Open Letter to Pope Francis / Ángel Santiesteban

Wednesday, 10 October 2017  Ángel Santiesteban

Havana, Cuba. Your Holiness: Now that your name is no longer so popular on the Island of Cuba, I have decided to write you these lines. I suspect that this decline in your prestige has to do with the scant companionship you have provided us, as well as with the distance that you have placed between yourself and the Cuban people. If I insist on threading these ideas it is because I am certain that your work as head of the Church–that is, of the Earth–is a far cry from the love, justness, and fairness that we knew from John Paul II, whom we Cubans remember with affection and devotion.

I want to tell you that there are many of us today who think that your appointment has not been good for this Island’s inhabitants, although I assure you that many were the Cubans who rejoiced when we learned that you would be the new leader of the Catholic Church. We were euphoric that a Latin American, who spoke our language, and who knew well what a military dictatorship means, would be in charge of the Church. continue reading

We happily believed that Your Holiness would take care of us just as John Paul II did but this was not to be. Your history was entwined with that of John Paul II. You knew that bloody military dictatorship in Argentina and the Polish Pope knew well what fascism and communism, which are so alike, signify. We had no doubt that you, Holy Father, would see the Cuban reality and would denounce it. But what actually happened was something else.

John Paul II was acquainted with fascism’s outrages, he denounced them and never left the world’s downtrodden to suffer the horrors of a communism that still persists in certain places on the planet. Holy Father, today I am certain that your visit to Cuba served only to leave behind the bitter memory of futility. Now, in the wake of your departure, many are reminded of the incarcerations suffered by those who never believed in the premises of a communist government.

While you were flying back to Rome, many Cubans were put behind bars, and I have not heard of an energetic comment coming from your mouth. The very same government that segregated Catholics in Cuba, that expelled the faithful from the universities, that imprisoned them in those concentration camps known as the UMAP, once again repressed those who thought differently, who were not willing to commune with a dictatorial regime.

We Cubans were waiting for some vigorous response from your mouth, from the mouth of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, but all encountered was a wall of silence. And as we already know, “he who is silent consents.” I suppose that you, and that cardinal who so much recalls a Communist Party militant, were much more interested in maintaining good diplomatic relations with the government than with being close to the long-suffering Cuban faithful.

Supreme Pontiff, I wish to remind you that during your visit to the Island, a desperate young man lunged towards your vehicle as you were traveling before a multitude whose members had, for the most part, been selected by the political police. That young man begged for your attention, that young man tried to direct your eyes to the injustices that the Cuban regime commits daily.

And what did you do, Holy Father? You left him to fend for himself, and the faithful the world over could see on their televisions how you continued on your way without so much as a glance backward. Did you ever learn of the ordeal which, from that moment on, that young man began to suffer? Did you discover how the regime responded to someone who wanted to get your attention? Do by chance realize that every visit by a world leader to this Island is a boost to the Castros’ communist regime? In a situation like that, the most honorable action would have been to step out of your automobile and offer protection to that faithful young man. But the opposite occurred: you abandoned him, you left him in the hands of assassins, who are in no way different from those you knew in Argentina.

Vicar of Christ, I dare to remind you that there exist on this Island some women who are called the Ladies in White. They keep with great devotion a photo showing one of them standing next to you in a plaza of the Vatican. It was during this meeting when Berta Soler, the leader of these Ladies, gave to you–besides her pleading words–certain documentation that serves as proof of the many injustices committed against them and against Cubans in general.

I wish to inform you if indeed you do not already know, that these women can no longer attend Mass and that they are arrested every Sunday and thrown into dark cells. And, although it may seem strange to you, this is for me a proof of God’s existence. It turns out that six days are sufficient for these brave women to recover from the beatings, and they once again sally forth with renewed strength; six days are enough for the Ladies to re-energize their will, to forget their bruises, to overcome their physical and spiritual fractures. These women, Holy Father, again go out the following Sunday. But the Church that you represent maintains absolute silence regarding them.

I will tell you that the photo of you and Berta graces the entrance to the Havana headquarters of these women’s organization. I will tell you that alongside that image are displayed others, those of many activists who have paid with their lives for daring to confront the dictatorship. I love the contrast in that picture of your pure white cassock with the blackest black skin tone of that woman in your company.

Please also know that, next to that photo that those ladies gratefully exhibit, rude words are scrawled on the wall, abusive comments intended to disparage them. And why does such a thing a occur? Because they make visible their discontent with a vulgar and dictatorial regime. And know that those who so denigrate them also hurl chemicals onto that photo. Know that these responses are ordered by that government that received you in Havana. Know also that nothing subdues those women–that once the attacks are over, they meticulously clean their areas with the intention that the environment surrounding that picture be as white as your cassock.

We Cubans, the Catholic ones, know that you favorably influenced the rapprochement between Cuba and the US and the reopening of the embassies. But I do not know if you are aware that since this conciliation, democracy moved further away from our reach, and there were more arrests and beatings of opponents and deaths occurring under mysterious circumstances. I assure you that your parting left a shroud of sorrow upon the Cuban people.

Unfortunately, it has also become notorious how this government which you helped tried to damage the health of US embassy personnel. Have you weighed-in on this matter, Holy Father? If so, we have not heard it. And your silence pains us, your apathy vexes us. And what would you have done if things had been reversed? What would you have said if the US had been the aggressor?

Please know that many of your flock are frightened at your cordiality towards the dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela–and towards the Colombian guerrilla force. So much so that already there are many who believe you to be very close to the leftist forces in the region. Unjust or not, what is certain is that your actions have been very aligned with those “diplomats,” so much so that you are now called “the communist Pope.”

You represent the Catholic Church today, but tomorrow–when God wills it–another will do so, and in each case, the individual should be a mediator of truth, in solidarity with our pain, not causing more pain. We, the opposition in Cuba, are also your flock, flesh of your flesh. And I do not believe that the dictator, his family, and every one of his henchmen who have directed so much hate towards God and the Church during these 60 years of iron-grip dictatorship, deserve your attention and friendship.

Father Francis, who was able to deceive you so? Who made you believe that the dictatorship could dialogue sincerely with the Church? How could the Church forget the persecutions that the Cuban government unleashed on Its priests and faithful? Who convinced you that the embargo was more hurtful to the people than to the dictatorial government? Two years of restored relations with the US leave it clear that this friendship empowered the regime even more.

Holy Father, it was all a ruse, a smokescreen to fool you. We Cubans desire–before food–liberty, rights, democracy. Messenger of God, cease from appearing cold, stop looking away when this archipelago begs you to intercede for our liberty. Know that the young man who during your visit clung to your vehicle, even today is continuing the fight, and he alternates his theaters of action: sometimes on the streets, sometimes in the prisons. And do not be surprised if someday you learn that he was found to suffer from an unexpected and rare “illness,” or that an “accident” took his life.

Those who are assassinated by the regime do not mourn their own deaths, those assassinated by the regime believe that death is a worthy price for obtaining what belongs to us. Those who in the jails go on hunger strikes do not clamor anymore for your attention, perhaps anymore they see you as a ghost. Their prayers go to Christ, He who forgets not the pain of those who suffer on the Earth.

Holy Father, see our reality–although I believe that it would be better for you to keep your distance because every time you have glanced our way, you have ended up harming us. Perhaps what we ask is your silence–that same silence you offered, in Argentina, when one of your priests was arrested.

Father, this letter is not intended to obtain a pronouncement by you in support of victimized Cubans, of those who are robbed of their most basic right, of those whom you well know. We know too well that you will never be the agent of a miracle.

About the Author

(Havana, 1966). Graduate in film direction. Resides in Havana, Cuba. Honorable Mention in the Juan Rulfo Award (1989); National Prize awarded by the writers’ union UNEAC (1995). Book, “A Summer’s Day Dream,” published in 1998. In 1999, won the César Galeano Prize. In 2001, the Alejo Carpentier prize awarded by the Cuban Institute of the Book for the short story collection, “The Children That Nobody Wanted.” In 2006, won the Casa de las Américas prize, short story category, for the book, “Happy Are Those Who Weep.” In 2013 won the Franz Kafka International Prize for Novels from the Drawer*, convened in the Czech Republic, for “The Summer When God Slept.” Has been published in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, China, UK, Dominican Republic, France, US, Colombia, Portugal, Martinique, Italy, Canada, among other countries.

*”Novels from the Drawer” is a phrase used to describe literature written under censorship; because the novel cannot published, the writer puts it in a drawer ‘for later’.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Country of the Absurd / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, El Cerro, Havana, 22 November 2017 —If in Cuba we were to change everything that needs changing, we would have to rewrite our constitution. Why? Because of the many absurdities that do not permit the economy, nor society, to advance towards development, as do almost all the other nations on the planet—and all for protecting the spurious interests of a small clique that clings to power by virtue of no other legitimacy anymore than sheer force.

The government assures us that it desires a highly developed society, but this can only happen if there is a developed economy. How can this be achieved? By doing everything possible to incentivize development, and that is not how it’s done in Cuba. continue reading

In Cuba there is no store that sells tractors, trucks, farm equipment, or any other tools for the private farmers, who in fact comprise the immense majority (and the few outstandingly efficient members) of the agricultural sector. No big stores, nor small ones, either, offer agricultural supplies. The farmers are used to getting from the national or local government whatever they supposedly need for their work, such as the so-called technological packets, etc. But unfortunately our Ministry of Agriculture and subordinate agencies are staffed by “office farmers” who only know the type of agriculture that provides for our dinner table. And so it is in the rest of our ministries.

They supposedly want to incentivize private labor but unjust, un-payable and exorbitant taxes are imposed that we expect will function as they do in the US—but in a socialist system where the People (in reality the State) own the means of production, raw materials, all the unrealized gains, and all the income and aggregate value. In real terms these taxes function as an amortization of the chronic inefficiencies of the State.

They want the transportation system to get better but they don’t sell new or secondhand vehicles at a just and reasonable price. Nor is bank financing available. They don’t allow individuals to import from abroad, forcing us to continue to rebuild as best we can cars that are 60 or more years old.

They require that private transports be in excellent working condition when there is no State-run garage to take them to for maintenance and repair, no replacement parts provided or for sale, and the few other supplies that make it to the stores, such as batteries, tires and such, end up with astronomical price tags.

They pay lip service to bettering the standard of living while paying miserable salaries at the level of 30 years ago, and prices are, by decree, increased by 270% for sale in the hard-currency stores owned by the military.

They speak of civil society and impede oppositional movements. Our nation is ruled by very veteran military commanders, and even our low-level civilian functionaries now also sport the olive green, apparently as a fashion statement.

They wish for the nation to inhabit the Information Age when there is not a single store in the land that sells computers, while ETECSA, the state telecommunications and Internet monopoly–the only such entity allowed to operate–works very slowly in installing these new technologies despite being able to do it much more speedily.

They come out for improving education while the overwhelming majority of schools are in bad shape or lack adequate conditions for their proper functioning. Many resources are scarce and the professors make, as do all the workers in the country, on paltry salaries, unjust and abusive.

We try to be a medical power when there are not enough available doctors because of their exportation to the Third World, while our pharmacies are increasingly lacking medications to the point that we are approaching catastrophe for the elderly with their minuscule pensions. Meanwhile the black market for legal drugs at high prices continues to grow, for even aspirin is hard to find. To be admitted to the hospital today is a misfortune, not a solution, for the patient. New infections that cannot be controlled are breeding because of dire sanitary conditions.

They appear to try to instill in our young people our traditions and culture when our media, especially television, is increasingly and unpleasantly politicized and all our national symbols are manipulated to a disagreeable and degrading degree of chauvinism. Meanwhile our texts and the programming on offer are ever worsening in quality to the point that the citizenry seeks and finds alternatives such as pirated cable and the celebrated “weekly packet” that even the government tries to imitate with no luck, for it doesn’t change its methods.

The ancient bosses try to reach out to the youth with their speeches when they don’t see, don’t grasp—due to their advanced age—that young people must be approached via their evermore efficient and personal technological resources. Social media is being extensively used in politics (Donald Trump has more than 22 million followers on Twitter) while in Cuba there is still not even the possibility of accessing the Internet at home and apparently it will not be for along time by design of these same bosses.

They want the populace to make money but then we are publicly scandalized when some entrepreneur starts to do so.

They don’t allow the creation, for example, of associations or organizations of independent accountants for private or State-run enterprises. To speak of independent lawyers is subversive.

They authorize private manual labor when there are no supplies: there are carpenters without wood, welders without acetylene and oxygen tanks, etc. Even many years after the supposed opening the much desired wholesale market is still not in existence while the State enterprises do have one and even so they work very poorly.

Private businesses are not allowed to import what they need, and hard currency for foreign travel is not sold under any circumstances.

They change their tune constantly and this confuses the local ideologues and the populace. What’s all this noise about creating one, two, many Vietnams when Raúl Castro has declared a peace zone in Latin America? What about religion being “the opiate of the masses” versus Liberation Theology? Stalin was once a great man and now is a butcher. Fidel previously tried to get Nikita Khrushchev to fire the nuclear missiles but now he had nothing to do with it.

They want our children to be like Che when we should want them to be like Martí.

They want development but without anybody making money, betterment but we know not how, change but not too much of it.

How long?

Eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Shortages and Shady Dealings / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Housing in Havana.

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, 1 November 2017, El Cerro, Havana. Some new phenomena are taking place, products of the state’s poor management and shortsightedness.

Dwellings are being repossessed by people who are buying them legally or illegally.

I occupy an apartment with three bedrooms, one bath, a living/dining room, a balcony, and a rear terrace. It should now be the property of my brother, now that my mother, the original owner–thinking of her very advanced age–transferred the title to her youngest son. continue reading

In this apartment live three people. Not long ago there were five of us. But my aunt and my father died when they were well into their 90s. Presumably, the next in line would be my mother, who is now past 80, and after her my brother, and then I, who am 60.

During the process of changing the deed and drawing up the new and complicated property contract now required by the government, we decided to assign ownership to the youngest son.

We were left speechless and disconcerted when the notary asked us who would be the next heir after we were all gone. My mother chose to name a granddaughter who does not live with us and is four years of age.

In the apartment next door lives an octogenarian lady who was recently widowed.

She is diabetic. Already there is a distant relative who has arrived on the scene and started to occasionally look after the little old lady–and who will surely inherit the property when she dies, for I have seen notaries coming and going over there.

Residential units are ending up in younger hands–legally or through many semi-legal tricks.

There are houses in good condition that remain empty and closed up because their inhabitants are away in other countries, probably trying to get settled somewhere. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll return. If it does, well, one or another of the owners will return to sell the house at a good price.

No longer does the government take over houses left behind by those who leave the country, as was the case until some years ago. Cubans may now continue to hold the title to their properties if they return for at least a few days within the first two years of living abroad.

Those who do not sell their houses leave them in the care of relatives who rent them out to foreign tourists and forward the fees to the owners residing in other countries.

In the upcoming 2020 census, or likely before then, the ration book will lose half of its consumer base for reasons of non-residency in Cuba.

The housing shortage is not lessening, however, despite the high emigration rate and many deaths, due to the government’s chronic apathy towards seriously investing in this sector, and not allowing others to do so.

The scarcity of medicines is worsening: even aspirin is hard to find. Many medicines end up on the black market.

Last week my brother found himself having to stand in line–in the sun, from 9 in the morning to almost 4 in the afternoon–at a drugstore just to obtain the medications, such as insulin, that my mother needs for her diabetes and blood pressure, as well as cotton, alcohol and syringes.

The aged neighbor lady cannot even think of going to the drugstore that is one km away, let alone stand in line. There are no couriers. She will simply die one day soon and the family doctor will come and declare her dead of old age, and that will be that. Her case will never be studied nor will be of interest to the authorities to determine whether she might have survived a few more years with better care and medications.

ETECSA, the state-owned telecommunications monopoly, with its painfully slow and inefficient processes, is facilitating another lucrative and illegal business opportunity: it has to do with sales of the new “Nauta Hogar” [Home Nauta] contracts. Following more than a year of providing these newfangled internet connections–initially in Old Havana only–ETECSA has approved a little more than 2,000 agreements for a population of nearly 12 million. The service is excessively slow and exorbitantly expensive for local income levels, but ownership can be transferred with no questions asked. Those blessed with these benefits are simply selling them right now at 1000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly 1,000 USD). They’re on sale now on Revolico (Cuba’s “Craiglist”).

Similarly, the ownership of landlines are priced at that level on the informal market, for this system is maintained very cheaply, but for years now there has been no increase in the number of telephones distributed among the urban population, being that no new contracts are offered anymore.

Fidel Castro used to argue that mobile phones were a bourgeois luxury. Raul Castro authorized their generalized sale in 2008. Less than ten years later, more than half of the population utilizes this service, despite how extremely expensive it is.

How will the ancient rulers ever develop this country if a primary requirement of modern enterprise, be it state- or privately-owned, is efficient communication and data gathering–which Cuba is slow to adopt as official policy? An open Internet would be very harmful to what remains of Castroism. Imagine that this article could appear on the first page of the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, and that everyone, without censorship, could read works like it.

eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Poor Memory? / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Cover of “God Does Not Enter My Office”

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, El Cerro, Havana, 6 November 2017 — I’ve just finished reading an eBook (which has never been published in Cuba) written by someone who was detained in Cuba’s infamous “Military Units to Aid Production” [known by their acronym in Spanish as UMAP], who endured all of the bloody sordidness of those grim Nazi-Castroite concentration camps. The book is a testament of those days written by Alberto I. González Muñoz in 1994-95, titled God Does Not Enter My Office. It was first published by Baptist Publishing in 2003 and has been updated periodically up to its seventh edition, in 2015, of which we speak here.

The author alleges in the introduction that he does not want this material to be interpreted as an indictment of the Castros’ regime. However, one need only read it to be outraged at the many atrocities and injustices that they committed, causing grave damages to Cuban society up to the present day. continue reading

The book recalls testimonies written about Nazi extermination camps, even though there were no crematoria or gas chambers in the UMAP.

The UMAP were intended to effect, through forced labor, an obligatory change in religious persons, homosexuals, and all who were considered hindrances to the Revolution. The UMAP were in operation, to the horror of many, for more than two years–between 1965 and 1967–in remote locations in Camagüey.

In the pages of this book can be found the names of various religious persons who were sent there, subjected to humiliations, officially classified as social blights because of their beliefs, mistreated, and made to labor 16 or more hours daily cutting sugar cane.

It amazes me that personages such as Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, so careful of and complaisant towards the regime as he is–and who a few years ago ordered the forced removal of peaceful protesters from a Havana church–was among the Catholics who endured kicks to the backside and pushing and shoving for the mere reason of being religious.

There is also the case of the Rev. Raúl Suárez, who is seen often in the company of government officials, a gracious host to the delegations from the Pastors for Peace, and who has founded an authorized emporium on 100 and 51st Streets, in Marianao.

Raúl Suárez was in the UMAP–sleeping at night, alongside many other religious persons, on a hard dirt floor, later in hammocks, and after a few months in beat-up bunks–rising at 4:30am, still exhausted from the previous day’s labor, only to be dragged to the work camp, where they would remain sometimes past midnight, cutting and hauling sugar cane by hand.

Could it be they have a poor memory, or is it rather that they fear losing all that they have gained?

Nothing justifies the barbarity that was the UMAP. Crimes against humanity are never defensible. There will come a time when we will be in a position to hold the perpetrators accountable. We do not forget.

eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cuban Regime Begins Slapping Its Tail On Dissidents In Response To U.S. Decision / Mario Lleonart

Iván Hernández Carrillo

Mario Lleonart, 29 September 2017 — The regime is already starting to unleash its blind fury over the U.S. government’s decision in response to the dictatorship’s inescapable and treacherous complicity in the attack on its diplomats.

Iván Hernández Carrillo was visited this morning by a bailiff of the Municipal Tribunal of Colón, who delivered an official summons to an legal hearing on Tuesday 17 October.

The summons does not reveal the charge behind the proceedings, so Iván went to the tribunal offices, where they told him that he would be tried for nonpayment of a fine — an obvious excuse. continue reading

Iván is one of the dissidents who bear the special designation of having been among the former political prisoners of conscience, the Group of 75 during Cuba’s Black Spring of 2003, who still remains in Cuba. This makes him a symbol that the regime wants to utilize in what is likely the start of a predictable wave of repression, with a goal to fill its holding pens with hostages. This is a longstanding practice of a system that abducts its own citizens so as to provoke ransom negotiations.

It is clear that the regime was already exploring these options that it always has up its sinister sleeve. On Friday, 1 September, following a search of his residence, they had communicated to Iván that he would be charged with the crime of inciting delinquency.

For more information, contact:
Iván Hernández Carrillo at phone number: 52599366
Or via email at: ivanlibre2011@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

How Does the Cuban Survive? / Eduardo Martínez

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, Havana, 31 July 2017 — In the 1960s and even the 70s, the legitimacy of the system–despite its continuous economic fiascos and failure to achieve an adequate and genuinely Cuban social system–was acceptable for the hopeful lower classes, while the middle and upper classes were fleeing to Miami.

Fifty-eight years after the triumph of the Revolution and still under the same regime, we ask ourselves the same questions, and many more besides.

The so-called Special Period began in 1990, a crisis from which, more than a quarter-century later, we have been unable to emerge. But the government obstinately insists on committing the same errors that produced the misfortunes of today. continue reading

This system appears equitable in theory, but in practice (the evaluative test of truth) it has proven to be dysfunctional.

The government attempts to improve and change the system, but in practice, nothing improves and nothing changes.

Of what use has been the enormous propaganda expounded around the Economic Guidelines and the last two Congresses of the Communist Party?  What changes have effectively improved the very precarious living standard of the Cuban people?

A foreigner might ask, “What is this man saying? What ‘very precarious living standard,’ when in fact they have government-guaranteed basic subsistence, free education, unbeatable social security, and enviable health care comparable to the best in the world?” He might think that I am a “mercenary on the imperialist payroll.” But whoever thinks this way does himself little favor. We shall speak of these matters…

The changes the government has made–to allow for a certain degree of self-employment in minute private businesses–improve the living standard of a few very determined entrepreneurs who, come hell or high water, are trying to earn incomes that will provide them a decent existence.

But these individuals are few and far between, and they have a difficult time of it, given the great number of erratic and disorganized regulations, the stress of inspectors and functionaries constantly hanging around demanding the expected and the unexpected, the high cost and difficulty of obtaining inputs, and the draconian taxes that must be paid to agencies that provide no type of security, facilities or guarantees for the work they supposedly regulate. And there is no wholesale market to lower prices and provide some assurance of supplies, preventing start-up merchants from snatching up all available materials needed by individuals.

Up until a few years ago, everything was guaranteed. You would work for the State until the age of 60, then retire with a little pension that would support you until death. Today, nothing is guaranteed. Nothing.

Of what use have been those vaunted “Guidelines”? We Cubans continue to live in poverty, on the lowest human scale.

The current situation of average Cubans–more than 90% of the population–is dire, literally unsustainable. The government knows this but does nothing to improve this situation, even though there exist the means and resources to do so, the methods and a trained labor force desirous of working for a suitable salary.

A redistribution of profits is needed, a clear and transparent accounting system, so that the citizens may know where every cent that we produce is invested: it is our right…

Readers will forgive the digression that follows, because regarding this subject, I find myself obligated to put forth concrete examples that could hurt the feelings of many.

One of my neighbors in Havana’s El Cerro neighborhood is an engineer who is now quite advanced in years. His wife was a professor. Both have been retired now for decades, with pensions of 200 Cuban pesos* (CUP) per month each. They have no children or other relatives. They were once faithful and honest functionaries, and members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The minimum cost of living is at about 2500 CUP (approx. 100 Cuban convertible pesos, CUC*) per month. With that sum one can acquire basic foodstuffs and medicines. Forget clothes and shoes, household appliances, home repairs, etc.

Both of these elderly people have to decide between what they will eat or what medicines they will buy when needed. In the not too distant future they will die and will not be counted in the national statistics as dead from starvation or lack of adequate medical care.

Last month, by way of the ration book, they bought the assigned amount of chicken, five eggs, and a half-pound of “soy ham” per person. This couple cannot acquire anything in CUC. Where is the protein in their diet? The fruits and vegetables they need?

In their prime, this aged couple were active members of this society and faithful followers of the PCC. Today, they do not officially exist. They will soon leave this earth and nobody will have done anything for them. They live in isolation, confined to their apartment during their last days.

This is how the majority of the aged survive. Many were faithful followers of Fidel who, at some point, renounced their emigrating relatives, took part in repudiation rallies and hurled eggs at those who were leaving, always applauded at the Plaza of the Revolution–even when their monthly ration of rice and sugar was reduced by a pound under the standard quota—and who trooped along in the Marches of the Combatant People, etc.

This permanent economic crisis and the astronomical inflation that the government maintains by force directly harms the elderly. There has been much official talk about helping them, taking care of them, but nothing has been done of any great scale. Old folks’ homes are extremely scarce. To enter one, you have to give up your pension to the State and, to get his or her attention, you have to give up your house to a functionary who decides if you will be admitted.

Lack of adequate medical care? How can that be?

My brother, generally healthy and very active, took ill a few days ago. He went to the doctor’s office on the second morning of a severe malaise, but on that day they were only seeing pregnant women. He was not seen. On the third day he returned to the office and the general practitioner, without so much as examining him, let alone taking his blood pressure or listening to his heart, among other basic check-ups, prescribed him analgesics. On the fourth day, still suffering the same complaints, but worsening, my brother visited the polyclinic and the doctor on duty was about to prescribe him something, without performing any examinations, blood work, urinalysis, etc. Nothing. My brother fled before the doctor could get a word out. He turned to a well-known cardiologist, who within in a nearby hospital discovered that he is a diabetic, and placed him under treatment.

Doctors find themselves constantly besieged everywhere by relatives, friends and acquaintances in search of at least basic medical attention, and this increases their workload tremendously, because desperate people are knocking on the doors of their homes at all hours.

It takes me a half hour to walk to the hospital where my wife works as a gynecologist. For her–who of course does not own a car–it takes two hours. She has to constantly stop to give street consultations to the persons who are impelled to seek her out because of the deficiencies of the health care system. She, with infinite patience, gives them her time and does the best she can.

Today, overburdened Cuban doctors are forced to economize, to employ a personal evaluative scale by observation before utilizing expendable or electronic resources that might be costly to the State. This is per training by the Ministry of Public Health. Where do they put the more than $8-billion earned by our foreign medical missions?

In the pharmacies, no antacids, anti-fungals, anti-allergens, potent analgesics, antibiotics, etc. can be found. There is practically nothing there except for medicinal syrups concocted from traditional herbal recipes. Even aspirin is scarce. Notwithstanding, many powerful medicines, some of Cuban manufacture, are sold on the black market at exorbitant prices.

In the poorly provisioned hospitals, to gain admittance is quite difficult, albeit free. For a surgical operation one needs a miracle or a friend.

When a patient is admitted, he or she must bring bedclothes, food, fans, drinking water, etc., and–in light of the devastating shortage of nurses–someone must remain with the patient to ensure the timely administration of treatment and medications. Upon release from the hospital, if the patient does not slip 10 CUC to the ambulance drivers, there is a wait of three days for the ambulance service from the hospital, or else one must rely on expensive private taxis.

Have we spoken of the enormous waiting lists for operations? The sick must wait weeks, months, years, and then die because the operating rooms are never available due to advanced deterioration, or lack of bedding, anesthesiologists, water or surgical sutures.

Is this the celebrated medical service?

Everything I refer to here is demonstrable. One only needs to visit a hospital as a patient.

But the rulers always have some luxury tour planned out for the gullible or those who want to believe.

Today in our society can be seen sharp differences between a rarefied group of enriched government bureaucrats (along with a few successful miscreants) and the overwhelming majority of the people.

There are excellent neighborhoods such as Nuevo Vedado, Miramar, Siboney, Atabey, and some other area along the periphery of Havana such as Fontanar, etc., where these personages somehow finagle (there is always something murky about these transactions) grand mansions, practically all built in the 1950s, as this is the only architectural era on which one can rely for elegance and style.

There is a law on the books, of which little is said, which imposes space limitations on permits for new construction. That law refers to modest dwellings of just a few square meters per inhabitant.

Near my house, a functionary who drives an enormous Mercedes has built a residence of nearly 1000 sq. ft., utilizing a private work force. With the blocks and cement they have used just on the surrounding wall, a modest apartment house could be built.

No argument here against big mansions. The problem is when its occupants sharply preach all that about “do as I say, not as I do.”

At this time, the government appears to be in a profound financial crisis. It hardly exports anything, tourism has not increased as predicted, and the price of petroleum is still low (thanks to Venezuela). All that’s left are the scarce products of our pharmaceutical manufacturing, biotechnology and the export of human capital to the detriment of our already precarious internal services.

There are shortages of supplies to the CUC stores, and delayed and even more scarce stocks of regular and subsidized foodstuffs.

What will low-income people, the aged, eat when there are no more provisions to be had through the ration book?

There are markets for fresh agricultural products and pork and lamb, but their prices continue to rise unabated. For example, at the peak of the harvest season, a pound of tomatoes or onions costs 10 to 15 Cuban pesos, which is more than a worker makes in one day, and let’s not even speak of pork, which costs 35 Cuban pesos per pound.

If the government is trying to gain access to the bank credits of major world markets to salvage at least one part of the socialist economy, it will find itself forced to cut back on all types of services to the population, and even if not, they will continue to deteriorate. And we are well past the times of Marches of the Combatant peoples, of military slogans and harangues.

Still, this government has nine lives. In the 1960s, the Soviets bailed it out. Later, Hugo Chávez came on the scene to rescue it. Today, as Chavismo is mired in problems, the help will come from whom we least expected it.

Will the regime accept the political and social cost of a massive infusion of North American investments? Hopefully it will, because I’m dying to eat a double Big Mac and wash it down with a liter of Coca-Cola on the corner of Malecon and 23rd.

Really, the Castros have never cared about the people’s calamitous situation. What they care about is the State, their State, the one they hope will survive them, so that they will not find themselves as defendants in a Cuban version of the Nuremberg Trials.

eduardo57@nauta.cu

Translator’s Notes:

*Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Díaz-Canel: Killer of Illusions / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro (Reuters)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 24 August 2017 — In his hardline speech to Cuban Communist Party (PCC) cadres, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel killed any illusions some may have harbored that a future government headed by him, following Raúl Castro’s retirement,* would tend towards reforms and be less authoritarian and repressive.

Assuming the stance of a prison warden and speaking in a more commanding voice than usual, Díaz-Canel came across as considerably menacing–and not only with respect to the open opposition. Into the same bag of what he called “subversive projects” and “counterrevolution” Díaz-Canel also tossed the loyal oppositionists of Cuba Posible, the pro-government journalists who collaborate on non-state media, centrists and other ideologically diverse actors–no matter if they declare themselves to be within the Revolution.** As if this were not enough, he also warned that there would be no consolidations of a private sector that could break away from the State and turn into an agent of change. continue reading

All of this in a tone that more reminiscent of a State Security official than of a technocrat of the party bureaucracy. So intransigent and backward did Díaz-Canel come across, that in his place could have stood the uncouth Ramiro Valdés, or Machado Ventura himself were he not so busy cleaning up agricultural disasters.

If a medium as mild in its treatment of the regime as OnCuba Magazine irritates Díaz-Canel, we can only imagine what he thinks of Cubanet and Martí Noticias, among others, and what he has in store for independent journalists.

Could it be that the heir apparent, if he wants to make it to February 2018, could not spare any harshness in his lecture? How could he disappoint the little old commie fanatics who keep the fuse lit, even at the risk of it all exploding in their hands?

There is no need to dig deep and expect surprises from Díaz-Canel. For now, he called the play and it truly sets my teeth on edge. It is more of the same. Without much variation in the score.

There was no reason to expect otherwise–why insist on sniffing out a Gorbachev or Deng Xiao Ping in Díaz-Canel? He must have learned in cadre school that this type of system does not allow reforms that do not come apart at the seams; that rats, regardless of how they might beg for it, cannot be fed cheese, because then they will want water, and then more cheese, and will continue begging for it until the pantry runs out.

Actually, it was only the usual naifs, those given to wishful thinking, the extreme optimists, who harbored illusions about Díaz-Canel. He might have been able to appear liberal with the gays and rock fans of the Club Mejunje in his native Santa Clara, back when he had not yet put on weight, would ride his bicycle, and looked like Richard Gere. But once he got to Holguín as first provincial secretary of the PCC, he did not hesitate to order evacuations of marginal neighborhoods: apparently he preferred the invasive marabú* weed to squatters.

Starting now, he is giving advance notice, as if he were just another general–and of the praetorian kind–that he wants a calm and orderly classroom, and that he will not balk at ordering State Security (after seeing to the extinction of the dissident movement) to take care of the insubordinate, lackadaisical and diversionist elements. And it could be that later on, given his inclination to social media, he will tweet–cock of the walk that he is–that “there is no reason to make the least concession to the Yankee imperialists.”

Díaz-Canel is of a younger generation, but as in his school days, he remains disciplined, a follower of orders. And very attentive to what his preservation instinct dictates. Apparently it has not failed him yet. It is no accident that he has gotten to where he is today.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translator’s Notes:

*In 2013, Raúl Castro told the Assembly of People’s Power (the Cuban Parliament), that he will retire from the presidency of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers on Feb. 24, 2018. At the time of that announcement, Díaz-Canel was promoted to first vice-president of both councils.

**A reference to Fidel Castro’s Words to the Intellectuals speech of June 30, 1961, in which he set limits to the free expression of artists and writers: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Real Power / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Cuban troops parading in Havana

Cuba Primera Digital, Eduardo Martinez, Rodriguez, El Cerro, Havana, 25 July 2017 –The Cuban people wish for, desire and silently demand changes that can lift us out of this sticky inertia wherein poverty resembles some plasticine or treacly substance that endlessly congeals in our hands.

The demand is silent because we lack access to communication media, although many of us would shout out certain truths.

We average citizens who make up 90 percent of the population—manual laborers and knowledge workers; service employees of all stripes; technicians, including engineers and architects working on projects related to their specialties; and more—we have no voice nor vote, we do not truly boast ownership of the means of production, nor of technical and technological resources. All we have to give is our labor force, our effort and sacrifice. Period. In general, we are treated as one more machine, dispensable and interchangeable, which when no longer serviceable, is traded for a functioning model, or else discarded, kicked aside. continue reading

The remainder of the population also tries to implement the needed changes of which Fidel spoke, and which Raúl knows are vitally important to saving the system.

Once upon a time, Raúl Castro said, “We cannot continue wobbling on the edge of the abyss. Either we change, or we perish.”

The octogenarian generation led by the obstinate Fidel Castro also includes delayed septuagenarians, but all of these together do not comprise even one percent of the total population of our country. They are the superstructure, the historic leaders–figureheads who appear to be running things, but in reality not so.

Between this layer of elders and rulers who are rapidly disappearing and the immense working class below lies another stratum of rich potentates who retain the true power in this nation, although for the moment they are keeping a low profile.

Beneath the veterans who can barely stand up anymore there operates, imperceptibly, a relatively large group of persons, ranging from the level of ministers to those functionaries charged with implementing their orders and directives, and including the military chiefs who command the armed services and the repressive structures of the Ministry of the Interior. These people are the ruling class that actually generates the high-level decisions, holds the reins of power, and runs the country behind the scenes.

One feels a little sorry for the ancient overlords with their greatly diminished capacities and ability to really call the shots. They should stay home and be enjoying a good rest, away from public life; instead, they remain apparently in control, when in fact they are no more than a sad semblance of power.

True power is in the hands of the much younger generals who direct regiments and battalions of armed and well-trained soldiers; the generals of the Ministry of the Interior who manage State Security, the police, and other agents of confrontation that are behind the always-possible and ever-imminent popular uprisings that can flare up at any given time; the generals and colonels who lead the corporations and enterprises in which great investments are made of national and international capital in the productive spheres and foreign tourism; the managers of joint ventures that raise high levels of hard currency; the corporate personnel of the Banco Metropolitano, which finances the army and dominates almost all monetary and financial activity; the ministers and directors of departments in all domains of national life, who determine and issue their own regulations parallel to the elastic and vaguely-defined laws published in the Gaceta de Cuba [Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba], for which our inefficient National Assembly scarcely convenes a couple of times a year.

These highly privileged señores retain real power when it comes to deciding what can and cannot be done, who can approve what, and which changes to allow or not. They decide who will leave the country or be incarcerated, where shopping can be done and by whom, who escapes and who will be taught a lesson. This is a dark intermediate layer, highly corrupt and merciless, which could not care less about the common people below or the old geezers above.

These señores do not want—they will fight tooth and nail to prevent—change of any kind. Any. The feeble government of the octogenarians is no match for them, and the lower classes do not know what to do, or do not seem to know.

Were this to change, the señores who comprise this intermediate layer—a wall of contention immovable in the face of change—would have to give up their good state-owned vehicles; they would not be able to maintain their various private luxury cars; they would lose their special stipends for food and fuel; they would have to vacate their elegant and well-maintained residences in exclusive neighborhoods (generally built during the 1950s with the money of the millionaires back then) where new construction is not permitted, such as Siboney, Cubanacán, Atabey, Nuevo Vedado, Aldabó, etc. They would not be able to constantly travel abroad to make the expensive purchases on behalf of the State so that it can support the 11-million parasites that they say we have become. They would not be able to enjoy the many sweet, efficient and beautiful secretaries at their disposal everywhere. They would not be able carry out that vastly lucrative internal influence peddling that keeps the nation’s wheels turning, and which so much resembles embezzlement.

Were all this to change, these señores would have virtually nowhere to go, and they are well-accustomed by now to living well.

These señores are the ones who keep this country in a permanent state of bankruptcy, spending and squandering the little cash we generate, while they fatten their own bank accounts, hidden throughout the planet, on the backs of the people.

These same señores, on the day they come to realize that on the other side of change the universe looks more lucrative, will not hesitate to execute a coup d’état, will not hesitate to neutralize the octogenarian overlords, will not hesitate to order the troops to the streets to massacre the opposition. And it will be worse than in other places: in Cuba we are all soldiers.

They will become the nouveau riche, as has already happened in so many other nations that went through this process in Eastern Europe.

If you doubt it, take a look at how many ministers and other functionaries have fallen into disgrace in recent years, when the octogenarians tried to apply a few honest touches with what little authority and prestige they have left—as happened to the corrupt General Acevedo, or the previous Education Minister, who traveled abroad on the public dime more than 70 times in barely two years. This could be a long list…

Within that dark layer, subtly and silently, lies the real power. They are the ones who could trigger a sudden upset to our society, were they to consider it prudent or beneficial to do so, for they hold the means and resources in their hands, under their direct control. They have a lot of money and have become used to wielding unlimited power, good students as they are of the aged rulers who are on their way out. This bad seed will become our new opulent capitalists, cruel and merciless. For now, they are the ones who will set the status quo, the clamor for change from average citizens notwithstanding.

eduardom57@nauta.cu; Eduardo Maro

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Nothing Has Changed* / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 12 May 2017 — At the recently concluded Fifith National Council of the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), during skin-deep presentations, one timorous playwright expresed this thought: “A critical mindset is fundamental in society. UNEAC must become the thermometer wherein discussion is allowed.”

It appears that in UNEAC, as in the rest of Cuba, discussion is not allowed and requires permission to practice. And here I thought this was an inherent right of every citizen and not only for members of the UNEAC (with its appropriate authorization).

We all know that the UNEAC is a governmental organization, commanded and controlled by the Ministry of Culture, a body which lacks independence and whose principal duties are designated by the government and the party. continue reading

This Council, as more of the same, stands behind the execrable repression inflicted, in plain light of day this past May Day, on a citizen who had the gall to get ahead of the official start of the parade and run while waving a North American flag. If he had done this with a Venezuelan flag, perhaps he would have been applauded and even congratulated–but he did it with that of the “eternal enemy” and that, over here, constitutes a criminal act.

Both events demonstrate the prehistoric dogmatism and intolerance of our authorities, incapable as they are of setting aside their totalitarian stances.

Only in dictatorships are discussion and the display of a flag (even that of a country with which we have recently reestablished diplomatic relations) prohibited, and are those who do these things beaten up.

To speak of tolerance and of respect for diverse opinions is one thing, but to practice them is something else entirely. It constitutes a yet-unlearned lesson for the Cuban authorities. The old and new rulers do not tire of repeating the same old, broken record of defending the sovereignty, independence and identity of the Nation–which has always served as the basis of violating the most basic rights of the citizenry.

In this country nothing truly important changes. The few changes are limited to insignificant matters, which often are even more detrimental than beneficial to Cubans. To understand this, you need only sense the public opinion on the street and set aside the tired official rhetoric.

The matter of the Cuban flag could not be left out of the UNEAC Council, albeit already a tired topic.

Señores, the elements of the flag, or even the actual flag, reproduced in a piece of apparel, a tool or a craft, are not the flag. Let us leave aside extreme positions and let us truly repect the flag, not utilize it for cheap political and patriotic acts nor as a background for demogogues, thus breaking with the established tradition for its use–which actually has been and is systematically violated by the authorities. A similar thing occurs with the national anthem and emblem.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:

*The orginal title of this piece in Spanish is, “El Cuartico Sigue Igual,” which can be literally translated as, “the little room is unchanged.” The author is riffing on a song that became very popular in Cuba in the late 1940s, “El Cuartico Está Igualito.” The phrase is a jilted lover’s refrain addressed to the departed love object, describing how everything in their love nest remains the same, just as she/he left it. Ever since, Cuban writers have used this phrase or a variation when referring to all manner of unchanged situations.

Planet Nothing

Rebeca Monzo, Havana, 16 June 2017 — Cuba is a distant planet. It has nothing to do with the rest of the world, because nothing functions there as in the majority of civilized countries. This “planet” is ruled by the whims of its ancient rulers who have spent almost 59 years doing whatever they please.

Now is when we were supposed to be doing better, thanks to the massive arrival of a tourist trade that for decades overlooked Cuba as a destination because of the innumerable restrictions imposed by the regime–and which now has no choice but to “loosen its grip” in this regard, because the country does not produce goods and is totally bankrupt. Curiously, almost all the tourists I talk with remark that they come to Cuba because they want to experience it before the great changes that are coming. It must be that they want to “feel” firsthand, rather than watch a movie about, a true Jurassic Park. continue reading

Nobody knows what is being done with the money collected via remittances [from Cuban émigrés abroad to their relatives on the Island] and tourism, being that the stores are practically empty, the public transportation service is worse every day, the city grows ever dirtier, and buildings continue to collapse–structures whose extreme deterioration is due to the government never having taken care of them adequately.

Yesterday at the the Panamericana chain store location on 26th Avenue between 17th and 15th Streets in Vedado, I was struck with consternation to see the huge line of people waiting to enter. I asked an employee who told me that they had only one cashier, because the other three had quit their jobs, as had the workers in the personal and household cleaning supplies department. Only one cash register, in the groceries department, was open to the public.

We go on floating in a state of absolute stagnation, where “nothing from nothing” is our daily reality.

Ed note: Rebeca has a room for rent on Airbnb if you are going to Havana. (Additional note: this “advertisement” has NOT been posted at her request or even with her knowledge.)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump / Iván García

Photo Montage Credit: Cubanos Por El Mundo

Ivan Garcia, 19 June 2017 — “Impotence.” This is the word that a performer in the Guiñol Theater (located in the basement of the FOCSA building in Havana’s Vedado district) uses when asked her opinion of the new Trump Doctrine regarding Cuba.

On a day of African heat, a group of eight waits to navigate the Internet in a hall administered by the state-run telecommunications monopoly ETECSA. The performer exchanges opinions with the others regarding the event of the week: the repeal by Donald Trump’s administration of Obama’s policy of détente. continue reading

On the street, for those Cubans who earn only token salaries, breakfast on coffee alone and complain constantly about the inefficiency of public services and the government’s inability to improve the quality of life, political machination is just an annoyance.

Human Rights, democracy and political liberties all sound good, but they are not understood in their full context. At least, this is what can be deduced from the opinions expressed by the people waiting in line. Some make clear that they are speaking from their personal perspective, that they watched Trump on Telesur but have yet to read the measures for themselves.

For lack of time, and the propaganda fatigue brought on by the barrage from the official press–which has caused many compatriots to decide to not keep up with news reports but instead take shelter in social-media gossip–the group waiting to go online is shooting to kill in all directions.

“Everybody talks about ’the people,’ about the ’dissidents,’ about the Cuban American congressmen over there, about the government over here, but nobody has hit on the formula for us to derive benefits from a particular policy. Obama tried, but the gerontocracy that rules us did not allow private business owners to get ahead. I feel like a hostage, to Castro and to Trump. A puppet,” the performer confesses.

One lady, a loquacious and chain-smoking housewife, asks, in a tone of disgust, “What have the people gained from Obama’s policy? Nothing.” And she explains to herself, “Those people (the government) don’t want to change. They will not give up,” she says ironically, “the honey of power. Trump is a crazy man, a clown. The guy is a pill. His speech was pure theater. It’s all cheap politicking. And in the middle of it all, we Cubans are–and will remain–screwed. Nobody can change this [regime], and nobody can take it down, either.”

A self-employed worker affirms that he does not see a solution to Cubans’ problems because “we haven’t had the balls to confront the arbitrariness of the government. To hold on and and get screwed, that’s our fate. With all his yammering, the only thing Trump will achieve is that the ’revolutionary reaffirmation’ marches will start up again, condemning ’yankee interference.’ You can already see that coming.”

At a park in Old Havana there are no optimists to be found, either. On the contrary. “Damn, brother, I thought that The One was going to put back the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot law. The only way this shit’s going to be resolved is letting people leave Cuba. You think that over here the folks are going to sign up with the Ladies in White to get beaten up? No, man, people will mind their own business, getting by under the table and trying to scrape together a few pesos. There is no way that Cubans will take to the streets. Unless it’s to get in line at foreign consulates, or if Gente de Zona put on a free concert,” declares a young man in the Parque del Curita, waiting for the P-12 line to Santiago de las Vegas.

Almost 60 years since the protracted and sterile political arm-wrestling between the various US administrations and the Castro brothers, a broad segment of the citizenry sees itself caught in a no-man’s land–in a futile battle for which nobody, not the Cuban rulers nor the US, has asked their permission. They think also that political naiveté has always reigned supreme in the White House, given the oft-repeated intentions to export democratic values to a fraternity of autocrats with the mentality of gangsters and neighborhood troublemakers.

“It is a narrative replete with personal ambitions, pseudo-patriotic elation and cheap nationalism, which has served only to consolidate a history of sovereign and intransigent rulers who never allowed North American interference. It’s fine for a tale, but this politics of confrontation on both sides has left only one winner: the regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro. The rest of us have been the losers. Those who were not in agreement with the Revolution or who wanted to emigrate were called ‘gusanos‘ [worms]. Families were split up and kept from having contact with relatives in the US. The result of all this is what we see today: a great number of Cubans who cannot tolerate those who think differently from them, many who want to emigrate, women who don’t want to have children in their homeland and, in general, a great indifference on the part of citizens towards the problems of their country,” explains a Havana sociologist.

The official reaction has been restrained. For now. A functionary with the Communist Party assures me that “the government is not going to wage a frontal campaign to discredit Trump. Yes, of course, the various institutions of the State will mobilize to demonstrate that the government has it all under control. But Trump’s speech was more noise than substance. Except for the matter of US citizens’ travel to Cuba, which undoubtedly will affect the national economy, the rest [of the Obama-era policies] remains in place, because the military-run businesses are only two hotels.

The owner of a paladar [private restaurant] in Havana believes that “if the yumas [Cuban slang for Americans] stop coming there will be effects on the private sector, because almost all of them stay in private homes, travel around the city in convertible almendrones [classic cars], and eat lunch and dinner in private paladares.”

The news was not good for Cubans who had plans to emigrate to the US. “Many dreamers thought that Trump was a cool guy and would reinstate the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy. I was not expecting as much, but I thought at least that the Cuban-American congressmen would influence Trump’s allowing the exceptional granting of visas to Cubans stuck in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and reactivating the asylum for Cuban medical workers who have deserted their missions,” said a engineer who dreams of resettling in Miami.

The perception right now among Cubans on the street is that they are back to a familiar scenario. One of trenches. Replete with anti-imperialist rhetoric and zero tolerance for liberal thought of any stripe. The scenario most favorable for the hierarchs who dress in olive green.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

A Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 13 June 2017 — Of the real and supposed problems that the Cuban Revolution proposed to solve, as the basis of its historical necessity, after more than half a century of exercising absolute power, many have not been solved, the majority have been aggravated, and others have emerged that did not exist before.

The housing shortage, the thousands of families living in precarious and overcrowded conditions, and more thousands housed in inadequate locations, constitute a clear demonstration of the Revolution’s failure. Insufficient and inefficient public transit, for years incapable of meeting the minimum needs of the population, and the appalling and unstable public services of all types, show another face of the failure. If we add to this the loss of important agricultural outputs, the obsolescence of the industrial infrastructure (lacking upgrades and needed investments), plus a generalized lack of productivity, the situation becomes chaotic. continue reading

Nor have the political and the social spheres achieved what was promised, what with the continued absence of freedoms and basic rights for citizens, as well as low wages and pensions, covert racial and gender discrimination, street and domestic violence, incivility, antisocial behaviors, corruption, and disregard for flora and fauna.

The blame for this string of calamities has always been cast upon the embargo–but even back when it went unmentioned while the country was benefitting from enormous Soviet subsidies* these problems went unresolved. At that time, the abundant resources were squandered on foreign wars, backed insurgencies, absurd and grandiose failed plans, and other frivolities.

The socialist state and its leaders, albeit abusing the revolutionary rhetoric, have reliably demonstrated in Cuba that the system does not work and is unfeasible–just as happened in the other socialist countries which erroneously bet on it.

To propose a “prosperous, efficient and sustainable socialism” is to propose a negation, and it constitutes no more than another utopia to deceive the citizenry and detain the march of time a little longer–knowing that, at the end, it will fail as it has up to now. Socialism, perhaps attractive in theory, is in practice a failure. A bet on it, in any of its forms, is to ensure a loss.

Translator’s Notes:

*Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the start of Cuba’s “Special Period.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: From Worse to Impossible (and We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet) / Iván García

Beggar sleeping. See details of picture below.

Ivan Garcia, 3 June 2017 — In coming days when the administration of the unpredictable Donald Trump, following four months of review, announces its Cuba policy, it could be that Obama’s guidelines are retained save for touch-ups of a few items such as doing business with military enterprises that directly benefit the dictatorship.

Good news for the regime would be that the White House were to maintain the status quo.

To appease the internal dissident movement and a segment of the historic exile community that supported his election bid, Trump will demand respect for human rights, economic liberty and freedom of expression, and blah, blah, blah.

But the Castroite autocracy will counterattack with plausible and powerful arguments. continue reading

And it will point a finger at the Trump administration, which accuses his own country’s press of being his worst enemy and which makes multi-million-dollar deals with the Saudi monarchy, a government that violates innumerable human rights and reduces women to mere objects. All of which makes it not the best moral paragon to speak of freedoms.

During the Obama era–my god, how the regime misses him–Castroism did not allow small private businesses to access credit nor import products from the US.

The Cuban government’s strategy is simple. They want to do business with the powerful Norte, all comers, but with state–or military–run concerns as the sole partners.

If Trump maintains the scenario unfolded by Obama, i.e., academic, cultural, business and political exchanges between both nations, Raúl Castro will probably make his move and grant greater autonomy to small private businesses on the Island so as to placate the New York real estate mogul.

Not a few small private entrepreneurs, perhaps the most successful ones, are children or relatives of the olive-green caste, and they head up successful enterprises such as the Star Bien paladar (private restaurant), or the Fantasy discotheque.

If the panorama does not change, the regime will continue its diplomatic and academic offensive, utilizing its agents of influence in the US to continue efforts to bring down the embargo, or at least weaken it until it becomes a useless shell.

For the olive green autocracy, the plan to counteract that “damn obsession of US elites with democracy and liberties” involves conducting sterile negotiations that only buy time.

The Palace of the Revolution wants to change, but only in the style of China or Vietnam. It does not understand how those two communist countries can partner with the US while Cuba cannot. Castroite strategy is headed in that direction.

There are two subliminal messages coming from the military junta that governs the Island.

First: With an authoritarian government of social control in place, political stability is assured and there is no risk of a migratory avalanche or of the Island becoming a base of operations for Mexican drug cartels.

Second: Were there to be a change that provoked the people to take to the streets, the Island could become a failed state.

Trump, who is not known for his democratic qualities and has the discernment of an adolescent, could take the bait and do an about-face. “After all,” he might think, “if we’re partners with the monarchies in the Gulf, we continue to buy oil from the detestable Maduro government, and I want to make a deal with Putin, what difference if I play a little tongue hockey with Raúl Castro or his successor?”

But Trump is an uncontrollable reptile. And Cuba is not a center of world power, and it has a small market and laughable consumer power. Thus it could be that Trump will play the moralist and make demands that not even he himself lives up to, just to satisfy the Cuban-American political bloc in Miami.

Whatever happens, Trump has begun shooting tracer bullets. His announcement of a drastic $20 million cut in funding for dissident projects favors the Havana regime.

It is likely that this was not Trump’s intention. But remember that he is not a Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is a man in his third age with the mind of a primary school student.

With all that the Island autocracy is going through–reductions in petroleum from Venezuela and a crisis that could annihilate Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, leaving Cuba bereft of an important economic support; Russia supplied a shipment of fuel but is asking where will the money come from next time; and a Raúl Castro who is supposedly destined to surrender power–for the military mandarins the scene that is coming into view at the moment is the worst possible.

Don’t worry about the repression. Hard-core dissidents will never want for punches and slaps. But in a country at its breaking point, any spark can give rise to a conflagration of incalculable proportions.

Right now, the average salary in Cuba is 27 dollars per month, but to live decently requires 15 times that amount. And Havana, the capital of the Republic, has gone for a week without water.

Food prices are through the roof. Public transit has gone from bad to worse. And, as if we were living in Zurich, Samsung has opened on the west side of the city a store (more like a museum) where a 4K Smart TV goes for $4,000, and a Samsung 7 Edge costs $1,300, double its price in New York.

Havanans, mouths agape, go to gaze and take selfies with their cheap mobiles. This is the snapshot of Cuba. A mirage. And all during a stagnant economic crisis dating back 27 years which few venture to guess when it will end.

While we thought we were in bad shape, the reality is that we could be worse off. And nobody knows when we will hit bottom.

Iván García

Photo: In the entryway of the Plaza Hotel, in the heart of the capital, a beggar uses a nylon bag containing her belongings as a “pillow.” To the side is an empty cigar box collecting coins from passersby. This image is part of The Black Beggars of Havana, a photo essay by Juan Antonio Madrazo published in Cubanet.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Autonomy of Cuban Dissidents Will Always Be Beneficial / Iván García

Photo: Diario Las Américas Dissidents attend the funeral of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas on 24 July 2012, at Colón Cemetery in Havana. (Diario Las Américas)

Iván García, 1 June 2017– The majority of the openly anti-Castro opponents I know do not live in lavish mansions nor do they possess items fashioned with the latest technology. Neither do they boast bank accounts in financial paradises and they do not own yachts or beach houses.  I don’t believe any of them know how to play golf or can afford a vacation on a Greek island.

Those luxuries are reserved for the hierarchs of the olive green regime. Those who sing The Internationale, compose speeches replete with declarations on behalf of social justice and poverty, but who wear designer-label clothing, use French perfumes and employ household servants. continue reading

The national prosecutor’s office will never open a file on the Cuban functionaries involved in the Panama Papers. No state office exists where the average Cuban citizen can learn how public monies are spent or invested. The nomenklatura lives and performs its functions with total impunity.

That leadership style of never being accountable, which has taken root inside the olive green autocracy, has in a certain way been imitated by the opposition on the Island. Most certainly, it is a harmful style.

Corruption, and its variants such as nepotism and influence peddling, has permeated a significant sector of the dissident movement. There is no transparency regarding the funding and materials they receive.

Some opponents behave with dictatorial arrogance and manage their organization as if it were a family business.

One needs money to live. And it doesn’t fall from the sky. The ideal would be that the opposition obtains money through local financing mechanisms. But Cuba under the Castros is a genuine dictatorship.

Those on the Island who declare themselves dissidents, if they work or study, are expelled from their workplaces or schools. And even were they employed, because of the financial distortions caused by the country’s dual currency system and low wages, they would be unable to sustain their organizations. Prior to 1959* political parties supported themselves with membership dues and donations from sympathizers and anonymous supporters.

To make political opposition and free journalism, to maintain offices for independent lawyers or for any civil society organization, requires funds. How to obtain them?

There are foreign private foundations that award grants to approved projects. Government institutions in first-world democratic societies also provide aid.

Is this lawful? Yes. But for the Castro regime, it is illegal and you could be prosecuted under the anachronistic Ley Mordaza [Gag Law] in force since February 1999. If the nation’s laws prohibit obtaining funds from other countries to finance political, journalistic, or other types of activities, Cuba in this case should be able to count on banking mechanisms to enable to transmission of resources.

But the opposition on the Island is illegal. The dissident movement has almost always been financed by institutions or foundations based in the US, which is not illegal in that country and is publicly reported.

I am not against receiving money from US government institutions, as long as it can be justified by by the work performed. In the case of journalism, reporting for the Voice of America, Radio Martí, the BBC, and Spain’s RNE Radio Exterior is not a crime–except in Cuba, North Korea or perhaps in China and Vietnam.

Any funding from abroad is financed by that country’s taxpayers. In the case of political or journalistic activities, the ideal would be to receive monies from journalistic foundations and citizens or enterprises.

An important part of the opposition’s economic support has come from the US State Department or other federal institutions. Those local opposition groups who believe this to be ethical and a lawful way to obtain funds should therefore be transparent in their management.

Yet 95 per cent of them do not account for those monies nor do they publish reports about them. Most of the time, the members of these groups do not know how the funds received are managed. By and large they are administered by the individual at the head of the opposition group.

They justify this secrecy with the pretext, at times well-founded, that they are keeping this information from reaching the ears of the State Security cowboys, who act like 21st Century pirates and confiscate money and goods without due process of law.

However, and this is regrettable to say, that opacity in managing collective resources is the embryo of corrupt behaviors within the Cuban opposition. Within the majority of dissident organizations, whatever they may be called, such absence of managerial accountability and transparency leads some dissidents to skim money and goods that do not belong to them, or to appropriate a portion.

These organizations, with their erratic performance, hand over on a silver platter enough information for the counterintelligence to sow division and create interpersonal conflicts inside the dissident movement.

How to stamp out these corrupt and nefarious practices, which not only defame the dissident movement, but also set a bad precedent for a future democracy? Can you imagine one of those current venal opponents tomorrow becoming a State minister or functionary? The most reasonable way to nip this phenomenon in the bud is through practicing transparency.

This could take the form of quarterly or annual reports. For example, the reporters of Periodismo de Barrio [Neighborhood Journalism], led by Elaine Díaz, keep a running budget on their web page of receipts and expenditures.

The Trump administration’s measure to drastically cut aid to the Cuban opposition, more than being harmful, signifies a new way forward that will require the development of new funding models.

Besides, this will provide greater autonomy and credibility. And it might bury once and for all that very questionable mentality of seeking solutions to Cuba’s problems through mechanisms sponsored by other governments.

The interests of the US are their interests. They are not necessarily our interests. Of course, that nation’s solidarity and also the European Union’s, is a support at the hour of denouncing the lack of political freedoms and the Cuban regime’s human rights violations.

But that’s where it ends. The money needed to carry out political projects under the harsh conditions of absurd tropical socialism should be provided by those Cubans in exile who are concerned about the future of their homeland. Money from their own pockets. Not from a foreign government. And if they believe that to enroll in a cause that is not their affair or doesn’t interest them is not a smart investment, they are within their legitimate rights to not donate even a penny.

Cuba’s problems are for Cubans, those at home and abroad, to resolve. Not for anybody else.

Our society’s modernization and the future we design for ourselves is our problem and we should resolve it with creativity, greater humility and more unity of judgment.

Perhaps the Cuban opposition will end up being grateful to Donald Trump for cutting millions in funds of which few knew the ultimate destination. Believe me, it is always better to be as independent as possible.

 

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s Note: Fidel Castro’s revolutionary forces overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s Day, 1959.