The Official Press and the Art of “Sweetening The Pill” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The art of “sweetening the pill” has been a characteristic of the official press for years (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – After contemplating several ideas of what to write about on this Day of the Press in Cuba, I decided to share with my readers an extract from an unpublished autobiography where I relate the vicissitudes of a journalist in the late eighties of the last century .

It is the best testimony I have on hand to illustrate the art of “sweetening the pill” that for years has characterized the official press and that causes so much damage to our profession. I hope you enjoy it and that it will help you better understand why I decided to assume the risks of being an independent journalist.

The complicated task of telling the truth

Before leaving for the factory, the journalist was warned by the editor-in-chief of the Government’s interest in having the magazine Cuba International write about the quality of the batteries that were produced on its assembly line.

When Antonio and Juan Carlos, the young photographer, announced their presence at the factory, the guard on the door made two calls. The first one to the Director and the second one to a colleague to warn him: “Hey, tell Cuco that the journalists are here, hurry up…” continue reading

A short time later an employee appeared and asked them to accompany him to the director’s office. Cuco also arrived, and in a trembling voice addressed Antonio:

“Journalist, I am the union’s representative: I want you to talk to us before you leave.”

“Of course,” said the reporter.

The administrator exchanged a hard look with the union leader and emphasized to the newcomers the gesture of “follow me.”

The office they entered had a model that reproduced the whole installation. In front of it the director waited for them, and introduced an engineer with a pointer in his hand, who explained the industrial process.

Juan Carlos took a couple of photos of the small scale model and others of the showcase with the types of batteries that the factory was able to produce. The engineer announced that they would visit two sections: the laboratory and the assembly line.

“We also want to go through the area of ​​chemical components and the warehouses,” Antonio said.

“We do not have authorization for that,” said the engineer.

When they arrived at the laboratory they saw a range of sophisticated instruments that could diagnose of the quality of the products and the conditions of the raw material.

At the request of Juan Carlos, two smiling girls stood in front of the devices as if they were handling them. Minutes later they went to the assembly line to organize “a cover photo.”

Juan Carlos chose an angle in which the nozzle of the plastic packing and the conveyor belt with the finished batteries could be captured. In the background, a forklift, frozen for the snapshot, filled a container.

“What do you think?” he asked the reporter.

Everything was perfect, clean and in order. The image offered an obvious sense of efficiency and modernity, but Antonio realized that there were only two batteries on the conveyor belt.

“Can we put some more there?” he asked the engineer.

“The number of finished pieces is an index of our productive rhythm,” said the specialist.

“And what would be the optimum?” inquired the reporter.

“Someday we’ll have between four and six examples on this same stretch,” he replied in response.

“Can we put five?”

“Yes,” said the engineer, “up to five.”

After the photo shoot, Antonio inquired about Cuco.

“He works in the area of ​​chemical components and we cannot go through there, but I’m going go look for him.”

The union leader arrived more calm than he had been earlier.

“Ten minutes to lunch,” he said. “Would you accept an invitation to join me in the dining room?” he asked, so we talked.

The first surprise was to see that the workers did not eat where the engineer had indicated with the pointer on the model, a place he described as “a large, bright and ventilated room with comfortable tables and chairs,” but rather in a closed area, originally intended to store the finished products.

Cuco began without beating around the bush.

“I don’t know if you know that this factory was started 11 years ago. One night a caravan arrived with a large crane and unloaded the machinery. They left it outside, because there wasn’t a single place with a roof.

“It sat out there for three years and the boxes were taken away by the neighbors. They started with the clocks, the light bulbs, the electrical cables, and nuts and screws. They didn’t leave a single ball bearing, because everything ended up in strollers, water pumps or old cars.

“One day the order came to finish everything in six months. Two hours before the opening, volunteers from the Communist Party Municipal Committee hid all the debris and planted a garden as fast as they could. Among them were several of the predators who had made off with the machines when it appeared they had been abandoned.

“The artist who painted the portrait of the martyr, whom the factory is named for, spent 14 hours without getting down from the scaffolding. That’s why the portrait looks cross-eyed and with a mustache tilting to the left. The hero’s mother was about to cause a scandal because of what her son looked like.

“In the haste, they didn’t build the workers’ bathrooms, they didn’t finish the dining room and they didn’t put the fans in the areas where chemicals are used. Nor did they complete the tank for processing toxic waste and now they dump it in a lagoon where before there were fish but now there aren’t even mosquitoes.”

Antonio listened to the story in silence.

“All that data you copied into your notebook is real, but I bet you anything that they never told you what was produced, just what the factory is capable of producing. You will only have heard of the possibilities, not of the results achieved.”

Antonio opened his notebook. Indeed, before each figure appeared formulas of the kind: “When the installation is in full operation it can reach …”, “We are designed to produce …”, “The line has a maximum capacity of …” but not a single word of what was being produced.

“And what is the reality?” I ask.

“What is being completed in a month is what the factory should produce in a week. We should make at least six models and we are only making two.”

“And the ones in the showcase?”  the reporter asked.

“Those came as a sample along with the machinery.”

Cuco continued.

“You want to help us? Then publish the truth. Your article could play a very important role in improving our working conditions,” said the trade unionist.

“Our magazine has been commissioned to produce a report to attract buyers from abroad,” justified the reporter. “I can only speak about the bright side.”

Cuco looked at his watch. He had no desire to ask Antonio if he knew a journalist who was paid to tell the truth, but intuited his lack of guilt in the matter and only managed to say goodbye with a phrase:

“Do not look for trouble for us, journalist, and I hope you can sleep easy.”

Antonio would have preferred to be insulted. He would have liked to say that he preferred to breathe poison in the area of ​​chemical elements rather than sweeten the reality that the union leader had tried to denounce.

But it was false. They paid him for “sweetening the pill” and they not only paid well, they demanded only three or four articles a month. He received food and cash allowances for transportation. His position also served to develop relationships in many places and to gain prestige among those who considered the magazine Cuba International an enviable place for a journalist to work.

I did not work in that publication to tell the truth, but to contribute to making it up.

Disappeared / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marino Murillo and Ramón Machado Ventura have been absent from official events for some time, in which their presence would normally be assured. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 March 2017 — The two personalities who represent the polar opposites of the so-called process of updating the Cuban model have disappeared. We have seen neither hide nor hair of the “captain” of economic reforms, Marino Murillo, since October of last year, and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, considered the braking mechanism for any measure that looks like a change, has not appeared in the official media since 27 February.

Murillo did not appear in the images that filled the media during the nine days of the funeral and mourning period of former President Fidel Castro. He was not seen in the last session of the parliament fulfilling his usual role of asking for accountability on the implementation of the Party’s Guidelines. He was not on the viewing platform saluting the troops who marched in the military parade of 2 January, nor at any other significant event of the ruling party during the current year.

On the other hand, rare is the day when the second secretary of the Communist Party, Machado Ventura, does not appear visiting a chicken farm, sausage factory or a sugar mill, moments that he uses to hammer home his slogans of discipline andcontrol, demands that put him in the headlines almost daily in the official press. He is the visible face that exhorts the peasants to produce food and the workers to comply with savings measures.

Absences attract attention as well as presences. What is not said can be as revealing as what is stated

However, the most significant sign that unveils the wide range of suspicions about the whereabouts of this hardliner has been that when Raul Castro returned from his brief trip to Venezuela, the so-often repeated scene of Machado Ventura receiving him at the bottom the airplane stairs was missing. Perhaps this is the first time that images of the general president’s return to the country were not released and that the press didn’t mention who welcomed him.

The last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held on 28 February, was the first of Raul Castro’s presidential term that was not broadcast live on television, nor were photos published in the Party newspaper Granma. Both Murillo and Machado Ventura should have been visible as members of the group of highest ranking decision makers in the country.

Instead, in the official information about the meeting there was a reference to Leonardo Andolla Valdea, deputy chief of the Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of the Party Guidelines. He was in charge of saying, on this occasion, what would have normally been said by Murillo, also known as the “czar of the economic reforms.”

It is not serious to spread rumors, much less to invent them. In journalism only the facts must be counted, showing evidence and citing sources. However, under the opaque veil of secrecy in which the most important political and economic events unfold in Cuba, absences attract attention as much as presences. What is not said can be as revealing as what is stated.

‘Little Old Communists’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

An old man poses next to a series of portraits of Cuban leaders. Left to right: Celia Sanchez, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro. Far right, Raul Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 February 2017 — Many of those who experienced the first moments of the Revolution when they were between the ages of 14 and 20, became literacy teachers, young rebels, militiamen, cederistas (supporters of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) and federadas ( ‘federated’, i.e. supporters and activists of the Revolution). They overachieved every challenge and climbing five peaks or walking 62 kilometers ended up being credentials of high social value.

It was common to see them with a pistol at their belts bragging about their exploits at the Bay of Pigs or cleaning up the Revolution’s opponents in the Escambray Mountains. It was the time of the Schools of Revolutionary Instruction, of a Marxism manual tucked under one arm and simplified atheism. In those prodigious years of the 1960s they embodied the true fervor of youth and, consequently, an ideological prejudice against the elderly took root. continue reading

A poet, then (and still) unknown, would write fiery verses under the provocative title of If the old woman in front took power where he described in the purest colloquial style the retrograde measures that would be dictated by this hypothetical lady, probably bourgeois and resentful, in a word: a gusana, a worm. In fact the term “old worm” already seemed a redundancy in the mouth of those tropical Red Guards… But time passed and many vultures flew over monument in the Plaza of the Revolution.

A new generation, with very different goals, today launches its prejudicial darts against anyone over 70

A new generation, with very different goals, today launches its prejudicial darts against anyone over 70. But they no longer use the expletive “old worm,” instead they choose its diametrical opposite: “little old communist.”

A diminutive, as any good linguist knows, can be loaded with tenderness or contempt. It is not the same to say “granny” as it is to say “little teacher.” And this epithet of “little old man,” or woman, wrapped in a false commiseration falls with its full weight of impairment on the line of retirees who get in line early in the morning to buy the newspaper Granma, or on any gray-haired person always ready to utter some admonition to the teenagers who saunter out of the high schools with their shirts untucked.

Old people in an old age center in the city of Cienfuegos. (EFE)

Destiny has these intrinsic twists. For a boy who spends most of his day thinking about how to leave the country, anyone who passed up a historic opportunity to leave this shipwrecked island must be an accomplice, if not the one personally responsibly for all his angst.

If there is a space for a smile after the macabre grimace of death, those “old worms” must be amusing themselves in the face of the painful spectacle offered by their former dentists, who no longer dread the future, but rather ruminate on a defeat they do not want to recognize.

Ileana Álvarez, Wings Always Ready To Fly / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Ileana Álvarez, writer, essayist and director of the magazine ‘Alas Tensas’, at the Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 February 2017 — When one looks at that territory of Cuban literature inhabited by women, it is usually observed from the concept of gender. Among those who study the phenomenon with more intensity, and also with more courage, Ileana Álvarez stands out. She is a poet, essayist, author of a dozen books and deserving of various national and foreign awards.

Recently she left her native province of Ciego de Avila to participate in the Havana Book Fair. In a pause during her tour of La Cabaña fortress, where the event is held, she spoke to 14ymedio and shared with our readers her universe of concerns. continue reading

Escobar. What did you think of the Book Fair?

Alvarez. This year I liked it better than the previous one, when there were few books and too much emphasis on the commercial. This one has had very good moments, like the presence of the book My life by Leonardo Padura, but also it has had moments, in my judgment, that are too ideologized. I do not think that the publishing system of a country should be organized according to an annual fair, but it is good that there is an event where we can meet writers from all over the country.

Escobar. What brought you to this Book Fair?

Alvarez. I came to present Sacred Companies. A four-handed essay prepared by my husband Francis Sánchez and myself. It aims to rescue figures of the national intelligentsia converted into permanent company. Like that image of the virgin that always accompanies us, like the talisman that we do not want to be separated from. It focuses on three canons of Cuban literature that were once marginalized, misunderstood: Lezama Lima, Virgilio Piñera and Dulce María Loynaz.

Escobar. How do you feel when you are labeled as a feminist writer?

Alvarez. The term feminist has been very vilified. Patriarchal thinking has helped to discredit it, ridicule it and see it as something of the past. But it must be salvaged by what it has contributed not only to social and civil struggles, but also to the cultural thinking of today’s society. When there was no universal suffrage, feminism was at the forefront of achieving women’s right to vote. By the way, Cuba was one of the first countries to achieve that right, much earlier than other European nations.

Now there are those who believe that all problems are solved because there are laws that protect women and guarantee, on the legal level, equality with men from the point of view of salary and other aspects. But even in the field of laws there is a long way to go and many stereotypes must be fought. A society cannot achieve the true meaning of democracy if real equality between men and women is not achieved.

A society cannot achieve the true meaning of democracy if real equality between men and women is not achieved

Escobar. In addition to being a woman and a feminist, your are a writer based in a province. How do you deal with the pitfalls?

Alvarez. You missed one word: mother. It is difficult to try to equate the status of artist and mother. If we add the “Havana-centrism,” everything becomes more complex. It is hard and difficult. Sometimes I feel tremendously discouraged. Fortunately, in the worst I am supported by an inner strength that is very valuable and that is the faith I have because I am a Catholic. That faith gives me the perseverance of believing that tomorrow can be better if every person contributes their grain of sand.

Escobar. Is the grain of sand you are referring to called “Alas Tensas” (Tense Wings)?

Alvarez. I hope so. Alas Tensas magazine has several goals, perhaps too ambitious given the conditions in which I live. From its pages we want to promote a broader paradigm of Cuban women, which is not reduced to that model of the sensual mulata. Cuban women are also those women living in the countryside who feed the household’s pigs and hens, the old woman who goes to church, the introverted intellectual who looks within. This kind of empowered woman, who prepares for the future, is also an indissoluble part of our identity, our Cuban identity. 

Escobar. As a student of letters, what is your diagnosis of the health of Cuban literature in the early 21st century?

Alvarez. It is too early to evaluate that. It takes some distance to analyze these phenomena. There is a very experimental type of poetry, iconoclastic and avant-garde which, even though from my limited personal aesthetics it doesn’t call to me, it is very interesting as a social phenomenon.

I believe that a literature is being made that in the future will have its true emergence. Today we have Leonardo Padura in narrative, or Rafael Rojas in the essay, and other Cuban literature that is written abroad that the critics will have to evaluate more widely. With regards to what is being produced in this century, it remains to be seen what will be considered as literature and what as Cuban, beyond identities banalized by colorism and false folkloricism.

The Student Who Did Not Want To ‘Ride With Fidel’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Excobar

David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the university during a test that did not evaluate his academic knowledge. (Alejandro Tur / Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 — David Mauri Cardoso, a 24-year-old from Cienfuegos, dreamt of being lawyer but could not successfully pass a test of dishonesty. In appearance it was a test of Spanish, but what was being evaluated was his capacity to fake it.

Along with 30 other young people, who had not been admitted to higher education through the standard entrance exams, David was part of an experiment where workers were enrolled in the first year of Law School at the Carlos Rafael Rodriguez University in Cienfuegos and then assessed on their knowledge of Math, History and Spanish.

The exams were conducted in January and David was one of twenty students who had made it to the end of the previous stage. He finished high school in 2011, and after several failed attempts to enter the university, this seemed to be his last chance. continue reading

His “incorrectness” is described in the Teaching Regulation of Higher Education, where it specifies “it is a very serious error to say or do anything against the Revolutionary Process.”

Everything seemed to be fine until the first week of February, when they summoned him to a Disciplinary Council. His “incorrectness” is described in the Teaching Regulation of Higher Education, where it specifies “it is a very serious error to say or do anything against the Revolutionary Process.” The punishment established for this behavior is expulsion from the higher education system in any program throughout the country. On Friday, 10 February, the resolution imposing this punishment was signed.

What, in fact, did David do?

The Spanish test consisted of writing an interpretation of a fragment of the lyrics from the song “Riding with Fidel,” which flooded the airwaves after the death of the former Cuban president at the end of November 2016.

David tells 14ymedio how he reacted when he read Question No. 5, which inquired about what he had felt when he honored the ashes of the historic leader of the Revolution. “I realized I was not in a position to fully respond, because that wasn’t the case for me. The question was based on an erroneous supposition, because I had not participated in the acts of homage to Fidel Castro, nor did I personally honor him in a spiritual way.”

Before the exam, he had prepared himself to identify a simile or a metaphor and felt capable of parsing a text to indicate subordinate or juxtaposed sentences and to call out with precision grammatical mistakes in any verb. But, he said, “To adjust to what they were asking me I responded with total honestly about what this person had meant to me. I was respectful because no one has the right to insult others. I gave my opinion in the framework of good manners.”

David recorded in his own handwriting the misery, the destruction of the foundations of society and the injustices. He dared to use the term “authoritarian” to define the established system in his country and at some point, without his pulse trembling, he wrote the word “dictatorship.”

“In short, I only offered my personal opinion, which is exactly what they asked of me,” he says with the simplicity of one who does not believe he has performed a historic act.

The person in charge of grading the exam must have felt very troubled in the face of such a demonstration of sincerity. David chose not to name names, his Christian ethics precludes it. Nor did he mention the identity of a Spanish-language methodologist at the provincial level who is, at the end of the day, the person who assumed the responsibility of lodging a complaint.

Here, the young student makes a legal argument. “This exam, more than a private text, was a confidential document. Something between the professor and the student that did not have to be sent on under any circumstance.”

In the sacred intimacy of the classroom, he offered his opinion, which was what was asked of him. Without his consent, his responses were “elevated” and analyzed under extra-academic rules

And therein lies the key, because David did not make statements to foreign television, nor did he publish an opinion piece in the independent press, nor did he go out into the street with a poster, all of which would have been his right.

In the sacred intimacy of the classroom, he offered his opinion, which was what was asked of him. Without his consent, his responses were “elevated” and analyzed under extra-academic rules.

Not a single one of David’s classmates was consulted on this sanction because according to the regulation that ordinarily requires a process that does just that, it only applies to “regular” students in the day course.

Now everything is “comments in the hallway” and no one will come to his defense.

David says he does not intend to appeal, although he explains: “I have not resigned formally because I still have time, but I lost interest because, when I think of appealing to the Minister of Higher Education, I wonder who this official answers to and it makes me feel like not even starting the process.”

To the question of what he intends to do with his life now, David jokingly replies: “What I was doing: inventing,” that is figuring out some way to get by, “like all young people do in Cuba.”

Young Cuban Journalists Look at Their Profession / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The official press knows that it can criticize an official, but not a government policy. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 February 2017 – Now underway is the second meeting of young journalists at the Jose Marti International Journalism Institute in Havana. The main objective of the event, organized by the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), is to discuss “journalism and citizen participation, and communication in the context of updating Cuba’s social-economic model.”

The news reports published in the official press, in addition to reviewing the 24 proposals from the previous meeting, held in December 2015, reiterate “the urgency of a change in the routines of production and a transformation of the management model.”

It is likely that the young participants of this experience will leave with the belief that national journalism is on the verge of change, and that they will have a role in its transformation. This would be the healthiest mistake of their professional career. continue reading

The vast majority of those in charge of deciding what can be published and what must be silenced know perfectly well how diffuse are the limits of their responsibility

Imbued with this useful error, they will return to their newsrooms convinced that the sacred verse of “changing everything that should be changed” will be applied to the mass media so that the press will finally fulfill its social role of keeping the population informed about what is really happening in the country.

The vast majority of those in charge of deciding what can be published and what must be silenced know perfectly well how diffuse are the limits of their responsibility. They know, for example, that they can berate the negligence of an administrator at a collection point where the bananas are rotting on a truck, but they can never criticize the evil effects of the excessive centralization of public administration.

When it comes time to choose, these leading cadres prefer to censor rather than declassify, because, as they know, no director of a newspaper or radio station ever been dismissed for silencing a criticism or hiding complaints in a drawer.

When these impetuous kids return to their media with a new shot of adrenaline, their more experienced colleagues will take the time to explain to them that since the 3rd UPEC Congress, held more than 40 years ago, it seemed that everything would change if they fulfilled the theme of that event: “For a critical, militant and creative journalism.”

Since then, there as been a lot of talk from the podiums about the culture of secrecy and the essential need to undertake rigorous analysis of the problems that afflict the population.

A brief inventory of recent information lacunae could justify a certain pessimism about the future of Cuba’s official journalism. The most notorious example is that no one has reported on the cause of death of ex-president Fidel, despite the fact that his passing is the news that has occupied the most space in the media since the end of last year.

No journalist has tried to explain in the official media why Marino Murilla, in the last session of parliament, did not not offer his traditional progress report with regards to the implementation of the Party guidelines, nor what has been the fate of the new electoral law that Raul Castro announced in February 2015 would be forthcoming, but about which nothing more has been heard.

Silence reigns over such important topics as the date when the country’s dual currency system will end, or when the United Nation’s human rights covenants will be ratified, or the depth of the dredging in Mariel Bay

Silence reigns over such important topics as the date when the country’s dual currency system will end, or when the United Nations human rights covenants will be ratified, or the depth of the dredging in Mariel Bay, just to mention a few topical issues.

If we go back a decade, it comes to mind that there have been no explanations about how the super-entity called the Battle of Ideas ended, which was led by Mr. Otto Rivero, of whom nothing more has ever been said. Nor is there any official report on the ouster of Carlos Venciaga, a member of the Council of State, nor about that of the army of social workers who had become omnipresent, but which are now nowhere to be seen.

Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke with reporters Monday afternoon and emphasized “the need to perfect” the work of the media. In passing, he called attention to ways to confront “the platforms of ideological political subversion,” which target young people. Curiously, among these platforms appear all of Cuba’s independent journalism, which finds among its principal niches all the information that is never talked about in the official press.

Juvenile, Always Juvenile / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Josefina Vidal last October when the Government provided free Wi-Fi at the University of Havana for young people to show their opposition to the “blockade”. (@JosefinaVidalF)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2016 — An old Soviet joke from the time of Leonid Brezhnev relates his attempts to enthuse young people to celebrate the six decades of the October Revolution in the autumn of 1977. The septuagenarian leader entrusted to his friend, Aleksei Kosygin – who had a reputation of being a liberal – to take charge of organizing the celebrations with a renewed touch to attract to the new generation.

Later, when reading the reports denoting the absolute indifference of the young Muscovites for the commemoration, the secretary general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union called his man of confidence to explain to him on the causes of the failure. “I can’t explain what happened, but I put the ‘girls from the 17th’ in front,” said Kosygin, annoyed, referring to the enthusiastic Komsomols who, 60 years previously, had chanted slogans and sang revolutionary hymns. continue reading

The humorous anecdote is once again relevant in Cuba. The first secretary of the Young Communists Union (UJC), Susely Morfa, has called for the celebration of the 55th anniversary of the organization she leads and the “further strengthening, mobilizing and including of our new generations.” To connect with this sector of society she proposes “a fresh, revitalized, approach that responds to their interests and will leave an impression on them.”

The first point on the agenda of the UJC, to meet her objective, will happen on Friday night, with “the traditional March of the Torches” that will recall the 164th anniversary of the birth of José Martí. In February the “historic routes will begin and in March we will begin a tour of the Moncada and Buena Fe groups.”

It seems that the novel plan to attract the young has been designed by “the girls of ’59,” those who climbed the trucks to kiss the bearded men coming down from the Sierra Maestra nearly 60 years ago.

The silliness of the plan continues with the Necessary Connections spaces for exchanges in the mass organizations where, according to Morfa, they will attempt to “reach every participant with a copy of the concept of Revolution from our Commander in Chief.”

The “casual wave” of the UJC will continue in April with “an anti-imperialist encampment in Santa Clara.” Probably in May there will be a parade for Labor Day. It is expected that similar events will occur during the next eight months.

The summer will be full of anniversaries, such as the birth of Antonio Maceo and Ernesto Guevara, the assault on the Moncada barracks or, in August, Fidel Castro’s first birthday after his death. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution will also play a leading role in September.

The disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos will be remembered the following month, and then, in November, will be the first anniversary of the death of Fidel Castro. There will still be time, near Christmas, to celebrate the 1959 of the coming of the Revolution.

Yomil and El Dany, the most popular reggaetoneros of the Island, are not included in the novel proselytizing project. Nor has the organization of young communists ever thought of setting up a wall for spontaneous graffiti, or even implementing a Wi-Fi zone with free internet access to flood social networks with teenage energy.

It seems that the novel plan to attract the young has been designed by “the girls of ‘59,” those who climbed on the trucks to kiss the bearded men coming down from the Sierra Maestra nearly 60 years ago.

Obama Left, Trump Arrived, the Repression Continues / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The political police detained more than 60 members of the Ladies in White Movement in Havana, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Ciego de Avila. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 23 January 2017 — Within 48 hours of Donald Trump being declared President of the United States, the political police maintained their repression against opponents unchanged. The hard hand of State Security begins to contradict the claim that “Barack Obama’s concessions” to the Plaza of the Revolution fueled the repressive character of Raúl Castro’s government.

According to partial reports issued on Sunday, the political police detained more than 60 members of the Ladies in White Movement in Havana, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Ciego de Ávila. Berta Soler and her husband, the former Black Spring prisoner Angel Moya, were arrested along with 23 women as they prepared to leave the organization’s headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana. continue reading

The repressors did not shake their hands in the face of the scenario of a new tenant in the White House. They were not even frightened by the warning issued by the mogul weeks before in his Twitter account, when he clarified that “if Cuba is not willing to offer a better agreement for Cubans, Cuban Americans and the American people in general,” he would liquidate the diplomatic normalization.

With the thaw or without the thaw, the repressive nature of the Cuban system remains unchanged

Despite the hopes of some and the threats of others, the repression continues and on this Sunday morning more than 30 Ladies in White in Matanzas were prevented from attending Mass. Some were taken to police stations, while others were driven to the outskirts of the city and put out of the cars to find their own way home, and other were driven home. Two arrests were reported in the city of Santa Clara and another in Ciego de Ávila.

If there really is any relationship between what the new president says and does and how the Cuban government decides to treat its opponents, the next few weeks will have to prove it.

With the thaw or without the thaw, the repressive nature of the Cuban system remains unchanged. Obama does not seem to be responsible for the twist in the oppression experienced in the past two years, as perhaps Trump also fails to alleviate the rigors of a regime that could not exist where liberties flourish.


When A Hope Is Lost / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A dozen Cuban rafters arriving off the coast of Florida on April 26 of this year. (Youtube / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, 13 January 2017 — The end of the wet foot/dry foot policy entails among its many consequences the loss of hope for a great number of Cubans. Few times in our national history has a decision taken outside the borders of the island touched the lives of so many Cuban citizens in a medullary and definitive way.

Among those affected are migrants already on their way to the United States, as well as those who have sold their property and possessions to pay for the expenses of the journey, those who were waiting for an opportunity to desert from an official mission abroad, or simply those who dreamed of escape from the island. In total, tens of thousands of people. continue reading

However, there is a much larger number. Incalculable. The one made up of all those who saw in the possibility of emigration a motivation to behave with docility in the face of difficulties. They were the ones who trusted that, at the moment when they could not longer bear the hard daily life of the island, they had a way out: a raft, the jungles of Central America, the Mexican border, the Bering Strait…

The only hope is that we recover the courage to face our reality and assume the consequences

Like the last drops of water in the canteen while crossing the desert, the lifejackets the stewardess holds up for emergencies, or the last gulp of oxygen with which the diver must try to reach the surface, the wet foot/dry foot policy represented hope for many on the island. The illusion that if they reached their limit there would always be a lifeline to cling to.

“If it gets ugly, I’ll up and leave,” was a recurring thought shared among young and old, poor or new rich, dissidents or government officials. It relieved them to know that, from the closed box which Cuba has become, they had a way out. Perhaps they would never use it, but it was a balm to know it was there.

From now on there are no lifejackets under the seat, no water in the canteen to cross the desert, and there is no oxygen left to return to the surface. The only hope is that we recover the courage to face our reality and assume the consequences.

Brief and Imprecise Sketch of a Supporter / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The assembled should not have been all those excluded by the official discourse. Placard: “I am Cuba, Fidel, Revolution” (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 January 2017 — The images from the January 2nd parade and the march of the “combative people” provoked questions in many: Who are these Cubans who went to the Plaza of the Revolution? What characteristics define those who awoke at dawn, shouted slogans in front of the podium or marched diligently carrying a pro-government placard?

The official press defines them with positive adjectives – grateful, loyal, combative – and includes them in slogan of the day, which each of them repeated on Monday: “I am Fidel.” But it is also possible to draw the contours of their nature from what they are not, or at least what they should not be… continue reading

It is clear that in the wide esplanade, in the shadow of the Ministry of the Interior, missing were those who maintain political differences with the Government or those who did not have the desire to fake overwhelming revolutionary enthusiasm. Those who still had an end-of-year hangover and could not drag themselves out of bed so early are also on this list.

If we take at face value officialdom’s description of the faithful gathered there, nor should we concur that they include that “anti-social scourge who neither study nor work”

However, if we take at face value officialdom’s description of the faithful gathered there, nor should we concur that they included that “anti-social scourge who neither study nor work,” a group whose principle ideology is survival and who label “on the left” (as in “under the table”) everything that is done outside the law to survive the rigors of daily life.

It is assumed that those in the Plaza included none of the many who traffic in tractor and bus fuel, “diverted” from those uses. Nor even the negotiators in gas and oil “extracted” from electricity generation equipment, freight transport and state-owned vehicles, who resell the product to the drivers of private vehicles.

In that mass of inflamed people one assumes there were no faces of those who sell food or personal hygiene products “diverted” from kindergartens, hospitals, schools, workers’ cafeterias and even prisons and military units. Because “these kinds of people” had no place in a march called for the unimpeachable.

Under that logic, among the combative construction workers none of those who marched feed the black market with cement, sand, bricks, bathroom fixtures, cables, electrical outlets and all the other things extracted from state-owned works. Not to mention those who commit the crime of buying “diverted” resources to repair their homes.

Among the seniors, who represented those who worked on the literacy campaign, former militiamen or internationalist fighters, none should have been the elderly who buy newspapers from the state kiosks at 20 centavos and resell them for one peso. Nor would there have been any retirees who, at the doors of the markets, offer at retail prices cigarettes, plastic bags, coffee and spaghetti, taken from what they receive on the ration book, to round out their pensions.

Among the thousands of children and teenagers who waved flags, carried banners and chanted slogans there was no space for those who sell their bodies to tourists or who dream of leaving the country

The list of those who – under no circumstances – should have been part of the rally organized by the government on Monday could be extended ad infinitum. In those tight ranks there was no room for the unproductive, for negligent service workers, for those who manipulate weights in the markets, or for the administrators who fix the numbers before the auditors show up.

Among the thousands of children and teenagers who waved flags, carried banners and chanted slogans there was no space for those who sell their bodies to tourists or who dream of leaving the country, whether by crossing the Straits of Florida or crossing the jungles of Central America, not to mention through a loveless marriage to a foreigner.

Nor expected to show up would be those who buy the test for admission to higher education or falsify a medical certificate to escape military service.

And also missing should be those who star in that phenomenon the official media calls a “crisis of values” and exemplify it with the use of “symbols alien to our culture,” like celebrating Halloween, preferring soccer over baseball or wearing a T-shirt with the American flag on it.

If none of these types excluded from the official discourse, stigmatized by propaganda and condemned by the system, marched this Monday… who, then, filled the Plaza?

Raul Castro’s Hourglass is Running Out / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban General-President Raul Castro accompanied by Miguel Díaz Canel, vice-president, on the first of May. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 December 2016 — A popular joke inquires about the color of a train that arrives late at the station. The answer is a play on words: de morado.* Raul Castro has dressed in just that tone in relation to his obligations for the end of the year. The delay in keeping certain commitments threatens the image of punctuality and pragmatism that the General President has wanted to present.

The plenary session of the Communist Party Central Committee planned for this December still doesn’t have a date. The partisan meeting should approve the expected Conceptualization of the Economic and Social Model, as well as the 2030 Economic Development Plan, but there are only five days remaining for it to fulfill its promise. continue reading

A telephone call to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) clarifies few doubts. The secretary for Olga Lidia Tapia Iglesias, a member of the Secretariat responsible for the Department of Education, Science and Sport, confirmed to 14ymedio that “they have not set a date” for the pending meeting.

Both documents were debated by the PCC membership and the Young Communist Union (UJC), as well as the leadership of the mass organizations and trade unions. The official press emphasized that currently there is massive agreement with the texts as presented, although it reported several proposals to modify or add to them.

Point 104 of the Conceptualization document raised a stir; the point reaffirms an idea raised in the PC Guidelines. The cold water for local entrepreneurs focuses on the statement that “concentration of property and wealth in natural or non-state legal persons is not permitted.” A proposal that must be accepted or rejected this December.

If the plenary session is not held, the seriousness that Raul Castro has wanted to imprint on his official acts would suffer a serious blow. He would also be obliged to publically justify the informality. Hurricane Matthew, the surprising election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the death of Fidel Castro could be among the official excuses.

The number of days remaining in December is the same as the number of fingers on one hand. At least two of them will be used for the upcoming session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Given the traditional confusion of roles between the Government, the Parliament and the Party, perhaps in the sessions with the deputies the date of the party conclave will be reported.

But if it does not happen before the end of the year, Raul Castro will need to show a very convincing explanation.

*Translator’s note: “Morado” means purple, and “de morado” means delayed.

What the Newspaper ‘Granma’ Can Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

As of this Thursday, the official newspaper ‘Granma’ will have a new design with changes limited only to the visual. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 December 2016 — The newspaper Granma announced that as of tomorrow, in Thursday’s edition, it will debut a new design. For the peace of mind of the most orthodox, the note concludes by warning that “the official organ of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party is being renewed, but it will remain the same.”

The modifications refer to the alignment of the headlines, more readable typography, better composition of the front pages and greater prominence of photographs. According to the paper itself, its new design “is more compact, more modern, more contemporary, and cleaner.” continue reading

What is striking is that the intention “to look like current times” will be limited to the visual aspect. Apparently, the paper will not stop practicing secrecy, political debate will remain absent, and criticisms will never be directed towards the highest levels of power. No one will question the legitimacy of the rulers or the viability of the system.

The change of image will coincide with the date when, 55 years ago, the end of illiteracy in Cuba was proclaimed, but the directors do not seem to understand that what its readers require from this press organ is precisely a change of philosophy, of its essence, in order to leave behind “the conceptions of the founding era.”

Only a profound political illiteracy can come to the conclusion that a newspaper at the beginning of the 21st century should continue to be dogmatically governed by such narrow ideological guidelines.

Granma will continue to choose “positive” verbs, adjectives and adverbs for its national news and will select “negative” ones for the titles that refer to the rest of the world (excluding its allies). We will have to continue reading that in Cuba the harvests are growing, the goals are being exceeded, the programs are advancing without delays, meanwhile foreign economies are collapsing, unemployment only grows, and the richest intend to despoil the planet.

“The purpose of this redesign is to compete with ourselves and win,” confesses Granma in an act of utmost honesty. When an athlete runs alone on a track she always takes the trophies. It would be another kettle of fish if at the newsstands the readers could choose among several publications, if in citizens’ homes there were access to the internet and any digital news source that circulates in the world, without restrictions or censorship.

However, the notice that something changes is always welcome.

The Material Basis Of Joy / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Traditional celebrations called ‘parrandas’ that are normally held in December in Remedios, have been postponed this year until January 6-7. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 December 2016 — In the Marxist catechism it is established that the material is first, over the spiritual. From this conceptual Big Bang, is structured a doctrine in which all categories are concatenated more or less harmoniously; social property over the means of production, the fundamental law of socialist distribution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

From this key starting point it is explained that matrimonial fidelity is due to the appearance of private property, and that the ambition for riches will only be overcome in the human condition when material goods flow like a river due to the increased productivity that comes as a fruit of dominion over nature. continue reading

For the faithful followers of this form of thinking, joy in human beings is nothing more than the result of drinking alcoholic beverages in an environment where there is music and jokes, social contacts, smiles, cheers and laughter. That is, people do not drink, sing and laugh because they are happy, but the other way around.

At the end of December, Cubans usually indulge their desire to celebrate. Christmas and New Year’s come together to promote gift giving, Christmas Eve feasts, improvised choirs of nostalgic carols, resolutions for the future, furtive kisses at midnight, buckets of water thrown into the street to wash away the year’s evils, and taking a walk with a suitcase as an expression of the desire to take a magical trip to another part of the world.

With this cornucopia, joy prevails and bottles are uncorked, while others eat or dance and someone opens the door to receive the latest guest who didn’t want to miss the feast in which the discomfort of daily life is temporarily relegated to the background.

However, in these days that are left of the month of December, on the pretense of a tragic reason, from certain more or less official bodies, “the order has come down” to moderate the joy, postpone the parrandas, ban celebrations at workplaces and schools. Rumors are rife that alcohol will disappear as of the 20th, there will be no fireworks, and no loud music, not even within one’s own home.

Marxists are like that. They are intimately convinced that by eliminating or undermining “the material basis of joy” they can prevent joy from rising in hearts, crush feelings of gratitude for life itself, and smother the sparks of hope that light the way. At the end of the day, they maintain, the material is above the spiritual.

New Anthology of ‘Fidelism’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

On the cover of each volume are portraits that show the physical and psychological transformation of the man. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 December 2016 – The first impression one gets of the book “One Objective, One Thought” is that throughout its three volumes the reader can assess the political evolution of Fidel Castro, author of the quotes contained in the tome. The initial assessment is owed to the portraits appearing on the covers of each volume, which show the physical and psychological transformation of the man.

The first cover shows the leader with a black beard, olive green beret and defiant gaze. It is the image of the guerrilla in power during the ‘60s and ‘70s. On the second volume he is seen in the dress uniform of the Commander in Chief, notably graying and with the look of someone who has an answer for everything, as he presented himself in the ‘80s and ‘90s. continue reading

The image on the third cover reflects a moment in Castro’s life in this millennium. The former president is on the brink of old age, with a certain halo of wise experience, but maintaining his willful authority. It is a snapshot from before 31 July 20016, when he announced his retirement from public life due to the serious state of his health.

However, beyond the impression of transformation offered by these three images, the book presented this Saturday at the Palace of the Captain Generals in Havana, is simply a compilation of the ex-president’s ideas organized chronologically around 50 topics. A bundle of carefully chosen quotations to show more the continuity of his thought than its evolution.

The edition was conceived to honor the leader’s 90th birthday, celebrated this last August, but its launch has taken place a few days after his ashes were placed in a vault in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. The work thought of as a summary of a life has become, in reality, a condensed post mortem of Fidel’s legacy.

The work, priced at 30 Cuban pesos (less than $1.50 US), has as an antecedent the “Dictionary of the Thinking of Fidel Castro,” prepared by Salomon Susi Sarfati for Politica Publishers in 2008. Another compilation of high value is “Thus Spake Fidel Castro,” from Roberto Bonachea Entrialgo, issued by the Spanish publisher Ediciones Idea, also in 2008.

The text was presented by Eugenio Suarez, director of the Office of Historical Affairs of the Council of State, along with the main editor of the volume, Rosa Alfonso Mestre, as a guide for action and ideas for future generations. The presentation took place in front of 50 participants, among them, notably, the faces of officials, admirers of the deceased leader and members of the Communist Party.

The editors state that “for this compilation 4,000 bibliographic sources were consulted, covering a period from October 1953 to April 2011 (…) from which around 8,000 quotes were selected.” Speeches, interviews, Fidel’s newspaper column “Reflections,” have been the principal sources.

But the reader finds a highly filtered text, which avoids quoting Castro’s mistakes, rants and more intolerant positions. For example, under the theme of terrorism, a speech he gave for the 15th anniversary of the creation of the Ministry of the Interior is omitted.

The book was presented at the Palace of the Captain Generals in Havana. (14ymedio)

On that day in 1976, at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, the leader admitted: “If we dedicated ourselves to terrorism, it is certain we would be effective. But the fact is that the Cuban Revolution has never used terrorism. That does not mean we renounce it, let us warn you!”

In addressing drug trafficking, the anthology does not mention a single word from Cause No. 1 of June 1989, when high officials from the armed forces were tried and condemned to death for their supposed implication in this crime.

On the subject of self-employment and private enterprise, the editors avoided the speeches given during the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, where Castro emphasized, “We propose to eliminate all manifestations of private commerce, in a clear and decisive manner.” Three decades later, he had to once again authorize the non-state sector, to ease the profound economic crisis caused by the fall of the Soviet Union.

In the chapter dedicated to racial and gender discrimination, you cannot find a single one of the multiple occasions on which he expressed his well-known homophobia. Conspicuous by its absence are the remarks Castro delivered in March of 1963: “Many of these bums, children of the bourgeoisie, walking around with their too-tight pants; some of them with a little guitar and an ‘Elvis-Presley’ attitude have taken their debauchery to the extremes of wanting to go to some public gathering places and organize their faggot-y shows for free.”

Despite the extreme partisanship in the selection of the texts included in these three volumes, the workflow the editors faced is clear. Filtering hundreds of speeches, interminable public presentations and long hours of soliloquy must have been a marathon and exhausting task. But the most arduous work is that of the reader, peering into these pages of such a chaotic, contradictory and disproportionate legacy, like the man who created it.

‘Santa And Andrés’ Under Revolutionary Vigilance / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Frame from the film by Carlos Lechuga 'Santa and Andrés. (Facebook)
Frame from the film by Carlos Lechuga ‘Santa and Andrés. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 December 2016 — In the 38th edition of Havana’s Festival of New Latin America Cinema, shining by its absence is the Cuban film Santa y Andrés, by the filmmaker Carlos Lechuga. Those responsible for its censorship certainly didn’t cross it off the list without first consulting non-artistic entities such as the organs of State Security and other custodians of the official dogma.

The controversy over the exclusion of the film has been unleashed on social networks and in several digital spaces. Arguing against Lechuga’s feature film are the voices tied to the “establishment,” who claim that it distorts history and that the many errors committed in the cultural field have been rectified. The defenders, for their part, laud the artistic values of the film and assert that it cannot be considered counterrevolutionary. continue reading

The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) behaves like an entity privately owned by the only political party permitted in the country, and applies the resulting right of admission, an attitude contradictory and unacceptable for an institution that is publicly created as a representative the interests of the whole nation.

Many filmmakers act as if they believe that the ICAIC does not represent the interests of power. This apparent naiveté gives them a right to feel offended and surprised by the censorship imposed by the entity, like the teenager who comes home late with the illusion of not being scolded by her parents, who remind her of their right to search her belongings and to prohibit her next outing.

As long as artists continue to respect and revere institutions without directly questioning them, they will have to bow their heads and obey, or ultimately they will have to leave the country.

Santa and Andrés was conceived and created independently as if censorship did not exist, as if the stern father had softened and tempered over the years. One way of putting strength to the test and pushing the wall of prohibitions.

Regardless of its indisputable artistic values, Carlos Lechuga’s film will be remembered as another occasion when the repressors of thought were forced to take off their masks of good-naturedness. Cultural authorities have again demonstrated the hardened face of an intolerant patriarch showing his children who really holds the key to the house.