CELAC for Cubans: Indifference and Repression / Ivan Garcia

48-600x330For Zoila, 38-year old nurse, the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that is now going on in Havana adds up to “politically correct” speeches, banquets and photos.

“It’s more of the same. They talk about poverty, integration and social inclusion while in Cuba inequality grows. It is a cheeky that our president Raul Castro speaks about those topics. He should blush, in country where people have salaries of less than 20 dollars a month. The worst part is not earning little money, the food shortages or their high prices, the worst part is that we have no way of changing the state of things,” points out Zoila, at a bus stop in Vedado.

Osniel, 33 years old, bartender at a bar that sells exclusively in foreign currency, while he prepares daiquiris and mojitos, unenthusiastically and from the side watches a flatscreen installed on the premises, which broadcasts news about the roll out of the CELAC Summit.

“Whether they are Latin Americans, from the Americas or from ALBA, these summits are only useful for presidents and foreign ministers, who take advantage of them to talk face to face. For everyone else they are ineffective. There’s a lot of talk about eliminating poverty, respecting human rights, and creating grandiose economic projects. But with the passage of time, it almost all stays on the drawing board,” the barman emphasizes.

On the streets of Havana, it is increasingly difficult to find people who are optimistic or who are not angry. The Diario de las Américas spoke with some twenty citizens about the Summit’s news interest.

For sixteen it is a real annoyance, and four said that after 55 years, they are used to it. “It is what Castro’s boat* brought,” says Eugenio, 73 years old, retired.  The Cubavision channel dedicates 12 hours a day to the Summit.  ”There’s no option but to rent films and soap operas. Or change to the sports channel; I don’t like baseball or soccer, but I prefer it over seeing such people giving speeches,” confesses Onelia, 56, housewife.

“The oven is not ready for the cakes. The news that started the year, the astronomical prices of cars for sale, has created too much distress. Then this optimistic discourse from the national press that contrasts with the hard reality that most of us live. In Cuba it seems that there are two planets. One artificial, highlighted by the government media, and the real one where disenchantment and uncertainty about the future worry many,” says Rogelio, 47, bank employee.

While the television harps on news about the Summit, Junior and a group of friends, after each ingests two Parkinsonil pills, buy a bottle of Mulata rum for 5 cuc, a week’s salary for a professional. They drink it all, to see if they can “change their bodies.”

“That ’molar’ (speech) does not interest me. The horde of old men in charge of Cuba does not notice that they are boring. Since I was born, in 1994, the same ’size’ (spiel), that if the Yankees, that if the ’blockade’ (embargo). But we continue the same or worse, above all the young. Without a future and ’stuffing tremendous cable’ (going through hardship). We escape taking pills with rum,” says Junior, hairless in the style of Brazilian soccer player Neymar.

Without intending it, Bruno Rodriguez was the one who knew best how to define the air of apparent political placidity that lives in the Summit. In a press conference, the Cuban foreign minister emphasized that he had never seen in an international forum an air of such harmony and consensus as he observed in Havana.

For the common Cuban, it all seems rehearsed. If there were discrepancies, they aired them discreetly. “It is shameful that the attendees of the Summit in their pronouncements have tried not to displease a host who is a dictator,” says a taxi driver.

Certainly, one has to chalk up a political goal for General Raul Castro. Not even his brother Fidel could agree with or attenuate the critics of his regime at international events held during the time that he was head of the country.

Whatever their ideological tendencies, the regional politicians seem like disciplined children. All facing the gallery. That strategy of extending the red carpet for the olive-green autocracy leaves the Cuban dissidence increasingly alone and isolated.

As of the moment of this writing, no one had met with opposition figures. Not even Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the OEA. The ridiculous level of commitment by Latin American democrats to a handful of women and men who claim political space and freedom of expression left the road clear for State Security forces to harass the opposition, independent journalists and human rights activists.

Jorge Olivera, 52-years-old, reporter, writer, and ex-prisoner of the Group of 75, on the night of January 23 two counterintelligence agents warned him not to participate in any dissident events during the Summit.

“They were emphatic. They told me they were not going to permit parallel meetings during the Summit. The cynicism of the Latin America politicians attending the event is worrying. No one has made a gesture or wanted to meet with us. They have a double standard. They speak and demand democracy, including in the CELAC charter, and they look away when it comes to the Cuban dissidence,” says Olivera.

A parallel forum sponsored by the Argentine organization CADAL (Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America) and dissidents on the island probably cannot be held due to the strong repression. They did not even permit the director of CADAL to enter the capital.

Manuel Cuesta Morua, co-sponsor of the forum, was detained in a Miramar police unit. The mobile phones of numerous opponents were cut off and others were not permitted to leave their homes or provinces. Dozens of arrests of activists were reported all over the island.

In Cuba, depending on who looks, the glass is half full or half empty. And there is not only one reality, but many and very different.

But it would be presumptuous to say that the harangues of the regime or the debates in the Summit are a news priority for the common people. Rather it is the opposite.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  Before and during the CELAC summit, the main avenues and streets of Havana were taken by police officers like this one, of the special brigade, who are distinguished by the black uniform and always walk with a dog.  The photo, by Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, was taken very close to Havana’s Central Park.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro and his associates started the Revolution by sailing on a small yacht from Mexico to Cuba. The yacht was purchased from an American who had named it “Granma,” which subsequently became the name of one of Cuba’s provinces and the country’s daily newspaper.

Translated by mlk

29 January 2014