Reasons and Lack of Reasons Surrounding Political Dialogue

Cuban President Raúl Castro tries to raise the arm of US President Barack Obama after a press conference in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 March 2018 — When, in December 2014, the US President at the time, Barack Obama, and Cuba’s General-President Raúl Castro unexpectedly announced the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the reactions on both sides of the Straits of Florida were immediate.

As is often the case with Cuban political affairs, there was a strong polarization among those who expressed themselves in favor of dialogue as a way to find a solution to the conflict, which in the end could imply benefits for Cubans on both sides and in particular for those living in Cuba, and the ever-intransigents, who considered the events as an undeserved concession to the Castro dictatorship and as a betrayal to the yearnings for democracy of thousands of our countrymen, who for decades had suffered harassment, prison, persecution and exile for their fight against totalitarianism. continue reading

The schism was even greater among the opposition groups. There were no nuances. Overnight, a war seemed to have been declared: the radical groups not only considered the process of dialogue between the two hitherto opposed governments unacceptable, but also disparagingly pinned the labels of “traitors” and “dialoguers” to those broad sectors of dissidents that considered the new policy of the White House as a more propitious strategy to gradually push the long-awaited changes inside Cuba.

It is worth mentioning that the radicals conveniently ignored one small detail. Many members of that large group of political prisoners and persecuted citizens were in favor of the dialogue proces.

The matter became a defining moment, where the most rabid enemies of diplomacy – faithful to their violent and intolerant nature – used verbal aggression and even attempted physical violence against supporters of dialogue in some cases, although the latter were just being consistent with the pro-relations and anti-embargo discourse that they had been defending for decades.

The very brief period that elapsed between the beginning of President Obama’s policy of flexibilization and his departure from power did not make, and obviously could not have mad a significant shift in Cuban politics, but it did have the benefit of undermining the unbending Castro anti-Yankee discourse and completely exposing the lack of political will of the dictatorship to take advantage of the US measures that, if permitted to be carried out as Obama conceived them, would have meant prosperity for Cubans, in particular for the incipient businesses that emerged under the timid attempt of the so-called “Raúl reforms.”

In any case, the “failure” of a rapprochement policy that did not have enough time to show results – and it is known that time is a category of capital importance – was not due to the supposed ingenuity of the American president but to the inveterate stubbornness and totalitarian vocation of the Castro regime. If the dictatorship responded to the flexibilizations of its northern neighbor with repression against dissent and the suffocation of the private sector, it is an account that we cannot attribute to Obama or the restoration of relations, as certified by decades of arrests, imprisonments, executions and despotism that took place in Cuba under the pretext of the existence of the powerful “external enemy” long before the Obama era.

If the dictatorship responded to the flexibilizations of its northern neighbor with repression against dissent and the suffocation of the private sector, it is an account that we cannot attribute to Obama

And since time is a consideration, it is worth remembering that, in fact, in about a year and a half after the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana, the US measures of flexibilization allowed thousands of tourists from the U.S. to enter Cuba, which brought discrete economic benefits, not only for the tourism industry of the Castro regime, their native entourages and their foreign associates, but also – to the alarm of the olive-tree hierarchs who felt threatened by the sudden rise of self-employed Cubans – for a considerable number of private businesses, especially those dedicated to lodging and food services, which in turn generated many jobs associated with their respective facilities.

The election of Republican Donald Trump in November 2016 and his inauguration on January 20th, 2017 not only put an end to the brief era of diplomacy, but it has constituted a clear setback in the rapprochement initiated by his predecessor, to the delight of the recalcitrant opponents to dialogue.

A delight that, nevertheless, is not justified in certainty, since until now Trump does not seem to have intentions to make the two great demands of the most radical sectors a reality, that is: the rupture of diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government and the reestablishment of the ‘wet foot/dry foot’ policy, repealed by Obama a few days before leaving power.

Interestingly, fundamentalists on both banks remain silent on this point. And in general, whether he’ll act or not, Trump remains the unquestionable hero of the fanatics in Cuba.

The silence of the anti-dialoguers is more outrageous these days, when the arrogant Donald Trump has declared his intention to establish a dialogue with none other than the current North Korean satrap

But the silence of the anti-dialoguers is more outrageous these days, when the arrogant Donald Trump has declared his intention to establish a dialogue with none other than the current North Korean satrap, the mass murderer heir to the long power of the Kim dynasty. And this is not necessarily a political error for Trump. In any situation it is more desirable to resolve differences with words and agreements rather than with missiles, especially nuclear missiles.

Only that, following the logic applied to the Obama-Castro dialogue, wouldn’t this President of the world’s greatest power also be “legitimizing” a miserable dictatorship that represses and murders its people? Where are the angry defenders of human rights who are so offended by the US-Cuba dialogue? Could it be that some dialogues are “good” and others “bad”? And in this last case, who is the referee that defines the appropriate adjective in each case?

For the time being, and until they prove otherwise, everything indicates that the exalted atheists of the Cuban opposition have either run out of arguments or they were never very clear. Perhaps in reality what they understand as “politics” is just the reductionist and sectarian vision of a bench of most passionate sports team fans. And there are still some who think of themselves as presidential leaders for the future Cuban democracy. God help us!

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

Transportation In Cuba: Multiple Problems For One Solution / Miriam Celaya


cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 March 2018 — One of the most pressing and old problems never solved in the Cuban capital has been that of public transportation. There are countless causes, beginning with the extreme centralization that placed in the hands of the State the transportation administration and “control” for decades – with the disastrous consequences that this policy has brought in all spheres of the economy and services – to which could be added a long list of adversities inherent to the system, such as the aging of the vehicle fleet, the lack of spare parts to repair the buses’ constant breakdowns, the incongruence between the price of the (subsidized) fares and the cost of keeping the service running, and the chronic lack of cash that hinders the purchase of new and more modern effective buses, among other limitations.

As if such difficulties were not enough, in recent times, Havana residents have habitually used the most economical mode of transportation, the articulated “P” buses (40 cents CUP per passenger), which cover routes in high-demand and have the greatest passenger capacity. They have recently noticed longer waiting times between buses, which causes the corresponding crowding at the bus stops, the chaos at boarding time and all the inconveniences associated with it. continue reading

This time, however, it is not a problem of shortage of equipment, but of drivers. The truth about a growing popular rumor about this new fatality has just been confirmed by the director of the Provincial Transportation Company of Havana (EPTH), according to the official press. The aforementioned director said that, currently, the EPTH deficit is 86 drivers, which means – always in their own words – that, on a daily basis, 700,000 passengers cannot be transported in Havana, which represents about 60,000 pesos less in revenues and an average of 500 fewer trips.

The matter is not trivial. Among the four terminals most affected by the exodus of drivers are two with the highest demand: the ones at Alamar and San Agustín.

So, following “the vision of the directors of this company,” the (new) problem in the capital’s public transportation service, that is, the shortage of drivers, is due to “more tempting offers of salaries and hours at other work centers, as well as the increase in inspectors’ demands and actions so what is established in the sector is fulfilled.” (The underlined section contains the author’s views).

There wasn’t the slightest reference to fundamental issues that affect the transportation sector, and in particular, public transportation drivers, such as the salary incompatibile with the always ungrateful task of driving a heavy vehicle, loaded with irritated passengers, circulating through obsolete, insecure roads, full of potholes; the constant harassment of state inspectors, and the obligation to follow to the letter the sacrosanct commandments written by bureaucrats far removed from the actual work from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices.

However, the brainy directors of the EPTH have conceived a solution to “alleviate” the crisis: “in the coming weeks, a contingent of drivers from several provinces will arrive from the provinces, and the call for all those who wish to join the workforce will continue.”

All of which demonstrates the infinite capacity of the leading cadres of the socialist state enterprise to create several problems for each solution instead of one solution for each problem. Because one doesn’t need to be a genius to see that – except for the possible existence of inflated records – if drivers from the interior provinces are the solution to the transportation crisis in the capital, wouldn’t that be creating conditions for a transportation crisis in those provinces?

Another vital point of the matter: in Havana, aren’t there enough housing problems and insufficient shelters for thousands of victims who have lost their homes due to building collapses or evictions? How is the State going to guarantee accommodation and living conditions for those provincial drivers who will come to “save” the passengers of the capital for an undetermined period of time?

The experience of decades of massive “contingents” mobilized towards the capital – for example, policemen and builders from the eastern provinces, mainly during the 1970’s, though the practice has not completely disappeared – shows that this is a boomerang strategy: it not only increases the problem that is being solved but also generates new ones, mainly in the area of housing.

Although we must recognize that the topic of contingents in Cuba is all a State policy: in any crisis situation – which is the norm, not the exception – the creation of a contingent is always proposed. A contingent can serve the government (and only it) in all cases. Thus, there have also been contingents of teachers, doctors, sports coaches, cultural instructors, etc., whose common denominator is not having solved any problem, but the complete opposite.

And it could not be otherwise because, as is known, the word contingent defines something eventual, not definitive; which is why you cannot face a crisis – be it public order, housing, transport or any other – with a “contingent.” It is necessary to deeply reform the roots of the system that generates the evil, otherwise the contingent will end up being the one that takes root.

But, returning to the issue at hand, it would be interesting to know how the EPTH managers suppose that keeping an open call to increase the workforce of the company will resolve the deficit of drivers. Isn’t that the same type of negotiation that called for drivers to work at other locations that provided better wages and more manageable hours? So, what makes them suppose that the next influx of drivers will remain faithful before the helm, and facing the ferocious harassment (supposedly “demands”) of the inspectors, for the same salary and with the same schedule that determined the stampede of the previous drivers?

Paradoxically, in this case, as in many of the complex problems that overwhelm Cubans today, the solution is very simple and not at all new: allow the creation of autonomous cooperatives of transportation workers, give the fleet to these cooperatives, allow for those cooperative members to purchase fuel at reasonable prices and import cars and spare parts and apply a fair tax burden that encourages work for the sector. In summary, allow the freedoms and rights of workers in the sector. Only then will the eternal transportation crisis disappear, not in the capital, but in all of Cuba.

Because we Cubans have only one problem: an obtuse and failed sixty-year-old political system, which threatens to become eternal.

And in Cuba everything, even a humble bus driver’s employment post, is a reflection of the general crisis of the political system, and as such, constitutes a potential threat that must be “solved” deep down from the structures at the service of the regime. And while we’re waiting around, we can only exclaim what our grandparents used to say: “what a mess!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Censorship, El Estornudo and Fung’s “Liberation T-Shirts” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 March 2018 – Recently, several media have reported the consummation of another attack by Cuban authorities on the freedom of expression. This time the jealous guardians of political correctness blocked access to the digital magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze) – an entertaining and well-written journalism project – in what constitutes another demonstration of the totalitarian vocation of the island’s government.

Thus, El Estornudo, is added to the censored list by the commissars of the Palace of the Revolution. A list, by the way, that is extensive, old and of varied tones, qualities and styles, but with one common denominator: narrating a reality that does not reflect the apologists – that is the “journalists” – of the Castro press. continue reading

For their part, the promoters of the magazine have responded with an editorial that does them honor: not only do they openly refuse to bow to the pressure of the Censor, but they declare that such arbitrariness “is not going to modify one iota the editorial line of our magazine nor is it going to make El Estornudo dialogue with the political power on the terms that the political power expects.”

This has been another chapter in the sad repressive repertoire that has been marking the general-president’s departure from the scene, a man who a decade ago was emerging as a possible reformer who would open a path towards relatively favorable changes for Cuba and Cubans.

However, far from making the promises of his initial speeches a reality, Raúl Castro’s last days at the head of the Government have been a clear step backwards that has been reflected particularly on two fronts: the unjustifiable crusade against the small and active private sector – where some minimal advances were being made in terms of the internal economy – and the new onslaught against the sectors of dissent or critics of the political system.

Faced with this reality and after almost 60 years of totalitarianism, it could be assumed that even the most optimistic Cuban would seriously question the health of human rights in Cuba. Especially of economic rights and the freedom of expression and information, so systematically and openly violated. But this is not the case, as evidenced by the interview recently granted by a young Cuban businessman, an emigrant named Juan Pablo Fung, to the news agency EFE.

Fung, great-grandson of a Cantonese Chinese who arrived in Cuba a century ago and settled permanently on the island, emigrated to China seven years ago thanks to a student scholarship. After finishing his studies he decided to stay in that country working for a better future which, obviously, he could not aspire to in Cuba.

Now Fung is about to realize a project dreamed up by him and for which he has been saving and working for the last three years: the production of “smart and free t-shirts” under the Dirstuff brand – carriers of “infinite and interchangeable messages” – soon to be on the market.

What is provocative about the case, however, are not the T-shirts themselves or the fact that they incorporate a personalized QR as a novelty – a technological resource that has already been used on the Island by independent activists – but the (very legitimate) aspiration of Fung to produce these “liberty T-shirts” in his native homeland in a future that, judging by his words, would seem close.

Fung also believes that this would be “the first private company in Cuba,” because “Cuba is changing” starting from an opening that began a few years ago and that will eventually lead to “the legalization of private companies” on the island.

What Fung evidently ignores, is that several years ago there were private capital companies on the island, not only those of foreign and “mixed” capital legalized by the State’s interests since the 1990s, but also those managed by Cubans “from inside.” It is just that the government does not define them as private companies but as “non-state forms” of economic management.

As for the promising “opening” that was announced precisely at the time that Fung left Cuba, currently it is in clear decline.

Nor is it clear whether Fung would invest as a Cuban “from within” or as a resident or Chinese citizen, that is, as a “Cuban émigré,” which for the purposes of the current socio-political and economic model “is neither the same nor is it equal.” In the second case – that is, as an exiled Cuban – the young man would find it impossible to invest on the Island, at least under current laws. Unfortunately, Cuba has not changed as much as Fung supposes.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the theme of the shirts is the conflict they would spark in a political context as confrontational as that of Cuba. Fung declares that, although his product “advocates freedom of expression,” he does not want it to be politicized, because many people have been meditating on the Cuba issue “using the problems of politics as an argument and justification.” He does not want his T-shirts to become a political platform for these ends so that some profiteers can make money at his expense, which is also his legitimate right as creator and producer.

Being an expert in T-shirts is one thing, but in matters of politics, rights and freedoms the picture is different. Especially if we are talking about Cuba. It is enough to understand that if the Cuban authorities unleash such rage against independent and alternative digital spaces, to the point of censoring them and persecuting their animators – despite the insignificant Internet connectivity suffered by Cubans on the Island and the limited social reach of these media within the country – to know that the suspicions that the production and on-site commercialization of T-shirts carrying “free” messages which the explicitly apolitical Fung dreams of, are incalculable.

We can almost imagine the Central Committee’s Department of Political Guidance assuming the reins of production of “the first private company in Cuba” – Fung’s, of course – to flood the foreign tourism market with clothes, which would carry slogans such as “Commander in Chief, At Your Service!” or ” Fatherland or Death, We Will Conquer!” Or that other pearl that has been incorporated more recently into the official propaganda repertoire: “I am Fidel.” Dantesque. Even for such an optimist as Fung.

Because it turns out that Juan Pablo Fung does not believe that in Cuba “there is no freedom of expression.” For him it is only a problem of definitions around “a complicated issue.” A point on which the young man seems to agree with the censors in the service of Power, and another confusion for which we will have to forgive Fung.

In the end, settling in China can mean a discreet advance for a common Cuban in matters of financial prosperity, but it does not mean an advantageous change in terms of freedoms and rights. Perhaps that is why for Fung in Cuba “there is freedom of expression.” Yes, of course Fung, and “neither” in China.

Political Power is Responsible for the Widespread Corruption

Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Machado Ventura y Ramiro Valdés. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 March 2018 — The Cuban official press recently published an extensive article, authored by journalist Lázaro Barredo, addressing the issue of corruption on the Island, its dissimilar forms, its spread, the depth it has reached – affecting even high public institutions, State Administrative Positions and officials of different levels of the legal system – and its effects on the economy and society.

The relationship of the alarming national corruption – which also contains examples of “confiscatory processes” and court cases against several individuals involved in crimes of this nature – seeks to update the official data and figures that are not usually within the reach of the public domain and to which only trustful and faithful subjects with a sufficiently proven record of services in the Castro regime are able to access, as in the case of Barredo. continue reading

However, the details offered and the terrible picture described are not surprising. Ordinary Cubans are perfectly familiar with the depth and magnitude that corruption has reached in Cuba, since it is part of the everyday reality and covers practically all aspects of life.

Ordinary Cubans are perfectly familiar with the depth and magnitude that corruption has reached in Cuba, since it is part of the everyday reality and covers practically all aspects of life

Omissions when disclosing the number of corrupt individuals in the article is not a big surprise either. There is no mention, for example, of the agents of the National Revolutionary Police and the officials of the Inspectorate, or of their habitual practices of extortion to offenders or the acceptance of bribes; crimes committed with the greatest spontaneity and absolute impunity.

If Barredo is Cuban and wants to appear honest, he cannot and should not dismiss the grave fact that corruption has penetrated so deeply that it also undermines the official institutions called in to combat it in the first line of fire.

Corruption in Cuba is like an unbeatable hydra that owes its success and persistence to its double function, apparently contradictory. On the one hand, it erodes the moral foundations of society, while on the other, its role as provider makes it an essential resource for survival in a country that is biased by shortages and instability.

Not wishing to justify crime or to minimize the perniciousness of the damage it causes, corruption in Cuba is an inevitable evil, at least under current conditions. Not because the population of this Island has a natural propensity to transgress the law, or a spontaneous will to commit a crime, but because corruption is an inherent, and also pernicious, sociopolitical and economic system imposed six decades ago, whose makers still hold the absolute political power.

Not wishing to justify crime or to minimize the perniciousness of the damage it causes, corruption in Cuba is an inevitable evil, at least under current conditions

One of the glaring omissions that stand out in Barredo’s article is that, unlike other nations of the world where corruption “is a cause of moral crisis and a discredit to governments and parties”, in the case of Cuba “this scourge is concentrated in the fundamental, in the managerial, and in the administrative management”.

The article takes for granted the immaculate integrity of our leaders, especially the political leadership, a fallacy that is also a manifestation of corruption by its author, since among the essential functions of the honest press are, among others, the questioning of political powers and the responsibility or the public opinion mobilization based on its link to the truth.

Thus, from the author’s discourse, the Palace of the Revolution not only stands out as the last stronghold of wholesomeness remaining on the Island, but in addition, the olive-green dome does not have any responsibility in the chaos and decay that undermine the country to its foundations today.

Perhaps this explains the plea for the masses – at once victims and beneficiaries of corruption – to wage another transcendental battle in the abstract in which the enemy isn’t (though not directly) “the US imperialism”. Now it’s about a much more dangerous subspecies that threatens the existence of the Cuban sociopolitical “model” in our own home.

This explains the plea for the masses to wage another transcendental battle in the abstract in which the enemy isn’t not the “U. S. imperialism”

This is a really surrealist battle which has already been lost, considering how difficult it is to imagine, for instance, a family’s humble mother betraying the illegal reseller who provides her with milk at lower prices than those at the retail stores that sell in hard currency, so that she can have it for her son’s breakfast because his right to milk on the ration card was terminated when he turned seven. Or when someone’s conscience might lead him to clash with the speculator who guarantees a sick family member the essential medicine missing from the shelves of the pharmacy networks.

According to the article, the hardened hosts of incorruptible “honest citizens” – that is, a non-existent category – should confront those who are corrupt: ambitious officials, enriched self-employed workers, notaries and judges who falsify documents or accept bribes, street resellers, merchants of agricultural products, employees of hard and national currency stores, people who evade taxes, food service employees, doctors who accept payments, and others.

One doesn’t have to be a genius to conclude that, although all of society is involved in corruption, the causes of its existence concern only those who decide the country’s policy

Barredo’s story of crooks (with significant exclusions, it must be noted) is almost as infinite as the causes of the proliferation of corruption, which discreetly remains silent. Let’s list some: the incompatibility of wages and the cost of living, the availability of food and any other kind of commercial items available for sale, which is much inferior to the demand for them, unemployment, generalized poverty, government hold back on private initiative and the productive capacities of the population, demonization of prosperity and wealth, society’s high dependence on the State, excessive centralism, absence of freedoms…

Consequently, it is not necessary to be a genius to conclude that, although corruption involves the entire society, the causes of its existence concern only those who decide the country’s policy, so that the solution to the problem depends essentially on them.

It’s a pity that the impunity of the political power in Cuba is the only thing that reaches, or perhaps surpasses such colossal magnitudes as corruption. This is why the beginning of the end of corruption will only take place when the system that empowered and sustains it disappears.

At the moment, everything indicates we will have corruption for a while.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

Gentlemen Politicians, Don’t Give Sustenance to the Deception / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro receives Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and other American legislators. 2013 (

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 February 2018 — Without much fanfare, the visit to Havana of an American congressional delegation ended last Wednesday. The delegation included Democratic lawmakers led by Senator Patrick Leahy.  During the visit, almost nothing was accomplished: the “talks” between politicians and officials from both sides of the Strait continue to run in the style of conspiracies.

Judging by the soothing notes appearing in the official press and by the insubstantial statements made by the visitors at the press conference held at the US Embassy at the end of the visit, it is evident that the usual secrecy that has surrounded these meetings from the very beginning of the Obama-Castro confabulations persists, and the idea of the impossibility of a Cuba-US understanding in the current scenario is reinforced. continue reading

As has also become common practice, US politicians sympathetic to the policy of rapprochement with Cuba – as is the case of the aforementioned visitors – have strongly criticized the setback in diplomatic relations under the Donald Trump administration, after the toughening of the embargo and of the crisis unleashed by the enigmatic and yet to be clarified “sonic attacks”, which, according to US authorities, affected more than two dozen of their diplomats while they were carrying out their missions in Havana.

However, the common denominator of Cuba-US supporters and detractors for the existence of ties between the two countries is the defense of their respective positions at all costs, and in the case of the congressional delegation headed by Senator Leahy – a true activist in the defense of this line, whose efforts can only be assumed to be proportional to the interests he represents – is manifested in the repetition of a script based on a few basic elements, without going into much detail, and which is roughly summarized in the following points: retreat is detrimental to both Americans and Cubans, retorting to the “paranoia and suspicion” that has characterized US policy toward Cuba over 50 years, paralyzing cooperation projects between the two countries and preventing the US from “getting drawn into” the upcoming generational leadership relay process that will take place with the departure of the Cuban general-president this coming April.

The weakness of this position – which is not necessarily inferior to the opposite position, defended by those in favor of breaking off relations and maintaining the Embargo – consists in pretending to ignore the political immobility of their Cuban counterpart and their absolute lack of political resolve to effectively benefit the Cuban people by taking advantage of the breakthrough measures dictated by the former president, Barack Obama, in the heat of the brief period of thaw between the White House and the Plaza of the Revolution.

To this we would have to add the return to the barricade speeches and the deadlock in the ideological “anti-imperialist” trenches that have been imposed from Havana before the arrival of the Trump administration, just since then President Obama finalized his visit to the Cuban capital, in the course of which – and to his chagrin – the Cuban government noted both the overwhelming sympathy of Cubans for the “enemy Empire” and the real possibility that a true rapprochement among Cubans and a real application of the flexibilization, as conceived by Obama, constituted sources of citizen freedoms in Cuba that endangered the survival of the Castro dictatorship. No more, no less.

Therefore, although the current White House policy constitutes a return to strategies that have been proven unsuccessful for half a century, it is no less true that the reversal was not initiated by Trump, but by the Cuban government. Only that the Cuban setback consisted in an attack against those sectors of private entrepreneurs in Cuba, whose small businesses had begun to prosper in the shadow of the reestablishment of the links with the USA that favored a greater influx of American visitors and, with it, the increase of the benefits for a growing number of industrious Cubans who depended less and less on tutelage and government “protection”.

It is fair to remember that the systematic asphyxia of the tiny private sector in Cuba is a State policy to prevent true changes from taking place within the Island.

Thus, set in context, it is appropriate to mention another assertion that is becoming dangerously recurrent: “Cuba is changing”. This monotonous ritornello has become a kind of mantra among some foreign visitors – supposedly well-intentioned – who seem to confuse reality with wishes.

The damaging portion of this erroneous misperception is that, at the international level, it tends to create favorable opinion positions to the fraudulent change that has been brewing on the Island since the departure of Castro I from the public scene, and at the same time discourages millions of Cubans to their aspirations for democracy, in particular those inside and outside of Cuba who have been fighting in singular disparity against the longest dictatorship in the history of this hemisphere.

In truth, the “generational change” in the political power that looms over Cuba does not imply a political change or respond to the existence of a young emerging political class, full of new ideas and proposals. Quite the opposite. It is simply a consequence of the natural course of biology that imposes the retreat of the olive-green gerontocracy from visible government – not from real power – and the imposition of a faithful puppet, just a fresher face that guarantees permanence of the caste system established in 1959 and the privileges of their anointed ones. This is why it is very unlikely that the generational transfer implies a significant change or an evolution towards authentic transformations of the Cuban reality.

Moreover, to suppose that the diplomatic relations with the US government would allow its “involvement” in the Cuban political scenario is not only illusory but also arrogant by implicitly ignoring the ability of Cubans to, in a propitious scenario, decide the political future of the Island without “essential” intrusions of the White House.

That, in terms of politics. With regard to the social scenario, what “changes” have been taking place in Cuba from governmental actions or from the existence of US relations or the lack thereof? Neither necessary nor sufficient ones.

It must be recognized that in recent years certain modifications have been introduced into Cuban legislation (often referred to as breakthroughs by some stubborn optimists), but in good faith, these do no more than recognize rights that for decades have been denied us, such as the purchase and sale of housing and automobiles, the pseudo immigration reform, the (limited and expensive) access to the Internet and mobile telephone networks, the appearance of computers in state stores, the expansion of private sector activities and the granting of licenses for the same (although these are currently “frozen”), among others. Such “reforms” have not had an effective social reach nor have they meant an improvement in the life of ordinary Cubans.

In fact, material shortages have increased in recent years, the cost of living has risen, health services and the quality of education have worsened, corruption has deepened and crime has increased, and the general crisis in values is notorious, all of which intensify the uncertainty, despair and apathy of the population.

So, gentlemen politicians, do not be deceived… Or, rather, do not give sustenance to the deception. Cuba really needs a miracle but it will not come from the hands of a servile amanuensis of the dictatorship or from those who rule the US; be it a charismatic and wise mestizo of friendly disposition or a blond-haired rabid and belligerent radical.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Social Assistance or Fabiola’s Mistakes

Fabiola decided to make use of the elderly care systems that exist in Havana. (Orden de Malta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 February 2018 — In an impulse of good faith or perhaps with some excess optimism, Fabiola arrived at the social services department of the Van Troi polyclinic in Centro Habana one October morning with a medical certificate to register her mother – a bed-ridden octogenarian with senile dementia – in order to receive the support that, as proclaimed by the Cuban authorities, these terminal patients are entitled to. Making that decision was her first mistake.

Weeks before, a doctor from that same health institution had made the recommendation, considering that it was “a right due the old woman, a widow and pensioner,” and something that might help Fabiola mitigate, to some extent, the high retail costs of disposable diapers which her mother’s severe incontinence demands. continue reading

The request might help Fabiola mitigate, to some extent, the high retail costs of disposable diapers which her mother’s severe incontinence demanded

It was for this reason that Fabiola decided to go through the process, knowing that, aside from the high cost of adult diapers, there are often cyclical crises due to shortages of such an essential product.

She also knew that in the neighboring municipality of Old Havana there is a regular system of elderly care, a service introduced by the City Historian, by virtue of which the coveted diapers for elderly bed-ridden residents of that municipality are distributed, with duly accredited prior medical certification.

All this is possible, of course, “subject to availability,” a pretext coined by some astute official, which is almost as useful as “the imperialist blockade” since it can be conveniently applied by official institutions in the face of any shortage situation.

However, Fabiola thought that the public health system, and in particular social services, because of their unique and national character, would function the same way in each municipality, and decided to try her luck in hers. Her second mistake was, then, to attribute some margin of efficiency and functionality to an official institution.

Almost four months later, after a telephone call and after thoroughly confirming personal details of the patients and Fabiola – labeled “caretaker” – a kindly clinic employee notified her that “it was her turn to pick up the module” in the establishment assigned to her, where she had to go and present the “receiver of the benefits” to get the expected help.

The new ‘module’ consisted of 12 bars of soap, one and a half meter of antiseptic fabric to fashion a strap for the patient’s bed, a rubber bed pad and a thin, small towel.  No diapers.

The employee explained that “that is all there is.”  After all, she punctuated, “it’s free and it’s something.” And she also said that the modules could be accessed every six months, as long as the patient’s medical certificate was presented that would certify the patient’s status.

The new ‘module’ consisted of 12 bars of soap, one and a half meter of antiseptic fabric to fashion a strap for the patient’s bed, a rubber bed pad and a thin, small towel

With her ephemeral exercise of faith deflated, and after recognizing her unjustifiable slip, Fabiola decided to close and forget that chapter. She would continue as before, resolving everything necessary on her own, attending to her mother with the same specialist doctors, who were her friends, and made house calls to her mother, and – if necessary – appeal to her relatives abroad to get whatever medicine or help they might need.

But believing that she would be unscathed when using the system’s controls was the third and most naïve of her mistakes. Because when Fabiola – who for decades stayed out of the government’s health system – gave in to the temptation to officially register her mother’s “case,” she was not only attributing credibility to a proven ineffective institution, but was making an attempt against one of her most precious personal assets: her privacy.

It turns out that the Cuban socio-political regime is precisely designed to invade one’s privacy, to blur the individual into “the mass” and to create in the population that humiliating feeling of commune or flock in need of the Government’s protection, which favors in the first place the acquiescent assimilation of official controls disguised as “protection of the population” – invasions of private spaces by fumigators and inspectors under the pretext of eliminating vectors (which are never eradicated), or untimely and unsolicited visits from the family doctor or nurse, among other intrusions – and collaterally establishes as a social norm of mutual vigilance, promiscuity, vulgar egalitarianism, envy and mistrust among neighbors, for all of which there are mass organizations, the different meetings of the so-called People’s Power and all the institutional entelechies conceived by Castro over decades of totalitarian power.

The “third age” (14ymedio)

Now, since she applied for Social Assistance “help,” automatically turning her mother into a statistic of the system, Fabiola – who is a rare Cuban journalist who does not belong to any political or mass organization, does not vote, does not participate in neighborhood meetings or popular festivals, does not like gossiping or personal confidences, does not meddle in the lives of others or give advice and does not cause discomfort or allow the invasion of neighbors or strangers into her home – has started to feel that her house is a kind of besieged square, under the merciless harassment of state officials.

With her candor, Fabiola and her family had fallen into the system’s networks, which now tried to breach her impenetrable privacy, something that in Cuba is considered a remnant of a decadent bourgeois, incongruent with the project of eternal socialism to which we Cubans aspire, according to the Constitution.

As a result, in recent weeks the doctor and the family nurse have insisted (in vain) on intruding in her house at any time of the day to “see the patient”

As a result, in recent weeks the doctor and the family nurse have insisted (in vain) on intruding into her home at any time of the day to “see the patient,” while the municipal Social Assistance office has recently sent her an employee with an extensive questionnaire that sought to collect, in addition to the personal data of those who inhabit the house, the income of each one and its origin, the occupations, the number and brand of electrical appliances they own, how many rooms they have, monthly expenses for gas, electricity, food, and a host of intimate details that Fabiola, true to her custom, refused to answer.

“Tell your bosses that none of that is any of their business, and that it’s already very clear that I never should have and will never again request your ridiculous ‘module,’ so don’t send me anyone else because I will not see them. Do you ask all these indiscreet questions to the bunch of decrepit old men who rule this country? Or do they not need those alms? Because many of them are old enough for adult diapers. Also tell them that my mother is perfectly well taken care of, and it’s not thanks to the Revolution”.

The young official, stunned, feverishly took notes on a blank piece of paper writing, perhaps for the first time, an official report without information. She felt uncomfortable and frustrated, and probably thought that Fabiola was as crazy as her mother. Which could be true, because Fabiola has the extravagant madness of behaving like a free individual in a slave society. In fact, this has always been the greatest of her abilities.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

Snubbed / Miriam Celaya

Cuban spy René González in an archive picture (AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 31 January 2018 — These days, one of the famous “five heroes” of Cuba, René González (61 years old), has once again achieved prominence in the social networks. This time, however, his renewed notoriety is not related to the honors of his past glories when – like his four companions – he became the epitome of revolutionary patriotism as a “prisoner of the Empire” by the work and grace of the last (and longest) of the onerous ideological battles contrived by Castro I.

On the contrary, René’s return to the public arena is the result of the unbearable humiliation of not having been included in the list of 605 selected as candidates for deputies, a privilege enjoyed by only two of the five spies: Gerardo Hernández and Fernando González, although all of them had previously received the corresponding “document” as chosen from their respective syndicates for said objective. continue reading

Protests were immediate. The objections were initiated through the Facebook page of an official journalist who received a long reply from the wife of the victim, Mrs. Olga Salanueva, expanding the matter in detail. Numerous fans of the former spies posted their comments on the same social network and on some websites that have joined the debate on the case, collaterally revealing other demons that lie beneath the national opinion and are far more significant than the exclusion – another supposed “injustice” – suffered by a simple, utilitarian and disposable element of the Castro regime, or as they are often called, “useful idiots” like René González or the other two who were omitted.

The OnCuba website published an extensive article that starts in an apologetic journey about the five infiltrated agents of the State Security who were imprisoned in the US, and ends with their return to Cuba, meandering through the cyclopean campaign and the mobilizations deployed in Cuba and abroad in favor of their release. The legal defense costs, the artificial insemination of the wife of Gerardo Hernández at a private clinic, the frequent trips of the family members of the prisoners and the large support group put together by Cuban government officials around the world, remains an absolute secret to this day.

The truth is that, after Mrs. Salanueva resentment, it is perfectly established that her husband was in a position to assume the candidacy and eventually the position as deputy, something that the five “deserve” since all “are more tried than chocolate” and “it is in very bad taste to try to establish differences” among them. In fact, the style in which Salanueva expresses her displeasure seems to suggest a peculiar way of interpreting the deputy position: more as a recognition award for her husband’s merits (and those of his heroic “brothers”) than as a mandate to the service of the people and the nation.

Obviously, Salanueva longs for the times when, as prisoners in US jails, all of them had the same rank and their families received similar attentions and benefits, and she now objects that some are now considered bigger heroes than others and that the perks are not shared uniformly.

An unequal treatment that – although she does not express it directly – is also evident in the position that each of them was assigned upon their return to Cuba. In René’s case, he was assigned a post as irrelevant and obscure as the vice-presidency of the José Martí Cultural Society, but one which he has fully complied with “despite his task having nothing to do with his vocation, and his not being able to even exercise the profession he loves,” affirms his angry wife.

However, all the gossip and disagreements are unprecedented inasmuch as they break with the usual acquiescence of the “revolutionary” ranks and indicate that an indeterminate number of subjects of the pro-government sector is willing to question the status quo strongly and to demand explanations.

Furthermore, those who support what we might call the new cause of the Five – or perhaps we should say of the Three – are demanding rights of political participation, at least in relation to the representation they aspire to have in Parliament, beyond the “political measures” of a National Candidacy Commission – which, as the Electoral Law stipulates, has the prerogative to nominate 50% of the deputy candidates – whose legitimacy is left unquestioned, since it only pursues “the satisfaction and safeguard of the current real power”.

And who is the subject of that “current real power”? It is not mentioned, but inferred. In any case, it is the “formal leaders who absorb political activity in Cuba today,” specified in the OnCuba text as those who lack the “tremendous accumulation of popular sympathy” – OnCuba states – that the five former spies, in their role as “potential leaders” do have.

It would seem that by repeating the lie “the people are sovereign” some of the faithful in the Castro regime have come to believe it and really want to wear the crown, something like an unthinkable advance in the era of Castro I, but an unequivocal indicator of the state of dissatisfaction of broad social sectors, even though there are still those who naively believe that Cuban deputies – that strange amalgam made up of bureaucrats, artists, intellectuals, “sports glories” and machete yielding millionaires in a country where there isn’t even sugarcane left, and now even recycled spies – really have the capacity to make political decisions.

Those who consider all this cyber-bullying a trivial matter should take into account that in conditions in Cuba, after almost 60 years of totalitarianism in which the governing dome and its institutions have kept everything under control concerning the electoral system and “elected” parliamentarians, it seems like a real surprise to have such an avalanche of criticism and demands from a social base that defines itself as revolutionary, that manifests itself impatient for the hope of a “never materializing” electoral reform and that should grant them greater participation in the political decisions of the country.

Anyway, and taking into consideration that there are a mere 80 days remaining until the general-president Raul Castro leaves his position at the head of the Cuban government, such an uproar among his hardened revolutionary troops must be worrisome. Just in case, on the night of Thursday, January 25th, a few hours after the beginning of the cyber protest, the nobody’s hero was unveiled: René González appeared on a TV special news broadcast about the upcoming celebration of Martí’s birthday celebration, as if to demonstrate implicitly that his fidelity to the regime is above all proven. Including degradation and oblivion. Certainly not!

Translated by Norma Whiting

Raúl Castro is Leaving Without Solving Anything

Raul Castro looks towards the camera at one of his last official acts as president of Cuba. (EFE/Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 January 2018 — Last December 21st, when general-president Raúl Castro announced the extension of his term for 55 days longer than expected, few believed in the silly pretext for such a decision: the damages caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma and the calendar for nominating municipal delegates.

One of the theories that started to circulate immediately as a culprit for the delay was the disagreement between two alleged trends among the top leadership: one, reformist (the so-called “Raulistas”), which aims to give a boost to both the private sector and to state companies and cooperatives, and a second one, with conservative tendencies (the “Fidelistas”), represented by the most reactionary sectors of the leadership, which would oppose such apertures because they consider them a threat for the survival of the Revolution. The latter are determined to maintain central jurisdiction, increase controls and continue to be rooted in the ideological orthodoxy of the Cold War era. continue reading

Some analysts argue that the confrontation between both tendencies is what has caused the advances and setbacks of the limited lead-ins to the euphemistically called self-employment (private sector), whose restraint restrictions and current setbacks seem to indicate an eventual predominance in power of the most conservative tendency.

One of the theories that immediately circulated to account for the delay was the disagreement between two supposed tendencies in the top leadership: one reformist, and the other conservative

However, a more objective analysis of the Cuban reality, based on the experience of the last decade, from the time Raúl Castro assumed power, in any case, shows that the struggle has been taking place between two equally conservative tendencies, only with different degrees of stubbornness, but whose common final goal is the preservation of the status quo that guarantees the retention of power in the elite group of the anointed that includes both factions.

Consequently, the Cuban political class – that socially differentiated and privileged caste – does not include a sector headed by Raúl Castro with a true reformist vocation and a desire for profound changes. Those who interpret it thus, seem to forget the strategic position that the current president occupied during the 47 years of government under his brother and mentor.

What clearly seems to exist is a segment that is more reactionary than any other within the same caste of anointed ones, whose common interest – the preservation of their political and economic power – seems to be much stronger than their differences, regardless of whether there are gut struggles aiming to divide shares of power, previously a one-man show, but currently showing clear signs of fractioning.

Differences exist in methods, rather than in ends, used to prolong, as long as possible, the greater share of the power of the elite. The most lucid understand that the changes that urgently need to be implemented in Cuba have the double edge of being, at the same time, the only possible way to ease and eventually beat the economic crisis, the catalyst that would accelerate the collapse of the so-called “Cuban socialism.” At this point, it is fitting to remember the general-president’s not so casual phrase that he was not put in his position “to destroy the Revolution.”

It is likely that, regardless of their stances, both positions favor a search for pacts rather than a disruption that might sweep the board

It is likely that, regardless of their position as “reformists” or “Stalinists” in Cuba’s ever unknown political front, both positions favor the search for pacts rather than a disruption that could end up sweeping the board, especially with “the historic” octogenarian gerontocracy, who have been directly responsible for all the disasters of the last 60 years. In such a case, the arranged equilibrium between these two sectors of the same caste would have prevented the progress of the self-proclaimed liberal measures introduced by Raúl Castro in the first half of his term, between 2008 and 2013.

Those who, years ago, bet on Raul Castro’s supposed pragmatic spirit and his fictional organizational capabilities to at least aspire to economic advances in Cuba, have been let down. The general crisis has deepened, while the gap between the Government and the governed widens day by day.

What is most paradoxical in this case is that, if the general-president – despite his bleak past – had had just minimal audacity and independence, he could have established himself as the facilitator of a peaceful and orderly transition towards democracy in Cuba. To this end, he was holding such aces as the vast majority of Cubans’ desire for change, the willingness of the US to establish dialogue, the relaxation of Barrack Obama’s government views towards relations with Cuba and the rapprochement of the European Union. However, he chose to maintain a position of subordination before the dark shadow of his brother and of all the elements that sabotaged his proposals.

Consequently, if there is something the olive-green baby brother has shown all these years of lost opportunities, it has been his mediocrity and insecurities at the time of assuming the helm, as well as his cowardice to take on the challenge. That is the true legacy he will leave for History.

If there’s something the olive-green baby brother has shown all these years, it has been his mediocrity and insecurities at the time of assuming the helm, as well as his cowardice to take on the challenge

However, though not meaning to establish absolute judgment, it is quite unlikely that the outgoing president will surprise us with some solution that he has not proposed in the previous ten years, so clumsily dilapidated. There are 80 days left of Raúl Castro’s government – at least in his visible period at the head of government – and the inefficiency of his mandate is an established fact.

The volume of pending issues that he will leave his successor –monetary unification, electoral law and economic reforms, elimination of the ration card, increase in foreign investment, or the simple promise of a daily glass of milk for every Cuban, among many more – far surpasses the funds that he will leave in the nation’s coffers when he finally makes the symbolic handover of the presidential chair.

It is possible that the 55 days of the “Raulista” moratorium, from February 24th to April 19th, will have more to do with the shuffling of cards of an undoubtedly difficult succession than with any strategic proposal for the future Government, which – supposedly – is already outlined in the Party Guidelines and will guarantee the continuity of the Castro legacy until 2030, at least at the legal level.

It is very possible that the new president of 11 million Cubans will “ask permission” of the Assembly to keep the old general as permanent adviser to the “new” Government

If the purest dictatorial tradition remains – and to date there are reasons to suppose that’s what will happen – on April 19th, when the 605 parliamentarians elect the person who will figure as president of 11 million Cubans, he “will ask the permission” of the Assembly to keep the old general as permanent adviser to the “new” Government; a pernicious and permanent contract, not written or recognized in the Constitution or the Electoral Law, but one that would legitimize de facto the perpetuation of the dictatorship from the shadows of a simulated retirement.

For those of us who have lived through almost six decades of the Castro regime, April will not bring many surprises, but there is no doubt that the departure of the general-president projects a certain and inexplicable sense of relief within the opposition in Cuba. Not because the new president means a promise of prosperity and bliss, but because the lineage of the Castros has marked a disastrous sign in the hearts of Cubans. Many of us want to think that the era of the darkest and longest dictatorship is becoming blurred and that it will continue to fall in the future. Until its end.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

Another Pandora’s Box Opens in Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Distribution of medicines in Cuba (file photo)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 January 2018 — On 28 December 2017, the newspaper Granma published an extensive article that uncovers a serious criminal act: the adulteration of drugs detected in the Reinaldo Gutiérrez pharmaceutical laboratory, located in the municipality of Boyeros, in the Cuban capital, with the substitution of methylphenidate bya placebo, the latter an innocuous product “used for the cleaning of the machines once each production of medicines is conculded.”

The information is based on a report delivered to Granma by the Information and Analysis Department of the Attorney General’s Office, and includes a brief reference to a list of criminal acts detected during 2017, related to the theft and illicit trade in drugs in different entities subordinated to the Superior Organization of Business Management (OSDE) BioCubaFarma, with their corresponding criminal proceedings, without going into much detail.

However, in the case of the aforementioned laboratory, the scapegoats that usually accompany this type of news in the government media are mentioned, namely, a team leader in charge of the blister-packing machine, an operator, a shift manager and “stevedores of the provincial pharmaceutical retail company in the East” – that is, only the basic personnel directly related to the production process or to the handling and transportation of drugs – whom, it is affirmed, “received sums of cash totaling over 1,500 CUC.” continue reading

An insignificant figure, especially if you take into account a simple fact not mentioned by Fariñas Rodríguez in his article, but which is of major importance because of its implications: methylphenidate is a synthetic psychostimulant substance – that is, a drug – that raises the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the central nervous system. Because of its molecular structure, methylphenidate is similar to amphetamines, but its effects – which start approximately 30 minutes after the pill is ingested and last for several hours – are analogous to those of cocaine, although less powerful.

Thus, these criminals would extract, not the raw material of, say, the dypirones, the hypotensives or the diuretics – medicines that are scarce and in great demand among the population – but “coincidentally” a psychotropic substance… But the journalists, (piously?) overlook that detail. Could it be that on this Day of the Holy Innocents the official Cuban press tries to pull the wool over our eyes? Is it a question of deceiving the national public opinion by concealing what is clearly an illegal drug trade, that is, a drug trafficking network within the Island?

Undoubtedly, the official Cuban press is like fine lingerie: what it insinuates is much more interesting and attractive than what it really shows. The rest of the article leads into other administrative considerations, the kind absolutely not commented on in Granma, which should imply criminal consequences for others, much higher than those thugs trapped in the case and pointed out in the same old article.

So that the reader is immersed in an ocean of questions and many concerns.

Let us put forward some questions that emanate from this published article – not by the enemy press or by the spokesmen of the Empire to distort reality and damage the Revolution – but precisely by the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba:

  • It is obvious that (at least) at the aforementioned laboratory there is no adequate control over raw materials, including those that constitute a strong potential for the development of an underground drug market in Cuba, with all that this implies;
  • Adequate quality control is not carried out with systematic and thorough randomized examinations of the batches of medicines produced in the laboratory, since indeterminate quantities of placebo went to the retail network, instead of the tablets with the appropriate components;
  • The technological records of pharmaceutical laboratories can easily be violated by unscrupulous people working in this industry;
  • The machinery of the laboratory is capable of being used at will by operators and other workers;
  • There is no effective surveillance system on the production process despite the fact that psychostimulants substances are handled which – as it is informally known – are beginning to flood many neighborhoods and very crowded areas of the Cuban capital.

At this point, it begs the question: what guarantees are there that these and other violations are not being committed in other laboratories, including the production of drugs that are exported to other countries?  Who can the parents of the children make claims to, since – according to the article –children were consuming adulterated tablets, ineffective for their illnesses? How serious and reliable can the certifications be that guarantee the production of medicines in Cuba?

How long will there be an inexcusable irresponsibility for all managers of the pharmaceutical industry and other officials related to it, from those closest to the production process up to the new president of BioCubaFarma, Mr. Eduardo Martínez Díaz and the Minister of Public Health, Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda?

Is anyone really thinking that “the training of personnel, the sense of belonging, the ethical and moral values and political-ideological development” will be effective strategies to eradicate the crimes that in the article are euphemistically called “extraordinary events”?

Surely without meaning to, these correspondents of Granma have put their finger on a sore that, if they think about it, they might have preferred to leave hidden, because the truth is that the decay of today’s Cuban reality is so widespread and uncontrollable that it is impossible to be able to uncover a fraction of it without exposing a barrage of corruption that will splash even the most egregious feet when the crap hits the fan.

They have opened another Pandora’s box that, with all certainty, will have some sequels… perhaps some of which were not foreseen. They are the risks of the profession, even for those who exclude the commitment to the truth in order to prostrate themselves at the feet of ideologies.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Cabalistic Exercises of the Managers of the Cuban Economy

The only visible balance of the Cuban economy is the eternal continuation of the wait for better times. (14ymedio / Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 December 2017 — An essential feature of the Cuban socio-political and economic system is the reluctance of the ruling class to offer exact and reliable figures and data about the performance of the economy and finances at the end of each year.

December is, for Cubans living in Cuba – as for any society founded on the tradition of Judeo-Christian heritage – a month of festivities and good wishes, but also a time full of uncertainty after almost 60 years of a social experiment, fertile in promises of economic development and financial recovery, whose only visible balance is the eternal continuation of waiting for better times.

As usual, the ambiguity of the reports presented by the corresponding officials in the framework of the recently concluded ordinary session of the National Assembly does not allow ordinary mortals to have an accurate idea of what the economy’s behavior has actually been. continue reading

What specific strategies does the State-Party-Government intend to use to overcome the countless obstacles that continue to arise in the unbearably long path of “socialism” or, very specifically, what kind of calculation was used by experts in the field to announce the 2017 final results as a miraculous growth of the Gross Domestic Product, despite the negative results of the first semester, the contraction of oil subsidies from Venezuela, the increase in pressure from the US embargo and the devastating effects of natural events such as the severe drought in the first half of the year and the intensity of the September hurricane, which caused considerable economic damage.

However, like it or not, official reports are required to reflect at least some figures. And it is precisely at this point that the seams of the system come to light

However, like it or not, official reports are required to reflect at least some figures. And it is precisely at this point that the seams of the system come to light, the slips jump out here and there and the nakedness of the king is exposed. The making of a show of imagination deployed from the official quackery is one question, and it is quite another, very different, to synchronize those speeches with the stubbornness of numbers, which have no commitments to ideologies or policies.

In this sense, the project of the State Budget presented to the Assembly by deputy Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, also Minister of Finance and Prices, is perhaps the most difficult of the cabalistic exercises of the administrators of misery.

Pedraza has the unpleasant task of not only declaring the very questionable results of the fiscal yearend in relation to the budget assigned – revenues exceeded forecasts by 2.3% – but also announcing other equally contestable figures, such as the quantities that will be assigned to the so-called Economic Plan. All this must be done without ever declaring the amount of the aforementioned Budget, and to do this, the ruling party often uses a simple trick: some figures are offered in percentages, while others correspond to exact numerical quantities.

Thus, for example, Cubans are up to date on 2018’s budget, which will be 6% higher than that of the year now ending – whose amount we never knew – and that the sectors of the Health and Education, as a “paradigm of social justice and protection of human rights” will have priority over 55% of the resources.

Cubans are up to date on 2018’s budget, which will be 6% higher than the year ending -whose amount we never knew- and that the Health and Education sectors will have priority over 55% of resources

We also know that 8.18 billion pesos will be allocated to “education in general” – which includes 1,960,000 students at all levels of education – and that Public Health will receive a total of 10.56 billion pesos for all its services, from medical consultations and expenses for patients admitted to the “development of specialized rooms” and dental services, among others.

Social Security will have 6 billion pesos for its expenses (5% growth in relation to the previous year) to guarantee the pensions of more than 1,700,000 people and “short-term benefits,” such as maternity leave and other benefits.

As a sample key of “the measures that the country is adopting to face the aging of the population,” the budget has allocated an amount (not declared) “for the care of more than 13,000 elderly people who attend grandparents’ and nursing homes, which confirms the humanistic character of our system.”

Now, if the simple mathematics “rule of three” is applied, it can easily be calculated that those 13,000 elderly people attended to in specialized state institutions – since there is no approval for this type of service in the private sector – constitute only 0.76% of the country’s retirees, a ridiculously insufficient figure that contradicts the spectacular humanistic character of the political system, in a country where the only indicators that are undoubtedly increasing every year are poverty and the number of elderly.

“More of the same”, some may have muttered to themselves, but they are wrong.  It is the same, yes, but with much less

Also note that the reference numbers correspond to what in Cuba is usually called “Cuban pesos,” that is, currency that cannot be converted into foreign currency, and, since there are two different rates of exchange – 1×1 for legal persons; 1×25 for natural persons** – a vagueness is created that prevents knowing exactly what amounts are involved.

However, it can be assumed with almost absolute certainty that the figures provided by the State Budget are not reported in the Cuban convertible peso or any equivalent to foreign currency, so it is a ridiculously small amount, just to alleviate some of the numerous and pressing economic and social problems that they must face.

“More of the same,” some of us few Cubans who had enough mental health and stoicism to immerse ourselves in the dark labyrinth of official reports must have said to ourselves. But we are wrong: it is the same, yes, but with much less, although they are trying to convince us otherwise.

 Translator’s notes:

*Roughly $308 million USD.

**In jurisprudence, a natural person is a person (in legal meaning, i.e., one who has its own legal personality) that is an individual human being, as opposed to a legal person, which may be a private (i.e., business entity or non-governmental organization) or public (i.e., government) organization.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

Castro Suspects / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban President Raul Castro (Cubanet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 22 December 2017 — On the morning of 21 December 2017, it became known in the international media that “the Cuban Parliament” – whose most outstanding feature is not having decided anything at all in its more than 40 years of existence – has “just decided” to extend the presidential mandate of General Raúl Castro until 19 April 2018.

The real reasons for making a decision that implies another unfulfilled promise on the part of the elderly General – who had promised to leave the country’s Presidency on 24 February 2018 – is a mystery, given that the supposed difficulties introduced in the electoral process for Hurricane Irma, which hit the island in early September, is too precarious a pretext to be taken seriously.

But, in any case, we are not facing an exceptional situation either. It is known that any governmental disposition in Cuba, especially the best and the most transcendental ones, can be (and usually are) postponed as the power god wishes. Other previous promises of the General, with greater effect on the population, such as monetary unification, the decrease in food prices or the new Electoral Law, were also arbitrarily postponed with no explanation whatsoever. continue reading

However, some signs point out that in the background of this sudden date change for the departure of Castro II from the Presidency lies the urgent need to make certain readjustments in the power machinery, in order to ensure their own interests and those of their beneficiaries, which reinforces the hypothesis of some analysts who sustain the existence of significant cracks in the once monolithic structure of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and of the leadership, based on alleged struggles between the most conservative and orthodox sectors (supposedly “Stalinist” or “Fidelista”) and those most prone to the pseudo-changes introduced in the last decade (“reformists” or “Raulistas,” as they are called). Struggles that would have arisen after the forced retirement of Fidel Castro from the government, and made deeper through the 11 years that followed.

Perhaps the Raulistas are waging a strategic battle in order to guarantee their own continuity at the head of the country, and especially the safeguarding of their economic interests, so everything must be tied and re-tied before the presidency’s transfer to the hands of a loyalist who does not belong to the Historical Generation, avoiding unforeseen and unwanted events.

The truly surprising thing is the impression of urgency and instability that is being transmitted, trying to consolidate, in a matter of three months, something that should have been achieved in a decade, that is, to avoid any danger, which, at the same time, belies the discourse of “unity of all Revolutionaries” wielded by the totality of the leaders and high officials interviewed while standing by the ballot boxes during the municipal elections of this past November.

Of course, the cryptic style of (dis)information in Cuba forces us to decipher hidden codes, with the risk of erroneous interpretations and inaccuracies. However, it does not seem accidental that the most important information published on the front page of the official press this Thursday, 21 December,  was the previous day’s celebration of the 4th Plenary of the Central Committee (CC) of the PCC – parallel to the parliamentary debates – within the framework of which the First Secretary of the Party, Raúl Castro, announced the celebration of the next Plenary, which will take place in March 2018, a fact that cannot but be related to the coming election of the new Cuban President.

It is possible speculate that this next Plenary of the CC of the PCC could be, above all, the occasion introduced by the general-president and his most faithful acolytes, not only to “expand on the experiences obtained during the implementation process of the Guidelines and in the projection of the coming years, according to the official press statement, but to strengthen commitments and strategically prop up the one that will later be officially “elected” by the State Council to occupy the presidential chair, and perhaps to also secretly agree among the ideological elite who will be the next First Secretary to be elected in the framework of the VIII Congress.

But the current constraints of Raulism, in a December that has had more haste than pauses*, are not confined to the political plane, but began instead to affect the economic plane. Just a few days ago, on 13 December, untimely “new legal norms” appeared and went into effect over the Cuban business system.

In other words, the “improvement” experimentally initiated by the general-president during the 1990’s to (gradually) metamorphose the high command of his army into civilian entrepreneurs – who now direct all the strategic lines of the country’s economy – and later endorsed in the Guidelines, are now legitimized in the legal body through decrees and decree-laws, which gives the future President a legal tool that not only protects the changes implemented until now by the general-president against real or potential internal adversaries, but will allow an extension of their future scope in the interests of the elite and their favored ones.

But beyond all speculation we must recognize that the Cuban political landscape is at least confusing. In any other country where the predominant characteristics of the government are hesitation, setbacks, failure to comply with all its promises and, finally, the postponement of the presidential elections, the situation would be described as a “political crisis.” Not so in Cuba. At least not explicitly. Four generations of Cubans on the island have survived for six decades under conditions of dictatorship, suffering crises of all kinds without even internalizing them as such. How would they perceive the crises that are resolved within the bosom of the olive-green Olympus?

In any case, we will have to follow closely the political events that come our way in 2018. Meanwhile, in the midst of so much murkiness something is clear: the proclaimed unity of the power cupula is just another myth of a worn out and outdated gerontocracy that today seems to doubt even the survival of its bleak legacy.

*Translator’s note: “Without haste, but without pause” has been a catch phrase for Raul Castro, in speaking of economic reforms in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Castro Regime’s Biggest “Electoral” Farce / Miriam Celaya

Counting the votes at the Cuban election

cubanet square logo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 December 2017 — In recent days, “political analyst” Daisy Gómez – one of the faithful among the most faithful deans of the Castro press – offered a commentary on the primetime Cuban television news program, questioning the legitimacy of the results of the controversial Honduran elections, based on suspicions that “in that country there is no separation of powers,” and that this was the reason the current president, Luis Orlando Hernández, was able to manipulate the final figures of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

Such a cynical statement was made with the enviable composure of one who has trained for decades in this complicated exercise of (dis) informational prestidigitation, by virtue of which it is assumed that what is bad for other countries -in this case, the lack of separation of powers – constitutes a strength in the case of Cuba, since it demonstrates the solid unity between the government and the governed. continue reading

Therefore, and in spite of that fact that in Cuba the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches doesn’t exist either – because these are concentrated in the most holy trinity Government-State-Party, legal representative of that ambiguous and intangible body that has been called “the people” – Cubans should not have any reason to question the electoral results that the National Electoral Commission reports, however surprising the figures may seem.

It is worth remembering, in advance, that it is Law 72 (the electoral law) itself, which, when establishing the functions of the National Electoral Commission (CEN), certifies the subordination of the latter to the Council of State inasmuch as it determines that it is to “it” – and not to the “people” – that it must report the results of the national polls in the referendums and the corresponding computations, as well as rendering a “detailed report of the unfolding of each electoral process” (Chapter II, Article 22, paragraphs k and m) .

Thus, the possibility remains that the totalitarian power might be (as it is, in fact) the one that ultimately determines the electoral results and, eventually, manipulates the figures, according to its own interests.

A very peculiar feature of the Cuban electoral law that allows for tricks by the governing class is the number of registered voters, never known publicly in advance of the referendums, even though every Cuban citizen since birth is rigorously registered in the Management Registers of each municipality where he or she resides on the Island. Perhaps the only efficient ministry in Cuba, the Ministry of the Interior, controls the Registry, which in turn appears, duplicated, in each Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, so it should be relatively simple to monitor the voter’s location and update the electoral roll whenever it is required.

Thus, the updating of the register should result in an almost automatic task, since Article 5 of the Electoral Law establishes that the right to vote belong to all Cubans “who have reached the age of sixteen (16), who are in full enjoyment of their political rights “…; while Article 6 specifies the requirements that must be fulfilled in order to exercise the right to active suffrage, among which is “to be recorded in the Register of Voters of the Municipality and in the the electoral district corresponding to the voter’s established place of residence…”

For this reason, there is no logical explanation how it is possible that, after the voter registries have been updated in each constituency and after having had a “successful dynamic test” on Sunday, November 19th, prior to the elections, when it was supposedly demonstrated that “everything was ready and arranged for a triumphant electoral day,” the CEN has “updated” for the first time the national electoral register precisely on the day of the elections. And it is even more incomprehensible that in the five days following the elections, the final numbers of this registry have varied, not by a few tens of thousands, but by hundreds of thousands of voters.

Let’s review the facts: in the press conference behind closed doors, offered by the president of the CEN, Alina Balseiro, on the afternoon of Monday, November 27th, to provide information about the “preliminary results” of the elections, this official stated that the voter registration update had yielded a total of 8.8 million voters. This implies a colossal increase in relation to the 8.4 that, according to official data disclosed at that occasion – was the initial estimate.

As if by magic, in just the two and a half years that had elapsed since the last elections, 410,158 new voters appeared, almost half a million more, in the national register. This, in spite of the waves of emigration abroad realized by tens of thousands of Cubans, most of them of voting age, in the same period – and in frank challenge to the many desertions, deaths, dissidences and other adverse factors. Who would have imagined it!

Such an exaggerated number allowed the authorities, in just 24 hours, to increase to 85.9% the embarrassing 82% registered at the polls just one hour before the official closing of the polling stations, but also to declare that the attendance of the electorate had surpassed that of the elections held in April 2015.

The impressing avatars of the electoral numbers of the registry did not stop there, however. Because not even that surprising and already fat attendance at the polls satisfied the inflated official expectations. No matter what anybody says, public opinion tends to internalize percentage figures more easily than the numbers of voters, so the collective memory would have archived 85.9% of voters: a result lower than the 88.30% reached in 2015. The authorities were not going to allow such an unacceptable blunder, because the so-called “Fidel’s Elections” had to be, at least, superior to the previous ones. Those were the orders and they had to be carried out.

And this is how the CEN reapplied its twisted sense of mathematics and worked the new “miracle” of inflating to an impressive 89.02% the number of people attending the polls, with a total of 7,610,183 voters. Thus, the final “compatibilization” of the results with the Register of Voters was published last Friday, December 1st by the official press.

How did they achieve this new phenomenon? Easy, with the impudence of those who believed to be above punishment, the scribes of the geriatric palace returned to “update” the voter registry, and, as a result, it contracted again, this time by almost a quarter of a million voters. More nonsense, whose sole purpose was to allow the percentile result. If they couldn’t bring it up to the ideal number, at least they would bring it up to reach a higher number than on previous elections. And so, what appears to be the most unquestionable fraud in the 40 years of Castro’s electoral practices to date, was achieved.

Finally, the CEN certified that the final electoral roll for these newly held elections was 8,548,608 voters, which means a whopping 251,392 fewer than those reported in the preliminary results.

With so much inflating and deflating the registry and the polls over decades, the abundance of many flabby cheeks among the lords of Power are justified. However, all this overwhelming saga of numbers and implausible percentage figures undoubtedly point the finger at a gross manipulation of the election results, although we have no chance to prove it, which is another trick which the conspirators counted on.

Nothing new, of course, only that on this occasion the Cuban authorities have shown a rampant disregard for national and international public opinion. Not coincidentally, the journalistic note that reports the “official results” of the Cuban democratic party appears, not on the cover, but just on the third page of Granma, the most official of the official newspapers. They know that they need to lower the profile of even the biggest lies, otherwise, it is way too big a pill to swallow.

Interestingly, as an additional fact, these meticulous back-and-forth “compatibilizations” that favored the regime so much did nothing for the 4.12% of blank ballots or the 4.07% of canceled ones, so that we must accept – because this is what the CEN and its leaders, who (no sarcasm) are the only ones who know the truth – that in a few days the number of voters that swelled the ranks of those who went to the polls to exercise their right to vote, but additionally, their ballots became valid.

And since in Cuba the decisions “from above” cannot be appealed, the olive-green gerontocracy and its conga lines, with their proverbial triumphalism, will have scored this burlesque farce, not as the desperate play that it actually was, but as another “victory.” If so, it will be them and not us who are truly deceived.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Not So Revolutionary Nor So Fidelista / Miriam Celaya

Cubans go to vote as robots, out of sheer annoyance or fear of being labeled as the black sheep of the flock (photo EFE)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 29 November 2017, Cuba – This past Sunday, 27 November 2017, the “maximum exercise of Cuban democracy” took place, namely, voting to select, among the candidates proposed by the masses in each constituency of the country, the ones who would be picked to process the frustrations of their respective “electors” during the following two and a half years.

For the ordinary Cuban it was the probably the usual cyclical rite, by virtue of which millions of registered voters in the electoral system go to the polls as robots, a large part of them, out of sheer annoyance or fear of being identified as the black sheep of the flock.

However, in truth, this time the eternal pantomime was nuanced by two very specific signs: they are the first elections held after the death of Fidel Castro – exactly one day after the first year of his death – and constitute the beginning of a process that will continue with the election of the new Parliament, suffrage to be held between the months of December and January. continue reading

The members of the Parliament, in turn, will have the mission of electing the next president of the Cuban government (from a candidacy previously approved by the current government), as established in the current electoral law (Law 72 of the year 1992). A president who, probably, will not be a descendant of the Castro Ruz branch, was not present at the Moncada barracks, was not an expeditionary on the Granma yacht, did not “fire a shot” in the Sierra Maestra and has not ordered anyone to be shot. Admittedly, the events are interesting.

Another suggestive fact has been the curious handling of official data by the National Electoral Commission (CEN) after the closing of all polling stations. In the prolonged primetime broadcast of the national television news program (NTV), aired at 8:00 p.m., the president of the CEN, Alina Balseiro, explained that not all data had been compiled at the national level and that “preliminary results” would be announced at a press conference at 3:00 p.m. on Monday, 27 November.

She also reported that until 5 o’clock in the afternoon of the same day – barely an hour before the official closing of the polls – attendance at the polls was recorded as 82.5% of registered voters. A figure “very preliminary,, but alarmingly low by usual Cuban standards, which Balseiro justified by stating it was “due to the rains that have been affecting mainly the eastern and central regions of the country,” which had an effect on attendance at the polls, so the CEN had decided that a group of voting places would extend their closing hours to 7:00 pm.

The aforementioned press conference took place, in effect, but it developed behind closed doors, behind the backs of the people who had starred the night before in what the triumphalism of the government press had described as a “successful election day,” a “formidable tribute” to the historic leader on the first anniversary of his departure, and a “demonstration of the people’s unity” around their revolution.

It was not until the NTV’s main broadcast on Monday (27 November) that the president of the CEN, in an interview with journalist Thalía González, finally let us know that “the preliminary results” of Sunday’s election day. She said that 7,608,404 Cubans went to the polls, or 85.9% of the total electoral roll.

That means that 14.1% of the electorate did not vote “For Cuba and for Fidel,” despite the intense campaign that had spread through the media in the previous weeks, against the pressures exerted on the voters in numerous polling locations – at least in the capital – from early hours, to go out and vote.

We would have to add to that 14.1%, the 4.12% who left their ballots blank and the 4.07% who voided theirs, for total 22.29% of voters who did not align themselves with the call “for the revolution”; that is, a large number of non-revolutionaries. And it is known that, in Cuba, all abstention is equivalent to denial, ergo, just over 22% of Cuban voters have rejected, in some way, the alleged fidelity to the political system.

In spite of that, Alina Balseiro, whose face showed deep fatigue, stated before national public opinion that “these results are superior to those achieved in the 2015 elections.” She asserted that not only was there greater attendance at the polls, but also “a higher vote quality,” and the decisive participation of the people, which made this electoral success possible, had its best results in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Las Tunas, Granma and Sancti Spiritus. Exactly the same few that she had singled out the day before as “the most affected by the rains” and the ones with most difficulties in poll attendance.

But the lie is short-lived.  Review of the very official numbers held in previous years is enough to verify the deceptiveness of such victorious claims, and the markedly decreasing trend of poll attendance: from 95.8% in 2010, it went down to 91.9% in 2012, and to a shocking 88.30% in 2015, when, for the first time, the decline took the number below 90%.

Such a trend, without doubt, has sown concern among the authorities. Especially when the attendance figure of the recently held elections, far from responding to the call for an meeting with the memory of the Deceased-in-Chief and his “legacy,” has decreased by almost three percentage points compared to the previous ones.

We will have to wait for the next few days, when the authorities get over their hot flashes and the president of the CEN has had enough rest and, therefore, has achieved the miracle of conveniently collating the data, to know the final figures of these controversial elections.

For now, everything seems to indicate that the hopelessness, the poverty, the lack of expectations and the constant stumbles and setbacks of the “Castro Administration” are portraying the immaculate image of Cuba that the General and his court want to sell to the world as “a socialist people, faithful to the revolution and Fidel.” The moral of the story: If the lords of Power aspire to better electoral results in the immediate future, they will have to offer Cubans something other than slogans, the deceased, or the politically correct biographies of “the representatives of the people.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

In Search of a Tropical William Tell

The cap in homage to the deceased ex-president measures five feet long by 20 inches high. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 November 2017 — A huge metal cap measuring five feet long and 20 inches high, weighing 66 pounds, is the latest fetish born of the yearning of a certain regional leftist sector to honor Fidel Castro, the favorite demiurge of vernacular socialism, on the first anniversary of his death.

The project of the headdress-talisman, an imitation of the cap worn by the famous deceased one as part of his perennial military uniform, was conceived by the Union of Cuban Residents in Argentina (Urca) and the Argentine Movement of Solidarity with Cuba (MasCuba), two groups that, from the distant comfort of that Southern Cone country, enthusiastically support the longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, and have managed the entire sculptural project, including its transfer to Havana by air from the international airport in Buenos Aires. continue reading

So far, the total cost of the new votive object, such as materials used, labor, transportation, air freight, etc., has not been made public

So far, the total cost of the new votive object, such as materials used, labor, transportation, air freight, etc., has not been made public, but if we assume as true the information from the official Cuban media and the regional liberal left on the difficult economic and social situation that workers in Argentina are going through, under the government of Mauricio Macri, it can be surmised that those responsible for the work made a huge personal and family sacrifice to make it possible.

This should not surprise us too much. It is well known that the radical left factions do not shy away from difficulties and become especially wasteful in resources and creativity when it comes to the cult of those who are deceased. Hence, certain strange post-mortem practices have been applied at different moments in history to honor their founders or certain beloved brothers, practices that may seem twisted to some priggish members of the bourgeoise.

One of the examples would be the mummification of the body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and its exhibition to the public in the Red Square of Moscow, which turned him at the same time into a material idol of the communists of the world and a tourist attraction for millions of visitors addicted to the morbid. It was perhaps the first case and, so far, the most famous of the necrophilia epidemic of the left.

Another example, although of a different style, is the consecration of the cult to Che Guevara – with all the commercial paraphernalia of his image multipled in T-shirts, match-boxes, ashtrays, posters or postcards – including the pilgrimages by many of the faithful of the ideology and other followers of myths to La Higuera, Bolivia, where the conspicuous guerrilla found the death he so desperately sought, or the tourist excursions to the tomb-monument that guards (his?) sacred bones in the Cuban city of Santa Clara.

We could also mention other interesting mortuary monuments of characters on the left, such as that of a total communist: the Spanish dancer Antonio Gades, personal friend of Raúl Castro. The talented artist spent such pleasant moments on the island that he asked to be buried in Cuba and, consequently, his mortal remains were moved from his native homeland and buried at the mausoleum of the Second Eastern Front, under a sepulcher with a pair of Flamenco dance boots fused in metal.

Not far from him, lie the remains of Vilma Espín – wife of the current general-president, Raúl Castro, and mother of his children – protected in a pyramid-shaped sculpture, symbol of immortality… Humble, these communist chaps.

The eyesore sculpture will participate in the 2018 May Day parade at the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, and will afterwards be driven in a caravan to be revered throughout the Island.

But, returning to the matter of the monstrous metal cap, the intention of its creators is for the allegory to surpass the mere physical existence of the object, so that its presence promotes a complex ritual. Thus, the eyesore sculpture will participate in the 2018 May Day parade at the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, and – as with happened with the coffin of the deceased-in-chief in the mournful novena that took place after his death – will be carried in a caravan to be revered throughout the Island, until it reaches the Santa Iphigenia Cemetery, in Santiago de Cuba, to the point where the ashes of the honored rest, but not in peace.

A liturgy to the benefactor of the poor that, paradoxically, would become a kind of tropical version of that ancient Swiss legend of the fourteenth century, immortalized almost five centuries later by the German poet and playwright Frederick Schiller in his work William Tell. In it, the inhabitants of the city were forced to offer humiliating reverence before the hat of their ruling despot, Hermann Gessler, placed on top of a stake in the main square. The rebellion of the archer William Tell, who refused to accept such a huge outrage, marked the beginning of the revolt that ended up liberating his people.

It is possible that, given the fascination with the cult of the Dead, Cuban authorities are ready to support the ridiculous spectacle of the adoration of the cap. What does seem difficult is that a William Tell would emerge unexpectedly from among Cubans, with enough courage to challenge such a colossal insult.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

Cuba: Without Medicines and Without “Kindness”

Lines outside a pharmacy in Havana, October 2017 (archive photo)

The severe shortness of medications in Cuba, far from getting fixed, threatens to become an “irreversible” malignancy.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 November 2017 — The pharmacy, in the middle of Avenida de Carlos III in the Cuban capital, was crowded with people. The line extended outside the premises and formed a human conglomerate in the front, obstructing the entrance to the adjoining apartment building. “I have not been able to sleep for a week for lack of my medicine!” screams a frustrated patient when she finds out that, after waiting for her turn for more than an hour, they have run out of the medication alprazolam (Xanax), prescribed by her psychiatrist to treat her anxiety and her sleep disorder.

“I have been going from pharmacy to pharmacy in the 15 municipalities for days and nothing! Nobody cares, nobody knows when there will be medicine, nobody solves the problem! Here, for the person who does not have lots of money, or a relative abroad who sends him the medicine, all is left for him to do is to die. And then turn on the news and hear how good the Cuban health system is. It’s a mockery and a lack of respect!” continue reading

The impassive clerks behind the counter continue to dispatch the few products there are, and the woman emerges from the pharmacy like a furious whirlwind. As she moves away, she continues to unload her impotence loudly on the sidewalk, carrying on against “this damn shitty country” and waving the useless prescription in the air. The people in line are mumbling their own particular misfortunes. A hypertensive man complains that two months ago he could not buy enalapril or chlorthalidone, a cardiologist attests they are missing antiarrhythmics such as atenolol and nitrosorbide. Everyone comments on the shortage of duralgin, aspirin and meprobamate.

This is an everyday scene. The severe shortage of medicines which has continued to intensify in Cuba in recent months, far from being solved, has become a trend that threatens to become as much of an “irreversible” disease as the sociopolitical system that generates it. Even the official press has acknowledged the lack of medicines, which includes at least 160 drugs, but it has not pointed to a solution to the problem or a probable date for the normalization of supplies to pharmacies.

This shortage, however, is neither an isolated nor a recent phenomenon. Since the anguishing 1990’s, after the collapse of Soviet communism, there was not only a dramatic fall in the national production of drugs, but the importation of medicines that were not generated within the Island also decreased significantly. In fact, most of the medicines that were sold freely through the pharmacy network, without the need for an optional prescription, became “controlled,” which meant that they started to be sold only against a properly generated doctor’s prescription.

Since then and until today, the list of rationed drugs also includes some of the most basic analgesics, healing supplies, ointments, thermometers and other items, all of which have significantly declined as a part of the family medical kit of the common Cuban.

It was precisely in the midst of the crisis of the 1990’s when the “super ration card” was implemented; a personal file containing names, identity number, and private addresses designed to guarantee in the corresponding pharmacies the necessary medications for patients with chronic diseases – those with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, neuroses, etc. – upon presentation of the medical certificate that accredited their disease.

It is fair to acknowledge that the measure achieved its purpose, at least while the pharmacies’ regular supply of medicine remained stable. However, the current drug crisis affects even this growing sector of chronic patients, for many of whom it is vital to have access to the drugs indicated for the treatment of their diseases.

The issue becomes all the more serious because the Cuban population presents an unstoppable tendency to aging, and a significant increase continues in high-risk diseases for life, such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia.

Meanwhile, and as invariably happens in every hardship situation, a robust and intricate network of illegal markets in medicines has developed over the years, in whose broad current flow both certain administrators and pharmacy clerks – given their direct access to product – as small occasional merchants, like those who thrive in neighborhoods by trafficking in anything reasonably marketable, even some unscrupulous doctors and “cadres,” bureaucrats of the national health system, who have access to blank prescription pads at their discretion. Because, as it is generally known, corruption and poverty are directly proportional: they grow at par.

Of course, the law of supply and demand works perfectly on the black market, so that, as the shortages have increased, the price of medicines has skyrocketed. Some products double, if not triple, their previous price in the illegal market itself. For example, a blister of 10 tablets of the highly demanded duralgin (dipyrone), an analgesic with a price tag of 40 cents in national currency in the pharmacy network and 5 (CUP) until recently on the black market, now is often quoted as 10 (CUP).

The same happens with psychotropic drugs, also in high demand in a country where stress and depression are part of everyday life. Chlorodiazepoxide, diazepam, and alprazolam, among others, have become so expensive as to be out of the reach of those of those who need them most: the poorest.

So far, the authorities have avoided going deeply into the subject, which they have barely mentioned tangentially. A few days ago, the announcement in the official media about dedicating a transmission of the TV program “Roundtable” to analyze this delicate issue created expectations in the population. However, for unexplained reasons, this program has been postponed.

For the time being, the crisis continues, and according to the testimonies of some doctors, who have opted to remain anonymous, in hospitals like the very renowned Hermanos Ameijeiras, located in the Centro Habana municipality, talks and lectures will soon be given to doctors about the benefits and advantages of homeopathic medicine, which indicates that the shortages of truly effective medicines are here to stay.

Several shelves remain empty in this pharmacy. The situation is repeated throughout the capital (archive photo)

But the crisis is as irritating as the “solution” that is provided in the Letters to the Editor column of the publication Juventud Rebelde. Under the title of “Medications, Anguish and Strategies,” the reporter Jesús Arencibia Lorenzo reproduces a letter in which a reader complains that he never gets to buy his hypertension medications – that is, drugs controlled by “the super ration card” and supposedly guaranteed by the network of pharmacies – because, while he’s working at his job, there are people who do not work and lineup and “hoard” the medications, so that “the same people” get the medicines every month.

The reader in question comments that “each minute, hour, day and month that goes by” without the medications he suffers “deterioration of the organism and propensity to suffer cerebrovascular or myocardial accident,” all of which is strictly true and reasonable, but not so his proposal for a solution. The aforementioned reader assumes that, given the insufficient distribution of the medicine, the right thing to do is “at least to divide it in half: one month for you, one for me.”

That is, his proposal does not consist in demanding that a way be found to solve the shortage of medicines, but to be able to access the drugs at least in alternate months: the month in which “it’s his turn to get the medicine” he would be safe from a heart attack, next month (when “it’s someone else’s turn”) he would be at risk of dying. That is, this subject does not even hope to have medicine every month, like “the hoarders,” but for him, the maximum expression of justice would be for them to get as screwed as him.

An assumption supported by the journalist Jesus Arencibia, when he harangues: “In the midst of deficiencies whose solution is often not immediately at hand, what should not be lost, at least in a social process like ours, is the meaning of justice and kindness, so that bonuses and penalties get distributed with the greatest fairness, in each case.”

And in closing, he adds: “Perhaps when we advance to the maximum transparency scenario,” in which the access to drugs at the pharmacies and the registries of patient records become accessible and public documents for the citizenship – as he calls it, the “popular control scenario” – “maybe we can prevent a few from benefiting while others continue to wait in the danger zone.”

All of which suggests that, at the end of the day, medications that keep us painfully alive in this absurd Island could continue to go missing, but what cannot be missing is “the kindness” that allows us to multiply the miseries. And there are still those who wonder how it is that the Castro regime has managed to survive for more than 60 years!