Cuba and the Castro Constitution: To Vote ‘No’ or To Not Vote?

Ballot boxes in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 10 January 2019 — We are less than two months away from the referendum that will be submitted to Cuban citizens to consider whether to “ratify” or not the constitutional reform already approved unanimously by the National Assembly. Social networks have been the scene of a bitter controversy among those who encourage the campaign for a massive vote against the “new” spurious constitution written by the scribes of the Castro regime and, at the opposite extreme, those who advocate a massive absence at the polls.

Each one of the proposals has its own arguments. Those who support not going to the polls (an option that in electoral terms equals abstention), consider the exercise of the vote as a “legitimation of the dictatorship,” assuming that both the newly drafted Constitution and the official electoral apparatus constitute a fraud in themselves — which does not cease tobe true — and that to vote in such conditions is to “play the game” of the government. At the same time, several of those who lead in the support for abstention state that the “legitimate” alternative would be to take to the streets and march against the Castro regime. continue reading

However, would the option of “street march abstention” be viable? It does not seem so. At least, past experience does not favor it. It is acknowledged that — beyond supposed political compromises with the “Revolution” — the overwhelming majority of voters in Cuba go to the polls for fear of “finger-pointing” and retaliation. For decades, the pressure of the authorities on the electorate has been felt both through the enormous and suffocating Castro propaganda and in the figure of minor “agitators,” be they elements of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or little pioneers (children) sent door to door to urge the more morose to vote.

Nor is it a secret to anyone that, if fraud is involved, the authorities may well use the ballots of those absent in their favor by marking them with a resounding “Yes,” which makes it clear that abstaining does not constitute a guarantee of success.

Not to mention achieving a chimeric popular mass march in rebellion against the elections or against the regime. It is unthinkable that an electorate fearful of the simple act of refusing to vote will have the courage to take to the streets to march and face the fury of the Castro repressive forces. Leaving aside other essential considerations such as the lack of sufficient convening power to mobilize a critical mass of Cubans, or the absence of leaderships adversarial to the regime that are recognized by the crowds, it could be affirmed that the option to abstain and/or march is (almost) absolutely unfeasible.

Meanwhile, the proposal to attend and cast a NO vote has some elements in its favor. In principle, the initial call was born from civil society through social networks, not from opposition political parties or organizations of any political tendency. It is an authentic citizen reaction that has been drawing more consensus than dissent among Cubans from all shores, whose campaign has been so fast and viral that it was even anticipated, and put the dictatorial regime on the defensive, forcing its powerful propaganda machinery to a hasty campaign for the YES vote.

As an additional benefit, the spontaneity and speed of the “YoVotoNo” (IVoteNo) campaign has prevented leaders or groups of any denomination from monopolizing its leadership and from “assuming” or taking credit for its course. This seemingly insignificant detail favors the participation of Cubans who do not feel identified with the opposition or who are suspicious of leaders they are not familiar with, but who also reject the dictatorship and aspire to changes within the country, without suggesting the rejection of opponents or the participation of dissidents.

The official discourse – that the YoVotoNo option is a “proposal of the enemy” – collapses with the mere fact that it does not require external financing or financing of any nature: it is the simple, voluntary and straightforward exercise of a citizen’s right, the right to vote, one of the few that we still have and that, judging by the virulence of the Castro regime’s discourse, now stands as a threat to its totalitarian reign, based on unanimity in obedience.

And that is another indisputable strategic advantage of the negative vote: it does not suppose risks of repression, since it is founded on citizens’ right to the secret vote recognized in the Electoral Law. It is impossible to prohibit or hinder the participation of every the Cuban voter on the Island in the referendum, contrary to what happens with street demonstrations that may end up dissolved or simply prevented from being carried out by the repressive forces of the dictatorship.

As for the alleged “legitimation of the tyranny” and of its Constitution, it is just the opposite in this case: the NO strategy is based on using the weapons of the system itself, not to legitimize it, but to empower the citizen vote. That is to say, that the citizen himself legitimizes his rejection of the aforementioned Constitution through his vote, not thanks to the Castro electoral law, but in spite of it.

A strategy whose closest antecedent was – saving the differences – the Varela Project, promoted from the end of the 1990s by Oswaldo Payá, who advocated political reforms based on the Constitution itself, and whose repercussions ultimately meant a political cost significant for the dictatorship, although by virtue of legal subterfuges the initial objective of its promoters was not achieved.

In the current case, however, we are facing a different scenario with very objective favorable circumstances to confront the regime in its own ballot boxes. First, because the referendum call is official, which would make each ballot a legitimate vote, and secondly because almost two decades of failures have accumulated in the system. The shortcomings, despair and frustrations of the population have multiplied, the historical leadership has disappeared, we are at the beginning of another economic schism, the failure of the system is evident after 60 years and the “Revolution” does not have the minimum capital of faith among the majority of Cubans.

Add to this the disenchantment of those who created some expectation around the so-called “popular consultation” and whose suggestions or dissatisfactions were not taken into account in the final result: the LGTBI groups that were literally mocked with the suppression of Article 68; the artists who have rebelled publicly against Decree 349 – now in moratorium but not abolished; and the private transporters who recently staged a sit-down strike in the Cuban capital.  An approximate idea of all the popular discontent that is growing within the island will be apparent.

This suggests that, although it is difficult (though not impossible) to impose the “no vote” at the polls, due to the oiled propaganda machinery and electoral Power fraud, the current conditions are propitious to reach a considerable number of negative ballots against the Castro regime, which means a triumph in itself, because not only would the authorities be forced to commit the most scandalous of frauds, but because the larger the quantity of negative votes the more it would make it virtually impossible to alter all the scrutiny processes, and they will have to at least accept a significant part of the votes opposing the proposal.

Some detractors of the YoVotoNo initiative have suggested that the Castro regime would only accept, at most, the existence of 20% of negative votes. If that is so, they forget that we would be talking about almost two million voters with adverse votes. Recognizing them officially would open the door to future steps and legitimate claims of that broad social sector that does not feel represented in the Constitution and that, consequently, would push for new spaces and freedoms. Almost two million adverse votes mean a deep fissure that would disprove the official discourse of the “unity of the people around their Revolution” and place the true Cuban civil society on stage. The social strength would be greater if the results were higher, in the case where a massive poll turnout to cast NO votes occurred.

It is worth noting, in addition, that contrary to all apparent logic, the Castro regime, in its infinite arrogance, has always relied on fear, apathy, indifference, the fatigue of ordinary Cubans, and also on the eternal internal divisions between the different dissident groups and the opposition. That is why capitalizing on that confidence of the power’s claque in the abject national inertia, and turning it against itself is even more feasible than trying to capitalize late popular discontent in terms of political interests of particular sectors or groups.

A force that multiplies with the support of many emigrated Cubans, who have been encouraging the campaign YoVotoNo from the outside, which indicates that it far exceeds the “legal” limits of the simple exercise of the vote – a right that emigrants lack – to become an axis of unity in rejection of the Castro regime. Probably no opposition proposal had managed to attract so much solidarity and cohesion among Cubans from such different sectors and thoughts as this simple citizen initiative, and that fact alone indicates that in Cuba a before and after may be possible, even from the ballot box.

 (Miriam Celaya, residing in Cuba, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Seamen, Invisible Victims of the Cuban State

Motonave ‘Huntsville’, built in Japan in 1971 which was part of Cuba’s Merchant Navy. (Webmar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach | 20 December 2018 –Health professionals were not the first to suffer a slavery system organized by the Cuban government itself. Long before, and without the media noise caused by the controversial departure of Mais Médicos from Brazil, sailors have been the invisible victims of the same abuses on the part of the State.

This peculiar “legal” network of human trafficking is attested to by Rolando Amaya (a fictitious name), an ex-seaman with a long history. A Mechanical Engineer who graduated from the Naval Academy, Rolando worked for several years as a machinist in the merchant fleet belonging to the Mambisa Navigation Company, the large shipping company created by Fidel Castro to transport goods to and from Cuba, mainly based on the active trade that existed at that time with the now defunct Soviet Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CAME). continue reading

“In the contract, it is clear that my salary stated what I should earn, what I was paid on board and what was sent to Cuba as ‘family remittance’, which was the euphemistic term they used to call the money they kept and that ended up in the government’s coffers, or who knows where or who benefitted from it,” he tells 14ymedio, under the condition to keep his true identity secret.

“’Family Remittance’ was the euphemistic term they called the money they kept and that ended up in the government’s coffers, or who knows where it went or who benefitted from it”

Over the years, Rolando has kept some of the documents or contracts he signed with the state company Selecmar, in order to support his testimony and “so that the truth of the exploitation suffered by seamen is known.”

The “family remittances” and other discounts reflected in Rolando’s documentation constituted no less than 80% of the monthly salary paid by the foreign company for the sailor’s work. Therefore, both he and the rest of those contracted had access to the remaining 20%.

In the 70’s and 80’s, Cuban sailors were considered a privileged caste. On the one hand, they had the possibility of traveling around the world, while most of the locals lived the obligatory insular confinement. On the other hand, somehow, they managed to import (smuggle) clothes, shoes and other products of the capitalist world that the majority of the population could not even dream of.

In 1982, it was established that a minimum part of a sailor’s payment be made in foreign currency. Since then, recalls Rolando, the sailors began to see US $1 per day of navigation, a figure that has approximately doubled since 1985.

At the end of each trip, the hard currency was deducted from the salary in national currency and, if they did not spend that allowance, they could collect it in the form of “certificates” (chavitos) that allowed them to make purchases in several specialized stores to which foreign technicians also had access.  These technicians were mostly Russians who resided in Cuba temporarily. These establishments were banned to the rest of the population and, in fact, they remained closed and with thick curtains behind the stained-glass windows, so that it was impossible to glimpse at those products to which common mortals had no access.

Former sailor Rolando Amaya’s contract document. (Courtesy)

This payment system was maintained until the loss of the Cuban merchant fleet, in the 90’s, when, with the disappearance of the USSR and the Eastern allies, the subsidies suddenly vanished and commerce became dramatically depressed. Cuba fell into the deep economic crisis from which it has not recovered to date, and the merchant fleet that had been Castro’s pride became a burden, as useless as it was difficult to sustain.

Finally, after several failed experiments to try to save the ships – including a process of merger and separation of the national shipping companies, the ephemeral association with recognized entrepreneurs of foreign shipping companies and the creation of short-lived joint venture companies – the ships were sold to the highest bidder or destined to be scrapped after remaining idle for a long stretch of

However, that did not mean the total extinction of the state bureaucratic apparatus. Mambisa survived as a niche that would direct the lobbying and business necessary to achieve foreign exchange earnings. There were no ships, but there was still a very valuable resource: the sailors. Paradoxically, the shipping company, already without vessels, found a way to become productive without the need to invest to renew or maintain a very expensive and inoperative fleet.

There they were, within reach, desperate to earn money, hundreds of sailors who were “available,” as the unemployed are euphemistically called in Cuba.

“It is then that Agemarca (Maritime Employer Agency of the Caribbean) and Selecmar are born, among other agencies in charge of subcontracting Cuban sailors to foreign shipping companies. Of these, the best known among us sailors, was Boluda, a Spanish company named after its owner, Vicente Boluda, with whom the Cuban government still conducts business,” says Rolando, who – like many others – emigrated years ago and has not returned to Cuba.

In order to mask the violation of the rights of these workers before the world organizations, the Cuban Government launched a fraudulent ploy

“There were also contracts with other companies in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. I know of some of my colleagues who were hired by those companies, who were as poorly paid as I was. In their cases, the Government received most of the contract money, although I don’t know the exact details, since I haven’t had access to their documents,” he explains.

To mask the violation of the rights of these workers before the world bodies responsible for ensuring their compliance – especially the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) as a qualified authority to represent seafarers before the International Organization of Labor (ILO) – the Cuban Government launched a fraudulent ploy.

The ruse consisted in having the seafarer sign a document, a copy of which he would not receive, in which he would state that he was earning a salary of between US $3,000 and $4,000 or more, depending on the position; that is, a figure much higher than what he really got. “This (false) document is the one that is shown to the international authorities that require it,” denounces the ex-mariner, who, although he emigrated over 10 years ago and has lost contact with his former work companions, has no doubt that “the exploitation continues.”

“It was customary to receive a some boss or company official who checked and corrected anything concerning the documents, inventories and everything related to the Quality System (by virtue of which each sailor must have updated the certifications that guarantee his ability to perform the work for which he was hired) who always somehow reminded us how bad the situation was in Cuba, the number of unemployed in the company, how poorly dressed they were, going through tough times, waiting to occupy our positions,” he continues.

“Many believed, and I dare say that even today they still believe that they are privileged even knowing that a significant part of their salary is being taken from them. It’s sad”.

This “worked as a kind of warning that you had to behave yourself or you would be out on the street.” Intimidation was always present, in a veiled or open manner. Many believed, and I dare say that even today they still believe that they are privileged, even knowing that a significant part of their salary is being taken from them. It’s sad,” says the former sailor, who is now almost 60 years old.

“One of the big problems that I had in the last years with the fleet was the age of the crew. It was an aging crew and, as far as I know, there was no way to replace them in the short term.”

Rolando believes that this, added to the fact that many of the sailors left Cuba in different ways and for different reasons, has led to the loss of trained personnel. “It has been a constant leak. Today I find some of them in the social networks, living in all parts of the world, much of that skilled labor that Cuba lost, and nobody stole it, Cuba lost it because of its exploitative politics.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

____________________________

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

Requiem for the Payret Theater / Miriam Celaya

Payret Theater (historiacuba.wordpress.com)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 14 December 2018 — The recent news about the possible transformation of the iconic Payret Theater into a five-star hotel has fallen like an icy shower over Havanan moviegoers, especially the residents of the municipality of Old Havana, where the building is located, as well as the residents of the adjoining municipality of Centro Habana, which for years had yearned for the restoration and reopening of this classic jewel, unique among the first-run movie theaters of the capital and all of Cuba.

Located in what was then known as “Barrio de las Murallas” (Neighborhood of Ramparts) the area with the greatest cultural and recreational activity of its time, the Payret was inaugurated in January 1877 by a wealthy Catalán who resided in Cuba, who gave it his surname. It was also one of the first theaters to become a cinema hall and one of the favorite places of the most select society of Havana at the time.

During the years after its inauguration, and the years of the Republic, the Payret Theatre had several owners and underwent a number of renovations. It was finally demolished and re-erected, and in 1951, it acquired the architectural image that turned it into today’s iconic structure: neoclassical lines of successive arches, pillars and awnings in its exteriors, combined with eclectic elements typical of the buildings in its surroundings.  Its refined interiors include the elegant lobby with the sculpture known as The Illusion, the work of the Cuban artist Rita Longa, and the famous high reliefs representing the nine muses – done by the same sculptor – on both sides of the stage of the once majestic hall of projections, where the intense red color of the curtains, the carpets, and the upholstery of its chairs stood out. continue reading

In short, the Payret shone among the best in luxury and comfort in a city that had more cinemas than New York in 1958 and was known as one of the capitals with the best equipped cinemas in the world. After 1959, with better and worse moments, the Payret was kept regularly elegant and went through a couple more restorations until the crisis of the 90’s arrived and this beloved icon of Cuban movie enthusiasts deteriorated by leaps and bounds because of material deficiencies and official neglect, until several years ago, when it finally closed to the public in order “to make repairs.”

Surprisingly the alarms are now sounding with rumors about this untimely hotel project, whose details were published on this page last Tuesday, December 11th, giving an account of the ambitious construction plan of the Business Group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), Gaviota SA, which would confiscate the whole block occupied by the old theatre, the “Kid Chocolate” room – a true architectural aberration, conceived and built in a hurry to function as a boxing chamber during the Pan-American Games held in Havana in 1991 – and several residential buildings in precarious conditions where more than a hundred families coexist.

The reports on this project and the final destination of the Payret have not yet been announced by the official press, but information is circulating informally among the group “in the know,” especially among neighbors close to the area and culture groups involved with the capital’s cinematic industry. There are many who feel “betrayed” by the turn of events because, until relatively recently, “what was known” was that the Payret was being subjected to a highly expensive capital restoration which, as has become customary, had been stopped for prolonged periods on several occasions, both for lack of materials and lack of financing, which explains, to some extent, the delay in the long-awaited reopening.

“They said that a budget had been earmarked for a complete restoration, then it was said that it fell short of the initial amount and that between the ICAIC and other entities committed to the work, new funds were being allocated to finish the work. It has even been said that the space will be transformed into a multiplex, when two smaller rooms in the old area are converted,” says Amelia González, an enthusiastic photographer and passionate Centro Habana filmmaker who lives very close to what she still calls “her favorite movie house.”

Like her, hundreds from several generations of Havana inhabitants who reside in the surrounding neighborhoods have the Payret as a reference of better bygone times, when visiting the dark room in this comfortable and beautiful cinema to enjoy a premiere was a pleasant and cultural experience all at once, an outing within easy reach of any pocket.

“I used to come here with my wife often, while it functioned as a movie house to show new movies and as one of the subsidiaries of the Latin American Film Festival, because on my income I can’t afford to go take her a date to a restaurant or to enjoy a show at a nightclub. So every time I passed the Payret, closed for so long, I would ask the custodians if they knew of a reopening date for the cinema, but none of them could tell me, nor was there a sign that indicating anything about it,” complains José Antonio, a fifty-something native of Old Havana who has kind memories of this place. And he adds: “Likewise, there was not even a notice indicating it was being restored, as they do with other works by (Eusebio) Leal (Havana City Historian)… We just chose to believe what the newspaper said”

Because it turns out that the new hotel project that would change so dramatically the function of the Payret is inserted in the construction plan promoted by the Office of the Historian with a view to celebrating the half-millennium of the Cuban capital in November 2019. When it comes to obtaining foreign exchange not even the Historian himself stops to reflect on such nonsense as the maintenance of the Patrimony. In any case, it has already been shown that the architecture of the facades can always be preserved, if the forms are kept. For its part, the plebs will be kept at a distance from the new spaces, because a luxury hotel does not count the proletarian rabble among its clientele.

So far it has not transpired that any official or personality of the world of cinema and national culture has issued an opinion for or against the projected cine-cide.

The proposal to turn the cinema into a hotel, however, is flagrantly contradicted by an article published more than three years ago in the official Granma newspaper “on the subject of the situation of cinemas and video rooms in the capital and other regions of the country.” (” Cuba: do you lose the magic of the movie houses?”, 11 June 2015), where it was stated: “The Payret case is separate (from the rest of the Havana cinemas) because, being an institution of high patrimonial value, it was decided it would be a target of investment, and its financing is much greater.”

The aforementioned article affirmed, citing words of Danae Moros, official at the head of the Provincial Film Directorate in Havana, that in 2015 “1,800,000 pesos in national currency and 700,000 convertible pesos for equipment purchase had been raised. That amount is already running out and we are going to request an increase because it is taking a lot more money.”

The same official assured that the restoration works of the Payret had begun the previous year (2014) with a “first stage” that included the roof, the hydro-sanitary network and the Alhambra room. The latter would be what he called “a polyvalent space” (?). The total reconstruction should be concluded before December of the same year, 2015, “because we want it to be ready for the Film Festival.”

However, three years and three film festivals later, not only has the Payret, which continues to be closed, not been restored, but there is no public information about where the funds allocated to that work ended up and, for greater uncertainty, now the death certificate is taking shape for a movie theater which, for over a century was the pride of Havana and certainly a space of great patrimonial value.

But the fact is that if the force that pulls the strings of this ambitious construction project – which is said to include other emblematic buildings of that strip of the capital – is the all-powerful Gaviota military company with the French company Bouygues Batiment International, and the romantics of nostalgia and inveterate capital film buffs can kiss their dreams of recovering a renewed Payret goodbye. The designs of the military consortium created by the power elite have two essential features: they are conceived in secret, like conspiracies, and they are – in keeping with the classic spirit of the cinema of yore – as definitive and unappealable as the thread of the Fates.

Thus, and probably in less time than we imagine, the Payret will disappear from Havana’s geography to give way to the overwhelming machinery of the state capitalism monopoly under the baton of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) leaders. Without further ceremonies there will be another decline in the narrow list of 42 cinemas that, according to official figures, still existed in 2015, in a capital that in its past glory days boasted of having more than 150 dark rooms.

Of those 42 spaces (not “cinemas” properly speaking) that miraculously survived in 2015, only 13 continued in precarious operation, 8 of which presented construction problems; while the 29 “closed ones” were going to be delivered to other “cultural institutions” because – always in the words of the official Danae Moros – “it is a policy of the Ministry of Culture to maintain in each municipality at least one or two rooms, but they must be comfortable and have good equipment.” It goes without saying that this policy has not been met either.

It remains only to point out such paradoxical and relevant detail in this requiem for the Payret cinema, pride and patrimony of Cubans, and that their loss occurs precisely as a result of the confrontation between artists and the officials in charge of high culture around the application of the controversial Decree 349, within the framework of which the latter publicly insisted in the media that the administration of national culture “is in good hands.”

The fate of Payret, in particular, and the depleted real estate of Cuban cinema in general, confirm the exact opposite.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between Strikes and Demands: From Obedience to Rebelliousness / Miriam Celaya

Massive protest in Havana, September 13th, 2017 (Photo Liu Santiesteban / Facebook)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 9 December 2018 — Judging by the winds that are blowing through Cuba, those people who say that nothing changes on the Island should begin to reconsider such opinions. It is a fact that some changes have begun, and not precisely those from the seat of Power – which are the kind that skeptics expect – but the most important and authentic: those that occur from the autonomous sectors of society.

The outbreak of citizen rebelliousness started several weeks ago by independent artists with their campaign against Decree 349 that seeks to restrict the freedom of creation and dissemination of the various artistic manifestations. The private transportation workers strike has been added this December 7th, protesting grievances and against the smothering regulations that the government has imposed arbitrarily.

Despite the threats, the harassment and the detentions suffered by several of its main organizers, or perhaps strengthened by it, the strike has begun with British punctuality, and the capital is feeling it. On Friday morning, to spite the “reinforcement” buses which – according to unconfirmed information – were destined to mitigate the effects of “El Trancón” (The Huge Traffic Jam, the nickname given to the strike), the bus stops continued to be mobbed, while numerous “almendrones”* (i.e. taxis, Havana style) circulated empty, not making any stops along Havana’s main arteries. continue reading

Both in the case of artists and in the case of private carriers, the common denominator is the unprecedented nature of the challenge to a government that until now did not admit questions, and much less organized actions, against the designs of its power. Another shared feature is the spontaneous and open nature of their demands and strategies of resistance against the gigantic official institutions.

This time it is not about a small group of conspirators gathered within four walls while the repressive pack blocks accesses and exits. Nor are we facing a response to opposition calls or subversive programs plotted by political strategists from all sides. No. Both the announcements of the masterminds of the peaceful rebellions and their actions have been open public manifestations. Nor does there seem to be a competitive attitude among the strikers or protestors, but an evident coordinated and shared responsibility towards the common goal. Nothing could cause greater confusion and concern to the ruling elite.

Another peculiar fact is the setting in which the events are taking place: months after the retirement of Raúl Castro from his position as President and the assumption of the successor appointed by him, Miguel Díaz-Canel, the first president without generational or family ties with the so-called Historical Generation – therefore, without the legacy of “natural legitimacy” of the participants in the Revolution of ‘59 – in the midst of an insurmountable internal economic crisis, with the pressure of an asphyxiating external debt and of a growing social discontent.

Complicating the panorama, the suspension of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which allowed for permanent stay in the US of Cubans who managed to step foot in that country in an irregular manner if they were not intercepted at sea, and which functioned as an escape valve to the system, is having a harmful double effect on the regime. On the one hand, it has spewed the migratory tide from Cuba to other destinations in the region, causing conflicts at the borders of several countries of the area, and focusing on the reality of the supposed Cuban socialist paradise, while on the other hand, it is increasing the social pressure in Cuba.

And as if that were not enough, it coincides with the arrival of Internet service to Cubans’ cellular phones. That is, any incident or event can be reported in real time by any witness and disclosed to the world instantly. It is already known that “the wild colt of the Internet” is indomitable.

For the first time in 60 years, many Cubans are perceiving that emigration has ceased to be the most expeditious option to flee from perpetual poverty, and they finally seem to understand that if they want to change the state of affairs in Cuba, the change must be done by their own hand and within the national territory.

The peculiarity of a society marked by extreme politicization is reflected in that, although the artists’ movement against Decree 349 is not clearly political, essentially, it turns out to be because it establishes a vertical rejection of the government’s cultural policy. The same happens with “El Trancón“, which started this Friday, December 7th, with the private transportation workers’ strike, which does not identify itself as a political protest, but essentially it is challenging the omnipotence of a dictatorship that has governed the country by controlling even the smallest details for too long.

When days ago that same power was forced to retract the new arbitrary provisions that were going to be imposed on the “small business owners” – a reversal which, in its basketful of euphemisms is not called that, but rather a “rearrangement” of the allowed activities – the myth of the invincibility of the power was crushed, and showed that this new force, the private sector, which is more productive and efficient than the parasitic State, has been called to play a fundamental role in the changes that must take place in Cuba.

It most probably will not be a quick or easy process. In some ways, there may even be setbacks. The next step should be for these sectors to be grouped into independent trade unions or associations to strengthen themselves and increase their organization and reach.

However, the truth is that the government, and especially the President (not elected by those who demand rights today) is trapped in the absurdity of a system that he did not create, but agreed to represent. There is no way to get out of this test: if the government yields to pressure, it will be the signal to unleash a flood of demands that will begin to emerge from all corners of Cuba, of the millions of Cubans who have waited decades to voice grievances and the young generations that demand spaces for participation. A gesture of governmental capitulation would stir up a feeling as subversive as it is dangerous, which is hope, and that would precipitate the changes.

On the other hand, to quell the demands with greater repression, as has always been the case, would only serve to multiply the discontent, the rebelliousness and the audacity of the demands, provoking a spiral of violence where the government itself would end up losing the game.

It’s too early to predict an outcome, but a positive balance has already been won for the rebels of these journeys. Beyond the results of the demonstrations of the artists and the transportation workers’ strike, for the first time in six decades Cubans will have demonstrated their capacity and willingness to stand up to the power. Finally, the scab of fear has given way. Let’s see if, after all, it will turn out to be true that the Castro regime will not survive the Castros.

*Translator’s note: Almendrones is the name given to the classic American cars still circulating in Cuba, commonly in use as taxis. The word is a reference to their “almond” shape.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Through its Doctors, Cuba Influences Global Health Programs

Cuban doctors equipped for emergency missions. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 21 November 2018 — Perhaps never before has a Latin American leader been able to raise such a stir before his inauguration as the newly elected Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has done. His proposal is to grant work, with full salary and permanent residence for them and their families to the doctors who work in the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program, after they revalidate their credentials in Brazil, has provoked a drastic response from Havana, which has announced the departure of Cuba from the program and has ordered its health professionals to return to Cuba.

The fate of Cuban doctors in Brazil has become one of the most prominent issues in numerous media and social networks. It has, once again, focused on the many dark stains of the humiliating exploitation system that has been systematically applied by the Cuban Government to these professionals, and it has also stirred passions between the critics of the Castro regime and some of the faithful who – in spite of all the evidence – still justify and defend it.

Thus, while a growing chorus calls for the doctors’ insurgency, urging them to defect and to continue offering their services in the communities where they have been working so far – this time receiving all the advantages offered by the new Brazilian president – certain voices of the radical left regret what they consider a low blow to a program that has brought primary health care to the most impenetrable and poor places in Brazil where it did not exist before. continue reading

The questionable decision of the Cuban regime to withdraw the doctors has exposed the true interests behind the Castro pantomime of solidarity, altruism, cooperation and Latin American brotherhood. The fate of millions of poor Brazilians who receive basic care thanks to Cuban professionals is completely irrelevant to the Palace of the Revolution.  Their concern is the irreparable loss of the more than 300 million dollars it has been receiving annually, lifted from the doctors’ salaries.

The questionable decision of the Cuban regime to withdraw its doctors has exposed the true interests behind the Castro pantomime of solidarity

The loss of such lucrative income constitutes a devastating and possibly irreparable blow for the Castro regime. And for greater injury, the Island masters would also lose a good part of the supply of skilled workers in conditions of semi-slavery that have brought them so much wealth over the years.

In the middle of the political tug-of-war from this or the other side, the future of doctors and patients gets decided. On November 19th, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the new specialized agency of the inter-American system, the intermediary between the Mais Médicos program promoted in 2013 by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the Cuban Government, launched a statement that reflects an identical instrumental perception of Cuba’s medical personnel and reinforces the customary congratulatory position towards the Cuban authorities. At the same time, it distances itself from the conflict and avoids committing itself to the free hiring of Cuban doctors, by clarifying that “the Organization has agreements with the governments of both countries (Cuba and Brazil, in this case) for Mais Médicos, but it does not enter into contracts with doctors…”

“Cuba has the highest number of physicians per one thousand inhabitants in the world, 7.5,” said the note, pointing out where their sympathies are by mentioning that the lack of doctors in Brazil motivated the signing of the agreement, since Cuba has “extensive experience in providing doctors.”

Nothing else is needed. It is clear that PAHO needs the Cuban dictatorship as medical personnel guarantor to cover the programs of the organization. The fact that Havana uses its doctors as semi-slave labor, both in this and in other international programs in which it participates, in open violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the International Bill of Human Rights created to watch over the guarantee, among others, also of the labor rights of these doctors and other Cuban health professionals, is only a minor detail for PAHO, despite its being a body affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO)

It becomes clear that PAHO needs the Cuban dictatorship as guarantor of medical personnel to cover the programs of the organization

Thus, and without detracting from the importance of the existence of agencies that promote cooperation between countries and governments in favor of primary health care for all, and the undeniable ability of these to promote general policies aimed at preventing epidemics and chronic diseases, develop vaccination programs and reduce child mortality among the most vulnerable population groups, among other commendable functions, both PAHO and WHO have left their serious limitations exposed.  By applying the maxim “the end justifies the means” they manage to fulfill their functions with relative success, and justify their own existence, but they violate important legal instruments established by the UN and become accomplices of a long dictatorship.

Thus, the essential remains in the background. The Mais Médicos program was created, at least on paper, to provide medical services to millions of people from the poorest social sectors of Brazil, not to fatten the coffers of the Cuban dictatorship. Therefore, both international organizations, PAHO and WHO, in their roles as coordinators, should not be limited to being just intermediaries between the party that pays for the services (Brazil) and the one that provides the labor and benefits from the highest gains (Cuba), let alone take sides with one of these parties and, consequently, political interests that have nothing to do with the health of vulnerable populations.

Perhaps this is a good time for both organizations to reconsider their commitments and assume a more coherent vision in the future between the fulfillment of their programs and the basic principles that justify the very existence of the United Nations. Perhaps it is time for the competent organizations to remind Cuba that the UN Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are still waiting to be ratified by the Cuban government.

There is no doubt that Bolsonaro’s proposal has been more effective and forceful than the US embargo itself

In the case of the crisis of the Cuban doctors in Brazil, the ideal would have been if, from the current crisis, they had established a new contract in which Cuban doctors were acknowledged with the sacred labor right to collect their salaries in full and, in return, fully carry out their duties in places needing their services. But the PAHO statement has closed that door. The bureaucrats coordinating world health know that wherever financial resources appear to apply the health programs that justify their own existence, qualified manpower is usually scarce to carry them out. Hence, they tip the scales in favor of Havana.

Only Cuba, possessing an army of poor and poorly paid physicians, subordinate to the will of political power in exchange for ridiculous salaries, can guarantee the necessary human capital for such missions. International organizations try not to irritate the owner of the only resource they lack with uncomfortable demands or suggestions.

And so it is that we will have to continue the saga until the curtain falls on this new soap opera that is capturing the attention of the regional public. Meanwhile, and in spite of the accolades, the Cuban regime continues fanning the flames. There is no doubt that Bolsonaro’s proposal has been more effective and forceful than the US embargo itself, and that 2018 is probably proving to be the worst year endured by the Castro regime since the fall of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the Eastern Europe socialist bloc.

Translated by Norma Whiting

____________________

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

Havana: Return to the Bicycle Era? / Miriam Celaya

> Cubans on bicycles. Photo taken from the Internet

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 19 November 2018 — The eternal transportation problem in the Cuban capital and the intricacies of the ever-impossible solutions of the official agencies in charge of the matter have just led to a new proposal for Havana residents. According to Guadalupe Rodríguez, an official of the Cuban Ministry of Transportation, via the Havana TV channel, a new public bicycle rental transportation system will be inaugurated in Old Havana on November 24th.

The popular evening show Hola Habana, on the aforementioned channel, was the platform for launching an initiative that brings us back to the memory of the 90s, when pedaling on Chinese bicycles that were distributed at workplaces was practically the only means of transportation for ordinary Cubans.

As always, it happened under the then “undefeated” Chief’s baton, one ill-fated day when decided for us, almost by decree, was the option to ride bicycles. In fact, far from assuming it as an effect of the crisis, which it really was, the eternally hallucinated man declared, without ambiguity, that this would put us at the same high level of countries as developed as Holland and Belgium. Ergo, the imposition of the cycle was not a setback, but an extraordinary advance. continue reading

That is why those of us who lived through the terrible experience of those years and survived to tell the story, cannot help but feel a sort of scary deja vu and seeing it as a warning sign. Especially when the outlook around us promises (more) difficult times ahead for those of us who inhabit the battered island. It is almost impossible not to see in this “solution” an obvious sign of worse times ahead in the short term.

Returning to the referenced subjec, it is curious that the inauguration of this mode that is now returning with updated variations will be carried out at the Muelle de Luz, (Wharf of Light) point of embarkation/disembarkation of Havana’s very well-known icon, the little Regla motor launch, in proximity to the site where a private establishment known as “Cuba 8” existed until 1968, dedicated to the rental of bicycles and tricycles for recreational purposes that delighted kids, especially on Sunday mornings, when the flock of children happily crowded the nearby Amphitheater.

The details of the “new” system have not yet been disclosed and, as is usual in Cuba, it will be experimental in nature, with the intention of gradually extending it to other municipalities of the city according to its “acceptance” level. However, the aforementioned official reported that this service will be activated from a system of “associates”, which will allow access to it by prior contract arranged at a designated location in Old Havana proper. Also announced was the creation of several points located in the Historic Center, already selected, where associates can access a bicycle or return it once they have used it.

At first glance we must admit that the use of bicycles could be not only a partial solution to the acute crisis of traffic in the capital, but it could also provide recognized benefits to the health of those who take advantage of it. It is also true that it will benefit the environment of a city that is already sufficiently polluted by the emissions of an old, obsolete and inefficient vehicle fleet.

However, the stubborn reality is imposed on this initiative disguised as ecological intentions, preventing it from being feasible. In fact, the difficulties for the effective functioning of the cycling alternative in the capital are numerous and well known. Unlike many towns and cities in the interior of Cuba, Havana has never been characterized by an extensive use of bicycles as a means of transport, except in the bloody years of the “Special Period” when not only was it compulsory but also an inevitable imperative.

But Havana is essentially a city designed for cars and most of its residents have always dreamed of cars, not bicycles. The roads were never conceived for this type of vehicle, including the very poor state that they are in – emulating the craters and unevenness of the lunar surface — together with the scarcity of traffic signals and the proverbial disrespect for the rules of road by drivers of both cycles and motor vehicles. Havana cyclists are the most fragile element of urban geography. Not coincidentally, accident rates skyrocketed during the 90’s, when cyclists were the main victims of traffic-related fatalities.

To all of this, we could add the absence of a network of repair shops and bicycle parking to effectively sustain the development of cycling as a more general alternative than the current official proposal.  Other objective material limitations are also present, such as the scarce supply of cycles and replacement parts in commercial networks, high retail prices in stores and low personal income of the population that hinder the proper maintenance of bicycles, just to mention the most obvious obstacles.

But the difficulties do not end at this point. The accelerated aging of the population and food deficiencies are both factors to consider when designing strategies of this nature. This means that bicycle use would not only be limited to a minority segment of the population, but it would increase the dangers for the elderly when they move about on public streets.

For its part, the “experimental” municipality chosen, Old Havana, is characterized by its narrow streets, the frequent crowding of its also thin or crumbling sidewalks and the terrible state of disrepair of its many balconies and eaves.  Because of this, Old Havana’s residents have developed the habit of walking in the streets, rather than on the sidewalks, in order to avoid the dangers of a collapse and of broken sidewalks, but increasing the risks of traffic accidents.

It is assumed that those responsible for carrying out the new experimental plan have taken into account these risk factors, including an efficient control system that prevents the theft of bicycles or their parts at the different “stations”, an impossible mission in the Cuban social landscape. However, the “master plan” has already been born with an obvious flaw: the cyclists are hardly circumscribed to ride on the only two bike lanes enabled for this purpose. It is obvious to any person who knows the area in question that these will not be sufficient to allow the “associates” to access their multiple destinations without leaving the original layout.

There will be plenty of stubborn optimists willing to face these “small subjective details” who will believe in very good faith that they will be resolved in the course of the test. That is how forgetful Cubans can be after 60 years spent accumulating failed experiments without ever having worked out even one of them.

Or maybe it’s that, in the background, in the national spirit, the specter of the father of all the impossible nonsense continues to dwell, the one who was once photographed jumping from a war tank in simulated heroism, but never sweating and panting while pedaling on a Chinese bicycle, under the torrid sun and the dust of the merciless city. Perhaps that would explain why many of those who did not live through the hardships of the last century and other incurable enthusiasts — those who are so abundant among us in all occasions — today embrace this old novelty with the expectation and naïve illusion of children on the eve of the arrival of the three Wise Men.

As for me, I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but something tells me that the experiment is not going to work this time either.

Translated by Norma Whiting

What “Armaments” Can the Castro Regime Buy in Russia? / Miriam Celaya

Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergei Shoigu, visits a tank unit in Havana, Cuba

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, West Palm Beach, 4 November 2018 — When, at the end of last October, it was learned through various media outlets that Russia would grant 50 million dollars to the Cuban government for the purchase of weapons, alarms went off.

Immediately, nervous headlines began to appear, stirring the old unburied ghosts of the Cold War: Russia was preparing to “rearm” the Havana regime, the credit would allow the dictatorship to buy from the Russian military industry “all kinds of weapons and military material”, and – of greater concern – the event is taking place in the context of increasing tensions in the relations between Cuba and the United States, and it is accompanied by the announced return of military units to the Cuban territory as part of the narrowing of “Russian-Cuban” collaboration relationship that has been taking place recently, which includes the signing of 60 Russian capital investment projects in Cuba.

Thus, the aforementioned loan credit contract for the alleged “re-armament” and military modernization of Cuba was signed in Havana at the bilateral meeting held on October 29th and 30th, in which the Deputy Prime Minister of Defense of Russia, Yuri Borisov, participated, and on the Cuban side the Vice President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz. continue reading

Now, beyond the suspicions and the resentments – not exactly unfounded – that the intermittent love affairs between the Kremlin and the Palace of the Revolution can awaken in us, a credit of $50 million is an absolutely ridiculous figure if it is a question of a “re-armament”. Suffice it to note the real costs of current military technology to conclude that the aforementioned figure would barely be sufficient to replace the exhaust pipes of some obsolete armored vehicles from the magnificent Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.

In other words, it is absurd to seriously believe that with such a meager loan Cuba could acquire modern military equipment and materiel, especially when the Russian side lists a fabulous list of potential purchases for its miserable Caribbean allies: tanks, armored vehicles, ships (we don’t know if aerial or marine) and maybe even helicopters. Technologies that, objectively, would be possible to buy for $50 million only if they were from World War II.

Although the Cuban-Russian flirtations are neither novel nor exceptional – remember that the military cooperation agreement signed between the two for the period 2016-2020 is in force, which was preceded by other agreements related to the “defense” of Cuba, including the granting of credits – the facts don’t need to be magnified.

Traditionally, the confrontational rhetoric of the US administration has had as its response these Havana warlike headlights, which – except for the distances – mimic the thorns that The Little Prince attempted to defend himself with, against a tiger that came close to attacking him. Because it is known that US troops have no intention of invading Cuba, that in the very unlikely case that it did the US firepower would overwhelmingly prevail against Cuba’s, and that, finally, Cuba is not anywhere near such an important element for Russia or the United States as to unleash a war between both giants.

So, is it wise to be alarmed? Maybe it is. But not because of the supposed risk of an international war confrontation that is not going to happen, but because of what the dictatorship would be able to acquire with $50 million and what it would mean for Cubans here if in fact that amount were invested in repressive equipment with a view to controlling possible outbreaks of discontent in the face of a worsening economic and social crisis in the interior of the country.

Because it is not a secret for the power elite that every day a collective feeling of frustration grows among Cubans of all sectors, in the face of a scenario that condemns the population of eleven million human beings to poverty and despair as they face the impossibility of building a better future, in particular because of the lack of political will on the part of a government that refuses to allow the development of their capabilities.

Paradoxically, the process of “popular debate” of the constitutional reform proposed by that same dictatorial power has exposed the fracture of the “unanimity” and the alleged “close connection of the people with the Revolution and its leaders”. For the first time in 60 years, there have been strong questions from all sectors about some of the proposals endorsed in the Constitution project, many of which directly attack what had been the “sacred” foundations of the system until now: the single party system and the supremacy of the Communist Party as “superior leadership force of society”.

When we are almost at the second anniversary of the definitive death of Fidel Castro and only seven months after the symbolic departure of his brother from his position as Head of State and Ministers, both the criticisms and disagreements, as well as the demands for participation in Cuba’s destiny cover all social strata, from retired people who live on miserable state pensions to workers, artists, entrepreneurs, LGTBI groups, the clergy, young journalists graduated from Cuban universities, doctors who have completed missions abroad and, more recently, the “revolutionary intellectuals”.

This time the demands don’t start from the opposition groups and other dissident voices that can be accused of being “mercenaries” or “sellers of the motherland” by the propaganda machinery of the official press monopoly. Ordinary Cubans want to know why they cannot directly elect their President, why they cannot invest in their own country, why they cannot acquire more than one license to work as self-proprietors, why they cannot import consumer goods and products from abroad, why freedoms are not recognized as citizens’ rights, such as those of association, free hiring and freedom to remain abroad for an indefinite period, among others.

The weariness seems to have spread throughout society along the whole Island, and the Power knows that better than anyone.

And this puts us back at the starting point. What if, as has happened in the protest demonstrations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, the Cuban regime decides to impose itself through blood and fury against the defenseless Cubans? How much anti-riot weaponry, gas, or other repressive devices against the crowds can be acquired with $50 million? Undoubtedly, in this case the figure would not be so negligible.

A reflection that does not aim to alarm, but to alert about a drift that can be extremely dangerous. We can only imagine how far the late stage Castro Regime is willing to go to preserve its power. It is more prudent to follow the signs in advance and drink from the experience of others. Venezuela and Nicaragua are there to show us the price of trust. Let us not be too trusting.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Bolsonaro Harvests the Failure of the Politics of the PT*

Jair Bolsonaro followers celebrate his victory in Sao Paulo. (EFE / Fernando Bizerra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 29 October 2018 — Just as the surveys indicated, Jair Bolsonaro achieved victory in Brazil’s presidential elections. A few weeks ago, Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, had called on the Brazilian people to vote massively for his comrade Fernando Haddad, the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, belatedly thrown into the ring in a desperate attempt to retain political power for his party.

“Haddad is Lula,” the popular leader wrote to his supporters, urging them to support the PT’s new ace at the polls, in a letter written from jail, where he remains locked up awaiting trial for corruption allegations.

However, the poll results this Sunday, October 28th, showed, beyond a doubt, that either Lula’s message did not go down as well as expected in an electoral mass that until recently seemed inclined in his favor, or the dissatisfaction generated by the corruption scandals that have undermined the standing of the political leadership, the increase in violence in recent years, the decline in social standards and in the economy, the specter of poverty that has once again spread through the most humble sectors and the loss of faith in leadership have finally caught up to politicians of the left. In fact, the voters voted for a change in the most radical sense of the word. continue reading

It will probably never be known to what extent the weariness of a difficult socio-economic and political panorama or simply the desire to punish the PT caused more than 55% of voters to vote in favor of the opposite extreme.

It may never be known with any degree of certainty to what extent the weariness of a difficult socio-economic and political panorama or simply the desire to punish the PT – more than real sympathy for Bolsonaro – resulted in over 55% of the millions of Brazilian voters going to the polls, but they voted quite in favor of the opposite extreme – the Social Liberal Party – thus blurring, once and for all, the few hopes that the most stubborn advocates of the regional left had in terms of demonstrating their popular roots at the polls.

An icy editorial published in the digital version of the Sunday evening edition Cuba’s main state newspaper Granma, under the meddling title of “Jair Bolsonaro won, and Brazil?”, reflected the displeasure and impotence of the Palace of the Revolution for “a result that represents Brazil’s return to the extreme right at the end of the 1985 dictatorship.”

And the Castro regime’s contrariness is not a small thing. Since his election campaign, the Brazilian elected president, who will take office on January 1st and who will complete his term January 2022, had announced his intention to send back to Cuba doctors who are serving missions in Brazil, and by virtue of whose semi-slave work the Cuban Government realizes juicy profits.

The suppression of another source of income in foreign currency can be a serious blow to the Cuban government in the midst of an economic situation that the authorities themselves have defined as “very complicated”, after the decrease in Venezuelan oil subsidies, in addition to the accumulation of external debt, the slowness and inadequacy of foreign investment and the pressures imposed by the U.S. embargo, among other adverse issues.

That beloved people – always hostage to extreme policies – now suddenly ceased to be “the hope” that would demonstrate through voting, their lucidity and their confidence in the leadership of the PT, to become a kind of amorphous and confused mass, easily deceived by the siren songs of “the far right”, manipulated by the “smear campaign” against the PT and its historical leader, a whole herd of imbeciles who did not know how to defend, as should have been done, incredible achievements of the PT, at the head of the Government between 2003 and 2016.

The most rancid liberals do not realize that the worst they can reap from this election day is that many of the voters voted, not so much for Bolsonaro as against the PT, which implies a much more adverse scenario to the left than they are capable of acknowledging.

The suppression of another foreign currency income source can be a blow to the Cuban government in the midst of an economic situation that the authorities themselves have defined as “very complicated”

Unquestionably, with its usual bad loser attitude, that left will send to the defendants’ bench the social networks, the interests of the national oligarchies, the “extreme right wing and conservative” press, the Yankee imperialism, with Donald Trump at the helm, its villain par excellence, the people’s information deficit, and even WhatsApp used as a means of misinformation of the masses, which they have taken to calling methods of “alienation of progressive thinking.”

In spite of everything, it is an announced defeat. It is worth remembering that just hours after finding out the results of the first electoral round on October 7th in Brazil, which was also favorable to Bolsonaro, one of the “genius analysts” of the Cuban official press summarized the criteria of some intellectuals of the Latin American left on the issue of the leadership retreat suffered by the progressive ideology in the region, and came to the conclusion that the left has underestimated the change that the internet implies “as the main instrument of the so-called new economy and of communication and relationships between human beings”.

That innocent slip, and not its terrible performance, seems to be its biggest sin, and the supposed reason for its regional political breakdown. Perhaps that schematic, childish and reductionist view of the matter alone explains the electoral result of this October 28th.

*PT:  The Workers’ Party (Portuguese: Partido dos Trabalhadores) is a left-wing democratic socialist political party in Brazil. Launched in 1980, it is one of the largest movements of Latin America.

Translated by Norma Whiting

________________

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

Migration Crisis: Authentic Caravan or Managed Maneuver?

Honduran immigrants charging the first security border gate by force and entering Mexican soil. Internet photo.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 October 2018 — The new Central America migratory wave that has resulted these days in violent actions at the Mexican southern border, where the migrants forced the official fence and invaded that country’s territory by force, is monopolizing the media’s attention and threatens to become the new crisis point of the already complex relations between the US and its southern neighbors.

This Monday, October 22nd, the US President has considered the advance of the migratory caravan as a “national emergency” and has warned about the possible use of armed forces, if necessary, to prevent the passage of illegal immigrants into US soil.

Simultaneously, as a response to the passivity of the governments of the region, which have not stopped the migrant movement, the US president has also announced, through his Twitter account, a cut or substantial reduction of the aid that Washington allocates to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. continue reading

Meanwhile, social networks are a hotbed of debate these days, most of them moved by prevailing emotions. No one seems indifferent to the images of men, women and young children crossing vast distances, dragged into the uncertain adventure of a journey full of risks and hardships that is a hard experience even for any young adult. The fear reflected in the innocent faces, helpless victims of both the misery of their lives in their countries of origin and the manipulations of unscrupulous politicians and their parents’ irresponsibility, is truly moving.

And in the absence of coherent explanations or sufficiently verified information in the meantime, there has been growing speculation about the origin of this new migratory avalanche – organized and apparently led by certain characters in regional politics – which, like a stubborn herd, continues its march towards a destination, though it knows the doors will be closed. It is really hard to believe that so many people have spontaneously succumbed to what, by all accounts and beyond the real deprivations that afflict millions of the poor in Latin America, is revealed as a political maneuver.

As often happens behind each human drama, passions are polarized among those who ask to allow the caravan march to continue and be offered entry to the US, for humanitarian reasons, and those who are vertically opposed to the avalanche. The former invoke the human right to emigrate and find better living conditions, and appeal to their own experience as argument (“we were also immigrants, the US is a country built by immigrants”, etc.); while the latter point out the dangers of uncontrolled immigration, the overload that immigrants pose, as recipients of benefits that, in the long run, will affect taxpayers, etc. And, of course, there is no shortage of cries from xenophobes and racists, ready to put their poisonous note on the matter.

Bridge at the international frontier between Guatemala and Mexico. Internet photo

The worst part of the case, however, is that regardless of the reasons that everyone believes they have, there isn’t the slightest possibility of escaping this crisis. That is, there is no politically correct way to solve such a problem. Because allowing the passage of this migration wave not only creates a succession of crises in the economies of the host countries – where even without receiving this large a number of immigrants, numerous social ill exist for their nationals, such as unemployment and poverty – but it creates political tensions in the relations between these countries and in the relations between of all of them with the US.

On the other hand, if the US accepted such a situation and allowed entry to this (other) caravan, it would be setting a terrible precedent, since it would open the possibility that similar successive invasions would continue to become an unstoppable torrent.

Not even an economy as powerful as the one in the US could withstand such pressure or escape unharmed. This, without mentioning that it would open the doors to racial violence in the interior of the country, in a spiral of hatred from which nobody – neither nationals nor immigrants – would come out as winners, but quite the contrary.

The European experience with migrants from Syria and other nations involved in violent conflicts, which have entangled the political and social environment in that small continent, is a pattern that shows the economic as well as political consequences that such an uncontrolled and constant migratory flow that has ended up turning the borders into areas of tension can produce in the receiving countries. At the same time, they have been causes of social confrontations, of tensions in the relations between countries, and between the governed and governments.

Until now, the crisis arising from the heat of this migratory avalanche towards Europe shows no signs of ending, but continues to stir hatred and rejection in open confrontations with the most permissive and tolerant positions.

And it is also not possible to deny the impact that the clash of cultures produces when it happens massively and on a large geographical scale. Because, while we are in an era where everyone talks about “globalization” – on the basis of human solidarity, tolerance, respect for differences, etc. – the truth is that there is no ideal recipe that minimizes the adverse effects of what already seems more a phenomenon of continuous and infinite stampedes than a natural and gradual process of migrations, where cultural insertion and mutual enrichment takes place between those who emigrate and the society that welcomes them.

Hondurans on their way toward the United States in the migrant caravan. Internet photo

Without wishing to tilt the scales in favor to one or the other side, we must understand that the human right to emigrate cannot ignore the right of receiving nations to establish the rules of the game, to choose what immigrants and how many of them will be accepted in their country and how many will not, according to their own interests and the administration of their own economy and social order. No one allows the expedited entry into their home, or dispenses its resources to anyone who demands them just because of the decisions someone else makes.

And this brings us to another important point of the case in point: the current migration from Central America to the USA, the violence at the outposts of this human torrent, added to the demands that the US government be responsible for solving a problem they created, are elements that suggest the work of third parties, cleverly hidden behind the scenes.

There are those who say that it is a dirty maneuver plotted and managed by the villains of the region: the failed regimes of the Castro-Chávez alliance (Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba) with the intention of diverting the attention from public opinion and the forums of international organizations of the deep crisis in those countries, reflected in the growing migrations of millions of people who are fleeing, frightened by the trail of misery of “XXI Century Socialism”.

The truth is that these continuous avalanches from south to north – and always with only one final destination: the USA – are not plainly and simply explained as a result of the congenital poverty of our nations or as the always romantic dream of conquering the American dream; but as the sum total of the failure of the Castro regime experiment, expanded to the continent, and the manipulations of a defeated ideology that refuses to go away.

Because what all this convulsive and difficult scenario overlaps is the intention to create a crisis of great magnitude between North and South and not the vindication of the rights of the “exploited and dispossessed” peoples, which regional radical leftist ideologues so often proclaim. These are, in short, the dangerous throes of a twisted system that tried to conquer the continent and that now agonizes, victim of its own inefficiency. Possibly, the best thing for everyone would be to help it die.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Spanish President Pedro Sánchez Doesn’t Raise Expectations Among Cubans

Presumably, during his visit, Sánchez will meet with businessmen or representatives of the many Spanish companies present in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 18 October 2018 — The Spanish language version of the online American newspaper HuffPost has just published its own vision about why the upcoming November 22nd and 23rd visit to Havana by the Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, is important.

Judging from the note, there are several reasons that give importance to the bilateral meeting on the Island between the leaders of Cuba and Spain. All of them refer to expectations on the Spanish side – in this case, the entrepreneurs of the European country present in Cuba and of their own Government – and in no case to the benefits that Cubans should expect as a result of this exchange between the two governments. continue reading

To some extent, this could be reasonable, given that, when it comes to meetings between politicians, each defends his own interests. Hypocritical speeches only work in protocol rooms.

Thus, in the effort to enhance this visit, the HuffPost uses the unoriginal resource used by so many other foreign newspapers: to falsify the Cuban reality by recreating it from the stereotyped vision of someone who absolutely ignores the scenario in which the action is moving. Or about whom, deliberately, chooses to ignore it. This explains the reference to “the new Cuba, which does not have a Castro in its government since April, which is committed to openness even with the United States, its classic adversary.”

Judging by the note, there are several reasons that lend importance to the bilateral meeting between the leaders of Cuba and Spain on the Island. All of them refer to the Spanish-side expectations

A “new” Cuba, and in the midst of a transition, described as a place where there are all kinds of openings, which now Spain regrets having distanced itself from, compared to other countries which have “taken the lead,” despite – and this is the way that the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell refers to it – Spain having “strong historical, cultural, and human relations with this Island,” which makes it a contradiction that Spaniards “have nothing to say or nothing to contribute.”

About the latter, it must be admitted, Mr. Borrell is somewhat right: it does not seem that until now the Spaniards have contributed much to the Cubans.

Thus, suddenly, Sánchez’s trip acquires a sense which is “not only political but also historical and cultural”. And, incidentally, “it can serve as an outpost and pave the way to possible royal status in November 2019”, the date when “the fifth anniversary of the founding of Havana will be celebrated”.

Obviating the small error of the American media – let’s call it “errata” – of so drastically reducing the Cuban capital’s age (which, far from reaching the age of five, is approaching half a millennium since its foundation), nothing would seem more counterproductive than having the condescending presence of their Spanish Majesties at the celebration of such a relevant date.

Not only because of the strangeness of the monarchical origins of the informal plebeian Cubans, natural enemies of the label, but even without it, the sufficiently humiliating impotence of having contributed, for the last 30 years, to the recolonization of the Island through Spanish investments, while those born on this land are deprived of that right that is naturally theirs. It is not very delicate that our status as neo-subjects should be emphasized so incisively more than a century after having reached our independence.

Meanwhile, La Moncloa* has declared that the objective of the trip of the Spanish head of government is “to intensify the relations between both countries and their economic and commercial exchanges”

The HuffPost assures that this visit will be “like Spring rains” for Spanish businessmen in Cuba. Presumably, during his visit, Sánchez will meet with businessmen or representatives of the numerous Spanish companies present in Cuba, including nine hotel chains, due to the “high economic component that is to be imprinted on the visit”.

On the other hand, the note says that, “according to ICEX (the Network of Economic and Commercial Offices of Spain Abroad), Cuba was the #2 country in the Caribbean (with a total of €899 million) receiving Spanish exports in 2017.

The note adds that “Spain maintains commercial and investment relations with Cuba of a great tradition, evidenced by being the country with the most joint venture companies and most branches established in Cuba, and with an outstanding presence in the tourism and services sector”. A fact that, nevertheless, shows an asymmetry in the benefits of these relationships, since it does not reflect in any way an increase in the consumption capacity of Cubans.

Finally, the fifth and last important reason for Sanchez’s announced visit to Havana are the approximately 140,000 Spanish citizens living in Cuba, to whom The HuffPost refers in terms of “Spanish colony.”

‘Granma’, the official newspaper, barely just published, simultaneously, a brief note in the section Hilo Directo (Direct Thread) announcing, without much fuss, Sanchez’s imminent visit

It is about none other than Cubans who have acquired Spanish citizenship under the Law of Historical Memory – better known as the grandchildren law – who perhaps should be called “Spaniards of convenience”, not only because Spanish citizenship is useful for certain practical purposes, especially easing travel by making use of a passport that opens doors to numerous destinations without the need for a visa, but because the “Cubanish”, usually treated as lesser carnival dance processions and undesirables at the Spanish Consulate in Cuba, are recognized as fellow citizen by the Spanish authorities when it’s convenient. Now it seems to be the case, so that, as if by magic, they have been transmuted into “a great Spanish community”.

This way, The HuffPost affirms that “Sánchez will have an opening to meet with Spanish colony in Cuba”, which means that he will meet with those Spanish groups that have been acknowledged and promoted by the Cuban authorities in terms of their own political and economic interests.

And while the most enthusiastic are rubbing their hands and making plans to share in the benefits of the new resumption of relations between Spain and Cuba, Havana has not given the same relief to the fact. The official newspaper Granma just simultaneously published a short note in the section Hilo Directo (Direct Thread), announcing the next visit of Sánchez, without much ado.

Perhaps the hierarchs of the caste of the insular Power, who do know exactly how tense the social vibration in Cuba is, favor keeping a low profile? Or, more traditionally stated, the oven is not ready for cookies here.

 Translated by Norma Whiting

*Translator’s note: Moncloa Palace is the official residence and workplace of the Prime Minister of Spain

___________________________________

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

Apples of Discord, Corruption and Selective Punishment / Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 September 2018 — For some unknown reason, apples have had an extraordinary role in the cultural imagination of the West. For better or for worse, this fruit has marked milestones that have transcended the passage of time and geographical borders.

For example, in Greek mythology, a golden apple sowed discord between the goddesses Pallas Athena and Aphrodite, a discrepancy that would dramatically influence the Trojan War. For its part, in biblical mythology, an apple was the temptation that drove Adam and Eve to the original sin, for which we have all been punished (blessed sin!).

An old Swiss legend tells that the national hero William Tell had to skewer with an arrow, accurately shot from his crossbow, an apple placed on the head of his son by the tyrant oppressor of his people; while another fable explains how the wise Isaac Newton discovered the law of universal gravity, one of the most important physical-natural phenomena, thanks to an apple that fell directly on his head. continue reading

The apple is a kind of cult object sown in our consciousness since earliest childhood. What child did not know Snow White’s apple? And, as adults, who has not dreamed of visiting that other “Big Apple”, New York, at least once in his life?

The surprising thing is that in XXI Century Cuba these fruits again have become not only central characters, but in the body of the sin of one of the many sagas of corruption that cross Cuba’s harsh daily reality. In recent days, the sweet apple, or to be more exact, 15 thousand apples, have evolved into a temptation much more dangerous than that in the Holy Scriptures.

The case has been sufficiently disseminated by the official press, but it is appropriate to briefly summarize the facts. It is about the allegedly illegal sale, in a retail market in Havana (La Puntilla market in Miramar), of a large number of apples (15 thousand) to “a group of tough youngsters” – according to an aggressive commissioner (allegedly “an exemplary revolutionary journalist”, in the words of the hand-picked President) which aroused the suspicion of the referred to writer, who, unfortunately for the offenders, personally witnessed the transaction.

For a greater sin, “a good part” of these young people were “uniformed” with the American flag. It would have been better if they wore fig leaves, like the primal sinners of the earthly paradise. The President’s favorite journalist was not going to stand for an insolent provocation, such as that of displaying a symbol of the Evil Empire.

That might explain, far from facing the youths to give them an educational talk and prevent the “hoarding” and “the misuse of state resources”— since the buyers bribed the driver of a state minivan to transport their merchandise – this intransigent revolutionary spied on their movements, followed them, carefully pointed the license plate number of the vehicle that transported the 150 boxes of apples “at 100 CUC (roughly $100 US) each box” (what grief this detail caused the combative reporter!), and demanded a copy of the receipt as proof of purchase from the store clerk. Both photographs, the minivan and the copy of the receipt, were published on his personal blog. (“The …something…pupil”), where “someone is watching” becomes evident).

As a result, sanctions proliferated. Two employees of the store were fired as an administrative measure. Their names were published in the press though they were not subject to criminal sanctions. Some were lectured, and all other members of the collective were warned and reprimanded. As far as some of the aforementioned young apple addicts, they have been accused of “illicit enrichment”, among other causes, have been arrested and must face court trials.

The case is not exactly a novel incident, and it’s not less true that corruption is a scourge which must be fought, has metastasized throughout Cuban society, and now covers all areas of daily life. Corruption has reached such colossal dimensions in Cuban society that it not only touches all of us in some way, but it’s an indispensable part of survival. Given that the system itself generates and replicates it, it’s not possible to eradicate it by attacking its effects, but by eliminating the cause: the system, which is essentially corrupt. Ergo, it’s a problem with no solution.

However, what is more alarming is that the scapegoats are always anonymous people, opportunistic peddlers, marginals of all sorts, mules, the self-employed, or any propitious victim of the social subsoil that the authorities deem handy to use to intimidate the population through a collective lesson.

What the official press does not publish is the most dangerous of the chains of corruption thriving under the protection of official institutions, in particular those responsible for ensuring compliance with the laws: the bodies of inspectors, the national police (including the “revolutionary” also, let it be known) and a bunch of officials available at various prices.

So it goes that, curiously, also around the days of the apples of discord there has been a case of police corruption that, despite the silence of the government press monopoly, is circulating informally through some neighborhoods of the Cuban capital. According to rumors, a policeman arrested one of the many Venezuelan bachaqueros*, who swarm with relative impunity, especially in Old Havana. The policeman seized his merchandise, a backpack loaded with flip-flops. It is worth remembering that in Cuba almost everything is marketable and profitable.

The “cheating” agent, like so many of his colleagues, decided not to report confiscation of the merchandise, appropriating it instead to profit from it himself. However, also like most, he did not have enough smarts to secure his booty. The Venezuelan, meanwhile, feeling injured – or perhaps appealing to the protection he enjoys in Cuba – decided to complain at the Calle Zanja police station, so that when the superiors ordered a review of the agent’s belongings, not only did they find all the seized merchandise in the backpack, but an additional unexpected find: a bundle of marijuana. That sealed the fate of the clueless agent.

According to an informal source and unconfirmed rumors, the Office of the Prosecutor is asking for 25 years in prison for the agent – it has not been made clear if for being an idiot or for being corrupt – and it has not transpired if the Venezuelan involved has received any punishment or if he has been deported to his country.

Very likely, these rumors may contain part truth and a lot of fantasy. But, in any case, the national experience of decades of fraud and corruption, and knowing the administrative mechanisms and government press monopoly’s lack of transparency, everything points to much more reality than fable in this matter.

I have been visiting the blog of the President’s zealous journalist, so combative, so revolutionary, to see what he thinks of such an audacity, but for some mysterious reason he has not published anything about the matter. It must be because the police are also supposed to be a body of “revolutionaries” and one does not air our dirty laundry among members of the brotherhood…

*bachaquero Venezuelan slang meaning hawker of goods bought at government-set prices

Translated by Norma Whiting

Interview With Díaz-Canel: Neither So Presidential Nor So Much “Media Appeal”

Interview with Miguel Díaz-Canel in Telesur. Photo Telesur / Rolando Segura

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 September 2018 — If something stands out in the interview recently granted to the transnational Telesur by the (not elected) president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, it is the way in which the poverty of his vocabulary is revealed, the inconsistency of his arguments , the triteness of a discourse as preposterous as the interviewee himself and especially the theoretical fragility of the supposed heir of the Marxist-Leninist-Martiano-Fidelista torch endorsed as the jewel in the crown in the “constitutionalist” project that is currently – ignominiously — circulating throughout the Island.

In fact, the president’s babble overflows with so much mediocrity that trying to dismantle it would be an exercise almost as vain and simplistic as his own arguments. It’s quite enough, as a matter of example, to highlight the worn-out defense of the single party in Cuba under the ridiculous assumption that José Martí – for greater absurdity, an obstinate liberal and antisocialist – founded a single party. Obviously, only if Martí had been bipolar or schizophrenic would he have founded more than one party. But of course, the President did not stop to consider such an insignificant detail. At the end of the day, the masters will say to themselves: the Cuban people have never questioned the political decisions of the Castro regime and its emissaries, why should they do it now? continue reading

Perhaps even more embarrassing was the gibberish he introduced to justify the elimination of the term “communism” as the goal of society in the new constitution. “If one goes to classical Marxism, the mode of production to which we aspire is communism. (…) Communism and socialism are closely related. If you want to build socialism, it is because you want to reach communism, “the President said, undaunted. Perhaps he was convinced that such an inference should settle the matter. So much dialectical genius can only be the result of a very personal and outdated interpretation of the classics of Marxism (God save us from all of them, especially their interpreters!).

In addition, the entire interview overflows with common places such as the “U.S. government Blockade” (“a brutal practice which seeks to condemn our people to die of necessities” and “constitutes the main obstacle to our development”), Imperialist “violence” against Venezuela and its “laborer president”, the defense of the entelechy called “Latin American integration”, and other similar invocations.

Those who expected that in this, his first official interview – given not to a national media but to a foreign one, a disdain to the guild of native scribes – would offer the public some glimpse of a government program, a strategy to promote the battered economy or some kind of master plan to (at least) stop and reduce, in a reasonable timeframe, the pressing and multiple problems of the daily existence suffered by the Cuban population; In short, those who aspired to listen to a president’s proposals were left wanting.

There were no surprises. It is clear that Diaz-Canel was not going to depart from the old script dictated by his tutor and patron from the concealing shadows of the General’s supposed “retirement,” even less so in such uncertain times for both rulers and “governed” and for the region’s allies.  In it are included the responsibility, the ever-conditioned benefits and perhaps something else.

Let’s not forget the sinister Article 3 of the new constitutional script that states that “Treason against the nation is a most serious crime, and he who commits it is subject to the most severe sanctions” (instead of nation, read “the Power”). And it is known that the closer you are to the cupola of an autocratic power, the more serious the “betrayal” considerations become, and punishment results in a greater warning lesson.

Miguel Díaz-Canel interview on Telesur. Photo Telesur/Rolando Segura

By the way, causes number 1 and 2 of 1989 are worth citing. They took place amid the “dismantling” of the USSR and the “socialist camp,” which ended with the execution of several conspicuous servants of the regime and with long prison terms – not exempt of fatal health “accidents” – for others. They are the most convincing demonstration of this statement.

However, and following the basic principle of reading between the lines, he points out that, this time, the president’s words did not show the overflowing triumphalism that usually saturates official discourses. In general, there was emphasis on tone but the message lacked conviction. Diaz-Canel hesitates even when he claims to affirm.

A clear example of this is when it refers to Cuban youth as “active and anti-annexationist” – an attention-grabber use of this second term, which is not part of the common lexicon of Cubans and rather seems to reflect an unspeakable concern for them. The Power Caste that a reality – and later expresses: “This generation is cultured and educated (…), I do not believe that its main desire is to be against the Party and the Revolution”.

The subtlety of this message may be invisible to those who are unaware of the Cuban reality; however, the official discourse has traditionally referred to the country’s youth, not from the point of view of what “it does not want” or what “is not,” but in unequivocal terms of what it is supposed to be: “revolutionary,” “politically committed,” “intransigent” and “combative.”

A detail that apparently does not say much, but constitutes a flagrant slip that would not have been committed with impunity in the days of Castro I … Or perhaps it was an involuntary (and untimely) betrayal of the subconscious.

Because if the President, in his privileged position, is allowed to have the widest and most accurate information about the social temperature of this Island, does not seem very convinced of the revolutionary militancy of the young people and (what seems more serious) considers that the wishes of the current young generations “are concentrated on development, more progress, wishing to be included, aspiring to have more participation and striving for technological development and also social communication” instead of the holy defense of the Socialist Motherland, which was the mission commissioned to the generations that preceded them.

What sense would the authentication in the Law of laws make of an ideology and a sociopolitical system with aspirations of eternity not considered a priority by the current youth, who are heirs by fate and not by choice of a failed legacy?

Without a doubt, the President is confused, and that should not have gone unnoticed by the zealous political commissaries. Pretending to have “media appeal” can be tempting, especially when one does not have enough prestige or an adequate political pedigree, but it also entails many risks. Especially when you are an interpreter of someone else’s libretto, which reduces the probability of interpretation and authenticity to the character.

It may be that at this point the designated successor has received the corresponding phone call from his tutor, whom he considers “a father,” who will have warned him that in successive public presentations he should concentrate only on what the manual dictates and be more revolutionarily convinced of what he says, in order not to hand the enemy excuses to distort things or imagine weaknesses.

In spite of everything, in the coming days the official media will disclose, ad nauseam, the original or edited version of the aforementioned interview. For this, they can count on, to start, the political apathy of a population that, as we know, does not usually consume this type of product.

Not coincidentally, in the television programming this Tuesday, September 18th, the telenovela schedule was shown earlier so then aforementioned interview would be aired… With all certainty, that will be the moment in which, in spontaneous unanimity, the great majority of Cubans, according to their possibilities, will tune in to other channels, they will go into “package mode*” or will dive into “subversive” antenna shows.

*El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Packet”) is a one terabyte collection of digital material distributed since around 2008 on the underground market in Cuba as a substitute for broadband Internet. In 2015 it was the primary source of entertainment for millions of Cubans.

Cuba: Without a Real Transition There Will Be No Winners / Miriam Celaya

Cuban on Havana’s Malecon (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 16 August 2018 –With its lights and its shadows, the virtual debates surrounding the constitutional reform undertaken by the Cuban government have created the benefit of uncovering a host of non-conformities and claims long repressed by Cubans from all corners of the globe, and at the same time, stirring the polarization around the issue that operates as a turning point: to participate or not in that which, from the outset, is perceived as the leadership’s farce.

So much reluctance is not by chance. Sixty years of scams by the dictatorial power has developed in Cubans a natural distrust of everything that flows from it. However, this has not been an impediment to breaking the silence. Demands are overflowing the virtual spaces of some websites and social networks, where they have been creating discussion groups on constitutional issues, and in which very interesting analyses and discussions are taking place.

However, the truth is that certain uprisings of civic rebellion are taking place in Cuba, either because of the uncertainties generated by a reform project clearly designed for the benefit and consecration of the top leadership or by the feeling of general frustration among a population that had pinned its hopes on improving its living conditions. The population also had its hopes pinned on true participation in the national economy and politics from the “transition” of power, from the hands of the historical generation to a new younger president, supposedly better linked to “the people.” They are not seeing such hopes expressed in the lapidary constitutional proposal that only reaffirms and prolongs the demise of citizen rights. continue reading

The motives may be apparently disconnected and disengaged from the strictly constitutional issues – such as Decree 349, which affects the artistic sector; marriage between LGTBI couples; the censorship of an art show or of one in a theatre scene; the arbitrary detention of a citizen; etc. – however, protests are focused on and related to the same basic problem: the boredom of a nation in which all individual rights have been violated for too long. The general feeling of malaise inside Cuba is palpable.

The trigger that would spark the delicate political and social balance could be both the enforcement of certain decrees and laws that further limit citizen rights and the arbitrary detention of an artist or a group, the censorship of a film or a play, the confiscation of the means of work of any business owner or independent professional, the shortages in the markets, the high prices of food, the eternal problems of transportation or any eventuality within the endless accumulation of setbacks and limitations that characterize the days of the common Cuban.

Authorities are aware of this. That’s the reason there has also been a rebound in the repression and surveillance against the “disaffected” sectors, that is, the dissidence, the opposition groups, the protest artists, the independent journalists and against any hint of demands, even within the “socialist” ranks themselves.

These demands are growing in their number and in their intensity, as reflected in the great variety and quantity of independent and “alternative” journalism that is currently taking place in Cuba despite the censors, and to the chagrin of the power elite, in hubs of disobedience of several young filmmakers; in the gradual but tangible process of loss of fear, especially among the younger intellectuals and artists sectors. It is the spirit of the generations that distance themselves from the “zombie effect” that still afflicts their parents and grandparents.

At the same time, this other sector of the dissatisfied is increasing. It is much larger and more dangerous, and is composed of the poorest individuals, those who depend on insufficient wages, who lack other means of making a living, a decent home; who see their children grow up among material shortages of all kinds and who, when the time comes, and in the absence of a leadership that will channel their demands peacefully, could become a violent and uncontrollable force, with unpredictable consequences and at an incalculable social and political cost.

And just as the rupture of the so-called “revolutionary social pact” between the un-government and dis-governed is becoming evident, also palpable is the leadership’s fear of things getting out of control if the usually meek flock turns into an ungovernable mass. The agents of the State (in)Security have threatened – not just by chance – a small group of popular artists after their arrest for protesting against an official decree, telling them that they would not allow another “Nicaragua” in Cuba. If there is something the Castro hound pack fears it is people without fear.

Without a doubt, “they will not allow it,” just as they are not allowing it in that Central American country where, according to witnesses, the repression is directed and monitored by Cuban troops. A “constancy” that has also been reported by numerous sources from Venezuela, where elite Castro troops have played an important role in the tenacious repression against the opponents of the dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Consequently, following the dictatorial logic, everything points to an eventual increase in the repression in Cuba, in direct proportion to the increase in citizen protest demonstrations or any spontaneous popular protest. Obviously, the so-called “debates” of the constitutional project that will only consecrate the rights of the power caste will also be jealously guarded by the agents of the political police, supported by the everlasting neighborhood snitches. The regime will try to keep everything on an even keel, but it knows that nothing is the same anymore. Especially when it does not even have the supreme resource: to release the pressure through a massive migratory wave.

Without the Mariel boatlift, without the “maleconazo“*, without fleets of rafters and without the land migrations toward the US borders of thousands of Cubans through South America, Central America and Mexico, the pressure stays in Cuba. It’s all about seeing who and how they will release it. If there is no economic reform and no real democratic transition in Cuba, this time there might be no winners

(Miriam Celaya, resident in Cuba, is visiting the United States)

*Translator’s Note: Uprising that took place in Havana August 1994, to protest government policies.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Decriminalizing Abortion: The Mother, The Son… and The Holy Spirit

This week, the new abortion law was passed in the Argentine Senate, an issue that motivated Wilfredo Leiter Juvier’s letter to journalist Cristina Escobar. (@PorAbortoLegal)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 6 August 2018 –Catholic priest Wilfredo Leiter Juvier, in charge of the Cathedral of Santa Clara, Cuba, recently sent an open letter to Cristina Escobar, a journalist of the official press. The letter provokes reflection on the decriminalization of abortion, a topic that continues to raise fierce controversies in Latin America.

The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is a long-standing issue but it’s not this article’s central objective to resolve it. Nor do I consider it a profitable investment of time to participate in a debate between a journalist of the Cuban press monopoly — a word that demands absolute faith in the “communist” government — and an individual whose essential principle of existence is based on religious faith. Obviously, it is a matter among “the faithful”, although they wear different ideological colors.

That said, I think it appropriate to express my total disagreement with the priest’s criteria in the referenced letter, and in particular with the Manichaeism* and the manipulation that supplants almost all of his theses, despite the correctness of his grammar and the “respectfulness” of his language. continue reading

I do not consider it a profitable time investment to participate in a debate between a journalist from the Cuban press monopoly and an individual whose essential principle of existence is based on religious faith. Obviously, it is a matter among “the faithful”

That Manichaeism is reflected in the invalidation of the opponent’s arguments, assuming his own faith as valid from presuppositions that do not allow argument, although he aims to expose “scientifically proven” points. As far as is known, no scientific discovery can invalidate the indisputable and elementary right that a woman must have when deciding any matter regarding her motherhood.

As for his manipulation of the subject, it is obvious when, in an absurd comparison, he places in a same “rational” plane what he calls “the abortionist logic” with the murder of an “inconvenient” old man. Or when he argues that proof that sexuality “is not only for pleasure”, but that new beings materialize from it. It is the preaching of a man whose holy ministry demands celibacy, but who presents himself as an expert in sexual matters.

Almost all Catholic morality is based on principles as retrograde as those that still defend virginity (feminine, of course) as a symbol of virtue and purity in many regions, that assume that sex is a merely reproductive function or that qualifies relationships between people of the same gender as sinful and diabolical.

In light of this, we could ask why no representative of that Church spoke with the same passion in defense of life when, in 2003, three men who had committed no blood crime were summarily convicted and shot in Cuba for the attempted abduction of a boat. Or why, with the same force, they did not demand it of the Cuban government on the terrible night of the sinking of the tugboat 13 de marzo, when dozens of innocent people were murdered, among them, over 10 children. Does an embryo have a greater right to life than one of those men, women and children who died then? At what point does human life begin or cease to be sacred and who establishes those limits?

It is clear that, on this level, the Catholic Church has demonstrated not only a fairly accommodative moral, but a highly questionable piety

 So, the essential issue here is abortion and the struggle for its “decriminalization”. It is known that — with the exception of Mexico, Cuba and Uruguay — the countries in this region do not allow for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy and only authorize it in certain circumstances. In addition, three countries — El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua — absolutely prohibit it.

In the case of Cuba, the practice of abortion has been carried out, in some cases, since 1936. In fact, several generations of Cuban women have (incorrectly) considered induced abortion as a right, “free of charge and in a safe manner”, included among the services provided by the health system within the first three months of pregnancy, or later, in cases of congenital malformations of the fetus or of risk to the woman’s life.

However, the truth is that there is no actual abortion law to date in Cuba, which is why its practice ultimately depends more on the political will or on the permissiveness of the country’s authorities than on recognition of a woman’s right to decide about her own body and about her motherhood. In other words, abortion is spoken of as a “social achievement”, but the fact is that it does not constitute a legal achievement. 

Until there is a law ratifying it, the decriminalization of abortion in Cuba cannot be considered a true and total female victory, as is often proclaimed from the political power

This nullifies any guarantee for Cuban women. Why? Let’s say that the Cuban State had an interest in raising the birth rate and, consequently, ordered specialized health centers to reduce the practice of abortions or the so-called “menstrual regulation”, a less invasive procedure performed in the first six to eight weeks of pregnancy and that does not require the use of anesthesia. In such a case, the issue would depend on the vagaries of demography and State will and not on a true legal guarantee for decision-making by each woman.

For that reason, and until there is a law that ratifies it, the decriminalization of abortion in Cuba cannot be considered a true and total female victory, as is often proclaimed by the political power. It is actually a mirage that has been reinforced in practice with the use and abuse of abortion — almost as if it were a contraceptive method- in the absence of a legal framework that supports it, but also without having made the necessary emphasis on sexual education from an early age to promote both the perception of the risks of abortion and its indiscriminate use, as well as the importance of responsible and conscious motherhood (and fatherhood).

As an additional evil, there has been a lack of a broad social debate to sensitize and involve everyone which would allow us to begin to overcome machismo and sexist conceptions deeply rooted in the national culture, such as the custom of attributing the responsibility for the use of contraceptives to women, as well as assuming the greater part in the education and upbringing of children, even if, to be able to do so, she has to renounce to her own personal and professional ambitions. This is one additional way of subjecting female rights to the masculine will, and a fact that shows that the “decriminalization of abortion ” alone is not the solution to the problem but only a first step. 

And it is in this sense that the open letter of priest Wilfredo Leiter acquires its real value, because it warns us that the demons of the sanctimonious and misogynist Inquisition have not died.

 Such voids, the legal and the debate spaces in Cuba, have propitiated that, while on the surface there seems to be a social consensus around this issue, deep down there are strong currents of prejudice and atavistic concepts that in the future — not necessarily in a distant one — could endanger what is already urgently recognized as a feminine right.

And it is in this sense that the open letter of the priest Wilfredo Leiter acquires its real value, because it warns us that the demons of the sanctimonious and misogynist Inquisition have not died. If with the “presents” obtained by the grace of the political power Cuban women view the battle as having been won, they will certainly will have lost the war.

*Translator’s note: Manichaeism: religious or philosophical dualism system with Christian, Gnostic, and pagan elements. founded in Persia in the 3rd century, based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness.

Translated by Norma Whiting

____________________

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

In the Face of the Cuban Dictatorship, No Victory is “Small” / Miriam Celaya

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 6 August 2018 — As expected, the Cuban government’s “invitation” for the “diaspora” to participate in the process of discussion of the constitutional reform project has unleashed a flood of diverse reactions, from the most absolute denial to the most ingenuous optimism through those who assume the proposal with caution without completely rejecting it.

In spite of the range of opinions, all these reactions are logical. After a 60-year schism in which the dictatorship has denied and discriminated against the diaspora — even more so than against the Cubans “inside” — depriving its members of their rights as nationals, making their visits to Cuba more expensive, and making use of them to squeeze the remittances that, through their work and their sacrifice, they send to their relatives and friends in Cuba, among other endless humiliations, their reluctance to respond to that same dictatorship’s invitation on the part of the emigrants is perfectly understandable. continue reading

From the other end of the spectrum, there are groups that consider it opportune to participate and let the government know their opinions about the reform, demanding participation as Cuban citizens — because they consider themselves to be independent of the will of the Castro regime — and, in passing, demanding the inclusion of the recognition of this and other rights that have been violated.

In the midst of both extremes, a sector of the diaspora doubts – and not without foundation — the intentions of such an unusual convocation, fearing that that this is another of the regime’s traps in order to legitimize itself, this time with the “support” of the exiles. However, it seems positive for them to be able to express their demands, though they wonder what guarantees they will have that their opinions will be considered.

Personally, in spite of the many reservations that any proposal that comes from the Cuban political power awakens in me, and the fact that I have flatly and publicly refused to participate in the “popular consultation” that will take place in Cuba around a project that I do not approve of, I will indeed go to the polls and stamp a NO on my ballot, because it is my right and the issue is of paramount importance. It is not about voting for a “delegate,” that sort of useful fool who fulfills the role of a wall of contention between the privileges of the political caste and the pressing material and spiritual needs of the “people.” Right now, it is about the Constitution that we are all subject to. That is why I will make an exception and go to the polls.

In accordance with that, I believe that the time is also opportune for the diaspora to respond to the official invitation and make their demands known, all their rejection of what they consider appropriate to reject and all their aspirations as Cubans. Not because of the conformism that “anything is better than nothing”, but because of how much their strength means for those who push for democracy from within.

On the other hand, it is still an achievement of that diaspora that the government has recognized its existence for the first time. Far from being a sign of strength of Cuba’s autocracy, it is a recognition of the power of these the three million Cubans abroad and a sign of weakness of a regime forced to give way due to the irreversible economic crisis, pressured by the accumulation of debts and overwhelmed by many other constraints. In Fidel Castro’s time, such a capitulation would not have been possible.

We know that by participating in the debate the exiles will not “knock down” the dictatorship, but fortifying us in denials will not make it happen, either. Let’s be realistic. Nobody is going to land in Cuba to wage a war to overthrow the government. Neither is it a desirable option for the vast majority of Cubans from any shore, I would dare say. What unites all of us who long for democracy is the end of that government, what differentiates us is the “how”. And needless to say, the leaders will not voluntarily give up their power. However, everything indicates that they have no alternative but to yield. These small fissures that develop do not show the Power’s willingness to establish dialogue, but they can be used by Cubans in the diaspora to pierce the wall that the Power has built between their nation and them.

Because, although neither the diaspora nor those of us who live in Cuba decide anything in Parliament — and in fact, not even Parliament decides, since everything is fixed from above by the autocracy — the diaspora can and should take the opportunity to legitimize itself, with an agenda of demands that, as Cubans, is their due.

For this the exiles have all the communication tools that the free world offers them and infinitely more opportunities than Cubans of the Island to publicly present their opinion about the juridical monstrocity that is a Constitutional project hatched behind the nation’s back in a council of 33 druids.

In contrast, “inside” Cubans do not have the ability to find out exactly what opinions prevailed between one community and another, between a block or study center or one workplace and another. The limited access to the web and the control over Internet networks hinder us from interacting properly, while the government press monopoly has the ability to manage and alterithe data to inform whatever reinforces their interests.

On the other hand, if a Cuban from the diaspora fills out the form of the Minrex (Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs website) with his demands, and then publishes that form on the networks just as he filled it out, the government will not be able to manipulate his opinion or ignore it without paying a political cost for it. There is no guarantee that the demands of the diaspora will be included in a supposed constitution that, in fact, any citizen with a minimum of democratic sense would reject; but it would be proof of the existence of a critical sector that would break the myth of the emigrants as an amorphous conglomeration of resentful, uprooted and hateful “non-Cubans”, which, for so many years the dictatorship has dedicated itself to divulge when it has considered it appropriate.

If the right to vote in the reform referendum from abroad were included among these demands, it would be a wonderful opportunity for all those of us who oppose the consecration of a single party and a failed political system to be united as endless destinies. That would indeed be a sign of political willpower and strength that the dictatorship will not allow, but, at the same time, to deny it would be evident.

It’s about having the plantation masters come for wool and to leave sheared, the only thing that needs to be done is to turn the trap they are setting against them. At least this is how a not-too-despicable sector of the diaspora and many of us who live inside island-prison see it.

At the end of the day there is nothing to lose and something to gain: a common resolve among Cubans from all over the world to break the silence and the gap. It seems too little, in view of how much they have taken and that we have allowed them to snatch from us. However, in the face of a regime like Cuba’s, no victory is small.

(Miriam Celaya, resident of Cuba, is currently on visit in the United States)

Translated by Norma Whiting