Cuban Baseball: Declining Slowly but Surely / Dimas Castellano

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

By Dimas Castellano

As if what happened during the first three days of competition on Margarita Island was an exception and not a manifestation of the stagnation experienced in all spheres of Cuban society, a sports commentator on the television show Morning Journal said that “the team from Villa Clara did not meet expectations.”

In baseball, which is the topic before us, what happened could not be a surprise. The avowed superiority of “free” versus “slave” ball was not confirmed in practice. The challenge launched against professionalism in 1960 did not stand the test of time. But the acceptance of this fact by the Cuban authorities—though without public acknowledgement and coming too late—is still good news, because this decision requires them to banish the ideological slogan and return to the path that they never should have left.

In 1948, at the meeting of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation held in Miami, representatives of the professional leagues of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela formed the Caribbean Series. From the inaugural event in February 1949, when the Almendares team went undefeated to take victory in Havana until the close of participation in 1960 with the victory of Cienfuegos in Panama, Cuban teams won seven out of twelve championships: irrefutable proof of the quality of “slave” ball during those years. continue reading

Sports after 1959, separated from civil society, was monopolized by the state, and subordinated to politics and ideology. At a prohibitive cost for a third-world country, a supremacy was established in Central American, Pan American and worldwide amateur competitions for decades, which was heralded as the victory of free baseball over slave baseball.

Amidst that unfounded euphoria, in January 1967, the leader of the revolution said: “Professional sports has been eradicated, especially in one of the most popular sports: baseball … But the most interesting thing is that no professional athlete, whose business is sports, has played with as much enthusiasm, as much bravery, as much courage, as that demonstrated by our athletes, who are not professional.”

And in October 1975 he declared: “If in other Latin American countries no social revolution exists, if they don’t develop the social revolution, then no matter how many techniques they use, how many coaches they hire, how many things they dream up, they will not be able to achieve the successes that Cuba achieves in sports.”

The decline was slow but sure. The defeats in the World Classics, but above all the one suffered last year at the last stop, against the U.S. team, composed of university students between 19 and 23 years of age, who despite their weak offensive output swept five games from the supposed “amateurs” from the largest of the Antilles.

Now, 54 years after that decision, after the setback suffered and the loss of many talents who left “free” baseball in search of contracts in the Major Leagues, Cuba returned to the Caribbean Series with the winning team from the 52nd National Series, at a time when the rest of the participants exhibit a superior level to our baseball.

Villa Clara, reinforced with several of the most experienced top Cuban players—twelve of whom have been integrated into the Cuban team—faced the champions of the winter leagues from Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Three days were all it took to show the gap between them and us.

The first day we lost 9-4 to the Hermosillo Orange (Mexico), the second day to the Magellan Navigators (Venezuela) 8-5, and on the third day the Licey Tigers (Dominican Republic) beat us 9-2, to set a record: the worst performance by a Cuban team in the Caribbean Series.

On February 4 we saved face against the Mayagüez Indians (Puerto Rico), but now our inclusion was pure imagination and wishful thinking. As Oscar Sánchez Serra wrote in the newspaper Granma on February 4: “If the Orange win today against Puerto Rico, and if they lose tomorrow against Venezuela, and if the Dominican Republic wins one more time, then on Thursday, first place from the qualifying phase will play against the king of the 52nd National Series.”

We returned to “slave” ball at a distinct disadvantage. Teams like the Magellan Navigators, from an ALBA-member country, just as Cuba is, which can also count many active players in the U.S. Major Leagues, has in its ranks some Cubans who left the island, illustrating the tardiness of Cuba compared with similar countries.

Cuba has conditions and prospects: the permissibility, though still under state control, of some players participating in foreign leagues; the increase of wages to players, though still insufficient; Cubans can again enjoy Major League Baseball games on local television, though still with limitations; new programs have been implemented, such as one I enjoyed a couple of days ago that allowed an interview with the legendary Camilo Pascual. All this indicates that we are on the way, but the results of this first step, and some of the next, will not reach Cuba’s full potential, because it is one thing to decide to change, and another to rebuild what was destroyed.

After the night, however long it seems, follows sunrise. That we still have to listen to the likes of Yulieski Gurriel say that he hopes to get permission from the Cuban authorities to play abroad, or that the Cuban authorities still have not given him permission, indicates the presence of obstacles to be overthrown in order to achieve the freedom that our athletes have lacked, and determines the decline that we are paying for with defeats.

Translated by Tomás A.

From Diario de Cuba

10 February 2014

Taguayabon: Village Pastor Abducted / Yoaxis Marcheco Suárez

The Marcheco-Lleonart family

Taguayabon, Cuba – I could have written a simple informative note about one of the many arrests carried out by Cuban State Security agencies during the days leading up to the CELAC Summit in Havana. But in this case I was both eyewitness and victim, and had to deal with the fact that my daughters saw it all.

On Saturday January 25, my husband, the Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart, and I, together with our daughters, Rocío, 13, and Rachel, 5, left our home in Taguayabón, intending to travel to the neighboring city of Remedios to spend a relaxing family afternoon.  We were stopped by two State Security agents, dressed in civilian clothes, riding a small Suzuki motorcycle, who approached my husband and told him he was under arrest.

The situation became very tense a few minutes later when a National Revolutionary Police patrol car appeared, with a uniformed police officer and another civilian agent who joined the first two and pounced on Mario Félix as if he were a common criminal, handcuffing him and speeding him off toward Remedios, without telling me where they were going. continue reading

Our daughters were in shock and both began to cry. The younger one kept saying: “Save my daddy! Those bad men have taken him away!”  It was a tremendous struggle for me to calm them and try to help them understand what was happening. The girls love their father dearly, and know that he is an honest and good-hearted man; his abduction was something they could not fathom, especially because they knew he had set the afternoon aside for them.

Swallowing this bitter pill, especially my indignation–because I don’t hide that in the face of all this arbitrariness and despotism I am deeply outraged–I took the little ones to Remedios, walking with them and highlighting the figure of their father. Somehow my little Rachel latched onto my words and then kept saying: “If those cops come here looking for my dad’s house, I’ll tell them to leave him alone because my father is a free man.” I do not know if my daughters have understood fully that message, but freedom is ours and we belong to it, and so I hope they both grow up knowing that no human system, nor repressive body, nor dictatorship, nor dictator, nor tyrant can prevent us from being free.

The State Security agents who abducted pastor Mario Félix. Photo courtesy of Yoaxis Marcheco.

We returned home to await Mario’s fate. We did not know for sure where they had taken him. Caibarién and Remedios are in the same direction and we only knew that the patrol car had headed to one of those two places. A legally authorized kidnapping, obvious state terrorism–citizens are taken away someplace, the family not even knowing where.

Arrests can occur anytime, anywhere, to anyone, without explanation, using brute force as well. They repress, they persecute, not the increasing numbers of common criminals, but political and ideological opponents.

At six that evening my husband showed up. My daughters ran to him and kissed him, relief evident on their faces. Since then, a police operation has encircled our home and our church, and the ban was extended to me. We could only go and pick up the girls at their respective schools, and always guarded by the political police. The Suzuki is parked on the corner near the schools, visible to our daughters; it was a reminder to the girls that they were still there, and a way of keeping them upset.

As before, our phones were blocked by Cubacel, the state-run monopoly that controls the lines. Perhaps divine providence intervened at some point, allowing the messages to leave my phone, like bottles thrown into the sea of liberty, carried along on the blessed twitter. So foreign friends had news of our fate. I could also call activists who found themselves in the same situation as we did, though not always with much luck because some of their phones were also disrupted. Every night we pray for those who have had worse fortune, because they have ended up in the cold cells.

The CELAC summit concluded and did not bring anything new to the Cuban context. No one defined it any better than my daughters: “CELAC is bad because it’s responsible for our dad being taken prisoner.” The CELAC meeting in Havana has has left a shameful stain on the Latin American political landscape; its complicit stance toward an anti-democratic regime is now marked forever and ever, amen.

Cubanet, February 1, 2014,

Translated by Tomás A.

Eric Metaxas’s “Bonhoeffer” / Mario Lleonart

By Mario Félix Lleonart

If the only benefit of my recent trip to the United States had been to find and bring back to Cuba with me the biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, it would have been worth it. As I’ve always declared, that martyr of the German church is an inspiration for my life, and thus for this “Confessing Cuban” blog.

During the recent days of detention and house arrest accompanying the shameful repressive crackdown (as we should always characterize it when mentioning the Second CELAC Summit in Havana), the work of Metaxas was my bedside book. A text like this, regardless of my circumstances, reaffirms my faith and my convictions of social justice emanating from the Bible.

In my recent reading (since several more are required) of chapter seven, “Bonhoeffer in America,” recounting the pastor’s nearly yearlong stay (1930-31) in that great country, I identified strongly because of my similar experience during the four months I just lived through. continue reading

Coincidentally we arrived in the States on almost the same day of the same month (he on the 12th, I on the 11th of September), but he ended his journey in New York on June 17 (my birthday) to return three days later to Germany. During that time the place Bonhoeffer chose to spend Christmas was not in the icy north but in our tropical Havana, where he jumped at the chance to preach to a German congregation, from the text that narrates the death of Moses on Mount Nebo.

Of all the theology Bonhoeffer had contact with in the the United States, that which most influenced him was what he encountered through his friend Albert Franklin Fisher, an African-American raised in Alabama, with whom he attended the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he was impressed on meeting the preacher Dr. Adam Clayton Powell.

According to Metaxas “Powell combined the fire of a revivalist preacher with great intellect and social vision. He actively fought racism and did not shrink from talking about the saving power of Jesus Christ … he believed that without both you had nothing, and with both, you had it all. When you combine the two, and only then, God was present in the equation and life flowed outward.”

Bonhoeffer returned to the United States on June 12, 1939, but was in New York for only twenty-six days, during which he debated whether to take refuge there or return to Germany to confront its harsh reality, finally settling on the latter. Chapter 21, “The Big Decision,” based on the events of his life in 1939, describes this episode.

Although this was a short trip short compared to the first, Bonhoeffer wrote, while in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on his return: “The visit has come to an end. I’m glad to have been here and I’m content to return home. I may have learned more in this month than in the entire year I spent here nine years ago; at least I gained some insight for all future decisions. It is likely that this visit has had a great effect on me.”

I agree with the Wall Street Journal review of this gem of a biography: “In Bonhoeffer, Mr. Metaxas reminds us that there are forms of religion—respectable, domesticated, timid—that may end up doing the devil’s work for him.” This statement brought to mind the recent words from the authoritative voice of Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, author of the largest volume ever written on Protestantism in Cuba, in an interview conducted by, about the thirty questions I was going to raise during my trip to the United States. The historian stated that only the voices of individual pastors or priests have been raised to challenge the regime, but not a single organized religious denomination in Cuba has dared to do so.

To our historic regret, the words of Marcos Antonio combine with those of the Wall Street Journal on Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer, to indict us, the Cuban church in general. The Journal’s words seem to describe us literally. As one of the officers of the political police active in these days of repression said: “The church in Cuba does not interest me.” As if to say “It’s not a problem for us. It’s so full of competing interests. It’s a great useful idiot.”

Christianity Today also commented on Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer, which it described as solid and masterly, saying: “During a harrowing time when many churches adopted the Nazi ideology and others buckled under pressure from the government, Bonhoeffer remained firm, if sometimes alone.” Bonhoeffer’s life and also his practical theology constitute an example to any Christian in Cuba who decides to represent the values of the Kingdom in the midst of the carnage that reigns as a result of over fifty years of misrule.

Translated by Tomás A.

1 February 2014

I Will Continue Fighting Until the Dictatorship Leaves Power / Angel Santiesteban

Position of Principle

I have learned that some people outside the country who are interested in the details of my ordeal in prison had the misconception that I had agreed to perform the forced labor that other prisoners are required to do.

I want to clarify that since my arrival in this place [Lawton Prison Settlement] last August 2nd (those sentenced to less than five years are not to be held in maximum-security prisons, according to the Penal Code), I stated that I would not cooperate with “re-education” because I believe that until you commit a crime you should not be imprisoned, nor, for the same reason, re-educated. After the first pressures to give in (they tried to convince me by saying that if I worked I would get a pass every month, and if I didn’t, every two months, an option that I accepted immediately) they never brought the subject up again.

Keep in mind that my transfer to a maximum-security prison on April 9 was because I refused to report to a hospital for a hastily arranged “health check,” knowing that the real goal was to hide me from the committee of foreign journalists who would visit several prisons that day, including “La Lima,” the place where I was incarcerated. This refusal led to my placement into “1580,” a prison created for violating their rules, a place where they do all the dirty work of Havana province. There they informed me that I would be secluded for six months. continue reading

“Twenty days before the UN visit, a Cuban dissident disappeared”
Angel Santiesteban was transferred unexpectedly from his prison and his whereabouts are unknown. At the same time, Castro’s government opened several Havana prisons to the international press, as a prelude to the arrival of the human rights commission on May 1.”

I also want to point out that since I entered prison on February 28 I have not eaten food provided by the prisons, nor have I agreed to wear inmate clothing, nor accept the toiletries or the boots that they sometimes hand out. Perhaps the constant fatigue that I suffered in “1580″ was reported to the prison authorities and they decided to remove me after four months, two months before the completion of the six months punishment to which I had been sentenced.

El Pitirre Prison [“1580”]

In those four months I had two meals a day: at noon I breakfasted on milk and crackers, and that also passed for lunch; at six p.m. I made a soup from packets imported from China, which are sold in the national chain stores, so I lost forty pounds and my taste for food has disappeared.

I suppose that the move here was an attempt to keep me from being an eyewitness to the daily abuses and violations committed in those other prisons, which allowed me to maintain a very high level of denunciation in my blog The Children Nobody Wanted. Two months ago, at this prison, an officer tried to turn off the TV so I couldn’t hear the news, resulting in a direct confrontation. A few days later the re-educator told the prisoners, behind my back, that he was going to “put me in a box” because, he said, I was not a political prisoner. Two days later the chief of CETEM came, wanting to make a deal and threatening to cut off my benefits.

[photo caption] “Eduardito saying goodbye to his father Ángel in the patrol car when he was transferred to Grande Valle Prison on February 28, 2013. Kenia Rodriguez [Ángel’s ex-wife] had testified that her son was terrified of his father because of the beatings he had inflicted on him.”

I want to re-affirm my patriotic desire and need to be a prisoner rather than leaving the country. I rejected the opportunity to leave the island and reach the streets of Miami, which was offered before my incarceration, because I did not want to feel like a fugitive, fleeing the terrible persecution to show my opposition to totalitarianism. And I will keep on fighting until the dictatorship leaves power and allows participatory democracy to guide the paths of the nation.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Settlement Prison. December 2013

 Translated by Tomás A.

2 January 2014

A Very Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso

During 2013, despite delivering appeasing speeches in international forums, primarily for foreign consumption, Cuban authorities maintained and increased the repression against peaceful opponents, in most cases culminating with the use of physical violence by their agents and employees.

All indications are that this will continue and possibly worsen in 2014. Those who exercise absolute power for too long consider themselves above the law, and act according to their personal interests and not in the national interest. So they denigrate and persecute those who do not share their views and have the courage to speak out. They organize rowdy concerts in front of opponents’ homes. They use school children, without their parents’ permission, for acts of repudiation where profanity and physical attacks are common. Law enforcement officers, rather than maintaining order, act as henchmen (in one case an official photographer, caught up in the surrounding frenzy, began kicking a dissenter). In the same way they insult and assault the Ladies in White. In the provinces the situation is even worse, where they exploit the information isolation that exists there, where everything remains between the Party, the People’s Power, and State Security.

The authorities, making a mistake once again, have made a very bad bet, choosing the worst way to try to quell the increasing rebellion of responsible Cubans who have lost their fear. What this does is unite them in opposition. If they would listen to the clamor of the people who, disgusted by ineffective political clashes, demand real solutions to their problems without so many absurd delays, and would hear the different opinions of those who just want the best for Cuba, all could be improved in a civilized and participatory environment.

But as they perpetuate the dogmas and the orthodoxy, and continue defending at all costs the failed ideas that have brought us only pain and misery, they conspire against the peaceful settlement of the profound national crisis.

Translated by Tomás A.

31 December 2013

Cuba Without Rights on Human Rights Day / Luis Felipe Rojas

The Cuban government has cracked down hard on dissidents who dared to go out on December 10th, the day when the world celebrated Human Rights Day, according to sources from the island who have posted on the social networks.

In Baracoa, Jorge Feria Jardinez and Roneidis Leyva Salas, activists with the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) and the John Paul the 2nd Movement, were arrested while distributing leaflets about this issue, said Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, ADO Coordinator, in his Twitter account (@ Lobainacuba).

On the same social network, Lobaina reported arrests, beatings, and acts of repudiation in locations around Buenaventura, with the detention of Nelson Avila Almaguer, Ramón Aguilera, Jorge Carmenate, and Nirma Peña, all four with ADO. He added that activists were stationed in front of the town’s police station demanding the release of their brothers in the cause. In the same province, but in the village of Velazco in the municipality of Gibara, paramilitary mobs in coordination with State Security and the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) attacked the house of activist Damaris García, fired tear gas, and beat and arrested peaceful activists.

Among those arrested with Damaris were Marta Alina Rodríguez Pérez, Walfrido Pérez García and Gelasio Pupo Verdecia, all from the same opposition alliance.

In the capital arrests occurred when activists, artists, and other members of the independent civil society tried to reach the headquarters of the Estado de Sats Project, led by Antonio Rodiles. According to the twitter account of Ailer María (@ ailermaria), his wife and arts coordinator of the project, they had learned of more than a dozen arrests that occurred starting on December 9th when participants in the 1st International Conference on Human Rights tried to approach the site. The venue was harassed by an act of repudiation, a military siege, and a “revolutionary act” by the well-known orchestra “Arnaldo y su talisman,” according to reports arriving from Havana. Other groups suffered persecution, harassment, and abuse at their homes.

Bertah Soler, leader of the Ladies in White and 2005 Sakharov Prize winner, was arrested along with her husband, Angel Moya Acosta, when she had summoned her members and the entire civil society to march and gather on the corner of 23rd and L, across from the Coppelia ice cream parlor. Those who made it were violently arrested and transported to remote places; Soler was taken to the village of Tarara.

On the morning of December 10th, President Raul Castro attended the funeral of South African president Nelson Mandela. He was greeted with an unanticipated “handshake” by U.S. President Barack Obama, who said in his speech: “There are leaders who support Mandela and do not tolerate dissent,” a clear allusion to the Cuban dictator and to the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, also present at the gathering.

Translated by Tomás A.

11 December 2013

She Can’t Return to Cuba: She’s on the Blacklist / Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba, December 2013, – Guadalupe Bustos left Houston, Texas on November 27, enthusiastic about her upcoming trip to Cuba. But she didn’t know that she is on the “black list,” delivered to the Miami airport authorities by the Cuban Immigration Office, with the names of Cubans who are forbidden, for political reasons, from returning to their country.

Lupe, as she is known to friends and family, traveled by car from Houston to Miami. She was loaded down with gifts for her family and many friends in Cuba. Some are human rights activists and political dissidents. But she also has brothers and nephews waiting for her. One of her brothers is recovering from a complicated operation and, because of his advanced age, Lupe’s first priority was to visit him.

She arrived in Miami on the 28th. She could barely sleep that night, thinking about everything that she would be doing within a few hours. Early the next day she left for the airport. Upon arriving she presented all her papers in proper order: her U.S. passport, Cuban passport, and return ticket. At the airport they gave her the well-known “Cuban entry card” for her to fill out later, on the plane.

She still had her papers in hand when an airport official hurriedly approached, asking the employee at the window to point out the one named Lupe. Upon being told he said:

“No, stop her luggage. Cuban Immigration just called; they said that she is denied entry for failure to comply with ’immigration requirements’.”

In an email interview Lupe said:

Lilianne Ruiz (l) with Guadalupe Bustos

“I was floored. I talked to the man and he put me on the phone with the head of Cuba flights, who had received the call, and I told him I needed them to explain to me which ’requirements’ I did not meet, and if this were true, then why they had not advised the travel agency and stopped me from buying the ticket, something that the agency itself says that it can’t explain, because when a person does not have permission to enter they must communicate this before the passage is booked.”

The Cuban immigration authorities did not respond to any of the emails sent by Lupe:

“The Cuban government has prevented me from entering my country, my homeland, without any basis, without setting out a single argument against me, as the law requires.”

And she points out:

“They are a disgrace to the world, acting like this to protect their policy of totalitarianism, of opposing all desire for change, for freedom, for improving our people. But I also believe that they are not the owners of a land, and of a history of emancipation that dates back many years. They are not the owners of the children of Cuba nor their dreams of freedom.”

For years Lupe has maintained her solidarity with the Cuban democratic movement. She is the mother of Ernesto Hernández Bustos, editor of the Cuban-affairs blog Penúltimos Días.

The government ban to keep her out of the country coincides with the approach of December 10. Historically that day in Cuba has been characterized by an increase in arbitrary arrests carried out by the political police in order to prevent the celebration of World Human Rights Day, and to impede the emerging civil society.

Lilianne Ruiz

Cubanet, December 8, 2013

Translated by: Tomás A.

Impartiality / Cuban Law Association

Wilfredo Vallín Almeida

Last month marked the second anniversary of the death of Laura Pollan, spokeswoman for one of Cuba’s most renowned dissident groups, the Ladies in White.

On that day, we gradually learned, many people in different parts of the country were detained, apparently because of official concern about demonstrations commemorating the anniversary.

Some of those detentions lasted for two to three days, as we learned directly from those affected.

Many of these people came to the Law Society seeking help in bringing charges against their captors for the way they had been treated.

In many countries a situation exists that has no place in Cuba: the independence of the judiciary in relation to the other branches of government.

In Cuba the police, both political and regular, belong to the executive branch, in other words to the state power. The Prosecutor’s Office (military or civilian) also belongs to the apparatus of the state (the government). The same applies to the courts.

Bringing a complaint to the Military Prosecutor to be presented before the court against the military that belongs to the same ministry, and that is also subordinate to government authority, does not seem to have much chance of success, especially when it comes to political issues.

The impartiality spoken of in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely:

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of their rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against them.

It requires, as you can read in the underlined portion, that the court be independent and impartial; in Cuba neither of these two things exist.

We continue to use that proposition in advising those who come to us, but we must lay out the truth, even if we don’t like it.

It is not likely that these allegations will have any result because the ideological obedience of the state institutions does not allow anything else, much less the punishment of its own members for actions “against the class enemy,” that is, those who don’t think like they do.

In a perfect justice system, every citizen should have the right that we are analyzing. But a critical element does not even exist in our national courts: their impartiality.

Translated by: Tomás A.

25 November 2013

Words into the Wind / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega, M.D.

When I spoke during the discussion of the Draft Law to amend the Labor Code a couple of weeks ago, I said that our industry (public health) generates 50% of the GDP of this country; that it represents an income of between 8 and 10 billion hard-cash dollars every year; that this is a lot of money, which should be enough to significantly increase the salary of the sector that produces it; that those who remain here deserve as much as those who go on work medical missions abroad; that I will never understand why a prestigious professor of medicine, after decades of dedication, earns one-third the salary of an office manager trained for fifteen days.

It’s not just that our salary is ridiculous, but that it is particularly absurd in this country of merciless prices. We have patients who easily earn three to ten times our salary, and not from self-employment, but also from the few state jobs that link salary to performance; or simply through “struggling” — that is, stealing with both hands. It is high time to put an end to this humiliating situation, because if there exists today in Cuba a sector that is able to increase substantially the wages of its workershere we’re not talking about the ridiculous two pesos per hour for nighttime work — it’s public health. I said all this, a couple of weeks ago, when I was able to speak.

My specific proposal? A basic monthly salary for a recent graduate of 800 Cuban pesos (roughly $33 US), increasing by 150 pesos every two years up to, for example, 1,500 pesos eight or ten years after graduation; 100 pesos per each medical shift at multi-specialty and primary care clinics, and between 150 and 200 pesos in hospice facilities depending on the workload assumed by each specialty, never less than 5 pesos an hour for night duty, 200 pesos for biohazard risk, 200 for administrative positions and teachers — it could be higher for provincial or ministerial positions; 250 for certified masters and 500 per specialty completed. And finally, it would be fair to give longevity pay after fifteen years of work at 100 pesos every five years (100 after the first 15 years, 200 after 20, 300 after 25 and so on) and finally a retirement that does not force those who served their people for decades to live on a little less than a beggar would get.

Of course, this is my humble opinion, launched into the ether from the perspective of the sufferer, not remotely like that of an experienced economist. But something convinces me that an industry generating so much money could handle it comfortably. They’ve already made a timid gesture with sports, so why not with the sector that generates similar wealth, which provides reasonable assurances that it will continue, and which is showcased to the world as a success story?

Those who make these decisions should take into account that these are professionals who know that, if they approved a monthly salary like this (I’m talking about 150 U.S. Dollars), it would still be less than they could earn abroad for a few hours of work under circumstances qualitatively very different, despite which — I venture to guarantee — in most cases they would not want to abandon their country. I remains to be seen if the words spoken in meetings all across this country will fall on deaf ears, if it will do any good to throw this bottle into the sea, to throw these crazy words into the wind.

Translated by Tomás A

17 October 2013

Self-Employment in the Arena / Fernando Damaso

Photo Rebeca

The phony honeymoon between the self-employed and the State could not last long: their interests are totally different. While the former try to develop themselves, the latter does everything it can to prevent it. The trite theme of their having reached their legal limits, with the current attempt by the authorities to eliminate individual stores that offer mainly imported products, as well as other successful businesses, such as 3D movie rooms, has raised the social tension, leading to major confrontations, absent for years in our unchanging environment.

Without understanding that feudal methods, with the mighty lord of the castle and his henchmen on one side and the submissive serfs on the other, are outmoded and are obsolete, the authorities intend, through regulations, limitations and repression, to maintain the state’s commercial domination over obedient citizens and complacent unions that they have enjoyed for more than 54 years, doing and undoing at their whim, without any social restraint.

After taking over a developed and efficient light industry — made up primarily of companies financed with Cuban capital, which were important sources of employment, and which produced virtually everything that was necessary to meet the needs of the population — and making it disappear with absurd economic measures, today the government has to import everything, using the few credits it receives, besides having failed miserably in the production of material goods.

They have tried to alleviate this situation with the establishment several years ago of various state chain stores, where low-quality imported goods are sold at high prices in order to extract from the few citizens the few economic resources they have, mainly the product of remittances sent from abroad, under the pretext of responding to the patriotic necessity of recouping hard currency.

With the appearance of privately-owned stores, some better outfitted than others, with higher quality items, more variety, and at more attractive prices, buyers gravitated to them, abandoning the state stores, which in this competition have everything to lose. Hence the reaction of the authorities and the entire bureaucracy of ossified officials, worried that their privileges would disappear. The conclusion is: the State with all its resources, is unable to compete in a fair fight with individuals. Examples abound in the world and in Cuba. Despite the difficult conditions in which they have to survive, besieged by exorbitant taxes and absurd regulations and limitations, they pull it off: privately owned rooming houses, eateries, shops, 3-D theater rooms, equipment repairs, and other kinds of successful businesses.

In this confrontation, you need to say a prayer for the self-employed, and what they represent as new economic players, and firmly defend them, not allowing them to again be swept from the national scene, as happened on other occasions in the face of citizen apathy and passivity. The current conditions are very different; before acting hastily, Cubans as well as the state should assess the high social and political price they would have to pay for a new mistake.

Translated by Tomás A.

15 October 2013

The Evil Doesn’t Stop / Fernando Damaso

It seems that the battle against trees on our streets and avenues continues, carried out by the authorities as well as individuals. A few weeks ago the authorities cleared the trees that were in front of the Havana Zoo, at the intersection of 26th Avenue and Zoo Avenue, and in particular those at the corner of 37th Street and 24th, all in Nuevo Vedado. These are just two examples, taken at random from the many available.

It’s gotten to the point that no one complies with the regulations (if any exist) established for their protection, and the city continues to lose its trees. Maybe if, for every tree felled, the one responsible was required to plant one in the same place, and care for and protect it until it reaches adult stage, the problem could begin to have a solution. That is, of course, if the authorities also assume the progressive restoration of the thousands of places where trees have been cleared (there are acres of land where they once were, along the sidewalks of our streets and avenues).

I don’t think the embargo had anything to do with it, since the resources required for their restoration are minimal: dig a hole, bring a young tree, and plant it. When they’ve wanted to, it’s been done. There are examples of hotels and other buildings where, for the official opening, a grove of mature trees has appeared from one day to the next, transported in trucks, hoisted with cranes, and planted.Apart from the lack of culture for vegetation, it’s all happened through indifference and accumulated irresponsibility, with much televised propaganda and little real practical action. Will this destructive escalation ever stop?

Translated by Tomás A.

12 October 2013

Cuba Professionalizes Sports / Ivan Garcia

deporte-cuba-620x330Now we know why the national baseball season didn’t start in October. The delay was not due to the rains, as reported by the sports authorities.

The plot was different. Technocrats and political mandarins put the finishing touches on a project that would allow better wages for athletes. The new rules will apply starting November 3rd, when the winter baseball season begins.

It was imperative to change the concepts governing sports in Cuba. After Fidel Castro abolished professional sports in 1961, a pyramid of schools and training centers was created to fashion high-performance athletes.

Funded by a deposit of rubles, material resources, and coaches from the now-vanished USSR and other Eastern European nations, the sports movement in Cuba experienced a spectacular increase in quality.

The island was always a pool of talent in baseball and boxing. But after 1959, sports that were exotic to Cuban fans, such as water polo, handball, Greco-Roman wrestling, or judo – thanks to coaches who arrived from the cold or from the thug state of North Korea – made it possible for Cuba to win Olympic, PanAmerican, and World medals in those disciplines.

Others like basketball or volleyball, greatly accepted in the university and school setting, took off dramatically. Like the litter of communist countries with the USSR at the head, Cuba used sport as a showcase trying to prove the superiority of the Marxist-Leninist system over modern Western capitalism.

There were plenty of champions. They came in series, like sausages, from the sports schools. Beef was missing and misery was socialized, but the average Cuban was proud of their achievements in sports.

They labeled the entire feat with the term ”amateurs.” Something that was false. By amateurs only they had a salary. They played, trained, and competed throughout the year just as their professional counterparts.

But they earned workers’ wages. With the arrival in 1990 of the “special period,” a static economic crisis lasting 23 years, sports took a nose dive. The propaganda bubble burst, in which Fidel Castro saw the athletes as warriors and the competitions as battlefields.

Low wages – an athlete earned a salary according to his or her profession – was the key to nearly a thousand athletes leaving their homeland, from 1991 to now.

To this was added the stupid policies that prohibited athletes from playing on professional teams and managing their finances without official authorization. The six-figure salaries that some Cuban ball players earn in the Major Leagues was and remains an incentive for young talents who want to try their luck in the best baseball in the world.

The bleeding had to be stopped. The new regulations can certainly reduce the desertions in sports like volleyball and others, where the main circuits are in Europe and are not affected by the laws of the U.S. embargo, and the athletes don’t have to defect from Cuba in order to compete.

But it remains to be seen whether the signing of athletes will be handled by a representative designated by the player or by the state enterprise Cubadeportes, charging very high fees.

Either way, it is a leap forward. A first step. A positive one, if we see that 70% of elite athletes live in poverty.

It is good that a player earns a salary in line with the cost of living in Cuba. They contribute to the major national entertainment for five months of the year. Doctors, teachers, and other professionals, should be similarly compensated, but that’s another story.

The new regulations do not say how training conditions will be improved, stadiums will be repaired, or athletes will be provided with a balanced diet.

Neither do they explain how the whole new salary framework of the National Series will be funded. Will they create companies that see the sport as a business or will the state continue to subsidize the sport?

It is already a fact that the regime of General Raul Castro has buried a hundred meters underground the “amateur sports” falsehood. It was logical. It constituted a burden on the impoverished local economy.

These new measures also send a message to the magnates of the Major Leagues in the United States: Cuba wants to participate in the Big Show. They have now opened the gate.

Iván García

Photo: Taken from Martí Noticias

Translated by Tomás A.

1 October 2013

Political Opposition and Negotiations in Today’s Cuba / Dimas Castellanos

Interview of Dimas Castellanos by Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, published on April 26 and 29, 2013 in Cubanet.

Although still uttered timidly, recently you have begun to hear the word “negotiation” in some statements by the Cuban political opposition. Despite having diverse opinions about it, a negotiation is, in general, a process in which two or more parties try to find a mutually satisfactory solution to their problem, be it labor union, financial, military, commercial, political, etc.

The American expert on the subject, Herb Cohen, believes that “everything is negotiable” and defines negotiation as “a field of knowledge and action whose objective is to win the consent or the favor of the people from whom you want to get something.” He also says that the three main factors of a negotiation are power, information, and time.

In order to approach, from a Cuban historical perspective, an issue so complex, but which has had such importance for determining fundamental political changes in many countries and eras, we talked with sociologist and historian Dimas Castellanos, also known for his independent journalism in the digital magazine Consensus, in Diario de Cuba, and in other media.

Cubanet: Do you think there is still no pressure in Cuba that requires the government to negotiate?

Dimas Castellanos: First, this is not the case of an armed movement that occupied a region of the country over which the government now has no control, as in Colombia. Another thing that may force a government to negotiate is that the opposition has such influence over a sector of the population that it can create difficulties for the authorities.

In Cuba there is great discontent, manifested for example in the elections: almost fifteen percent of the voters did not go to the polls or annulled their ballots. But they did so spontaneously, by an individual act of conscience. No one should believe that this was in response to some opposition party that has that kind of drawing power.

So the government has no reason, nor anyone with whom, to negotiate. And on the other hand the opposition is not strong enough to prevent the government from doing what it wants.

Cubanet: What, in your opinion, is the reason for this situation?

Dimas Castellanos: In Cuba, there were always forces that at some point could compel those in power to do certain things. These forces do not exist today. When the revolutionary government took power, the first thing it did was to dismantle the whole network of institutions that existed, mainly civic institutions. So all the citizen organizations, which had been here since the end of the Ten-Year War, disappeared.

Civil society, which erupted with force in the Republic, achieved admirable results, as the strike by apprentices and masons demonstrated in 1901 and 1902, which spread to other sectors.

By 1910, the government was forced to enact several legislative measures favorable to the working class, such as the eight-hour day for government workers, payment in cash and not in tokens and vouchers (as before), and paid holidays.

The labor movement accomplished all that because it had real strength and could, for example, paralyze sugar mills or transportation. Cubans now are not as poor as they were, but we do not have unions and other civil society organizations able to play that role.

Cubanet: So is it essential, first of all, to set up the network again?

Dimas Castellanos: It’s hard to understand that this is a long-term battle. And you have to pace yourself and take advantage of all the gaps and openings to help the civic formation of citizens. Many dissidents want change for Cuba, just as I do, who am also part of the opposition, but I try to be as realistic as possible.

The government is sometimes forced to take some step, more for external reasons than from pressure from within Cuba. After more than fifty years, it has the luxury of making reforms from the same position of power, and therefore can determine the pace and direction they take. They can make a change in one direction, then take back a little, then shift it forward again, and play with it, but there is no internal force able to avoid it.

The government will negotiate when there is a force that compels it to negotiate, and that force has to be formed over the long term.

Cubanet: Do you share the opinion of many Cuban historians that the Protest of Baraguá represents a milestone in our history as a method of negotiating without compromising dignity?

Dimas Castellanos: I regret that the Zanjón Compact has not received the historical recognition that it should have, and that only the Protest of Baraguá has been glorified, because it demobilized the rebel troops in exchange for Spain allowing in Cuba a regime very similar to that which existed in Spain itself or in Puerto Rico.

The laws of the metropolis governed here starting from the Zanjón Compact, and from it came freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, among other benefits.

Despite all the limitations that it kept, there Cuban civil society was born and the first political parties were created. The union movement grew, newspapers spread, there were organizations of all kinds – political, fraternal, labor – that began to take on an enormous burden within society.

The burden was such that you cannot understand the beginning of the war in 1895 without the work that civil society did in the whole colony. That was a time, in terms of freedoms, very superior to what currently exists.

Due to the shortness of time that this form of communication offers and at the same time, due to the interest and to the meaty responses from Dimas Castellanos, we have divided this interview in two parts which will be available to the readers in a coming edition.

Cubanet: In his first responses for this two-part interview, Dimas Castellanos explained the reasons why, in his view, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba is not yet in a position to force the government to sit at a negotiating table. He also set out his criterion from examples of notable negotiated events that took place throughout our history. Just for this aspect we return to the theme.

Cubanet: How do you assess the role played by civil society in Cuba, as far as negotiation is concerned, in the Republican era, from its beginnings to 1958?

Dimas Castellanos: Negotiation played a role of obvious importance. The Constitution of 1901 is an example. The interventionist U.S. government allowed the formation of a Constituent Assembly and created the conditions for it, but, as it had the force of the occupation, it made sure that the Platt Amendment was incorporated to secure their power over the country.

More progressive Cuban forces strongly opposed the amendment and even traveled to the United States, but failed except for a few small changes. Although during the revolution those who signed the Platt Amendment were condemned, the truth is that there were only two options: either sign the addendum to the Constitution or the United States maintained its military control over the country.

And there were no longer mambises nor the Cuban Revolutionary Party, nor an economy; and a people, moreover, tired of wars. The best minds saw that they could lose everything and accepted the Amendment – although it was an insult, a humiliation – as a tactic, to then gradually remove it, as they did.

In 1934 the Platt Amendment was finally abrogated. And it was all through negotiation.

Cubanet: And in terms of the Constitution of 1940?

Dimas Castellanos: It was a master class in negotiating in which the participants ranged from communists to the extreme right. They arrived at a Constitution that provided balance, though perhaps, in my opinion, it was above the civic potential of the Cuban people. That is why afterward our military tradition manages to prevail.

There was not a strong civic tradition, but rather a dictatorship tradition, which is demonstrated in the governments from 1902 until the fall of Machado in 1933. Between that year and 1940 was very turbulent. After 1937 they managed to calm the situation a little and finally return to a democratic exercise that culminated with the Constitution of 1940.

Batista cleanly won the presidential election. Then Grau defeated him in 1944 with the Aunténticos, winning again in ’48 with Prío, and in 1952 he looked certain to defeat the Orthodox Party, which was nothing more than an offshoot of the Authentic Party, whose main argument was the prevailing political and administrative corruption.

Curiously, this corruption did not affect society, because, even though we were not very advanced in public spirit, the morality of the Cuban people was very high. After the 1952 coup, those who wanted to overthrow Batista were divided into two camps: on one side,  the civic forces (the Law Society, the Medical Association, the Lions Club, Rotary Club, etc..), and on the other, those who opted for armed struggle.

Cubanet: We now know which was the winning side. What is not well understood, especially by the Cuban population, is what later happened with the negotiating capacity of our civil society.

Dimas Castellanos: The Revolution became the source of power, without any compromise with what existed before and swept it all away.

Actually, the Revolution had the support of only one part of the population (the fighting was carried out by a few thousand men in a population of six million), mainly peasant farmers, but the massive support occurred afterward and the Revolutionary government acted with skill. The result: it disarmed Cuban civil society, all the autonomous movements disappeared (of peasants, students, women, workers, etc.).

The unions were taken over in January 1959. Many who disagreed with that course thought that if Fidel Castro had taken power by force, he could also be overthrown by arms, but all violent resistance was defeated.

Cubanet: When can you say that Cuban civil society finally woke up, after the long slumber imposed by the Revolution?

Dimas Castellanos: In the late 80s and early 90s opposition organizations and political parties began to emerge, but very weakly, because of government repression first of all, and because many of the people continued to identify with the power, despite its failure, because the mindset does not change very quickly. Also because of the monopoly the government maintains over the media. It can say whatever it wants about the opposition and it is hard to deny internally. So it is isolated and marginalized.

From my point of view, the political parties that were created in the 90s are now worn out. That hurts a lot and no one likes to be told that, but I personally come from one of those parties, the Socialist Democratic, which has disappeared.

But a kind of proto civil society began to develop and there are movements with a very stable work, although they are not talked about much, such as Dagoberto Valdés, in Pinar del Rio, who has a method of advancing step by step and for years has insisted on the power of the small, with a theoretical basis for change, an accumulated political thought that should be used at some point.

But the problem of dictatorship continues, which we have always suffered with.

Cubanet: And what about the current conditions for strengthening the bargaining power of the opposition?

Dimas Castellanos: Now the government is exhausted and the model has proved unworkable.

With lack of freedoms there can be no development of anything, from the economy to sports. Everything is damaged, and the rulers do not want to engage in the suicide of promoting reforms that bring them to the end of the road, and result in their criminal prosecution.

To advance the economy and get out of the disaster, the government knows it has to connect back to the developed world, especially Western Europe and the United States, which conditions the relationship on respect for human rights, so it has begun to make small concessions.

In any event, the developed world believes that these reforms are still insufficient. That’s why the government is going to have to make more changes.

Cubanet: Do you think then that the new circumstances and the new waves of opponents are creating the conditions for a possible negotiator?

Dimas Castellanos: Whatever happens, the time for negotiation will come, though not in a situation like now exists.
The example is in the release of political prisoners, where there was no negotiation between the government and the opposition. Although many criticized the Church, I find that there was no other way and that civil society, which the Church is part of, was strengthened. Although the Church was able to meet some of its own demands, I don’t really think it was because it has common interests with the government, except for momentary tactical considerations. Strategically, the government and the Church are not going in the same direction.
There are now 400,000 self-employed workers who do not depend on the state. But what work has the opposition done among these workers? They do not think about human rights, but about their most basic needs. What they want is greater economic liberalization.
These 400,000 self-employed are a field in which we must work. We ought to create many more spaces, small schools about Cuban history, political courses, lessons about what a constitution is, about rights, because people will gradually come around.
The opposition has not given the importance that it should to the formation of civic society. You cannot fight for change if people do not even know where they have come from or where they are going.
The day that the opposition can say that the fifteen percent of the population that does not attend the elections is on its side, it will be a minority against the remaining eighty-five percent, but it will represent a great force because then it would be structured, and then it would be realistic to see the possibility of negotiations.

That’s what we have to work for. If we look at the history of Cuba, we see that we have always been changing, and yet we are now more backward in human rights than in 1878, because we backtracked on civil liberties. The Revolution of 1959 seemed like the greatest thing, but we fell into a trap and ended up worse than before. So our work has to be from the ground up and with patience.

Translated by Tomás A.

10 May 2013

Disjointed Impressions / Regina Coyula

An old woman with a cane got on a Route 69 bus with seats set aside for pregnant women and the physically handicapped. Despite showing her card from ACLIFIM (the Cuban Association for People with a Physical or Motor Disability), and her entreaty and those of others who were riding standing up, no passenger gave up their seat. A woman who didn’t move gave a soliloquy about how she hadn’t eaten breakfast and needed to sit down; the rest didn’t even offer a reason.

When I wander away from home I define the country that I encounter with one word: jaded. In the country portrayed in the news, a tourism worker is publicly recognized for returning a wallet containing a passport and $2,500, which a tourist left behind in his bureau; our doctors intern in the Mato Grosso in order to take health care where it was never available before, not for the possibility of improving the living conditions that their salary does not provide them.

Theft and fraud are crimes that are often not reported because they happen within the illegality of so-called “resolving by the left” (the Cuban equivalent of the expression “under the table” — i.e. in the black market); I’ve lost count of the times that cashiers in hard-currency stores “accidentally” didn’t give me change. I’ve lost count of the times that in the produce market the grocer “made a mistake” with the weight, but never in my favor.

Television is full of public-service messages: keep off the grass; pay your bus fare; avoid noise pollution; don’t litter; save water; make politenesss fashionable – say “Good morning,” “please,” and “thank you.” But when you turn off the set and give yourself a reality check, reality tells you that the “New Man,” that result of successive pedagogical experiments, is more interested in his personal well-being.

All these years of solidarity by decree have produced a  predatory, unscrupulous individual (coarse and vulgar as well), who will survive this government more successfully than I. I would tell my readers, as did the popular Consuelo Vidal in his “Behind the Facade” (this is pre-television history): “Look over there!” and point to Russia.

In a speech last week the Secretary of Cuban Unions exhorted workers not to steal, consistent with the example set by the General-President in his talk about corruption and poor social behavior. In what other country do leaders give such messages in their speeches?

These disjointed impressions and something the so-called economy convinced me that not only did they not create a better society, but this experiment failed.

Translated by Tomás A.

23 September 2013

Cuban Sport Fades Away / Ivan Garcia

cubag-620x330The defection of Cuban athletes is no longer news. And gone are the front-page headlines announcing epic victories and world championships.

The state coffers are empty. The sports schools no longer turn out strings of champions like sausages. In the last Olympic Games in London 2012, we finished in 16th place.

Underline that result. It is likely that from now on the performance will get worse. The problem is not that the population has become sedentary or obese. Or that Cubans have given up their love of sports.

No. What has happened is a quiet revolution within the sports movement in Cuba. Athletes have become tired of being handled like puppets for the regime’s propaganda.

They also want to earn lavish salaries like their peers in the world, to be free to sign with any major team, and to manage their earnings without state interference.

So they leave Cuba. And will continue leaving: baseball players, boxers, volleyballers, track and field athletes, and competitors from other disciplines.

The government of General Raúl Castro does not want to open the gate. From now on, it is the State that designates who will compete in a foreign league, and how much money they should be paid.

The olive green mandarins have again miscalculated. They are trying to design a structure similar to that of Cuban contractors abroad — to manage contracts and pocket the lion’s share. Like doctors and civilian advisers, athletes will be a commodity. A way to bring dollars into the government’s deflated accounts.

They have forgotten Fidel Castro’s once fierce speech against professionalism. Rent-an-athlete is now welcome, as long as the athlete is as meek as a sheep.

But times are different. Olympic champion Dayron Robles has gotten tired of being manipulated by remote control. Robles has charted a new course: that of the independent athlete. He has the intransigent national sports directors against the ropes.

Taking advantage of loopholes in the January 13 immigration reform, Dayron intends to compete freely in the Diamond League, without having to defect from his homeland or give up competing in future international tournaments under the Cuban flag.

The Cuban authorities are unwilling to accept his decision or negotiate a way out. Dayron Robles will mark a turning point in the Cuban sports movement.

The authorities are at a crossroads. If they yield to him, they could set a bad precedent, and in the short-term lose control of the salaries of athletes allowed to compete in foreign leagues.

That’s the key. The regime knows that it can bring in several hundred million dollars annually by hiring out athletes. The ideal would be to levy a reasonable tax on wages for athletes competing on foreign clubs. And allow athletes to manage as they see fit the money they earn with their sweat and talent.

It would be good for both sides. No one would be forced to leave Cuba. But in an autocracy, reasonableness is a bad word. The government’s intransigent position led to this quagmire.

Due to wrong policies, about a thousand athletes have been forced to defect. Athletes on the island are not unaware of the success of Yasser Puig, Yoennis Céspedes and Osmany Juantorena, among many others.

They also want to compete with the best and earn wages commensurate with their athletic caliber. In their country they earn the salaries of laborers. Few can start a restaurant when they retire, like Mireya Luis, Raúl Diago, or Javier Sotomayor.

They only have two choices: become coaches or political commissioners in the style of the sinister Alberto Juantorena. The downward spiral of Cuban sport is attributable to the stubbornness of the regime, which seeks to control sports contracts from a desk and only with its consent.

Already in the last Olympics Cuba was not represented in team sports. The performance of the men’s volleyball team in the World League, with one win and seven defeats, is the price paid for this intolerance.

Every year sports stars leave. The fans cheer. But there are other avenues to explore. The country does not belong to the Castros. It is everyone’s. Each of us born on this island must reclaim what we consider our inalienable rights.

It is a hard choice. The scribes of the official press defame those athletes who freely decide to separate from the Cuban sports movement. The IOC and the international federations can and should mediate the dispute.

Athletes like Robles are entitled not to be slaves. Congratulations to Dayron.

Iván García

Photo: Taken from Últimas Noticias, Venezuela.

Translated by Tomás A.

12 September 2013