COVID-19 in Havana: An Alibi to Perpetuate the Castro Pandemic / Miriam Celaya

Between seven in the evening and five in the morning, mobility for people and vehicles is prohibited in Havana (photo: ADN Cuba)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — The new bundle of measures that begins to rule for 15 days in the Cuban capital starting today, Tuesday, September 1st, comes to place a new marble slab on the spirit of the capital after five harrowing months of an epidemic whose end is a period as unknown as that of the food crisis that Cuba was undergoing long before the start of the pandemic.

With the pretext of controlling the current outbreak of COVID-19, which has spread “with intense transmission” in all the municipalities of the Cuban capital, Reinaldo García Zapata, Havana’s governor, in his response by videoconference at the national TV’s Round Table last Thursday, August 27th, declared that the previous measures and actions were not enough to control the contagion.

He explained that “there has been a lack of discipline on the part of people who did not act reasonably and (also) there are institutions that did not fulfill their guiding roles and their leadership”, all of which led to a re-outbreak of the disease and we returned to the previous stage in the course of this week, “of endemic transmission”, but with a much more complex situation than in the previous stage, since there are 6 open sources of contagion and a greater dispersion of cases in the capital. continue reading

Without wishing to immerse myself in the murkiness of the official figures, nor to return to the subject of the highest incurable level of vice of the authorities, to evade their great share of responsibility in this setback — excess of triumphalism, anticipated de-escalation, haste in the opening of hotels with the sole purpose of making money regardless of the risks, just to mention the most obvious ones — the rigor of the new restrictions does not bear a proportional relationship to the number of infections when compared to the capital’s population of more than two million.

Nor does it seem reasonable that the authorities have set a period of just 15 days (in the first instance) to stop a re-outbreak that the Minister of Health himself declared could become “uncontrollable.” Something smells rotten.

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the country’s and the capital’s senior leaders in their presumed intention to deepen controls in order to protect the health of the people, and without denying the priority of maintaining the fence over such a dangerous disease, it is obvious that the new commandments abound in criticism by and prohibitions to the population – some of them bordering on the absurd or exaggerated – and focus on disciplinary measures for those who dare to transgress these taboos, but the obligations and responsibilities that the authorities must fulfill have been left in an extremely diffuse limbo, as usual.

Let us take, for example, the omission of the functions that the different instances of the government and the Ministry of Health would be obliged to guarantee in terms of material, hygiene and service conditions, both at the hospital level and at the so-called “isolation centers”, taking into account the numerous complaints issued by those admitted to these places during phase I of the outbreak.

Another dark point is the responsibility that those same authorities have to transfer people to hospitals requiring urgent attention, not necessarily cases related to the Covid virus, especially between the hours of seven in the afternoon to five in the morning during which mobility of people and vehicles is expressly prohibited, under penalty of loss of registration and circulation to unauthorized vehicles traveling during those times.

Furthermore, in accordance with the new restrictions, the Governor has been empowered “with a legal instrument that allows the application of severe fines against various cases of social indiscipline” during this period. Said fines must be paid within a period not exceeding 10 days, otherwise, the original amount will be doubled, and if not paid within 30 days, the offenders will be subject to criminal charges. All this in a scenario of economic and social paralysis where the majority of the State workers remain furloughed, receiving 60% of their salary and in some cases receiving no income, while workers in the private sector (the self-employed) have not received any financial help at all).

As expected, the arbitrary and biased nature of the official provisions and their application, as well as the “impunity from the top” are perfectly reflected in the absence of entities or legal mechanisms with the capacity to sanction authorities at any level, including the Governor himself, in the event that those authorities or their subordinates are the ones who (again) violate the regulations or fail to fulfill their unstated obligations.

In any case, the next two weeks will be a real challenge for law enforcement officials in charge of implementation in the most complex theater of operations and, demonstrably, one of the most difficult to control for law enforcement officials: the Cuban capital. A veritable testing ground — to paraphrase a friend who defined it this way — where those same agents have dealt, with little or no success, with illegalities, the informal market (“immortal”, I should say) and corruption, when they have not formed part of that long chain.

And this is precisely where the new restrictions are ultimately aimed: refining and reinforcing repressive structures. The draconian measures that will rule in Havana in the next two weeks rather suggest a trial exercise to oil — as far as possible — the repressive mechanisms in the face of possible sources of disturbances that could occur in the coming months, not due to claims of a political nature, taking into account the civic circumstances and political ignorance of “the masses”, but because of the unstoppable advance of the shortage crisis that threatens to worsen and that will hit the poorest households with greater force.

Curfew, severe sanctions, watertight separation of the population (each isolated in its municipality), drastic limitation of movement of people and vehicles, perhaps they could be part of a tactic aimed at facilitating the response to the popular discontent. More than the control of COVID-19, a twisted strategy to perpetuate a much more virulent and damaging epidemic: that of the Castro legacy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Clandestinos: a Scandalous Silence

Image of a bust of José Martí supposedly covered in pig’s blood, released by the Clandestinos group at the beginning of the year. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — Popular voices state that sometimes forgetting is healthier than remembering. This maxim could well be applied to the case of a supposed anti-Castro organization that upset the social networks in the first days of January of this year with its coming out appearance using a controversial method of rebellion: covering with pig’s blood several busts of José Martí and the occasional public billboard in which the image of the deceased Castro appeared.

Either because of the intangibility of the Clandestinos – the name by which the group was known — or because of their unexpected appearance, because they hid their identity using masks that completely covered their faces, because they always acted during night hours and because, in addition, they shot short videos that were later published on social networks to record their alleged activities, the truth is that these elusive rebels captured the attention of Internet users and of multiple digital media, unleashing fierce debates between supporters and detractors and breaking the usual apathy of the Cuban political opposition scene.

There were many angry voices criticizing what they considered a serious desecration of the memory of the most revered Cuban of all time – José Martí, it is understood — but it must be recognized that Clandestinos managed to attract the sympathy of a large part of the emigration and of activists of different ideologies, as well as activists of the most diverse agendas and several independent journalists within the Island who, with absolute lack of judgment, joined the hashtag #TodosSomosClandestinos [#We’re are all Clandestinos] and began to share videos and photos of the alleged actions of the new freedom champions. continue reading

 There certainly never was in the opposition universe of the Castro era another group so ghostly, with such a meteoric rise, such a resounding fall or such an ephemeral life

Furthermore, during the first week of the year, and with the irrational passion that characterizes the national temperament, questioning the very existence of the Clandestinos or launching any reasoning that could cast a shadow of suspicion on the heroes of the moment or their actions — which no one could even contrast — to the most radical spirits it was the equivalent of the worst betrayal of the anti-Castro cause, if not a test of “being at the service of the dictatorship.”

However, the mirage was short-lived. There was never in the opposition universe of the Castro era another group so ghostly for sure, with such a meteoric rise, such a resounding fall or such a fleeting life. Barely a week elapsed between the appearance of the first video of Clandestinos in cyberspace, on January 1st, until the official note was issued through the National Television News (NTV), on the 8th of the same month, reporting on the capture of the authors of those “acts of vandalism”.

Now without theatrical masks and without a hint of glamour, the images of Panter Rodríguez Baró and Yoel Prieto Tamayo, the alleged Clandestinos, were exposed in the media monopoly of the Castro press. Following the typical State Security scheme, both were classified as antisocial with a criminal record for possession and consumption of drugs, whose actions, financed by the usual villains — that is, “stateless people” from Florida — were part of “a dirty media maneuver to make believe that there is a climate of insecurity and violence in Cuba. ”

Judging by the corresponding report with which these “victories” of the Plaza de la Revolución are usually accompanied, that group of anonymous warriors of national scope turned out to be a duo restricted to Havana.

And so, devoid of a single applause or tears, the drama ended. In stark contrast to the scramble they had sparked during their brief stint on the media scene, a tombstone of silence and oblivion has since closed over the Clandestinos.

Interestingly, in the six months since then, not one of their passionate supporters has called for a campaign for the release of these courageous anti-Castro fighters. Nobody wonders where they are or what state they are in, locked in the dark cells of State Security, if they really are there. In fact, the names of Panter and Yoel are not even on the lists of politically motivated prisoners that are regularly updated by different organizations.

Since the arrest and the beginning of the criminal investigation process of the case, the official media has not mentioned a word about the topic

No less intriguing is the silence from the opposite end of the spectrum. Since the arrest and the beginning of the criminal investigation process of the case, the official media have not mentioned a word about the issue, despite the fact that, in the heat of that comical report, the most seasoned revolutionaries went so far as to suggest the application of the death penalty against the conspicuous masked men for the crime of affront to the fatherland.

It is suspicious at least that tarnishing the memory of the National Hero represents a minor crime — and therefore able to be postponed — compared to crimes as abominable as the hoarding of onions, the resale of toiletries, the dealing in auto parts, the illegal trafficking of people’s spaces waiting in lines or cheese making, which in recent times and almost every day occupies a priority in the final minutes of the TV news.

This time, although for different reasons, one of those exceptional coincidences is apparently taking place in which opposite extremes — the Castro regime, by some obscure interest and its most staunch adversaries on both sides of the Florida Strait, by perception of the ridiculous – opted for the same strategy: to spread a pious mantle on an issue that may be uncomfortable for both sides.

We have yet to see if in the near future the Clandestinos return to the fore and the Cuban authorities mount a model mock trial. Although, personally, I would still have reservations. Who knows if, as a colleague pointed out, one day we will recognize Panter or Yoel serving as custodians in a foreign embassy in Havana. It is known that the decisions of State Security are inscrutable.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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Cuba, Monetary Unification and “The Horizon” for its Destiny / Miriam Celaya

The Cuban Economy and the Dual Monetary System. (Photo AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 August 2020 — A note recently published by the official Cuban press discusses once again the much harped on and, so far, unresolved issue of monetary unification, through an interview conducted by its author with various specialists from the Central Bank of Cuba.

Said officials agreed on the importance of monetary and exchange unification as a “necessary, although not sufficient, condition to reorder and update the national economy,” and offered their vision on the origins of the dual currency and its historical antecedents, with an explanation about what would be the ideal economic environment of the country for (finally) money to fulfill its functions.

It would be useless to repeat what was said by the experts, who are, after all, government officials whose speech does not differ from the countless explanations poured out on this controversial issue since 2011 when the then General-President had an epiphany and declared that it was time to unify the two national currencies. Almost ten years later, the miracle has not yet to take place. continue reading

It would be expected that these senior bureaucrats of the national coffers, protagonists of the reference note, would have offered us some advance on the solution strategies that — supposedly — are being applied to cut the Gordian knot of the monetary and exchange rate duality. Or, at the very least, they should have clarified where we stand in the steps and stages that were supposedly planned in the “Guidelines,” and that would be taking place to make possible (if only!) the long-awaited unification.

We would have appreciated being enlightened in the midst of a reality so chaotic and obscure that the currencies — far from being unified — continue to diversify. The recent irruption of foreign currencies in the national trading system multiplies the distortions, deepening the devaluation of Cuban currencies, strengthening the black exchange market and reinforcing the already large social gaps existing between the poorer sectors, who have no access to foreign currency and those who are better off (the “privileged”) and may rely on some source of income in foreign currency.

In other words, the most damaging thing at a social level today, beyond the financial, is no longer the old problem of the existence of two currencies, but the coexistence of two types of currencies: on the one hand, the local ones (CUP and CUC), with a physical presence in the depressed national commerce, without real value and without financial backing, a sad imitation of the old tokens issued by sugar mills with colonial heritage.  On the other, foreign currencies, with real value but with only virtual presence (overlapping dollarization), and privileged within the national trading system itself (commercial apartheid) with the provision of markets exclusively for those who have access to them through debit cards attached to bank accounts in freely convertible currency.

Obviously, although the urgency of gaining control over hard currencies foreign exchange is undeniable, which, according to vernacular experts, should theoretically help accelerate monetary unification, this would be an extremely long process in practice, due to the internal economic crisis aggravated by the severe global economic one related to the COVID-19 pandemic, concurrent  with unpredictable social costs.  All that, taking into account the tension and the growing discontent in Cuba, the increase in repressive measures and police and para-police controls, and the evident distancing between “the government” and “the governed”.

So, in the midst of such a storm “cleaning up internal finances” and “creating an ideal environment for Cuban money to fulfill its functions” will be quite unlikely — to use a nice adjective — unless the hierarchs have some trick up their sleeve, which has never been favorable for common Cubans.

Despite all this, and with regard to the illusory monetary unification, Karina Cruz Simón, a specialist in the Directorate of Economic Studies, offered premises that constitute pure chimeras in light of the current situation. The “key”, the expert suggests, is to stabilize the national currency.  This may be achieved, among other factors, by “ensuring that the money issuance processes correspond to the evolution of the real or productive economy.”

What this official does not mention is how she thinks such a spell can be performed. As if it had not been sufficiently proven throughout the entire Castro experiment that a “real or productive” economy urgently requires promoting a profound transformation of property relations in Cuba without further delay: another equally complex and long-standing distortion that began since the very dawn of the so-called Revolution which has been the basis of the national economic disaster.

Achieving this “favorable scenario so that the Cuban peso can fulfill its functions and preserve macroeconomic balances” does not depend only (or magically) on the factors mentioned by Cruz Simón, which is also unattainable if Cuba does not open up to the market economy and if, simultaneously, the economic, political and social rights of its citizens are not recognized so that they can participate as protagonists and not as hostages in the new economic scenario.

The fundamental obstacle to advancing on both sides of the necessary unification and revaluation of the national currency — economics and finance — is the obsolete and proven failed principle of “general economic planning”, which is the new euphemism when referring to a centralized economy.

In reality, all the “renovating” proposals launched so far by the political Power in order to “get the economy moving” only tend to shield this failed official centralism and to perpetuate the privileges of Power. It is this stubbornness that prevents the economy from advancing in the first place and, in the last place, makes monetary unification possible. When you have lived 60 years in totalitarianism and uninterrupted economic disasters, it is not necessary to be a specialist in the field to understand it that way.

However, so we are not faulted as unfair, it will be necessary to recognize some coherence. Already the very heading of the state-owned newspaper Granma’s note announced it bluntly: the monetary unification of Cuba is “on the horizon”… And it is known that the horizon is an imaginary and unattainable line. It is on this line that Power has always placed all its promises of prosperity, and where our destinies continue. At least they have never lied to us about that.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: The “Strategy” of Desperation

(Photo: Estudios Revolución)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 July 2020 — If I had to briefly describe the general impression that emerges from the new Economic and Social Strategy of the Cuba’s upper echelons of power, I would choose three preliminary adjectives: wrong, late and incomplete.

It is wrong because it continues to estimate in a foreign currency what they call “impulse to the economic development of the country” – more noteworthy, in the “enemy’s” foreign currency which supposedly generates all the ills – and in items that are not related at all to the results of the production of the (ruined) national industry: family remittances from abroad, the eternally “potential” foreign investment capital and the eventual foreign tourism income, now disappeared.

It is late because each and every one of the proposed guidelines, such as the “flexibilities” announced for the private sector, financial “autonomy” for state-owned companies, the introduction of micro and small and medium-sized companies, among other measures could and should have been implemented many years ago, especially during the thaw period, with the administration of the then-US President, Barack Obama, when the Castro regime had its best opportunity to implement these and other changes. continue reading

On the other hand, the official proposal for economic reforms in the current national and international context (though it is noteworthy that the term “reforms” was not uttered), far from projecting an alleged interest of the power claque to expand the economic potential of citizens or a real desire for change, only evidences despair and a sense of urgency to increase hard currencies.

But perhaps the most relevant feature of this official strategy, which they now offer as the holy grail to try to revive the depressed economy, is its incompleteness. And here, it is worth dwelling on several root considerations when it comes to economic efficiency.

According to the leaders of the Castro court, the priority objective of all the theoretical-strategic scaffolding – which until now is only about that: theory and intentions – is food production. In fact, the spokesman of the constituents of the Political Bureau of the PCC, comrade Díaz-Canel, in his scolding speech before the Council of Ministers on the morning of July 16th made reference to the urgent need to achieve “food sovereignty”, a kind of religious invocation resulting from the delusions of the Deceased-in-Chief, whose status has never advanced beyond that of a chimera, and who only sounds yet again like a bad omen in the current scenario.

But, getting to the heart of the matter, producing food at a level that satisfies domestic demand, substitutes imports and even generates income from exports – as these hallucinated ones claim – necessarily goes through the everlasting problem of property relations over land, a critical point of which no mention was made on last Thursday’s Roundtable television program.

If the farmer is not the legitimate owner of the land he works; if, in addition, laws (not simple paper “strategies”) that grant legal nature and protection to the producer are not implemented; if the inopportune interventions of the State that establish price limits, criminalize commerce or impose leonine taxes are not irreversibly suspended; in short, if, simultaneously with the “flexibilities” in the economy, the corresponding civil and political rights are not recognized for citizens, there will be no effective progress, nor will the necessary and profound changes take place.

The official rhetoric, so worn and rotten that its seams seem to pop, deserves a full stop.  About said rhetoric I will only mention some brushstrokes that stand out in the midst of the ideological patch that preceded the information on the masterful “Strategy”, through the intervention (in effigy) of the president by appointment, which makes clear the absence of a compass of a political power that weighs itself down as obsolete and ineffective.

When Díaz-Canel, in his parliament, reminiscent of a “Cantinflas”* movie plot, declares that “to benefit everyone, sometimes you have to take measures that seem to favor a few but in the long run favor everyone”, and when the differentiation of access to goods is established as a norm and services according to the income of citizens, privileging those who receive foreign exchange – to the detriment of the state worker who receives his salary in national currency (CUP) and the most humble sectors of society, without access to remittances or other income – and establishing the bases for a new and deeper social gap between the poor and the rich, are in fact establishing the same “neoliberal” strategies that have been so widely criticized by the seat of power when it comes to other governments in other latitudes.

But if, to add to the humiliation, the official media offers to the most disadvantaged the promise of two “additional” pounds of rice and six ounces of beans, to be distributed for two months through the ration card, then discrimination is compounded by insult.

Hopefully, all of us Cubans, here or overseas, will finally place ourselves at the height of the conflict. This time it is worth paraphrasing the maker of national ruin to tell those who humiliate and insult us from the seat of power that we don’t want them; we don’t need them.

*Translator’s note: Cantinflesco: A term derived from Mexican actor Mario Moreno Cantiflas’ movie genre: laughable, ridiculous, caricature-like.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Medications Crisis in Cuba: Rationing vs. Reasoning / Miriam Celaya

Pharmacy in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 June 2020 – Another hot summer day has barely dawned in the city, but dozens of people are already gathered in the vestibule at the Carlos III Pharmacy in Central Havana. The day before, the drugs were “unloaded” and since quantity and variety of the assortment never meets demand, exactly every ten days an anxious human conglomerate fills the area and its surroundings for several hours.

In the past three to four years, drug shortages have become an increasingly tricky topic at this medical powerhouse. The impact of the crisis is such that neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the importing companies -both monopolies of the State- are able to insure even those drugs assigned to patients with chronic diseases, acquired through the Controlled Medicines Acquisition Card, popularly known as “the big card”.

“I warn you that only part of the Enalapril arrived, and antihistamines or dipyrone, medformin, or psychotropic drugs didn’t arrive either, so those who come looking for this already know it, and don’t bother to line up!”, warns one of the pharmacy employees, who has come out to face the crowd like a gladiator before lions. The answer, in effect, is a kind of collective roar. Discontent spreads. continue reading

Moments later the same employee returns to the crowded vestibule to report, with the same subtlety, about the great “solution” that pharmacies are going to apply to the shortage of medicines: “Shut up and pay attention here, so you can’t later say that you didn’t know!” Right after that, he makes an announcement that only half of the dose prescribed by the corresponding doctor will be filled for each card. And he ends with an absolutely irrational warning: “So save [your medicines]!”

The supposedly altruistic idea is that with this rationing of what has already been rationed, a greater number of patients have the possibility of acquiring part of the medicine that is required to treat their ailment. The bad news is that, in practice – and by the grace of the authority of the administrators of destitution – what this achieves is the multiplication of the number of people who cannot duly comply  with what is indicated by a trained physician, and consequently, the risks of health complications that are derived, increase.  Numerous of these cases include extremely serious events, such as cerebral or cardiovascular infarctions, hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia and kidney problems, just to mention a few.

Thus, the alternative to these shortages ignores such a basic principle that can be stated simply and mathematically: consuming half the dose equals twice the risk for patients. Because it so happens that there are no half-hypertensive, half-cardiac or half-diabetic cases. Health problems cannot be adapted to the inadequacy of the medicine market.

If it were not for the highly vaunted benefits of a Revolution that leaves no one helpless, we could imagine that we are witnessing a scenario of neo-Malthusianism, where the excess of population added to the increasing scarcity of resources imposes an inevitable socio-demographic selection: the weakest, the old, the ones with lowest incomes and the sick will be the decimated sectors and only the most solvent, strong, young and healthy will survive without further damage, be it or not- or not necessarily-  a State policy.

It is obvious that, despite the accelerated aging of the population in Cuba and with that the increase in chronic patients with diseases related to advanced age, an effective government strategy was never devised to alleviate the stumbling blocks of the fragile national pharmaceutical industry or to protect the so-called “pharmacological groups by control cards”.

Going back in time and appealing to the long history of shortages on the Island, there are numerous drugs that have disappeared from the shelves since the 1990’s, never to return. Even those that were once available over the counter began to be sold by prescription only, a situation that remains to this day. Pharmacy supplies have never come close to what it was until 1989, despite frequent official promises for improvements or recovery of the industry.

Furthermore, the crisis has become so severe that eventually the official press has been forced to bring up the matter. Thus, for example, on 3 February 2018, the article On the Pharmacy Counter (by Julio Martínez Molina) appeared on the digital page of the State newspaper Granma, reporting that in 2017 dozens of shortages of drugs had been reported in throughout the country that year, and the persistence of “the absence of high demand pharmacological items” had been acknowledged, among them hypotensive, antidepressant, anti-ulcer medications and many more.

The BioCubaFarma association reported that the instability in drug deliveries was due to “the lack of adequate financing to pay suppliers of raw materials, packaging materials and expenses.” There was no lack of the favorite “blockade” among the causes for the pothole, which forced “the use of third countries to acquire equipment, American-made spare parts, chemical reagents, etc.”

Other data pointed to interesting figures: of the 801 drugs that make up “the basic picture” of Cuba’s drug demand, BioCubaFarma was responsible for 63%. In total, 505 medicines were produced by the National Pharmaceutical Industry and 286 were imported by the Ministry of Health (MINSAP); while of the 370 lines that were distributed to the pharmacy network, 301 were domestically produced and 69 imported.

Despite everything, explained authorities in the pharmaceutical industry, the critical situation “would change gradually” (would improve), up to the recovery of the production and distribution of medicines, which should take place around the first quarter of 2019.

But BioCubaFarma officials also suggested that the doctors carry some of the responsibility for not being sufficiently informed about the supplies of the drugs they prescribed to patients. “If the doctor has the correct information about the difficulties of a certain medicine, he should avoid prescribing it.”

The real problem, beyond this colossal simplicity, was, and still is, the almost absolute shortage of entire groups of medications, including antibiotics to fight infections or analgesics for pain relief which has caused many doctors – at the risk of being penalized – to recommend to their patients to arrange for their own medicines through family or friends overseas.

In 2018, during a presentation before the National Assembly, the then Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, beckoned to “combat the misuse of medical prescriptions”, an exhortation that automatically led to the rationing of the doctors’ prescription books. After that, they would receive a limited number of these in order to tackle mismanagement among corrupt doctors and medicine smugglers, a business that had been confirmed for years and that grew in direct proportion to the decrease in supply in legal networks.

This was the rampant official strategy designed to eradicate the wide and deep hole of illegal maneuvers that let medicines slip through pharmacy networks, aggravating shortages and feeding the informal market. Simultaneously, a limit was also placed on the number of medications that could be indicated in each prescription, which – oh, paradox! – forced doctors to issue a greater number of prescriptions to each patient.

The result of so much nonsense was immediate: the drug smugglers diversified their strategies, but survived, while the insane rationalization of prescription books had a null, if not counterproductive effect, in the control of medications.

Meanwhile, more than two years after BioCubaFarma’s triumphant promises, and far from improving, the shortage of medicines in Cuba has deepened and is headed to getting even worse. Because at the end of the day it is not a medication crisis but a system whose disease has no cure.

Just around noon, the Carlos III’s Pharmacy had run out of medications. The line scatters, among whispers, complaints, and resigned faces. The curtain falls on a scene that will repeat itself in exactly ten days.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cart Vendors, in the Spotlight of Havana’s Police

Citizen defenselessness widens and expands in direct relation to the deepening of the general crisis of the system. (14ymedio / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 June 2020 – Very early in the morning, Yasmani gulped down his usual sip of coffee before going out into the street with his cart to sell fruits and other agricultural products in the municipality of Centro Habana. He did not imagine that this would be his last working day in the time of Covid-19, which continues to hit the Cuban capital.

Yasmani was one of the few cart vendors licensed by Cuba’s National Tax Administration Office (Onat) who, for over a decade, had managed to survive harassment, confiscations during police operations, temporary arrests, extortion by inspectors and whatever abuse the authorities have committed against this reviled niche of the private sector, euphemistically baptized as “self-employed.”

Yasmani is the typical merchant known among Cubans as a ‘fighter’. He is persevering, intelligent and a hard-working man, someone who occasionally “gets his foot on the door” and is always “up and about,” able to bounce back from calamity time and time again, and in a short time sneak back into the complicated trade network of the Cuban capital, always in a fragile balance between what is allowed, what is accepted, what is illegal and what is prohibited. continue reading

This pragmatic entrepreneur came to possess two rolling devices for selling his merchandise, which were quickly confiscated by the police and because of which he was on the verge of losing his license and going to trial.

Years back, there were better times for this empirical entrepreneur, who came to possess two rolling devices for the sale of his merchandise. The carts were soon confiscated by the police and he almost lost his license and went to court, accused of “illicit enrichment”. He came out of that and other shocks thanks to the usual procedure: placing generous and timely bribes in the appropriate pockets.

Yasmani has always managed to make his cart one of those with the best assortment in his neighborhood, and also the one selling the best quality products of its kind, thanks to his longstanding contacts with private suppliers and his astuteness to duly justify each and every one items of merchandise.

This has been the way in which this young family man has earned a living, between mishaps with the authorities and brief periods of relative peace, and has pursued his and his family’s livelihoods. Until that fateful morning, while he was waiting on a customer and he saw a vehicle from the Revolutionary Armed Forces Prevention Corps – popularly known as “red berets” – slowly approaching, straight for him.

“At first, I thought they were going to ask me for directions or something like that, but I immediately noticed a bad attitude and knew that they were coming against my business. I have already had so many problems with inspectors, corrupt police and almost as many insolent officials as there are in this country that I was not surprised that these people also came to take a slice off me. But what I did not imagine is that they were going to treat me with so much bullying,” shares Yasmani.

I have already had so many problems with inspectors, corrupt police and almost as many insolent officials as there are in this country that I was not surprised that these people also came to take a slice off me

Two young men “with awful dog faces” got out of the vehicle and, without a greeting or explanation, told him that he had to collect everything and leave. “Selling is forbidden, and you know that; don’t be a smart ass.”

The small merchant’s complaining or his insistence on trying to find out what the correct answer to such arbitrary response was, remained unanswered. Why had the Onat not informed him of the business closing, or whether it was a temporary provision related to some strategy around Covid-19 and its significant incidence in Central Havana. In particular, Yasmani wanted to know why it was the Army Prevention Forces and not the common police who were targeting a civilian like him, since the country was not at war and without a curfew or any another extraordinary measure having been declared by the highest authority.

Far from receiving any explanation, his questions only succeeded in further irritating the military men. The one who seemed the least young of them confronted him, with an attitude between menacing and mocking, as he cast fierce glances at the customers and neighbors who had gathered at the location. “Ah, are you going go crazy and act like a fighting cock? Are you a ‘leader’ in this neighborhood? Don’t you don’t know that there is an emergency in the country and the Army is in charge of everything? Where do you live? Let’s see?”

Yasmani pointed him towards the nearby building where he has resided since he was born. “I live there, where that balcony is, with the hanging diapers, which belong to my son whom I have to feed. And no, I have not heard of any emergency. They haven’t even mentioned that in the news.”

The military man did not flinch. “Well, it is better that you live nearby, so it won’t be too much trouble for you to take away all of this. And when it happens again, if you haven’t, we are going to take you and then it won’t be to your house.” After that final bravado, the repressors left arrogantly, visibly proud of the awe they had awakened among the witnesses of that infamous scene. Some supportive neighbors helped the incensed merchant carry his tiny rolling agricultural-market home and assisted him in storing his produce.

“Well, it is better that you live nearby, so it will not be too hard for you to take away all of this.  And the next time it happens, if you haven’t left, we will take you and then it will not to your house”

Since then, Yasmani and the rest of the few cart drivers who barely kept selling their products through thick and thin have disappeared from the intricate landscape of Central Havana without an Onat official having come forward to explain or to tell them if, at any unknown date they will be able to return to their activities of earning a living and punctually paying their taxes to the treasury.

“It is of no use that we pay taxes and social security or that no union has been invented for this sector. Self-employed workers do not have labor rights and we do not receive cash aid as is guaranteed to the state sector, possibly with the same funds that we contribute to the treasury”, complains Yasmani. And he adds: “What they are doing with this is forcing me to return to the black market, to contraband, to illegality, because my family is not going to starve.” So I ask him what he plans to do and his answer is blunt: “Whatever it takes.”

Thus, from one official ineptness to another, social unrest continues to grow. And now, as if the police deployment that has enthroned itself in public spaces of the Cuban capital in recent months were not enough, the Army’s repressive bodies now come to directly join the repression against civilians without the existence of an extraordinary official statement to justify such an excess of its functions and powers. Citizen defenselessness widens and expands in direct relation to the deepening of the general crisis of the system.

Betsy Díaz Velázquez said that “the established retail networks, both state-owned and self-employed, would be taken advantage of, including the points of sale of the so-called cart vendors”

Not only are we facing the serious combination of an irreparable economic crisis, aggravated by an epidemic which has not officially been recognized, but the country is also heading, decapitated and without compass, precariously commanded by a group of improvised cabin boys who at any cost try to hold onto the cover of the vessel on the brink of being shipwrecked.

The country’s top leadership has again demonstrated its inability to meet its own minimum guidelines. Suffice it to recall that on March 20th, in a special appearance on The Roundtable TV program, the Minister of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, declared that – with a view to expanding the sale of agricultural products and avoiding the concentration of people at fairs and agricultural markets – “would take advantage of established retail networks, both state and self-employed, including the points of sale of the so-called cart vendors.” This would not only optimize food distribution, but would bring them closer to the population.

Behold, just over two months after such resolves were announced, food is increasingly moving away from the tables, and uncertainty and hunger are looming over Cuban households. Things are very bad if the government’s response to the crisis is the multiplication of the repressive forces and the army on the streets. In these times of frustration and hopelessness the lords of power could not send us a worse message.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

COVID-19 in Cuba: Eliminated by Decree? / Miriam Celaya

Masked police agent controls line to buy food in Havana (photo file)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 May 2020 — If the Cuban official figures are taken as true, we could be certain that the days are numbered for the COVID-19 epidemic on the Island. In fact, saying “epidemic” is to disagree with the phases which the Chinese flu has gone through in Cuba, as established by the authorities, since in the more than two months that have transpired since the first cases were confirmed – three Italian tourists who presented with symptoms and tested positive – up to now, an epidemiological alarm stage has never been declared in the country.

The numbers trend indicates such a sharp and rapid drop that fear of contagion has begun to fade among the population and the perception of risk has been largely lost. Almost no one remembers that just a month ago the Cuban health authorities predicted the approximate date of mid-May for the “peak” of COVID-19 in Cuba; a forecast that was updated shortly after, on April 27th, when the pro-government site Cubadebate announced that it would actually take place during the following week, between May 4th  and 10th.

We would thus place ourselves 77 days at the midpoint of the international peak, we would have a minimum peak of 1,500 cases and a maximum of 2,500 cases, instead of the 4,500 cases originally anticipated. Cuba – Cubadebate also reassured – would not go through a “critical scenario.” continue reading

In line with such good wishes and apparently in compliance with the guidance of Mr. Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president, who shortly before had declared that the patient numbers were very high and it was necessary to lower them, the MINSAP report of the same day, April 27th acknowledged only 20 new positive cases (out of 1823 samples analyzed). The figure more than doubled (with 48 cases in 1859 samples) the following day, before starting a sustained decrease in the trend, only interrupted on May 2nd, when the exception of an increase of 74 cases was registered. Since then, and up to the writing of this article, there has been a downward trend, with slight fluctuations that averaged 9.85 cases of infection in the last week (May 18th to May 24th).

It is worth pointing out that, regardless of the natural mistrust that official statistical data may arouse in a country where a strong monopoly of information is maintained, and where secrecy prevails and there are no independent institutions of the State against which to compare these reports, the truth is that everything indicates that the Chinese flu has not spread with the same virulence on the Island as in other regions. This is especially the case if we bear in mind that – in view of the imperatives of searching for food, medicine and other products of basic necessity on the part of the population – the measures of social isolation and distancing between people, in addition to quarantines in disease cluster zones that were established by the OMS and formally reiterated by the government, have not been practiced.

However, the crowds circulating through the streets, the lines in front of the scarcely supplied markets where hundreds of people gather, among other agglomerations, are the perfect breeding ground for the spread of a pandemic that in most countries has been claiming hundreds or thousands of human lives. And this is why, considering the low overall incidence of the pandemic among us, many ordinary Cubans have begun to believe that the Island is protected by some divine miracle.

And while that feeling, a mixture of false immunity and trickery, is spreading dangerously among the poorest (and also most vulnerable) people, one needs to question the low number of tests that have been conducted – a total of 95,511 samples analyzed in a population of 11 million inhabitants – and the failure to carry out massive testing, even in neighborhoods where outbreaks of infection have been detected and have been declared “hot zones.” In official reports, and only in them – these neighborhoods have been placed under a supposed “quarantine,” although in fact they have been kept open to the free movement of people.

Fewer still are those who associate this miraculous drop in infections in Cuba with certain information – apparently unrelated – that have begun to appear on official sites, as if by chance. Thus, for example, there is already talk of returning to an opening to international tourism as soon as this coming June. The “closure” of the Varadero beach resort has been announced to nationals, and the airport in that town is also undergoing an accelerated renovation process. The Varadero hotel workers and those of the resorts at Jardines del Rey are being quietly reinstated to their respective positions.

Of course, to sell ourselves as a reliable tourist market, it is urgent to eliminate the Chinese flu as soon as possible, which is why the official treatment of the figures always has as its ally the naive tendency to confuse reality with wishes on the part of the average Cuban, together with the urgent need to generate family income in a country where no free food aid or monetary support has been distributed by the State during these months of unemployment.

Thus, step by step – or perhaps “without haste but without pause,” as the previous president once coined the phrase – in Cuba we are perhaps approaching the long-awaited “coup de grace” to COVID-19 that the hand-picked current president, Díaz-Canel, asked for, no matter how much a stubborn group of skeptics may distrust it.

The case could not be more sui generis: it would be the first time that a never-declared epidemic was eliminated from the national scene, not because of a revolutionary mass vaccination – such as those that once banished (it is fair to admit) many other diseases – but practically because of an “unwritten official decree.” And so it will be, because, whether we like it or not, certain “miracles” only happen under totalitarian regimes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: Economic Purges and Collateral Damages

Manuel Marrero and Díaz-Canel in a meeting on COVID-19 (Photo: Granma)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 April 2020 — In the course of the last few weeks, Cubans have been witnessing an unusual government offensive against economic crime. With such an onslaught, which is inserted in the midst of the “battle” against COVID-19, the authorities are trying to put into practice the promise of punishment to serve as an example for all those who are trying to profit at the expense of the needs of the people, a need that is increasing, since the resources available in the country are in short supply.

This time the cleansing is so intense and the circulation of the frequent operatives against acts of misuse of state resources, warehouse robberies and food resale on the black market has been so overstated through the Castro press monopoly, that some unofficial media have concluded, perhaps in a very risky way, that we are facing an “increase” in these crimes.

Reality, however, tends to contradict this assertion, since the crimes alluded to in the national economic sphere are long-standing. Furthermore, not only have they been present for decades in the day-to-day life of Cubans, but it can be stated that they have constituted a more constant, efficient and competitive source of food than the State itself throughout that time. The difference is that, in the current circumstances, there is an evident political will to make them visible, either as a warning, as an intimidating message to the whole society over which the State has absolute control, or as an anticipated demonstration of power in the face of worse times that have yet to come. continue reading

Be that as it may, the unquestionable truth is that where there are deficits, rationing and shortages, economic crime and contraband always flourish, which do not diminish the punishable character of any infraction of this nature or the aggravating quality of their execution in times of pandemic.

That said, other aspects of the matter must be added which the official media would prefer to omit. One of them is the contrast between “justice” that applies the full accuracy of the law against transgressors only “at the grassroots level”, and to the privileged, who enjoy the most rampant impunity.

Because it turns out that, while an entire army of police, inspectors and the military equally repress managers of establishments that trade in food, truck drivers, transporters – private or state – and habitual street vendors who prowl around the markets, the State allows itself to keep soaring prices (“unsubsidized”, is the official phrase) on basic necessities, including the already famous and meager “modules” that have been distributed throughout the commercial networks destined to the use of the ration card.

All this, despite the low income of the population and the fact that the majority of Cubans are currently “available” – a euphemism that replaces the terms “unemployed” or “laid off” – or receive only 60% of their already insufficient wages due to the social isolation measures imposed.

Apparently, “speculation” doesn’t apply to the sale of ‘baskets’ for home consumption from several hotels in the Cuban capital which went on for a few days with prices between 25 and 35 CUC, which could only be acquired by some social sectors, not only due to their high cost, but for the inability of the managers to maintain this offer.

And these are just sample buttons of Cuban governmental altruism in times of pandemic.

Thus, in the infinite absurdity of the Cuban socio-economic model and its justice system, parallel worlds survive where, on the one hand, the detentions and arrests of “suspects” of economic crime — treated in principle as culprits without corresponding investigations and trials having been carried out — and on the other, the use of State vehicles for abundant food distribution to homes of the ruling class and its high-ranking acolytes, frequently documented on social networks. Which explains why these privileged few have never been seen in the endless lines for food, detergents and other essential products.

Another edge that envelopes the government’s justice efforts in a halo of mystery is the fate of the products seized in the numerous police operations. So far, no official press report has followed-up on the seized merchandise to sales platforms or to food processing centers for the lowest income families, known in Cuba under the pejorative heading of “social cases”. It could be said that there is a sort of Bermuda Triangle between clandestine refrigerators, unauthorized agricultural products that are transported in trucks, pedicabs or wheelbarrows and the dining tables of Cubans.

And, finally, the official disclosure of the essential issue in this entire saga is pending: is there any government plan to replace the invaluable work of providers to Cuban families that have fallen to smugglers and small-time dealers for so long? Do the country’s constituents have a notion of the magnitude of what we can call “collateral damage”? Is it that they have prepared for us a ready battalion of “pure or emerging administrators” capable of managing warehouses and businesses without getting corrupted?

Because it is fair to recognize that this crusade for economic purity (of others) that the authorities are waging is going to be reflected rigorously on the tables and in the pockets of the millions of people who do not enjoy the privilege of the Power class or those who don’t have their income derived from remittances sent from exiles abroad, which is why they are forced to appeal to the underground market to obtain what is necessary, almost always at prices slightly lower than those of the official market.

All of which places before us other essential questions. Where is the master plan that will finally unlock the productive chain, decentralize the inefficient economic model and make it possible to alleviate – at least – food deficiencies? Or to focus it better, is there a plan?

So far, there are no answers, and once again it has been shown that the only effective thing in the Cuban model is the proliferation of repression. In fact, at present it could be stated that it is the repressive activity that has increased, and not economic crimes. The paradox is that both – repression and the aforementioned crimes – are inherent parts of the same system: they are deep-rooted. Therefore, the supposed fight between opposites is nothing but the proper balance of a failed system that encrypts its survival in the galloping and permanent corruption and in the cyclical repressive forces.

The authorities have us so used to such awkwardness that they re-attack the consequences instead of eliminating the causes that create them. Which is perfectly logical: no system could survive if it removed the pillars on which it was founded. So, on we go…

Translated by Norma Whiting

Chronicle of a Shuttered “Interview”

Independent journalist Miriam Celaya received a citation this Tuesday to appear at the Zanja Police Station, at the corner of Lealtad in Havana. (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 March 2020 — They were an hour late. The two young men went to the bench where I was sitting in wait at the Police Station (PNR) on Calle Zanja, in Central Havana, and apologized for the delay: “There was a lack of coordination,” said the one who had obviously been appointed to speak and who, without my asking, later introduced himself as “Alexander.” “It is clear that punctuality is not one of your virtues,” I replied, ignoring his greeting. Because among the worn-out methods of State (In)Security is included subjecting those “summoned” by them to wait in order to produce nervousness or feelings of humiliation. Since I have a healthy and robust sense of self-esteem, those methods did not succeed.

Immediately, Socalledalexander and his companion – who had the role of an ice statue – led me to a small office adjacent to the reception area. The place was small, decadent, dirty, with walls that were once painted in a color that is now between faded blue and dusty gray, and whose furniture is crying out for relief: an old bureau full of old papers and notebooks that clearly no one opens or writes on, a pair of plastic chairs and a worn armchair with a filthy cover that, perhaps since it was the best piece in the room, served as throne for Socalledalexander. The chair assigned to me was right in front of him, while the ice statue took a seat in another chair, very close to me, to my left.

In fairness, we must recognize the coherence between the setting, the institution and the regime it represents

I looked around, making a quick inventory of the props: a fan on the wall blowing only on Socalledalexander’s half-torn black backpack, placed on a fourth chair – who knows with what purpose – a faded photograph of the Nameless and his younger brother, the odd slogan, a curtain of blinds, drawn, split in several places. In fairness, the coherence between the setting, the institution and the regime it represents must be acknowledged. continue reading

Socalledalexander took the floor, his face assumed an expression that tried to be affable and sympathetic, as if I were there of my own free will and not by a citation pregnant with threats: “Well, Miriam, the objective of this meeting is for us to have a conversation to understand each other, to reach agreements “(??????? !!!). Since I am so restrained, I replied immediately that in that case I should notify him in advance that I was not going to fulfill his objective because I had absolutely nothing to discuss with them. I confess that I am somewhat uneasy at seeing people waste their time so miserably, especially if they are young people living in a country where there is so much to do. Anyway.

“Well if you have nothing to say to us, we do have a lot to talk to you about.”
– “Am I under arrest?” I asked.
– “No”
– “In that case I am leaving”
– “No, you cannot go, you are at a PNR (National Revolutionary Police) station where you have been summoned”
– “But I have not been charged with any crime or been detained. I am here under duress.”
– “No, you are here to talk”
– “I already told you that I am not going to talk to you, that you are not valid interlocutor for me and to conduct a conversation requires at least two interested parties.”
– “Well, I see here there are three of us”

At this point I understood that Socalledalexander had serious cognitive problems and I decided that I had already dedicated enough words to him. “Say what you have to say, start your monologue,” I said.

Then Socalledalexander began to complain to the ice statue, regarding my misconduct. The sphinx – whose name was Ricardo and who, probably not by chance, had been my husband’s interviewer last February 27th – barely uttered a whisper of approval in solidarity with his partner. Bad luck for a person as eager to “talk” as Socalledalexander.

“You see? She has the same defiant attitude as her husband, it is a negative attitude that is going to bring her serious consequences; instead of understanding what her situation is, look at what she does.” It was ridiculous. That individual, younger than my two sons, agent of the repressive bodies of the longest dictatorship in this Hemisphere, was trying to give me advice about conduct, mixed with threats. And so, he continued for a few moments while I went on scrutinizing the chaos around me, (I admit that disorganization bothers me a lot, even more so when combined with dirt) being careful not to touch anything with my hands.

Socalledalexander became irritated, but restrained himself and decided to change his strategy. He switched to his Freudian mode, going onto psychoanalysis. “Miriam, I understood that you were an educated person. You do not even look at me when I am addressing you. I had a somewhat different impression… that is not your personality or your character …”

And he came back to, “That is a bad attitude that does not suit you. Next time you will be the one who wants to talk to us. Because you can be sure that there will be a next time, and then we will not be so cordial”. He did say “cordial”, and I must admit that I was surprised that he knew that word. It is probably in the interrogator’s manual, but it was shocking to see that he was able to memorize it. It must have been a superhuman effort for a person whose vocabulary is so pitiful and meagre.

The next step in Socalledalexander’s strategy was to go on academic mode. He appealed to Cuban History, or whatever it is they have led them to believe as Cuban History. “Then we are like in Baraguá, we don’t understand each other,” he said, feeling very wise. And then I could no longer contain my laughter. Excuse me, my diaphragm was already hurting. That burly boy, who could well have been doing something useful, such as cutting the dense marabou that covers so many lands in Cuba or planting some food to alleviate the hunger of so many Cuban families, or looking for any real job, was there, sitting under my nose, acting as a History chairperson.

In his infinite pride, Socalledalexander must have thought he was another Maceo. And in his no less infinite ignorance, he did not know that the Baraguá Protest was actually a bluff that the distinguished Mambí came up with.

In his infinite pride, Socalledalexander was feeling like another Maceo. And in his no less infinite ignorance, he does not know – how should he know, having graduated from those insignificant schools – that the Protest of Baraguá was really a bluff that the distinguished Mambí chief came up with, wounded in his own love for having to bite the dust of the defeat after so many years of hard struggle, to leave Cuba a short time later, precisely on account of the good services of his worst adversary, Arsenio Martínez Campos, and the Crown’s treasury, leaving behind the few troops that followed him to the hills in revolt, that ended up also submitting to the Pact of Zanjón.

Meanwhile, Socalledalexander continued with the same old story about my evil attitude, though not having anything to hold on to. I kept looking at my watch insistently, and for a moment his face lit up. He thought he had me in his hands. “Are you in a hurry, Miriam? Because we are not. We have all the time in the world.”

“No, I’m just curious to know how long it takes you to realize that I’m not going to talk to you.” It took exactly 25 minutes. I have already told you that the guy was short in the brains department.

Several friends have been asking me to narrate this episode on the networks, and I stand ready to please them, but it would be too boring to continue discussing such a sterile subject, so, I conclude. Although, in violation of my own decision, I have inserted the odd phrase, surprised by the colossal arrogance of this handsome young man who tried so hard to look like an Antillean James Bond. I did agree with him in a couple of things, because I am absolutely convinced of both things, so I let him know:

1) “We are not enemies”. Of course not. Repressive agents like Socalledalexander are not up to the task, they do not have the capacity or the necessary skills to be my enemies, they do not have a voice, they do not have freedom, they are nothing more than the instruments of a dictatorship that only uses them and that will give them up in a second, as one discards any nuisance that ceases to be useful to them.

2) “Cuba is going to change, it’s going to change a great deal.” That’s for sure, although Socalledalexander says it in a very different sense. This is precisely what many Cubans work for, in the Island and from all shores, to attain changes in Cuba. Change is inevitable, in fact, it has already begun in the wills and dreams of many good Cubans. We are seeing it and the bosses of these young agents are also seeing it. It will undoubtedly be the change that most of us want and the one they try to prevent: a prosperous and fortunate Cuba, where young people like SocalledAlexander will never again betray its people for the paltry alms and deceptive perks of a dictatorship that, like Rome, pays its traitors, but despises them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Cuban Regime Has Benefited From Its Agreement With The EU

Federica Mogherini and Bruno Rodríguez in 2016, when the agreement that replaced the Common Position was settled. (EEAS)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 March 2020 – Three years have passed since December 2016, when Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla shook hands exultantly with a smiling Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The head of Castro’s diplomacy had every reason to celebrate. After more than two decades of disagreements and the existence of a Common Position since 1996 that conditioned cooperation with Cuba on a democratic transition, the establishment of a rule of law and positive developments in the field of human rights, the signing of an Agreement of a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Cuba had finally been reached, aimed at “achieving a constructive and mutually beneficial approach between the parties.”

The signing of the new agreement was proclaimed by the Island’s official press as “another Cuban triumph against the unilateral and interventionist policies” of the Common Position.

In fact, the signing of the new agreement was proclaimed by the Island’s official press as “another Cuban triumph against the unilateral and interventionist policies” of the Common Position, which was thus automatically repealed. continue reading

However, an analysis of the articles that underlie both EU policies towards Cuba is enough to find that in reality, though there are certain different nuances in their formulations, they are not so different in their content.

It is obvious that much of the content of the Common Position served as the basis when drafting the provisions of the Dialogue Agreement, although there are two relevant differentiating elements aimed at satisfying the demands of the Cuban side: the 2016 agreement does not include the first section where the objective of the EU in its relations with Cuba was specified “to favor a process of transition towards pluralistic democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement of the standard of living of the Cuban people”; and as a second and major difference, the new agreement exceeds the unilateral character of the previous one.

Another similarity that the two agreements share is the complexity of the Cuban situation at the time they were implemented, both in the interior of the Island –with an economy mired in an insurmountable crisis, a growing social unrest and worsening repression – as well as in its difficult relationship with most countries in the region, currently in the midst of a new political map that is adverse to the Castro cupola, especially with the United States.

Now, among the reasons mentioned by the European side to withdraw the Common Position and replace it with another agreement is the ineffectiveness of the Common Position itself, since far from promoting changes towards democracy and in favor of human rights within Cuba, it produced a distancing that prevented the EU from favorably “influencing” Cuba in this regard.

Another stated reason was that despite the policy freeze, throughout the time the Common Position was maintained, there were economic and commercial ties on the part of European businessmen.

Another of the stated reasons was that, despite the policy freeze, throughout the time the Common Position was maintained, there were economic and commercial ties on the part of European businessmen, mainly Spanish, with the Havana regime.

Last but not least, the EU wanted to “distance itself” from the economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation policies applied by Washington against the Island. With this, an external element was introduced in the rugged drift of the EU’s relations with the longest-running dictatorship in this Hemisphere: lo and behold, the powerful northern neighbor emerged as an opportune wild card from someone else’s trick.

Seen this way, it is not very clear if what the Dialogue Agreement is about is to approach Cuba “and its people” or to confront US foreign policy towards the Castro regime, and in the process, to secure the economic and commercial interests of its reckless entrepreneurs on the Island, and to try to save, to some extent, payment of Havana’s huge debt to its European creditors.

Because if it were really good-natured, it is not explained that in three years of the new romance between Europe and Cuba – where apparently there have been some disagreements, but reconciliations and inexplicable tolerance have prevailed – the EU continues to assume such a lukewarm position before the flagrant violations of human rights in the Island in the midst of a repressive wave that already reaches the entire society, including independent artists and journalists, opponents, self-employed workers, LGTBI activists, animal rights defenders, Cubans residing abroad and any citizen who has the courage to question even the slightest disposition of the totalitarian power that chokes us.

In contrast to the Cuban reality, the entire content of the section which, under the heading of democracy and human rights ennobles the letter of the agreement, is in fact a macabre joke.

Because in these three years of buttering people up and smiles between Castroism and the EU – not “between the EU and Cuba” – we have seen the unleashing of a repressive escalation spread throughout the entire society

Because in these three years of buttering people up and smiles between Castroism and the EU – not “between the EU and Cuba” – we have seen the unleashing of a repressive escalation spread throughout the entire society amid an incessant tide of arrests, police citations, the so-called regulations that already prevent over 200 Cubans from leaving the country freely, judicial farces that have unjustly jailed independent journalist Roberto de Jesús Quiñones, the opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer and more recently the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, among many other abuses, and where the lack of political will of the Palace of the Revolution has been clearly defined to comply even with the minimum agreements signed in Brussels on December 2016 and which, according to the EU, constitute essential conditions of the same.

During all this time, starting with the preamble, the Cuban side has circumvented the agreement, which establishes verbatim both parties’ commitment to “their respect for universal human rights established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international instruments on the subject; their commitment to the recognized principles of democracy, good governance and the rule of law; the need for greater cooperation in the field of promoting justice, citizen security and migration…”, among other basic principles by which every civilized or moderately democratic society must be governed and that, apparently, we Cubans have not deserved in the last 61 years.

If the EU really means for the commitment in the field of human rights not to become a dead letter, how and when will it declare itself in relation to the current wave of repression that is gripping Cuban independent civil society?

If the EU really means for the commitment in the field of human rights not to become a dead letter, how and when will it declare itself in relation to the current wave of repression that is gripping Cuban independent civil society?  And up to what point is it ready to ignore its ally’s rampant impunity?

In its three years of validity, the Dialogue Agreement has not shown any advantage over the previous EU policy, at least not for ordinary Cubans, and even less so for the internal dissidence, that part of the civil society now conveniently ignored.

Another result of the agreement is that it has benefitted the dictatorship, which continues to gain time and increasingly clings to power, ensuring its continuity while crushing with an iron fist all independent thought spaces that open on the Island and once again postponing Cubans’ dreams of prosperity and democratic aspirations.

And some benefit will most likely be obtained by the EU, even if it is only the sad consolation of one day collecting the debt payments which, thanks to the generosity of their banks and their businessmen, keep them tied to the Island’s chiefdom clique, which in turn is unduly engaged in not arousing their suspicions. I am afraid that on this point too, as with regard to its brand-new Dialogue Agreement, the EU will end up with yet another failure.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

When Myths Are Not Applauded / Miriam Celaya

“We are all Clandestinos.” Instagram

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Pam Beach, 29 January 2020 – This is a textbook case: to question a myth is to unleash hysteria. And as it usually happens, the loudest blabbermouths tear off their hair and their clothes against those who dare refuse to follow the little troupe on duty. And in the cast of outraged moralists there is no shortage of cap and gown academics or some famous press figures who, whether with an admonitory finger or with feigned condescension, take the opportunity to “scold” those who dare to speak loudly about what many think of, but do not have the audacity to express. Nothing new.

However, beyond the good name, fame or reputation -deserved or not, for this is about the right to an opinion and not to display emblems or symbols- the beauty of acceptance is not an argument when analyzing the facts. Popularity or fame does not guarantee the supremacy of a principle. What it entails is common sense and, of course, the tangible reality… that which exists in everyday life despite the wistfulness of cyberspace.

Because, while it is true that the opposition and any movement or person who oppose the Cuban dictatorship have  been “suspicious” at some time, or unfoundedly accused of belonging to, or at least collaborating with the (In)Security of the Castro State, it cannot cast aside an essential fact: Oswaldo Payá, as well as the Black Spring prisoners, opposition leaders and civil society groups and we, the independent journalists who reside on the Island, have a real and tangible physical existence, a verifiable job and the common denominator of keeping at the head of the dictatorship’s opposition. You can be for or against our proposals or ideas, but nobody can question our existence. continue reading

That said, it should be clear enough that it is absurd to compare any of the aforementioned with that cyber-hierarchy called “Clandestinos”,  whose real existence no one can confirm beyond cyberspace, whose directives -which, among the most recent, invite to no less than the takeover of a radio station- are absolutely absurd and unrealizable, and whose bravado (always through the networks and hiding their faces) frequently calls for acts of violence, sabotage and anarchy, that in the Cuban circumstances are not only quasi-chimeric actions, but also termed as reckless in a setting that neither they nor anyone else would have control of.  Is this really what we need in Cuba? Is this a solution? Has anyone, among the hard defenders of “Clandestinos” stopped to think about the consequences of these actions and about the day after? Obviously not.

It is understandable that many Cubans, fed-up after 61 years of dictatorship, repression, misery, absence of expectations and hopelessness, tend to stick to any libertarian mirage. Exiles, or at least some of them, are likely to fall into that incantation. It is understandable, I repeat, but not reasonable.

Meanwhile, any opinion that threatens the illusion of a mirage is taken as a declaration of war or, at least, as a “disunifying” proposal of something that has never been united. Thus, the mere fact of questioning the spooky event -until now it is nothing more than that- self-denominated “Clandestinos” is like taking candy from a child, while speculating about its possible origin in the murky labyrinths of the Cuban G2 (State Security Forces) is the worst of sins. “Inverse logic,” says a well-known journalist who doesn’t want to seem too caustic.

And to “prove” that my criterion is about inverse logic and not about anything else  he compares these ghosts with real people and movements within Cuba, in this case, opponents of renown prestige, activists, etc., projects as noteworthy as the Varela Project and movements of proven track record such as the one for Human Rights. Seriously, does the cyber soap opera “Clandestinos” seem comparable? Should it seem like good “logic” to us?

And since citing names and events of the most diverse nature constitutes a good resource when there are scarce arguments, entangling the reader in a lush ajiaco (a Cuban stew) where the name of journalist Yoani Sánchez is invoked along with the names of opposition member Rosa María Payá, of Elian [González], of former US President Jimmy Carter, of the Embargo, of the Five released spies and of another cluster of unrelated issues that vary differently in time and context -the Twin Towers, the attack on Iraq, World War II, the explosion of the USS Maine…- that supposedly conclude by demonstrating that if we do not believe in the much discussed “Clandestinos”,  or if we believe that there is a relationship between their (non)existence and the G2 we are “conspirators”. Which, in any case, results much or more gratuitous than suspecting those who summon violence under the cover of anonymity or from the comfortable protection of cyberspace.

The rest are common places. It is a Perogrullo truth that whenever the opposition has won spaces it has been against the official will. Personally, I am pleased to be part of those who pushed for those little conquests. But it is illusory to suppose that “Clandestinos” has gained space, much less that it is something that has slipped out of the hands of the dictatorship.

In another order, it is true that the Cuban dictatorship opened its arms to Jimmy Carter, but it is no less true that it went back in terror when Barack Obama’s rapprochement  and Cuban support for the flexibility of the Embargo seemed too risky because it endangered the absolute control of the state over life and property of the “governed”, when the dictatorship felt that within Cuba an air of hope was being promoted in terms of economic freedoms and citizen autonomy. That terrifies them. This shows that two similar events at different times and circumstances do not have the same effect on the dictatorship. It is called dialectic.

As for the Embargo, which is not a subject related to “Clandestinos”, but also (because it was useful?) it floated in the ajiaco, it is not only true that it served as a pretext for the dictatorship and that continues to be used, although it has lost effectiveness, but I dare to affirm that the majority of the so-called ordinary Cubans, who suffer the infinite vicissitudes of the system imposed by the political Power, would be happy to have it repealed. I also dare to predict that any credible popular survey (not of the Castro regime, of course) about whether those inside the Island want its repeal will have an overwhelming result in favor of YES. Because, regardless of the wishes of one or the other, everyday reality is what is imposed on people’s lives, especially if survival is of the essence. Most Cubans, with or without foundation, believe that if the Embargo is lifted, they will improve issues related to food, transportation and material goods.

Of course, we know that repression does not depend on either the Embargo or “Clandestinos”. That would be the day! But that does not mean that both factors, although unrelated, do not eventually constitute excuses -no one in their right mind would suppose them to be an “alibi”- that the dictatorship uses for control purposes. The stubborn facts prove it; they are not “conjectures.”

The psychological factor could not be missing in the convoluted “analysis”. A good session on the couch is the supreme resource for attributing failures to the “hot minds” of those who consider that “everything has a why.”

I do believe it. Everything happens for a reason. Everything has causes, consequences, a background. Even if we don’t know them at the moment. But when talking about “Clandestinos” especially when even they have rejected the title of opponents (“We are not the opposition”, they have repeated), it seems at least an exaggeration to label them as a “political novelty”. If those who are, up to now, only an imaginary “group” of network agitators with actions unproven by the general public classify someone as a political novelty, we should start turning off the lights.

If not falling exhausted at the foot of a myth, call it “Clandestinos”  or any other trendy designation that may arise, if not agreeing with what, so far, does not go beyond the bravado of cyberspace, if not supporting incitements to chaos and violence turns me into an “elite” (criteria that I don’t share), then I am so. I confess myself as an “elite”, at least in the diagnosis of this psychoanalyst.

Nevertheless, I have always said and repeated that I would be the first to acknowledge my mistake, if that were the case. In short, the existence of “Clandestinos” if true, does not take away any merit from my work in the field of independent journalism since 2004, or at the time within opposition activism. I have never considered myself a hero for writing and disseminating what I think, nor did I contribute to the manufacture of altars and heroes of any color, let alone of sacred cows. I do not follow leaders of any political hue or nature. I am an irreversible irreverent.

Anyway, whether “Clandestinos” is a conspiracy or not, it does not directly affect me either. With or without “Clandestinos” I am aware that when the dictatorship has wanted to repress me or harass me, it has done so and can do it again in the way and at the moment it decides, since I live on the Island and I am -like any freethinker- at the mercy of its whim. And I also know that, with or without “Clandestinos”, the end of the dictatorship is inevitable.

I fully understand that decades of absence can create a distortion about the reality of Cuba to such an extent that it becomes misleading to think that a cyber fantasy is the flame that would initiate a Cuban rebellion. Only when the reference is lost can one believe in a popular uprising in Cuba against the dictatorship from a cyberspace cry, except for the one that may occur due to the despair of hunger or the shortages of poverty, which would doubtfully have root or any political leadership.

Such is Cuba’s reality, whether we like it or not, such is its degree of civic orphanhood. Those who read my articles or follow me on the web know that I do not seek to please readers if such a thing involves sacrificing that in which I believe, my feelings and what I see every day. Not even my adversaries could accuse me of being a hypocrite. That said, I find that most of those who today support the anarchy and violence they call the “Clandestinos” networks are many miles away, as safe from it as the ghost that created them. Let us allow time to carry out the mission that will show on whose side reason is.

(Miriam Celaya, a resident of Cuba, is visiting the United States)

Translated by Norma Whiting

See also:

Clandestinos: Outcome and Teachings of a Hoax / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

The Controversy Over The Identity Of The Clandestinos Is Growing

Clandestinos, Legitimate Protest or Provocation by State Security?

Clandestinos: Heroes or Collateral Damage? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

With Testimonies from Detainees, Cuban TV Accuses Miami’s “Mafia” of Financing Clandestinos

Clandestinos: Outcome and Teachings of a Hoax / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Panter Rodríguez and Yoel Prieto, alleged members of Clandestinos presented on Cuba TV. (Facebook photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 23 January 2020 – the hare has finally jumped. The recently starred report on Cuban television news about the capture and information of the alleged members of the spooky group “Clandestinos”, tends to seal the fate of what, so far, has the appearance of a warped creation developed in the offices of the State Security rather than that of a true “rebellion” in the Castro ranch.

Showing the usual media manipulation to which the regime has so accustomed us -and which, nevertheless, continues to surprise us by its rampant bungling- this time they have presented a group of alleged criminals who confess their participation in the graffiti to the Busts of José Martí and other “symbols of the revolution”, which the authorities themselves claim, without offering images, were occurring in the first weeks of this year.

Incidentally, the statements of the aforementioned accused offer “testimonials” about financing from Miami by the long-established and cliché “anti-Cuban mafia”, also linked to other counterrevolutionary groups on both sides of the Florida Strait. Nothing new in the official script. continue reading

Leaving aside the unreliable television reporting which is lacking in evidence, it is worth highlighting the repetitiveness of the scheme created by the political police. Not only is a plot organized and financed from the US and carried out by stateless mercenaries within the Island; not only is the dissident scheme reiterated, the same as the criminal scheme that all critical sectors to the system within Cuba  have been demonized -which this time brings the additional component of drug possession and consumption- but they have taken advantage of the opportunity to expand the scope to include independent art and journalism sectors in the saga, at the same time raising the tone of the threat to a few, not too veiled insinuations of applying the death penalty to such “crimes” that affront the Fatherland.

I strongly attracts attention that in the midst of the increasingly pronounced economic crisis, given the growing uncertainty about the future that awaits Cubans, and with a permanently bleak horizon with no signs of a viable exit, in just a matter of days it has “emerged” and has been “defeated” by a police force that presumes to be among five best in the world, an imaginary liberating group that had an ephemeral but meteoric life in the networks only to stir up the hopes of the most naïve, and also serves as wild card to the regime to justify any repressive action against the opposition and against any manifestation of dissent or questioning the dictatorial power. All very suspiciously opportune.

But, although crushing, the message of this television report is not harmless: it points directly to the fact that any demonstration against the designs of the Power class will be severely punished, without ruling out the maximum death penalty by execution. And in that broad “criminal” spectrum that the regime has staged are included from a blueprint that summons legitimate citizens right to vote against a spurious Constitution, from staining a bust of Marti or a billboard of the official ideology to peacefully opposing the application of a government disposition, as is the case of Decree 349 that prohibits independent art demonstrations, but note, not in favor of the political power. All the unhappy and freethinkers are absolutely susceptible to falling into the dark sack of disloyal mercenaries.

Paradoxically, it is this murky media escalation of Power that seems to shed more light on the hoax. If anything is demonstrated, it is that “Clandestinos”, far from meaning a libertarian advancement, as its most ardent defenders wished it were so, has proved to be a maliciously useful trick to the dictatorship both to quell the outbreaks of citizen protests that have begun to bargain in different parts of Cuba and to stop future similar manifestations and through its course, to maintain the iron fence of isolation around dissidence.

However, the set could collaterally transmit a subliminal information: such wear of police “intelligence” and so much time and resources destined to plan the bluff, discredit any manifestation of nonconformity and raise the repressive emphasis suggest that the internal Cuban situation is a lot more complex and delicate than what we see or guess at.

the moment is definitive critical but defining, not only for those who hold the absolute Power and for all its cohort of Amanuenses, hitmen and other thugs, but also for the entire independent civil society that aspires to rights and freedoms long denied. Now the cards are on the table. As far as I am concerned, Clandestinos does not go beyond being the most recent deception of Castro’s “intelligence”, although confirmation of my suspicions does not give me any satisfaction.

If this unfortunate episode can be of any use to us, it is to stop believing in masked mirages and put aside our differences. Because it is clear that they come for everyone: opponents, journalists and independent artists, network activists and even corner protesters, that is, all those who defy the regime’s excesses or exercise citizen freedoms without asking permission and with unmasked faces.

If Castro’s media has convinced me of anything with this TV report, it is that Clandestinos is its Frankenstein: an invention of State Security “think tanks” meant to hunt the unsuspecting, deepen the divisions that weaken civil society, create false expectations to provoke disenchantment and discourage Cubans’ aspirations for change, make believe that any resistance to the dictatorship is impossible (even that which is framed and hidden), and create a matrix of negative opinion about any manifestation of confrontation to the regime.

But it so happens that not only the dictatorship and its dark repressive apparatus depend on the success or failure of this awkward presentation. Ultimately, it is also up to us, opponents, dissidents, journalists and independent artists and freethinkers of all trends not to let us be tempted with ghostly creations and keep our claims. Let the Power invoke its specters. And good luck to them and the past that awaits them!

Translated by Norma Whiting

Clandestinos: Heroes or Collateral Damage? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Facebook/Clandestinos)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana resident currently visiting the US, 15 January 2020 — A new year has just begun and “its Cuban peculiarity” is already being revealed to us in all its glory — that wicked vice of losing ourselves in sterile digressions around minutiae that characterizes us so much — elevating to the category of “event” what hardly deserves the nickname of scam. Thus, while there are events in the world whose deep political implications occupy and concern citizens, institutions and governments, we Cubans remain tied to what seems to be our irreversible village destiny.

Not merely satisfied with the fractures and polarizations harvested after 61 miserable Januarys, the natives of the captive Island have found a new reason these days for vernacular discord. And what is worse, in the absence of anything more substantial, the dispute this time revolves around what until today remains a cybernetic fable: the group so-called Clandestinos.

Among the apologists and the detractors of these new social media stars, insults have rained and passions have been exacerbated. But what really is Clandestinos beyond the uncertain images of red stained busts and other quite questionable presentations in terms of authenticity? Who can provide evidence that it is a “group” and not a manipulation by the media of uncertain origin or a colossal tease? What bases of reality hold so much hectic patriotism and so much confidence of its cyber-followers? So far, none of these questions has any convincing answer. continue reading

That is why the foolish enthusiasm unleashed in the networks is so much more unfathomable, where simply inquiring over the existence or not of these imaginary (and imaginative, we must admit) rebels, whose righteous and audacious actions have filled so many hearts with hope, is sufficient reason to be mistreated and even accused of being an agent of the Castro regime: the explosion of Cuban idiosyncrasy in its purest state.

Because Clandestinos, in addition, has that charm of a soap opera and of theatrical drama heroes that hypnotize the masses: masked men who act secretly against the villain under cover of night, video messages with a mysterious central character wearing a ski mask, daredevils in paint-splattered  busts of Martí and apparently also in communist screens, and above all, a profusion of labels in social networks with libertarian cyber-concepts. And according to the most enthusiastic fans, these are “actions that have the dictatorship in check.”

In summary, it turns out that, after decades of resistance and the efforts of several generations of opponents who have suffered repression, harassment and banishment as a result of their direct confrontation without masks against the Castro gang, the final solution for Cubans has magically appeared with an intangible prodigy that nobody knows either its form or its content, but one which has, nevertheless, managed to conceive an extraordinary capital of faith, especially among certain groups of exiles.

Who could have told us that a few disguises and a bit of red paint would be enough to make the Cuban autocracy tremble? In fact, the heroes of the moment feel so imbued with their leadership that they have even disseminated an Instruction Manual on the internet that summarizes the key to success in their “fight”, the cornerstone that will boost the Cubans to end six decades of the Castro regime in a short time. All that is needed is to follow the elaborate tactics step by step: study the area of operations, carry on the usual ration of crimson dye, don’t step on the paint and act in pairs.  Thus, each oppressed Cuban can make his own heroic graffiti. There is no doubt that we will bring down the dictatorship in 2020!

We are definitely not a serious people.

However, if there really is a group called Clandestinos, if they truly were this sort of new age urban guerrillas who define themselves as “non-opponents” but who say they fight against the dictatorship – which makes their discourse even more incoherent – and if it were true that this group arose in an autonomous and spontaneous way (and not a fabrication that has emerged from twisted minds with no one knows what clumsy intentions), we would have to admit that, in addition, we are facing a genuine consequence of six decades of deterioration of a bogged down and failed nation.

Clandestinos would be, in a good skirmish, more than the ridiculous staging shown on the networks, the reflection of our own inability to find possible and sensible solutions to the serious Cuban crisis. More than heroes, they seem like collateral damage. But they would also be a good reason to reconsider the levels of absurdity we have achieved and to win in common sense. The latter is the only truly positive thing that should be recognized so far to this entire saga.

For my part, I refuse straight up to applaud or endorse ghosts. Which is what Clandestinos amounts to until proven otherwise. By nature, I am suspicious of masked faces that evoke the Tupamaros (Uruguayan Urban Guerillas), the ETA (Basque Country and Freedom members) and other denominations of ominous remembrance and equivocal causes. In any case, I prefer the frontal and open-ended resistance against the Castro regime because I have the stubborn conviction that the right to have a free, democratic, plural and inclusive Cuba is not, and should not be, a clandestine matter, but quite the opposite.

The aspirations of millions of Cubans have been hidden for too long, for the benefit of the dictatorship. It is time to banish all the masks.

Translated by Norma Whiting

In Mid-Millenium: The Other Havana / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Restoration will benefit Teatro Campoamor (Author’s photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 November 2019 — The Cuban capital is preparing to celebrate its half millennium, and although it is obvious that this November 16th many of the construction plans will be unfinished, numerous building facades on the main avenues will not be painted (as had been planned) nor will all the details for the restoration of the National Capitol — the undisputed star of the party — be 100% completed, the grandstand at the foot of the majestic staircase is being prepared for the solemn act and for the speeches of the occasion.

“Havana is real and it’s wonderful,” has been the kind of mantra throughout the year behind which authorities have struggled to exalt and recover only the relevant and original beauties of the most iconic buildings in the old city.

For foreign and national visitors who don’t know Havana, the vision of one of the most scenic spaces of the city will seem like a marvel: the profusely lit Paseo del Prado and the beautiful buildings from the republican era adjacent to the majestic Capitol, Parque Central and Parque de la Fraternidad flanking the ends of the future seat of Parliament. From that spacious and majestic setting, the belt of poverty that runs nearby is invisible: the dirt of misery will have been swept under the rug. continue reading

However, one would only need to walk around in daylight through the adjoining neighborhoods to discover the real Havana, abandoned to its own fate, that which, in official documents and institutions, is standardized under the label of “housing stock” or “domestic sector” and that  ̶  judging by the neglect and ruin — seems to suggest a perverse government policy: to ensure that in the short and medium term the dilapidated buildings end up collapsing or having to evict their residents by force, leaving  those spaces available for tourism and investment opportunities, which the old part of the capital and its popular neighborhoods are becoming, in a kind of theme park for the enjoyment of foreign visitors.

It is really notorious that none of the many multifamily buildings in Old Havana and Centro Habana have been favored by the restorations. In fact, the run-down houses of the early twentieth century turned slums, which are the most abundant and typical buildings in the area, have not even had the benefit of a measly paint job.

Corner of Industrias and Barcelona. The building is being held up miraculously by wooden braces. Author’s photo.

In the midst of the general deterioration, there are only rescue and reconstruction plans for buildings of State interest. The Campoamor Theater is among them, located behind the Capitol at the corner of Industrias and San José streets, with only its curved facade preserved, for whose restoration an important investment project exists. Currently, it is surrounded by a fence that displays photographs of celebrities who once performed on its stage: an unequivocal sign that it will be rescued.

However, a few steps away from it, on Industrias Street itself, corner of Barcelona, there is an old multi-family building, peculiar because it’s the site of the installation of the first Otis elevator. Several families are crammed in the space, under threat of a possible collapse, since the property’s construction has suffered major deterioration.

In this building, behind the Capitol, the first Otis elevator for residential buildings was installed in Havana. (Author’s photo)

Some old hotels in the capital also became residential buildings years ago and are now in a dire state, precariously supported by wooden struts and in imminent danger of collapse. It is, to cite an example, the case of the nearby hotel Perla de Cuba (Amistad and Dragones streets), where families still live in the lower floors, as can be seen in the photographs.

For greater uncertainty of those who inhabit these dilapidated spaces, a significant part of them are in legal limbo due to their status as “illegal,” since they have come from the interior provinces and have not been able to change the status of their residence in the capital. Decree 217 functions as a kind of “green card,” legitimizing a humiliating segregation among the nationals of this Island.

In these cases, not only is their helplessness reinforced  ̶  since they can be deported at any time to their places of origin using police force against them ̶    but their inability to repair their homes legally, since on one hand they do not have access to building licenses or financial credit, while on the other, these buildings are mostly declared as “uninhabitable, non-repairable” by the Housing Institute, which eliminates any legalization process.

For their part, the “privileged” who are native to the capital or have obtained the grace of legal residence, although they might risk repairs of a cosmetic nature often lack sufficient capital to undertake structural improvements, which are extremely expensive and require state intervention.

A circle that closes and seems to be sealing the fate of thousands of families that, 500 years after Havana was founded, do not have much to celebrate. The gap between the beautiful and the ruins, the political power and the “governed,” the poor and the rich, the ordinary Cubans and the privileged elite continues to widen. The benefits of the imaginary “socialist model” have turned out to be increasingly bogus and unrealizable.

Translated by Norma Whiting

At Havana’s Mid-Millennium: The State of the Central Railway Station / Miriam Celaya

Central Railway Station. Restoration works have stopped (Photo by the author)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 November 2019 — Seventy-five years after the opening of the first railway station in Cuba (Bejucal, 1837), Havana’s Central Railway Station was built and inaugurated, and its construction – finished in just two years – was carried out under the government of José Miguel Gómez by The Frederick Snare Corporation, an American company.

The brand-new station – completed on November 30, 1912 – was an imperative for the capital, since the old Villanueva station (1859) did not meet the requirements of a growing population. Equipped with a colorful four-story building, a mezzanine, a large 151,000 square feet train yard and a colorful eclectic façade with two elegant towers, central clock and craft decorations of shells and shields on the wall, the “Train Station” – as it is known by Havana’s residents – stands on the corner of Egido and Arsenal Streets, in the historic area of the capital.

In 1983 it was recognized as a National Monument for “its architectural and historical values,” but even this jewel of Havana’s architecture could not escape official neglect or the system’s own decline, especially when accelerated by the fall of the USSR, which marked the beginning of the economic crisis of the 1990’s. continue reading

The deterioration of the rail passenger transportation service and the Central Station itself occurred simultaneously, and after some cosmetic refurbishment, works that did not solve the constructive or functional problems that already demanded major investments, it finally stopped providing services in 2015. It was then closed for restoration and rehabilitation, to confront the major repairs that are now being carried out, which should have been completed in 2018, as is indicated by a large sign placed on the fence that surrounds its façade.

Restoration was supposed to be completed in 2018 (author’s photo)

However, it’s enough to walk near the vicinity of the building and its related facilities to realize that not only have the completion deadlines have been breached, but that we will not be able to attend its re-inauguration at any time in the remainder of 2019, though in February of this year an optimistic report of the official site Cubadebate assured us that workers were laboring intensely in double shifts in order to deliver the finished work in time for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Havana.

Back then, there was talk of “a 100-day delay” with respect to the original program, due to “the importation of steel for the stabilization of the north tower, as well as other materials for the façade,” to which should be added such complexities as the works required to strengthen the towers; the remodeling of the façade, retaining all its decorative and traditional values; the renovation of the blacksmith and carpentry shops; the creation of new rooms; the installation of escalators; the installation of new air conditioning services; lighting; and comfortable furniture sufficient to meet the demands of “more than 16 thousand daily travelers.”

Among the “renewal pride” which will be added to the services, the referenced report mentioned Wi-fi service and retail shops, which — it stated – would place the Central Station at the same level as its world peers.

On the other hand, it is said that the platforms are also undergoing restoration, but though the report ensures that “all their steel was restored” and that “the pluvial system was rebuilt from scratch,” in fact, today the train yard offers an image of chaos and debris scattered throughout almost all of its spaces. Nothing evidences the existence of platforms, much less rain lines or systems.

Partial view of the train yards (author’s photo)

Obviously, if it were the restoration of one of the “mixed capital” hotels or some other work of greater interest to the authorities, the delivery program could have been fulfilled. But in the case of an installation designed to serve primarily nationals – and therefore not constituting a promising source of hard currency income, at least as long as there are no more efficient and comfortable locomotives and cars that meet the standards for foreign visitors. Thus, to date, there are no foreign investors who will inject enough capital to complete the work.

If the published data is assumed to be true, in this case the construction work of the Central Station – whose project was formulated by Cuban architects and engineers in coordination with the Office of the Historian – is the responsibility of the Transportation Ministry, the Union of Railways of Cuba, the Ferrocarriles de Occidente Company and the Havana Base Business Unit, so there is no need for much optimism.

This November 19th will be the 187th anniversary of the inauguration of the first railway station in Cuba and the beginning of this means of transportation on the Island; the second one in this Hemisphere – just behind the US railroad – and the first railroad system in Latin America.

The anniversary, however, should be a cause of shame and not pride. The collapse of the Cuban railways, evident in the rail infrastructure, as well as in locomotives, freight and passenger wagons and stations, is an incontestable sample of the destructive capacity of a socio-political and economic system that only needed 60 years to destroy what was built over the previous 127 years.

Moreover, the Castro regime not only spoiled the previously efficient railway capability of the Island, but it also interrupted the existence of a sector with a long working tradition in Cuba.

The building has been partially rehabilitated (author’s photo)

Today the workers of the depressed railway sector ignore that it is next Tuesday, November 19th – and not January 29th, the date imposed in 1975 by Fidel Castro’s egomania – when they should be honored. Recovering the rail efficiency achieved during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, almost 200 years after the first train circulated in Cuba, remains an aspiration.

Translated by Norma Whiting