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

The Real Havana, Painful Wonder

Commemorative notch of the declaration which placed Havana as one of the new wonder-cities of the world. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 November 2019 –On the esplanade of the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, just at the entrance of Havana Bay, a plaque recognizes Cuba’s capital as one of the seven “wonder cities” of the modern world, after its selection, in June 2016, in the contest of the Swiss foundation New Seven Wonders.

Such a high merit was based on “the mythical appeal, the warm and welcoming atmosphere, and the charisma and joviality of its inhabitants.”

The news, however, surprised not a few Havana residents. Is our city really wonderful? They pondered. The answer is a resounding yes if we refer to its architectural wealth, to the imposing majesty of its colonial fortresses, to its old squares, to the beautiful Malecón that borders almost five miles of coastline, to the prosperity reflected in modern Havana of El Vedado and the comfortable residences, both in the classic and rationalist* styles in The Kholy and Miramar neighborhoods, and the well-ordered way that distinguishes its different spaces and neighborhoods, which seems to narrate the constructive styles and the economic and cultural history of our metropolitan area, as if traveling through time. All this, added to the also peculiar idiosyncrasy of Havana’s locals, imprints a particular spirit to the city. continue reading

Is our city really wonderful?  They pondered. The answer is a resounding yes when we refer to the architectural richness of our city

As usual, the designation of “Wonder City” was welcomed by Cuba’s authorities as if it were their own merit, as if the capital “of all Cubans” – which foreign visitors enjoy at will, but from which they expel as “illegal” those nationals who do not have permanent residence in it – would have retained its most valuable and distinctive features thanks to “the Revolution”, and not (as is the case) in spite of it.

But Havana is really a painful wonder. Founded 500 years ago, besieged and attacked several times by pirates and privateers during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it began to thrive from the eighteenth century on, in a gradual but steady boom that only stopped abruptly with the coming to power of Fidel Castro and the imposition of his socialist state system. The “revolutionary” sign first caused paralysis and then, systematically, the destruction of most of a city in which more than two million souls live, with particular impact on a visibly insufficient and deteriorated housing stock.

Six decades of established neglect and abandonment, almost as State policy, against a city despised and humiliated by political power, the corrosive effect of the Castro regime has perhaps only before been surpassed in history by the attack of the pirate Jacques de Sores, who in 1555 sacked and razed the then small village, destroying it to its foundations.

The task was relatively easy for that famous outlaw, taking into account the weakness of the buildings of the time, as well as the meager population and the precariousness of its rudimentary and scarce fortifications. Paradoxically, pirate attacks were, in great measure, the catalyst to make the city bigger, stronger and safer and to strengthen the defenses of its splendid harbor.

Half a millennium later, however, none of the places that make Havana a wonderful city is the work of this mediocre socialism, but rather, survivors of it. The old fortresses and squares, the stately mansions, the National Capitol, the Grand Theater, the Paseo del Prado, The Malecón, the Presidential Palace, the Central Railway Station, the majority of the hotels that they now restore and “inaugurate” as if they were new, and even the Civic Square itself (or as they now call it “of the Revolution”) with its controversial tower known among locals as La Raspadura (the Grater), are all works prior to 1959, and taking pride in them is not attributable to the Castro regime.

 All that makes Havana beautiful belongs to that “ominous”, “colonial” or “pseudo-republican” past, and not to the scourge that took power and became a privileged elite

Everything that makes Havana beautiful belongs to that “ominous,” “colonial” or “pseudo-republican” past – a horrible word to call the most prosperous period in our history – and not to the scourge that took power in 1959 to become a privileged elite that now takes advantage of it.

Additionally, these days when the Cuban capital celebrates the half millennium of its foundation, and while the authorities appropriate the wonders they were not able to create, it is imperative to look at the other Havana, the real one, inhabited by tens of thousands of Cuban families who do not have the resources to restore their precarious homes – most of them also built more than six decades ago – who live in overcrowded conditions among the filth of the dumps, the unhealthy plumbing spills that accumulate in the busy sewers and in street potholes, who suffer from a shortage of drinking water, and who, 500 years after their city was founded, will have to settle for standing in line in front of the Templete  of the Plaza de Armas to circle La Ceiba three times and ask, perhaps of  God, or maybe of the Orishas, for the arrival of the day when they will enjoy, at the very least, the security of decent housing with the guarantee of basic services.

Only if that dream were ever fulfilled would Havana be, rightfully so, a “Wonder City.”

*Translator’s note: Rationalism in architecture refers to the use of symmetry and mathematically and geometrically defined structures with low ornamentation. The ideas first appeared in ancient Greece and Rome and were organized into formal styles in the Enlightenment of the 17th century.

Translated by Norma Whiting

________________

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.

Lessons Bolivia Left Us / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

The lessons Bolivia left us. Photo: Juan Karita/AP

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 November 2019 — The usual weekend informative spasm was broken this Sunday, November 10th, with bombshell news: after accepting the results of the audit of the Organization of American States (OAS) – requested by the president himself for the review of the elections of October 20th – and announcing that new elections would be called, Evo Morales has just resigned from Bolivia’s Presidency.

Just a few hours passed between the call for new elections and the resignation of the president. Such a decision, however, was not the result of a sudden epiphany or a mandate from Pachamama (an Incan deity), but rather the epilogue of a process that began after Mr. Morales’s unfortunate decision to present himself as a candidate for a fourth term, in rampant contempt of the popular will that had withdrawn authorization for him to do so in the referendum of February 21, 2016.

Unhappy with the setback suffered then, Evo Morales got approval from the Constitutional Court – openly his supporter – that gave him the possibility of running for elections for the fourth time. He also ensured that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) was made up of officials who were loyal to him. continue reading

Despite this, the results of the elections were altered by the TSE itself to grant a narrow and controversial “victory” to Morales, thus opening the door to the political crisis that has been shaking Bolivia for three weeks, with violent clashes between supporters of the opposition and those of the President, a crisis that would have continued indefinitely with unpredictable consequences.

The days to come will show if the action of the commander of the Armed Forces, General Williams Kaliman – who kindly and without pointing a gun at him suggested to the president he should resign – managed to cut these weeks’ spiral of violence and avoid greater ills to the country.

Together with Morales, his vice president, Álvaro García Linera, resigned. Both denounced the consummation of “a civic, political and police coup,” but the truth is that neither the army nor the national police used force against the President. If we were really witnessing a coup d’etat, it should be recognized that – despite the fact that at least three deaths and thousands of injuries have been reported in the confrontations between the protesters in favor of one side or the other – it has been the least violent coup that has ever taken place in this Hemisphere.

Looking at the facts from an ethical and political logic, it would have been a contradiction that the same candidate who was favored through fraud could present himself for a new election. Fraud in itself is a serious crime that disqualified Morales in the race for the Presidency, so that the president  himself summarizes the cause of the crisis and the consequence of his excessive ambition for political power at the same time, although now the most rabid continental left – with Havana at the helm – cry out against “the coup d’état of the anti-Bolivian right, orchestrated from Washington.”

And this leads us directly to the outright ridiculousness of the insular ruling dome. Just two days before the television news of the official press monopoly overflowed with jubilation and proclaimed two “resounding victories”: that of the “Resolution Against the Embargo,” presented (again) before the UN General Assembly, and “Evo’s overwhelming victory in the Bolivian elections.” The sagacious political analysts could barely contain their jumping for joy amid the most absolute triumphalism.

For greater scorn, Morales’s resignation comes just a day after the Cuban Foreign Ministry, in open interference in the affairs of the Andean country, made an Official Declaration, publicly “vigorously denouncing the coup in progress against the legitimate president of Bolivia” orchestrated by the Bolivian right “,with the support and leadership of the US and regional oligarchies,” and called for all involved sectors to stop this dangerous maneuver which constitutes a threat to the stability of Bolivia and the whole region.

“Evo’s historic victory, against the maneuvers of the internal and regional right, the Imperialism and an intense media war, is also a triumph of the entire Great Motherland,” proclaimed the pamphlet. And it commended the Bolivian president that “in a further demonstration of equanimity and political stature, he summoned the political forces to the dialogue table for Bolivia’s peace, and called the organizers of the violent protests to deep reflection and urged the people to mobilize to defend democracy.”

What idiocy for the revolution’s “common cause” that after so much fuss, the once-hardened indigenous should crack like a reed.

Undoubtedly, the Palace of the Revolution would have preferred a thousand times for Evo to immolate heroically, Salvador Allende style. At least then it would have been possible to count on a new martyr – indigenous and of humble origin, to boot – whose ghost could be opportunistically shaken against the imperialist enemy.

How mean, Evo, not sacrificing yourself for the continental glory of the Castro regime and its measles epidemic of radical lefts and not letting you burn at the stake of the progressive ideals, so passionately defended by the high ruling Cuban bourgeoisie from their comfortable mansions at El Laguito. What a disappointment, Evo… we expected more from you!

However, the most immediate balance of the latest events in Bolivia is the moral of the story that politicians in this region should capture. The defeat of Evo Morales comes against the progress made in the country during his tenure. Bolivia certainly has remarkable economic growth and can exhibit amazing social achievements in health and education, especially for the humblest sectors.

But just as the leader of the coca growers is responsible for these advances, he is also responsible for the political crisis that he caused when he presented himself for the elections of last October, and to a certain extent, for the direction the country takes in the immediate future.

It is the cost of those who impose a personal government and set out to appropriate political power ad infinitum. Because the masses can be faithful and enthusiastic, but they are also often fickle. In this sense, Bolivia’s experience can be a very useful lesson for both rulers and the governed.

Let’s take note.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Revolucionaries: The “Good” Terrorists

Album of the Cuban Revolution

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 November 2019 — In these times when political correctness in language usage has become fashionable, few terms are as ambiguous as “terrorism.”  The use and abuse of this concept for political purposes has led to numerous inaccuracies and interpretations, which often confuse the supposed legitimacy of motivations with terrorist actions.

The violent nature of terrorist acts by groups, organizations or governments has the effect of altering public peace and destabilizing the institutional and economic structures of the State.

Intimidation, kidnappings, bomb attacks, coercion, sabotage, selective or massive killings, torture, extrajudicial executions and destruction of private and public property are common tactics of terrorist groups of the most diverse nature – whether they are religious, ethnic, political or simply gang criminals – whose objective is to gain domination through social terror, whether at the national or the regional level, even affecting power structures and relationships at the international level. continue reading

The violent nature of terrorist acts by groups, organizations or governments has the effect of altering public peace and destabilizing State institutional and economic structures

The violent nature of terrorist acts by groups, organizations or governments has the effect of altering public peace and destabilizing State institutional and economic structures. In addition, they cause deep damage at the human level, taking into account that the majority of their victims are innocent civilians. These are, then, unjustifiable facts beyond ideological foundations.

Thus, the “action and sabotage groups” of the Revolutionary Directory — clandestine organization founded on February 24th, 1956 by university student leader José Antonio Echeverría with the aim of supporting the guerrilla Fidel Castro that operated in the Sierra Maestra — have simply been renamed as “action groups,” as if those young people, instead of simply placing bombs in the capital and in important cities of the interior in public places, had limited themselves to the innocuous task of delivering anti-government proclamations, shouting slogans or orchestrating rallies in favor of the Revolution.

It is clear that if we applied the current standards to the events that marked the Cuban Revolution, the assault on a military headquarters of the constitutional army starring a handful of men in charge of Fidel Castro is a definitely terrorist act.

The taking of a radio station at gunpoint was also terrorism – in the best American gangster-style film – by the aforementioned José Antonio Echeverría who, thanks to that fact became perhaps the author of the most famous fake news of the time when announcing the death (supposedly an execution) of the dictator of the day, Fulgencio Batista.

Their evolutionary character is another level of the term that should be added to these general considerations. Decades ago, for example, revolutionary violence against political power in Cuba was not defined exactly as terrorism, although it should have been, in light of current considerations. This explains why the violent events that took place fundamentally in the second half of the 1950’s have been omitted or reinterpreted, though without abandoning indoctrination.

It is clear that if we applied the current standards to the events that marked the Cuban Revolution, the assault on a military headquarters of the constitutional army, starring a handful of men at Fidel Castro’s command, was definitely a terrorist act.

The overtaking of a radio station at gunpoint was also an act of terrorism – in the best gangster-style of American films – by the aforementioned José Antonio Echeverría, who thanks to that fact became perhaps the author of the most famous fake news of the time when announcing the death (supposedly an execution) of the dictator of the moment, Fulgencio Batista.

In the eyes of the Castro regime, everyone in its opposition is susceptible to being accused of terrorism in the service of a foreign power. These are bad terrorists

The list bearing the terrorist symbol that has marked our history would be endless, but it would not make much sense to delve into it, given that – for better and for worse – justice is not retroactive.

However, the instrumental utility that the Cuban Government makes of this term is notorious. For the Castro regime, everyone opposing it is susceptible to being accused of terrorism in the service of a foreign power. These are bad terrorists. And, under the pretext of safeguarding that superior value, the Homeland-Revolution (besieged, stalked, threatened by a powerful external enemy), they apply with impunity the violence of repressive bodies, repudiation rallies, prestige stoning, disqualification, harassment, jail, death and banishment.

Currently, and in proportion to the deepening of the structural crisis of the system, there is a rebound in Cuba of what, in other situations and scenarios, would be considered State terrorism. Today’s coercion, intimidation and repressive terror are not limited to opposing and dissident groups but are directed against all civil society, including renegade artists, uncomfortable citizens or groups of independent entrepreneurs who question the dispositions of power in any way.

And, as if the repressive spiral silenced in the official media were not enough, some signals radiating from the government television monopoly tend to revalue and legitimize “revolutionary” terrorism in the social imagery.

This was evidenced on October 30th during the regular broadcast of the Cuban soap opera Delivery, which is being broadcast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the country’s main channel (Cubavisión) at 9pm, prime time.

In a completely expendable scene, a History professor at a high school in the capital was making an apologetic reference to Urselia Díaz Báez as “the first heroine of the clandestine world,” who died September, 1957 at Havana’s Teatro América in Calle Galiano because of a bomb explosion attached to her thigh which exploded before she had time to place it under some window or in the bathroom, where her shattered body was ultimately found.

The undisguised message is that terrorism is lawful, provided it is done for the sake of the Castro revolution

The omen-of-death professor did not limit himself to appealing to the memory of that 18-year-old girl perfectly unknown to the vast majority of Cubans, but instead challenged his students to have the courage of that clumsy terrorist when defending the Revolution. “Which of you would dare to ride with a bomb under your clothes?” The teacher asked his teenage students. The undisguised message is that terrorism is lawful, provided it is done for the sake of the Castro revolution.

Whether slip, carelessness or deliberate strategy, it is wrong, at this point in the 21st century, in a society of long accumulated tensions and frayed by resentment, polarization and frustrations, to influence young viewers in the culture of violence through the powerful official media.

And it is also a double-edged sword, because if today’s Cubans internalize violence as a legitimate method to achieve their aspirations and freedoms, they could, in their day, turn against the power that is clipping their wings and against its institutions, with unpredictable consequences. If, in the midst of widespread social unrest, the Cuban Government continues to tighten the rope, perhaps it will have an occasion to regret it.

Translated by Norma Whiting

___________________________________

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.

Havana’s Capitol: The Other Face of the Restoration

Two weeks before the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, the Facade and Rear Gardens of the south side of the Capitol (photo: Amelia)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 November 2019 — There are those who would swear that everything in Cuba, from the most solemn to the most mundane act, has an air of a one-act farce. The dramatic and the jocular intermingle in a scenario full of contrasts and absurdities, in a reality that far exceeds any fiction plot.

These days, the metal fences that covered the gardens of the southern area of the National Capitol were finally removed, and the neighbors who reside in the popular (and populous) neighborhood that runs behind the monumental building, glance curiously at the feverish restoration activity. There is an intense agitation, since there are only two weeks left for the 500th Anniversary of the Cuban capital, to be celebrated on November 16th, and the delivery of this iconic building is one of the highlights of the event.

“I think they will not finish it on time”, says a septuagenarian of humble appearance who says he is a retired construction frame worker, who returns daily to contemplate the work. “I, who worked all my life in construction, tell you that a lot of work is still missing. Now they are in earthworks because they removed all the old tiles in the garden in order to restore them. Then they have to tamp, press them firmly and fuse them so that these tile slabs remain fixed. Add to that all the landscaping, and not counting the windows that have yet to be installed and the facade that is still covered and must be finished.” continue reading

And he points to a huge mesh cloth that covers a portion of the rear facade and numerous empty openings where all the blinds should already be in place. “They are going to have to work in 24-hour shifts and still doing it that way they might be able to complete just what shows. Just cosmetic work, the same as always happens.”

Nearby, there is a standing policeman on duty facing the work.  Police surveillance is permanent, as well as the presence of guards at a nearby checkpoint, to prevent the usual shoplifting of construction materials: the illegal sale of cement, stone dust, joists, etc., is a constant in every construction job in Cuba.

“This has been difficult here from the beginning,” says a lady who also watches the work. “I live here back on Amistad Street, and several neighbors of mine tried to get some cement and other things… but nothing. There is great vigilance with that, and there are people in this neighborhood whose houses need repairs, because they are falling down… There are no materials for the unfortunate.”

Occasionally, some official media have made reference to the intervention of foreign capital and the support of private institutions to achieve the restoration of this building, paradoxically the most important symbol of Republican Cuba, crushed after the 1959 revolution.

The Castro regime, unable to create their own symbols that can compete in quality and beauty with those of the past, is trying now to appropriate allegories that are completely alien to them. Since they failed to completely destroy the city that they despise – and those who despise them – they prefer to make use of its meaning and its unyielding architectural wealth.

According to government sources, the German company MD Projektmanagement, owned by Michel Diegmann, is responsible for the restoration work. However, nobody fully knows the total amount of the investment, although everyone infers that the sum must be in the millions. “With half the money that this cost, a lot of buildings in Centro Habana could have been repaired,” the same woman muses next to me.

The restoration of the dome alone, exquisitely coated with pieces of gold leaf on copper sheets, is the result of a large donation from the Russian Federation. The work undertaken to return it to its former splendor was carried out by specialists from that country, assisted by Cuban personnel.

The southern facade of the building is still missing windows and the gardens need to be completed (photo: Amelia)

Re-inaugurated August 30th by the City Historian, the golden dome contrasts sharply since then with the poverty of its “backyard”, that is, the collapsed roofs and facades of the adjoining buildings, hidden behind the architectural magnificence not only of the Capitol, but also of the Havana Prado, the Havana Lyceum, the Grand Theater, the Saratoga Hotel, the Fountain of the Indian Woman, and the Central and Fraternity parks. A majestic urban complex that flanks and conceals the ugly face of gloom, the crust of decay, accentuated after 60 years of neglect that the authorities do not want the world to see.

And it is not that it is wrong to rescue those symbols, buildings, squares and spaces that made this city beautiful; quite the opposite. We just need to not forget that Havana, like any city, is much more than the sum of its architectural symbols and historical spaces.

The beauty of cities, what makes them peculiar or “marvelous”, lies in the soul of their people, in the spirit of those who inhabit them. To artificially brighten the old trappings of our city for one occasion, as if it were a showcase to display it to the world, while prosperity and freedoms are still forbidden to Cubans who live it, love it and suffer it, it’s not worth a thing.

New “Economic Measures”: Another Trap to Catch the Gullible / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, WEST PALM BEACH, United States. – The highly announced Roundtable TV show on Tuesday, 15 October 2019, where the “new economic measures” of the Cuban government were revealed, has just deflated any expectations that those who were waiting for some opening in the internal economy of Cuba might have had.

This time the cast was headed by Salvador Valdés Mesa, the brand new Vice President of the Republic, accompanied by the ministers of Economy and Planning, Alejandro Gil Fernández; Finance and Prices, Meisi Bolaños Weiss; Internal Commerce, Betsy Díaz Velázquez; Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz; along with Irma Margarita Martínez Castrillón president and minister of the Central Bank of Cuba, and Iset Maritza Vázquez Brizuela, the first vice president of the CIMEX Corporation.

Taking into account the profound structural crisis of the system and the uncertainty of the lives of Cubans in pursuit of a promised future of prosperity, which remains increasingly distant and elusive, one would expect that such a choir would have deployed a whole package of reforms aimed at liberating and stimulating, to some extent, the initiative of the repressed private sector, in order to alleviate the state of the permanent asphyxiation in which the majority of Cubans live. continue reading

Far from it, and validating once again its proverbial folly, its lack of sense of reality and its total indifference to the hardships suffered by the governed, the news released this Thursday are far from “favoring the people,, and much less are they directed at improving the standard of living of the population, as stated by the conga line of the Palace of the Revolution.

In reality what it is about, is to turn on a twisted financial machinery, fundamentally guided to collect foreign currency from abroad, thus avoiding the tight fence imposed by the iron Helms-Burton Law against the Castro cupola.

The excuse wielded by Castro’s birds of prey could not be more childish: the increase in domestic demand for consumer goods has led to an informal trade where products are offered at high prices, which leave copious profits to natural persons, even after paying the corresponding customs tariffs on the goods they import. Regarding this, Mr. Valdés Mesa has said: “Although the goods enter the country in a framework of legality, after receiving them they are marketed irregularly.”

In addition, he stressed that “the current US administration has also intensified the financial fence to prevent Cuba’s transactions in its collections and payments abroad,” factors that “have caused the country to lack sufficient financing to import raw materials destined for the industry and for our market supply chains.”

Thus, the informal market — the official vultures confess — has compensated for the usual shortages in the retail network, supplying those goods that the official market does not offer or that it does offer but at higher prices. Therefore, with the sagacity that characterizes it, the government has been “working with a strategic vision” to develop a plan that allows expanding the available goods, establishing “competitive prices” and “developing our industry,” while facilitating Cubans’ purchasing ability.

It is worth stopping at certain interesting details: for the first time the almighty State recognizes informal merchants as competitors, and pretends that we believe that a mechanism as precarious as that of the underground commerce – merchandise stands, street vendors, traffickers, the on-line site Revolico, etc. — and its primitive import system through the so-called mules, has exceeded the commercial capacity of all the economic-financial machinery of the Castro regime, that murky monopoly known as GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial, SA*), forcing the government to create a trading system parallel to its own network of retail trade, collector of foreign exchange.

On the other hand, the subterfuge that the State seeks to diversify the goods on offer and lower prices for the benefit of the people does not hold, because if it were the real objective it could reach it through the existing retail network, supplying shops and lowering the inflated prices of the products.

What is involved, then, is not to snatch customers from the informal market, but to create a system of direct currency inflow to the government, thus circumventing the pressures of the US embargo and especially the effect of the measures dictated by the Trump administration. To achieve this, the State’s profits must not be in the Cuban convertible peso, CUC — that bastardized internal token that only works in the home front — and even less in the Cuban peso, CUP, 25 times less valuable, but rather in cold hard cash (read ‘dollars’).

Based on this, it was decided to authorize ‘natural persons’ to conduct sales in convertible currencies and to import products through state-owned companies, for which the “thinking tanks” of the government conceived a new mode of payment in currencies through the Central Bank’s financial system of Cuba (Banco Metropolitano (BM), which operates only in Havana; the International Financial Bank and the Popular Savings Bank).

The customer – the natural person – will also be able to make purchases at “favorable prices” in the new network of retail stores that will operate throughout the country and will be “opening” in time, until a total of 77 are completed. In this first stage and starting next Monday October 21st the first 13 stores (12 in Havana and 1 in Santiago de Cuba) will open, the rest will be implemented “gradually.”

Likewise, the measures will allow natural persons to import goods through import companies designated by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, provided that the payment for such imports is backed by freely convertible currency, for which existing “customs warehousing areas ” will be used, in addition to others that may be created, for the sale of merchandise through importing companies designated by the Ministry itself.

For their part, the state entity Automotive Services, S.A. (SASA), the CIMEX companies (“and others that may be necessary”) will provide marketing services for parts, accessories and other multi-brand automotive products to natural persons. As an additional benefit, bonuses or tariff exemptions will be granted for the importation of raw materials and supplies as well as for dire need items and products in greater demand.

None of these measures will affect existing customs regulations, which will maintain the limitations and tariffs on already established imports.

All purchases and transactions will be made under the electronic commerce mode — with virtual stores, online sales and the use of national and international payment gateways — so it is absolutely essential that the buyer create an account, in foreign currency only, in any of the banking varieties that function in the country to obtain his magnetic card, which will be used for each transaction upon presentation of the buyer’s identity card.

Permanent residents in the country may open accounts only with the presentation of their identity card. These accounts must be associated with magnetic cards in the offices of the Metropolitano SA, Credit and Commerce and Popular Savings banks, and among the attractions offered to them are the waiver of a minimum balance, plus that interest will not be calculated or applied, while limits to the amount and number of transactions per day may be defined, which constitutes “a security mechanism for the customer in case of loss or misplacement of the card, which can be changed at any time.”

And since all this machinery is designed in the interest of attracting the maximum possible currency, these bank accounts can receive funds through transfers from abroad, including remittances that until now were processed against bank accounts, as well as cash deposits in American and Canadian dollars, Euros, Pounds Sterling, Swiss francs, Mexican pesos, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Krone, and Japanese yen.

Deposits in Cuba’s national currencies, the CUC and CUP, will not be accepted. The exchange rate that is applied will have the US dollar as a reference value, and in case of US dollar cash deposits, a 10% tax will be applied, as established in Resolution 80 of October 23, 2004.

The government hopes that retail sales in freely convertible currency will allow the revenue collected to be translated into the development of the national industry — without specifying what these industries will be — to guarantee the sustainability of the supplies, boost the economy, satisfy domestic demand and generate jobs.

In addition, Valdés Mesa said that the new measures will improve both the after-sales servicing (warranty) of household appliances sold in the national market, as well as repair and maintenance servicing, a benefit not offered by the equipment imported by the buyer. “The prices that will be offered will be competitive with those existing in the retail market of the countries of our geographical area. They will not be fixed prices, but they will not be collectible either,” he added.

However, a brief glimpse of the “favorable” prices of “high-end products” through several examples offered by the Roundtable allow us to anticipate that they still do not conform to the reality of common Cuban’s purse, and that the welfare of many families will continue to depend on remittances. Thus, a 43-inch Samsung LED TV is priced at $549; a 13.6 cubic foot Daytron refrigerator at $519; a 1-ton Royal brand ductless air conditioner at $361, among other examples presented.

Clearly, these numbers do not relate to the income of the poor majority of the Island, so it is the government itself that widens the gap between Cubans with access to consumer goods and the vast majority that remains in a permanent state of survival.

The officials, in general, were profuse in details and in financial terminology that failed to show an understanding of the common of mortals in Cuba, and also extended in tariff matters, transactions, types of cards, benefits of bank accounts, etc. They could well have explained it in Mandarin Chinese, since knowledge of financial management, which they generally lack, is not precisely the strength of most of the natives of the Island.

What was clear to everyone who had the patience and discipline to watch this Roundtable from the beginning to the end is that there are still no effective measures for the millions of disadvantaged, low-income Cubans without access to remittances.

Gone and buried is that slogan that years ago made a revolution famous.  It went like this: “of the humble, with the humble and for the humble.” Now the greedy Castro regime will only have to sit down and wait for the unsuspecting people who will bite the hook and commit the supine stupidity of placing their capital and their confidence in the dark banking system of Cuba. Those naive people had better think twice.

*Group of Entrepreneurial Association, Public Limited Company

Translated by Norma Whiting

With Dengue Fever and, In Addition, Beaten

Containers overflowing with garbage on Jovellar Street in Centro Habana, a few meters from the emblematic Vedado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach | 4 October 2019 — Although health authorities have never declared it a national epidemic, it is no secret to anyone that dengue fever has not only become endemic throughout the Island — with recurrent outbreaks that tend to get worse every summer — but that statistical data on those infected and fatalities who have been infected over the years constitute, to date,  one of the Government’s best kept secrets..

As is often the case in a country where information is the property of the political power, the state of the national health landscape is not in the public domain and the population can only avail itself of its perception to estimate the severity of the infestation.

The state of the national health landscape is not in the public domain and the population can only avail itself of its perception to estimate the severity of the infestation

A few months ago, frequent fumigations in homes and workplaces, added to door to door medical research in each health area were indicators of a greater or lesser expansion of the epidemic outbreak. This went on mostly in Havana, where the highest rates of infestation accumulate due to population concentration and poor sanitary conditions, especially in the poorest and more densely populated neighborhoods. continue reading

However, in recent weeks fuel shortages have affected fumigation cycles, distorting citizens’ perception of the real extent of the epidemic while leaving an expedited gap for the proliferation of the virus transmitting agent, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

Officially reluctant to recognize the existence of the epidemic, the government has abandoned its usual practice of applying punitive actions that brand the population directly responsible for the spread of the disease. On Wednesday, several measures were made public, aimed at punishing those who “contribute, through their actions and negligence to the spread of diseases” with penalties ranging from fines to jail time.

The list of potential offenders is extensive. It covers both those who refuse to allow inspection and fumigation of their homes by agents of the “anti-vector campaign” as well as family doctors who do not carry out health measures on Cuban residents returning from travel abroad, officials who profit from resources intended to eradicate the vector, and a long list that includes patients who refuse to be hospitalized for medical attention.

At first glance, the new measures seem to respond to a government concern for public health in line with the seriousness of the health situation that the capital is going through, but such a perception is misleading. In fact, it only serves to mask, by omission, the responsibility of the State in the proliferation of vectors that seriously affect health, confusing public opinion. Another one among the thousand hidden faces of a silenced epidemic.

Thus, following the practice established six decades ago, the government once more attacks the effects and not the causes. The authorities could assume the responsibilities that relate to them and provide for appropriate collection of solid wastes that accumulate throughout the capital, clean and maintain the sewage system, repair the drains of hydraulic networks and cesspools that proliferate everywhere, prune green areas systematically, create adequate and sufficient hospital conditions and maintain an ambulance fleet capable of meeting the demand for the transfer of patients to hospitals, among other essential provisions.

Instead, the government chooses to prepare, as soon as possible, a long list of potential scapegoats who will, when the time comes, atone exclusively for their own sins and those of the Government.

While diseases, guilt and punishment fall primarily on the population, it must, in addition, weather the storm without even having the conditions to avoid contagion

Another long-standing absurdity established by the authorities is the alleged sanitary control at airports under which only travelers residing in Cuba are required to undergo blood tests, while foreign visitors, national or not, enter the country without submitting to any control. Paradoxically, diseases such as AIDS, Zika, Chikungunya and tuberculosis also entered the country through these airports — as has even the African giant snail, which has now become another unbeatable pest —  without, so far, responsibilities having been purged.

While illnesses, guilt and punishment fall primarily on the population, the Cuban people must, in addition, weather the storm without even having access to minimum conditions necessary to try to stay safe from contagion.

While it is public knowledge that it is almost impossible for a large portion of Cubans to get a simple mosquito net for each family member, it is as difficult or more so to create physical window barriers using screens that prevent the insects from entering rooms, or to acquire insecticides to spray homes or repellents to apply on the skin due to the usual shortages in the markets and to the high prices of some of those products, an issue that also depends absolutely on the Government, in those rare instances when they are available.

Cuckolded and beaten, as always happens, Cubans now contemplate helplessly how the maculae of power are again swept under the carpet. Epidemics, deficiencies, sacrifices, repression and punishments remain the guarantees offered by the system. All the same, but worse, in this terribly long Cuban Middle Ages.

Translated by Norma Whiting
__________________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Structural Crisis and “Elections”: It Won’t be Easy for The Designated One / Miriam Celaya

Díaz-Canel at the 1st National Conference of the Culture Union. 2018 (granma.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 October 2019 – There is just one day left before the 600 deputies that make up the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) “elect” who will be the country’s president and vice president for the next five years, re-eligible for a second term, as the new Electoral Law (Law No. 37) reads, approved last July in ordinary session of Parliament.

However, the millions of Cubans who are part of the so called sovereign people as well as the deputies themselves, who will obediently tick the boxes corresponding to each position and to “applicant”, previously selected by the true power, still ignore who the candidates to lead are, at least in name, the always precarious directions of the nation.

It is fair to say that the subject doesn’t interest hardly anyone either. The most widespread opinion among Cubans in Cuba is that it matters little who holds the title of president when it is known that those who truly rule in the country are the surviving members of the historical (de)generation and their closest heirs and collaborators, directly responsible of the whole disaster generated over 60 years. continue reading

Whoever those designated for such responsibilities are, they will be puppets without real power and without sufficient courage to undertake the essential changes, beginning with the general transformation of a system that is clearly obsolete. 

The only certainty derived from the experience of four generations who have barely survived the six decades of crises and hardships labeled under the deceptive heading of the Cuban Revolution, is that if the promises of the future were not fulfilled by now, not one of the ones they put in place will solve anything. Such conviction weighs like a tombstone on the popular spirit, as if, at the unconscious level, people have finally begun to internalize an unquestionable truth: Cuba’s evil is not cyclical but systemic.

In fact, the civic orphanage of an entire peoples blames itself in the daily language of the so-called ordinary Cuban. In any moderately democratic society and in the middle of the electoral stage, nobody would think of referring to “the one they are going to place,” rather they would say “the one I am going to vote for.” This, of course, after public knowledge of the respective government programs of each candidate and which party they represent.

In Cuba, on the contrary, the single party and the dictatorship have been legally consecrated — not “legitimately” — in the new Constitution; and so also, after 43 years of training in social compliance under an electoral system barely modified since 1976, the recently passed Law 37, in open contempt of the popular will that reclaimed direct participation in the election of the president of the country, constitutes a true armor to avoid fissures in the official filters that could eventually allow the rise to power of candidates unwanted by the privileged elite.

Thus, the Electoral Law Draft formally presented on July 2019 to the parliamentary commission designated “for discussion and approval,” made rampant omission of direct elections, one of the most important demands of Cubans during the so-called popular consultation process that preceded the unanimous approval of the Constitution now in force.

Nevertheless, it was unanimously approved by Parliament, in the same way that the “election” of the president and vice president will be approved on the morning of this October 10, 2019, under the protection of a paradoxical legislation that was renewed with the sole purpose of perpetuating a system anchored in the past.

Perhaps the few “innovative” brushstrokes of these supposed elections are summarized in factors that right now do not seem very relevant, but of which it would be wise to take note.

Namely, they are the first votes in which none of the members of the historical generation will be part of the candidacy — although they will continue to hold the Royal Power until nature takes its course.

Secondly, it is to be assumed that, in the course of five years, their survivors  will disappear or completely lose their already scarce capacities and, consequently, end their pernicious symbolic or real influence on the decision-making of the direction of the country.

And thirdly, with marked importance, to maintain the current deepening of the crisis of the system, the “new” government will have no more than two alternatives: to implement economic changes that would eventually result in the transformation of the “model” itself or to face chaos which would derive from social discontent over the accumulation of problems in all areas of national life, thus assuming the consequences of the mistakes made by the “historicals.”

Nor should we discard the importance of new leaderships that may emerge in the independent civil society and that would join the already known groups with long experience in resistance. Recent times are showing a rebound in sectors pushing for spaces of freedom and participation within the Island. Presumably, such growth will be sustained and they will diversify their proposals and demands to the extent that political power in Cuba is not even capable of generating a plan to alleviate the structural crisis of the system.

Meanwhile, expectations must be moderate. The Cuban landscape offers no reason for optimism but rather the opposite. The increase in repression, the sharpening of the crisis, the retreat, in terms of openings of the private sector and the ideological entrenchment, are some clear signs of the cupola’s lack of willingness to change; a situation from which there is no glimpse of an exit and whose solution does not depend at all on the X’s that will mark the ballots of the deputies in the electoral farce that will take place next Thursday.

It is clear that the president will not inherit the power, but will inherit the responsibility for what happens in the future: he will need to dare to move things or accept the role of accomplice and scapegoat of the dictatorship. It won’t be easy for him.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Special Period or “Situation”?

Díaz-Canel appearing on the Roundtable TV show on Cuban State television (Twitter)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 September 2019 — As announced by the official press in the morning hours of September 11th, a special appearance of the Cuban President (not elected), Miguel Díaz-Canel, took place in the usual space of State televison’s Roundtable program, in order to report on the “current energy situation” that the country is experiencing this September. This time, the program was broadcast from the Palace of the Revolution, and the Ministers of Economy, Energy and Mines, and Transportation accompanied Díaz-Canel

Looking tired – due to a day that began early, at a meeting of the Political Bureau with Raúl Castro leading, where “the measures to alleviate the situation” were approved – the “president” made his speech without departing a milligram from the script that, in broad strokes, began with the causes of all evils: the new “onslaught” of evil of the American Empire (and here, a direct mention of the funds allocated by the government of that country for “subversion in Cuba”), in addition to the capricious commitment of the current administration of the nation to the north to inflict suffering on the Cuban population, with the risky intention of blaming the inadequacies and deprivations on government inefficiency.

According to Díaz-Canel, the newly announced limitation of remittances and the efforts of the Trump administration to prevent the arrival of oil in Cuba were, among other factors, the most important ones that conditioned the “low availability of diesel,” which is directly impacting on public transportation and on freight. continue reading

Because it turns out that “there are no longer supply problems, such as those we faced at the end of last year and in the first months of this year.” It is said that there are food boats in port – loaded with meat, flour to make bread, etc. – whose cargoes have not been able to be unloaded due to the “current energy situation.” “Situation,” a word mentioned on numerous occasions during the speech by Díaz-Canel, which seems to be the new euphemism to refer to the economic crisis in the 90’s which the fertile imagination of Castro I termed The Special Period, and whose return the regime refuses to recognize.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Energy and Mines announced the “possibility of blackouts” which would be scheduled and announced in a timely manner to the population, while the Minister of Transportation referred to the inevitable “reprogramming” of inter provincial travel – that “will not be suspended, but extended” in time, which implies that “there will be people who bought their tickets but cannot travel on the planned dates” – a situation that will affect both national bus services and train travel, a service with an ephemeral life since it was reopened with much fanfare in recent weeks.

The Minister of Economy, in turn, made a triumphant mention of the financial contribution of tourism and other income derived from foreign investments, etc., all of which, in addition to the development plans undertaken throughout the country, means that we can be assured that this year’s growth in GDP will be guaranteed

There will also be effects “on the distribution of some products”, but at least they gave us the good news that “blackouts should not occur until next Sunday, September 15th, unless there are interruptions due to breakage or other factors.”

However, this time the government fortunately has a Plan. It is not without purpose that the president reminds us that we have now what we lacked in the 90’s, namely, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) Guidelines, the Conceptualization of the Model and – as if that were not enough – a brand new Constitution, very useful tools that now allow us to successfully face imperial tricks and plots. Now, a smiling Díaz-Canel tells us that the Cuba Plan faces the USA Plan. “Plan against Plan, as Martí used to say” he stated, very pleased with himself.

And what is the wonderful Master Plan secretly created by the Druids and their “continuity”? Well, literally: “dust off some of the experiences learned during the Special Period”, such as “work at home” (if possible work is done from the home base, taking advantage of “the advances in connectivity we now have”, to alleviate the use of public and labor transportation).

State vehicles (not normally used for passenger service) must pick up passengers at bus stops, provided they have available capacities (which seems like a repeat of the famous “yellow ones”, a name that the popular wit during those hard, turn of the century years, gave to State inspectors due to the color of their uniforms. The State inspectors’ function was to force the State drivers to carry passengers, and to apply the “popular control” (a euphemism for “snitching”) for any violation of measures and laws, “to move work schedules” even to the dawn hours, if necessary, and to reintroduce animal traction – as in horse-drawn carts, ‘buses’ and trucks – in places where this variant was possible, among other pearls.

And if that were not enough to convince us that this “tense energy situation” is not a Special Period but “a training opportunity, since it can be repeated in the future” — which contradicts the very concept of what is understood as situational — Now we have a “socio-economic development strategy” based on tourism and on “the exportation of medical and drug services,” in addition to other items such as the production of eggs, pork and chicken.

But the best news is that the above “situation” is only a matter of days away. The oil contracts for the month of October have already “been negotiated,” which implies that the coming month will not be energetically tense, and on the 14th of this month of September an oil ship will arrive — from a mysterious place that our president, so shrewd and naughty, did not want to reveal so that the Empire does not find out — which will be the solution for this small energy slump.

So, in the end, it was all about “a ship’s” arrival! Could it mean, perhaps, that with that solitary oil vessel that will arrive secretly, as if it were a seventeenth century filibuster, all the problems of this Island of 110 thousand square kilometers and 11 million low-life souls can be situational? And then, wasn’t it sufficient to do a press report explaining the fact instead of inventing implausible and medieval plans at the highest governmental level? Does the main plan of the cupola really take Cubans for fools?

But I will tell my readers a secret suspicion that’s eating me alive: I know that we are not in the Special Period because neither the person who became president because he knew somebody nor his team of babbling ministers has yet to mention that artifact that was the hallmark of the dark crisis: the bicycle. Or is it that it has not yet been possible to unload the ship “loaded with cycles” due to the lack of diesel?

In the end, all this absurdity of a “sovereign and independent” Island that makes such painful boast of its blarney economy reminds me of a phrase a poor madman repeats like a parrot to enliven his meaningless speeches and slogans at the Emergency Hospital bus stop, where his involuntary public crowds together. At the end, even if irrelevant, the poor man ends his rant by invoking that not so innocent other lunatic: “This did not happen with Fidel.” In Cuba, from the highest of Power to the lowest of the outcasts you can hear any nonsense.

Translated by Norma Whiting

We Don’t Understand Each Other: The Myths and Facts of Baragua

The meeting between both generals, the Spaniard and the Mambí, took place on March 15th, 1878, at a remote point in the rural geography of Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 September 2019 — The phrase is attributed to Antonio Maceo, general of our Wars of Independence and one of the essential pillars of the foundational theogony of the Cuban nation, whose feats and proverbial value in the insurgent camp, added to his majestic bearing and mestizo complexion, earned him the nickname of The Bronze Titan.

“We don’t understand each other,” it’s said to be the definitive answer given by the famous Cuban warrior to Spanish general Arsenio Martínez Campos, architect of the Covenant Agreement or Pact of Zanjón, under which the colonial power of the Island put an end to a bloody war that had extended for almost 10 years between the Spanish army and the Cuban insurgent forces.

The meeting between the two generals, the Spaniard and the Mambí, took place on March 15th, 1878 at a remote point in the Cuban rural geography, Los Mangos de Baraguá, and since the Pact of the Zanjón imposed peace without having achieved either Cuban independence or the abolition of slavery -the main objectives of the insurgent army’s fighting program- General Maceo refused to accept it, and declared a truce of only eight days before the continuation of a war that, clearly , the Cuban patriots had already lost. continue reading

Writings exalt the intransigence of the distinguished Mambí leader, and has been impressed on the national imagery from times of the Republic to the present day as an example of dignity and patriotism

For purposes of instrumentation of History it matters little that just 55 days after proclaiming the continuity of the armed struggle, the leader himself appealed to the mediation of his adversary, Arsenio Martínez Campos, to leave the Island for Jamaica — supposedly to raise funds and support for the independence cause — leaving in the mountains of Baracoa a handful of guerrillas without sufficient supplies and with hardly any food, who ended up surrendering and accepting the capitulation of the Zanjón in mid-June 1878, thus accentuating a defeat that is not reflected in the official teaching textbooks in Cuba.

Writings, on the other hand, exalt the intransigence of the distinguished Mambí leader, a fact that ended up in the History of Cuba as the “Protest of Baraguá” and has been impressed on the national imagery since the era of the Republic to the present day as an example of the dignity and patriotism of the hero who refused to lay down his arms, even though most of his fighting companions, in obvious “betrayal” of the patriotic ideals and the blood spilled on the battlefields, had embraced surrender.

Perhaps there is no hero as conducive to the official discourse of the Castro regime as Antonio Maceo. He is the epitome of national identity, both for his remarkable physical appearance and for the strength of his character. Tall, handsome, strong, elegant, patriotic, intelligent, energetic, brave and — as icing on the cake — mulato, Maceo not only embodies the patriotic ideal of independence, sovereignty and Cubanness embroiled in the heat of the independence fights, but he also symbolizes it from that racial mixture that distinguishes us as a people, the result of the fusion of the two most representative anthropological components of the Cuban ethnos: the Spanish white conqueror and the black African slave.

Thus, beyond the warrior’s will, Cuban historiography mutilated Maceo into a rigid archetype and Baraguá marked the starting line of an almost infinite succession of “symbolic victories,” a phenomenon that has become increasingly recurrent in the last six decades, consisting of putting on glory makeup and selling every defeat as a victory.

Dismal fate for a hero who, with intelligence and courage, demonstrated the ability to win numerous battles against his adversaries in arms, to be remembered for an episode where his stubbornness and ineptitude for civilized dialogue were revealed, and to accept the futility of the sacrifice of continuing an already lost war.

That said, and beyond the obvious manipulation of history, it is not difficult to understand that Maceo transcended his simple human dimension to become a national legend — an unblemished hero, so pure, elevated and unattainable that made him seem divine — and in addition, his legacy as a uncompromising warrior was transmuted into a legitimizing myth of a political power and a communist ideology, which are hard to compare with the avatars and true yearnings of the famous Titan.

These days, when tensions between the governments of Cuba and the United States are increasing after the activation of Chapter III of the Helms-Burton Act, the spokesmen for the Castro regime have once again recalled the unfortunate episode at Baraguá, decontextualizing it through TV spots in which a famous actor repeats the well-known phrase as a mantra, which in no way relates to the powerful enemy to the North: “We don’t understand each other.”

Dismal fate for a hero who demonstrated the ability to win numerous battles against his adversaries in arms, to be remembered for an episode where his stubbornness and ineptitude for civilized dialogue were revealed

Few Cubans today know that, after the setback Zanjón entailed for the longings for independence in the 17 years of tense peace between the end of the Great War and the outbreak of the one in 1895, the definitive abolition of slavery took place, and Cubans were granted the exercise of rights that are currently denied to us, such as the existence of political parties — autonomists and reformists — that played an important role in the awakening of the political interest of large Creole social sectors, as well as new press, literature and opinion spaces that exerted a definite influence for the impulse of Cuban national thought.

Moreover, the Zanjón Covenant recognized the independentistas as legitimate interlocutors, a sign of respect that the Cuban dictatorship refuses to show before a growing opposition that has been in an unequal peaceful struggle for decades.

The Pact of Zanjón, even with the defeat it meant for the independentistas, opened spaces in a Cuba approaching the end of the 19th century which today, 20 years after the end of the 20th Century, constitute aspirations. So, after all, it turns out that the phrase applies with more reason today than at Los Mangos de Baraguá, because when speaking of autocratic power and the governed, it can be said, with all relevance: “No, we do not understand each other.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

__________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Road Repair: Another Challenge to “Continuity”

The Cuban road network covers approximately 71,138 km, of which 10,997 are of “national interest” and 2,303 of rural roads (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 7 August 2019 — The Ministry of Transportation (Mitrans) has once again announced a traffic program for the maintenance and supervision of roads. Far from being a novelty, this would be the most recent of the many road improvement plans that — like housing construction — have cyclically been announced in different periods after 1959 and that, for unknown reasons, after a spectacular investment program, whose real cost is never revealed, and a flood of press reports covering the development of the works in situ, have not been fulfilled in practice.  They have been truncated or simply, silently, disappeared without further explanation.

Years of socialist neglect have caused the deterioration and even the destruction of numerous roads under the onslaught of natural phenomena, added to the inefficiency of the country’s sociopolitical system. The Island’s highways and roads system is experiencing its worst crisis since its construction, and its current deterioration imposes greater urgency and more resources in the midst of a new economic crisis. continue reading

The Island’s highways and road system is experiencing its worst crisis since its construction, and the current deterioration imposes greater urgency and more resources in the midst of a new economic crisis.

Now it’s the hand-picked president’s turn, whose “continuity” strategy does not leave room for optimism. But in Cuba, promoting the development of any subject is not exactly what it’s about, rather it’s about “having a development plan”. The experience of the last 60 years shows that fulfilling plans is not a priority, only the plan is an end in itself.

Therefore, though the aforementioned Roadways Program has not excelled — it does not even appear on the official website of the Mitrans, the entity in charge of its execution, nor will deadlines set for its different stages of development be known until the end of 2030 — at least in the government press, the work moves at full speed.

The data provided by sources of the Ministry of Transportation to the newspaper Granma indicate that the road network in Cuba covers a total of 71,138.5 km (44,204 miles), of which 17,168 km (10,668 miles) are classified as urban roads and about 24,000 km (14,913 miles) correspond to rural roads, with most of them considered “of specific interest” because they are owned by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Azcuba (sugarcane production) group. The same source adds that “in a general way” 24% of these routes are evaluated as “in good condition”, 37% “are in normal condition” and 39% “in poor condition”.

The figures quoted do not clearly reflect the importance rankings of the roads included in this phantom plan; however, the director of the National Road Center did report that for the period 2019-2030 ” priority investments associated with the development of the northern coastal cays areas plus the Special Development Zone of Mariel, as well as works of tourist interest and others in the economic and social field will be maintained.” He also assured that, in addition, “emphasis is placed on the improvement of road signs and activities related to the sealing of cracks, paving, milling and repair of bridges and sewers, and continue mainly on the National Highway and the Central Highway.

 It is worth clarifying at this point that the so-called National Highway is a misnomer, since it does not even meet the required basic requirements

It is worth clarifying at this point that the so-called National Highway is a misnomer, since it does not even meet basic requirements, such as the absence of level intersections or crossings, with layouts allowing access to adjacent buildings directly from the road. It also does not meet the required deceleration lanes at entrances and exits, with nonexistent or diffuse and extremely narrow lateral shoulders at best, with scarce and deficient signaling system which is not consistent with high-speed traffic highways. The route lacks fences or railings that guarantee security and prevent the access of pedestrians or cattle (or other animals), among other infinite deficiencies related to the poor quality of the construction and not a few engineering errors of the original project.

The brand new “highway” does not even classify as a motorway, nor could it be compared to the marvel of engineering that was once the Central Highway, built between 1927 and 1931 under the Government of Gerardo Machado, and still considered Cuba’s most important road, extending for 708 miles through 14 of Cuba’s current provinces.

Nor does the ill-named freeway have a “national” rank since, although the project — originally devised by the now deceased Fidel Castro in his useless effort to emulate and overcome all the advances of the Republican Period — intended to build a modern high-speed road which would cross the island lengthwise in its entirety; the truth is that it only covers a total of just 597 km (371 miles) from the capital to the west, to the city of Pinar del Río, and to the east to the city of Sancti Spiritus, in the Central region of Cuba. The demise of the Soviet Union and with it the subsidies received by the Castro Regime marked the fate of a road that, to date, remains truncated.

But, returning to the issue of current maintenance and repair works whose execution is supervised by the same non-elected president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, it goes without saying that, this time, the information about the amount of the budget that will be dedicated to such commendable purpose was conspicuous by its absence. Commendable and urgent, if it were true, especially since each year the high accident rates take the lives of dozens of people and causes temporary or permanent injuries to thousand others.

 Not to mention the corruption of bribing the officials responsible for ensuring the safety of all, both in the process of obtaining driver’s licenses and in the evasion of technical controls

Last June, the official radio station Radio Rebelde reported that between January and May 2019, 4,134 traffic accidents had taken place in Cuba, with a balance of 269 deaths and 3,063 injuries, “a discrete decrease” compared to the same period over last year’s numbers. However, the official version continues to consider Road Safety Code violations by vehicle drivers as the main cause of the high accident rate, which is a half-truth, because it masks the responsibility of the Government for the lousy state of roads, the precarious and defective signaling system, plus the poor technical condition of state-owned vehicles, including the ones that operate in passenger transport.

All this, not to mention the corruption through bribes to the officials responsible for ensuring the safety of all, which is present both in the process of obtaining licenses and in the evasion of technical controls — carried out by state inspectors — or fines that the traffic police should impose on offenders.

At the moment, Cuba’s current scenario is more doubtful than certain, and despite everything, the repair of roads — although also necessary — is perhaps the least of the priorities of a population where such essential issues as finding food to place on the table and housing are still pending subjects against useless plans and empty slogans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

_________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

We Are Not Continuity, We Are Rupture / Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro and Díaz-Canel, Ramón Machado Ventura and Ramiro Valdés (photo: rtve.es)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, United States, 2 August 2019 —  On July 30th, the digital edition of the Granma newspaper published yet another of the usual hodge-podge stew texts we are so used to, in which the term “mercenary” (through Wikipedia), the crisis of Venezuela, the Helms-Burton Act in its Third Chapter, the recent report on Venezuela prepared by Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which the autocrats of the Palace of the Revolution have found so hard to swallow, and – finally as a main course – the “stateless” in Cuba who, “by vocation” and even for chump change (…) lend themselves to any shady deal against the country that saw them draw their first breath”.

This time the official regurgitation would be perfectly inconsequential, except for its timing, in the midst of a true offensive against independent journalism and autonomous groups of the civil society.  Also, by the prosaic manipulation of facts and terms with the sole purpose of conditioning public opinion in favor of an eventual raid against all public action that they deem adverse, it is punctually directed against the “traitors, stateless and ill-born mercenaries”, who have had the inexcusable audacity of exercising their legitimate right to request the presence of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and its observers in Cuba, as well as the preparation of the corresponding report. continue reading

In this regard, and putting aside the fact that Cuba is a UN member country, the Castro scribe says “that these reports come with the script and writing of the US Department of State and it is worth noting that all these infamies have crashed against Cuba in the presence of truth (…) and with the dignity of a whole people that knows how to identify, fight and defeat its enemies, be they internal or external ”.

Because the Plaza de la Revolución has an instrumental and bipolar vision of the international organizations to which it belongs: they are legitimate if they condemn the Embargo (“blockade”, as they call it), but they are spurious if they denounce the excesses of Castro’s power or that of their allies.

But not because it’s overused is the official strategy less perverse, especially when all the setbacks suffered in recent times by the cream of the crop of regional progress -today almost folded into Havana’s Palace of the Revolution and the Palace of Miraflores in Caracas -is added “the betrayal” of someone who was assumed until the day before, and not without foundation, to be a reliable ally, tolerant of the dictatorial excesses of her leftist friends, socialist Michelle Bachelet. Good times are definitely not here for the Castro regime’s “progressive” millionaires, and they prepare to defend their power, their lair and their privileges with equal intensity.

Thus, although neither the international organizations attached to the United Nations nor Bachelet herself in her years as President of Chile have ever given due attention to the demands of Cuban civil society and to allegations of human rights violations in Cuba, the dictatorship prefers to shield itself inward, just in case. And since the elders of the Historical Generation are running out of health or biological time to continue to face displeasure or to fight “battles” — even less so now that the adversaries are the current generations of Cubans who have taken the pleasure of feeling like citizens and not plantation slaves — their beneficiaries and scribes have the sacred mission of stepping out.

They are, paraphrasing Granma’s servile scribe, the true mercenaries of vocation (himself included). Or perhaps it is more accurate to call them insignificant low-cost mercenary slaves. It is they who function as verbal minions against Cubans who, for dignity and for their love of Cuba, have the courage to rebel against the dictatorship, it is they who bark “emboldened” because they feel protected by the landlord, they are also the ones that live on crumbs and “sell their soul to the devil” for travel and small perks and those who “lend themselves to the most vile actions against their fellow citizens.” If it were not for the poison he extracts and the danger that he contains, we almost would have to thank the reporter for the accuracy of the self-portrait.

And it is not that too many expectations need to be made about an eventual (and practically unlikely) incursion of the UN High Commissioner in Cuba, starting with one insurmountable obstacle, the dictatorship would not allow it. But the initiative is worthwhile, not only because Bachelet’s functions include attending to the claims of those who have been systematically violating basic human rights for 60 years, but because every civic front in Cuba undermines the foundations of totalitarianism, and sets precedents for the civic rebirth of Cubans.

The Scribe lord, mercenary slave of the Granma libel, does not understand, and neither do his masters understand that those of us who signed that letter that so much frightens them are not traitors or stateless, but quite the opposite. They do not understand, in their infinite stubbornness, that more and more Cubans than they can imagine are not “we are continuity”.  We are rupture.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between “Collateral Damage” and Direct Damage”

New technologies have not only facilitated the emergence and proliferation of sites of undeniable quality and variety in Cuba, and their disappearance would certainly be an important loss of spaces rigorously attained. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 23 July 2019 — Journalist José Jasán Nieves, general editor of El Toque, is the author of an article published last Sunday in which he exposes his particular vision about the difficulties of the new Cuban journalism in order to survive official pressures and obstacles, while noting that what he considers the Government’s current repressive escalation (though he doesn’t call it that) against the “alternative press” is the “confrontational focus” of Donald Trump’s policy against Cuba.

J.J. Nieves defines as “new journalism” what has emerged in Cuba in the last seven years outside the official press monopoly, endorsed in more than thirty websites which – “supported by the expansion of access to digital technologies, internet, and new forms of financing from the small private sector” – made it possible that “Cuba’s story” to cease to be “bi-chromatic (for or against the socialist model)” and to acquire “the same complexity as (.. .) the society in transition in this archipelago in the Caribbean Sea”.

The author mentions the participation of young professionals, graduates of Cuban universities, many of them with experience in the official press, as a factor that has elevated the quality of journalism. Another favorable factor for the rise of this new journalism is what he considers a “climate of greater tolerance towards dissent in the political sphere,” aided by the spirit of detente that led to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the US government and Cuba in the Obama era, and “towards emerging forms of civil society” (said to have been promoted by the “updating of the model” speech) and by Raúl Castro’s economic reforms implemented since 2011. continue reading

The author mentions the participation of young professionals, graduates of Cuban universities, many of them with experience in the official press, as a factor that has increased the quality of journalism

However, despite the fact that the “new journalism” distances itself from the poles or “factions” – “no longer the hell of a repressive dictatorship or the idyllic fantasy of the lighthouse country and guide of the international left” – and that its contents “better satisfy the information needs of the people”, Nieves complains that he is considered by the current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, as the new subversion, which is “the clearest confirmation of an approach already applied to him by the security organs of the Cuban State since his first editions.” It seems as if the author naively considers the repressive bodies as an entity independent of the Government.

In keeping with the discourse of the same power that suffocates both the “faction” of those who speak of a repressive dictatorship and the new and conciliatory journalism, for Nieves, the great villain of this story is Donald Trump with his policy of confrontation towards Cuba. It is the American president, and not the lack of political will on the part of the Cuban Government, which “can end at once the permissiveness towards the also termed  “alternative press.”

There are many of us who do independent journalism and do not accept agendas dictated from abroad, nor do we share at all the confrontational policies of Mr. Trump or previous presidents, although we are not remiss when it comes to labeling the Cuban government as “a dictatorial regime”, just as it is, which does not include us in any faction. Instead, to label ourselves as such would be to follow the official agenda of Castroism.

The writing contains some “small” omissions, such as the fact that, like it or not, there is a long history of previous independent journalism in which many activists and professional journalists, like Reinaldo Escobar or Raúl Rivero – which cost the latter jail time during the incursion of the Black Spring – who many years ago assumed the responsibility of describing Cuba as complex and concealed (not necessarily “bi-chromatic”) in a way that never appears in the official media. It also ignores that media – such as 14ymedio or Diario de Cuba, to name two known cases – not only have their access blocked from the Island, but are also not included in “el paquete”*. That is why it is appropriate to remind Nieves that all journalism has the right to exist and that it should belong to Cubans, and not to a select elite of well-intentioned university professionals or an almighty political power to choose what type of press they should taste.

The text contains some “small” omissions such as the fact that, like it or not, there is a long history of independent journalism

 At any rate, new technologies have not only eased the emergence and proliferation of sites of undeniable quality and variety in Cuba, whose disappearance would certainly be a significant loss of hard-earned spaces and a very painful setback in terms of civic freedoms, but also the possibility of turning any citizen into a journalist who narrates his own reality, his problems, his demands and aspirations, from his community, a variant of journalism that emerged decades ago around the world and that, with its lights and shadows, has been present in Cuba.

It should be noted, however, that José Jasán Nieves’s article could be an important contribution to a long-held debate around Cuban independent journalism – understood as independent of the most holy State-Party-Government trinity – call it new, alternative, or any denomination, whose existence and character has been questioned by both Tyrians and Trojans, and that, in short, has suffered harassment and repression in its entirety from the same common enemy, which is not exactly imperialism.

If there is one thing all us factions – those who dedicate themselves to the dangerous profession of dissenting or, at least, questioning a reality that depends exclusively on the designs of the caste that holds the political power in Cuba – is that the causes of our prolonged National crisis and the threat of extinction of our free journalism spaces are within Cuba and not in the policies dictated by a foreign power, whatever it may be, as was demonstrated during Obama’s conciliatory agenda or with the worsening pressures from Trump.

If Nieves prefers to assume the current incursion against independent journalism as Trump’s “collateral damage”, and if that makes him feel any better, it will be beneficial.  For my part, as an independent journalist and as a citizen, I choose to continue fighting against the direct damage to all our freedoms, which has been (and continues to be) the one that originates from the Palace of the Revolution.

*El Paquete (the package) is a one terabyte collection of digital material distributed since around 2008 in Cuba’s underground market as a substitute for broadband Internet.

Translated by Norma Whiting

_________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

To Live Without a Future: Cuban Migrants’ “Legitimate Fear” / Miriam Celaya

Cuban migrants in Ciudad Juárez. File photo.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 16 July 2019 — Just five years ago, when the governments of the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations after 18 months of secret talks, there were ominous voices that predicted the end of the privileges for Cuban immigrants to the northern country.

According to this gloomy forecast, an accelerated increase in the number of nationals leaving the Island, both by sea and by land, began to take place. The continental exodus has not stopped even with the end of the policy of “wet foot/dry foot”, when – rumors turning into reality – the then outgoing president, Barack Obama, announced its immediate repeal on 12 January 2017.

Meanwhile, the incoming president not only did not restore that migratory privilege, but rather reinforced the obstacles. In fact, during the current administration, there was a cessation of consular functions in the US embassy in Havana, which makes it difficult to carry out the corresponding procedures. Added to this is the significant decrease in the number of visas granted in the last three years, the recent elimination of the multi-entry visa, valid for five years, and the marked slowing down of family reunification processes. continue reading

But the problems do not stop there. In recent times the avalanche of asylum seekers in the US southern border, mostly from Central America, exceeds the response capacities of the US authorities and prevents both the processing of the requests and the assimilation and adequate attention at the border posts destined to the temporary reception of migrants.

Thus, in an attempt to overcome the crisis, this Monday, July 15th, the official US Department of Homeland Security website has published a new regulation for asylum seekers, which will go into effect on Tuesday, the 16th of this month. The new regulation does not make a distinction among national origins in its text and, consequently, it could potentially also apply to Cuban immigrants.

“A foreigner who enters or intends to enter the US through the southern border without having sought protection in a third country outside of their countries of citizenship, national origin or of his last customary legal residence, who has been en route to the United States, is not suitable for asylum,” reads the rule that casts another shadow of uncertainty on the future of island migrants, especially those who cannot justify a “legitimate fear of being persecuted” or who generally avoid seeking protection in transit countries , either for fear of being deported to Cuba or to avoid the usual extortion from a large number of corrupt officials.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to weave containment strategies against illegal migration and seek agreements with the countries of origin or transit in order to contain the disorderly exodus to the US border. Nor is it known to what extent the Cuban-American exile community can influence (or be willing to do so) in favor of the current Cuban migration. There are sectors that – understandably – distance themselves from the new waves of migrants. At the border, these sectors declare themselves to be “politically persecuted”, and once they get the coveted green card, they return to visit the Island as economic emigrants.

It is early for the lapidary assertions, but all signs tend to spread alarm among the most suspicious hopefuls to reach the American dream, awakening fears about the eventual disappearance of the Cuban Adjustment Act, in force since 1966, the last remaining prerogative for Cubans that allows them to legalize their immigration status and apply for the permanent resident card one year after their entry into the United States.

For the time being, far from slowing down the migratory flow from the Island, each new obstacle seems rather an incentive to escape as soon as possible to any point in the hemisphere, preferably in the northern direction. Because, what is unquestionable is that the only true and legitimate fear of the tens of thousands of Cubans who emigrate each year, is to have to live and die in a country where they feel condemned not to have present or future.

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

Translated by Norma Whiting