Cuban Politics During the Last Six Decades / Somos+, Hector Fernandez

The island of Cuba in the Caribbean.

Somos+, Héctor Fernández, 23 May 2020 — For more than five decades, the Castro brothers – good thieves that they are – did all kinds of illicit business, such as trafficking in arms, gold, marble, drugs, anything that could be beneficial to the Government. Africa, America, and Europe were their primary settings. They seized such Nubian assets as minerals and antique art and began training paramilitary groups in different countries, with the free and “disinterested” collaboration of Russia.

As a boy, I heard of all these exploits of the Cuban government, and whenever it was talked about in my house or in Havana, the sadness of my family showed on their faces. How could the Island crumble in the face of the people, who were being robbed in different ways – such as when all property was taken from the peasant owners, the functionaries telling that they would receive benefits by going to community buildings, where they would be better off. It was so sarcastic that many refused and were subjected to insults, called “worms”, and being harassed by the government militia all the time until they could take it no longer and had to turn over their property.

Just like the Colombian guerrilla army that made good people leave their native cities and emigrate. Almost more than 405-million Latin Americans emigrate daily because of these revolutions, which are believed to promote a truly just system, but all they do is to senselessly and inhumanely massacre a people. continue reading

The average Cuban learned what it means to be with God and the Devil: one goes to church and later returns to adore the image of Fidel and Raúl.

Leonardo Padura is one more apprentice of this double standard, a writer whose pen has the gift of wisdom but whose corrupt soul, like many others, is not transparent because his government so demands it. It is like the mulatto on the street corner, the mulatto criollo, nonchalantly proclaiming, “Here I am, passing for white until they find me out….” And this is the double skin, the double standard of today with God, tomorrow with the Devil.

Therefore, one way for Cuban women to protest is by prostitution; that is how they tell the Government that a hungry woman will sleep with a man who buys her dinner. It is a way of showing her bottom to the authorities, as the African Americans do by wearing their pants down by their knees (a form of protest that started long ago in jailhouses). It is the way the people have to protest, their only weapon. Society styles its fashion according to the oppression it is subjected to; there is nothing worse than to fight with God and tomorrow be friends with the Devil.

One question that emerges from the atrocity of an almost half-century of errors is, how does Castro-style socialism function? It is a question that comes to all our minds. This was answered by a friend of mine who, sincerely and without evasiveness, gave his opinion: “How does it function? By political slogans, without thinking, by repetition.”

They judge the value of a human being by his titles as if these were an indicator of one’s intelligence, by his professional achievements and not for being a true believer, using the double mask of the Revolution, the double standard. The famous Tapados [Hidden Ones] – Communist Party militants who for convenience and not by conviction rule the people – corrupt leaders who squander the few resources that the Country has, inventing economic projects that in the end do not give results… Cuba has received the equivalent of the Marshall Plan 8 times from the former Soviet Union and has not obtained any results.

The economy remains deaf, blind, and dumb, it does not obey anyone’s orders … it has its laws … with the North American embargo, and on top of that, with a centralized economy that does not work, at some point, it should – it must – change.

China, for many, is a model; but how can we say that this is good for others? A country full of socialist slogans and laws can never be an example to anyone.

One of the most harmful blockades* on the Island is demagogy and the total lack of pragmatic economic models.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s Note: The term, “blockade,” is used by the Cuban government to refer to the US embargo against Cuba.

From the Gulag to the UMAP: Official History and the Control of Memory

The U.M.A.P: Where Work Makes the Man

Abel Sierra Madero, Hypermedia Magazine, 15 May  2020 — Yuri Brokhin, a Soviet filmmaker who defected in 1972 and settled in the United States, described his experience trying to purchase a Volga automobile in the late 1960s. In all of Voroshilovgrad, Ukraine, there were only twelve of these cars available for sale to the public, but they were already reserved for soccer players. One police commissioner, who wanted to “enter” History, told Brokhin that if he made a film about his department’s accomplishments, he could help him with the matter of the car.

“We must show the Soviet people…. what a modern correctional camp is like,” he recommended. [1]

Lights, Camera, Action…

Given the enthusiasm with which the police commissioner described it, Brokhin said, it was possible that the Soviets were choosing their vacation destinations wrongly. It was much more pleasant to go to a forced labor camp.

When the crew arrived at the Voroshilovgrad Oblast gulag, which was dedicated to building boilers for locomotives, they found at the entrance, tied to the barbed wire fence, a sign with the inscription: “Labor turned the Ape into Man – Friedrich Engels.” [2] The filmmaker was astonished, but his thoughts were only of his Volga. continue reading

Since the idea was to show the “miracle” of the forced labor camp, they filmed several detainees, including Sidorov, who was charged with armed robbery. In a colorful and romantic scene, Sidorov stopped working and greeted the commissioner with a warm handshake. Immediately, he and other inmates protested and asked why they had not received additional ideological materials to read, for example, the five volumes of speeches by Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Supreme Soviet, and more books by Marx and Lenin.

The film crew also took some shots of the residential area of ​​the camp. In these scenes, some barracks looked impeccable, its lawn green and freshly trimmed. It was likely, Brokhin reflected, that the facilities were in good shape because there were no political prisoners, or perhaps these were set for propaganda and public relations purposes.

In the film one of the wardens introduced on-camera the enthusiastic comrades, who spoke of the miracle of re-education. Among them was Savchenko, a.k.a. Pot, who was announced as an “ex-thief and active homosexual.” “Citizens, for the first time in my life, I understand what a collective is. Thanks to the collective, I have become a changed man,” said Pot. [3] According to Brokhin, several around Pot muttered, “Yes, yes, he’s changed from active to passive.” [4]

Other speakers criticized US imperialism and called to increase production levels. The film ends with the hymn, “The Party is our Guide,” by the Soviet composer Vano Muradeli. The police commissioner kept his word, and by the end of 1967, Yuri Brokhin was driving his Volga.

A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.

Yuri Borkhin was not the only one involved in the project of changing and exporting a positive image of the gulag, even Eisenstein himself participated as well as other artists, photographers, painters and writers, including Maxim Gorky.

In 1934, the playwright edited – along with S. G Firin (Semen Georgievich) and Leopold Averbach, a critic who was shot in 1938 – Belomor, The “Stalin” Channel Between the Baltic and White Seas: An Account of Its Construction. This was a volume commissioned by the secret police (GPU) to produce a positive memory of the gulag. Several writers and inmates participated in the project, which, in a tone of self-criticism, praised the policy of reeducation and the role of the political police.

But the representation of the gulag as a resort had already been attempted in Solovki, a 1928 picture directed by Aleksandr Cherkasov, whom the GPU had commissioned to produce a propaganda film. The material was part of a strategy to counter the allegations of Sergei Malsagov, who had escaped from the Solovki prison camp and was making statements to the English press.

The vision of Cherkasov’s film has nothing to do with horror. On the contrary, in it the filmmaker portrays a “model” camp, in which the viewer can appreciate comfortable accommodations, delicious food and even cultural attractions: theater, variety shows and concerts. The Solovki gulag portrayed in the film also boasted a museum, a newspaper, a school, and a library. And, of course, we can also see young people taking a dip in the lake after work or playing sports.

A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.
A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.

The Solovki, or Soloviets camp was located in the premises of a former cloistered monastery. At the entrance was a banner with huge letters, which stated a cordial welcome: “With an iron hand we will lead humanity to happiness.” [5]

Cherkasov’s film is at once pleasing and terrifying, with a clear, example-making message for the enemies of the Soviet state. The film narrates the tortuous and long cycle of rehabilitation. “Spies, speculators, thieves, bandits, those who disturb order, and counterrevolutionaries are sent to the Solovki Islands, in the White Sea,” explained the written narrative of the film. [6] According to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, religious envoys, including Orthodox monks, prostitutes, and intellectuals – such as Dmitri Likhachov and Pavel Florensky – were sent to Solovki. [7]

The camp’s mission, as clarified on a poster, was to “create work habits and re-educate socially harmful persons to turn them into useful members of society.” [8] Some administrative details are given in the film. “Those who resist education through work are transferred to a punishment section on Sekirnaya Mountain,” it warns. [9] In a military-type formation or parade, inmates are ironically described as the “trash” of society, term proper to communist biopolitical jargon.

The scenes depicting the massive transfer on trains of people escorted by the military with long weapons are overwhelming. The choreography of inmates in a boot factory, the composition of machines, forges, lathes, and agricultural laborers picking and shoveling amid the speed and quietness of “silent” cinema, create an even more oppressive ambience. A herd of aligned pigs became the image of the inmates.

The UMAP We’ve Been Taught and the Control of Memory

In Cuba, the history of the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) has also been camouflaged and distorted by official narratives. But unlike the Soviets, who saw cinema and literature as instruments to wash the memory of the gulag, the leaders of the Cuban Revolution did not take such risk. The installation of those infamous forced labor camps, between 1965 and 1968, was managed as a state secret. But when the atrocities and abuses began to generate an international panic over the authoritarian symptoms that the Revolution was showing, the strategy changed. Then a policy of damage control was developed, aimed at constructing a different public memory of the concentration camp.

I will not dwell on the details of the structure, design and organization of the UMAP, nor on the punishments. This essay has a different objective. In 2016 I made a couple of contributions to the topic that readers can access. These are “Academies to Produce Macho Men in Cuba,” an article that was published by Letras Libres magazine, and “‘Work will make you men’: National masculinization, forced labor and social control in Cuba during the sixties”, a slightly longer essay published in issue 44 of the academic journal, Cuban Studies.

The government’s damage control policy toward the UMAP, was based on the construction of narratives about economic success and the “miracle” of forced labor camps as an educational model. Adelante, the newspaper of the province of Camagüey, was one of the platforms from which attempts were made to manage the memory of the UMAP. It was in that region that most of the units were installed.

The campaign began on the recommendations of Raúl Castro himself. On April 9, 1966, a few months after the camps were put in place, Castro visited Camagüey and spoke with some journalists. “I don’t know if you will have time to do a little reports on the UMAP out there.” [10] Immediately, a journalist alleged: “The problem is that there is no authorization to report about the UMAP.” [11]

In the photo, Captain José Q. Sandino, one of the officers in charge of managing the forced labor camps. Verde Olivo, Year VII, No. 23. Havana, June 12, 1966.

Apparently, the journalists received the authorization, because the “little reports” that Raúl Castro requested started coming out a few days later. On April 13, 1966, the journalist Luis M. Arcos published in the pages of Adelante a pamphlet in which he affirmed – using language typical of manuals of Marxist-Leninist philosophy – that the UMAP had a formative, educational character, and that they played “a very important role in the radical transformation of the nation.” [12] He also said that the camps had been created for the welfare of society, and that they were the subject of “continuous speculation by counter-revolutionary elements.” [13]

These contents, published in the state-controlled media, are far from a model of investigative journalism. They are generally written for propaganda purposes. The curation of the images and quotations tacitly support the official account.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and its press organs also sold the idea that inmates with high productivity in cutting sugar cane were rewarded with material goods. On October 30, 1966, Verde Olivo magazine published a note with some photographs, which gave the assurance that the “comrades” had been compensated with motorcycles, refrigerators, radios and watches.

It is likely that the awards ceremony was a staged as public relations event. The text quoted a short speech by José Q. Sandino Rodríguez, chief of the UMAP General Staff, in which he assured that the ceremony “once again disrupted the string of lies rolled out by the enemies of the Revolution”, who tried to present it as a “punitive institution”. [14]

In one of the passages in his book, After Captivity, Freedom: A Real-Life Account of Castro’s Cuba, Luis Bernal Lumpuy refers to the disguise exercise the guards carried out in the facilities of his unit, when they expected visits from the press. He also talks about the “performance” that they were forced to do every time this happened.

In the spring of 1966, Bernal Lumpuy wrote that they received a visit from Commander Ernesto Casillas, then head of the UMAP General Staff, who came with journalists and cameramen. They brought baseball gloves, bats and balls, and distributed them among the inmates. “They had such a hearty lunch that it later affected the health of the starving prisoners, and they prepared an event in the camp for the commander to speak.” [15] Casillas promised family visits, “as if that were a generous act of the Revolution, and he even lied when he said that we would be given permission to go to our homes that month, which did not happen until months later.”

They had arranged, concludes Luis Bernal Lumpuy, for the cameras to capture “the enthusiasm of some who lent themselves to the propaganda game.” A few days later “the press, radio, and national television showed groups of youth from the UMAP carrying Commander Casillas on their shoulders as though he were a hero.” [16]

As part of the campaign that I have been describing, the Army decided to choose some of the inmates and grant them military ranks. They were awarded the title of “corporals”. This strategy sought to establish in public opinion the notion that the UMAP were not concentration camps, but rather military units. According to the testimony of José Caballero Blanco, some commanders “were abusive in exchange for perks. This is nothing new, if you consider that there are jails that use some prisoners to repress their colleagues.” [17]

Indeed, in other concentration camp settings, it was very common for the wardens to use inmates to suppress their peers and do the dirty work. In Nazi camps, for example, there was the sad role of the Sonderkommandos: Jews put in charge of aiding the machinery to exterminate their own people. However, the category of Kapos (or Funktionshäftlinge), is more in line with the squadrons that were created in the forced labor camps in Cuba. In the gulag they were known as “foremen” (nariádchik).

Within the CENESEX, everything – against the CENESEX, nothing

I have explained this on several occasions, but I think it is necessary to say it again. For some years now, we have seen a series of mutations taking place in the Cuban regime aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of the system and erasing the past. I call this process of political shapeshifting, “State transvestism” and it consists in a readjustment of Cold War revolutionary rhetoric – using the notion of diversity in an instrumental way to offer an image of change for foreign consumption – when in fact very few changes have been made. [18] This strategy began to be tested a decade ago by the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), directed by Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of General Raúl Castro.

The notion of “transvestism” is based on a reading of the State as a porous, fluid body, and not as a rigid and immovable structure. I use it mainly to describe the masquerades, camouflages, and appropriations that official institutions make of the practices and “performance” of the transvestite and their milieu. “State transvestism” is, therefore, a project of de-politicization and assimilation, aimed at producing certain bodies and subjectivities, as well as controlling their political and cultural history.

This project, besides testing new modes of political control, promotes an amnesic transition, a washed-out national memory, and the rewriting of History. The idea is to rearrange and rewrite certain historical processes that connect the Revolution with discrimination and homophobia.

For decades, homophobia in Cuba was a state policy that legitimized the purges of homosexuals from institutions and the establishment of forced labor camps, designed to build the communist “new man”.

Mariela Castro has tried to minimize the scope and dimension of the UMAP in the History of the Cuban Revolution. She even promised an investigation on this topic. We are still waiting for it. Since then, the director of CENESEX has stated in many appearances and interviews that the UMAP constituted an isolated error and were not in any way forced labor camps.

Mariela Castro recently did it again and provoked in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, multiple and bitter controversial reactions. It occurred during an online broadcast, where she used biopolitical terms and the language of animality against critics, calling them “cheap trinkets” and “tics”. One more term to add to the large repertoire of hate and intolerance discourses designed to attack and dehumanize those who dissent or think different.

Comments on social media exploded instantly. “Everything within CENESEX, nothing against CENESEX,” some answered, in frank allusion to the 1961 speech delivered by the late Fidel Castro, which became known as “Words to the Intellectuals”.

A few days ago, Mariela Castro was invited to La tarde se mueve [Afternoon Moves] a show hosted by Edmundo García on YouTube. The activist is known for his affection for the Cuban regime, even though he lives in Miami. It is not by chance that Castro Espín used this platform to talk about the UMAP. Her statements coincided with the fact that the documentary, Pablo Milanés, produced in 2016 by Juan Pin Vilar, became available to the public. The film was censored in Cuba and was restricted on Vimeo until now. There, Milanés talks briefly about the UMAP, where he was sent in 1966, when his musical career was taking off.

“Although there is no comparison, I can tell you that I was at Auschwitz and the facilities were better than those of the UMAP (laughs). The facilities were scary,” he said. Auschwitz is a superlative representation of horror that ex-UMAP inmates have used repeatedly. However, this analogy has produced serious consequences for the legitimacy of their narratives, because, among other things, there were no crematoriums or gas chambers at the UMAP. This exercise must be understood within a strategy aimed at locating their experiences within a universal story, on a global map of concentration camps.

In the film, Pablo Milanés says that while in the UMAP, he suffered from Stockholm syndrome. Along with the actor Ricardo Barber, a play was produced and performed in their unit. This is how he describes it: “We did a work that favored those who had sent us there and blamed ourselves for having gone there. We felt guilty, because every day they told us, ‘you are trees that have grown crooked’.” Apparently, the guards were pleased and proposed that we perform it in other camps. “Barber and I tore up the play and said we didn’t remember it and that we didn’t want to do it anywhere. We had been rendering tributes to those who sent us there,” he concluded. Ricardo Barber left Cuba in the 1970s and went to New York, where he died in late 2018.

For some time after leaving the UMAP, Pablo Milanés became one of the icons of the Nueva Trova movement. His songs, along with those of Silvio Rodríguez, among others, formed the soundtrack of the Revolution that influenced millions of people. Although in Cuba it was an open secret that Milanés had been sent to the concentration camps, Pablo waited several decades to discuss the matter.

Until Juan Pin Vilar’s documentary came out in 2016, the singer-songwriter had limited himself to giving just a few details to foreign journalists who interviewed him during his international tours. The few bites of information he provided regarding his experience in the UMAP always coincided with the promotion of his concerts in Latin America.

It is possible that the Stockholm syndrome of which Pablo Milanés speaks has affected him for a long time. In 1984, almost twenty years after leaving the UMAP, he wrote, “Cuando te encontré [When I Found You]”, a love song to the Revolution that advocates: “It would be better to drown in the sea than to betray the glory we have lived.” In addition, there are indications that in 1980 he participated, along with other members of the Nueva Trova, in a repudiation rally against his colleague Mike Porcel.

“The release of this documentary and the statements of Mariela Castro Espín in La tarde se mueve are connected. In what seems like a response to Pablo Milanés, the director of CENESEX tried to downplay the UMAP. To give it a little opacity, she said that the UMAP is an “exaggerated and distorted issue.” Although she acknowledged that “the process of arresting civilians was terrible,” she justified the settlement and installation of the forced labor camps: “There were people who were totally distanced from the country’s problems and did not want to do their bit.”

In addition, for obvious reasons, she blamed the raids and arrests on the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and not on the Ministry of the Armed Forces (FAR), an institution that her father, General Raúl Castro, was then leading. “That was a job that was done from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), it was not compatible with what the Armed Forces had decided,” she assured. This way, she not only deforms collective memory, but also exempts the culprits of the experiment from responsibility.

According to Mariela Castro, the experience of the inmates in the forced labor camps depended on the circumstances of each location. “At the UMAP there were “managers” [officers] who were not homophobic, and who treated their people well, and who were understanding,” she added. I will return to this later.

In another part of her remarks, the chair of CENESEX continued the practices of accommodating traumatic experiences and the falsification of History. She referenced the Escuela al Campo [Schools in the Countryside] program developed by the revolutionary leaders in the mid-1960s. “We went to Schools in the Countryside. Was going to a School in the Countryside the same as being in concentration camps? We certainly learned a lot and we had a lot of fun and we questioned everything. We had a great time…” she said sarcastically. If these discourses are accepted, it is possible that in the near future we will see the UMAP represented in school textbooks and in the public sphere as simple summer camps or vacation destinations.

As is known, the “Schools in the Countryside” program, begun in 1966, was connected to the project of creating the “new man”, and thousands of children and adolescents were sent to work in agriculture on a compulsory basis. While intensifying pedagogy of indoctrination, the state seized the workforce without providing any economic compensation. This policy was extended across the country for several decades, until the official press announced its end in the summer of 2009.

When I was a teenager I went to a School in the Countryside where I worked the fields and no, it was not a pleasant experience. I always saw it as an absurd, authoritative, and not at all fun imposition. Standards had to be met, and I often felt the hardship of hunger. There were consequences if I refused to work, and I immediately fell under suspicion. The allocation of scholarships or university admissions was subject to my performance as a farm worker.

Castro Espín’s comments try to connect that experiment to a field of affect. Within this logic, forced labor was a kind of carnival, a space of entertainment. We had already seen this type of gesture in the music of singer songwriter Frank Delgado. In the song “Maletas de Madera” [Wooden Suitcases] (2007), the Schools in the Countryside program is represented in a nostalgic dimension, and those years are made into an object of desire. This gaze has consequences for the memory it generates. The latrines, the red soil, and hunger, gained very positive connotations and depoliticized the experience itself. The catchy tune went something like this. “Vamos a formar, una conga, con maletas de madera, tomando agua con azúcar encima de una litera” [“Let’s make a conga with our wooden suitcases, let’s drink water with sugar on top of our bunk beds”].

The most problematic area of ​​Mariela Castro’s comments in La tarde se mueve has to do with her concept of History. According to Castro Espín, historians must stop “picking through the garbage with bad intentions.” This eschatological notion deployed by the director of CENESEX represents researchers as ill-intentioned “garbage collectors”, and History as a discipline that belongs exclusively to the past. It is aimed that the official History of the Revolution be established as a fixed and incontestable narrative. But as writer Reinaldo Arenas would say, Ah, how the shit sizzles when it is stirred. [19]

“The Hour of the UMAP”

State transvestism as a political strategy is also based on the creation of spaces for controlled criticism in which certain discourses are tolerated, as long as they do not endanger the hegemony of the State. These spaces are used systematically to promote certain narratives about the Revolution that guide how some complex historical issues, such as the UMAP, should be read and assimilated.

In November 2015, on the fiftieth anniversary of the installation of these forced labor camps, the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue-Cuba, an institution that seeks to reform the battered Cuban socialism, held a meeting in Cárdenas, Matanzas province, of ex-inmates from the UMAP to discuss the subject.

Several of those attending the event recounted details of their experiences in the forced labor camps and referred to the mistreatment and abuse to which they were subjected by the guards. “I felt disgust for my country,” said Moisés Machado Jardines then. [20] “Because of having been in the UMAP, I was marginalized from my old job and others that I tried to get when I got out, and I even lost my wife, who left with my two children.” [21]

Rafael Hernández, director of Temas, a Social Sciences journal that functions as a space for controlled criticism “within the Revolution”, also participated in the Cárdenas meeting. His contribution was aimed at accommodating and diluting the injustices of the UMAP within Cold War rhetoric. “It is not just about evaluating the justice or effectiveness of those measures, but remembering the historical context in which they were developed,” he said. [22]

Days later, in the Temas blog Hernández published: “The Hour of the UMAP: Notes for a Research Topic”, where he proposed a very particular reading of the forced labor camps in Cuba, and set forth how they should be investigated. For the intellectual, the UMAP were a sort of “re-education schools” – or at the least, “punishment camps” – but not forced labor camps.

At a certain point, he recognized that, given the structure and discipline implemented, the UMAPs were closer to prisons than to military units. At first, he adds, the camps were made up of “antisocial and habitual loafers of military age – that is, people with criminal records or considered pre-criminal.” [23] Here he reproduced the criminological jargon that justified, precisely, the persecution of citizens and the establishment of forced labor camps, without questioning in the very least the biopolitical nature of the Revolution.

By publishing this article in Temas, one of the very few academic journals on the Island, it gave the text an aura of legitimacy and independence from the State, which it does not possess. As I mentioned before, Temas is a space for controlled criticism and ultimately responds to government institutions. Hernández’s work falls within the official History of the Revolution rather than accomplished an investigation done with historiographic rigor and archival research. His text is designed, above all, to detract from the strength and scope of the testimonies produced by Cuban exiles about forced labor camps.

Rafael Hernández’s argument about the testimonies of Cuban exiles is ideologically biased. According to him, these accounts were exaggerated and described only “extreme situations”. On the other hand, those published in Cuba – by some evangelical churches – present a more unbiased and humanized vision.” [24]

Hernández uses as an example of this type of writing the book Dios no entra en mi oficina: Luchando contra la amargura cuando somos víctimas de la injusticia (2003) [God doesn’t come into my office: Fighting bitterness when we are victims of injustice]. This is an autobiographical book written by Alberto I. González Muñoz, a seminarian who was sent to the UMAP. Unlike religious exiles – who were seeking the denunciation of the Cuban regime for establishing the forced labor camps and to spark a debate on public memory policy – González Muñoz urges the reader to not take the book as an “accusation”, because, he suggests, ultimately the UMAP experience was not as horrific as other models of forced labor camps. [25]

The author tries to detach himself from the Auschwitz analogy, the most powerful representation of the concentration camp and totalitarian power, used repeatedly by Cubans who have decided to testify about their traumatic experience in the UMAP. Auschwitz is the image of horror, dehumanization, and perversity of biopolitical power to a superlative degree. The grisliness of that experience makes other models of concentration camps and forced labor, such as the Soviet Gulag, or the UMAP, seem not so terrible.

Alberto I. González Muñoz’s text is inscribed within this logic, it goes so far as to say that he felt “privileged” to have been sent to the UMAP, because he learned more about human nature and about himself. In this book, the design of the institution and the severe punishments appear as “errors” and not as systemic strategies of the apparatuses and control mechanisms established by the Cuban government at that time. [26]

When presenting Dios no entra en mi oficina as a model for “objective” writing, Rafael Hernández overlooks the fact that Alberto I. González Muñoz received privileges from the guards and corporals. As a result his experience in the UMAP was not so tortuous. This particular case cannot be used to minimize the hardship to which thousands of men suffered.

In short, just like Temas, Rafael Hernández’s UMAP text is part of the authorities’ exercises and political strategies aimed at producing certain frameworks of interpretation on the Cuban reality. It consists of a project aimed at erasing and assimilating collective trauma using specific languages and spaces of remembrance, in order to dictate what and how Cubans should remember.

These mechanisms, of course, have repercussions on spaces of memorialization of traumatic events. In literature, for example, it has had a great impact. We have seen how writers, even those who do not depend on Cuban cultural officials to be published, accommodate the past and treat certain events with the same tools of representation used by the State.

Totalitarian regimes tend to produce narratives that dilute repression to distort the scope of tragedy. Wipe the slate clean, some say. The Cuban model is not an exception. In this process, even the victims of the system themselves produce stories that try to accommodate the traumatic experience within a framework of political correctness and forgiveness.

With Dios no entra en mi oficina, Alberto I. González Muñoz constructs a story that in the end absolves those responsible for this atrocious experiment, while distorting, diluting and closing the debate of the politics of memory and the future administration of justice.

This book seeks not only to freeze the past, but also to establish a direct relationship between traumatic experience and the discourses of healing. At the end of the introduction, the author urges those who lived through that nightmare to channel their wounds, pain, and sense of loss through faith and hope. It is the “wisest and healthiest decision,” he says. [27]

Alberto I. González Muñoz insists that the history of his experience at UMAP belongs entirely to the past. “It is useless to raise accusations and condemn what no longer exists, precisely because in due course, it was recognized as wrong and was shut down,” he states at the beginning of his book.

In another passage he says that the closure of the UMAP “in itself was an act of social justice and thus must be historically recognized.” [29] It is worth clarifying that González Muñoz lives in Cuba. I have explained this several times: authors who write from the Island are very careful with their political positions.

The Ethics of the Witness

This accommodative approach is very problematic because of the type of memory it creates and promotes. It is a kind of “fetish memory”, as Isaac Rosa would say. That is, a memory articulated in the anecdotal, the sentimental, rather than one that generates an ideological discussion, a debate about responsibilities and justice. [30] However, at the same time it can be productive to think the different positions of subjects regarding an event, and the witness ethics – of which Giorgio Agamben speaks – when narrating an experience. This ethic is crossed by a kind of moral code that shapes the testimony into a constitutive relationship with politics.

González Muñoz’ witness ethic is based on what he claims as “objectivity”, regarding his relationship with one of the guards. The passage reads: “Listening to him, I comprehended that although he was part of the re-education machinery, he was also a victim like any of us.” [31]

At another point, the author goes further and says that some of the officers “showed sympathy, compassion and affection to the inmates”, to later add: “Many tried to be fair, humane and positive in the midst of the negative circumstance that enveloped them. The experiences with Rosabal, Concepción, Marrero, Zapata, Rojas and others, in addition to mitigating my anxieties in the Military Units to Aid Production, taught me lessons that I urgently needed. Lessons that gave a new dimension to my life”. [32] This statement raises several questions.

Are victims and victimizers in similar positions?

What are the consequences in the construction of public memory when oppressors are portrayed as victims?

What are the tools generated by this argument that can help future processes within the administration of justice?

Here, I consider it opportune to include Primo Levi’s ideas on the role of the witness and the representation of concentration camp wardens. In an appendix he added to the 1976 edition of If This is a Man (1947), Primo Levi clarified that he used the “moderate language of the witness, not the regrettable of the victim or the angry language of the avenger”. [33] The distinction between victim and witness is fundamental to this discussion. Levi thought that his word “would be more credible the more objective and less passionate it was; only in this way does the witness in a trial fulfill his function, which is to prepare the ground for the judge. The judges are you”, he concluded. [3. 4]

That position could be problematic, Levi knew, because the search for a more complex and encompassing “comprehension” of events somehow implied some justification. This is how he put it: “Perhaps everything that happened cannot be comprehended, or should not be comprehended, because to comprehend is almost to justify. I mean: ‘to comprehend’ a proposition or human behavior means (even etymologically) to contain it, to contain the author, to put himself in his place, to identify with him”. [35]

Although in Dios no entra en mi oficina there are no references to Primo Levi, the memory project in which Alberto I. González Muñoz is involved, leads me to think about the notion of “gray zone” outlined by Levi himself. The “gray zone” has to do, precisely, with the act of narrating the experience in an “objective” way. The intention is to “comprehend”, also, the position and subjectivity of the victimizers.

However, that process inevitably leads to the humanization of some of the oppressors. As is known, Levi came into contact with some of the officials of the Nazi extermination machinery when he began to publish his texts and become a public figure. One of them was Ferdinand Meyer. Thanks to the biographies by Ian Thomson (Primo Levi: A Life) and Marina Annissimov (Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist), we know of the correspondence that Primo Levi established with Meyer. Levi made it very clear to him that although he did not feel hatred, he could not forgive either. This exchange allowed the witness to approach those who participated in the Nazi system, without being vile or infamous, as “gray” subjects. In this way, Levi tried to break the binary framework between “good” and “bad”, to assign full responsibility to the system and not to specific subjects.

This position earned him much criticism, including from some who suffered the same fate in Auschwitz, such as Hans Mayer, who wrote, under the name of Jean Améry, At the Mind’s Limits. According to Levi, Jean Améry considered him a “pardoner”, perhaps because his search for “comprehension” somewhat overshadowed the dimension of the tragedy and the responsibility of the guilty.

Miami and Resentment

Améry’s contributions to the debates on forgiveness are important to think the place of justice in the reconstruction of the past and in the imagination of collective memory. In At the Mind’s Limits, Améry states that those who forgive their victimizers, consent to the erasure of their individuality, and are capable of conceiving themselves as part of a collective. [36] That is, one who accepts himself “as a de-individualized and interchangeable piece of the social mechanism”, is diluting the traumatic experience and the figure of the witness, in a collective and accommodative narrative. [37]

For Améry, this process is part of the languages of the oppressor; hence the calls for reconciliation are always suspicious because they impinge upon History itself. He explained, “It seems logically senseless to me to demand objectivity in the controversy with my torturers, with those who helped them, and with the others, who merely stood by silently. The atrocity as atrocity has no objective character”, he explained. [38]

He positioned himself as a witness from a place of “resentment”. The oppressor has to be forced to face the truth of his crime. [39] In his argument, Jean Améry charged against the psychology that constructs victims as sick and disturbed subjects; also against Nietzsche, who in his Genealogy of Morals had spoken of resentment as a category tainted by revenge and lack of integrity. “Thus spake he who dreamed of the synthesis of the brute with the superman,” Améry replied. [40]

In the Cuban case, the notion of “resentment” has generally been associated with the languages ​​of exile. It is a category loaded with a pejorative sense. Within this logic, Cuban exiles are nothing more than spiteful beings, mobilized by revenge, because they have not been able to “overcome the past.”

However, as Améry demonstrates, the notion of resentment does not necessarily have to be associated with revenge, the affective sphere, or the psychological, but rather is, above all, a political and philosophical category. The challenge is to turn resentment into a productive space of memory and not into a repertoire of empty notions of the Cold War. The idea is to convert the act of resentment into a process of updating the past, making memory a space not only of archive, but of critical thought.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

Notes:

[1] Yuri Brokhin: Hustling on Gorky Street: Sex and Crime in Russia Today, The Dial Press, New York, 1975, p. 103. The translation is mine.
[2] Id.
[3] Ibid., p. 105.
[4] Id.
[5] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Archipiélago gulag (1918-1956), Tusquets Editores, Barcelona, ​​2002, p. 321.
[6] Aleksandr Cherkasov: Solovki. Solovki. Campamentos de Solovki con propósito especial, Sovkino, 1928, minute 3:40. https://youtu.be/_IAthUIjJtk. I thank my mother, Noemí Madero, for the Russian to Spanish translations of this film.
[7] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Op. cit., p. 25.
[8] Ibid., Minute 12:45.
[9] Ibid. minute 18:55.
[10] “Brief conversation with Commander Raúl Castro”, in Adelante, April 9, 1966, p. 1.
[11] Id.
[12] Luis M. Arcos: “UMAP. Donde el trabajo forma al hombre”, in Adelante, April 13, 1966, p. 5.
[13] Id.
[14] Juan Armas: “Premios en las UMAP”, in Verde Olivo, year 8, no. 43, October 30, 1966, p. 15.
[15] Luis Bernal Lumpuy: Tras cautiverio, libertad. Un relato de la vida real en la Cuba de Castro, Ediciones Universal, Miami, 1992, p. 62.
[16] Id.
[17] José Caballero Blanco: UMAP: Una muerte a plazos, Dhar Services, 2008, p. 65.
[18] Abel Sierra Madero: “Del hombre nuevo al travestimo de Estado”, in Diario de Cuba, January 25, 2014. https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1390513833_6826.html
[19] Reinaldo Arenas: El Central, Seix-Barral, 1981, p. 87.
[20] José Jasán Nieves: “El silencio que no entierra a las UMAP”, OnCuba Magazine, November 30, 2015. http://oncubamagazine.com/sociedad/el-silencio-que-no-entierra-a-las-umap/
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Rafael Hernández: “La hora de las UMAP. Notas para un tema de investigación”. Temas. Cultura, ideología, sociedad, December 7, 2015. https://www.temas.cult.cu/node/2027
[24] Id.
[25] Alberto I. González Muñoz: Dios no entra en mi oficina: Luchando contra la amargura cuando somos víctimas de la injusticia (2003), ABG Ministries, Frisco, 2012, p. 12.
[26] Ibid., p. 21.
[27] Ibid., p. 22.
[28] Ibid., p. 12.
[29] Ibid., p. 13.
[30] Isaac Rosa: El vano ayer,  Seix Barral, Barcelona, ​​2004, p. 32.
[31] Alberto I. González Muñoz: Op. cit., p. 140.
[32] Ibid., p. 293.
[33] Primo Levi: Si esto es un hombre. Translated by Pilar Gómez Bedate. Muchnik Editores, 1987, p. 303.
[34] Id.
[35] Ibid., pp. 340-341.
[36] Jean Améry [Hans Mayer]: At the Mind’s Limits. Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities.  Translated by Sidney and Stella P. Rosenfeld. Indiana University Press, 1980, p. 71.
[37] Id.
[38] Ibid., p. 70.
[39] Ibid., pp. 67-68.
[40] Ibid., p. 147.

Hoarding Versus Scarcity / Fernando Dámaso

Cuba “back then” — before the Revolution.

Fernando Dámaso, 12 May 2020 — Hoarding happens when there is scarcity. When the latter is eliminated, the former disappears. It cannot be eliminated by persecution, repression, or confiscation.

In Cuba, during the Republican era, I remember the hoarding of certain products such as lard imported from Chicago, Castile soap, and fuels, during World War II. At war’s end, scarcity ended too, and, consequently, so did the practice of hoarding.

Cubans had the custom of shopping for the freshest products needed on a given day — hoarding was not habitual. Hoarding was institutionalized by the “accident” of January 1959 and has continued, more or less, for the last six decades. Now, because of the economic crisis plus the Coronavirus, it is at a high. continue reading

If you are the proprietor of a cafeteria or paladar, and you wish to keep them functioning in the face of market instability and lack of wholesale outlets, you must resort to hoarding — which does not mean, as is claimed, that all hoarded items are illegal.

What is truly illegitimate is not keeping the population properly provisioned, for which the total responsibility lies with the monopolistic State. There is also hoarding by those who intend to re-sell the items at a higher price. In either case, the cause is the same: scarcity.

The persecution of so-called hoarders (almost always self-employed workers) is nothing more than a smokescreen to distract the attention of the citizens from the grave problems the country faces and of the causes behind the shortages, which are provoked not by the supposed hoarding, but by the unproductivity of a failed system that is incapable of producing resources. As long as in Cuba personal wealth is condemned and poverty promoted, we will continue being a nation of have-nots. Of course, this is not a universal condition! There are authorized rich people.

There are many “pantries full of products” here belonging to the powerful “untouchables of the regime” — to whose residences law enforcement officials have no access — and therefore although these higher-ups also engage in hoarding, they are not taken to court or featured on those TV shows that are produced more to instill fear than to solve the problem. The thing is, they create the problem themselves, those who constitute the actual problem. The branches of the “corruption” tree are pruned, but the roots are left in place, due to the many vested interests that impede their removal.

This gross manipulation is supported by many Cubans, who think that these so-called hoarders are the cause of their difficulties. The decades of ideological brutalization have done their dirty work, and this is the result: the slaves attack each other, with the consent of the slaveholder. Collective mediocrity has replaced the traditional civic-mindedness of Cubans.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Two Havanas Within a Single City / Ivan Garcia

Photo of central Havana by Juan Suárez, November 2019, for Havana Times.

Iván García, 5 December 2019 — For three days now there is no running drinkable water. If you want to purchase a pack of cigarettes or medication at the drugstore after 8pm, you must walk more than a kilometer. It is common for men to urinate in the public right-of-way and for people to dump their garbage onto any corner or barren lot.

The residents of La Lira neighborhood in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo have already forgotten the last time that the state-run roads agency repaired the sidewalks and black-topped the streets that are lit by a few incandescent bulbs. Despite the deteriorating environment, the people there are wont to sit at the street corners or on their front porches and play dominoes, drink cheap rum, or converse about any topic to keep the tedium at bay.

Those with the money to do so make their way over to Calzada de Managua and drink beer in private cafeterias and bars near the old Route 4 stop in Mantilla, where the only famous figure who lives around there is the writer Leonardo Padura, who has never wanted to move from a locality that grows ever poorer and more crime-ridden. continue reading

When one talks with young people of Mantilla, they see as models of success the owner of an illegal gambling casino, an ex-convict who sells stolen construction materials, or a female prostitute who managed to marry an Italian and bought her mother a house in El Vedado.

Due to the abysmal urban transit service and the high price of the private shared-ride taxis, which have doubled in number, it has become difficult to travel regularly to the picture-perfect city of Havana, enjoy a ball game in El Cerro stadium, or tour the glamorous Miramar district.

Arroyo Naranjo localities such as Mantilla, La Lira, El Mor, Párraga, El Calvario, Tamarindo, and Callejas, among others, look like Wild West movie sets. Snide and disdainful Habaneros who reside in the center of capital refer to the neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city as Indaya.* Those denizens of Havana who consider themselves superior to the rest of the Cuban populace were the ones who, more than 30 years ago, awarded the moniker, palestinos (Palestinians) to natives of the eastern provinces

Carlos Andrés, an automotive mechanic and father of three sons, settles into his easy chair after his meal of fried eggs with white rice, red beans, and an avocado slice, to watch sports or a TV drama, until sleep overtakes him. Ironically, he lives on Progreso street, about five or six blocks from the Calzada de Managua. His wife Melba’s routine is to listen to the radio soap operas and gossip a bit with the neighbors.

They had wanted to leave Mantilla. “Arroyo Naranjo, San Miguel del Padrón, and Guanabacoa are the three most violent municipalities. The problem is that in Cuba there is no ’red news.’ Around these parts, a knifing, a home invasion robbery, or a rip-off is an everyday occurrence. Games of chance make waves, someone who doesn’t bet on the bolita will go play cards or throw dice. Drugs — weed (marijuana) above all — are all over the place. And let’s not even mention liquor. A teetotaler cannot live in Mantilla, where the boredom drives you to drink,” says Carlos Andrés.

The couple have one son incarcerated at Combinado del Este prison, another who resides in Miami, and “the youngest likes to study and play piano, but if we stay in Mantilla he’ll end up a bum,” says his wife.

For the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, Carlos Andrés and Melba decided to go to La Ceiba del Templete and, on Avenida del Puerto, watch the fireworks that were donated by Canada for the occasion, and later sit for a while on the Malecón seawall and breathe the night air.

“The experience was disappointing. Between the rain and the busses, it took us two hours to get to El Templete. Then another two hours to go around La Ceiba a few times. There are many lights and renovated buildings in Habana Vieja, but all that’s for sale there is for hard currency only. We got home at almost 6am. We’re too old for that kind of thing anymore. It’s better to stay home.”

Gerardo, a retired teacher, lives with his family in an elevated section of La Víbora, and they could watch the fireworks from Parque de Los Chivos. “We could see them as if we were on the Malecón. What many of us Havana residents find annoying is that the government celebrated the 500th anniversary only in that section of Havana where the hotels and tourists are, such as Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, and El Vedado. As for the rest of the municipalities, they can go fuck themselves.”

Havana was designed for less than one million inhabitants. Its aqueduct and infrastructure cannot provide efficient service to the 2.5 million people who live in the capital of the Republic of Cuba today.

Diana, an architect, thinks that the State has not been able to put up quality bars, discotheques, cabarets, and recreational centers in the municipalities to the south of Havana province. “The hotels are concentrated in five municipalities (Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, Plaza, Playa, and the beach zone of Habana del Este). The remaining ten municipalities are bedroom communities. The same has happened with stores and businesses. From there we get the phrase, ’going to Havana,’ when we talk about going shopping. In heavily populated municipalities, such as Diez de Octubre and Arroyo Naranjo, there are no commercial centers. Any stores that exist are small, and they’re almost always out of merchandise. That gentrification has forced people to travel to the center of the city, causing urban transportation bottlenecks.”

Heriberto, manager at a so-called Hard Currency Collection Store (TRD), says that “the various chains that sell in convertible pesos (CUC) had created a network of kiosks, stores and markets in the slums on the outskirts. But, because of fuel shortages and chronic understocks, these TRD have closed, and the majority of these establishments are now concentrated in central Havana, which gives rise to crowded conditions.”

In 12 of the 15 municipalities of the capital, no stores have been opened that sell home appliances and spare parts for cars in dollars, nor are there major supermarkets.

Susana, a housewife, had to go from the Caballo Blanco section of San Miguel del Padrón to the recently re-inaugurated Cuatro Caminos market, in El Cerro, just to buy some spaghetti and tomato paste. “There was none where I live,” she explained, “and since I assumed that I could find some at Cuatro Caminos, I went over there. But the crowd was a nightmare, with cops and police cars all over the place. More than one elderly person was shoved to the floor, and they also broke a window. If the merchandise were distributed in an equitable manner among all the municipalities, these things wouldn’t happen.”

The celebrations for Havana’s 500th anniversary did not reach the suburbs.

*Translator’s Note: “Indaya” is an unofficial “city” or shantytown that sprang in the early ’90s on the banks of the Quibú River, to the west of Havana, built by would-be residents of the capital who migrated from other parts of Cuba. Source: See here.

Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

We In The Cuban Opposition Should Take A Lesson From Ricardo Bofill / Cubanet, Luis Cino

Ricardo Bofill. Miamiherald.com

Cubanet, Luis Cino, Havana, 15 July 2019 — Despite my great admiration for him, I never thought I would write about Ricardo Bofill, who died this past 11 July. I thought that such a task would fall to, and be done much better by, those who knew him and were at his side during the hard years when the struggle for human rights in Cuba was begun. But I feel that there are things that should be said, and I don’t want to choke them back.

We in the opposition should take a lesson from Ricardo Bofill. In many respects, we should look to him as a role model.

With the creation in 1976 of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights while he was imprisoned at Combinado del Este, and later of the Pro Human Rights Party in 1988, Bofill was among the first to show that what up to that point had been unthinkable was actually possible: to deal with the Castro regime through peaceful means. Bofill and those who dared to follow him – Tania Díaz Castro, Reinaldo Bragado, Rolando Cartaya, Adolfo Rivero Caro, and others – who, for their recklessness were called crazy, proved that it could be done. Had it not been for them, the current pro-democracy opposition and independent journalism would not exist on the Island. continue reading

Thanks to Bofill and his partners, the world, which up to then had not listened – indeed had refused to listen – realized that in Cuba ruled a dictatorship that violated the most elementary human rights.

Said dictatorship, upon feeling challenged by Bofill, tried to crush him but was unsuccessful, despite devoting its most vile energies to the task. Imprisonment was not enough. Personal attacks by Fidel Castro (who denounced him as though to write against the Revolution were a terrible crime) were not enough. Neither were threats, character assassination, insults, Granma newspaper dubbing him “The Fraud,” – nor state-run television that reran to exhaustion that video edited by State Security which, to discredit him, cut and spliced it to take his words out of context so that Bofill would appear to be saying, “living off of this [dissent], man, living off of this…”

It was all counterproductive for the regime. The world understood what was going on and would never again view the Castro regime the same way.

That Bofill did not end his days in the regime’s dungeons was thanks to international pressure, particularly from the government of France.

In 1988, Bofill was able to travel to Germany. The regime forced him into exile upon not allowing him to return to his country.

They say that Bofill lived his last years in poor health, in poverty, in a humble house in a sketchy Miami neighborhood. Luckily, he was not without the company of Yolanda, his wife, ever faithful and unwavering.

Bofill, modest as he was (too much so), never sought honors or starring roles – and he had every right to do so. Certain dissidents who chase after recognition and renown even to the point of ruining the best project should learn from him and follow his example. I refer to those who refuse to sign a document if their signature is not at the top or if they disagree with even one comma, who think that they are always right and arrogantly view as enemies any who are not in total agreement with them.

We ought to be grateful to Bofill for the struggle that he initiated – but above all, for the example of virtue and dignity that he leaves to us. Hopefully, we will learn from it.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Independent Journalism In Cuba: Flourishing But Underfunded / Ivan Garcia

Journalists from Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean participate in the Investigative Journalism Workshop, organized by the Institute of the Americas on 10-14 November 2014, in San Diego, California. Representing Cuba was the independent journalist Iván García Quintero (back row, far left).

Iván García, 9 May 2019 — Around the mid-1990s, the cohort of official reporters taking the leap into unrestricted journalism in Cuba had — besides experience and media training — the privilege of typewriters at their disposal. Those just starting out in the world’s best occupation were hand-writing their articles in school notebooks.

Newbies would be tasked with reporting evictions, setting up interviews, or being gofers. Those who had been at it longer would sign the articles to be published later by some daily or website based in Florida. In 1995, when poet, writer, and journalist Raúl Rivero founded the Cuba Press agency, he opened the door to a handful of young people who lacked a journalism education but had the desire to learn and work.

To the rookie reporters, Raúl would assign brief write-ups, which after his meticulous review of spelling and style, would be replete with strike-throughs from his red pen that he kept in the pocket of his perennial blue denim shirt. Rivero would dress up the story and insert a compelling headline, never longer than five or six words. In the end, the text would emerge, infused with the literary flavor of his excellent compositions. continue reading

Twenty-four years later, Luis Cino, Jorge Olivera, Víctor Manuel Domínguez and I, among others of Raúl’s followers, continue to religiously publish two or more columns per week on several sites.

We learned that work culture and respect for the profession from dyed-in-the-wool journalists such as Raúl Rivero, Tania Quintero and Ana Luisa López Baeza (deceased in 2018 in exile). It was a time when the Internet sounded like science fiction. Articles would be read by telephone to someone in Miami who would record the texts and later upload them online.

At that time, at the start of the independent journalism movement, you had to climb a sort of military ladder. First, you had to learn to write longhand. Then, you had to master the heavy-duty typewriters made in East Germany. And when you were finally capable of writing a decent text, you could produce it on a laptop that was rotated among various journalists. In those hard years, the beginner reporter learned by doing.

In the spring of 2003, Fidel Castro made a gross mistake: he sent 75 peaceful opposition members, 27 of whom were independent journalists, to prison. He expected that, by jailing a third of those who dedicated themselves to writing freely, he would intimidate the rest. But from the Island there was no stopping the denunciations about repression, the political prisoners of the Group of 75, nor about the situation in Cuba or of Cubans – even if the texts were published unsigned.

Fear did not freeze the writing pens. In November 2007, a group of journalists headed by Juan González Febles y Luis Cino founded Primavera Digital (Digital Spring), an openly anti-Castro weekly. Others continued sending their articles to Cubanet, Cubaencuentro, Revista de la Fundación Hispano-Cubana, and the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa website.

Some months before, in April of 2007, following the success of the Generación Y blog created by Yoani Sánchez, other oppositional blogs began multiplying. Dozens of bloggers irrupted into digital journalism. Starting in 2012, the incessant trickle of journalists quitting their positions in state media has been unstoppable. As of today, the independent (or free, or alternative – whatever you want to call it) press has grown impressively.

To the more than 200 reporters who, on their own and at their own risk systematically write from Cuba on political, social, cultural, ecological or sports-related topics, we must add newspapers, magazines, Facebook accounts, YouTube channels, and other online platforms.

Also administered from the Island are Primavera Digital, 14ymedio, Periodismo de Barrio, Postdata Club, La Joven Cuba, El Estornudo, El Toque, and Vistar Magazine, among others. Ignacio González of En Caliente Prensa Libre, headquartered in Havana, and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina of Palenque Visión, located in the eastern zone of the Island, lead audiovisual agencies that are notable for their social protests.

Almost all free communicators lambast the government. Others demand democratic changes, but they recognize and accept the status quo. The biggest problem faced by sites edited in Cuba is monetary. Periodismo de Barrio is the only one that transparently informs the public how it receives and spends its funding, which isn’t much.

The lack of regular cash flow when it’s time to pay contributors for their work, and of the minimum financing needed in journalism, puts the brakes on various projects. Journalistic investigations and in-depth reporting are expensive: they tend to be team efforts, they can last for months, and occasionally require travel to other locations, provinces or countries. With no access to bank credits, the new independent journalism presents a great many difficulties for self-management, growth, and solvency.

The majority of independent journalists in Cuba survive by writing for sites whose editorial staffs are based abroad. A great portion of the materials published in Diario de Cuba, Cubanet and Cubaencuentro come from Cuba. But other sites, also located in foreign countries and dedicated to the subject of Cuba, are sustained by contributors who do not live in Cuba, by international news agencies, and by the rehashing of content from independent sites or the official Cuban press.

Some non-official reporters collaborate on commercial sites run out of the United States, Mexico, and Spain. Those who do this on sites that are subsidized by various foundations will charge $30 to $40 dollars per published text, a bit more if accompanied by photos or videos. Those who publish in for-profit media can make double that, from $50 to $60 per piece. But there are very few who can publish between eight and ten works per month in a private newspaper.

Due to the boom in the number of journalists and a deficit of financing for the editorial offices anchored in other countries, even a willing editor cannot publish more than five or six pieces per month by a single contributor. On average, an independent journalist in Cuba makes somewhere between $125 and $150 per month. This amount is the equivalent of four to six times the median salary in Cuba, but given the scarcities and inflation rampant in the country, it is not enough to live on and provide for a family.

So, what happens? With no outlets for their writing, talented journalists – who, besides lacking material goods, are harassed by State Security – are making plans to exit the country permanently. This is a shame. Young people are leaving who excel in the profession and have even taken courses and won scholarships in foreign universities.

One solution that would stem this bloodletting might be that serious and professional sites such as Diario de Cuba, Cubanet and Cubaencuentro, could receive greater funding so that they could publish more journalists residing on the Island and pay them better rates. Or that foundations or non-governmental organizations would facilitate funds for independent reporters with possibilities of establishing a digital journalism site headquartered in Havana.

Cuba’s future will be decided in around five or six years. By then, the country will find itself with an even more ruined economy, without public infrastructure to speak of, and decapitalized corporations.

And, contrary to the spokespersons for neo-Castroism in the state-run media, Cuban independent journalists will continue denouncing injustice and shedding light on the reality of their country and people. As they have done up to now.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

City of Miami Approves Resolution Against Cultural Exchange with Cuba

The City of Miami mayor asserts that the decision is a moral one, although it also has its detractors in Miami. (Mario J. Pentón)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 14 June 2019 — The City of Miami approved on Thursday 13 June a resolution by its mayor, Francis Suárez, and commissioner Manolo Reyes, which seeks to prohibit cultural exchanges with artists from Cuba, according to the local press.

“This resolution urges the federal government to end cultural exchange [with Cuba]  and invests us with all potential powers so that we, as the local government, can prevent artists from the Island utilizing [the city’s] public resources,” said Suárez.

“We are very proud to have the support of so many important persons, artists and community activists supporting this effort,” he added. continue reading

The mayor showed a video in which artists such as Willy Chirino, Los Tres de La Habana, Amaury Gutiérrez, and politicians such as former Congressma Lincoln Díaz-Balart voice their support for the measure.

“City of Miami facilities should not be lent for these artists to come here and mock us, make money here, and then return to Cuba to utilize those funds against their own people while denigrating the liberties that allowed them to be here,” Suárez added.

The resolution declares that the prohibition will remain in force “until freedom of expression is reestablished for all Cubans, and not only for certain favorite artists.”

Commissioner Manolo Reyes considered it unjust that artists sponsored by the Cuban government should come to Miami “and fill their pockets with money that they then take back to Cuba,” while anti-Castro artists on the Island cannot do the same.

The Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald spoke with the Miami businessman and activist Hugo Cancio — who in 2000, following a complaint, obtained a reversal of an ordinance that prevented local groups from using public funds for activities for Cuba-related activities — and on this occasion was again critical of the city’s initiative.

“It seems to me that the reasons they give are absurd and obsolete. They criticize the Cuban government because it supposedly restricts, limits, and prohibits it citizens — and they are doing exactly the same: preventing people from enjoying culture for the simple fact that they are in disagreement with the artists or with their political positions,” he argued.

The newspaper also spoke with Juan E. Shamizo, founder of Vedado Social Club, who considers the decision to be an electioneering action. “What they want to cut off is not only Cuban artists coming to Miami, but also North American artists going to Cuba and interacting with the people,” he said.

“Cuba and the United States are neighbors, we have much in common, thousands of people who yearn for those who they left behind. When the doors are shut to exchange, they are closing off the connection between our people and the possibilities we have of enriching each other,” he added.

In Cuba, Ambassador  José Ramón Cabañas mocked the decision on his Twitter account: “The United States has 35,000 recognized cities and towns. The authorities in Miami decided that their citizens will visit 34,999 other places to legally enjoy the music of Cuba. And they have decided this in the name of Freedom of Expression (probably a new definition),” he wrote.

Under the current administration of President Donald Trump, the US has hardened its policies toward Cuba and, in a surprising decision this month, the government cancelled travel to Cuba — a reversal of the reestablishment of relations advanced by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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

Why Do Independent Journalists Matter? / Cubanet, Luis Cino

Hundreds of Havana protesters gathered in the streets of the Diez de Octubre neighborhood after five days without electricity. (Facebook Andy Michel Fonseca)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 11 March 2019 — Oftentimes while traveling in other countries, independent journalists are challenged for, as some say, being “hyper-critical” and “lacking objectivity.” Thus, their dispatches are received with doubts and skepticism. But it turns out that the detractors of Cuban independent journalism do not harbor good intentions.

Among those most critical and skeptical can be found many of the foreign correspondents accredited in Cuba. This should not be so because they know, from their own experience, under what conditions and rules that they themselves – despite the immunity that they supposedly enjoy – are forced to comply with in order to practice their profession. They know that when they try to interview people on the street, these subjects act evasive and seldom really and truly say what they think.

Despite their press credentials, these reporters have little or no access to government functionaries, and they collide with laws that guarantee official silence. Besides, they are under the surveillance of State Security, informants for the CDR and rapid-response brigades – and even by their colleagues in the official press, who tend to provoke and lay traps for them. continue reading

So, why are these foreign press members so critical and demanding, for example, with respect to sources and official data cited by independent journalists who are doing their work under much more disadvantageous and difficult conditions than they?

The foreign correspondents accredited by Havana’s International Press Center (CIP) find it much more convenient and secure to ignore reports by independent journalists, and to quote Granma newspaper and Cubadebate when saying that the majority of Cubans voted “Yes” to the new Constitution, that the update to the economic model is proceeding full steam ahead, that Cubans are happy as clams with cuentapropismo [self-employment or entrepreneurship] – along with repeating the usual refrain about “the fragmented and State-Security-penetrated opposition” that “lacks convening power” and is “incapable of garnering the mass support of the population.”

For a long time, and not just from the official media, there were those who affirmed that the majority of independent reporters were unprepared, individuals of low educational level, who lacked a command of the rules of grammar and composition, and who confused political activism with journalism.

We made ourselves vulnerable to such attacks because of the paternal solidarity (a legacy of socialism’s false paternalism) towards individuals who regrettably demonstrated from the start that despite their great desire and enthusiasm, they would never be journalists. By tolerating ersatz practitioners in the ranks, all we gained was to be discredited. And also to be infiltrated by moles, like that dopey Carlos Serpa Maseira, who turned out to be Agent Emilio.

Not just anybody can be a journalist, just as not just anybody can be a physician. The profession deserves respect. But some of us long-time veterans cannot forget how we got our start in independent journalism. Reporters will always be needed to cover the activities of the opposition and to denounce human rights violations. It can’t all be political analysis, opinion pieces, and columns worthy of Tom Wolfe. We would run the risk of turning into a reduced and exclusive club of snobs. It appears that such a coterie is not what is most needed to win the struggle for democracy and freedom of information in Cuba.

Within the last decade, the quality of independent journalism has improved extraordinarily following the addition of bloggers who are outside of state control, writers who have broken with UNEAC and have joined CubaNet, journalism students, and journalists who have unleashed themselves from the official media to write for alternative sites such as El Estornudo and El Toque.

We independent journalists have no need to invent or exaggerate, to publish diatribes in the style of Granma – on the contrary: we write about what we live daily, not what people tell us or what we suppose.

The topic that the majority of foreign correspondents accredited in Cuba report on the most is the “flourishing private restaurant sector in Havana.” As if there were no blackmailing inspectors and obstacles of all kinds. It’s as if the exceptions were the rule. As if all paladar [private restaurant] owners had the good luck of the proprietors of La Guarida, the setting where some scenes in Fresa y Chocolate were shot and where various pop celebrities have dined.

Who cares about what we independent journalists – hypercritical and overly passionate as they accuse us of being – have to say, given that regarding Cuba, everything that needs to be said and should be heard is said by the international press?

Therefore at times we become discouraged. We know that, in our situation – lacking access to official, trustworthy statistics and relying on sources who will probably retract when facing State Security officials – it is very difficult for us to produce the great news reports we dream of writing.

There is no need to be so pessimistic. There are always subjects that are a few degrees beyond the grasp of foreign journalists and which are not covered in the magical statistics that they cite. We still have the stories about jineteras [female prostitutes] and pingueros [male prostitutes], the garbage dumpster divers, the transvestites who haven’t been coaxed by CENESEX to dance in their conga, the artists who oppose Decree 349, the palestinos who struggle to make it to the capital, the inhabitants of the peripheral shantytowns and the tenements of Centro Habana and 10 de Octubre. But there will always be those who consider these depressing stories to be fiction – and even those who opine that Pedro Juan Gutiérrez does it better in his novels. And then they will again seek in the foreign press the fable of the successful and prosperous entrepreneur, the administrator who is given to reforms, and the soulless and corrupt bureaucrats who hamper her efforts while never showing their faces.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Doctor of Cubanness / Fernando Damaso

Ramón Grau San Martín. Source: Wikipedia

Fernando Dámaso, 15 April 2019 — Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín was the seventh President of the Republic. He governed from 10 October 1944 to 10 October 1948. During the very month he took office, a fierce hurricane struck the Island, causing great destruction. For many citizens, this natural phenomenon constituted an important omen: the Grau government was kicking off with stormy winds — and a stormy government it would be, despite being established amidst the prosperity produced by World War II, when sugar came to achieve a high price on the world market.

Grau, who promised to achieve a “government of Cubanness,” and who liked to say, “Cubanness is love” — and that, besides, in his administration, women were “in charge” — promulgated the Law of the Sugar Differential to benefit the industry’s  workers, fixing the producers’ share of the final molasses (a statute of indisputable social utility).

He also launched a vast Public Works Plan that notably improved many neighborhoods in the city of Havana — despite some projects being so poorly constructed that they eventually had to be demolished and rebuilt. He established the compulsory licensure of degreed and non-degreed professions, a summer schedule for businesses, a lawyers’ pension, and retirement funds for workers in the textile, sisal and tobacco industries, among others. continue reading

From the start of his administration, Grau tried to associate it with the “hundred days” (9/10/1933-1/15/1934) and lend it continuity via social measures — although many contained a high dosage of demagoguery, so much that he became popularly known as “the Divine Gallimaufry.”

At the same time, in a moment of weakness, he allowed certain armed groups (remnants of the 1933 Revolution’s action groups who had been unable to insert themselves normally in the subsequent political process, and who practiced violence and carried out shady dealings) to roam the streets, primarily, of Havana.

This infinite tolerance for gangsterism revived the anarchic episodes of that prior period — which, during the previous administration, had seemed a thing of the past — thereby demonstrating the terrible current state of relations between the Executive and Legislative powers, which had suffered a great decline.

Grau abandoned the semi-parliamentarism instituted by the previous adminisration and went back to a presidentialist style of government, ignoring what had been established by the Constitution of the Republic in this regard.

In addition, his presidency was characterized by some picturesque, even extravagant, successes that reduced his credibility and respectability — such as the strange disappearence of the diamond embedded in the floor of the Capitol (which, some time later, one fine day, with no coherent explanation, appeared on the table in his office, and which he nonchalantly returned to its rightful place as if nothing had happened, without revealing who had masterminded such a misdeed).

Among the tragic events occurring in those years, one that merits pointing out is the so-called “Battle of Orfila,” more like a slaughter, wherein the two most important action groups that operated in the city of Havana vented their personal and business rivalries with bullets, resulting in a great number of dead and injured.

On the international plane, Grau allowed the formation of a clandestine army – the so-called Legion of the Caribbean — which established its base of operations in Cayo Confites and was aimed at overthrowing dictatorships in the region, in frank violation of international laws in force then.

Notwithstanding all these errors, which discredited the government as well as the President himself (turning him into a cartoon-like figure), there was always an absolute respect for civic liberties and freedom of expression — and, as he liked to say, in his government, all Cubans “had five pesos in their pockets.”

Grau was a President subjected to great opposition — not just the traditional kind, but also that of Dr. Eduardo R. Chibás, dissident leader of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano-Auténtico (PRCA), who went on to head it when he was not selected by Grau as the party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

Chibás, a charismatic and populist politician who had directed Grau’s campaign during the so-called “glory days” that had swept him to power in 1944, felt discriminated against, and he became Grau’s most fierce critic and impugner — with and without cause.

On 6 January 1948, general elections were held in which the following candidates participated: for the PRCA, Drs. Carlos Prío Socarrás and Guillermo Alonso Pujol; for the Coalición Socialista Democrática, Drs. Emilio Núñez Portuondo and Gustavo Cuervo Rubio; for the Partido del Pueblo Cubano-Ortodoxo, Drs. Eduardo R. Chibás and Emilio Ochoa; and for the Partido Socialista Popular, Dr. Juan Marinello.  The winning ticket was that of the PRCA.

President Ramón Grau San Martín, a popular figure who aroused great hopes in the citizenry (as much for his support of culture as for his performance during the government of the “hundred days” following the overthrow of Gerardo Machado’s dictatorship), who assumed the presidency with a great majority of the population in his favor — little by little, due to his political weaknesses, began to lose prestige and turn into more of a folk character than a head of state.

As a result, even with the prevailing economic boom during his six years of governing and the many constructive works accomplished with the objective of improving our towns and cities, the people did not feel totally satisfied. A monument or bust was never erected in his memory.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba and Fundamental Rights / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 17 January 2018 — The impact of fundamental rights on the development of society is of such magnitude and significance that it becomes impossible to comprehend the advancement, stagnation or regression of a population without accounting for it.

To mark the tenth anniversary of Convivencia (Coexistence), the current issue addresses a central theme of our magazine: the causal relationship between the loss of fundamental rights and the crisis in which Cuba now finds itself.

Introduction

Liberty — inherent in human beings — emanates from an inner conscience. That origin permits man to be free to the extent that he insists on being so, for liberty grants extraordinary power, the use of which becomes a factor in human growth and creates conditions for personal and social development.

Since men achieved establishing the existing relationship between conscious and liberty, this has come clearing a growing role in the evolution of humanity. Thanks to this relationship, even though a person is submitted to limitations or prohibitions from outside forces, the underlying layer of the liberty permits him to think and be free in such conditions. continue reading

Ignacio Agramonte (1841-1873), in defense of his thesis of Bachelor’s of Law in 1866, titled On individual rights, summarized masterfully this relationship in the following words: The right to think freely corresponds to the right of examine, of doubt, of opinion, as stages or directions from that. Fortunately, these, different from the right to speak or work, are not submitted to direct coercion and will be able to obligate one to shut up, to permanently disable, in case saying what is right that is highly unjust. But how can we be able to impede the doubt of what they say? How can we examine the actions of the rest, that which is about instills as truth, all, finally, and that about which they formulate the opinion?

The basis for this argument is that liberty is an essential and inherent right of each person; a condition such that, all intent to suppress/abolish or limit it, more than constituting an attack against humanity, it has been is and will be condemned to failure.

“To renounce one’s liberty,” said Rousseau, “is to renounce the human condition, the rights of humanity and even its duties… Such a renunciation is incompatible with human nature. To relinquish liberty is to relinquish morality.”

The fundamental rights, that is, those of consciousness, information, expression, assembly association, suffrage and habeas corpus, constitute the basis of communication, the exchange of opinions, of codes of conduct and decision-making.

The historical experience demonstrates that the maximum expression of liberty is only possible there, where the fundamental liberties are institutionalized in the rule of law.

The constitutional history of fundamental rights, whose guiding principle is located in the Magna Carta that the English nobility imposed on King John in 1215, contributed key features to the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen colonies of North America (1776) and in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of the French Revolution (1789). It had a part in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and made its way into the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights approved by the United Nations (1976).

In Cuba the constitutional history of liberties has its origin in the Autonomal Government Project of Fr. José Agustín Caballero (1811); it was made flesh in the nineteenth century Mambisa constitutions and the republican constitutions of the twentieth century, whose highest expression was the constitution of 1940.

Continuing that trajectory, and in fulfillment of the Pact of Zanjón (1878), which ended the Ten Year War, laws were implemented in Cuba for freedom of the press and freedom of assembly and association. Endorsed in Article 13 of the Spanish Constitution, these laws gave birth to Cuban civil society: a whole range of associations, spaces and media that reflect plurality and diversity.

Civil society, the permanent school of civility and ethics, constitutes a solid link in the bond between citizens and their nation, culture, history and development, whose existence and functioning require the institutionalization of human rights.

Civil society as well as the State are organs of the social body. The existence of both is not indisputable–rather, what is debatable are their functions and areas of competency.

In Cuba, civil society reached its greatest development around the mid-20th century, as Fidel Castro described it when referring to the situation in Cuba before the 1952 coup [by Fulgencio Batista]: “I will tell you a story. There once was a republic. It had its constitution, its laws, its liberties; a president, a congress, and courts; everyone could associate, assemble, speak and write with full liberty. The government did not satisfy the people, but the people could change it… There was a respected and heeded public opinion, and all issues of collective interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, educational hours on the radio, debate programs on television, public events….”

The logical question that emerges from the history of freedoms in Cuba is this: How was it possible that, following the described advances in areas of rights and liberties, Cuba should regress to a situation that was more backward than what it achieved after the Peace of Zanjón?

 The Cuban Totalitarian System

If its most immediate cause is in the 1959 Revolution, the genesis of the Cuban totalitarian system lies in certain characteristics of our development as a people that contributed to the establishment of a model foreign to our history, and to human nature. Among these characteristics, the interrelation of the following four stands out:

  • The Cuban national character, resulting from the mix of diverse ethnicities and cultures that arrived in Cuba with the Europeans and Africans–some who came to enrich themselves and return home, others who were brought as slaves, neither with the intention of setting down roots in the Island.  To this, according to Fernando Ortiz, can be ascribed the psychological weakness of the Cuban character: the impulsiveness, a trait of this psychological type, that frequently drives us to commit intense acts, but rapid-fire, precipitous, unpremeditated and violent…  Men, economies, cultures, and ambitions–here, everything felt foreign, temporary, changed, like migratory birds flying over the country on its periphery, contrary and ill-fated.
  • Violence, which arrived on our shores with the Spanish warriors, took its first victims from among the aborigines, and assumed horrible forms on the sugar plantations which gave way to escapes, runaway slaves, stockades and rebellions. It was present in the attacks by the corsairs, in the banditry that ravaged our countryside, in the independence conspiracies and wars. It manifested in coups d’etat, insurgencies, gangsterism, armed assaults and terrorist acts before and after 1959. These events turned violence into political culture.
  • The utilitarian ethic, an attitude rooted in colonial and slaver tendencies – a creole variant of 18th century philosophy of utilitarianism–which found in Cuba as fertile a soil as did the sugarcane. This ethic sustained an egotistical individualism and easy living, it took form in corruption, gambling, laziness, and the violation of all that was established, eventually becoming generalized behavior. The concept of man as a means and not an end, as an object and not a subject, the priority that the Cuban-creole oligarchy ascribed to crates of sugar and coffee, the use of power for personal or group gain, the presidential re-elections, the coups d’etat and the generalized use of physical and verbal violence–all are manifestations of the utilitarian ethic that marked the mold of our national character.
  • Exclusion, which runs through the history of Cuba from beginning to end: Félix de Arrate y Acosta (1701-1765) called for the putting the rights of his class on an equal footing with those of native-born Spaniards, while excluding blacks and those whites who had not been able to amass fortunes; Francisco de Arango y Parreño (1765-1837) defended the rights and liberties of his class and the enslavement of half the Island’s population; and José Antonio Saco y López (1797-1879), whose concept of nation did not include those born in Africa nor their descendants.

Against the constitutional crisis provoked by the coup d’etat of 1952, there arose two responses: one armed, the other civil. The first was made public on 26 July 1953, with the attack on the Moncada barracks headed by Fidel Castro. Following the fraudulent elections of 1954, Fulgencio Batista reestablished the Constitution of 1940 and granted amnesty to political prisoners–among them the Moncada assailants, who in June 1955 founded the 26 of July Movement (M-26-7) to continue the armed struggle.

Fulgencio Batista’s opposition to a negotiated settlement caused the civil efforts to fail. Violence was imposed: armed movements, attacks, military conspiracies, assaults on barracks and the presidential palace–trademark acts of the movement headed by Fidel Castro, who landed in Cuba in December 1956 and after two years of waging guerilla warfare and sabotage, achieved victory over the professional army on 31 December 1958.

In 1959, the triumphant Revolution, now a source of rights, replaced (without public consent) the 1940 Constitution with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State. This set of statutes was in force until the Constitution of 1976 was promulgated that affirmed the existence of a sole political party–the Communist one–as the dominant driving force of society and the State.

A system foreign to human nature

A revolution that proposes to liberate men while at the same time does not posit the need for a public space that allows the exercise of freedom, can only lead to the liberation of those individuals from one dependency so as to attach them to another–perhaps one more rigid than the former. Those words of Hannah Arendt are corroborated by the Cuban revolutionary process of 1959. The issue is one of such universal value that it assumes the character of a philosophical generalization. As simple as it is complex, this thesis consists in that every social project that conceives the human person as a means and not an end–besides the anthropological damage it produces–is condemned to failure.

In January 1959 the Provisional President Manuel Urrutia Lleó made public the designation of Fidel Castro as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In the Council of Ministers, made up jointly of figures from the armed and civil struggles, José Miró Cardona assumed the office of Prime Minister. In February, when the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State was substituted for Constitution of 1940, the faculties of Chief of the Government were conferred to the Prime Minister, and the functions of Congress to the recently-created Council of Ministers. Some days later, Fidel Castro replaced José Miró Cardona, at which time the charges of Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief remained with the same person.

The Revolution meanwhile implemented a series of measures of popular benefit, tossed aside the existing institutional, political and economic culture, and proceeded in a sudden manner to “take care of” the problems inherited from an unsustainable trajectory: the concentration of power and property, and the hijacking of civil liberties.

The Spanish philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset warned that the greatest dangers that today threaten civilization are the takeover of life by the State, interventionism of the State, appropriation of all social spontaneity by the State; that is, the annulment of historical spontaneity which, in the final analysis, nourishes and propels human destinies–which is summarized in Benito Mussolini’s argument: “Everything for the State, nothing against the State.”

That process, whereby civil society was swept away and in its place were established associations that are auxiliaries to power, cannot be understood outside the dispute between the Cuban government and the North American administrations. This quarrel was utilized in the name of popular sovereignty to obscure the contradictions between State and society, and to cover up the unsustainability of an inefficient model–but even more, to hijack civil liberties. As Rousseau said, “Even admitting that man can hand over his liberty, he cannot hand over that of his children, born free men. Their liberty belongs to them, and nobody has the right to dispose of it.”

The duration of this model has been so prolonged that the vast majority of Cubans today have known no other option that totalitarian socialism–wherein the economy, the culture and society are monopolized by the State, the State by a sole Party, and the Party under the rule of a Commander-in-Chief–a model that if yesterday satisfied a good portion of our grandparents, today does not satisfy their children, and much less their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 A possible exit

Despite having access to such a rich source of thought, the events prior to 1952 led to the past: a regress that is inexplicable if one ignores the importance of Cubans’ ethical and civil formation, for which–among the many thinkers who were preoccupied and dealt with these deficiencies, I cite the following six:

  • Félix Varela y Morales (1778-1853), the first Cuban who understood the need for changes in thinking. Upon assuming the direction of the Constitution professorship of the San Carlos Seminary, Varela introduced ethics in social and political studies as the bearer of the principle of equality among all human beings, and the foundation of those rights upon which are constructed human dignity and civil participation.
  • José de la Luz y Caballero (1800-1862), who understood politics as a process and who came out against suddenness of action. From this vision, de la Luz posited a relationship among education, politics and independence, and conceived the art of education as a premise for social change. He placed his main emphasis on the conviction that liberty is the soul of the social body, and that there is no greater brake upon it than reason and virtue.
  • José Julián Martí Pérez (1853-1995), the greatest 19th century Cuban thinker, set himself the mission of directing the inconclusive independence movement. For this he established a linked relationship among party, war and republic –this last being the form and destiny — rather than conceiving war and party as mediating links to arrive at the republic. In his visionary essay, “The Future Slavery,” he more or less said the following: If the poor become habituated to asking the State for everything, they will leave off making any effort toward their subsistence, and–being that public necessities would come to be satisfied by the State–the bureaucrats would achieve an enormous influence, so that “from being slaves to the capitalists they would go on to be slaves to the bureaucrats.” These thoughts he concluded with that even more remote ideal: “I want the first law of our Republic be the reverence of Cubans for the full dignity of man.”
  •  Enrique José Varona (1849-1933) In My Counsels, written in 1939, Varona complained that the Republic had entered a period of crisis, because a great number of citizens had believed that they could disengage from public affairs. “This selfishness,” he said, “has a high price.” So high, in fact, that we have been able to lose everything. Convinced of these deficiencies, Varona understood that a new way needed to be learned, and to this he dedicated himself: education to form citizens.
  •  Fernando Ortiz Fernández (1881-1969) In his 1919 work, The Cuban Political Crisis: Causes and Remedies, Ortiz outlined our limitations: the historic lack of preparation of the Cuban people for the exercise of political rights; the ignorance of the governed that impedes their appreciating the true worth of political leaders; the deficient education within the leadership classes that keeps them from checking their selfish aims and aligning them instead with the greatest national interests; the disintegration of the diverse social elements into races and nationalities whose interests are not founded in a supreme national ideal.
  •  And Jorge Mañach Robato (1898-1961), when referring to the permanent quarrels among Cubans, said: “Every person has his small aspiration, his small ideal, his small program; but what is lacking is the aspiration, the ideal, the program of all–that supreme brotherhood of spirits that is characteristic of the most advanced civilizations.” And he added: “The individualism embedded in our race makes each one the Quixote of his own adventure. Efforts towards generous cooperation are invariably stymied. Selfless leaders do not emerge. In the legislative assemblies, in the intellectual guilds, in the academies, in the organizations, bickering spreads like weeds through the wheat fields from which we await bread for the spirit. It is all about jockeying for position.”

From this analysis we can derive a set of useful lessons for any project directed at improving the situation in which Cuban society is mired. I refer to a way towards a society less imperfect than the current one.

The analysis presented here reveals a set of useful lessons for any project directed at improving the situation in which Cuban society is mired. I refer to a way towards a society less imperfect than the current one.

The most important of the above cited lessons is that responsible public participation in the destinies of the country requires the existence of the citizen–a non-existent concept in the current Cuban political map.

Fundamental liberties must be reincorporated. In their implementation, even if introduced gradually, their indivisible character will be imposed for one simple reason: if civil and political rights constitute the basis for participating in public life, then economic, social and cultural rights are essential for the functioning of society, and the collective rights of all humanity are necessary for preserving life and the planet. Each one of these generations of rights guarantees a particular aspect, and the three in conjunction constitute the buttress for the recognition, respect and observance of the legal guarantees for their exercise.

If we accept that a social system’s degree of evolution depends of the degree of evolution of its constituents, then we must accept–whether we like it or not–that we Cubans, as people, have changed very little, and that in some aspects, we have regressed. Therefore, individual change becomes paramount. Because of all this, to paraphrase the concept of affirmative action, in Cuba there must be an educational initiative–in the absence of which there will be changes, as there have always been, but not the changes that society requires.

Therefore, that possible and necessary exit from the current crisis occurs because each Cuban occupies and makes use of his political share. To this end, the gradual reestablishment of the fundamental rights of the human person should be accompanied by a program of civic formation to serve as the basis of inner changes in the individual, without which economic and political reforms will have very little value–as those have had that were implemented during the era of the Republic up to 1958, and those that were implemented following the 1959 Revolution.

Translated by: Logan Cates and Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Sixty Years On From Fidel Castro’s First Trip To Venezuela

Visit by Fidel Castro to Caracas in 1959 (Archive photo)

Cubanet, Luis Cino, Havana, 23 January 2019 – Right around this time, 60 years ago, Fidel Castro was making his first visit to Venezuela, in what was also his first official foreign trip as ruler.

Fidel arrived in Caracas on 23 January 1959, accompanied by a large delegation. It was only 15 days since the revolutionary leader’s entry into Havana a week after the dictator Fulgencio Batista fled from the country.

Absorbed in what he called “Operation Truth,” Fidel Castro — self-proclaimed prime minister as well as commander-in-chief — was trying to convince the world that reports about the summary trials and executions of hundreds of soldiers and police officers of the former regime were tall tales spun by the international (especially the American) press. continue reading

The visit to Venezuela ended up being a success, despite the bad omen of a tragic accident on the Maiquetía airport runway, when Francisco “Paco” Cabrera — a commander of the Cuban rebel army who was hurrying nervously to take his place as Fidel Castro’s bodyguard — was utterly decapitated by the airplane’s propeller.

In Venezuela — where exactly one year before, on 23 January 1958, a civil-military movement had overthrown the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez — the Cuban revolutionary leader was welcomed as an idol. A fascinated crowd listened, unwaveringly and enthusiastically, to the bearded revolutionary’s seven-hour-long speech.

Fidel Castro’s itinerary in Caracas was exhausting. But more exhausted were those individuals charged with protecting him, who — despite the warmth evinced by the Venezuelans — thought they detected potential assassins at every turn.

As can be seen in some photos taken by Raúl Corrales of the Cuban delegation, the Comandante’s bodyguards — all of them bearded and with a wild look about them in their slovenly, olive-green field uniforms, with weapons always close at hand — turned the Cuban embassy in Caracas into a replica of the guerrilla encampments of Cuba’s Sierra Maestra.

Some years later, after Fidel Castro would include his old host, President Rómulo Betancourt, in the list of his most hated enemies, the Venezuelans would again see Cuban soldiers — clean-shaven this time and on the warpath — landing around Machurucuto to penetrate the Falcón, Yaracuy and Lara mountains, where Arnaldo Ochoa, later executed by his Cuban bosses, earned his appointment as Deputy Commander of the General Army Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces

Who could have imagined that half a century after the disaster, Cuban military and security types, by the thousands, would be all over the place in Venezuela, providing consultation in the repression of dissidents, to shore up the shamelessly illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro?

Nobody could have known what Fidel Castro was referring to, in that seven-hour speech in Caracas, when he thanked the Venezuelans for the welcome they gave him and the weapons that Admiral Larrazábal had sent to the Sierra Maestra when, in turn, they had received nothing from him.

Forty years later, they would receive — besides subversion and guerrillas — they would receive his adoption of Hugo Chávez, who would turn Venezuela into the replacement for the Soviet Union to subsidize the Casto regime at its most critical moment.

Hugo Chávez’ ascent to the presidency following a failed coup attempt — and thanks to Venezuelans’ fatigue with the politicking and corruption of the Democratic Action and Copei partisans — was the consummation of Castroism’s conquest of Venezuela, which begin on 23 January 1959, when a smiling and friendly Fidel Castro stepped foot on the runway of the Caracas airport.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

A Decree That’s Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be / Fernando Damaso

Máscara [Mask].  Work by Rebeca Monzó, Havana.
Fernando Damaso, 16 December 2018  — Decree 349, which concerns regulations governing the broadcast, exhibition and promotion of artistic products, has created much concern among creators. The problem is not about “the enemies” making propaganda against it, but rather the real danger that the decree represents.

The danger consists in that, under its shelter, the authorities could establish censorship over what is authorized, as well as over the strict political/ideological criteria used–in place of intrinsic value–by those who evaluate artistic products. continue reading

This is not a new phenomenon and it has, in our country, its closest antecedent in the sadly known “grey decade,” during which the cultural bureaucrats of the National Cultural Council approved or disapproved creations, taking into account the creators’ militancy, or lack thereof.

The phenomenon had already been manifested before in the now-extinct USSR and other socialist countries, when everything new and innovative was persecuted and prohibited, shielded by the supposed defense of the socially convenient. Further back, it had emerged when the so-called “academies” refused the works of the Impressionists, Cubists, abstractionists and modernists in the fine arts, and the new tendencies in music and dance.

In other words, the concern is valid.

I ask myself, who are the “superfunctionaries of culture” selected to determine the good and the bad, and what should be authorized or prohibited? I don’t believe they exist.

To date, just as has occurred in the economic sector, I only know bureaucrats who strictly comply with the orders from the powers that be in defense of their political/ideological interests–which are not necessarily those of the majority of the citizens. Besides, we Cubans tend, by custom, to hold back or overdo it–more often the latter than the former.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

From Minint Official To Political Prisoner Incarcerated For “Espionage” / Luis Cino Alvarez

Luis Cino Álvarez, Cubanet, Havana,  5 November 2018 —  The temper tantrum and bunkhouse scene put on recently by Castroism’s anti-diplomats, who grew indignant that the issue of political prisoners in Cuba was brought up at the United Nations, brought to mind a case of which I learned a few days ago via an inmate of Guanajay prison, of a young ex-officer of the Interior Ministry (MININT) who also is confined there, serving a 25-year sentence in terrible conditions.

His name is Jorge Frank Iglesias Fernández. He is 29 years old and was a lieutenant in State Security until February 2015, when he was detained and tried for “espionage.”

Iglesias Fernández refused to commit what he considered to be an injustice, giving warning of the imminent arrest of a Cuban American woman and a North American man who were visiting Cuba and whom State Security were investigating for presumed “counter-revolutionary activities.” continue reading

The authorities also linked to the case the ex-lieutenant’s brother, Víctor Eduardo Iglesias Fernández, 18, and sentenced him to five years in jail – which sentence was later commuted to “limited freedom,” with the added requirement to periodically appear before the enforcement judge.

After being detained for a year at Villa Marista, the head barracks of State Security, where he was subjected to continuous interrogations and enclosed in a cell measuring 3×2 meters, Jorge Frank Iglesias was sent to the maximum security area of Guanajay prison, in Artemisa. They have been holding him there in solitary confinement for almost the last two years. He has no phone privileges. His parents can visit him once a month, for two hours, and always in the presence of a guard.

My source tells me that in Iglesias Fernández’ cell, the guards have not turned off the lights for even one minute since his confinement. This continuous exposure to light has affected his eyesight and he suffers from frequent and intense headaches. When for such reasons they have had to transport him to the prison hospital at Combinado del Este, he has been taken in handcuffs and in the custody of an impressive team of armed guards.

I supposed that in any other country, a crime such as that committed by ex-lieutenant Iglesias Fernández – whom it would be a stretch to classify as a spy, being that he never was recruited by the North Americans – would be punished, as well, but not with such despicable and inhumane viciousness.

Could it be for cases such as this that the regime’s anti-diplomats refuse to speak about political prisoners?

The Cuban government refuses to admit that there are political prisoners in Cuba, and even less, prisoners of conscience. And don’t even mention the conditions of their confinement. The official spokespersons, when they deign to speak of the matter, provide assurances that these prisoners are convicted of crimes referred to in the Cuban criminal code – especially violent criminals, hijackers of planes and ships who had the good fortune to not serve as a lesson by being executed, or various ex-military personnel or intelligence agents convicted of espionage or revealing “state secrets” (which would be the case of  Jorge Iglesias Fernández).

This in a country where a state secret can be how many bushels of plantains were lost in Alquízar, or of tomatoes in Consolación del Sur, because of there being no trucks or fuel to collect the harvest in time.

It would be fitting, so as to evade international pressures, for the governmental cheerleaders to keep in mind the hundreds of peace-loving individuals who, in a country governed by moderately normal and just laws, would not be in prison but in Cuba are locked away, in terrifying conditions, for legal aberrations in the Cuban penal code that are frequently applied against dissidents, such as “contempt,” “disobedience,” and “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

Author contact: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

A Doctrinaire Constitution / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 15 September 2018 — A constitution is not a doctrinaire document, but is rather the result of consensus among differing political, economic and social positions.

Throughout the current project to revise the constitution, the effort has been made — using other language — to introduce the Party’s political, economic and social guidelines, so as to endorse them constitutionally and pull one over the eyes of the Cuban people. A single ideology permeates each article — sometimes at the start, others at the end. It’s like the master pastry chef who deems it necessary to add a drop of lemon to each one of his creations.

The 1940 Constitution, free of ideological adornments and respectful of Cuban history and traditions, when analyzed today — 78 years after its promulgation — continues to dazzle for its responses to the moment in which it was drawn up and its foresight about the immediate future, without imposing straitjackets on succeeding generations. Without a doubt, the delegates to the Constitutional Assembly of 1939 achieved a Constitution for “with all and for the good of all,” as the Apostle would have exhorted.* continue reading

The 1976 Constitution and the current project do not come close to it in depth nor transcendence — but rather remain as simple doctrinaire documents, far from the conviction and needs of the Cuban people — what with both being focused on maintaining one Party’s hold on power, at all costs and with no regard for the country’s development nor its citizens’ wellbeing.

Herein is the reason that, in the current draft document, are found so many restrictive and discriminatory measures in the political, economic and social order — which will only be greater in the new laws that will complement it.

*Translator’s Note: Refers to a phrase spoken by Jose Martí (christened by Cubans as “the Apostle”) in 1891. It has since been invoked by countless orators and writers to convey the spirit of the ideal Republic.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué  Ellison

Political Discrimination / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 August 2018 — The need to eliminate the various types of existing discrimination is constantly discussed and written-about in Cuba. Among them: race, gender, sexual orientation, region or country of origin, physical or mental disabilities, etc., etc. Even so, nothing is said or noted about getting rid of political discrimination. Apparently, just as the “irrevocable socialism” article–appended to the previous Constitution and also present in the current one–says, it possesses a like character.

Political discrimination has been a constant practice, applied from the highest levels of the Party and the State towards any such citizen who does not agree with the party line, and it can be seen–in its most fanatic, dogmatic and unhealthy extremes–in the Union of Young Communists, and in the student and youth organizations ruled and controlled by it.

Its leaders, advised and directed by their party and government “elders,” shout outdated slogans, rattle on about subjects of which they know nothing, and regularly use physical violence to impose their retrograde ideas on the rest of the young people.

They have tied them to the past, swindling them out of their present and compromising their future. For them there is no such thing as respectful dialogue, nor civilized engagement with differing opinions, because they have been brought up in the perpetual monologue: that of themselves with themselves.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison