Exclusion as a policy / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

The Cuban flag serves as a symbol of the nation (14ymedio)
The Cuban flag serves as a symbol of the nation (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Dámaso, Havana, May 17 2015 – The Cuban government, since it seized power on January 1959, has maintained an authoritarian and exclusive approach to politics. Patriots, Cubans and citizens are considerations that have only been extended to those who unconditionally support the establishment. Those who do not or who simply criticize it are deemed unpatriotic, traitors, and anti-socials.

This system is primitive in its simplicity, but it has been useful. This absurd and unnatural positioning has been applied to everything: democracy, liberty, human rights, unity, opposition and many other terms have been redefined according to the ideological and political interests of those who govern, giving the impression that the Island exists in an unreal political and geographical space, outside of planet Earth. continue reading

Difference has never been accepted; instead it has been repressed: a sad example is that of the so-called Military Units to Aid Protection or UMAPs (Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción), those camps where thousands of citizens were forced into labor because of their religion, sexual preferences, fashion choices, or rejection of the authorities.

Only a few years ago, more for circumstantial political convenience than humanitarianism, different religious and sexual preferences were officially accepted, although in day-to-day practice, they continue to be regarded with reticence by a large part of the authorities. However, never have ideological and political differences been accepted, according to authorities, “due to the need to maintain national unity in the face of the enemy’s aggressions.”

Lately, in line with the atmosphere of dialogue between the governments of Cuba and the United States, although neither the aggressive language nor the violence have stopped, some topics regarded as taboo for many years have been put on the table. That of civil society, which had been banished from official discourse, as well as that of democracy and human rights are now very much present. Of course, it could not be any other way, “our civil society” is now spoken of, and for some time now “our democracy” and “the human rights which we defend” are pronounced. They seem to be the government’s private property, which, ironically, it has always frowned upon. Once again, exclusion reveals itself.

To attempt, as is the case today, to internationally legitimize governmental organizations as the only members of Cuban civil society is aberrant

There is only one civil society and it belongs to the country, it includes as many organizations and associations that support the government as it does those that question it, reject it or simply are not interested in politics and are dedicated to issues of ecology, religion, art, and others. To attempt, as is the case today, to internationally legitimize governmental organizations as the only members of Cuban civil society is aberrant.

The issue is not founded upon rejecting current organizations because they support the government, but because they are bodies of the same, which organizes, directs, controls, and finances them. Nobody accepts that they, with what their members may be able to contribute, can sustain themselves economically, maintain their bulky bureaucratic apparatuses, premises, transportation, defray intense propaganda campaigns and travel costs, organize and hold meetings, workshops, and even congresses, with the participation of dozens of foreign invitees, for whom all travel expenses are paid.

The Cuban nation is also only one, despite the authorities’ claims of owning it, taking into consideration only their supporters and excluding everyone else.

What’s even worse is that this governmental malpractice, perhaps due to having lived under its influence for too many years, has been adopted by some members of the opposition who not only apply it to the authorities but also to those who, within their own ranks, do not share their political opinions, not taking into consideration the serious injuries that doing so inflicts on themselves and, more importantly, on the opposition and, as a result, on Cuba. Today, we must do whatever it takes; leave personal differences aside and search for unity in order to save the country. There needs to be a real and responsible unity of all Cubans, regardless of how they think and without exclusion, for the good of the nation.

This month, we Cubans remember two important dates: May 19, the 120th anniversary of José Martí’s fall in combat, and May 20, which marks 113 years since the foundation of the Republic. In all of Cuba’s history, no one has been more inclusive than the Apostle, as José Martí is called among us. His thought, “the homeland is the fortune of all, and the pain of all, and skies for all, but no one’s fief or chaplaincy” and his dream of “a nation with all and for the good of all” still constitute matters unresolved. Let us dedicate our best efforts to their attainment.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Rosa María Payá announces the creation of the initiative “Cuba Decides” / 14ymedio

The site of Youth Movements Forum, held Monday in Panama. (14ymedio)
The site of Youth Movements Forum, held Monday in Panama. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 6 2015 – Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late Cuban activist Oswaldo Payá, has announced this Monday the creation of the citizen initiative Cuba Decide, or “Cuba Decides.” The goal of the project, presented during the Forum of Youth Movements in Panama, is for Cubans to pronounce themselves through a plebiscite regarding the changes they would like to implement on the Island.

“We are conscious that only Cubans should define and decide on the changes that our society needs,” states the group’s website. “In order for citizens to be able to design, decide and construct their future, their rights should be guaranteed by the law and an atmosphere of trust and respect for all should also be achieved. That is what we proclaim and we work for a plebiscite that will consult the people in that matter. There will be no transition to democracy in Cuba if Cubans are excluded once again.” continue reading

The initiative advocates for the calling of “free, just, and plural” elections in an atmosphere in which the freedoms of expression, press, and assembly into political parties and plural social organizations are respected.

“No one should question that the changes desired by the Cuban people are those of freedom, reconciliation and full and guaranteed rights. Opposition within Cuba and abroad works and battles peacefully to achieve these goals. However, our greatest deficiency is that we have no voice, nor the democratic tools needed to express ourselves while the government and some others around the world pretend to speak on behalf of our people,” reads Cuba Decide’s website.

The project presented by Rosa María Payá accuses the Cuban government of being responsible for repression and violence against those with alternative opinions and initiatives and blames the absence of an environment that respects the law and self-determination for the “social and economic failures, as well as the constant and massive exodus of citizens” from the Island.

The proposal seeks to give continuity to the Varela Project, promoted in 1998 by Oswaldo Payá with the aim of enlarging individual liberties in Cuba. Payá achieved the collection of the more than 10,000 signatures required by the Cuban Constitution for the proposal of legislative amendments. The National Assemble, however, rejected the proposal as inconsistent with the law.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

An Academy for Civil Society / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Graduation, Fundacion Sucesores
Graduation, Fundacion Sucesores

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Víctor Ariel González, Mantilla (Havana), March 12 2015 – Fifteen minutes until class begins and the students that have been arriving converse under the shade of a tree. Once a week, Carlos Millares’ humble patio hosts a very peculiar meeting. It’s the headquarters of the Fundacion Sucesores, or the “Successors Foundation,” an academy created to train members of civil society in the use of tools for leadership.

Professor Millares directs the program, but the idea – which gave way to a pilot course in 2013 and since then has been repeated three times – came from a young man called Frank Abel García, the coordinator of the academy, who waits for students and guides them continue reading

hrough the steep streets of Mantilla, a neighborhood situated in the south of Havana.

Once seated in the classroom, both relate how they came up with the idea of starting this school. “I worked for Hablemos Press (“We Speak Press” – an independent press group) and interviewed opposition figures like Carlos, for example,” says Frank Abel García, who is also an executive member in the Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud Cubana (Cuban Youth Roundtable), a project aimed at strengthening youth dialogue and leadership to propel Cuba’s democratization. “When I got here, I took the time to voice my concern about civil society and he made me realize that what I really wanted was to teach a course on leadership.”

“In that moment I only expected to take a group of young people and offer them the possibility of learning about topics like democracy from some of civil society’s personalities,” adds Frank Abel. “We began a pilot course with five students. Then we prepared the first course itself, which welcomed ten participants. From there, eight graduated.” In total, the academy already has around thirty graduates.

For his part, Carlos Millares knew many independent leaders who might be interested in such a project. “Indeed, that’s how it was,” recalls this veteran of the opposition, also director of a center on civil society studies. Political analyst and opinion columnist, Millares recounts that he studied Sociology at the university when, in 1974, he was expelled for “talking about what he wasn’t supposed to talk about.” Those times were too dark for an opinion of even slight skepticism. His courses on leadership are the academy’s main dish.

The necessary “succession of the past generation of the opposition by new young people” came to light when looking for a name that would make the idea concrete. That was how the Fundacion Sucesores was created. “The objective is to prepare young people with the characteristics needed to lead civil society,” Frank Abel García points out, “to prepare people to be able to continue and improve the work of their organizations.”

Would you accept people from the Union of Young Communists (UJC) in the bizarre case that someone might be interested?

“Yes. The academy does not make a distinction based on political inclinations.”

 Professor Millares describes the program as “an element of cohesion” for diverse groups whose members take part in its conferences. “An interrelation is created between students, who at the same time exchange with prestigious leaders.” Here we don’t mind where the student hails from, be it from the political party Cuba Independiente y Democrática (CID – Independent and Democratic Cuba) or from the Juventud Activa Cuba Unida (JACU – Active Cuban Youth United), an anti-government civil group.

Would you accept people from the Union of Young Communists (UJC) in the bizarre case that someone might be interested? The Foundation’s coordinator and vice-president responds: “Yes. The academy does not make a distinction based on political inclinations. We admit all those who want to take part in the course because the goal is not to impose a way of thinking, but to offer knowledge on which to base individual opinion and work.”

The proposal has been growing in popularity. The current semester welcomed twenty registration applications for only ten available spots. Carlos Millares favors focused attention, and thus favors fewer students; of course, they must be able to put in effort and prepare very well.

The authors of the program are well aware of the pressure that State Security forces tend to exert. That is the reason why initial enrollment can reach twelve, to account for the eventual “losses” throughout the semester. “Last semester there was a married couple that came to classes, but they worked for the Public Health System and they were threatened with being removed from their jobs if they continued with us,” the leadership professor relates.

They have also received police citations and suffered detentions here and there. Although they “do not bother us behind closed doors,” says Millares, “for government authorities, we are part of that civil society they accuse of being fabricated.”

“Last semester there was a married couple that came to classes, but they worked for the Public Health System and they were threatened with being removed from their jobs if they continued with us”

In spite of the harassment, the academy has continued to consolidate. It already has several sessions and boasts a community of graduates. In addition to Millares and García, the Executive Board also has two vice-presidents: Saúl Quiala for public relations and Maikel Pardo for the press.

Fundación Sucesores maintains relations with international organizations that support the development of its courses. Its future perspectives are to expand into Cuba’s interior, and they have already begun to achieve it with the enrollment of students from Pinar del Río province. Additionally, they are working to prepare a multimedia library. In the long term, the academy aspires to become a sort of “university of the opposition.”

Enrollment is by open call. It is necessary to posses a High School or technical diploma as a minimum, given the level of the content discussed in the conferences. For the course’s final evaluation, a project for civil society must be conceived, and it’s not just a mere academic exercise; some of the ideas developed in past courses have been successful and are currently being applied.

Courses are forty semester hours and are taught in two-hour weekly sessions at the Foundation as well as the headquarters of affiliated regional organizations. In addition to the subject of leadership, there are conferences about economics, political parties, anti-segregation movements, new technologies, and many other areas, all discussed by guest experts, among which are renowned opposition figures ranging from political leaders to LGBT activists.

The program is updated each year. Recently, the topic of Cuba-U.S. relations has been added, and, for this upcoming April, human rights observers will be trained in coordination with the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission led by Elizardo Sánchez.

Back in the patio of that Mantilla home, while Carlos Millares teaches his course on leadership – the current semester’s second meeting – Frank Abel García finishes explaining the functioning of the school.

Speaking with students at the end of the conference, one can perceive the diverse stories that shaped each of the course’s participants. Eliosbel Garriga, from Pinar del Río, is a member of the Movimiento Integración Racial, or “Racial Integration Movement”: “We come in whatever we can,” he comments in reference to the difficult mission that is waking up in the early morning in order to travel from Los Palacios, where he lives, “but I want to develop leadership skills.”

There is also Josué, a young member of the CID party: “I have the intention of becoming a leader and my dad told me that this was a good course.” His father, Esteban Ajetes, is next to him. “Within our movement, knowledge and training are lacking. It’s the first thing needed to be influential in these apolitical times,” he reflects on.

Another Esteban, but surnamed García, is an independent journalist and editor of the JACU’s bulletin. He notes, “In our current circumstances [as a nation] it’s difficult to be a leader because even a sportsperson exhibits more leadership than a political figure.” They all agree on that leaders are not only born or made, but are actually little bit of both things.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Take care of politics! / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 4 March 2015 – The political and electoral system put in place in Cuba in the name of a socialism that has never existed, on which bureaucracy placed its bets and with which it has always won, has distinguished itself for its representative and indirect character, like that of the representative democracies that it has always criticized in other countries.

That indirect and representative form, where those at the bottom only count when its time to vote for candidates that have been predetermined by the top – except in the case of district delegates – of whom all that is known is a small biography, has only served to depoliticize constituents and make them lose interest in politics, which is nothing more than a way to manage continue reading

issues that concern everyone, be they political, economic, fiscal, labor, judicial, or social.

Since no one is elected for the policies they would put in place to resolve issues in the community, the region, or the country, people simply don’t discuss politics nor do they vote for a specific policy. Thus far, those elected are the one’s who are “best trained” to make and defend the policies that have already been established by the Government-party. This has been the essence of the “socialist democracy.”

Given that the vast majority of Cubans have left politics in the hands of the same people who have governed this country – under a single party and in a single direction – for over half a century, they have decided and continue to decide all our destinies.

It’s time for Cubans, regardless of our ways of thinking, to begin taking care of politics, making it work for all our interests and pulling it from the stagnation into which it has been plunged. We should do the same with the economy, to extract it from the high levels of centralization that have characterized it. The point is not to be consulted about what should be done; it’s to make ourselves the deciders of what occurs.

No one explains what the Party’s Central Committee’s announced new electoral law proposes

 The last plenary session of the Party’s Central Committee approved the establishment of a new electoral law. There are no doubts that it is necessary, but no one explains what the new legislation proposes or how it will impact citizens, if we will participate in its drafting and if we will vote for it in referendum or not, as it should be due to its importance.

Meanwhile, independent civil society demands a new constitution, rule of law, a multi-party system, and democratic elections, and the left, additionally, urges the delivery of a more direct democracy, increased public control, and more effective forms of participation and decision-making.

How will we Cubans participate in the discussion process regarding the new law so that politics doesn’t continue to take care of us and instead it is us who takes care of politics?

How to reconcile that new law with the demands of a great part of Cuban society? Why link it to the negotiations with the United States when it deals with a topic that is solely the responsibility of the Cuban people? Will a new electoral law be democratic or just a patching up of the previous one aimed at keeping up appearances and prolonging the Party’s time in power? How can a new electoral law be conceived without having previously changed a Constitution that has various antidemocratic articles such as the following?

  1. Article 5: establishes the rule of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) over the society.
  1. Article 53: restricts the freedoms of expression and press insofar as it advances the interests of the socialist society, a socialism that also lacks a precise definition.
  1. Article 54: limits the rights to assembly, protest, and association to existing organizations that are subordinate to the PCC.
  1. Article 74: establishes indirect elections for the offices of President and Vice-President at the hands of the National Assembly of People’s Power.
  1. Article 116: establishes that Provincial and Municipal Assemblies are responsible for indirectly electing mayors and governors.

How can a new electoral law be conceived without having previously changed a Constitution that has various antidemocratic articles?

 How to discuss and approve a new electoral law in a country whose political climate does not allow free expression of different ideas or the right to form political associations to defend them.

Regardless, relative to the electoral system, Chapter XIV of the Constitution is sufficiently ample and imprecise to allow for almost anything, even when it seems to contradict other aspects of the Magna Carta, it would be too hasty to draw conclusions for now, given that there are also many other articles that would justify an electoral law that would be entirely democratic.

Regarding this with an optimistic eye, which would not be supported by the actions of Raul Castro’s government in this area, it would be possible to expect that this announcement could be a prelude to others, essential for the creation of a climate of national dialogue and confidence needed for the longed-for process of democratization to open up.

Consequently, we should practice politics, organize ourselves and continue to demand, through every possible track, the creation of a political atmosphere that will be conducive to a necessary national dialogue without exclusions; the establishment of thorough respect for the freedoms of expression, association, and election; the beginning of the works toward a new democratic Constitution that will be approved in a referendum and will allow for the establishment of a rule of law; and continue to push for the complete liberation of the country’s forces of production from all the bonds, regulations, and monopolies imposed by the salaried state forces.

Take care of politics, or politics will take care of you!

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Cyber-police and Firewalls to Control Cuban Internet / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana
Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, February 15 2015 – Only a few weeks after Barack Obama’s decision to allow American telecommunications companies to offer their services on the Island, Raúl Castro’s government is making it clear that the virtual world will not exist without limits. Lately, official spokespersons have taken on the task of explaining to the general public that low connectivity in the country is not due to a government decisions, and this seems to be the purpose of the First National Computerization and Cyber Security Workshop, which is scheduled to take place on the 18, 19, and 20 of February.

According to the official newspaper Granma, more than 11,000 Cuban computer scientists will participate in the event, “the majority connected through videoconferences.” The quote is directed to sketch out a countrywide regulatory cyber-police continue reading

in a moment in which pressures for full access to the web have gained force. Alternative phenomena, like the distribution of audiovisual material in the so-called “combos or packages” (flash memories containing foreign TV shows, etc.), have also been pushing authorities from the Ministry of Communication to make decisions in this respect.

On February 19 and 20, around “260 specialists will share their opinions in commissions centered on four fundamental topics,” noted the Communist Party’s official media. The agenda includes “the human and scientific resources available in the country, electronic governance, cyber security, and economy and legality.” Throughout the Island, 21 headquarters will be made available for users interested in taking part in the debate and accessing the discussions. By visiting the website www.mincom.gob.cu, they will be able to share opinions and ask questions about the topics discussed, announced Ailyn Febles Estrada, Vice Dean of the University of Information Sciences of Cuba (UCI), on the web portal Cubadebate.

One of the most unique results of the event lies in the development of a new social organization that will group together the country’s ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) professionals, into which recent graduates from diverse backgrounds like Information Technology, Computer Science, and Telecommunications could be incorporated. It is a clear attempt to centralize Cubans who have ICT knowledge, many of whom provide services in the private sector repairing computers and smartphones.

The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined

The words cyber-security in the title of this article have also set off some alarms, since in recent years the government has augmented its ideological combat on the Internet. The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber-police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined as a priority for Cuban authorities.

The announcement of this workshop is added to the recent promise made by directives of Cuba’s Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) that 136 new “internet cafés” will be opened in the year’s first trimester. The majority of them will be found in the Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing), where users will pay for connection time in Cuban Pesos. On the close of 2014, 155 collective Internet cafés operated throughout the country, with a total of 573 available computers offering web access, a service that must be paid in Convertible Pesos.

According to the recently published report Freedom on the Net 2014, which analyzed 65 countries between May 2013 and May 2014, Cuba is the only country in Latin America designated “not free” in regards to Internet access. The study points out the limitations in accessing the world-wide-web as well as the censorship of certain webpages and the high prices for connecting from public places.

Translated by Fernando Fornis

Negotiating with Machiavelli / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 11 2015 – When Cuba’s government announced the postponement of its talks with the European Union on 9 December 2014, it was speculated that the real reason lay in that the Cuban side wasn’t ready to face the topic of human rights, which had been anticipated to be a part of that round. Instead, the pretext of a photographic exhibition that offended “revolutionary sensitivities” was employed as a reason, but almost no one believed it. Eight days went by and the mystery was unveiled when continue reading

Barack Obama and Raúl Castro divulged to the world their shared intention to reestablish diplomatic relations.

Cuban negotiators will sit at the table with their European counterparts in the first week of March with an unexpected advantage: one provided by the December 17 announcement and one that will allow them to boast of no longer depending on the cooperation the Eurozone can offer. Like good cheaters at poker, they will brag about the Ace of hearts they hide up their sleeves, a dollarized manna from the North, so as to make believe that they no longer play under pressure.

Like he who offers two buyers the same merchandise to see who pays more, they will take with them some list of prisoners they could free, they will announce their next economic apertures, and they will make whatever promise they would be willing to eventually break.

The negotiating technique of the Cuban government rests upon the ambiguity with which it outlines the doctrine of not yielding a single millimeter of its principles. Its pragmatic interlocutors, removed from ideological catechism, are incapable of discerning the extent reached by the cynicism of a functionary who gets flustered upon sensing that an innocent suggestion could “put the sovereignty of the homeland in danger,” and yet, without the batting of an eyelid, seek foreign investment in petroleum extraction projects or the 90-year usufruct-style lease of future golf courses.

It does not tolerate a word about democratic elections, yet it hands the commercialization of rum and tobacco to foreign companies

It’s astonishing, the plasticity of an intransigence that does not tolerate a word about democratic elections, that upholds the morality of arbitrary detentions, of physically attacking dissidents, and of refusing to recognize the legitimacy of civil society while it hands the commercialization of rum and tobacco to foreign companies, and also accepts the exploitation of one man at the hands of another in Cuba, this as long as the exploiter is foreign and the exploited is Cuban.

Cuban negotiators expect to convince their counterparts that the country deserves credibility and respect because it grows and advances on a solid foundation, but that it needs to be aided as though it were a nation in a state of catastrophe. In certain subjects they act as if they had absolute power. They do not feel limited by the existence of a labor union that may prevent them from striking deals that will lower wages or by an eco-friendly group of parliamentarians that will seek to limit mining in protected areas. Much less by the fact that an irritating part of the Republic’s Constitution may not fit well in what is being negotiated.

Oh! But don’t touch that point of Human Rights. It is then that they raise their chins, frown their brows, and clench their fists… or maybe not. Maybe they’ll conjure a knowing smile and make some indication insinuating that it is important to have trust, they might even raise their index finger, to subtly inform that the impediments, external to their own wishes, come from “up above.” Then, slowly, as if they were bouncing an invisible ball with their palms a few centimeters from the table’s surface, they’ll signal the need for patience. They’ll close up their briefcases and they’ll get up satisfied, sure that they have once again achieved a magnificent purchase of time.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Notes About a Polemic / 14ymedio, Antonio Rodiles

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Antonio G. Rodiles, Havana, 6 February 2015 – My article published this Wednesday on the site Diario de Cuba has provoked a criticism from blogger Miriam Celaya that motivates me to touch on various points I consider important. In order to mainly refer to the political themes, I will avoid personal attacks; yet without failing to mention that the blogger has, in other instances, published high flown articles riddled with offenses and ill intent against highly respectable people like ex-political prisoner, journalist, and writer Jorge Olivera, among others. If she intends to really take part in a political debate, she should cast this habit aside and concentrate on the points that are fundamental.

The polarization that exists today within the ranks of country’s opposition regarding the United States’ new policy toward Cuba does not necessarily imply a confrontation but does continue reading

, in fact, reveal each person’s position quite clearly.

The position to be adopted by the North American government in supporting change in our country will be of vital importance. We should not feel any sense of shame in accepting it. In a global world such as the one in which we live, it would be naïve not to accept that fact, even more so if in that country resides an important portion of the Cuban population. The presence of political exiles, professionals, entrepreneurs, and even Cuban Americans within the ranks of government provides for a unique and maybe even special feature in our country’s transition and its future reconstruction. In that respect, it becomes very difficult to find a similar political, economic, and social setting when speaking of transition in Cuba. Likewise, blocs such as Europe can be key actors in the process of change if they assume their corresponding leadership role within the international scene.

The usual comparisons with other transition processes should be carefully selected. To take the Spanish transition as a reference turns out to be inexact at the extreme due to the enormous distance between Francoism and Castroism, but some elements can be considered. Spain’s economic condition in the 1960s, the makeup of a social fiber that included trade unions and politicians that favored a transformative process for a society that pushed toward modernization and for which the regime was a nuisance. The country possessed all of the ingredients to enter a process of transformation taking Western Europe as a reference.

In the Polish case we should point out that the negotiating table was set up after years of struggle and repression where the international scene also exerted constant and effective pressure. The signing of the Helsinki Accords and support from the West and leaders of such importance as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and the crucial role of Pope John Paul II allowed the independently run Polish trade Union Solidarity to reach 10 million members. When in 1989 the Soviet Union advised General Jaruzelski that it would not intervene under any circumstance, the Polish elite understood that time was slipping away. Only under these conditions could the negotiating table come to pass.

The Chilean case is also very distinct from ours. Stability depended on a middle class formed under a series of liberal economic transformations promoted by Milton Friedman that strayed far from those started by Raúl Castro and his advisory group, spearheaded by Marino Murillo. Once again, there was a great international pressure that obligated the regime, and the dictator especially, to accept the undertaking of a plebiscite and its result, even though it was against his wishes. Despite how bloody the Chilean dictatorship was, its social structure and dynamics were far more complex than ours, preventing political patronage from establishing as a form of government.

Never will Cubans be responsible for their futures if the regime can continue to violate fundamental freedoms with complete impunity.

As I’ve mentioned in various previous articles, the primary promoters of the Espacio Abierto, or “Open Space,” Reinaldo Escobar, Yoani Sánchez, and Dagoberto Valdés, have been fervent defenders of the unconditional lifting of the embargo and also of seeking dialogue with the regime. If those are their visions, why not say so and debate them publicly?

Why deny the existence of polarization, divergences, and even confrontation if it is a reality? We attempt to construct a democracy, and within one those are very natural elements. Open debate will be crucial not only for political actors but also for Cubans to discover what positions they agree with the most and which they are willing to stand by. Current positioning regarding today’s policies does exhibit different political profiles, visions of transition, and forms of building the future of the Island.

This group’s arguments, as well as those of the North American administration, are unstable and should be submitted to greater debate. Of what empowerment do we speak when no Cuban can survive without breaking the law and personal success is based on the capacity to cheat and corrupt? Of what empowerment do we speak when the differences between those who have profitable businesses and those who don’t are based on nepotism and political loyalty to the regime? To start a successful small business with such high taxes and inspectors’ constant harassment is an impossible task.

To use a supposed logic of strengthening society and to generate the false image that any Cuban can grow as an entrepreneur is to play sadly along with the regime and allow it to further postpone a successful transfer of power. Never will Cubans be responsible for their futures if the regime can continue to violate fundamental freedoms with complete impunity. Never will Cubans be able to become empowered if the regime enjoys access to economic resources that will allow it to maintain and develop its repressive apparatus. The reality of 57 years is there to show us what Castroism really is.

To construct hope for change on a foundation of corruption, political patronage, and nepotism is to condemn the future of our nation. It’s not to understand that a nation can only be reborn when it springs from more clean and fresh bases. We will not be the first to transit down those roads of decomposition and arrive at places that will later be extremely difficult to dismantle.

To defend a position and to act in a moment as delicate as this one without stopping to consider other highly probable scenarios is proof of having little political vision, of being unable to adapt or change one’s views or of having only a personal interest.

To say that all of us who oppose the government have no rallying power or that we do not represent the people is to play the regime’s tune.

The “Open Space” promoters have hoped to demonstrate that it is they who hold the greatest consensus within the country’s internal opposition. That Obama’s measures enjoy wide acceptance, and that is false. At first and simple sight, one can observe the number and diversity of signatures supporting one initiative or another. It would also be important to observe the “Open Space” and the “Forum” (el Foro) managers’ ability to rally followers and the true level of their current commitment to the cause of meaningful democratic change.

To say that all of us who oppose the government have no rallying power or that we do not represent the people is to play the regime’s tune. The impact of some opposition groups cannot be measured in all its magnitude because of the high levels of repression before any kind of rally. Many of us who signed the “Forum” have had to face violent acts of repudiation aimed at preventing a larger base of followers.

Those who, from Obama’s administration, have promoted the new measures have not facilitated the building of consensus among Cubans on the Island and in exile. They have, however, sought out a way to demonstrate a greater acceptance of their policies. That was what happened during the recent visit of American legislators to the Island as well as that of Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson. That was the reason for which Berta Soler decided to decline breakfast, and why we, the members of the “Forum,” later decided not to attend dinner.

If the Obama administration wishes to brand itself as supportive of the transition process, something we also hope from Europe and some nations in Latin America, it should promote greater consensus.

We’ve repeated innumerable times that it is a mistake to grant the status of a legitimate State to a despotic regime, an action that disregards the pain and moral and physical damage it has inflicted on thousands and thousands of Cubans. This Thursday, Berta Soler, Sara Marta Fonseca, and José Luis Pérez Antúnez gave important testimony regarding these points before the United States Congress.

As peaceful activists, we defend a solution without violence that is also grounded in the realities we have lived. To work in the way that we have until now does not build a solid path and does instead bring forth a scenario that in the medium and long term will work against us. To allow the elite to inherit power will be the worst thing to happen to us as a nation.

These subjects are of great importance and depth. Miriam Celaya has the right to defend her position, but I do believe that these policies’ main promoters on the Island could participate in a debate with those of us who defend the other vision, so as to enrich the political scenario. I propose to Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and Dagoberto Valdés to sustain a debate and show Cubans how we think of this process and what vision we have for the future. Without a doubt, we will all end up winners.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Cuban Internationalism and the New External Setting / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Flags flying at the United Nations
Flags flying at the United Nations

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 6 February 2015 – The Government that emerged from the popular and democratic Revolution of 1959 has been characterized since its inception by its internationalist policies of solidarity, aid and cooperation with revolutionary and national liberation movements in Latin America and almost all other corners of the world.

The practice of internationalism has been a norm in the foreign activities of the government, always as a part of the “Marxist-Leninist” principles that uphold it.

It has its roots in our national history, in the participation of many foreigners continue reading

in our independence battles and even in our last feat against Batista’s tyranny, and also in the participation of Cubans in the struggles for liberation of the Thirteen Colonies of the North from English colonialism. Additionally, in American ventures against Spanish colonialism, in the Spanish Civil War, and in World War II against fascism, to point out some well-known historical occurrences.

The solidarity of the Cuban government never remained in simple declarations. Well-known are many actions of direct support in the form of arms, training, funds and men to many of those movements throughout the history of the last half of the XX century.

It would suffice to recall the actions of Che in Africa and Bolivia and the involvement of Cuban troops in the Arab-Israeli, Algerian-Moroccan, and Ethiopian-Somali conflicts as well as in the southern tip of Africa.

On the other hand, important international events that encouraged the use of violence in their political efforts also took place in Cuba.

The Cuban government encouraged armed struggles in Latin America for many years as a means of liberation from imperialist oppression.

The Cuban government encouraged armed struggles in Latin America for many years as a means of liberation from imperialist oppression.

The Island’s press services, especially Radio Habana Cuba, which broadcasts in all continents and in several languages, has constantly denounced human rights abuses at the hands of governments and reactionary forces throughout the world and has breathed life into communist parties, movements of the left, of workers, antifascists, and practically any popular cause that has developed in the world.

Cuban officials feel a sense of pride from those internationalist activities. Many of us Cubans took part in some way, directly or otherwise, in that great movement of solidarity, because internationalism has been part of our education from the State.

These policies began to revert at the fall of the Soviet Union and the “Eastern Bloc,” principal economic, political, and military supporters of the Cuban government.

In adapting to that new global order, a new foreign policy has been developed and applied throughout the last 15 years: upholding political solidarity for “anti-imperialist and revolutionary” movements without direct aid or involvement in other countries’ conflicts, instead seeking greater diplomatic recognition and the creation of favorable conditions that would diversify the Cuban State’s sources of income.

Cuban leaders reduced internationalist support to verbal solidarity and limited aid to natural disasters and health crises (the sale of medical and professional services is a business of the State, a separate subject matter) and they’ve also been effective in mediating to solve Colombia’s armed conflict.

At the same time, international activities aimed at combatting the embargo-blockade* were increased and, more recently, negotiations to reestablish and normalize diplomatic relations between the government and the United States have also taken place.

The Cuban government hopes for its new conduct of respect for international law to be equally met by the international community and, especially, by the United States in this new era of “normal” relations.

The ample and varied activities of aggression and subversion by all administrations of the United States to oust their Cuban counterpart are well-known.

From its sponsoring of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and support for opposition fighters in the Escambray Mountains, going through direct efforts against the national economy and assassination plots against Cuban leaders, to the U.S. Secret Services’ provision of logistical, economic, and political support to all kinds of armed and political movements against the Cuban government.

One should assume that in a new era of normalized relations, all those policies should cease on both sides.

This government could not accuse others of meddling in its internal affairs through the political and public efforts of other governments in favor of the Cuban people’s rights and liberties.

But, it will be necessary to keep in mind that it is not the same thing to show solidarity for the victims of unjust government policies as it is to conspire with nationals of other countries to topple governments. The right to self-determination does not restrict solidarity with the oppressed or with those whose rights are violated, only the practical and effective action that may be directed at undermining a people’s sovereign right to decide its own future, democratically and by itself.

The right to self-determination was born in the United Nations in 1960, precisely as a consequence of international solidarity with the people of Africa, who suffered beneath the boot of colonialism. Nobody could expect Cuba’s government not to voice solidarity with internationalist movements of the left, or to back them up politically as they sought to reclaim political, economic, and social independence, finally denouncing the violation of other people’s rights.

On that same note, this government could not accuse others of meddling in its internal affairs through the political and public efforts of other governments in favor of the Cuban people’s rights and liberties.

The best way to prevent such involvements would be by thoroughly respecting the political, civil, economic, and social rights of Cubans, especially the freedoms of expression, association, and election, as well as their ability to freely carry out productive and commercial activities. Applying, in short, without prejudice or discrimination, the principles set forth by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its respective agreements, which have been signed by this government.

Human rights are not of right or left, capitalists or socialists, northerners or southerners… they are human.

Whoever travels down these roads should know that they, too, have laws and they cut both ways; they are put in place to be respected and to prevent “accidents.”

The new international scenario that Cuba faces doesn’t only require from it a new focus on its international politics, but also on its internal affairs. A connection between the two should exist; there should be some correspondence.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government calls the American embargo on Cuba a “blockade.”

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Without Confidence in the Money / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban 20 peso note signed by Che
Cuban 20 peso note signed by Che

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 February 2015 – Any day can be the eve of a celebration or a disaster, as much for those who hurried to exchange their convertible pesos (CUC) to Cuban pesos (CUP – also known as moneda nacional, or “national money”) as for those who are purchasing foreign currencies or who are trusting enough to think that everything is planned and calculated so as not to cause anyone any harm. Although its proximity can almost be smelled, the “final battle” of the end of the dual currency system continues to be a mystery and the present lack of transparency can endanger its presumed strategic objectives.

Those who have a good memory or who have dedicated time to digging through our recent history know that the Law 963, passed on 4 August 1961, established the “obligatory exchange of currency” for bills of a new design. That surprising operation took place on Sunday the 6th and Monday the 7th of August 1961. No one was able to leave or enter the country on those two days. Each family unit was only allowed to exchange up to 200 pesos. Of the 1.187 billion Cuban pesos considered circulating in the country, only 724.9 million were exchanged. The rest lost its value, vanished.

Some naïve people who had their savings inside banks trusted that their money would be exchanged in its entirety. However, the government decided to only hand over one thousand pesos annually, in the form of 100 a month, for ten years, even if people’s accounts contained hundreds or thousands or millions of pesos. Many of those affected by such a drastic measure committed suicide. Such a disastrous exchange process annihilated in one single blow not only the part of the creole bourgeoisie that still remained on this Island, but also the entire middle class. It ripped to shreds people’s life work and savings and also that of past generations.

Such a disastrous exchange annihilated in one single blow not only the part of the creole bourgeoisie that still remained on this Island, but also the entire middle class.

They say that that new currency came from Czechoslovakia, camouflaged in large wooden boxes since the use of metal containers wasn’t common in those times. The signs on the boxes and the customs declarations indicated that they contained spare parts for Czech-made Zetor tractors. Two days before the exchange, the boxes were opened in secret and the new Cuban peso was distributed to banks throughout the country.

Fifty-three years have gone by and anyone could argue that this is not the same country as that from 1961. But the fear lies in that it is still governed by the same people from before, who still invoke the same “stern slogans.”

Front page announcing currency exchange in 1961
Front page announcing currency exchange in 1961

The uncertainty is not only founded on reminiscences from the past; it has solid contemporary motives. No authority has pronounced itself officially on what will be the level of parity of the surviving currency to foreign ones and it isn’t even known whether, in the near future, it will be possible to exchange the CUP for dollars or euros. It is also unknown how much the State will pay for each CUC handed over by citizens once that currency stops circulating.

Until now, the only visible advancement toward the end of monetary duality has been the possibility of paying with CUP in stores that previously only sold products for hard currency (the official name of which, TRDs, stands for “foreign exchange collection stores”).

In the beginning of 2015, a worker with a 480-peso monthly salary (without access to remittances and without any other chance of getting CUCs) would have to work 23 hours to buy two pounds of powdered milk in one of those markets; 18 hours for a three pounds of chicken drumsticks; another 18 hours for a pound of grams of spaghetti and 19 hours for one quart of cooking oil. Thus, in order to pay this small bill at the current 1-to-25 exchange rate, he will have to work a little over ten 8-hour workdays.

A worker with a 480-peso monthly salary will have to work a little over ten 8-hour workdays in order to buy powdered milk, chicken, spaghetti, and cooking oil on the current 1-to-25 exchange rate.

In the event that the illusion becomes a reality and the CUC comes to cost 20 Cuban pesos, the worker from our example could get all that and a little more with just over a week of labor, and if the miracle occurs that it come down to 15, he would get everything with fewer than 5 workdays.

It is not necessary to be an economist to realize that the country is in no condition to turn that dream into a reality. At least unless delirium reaches the point of fantasizing that, from the secret tunnels where today they keep the old soviet armaments, hundreds of containers of goods surface to furnish the stores that would no longer be called TRDs, because they wouldn’t be collecting any foreign currencies at all, and standing before whose cash registers wouldn’t be today’s nouveaux riches, but the joyous working class, living decently from their salaries.

Jumping over our chimeras, other distressing questions remain: will there be a limit to the cash that can be exchanged? Will cash be worth the same as the money in savings accounts? No one has clarified this and the lack of a commitment to these guarantees makes insecurity and distrust mount even higher.

In workplaces where perks are received in CUC, beneficiaries are asking themselves if this “stimulus” will keep the 1-to-25 exchange rates in the national currency. In markets where the elevated prices were once justified as a way for the government to “collect” foreign currencies, clients wonder if now goods will cost what rationality suggests should be their price. Will taximeters need regulation? Could ticket purchases on international airlines be made in the new currency?

The secrecy that surrounds the end of the monetary duality won’t be able to be delayed for much longer

Parallel to the eventual disappearance of the CUC, there exists the possibility that all the CUP bills circulating today will be “demonetized” and new issues of 1, 3, 5, 10, 29, and 50 pesos be created to match the recently-introduced 200, 300, 500, and 1000 pesos bills, which make counterfeiting more difficult. The latter are already in circulation and nowhere can anything along the lines of, “Guaranteed by international standards of free exchange” or “Can be freely exchanged for foreign currencies at the Central Bank of Cuba” be found, which is currently the case for each CUC and which could also be seen on the bills that premiered in the summer of 1961, signed by the person who, at the time, was the president of the Bank, a man who had the effrontery to sign the currency of the Republic of Cuba with his nickname: Che.

The secrecy that surrounds the end of the dual currency system attempts to justify itself with the same arguments as always: above all, we can’t trust in the enemy. However, it won’t be able to be delayed for much longer because even in Cuba, where it has been demonized for decades, money continues to be something that is essential and part of its value lies in the trust it is accorded.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

The Immense Distortion of Martí / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

José Martí in a photo from 1891. (University of Miami)
José Martí in a photo from 1891. (University of Miami)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 28 January 2015 — It is true that in the writings of José Martí one can apparently find the justification for political aberrations like those we suffer since Fidel Castro took off his democratic and legalistic mask in mid-1959. And I highlight here the word “apparently.”

To achieve a sufficient understanding of the thinking of any intellectual or political figure, it is imperative to search for his or her life’s purpose. That of José Martí’s was none other than the constitution of an independent and sovereign Cuban Republic continue reading

that, through the exercise of its civil virtues, would propel a hemispheric, or even global, renewal of the republican-democratic forms. The man we call the “apostle” of our independence was able to rid himself of all dimensions of human life not having to do directly with the labor of that self-imposed apostolate.

Now, like any other thinker in the mise-en-scène of his life’s purpose, José Martí understood he was obligated to respond to minor problems. Responses that were almost always rushed and that, with the passing of years, would lend themselves to be used by others to justify their aberrations, like in the abovementioned instance. Only through this magnification of what is secondary in José Martí’s thinking could a democrat of his caliber be transformed into nothing more than an intellectual antecedent to the profoundly antidemocratic forms imposed on Cuba by the despot Fidel Castro.

Only through this magnification of what is secondary in his thinking could Martí be transformed into nothing more than an intellectual antecedent to the antidemocratic forms imposed on Cuba by Fidel Castro.

An example of this error can be found in a well-known series of Latin American essays published by Martí between 1889 and 1890. A hurried researcher will only see the obvious. Martí, disabused, distances himself for a moment from Cuban affairs to focus on others within closer reach: the OurAmericans, or los Nuestroaméricanos (title of the most important work of those in question). The reality is, nevertheless, another.

These essays were written with no other objective than to manipulate the fears of certain political elites within Latin American republics in an attempt to win them over for the cause of Cuba’s independence. Those days, Martí, a man not inclined to such behavior, did not dedicate his time to mourning bitter disillusionments. And so his life’s purpose develops fully and fruitfully like few times before or after. During those days, in the Pan-American Conference which he attends as representative of various Latin American republics, he insists on one of the most important and least known battles of his life: the fight to prevent the sale of Cuba to the United States that several Our American foreign ministries supported.

Taking these essays as a base, without considering the vital circumstance under which they were written, it has been attempted to change his arguments in order to convert Martí, the Latin American that best understood and admired the United States in his time, into an anti-American who took after an Italian conspirator of the romanticist style. This restructuring of his line of argument, by the way, serves to make us swallow the absurdity of presenting him to us as the great intellectual justifier for the return to the political forms he fought against: those of the besieged fortress, of thuggery, in other words, those that, under its firm boot, Spain subjected us to from 1837 until the end of the Great War (1868-1878).

In essence, it’s not Martí we should get rid of; instead we should dissolve the hagiographic vision that has been imposed on us by the majority of his interpreters, for whom the scope of the greatest Cuban of all time was so superior to their limited senses that they have restricted themselves to reducing him to a managable virtuous caricature. Martí was not a fanaticized follower of some inflexible principles that prevented him from compromising to achieve his objectives. On the contrary, Martí the politician understands that it is essential to give way in order to attain what is hoped for.

It’s not Martí we should get rid of; instead we should dissolve the hagiographic vision that has been imposed on us by the majority of his interpreters

The art of politics should not reside in absolute imposition or in relinquishing the least possible, rather, in the long term, whatever is relinquished can be used to achieve the original plans, or at least what doesn’t hinder them. If one tries to diminish the support of Latin American republics for the aforementioned plans of cession to the United States, one must incite their fears of a possible European re-colonization, which was not such a far-fetched idea at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

A culture is a weight that can’t be cast aside with such ease, or without harmless effects. In the case of Martí, what we should in fact do is study his work, paying close attention to his vital circumstance, until we can organize his thoughts hierarchically and clear up Martí’s argument without any preconceived notion other than that that we are not dealing with a saint, only with a human being of unusual intelligence who was able to subordinate his life to a task that he imposed on himself. A task of which we are to a considerable extent the result.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

The ‘Sandor Case’ / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Known as "The BimBom 23 and Malecón" this is one of the meeting points for pingueros. (14ymedio)
Known as “The BimBom 23 and Malecón” this is one of the meeting points for “pingueros.” (14ymedio)
  • In tribute to El Caso de Sandra (The Sandra Case) by Luis Manuel García Méndez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 30 January 2015 — A farmer wakes up before dawn to brand with a burning iron the last cow he has left. It’s a ritual of pain and possession. A tourist brands a young person in one of Havana’s cabarets and takes them to bed in exchange for some money. The brands are different, but both as permanent.

Sandor was born in the countryside and was raised to be rough. When he reached adolescence he had already castrated and slaughtered pigs. His wide shoulders, olive skin, and oriental eyes earned him town-wide fame as being “hot.” Since he was young he felt the pressure of desiring other men continue reading

. It was like a permanent breath down his neck that followed him everywhere.

His father had deep wrinkles around his mouth, a group of them also skirting his eyes. The hours in the furrow, beneath the sun, had cracked his skin and his character. He started drinking rum with his friends in the afternoons after work, but ended gulping anything he found. One day, Sandor saw him downing one of his grandmother’s perfumes. His mouth smelled of sweet roses for hours.

Sine he was little, Sandor resolved not to end up like his father. After he turned 16, he packed up what little clothes he had and went to Havana. He arrived at night and walked from the train terminal to Fraternity Park, where the lamps were off and one could hear moaning coming from the shadows. “This is my thing,” he immediately said to himself.

Between footlights

In Las Vegas Cabaret, the air smells of urine. There are tables far from the lights where almost anything can happen. Sandor watches, empty-eyed, the male stripper show unraveling on the stage. The bodies shine from the oil they have been rubbed with.

A sixty-year-old moves forward and puts some bills inside one of the dancer’s underpants. Sandor follows him with his eyes and later sits on his same table. He’s wearing very tight clothes and his muscles stand out provocatively, but competition is strong. He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution that will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

“I am a male sex worker, a pinguero,” he says shamelessly to anyone who cares to hear him. He offers his goods to any buyer, although he emphasizes not considering himself a homosexual. Sometimes his clients are women, European and in their fifties, but his main market is made up of men who come “de afuera” – from abroad. Cuba is a promising destination for gay tourism and Sandor casts his rod into the turbulent river waters of caresses for money.

He fixes himself up constantly while speaking, an eagerness for physical perfection that makes anyone who approaches him feel ugly and wrinkled. He has shaved his eyebrows and painted them in a fine, high arch. On his arms, his forearms, his chest and his pubis there isn’t a single hair. Hours of painful hair removal have left his skin smooth and even.

He prefers this world to days of working in construction, erecting walls or putting roofs together. He spent his first months in Havana working with a brigade of bricklayers, but he couldn’t stand it. Now, the palms of his hands feel soft from the body lotion he lathers on to please his partners with caresses, but during those times the hammer and chisel had left him with rough and ugly calluses.

He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution who will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

The Malecón, Central Park and the private Cabaret Humboldt, on the street bearing the same name, are his habitual working grounds. “I go looking for yumas [foreigners]. I get there and, in between drinks, the zorreo [flirtation] begins and then comes business,” he says when describing his modus operandi. There isn’t much to say in those places, because those who visit know the codes and steps to take in order to leave accompanied.

“I never leave with a Cuban, even if he has all the money of the world,” assures the young man. The rates range from 10 to 100 CUC, so he seeks to reach a middle ground so as to not sell himself “for nothing” but also not to end up “more alone than the 1 o’ clock peal.” Not few times has he had to exchange love for objects, like a watch, a pair of shoes or an expensive bottle of cologne, but “I prefer cash,” he says.

The hours to “expensively sell oneself” are before midnight. After that, “the goods lose value and you have to take whatever comes your way.” He learned that language, or jargon, while working in a produce market. Amid dirty sweet potatoes and the smell of rotting onion, he understood that wasn’t the life for him. “Now, in one night I can make as much as I made in a month behind the counter of an agricultural market.”

Below the sun-faded awning where he sold fruits and vegetables, the first foreigner branded him. This, in street slang, means identifying someone and exchanging seductive glances. He was Dutch and had come to buy some plantains, but he noticed Sandor and invited him for some ice cream. That night, they slept at the Hotel Nacional and for the rest of the week he didn’t show up to his job at the produce market. He had never been in a hotel, so he jumped on the bed and left the faucet open for hours. He swallowed his breakfast almost without chewing it and the tourist gave him a gift of some clothes.

Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)
Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)

At that time, Sandor lived with an older woman, through whom he was able to get a transitional address in the capital written down on his national ID card. Without that, he was in danger of being deported by the police if they asked him for his ID on the street. One night he arrived with a lot of money, a bottle of wine under his arm, and she began to suspect. While he slept, she checked his cellphone and found a picture in which the Dutch man held him by his fly. In the middle of the night, the woman threw his clothes from the balcony and told him never to return.

Later he had a Mexican. “When this farmer saw himself driving a rental car, with a gold chain and money in his wallet, he got used to this life,” he recalls while speaking of himself in the third person. However, he says he prefers Europeans and North Americans because “they pay better and are more delicate.” He had an African only once, a doctor from Luanda who gave him many gifts.

“My body is my enterprise,” he brags. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes”

Beginning some years back, Sandor has had a routine he repeats daily. He gets up at noon and tries to eat only protein. “No bread or fried things that make me fat; my body is my enterprise,” he brags. He also takes vitamins and spends hours in the gym. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes,” he points out while lifting several pounds of iron to render his biceps irresistible.

At the gym he met Susy, a transsexual who is also in the business. She helped him find more select clients with more money. They both work without pimps, although there are groups of pingueros that pay others to protect them as they try to make a living in certain territories. On the corner of Payret Theater one can only work if “one is protected” because police harassment is very harsh, explained Susy on the first week of friendship.

The police know the hook-up zones well. Some of the officers fight to patrol those corners or streets to get money in exchange for looking the other way. It’s a profitable business, where the pinguero has everything to lose if he doesn’t give the cop a piece of the prize or do him a sexual favor.

Sandor prefers not having to show himself off on the street, instead he looks for his clients inside of clubs, cabarets, and other local party scenes. His ID with a transitional Havana address expired and he is now illegally in Havana. If he comes across a troublemaking policeman, it’s very probable that he will be deported to his home province.

Since he arrived in the city, he has been detained on various occasions. He has three warnings and could be tried for the charge of pre-criminal dangerousness. The last time he was inside a police station, the officer told him that he knew what he was doing, so he changed his area of operation from Old Havana to Vedado and Playa.

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having the entire night’s earnings snatched away

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having an entire night’s earnings snatched away. If he had a pimp, then he would protect him and keep la fiana, or the police, away, but since he works alone, he needs to deal with those in uniform. The worst thing is ending up in a cell, because there anything can happen. 

The price of meat by its hanging weight

Every day, the market becomes more competitive and each client wants the best porcelain for the smallest price. The illusion of buying a home or supporting a lover with what you make is a thing of the past. A wrinkle, a bit of belly that may show when you strap your belt will signify tens of convertible pesos in losses. “On facial and body treatments, gym and clothes alone, I spend most of what I make,” he says while showing us his Dolce & Gabbana underwear. Most likely they are a counterfeit of the Italian brand, but, even so, they cost about a month’s earnings for a regular state worker.

He doesn’t scout his clients on looks because he confesses that his work does not give him pleasure and it’s been a long time since he has felt anything. In order to give a good performance of his role, he tries to think of some porn film or he drinks some alcohol. Sometimes he thinks of a girlfriend he had back in his town, when he still wore his middle school uniform and life seemed simpler.

But that was a long time ago. Now he has to work very hard. Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease. For months he disguised himself an “intellectual” with sandals and went to Plaza de Armas. There, he feigned looking at books on displays and branded the yumas, capturing various sleepless admirers of Che who wanted to feel “the clay of the new man.”

Susy has shown him how to tell the ones who are forrados (the wealthy ones) apart. It’s in the details; like being treated to bottled water or a Heineken beer on the first date. He once knew a German who, in August’s midsummer heat, would pack his own beverage in his backpack and wouldn’t even offer a sip.

The man turned out to be so stingy that Sandor got payback and applied la segunda, which is to take him in a taxi to where, supposedly, they will spend the night. The client would have paid for the room in advance and when he gets out, the driver hits the gas and “if I once saw you, I no longer recall.” He later had to share his earnings with the taxi driver, but at least he taught the miserly man a lesson… “so he learns,” he would chuckle to himself for weeks.

Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease.

The best case is when an old client recommends a pinguero to his friends and so more come over. Sandor spent some months with a group of Japanese businessmen because of that, but the Cuban government didn’t pay them what it owed and no one from the company ever came again. When he remembers those days his face lights up and he shows off a gold tooth, “it’s a shame they didn’t come back, because they were very polite and had a lot of money.

In the world of the pingueros there’s someone for every taste and every wallet, but Sandor explains that “the one you see there, with the nice watch and the fancy cellphone, most likely if a yuma propositions him for 20 CUC he will say no” and he will demand that he give him more than the 150 he already has in his wallet. But those older than 20 can’t make such high demands. “Fresh meat, the fresh meat always wins,” he says with some melancholy as he touches his hardened thigh muscles from hours at the gym.

When Sandor closes a deal, he goes off to a privately rented room. A bed, condoms, and it’s all set. Nowadays he prefers private rooms to hotels because they’re more intimate and he also gets a commission for taking a client. Some of them are just like hotel rooms, with air conditioning, Jacuzzis, minibars, and mirrors on the ceiling.

Sometimes he gets a client who wants a longer relationship. Those are the most yearned for. The biggest success of the operation is finding a foreigner that will support them from overseas. The highest price for his caresses is to manage to leaving the country. But, make no mistake, on the other side he says he wants to abandon this lifestyle. “I’ll load bags onto ships with my bare back or mop floors in a hospital, but I won’t return to this filth.”

For the moment, while waiting for the foreigner who will get him out of here comes around, he dreams of buying a motorcycle. When he has it, he wants to show it off in the same areas he has offered his goods, but this time with a “hot girl with a killer body” on his arm. That will be his small revenge for all that’s past.

Maybe he’ll go back to his town, to see what’s become of his dad. He will take a bottle of aged rum for him and get his grandmother some new perfume. From that trip “I’ll come back with a country girl to wash and iron my clothes who I can also introduce to the business.” He plans to live off of her for some time, but, if they have a child, “he has to get out of this shit, he has to get out of this shit.”

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

“Our actions can make people lose their fears” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar and Jose Daniel Ferrer

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)
José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2015 — Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country and leader of Cuba’s most numerous opposition organization, is also a compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance and the years he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks, will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies. continue reading

Escobar: And the embargo?

Ferrer: Our people and the international community have in great part been critical with regards to the embargo, which by now has lasted for more than 50 years. In all this time, and especially following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban government has placed the blame for our economic woes on the embargo, and has even used it to justify repression within the country. Obama’s policies delegitimize these justifications. Additionally, they are in tune with the sentiments of Cubans and of the international community.

Escobar: During your encounter with various American members of congress, you expressed the gratitude of your organization’s activists who had been released from prison as a result of the negotiations. Can you give us more details about them?

Ferrer: Of the 38 political prisoners that were freed between the days of January 7 and 8, 28 of them were members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, in other words more than 70%. Of the 10 who were not members of UNPACU, 4 have already reached out to us and vocalized their desire join our organization. However, 14 of our activists are still imprisoned, 10 of them affiliated with our branches in eastern provinces and the other 4 belonging to organizations that are associated to our own.

“As soon as they find out about someone who has chosen not to make their dissent public, they threaten them with removing them from their jobs or even worse things.”

 Escobar: What type of activism does UNPACU carry out?

Ferrer: Our organization is not just a group of audacious and courageous activists that protest peacefully on the streets. That mode of operation, that type of battle, is just the tip of the iceberg. Our strategy includes a great variety of means of peaceful combat, including seminars, courses, disseminating leaflets when the wind is favorable, putting up posters in public spaces… even better if it’s at the headquarters of the People’s Power (Poder Popular) or the offices of the Communist Party.

In a society that has been paralyzed by terror for many years, our actions can make people lose their fear.

Escobar: Do you see a disjunction between street activism and other forms of dissidence?

Ferrer: Discrete activism also greatly annoys the regime. They, through their intelligence apparatuses, know where we meet and with whom despite our greatest efforts. As soon as they find out about someone who has chosen not to make their dissent public, they threaten them with removing them from their jobs or even worse things. This is especially true when it’s someone who, because of his or her training or talent, could be a strong protagonist. But, if that person chooses to defend their rights, then the threats can be greater. That’s the proof that they fear these forms of activism more than the others.

Escobar: It has transpired that the organization you lead has lost alliances with other groups. Is that true? And if so why is that?

Ferrer: Many factors come to play here. In the first place, when other organizations merged with the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the oppressive bodies of the government also multiplied their efforts to divide us. Another issue is that some leaders believed at certain points that the best way to accelerate the process of non-violent combat was by uniting with UNPACU and later they changed their minds. Be it because attacks multiplied or because there were also instances of disagreement, some chose to return to their prior situations.

In fact, the relations between these groups and us remain good. Our disposition to cooperate remains. If we had to choose what was more important, for everyone to come under the same name and things not run as smoothly as they should, or that each keep their organization’s name and that things work better, we would choose the latter. We have separated but we did not become enemies.

“Some activists and opposition leaders object to reestablishing relations between the two countries and also disapprove of dismantling the embargo.”

Escobar: And has Obama’s announcement of December 17th deepened those differences?

Ferrer: With regards to the recent changes in policy announced by the Cuban and United States governments, there are some who believe it is a mistake. Some activists and opposition leaders object to reestablishing relations between the two countries and also disapprove of dismantling the embargo. However, we have to find what unites us. They want the same as we do: the democratization of the country and that Cuba respect human rights. They want us to be a just and prosperous nation “with all and for the good of all*.” The difference is in the means, not the objective, which we hold in common.

Escobar: So, you propose finding consensus points?

Ferrer: Yes, we would work together to reach that common end, including those who disagree with us today on topics like the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. We hope that they too understand that they can cooperate with us.

*Translator’s note: A quote from José Martí who is honored by both the Castro regime and its opponents.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket
Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2014 – It’s been three years since the Communist Party of Cuba’s First National Conference. As can be expected, few are the people, including a great part of that organization’s own militants, who remember what was agreed to at that meeting and, to an even lesser extent, which of the adopted accords remain unimplemented. But, who cares?

The “Work Objectives” approved by the Conference, point 62 of Chapter II, titled “Ideological and Political Work,” outlines the need to “work especially on the conceptualization of the theoretical fundamentals of the Cuban economic model.” Eight months prior to that Conference, the Communist Party of Cuba’s Sixth Congress had revealed the Guidelines (Lineamientos) that would govern the country’s economic and social policies. All pointed to the fact that, since conceptualization could not be the source of inspiration for the Guidelines, it could at least be its after-the-fact theoretical justification.

However, the task of theorizing seems to be more complex than the practical application or, to say it in official jargon, “the implementation” of the Guidelines, which have a structure led by Mr. Marino Murillo, Minister of the Economy. Who is responsible for the conceptualization? What entity is committed to undertake it? No one knows. continue reading

The term “update” has been chosen to define what, in less official settings, is referred to as “reforms” to the Cuban economic model. The genesis of said model was designed based on those economic theses which, in 1975, during the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, put in practice the so-called Economic Direction and Planning System. But, that framework collapsed when in 1986 the comandante unleashed the Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies. All that has come since then has been a chain of improvisations filled with patches intended to find momentary solutions — to keep “resolving.” Today, when speaking of “updating,” no one explains clearly what has aged or where the novelties have come from. That would be the task of conceptualization!

Today, when speaking of “updating”, no one explains clearly what has aged or where the novelties have come from

The first condition needed to achieve this mission impossible of conceptualizing what has been outlined by the Guidelines would be that the formulations bear some coherence to the principles of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine or, at the very least, with one of the vague statements made by the historic leader. Not even Cantinflas would be able to do it. Unless, of course, some enlightened graduate of the Ñico López National School of the Party has found the keys to the new revelation. But the evolution of our reality demands another kind of theoretical orchestration. To appeal to the conceptual tools that lie at the origin of our problems cannot result in the emergence of solutions. That would be like trying to uphold geocentric principles using string theory or explaining Cuban “Bufo” Theater with the Stanislavski System.

We’re a little over a year away from the Communist Party of Cuba’s Seventh Congress. If only as an elemental formality, the conceptualization should be presentable before that event, so that it may be discussed and approved. But, who cares?

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Yes to Regulation, No to Control / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin
Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Camagüey, 21 January 2015 — I interviewed Fernando Pérez in a small room of that little movie theater is still left in Camagüey one day after the premiere of his latest production, La pared de las palabras (Wall of Words), a stellar film about which I didn’t ask a single question. I decided not to interview the film director and instead question the intellectual, the public figure who contributes more than just his works to the daily life of Cuba.

Fernando Pérez deserves, and can handle, any difficult question one can think of. His films, never boring and with noteworthy depth, reveal a certain level of social nonconformity and demonstrate high cinematographic and intellectual capacities that transform the slim and modest man into a very serious subject. Despite being thoroughly deserving, the cinematographer isn’t inflated with the airs of a great artist or a prominent public figure and treats with kindness both his public and the press. continue reading

I had to ask him a complicated or daring question in the scarce minutes of my interview because there was little I hadn’t heard following his eloquent speeches before the camagüeyano audiences that had welcomed him in various places throughout the day.

Constantin. Following the prohibition of privately owned movie theaters, do you, cinematographers, still include in your proposals for the Cinema Law the independent distribution and showing of films?

Peréz. We’ve advanced a proposal that, of course, includes the distribution, showing, and preservation of our patrimony.

Regarding showings, there are very few venues that meet the requirements of a real movie theater. There are generations of youths that don’t know what a real movie theater is, even in a moment where the ways of showing and distributing films have diversified, for better or for worse. Rescuing the quality of movie theaters is fundamental. I can watch a movie in a smaller screen, on a laptop even, I don’t oppose that, but its true place is in a movie theater, not because it’s dark or because it is projected on a larger screen, it’s because of the energy generated from watching it alongside a live audience. It’s as if you were living within another movie altogether. Our movie theaters have either lost their intended purpose at the expense of other varied activities or, due to decay, have ceased to operate completely.

“Personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.”

On the other hand, distribution is still centralized within The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). We need to debate an editorial policy that is concrete and safe because there are national works – and I’m not talking about the international ones – that are not shown due to an editorial policy that is unclear. That needs to be regulated as well; it can’t be subjected to circumstantial or temporary decisions.

Q. Does your proposed Cinema Law conceive the ICAIC as the sole entity charged with distributing and showing films in Cuba?

A. Not exactly, although we don’t have all the answers, but distributing and showing is an extensive process that depends on a financial framework that we neither manage nor will. But, we are considering and analyzing the possibility of a breakup, a decentralization of many of these activities, where independent initiatives, regulated but not controlled, can generate improvements and also experience a more dynamic growth themselves.

I think that beyond Cuba’s audiovisual industry, having a centralized pyramidal social structure has caused many aspects of our reality to be plagued by processes that delay, that don’t find solutions, that aren’t dynamic, and that are bureaucratized because they depend on centralized decisions that cannot respond to everything. More freedom to operate and act would facilitate personal initiative, and personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.

This structural relaxation has to somehow be envisioned as part of the system we would like to have. I can’t give you concrete solutions because we are, in fact, debating. We don’t want them to come only from us; we want to explore them with other regulatory entities in our country. Not everything will be feasible immediately.

We feel like that policy is not yet outlined, or like we don’t know where it’s going, or that it’s too centralized, that it starts on a routinely straight line that is very difficult to divert.

“Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all.”

Q. From what I’ve seen within your work, you strike me as a person who believes that art can serve to change the world you live in. How do you see the relationship between art and politics?

A. Art needs to relate and mingle with life and also have its own discourse within that relationship, holding the person at the center of it all. While politics delves into the general, art targets the particular. Politics can serve art, by always upholding the freedom of expression that art needs, and art can serve politics, by rendering its reality more complex without becoming propaganda. If art becomes political propaganda, its reach becomes limited.

Q. I asked you that question because I was interested in knowing your opinion regarding Tania Bruguera’s performance and all that occurred around it.

A. Tania Bruguera’s situation has been very, very, very complicated. I think that it is possible that at some point an open microphone can be placed on Revolution Square. What happened was that Tania proposed it at a time when she knew it wasn’t possible. For a performance to have a deliberate result, it needs to account for its possible reach. Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all. So, the performance was the whole process, the waves of detentions, censorship… it wasn’t the microphone for people to speak through. That will happen someday, but not now.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

A Letter to Fidel Castro from ‘A Revolutionary Cuban’ / 14ymedio

Fidel Castro billboard: "Fight against the impossible and win"
Fidel Castro billboard: “Fight against the impossible and win”

Dear Fidel,

I know you’re dead. Despite their attempts to hide it from me, to deny it or to lie about it with false letters bearing your signature, I am convinced of your death.

I don’t believe you capable of abandoning us now, at the moment when we need you most, because that’s not what you have accustomed us to. I can’t imagine you sitting back on your recliner enjoying a good book, listening to music or eating your favorite dishes knowing that the course of this country is changing at a vertigo-provoking speed that we are not used to and that we are now faced with the impossible task of writing a new chapter in our history without a leader. I can’t picture you oblivious or indifferent, absent as if you were roaming on an adrift cruise ship, or wandering some faraway lands, ignoring what happens on this island that gave you life, that gave you glory, and made you universal. I also know that you would never cower like an ostrich or a rat before the dangers that stalk us.

I know that if you were still alive you would be, right now, exhorting us to defy these dangers like you always have. You would be warning us of the threats that, invisible to us, only you are capable of seeing. If you were alive, we would have seen you, filled with emotion, embrace your Cuban Five, your heroes, for whose freedom we rallied behind you in every campaign, march, parade, and act. If you still held on to life, you wouldn’t allow the threat of the empire to fly again over our heads, except this time closely, too closely, and with new arms and combat tactics for which we are unprepared. You wouldn’t allow savage capitalism to return to Cuba nor for those whom we once vanquished by simply throwing eggs at them to come back as proud victors. continue reading

If even a drop of life were to still inhibit your body, you would give your people a dignified goodbye, that people that has supported you in everything: in the liberation war, by cleansing the counter-revolutionary threats that hid in the Escambray Mountains, working the arduous sugarcane zafras, repudiating the “worms”, the “antisocials”, and the “scum,” betting our lives in Angola, Nicaragua, or Venezuela with rifles, notebooks and pencils or white coats, on volunteer work, giving what little we had to others and receiving nothing in exchange, and battling today, defenselessly, your most recent detractors. Right now, it’s your obligation to stand with us and you know it.

You surely haven’t forgotten (I haven’t) your favorite slogans, like “Homeland or Death” and “Socialism or Death”, those that you pronounced at the end of every speech in a firm tone, and that we followed with cries of “We will be victorious” before we applauded you in passionate approval while exclaiming “Long live Fidel” and “Long live the Revolution.” If neither the Homeland nor Socialism interest you any longer, the only logical explanation is that death has won against you in that final battle and we should not be kept in the dark, we should know, if at least out of respect for those that have supported you unconditionally, so that we may grieve you and honor you with a humble but heartfelt tribute.

And if your death not be true, excuse my sincerity Comandante, I’d rather continue thinking you’re dead because it’s simply the best option I have to keep my faith as a Revolutionary.

A Revolutionary Cuban, January 16 2015

3 and 25 p.m.*

*Translator’s Note: Fidel Castro signs his writings with the time expressed in this way.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

14ymedio, 23 January 2015