Revolutionary Desecration

Going forward, the remains of Céspedes and Grajales will be next to those of Fidel Castro and José Martí (Christian Pirkl – Eigenes Werk/Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 October 2017 — In a simple note consisting only of four paragraphs, the official Cuban press reported yesterday a fact as unexpected as it was unusual: this Tuesday, coinciding with the 149th anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence, “the political act and military ceremony of the burial of the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales” will take place in the cemetery Santa Ifigenia, in Santiago de Cuba.

As if it were not sufficiently offensive to the memory of José Martí – who devoted his life to, and met his death in pursuit of the dream of a republic of free Cubans – the imposition, in the vicinity of the beautiful funerary monument that honors his memory, of a horrible mortuary rock that contains the remains of the autocrat that destroyed the brief republican mirage and cut off all civil liberties, now the Cuban authorities have granted themselves the right to dispose of the mortal remains of other heroes of the nation, as if this were their particular legacy, and not the whole nation’s spiritual heritage. continue reading

146 years ago, eight medical students were executed for an alleged crime against the tomb of a Spanish journalist in colonial Cuba

And they obviously do it with the implicit intention of expanding the cult to the Deceased in Chief, his majesty, Castro I, equating him to the founding fathers of the Cuban nation, if not subordinating the founding fathers around him.

But the impunity of the olive-green cupola is as immense as its arrogance. Suffice it to remember that 146 years ago, eight medical students were executed for an alleged crime against the tomb of a Spanish journalist in colonial Cuba.

Such costly mobilization of funerary monuments – of Céspedes and of Mariana – is even more unfathomable in a country where material and financial deficiencies are ever more pressing, and where a very strong hurricane destroyed a significant part of the housing base of the most humble and insolvent Cubans. Only “so that, in the future, the Cuban people and foreign visitors can pay tribute in a more expeditious way, to both, the National Hero José Martí on one side and on the other, the Historical Leader of the Cuban Revolution, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz…”

It seems that the mortal remains of the Father of our Nation, which were disturbed and publicly exposed in Santiago de Cuba by the Spanish colonial power in 1874, haven’t yet found their well-deserved rest.

The official greed in quest of dollars does not stop at anything. It’s here that the historical memory of the nation, this time using the bones of the most noteworthy deceased, is subordinated to the tourist industry.

But in their decision to mobilize official necrophilia in the service of the particular interests of the Government, it is not only ordinary Cubans that have been excluded. Manuel Hilario de Céspedes and García Menocal, Bishop of Matanzas and descendant of the Father of the Nation’s lineage, was not consulted about it. Neither were other important ecclesiastical authorities, such as Juan de Dios, Auxiliary Bishop of Havana and Secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.

Nothing is sacred to the Cuban autocracy: neither memories, nor the nation’s heroes, nor the symbols they pretend to honor, nor the heir children of the national history

Oscar Márquez, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba, was not only not previously informed of the exhumation, but his office has yet to receive any requests to officiate in a Catholic ceremony honoring the remains of such distinguished, undeniably Catholic, Cubans, which demonstrates the rampant contempt of the military elite for all values, feelings and traditions of the nation.

However, the desecration of important tombs and the patriotic memory of the nation is an old practice for that autocracy. For example, in 1987, after the death of an old communist leader who became a faithful servant of the Castro regime, Blas Roca Calderío, his body was buried at Cacahual, of all places, very close to the mausoleum that holds the remains of General Antonio Maceo Grajales, one of the most important heroes of the Cuban wars of independence, in what constituted a sharp affront to all those who erected his mausoleum from public and private donations.

Nothing is sacred to the Cuban autocracy: neither the memories, nor the nation’s heroes, nor the symbols they pretend to honor, nor the children who are the inheritors of the national history. When, on October 10th this conspiracy is finally consummated, the Government will just have added one more injury against Cuba. However, the worst affront is not the desecration of power, but the acquiescent silence of those who should be the true guardians of the historical memory that gave birth to us as a people: Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Irma and the “Hollocastro,” Two Hurricanes Over Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro (Cubanet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 16 September 2017, Havana – In these post-hurricane days, rumors are circulating through the streets of the Cuban capital: where is Raúl Castro? Why has he not made an appearance in the areas most affected by the ravages of Hurricane Irma or before the television cameras to deliver some message of hope and support to the victims? Isn’t it true that the person that holds by force the highest leadership of the Government and the single Party should go directly to the people and be more at hand, the greater the calamity that’s devastating the country?

A week after of the hurricane’s destructive passage deployment of leaders has been taking place throughout the devastated countryside and towns. The entire olive-green aging caste seems to have mobilized. Except for the general-president, whose invisibility is, at least, scandalous. He was barely seen in the official media this Friday, September 15th, presiding over a meeting of the National Defense Council that took place last Wednesday the 13th, where, according to the same media, “damages caused by Hurricane Irma and the actions to be developed during the recovery phase were evaluated, as were actions to be taken during the recuperation phase.” On that occasion, the head of government also maintained a very low profile. continue reading

As usual, speculations and rumors have been rampant in trying to explain the head of state’s unlikely behavior: “He must be very ill”, say some people; “They did not have a contingency plan for this disaster,” conjecture the more malicious. However, the most widespread impression is that the country’s situation is so complex and its solutions so difficult that it is too big a task for the old ruler. In fact, Raúl Castro doesn’t time to live, or good health, or political will, or courage, or sufficient talent not just to solve the deep national crisis, but to lead the destinies of Cuba to a good port.

To make matters worse, the Cuban president’s only message was the “appeal to our dynamic people,” published in the media on Tuesday, September 12th, where – in the absence of a more realistic proposal – he appealed to “the legacy” of the Specter in Chief “with his “permanent faith in the victory” to face the country’s recovery. Nothing seems as absurd and desperate as to invoke the ghostly guidance of the main maker of the national ruin in this horrible hour.

But the icing on the cake was the unfortunate clumsiness of stating in the same text that “we have the human and material resources required” to repair and put into operation before the high season (beginning in November) the main tourist destinations that suffered severe damages in the hurricane. In a country where a large number of families have lost their homes and their meager assets, such an impudent statement, which transcends the greed of the top for monopolizing hard currency is not only untimely and cynical in the present circumstances, but it constitutes an irrefutable demonstration of the Government’s insensitivity to the human drama that tens of thousands of Cubans on the Island are experiencing.

For many, the distance that the general-president of his troubled people has taken is multiplied by contrast, compared to the extreme populism of his predecessor. Everyone remembers that Castro I – whether out of his proverbial thirst for the limelight, his egocentrism, or his colossal narcissism – took advantage of the opportunities offered by hurricanes to descend from his high green Olympus to take a dip in town and appear as protector and generous patron, especially in those places where the poorest sectors lived and where the worst damage had occurred.

There, in the midst of the rubble, the rubbish and the mud, the egregious autocrat pressed some hands, clumsily patted some children’s heads, dictated the patterns of an imaginary recovery, provided for the free distribution of some odds and ends, flung impossible promises that ended up in oblivion, and pronounced inspired speeches. He looked as if he were sincerely concerned about his endowment of slaves. Because Castro I knew that it was not enough to be the maximum leader: he also – and perhaps this was the most important thing – had to look like one.

And the trick always worked because, at the end of the day, warped politicians (forgive the redundancy) know that people simply just need to believe that, in reality, despite losses, calamities and wreckages “they will not be left helpless” by their leaders. And they certainly believe it, if only for a while.

But it happens that “time” is what neither the general-president nor the millions of Cubans who await improvements that never arrive have. So, even admitting that his age, his declining health or his justified fears of the unpredictable reactions that the impatient multitudes may exhibit, could have prevented Raúl Castro from mixing with the people, what is true is that, as sitting “president,” he may not evade his responsibility at the head of the nation.

So, Hurricane Irma could turn out to be one of two options for Castro II: the opportunity to correct the course and remove the restrictions and obstacles that impede the development of the nation’s private sector, recognizing its important role in moving the internal economy; or – otherwise – the nail that seals the coffin of the so-called “updating of the model” with all its failed plans. The General’s insoluble dilemma is to try to improve the national economy without liberating its productive forces; but his personal tragedy is that he can only save the country if he betrays the so-called “socialist” legacy, inherited from his brother and mentor.

The signals of government weariness and the popular discontent are already clear, as has been shown in recent outbreaks of protest, in the looting of state businesses, in the obvious fear of the government that seeks to exacerbate popular discontent with “exemplary” measures and repress the heated minds with an unprecedented deployment of power of the Special Forces that only spur a climate of tension and of a plaza besieged, especially in the country’s capital. And to aggravate the scene, there is no longer a “wet foot/dry foot” policy in the United States, offering an outlet for Cubans’ expectations of prosperity. Now only frustration and powerlessness are left.

Meanwhile, Irma has been a fatal unforeseen event for the Government, which, at first glance, creates serious disturbances in different levels of national life.

At the economic level, it shatters the official plans of increasing the gross domestic product by 2% by the end of 2017 from an announced tourism growth that would see the arrivals of foreign vacationers surge to a number of 4 million visitors or more.

At the political level, it also alters the plans for the electoral farce that had just begun with the nomination process of base candidates, which now must be hastily reprogrammed, with all the flaws and unforeseen implications that this might entail.

At the social level, Irma’s saga has increased the tension between the fragile social power balance and the governed; which is the same as saying between the beneficiaries and the eternally sacrificed.

The reasons the General does not offer his face to the storm is understandable from all this. He does not give answers because he does not have them. He is old, tired and fearful. Perhaps the months, weeks and days that remain before giving the presidential chair are counted, and with it, all the problems and tensions that it arouses. Except that Hurricane Irma has also stamped an unthought-of turn in those plans. It is already known that in an uncontrolled Cuba everything that is harmful is possible.

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

“The Hurricane Has Delivered Punta Alegre the Coup de Grace”

The damages in Punta Alegre, Ciego de Ávila, could be around 80%, but there are no official figures. (Lisbet Cuéllar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 September 2017 — Residents of Punta Alegre, a small fishing village located on the northern coast of Cuba’s municipality of Chambas, in Ciego de Ávila, have not yet recovered from the horror they experienced on September 8th, when their community was leveled while hurricane Irma struck for endless hours.

Ironically, it was the feast day of the Cuban patron saint, our Lady of El Cobre, who, according to legend, hundreds of years ago saved three fishermen from the raging sea in the bay of Nipe. The children of Punta Alegre, however, did not count on her divine protection. In fact, they did not have anyone’s.

After the catastrophe, when the inhabitants of Punta Alegre began to come out of the few remaining homes or shelters in which they had taken refuge temporarily, they encountered a panorama of utter devastation. A pile of debris, sea corals, chunks of roofs, scraps of furniture, tree branches, and mud stretched over what once was a quiet coastal town. Some fishing boats had been swept by the sea into the village and floated between houses. Only the more solid masonry constructions, barely a minimum percentage of the precarious housing found in the town resisted the hurricane’s fury. continue reading

Witnesses confirm that nothing resembles the picturesque little town that Punta Alegre once was, with its smells of sea and fish, settled in a privileged geographical landscape

 Irma’s attack, with sustained winds of 240 kph (149 mph) and the incursion of the sea, totally or partially destroyed both the humble houses and almost all of the scarce State facilities, including the fishing cooperative – whose already weak fleet suffered the total loss of or damage to several boats – the two shopping areas, the camping base, the two restaurants, the nursing home, whose dining room served food to retirees of lower income with no subsidiary help, and other facilities. Not even the village church escaped the catastrophe: half of the belfry collapsed, including everything besides the bell.

The amount and total magnitude of the damage is still unknown, but according to the testimonies of some neighbors who have managed to leave the town for other places where communications and electricity service have already been restored, the current image of Punta Alegre is of utter desolation. Some say that more than 80% of the town was destroyed, but, so far, there are only unconfirmed estimates. In any case, the witnesses say that nothing resembles the picturesque little town that Punta Alegre once was, with its sea and fish smell, set in a privileged geographical landscape between the bay to the north, and green hills that descend into the horizon to the south.

Ronald is a 30-year-old from Punta Alegre who was visiting his parents when Irma raged over the place where he was born. Five days later, back in Havana, where he lives with his wife and children, he tells us that “the hurricane has delivered the coup de grace to Punta Alegre”.

“The truth is that the decadence had begun there many years ago, since the Máximo Gómez Sugar Mill (formerly Punta Alegre Sugar Mill) was closed for good during the crisis of the 1990’s and many people lost their jobs”, he says, explaining why he left and moved to the capital.

“In my parents’ and grandparents’ days, Punta Alegre had a lot of drive for a country town. The bay was deep enough to allow ship traffic of respectable size, carrying the sugar produced in the mills,” he recalls. 

Tourist infrastructure, far from being a new source of employment, was a severe blow to fishing, because the maritime road did not meet the technical requirements

But the closing of its plant would be just the beginning of the town’s collapse. Tourism fever started around the same time, driven by a government desperate to raise hard currency. The construction of hotels in Cuba’s northern keys (Jardines del Rey), as well as that of the embankments to connect these keys to the mainland, far from being a new source of jobs for the inhabitants of Punta Alegre, were a severe blow, since the maritime road did not comply with the technical requirements that call for the presence of sufficient number of bridges to allow the proper circulation of the marine currents. This increased the salinity of the waters in Buenavista Bay, and with it, many marine species that were the economic sustenance of a traditionally fishing community disappeared from the area.

“Suffice it to say that, from that point on, the cooperative, built after the Revolution, which up to the ‘80’s maintained a fairly large flotilla, began to decline and its catch levels fell, eventually deteriorating and losing many boats for lack of maintenance or official disinterest. And, along with the decay of the cooperative, also came the decline in the fish-processing plant, which was the source of employment for many of the town’s women, including my mother and my grandmother”, remarks Ronald.

In fact, Irma is not the first hurricane to hit Punta Alegre. In 1985, Kate arrived in the region as a category 2 hurricane and demolished a good number of houses and other infrastructures, among which was the old nautical club built on stilts, over the sea waves. On that occasion, the late Cuban President Fidel Castro, who used to visit regions hit by the hurricanes and personally guide the recovery efforts, built a small community of houses further away from the sea for Hurricane Kate’s victims. In spite of this, the town’s original characteristics were never recovered.

“Somehow, people have always managed to survive, and also to try to have a little fun”. We still had the Los Cocos Beach, which was in the Máximo Gómez Mill, where people went to enjoy themselves at the camping base until a few days ago. Now all that was lost and who knows if anything will be recovered, or when. It is as if Punta Alegre has been doomed”, he mourns.

But, to date, what Ronald and the majority of the inhabitants of Punta Alegre can’t understand is the scandalous abandonment of the local and municipal authorities when Irma’s scourge was imminent, although it was known well ahead that the hurricane’s trajectory would have a catastrophic effect on the town and its people.

 “There was no assurance of food for the people. Only 150 packets of salt crackers arrived for a population of about five thousand, and some coal sacks were distributed free of charge”

“Before Irma arrived, transportation and communications were cut off, and there was no assurance of food for the people. Only 150 packets of salt crackers arrived for a population of about five thousand, and some sacks of coal were distributed free of charge”. That was it. Baby food did not arrive either, nor was there a distribution of powdered milk or canned food for the people to get by during the storm. One can just imagine the fights over a few of those crackers. The only thing that stayed open and active around the clock was the bakery, thanks to the only operational generator in the area. The medical post was also active”.

“Despite widespread propaganda in the official press, this town did not even benefit from an adequate contingency plan. There was no efficient evacuation procedure of the inhabitants near the coastline, where the sea breached with a force never seen before, so that entire families, including small children, who thought they were safe in homes, were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night, under rain and gusts of wind in a nightmarish situation. “We believed that this was it, that we were going to drown because the water was up to our chests. The children were terrified, screaming and crying non-stop. Some people did not scream, but panic was reflected in their eyes”, recalls Ronald.

Even under the pummeling of the winds, the two village stores were sacked, as well as the “El Toletazo Restaurant”. The scarce food collected there, and in other small warehouses of a few State establishments were shared spontaneously and jointly by the town’s people. “It must be noted that people helped each other. Not one person in a protected shelter shut anyone out. Everyone supported and consoled each other. It was very emotional, despite the misfortune”.

No Government representative visited the village until September 12th. However, in previous days, several senior officials had made an appearance in the Keys.

Until the 12th of September, when the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party finally arrived in Punta Alegre, no government representative had visited the town, which to this day still lacks the basics, such as electricity, drinking water and telephone service. However, in previous days several senior officials, including the Minister of Tourism, had been present in the Keys to evaluate the damage suffered by hotel facilities and to guide reconstruction work which, according to President Raúl Castro, must be completed before next November, the start of the high season.

“When the worst moments had passed, a lot of people went out to forage… Some people found a considerable number of whiskey bottles and other alcoholic drinks, which had been swept away by the waves from the storerooms and facilities in the Keys. There were also some things to eat that landed on shore by the force of the waves and the wind, but they were spoiled. They say that the hurricane caused the loss of tons of food from the hotels in the Key resorts. It is a crime that food was lost instead of being delivered to the nearby towns before the storm hit”, admonishes Ronald.

When the young man was able to leave the village, he saw long lines of townspeople crowded in wait for food that, according to government leaders who just materialized on the scene, should start arriving by truck at any moment”. There were long lines of people anxious to get food for their families”, he says, “and it hurts to think that most of them have lost their homes and all their possessions”. After a pause, he repeats his initial idea: “Yes, Hurricane Irma was the coup de grace, but the destruction of Punta Alegre had already begun a very long time ago”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Enigmas of Successions

The First Cuban Vice-President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, shown here listening to Raul Castro, is one of the candidates to occupy the presidency. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 6 August 2017 – Only half a year before the announced general-president Raúl Castro’s departure from his duties as President of Cuba, it is still not known with certainty who his successor will be. It is undeniable is that whoever the Power choses to give continuity to the failed socio-political and economic model imposed by the olive-green clan will inherit not only a country in ruins with an astronomical debt and an aging population, depleted by the emigration of a large segment of the best of its workforce, but also a very different regional panorama from that memorable summer of 2006, when Fidel Castro proclaimed himself  “provisionally” retired from the Government after placing country’s direction in the hands of a clique led by the current president.

In recent times the continent’s left has been suffering its worst setbacks in decades, after losing the political power that had spread like an epidemic and even seemed fused to some of the most economically strong nations of this hemisphere, such as Brazil and Argentina. continue reading

At the same time, Venezuela, once the capital of this shady Castro experiment known as “socialism, XXI century style,” continues to sink in what many experts consider the greatest economic and political crisis in that country’s history, which has affected a significant contraction of the oil subsidies destined for Cuba, with its implications for an economy as fragile and dependent as ours.

Gone are the fleeting glories of the entelechies born in the wake of the late Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP), created in 2004 in Havana, or Petrocaribe, which was founded in Venezuela in 2005, in order to politically influence the small oil-poor Caribbean nations and buy their support in international forums, in exchange for oil quotas at extremely magnanimous prices.

Despite such an adverse scenario for his interests, it is assumed that whomever is sentenced by Raúl Castro to be his successor will be “reliable”: sufficiently pliable to lend himself to the management of those who really move the political threads

Despite such an adverse scenario for his interests, it is assumed that whomever is sentenced by Raúl Castro to be his successor will be “reliable”: sufficiently pliable to lend himself to the management of those who really move the political threads – and all other threads – behind the scenes, and be reasonably cautious not to attempt the rehearsal of too abrupt a turn that would dislodge the ever-unpredictable social balance in a country saturated with shortages and frustrations. Autocrats do not like surprises.

It is necessary to consider the possibility that – similar to his elder brother when he left power in 2006 – the general-president has conceived a kind of collegial succession, leaving specific functions to several representatives of the different tendencies which, according to widely spread but never confirmed opinions, exist among the groups close to the Power. The bad guys’ great advantage is that they know how to be cohesive when they have common interests to defend.

Thus, a collegial government after the partial withdrawal of the general-president is a perfectly possible variable in a nation where there is only one political party “as the superior governing force of society and the state,” where, as a norm, the ruling caste ominously tends to ignore all the other commandments of the Cuban Constitution and what they themselves have legislated without obstacles in the last 40 years, and where all the political and economic maneuvers are hidden in the most absolute secrecy and come to light only as fait accompli, which saves the mokogos* of the Palace of  Revolution the cumbersome process of requesting approval from the bland Parliament or of also submitting the most important matters of State to the consideration of the (dis)governed.

In fact, this variant of collegial succession – not necessarily explicit – headed by a visible string-puppet does not seem very remote. Especially if one takes into account the experiences of other regional successions, such as that of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, elected by the deceased Hugo Chávez at the touch of his finger, but devised to the last detail by his comrade and mentor, Fidel Castro, in order to guarantee the survival of their respective so-called “socialist” projects and their leaders.

The once rampant Chavismo, just as its maker conceived it, has ended up succumbing to the ineptitude of the “successor” and the Castro greed

Suffice it to examine the composition of the Maduro cohort to understand that the red-olive/green arrangement was not only forged in Havana, but was already a done deal long before the Chavez, the “Eternal Commander,” was planted in the Mountain Barracks to end up transmuted into a little bird**.

However, despite the careful calculations of the most experienced conspirators, the ambush that Maduro has led Venezuela into is so complicated and profound that it overwhelms any control. Sooner or later, the dictatorial power will fall, because the situation has become ungovernable and, by appealing to repression and crime to retain power, the Government has lost all traces of legitimacy. The once rampant Chavismo, as conceived by its maker, has succumbed to the ineptitude of the “successor” and to the Castro greed.

Another planned succession, but of very different character, is the one that took place in Ecuador after the triumph of the candidate of the ruling party, Alianza País, in the person of Lenín Moreno in the second round of elections last May.

Moreno, surprisingly and quickly, soon began to detach from the hard and belligerent politics of his predecessor and has developed a conciliatory, inclusive, measured and serene style, seeking dialogues and agreements with different social sectors and with the opposition, which has provoked the virulent reaction of an angry Rafael Correa, who has described Moreno as “a traitor,” among other equally strong accusations.

The cases of Venezuela and Ecuador confirm that changes in power are not always “more of the same”, but can lead to unpredictable turns

 The confrontation has led to a deep fracture within the heart of party, according to the sympathies of its militants, between Correa and Moreno. Nevertheless, during the festival of Lenín Moreno’s electoral victory, a radiant and happy Rafael Correa could be seen celebrating the triumph at full sail, shouting slogans and thundering on the microphones with songs of the radical left (“here is the clear, the affectionate transparency”) as if instead of Lenín Moreno, he himself had won the elections.

Just as all autocrats dream of or aspire to it, Correa certainly believed that the person who was at the moment his cabinet vice-president would now, at the head of the new Government, be a docile follower of his dictates, the visible figure behind which he would somehow continue to exercise the power and iron social control. It has not been the case, and this avoids deepening the country’s internal conflicts and opens the way to a possible process of pacts that will overcome the tensions and social polarization suffered in Ecuador through all these years.

It would be premature to say how successful or not Moreno’s performance might turn out, but it is clear that this veteran does not feel indebted to the previous government, but has his own agenda. If it will benefit democracy and the citizens of Ecuador, let’s welcome it.

The cases of Venezuela and Ecuador allow us to confirm that changes in power, beyond successions or ruptures, are not always “more of the same,” but can lead to unpredictable turns. Thus, succession in Venezuela has resulted in the fraudulent attempt to legitimize a corrupt and repressive dictatorship, while succession in Ecuador seems to favor a return of the democratic spaces violated by the previous ruler. We will wait to see if the Cuban succession offers us a Maduro or a Moreno.

Translator’s notes:
*Ceremonial figure in Kundu settlements of southwestern Cameroon.
** Maduro has claimed that Chavez comes to him in the guise of a “very small bird” and speaks to him through whistles.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Señor General “Going-Backwards” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro next to Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel (Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 August 2017 – In line with the last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held at the end of June, where – according to what the General-President said in his closing speech of the Ninth Ordinary Session of the National Assembly – many deficiencies and problems were analyzed in the self-employment sector (TCP). The Official Gazette, in an extraordinary edition (No. 31) dated Tuesday, August 1, 2017, has decreed the suspension, supposedly temporary, of the delivery of licenses for at least 27 activities of the private sector (“self-employed”), “until the perfection of this sector is concluded.”

In addition, the decree states that in the future – and permanently – no new licenses will be granted to work in the areas of: wholesale of agricultural products; retailers of agricultural products; cart vendors or sellers of agricultural products on an ambulatory basis; buyer and seller of music records; and and operator of recreational equipment.

Despite this, according to what the First Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security told the official press, the provisions of the decree “do not constitute a setback in the development of (self-employed) activity,” but will “consolidate the organization and control of self-employment work so that it continues to advance in an orderly and efficient manner.” But this official did not explain how a process that has been stopped by a government decree could “advance.”
continue reading

And while such a strategy of advancing by going backwards may be paradoxical, more impudent still are the pretexts that were used to justify the retraction of what was announced years ago as a process of reforms that would oxygenate the internal economy and allow the potential for employment for a portion of the labor force let go from government jobs.

It turns out that the fickle old ruler has discovered “deviations in the implementation of the approved policy” for the TCP, ranging from the use of raw materials and equipment “illicit in their origins” to the “breach of tax obligations,” including under-reporting of sales/income, by members in the sector.

The truth is that, although the authorities have frequently expressed that the TCP has reported benefits in “lightening the burden of the State,” in the reordering of labor, as well as in the supply of goods and services – which, by the way, is not, nor should it be the natural aspiration of private labor anywhere in the world – in practice, this sector has become the most propitious villain (after the “criminal imperialist blockade”) to justify the causes of the failures inherent in the Cuban sociopolitical system.

The aforementioned “deviations” include “lack of answerability and timely solution to problems,” “imprecisions and inadequacies in control” and “deficiencies in economic contracting for the provision of services or supply of production between legal entities and lay persons,” among others.

These latter deficiencies, however, are not attributable to those who engaged in the TCP, but to the representatives and government officials responsible for correct compliance, who did not adequately fulfill their obligations, so that – if tabula rasa is used in the application of the law – the posts of state inspectors, officials of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), police officers, and a whole host of bureaucrats related to the implementation and control of TPC should also be suspended and constitute a dense layer of parasites that only tax the increased corruption, which is spread throughout the country in epidemic proportions.

But the new decree of “General Rupert Going-Backwards” also suffers from numerous intrinsic contradictions, such as, that among the activities in this species of temporary “hibernation” are included, first, those who rent housing, rooms and spaces, as well as coffee shops and restaurants (paladares), which is a real folly in a country that – it is said – expects that the number of visitors will reach 4 million this year, and does not have the hotel and food service infrastructure capable of satisfying such demand.

Seen from a more objective perspective, it is obvious that the Cuban government prefers that the foreign tour operators installed throughout Cuba benefit from the influx of foreign visitors, and not the native entrepreneurs themselves. This is not explained as a simple perversion of the system – which it also is – but is making Power panic, in the face of the demonstrated ability, in just a few years, of the private sector to achieve prosperity and autonomy. These entrepreneurs are much more successful and competitive than the State sector, and thus are a potential social force relatively independent from strong government subjection. And it is well-known that the power of autocracies is based on the most absolute social control.

There’s nothing so threatening for the autocratic regime as the possibility of consolidating an autonomous – and therefore potentially free – segment within Cuban society. Hence, the demonization of what they call “accumulation of wealth” and the questioning of the ability of some entrepreneurs to travel abroad and import raw materials and supplies, openly expressed in the aforementioned speech by the General before Parliament.

Equally paradoxical is that during the most recent session of Parliament the existence of a deficit of 883,000 thousand homes in Cuba was officially acknowledged – a figure that should actually be much higher – but at the same time a Decree published today in the Gazette has prohibited the granting of new licenses for private contractors, in direct contradiction to the fact that it has been precisely private construction activity that has marked a slight growth in the manufacture and repair of houses. In contrast, State dependent construction has been accumulating colossal defaults for decades, in a country whose housing is in a calamitous state an whered the majority of the population lacks the resources to attain housing.

Analyzing all the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the new Decree would require dozens of pages, but it is not worth the effort. We are simply facing the latest development of the unrealistic project of “updating the model,” which has been the chimera of Castro II since his arrival to the olive-green throne. There’s nothing so grotesque as trying to implement from the proven imperfection of Power the “perfection of self-employment,” the only segment of the national economy that works with some efficiency.

The General and his claque know it, so this new limitation on the private sector is actually the legal expression of the government’s terror of losing social control in a country where discontent, dissatisfaction and shortages continue to grow. At the moment, everything indicates that the general-president’s reformist disguise will continue to unravel at the seams.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Havana, Nostalgia Capital

Any former times were better, is a refrain that is being fulfilled to the letter in Cuba.(Lahabana.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 July 2017 — The walls full of photographs of old city landscapes and a whole host of famous artists from the Cuban Republic, record album covers from the same period, and old advertising posters from the 40’s and 50’s.

In a central space, an old off-duty Victrola captures the prominence of the small restaurant. On the tablecloths, old long-playing vinyl records double as tray holders, while the coasters are vinyl 45’s.

In this private business –as in many similar ones that began to proliferate in Old Havana and in other parts of the city since the so-called “Raul reforms” — the whole atmosphere exudes that unmistakable inspiration on the past, a cult that has been seizing the capital as an epidemic. “Any former times were better,” states a refrain that is being fulfilled in Cuba. continue reading

But it is not just any past. No. Because, curiously, these enthusiastic private entrepreneurs show no interest in appealing to the socialist aesthetic of Soviet encouragement that occupied thirty years of Cuban national life without silencing the native spirit. There are no matrioskas, balalaikas or “Russian dolls” characters decorating the stained glass or interiors of these businesses or on piñatas and private catering salons dedicated to children’s parties.

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, the republican liberal ideal is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols. (CC)

There’s nothing that evokes the indestructible Cuban-Soviet friendship of an era when almost all the members of that Cuban proto-entrepreneur were born, who today prefer to revive the Republic’s prosperity of strong Yankee influence and forget the hard years of drunken rule on the Island.

That explains why one can find decorations of a Benny Moré’s album cover and not ones of Van Van or Isaac Delgado in any of these environments. The glossy and smiling face of Kid Chocolate may be staring at us from the walls, but not the face of Teófilo Stevenson.

There is no doubt, glamour is a Western capitalist product. Although, as is the case, it is a glamour as old and encased as that of Cuba in the 1950’s, which — as is always the case in societies without rights, where mediocrity prevails — ends up being a model that tends to be standardized.

Because, as usually happens in the presence of any opportunity to thrive advantageously, there is no shortage of scoundrels who have decided to take advantage of the new lode that offers this sort of aesthetic for nostalgia to extract their own revenues, as is clear from a detailed announcement published in the very popular web site Revolico, where for the price of 25 CUC, or its equivalence in CUP (625 pesos), you can buy a collection of 27,000 Cuban photographs from before 1959, “for the walls of your business.”

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, the republican liberal ideal is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols. (CC)

“The history of our country lives through image,” a message tries to encourage while promoting the sale of a “wide selection of photos of cafes, hotels, streets, houses, monuments, shops, historical sites and main streets and avenues of the Cuban capital.”

Such an offer is not limited to photographs, but also includes “old maps, postcards, bus lines, architectural drawings, prints, very good quality scans of old beer advertisements such as Cristal, Hatuey and Polar, the loose propaganda of Cigar brands, hotels, casinos, beverages and much more that constitute a large and valuable treasure trove of value.” A whole cult to the pre-revolutionary past that shows the persistence of a lost paradigm, the more ingrained and endearing, the more decadent and ill-fated the present and the more uncertain and gloomy the future.

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, during which the ruling power spent the greater part of its efforts trying to erase the era of the 57 years of the Republic — “pseudo republic”, they call it — trying to impose a model (this one is truly “pseudo” socialist), falsely proletarian and alien to the national culture and aspirations, the liberal ideal of the Republic is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols, and today it grows as a cult to the memory of those “better times,” when prosperity and wealth were  plausible goals and not crimes.

As a result, and in view of the inability to project a promising future, the much-vilified Republic has become the symbol of paradise lost, and returns to occupy a place of preference in the collective imagination, despite the fact that more than 70% of Cubans today were born after 1959 and have been (de)formed under the doctrine of austerity and sacrifice.

While ideological battles and blistering anti-imperialist speeches continue to occupy public spaces, the enterprising class and the chameleonic Castro power cupola invent themselves a marketing Cuba. (CC)

However, the use of symbols pertaining to the Republic is not exclusive to the small niches of the private economy. The mediocrity and lack of imagination also reach the almighty State-Government-Party that almost controls the entertainment industry. Recreating the past before 1959 has become a very lucrative source of income even for the slayers of the Republic themselves, especially since American tourism became the main target of socialist marketing.

This is demonstrated, for example, by the careful reconstruction of old hotels, bars and other spaces destined for international tourism, which for decades were decadent localities or simple ruins, whose architecture and interior spaces were recently rescued to recreate the elegance and style of the ambiance of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

In this way, while ideological battles and fiery anti-imperialist discourses are maintained in public spaces and in the official press, for the indoctrination and control of the native proletarians and for the sake of regional progress, both the nascent entrepreneurial class and the chameleonic Castro regime have invented themselves a marketing Cuba, a parallel reality disguised as Republican era tradition and artificially rescued for the solace and delight of foreign visitors, who pay in dollars for attending this kind of theme park: a country frozen in the middle of the twentieth century.

And it is not necessary to deny a past that, which, for better or worse, is part of Cuban culture and history and represents a period of prosperity and expectations of that young nation. What is truly sad is that six decades under the regime have left us with the legacy of a people who, instead of pushing towards the future, assumes the past as a paradigm that, beyond its lights and democratic conquests, was sufficiently imperfect to incubate in its core the longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, in whose hands the destinies of all Cubans continue to be. It’s a shame.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“American-Philia” Conquers Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

The regime is unable to counteract the growing “Uncle Sam” effect on Cuban society

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2017 — Ten days have passed since Donald Trump announced his “new” political strategy toward Cuba, and while the official Cuban press monopoly has wasted gallons of ink on newspapers and on dozens of reports, interviews and TV programs to show the world the indignation and rejection of the Cuban people at the gross interference of US imperialism, which attempts to undermine the portentous social and economic achievements reached in almost 60 years of Castro rule, national life continues its boring course at ground level, far from the rhetorical battles.

If the US president’s speech has had any palpable effect in Cuba, it is in the possibility of clearly confirming, on a daily basis, the enormous gap that exists between the olive-green power elite, as an eternalized political class, and common Cubans. Oblivious to the political and mass organizations at the service of the gerontocracy, which these days have shown discipline through the obligatory task of drafting their declarations of repudiation of the Empire of Evil, the people remain as alienated from the old “revolutionary” epic, and from its ideological disputes as is possible. Particularly when the enemy they are fighting is none other than the endearing monster in whose entrails so many thousands and thousands of Cubans yearn to live. continue reading

A breach that has become all the more visible because the majority of Cubans today increasingly identify less with the official discourse and is more irreverent in relation to the State-Party-Government and with everything it represents.

If anyone were to doubt this, all he would need to do is to walk the streets of the Cuban capital and check the number of American flags that proliferate every day, either as articles of clothing worn by numerous passers-by, such as caps, sandals, head scarves, etc. or decorating the interior of private transportation. It is like a contest in social irreverence towards everything that stems from the government and its colossal propagandistic and repressive apparatus, a phenomenon that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

Thus, the more the official voice shouts itself hoarse calling for the union of national sovereignty and the reaffirmation of socialism, not only does American-philia expand among the population of the island – with even greater strength, although not exclusively, among the younger generation – but it also adopts multiple variants of expression. It is not limited to the open display of the US flag, but also has well-known trademarks originating in that country, signs of official US institutions on textiles (including t-shirts labeled: USA, DEA, or FBI, for example), as well as images and names of famous US cities.

It is like an effect of funny magic, by virtue of which everything having to do with that country draws me near. Or, to put it another way, to think intensely about a thing is a superstitious way (like “I hope it becomes true” while crossing one’s fingers) of preparing the ground for the pleasure of enjoying it.

But if, in the daily routine of the city, the American symbols continue to mark the pace, as if mocking that dreaded label of “ideological diversion,” presumably fallen into disuse, on the beaches the phenomenon constitutes a quasi-apotheosis. This can easily be seen at the beaches east of Havana, where coastline areas from El Megano to Guanabo in the extensive sandy stretches where – despite Trump’s bitter declarations and the strong patriotic protests of the Cuban government – the stars and stripes constantly parade in the shape of towels, men’s shorts and lightweight children’s swimwear, caps, umbrellas and even inflatable rafts or infant’s lifejackets.

It must be torture for the Castro clan and its claque that no regulations are in effect, (especially not now, when diplomatic relations exist between the two countries), that prohibit the use of the US flag in clothing or in any object created by the human imagination. Would it be justifiable to quell those who wear a symbol that represents a friendly people entirely, and not just their political powers?

But this is not about a new phenomenon either. It turns out that this epidemic of a taste for everything American and its symbols had been manifesting itself in a more or less contained but constant way for several years, and was unleashed with marked emphasis at the time of the reestablishment of relations between the governments of Cuba and the US, especially during and after President Barack Obama’s visit to a Havana, until turning into an unstoppable cult to the chagrin of the hierarchy of the geriatric elite and its ideologic commissaries, who try in vain to tackle a hare that is like the mythological hydra, spouting seven heads for each one they cut off.

And while all this intense American mania continues to be sharpened in Cuba – the historical bastion of the continent’s radical left – the nationalist affectation of the regime recently chose to prohibit the use of the Cuban national symbol in a similar way. In fact, Cuban laws expressly prohibit it.

Consequently, not even the fiercest prospects of their pack of repudiators or other similarly-minded halberdiers can counteract the growing “Uncle Sam” effect on Cuban society, since they are barred from wearing the Cuban national flag as a way to counteract those involuntary “traitorous” ones, who, without hiding it, continue to publicly display their admiration for the crème de la crème of evil capitalism, which, it was taken for granted, had been banished definitively from Cuba since 1959.

Personally, and begging the pardon of the more ardent and sincere patriots of fetishistic spirit, I am not tempted to worship symbols, whether from my own country or from others. Even less would I think to wear a flag, although those who do sowith the vocation of flagpolesdoes not affect me. It is their right. But, strictly speaking, the flag is nothing more than a rag that many years ago someone designed and chose to represent us all and that, ultimately, has been used with the same zeal and passion for the best as for the worst causes, also supposedly “of everyone.” Ergo, I’m not excited about the flags, but nor do I feel myself to be any less Cuban than anybody else.

Nevertheless, a flag, as a symbol of something, evidences the feelings of the individuals who carry it towards that “something.” That, in the case of the American flag in Cuba, symbolizes exactly the paradigm of life of the Cubans who exhibit it. An aspiration on a national scale. So, for those who want to know what Cubans really think about the US, do not look for the statements published in the official press or the boring speeches at events: go to the beach. There, relaxing by the sea, sheltered by a good umbrella and perhaps savoring a cold beer that protects them from the strong tropical heat, they will see, parading before their eyes, the mute response of the Cuban people to the Empire that attacks them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Donald Trump (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 June 2017 — After much media frenzy, Trump’s “new policy” toward Cuba has not gone beyond the rhetoric expected by most political analysts. His act was more a symbolic gesture towards his faithful than any practical novelty. In short, those who expected an announcement of truly transcendental changes in the policy toward Cuba by the US president during his speech in Miami on Friday June 16, were left wanting. As we say in Cuba, the show turned out to be more rigmarole than movie reel.

The long-awaited changes, far from being novel, are actually quite limited. In fact, the highlight of his announced “punishment” for the Castro dictatorship is enveloped in an inconsistent magic trick where the essential cards seem to be a ban on US businessmen to negotiate with Cuban military companies, the suppression of non-group tours visits by US citizens to Cuba and the auditing of group visits. The rest is garbage. continue reading

The whole of the Palace of the Revolution must be shaking in terror. The dictatorship can already be considered as having failed: judging by the enthusiasm of its fans gathered in the Manuel Artime Theatre in Little Havana, with Trump in power, the Castro regime’s hours are numbered. Those who know about such things say that the Castros and Miami’s “Dialogue Mafia” “have run out of bread,” that “the political actors (?) are now where they should be” And that Trump’s speech was “friendly towards the Cuban people.” If the matter were not so serious, it would probably be laughable.

The sad thing is that there are those who believed the sham, or at least they pretend to believe what he said. At the end of the day, everyone should stick to the role of the character he represents in the script of this eternal Cuban tragicomedy.

It would be another thing if all this elaborate anti-Castro theory (!) could be successfully implemented, which is at least as dubious as the construction of socialism that the extremists continue to proclaim from opposite points on the globe.

And it is doubtful, not only for the intricacy of the long process that each proposal of the US Executive branch must follow before being put into practice — as detailed in a White House fact sheet — but because its sole conception demonstrates absolute ignorance of the Cuban reality in trying to “channel economic activities outside the Cuban military monopoly, GAESA.”

It would seem that there is a division of powers and an autonomy of institutions in Cuba that clearly distinguishes “military” from “civil,” defines its functions and establishes to what extent the economic structure of companies, cooperatives and other sectors are or are not related to the military entrepreneurship, or with the State-Party-Government monopoly itself, which is one and the same, with which, nevertheless, relations will be maintained. Just that would be a challenge for Cubans here, let alone for those who emigrated 50 years ago or for the very Anglo-Saxon Trump administration.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s proposals carry another capricious paradox, since limiting individual visits would directly damage the fragile private sector — especially lodging and catering, not to mention independent transportation providers, and artisans who make their living from selling souvenirs and other trinkets, a market that is sustained precisely by individual tourism.

Tour group visits, which remain in effect, are those that favor the State-owned and run hotels, where these groups of visitors usually stay because they have a larger number of rooms and more amenities than privately-owned facilities.

This would be the practical aspect of the matter. Another point is the one relating to the merely political. It’s shocking to see the rejoicing of some sectors of the Cuban-American exile and the so-called “hardline opposition” inside Cuba, after the (supposedly) “successful” speech by the US president, and his pronouncements about benefits that the new-old politics of confrontation will bring “to the Cuban people” in the field of human rights.

In fact, such joy is hard to explain, because it is obvious that Trump’s speech fell far short of the expectations these groups had previously manifested. One of the most supported claims of this segment has been the break in relations between both countries, and, more recently, the reinstatement of the policy of “wet foot/dry foot,” repealed in the final days of the previous administration. Far from that, the unpredictable Trump not only reaffirmed the continuation of diplomatic relations, but omitted the subject of the Cuban migratory crisis and even the suppression of aid funds for democracy, which he had proposed a few weeks before.

Curiously, no member of the media present at the press conference held after the very conspicuous speech asked uncomfortable questions about any of these three points, which do constitute true pivots of change in US policy towards Cuba which affect both the fate of the Cubans stranded in different parts of Latin America on their interrupted trip to the US, and the financing (and consequently, the survival) of various opposition projects both inside and outside Cuba.

The truth is that, so far, the great winner of Trump’s proposals is none other than the Castro regime, since the rhetoric of confrontation is the natural field of its ideological discourse inside and outside Cuba. Thus, has rushed to evidence the official declaration blaringly published in all its press monopoly media last Saturday, June 17th, with plenty of slogans and so-called nationalists for the defense of sovereignty and against “the rude American interference”, which that gray scribe, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuban chancellor by the grace of the divine green finger, repeated two days later in his apathetic press conference from Vienna.

Meanwhile, the “Cuban people” – with no voice or vote in this whole saga — remains the losing party, barely a hostage of very alien policies and interests, whose representation is disputed by both the dictatorship and the US government, plus a good part of the opposition.

We must thank Mr. Trump for nothing. Once again, the true cause of the Cuban crisis — that is, the dictatorial and repressive nature of its government — is hidden behind a mask, and the “solution” of Cuba’s ills is again placed in the decisions of the US government. At this rate, we can expect at least 50 additional years of burlesque theater, for the benefit of the same actors who, apparently and against the odds, have the

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between the Official Utopia and Generational Realism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban youth at the Major Lazer concert in Havana, 2016 (Photo file)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 June 2017. – A characteristic feature of ineffective and outdated political regimes is the constant appeal to the historical past as a mechanism for legitimizing the present, and as a resource for survival. In the case of Cuba, this principle has been the rector of official discourse and its means of diffusion, and it has been applied with particular force in the teaching of History.

As a consequence, several generations of Cubans born shortly before or after 1959 have grown up indoctrinated in the assumption that all events from the “discovery” of the Island by Christopher Columbus through Spanish colonization, the Taking of Havana by the British, the Wars of Independence, and the brief Republic were nothing more than the flagstones that paved the long road that would lead to this (even longer) path -with airs of eternity- known as the “Cuban Revolution”, our nation’s only and final destination. continue reading

The preaching took almost religious tones. Just as Noah saved all of Earth’s living species, the boat “Granma”, with its young crew, was the Cuban people’s “salvation”. Thus, judging from history textbooks at all levels of “revolutionary” teaching, the founding fathers, the illustrious pro-independence, the brightest Cuban-born intellectuals, and all decent Cubans for the last 525 years had their hopes set, though they didn’t know it, in today’s “socialist” Cuba and, above all, in the pre-eminent guidance of an undisputed leader of world stature who would continue to lead the ship even beyond material life: Fidel Castro.

War Vocation in the “Peace Zone”

Raúl Castro during a CELAC summit (AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 31 May 2017 — A brief note published by the official Cuban press reports the meeting held by “General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz” with “the Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, Timoleón Jiménez” (FARC-EP), where the former “ratified the willingness of the Cuban government to continue supporting the Colombian peace process.”

For an untrained reader, the aforementioned comment was just a note as insubstantial as so many others that are so abundant in the Castro media monopoly. However, the maculae are evident, even though their deeper meaning remains hidden. continue reading

In fact, some aspects are provocative and some are incongruous. Let’s say, if the FARC is the “People’s Army,” who does the Colombian constitutional army belong to? Isn’t it the true and legitimate army of all the citizens of that country?

Another interesting matter would be to understand why the Cuban leader, who in this case presents himself with all his warlike attributes of “Army General,” despite having diplomatic relations with the democratically elected government of Colombia, hosts, in the company of his brand-new chancellor, Bruno Rodríguez, the individual who still qualifies as “Head of the FARC,” that is to say, the “Chief” of an illegal “armed force” that supposedly is currently in the process of disarmament under the Peace Accords signed in Havana specifically with the legitimate government of Colombia.

As is often the case when scoundrels meet, something is afoot… and it smells bad. Especially when Latin America is experiencing a period marked by the loss of political power of the radical left in various countries, allies of the Castro regime, and when the most irrational (and important) pupil of the Castro regime, Nicolás Maduro, tries to stay afloat on a piece of wood in a violent sea in the middle of the biggest socioeconomic and political crisis that Venezuela has ever suffered.

All this leads us directly to question the usefulness of this regional fiction called CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), one of whose most proclaimed “achievements” during its Second Summit, held in Havana in January 2014, was declaring this a Peace Zone, in order to promote cooperation and maintain peace and security at all levels among its member countries.

Beyond the political intentions and the (always sterile) desire to consolidate a regional alliance that confronts economic crises and promotes development, CELAC has been characterized, since its creation in February 2010, by a large package of intentions and declarations in the face of a scant list of results.

In that sense, the declaration of “Peace Zone” is one of the most illustrative examples of this organism’s alienation, first because it was a peace invoked in a conclave whose host country not only envelops longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, which systematically violates the human rights of its own people and applies violence against any sign of political dissent or social discontent, but for decades has been dedicated to sustaining and spurring numerous armed conflicts in the region, through the training of guerrillas, and through logistical support and the mobilization of armed troops in conflict zones.

The intrusion of the Palace of the Revolution into the internal problems of several countries in the hemisphere is so common that it could be said that the hand of the Castro regime has intervened to some extent in each and every one of them, whether as a puppet of the Soviet Union and as the spreader of the germs of that disease called “Marxism-Leninism” that it futilely attempted to impose in Latin America and the Caribbean, or more recently, as a survival strategy in the face of the failure of the experiments of left-wing governments, allies of the Castro and Chávez regimes.

A brief and incomplete account of the Cuban presence (interference) in internal crises of this region’s other nations shows that it covers an immensely greater geographical extension of the territory in the archipelago under the dominion of Castro, and includes ideologies of the most diverse hues.

Suffice it to recall the Castro regime’s imprint on the guerrillas in Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, or Nicaragua; its participation in the Chilean crisis that ended with the fall of President Salvador Allende; the unusual support for the military junta headed by Leopoldo Galtieri during the Las Malvinas Crisis (1982), settled with an overwhelming defeat for Argentina and a high human and moral cost to that nation; Grenada’s brief and unsuccessful adventure under the Government of Maurice Bishop; the close and suspicious relations with the former Panamanian President Manuel Antonio Noriega, confessed drug trafficker and great “friend of Cuba,” whose name was not mentioned again in the official Cuban media after his fall from grace, except to announce his death this Tuesday, May 30. And, more recently, from the beginning of the 21st century, the icing on the cake: Venezuela, where the Castros’ penetration has truly metastasized and today monitors and protects the bloody repression of the regime of Nicolás Maduro against his people.

But, ignoring historical examples, the convulsive Latin American reality is far from the much vaunted regional “peace.” The ongoing conflict between Bolivia and Chile, the endless Brazilian corruption scandal that has sprinkled dozens of politicians in the region, the violence of drug and human trafficking that sows uncertainty and crime at the borders and among the population, tensions Between Venezuela and Colombia, the persistence of the paramilitary in Colombia against the controversial Peace Agreements between the government and the FARC, and the tensions in Venezuela, where government repression against street demonstrations provokes a decisive scenario where the survival of democracy or the final consolidation of a dictatorship supported from Havana is resolved.

And, while this vertiginous whirlwind continues to spin in the “Peace Zone,” the Cuban General-President moves gently in his tropical oasis while he manages the diplomatic lobbies that allow him to recognize the civilized world and the secret warrior intrigues. The strategy of Raul’s regime now consists in wearing the chic suit of a democrat. Under it, however, the green stitches of his old suit as heir-dictator of war continue to tenaciously peek out.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Marta’s List

Marta Cortizas compiles daily news, opinion and reports to email them to Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Her grey hair and blue eyes suggest a picture of a grandmother out of a children’s story, but Marta Cortizas is actually a native of Havana who, after emigrating to the United States, found a way to be useful to her countrymen. From her apartment in Kendall (Florida), she compiles daily news, editorial columns and reports to e-mail them to Cuba, a service known as Marta’s List.

Mailings began almost seven years ago, and today they are received by more than 50 subscribers. Its targeted recipients are independent journalists, opposition activists, members of the civil society, or simply friends.

Since childhood, Marta was in the habit of reading, and when she began working as a typist at the Casa de las Américas Library in July 1967, she was amazed at the institution’s catalogues and archives. The latter is considered the “trigger” for her passion for information. continue reading

Inside the walls of La Casa, as those who frequent the library refer to it, she met Virgilio Piñera, Anton Arrufat, José Triana and Luis Agüero, who often visited the reading room. There, she met Mario Benedetti, Roque Dalton, Antonio Benitez-Rojo, Inverna Codina, Fayad Jamis and Manuel Galich, and she has fond memories of the “beloved poet Raúl Hernández Novás.”

Mailings of news and other information began nearly seven years ago and there are currently over 50 subscribers

This soft spoken woman, with proven tenacity against discouragement, came to work as secretary for poet and essayist Roberto Fernández Retamar. “I loved my job with a passion and was respected by my peers without belonging to political organizations. In fact, I never belonged to any,” she clarifies.

Marta devoted the years after stopping her work at the library to caring for her mother, but neither retirement nor domestic life turned off the vigor of her freethinking. In her seclusion at home, she read tirelessly. These readings often included books censored by the authorities, some writings that deepened her critical stance against the official doctrine of the Castro regime.

Earlier this century, her husband, Eugenio Leal, joined other opposition members, journalists, activists and organizations and he shared his involvement with Marta. Both participated in the 2004 founding of the magazine Consenso, the first independent digital publication in Cuba.

“I started to serve as secretary and member of the editorial board”, recalls Marta. “It was a wonderful experience that offered me another reality, opening a door to freedom of expression in Cuba.”

In October 2005, Eugene and Martha suffered a spectacular act of repudiation in front of their own home. “It angered the authorities that we had created Consenso which was headquartered in our home.”

First they were threatened by State Security, and days after “they launched a massive repudiation rally which led to a 24-hour guard in the lower floors of our building, by repressive agents, members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and Communist Party militants.”

The siege lasted for nine days. Its goal was to prevent visitors and terrorize neighbors. Marta laments “from that moment on, we were plunged into total and absolute ostracism in our neighborhood.”

“Some prisoners of the Black Spring who were supported in opening their personal blogs have a special place in my memory”

This event marked a turning point in Marta’s life. “I realized that anyone or anything can lose their personal dignity and their basic rights as a human being.”

If the rally intimidated the neighbors, it had the opposite effect on Marta. In fact, she continued to work for Consenso and later for the magazine Contodos, until February 2007, when the last issue was published. By then, the first independent blogs were about to make their appearance.

“The alternative blogosphere had the virtue of establishing close links between a large number of civic activists, independent journalists and members of the opposition, previously unconnected,” she explains. “In the most intense months of 2008 and 2009 several campaigns were promoted denouncing rights violations against opposition activists and ordinary citizens, and demanding freedom for political prisoners.”

“Some prisoners of the Black Spring who were supported in opening their personal blogs have a special place in my memory.” They dictated their writings by phone from prison, and Marta transcribed many of those articles that were later published on the internet.

When her mother died, her daughter – who had emigrated years before – invited her to visit Miami, but the Immigration and Naturalization Department denied her permission to leave for three years. “Although I had a Spanish passport, they would not allow me to travel. I denounced what they were doing and they finally allowed me to leave the country in October 2010. “Deciding to emigrate has been the most difficult decision in my life,” she confesses.

In the United States she found “the freedom I so much longed for, the power to vote democratically, the possibility of setting goals and being able to achieve them, the satisfaction of seeing my daughter and granddaughters evolve.” She is happy and grateful to the country that welcomed her, but insists that Cuba is forever in her heart.

Marta stops at this point in the story and quotes Guillermo Cabrera Infante: “Nostalgia is the memory of the soul.” As a result of this yearning and with the desire to contribute through technological possibilities, Cortizas saw new horizons. “I started copying articles, especially Cuban topics and some world events, which I sent, along with notes to my friends.”

Every day she tries to find the most important articles to e-mail. She also gets specific requests from Cuba.

Almost without realizing it, she learned how to edit the articles, deleting pictures and reducing fonts to minimize memory when sending them. The information and the number of subscribers thus begun to grow.

Every day she tries to find the most important articles to e-mail. She also gets specific requests from Cuba. “I try to accommodate everyone.  That makes me feel refreshed and useful,” she states.

“Some days I even spend over four hours compiling information, and I try to do this seven days a week.  The greatest satisfaction is to get messages of concern for me at times when, for different reasons, I am unable to send the information. She does not get any kind of material compensation for this work, and pays for repairs to the frequent malfunctions of her laptop out of “her own pocket.”

She does not think that the opening of Wi-Fi zones with internet access in various locations in the country has reduced the demand for news. “As long as the government keeps a gag on free information controlling, through its machinations, access to different webs, this work will be useful,” she affirms.

“I will rejoice the when it will not be necessary for me to continue this work. Then, I will find another way to be useful.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Dangers of Hatred / Miriam Celaya

Venezuelan demonstrators burn the Cuban flag, March 2014 (CNN)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Norma Whiting, West Palm Beach, U.S., 29 April 2017 – The news, later refuted, of a supposed Cuban flag burning in recent days by Venezuelan demonstrators who oppose the government of Nicolás Maduro provoked diverse reactions on social networks and some Cuban websites. Many Cubans, mostly residing overseas, immediately expressed their indignation against Venezuelans at what they interpret as an affront to a national symbol they consider sacred, which does not represent in the least the dictatorial power that has ruled Cuba for almost sixty years, ultimately co-responsible for the deep political, social and economic crisis that Venezuela is currently experiencing.

The misconception, however, was not completely unfounded, considering that a few years ago Cuban flags burned in connection with student protests in Venezuela. continue reading

However, leaving aside anything smacking of nationalism, justified or not, the Venezuelans’ apocryphal pyromantic message against the Cuban flag in several important cities of their country would have made clear the rejection of the gross Cuban interference in Venezuela by Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, since it is not just the perverse tabernacle where the devastation of their nation has been cooked for years, but, to date, it’s the arena from where the strings of the Chávez-Maduro regime are manipulated, now decadent but, because of this, more dangerous.

Thus, in any case, it should have been that evil power and not the Cuban national emblem that Venezuelans burned in their riots of recent days. In fact, the images from 2014 that caused the confusion leave no room for doubt when we see that several of the flags burned then carry Fidel Castro’s image on a bundle of dollars displayed under his face, and other pictures where the signs “Out with the Castros” and “Out of Venezuela” can be seen. At that time, they also set on fire mannequins that mimicked the now deceased creator of the longest dictatorship that has existed in this region.

But it is also true that one of the dangers now is that, in the midst of the violence applied by the repressive bodies and the gangs incited by the central government against the demonstrators, their response will turn more violent. The Venezuelan crisis offers a much more convulsive and highly volatile and unstable scenario as a result of widespread hunger, the shortages and the needs of the population, social frustration, and the regime’s misrule, so that any situation can lead to uncontrollable chaos for any of the parties.

In this context, popular indignation would not be able to discriminate between Cuba and Cubans on the one hand, and the Castro regime on the other, bypassing the irrefutable fact that the misfortune of living under autocratic regimes is something that nationals of both countries share.

In this sense, and not wishing to be apocalyptic, it cannot be denied that the thousands of Cuban civilians who currently collaborate in the populist programs (called “missions”) of the Castro-Chávez alliance are very fragile links in the midst of the Venezuelan confusion, not only because they could easily become victims of the hatred, accumulated over many years, against a political project led by a gang of thieves and crooks which turned out to be a swindle, but because the perverse nature of the alliance between the hierarchs of Havana and Caracas would not hesitate for a second to sacrifice them motu proprio, and to attribute to the opposition the loss of life and the violence against Cuban civilians.

The Cuban gerontocracy knows that the loss of Cuban lives would allow them to unleash a whole Witches’ Sabbath through their monopoly of the press, and would be a golden opportunity to stir the patriotic spirits of the masses in the hacienda in ruins, especially now, when the defunct revolution doesn’t have any credibility among Cubans, and when the final fall of ” twenty-first century socialism” also heralds (more) difficult times for the Cuban population.

The fact that it would involve Cuban professionals, mostly in the health industry, who carry out a humanitarian mission of medical care to very poor populations, would add a dramatic touch that is extremely conducive to the propaganda effects of the Palace of the Revolution. Who could resist the tragedy of perhaps dozens of Cuban families?

For now, the official Cuban press is keeping a suspicious, almost sepulchral, silence about what is taking place in Venezuela. Or it has lied cynically, as is evident in the printed version of the main official newspaper, Granma, which contained a brief note this past Monday, April 24, stating that “normalcy reigns” in Venezuela, despite the opposition to Maduro calling for demonstrations, the massive mobilizations that have flooded the streets of many cities in Venezuela since the beginning of April, and the dozens of deaths, mainly protesters’, that have taken place at the hands of the delinquents grouped in the sinister “collectives”, that variety of motorized terrorists at the service of the government who assassinate their compatriots with impunity, just for exercising their right to protest.

Let us hope that the best children of Venezuela do not allow the just aspirations of freedom, justice and democracy of her people to be contaminated with criminal acts against Cuban civilian collaborators. They need to not give in to the hatred sown by officials in power. But, in any case, the evils that might take place in Venezuela will be the direct responsibility of the Cuban leadership and its puppets at the head of the Venezuelan government.

(Miriam Celaya, a Havana resident, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature of the regime: increase repression and “arm the people.”

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet. Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country. continue reading

Thus, “Maduro-phobia” has become viral, people have taken to the streets and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan government are guided by and directed from the Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba’s high command would drag the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though this would mean the end of the “socialist” regime in Venezuela -with the consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula, as well as the income capital sources from health professionals services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro’s significant absence at the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually circumscribed condemnation pronouncements “to the regional rightist coup” – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government’s political and mass organizations and other non-governmental organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba’s part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, since it is known that it is widely infiltrated by Castros’ agents.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro’s agents, so it may be assumed that the regime’s political strategists have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba’s aid workers, which are in Venezuela in the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work in Venezuela as “collaborators” in ALBA programs, in the very probable case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of the Venezuelan regime? Why don’t the official media offer more accurate information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated by the violence incited from power?

Cuba’s past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other remote points of the world’s geography. Fidel Castro, who was never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de facto –  the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the “revolution” have passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very “socialist model “is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in Venezuela.

It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of “the stateless ones who sold out to the empire” in Venezuela, to try to ignite some spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It’s true that times have changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle displayed during Fidel Castro’s funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship. That’s how warped they are. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island’s destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

When Your Ally’s Beards are on Fire*… / Miriam Celaya

From left to right, Raúl Castro, Bruno Rodríguez and Nicolás Maduro, at an ALBA meeting (EFE/Archive)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2017 — According to an old adage, when you see you neighbor’s beard on fire, go soak your own*. The maxim should be applied to the elderly Cuban dictator, especially if we take into account that the erratic performance of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is largely attributed to the bad advice he received from the founders of the Castro dynasty, in addition to the deficient or lacking mental capacity of the absurd southern leader.

It is disastrous that, while Venezuela is experiencing the worst political crisis of the last 20 years, most Cubans on the Island are not only lacking in information but – even worse — are being subjected to a real bombardment of misinformation by the government’s press monopoly. continue reading

As a result of decades of lies and “secrecy” — which journalist Reinaldo Escobar has defined as “the euphemism that disguises what is in reality a policy of censorship of the press” — and the requirements of the struggle for daily survival in a country marked by shortages and poverty in perpetuity, common Cubans live alienated from reality and are apathetic to any political scenario, whether inside or outside Cuba.

In fact, the shortage of information in the official Cuban media about what is happening in Venezuela is truly extraordinary, even though its government is the closest ally to the Palace of the Revolution. The presence of tens of thousands of Cuban professionals delivering their services to Venezuela should be sufficient reason for relatives and the population as a whole to be duly warned about the growing political tensions and clashes that are taking place between the government of Nicolás Maduro and his Chávez phalanges, on the one hand, and the opposition sectors supported by thousands of Venezuelans who are fed up with the regime on the other.

But if most Cubans may care very little about the fate of Venezuelans, for which the lengthy meddling of the Cuban dictatorship has so much responsibility, they should, at least, worry about the fate of their countrymen, volunteer slaves in Venezuela, where violence, growing poverty and political polarization make them potential victims of circumstances that, after all, are alien to them.

Who doubts that a possible situation of social unrest and chaos would constitute a colossal danger for the Cuban “missionaries” of health and other fronts of the Castro-Chávez alliance who remain in Venezuela? Does the Cuban General-President have any contingency plans to protect them? Or will he launch them as cannon fodder to defend the autocratic system with totalitarian aspirations that the Castro regime has sown in Venezuela? Will we be witness to a second Grenada, like that of the late Maurice Bishop, where in 1983 Castro the First ordered unassuming Cuban construction workers to offer themselves up against US marines in a sacrifice as irrational as it was absolutely useless?

Venezuela is now a time bomb where the population is satiated with more gloom and the outrages of government than even opposition parties and leaders, a place where the citizens are playing all their cards in street demonstrations. And, while tensions and violence of the “collectives” and police forces are increasing, and the government’s repression against the demonstrators, torture against detainees and arrests against journalists attempting to cover the truth of events are also on the increase, the Castro regime, accessory to Venezuelan suffering and perverse to the marrow, remains silent.

Word is that the immediate future of Venezuela will be defined next Wednesday, April 19th. No one can predict if that day, when the streets will be taken over by supporters and opponents of the Chávez-Maduro government will end in a bloodbath, only to perpetuate another dictatorship in Latin America or to end the most ambitious extraterritorial plan of the Castro Clan. For now, Mr. Nicolás Maduro has already made clear that his path is one of repression, while thousands of Venezuelans remain determined to regain freedom and democracy.

In such a scenario, the Venezuelan Armed Forces could be the key factor to support its own people or to sell its soul to the merchants of the Miraflores Palace or to the infiltrated Cuban officials in the high command of the army of that country, but in any case, XXI Century socialism, which in its heyday proclaimed itself to be “the peoples’ alternative,” has lost the match prematurely, for no decent government or respected international organization will support a government that is imposed by blood and fire.

It is precisely for this reason that the old fraudsters at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution continue to keep discrete silence. They are waiting to see how this hand ends. They count on the proverbial meekness of Cubans, lacking in Venezuelans’ will and courage, but knowing that with Maduro deposed they would lose their last strong political ally in the region and one of their main sources of oil and capital that still sustains them in power, in return for which they lease out their slaves in the form of doctors, teachers, sports coaches, etc.

It is impossible to imagine what new tricks the General-President and his clique may be plotting in order to find a non-“Bolivarian” alternative to the crisis ahead. They have their work cut out for them. It’s not always possible to find allies with the features of the Venezuelan government — brutality, corruption and compromise – all in a neat package, that has enabled the Castro regime for almost 20 years to fully manipulate, for Cuba’s benefit, the riches of Venezuela, and thus extend its own power. They will no doubt think of something, but it is likely that, in order to stay in the game, they will have to satisfy certain conditions to even minimally fulfill their role as “a democratic dictatorship” for the world. For now, in the midst of all the storms, presumably they are soaking their beards*.

*Translator’s note: Akin to the expression in English that begins: “When your neighbor’s house is on fire…”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Oil in Cuba: Dream or Nightmare?

Cuban-Venenzuelan refinery in Cienfuegos (Photo: barometropolitico.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 April 2017 — HAVANA, Cuba. – “Thank goodness oil is something we don’t have in Cuba.” So said the lyrics of a popular song by Cuban musical group Habana Abierta. However, now Cuba’s official media insist the opposite is true: “The enterprise Cuba-Petroleum Union (CUPET), which promotes prospecting projects with the participation of foreign capital, reveals that, “In four wells located in the Economic Zone Exclusive to Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico (ZEEC-GOM) there have been indications of crude.”

Lately, when the disappearance of “high test” and the shortage of “regular” gas in Havana have caused real congestion in the few service stations where some fuel could be found, the news of the alleged presence of large Cuban oil reserves sounds like a bad joke: who cares that there are several billion of barrels of oil of dubious quality, deeply buried in the depths of the Gulf, if there is not a drop of gas at service stations? And, if it were true, how would Cubans benefit from it? Our idiosyncrasy has a special mocking phrase to illustrate the case: “It’s here but not for you.” continue reading

In fact, such fanfare by the press about the dubious and inaccessible discovery that lies submerged in ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico is highly notorious, while the official press has been evasive in informing us about the fuel crisis taking place in the nation, before our very eyes, which is fueling popular uncertainty with the alarming signs of the return to the days when the Soviet subsidy program ended with a stroke of the pen. Many Cubans point out that the unburied ghost of the so-called “Special Period,” with its aftermath of blackouts and famine, is, once again, stalking the nation.

Therefore, the topic of “crude” with which the masters of the hacienda are trying to shake the hopes of the masses, smells like a sting, as long as the cataclysms in the house of the allies cause the Mafiosi of the Palace of the Revolution to play any card palmed in their sleeve to emerge and to continue, unharmed, to place their bet: to conserve power at all costs and at any price.

That is why some suspicious individuals consider that the news is only a beam of light to attract unsuspecting investors, and that it collaterally pursues the immediate effect of reassuring the mood of a population sufficiently shaken by the gradual — although apparently inexorable — return to another cycle of great material hardships, this time with the aggravating issue that has been the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which has been, for the longest time, the most expeditious solution to escape the condemnation of perpetual misery.

Filling up at a gas station in Cuba

Thus, while the economic and political crisis in Venezuela — whose true causes and magnitude are carefully silenced in the official media — keeps deepening, common sense and the experience of nearly six decades of cons suggest to Cubans the existence of a direct relationship between the current gas shortage and the spasms of agony of the Chávez-Maduro regime, incapable of continuing to maintain any longer the already depleted subsidies that have artificially prolonged the life of the Cuban dictatorship.

So now, if we hypothetically assume the possibility that the olive green kleptocracy would soon dispose of another source of hydrocarbons — this time, alas, its absolute property — what would that mean for Cuba’s destiny? Well, nothing less than a sentence to live under conditions of dictatorship in perpetuity, with the acquiescent tolerance of the powers that rule the planet. In fact, many of the staunchest critics of Castro’s “socialism” would become its partners. This would not be a novelty, because it is axiomatic that wealth often grants immunity to dictators.

So if, for once, Cubans decided to climb down the ridge and assume the true position we occupy in the world, which equals that of plankton in the biological chain, we would find that similar plots have already taken place.

A classic example is Equatorial Guinea, that diminutive West African island, formerly known as Fernando Poo, with less than 100 thousand inhabitants, that has been a Portuguese, French, English and finally a Spanish colony until in October of 1968, when it obtained its independence, only to pass onto the hands of dictator Francisco Macías, who imposed a single compulsory party and a repressive regime (1968-1979), until he was deposed by a coup led by Teodoro Obiang. The latter, after having executed the defeated tyrant, promised to end the island’s political repression.

However, far from improving the lives of the Equatoguineans, under Obiang’s control, repression and poverty increased, as did the country’s underdevelopment. Meanwhile, Amnesty International, the UN and numerous world figures have repeatedly accused Mr. Obiang of arresting political opponents, as well as of torture and human rights violations. These accusations have not influenced a process of democratization or, at the very least, improvement in conditions and in the standard of living of three quarters of the population, which continues to be plunged in the most absolute misery.

It can be said that the misfortune of the Equatorial Guineans is due to the utter indifference of the inhabitants of this planet, the majority of whom do not even know of its existence. Additionally, the kleptocrat Obiang is often amicably received by leaders, politicians of high rank, and personalities of renowned prestige from the Western world, who, however, otherwise tear their garments and throw spears for democracy in all international forums.

It turns out that, years ago, in that small spot in the African geography, enormous oil reserves were discovered, whose rights of exploitation belong to foreign companies, mainly Americans, who don’t seem to have any scruples in negotiating with the flaming President who was described at one time as “the most murderous thieving ruler in the world” by a former US ambassador to that nation. Beneficiaries of such massive dividends might be saying among themselves, “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”

Obiang, meanwhile, not only retains absolute power in Equatorial Guinea, but is the founder of a dynasty that has amassed, with impunity, colossal wealth by appropriating the revenues from oil exploitation and safeguarding them in European bank accounts, and perhaps in banks in other continents too. To ensure the continuation of the plunder of the national wealth for the benefit of his caste, his son occupies a relevant political position in the country and has numerous properties inside and outside the little island.

Aren’t there certain suspicious similarities? We Cubans should be warned. It isn’t prudent to be so arrogant as to think that kind of thing happens in Equatorial Guinea “because they are Africans” and that the same thing will never take place in Cuba because we are “westerners.” Sixty years ago nobody would have believed that prosperous Cuba would become a nation almost as poor as Haiti … and we continue our descent.

Personally, far from feeling encouraged by them, the Cuban oil reserves announcements set off every possible alarm in me. Sufficient time has elapsed and dissimilar circumstances have taken place to verify that the precariousness of the rights and freedoms of Cubans do not concern any of the great centers of world power and politics.

In fact, the destiny of the inhabitants of this island is so uncertain and our dreams for democracy still so chimerical that it would suffice for a gambling foreigner to appear, reckless enough to invest huge amounts of venture capital into the oil adventure and that – in fact — such precious hydrocarbons might appear, for the Castro kleptocracy to sprout anew “with that added force,” crushing any hint of hope for Cuban freedom. I don’t have religious beliefs, but, just in case, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Translated by Norma Whiting