The Lethargy Of A Coastal Town In Camagüey

Many houses are empty and uninhabited because their owners have moved to other towns in search of greater economic development. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Florida, Cuba, 26 June 2017 — “The sea water cleans everything,” Agustin reflects as he calls out his merchandise. This 74-year-old forensic assistant now works renting inflatable boats for the fishermen of Playa Florida, in Camagüey, a coastal strip where tourists rarely come and the economic crisis is strongly felt.

“I came here to escape the odor of death, and I did,” jokes the worker, one of the few residents in the unpopulated streets on Friday. On every side many of the few houses that do not seem vacant exhibit a “for sale” sign. “All of Playa Florida is for sale but no one wants to buy it,” a resident jokes. continue reading

Lacking the natural beauty of the north coast, with no functioning industries and no important crops, the area is experiencing times of hardship that have worsened in recent years. On the entrance road, a rusted out anchor gives visitors a preview of the lethargy they will find here.

Only 24 miles separate the fishermen’s village from the municipal center, but it takes between four and six hours to cover the route due to the poor state of the road and the lack of public transport. On both sides of the road, the invasive marabou weed rises defiantly.

“Without tourists there is no money,” says Bururu, an informal realtor. 

Lack communication characterizes the village. Nowhere among its crowded streets has a public telephone been installed and cell phones only manage to pick up a signal near the medical clinic, due to the poor coverage of the area.

The lack of mobility also sinks the area’s small businesses. The private restaurant Comida Criollo barely survives after being opened five years. Alfredo, the paladar’s chef, says that “from time to time a foreign tourist arrives.” People who “explore every corner with a map in hand,” but they are fewer and fewer.

Of the 4 million visitors who arrived in Cuba last year, only a few dozen came to this coast without white sands or crystal clear water, where to take a dip the bather must wear shoes to avoid the mud, stones and mangrove roots.

“Without tourists there is no money,” Bururu, an informal realtor, tells 14ymedio. The high number of homes for sale has caused a collapse of prices in the area. “A two-room house with a covered porch, cistern and garden can cost less than 1,000 CUC (roughly $1,000 US),” he says.

“People do not want to stay because there is nothing to do here”

“They put a jacuzzi in the bathroom and all the furniture inside is from the mall,” says Bururú while pointing to a newly painted building. The dealer takes his time to describe the characteristics of each house, hoping to make at least one sale.

“People do not want to stay because there is nothing to do here,” he explains to the 14ymedio. The man blames the stampede on the fact that “there are no recreational options and also nowhere to work”. “[The fishing] is not as good as in other places, so it gives you something to eat but not enough to make a living,” he emphasizes.

Near the coastline, a fisherman removes the scales from a sea bass he caught that morning. “I promised it to a family that wants to celebrate the birthday of their youngest son,” he tells a woman who inquires about the price of fish.

“The fishing is very affected since they built the embankment,” says the fisherman. “This area used to get a lot of oysters, but that has decreased a lot,” he adds.

The coast has also been affected by rising sea levels, to the extent that rumors of relocating the village have increased in recent years

The narrow and rugged access road divides the wetland in two and it has lost a part of the mangroves in its southern area. “Experts came here to research it and said that cutting the flow of water had increased the salinity and that is killing the mangroves.”

In 2009 the United Nations Small Grants Program provided more than $40,000 in funding for ecosystem recovery, but eight years later the damage has hardly been reversed. “The sea water has entered the river Mala Fama inland,” says the fisherman.

The coast has also been affected by rising sea levels, to the extent that rumors of relocating the village have increased in recent years. Wooden palisades are trying to slow down the push of the waves during hurricanes, but they seem like ridiculous chopsticks in the face of the immensity of the Caribbean.

The picture of deterioration is completed by the Argentina Campsite. where for months there has been neither electricity nor water. Julia, the guard who watches the entrance of the abandoned place, is categorical. “Here in Florida Beach, the only thing that is abundant is gnats and mosquitoes.”

Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba

Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces are present in all of Cuba’s power structures. (Prensa Latina)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The recent decision by the president of the United States to limit commercial relations with Cuban companies controlled by the military highlights a rarely explored corner of the national reality.

Anyone who knows the Island minimally knows that there is nothing like what can be called a “division of powers” here. It was demonstrated recently when the deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power unanimously raised their hands to “back” some program documents from the Communist Party, documents that the deputies had no legal capacity to approve but politically could not disapprove.

In other countries, it is to be expected that Congress will oppose what the Executive has proposed or that the Judiciary will rule unconstitutional what a Parliament has approved. In most nations, when some measure, new policy, or any law is applied, analysts wonder how the unions will react or what the students are going to do. In Cuba it is not like that. Those who rule give the orders and the rest obey or go to jail. continue reading

The ostensible presence of individuals from the military sector in power structures, especially in economic management, may lead one to think that the army enriches itself this way and that having so many resources in its hands makes it easier for it to repress the people. This reasoning thus forms part of the belief that there is some kind of division of powers and that introduces a huge error in the analysis.

The presence of colonels and generals (retired or active) in charge of tourism companies such as Gaviota, or powerful consortiums such as Gaesa, Cimex and TRD among others, may not mean the militarization of the economy as much as it means the conversion, the metamorphosis, of soldiers into managers.

Devoid of or “healed” of an authentic “working-class spirit,” they handle with the iron fists of ruthless foremen – loyal to the boss – any dispute with the workers. Their habits of discipline lead them to do what they are ordered to do without asking if it is viable or absurd. They do not demand anything for themselves and anything that improves their standard of living or working conditions (modern cars, comfortable homes, trips abroad, food and beverage baskets…) will be considered as a favor from the boss, a privilege which can be paid for only with loyalty.

Although difficult to believe, they are not backed by their cannons or their tanks, their influence is not determined by the numbers of their troops or the firepower of the armaments they control, but by the confidence that Raúl Castro has in them. It is as simple as that.

When we review the extensive documentation issued by the different spheres of the outlawed political opposition, or by the officially unrecognized civil society, we can barely observe any protest against the dominance that the military has gained over the economy in the last decade.

Civil society’s priorities are different. The liberation of political prisoners, the cessation of repression, freedom of expression and association, the right to choose leaders in plural elections… In the area of ​​economics, what is being questioned are the difficulties faced by private entrepreneurs in starting a business, limitations on access to the international market, excessive taxes, and the plunder to which the self-employed are subjected to by the inspectors.

The most perceptible concern in this sense is that placing these soldiers in key points of the economy is engineering the future economic empowerment of the ruling clans in a virtual piñata, which implies self-annihilation of the system by the heirs of power.

If it were not so dramatic it would be laughable to imagine the infinite solutions that the Cuban rulers have to circumvent “the new measures” announced by the president of the United States. All they have to do is change the name of the current monopolies and place civilian leaders in charge of supposed “second level cooperatives,” already foreseen in Guideline 15 from the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

This magic trick or, to use a Cubanism, “shuffling of the dominoes” would force the mammoth American bureaucracy to make a new inventory of entities with which trading is forbidden. “As the stick comes and goes,” they reorganize their forces while remaining at the helm of the country and watching Donald Trump’s term expire.

To perform this trick it will not be necessary to gather the Party together in a congress, nor to consult the constitutionalist lawyers, they would not even have to inform the Parliament. To make matters worse, in the streets there will be no protest against the chameleon gesture of the military exchanging their uniforms and their weapons for guayaberas or business cocktails.

Consensus and Dissent in the Face of Trump’s Cuba Policy

Hundreds of people gathered in the vicinity of the Manuel Artime Theater to show their disagreement with the change in policy toward Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2017 – Over the weekend the official media have repeated ad nauseam the declaration of the government in response to Donald Trump’s speech about his policy toward Cuba. The declaration’s rhetoric recalls the years before the diplomatic thaw, when political propaganda revolved around confrontation with our neighbor to the north.

Beyond these words, many on the island are breathing a sigh of relief because the main steps taken by Barack Obama will not be reversed. The remittances on which so many families depend will not be cut, nor will the American Embassy in Havana be closed.

On the streets of Cuba, life continues its slow march, far from what was said at the Artime Theater in Miami and published by the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

Julia Borroto put a bottle of water in the freezer on Saturday to be ready for the line he expects to find waiting for him Monday outside the United States Embassy. This 73-year-old from Camagüey, who arrived in the capital just after Trump’s speech, remembers that Trump had said “he was going to put an end to the visas and travel, but I see that it isn’t so.”

The retiree also had another concern: the reactivation of the wet foot/dry foot policy eliminated by Obama last January. “I have two children who were plotting to go to sea. I just sent them a message to forget about it.”

The hopes of many frustrated rafters were counting on the magnate to restore the migratory privileges that Cubans enjoyed for more than two decades, but Trump defrauded them. Hundreds of migrants from the island who have been trapped in Central America on their way to the US were also waiting for that gesture that did not arrive.

Among the self-employed, concern is palpable. Homeowners who rent to tourists and private restaurant owners regret that the new policy will lead to a decline in American tourists on the island. The so-called yumas are highly desired in the private sector, especially for their generous tips.

Mary, who runs a lodging business in Old Havana, is worried. “Since the Americans began to come, I hardly have a day with empty rooms.” She had made plans on the basis of greater flexibilities and hoped “to open up more to tourism.”

On national television there is a flood of “indignant responses from the people” including no shortage of allusions to sovereignty, dignity and “the unwavering will to continue on the path despite difficulties.” The Castro regime is seizing the opportunity to reactivate the dormant propaganda machinery that had been missing its main protagonist: the enemy.

However, away from the official microphones people are indifferent or discontented with what happened. A pedicab driver swears not to know what they are talking about when he is asked about Friday’s announcements, and a retiree limits himself to commenting, “Those people who applaud Trump in Miami no longer remember when they were here standing in line for bread.”

Of the thirteen activists who met with Barack Obama during his trip to Havana, at least five expressed opinions to this newspaper about the importance of the new policy towards Cuba.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was at that table in March 2016 and was also mentioned on this occasion by Donald Trump during his speech. The activist had planned to be in Miami for the occasion, but at the airport in Holguin was denied exit and was subsequently arrested.

“It is the speech that had to be given and the person who could have avoided it is Raul Castro,” the former political prisoner asserts categorically. Ferrer believes that Obama did the right thing whenhe began a new era in relations between the two countries but “the Castro regime’s response was to bite the hand that was extended to it.”

In the opinion of the opposition leader, in the last 20 months repression has multiplied and “it was obvious that a different medicine had to be administered” because “a dictatorship like this should not be rewarded, it should be punished and more so when it was given the opportunity to improve its behavior and did not do so.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, was also prevented from flying to Miami to attend the event. For her, the words of the American president were clear and “if the Cuban regime accepts the conditions that Donald Trump has imposed on it, Cuba will begin to change.”

Soler believes that the Cuban government’s response is aimed at confusing the people, who “do not know exactly what is going on.” She says that Trump wants to maintain business with Cuba “but not with the military, but directly with the people,” something that the official press has not explained.

Opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who manages the platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), is blunt and points out that “returning to failed policies is the best way to guarantee failure.” The measures announced by Trump, in his opinion, do not help the changes, and they once again give the Cuban government “the excuse to show its repressive nature.”

The dissident believes that the new policy tries to return the debate on democracy on the island to the scenario of conflict between Cuba and the United States, “just when it was beginning to refocus the national scenario on communication between the Cuban State and its citizens, which is where it needs to be.”

The director of the magazine Convivencia, Dagoberto Valdés, believes that there is a remarkable difference between the discourse itself “which seems a return to the past with the use of a language of confrontation, and the so-called concrete measures that have been taken.”

For Valdés there is no major reversal of Obama’s policy. “The trips of the Cuban Americans, the embassy, ​​the remittances are maintained… and the possibility of a negotiating table remains open when the Cuban Government makes reforms related to human rights.”

Journalist Miriam Celaya predicted that the speech would not be “what the most radical in Miami and the so-called hard line of the Cuban opposition expected. What is coming is a process and it does not mean that from tomorrow no more Americans will come to the Island and that negotiations of all kinds are finished,” she says.

In her usual poignant style, she adds that “regardless of all the fanfare and the bells and whistles, regardless of how abundant the smiles, and no matter how much people laughed at Trump’s jokes, it doesn’t seem that the changes are going to be as promising as those who are proclaiming that it’s all over for the government.”

Celaya sheds light on the fact that the official statement of the Cuban government “manifests its intention to maintain dialogue and relations within the framework of respect.” This is a great difference with other times when a speech like that “would have provoked a ‘march of the fighting people’ and a military mobilization.”

Instead, officialdom has opted for declarations and revolutionary slogans in the national media. But in the streets, that rhetoric is just silent. “People are tired of all this history,” says a fisherman on the Havana Malecon. “There is no one who can fix it, but no one who can sink it.”

Trump And Cuba, Or How To Bet On The Wrong Winner

President Donald Trump (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 June 2017 – In less than 72 hours President Donald Trump will declare in Miami the new basis for the United States government’s policies towards Cuba. At that time the decisions of his predecessor Barack Obama, during the process of normalization of diplomatic relations with the island, could be paused or reversed.

The magnate will make the announcement into a spectacle like so many he has starred in since he has been at the head of the greatest power on earth. He will gesticulate, commit himself to human rights and elicit enthusiastic applause, but then he will return to the White House and the Island will fall off his agenda.

Why entrust the fate of this country to a man who has failed to keep a single one of the election promises he made to his own people? Is the policy toward Cuba the only thing that will turn out well from someone who has behaved like a political bull in a china shop? continue reading

Trump will try to please the voices asking him to tighten the screws on Havana. Sanctions, cutting back and revoking the measures taken during the thaw are among the demands of those who bet on confrontation, a strategy that has had half a century to demonstrate its ineffectiveness.

The president will especially address himself to those who insist on “turning off the tap,” cutting off communication and shutting down supplies to the longest dictatorship in the West, as if such measures will cut off the electricity, water supply or internet access to the homes of the Community Party elite.

It is symptomatic that demands for economic strangulation rarely spring from those who wait long hours for a bus, depend daily on the bread that is distributed in the rationed market and have to stretch a monthly salary that is barely enough to survive on for a week.

On the other hand, blaming Obama’s “soft hand” for the wreck of normalization leads one to forget that those in charge in Cuba did not seize the opportunity for fear of losing control. They were more frightened by Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana than by any threat of military intervention.

Those who have aspired for decades to unconditional surrender, to revengeful justice, and to “all or nothing” with Castroism, did not lose any time in putting roadblocks in the way of the process started on 17 December 2014. Starting this Friday they will be forced to accept everything that happens after Trump’s decisions, or to recognize this is not the way to emerge from a dictatorship.

The figures for arbitrary arrests compiled by the Cuban Human Rights Commission are unlikely to decline significantly, the Ladies in White will still be unable to march down Fifth Avenue in the west of Havana, and opposition groups will remain illegal and persecuted by the police.

What will be the foreseeable consequences on the Island of a return to the politics of the cudgel? An increase in repression and a better positioning of the more conservative sectors. The Plaza of the Revolution, the tyranny of the Castros, the regime… or whatever you prefer to call it, will not be alone in facing the tightening of the screws from Washington.

Russia, China, Angola, Nicolas Maduro and comrades from North Korea, Congo, Zimbabwe and Iran will rush to take sides with Raul Castro. Meanwhile, in the streets of the Island the population will mark Trump’s measures with renewed “marches of the fighting people,” shouting anti-imperialist slogans and accepting the postponement of the old promises of the Revolution.

Faced with “the new onslaught from the empire” the government will reinforce its aptitude for entrenchment. In the upper echelons of power there will be no cracks or disagreements. Persecutors will strengthen their power and enjoy the impunity to crush any resistance.

Trump will not achieve, with his new measures, a new march by university students with a “Down with the Dictatorship” poster, nor will the unions call for a general strike against the government, nor will the farmers march to the cities demanding land.

It is not even clear whether the president will serve out four years in office, cornered as he is by political scandals, alleged Kremlin intervention in the elections that brought him to power and his unfortunate way of managing politics through incendiary treatises or threats.

His decisions will not provoke another Maleconazo on the island like the one of August of 1994. That popular protest was spurred by the desire to escape the country, not change it. Those dramatic events were not sparked by the opposition, nor did they generate political changes, just the Rafter Crisis.

Such an outbreak would be a nightmare for a leader with a marked nationalism and an evident anti-immigrant phobia.

This Friday the American president will have his moment in front of the Cuban exile. The applause for him will be short-lived. The placebo effect of his announcements will dissipate to give way to the stubborn reality that no decision of a foreign government will change Cuba, regardless of whether Barack Obama or Donald Trump is at the head of it.

Cuba’s Parliament Positions Its New Straitjacket

The Constitution of the Republic does not establish that the deputies have the obligation or the assignment to analyze documents issued by the Communist Party. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, 1 June 2017 — With its usual unanimity, the National Assembly of People’s Power, on Thursday, supported the documents submitted to it by the Council of State. The extraordinary session put the final stitch in the straitjacket that the Communist Party of Cuba (CCP) is placing on the Parliament and other organs of power for the coming years.

Since Wednesday, the committees gathered at the Havana Convention Center have expressed their support for the Conceptualization of the Cuban Social Economic Development and Social Model and the updating of the Party Policy and Revolution Guidelines for the period 2016-2021. continue reading

The final versions of the documents were presented to the deputies, after a long process of debate that included modifications, additions and deletions. The Third Plenum of the Central Committee had given them the green light in mid-May, and all that was left was for the members of the Eighth Legislature to raise their hands to ratify their support.

In the Constitution of the Republic, where the powers of the Parliament are specified, it is not established that the Members have the obligation or the assignment to analyze documents issued by the PCC, nor those that the Council of State presents before them.

The absence of a healthy and democratic division of powers that the country suffers has become more visible in the last hours, with the act of parliamentary meekness that has meant that the non-partisan entity supports the documents emanating from the structures of a militancy.

The absence of a healthy and democratic division of powers that the country suffers has become more visible in the last hours, with the act of parliamentary meekness

So as not to overstate the confusion about responsibilities, the government chose the verb “to back,” rather than “ratify,” “vote” or “approve,” for what happened on June 1. In the selection of the word, the formal character of what happened was evidenced, for under no circumstances would the deputies have had the power to disapprove the documents.

If anyone had a question about parliamentary autonomy first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel was responsible for dissipating it when he stressed that “everything that is approved here comes as recommendations prized by the higher echelons of the Party.”

When the Party “submits to the consideration” of the National Assembly its programmatic guidelines, it is not subordinating itself to this supreme body of state power, but using it as a docile executor of its policy. It makes the legislature the implementer of the narrow limits which Raul Castro wants to leave as a frame for the political class of the country before vacating the presidential chair next February.

Not in vain, the General stressed in his closing speech of the session that the documents backed by the legislature will permit “changing everything that should be changed,” but at “a speed that allows us to reach consensus.” An affirmation with which he reiterates his preferences that the transformations happen “step by step” or “gradually,” but in which he also reveals his fears.

When the Party “submits to the consideration” of the National Assembly its programmatic guidelines, it is not subordinating itself to this supreme body of state power, but using it as a docile executor of its policy

But the unanimity reached in these two days is not that strong either. In several of the speeches, the deputies made clear the distance between the theoretical postulates that were established as inviolable laws in the construction of socialism, and the times in which the island is living. Under the apparent uniformity lies the clash between entelechy and reality, plans and results.

In several historical moments and national instances in which this tension has manifested itself, the Solomonic – or chameleonic – formula has been called on to be able to continue to say that the country is guided by Marxist-Leninist doctrines, but shaded with “our own realities and experiences.”

The dominance of social property over the means of production and the exercise of power by a single party are the two pillars on which the whole program is dispersed in guidelines, conceptualizations and programs. However, there is no longer talk of eliminating the exploitation of man by man, nor is the superior society aspired to defined as “Communism.”

The National Assembly expects another bitter drink, because the Party does not legislate, at least directly. The PCC will have to instruct the deputies to determine the amount of wealth that citizens will be able to accumulate, and whether the redistribution of resources generated in non-state forms of production will be accomplished by way of taxes or confiscations.

At that time, the parliamentarians will be pushed to sew fine stitches and to reinforce with them the guide to action left to them by “Castroism.” It will be the last chance this organ of the Popular Power has, before becoming a total ventriloquist of the Party.

The Future Is Built With Cement … But There Isn’t Any

A house under construction in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 May 2017 — The cranes show off their slender anatomy in some areas of Havana where several luxury hotels are being built. Apart from this landscape of progress, private construction and repairs face technological problems and shortages. This week it has been cement’s turn.

“This is the third time I have come and I am leaving with an empty wheelbarrow,” a customer on the hunt for construction materials complained Thursday in the Havana’s La Timba neighborhood. The employee standing behind the counter confirmed that “they are sending less than before and every day more people come to try to buy it.” continue reading

To send, to arrive and to supply are the verbs used to refer to the state distribution of any product, be it eggs, milk powder, or tiles to cover a roof. There is an enormous supply chain responsible for distributing construction materials, in a country where 39% of the housing stock is in “regular or poor” condition.

Since the beginning of the year, gray cement has become the biggest headache for those involved in construction, a situation that has worsened in recent weeks.

Several employees of stores specializing in construction materials that offer their goods in convertible pesos say that in 2017 they have not received cement

Several employees in the stores in the capital specializing in construction materials and that sell their goods in convertible pesos, told 14ymedio that since the beginning of 2017 they have not received cement.

The government has chosen to place the product in the network that sells in Cuban pesos, the so-called national currency, in the face of previous criticisms of excessive prices in the foreign exchange network. However, a network of corruption, diversion of resources and re-sales makes it almost impossible to get one of those sacks with the precious gray powder.

The government has turned over the sale of cement to the open markets in national currency, but the shortage continues for those who repair or build houses. (14ymedio)

The national cement industry has not yet recovered from the blow that resulted from the fall of Europe’s socialist camp and the withdrawal of the Soviet Union’s subsidies to Cuba. At present, six factories on the island managed to produce slightly more than 1.4 million tonnes of gray cement last year, a figure well below the 5.2 million achieved in the same period in neighboring Dominican Republic, a country with a comparable population (about 11 million inhabitants), according to a report from the Producers Association.

The government has assigned the Construction Materials Business Group (GEICON) to produce cement in each of its variants, in addition to other building materials such as aggregates, blocks, and flooring elements, along with asbestos, fibroasphalt and roofing tiles.

The sales and marketing director of the group, Rubén Gómez Medina, recently explained on national television that despite the sector’s recovery over the last five years, it still cannot meet demand.

“Since we started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next and no one can tolerate that.”

The situation becomes complex for self-employed masons, and also for those who are part of a non-agricultural cooperative. “As there is no wholesale market, when we are contracted to do a job we have to place responsibility for the materials on the customer,” says Carlos Núñez, who two years ago obtained a license for that occupation.

The entrepreneur remembers that at first they calculated a budget that included everything, the plans, the materials and the labor. “Since we started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next and no one can tolerate that.”

A bag of gray cement last year cost just over 6 CUC in an official store. In the open markets the same bag is sold in national currency at the equivalent of 7 CUC. The lack of supply has meant that in the underground market, where it is also scarce, the price doubles and in some areas reaches as high as 18 CUC.

Cement, along with pork or cooking oil, is one of those goods that set the pace of the everyday economy. Its disappearance or shortage is a direct blow to the population’s quality of life.

Of the more than 23,000 homes that were built during 2015, less than half were erected by the state. The rest were built by the private sector.

Now, for many, the only option is to buy gray cement on the black market, or to sleep outside one of the open markets all night to see if there’s an early delivery.

On the outskirts of Fe del Valle Park, mixed among the dozens of people who connect to the Internet in this popular Wi-Fi zone, resellers abound. The site has a reputation for being a place where you can find everything, “even 12 gauge electric cables for electrical installations,” a young man nicknamed El Chino proclaims without modesty.

So as not to be confused with a police informant or an inspector, the buyer should pronounce the question in the most roundabout way. “How’s the cement coming along, pal?” El Chino arches his eyebrows and with a precise professional air answers, ” P350, which is for mounting plates, goes out of here at between 10 and 12 CUC a bag and P250, for plastering, goes for 9.”

He pauses, as if he is sorry for what he is about to confess and adds, “But right now there isn’t any.”

Several cooperatives say that part of the production in the western area has been sent to the province of Guantánamo for the repair of houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew

At the Ministry of Construction (MICONS) the officials questioned do not clarify the reasons for the shortage, although several cooperative members engaged in construction assert that part of the production of the western zone has been sent to Guantánamo province to repair the houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

A MICONS employee, who preferred anonymity, does not agree with that explanation and insists that “since a group of measures to promote construction by self-effort was implemented, there was a building explosion that was not foreseen in the production plans for the materials… Important hotels are being built and the supply to those places can’t be allowed to fail, so it has been prioritized,” he adds.

The most recent version of the Foreign Investment Opportunities Portfolio describes the objective of the authorities to “promote the construction of infrastructure and industrial maintenance, mainly for the nickel, oil and cement industries.” But so far potential investors are wary of putting their money in ventures on the Island.

“What has happened is that the cement industry is bottoming out and can not withstand the pressure of the high demand,” an engineer with 30 years of experience in the sector, who prefers to be called Osvaldo – not his real name – to avoid reprisals for his statements, tells this newspaper.

“It’s a chain of inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the customer”

In 2016 the country’s factories have had serious problems due to the lack of maintenance but transportation has also burdened the results. “We depend on the Cuban Railways to transfer part of the material used in cement manufacture,” Osvaldo said. “It’s a chain of inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the customer.”

“No new equipment or parts are coming into the country. In many factories, the furnace engines, the mechanical couplings and the mills are badly damaged,” he adds.

“This industry is the engine of prosperity, because it is the one that allows houses to be built, people to have more amenities and there is progress,” Osvaldo proudly says. “But if we do not invest a good amount of money we will continue as we are, between improvisations and defaults.”

To illustrate his comment, the engineer shows the side wall of a newly built house that is still waiting to be plastered. “It’s because I haven’t been able to find the cement anywhere,” justifies the owner.

Behind the ‘Information Note’

There is no permanent entity in Cuba that governs the nation’s electoral processes. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 18 June 2017 — The regular readers of the official press have learned that the most innocent headlines can hide the most interesting news. Phrases such as Notice to the population or Information note, which defy any elementary lesson in journalism, alert those initiated into the special “granmer” of the Granma newspaper that, behind the candid title, there could be hidden some threat, a hope, or the apparent fulfillment of a formality, so that no one can say that this or that detail was never published in the press.

On Thursday, the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Immigration (DIIE) published an “Information note”in the official media in which it announces to Cubans permanently resident in the country that its offices will be open to “update the address from where they will exercise their right to vote.” continue reading

The note then invokes Electoral Law No. 72 of 1992 to specify who has the right to active suffrage.

The real information that underlies all this, is that the first steps have now been taken to initiate the elections that will result in the final departure of Raul Castro from the job of President of the Councils of State and of Ministers. Perhaps even more significant, is that this process will begin without the new electoral law having been promulgated, regardless of the fact that the coming of the new law was announced by the president himself in February of 2015, at the conclusion of the Tenth Plenary of the Communist Party Central Committee.

There is no permanent entity on the island that governs the electoral processes, so the preparation of the Register of Voters is a task that falls on the Ministry of Interior through its offices of the DIIE. This is where it is registered whether a citizen resides in the national territory and whether or not he or she is under some legal sentence that limits his or her rights.

Oddly, the Information note makes it clear that people will be able to go to the relevant offices in any of the municipalities in the country “regardless of their place of residence,” but does not clarify if voters can exercise suffrage in the specific district where they physically reside, even if that is not the legal address recorded on their identity card.

Thousands of people throughout the country are living as tenants in private homes without being “properly registered”; many of them, especially if they live in the capital and are from other provinces, are prevented from finding a job, even with private employers, because they can not show “an appropriate address” in their identification document.

In the interest of reducing the number of people who do not vote, the state might be willing to overlook – for the purposes of voting only – what it will not tolerate with regards to finding work or enrolling one’s children in school.

No doubt the upcoming elections will be as uninteresting as any others have been. The absence of a new law indicates that the Candidacies Commission will continue, and that it will be these bodies that prepare the lists of aspiring deputies, while maintaining the prohibition against any of these candidates from presenting a political platform.

As has been the case to date, voters will have to be satisfied with nothing more than biographical data (prepared by the commissions, not by the candidates themselves), along with a photo. They will have to vote for their representatives without having any idea whether or not these individuals are in favor of foreign investment, if they want to increase or decrease non-state forms of production in the country, or if they are likely to be for or against it if the day comes when acceptance of same-sex marriage is introduced. They will not even know if their preferred candidate wishes to allocate the nation’s budget to build sports stadiums or theaters.

Of course, there will be no polls speculating on what will be the name of the person who will occupy the presidential chair in February 2018. Who are they going to put forward? It is the question that the majority of those few people interested in the subject at all tend to ask. Perhaps we will have to wait for another Information Note to get a clue about this great unknown.

Cuba Raises Taxes on Real Estate Transactions

Hundreds of people are engaged in facilitating the sale of real estate in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escober, Havana, 15 May 2017 — On 11 May a new law went into effect in Cuba that imposes a determined price on the buying and selling of housing. The simple announcement, a month earlier, set off a frenzy in the notary offices to complete the paperwork for pending sales before the new rules went into effect. Some classified ads even included the date as the deadline to close the deal.

Since November 2011, when Raul Castro’s government allowed citizens the right to buy and sell their homes, an obligation was imposed on both buyers and sellers to pay the state a tax of 4% on the transaction. continue reading

In most cases, this levy was not calculated on the amount of money actually paid for the property, but on the basis of the price that the state had assigned to the home, which is recorded in the property document.

The Fiction 

The Housing Act of July 1985 converted all tenants who were renting into owners. The value of the properties they took possession of was calculated by multiplying one month’s rent by 240, the number of months in 20 years.

Those who acquired a house as of from July 1 of that year, without making any up front payment, paid the bank, within 20 years, the price of their new house, which was calculated taking into account the square meters of living space.

It does not occur to anyone to sell for 10,000 CUP a house for which they can ask 30,000 CUC (that is 75 times more money), much less to refer to the real price when they can take advantage of the price shown on the initial title when paying the taxes.

In the cases of those who had paid rent before 1 July 1985, it is very difficult to find a home whose price as stated in the property title exceeds 10,000 Cuban pesos (about $400 US), because as a rule the monthly rent did not exceed 10% of the renter’s salary, and at that time almost no one earned more than 400 Cuban pesos (CUP) a month. And the values, calculated based on square meters, almost never reached 20,000 CUP.

That law, which boasted that it converted leasers into owners, did not allow the newly created owners to sell the property, so the prices inscribed on the title were evidence of the “character of fairness of the Revolution,” in giving the most humble workers the opportunity to legally posses a home. To put it in the language of the time, this was a “political matter.”

The Reality 

At the time the right to buy and sell houses was granted, the consequences of the country’s system of two currencies – Cuban convertible pesos and Cuban pesos – were already in place. The most notable feature of this system is that workers are paid in the “national currency” – Cuban pesos – but almost everything that has real value must be bought in “hard currency” – Cuban convertible pesos, each of which is worth 25 times a Cuban peso. Housing did not escape this rule.

That evidence of fairness, reflected with a symbolic number in the property titles, could not be brutally reversed by the Revolution. But when citizens become cunning, the state cannot play the fool.

It does not occur to anyone to sell for 10,000 CUP a house for which they can ask 30,000 CUC (that is 75 times more money), much less to refer to the real price when they can take advantage of the price shown on the initial title when paying the taxes. That evidence of fairness, reflected with a symbolic number in the property titles, could not be brutally reversed by the Revolution. But when citizens become cunning, the state cannot play the fool.

This is how the new “reference prices” came about.

The new methodology does not take into consideration how many years of salary a worker must invest to pay the new prices and also does not indicate the square meters of living space. Now the value of a housing unit is calculated by a set of factors. Among these is the number of rooms and whether it has parking, patios or gardens. The construction characteristics of the homes are identified depending on whether they have masonry walls, heavy or light roofs, or if they have been constructed with other materials.

And the most significant factor is where the property is located. There are five groups and each corresponds to a “location coefficient,” where the word coefficient has the meaning given by mathematicians to a multiplicative factor. Therefore, once the housing value is established, the resulting number is multiplied by 7, 6, 5, 4, or 1.5 depending on where the home is located.

This onerous multiplication is not accompanied by revolutionary slogans or theoretical considerations about social justice.

Obviously, the state does not care what anyone spends to buy a house, but it does care how much it can raise through that 4% tax on the reference value.

Paternalism is over. That time when a local assembly (a political entity) assigned a home to worker based on his or her “social virtue” and “labor merits” is a thing of the past. The state no longer gives, it only takes away. Consequently, the citizen no longer feels that he must surrender, but rather he must defend himself. That seems to be the signal of the new times.

Shortages, Now it’s Ice Cream’s Turn

The shortage of Nestlé ice cream is a result of the irregular operation of the company’s factory, which is in the process of replacing its boilers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 May 2017 — As in the old joke of socialist hell the products in Cuba disappear in turn. When there are potatoes, there is no oil to fry them in, when there is spaghetti, there’s no tomato sauce, and just when they release enough flour to make a cake, there are no eggs to beat into meringue. At the beginning of the year there were no national brands of beer in any market, and now it’s ice cream’s time to go silent, especially that distributed by the firm Nestle.

As the official media are very busy recounting the misfortunes of others, no one has explained the cause of the shortage. Some comment with extensive arguments that it could be caused by the drought, which has affected milk production, but the emblematic Coppelia ice cream continues to sell at least two or three flavors in their different establishments, with their traditional long lines. continue reading

After investigating among regular customers, café employees and the industry’s workers, the answer that clarifies the mystery is that “there are problems in the factory.”

At kilometer 23-and-a-half on Monumental Highway, on the outskirts of the Cotorro neighborhood, is the Havana Dairy Combine, opened on 13 August 1974. Right next to it, Nestle refurbished its facilities in 2002 as a joint venture called Coralac, S.A.

Although not considered a luxury product, Nestle ice cream is not a popularly consumed commodity, because of its price

All the steam that Nestlé consumes to scrub the equipment and make the mixtures for its products is taken from its neighbor the Dairy Combine, where, from the end of April, the old boilers began to be dismantled and replaced by two from Spain.

According to sources from the Ministry of Food Industry, the assembly of the new equipment will conclude between May 15 and 20, but it will be necessary to wait until the 25th when technicians of the supplier company will arrive in the country to approve the work. From that moment on, steam will begin to arrive at the Nestlé factory.

It’s been a long time since some of the specialties distributed by the Swiss firm have disappeared from the market, such as Mega ice cream bars, cones and platicas, many of which, despite their absence, remain on the advertising posters. Parents have to challenge their imagination to explain to the kids why they only sell the little 450-milliliter plastic pots at prices that vary between 1.35 and 1.75 CUC.

Although not considered a luxury product, Nestle ice cream is not a popularly consumed commodity, as the purchase of one pot a week would consume 40% of the average monthly salary of 350 Cuban pesos. If all goes as expected, the officials in charge of the new investments will return the flavors chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, the most coveted, to the shelves in June. The question is, what will there be a shortage of then.

The Secrets of Secretismo

Headline: Raul will speak tomorrow. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 16 April 2017 — The term secretismo (secretiveness), to refer to the absence or delay of certain information of public interest in the Cuban official media, began to be used first among critics of the system, until it came to appear in the speeches of the highest officials of the government.

The list of what the official media has never reported, or only reported with an inexplicable delays, deserves a thorough study, which in addition to filling thousands of pages, would serve to better understand the country’s most recent history.

Among the headings to organize the list of the omitted would be: deaths, destitutions, desertions, economic failures, military defeats, diplomatic fiascos, serious damage to nature, consequences of mistakes made, and even data on the rates of suicides, divorces or emigration, along with references to the country’s debt or to the decrease in Gross Domestic Product. All this and more has fallen into that black hole of disinformation. continue reading

The temptation to offer some examples would lead us to mention, among other pearls, the forced relocation of peasants from the Escambray in the 1960s, the disastrous effects of the whim of trying to produce 10 million tons of sugar in 1970, the collapse of the military operation in Granada in 1983, the consequences that the epidemic of polyneuritis brought in the most difficult years of the Special Period, and more recently the clinical causes of Fidel Castro’s death.

It has been this way since the days when Party ideologue Carlos Aldana pontificated on the need to have “critical, militant and creative journalism”

The response that has often been given to criticism of secretismo has ranged from the most tenacious justification, based on being a country threatened by the most powerful power in the world, to the pretense of blaming the mid-level cadres.

It has been this way since the days when party ideologue Carlos Aldana pontificated on the need to have “critical, militant and creative journalism,” right up to our time when Raúl Castro himself advised before the parliament: “It is necessary to put on the table all the information and the arguments that underlie each decision and step, to suppress the excess of secretismo to which we have habituated ourselves during more than 50 years of enemy encirclement.”

These self-critical pretenses have had the peculiarity of appearing in cycles, which has given the permanent impression of being on the eve of an always timid and incomplete opening. The journalistic guild has been perhaps the most victimized with these frequent promises, made in Congresses of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) or in informal meetings with the press.

When it seems that “now we are going to end the secretismo” the promise of promulgating a new electoral law disappears, the head of the commission in charge of implementing the Party’s guidelines disappears, and the sale of premium gasoline is suspended without any media of the official press daring to review or comment on what happened.

Even the euphemism of using the word “secretismo” to refer to what strictly must be called censorship, only serves to cover up what is supposed to be revealed. It is a crime of linguistic injury whose result lies in keeping in obscurity what outwardly is illuminated.

“The Politician Of The Week,” A Citizens’ Initiative

The initiative involves people as different as the filmmaker Carlos Lechuga (above) or Cuba’s Minister of the Interior. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 April 2017 — Facing the times that we live in can be an unpleasant task. And doing it without discrimination based on ideological viewpoints and with immediacy, takes visions of daring. This is the challenge that the Center for the Application of Political Marketing and Political assumes with the election of the “politician of the week,” an initiative that approaches the Cuban reality from its protagonists. continue reading

The profiles developed by the independent entity are made in collaboration with the site Primavera digital (Digital Spring), the historian Dimas Castellanos and the journalist José Antonio Fornaris, among others. They are distributed through e-mail and several web pages. Their intention is to summarize, with the fewest adjectives, the biography and significant details of those who mark the events of the Island. Those faces that embody the moments most sublime and most ridiculous of the day-to-day.

The “politician of the week” does not evaluate the person, but rather the events in which he or she has taken part and the decisions for which they are responsible. The brief sheet that accompanies their name doesn’t judge, but it does describe. In a country where most of the time the public debate centers on “killing the messenger” instead of understanding the message, this moderate exercise carried out by the Center takes on hints of the historic.

So far this year, the names included in the classification have ranged from officials in the highest ranks of power to opponents condemned for their activism. This wide range of points of view can only be recognized from an independent perspective, given that the official media only gives space to names linked to the government.

Its catalog of personalities is the closest thing to a democratic exercise, in which there is no discrimination or tendency to stigmatize positions

Thus, this civic initiative has described both Jennifer Bello Martínez, president of the Federation of University Students, and Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, a person Amnesty International has declared a political prisoner of conscience. In its entries it has shed light on the life of the new interior minister, Rear Admiral Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo, as well as Carlos Lechuga, director of the censored film Santa and Andrés.

Nor have they missed, in their accounts, figures such as Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a hard-liner known for his partisan orthodoxy, or Havana’s private taxi drivers who demonstrated their dissatisfaction after the imposition of price caps on their service.

The Center, led by the analyst Julio Aleaga, has given space to Tyrians and Trojans. Its catalog of personalities is the closest thing to a democratic exercise in which there is no discrimination or stigmatizing positions, a posture that in today’s times of polarization, does not stop giving some people hives or provoking indignation.

There are those who are upset to not have been included yet, while others cry out to have their names erased from the list. To the extent that it is list of the protagonists of a reality, the “politician of the week” approaches those who are part of events, but the evaluation of their performance will depend on the opinions of each individual reader.

Reflections* From a Glass House

Reinaldo Escobar, 18 June 2008 (Reposted 10 April 2017) — The former president Fidel Castro has just published a foreword to the book Fidel, Bolivia and Something More in which he discredits the internet blog, Generation Y, written by my wife, the blogger Yoani Sanchez.  From the first day, she has put her full name (which he omits) and her photo on the web, visible to readers, to sign the articles which she writes with the sole purpose – as she has said several times – of “throwing up” all that is nauseating about our reality.

The ex-president disapproves of the fact that Yoani accepted this year’s Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism, arguing that the prize is something that imperialism favors to blow its own horn. I recognize the right of this gentleman to make this comment, but I allow myself to observe that the responsibility implied in receiving a prize is never comparable to that of bestowing one, and Yoani, at least, has never awarded a medal to a corrupt person, a traitor, a dictator or a murderer. continue reading

I clarify this because I remember perfectly that the author of these reproaches was the one who placed (or commanded to be placed) the “Order of José Martí” on the lapels of the most terrible and undeserving men possible: Leonid llyich Brezhnev, Nicolae Ceausescu, Todor Zhivkov, Gustav Husak, Janos Kadar, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Robert Mugabe, Heng Samrin, Erich Honecker and others that I have forgotten. I would like to read, in light of these times, a “Reflection” that justifies the award of these inadmissible honors – to blow the horns of others – that so tarnished the name of the man we call our Apostle, José Martí.

It is true that the philosopher Ortega y Gasset can be connected to elitist and perhaps reactionary ideas, but at least, unlike those decorated by the prologue writer, he never launched tanks against his nonconforming neighbors, nor built palaces, nor imprisoned those whose opinions differed from his own, nor left his followers in the lurch, nor amassed fortunes from the misery of his people, nor built extermination camps, nor gave orders to shoot those who, to escape, jumped the fence from his own backyard.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s column in the daily newspaper Granma, is titled “Reflections of Fidel

Site manager’s note: Translating Cuba has chosen to reprint this article, from the early in the second year of Yoani’s blog, in connection with Generation Y’s tenth anniversary.

Men’s Matters

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 18 June 2008 (Reposted 10 April 2017) — In this Central Havana of guapos* – tough guys – and brawls where I was born, I learned there are certain lines a woman should never cross.  I have spent my life breaking the laughable rules of machismo, but today – and only today – I am going to take refuge in one of them, one of the ones I dislike the most.  It warns, “A woman needs a man to represent her and to go to bat for her when another man insults or slanders her.”

Feeling attacked by someone with a power infinitely superior to mine, more than twice my age, and in addition – as the neighbors of my childhood would have said – someone who is “macho-male-masculine,” I have decided it will be my husband, the journalist Reinaldo Escobar, who will respond. continue reading

I refer to the damaging remarks that Fidel Castro made about me in the prologue of the book, Fidel, Bolivia and Something More.  Not even such a “great” attack convinces me to abandon the premise of refusing to engage in a cycle of rejoinder and self defense.  I am sorry to say I remain focused on the theme called “Cuba.”

Let’s leave it up to Reinaldo and Fidel to do the fighting.  I will continue in my “womanly” labor of weaving together, despite the chatter, the frayed tapestry of our civil society.
The guapos from my neighborhood will know that I learned “something” from them!

* Please do not confuse a Cuban guapo with a handsome man or suitor. That might work in another Latin American country, but here in Cuba the word carries a different connotation, which someone might explain to you  with a slap, or perhaps a stabbing.

Translator’s note: The first sentence is hard to translate because there is a double meaning.  Guapo/guapa is both an adjective and a noun and in common use it means handsome/gorgeous.  In Cuban slang “guapo” also means a tough guy, someone who likes to fight.  It can be used as an insult or to dare someone, that is as the aggressive form of “Hey, man…”  The original footnote explains this meaning for non-Cuban Spanish readers who may not be familiar with it.

———-

Site manager’s note: Translating Cuba has chosen to reprint this article, from the early in the second year of Yoani’s blog, in connection with Generation Y’s tenth anniversary.

Cuban Opponents Who Bet On The Ballot Box

A woman looks at the biographies of the candidates before voting in the municipal elections of 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 April 2017 – In any part of the world, the first option a politician has to participate in power is usually through elections, but in Cuba this path seems the most Utopian.

However, on the eve of the start of the electoral process that will culminate with the formation of the ninth legislature of Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power and Raul Castro’s departure as president of the country, different opposition groups are taking the opportunity to submit themselves to the verdict of the ballot boxes. continue reading

The hope of competing before the electorate as an alternative found encouragement after the February 2015 announcement that there would be a new electoral law. The idea that the new legislation would necessarily be more flexible stimulated that part of Cuba’s opposition sector whose plans do not include “overthrow the dictatorship.”

Candidates for Change: “We have been monitoring the Accountability Assemblies of the district delegates where violations occur”

In October 2008 a small group of opponents from the town of Punta Brava grouped under the name of the Liberal Party of the Republic of Cuba launched the initiative to “accept the challenge of participating in the elections for district delegates.” The political scientist Julio Aleaga participated in this project as an adviser and, offering himself as an example, stood for office in the capital neighborhood of Vedado. On that occasion he obtained a single vote, his own.

Now Aleaga is leading the Candidates for Change project. In conversation with 14ymedio he explains that since 2014, as part of a maturation process, they have created an executive secretariat that organizes all work.

“We have been monitoring the Accountability Assemblies of the district delegates where violations occur, such as not respecting the requirements for a quorum, or declaring that the Assembly has been held when in fact it has not and, at a higher level, the reports on the number of Accountability Assemblies held in the country that do not correspond to reality.”

In addition to that work, he states that wherever there is a representative of Candidates for Change, they have presented the problems of the community in the Assemblies with proposals to help solve them.

This project also promotes the idea of ​​encouraging Afro-descendants to engage  inpolitical processes as decision-makers, to become active in politics and jointly promotes women’s participation in political life.

However the absence of the announced new Electoral Law has reduced the expectations of those hoping to see a rift in the single-party political life of Cuba. With regards to this, Aleago says, “Apparently the government ‘has dropped the ball’ and we have decided to work with the tools we have to build change instead of waiting for that change to take place in order to have better tools.”

Cuesta Morúa says that Otro 18 has “unwavering requirement that they not receive money for the process of putting themselves forwards”

Another initiative that focuses on the electoral issue is Otro18 (Another 2018). Their work is made up of three parts: one is the search for and preparation of candidates for the upcoming elections; another is the constitution of what have been called Citizen Observers of Electoral Processes (OPE); and, finally, the paving the way for the citizenry to receive the message of this platform.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, an experienced opponent from the social-democratic persepctive, explains that for the task of finding and preparing candidates they have a road map and attitude guide to establish like-minded approaches. “In this sense,” he emphasizes, “we focus on an unwavering requirement that they not receive money for the process of putting themselves forward.”

With regards to the observers, it is a network that watches over the process at every stage. “We demand as a requirement for being a Citizen Observer that the person not be a candidate and maintain absolute neutrality.”

As a founding member of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD), Cuesta has invited the organizations that meet as a part of that collection of organizations to include in each of their activities an “Otro18 agenda,” so that, regardless of the fact that each organization has its own platforms and programs, they also engage in this initiative. “In the coming months,” Cuesta says, “the entities involved in MUAD will begin to provide candidates, observers for the network and, of course, activists to mobilize the electorate.”

“We would love to have about 300 people occupying the seat of the public service, but reality tells us that this is a dream too far.”

On the subject of the promised new Electoral Law, Manuel Cuesta takes for granted that it will no longer be the one that governs the upcoming electoral process. “A clear signal is that they have created an application for mobile phones where the electoral process is explained through Law 72, which should have been repealed to make way for a more flexible one.”

Perhaps the most obvious question you can ask a politician who believes in electoral processes is what are their hopes of winning votes. Julio Aleaga affirms that they have now counted a hundred people ready to present themselves as candidates in all of Cuba, with potential candidates concentrated in Santiago de Cuba, Havana, Sancti Spíritus and Cienfuegos.

“We would love to have about 300 people occupying the seat of the public service, but reality tells us that this is a dream too far. We are betting on the electoral exercise, the breakdown of social neglect with respect to elections. The real result won’t be measured in the number of candidates chosen, but in raising public awareness that elections can be an engine for change,” he says.

Manuel Cuesta, for his part, takes a look at his agenda and explains: “As of the beginning of April, we have 83 people who have shown their willingness to stand as candidates, mainly distributed in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Río.”

Cuesta recognizes that it is difficult to speak of numbers in the question of predicting presumed victories, but one can venture how the proportions might turn out.

It is taken for granted that these elections will be neither free, nor plural, nor fair, but at least they will try to make them competitive

“The first step is to overcome the difficulty of the area assemblies, where the vote is by a show of hands. Of all those who can show up, be it 70 or 700, only 15% would have the opportunity to pass this test and get to the ballot. Then the Electoral Commissions of the municipality will prepare a biography* for each of them, with somber tones, as they did in the previous process with two candidates, whom they clearly defined as counterrevolutionary elements. At the polls, maybe 4% would be elected as a delegate, and with that we would be more than satisfied.”

For any of these projects, the main thing seems to be to open the game of competitive elections at the municipal level. It is taken for granted that these elections will be neither free, nor plural, nor fair, but at least they will try to make them competitive. In fact, so far the Government has refused to compete, even among themselves.

Among those who support overthrowing the regime, there are those who accuse these initiatives of “playing the game of dictatorship.” The truth is, those in command in Cuba do not show any enthusiasm for anyone to play any kind of game and they are repressing with great intensity all those involved in Candidates for Change, Otro18 and other projects along the same line.

Before the end of this year we will know if the effort undertaken made any sense.

*Translator’s note: Under Cuba’s current electoral law, candidates are forbidden to campaign. The only presentation of their candidacy is a one-page (or less) ‘biography’ with their photo and a statement about who they are — strongly focused on a list of the mass organizations they belong to — with no information about political opinions. This biography is not prepared by the candidate, but by the Electoral Commission. As noted in the article, two opposition candidates who made it to small-area local ballots in the last elections, were described in their biographies as “counterrevolutionary” with a brief detailing of the ‘bad’ things they have done, for example being “funded by foreign groups.” Neither won.

A Month Without Machado Ventura

A month after the public disappearance of Ramon Machado Ventura, no official media has offered an explanation for the absence of the second most powerful man on the Island.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2017 — Just a month ago his face disappeared from the Cuban government’s family photo. The last time he was seen, Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura handed out orders in an extensive agricultural area of ​​Pinar del Río. Four weeks later, no official media has offered an explanation for the absence of the second most powerful man on the island.

Now 86, this man born in Villa Clara’s San Antonio de las Vueltas, has stood behind Raul Castro for more than five years, in his position as the second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which the Constitution of the Republic consecrates as the “the highest leading force of society and the State.” continue reading

The man who was never absent from our television screens and newspaper pages for more than 48 hours has failed to appear since 27 February. An absence that feeds rumors among a people accustomed to giving more importance to a lack of news than to the news itself. But above all, it is a disappearance that comes at a bad time for the Plaza of the Revolution.

It is less than a year before Raúl Castro leaves his office as president and every day the uncertainty of who will relieve him in his post increases. Machado Ventura’s departure from the game would force the hurried naming of a second secretary of the PCC and put a face to one of the most jealously guarded mysteries of recent years.

The next few weeks could be of momentous importance for clearing up this question

The next few weeks could be of momentous importance for clearing up this question. If the first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, assumes the second position in the Party it will prolong the tradition of concentrating in a single person the highest positions in the country. To choose among other names, such as Bruno Rodríguez, Lázaro Expósito or Salvador Valdés Mesa, could open a bicephalic route, unprecedented in communist regimes.

For decades, all power was concentrated in Fidel Castro, who placed his brother in the rearguard of his countless positions. In 2006, already with serious health problems, the Maximum Leader had to step away from public life and Raúl Castro inherited that conglomerate of faculties that placed him at the head of the Party and the State.

Nevertheless, during the Raul era “second positions” have bifurcated. The first vice-president is no longer the same person as the second secretary of the PPC, among other reasons so that no one person could completely replace the General-President. A measure of protection, but also an evidence of the lack of confidence of the historical generation in its relief team.

In this new structure, Machado Ventura remained second in the Party. Machadito, as his friends call him, has cultivated a public image as the ayatollah and custodian of ideological purity. An orthodoxy that in the Cuban case does not cling to the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism but to the voluntarist* doctrine of Fidelismo.

Machado Ventura earned his reputation for immobility through prohibitions and punishments

Analysts blame this iron-fisted goalkeeper’s presence at the top of the pyramid on Fidel Castro’s express wish, placing him behind his brother to prevent the latter from veering from the path. This is how a man who once qualified in medicine became, according to Soviet terminology in the times of perestroika, the “braking mechanism” on the reforms Raul Castro might have pushed.

Machado Ventura earned his reputation for immobility through prohibitions and punishments. He was in charge of leading the provincial assemblies prior to the last Communist Party Congresses, confabs where the principle agreements were hatched, the delegates chosen and where the key points of the Party Guidelines that today are the “sacred commandments” of Raulismo were committed to.

However, that role seems to have come to its end. The man who ordered the dismissal of high-level cadres and for decades banned Christmas trees in public establishments has left the scene. Missing with him are his harangues calling for efficiency and his visits to workplaces where he advocated greater discipline and sacrifice.

It remains possible that Machadito – the guardian of orthodoxy – will reappear at any moment like the phoenix, and leap between the furrows to explain to farmers how to plant sweet potatoes or arrive to instruct the engineers of some industry how to make better use of their resources. The followers of the hard line would receive that return with relief.

Translator’s note: Voluntarism is the view that revolutionaries can change society by means of will, irrespective of economic conditions. Source: David Priestland, Stalinism and the Politics of Mobilization. (Or, in another and quite a bit older formulation…)