not the dictator Machado, due to his Trotskyite connections) believes that what is happening is a “tactical struggle among revolutionary sectors” of which he has been a victim. But he does not despair. With the patience of a red Job, having been warned that “it is very difficult to fight for a better society outside of the movement that must lead the construction,” Cárdenas says that he will join the Party when he will not have to “subordinate the political struggle to a vertical discipline… when they give me a way, there will be a will.”

And one, faced with such resigned masochism, does not know whether to pity Harold in his wait for the blessed little red card, or give him up as incorrigible, and let him continue to self-flagellate. May Lenin Be With Him!

Author’s email: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

My Friend Marquito Will Repatriate to Cuba / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

repatriado

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 31 October 2016 — My friend Marquito who has lived in Miami for fifteen years, has decided, as soon as he retires, to return to Cuba to live.

When he told me his plans, on the next to last day of my stay in Miami, after several whiskies and beers as we sat on the patio of a mutual friend in Miami Springs, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I thought it was a joke. Or pure drunkenness. But no. The man is serious. He has it all worked out. And is even trying to convince some of his friends to imitate him.

He said his American Dream isn’t going like he dreamed: that he is always financially burdened, that he can’t make it with the costs and the taxes, that he worked too much in jobs he didn’t like and that were below his professional abilities, which kills nostalgia, and he doesn’t want to end up in an asylum… continue reading

He explains that in Cuba, with the new circumstances created by the restoration of relations with the United States, he will get much more out of the 700-odd dollars he’ll receive from his pension when he retires at 65 (he’s almost 60). He calculates that in Havana, at his mother’s house in El Vedado, he will be able to live much better that he does today in Miami, where that money will barely pay the rent for the studio, a bedroom with a bathroom and kitchen, where he has lived in Hialeah since his divorce.

In vain I tried to convince him that this is nonsense, that “something,” which for me continues to be “this,” has not changed as much as he thinks, that I can’t imagine that after so many years he could readapt and resign himself to living without freedom after having known it.

He says, “It doesn’t matter, with money you can slip by, you’re indifferent. And when I’m really bored, when I need to oxygenate myself, now I can come and go, get a ticket and spend a few days vacation in Miami…”

He says he has met several Cubans who have returned to the country and haven’t repented it. When I tell him it’s really fucked to give the dictatorship arguments to say that most of those who leave Cuba go for economic reasons and not political ones, and that I am beginning to understand Cuban-American politicians I disagree with, like Senator Marco Rubio and the representative Carlos Curbelo, when they complain that some Cubans are blatantly abusing the laws of the United States, and especially the pockets of the American taxpayers, Marquito interrupts me and tells me not to get all heavy with the “freaking politics” and he asks me if I wouldn’t be happy if we got together “there,” like we used to, and talk and listen to music from the ‘70s. Now that he has reassembled his vinyl collection he’s bring it to Cuba and we’ll listen to it with much better quality that when we used to listen on those horrible Russian turntables.

I can already imagine the bitter and endless litany of lamentations and complaints about “this” that Marquito would repeat in these meetings of castaways. The same ones as fifteen years ago, before he left. When he thought he was being suffocated and that the world as we knew it, would crush him. Has he already forgotten that time?

Marquito joked and in the face of my dismay sang, closer to Charlie Garcia Carlos Gardel, the one about “return, with a withered face …” and “feeling that is a breath of life …” And then he got philosophical, and said: “It’s like closing a circle. Completing a cycle. That’s what it’s about…”

I still do not believe he was serious. I prefer to think it was a joke.

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez (b. Havana, 1956).

Zero Victims in Cuba, at What Price? / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Baracoa after Matthew (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)
Baracoa after Matthew (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 13 October 2016 – Several reporters from international press agencies, in particular the AFP, have recently highlighted the fact that in Cuba, in contrast with neighboring countries like Haiti, Hurricane Matthew caused no loss of life in spite of its extensive property damage.

The journalists credit the preventive work, mainly evacuation, that the Civil Defense carries out as soon as a storm approaches Cuban shores. And they are right: the Civil Defense is one of the few Cuban state institutions that really functions effectively.

But the admiring journalists overlook the fact that the Civil Defense works with an advantage: that which is conceded by social control and the “command and control” methods of a totalitarian regime. When evacuation is ordered, the people have no choice but to carry their rags and three or four pieces of junk, get on the trucks and buses and evacuate. If they refuse, they are evacuated by force or taken prisoner. continue reading

In a country where the citizen is free, the master of his actions, there is always some stubborn person who refuses to take refuge or prefers to stay to take care of his belongings, his animals, etc. Or he simply stays home because he wants to. But not in Cuba. If he doesn’t go one way or another, they take him. To a shelter or a jail cell if he acts the fool.

And Cubans, resignedly, let themselves be driven to the shelters, no matter the overcrowding, filth, and head and pubic lice: the roof there will not fall on top of them, as probably would happen in their miserable and dilapidated dwellings, and they are guaranteed food, even if it is bread with canned Venezuelan sardines, which the army keeps in its warehouses for emergencies. And as if there were not enough, Kcho will come, with an artist brigade that includes clowns and reggaeton players, to bring them a little entertainment…

If not for these forced evacuations there would have been deaths and injuries in Cuba as in the other countries. Or more: let’s remember that most dwellings in Cuba are in a deplorable state. Especially in the poor eastern region, which usually is one of the most affected by hurricanes. (Fortunately it has been years since a cyclone passed through Havana where with so much ruined housing and buildings – much of which remains upright only through miraculous static – the catastrophe would be unimaginable.)

Without detracting from the merits of the Civil Defense leaders: most of the generals of the armed forces, the older ones, in spite of playing so much with tanks and AK-47s, have not forgotten their rural origins, their highland times, when before the arrival of a cyclone, they would put their cattle and chickens in a safe place. We now are their animals, on their bosses’ farm, the size of an archipelago.

Too bad they are not more effective in the recovery effort. Or in guaranteeing, after the evacuation ends and the people return to the ruins that their houses have become, the most basic things: food and water. And not to mention the materials for repairing the dwellings, though the state says that it will bear 50% of the costs.

General Raul Castro at once assured the people of devastated Baracoa – the AFP should have referred to how happy they are with the Chief’s visit – that “the Revolution will never leave us” but warned them that reconstruction will take time.

They already know, without haste but without pause*. So they can join the long line of victims from prior hurricanes…

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez (b. Havana, 1956).

*Translator’s note: A catchphrase from a Raul Castro speech to the Communist Party Congress of 2016, often repeated in official discourse, and even more often mocked. Excerpt from speech: “The course is already plotted. We will continue at a steady pace, without haste, but without pause, bearing in mind that the pace will depend on the consensus that we can build within our society and the organizational capacity we reach to make the necessary changes without precipitation, much less improvisations that only lead us to failure.” 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

 

A Disappointing And Unfair Report / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

cpj_logo-354x354Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 30 September 2016 — The most recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the state of journalism in Cuba is, more than disappointing, worrisome. It is not that its authors are uninformed about the Cuban reality. Rather, they have manipulated the information at their disposal so as to emphasize—at the expense of traditional independent journalism, whose presence is concealed—that journalism which is done on the Island more or less outside of state control. However, the sector to which they devote so much attention is not really quite so outside of that domination as the authors seem to wholeheartedly believe; either they are too naïve or too optimistic about the situation of journalists who work under the conditions of a dictatorship.

This report reinforces a tendency which could be seen emerging in recent months: that of obscuring and making obsolete the journalism that is most critical of the regime so as to present the pro-government bloggers and journalists who work in foreign outlets or alternative media of recent vintage—On Cuba, Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo, El Toque, Progreso Semanal, La Joven Cuba—as the new protagonists of a free journalism on the Island. continue reading

And I was calling this worrisome because this type of analyses, arising from who knows where, which try to make the case that Cuba is changing by giant steps in rhythm with the Raulist reforms, turn into a type of “trending topics,” become viral, and are later unstoppable.

The report obviates the fact that the independent journalism that has obtained in Cuba since the first half of the 1990s, and which ever since then has had to endure repression pure and simple, and which brought to light the prohibitions, and enabled the very existence of those alternative media whose collaborators are set on clarifying that they are not dissidents, complaining about the scoldings and warnings they receive, as if they were wayward sheep, from government bigwigs.

Regarding journalism which is critical of the regime, the report makes sole* reference to 14ymedio, but praises its middle-of-the-road tone. Lacking this tone, Primavera Digital, for example, is ignored, even though it continues to come out every Thursday on the internet despite the fact that it has not received a single cent of financing for more than two years. By the way, when 14ymedio started, Primavera Digital had already been around for more than six years—a fact that does not prevent the repeated assertion, mantra-like, that 14ymedio “was the first independent news outlet in Cuba.”

It is laudable that these young communicators from the alternative media have appeared, speaking of a Cuba more like the real one than what is portrayed by the official media. There are excellent ones, such as Elaine Díaz, or the team at El Estornudo with its literary journalism—and even Harold Cárdenas, why not? Despite his pretensions of “saving the Revolution” and making himself out to be more socialist than Marx and Engels combined. But when speaking of quality in the field of the independents, I have to say that it is the dissidents who have for many years now been incomparably plying their trade—journalists such as Miriam Celaya, Tania Díaz Castro, Iván García, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Juan González Febles, Víctor Manuel Domínguez, Jorge Olivera, among others.

More than unfair, the angle the CPJ report takes in characterizing TV and Radio Martí as “mostly irrelevant” is insulting. It would be interesting to know, keeping in mind the powerful interference of their signal and the blockage of their web site in Cuba, how TV and Radio Martí might increase their audience and have greater relevance compared to, let us say, Granma or Radio Rebelde. However, even this would not be enough for the CPJ, which lumps the official press with Radio and TV Martí insofar as they both “have become echo chambers for ideologues at both extremes of the political spectrum. As they are currently structured, neither is capable of providing the type of transformative journalism that could help to achieve the changes longed-for by the majority of Cubans.”

Bearing in mind that this section of the report was written by Ernesto Londoño, a journalist who when it comes to Cuba sees only what he wants to see and make seen (remember those editorials in The New York Times that heralded 17D?*), I believe I understand the changes to which he is referring. The problem is that these are not exactly the changes that are desired by the majority of Cubans, who desperately aspire to others of much greater significance.

Neither is it just for the report to not acknowledge the relevance of such outlets as CubaNet—not that it is blocked in Cuba occasionally, but rather that it was occasionally not blocked for almost a year. Since a few weeks ago it has begun being blocked again (as has Diario de Cuba), several of its journalists have been arrested, and the political police have confiscated their equipment. It would be interesting to know which formula CubaNet could employ to be in Havana the same way that On Cuba is. I say this because both outlets are based in the United States and the journalists who contribute to them are Cubans who live on the Island.

The CPJ’s concern for Cuban journalists is all well and good, but it should be for all, equally—the official and semi-official ones (it is often hard to tell them apart), and those who are lately turning the screws even more—but also for the independents, those truly critical ones, those who do not remain on the surface or who try to hide the fact that they definitively have gotten out from the “innards” of the Revolution: those who, in the CPJ’s report, have been diminished, or simply ignored.

About the Author

Luis Cino Álvarez (Havana, 1956) is a journalist in Cuba currently visiting the United States. Cino has worked as a professor of English, in construction, and in agriculture. He entered the field of independent journalism in 1998. Between 2002 and Spring 2003, Cino was a member of the reporting team at De Cuba magazine. He is assistant director of the online magazine, Primavera Digital [Digital Spring], and is a regular contributor to CubaNet since 2003. A resident of Arroyo Naranjo, Cino dreams of being able to make a living from writing fiction. He is passionate about good books, the sea, jazz and blues.

See also: Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists inCuba to “Cross the Red Lines”

**Translator’s note: As Americans say “9-11” instead of September 11, 2001, Cubans say “17D” instead of 17 December 2014, the day Barack Obama and Raul Castro jointly announced the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Soldiers in the economy: A bad deal (photo EFE)
Soldiers in the economy: A bad deal (photo EFE)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 30 May 2016 – The survival of the Castro regime increasingly appears to be in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). And not only because of the generals who run some of the most important ministries but also because of the general-businessmen of the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA).

GAESA, whose managing director is Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, father of one of Raul Castro’s grandsons, invoices more than a billion dollars a year. It has sugar plants, the TRDs (Hard Currency Collection Stores), Caribe and Gaviota, which impose abusive taxes on commodity prices, the Almacenes Universales SA, farms, mills, telecommunications and computer industry, trade zones, etc. And if that were not enough, having most of the hotel and marina capacity, it governs tourism, one of the country’s main sources of foreign income. continue reading

Some things borrowed from capitalism have functioned successfully in FAR’s enterprises.

At the beginning of 1985, after the shipwreck of the Economic Planning and Management System copied from the Soviet model, FAR implemented the Business Improvement System on a trial basis in the company “Ernesto Guevara,” in Manicaragua, Villa Clara, the largest facility of the Military Industries Union.

The experiment was supervised by General Casas Regueiro, who kept General Raul Castro, then FAR Minister, regularly informed about the matter.

Two years later, the experiment was extended to the military industries throughout the country.

The Business Improvement System (SPE), which Raul Castro called “the most profound and transcendent change to the economy,” copied capitalist forms of organization and administration: corporations, joint stock companies, management contracts and partnerships with foreign companies.

SPE permitted the Cuban army to ride out the worst years of the Special Period. If it was not introduced on a national level it was for fear of its consequences, which would have been worse than those of shock therapy.

In 1994, Fidel Castro, pressured by the deteriorating situation, agreed that a group of businesses from the Basic Industry Ministry would enter the SPE on an experimental basis. Later 100 more businesses were incorporated.

In 1997, the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party adopted the SPE as an economic strategy. After Raul’s succession, the extension of business improvement to the entire Cuban economy was conceived as a long-term strategy for preserving the status quo.

At the end of the last decade, when more than 400 businesses that implemented SPE were the most efficient in the country in terms of costs and results, it seemed that the Cuban economy was beginning to move to general application of that system. But it was a too-artificial model to extrapolate it to the rest of the national economy. To begin with, the unaffordable and disastrous enterprise system in Cuban pesos was not compatible with business improvement in dollars.

With SPE, the military men played the economy to advantage. Their businesses bore fruit in a greenhouse environment. They did not have to face labor or capital competition, they had unlimited access to state resources and benefitted from disciplined labor accustomed to obeying orders. Production factors, prices and marketing were at their disposal. Investments were provided by foreign businessmen prepared for unscrupulous deals in exchange for a minimum participation in the businesses.

Although they have had relatively modest success, there is not much to learn from the FAR businesses. And that is because a nation is not governed as if it were an armored division.* War is one thing, and managing a country’s economy efficiently is something else, although both things use bellicose language interchangeably.

FAR, dragging its old slogans and obsolete Soviet weapons, also reflects the system’s wear and tear and the distortions of current Cuban society.

Military men crammed into businesses can become problematic in the not-too-long term. Distanced from the interests of the people, they contribute to the system’s continuity. But they will always be stalked by temptation. Contact with foreign capitalists foments greed and corruption. This has been happening for some years.

When they feel their privileges and properties granted by the proprietary state threatened, their loyalty to the bosses or their successors will be put to the test. We will see what will happen then.

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez

*Translator’s note: An allusion to Cuba’s hero of independence José Martí’s words to General Maximo Gomez during the independence struggle: “A nation is not founded, General, as a military camp is commanded.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel