The Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba Pleads for Non-Violent Resolution of Differences

Dionisio García, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, during his homily this Sunday. (Capture)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 19 July 2021 — In his Sunday homily, Dionisio García – archbishop of the easternmost diocese of Santiago de Cuba – pleaded for the resolution of differences on the Island through peaceful means, and “never with violence and intolerance.”

“In the midst of the difficulties, the protests, the demonstrations of recent days, and because of the arrests that have been made, the repressions, the Church wants to intercede for all Cubans, for all of Cuba,” said García during his first mass following the antigovernment protests that shook various localities of the Island a week ago.

Speaking in the National Shrine of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint, the prelate said that the petitionary prayers that Sunday are “above all, that there be no violence, that the logical differences that may exist in each people may be resolved through dialogue, mercy and forgiveness, and never with violence and intolerance.”

The Archbishop of Santiago recalled that the Cuban Catholic hierarchy has advocated for the need to realize “changes that will give hope and trust to our people, who need to feel respected whenever they wish to express how they feel and view continue reading

our realities.” He also referred to changes that would help the people of the Island “to plan a better future and the wellbeing of their families, and that this may result in the wellbeing of the nation.”

García, a member of the permanent committee of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC), also prayed that in the current public health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, patients and the medical personnel who attend to them may have the resources they need. He emphasized the responsibility of all in the face of this situation.

Early this week, the Catholic Church in Cuba defended the right of thousands of people who took to the streets of the Island to express their displeasure with the deterioration of the economic and social situation during the unrest of last Sunday and Monday, which left one dead, several wounded, and a hundred arrested*.

In a statement, the COCC warned that “violence begets violence, the aggression of today opens wounds and feeds grudges for tomorrow that will take much work to overcome.”

Along those lines, the bishops invited “all to not energize this crisis, but rather with serenity of spir and good faith, promote listening, understanding and the attitude of tolerance, to consider and respect the other, so that together we may find ways toward a just and adequate solution.”

Pope Francis, this past Sunday, expressed his concern over the “difficult moments” that Cuba is undergoing because of the protests and called for “dialogue and solidarity” in that country, following his recitation of the Ángelus from his window at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

“I am close to the dear Cuban people in these difficult moments — in particular the families, who suffer the most. I pray to the Lord to help build in peace, dialogue and solidarity a society that is ever more just and fraternal,” said the pontiff, who has on two occasions (2015 and 2016) visited the Island.

The protests of last Sunday (July 11), the most extreme that have been documented in Cuba in the last six decades, occurred while the country is submerged in a grave economic and public health situation unleashed by Covid infections, along with a severe shortage of food, medicines and other basic necessities, in addition to long-lasting power blackouts.

*Translator’s note: Much higher numbers of arrests were reported by others.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Secret Video Shows the Deterioration of Castro Enclave ‘Punto Cero’* / Juan Juan Almeida

This video, secretly recorded and exclusively provided, shows the deterioration of what was once the jewel of the Cuban crown, and which today is nothing more than the refuge of a bunch of defenestrated heirs.

Punto Cero, the residential complex where the ex-dictator Fidel Castro and his family holed up, was always a place kept in good condition: the grass well-mowed, curbs painted, access points signalized, the guard posts strategically located. Even the waste containers were well-attended to.

No less than the garbage at Punto Cero was treated as a state secret. But after the death of Fidel Castro, the ensuing power struggles extended even to the legendary family bunker’s decay.

*Translator’s note: Point Zero. A highly secured government compound on the outskirts of Havana where members of the Castro family and other high-ranking officials live.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Colors of the Cuban Flag Will Illuminate the Headquarters of the Regional Government of Madrid

The president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso. (EFE).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 14 July 2021 — This Wednesday night, the Royal Post Office — headquarters of the Madrid regional government chaired by Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the Popular Party — will be illuminated with the colors of the Cuban flag in homage to “freedom fighters” on the Island.

The Community of Madrid president herself tweeted the announcement while issuing a statement in which her government “strongly condemns the criminal dictatorship that has turned Cuba into a giant prison and has condemned its inhabitants to poverty, hunger or exile for the last 62 years.”

Her autonomous government will always be, says the document, “on the side of the Cuban people, who in these times are demonstrating throughout the Island, demanding freedom and democracy.” Similarly, the text continues, “we reject the violent repression that the dictatorship is exercising over its own people, and we call for the immediate release of all those arrested as well as the safe return of the disappeared.”

The statement refers in particular to journalist Camila Acosta, a contributor to the Spanish newspaper ABC — who, according to close sources, remains under arrest, in Havana’s Infanta and Manglar Police Station, and will be prosecuted for continue reading

“contempt” and “public disturbances.”

Madrid — which calls itself “Kilometer Zero of Liberty” — asks the Cuban people for unity “in the face of the regime’s attempts to divide them,” since history “has shown the importance of remaining united at the moment in which totalitarian regimes begin to collapse.”

For this, says the statement, “an exercise of generosity” is needed: “The unity of the democratic opposition is an essential requirement for freedom to triumph.” This eventual triumph, the document predicts, “will undoubtedly have consequences in other countries of Latin America. The fall of communism will bring, sooner rather than later, the liberation of countries that, like Venezuela or Nicaragua, still live under its yoke.”

In its declaration, the regional government is tough on Spain’s national government, chaired by the socialist Pedro Sánchez, demanding that it “abandon ambiguity, dispense with euphemisms and act without equivocation on the side of freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

The declaration thus refers to statements by the head of the Spanish Executive on Tuesday, when he said that “it is evident that Cuba is not a democracy,” without calling it a dictatorship — as did his government’s spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez when she evaded the issue before journalists by declaring that “Spain is a full democracy.”

For opposition leader Pablo Casado, the ambiguity of the head of the Spanish government “is not accidental,” but rather responds to the fact that Pedro Sánchez is president thanks to Unidas Podemos [United We Can], the “partners of Maduro and the Castros.”

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

What Really Interests the Cuban Regime? / Ivan Garcia

Photo Credit: Dominoes, from Diario de Cuba.

Iván García, Havana, 21 June 2021 — On July 4, 2016, in the splendid residence of the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Cuba located west of Havana, there was a celebration of that country’s Independence Day. Hundreds of guests nibbled on hors d’oeuvres, sipped red wine or cold beer, and chatted on sundry topics in small groups. Following the re-establishment of relations between the U.S. and Cuba on December 17, 2014, the harmony between the two peoples was noticeable.

At the long tables dressed in white tablecloths and under the canopies set up in the gardens, you could see renowned artists, business executives, prelates of the Catholic Church, as well as activists, opponents, and independent journalists. A blues soundtrack could be heard in the background while I conversed with a Spanish businessman based in Florida, who told me how the huge state bureaucracy was preventing him from opening a ferry line between Havana and Miami.

That July 4th, I remembered that in November of 2015, Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons — of the Alabama-based tractor manufacturer Cleber LLC — had made the news when they wanted to install a small tractor assembly plant in the Mariel Special Development Zone, which would have been a beneficial business for the unproductive agriculture of Cuba, especially for private farmers and agricultural cooperatives. Berenthal and Clemmons intended to sell the tractors in national currency. It seemed that the Cuban authorities were going to approve the deal, as it was profitable for both parties. By then, the Sheraton hotel chain had opened a property in Miramar in partnership with the military-run company Gaviota. continue reading

Day in and day out, famous Americans would visit Havana and roam the city in antique convertibles. Travelers from the United States were amazed to see no advertising in the capital city, to have no internet connection, and they lamented the deterioration of buildings that were architectural jewels. On the streets of Havana, Barack Obama was more popular than Fidel and Raúl Castro. From balconies, bicitaxis and collective taxis, you could see the American flag waving next to the Cuban. Paladares (private restaurants) and private lodgings were bursting. At Sloppys Joe’s — a bar located next to the Hotel Sevilla that before 1959 was frequented by the actor Errol Flynn — between mojitos and “ropa vieja” (shredded beef) sandwiches, a bartender told me that on a bad day, he would earn 150 dollars in tips thanks to American tourists.

During that honeymoon period — when many Cubans naively believed that in ten years, skyscrapers would once again grace the Havana skyline and Starbucks and McDonald’s franchises would be seen everywhere — I would have assumed that the Spanish businessman from Florida was optimistic. But the Cuban government had applied the brakes. The official press and functionaries of the dictatorship were accusing Obama of not doing enough to dismantle the embargo. And the amanuenses were issuing warnings about the cultural “danger” inherent in thousands of American tourists being on the Island.

That afternoon in 2016, I was unaware that the Castro brothers’ order was to return to the Cold War trench. The Spanish businessman warned me: “They are not interested in businesses that benefit the people. All business has to be with military companies, and they must make good profits. I told a senior government official about my project to open a ferry service, which would lower travel costs. In addition, Cubans living in Florida could bring 300 pounds of luggage, and even cars. The official told me privately that this was not in the government’s interest, as it would affect the military companies that run the foreign exchange stores. And he confessed to me that the business they were interested in was cruise ships.”

Obama approved at least three packages of measures that favored the private sector in Cuba. When you chat confidentially with Cuban private entrepreneurs, they recognize that the internal blockade, the government’s distrust, and excessive taxes and controls affect them more than the U.S. embargo. Two business owners who were at the meeting with Obama said that “if the government wants it, we can import food, raw materials, and other items from the United States.”

One of them told me that they “imported cuts of beef from Canada. But when the authorities found out, they banned it. There is no manifest will for private businesses to flourish. All that support for entrepreneurs expressed by the rulers is what they say publicly. But the reality is different. They drown you with absurd taxes, excessive controls, and a lot of corruption. They force you to cheat and commit illegalities in order to be profitable.”

It was the regime that never approved, nor cared, that the measures passed by the Obama administration would strengthen the private sector. The dictatorship and its military companies were never interested in opening businesses that would benefit the families of émigrés by authorizing them to bring hundreds of pounds on their ferry trips. It is the Cuban government that charges excessive sums of money for the shipments sent from abroad by émigrés. A box weighing five kilograms mailed to Cuba requires the recipient to pay about two thousand pesos to receive it. It is a way of discouraging imports to poor relatives on the Island.

The Cuban government is lying when its officials try to sell the story that “it is the U.S. blockade that affects the Cuban family.” The regime has never cared about the Cubans who leave, except whether they support the system and do not publicly express their differences with it.

In the spring of 2015, I covered the exodus of Cubans to Central America together with Celeste Matos, a formidable reporter based in Florida. We traveled from one end of Costa Rica to the other, from Paso Canoas, on the border with Panama, to Peñas Blancas, bordering Nicaragua. Dozens of Cubans told me that the Cuban Embassy in San José never gave them any help or legal advice. Cuban émigrés are only useful to the regime as ATMs.

Never has the autocracy apologized for the verbal abuses and lynchings to which they subjected Cubans who wanted to emigrate. According to a former Interior Ministry official, in 1980, Fidel Castro ordered the delivery of only two thousand food rations during the occupation by more than ten thousand Cubans of the Peruvian Embassy. “He did it on purpose, to create riots, fights, and present them to the world as a savage scum.” A few days later, Castro released hundreds of dangerous and mentally ill criminals to contaminate the exodus that was leaving through the Port of Mariel.

The regime charges Cuban émigrés very high prices for their passports and permits to visit their homeland. Emigrés have absolutely no political rights. They cannot vote or be elected to public office. This new measure to suspend the use of the dollar is another act of arrogance against expatriates and their relatives in Cuba. The authorities, because of the economic madhouse, mismanagement, and the unproductive state sector — a kind of sit-down strike by the workers due to their insufficient wages — cannot offer a decent life or efficient public services to the population.

There are several ways to dismantle the embargo. The measures approved by Obama are still in force, so if the State were to allow the private sector to import food and goods from the U.S., to later sell them in their businesses, this would alleviate the fierce shortages.

The government itself can buy food from the U.S., as long as it pays in cash. If, as the Central Bank of Cuba officials say, they had their vaults full of dollars, they could buy tons of beef, fish and sausages in addition to the usual frozen chicken. If the regime is unable to guarantee the supply and production of food, why does it not allow foreign chains to import and sell food in Cuba?

The dictatorship only issues measures that allow them to stay in power. They detest private business. They have prohibited Cubans from accumulating wealth. They speak of authorizing investments by Cubans who reside abroad, but they delay approval, because it is a contradiction for their ideological adversaries to return to Cuba as successful entrepreneurs. Each new unpopular measure decreed by the government headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel digs its own grave deeper. Authoritarian systems doing things half-assed crumble on their own. Cuba is not going to be the exception.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Despite the Embargo, 10 Million Syringes Are En Route to Cuba from the U.S.

A volunteer participant in Phase 3 of the Abdala vaccine trial in Santiago de Cuba. (Sierra Maestra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 17 June 2021 – To immunize the Cuban population against Covid-19, along with those foreigners going for the “mojito with vaccine” vacation deal, the authorities have figured that between 20 and 25 million syringes will be needed. It is a goal could be within reach, given the donations – almost half the number and despite the embargo – that are coming from the U.S.

It is “Washington’s cruel and immoral embargo,” which is invoked by Edward Asner, American actor and member of Global Health Partners (GHP), an organization based in New York that is coordinating the donations. According to a recent statement by GHP, “the initiative is being handled through the Saving Lives campaign and includes dozens of local and national organizations – including MEDICC, DSA, CodePink [among those promoting the Nobel Peace Prize award to the Henry Reeve medical Brigade], IFCO, and the Center for Cuban Studies.” The group foresees taking around 10 million syringes in  containers to “relieve the shortage caused by the U.S. embargo.”

Paradoxically, the association – which since its founding in the mid-70s, has launched various campaigns to fund medical projects in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in addition to Cuba – relies on a U.S. Department of Commerce export permit to realize the donations. The embargo impedes the ability of the Cuban state to buy the material, but at the same time, the American government itself facilitates the acquisition of the product without one cent being paid. continue reading

Asner – winner of multiple Grammies and Emmies, U.S. Army veteran, and fervent socialist – details in his fundraising letter the importance of thanking the Island for all it does for the world through its medical missions and pharmaceutical products. “With this track record and their solidarity, we are in an ideal position to make this syringe campaign a success,” Asner argues.

According to GHP calculations, a donation of $ 1,000 would enable the shipment of 28,571 hospital-grade syringes, $360 would be enough to vaccinate 10,265 people, and $150 would finance the transport of 4,285 syringes to the island’s health centers. To encourage giving, the organization reminds the reader that donations to this cause are tax-deductible.

According to Asner, GHP has already delivered to Cuba more than $190-million dollars in medicines and medical supplies that are in short supply – thus confirming that the distribution is ongoing, despite the embargo.

Europe is expected to send a shipment of similar volume.  Europe is believed to be in a position to imminently supply an additional 10-million syringes, the result of a campaign coordinated by the solidarity network mediCuba-Europe, based in Agno (Switzerland) and the participation of member organizations from thirteen European States (Germany, Sweden, Italy , Ireland, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Finland, Norway, Spain and Austria). In addition, there are partner organizations from three other countries, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands.

“The Cuban Ministry of Public Health has placed an order for 10 million syringes and needles for a total price of $800,000 euros, which we hope to finance thanks to European solidarity and the collaboration of the Swiss Embassy in Cuba (SDC),” reads the introductory text of this initiative.

This is the third campaign GHP have carried out since March 2020. Previously, the network has raised more than 600,000 euros together with 250,000 Swiss francs (about 230,000 euros) from that country’s embassy, in Cuba with which they have acquired fans, laboratory reagents for PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests, and laboratory equipment for the production of vaccines on the Island.

Now, for the syringes campaign, the same embassy has raised about 380,000 Swiss francs, and members of the GHP network continue to gather support. The latest known data has been provided by Sodepaz, a promoter in Spain that aims to supply three million syringes, and on June 10 placed at 2,643,000 the number it can send with its collection. In the European context, the goal of the 10 million may have been exceeded, since as of April 27, it had already garnered 6,500,000 syringes.

MediCuba-Europa boasts that their shipments have contributed recently to the development of five vaccine candidates. “This is a considerable achievement of the health system and of national scientific institutions, which demonstrates not only the high level of quality and strong professional commitment of the island’s research community, but also the will and tenacity of the authorities to guarantee health care and services to the entire population, despite a precarious economic situation exacerbated by the deepening of economic, financial, and commercial measures imposed by the Government of the United States of America – that is, the illegal, arbitrary blockade, inhumane and against international law, as the United Nations General Assembly remembers it every year,” they argue.

The Island’s government has not wanted for aid from Latin America either. Albeit more modest, the region’s campaigns have managed to collect almost five million syringes from different countries, as confirmed to Prensa Latina by Humberto Pérez of the board of the Martiana Association of Cuban Residents of Panama (AMCRP).

The Panamanian organization raised money from Cubans, pro-Castro groups, unions, politicians, businessmen, and parties in countries such as El Salvador, Bolivia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Chile, and Uruguay.

“On April 3, we sounded the call in Panama, based on an idea that emerged in Canada last year,” said Pérez, who collected 900,000 syringes from his country alone that have already been arriving in Cuba.

Thus the idea proceeded from the north of the continent, which has also collected almost two million more of the product. The campaign started in Canada on January 8 and already by April 1 the Canadian Network of Solidarity with Cuba announced the arrival of 1,920,000 syringes.

Nor is Argentina absent, having on June 1 sent a shipment of 380,000 syringes and 359,000 needles to Havana. “The contribution of the Argentine Movement of Solidarity with Cuba (MasCuba), the Union of Cuban Residents in Argentina (URCA) and other groups sensitized to the Cuban cause, was fundamental to the ability of carrying out this work, which is of a deeply human nature,” said the Cuban official press.

Although possibly one of the most peculiar campaigns is the one that comes from a pro-Castro YouTuber and blogger known as Guajiro Citadino, who raised about $10K for syringes through a project which, curiously, he named “Patria o Muerte” [“Homeland or Death“].

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison    

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Regime Expropriates My Sister’s House, But Celebrates My Father’s Birthday / Juan Juan Almeida

Monument to Juan Almeida Bosque in Santiago de Cuba: “No one surrenders here” (EFE)

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 February 2021 — When my father died and they put on that little show in the Sierra Maestra, Raúl Castro promised one of my sisters – who lived outside of Cuba – that, as long as she “behaved herself,” he would respect her house.

He gave her a hug, they exchanged tears, and the pledge was settled at the feet of the deceased.

So then, complying with her part of the bargain, my sister behaved very well. And now, while the super homage is being paid to our father, she gets the notification from the court.

And when someone inquires at the office of Raúl Castro, to find out what’s happened with that pledge, he is informed that she did indeed behave VERY WELL – and for this, the General was most appreciative. However – and this is how they put it – the “pledge to Behave Herself also included controlling me and shutting my mouth. Therefore, through my fault, she is losing the house.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Surviving in the Cuban Jungle / Ivan Garcia

A crowd of people lining up in front of a store in Havana, waiting for their turn to shop (Photo Mario Muñoz – Facebook).

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 10 May 2021 — It is the law of survival of the fittest: only the most quarrelsome, opportunistic, and worthless citizens can get ahead. From top to bottom, today’s Cuban society is a jungle. A failed state that lives off ideological propaganda, promises it never keeps, and a chaotic subsistence economy.

If you ask Magda – a 40-year-old from Havana who supports herself by reselling for dollars the merchandise she buys at exclusive stores and has made a business out of managing the long lines of shoppers – why this is so, she will give you a concise answer: “The system forces you.” She is silent for a few seconds and then makes the following case:

“The Cuban system works by caste. The mayimbes (bosses) do not want for anything, nor do the senior officers in the armed forces. They get free housing and food, and they can take vacations at recreational villas for reasonable prices. Mid-level party officials also enjoy their little privileges. The cuadros (administrators) of tourism, domestic trade and other ministries and large companies, they live by stealing and profiting from food, fuel and construction materials. We – those at the bottom, the marginalized, almost all blacks – who live in poverty, we have to fight each other for the crumbs. Wherever money can be made, that’s where I’ll be. I’m not afraid to fight, and I’m not afraid of the police. Whatever it takes.” continue reading

Then in a calm voice, Magda recounts how since childhood she has had to deal with family violence, husbands who beat her, and neighborhood fights. “I have been imprisoned twice. There, you have to be a lioness. It’s not that I’m a bad person, but I don’t have too many options. Either I sit on my hands while my children go to bed hungry, or I go out and fight in the street for money and food. Necessity forces me to fight like a beast to get ahead.”

Like Magda, many women and men in the capital and in other provinces make a living by earning dollars organizing the lines, buying food for resale, and bribing police officers and officials who are supposed to be ensuring the social order. “You also have to grease the palms of store managers and employees. There are people who spend a week in line and never reach what they need. If you don’t pay 500 or a thousand pesos to a colero (someone who stands in line – “cola” – for others) you won’t get anything. If it’s a freezer you’re after, you have to pay them $70 or $100. It’s hard, but right now in Cuba, the law of the jungle rules,” Magda explains.

At any store in Havana, the coleros have organized a corrupt structure in cahoots with store managers and employees. On the outskirts of the market at 5th and 42nd in Miramar, half a thousand people await entry to go shopping. A policeman tells the crowd that only the first 150 will be allowed in. “The rest of you, please go home,” he says. Those who have not advanced to one of those spots have an alternative: they can, for a higher price, buy food and toiletries at private homes nearby.

Let’s call him Hiram, who works by walking the lines and quietly selling places for a thousand pesos. “In this country there are three types of Cubans. Those who rule, who do what they want and are accountable to no one. Those who have no choice but to silently endure the foot that the government puts down on them. And the dissidents, who are cocky, but lacking weapons, are not going to overthrow the regime. Most of the population are terrified of joining the opposition, because they can lock you away for many years. Criminals don’t want anything to do with the opposition, either. However, there is an unwritten pact between the government and the underworld: they let you do what you want as long as you don’t get into politics,” explains Hiram.

He goes on to say: “That’s why you see a bunch of people in the worst neighborhoods of Havana selling stolen items, and the police don’t even show up there. Drug dealers generally work for the police, as do the higher-level prostitutes. I don’t like communism. In 1980, when I was 23 years old, I got into the Peruvian embassy. We were ten thousand people and Fidel only sent a thousand boxes of food and bottles of water. They would do this to get us to fight with each other. Now it’s the same thing. (Cuban President) Díaz-Canel’s strategy, he has said, is to break off little pieces of problems, not solve them. I was in the United States and I was arrested, and they returned me as undesirable. I have to live off something. And the best I know how to do is be in the jungle, the fights and the illegalities. When you see two old men wrapped around a package of sausages, you realize that things in this country do not work.”

For a high percentage of Cubans it is a big production just to eat, buy soap, or obtain medicines. Any errand takes five or six hours. The atrocious inefficiency of the olive-green* economic model forces the citizens to travel long distances and line up for miles to try to get a roll of toilet paper or a bottle of soda.

In the midst of the shortages, the eternal economic crisis, and the sustained pandemic outbreak (which has practically collapsed the healthcare system in Havana) the authorities – instead of calling back the thousands of specialists and doctors who work abroad to provide dollars to the State – bet on bringing doctors in from other provinces. Public health is at a low ebb in Cuba. There is a scarcity of healthcare personnel, dozens of ambulances are halted for lack of spare parts, and there is a brutal shortage of antibiotics, syringes, and medicines.

One doctor said that “physicians and nurses who work on the front line treating Covid-19 patients are exhausted. They have spent many months working in precarious conditions, deprived of the necessary security, and subsisting on a very poor diet. Government propaganda claims that the public health system here works wonders, but this is a lie. There are shortages from water to gauze and cotton swabs, not to mention broken medical equipment.”

Carlos, a sociologist, opines that “in times of economic crisis, the worst qualities of human beings come to light, such as selfishness and lack of solidarity. Civic values ​​are deteriorating, while speculation, theft and abuse of the weakest increases.”

These days, a 3-kilogram portion of Gouda cheese, which in foreign currency stores costs between 25 and 27 dollars (625 and 675 pesos at the official exchange), is resold on the black market for 1,900 or 2,100 pesos. A pound of chicken for 20 pesos is resold for 50 or 55 pesos. The pound of black beans that a year ago cost 10 pesos now costs 60. The kilogram of powdered milk that cost 40 pesos is offered at 300 or 350 pesos. Two packages of sandwich cookies and three of crackers, whose price was 70 pesos, are not available for less than 700 pesos. And worst of all, even with money in your pocket, you don’t always find what you’re seeking.

The biggest speculators are the regime’s commercial companies. The foods that are offered in stores for dollars – the so-called MLC (freely convertible currency) – obtain profit margins that sometimes exceed 300%, says an official of the TRD Caribe chain. And he gives this example: “A Samsung side-by-side refrigerator costs $1,870 here. At a retail store in Mexico, it might not even sell for $ 1,500. It’s abusive. If the reseller doesn’t murder you with his speculative prices, the State will gouge you with its inflated prices.”

The Cuba of today is an absurdity. A savage mix of dysfunctional, Soviet-style socialism and rudimentary feudal capitalism, sustained by a Zimbabwe-like public infrastructure, with prices comparable to those of Switzerland. Castroism continues to boast that its imperishable revolution was made by the humble and for the humble.

But the reality is that on the Island, the poorest eat a hot meal once a day and live in precarious huts made of aluminum and cardboard pieces. The Cuban model is a snapshot of rampant bureaucracy, full-throttle corruption, and mediocre officials. And in that jungle, people must manage as best they can to survive.

*Translator’s note: A reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

‘All-Included’ Deals at Cuban Hotels Do Not Apply to Domestic Tourism

Dozens of customers wait in long lines at the Cubatur office located on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Lorey Saman, Havana/Mexico City, 20 May 2021. Since 7 am, dozens of customers have been lining up for more than two hours at the Cubatur office on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel to get in on a summer getaway deal advertised by the state-run agencies. Faced with the downturn in international tourism, the government has bet on Cuban nationals to fill its hotels.

“People come here with gigantic bundles of money, like this one young guy who just took out his wallet…it’s tremendous!” exclaims a smiling woman, who on Thursday morning made it over to the central office of Cubatur in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood.

Indeed, one needs a good sum of cash to pay for these “all-included” hotel packages — among the offers that most attract Cubans’ attention. Prices range from 984 pesos ($40 USD in exchange) per person, per night — not counting transportation, which is paid separately and generally comes out to about 600 pesos. continue reading

“The more economical offers are sold out, leaving the most expensive ones,” asserts another customer who, after checking with the tour operators, decided to get in line. “The minimum reservation one can make is for two days, with a money-back guarantee should the offer be cancelled due to the pandemic.”

The agency announced that the Islazul hotel chain prices were going down, therefore “they removed the signs outside that listed the costs,” according to customers who had arrived quite early.

The tourism packages can only be reserved in pesos, at the state-run offices within the country. No option to purchase from abroad exists should a relative or friend wish to gift a vacation to a resident of the Island.

The package prices run from 984 pesos to more than 3,000 per person, per night. (14ymedio)

“Somebody who goes to these things a lot told me that right now those hotels are like voluntary work camps — I don’t know how true that is, we’ll have to wait and hear what people have to say when they come back,” suggests another customer.

Along with the pool and the beach, the principal attraction of stay at the country’s hotels continues being access to a more varied menu than can be found in private homes, which are very affected by food shortages. Even so, various reports gathered by this newspaper warn of stricter regulations governing these “all-included” packages.

“They’re only allowing one heavy meal at lunch and dinner, while only a part of breakfast is included as a buffet item — the rest has to be ordered à la carte, such as cheese, egg dishes, sausages, and yogurt,” shared a Matanzas resident, speaking with 14ymedio after purchasing two nights at a Gaviota hotel in Varadero.

The woman, who claims to take such a trip annually (“except for 2020, because of the pandemic”), says that the hotel guests “act crazy” in the dining room. “When the servers bring out beer, the people stampede to get in line like they do at stores.” In her view, the food shortages affecting the country are evident “because the menu offerings are more limited and the amounts are smaller.” In any case, she observes, the getaway is still “enjoyable after so many months of being cooped up.”

In other parts of the country, such as Matanzas, since early May only residents of that province have been allowed to purchase packages for various hotels in Varadero*. At that tourist hub, the Island currently welcomes thousands of Russian vacationers, thanks to connections re-established in mid-April between Russia and Cuba, including seven weekly flights.

Meanwhile, some Matanzas businesses have offered discounts to Cuban customers who book before 31 May. Similar offers are available from Havanatur in Holguín, with a 10% discount for the Playa Costa Verde hotel, if the package is purchased by 30 June for stays between 1 July and 15 September.

In Mexico, the Vagamundos agency, which works with the Viva Aerobus airline, as of 7 May began promoting tourism packages to Varadero. A few hotels included in this promotion are also ones in the summer domestic tourism campaigns in Cuba, such as Kawama, Villa Tortuga, and Los Delfines.

Although no specific departure city is identified, tourists could book between four and six nights between 1 June and 31 December, 2021. Rates for four nights run from 784 to 1,186 dollars, with Tuesday and Saturday departures.

The packages include proof of Covid-19 vaccination three days prior to departure from Mexico, a health-check fee, ground transportation to the hotel, and travel insurance. The packages are available to “tourists or Cuban residents of other countries, and they may not depart from the tourist hub,” according to the agency. In addition, “family members will be allowed in the hotel as of the second day” as long as they show proof of a prior negative Covid-19 test and have booked their stay in advance.

In early March, Taíno Tours — a subsidiary of Havanatur — also offered tours departing from Mexico of between 200 and 400 dollars per week at Varadero hotels. These are “therapeutic” packages designed to “prevent diseases and health problems,” with treatments that include Interferon, PrevenHo-Vir, and Biomodulin-T — pharmaceutical products promoted by the Cuban authorities since the start of the pandemic to prevent coronavirus and other infections. However, according to independent analyses, these products have no proven scientific consistency.

*Translator’s Note: Varadero is in Matanzas province.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Cuban Government Will Control the Internet and Social Media to "Defend the Achievements of the Socialist State"

The so-called “On Telecommunications, Information and Communication Technologies, and Use of the Radio Spectrum” standard will establish a legal framework for “counteracting attacks via radio frequency and in cyberspace.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 April 2021 — The Cuban government will widen its control of the Internet and social media with the passage of a new decree-law. In order to “defend the achievements made by the socialist State,” the measure will allow official regulation of new technologies and communication, according to Jorge Luis Perdomo Di-Lella, Minister of Communications, who introduced the text on Tuesday, April 13, to senior government officials.

The so-called “On Telecommunications, Information and Communication Technologies, and Use of the Radio Spectrum” mandate will establish a legal framework for “counteracting attacks via radio frequency and in cyberspace,” among other things proposed by the minister.

Perdomo also cited the need for the decree-law to regulate the computerization of the country, promote its sovereignty, and “safeguard the principles of security and invulnerability of telecommunications”, all with the aim of consolidating “the achievements of Socialism and the welfare of the population”. continue reading

Wednesday’s edition of Juventud Rebelde* featured an article reporting on the passage of this and two other regulations yesterday in the Council of State, wherein the Communications minister stated that this decree — whose content is as yet unknown — would be in line with the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, “as is the case with treaties and other international legal instruments.”

In July 2019, the Government had already passed legislation “regarding the computerization of Cuban society – Decree-Law 370, known as the “scourge law” — through which it attempted to “elevate technological sovereignty in benefit of the society, economy, security, and national defense” and to “counteract cyberattacks.”

Among Decree-Law 370’s most controversial articles was one that penalizes “broadcasting via public data transmission networks any information contrary to the public interest, morals, proper behavior, and the integrity of persons” — which was compared, for the virtual world, with the offense of “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

This legal concept is applied to dissidents and critics of the Government, and has been denounced by organizations such as Amnesty International and the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights for convicting citizens on allegations of crimes that they have yet to commit.

*Translator’s Note: Juventud Rebelde – literally, “Rebel Youth” – is a Cuban newspaper of the Union of Young Communists.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

For Washington, Cuba is Not a Priority / Ivan Garcia

Independent journalists Iván García Quintero (left) and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina on a street in the capital city of the United States. In March 2018, the two were invited to participate in a program on journalism sponsored by The Dialogue, a center founded in 1982, based in Washington, DC, and considered one of the leading think tanks on US and foreign policy.

Iván García, 15 February 2021 — As he drives a ramshackle Soviet-era Moskvitch down a central avenue west of Havana, Samuel, a retired athlete, explains why doing business in Cuba is very difficult. Eleven years ago, when Raúl Castro kicked off the expansion of private work, Samuel used the money he saved plus a loan from his New York-based brother to buy two Willys jeeps manufactured in the 1950s, but updated with modern engineering.

With his earnings from deploying those jeeps as collective taxis, Samuel acquired a brand-new 1958 Impala convertible that he would rent to the tide of North American tourists, who – seduced by the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the free marketing provided by the generous Obama Doctrine – rolled in on planes and cruise ships to get to know the communist Island of the Caribbean. Samuel had a fleet of two jeeps and two cars and was planning to buy a truck, recondition it, and use it for interprovincial transportation. But he never had legal backing.

“That is the main problem with opening a business in Cuba. There is no agreement or deal, a notarized document spelling out your rights and duties. All that happens is the State one day will tell you that it is authorizing this or that business (which usually was already operating illegally) and then it imposes a severe tax on you and too many controls. You can’t count on a wholesale market, and with every passing year – with no justification – your taxes go up and the inspectors make your life impossible,” Samuel  asserts, and adds this: continue reading

“Because of certain circumstances, the government has been forced to authorize private work. This has never been to promote free enterprise, so that the most talented will prosper and generate wealth. No. It has always been a concession by the State, forced upon them by their inefficiency or, like now, because they are trapped in an economic crisis and they will  let you run certain businesses – but always while pointing the finger at you and not allowing you to gain too many profits.”

Six out of nine entrepreneurs interviewed agree that self-employment is not usually to the liking of the regime’s apparatchiks. “It is a necessary evil that allows the State to reverse the economic depression and attract the half million state workers who between 2010 and 2012 lost their jobs. But, ideologically speaking, we are out of context. We are annoying. The usual suspects who engage in speculation, tax evasion, and personal enrichment. They see us as potential criminals or dissidents of the system, “says Geovany, owner of a body shop, a business that for many years has been in legal limbo.

Manuel, an economist, believes that if a society is committed to the progress of the country and the creativity of its people, then “private work should not be a problem. It is desirable for taxes to be as low as possible so that those business that are the genesis of future small and medium-size enterprises, and even of large companies, can flourish. Under Cuba’s circumstances, it would be very difficult for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos to become what they are today. They would not have passed the startup-in-a-garage stage. And if they had made a lot of money, they would have been accused of illicit enrichment or embezzlement.”

Onilio, a software programmer, prefers to give the regime a chance. Just one more. “I would like to believe that, this time, the announced opening of more than two thousand private jobs will unleash the creativity of Cubans. I intend to set up an electronic payment gateway for food, clothing and household appliances. But for that to work, the government must authorize imports. Either legalize the “mules” – or else make it so that we private entrepreneurs can purchase goods abroad on our own. If the level of importation is too high, then call upon the State-run import companies to manage it. We should have wide autonomy. And bet on ventures that have added value. Not just services.”

At the moment, the regime maintains some restrictions that prevent free importation. An entrepreneur who met with US President Obama during his visit to Havana in March 2016 is skeptical of the current Cuban government strategy.

“I hope I’m wrong and the authorities this time are serious and don’t put the brakes on private work. But the evidence and history make me pessimistic. I remember that as soon as I left the meeting with Obama, the ONAT (National Tax Administration Office) officials began to inspect my business. If there is no structure where to acquire raw materials, free import and export or doing business with foreign entrepreneurs is impeded, it is very difficult for businesses to be transparent. It is the regime itself, by not creating a specific legal framework and by imposing high taxes, which caused the self-employment sector to be distorted. To change things, the government must change its mentality.”

Ramiro, an analyst, considers that the expansion of private work as more a political strategy to seduce the current White House administration than a project to involve private entrepreneurs in Cuba’s economic future. “Too many coincidences. Recently, the government informed the president of Colombia of alleged terrorist plans by the ELN (Army of National Liberation), most members of which reside in Cuba.

What is the real intention here? To distance themselves from the Colombian terrorists? The Cuban government will probably leave the ELN to its own devices, sacrifice it in its attempt to negotiate with Washington. But I am left wondering if the efficient Cuban intelligence services did not know in advance of the attack on a police cadet school in Bogotá in January 2019. It is clear that this move is a message to Biden: that Cuba is willing to negotiate on any topic. It would be necessary to see if they do not sacrifice a bigger piece, such as [Nicolás] Maduro [the contested president of Venezuela]”, the analyst emphasizes and adds:

“Internally, regime leaders know that the White House’s policy guidelines favor relations with the private sector and dissidents. They yield on the issue of the private sector, hence the bait is tossed to expand self-employment, so as to continue repressing the opposition. The government knows it is racing against the clock. The historical figures of the revolutionary process will cease being valid interlocutors within a couple of years, since they are already of retirement age and close to death. It is the new breed of leaders, in my opinion, which must draw up a functional economic policy and a consequent foreign policy. The White House knows this. And within Cuba some things are no longer the same. As a result of the ‘tarea ordenamiento‘* – a strategy about which the people were not consulted – discontent, controversy and criticism from the population have changed the correlation of forces,” and he concludes:

“More and more citizens and sectors are betting on dialogue, transparency and democracy. This segment of civil society is not even dissident – something that has caught the government – which is aiming its media cannons at the opposition – by surprise, being that it is a vast majority of Cubans who seek to dialogue with the regime about the future of Cuba. And not for the regime to negotiate on its own with the United States.

On February 9, a bipartisan resolution presented in the United States Senate by Democratic legislators Bob Menéndez, Richard Durbin and Ben Cardin, and Republican Marco Rubio, expressed solidarity with members of the San Isidro Movement and requested the Cuban authorities to initiate a dialogue process with independent artists. The text also demanded the release of rapper Denis Solís, the cessation of repression against Cuban artists and the immediate repeal of decrees 349 and 370 as well as the other laws and regulations that violate freedom of expression in Cuba.

Local political operatives will choose to negotiate directly with Washington, trying to avoid a national dialogue. They believe that it is possible to return to the honeymoon period that lasted between 2014 and 2016, when the flags of the stars and stripes waved on the balconies and old collective taxis. A rupture that provoked the dictatorship itself, especially after Obama’s historic speech in Havana.

The bulk of the measures approved by the White House at that time benefited the private sector and the Cuban people, not the military companies. But this time the game board is different. The Island is caught in an extensive economic and social crisis. And on Biden’s agenda, Cuba is not a priority.

*Translator’s note: Tarea ordenamiento = the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others. 

Cuban Emigrants Debate: Dialogue Or Confrontation?

Iván García, Desde La Habana, 10 August 2020 — Casa Bacardí is a venue annex just a stone’s throw from the University of Miami. One autumn morning in 2016 it became the setting for an event headlined by political analyst and writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, Agapito Rivera — who fought in the Escambray Mountains against Fidel Castro’s army in the mid-1960s — and poet and former political prisoner Angel Cuadra, who concluded the program. The audience consisted mostly of young dissident activists and independent journalists residing in Cuba and were not intimately acquainted with that opposition movement that confronted the Castro regime with weapons and subversion.

The regime’s propaganda apparatus manipulated and misrepresented that piece of history. The Bay of Pigs combatants were cast as bourgeois who came to recover their property that had been confiscated by Fidel Castro’s olive-green revolution, and the Escambray guerrillas were a band of assassins. My friend Carlos Alberto Montaner (whose articles I would furtively read while studying at the pre-university) was, according to the official historiography, by the age of 16 an old CIA hand and admitted terrorist. Angel Cuadra was a “counter-revolutionary” and was not published in Cuba — enough to erase him from Cuban culture.

With a business card like that, anyone would think that Carlos Alberto, Agapito and Angel were intolerant and intimidating people. Nothing is further from reality. They were three old-timers bearing the infirmities of age, agreeing on one point: the war against Castro was lost, but they had fought the good fight. Times have changed. Now, the opposition is peaceful. But the plan remains in place: the goal of a democratic Cuba. continue reading

While the broken voice of Cuadra declaimed how at Playa Girón both sides fighting were Cuban, and both went to battle waving the Lone Star Flag and singing the national anthem, many of us in the audience wondered what would be the best strategy to negotiate a different future with the regime.

It was in the years of the Obama Doctrine, which boasted many supporters in the population and among the opposition. What was Barack Obama’s plan? The simple answer is, a change in policy, because the hard line of other U.S. administrations hadn’t worked. Even those who disagreed with Obama thought that, as in any negotiation, the tactic had to be quid pro quo.

The Castro autocracy, with its victim story of David versus Goliath, of the country besieged by the yanquis, suddenly ran out of arguments. Castroism was able to win at Bay of Pigs, but lost the narrative of dialogue and tolerance. All it had left were complaints, a repeat of the old discourse and absurd demands.

The rulers were exposed to their people. They were not interested in betting on democracy. They never cared about making a pact with the exiles. They did not feel comfortable having normal relations with the U.S. The issue is that the philosopher’s stone of Castroism is to perpetually maintain an enemy. Vampires live by sucking blood. The Cuban system feeds on the imperialist discourse — as long as it is about the U.S., for they have never condemned Chinese or Russian aggressions.

Was Obama’s strategy correct? Or are Trump’s restrictive measures more effective? Each faction makes its own sensible arguments. But I doubt that either of the two strategies can bring about a change in Cuba. The reforms in our country will come sooner rather than later.

Perhaps by other means. Hopefully it will not be through a social explosion. But change is on the way. It will not necessarily be a democratic project. It probably will not be. It depends on the balance of forces.

The internal opposition, disunited and unfocused, has committed a capital crime. Transferring leadership to the exile organizations in Miami. It is impossible for remote dissent to work. A new opposition must settle on the island and autonomously draw up the projects that are deemed to be most effective.

The groups in exile must be a companion voice, not the ones who design the strategies. As long as Miami shoots you WhatsApp texts about what should or should not be done, the Cuban opposition will remain irrelevant. Battles, projects and petitions are not won by litigating on social networks. They are earned with your feet on — and your ear to — the ground. By proselytizing Cubans and managing to capitalize on the widespread social discontent that exists in Cuba right now.

They say that during the Second World War, Stalin was with his generals, arranging some combat strategies, when an aide told the dictator that the Vatican had declared war on the USSR. Stalin looked at the model and wanted to know how many tank divisions these people could put in the field. None, his generals replied. And he continued to prepare the next battle against Germany, the real enemy.

As long as the internal opposition is unable to summon five or six thousand Cubans to a protest march, the regime will not negotiate with them at all. The dissidents’ weapon to confront the government is the people. On their ability to mobilize people depends the likelihood of the autocracy taking them into account.

Crusades on social media and dissident projects that are known only to their supporters, while they drink coffee in their living rooms, are never going to be successful. The Miami exile community should not wear itself out in polemics against Haila for kissing Fidel Castro* or whether former baseball player Víctor Mesa was actually an informant. These are minor issues.

What is reasonable and fruitful is to demand in international forums the right to enter and leave their homeland without having to pay a tax or obtain a visa. Claim their right to participate in national political life, to elect and be elected. To be able to invest and pay workers directly. To be heard as Cubans who matter.

Although the regime tries to ignore them, the economic and political power of the emigrants is considerable. Official statistics try to silence an overwhelming reality: remittances constitute the second industry in Cuba, after the export of medical services. As remittances are an important source of capital, the regime’s military companies have designed a commercial fabric to capture these currencies and reinvest them in the construction of golf courses and luxury hotels.

The exiles have two channels to demand their rights: negotiate with the regime, or confront it. Not with bullets. Traveling to the Island and making themselves heard. It would be more effective for thousands of compatriots to organize a protest march in Cuba and not on social media. If the internal opposition does not work, the vociferous exile community should show its face.

Something was clear to me about that event at Casa Bacardí in Miami: the incipient Cuban opposition lost the war, but risked its skin. In the hot zone. Not from an apartment on Brickell**. Outside of the ring, anyone is brave.

Translator’s Notes:

*Cuban singer Haila Mompié was harshly criticized in Cuban Miami for praising and kissing Fidel Castro during a concert in 2010.

**Brickell Avenue is the main road through the Brickell financial district of downtown Miami, and is lined with luxury condominium buildings.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Packages of ‘Cubita’ Coffee Found in Canada are Fake, While There’s No Cuban Coffee on the Island

Social media users reacted with an avalanche of complaints to Cimex for selling the coffee abroad while stores on the Island have run out of it. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 October 2020 — Coffee, sugar, rum, and tobacco have for decades been emblematic of Cuba, but some of these products have disappeared or must now be imported. Cuban coffee, that star of story and song, is now unavailable in the stores, while its appearance abroad may be a false sighting.

While buying Cubita brand coffee on the Island becomes an almost “mission impossible” — missing as it is from the shelves and priced out of range for most local pockets — social media images abound of supermarkets in the US, Canada, and other countries where packages supposedly of the Cubita brand of Cuban coffee are for sale at very low prices.

These images provoked the indignation of Cuban shoppers because the product is being sold abroad at prices lower than those offered in stores on the Island. While a 250-gram package costs 3.45 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) and the kilo-size costs 16.35 CUC — the equivalent of almost half the monthly salary (the equivalent in Cuban pesos (CUP) of 35 CUC) —  it appears to be sold in other countries at a 30% lower price. continue reading

Cimex, the Cuban military’s conglomerate that distributes the product, boasted this past Monday on Twitter that the original brand “is registered in one hundred countries, where it is in turn marketed.” They did so to alert their clients that for several weeks “the sale of knock-offs and counterfeits being sold online by one of the e-commerce giants has been circulating on social networks.”

The group, while not mentioning Amazon.com by name, recounts that at first they sold the product in “the territory of the United States (Miami)” and that now it is extended to Canada, one of the countries to which the Cuban state-run conglomerate exports Cubita.

The corporation goes on to explain “how to identify genuinely Cuban coffee that is being marketed in Canada” so that the public “is able to recognize the original brand and not be affected by this vile plagiarization.”

Social media users reacted with an avalanche of reproaches to Cimex for selling the coffee abroad while the Island’s own stores have run out of it. “It is incredible that when the MLC (freely convertible currency) stores are inaugurated, there is Spanish coffee. And that Cuban coffee is in Canada. What economy can be sustained this way? The truth is, I do not understand it,” lamented Lucía María in a Tweet.

Indeed, this same week, the only coffee for sale at the Boyeros y Camagüey store in Havana was the Gourmet brand. According to the information on the package, this coffee comes from Spain, a country that does not grow this crop. Also, the type of coffee used, whether arabica — or the lower-quality robusta — is not identified.

This past July, the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, in a long report on the future of Cuba’s coffee production, reassured the public that the country plans to increase coffee production to 30,000 tons in 2030 and that it is one of the country’s main export items.

According to the official press, Cuban beans are in high demand because of the aroma of the arabica variety, which is the one grown on this Island. Mostly harvested in the eastern part of the country, arabica is exported at almost $8,000 per ton, mainly to Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. According to the Cuban government’s forecasts, about 10,000 tons were to be exported in 2020.

However, before the current shortage of supplies, Cubita had lost some of its favor among Cubans. Other national brands, such as El Arriero, Serrano, and Caracolillo, are more popular — but just as unattainable during the current crisis.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Independent Journalism: A Risky Profession in Cuba

Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, an independent journalist who writes for Diario de Cuba and the Spanish newspaper ABC. (Radio Televisión Martí)

Iván García, July 6, 2020 – To do objective journalism in Cuba is an abstraction. You cannot obtain data or statistics from official institutions, as there is no public information office. What is normal in any other country in the world – knowing the president’s agenda or itinerary, accrediting yourself at a minister’s press conference, or participating in a given event – is an impossible mission on the Island.

Knowing the budget of the stealthy military business monopoly GAESA, or how much it has invested in the construction of luxury hotels, is considered a state secret. Even information about the remittances that former ‘worms’ [exiles] send to the Island is classified. Cuba is a mixture of police control, failed welfare state, and a scheme of government in the style of the former Soviet Union’s powerful bureau. Is Cuba communist? The facts indicate that Marx’s ideology was adopted to camouflage Fidel Castro’s political and military caudillismo and thirst for power.

The regime’s ideological contortions to survive could fill an anthology. At a certain stage – following the collapse of the USSR – Catholicism, Santería, and other religious currents were authorized to join the membership of the Communist Party, provided they expressed loyalty to the comandante. continue reading

Right now, an authoritarian government exercises the worst state capitalism in Cuba. It combines anachronistic command-and-control institutions with a planned economy, pockets of capitalist market economy, and a military business conglomerate that controls 90 percent of the currency that circulates in the country.

Vis-à-vis the international gallery, the olive-green* autocracy wants to sell itself as reformist and open to dialogue and foreign investment. Internally, the story is different: fear that small family businesses will make a lot of money, high taxes to curb private work, and a pseudo-nationalist discourse intended to bolster the cult of personality of the late Fidel Castro.

Although the welfare state is a drain everywhere, the regime clings to its immobility and proclaims that it is the solution to the pressing problems that Cubans suffer due to the serious economic crisis and alarming shortages of food and housing. In this unproductive system, the official press plays a fundamental role.

There is a whole network designed by the Communist Party to control the media and its journalists. The Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR) is the entity that supervises the press and conveys the guidelines of the highest leadership to directors, deputy directors, and chief editors. A scheme copied from the Soviet era and that works according to the top leadership’s linkages and interests.

Opinions and judgments about the international press are classified in terms of friendly, enemy, or neutral countries. Regarding the “friendly” countries – Russia, Iran, North Korea, Nicaragua, Venezuela, China, Vietnam, or Mexico – you will not read or see criticism of their governments and institutions in newspapers and television newscasts. Condemnations of human rights violations, articles highlighting the increase in poverty, police violence, unemployment, or economic crisis, are reserved for “enemy” countries, mainly the United States.

Such is the amount of human resources dedicated to the “Number One Enemy of the Revolution” that whole departments are assigned to the United States. The number of specialists and expert journalists on that nation far exceeds that of academics who should seek solutions to Cuba’s structural malfunction.

There are three national newspapers: Granma, Juventud Rebelde, and Trabajadores. The three compete to see who is the most misinformed. Granma is the organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), Juventud Rebelde of the Young Communist League (UJC), and Trabajadores of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC). But only one should be published – thereby saving paper – because both the UJC and the CTC fall under the umbrella of the PCC. Pure libels.

The fifteen Cuban provinces and the special municipality, Isla de la Juventud, have their newspapers, which are more of the same. Dozens of national, provincial, and municipal radio stations, ten national and several regional television channels, are in operation. Magazines are published that vary only in name but hardly in content.

The study of journalism in Cuba is an ideological field, controlled by the Communist Party. The most irreverent journalists who have their own opinions are left without jobs. A Cuban official journalist is a type of scribe. S/he cannot write about a topic of choice, and the censor’s red pen can mutilate paragraphs

In the late 1980s, an attempt was made to populate this information desert by various journalists who came from the official press, such as Indamiro Restano, Rolando Cartaya, Tania Díaz Castro, and Rafael Solano. Solano was awarded the 1988 Rey de España prize in journalism for his articles focused on political issues. In the mid-1990s, independent press agencies emerged, among them Cuba Press, the most professional of all, directed by Raúl Rivero, and which began covering social issues, publishing stories about prostitution, drug use, illicit gambling, and other problems of national life that did not appear in the state press.

The testimonies of those who had no voice expanded the journalistic tuning fork and relegated political hack writing to the background. In addition, it was more cost-effective to tell stories of jineteras, drug addicts, beggars, and families residing in houses in danger of collapsing, since no authorization was needed to conduct the interviews, only the consent of the interviewees. But, it was still difficult to find other points of view, the necessary journalistic balance, because state officials almost never offered their impressions to an independent communicator.

With the passage of time, things changed. Visibility on the internet and international recognition of the independent press has been of great help. Journalists without muzzles began to publish pieces in newspapers of wide circulation such as El Mundo, El País, El Nuevo Herald, Diario Las Américas, The New York Times… Recently, Abraham Jiménez was appointed as a columnist at  The Washington Post.

What is the most difficult thing about doing quality journalism in Cuba? From my point of view, it is having good sources. This is done with trust and respect for diverse political opinions. Many citizens, including middle-ranking state officials, take advantage of their friendly relationships with a freelance journalist to uncover corruption cases or provide classified data and statistics. Since Cuba functions as a police state, we free journalists must take care of and protect our sources.

My advice to novice journalists seems more like a manual for spies. Among my tips: Have phone cards that are not in the name of the journalist or any close family member. When aiming to cover a high-risk event – such as the June 30 call for a peaceful demonstration to protest the murder of young Hansel Ernesto González Galiano by a policeman and against police violence in Cuba – one of the first measures that State Security takes is to cut the phone lines and disable internet data traffic.

So that we are not left without means of communication, the thing to do is to have more than one blank SIM card that would allow one to communicate with sources. Always use secure channels – not SMS, phone calls, or email. So that our plans do not leak, it is essential to be discreet, walk alone, and not talk about your plans in front of a group of people. The political police have infiltrated much of the dissident movement and of independent journalism.

To demonstrate that it is not a bloody dictatorship, Castroism boasts that a journalist has never been murdered in Cuba. This is true. It is also unnecessary. They use other methods. They murder your reputation, they try to demean you socially. They resort to disqualifications and insults, calling you ‘traitor’ and ‘mercenary’. Or they prevent you from leaving the country. This harassment has taken its toll on young and brilliant journalists and that is why they decided to emigrate.

Others, such as Camila Acosta, Mónica Baró, Abraham Jiménez or Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, have been subjected to intensified harassment.  In Rodríguez’s case, he was arrested on Sunday, June 28, on a charge of “contempt of authority,” and the authorities told him that they were going to put him on trial on Wednesday, July 8. Following a large gathering mobilized inside and outside the Island, he was released on Friday, July 3. The next day he had to report to a police unit, where he was fined 800 pesos, to be paid within ten days.

As the economic crisis worsened and with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, State Security redoubled the repression, increasing brief arrests against independent journalists, as well as seizures of work equipment. Until June 16, 28 journalists had been charged under the absurd Decree 370 (or, the “Scourge Law”) and fined 3,000 pesos, eight times the minimum wage. Since September 2019, the lawyer and journalist Roberto Quiñones, 63, has remained behind bars, accused of “disobedience” and “resistance”.

It is increasingly difficult to do serious, objective, and balanced journalism in Cuba. But not impossible. Something does get done.

 *Translator’s note: A reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

 

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.