Electronic Commerce in Cuba, Another Gordian Knot

Photo: Cubadebate

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 March 2021 ─ On March 22nd, the official Cubadebate website has published an analysis on electronic commerce in Cuba one year after the implementation of the TuEnvío platform. Despite the forced omissions imposed by the dictatorship’s orders to its spokespersons, the article recognizes some of the numerous problems that weigh down this “new” service to nationals, although the author, Oscar Figueredo Reinaldo, washes his hands of possible indictments by pointing to the “blockade”, the global economic crisis and the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration as the root causes of the inefficiency of virtual stores: insufficient supply.

Among the successes of the TuEnvío state platform, which promotes sales of the CIMEX and Caribbean chains, is that with this option the crowds of the eternal queues in each store in the country are avoided, with the consequent risk of multiplying contagion and expansion of the disease. In the text, mention is made of elements that have been introduced to improve the platform, such as the acquisition of new equipment in order to improve network traffic, readjustment of shopping hours and reduction of delivery times and (supposedly) a greater stability of the offer.

However, these improvements are not reflected in the experience of users, among whom a “collective sense of frustration and disappointment” predominates. For these, in addition to technology inefficiency, the main obstacle lies in the gap between the growing demand of the population and insufficient store supplies. continue reading

This tends to be confirmed in the data provided by CIMEX executives through other media, and that in the reference article reflects a decline in the delivery of between 5,000 and 6,000 daily modules of food and sanitary items in relation to last October, despite the fact that, at that time, the daily dispatch (20,000 modules) far from satisfied the platform’s registered customer demand, which currently amounts to approximately 800,000.

Other problems are added to the limitations of the offering, that are reasons for recurring complaints by customers. These are related to technological failures, such as page instability, connection drops, saturation, emptying of the “shopping carts” before having completed the cycle, disappearance of some items after they have been selected, as well as the practice of imposing “combos” that forces customers to purchase products that they do not want or need as a part of a package. Frequent difficulties with banking service are also reported through the Transfermóvil application, to which national cards are attached.

Of course, in the analysis of yore, the complaint against hoarders and resellers is ever present and has become an obligatory reference in all official press releases related to real or virtual trade, as if said phenomenon were the cause and not the consequence of the chronic shortages of food and other basic necessities, a phenomenon typical of a highly unproductive and incompetent economic system.

A line stretches into the night (Photo by the author)

Thus, with exquisite “ingenuity”, the author discovers that “the battle to acquire scarce hygiene and food products has shifted to online spaces”, generating the resurgence of a “parallel market” (of hoarders), which implies resales at higher prices which “affects the pockets of millions of Cubans and defeats the government’s efforts to increase the quality of life of the population by increasing wages.”

Thus, this communicator ─ who is not by chance the Editorial Coordinator of Cubadebate and a regular journalist on the Roundtable television program, who has special permission to make moderate “criticisms” of the national reality ─ seems to ignore that the resale of scarce products has not only always existed among us, but has also been perfected and diversified to the extent that the shortages suffered by the population and the inability of the State to satisfy them have both multiplied, so the underground market (which is not “parallel”) has not “moved” to online spaces, but has expanded from real to virtual space, beyond the intended righteousness of a government whose most palpable show of goodwill towards its people is also the unstoppable increase in official prices, much higher than the artificial rise in wages and pensions of Cubans from the overhyped (un)-Ordering Task.

What Cubadebate qualifies as a return to “feudal times”, endorsed in the exchange (barter) and “trading of merchandise by online groups” is the appropriate response to the reality of a feudal economy driven by a government that stubbornly refuses to move towards the inevitable: an opening towards the freedoms of vernacular entrepreneurs and national commerce that increases production, sanitizes the internal economy and satisfies those market demands that do not depend on imports and that have nothing to do with the hackneyed U.S. “blockade”.

(Photo by the author)

Meanwhile, in recent times an interesting phenomenon has been registered in relation to an evident change in attitude of Cubans, who have gone from acceptance to criticism, as can be seen in the comments of the forum members on the pages of the official press, and whose interventions are much more revealing and realistic than the complicit texts of the scribes of the Castro press. The stubborn reality shows that you cannot have an entire people deceived all the time, and even less so in this era of the Internet and social networks.

Increasingly irreverence, questioning and mockery are the popular response to the disrespect of the regime and its scribes, as sealed in the case at hand with the satirical comment of one of the forum members: “TuEnvío seems very good to me, the whole day to shop, you don’t eat but are entertained”. Let that sentence function in summarizing the perception that Cubans have about electronic commerce one year after its implementation on the Island.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“To Leave Cuba”: The True Spontaneity of Young Students / Miriam Celaya

Cuban University Students. (Archive Photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 February 2021 — Almost a year after the interruption of classes at Cuban universities in March 2020, as an extreme measure to prevent the advance of the coronavirus pandemic in Cuba, the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) issued Resolution 3 of 2021 on January 22. The resolution establishes the “general guidelines for the beginning and development of undergraduate and postgraduate academic activities in the academic year 2021” —which begins February 1— matching “each territory’s epidemiology situation”.

Among the provisions of the aforementioned Resolution, the following stands out: prevalence given to the “incorporation of students to the necessary impact tasks, with priority in facing the pandemic …” rather than to teaching activities and the training of future professionals within each specialty.

The document in question insists on what it calls “actions of community impact, as part of the training of comprehensive, competent professionals, with ideological political firmness and committed to the Revolution”, with which the instrument of pressure on young university students is enshrined to use as pawns in the new “battle”, this time against an invisible and potentially lethal enemy, the coronavirus.

Paradoxically, the shutting down of the Universities last March took place, at least in word, to keep students away from possible contagion and control the epidemic, at a time when the number of positive cases was extremely low. For example, official figures for March 23rd, 2020, showed a total of 40 cases since the disease was declared in Cuba (on March 11th), of which 5 were the positive cases detected the day before, and of those cases, only three were Cubans.

Today, however, the situation is much more complex. In one week between Monday, February 8, and Sunday, February 14, 5,458 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported throughout the country, 2,847 of them in Havana, where the largest portion of the population resides, and where thousands of families live in numerous communities in conditions of poverty and overcrowding.

How, then, is it possible to explain that the current resurgence in cases prevents the start of face-to-face classes in university classrooms, but at the same time require students to join the so-called “impact tasks”, which include support in isolation centers and community polyclinics, investigations into the orderliness of the massive lines outside the markets as part of the famous “Fight Against Coleros* and Hoarders”, with all the risk of contagion that this implies? continue reading

A meeting with several students from Havana’s Enrique José Varona Higher Academic Institute demonstrates what their opinion is on this point and others, contained in Resolution 3/21 of the MES. All of them have been receiving peremptory messages from their “teacher guides” to join the aforementioned “impact tasks”, under warning of being “analyzed” by the Dean’s Office and suffering the corresponding retaliation, which in the most rebellious of cases could include dismissal from the University.

Leannis, a Spanish-Literature Faculty 3rd year student, indicates that the students in her group were instructed to connect to a common “Telegram” thread through which the lead teacher would give them the necessary information about where they should go in the municipality where each resides to receive the corresponding “task”. The municipal institution would also certify their performance.

“There is a high number (of students) who have resisted going, although it is said that they will be paid more than a thousand pesos (CUP), but that money does not warrant the risk. Now a process of analysis of individual attitudes is taking place and there will be sanctions and notes on the student’s record. But there is a lot of disagreement because nobody asked us if we were willing to make that sacrifice… Because it is a sacrifice!”, she reasons.

“To them we are soldiers, so they give us orders as if we were a troop in a war. I’ve already done a year of military service and I don’t have to take orders, even less from a civilian!”, Francis intervenes. He is also in his third year, although in a different faculty, and he is one of those who is reluctant to take on the “impact task”.

Very upset, he shows me a WhatsApp thread on his mobile phone through which his guide teacher and other teachers from the faculty communicate. Threats against those who refuse to “join in the work” are frequent, laying naked young people’s “spontaneity” so much touted by the official media.

“Bear in mind that if you are predisposed, it will be worse… All revolutionary students have joined” (and it is already known that universities are “for revolutionaries”), “be consistent with what concerns you, lamentations will come later.”

“You are not required to attend to give support in these tasks, but everyone knows what is best for you in this case… you have what other countries don’t have, be grateful and you will be able to attain your career… the impact tasks will be measured and evaluated as one more subject… let’s call ourselves a chapter, don’t take this as a scolding, or a much less as a threat” …are some of the messages from teachers to young people that can be read in the thread.

“They also told us that we should donate blood,” adds Vanessa, a 3rd year Spanish student. “I don’t know how they say in the government media that ‘everything is guaranteed’ and now they ask us for blood because ‘there is a national emergency…’ There are many things that are not understood, they are not being clear and they are not telling us everything… I’m even afraid”.

Two other fellow members are more withdrawn, afraid to express themselves, but end up being infected by their peers. “What worries me the most is that last year ended with practical work in some subjects and in others with a ‘shutting down for performance’, which was in consideration for the teachers, without debate or consultation. They sent us a note, period. We finished 2nd year without completing the course syllabus and continue the same or worse”, says Igor, in his 3rd year of the Art Faculty.

“I want to be a good teacher”, Leannis intervenes, “but we all come with a very bad base due to the low level of education we had in elementary, secondary and high school. Now it is worse, because in that Resolution it is said that we must develop ‘self-management of knowledge’, ‘autonomous learning’ and other things that can only be done when we have a bibliography, Internet access, digital content and other guarantees that most Cuban students do not have. Everything looks very nice in the document but in real life we know that only those who have families with resources can learn and take proficiency tests because they can buy cards to connect to the Internet, download information and get bibliographies. The rest of us have only a study guide and a list of sources, but no books or megabytes. I feel very frustrated”.

Once again, as is often the case with everything legislated in Cuba, the aforementioned Resolution is no more than another manifesto of intentions, the kind written by a group of satisfied technocrats with the sole purpose of showing public opinion how concerned the political power is about the new generations’ education which, in truth, has no relation to the vital reality of these young people and the majority of Cubans.

Meanwhile, frustration and uncertainty are the feelings that predominate in my interviewees. They do not have the solution; they feel that they are wasting their time and know in advance that they are condemned to the same mediocrity that ended up swallowing their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. That is why, when I asked them the last and provocative question: “what, then, is your best expectation in this scenario?” I was not surprised by an answer as heartbreaking as it was firm and unanimous: “For us to leave Cuba, the sooner the better”.

*Translator’s note: Coleros are people who are paid by others to stand in line for them (as it is not unusual for lines to be hours long, or even days).

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Fable about “The Four Cats*”

Cuban San Isidro Movement in Miami, archival photo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 December 2020 — There is no doubt that Cubans are experiencing unusually intense days. The last days of November, and especially the repressive onslaught against the barracks of the San Isidro Movement (MSI) that caused the November 27th sit-in before the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), marked an important milestone in the tense relations between Cuba’s 60-year-old dictatorial power and the independent civil society: for the first time a group of freethinking citizens forced the authorities to listen to them, face to face.

The openly threatening, even confrontational and belligerent response that the dictatorship maintains through its press monopoly against this sector of artists, independent journalists and activists, not only is in sharp contrast with the peaceful – though firm – mood of the latter, but also contradicts the official thesis of “the four cats*” [i.e. a handful of people], with which they try to minimize the just claims of the plaintiffs.

The attack against the MSI and the November 27th demonstrators has been fiercely sustained and particularly mendacious, following the old matrix of disqualification and slander that has been applied to dissidents and opponents of any political hue. This time, however, the dictatorship has raised the tone to unthinkable heights by claiming the supposedly legitimate right – guaranteed in the new Constitution approved a little over a year ago, when the elite of the Palace of the Revolution already knew what was coming to them – to confront with weapons those who dare to challenge its power. continue reading

The threat itself is a reflection of the concern of the leadership and its vassals in the face of growing social discontent and the surprising solidarity that these new generations of young people, determined to change the state of affairs in Cuba, have managed to arouse. At the same time, it shows the true depth of the economic and structural crisis of a failed system.

The failure of the Castro regime’s “revolutionary project” is obvious. Beyond its slogans of unity and “continuity” it becomes more palpable, to the extent that the process of criminalization of society by the State is established, ever bloodier as the population shortages increase and uncertainty becomes more generalized.

Despite the national misery, no one seems to be safe from the irrational fury of the authorities and their repressive bodies that attack entrepreneurs, farmers, merchants, “illegal residents” of the capital, fences, paid holders of places in lines and any real or imaginary transgressor of the absurd official regulations with equal fury, all seasoned by a pandemic that continues to strike in the midst of the greatest medicine shortage in Cuban memory and the dire state of hospitals and the entire health system.

All of this leads to counterproductive effects: increase in popular discontent, violence and social insecurity, a perfect breeding ground for greater and more dangerous crises, where those who turn against the authorities would no longer be “the four cats”, a peaceful, organized and dialoguing handful of people demanding civil spaces. Popular revolts caused by despair are usually anonymous, but they are never peaceful, and generally produce a snowball effect: they become uncontrollable, far exceeding the category of “the handful of people” that start them.

Suffice it to add all those who have something to demand in today’s Cuba, some claim to make, some pressure due to their needs or their chronic poverty. Let’s make a list of those Cubans who have lost their homes and their scarce assets in a building collapse, who lack the resources to find another place to live and replace what they lost; workers whose wages do not meet their needs and those of their families; the retired elderly whose pensions are a bad joke or a colossal disrespect for their working years; those who have lost their income because their employers have been forced to close their restaurants, coffee shops or hostels; entrepreneurs who, despite the pandemic are no longer receiving income nor getting any help from the government, but  are now in debt to the national to social security account and are forced to make payments without having any money.

The list is incomplete, but it helps to imagine what would become of the authorities if all those mentioned decided to stand before their corresponding ministries, or better yet, perhaps make loud demands at the Plaza Cívica, before the headquarters of the Central Committee (as the “guiding force of the society ” that it is), to solve their pressing problems. Would the media say that they are “a handful of people,” mercenaries paid by Washington or, in the best of cases, that they are “confused”? Would they launch an army to fire weapons at them?

Obviously, such a long-lived dictatorship is showing clear signs of decrepitude and advanced senile insanity when it tries to downplay the dissidents and non-conformists by appealing to their small numbers. It seems to conveniently forget that the number of the Moncada assailants**, the Granma expeditionaries and those who managed to penetrate the Sierra Maestra were all much lower than the artists and activists who are grouped in the MSI, out of the hundreds that stood in front of MINCULT, of those who tried to reach and were blocked by the repressive bodies that surrounded the area and of the thousands of Cubans who, from social networks and from all shores, have spoken out against the repression in support of the demands and for the recognition of rights that we have been denied over six decades.

Meanwhile, of that handful of people of the pompous self-nominated “historical generation” who, once enthroned in power betrayed their own program of struggle and failed to fulfill the democratic promises with which they mobilized the most diverse social strata, hardly a dozen survive today. The majority is physically or mentally incapacitated, but not sufficiently disabled to block any possibility of a national dialogue that allows all Cubans to think and act on the nation’s course. Those few souls and their servants, a tiny privileged and marginalized minority of society, keep the snare and the brake over Cuba and over Cubans.

But if it were really only about numbers, it would be necessary to decide how it’s possible that a single and scandalously minority party, whose membership is less than 1% of the country’s population, constitutes the absolute master of the destinies of all; how is it that 600 officials at the service of power – the so-called “deputies” – are the only ones who vote for the President (previously elected by the dictatorial leadership) to exercise an unquestionable mandate over more than 11 million Cubans, while mocking the right to choose from 8 million people registered in the national electoral roll.

In their infinite arrogance, the powers that be fail to understand that the dialogue civil society is proposing to them today is not a plea from those who make demands, but an opportunity for power. Because the time for changes has already arrived, and change will take place one way or another. Discussing what Cubans claim and in what way they want a democratic transition to take place towards a State with rights and freedoms is the option generously offered by the people, the sovereign. It would be better for those at the top to abandon the bravado and the war cries and to reflect on this, because it is them, the true “four cats” of this fable, who have the most to lose.

Translator’s notes
*The four cats (los cuatro gatos): Cuban slang phrase meaning a handful of people.
**Moncada Barracks assailants = 160. Granma expeditionaries = 82. Surviving expeditionaries in the Sierra Maestra = 22. 

Translated by Norma Whiting

Journalist Miriam Celaya Has Become ‘Regulated’ and Cannot Leave Cuba

On Friday Miriam Celaya joined the list of ‘regulated’ citizens who have been banned from leaving Cuba. (Radio Martí)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — Independent journalist Miriam Celaya has joined to the list of regulated citizens this Friday under a ban on leaving Cuba. The 14ymedio columnist and contributor tried to apply for an extension of her passport but came across the news that she cannot travel abroad.

“I went to extend my passport early at the office of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Foreign Matters (DIIE) in Centro Habana and there they told me that I was regulated so I was unable to complete the process,” Celaya comments to this periodical.

The official who communicated the situation to Celaya was unaware of the reasons for the travel ban and recommended that she go to the headquarters of the DIIE to inquire about the causes, although the reporter intuits that her opinion columns, very critical of the Government, could be behind the measure.

“I have been ‘regulated’ for writing, for my work as a journalist and for what I share on social networks.” Celaya adds that the sanction can also be a punishment “for having defied State Security in March of this year,” when she received a summons from the political police and refused to answer their questions. “They wanted to question me but I told the officers I met with that I had nothing to say to them.” continue reading

Celaya adds that the sanction may also be a punishment for having defied State Security in March of this year, when she received a police summons from the political police and refused to answer their questions

The journalist also has Spanish nationality obtained in 2010 through the so-called Grandchildren’s Law and planned to spend the end of the year with her family in the United States, a project that she’ll have to postpone indefinitely, since the authorities usually do not divulge how long the sanction will be in effect.

Some 200 people are on this blacklist, established by the Cuban authorities. With these travel bans, the Government violates the right to free movement of citizens, which is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also in Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution.

Those affected by this ban also note that, in January 2013, an immigration reform came into force that significantly relaxed the procedures to travel outside Cuba, as the old “exit permit” was eliminated. At that time the the foreign press described this move as part of the reforms leading to greater openings by Raúl Castro.

However, the list of opposition voices banned from leaving the country has been increasing over the years. At first, State Security prevented dissidents from traveling, through arbitrary arrests or by intercepting them on their way to the airport, but since 2018, the strategy of informing them of their status when passing through the immigration window at the airport or when renewing their passport has become more common.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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The Emblem of Biran: The New Man, Castro-Style / Miriam Celaya

Young Cubans drinking rum in a public place (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 October 2020 — It was the serial murderer, Ernesto Guevara –“Che” to his friends, if he had them, and also to his cult followers, whom he does have — who defined the original concept of “New Man” as a kind of superhuman being, a permanent revolutionary, whose mission in life would be to lay the foundations for an inescapable end: communism, which one day would impose itself on the entire Earth.

As is often the case with such epiphanies, the baby’s father was destined not to attend his birth. It is known that all faith needs martyrs, and ironically, Guevara himself was the sacrificial lamb before the communist Castro altar. Only the death of the ideologist, eternal guerrilla of failure, would guarantee the perpetuity of the myth.

And so, invoking the hidden corpse, buried in a nameless grave, the Castro catechism incorporated the insane idea of materializing a humanoid model of a pure revolutionary, an individual dedicated entirely to working every day and hour of his life in pursuit of a socialist transformation without sensing it as a cold, sacrifice detached from material and personal ambitions, austere, disciplined, intransigent, implacable against the enemy (anyone who does not embrace the cause, but especially the Yankee imperialism) to the point of being willing to kill or die for such a cause, including placing the communist utopia above family. continue reading

At the same time, the new social prototype had to be unconditional, blind and obedient towards its leaders, especially towards the “maximum leader.”

Fortunately, the projected New Man never went beyond one of the many concepts ingrained in the extensive Castro-communist taxonomy.

Unrealizable because of its dehumanizing and unnatural nature, the gestation of the Guevaran New Man ended in abortion. It could not have been otherwise, given the numerous flaws in its origins, such as the insurmountable fact that there never existed a single pure revolutionary among the makers of the socialist project, and their servile sounding boards, to take on the task of training the new generations in the purity of the communist ideal.

It was even less likely that the children of a traditionally hedonistic, fickle and festive people were willing to become such rigid and bitter subjects as to renounce their personal ambitions and the pleasures of life. Definitely, the Guevara New Man was not possible, or at least Cubans were not the appropriate raw material for its construction, as was outrageously demonstrated in the 1980 stampede, when hundreds, or perhaps thousands of communist youth militants stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, or left Cuba in flotillas that followed the route from Mariel to Florida.

However, it cannot be denied that many Cubans of the new generations, who grew up during the revolutionary process not only preserved the negative characteristics of our idiosyncrasy, such as the tendency to impose our own opinions over those of others, to admire and follow the leadership of a strong man, or to let passion prevail over reason. They, however, incorporated all the vices typical of totalitarian societies: simulation, double standards, fear and corruption as survival mechanisms, accusation, escapism and indolence.

Thus, from the very beginning of the Cuban social experiment, which has lasted for more than 60 years, another category of man emerged and consolidated, almost spontaneously, as a collateral result, not foreseen or defined in the official discourse: the Castro-style New Man, whom neither all nor even many of them are, but they do make a great racket and are very destructive.

And that anthropological malformation is not limited to the narrow Cuban geography, but has also been transferred as it is to the other side of the Florida Straits, spreading its tentacles through different waves of emigrants, with greater inflection among those who inhabit Miami, that other Cuban capital beyond the archipelago.

Because it turns out that, despite the colossal leap that presumes leaving dictatorship conditions behind and waking up every day in one of the most solid and long-lived democracies in the world, the Castro New Man who emigrated took with him and still has that “little Fidel” very deep inside of him that does not allow him to renounce what he left behind: he carries in his soul the soldier of the despot.

And thus, from the other shore, he offends, insults, stones and discredits everyone who differs from his political preference; he applauds the “rallies of repudiation” — both virtual and physical — orchestrated against the adversary; he finds a “strong man” to uncritically follow and deify (with the same blind and irrational passion as those who followed F. Castro then and today follow his heirs); and he assumes, without embarrassment, the same Castro principle of “who is not with me, is not only fundamentally wrong, but is also against me.”

These days, when the heat of the electoral contest reaches unprecedented levels of polarization, verbal violence and debauchery in the midst of Miami’s Cubanism, when we see that some of our countrymen are demonstrating in favor of harsher and harsher measures that directly affect their compatriots back home, when I hear that they call “the sheep” to rise up from within Cuba, though from the safety and comfort of their distance — despite the fact that most of them never raised their voices against the dictatorship while they lived here — when they talk about stopping the remittances and phone recharges, they applaud lists that are the sad imitation of the snitch planted in the national DNA by the regime that they say they detest, I cannot avoid the evocation of that murderer of Cubans who one day imagined the “New Man” and the caricature that resulted: the Castro-style new man.

This is the one that immortalizes among us and on either of these two shores the ill-fated emblem, born in Birán* almost 100 years ago.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s birthplace

Translated by Norma Whiting


A Debate for Democracy in Cuba: The End Does Not Justify the Means

Celaya believes that A debate that does not imitate the pathetic Trump vs Biden media show. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana | 2 October 2020 — Fresh off the networks, saturated today by the echoes of the unfortunate show (supposedly a debate) between United States presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and with their clothes still torn by the attacks of the always furious Trumpist pack – those worthy imitators of the purest Castro style who accept no other position other than unconditional support for their idol – I have made note of an article by colleague Reinaldo Escobar Casas that brings me back to what is really important on this side of the Florida Strait: a reality so overwhelming that it far exceeds the convenience of the triumph of one or another candidate in the US presidential elections on November 3rd.

In agreement with my colleague Escobar Casas, and as a Cuban residing in Cuba, I have no preference for any of the American candidates. It’s clear to me that neither one nor the other has a commitment to achieve democracy in Cuba beyond speeches and intentions for electoral purposes. It is not their responsibility to solve the pressing problems that suffocate Cubans from all areas of national life, of which successive US administrations are not the cause.

I am clear that neither one nor the other is committed to achieving democracy in Cuba, beyond speeches and intentions for electoral purposes

After 61 years of dictatorship and in the midst of the most serious crisis of the socioeconomic and political system established by force of voluntarism and repression, it would be naive to attribute the eventual collapse of the Castro regime to the good or bad will of an American president, without denying that the policies of that country, as the great power that it is, have some influence, not only on this limited and close geography and on the lives of its inhabitants, but also — for better and for worse — have a relevant impact throughout the world. continue reading

I absolutely agree with Escobar Casas when he declares the need for a debate that matters to us as Cubans, when he focuses his aspirations for matters to change in Cuba, for political disagreement to be decriminalized and for all of us to have the right to an opinion for or against those who govern us, and that, in the economic realm, those who are capable of producing the things we need in order to live are given the freedom to do it. This should be an inalienable direction for all of us who, through thick and thin, continue to push the wall of the Castro regime from inside and outside of Cuba, although we well know that, in light of the current reality of the Island, our aspirations for the moment are chimerical.

However, I cannot agree with Escobar in what seems to be the justification of the means to an end. In fact, the scenarios for exiting the Cuban crisis in the face of one or another U.S. policy are as opposite as the human and social costs that would arise from them.

In his article, Escobar welcomes equally the “strangulation” caused by a resurgence of sanctions as well as a “rapprochement” that forces the regime to change, since his priority — and I know he is sincere — is the prosperity and welfare of this country “where my children and my grandchildren will live for many years.” Personally, I will always opt for the least possible traumatic exit for Cubans, against the grain of being aware that in Cuba this variable seems less and less likely.

What moral authority aids us in subjecting others to the deficiencies that those of us who have some financial support to cope with the crisis don’t experience?

Let us take, then, two situations, A and B, where A would be the eventual triumph of Trump and, consequently, a fierce claw capable of suffocating the Castro regime’s tentacles and, incidentally, all Cubans who in some way depend on economic support, remittances, food packages, etc., which ultimately will always benefit, to some extent, the elite who receive the dividends. The question, then, would be: to what extent are we willing to sacrifice economic survival or to bear the cost of deprivation for ordinary Cubans in order to force change? Is it legal to assume chaos and human losses as the “collateral damage” necessary for these changes? What moral authority aids us in subjecting others to the deficiencies that those of us who have some financial support to cope with the crisis don’t experience?

And, taking it to a more extreme level, is there any guarantee that the dissident sectors, the opposition, the press and the independent civil society are safe from the worst repression in the extreme case of social chaos?

Furthermore, in a scenario of chaos and anarchy caused by famine and in the absence of guarantees and social tension, who would assume control and ensure a minimum social order? That possibility, which may now seem like a dramatic exaggeration, is still an almost tangible threat.

The other extreme, option B, would be the gradual, political and orderly transition that, despite everything, remains the most reasonable because it does not make use of Cubans as hostages on the road to democratization, but rather facilitates their insertion as economic actors and politicians of the changes, provided that this policy is implemented in a complete, intelligent and duly conditioned way, toward effective steps in the matter of human rights by the Castro leadership. This was the step that was omitted during the thaw of the Obama era and that contributed to the withdrawal of the regime.

The weak point, in the case of either A or B, is the absence of effective proposals and strengths in the opposition sectors, generally attentive — it is fair to admit — to the policies of the White House. There is no plan C or “Cuban proposal.” In this sense, it is worth reviewing recent statements by some of the so-called opposition leaders, where a common denominator is striking: they all seem to agree on what a US administration should do with regard to Cuba, but not one of them has their own plan to implement in any scenario that we may encounter, whether in the face of a policy of rapprochement or confrontation from the powerful northern neighbor.

Waiting continues to be the watchword in a scenario that, beyond our wills, keeps us tied down, as passive hostages of foreign policies

In short, everything leans towards eternal passivity or contemplation, waiting for two eventualities, neither of which will depend on the opposition’s effective actions: 1) Wait to see what the United States powers decide to do and 2) Wait to see how much the hierarchs of dictatorial power in Cuba are weakened from these policies. Waiting continues to be the watchword in a scenario that, beyond our wills, keeps us dependent, as passive hostages of foreign policies, to such an extent that a policy of suffocation may seem equally valuable as one of rapprochement, as long as it promotes changes that are not within our power to control. I couldn’t disagree more.

In the end, and as far as the subject is concerned, we urgently need a broad and inclusive national debate in Cuba in which the entire society participates and all interests are present, regardless of political or ideological constraints. A debate that does not imitate the pathetic Trump vs Biden media show, which we witnessed on September 30th. Because the best and worst we Cubans have is that much remains to be said here, and everything remains to be done, especially the transition to democracy. And it has been a dream held for so long and so pregnant with sacrifices that different means to achieve it cannot deliver the same result.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Clandestinos: a Scandalous Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: The “Strategy” of Desperation

(Photo: Estudios Revolución)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Pharmacy in Cuba (EFE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cart Vendors, in the Spotlight of Havana’s Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: Economic Purges and Collateral Damages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Chronicle of a Shuttered “Interview”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting


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