Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Manipulative Dossier / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

The Manipulative Dossier / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado
Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado, Translator: Adam Cooper

In Cuba we have six television channels, but at 8 p.m. our options
narrow, because the national news (the primetime program) is broadcast
repeatedly on three of them (channels 4, 6, and 27), we are treated to
sports news on channel 2, on channel 21 they show a documentary (the
ones during that half hour are generally less interesting), and on
channel 15 they rebroadcast (they never show it live) the "friendly"
news show from TeleSur. Our satellite newscaster "informs" us how well
things work in Cuba in contrast to other countries, mainly capitalist,
of the world. He tells us of the abundance of products in the markets,
"satisfied consumers" are interviewed, and the magnanimity of our
government is sugarcoated daily. So in the face of such "marvels" I am
quick as a hare with the remote control, surfing through channels and
looking around in the scraps of programming for topics which I expect
won't make me nauseous.

There is a journalist on the TeleSur program who wears an eye patch in
the old style of buccaneers and pirates. They say he lost that eye in a
helicopter accident during a mission. His image strikes me as somewhat
grotesque, because I think that his warlike nature and the blackened
eye-socket which highlights it are part of a well-modeled image of the
militant journalist committed to a 21st century socialism without manual
or program, who bases his raison d'être on the perpetuity of the power
of the strongmen and on the fight against the "Empire of the United
States". I have to give credit to this man, the anchor of "Dossier",
which opens and closes with a catch-phrase, saying that it broadcasts
"from our beloved, contaminated, and only (here he raises an index
finger) spaceship", referring to Earth. I credit him and his production
team, because it seems that they are getting their signal out to various
corners of the Milky Way. That feeling leaves me every time he uses that
unnecessary sentence to refer to his location. It wouldn't surprise me
if on the same program we found another host wearing a surgical mask
because he had a decaying smile or was missing his teeth. It would
simply be yet another eccentricity.

TeleSur, with its headquarters in Caracas, and which counts on financing
from Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba, among others, is
transitioning on its journalistic path toward the "Cuban disinformation
style", evidence of the protective and consultative role of the largest
of the Antilles in that Latin American media outlet with international
distribution. It is an echo discordant with democracy and anachronistic
in a particularly fashion to repeat the formulas of this long-lived,
mature, and failed sociopolitical and economic experiment, and to adapt
them to a project which claims to promote regional integration in
societies where, despite the influence of our Antillean archipelago,
plurality still survives. What would be fairer with respect to the
realities of our brethren to the south is the exercise of objective,
impartial, and truthful journalism in which there is no need, as there
is in Cuba, for recourse to the "censorship patch" or the "surgical gag"
to violate their people's rights and deceive them with disinformation
and manipulation.

Translated by: Adam Cooper

December 20 2011

Two Virtual Currencies / Fernando Dámaso

Two Virtual Currencies / Fernando Dámaso
Fernando Dámaso, Translator: Unstated

As 2012 begins it seems that the burden of the two currencies will
continue on the weary shoulders of Cubans. When, before the Cuban peso
was devalued and in a state of coma, and a U.S. dollar strong and active
as the trickster deity Eleggua, there were roads everywhere, it was
decided to remove the latter from circulation substituting for it the
convertible peso (CUC), and no one anticipated the financial chaos this
absurd decision would lead to.

Responding to eminently political objectives — that the enemy's money
with its ideological burden should not continue to circulate — the new
notes, baptized by popular wit as "chavitos" (after Chavez),
"carnivalitos," "cuckoos" and so on, as virtual as the Cuban pesos
(CUP), some overvalued and others devalued. They are not accepted by any
international financial market, nor even by Cubans themselves, who try
to maintain their meager savings in dollars or euros, and only change
them at banks of currency exchanges when they have no choice.

The existence of two currencies is a reality very difficult to solve, in
the context of current political and economic criteria, and they
contribute very little to the needed increase in domestic production.
The producer, if he receive income in Cuban pesos (CUP) and must satisfy
his needs with convertible pesos (CUC), is not stimulated to produce,
although some charity is delivered, from time to time in the latter
currency. Citizens should receive their salaries, 100% in the same
currency in which items must be purchased to meet their needs. As long
as this absurdity, the result of voluntarism and improvisation, is not
solved, everything else is just talk and good intentions.

To make a decision so disastrous, they consulted with neither God nor
the Devil, and here are the harmful results. The blunders fill an
endless list, and now they must try to rectify them, but as I pointed
out on other occasions, there is a lack of time and credibility, which
complicates the task. The authorities do not seem willing to implement
it. It is possible the task will remain for those who come after them.

January 9 2012

Conjectures About 2012 / Miriam Celaya

Conjectures About 2012 / Miriam Celaya
Miriam Celaya, Translator: Norma Whiting

A recurring theme among the last days of 2011 and early 2012 by Cubans
and foreign individuals interested in the Cuban reality has been about
the outlook for the year just begun, given the chronic nature of the
national economic crisis, the ongoing measures (reforms) of the
General-President, with his Galapagos kind of pace, the announced
increase in the worldwide recession and the political events that will
have an important influence on the situation in the medium term, namely,
the presidential elections that will take place in the United States
and, fundamentally, those in Venezuela.

The warning signs that constitute the tip of an iceberg floating adrift
erratically became more pronounced in Cuba in 2011: the removal of some
subsidies, the end of the monthly lifetime allowance in hard currency
(50 CUC) to staff having completed health "missions" in other Third
World countries, the shut-down of several work centers and other silent
layoffs, the reduction in ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of
Our Americas) student programs, especially at the Latin American Medical
School, increases in food prices and other staples, worsening economic
living conditions in the poorest sectors of society (the majority), in
contrast against increases in the standard of living of a small sector
of the new middle class, among others. This, coupled with the general
apathy and the growing feeling of helplessness on the part of groups
that will not benefit from Raulista measures, is a picture that points
to the further deterioration of social situations and the potential
increases in crime, among other adverse factors.

One of the strongest contradictions is the slow pace of government
reforms, which, so far, has been unable to stop the deterioration of the
system, compared to the rapid social impoverishment that is directly
reflected in the disappointment, uncertainty, and lack of confidence in
the future, especially a future dependent on the power group that
controls both the macro economy and national politics. There don't seem
to be many flattering indicators, or reasons for hope. If the welfare of
Cuban families hinges on setting up a kiosk or an eatery, on remittances
received from relatives abroad –those who have that luxury- or on
expectations that hang on the generosity of the government, we might as
well start turning out the lights and closing the doors: that is not a

On the other hand, none of the new economic "rights" has been matched by
social and political rights, as is logical under totalitarian regimes.
Cubans have been so thoroughly disenfranchised and have been subjected
to such "paternalistic" controls that even we in the opposition factions
and independent civil society have sometimes unconsciously wished that
freedom of expression, of association and of the press be "allowed", as
if they weren't natural rights inherent to the human condition. What can
we expect from others who have let discouragement win!

Nevertheless, 2011 was also witness to a surge in alternative and civic
groups and to obvious links between the two. A spontaneous process of
modest but visible growth has been taking place within the independent
civil society, which could be consolidating gradually. Undoubtedly,
though it is a small sector, corresponding to the conditions of the
dictatorship, this is the reflection of the will of Cubans with
emancipated mentalities, determined not to ask permission to be free,
convinced that it is vital to transform reality within ourselves. A few
years ago this was unthinkable. Similarly, along with the growth of
civic spaces, we can expect strong resistance from the authorities, and
an eventual increase in repression.

The fate of one and all in this 2012 will be marked, among other
situational factors, by the interests that have already been outlined
more clearly, which, in very general terms, are: the olive green elite
and all of its caste, by virtue of recycling itself in order to maintain
power; the great entrepreneurs, members of that same caste or associated
with it, for maintaining an economic monopoly and increasing their
private capitals; new small businessmen and owners, for increasing their
profits, making use of the meager reforms, and perhaps for fighting for
other reforms; the ever-unfortunates, for surviving another year of
shortages; we, the disobedient dreamers, for increasing activism in
order to promote awareness of democratic changes and for seeking new
ways to foster them.

Some readers may think I'm pessimistic, but that is not the case. My
greatest optimism consists precisely in viewing reality face-to-face and
continuing to wish for changes. Today, the despair of tens of thousands
of Cubans is one of the main allies of the regime. However, we must not
give up. We might find the opportunity and perform a miracle in the
midst of all this dark, murky and imprecise present. Nobody knows how
much time we have left, but it is not the time to throw in the towel.
Those of us who are alive and want to achieve will not allow fatigue and
defeat to win the game.

Translated by Norma Whiting

January 9 2012

Two Years and A Little Bit of Everything / Rebeca Monzo

Two Years and A Little Bit of Everything / Rebeca Monzo
Rebeca Monzo, Translating Cuba, Translator: Unstated

It has been two years since I started my blog. Starting it was not an
easy decision to make. Fear – such an innate human characteristic –
overcame me. I had to decide if I would write using my real name, or one
created by me. As a reflection of my true being, I opted to identify myself.

Initially my blog caused few problems. However, as time passed and I
continued to comment on new events, this changed. Some close friends
became scared, and distanced themselves. The majority, were the type who
are also afraid to display a Christmas tree or holiday lights. Or those
who hang lights only on the last day of the year, to welcome "the
triumph of the Revolution"and take them down before "Three Kings Day",
to avoid misunderstanding. Yet, there are also those that have
encouraged me, and become closer friends to demonstrate their support.
It is to these friends that I feel a heavy responsibility.

I remember my first post which I had to stick on a friend's blog. I did
this because even though I had enough material to get started, I had yet
to create my site. It was titled, "Wild, Wild Central Havana". It
described the challenges a group of friends and I were ringing in the
New Year with, anticipating having to conquer.

Immediately the critiques emerged, both the good and bad. I realized
that from this moment, everything I wrote would be under close scrutiny.
This did not dissuade me. On the contrary, it filled me with incentive.

With the passing of time, "Through the Eye of a Needle" has continued to
win followers, admirers and detractors. To refer to my country, I have
started to use the word, "planet", to signify that our land is not
comparable to any other, nor is it ruled like any other. What is
considered normal in any other part of the world, here has no place.
For, whoever else writes without hiding their real identity is also
subjected to harsh criticism, and false accusations through the
political structure.

Finally, finding balance, I feel I have derived more pleasure than
trouble from continuing my blog. I try to write with relative frequency,
in spite of our technological limitations and the imposed prohibitions
that we must try to negotiateon a daily basis.

I hope to be able to keep counting on the support of you, my readers,
taking into account your comments, favorable or otherwise, to improve
myself every day and keep bringing these daily snippets that concern me
and those that, in some way or other, I am part of.

December 31 2011

Medical Policy, or Political Medicine? / Ernesto Morales Licea

Medical Policy, or Political Medicine? / Ernesto Morales Licea
Ernesto Morales Licea, Translating Cuba, Translator: Unstated

A little less than a year ago I lived for two weeks thinking I had
cancer in my lymph nodes. In November, 2010, a team of pathologists at
the "Carlos Manuel de Cespedes" Provincial Hospital in Bayamo signed a
yellowish paper, prepared on a typewriter with a number of typing
errors, telling me I had a Hodgkin lymphoma of the nodular sclerosis type.

The news was soon running like wildfire in a city of two hundred
thousand people where my name, due to journalist-politician
confrontations, had gained unfortunate notoriety.

Fifteen days later, another team of pathologists, these belonging to the
"Hermanos Ameijeiras" Hospital in Havana, would make my mother let loose
a flood of withheld tears,by telling us that opinion was nothing but a
monstrous error.

The tests repeated in Havana on my lymph nodes showed an alteration
(hyperplasia) which may have been the product of an ancient virus, which
did not contain any sign of malignancy.

The diagnostics that would save me from the clutches of chemotherapy
came after procedures as tortuous as a bone biopsy of the hip, a
medullogram, and another nasal tissue biopsy (only practicable by
introducing a kind of fine scissors in my nose to the larynx, and
cutting a piece of tissue), from which I suffered for several days.

On returning to my eastern city, with another paper telling me that at
age 26 I was not facing any cancer, never let me know what the five
pathologist from Bayamo did or did not see when they determined that I
had Hodgkin's lymphoma.

That's right: literature searches and dozens of questions to other
physicians let me know that these kind of lymphoma cells have a clear
structure, well-defined, classical, which make any confusion very difficult.

I will never assert that behind an opinion that destroyed the nerves of
my family and my friends, was the dark and powerful hand of the State
Security, as several of those close to me asserted, alarmed at the
inconceivable error. It is not my specialty to found my opinions on
subjective bases, without arguments in hand: that is the specialty of
the slanderers.

However, now that after the incredibly sudden death of Laura Pollan some
well-known Cuban dissidents (Elizardo Sanchez, Guillermo Fariñas, Jose
Daniel Ferrer, among many others) have signed a declaration of refusal
to be hospitalized for illness, I find it impossible not to recall my
own experience.

The national tragedy reaches such extremes of justified paranoia: when
apparatchiks of State intelligence have the power to expel students from
the University, to decide who can and cannot travel outside the country,
to block a person from purchasing food at a supermarket, or entering a
public movie theater; when these apparatchiks are present even in the
most anodyne and least important institutions of society, why not
believe their interests would also prevail in a hospital?

This statement of the Cuban Democratic Alliance, saying that only in
case of emergency surgery do they want to be transferred to a "hospital
of the regime" (read: all Cuban hospitals), and only if a doctor they
trust tells them so, I believe represents one of the most terrible
statements that could be known for a long time: not even in the medical
system do the disaffected feel they have full rights.

Not even in a quasi-sacred ground such as health care, where
professionals swear the Hippocratic oath to defend the lives of their
patients at all costs, an area that should not ever yield to pressures
or influences of any kind, not even there can Cubans who oppose the
government can feel safe.

Yoani Sanchez once told me how the emergency medical attention she
received at a clinic in Havana, was reported later, in minute detail, by
a reporter who aired a television report against her.

Just as I will never know how much was error and how much was
intentional in a diagnosis that ripped away a large part of my youth,
it's likely we may never know to what extent two deadly viruses entered
the body of Laura Pollan naturally, if she was already infected with
them, and whether they were really the cause of death of the Lady in
White. That's one of the many consequences of the obscurantism with
which everything moves at the official level in Cuba.

But we do know a hard truth: the values of a society are too riddled
with rot if even the responsibility, the incorruptibility of medical
ethics must be distrusted by those who disagree with government policy.
With or without reason.

(Originally published in Martí Noticias)

October 20 2011

The Odyssey of Reporting a Crime in Cuba / Laritza Diversent

The Odyssey of Reporting a Crime in Cuba / Laritza Diversent
Laritza Diversent, Translator: Adam Cooper

Gabriel got up in the morning. He was shocked to find that when going to
shower water was not coming through the rusty pipes of his modest home.
It seemed to him that something wasn't right. He went out onto the patio
and followed the course of the piping until he saw the cut in the
adjoining house.

His neighbor, with whom he had legal problems about the patio
boundaries, had cut the pipe. He stated that he was within his rights to
do so. Gabriel went early on to the nearest police station with the aim
of reporting his neighbor. There the torturous process began.

Upon arriving, a mother was making a fuss because she didn't know to
which police station her detained son had been moved to. After a while
the police, neither willing nor able to give her an answer, took her to
an office. Once they were away from the civilians present, they began to
give support to the exasperated woman.

By then it was eleven in the morning. The plan to get to work for the
evening shift had disintegrated. "I got out of the chair, thinking that
the official in charge of the case had forgotten about me. The official
hardly raised his eyes from his papers and told me to wait," Gabriel

There he stayed seated for three hours, though it almost seemed like
centuries. Then came his turn. The young official started to prepare the
criminal complaint form when he suspended the act and left the office.
Impatient with the delay, Gabriel went over to the file once more.
Behind his desk the agent looked up the crime in the Penal Code that the
claim could be based on.

The reporting party suggested a crime category: arbitrary exercise of
rights. The policeman, offended, claimed he would not file a report
because there had been no crime. Unsatisfied, the reporting party asked
to speak with his superior. After much insistence he succeeded in filing
the complaint. Gabriel returned home exhausted, disappointed, and in a
bad mood.

Stories like this are told more often than one would like. As a result,
when people are victims of a crime, instead of filing a report they say
to themselves with certainty, "Why bother? I'd just lose the whole day
doing it and nothing would get resolved." So says Caridad, victim of a
robbery at her house a year ago. Her items have not been recovered.

This rude behavior violates the penal legislation in force regarding
criminal complaint filing procedure and the behavior of the police when
they have knowledge of a crime. The lack of human sensitivity of the
uniformed officers and their poor judicial training stand in the way on
the road to justice. Thus, more and more each day, the public loses
confidence in the authorities.

Translated by: Adam Cooper

January 6 2012

Migration Costs and Benefits for Cuba

Migration Costs and Benefits for Cuba
January 12, 2012
Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 12 — Referring to the expected changes in immigration
policy, a Cuban-American colleague wrote: "Not only is it absurd, but it
is totally irresponsible to think that Cuba must open the doors to its
borders wide open." (1).

Certainly no country opens "its borders wide open," but that's not
what's being discussed today in Cuba. Rather, the discussion is around
the right of citizens to enter and leave the island without undergoing
lengthy, complicated, unnecessary and expensive procedures.

My colleague reminds us that "there is a war against Cuba" and he
asserts that Washington maintains a high level of political hostility,
prosecutes international financial transactions with the island and
maintains the economic embargo.

But what I don't understand is how you defend the country by requiring
travelers to pay $150 USD for a letter of invitation to leave the
country, which also means finding a foreigner to "take responsibility"
for the Cuban abroad.

It's as if Cuban citizens were children or mentally disabled, unable to
fend for themselves. Also, since no one investigates the "inviter," this
poses the risk that the worst of criminals will end up as the
"guardians" of the most honest Cubans.

President Raul Castro said that in the area of migration reforms he
would move slowly and gradually, measuring the impact of each step. They
tell me that he was referring to its effects on national security as
well as on the "brain drain."

Therefore I think that the "Letter of Invitation" will disappear very
soon because it doesn't provide much control and nor does it prevent the
departure of professionals. Really, it only serves to generate dollars
out of the irritation of citizens.

Something similar will happen with the duration of time people will be
permitted to reside outside the country. It's hard to believe that
national security would be threatened if Cubans abroad spent more than
11 months away. This seems to be just another measure that to make money
off of discomfort.

One would have to calculate the balance between what is collected and
the political cost paid for it. I know people who started the
immigration process for economic reasons and eventually left the island
full of resentment against the government.

In the 1960s, the costs didn't vary because those who left the country
were economic and political enemies of the revolution. But now even the
government acknowledges that people are emigrating to improve their
standard of living.

Certainly the immigration issue can't be seen outside of the
confrontation with Washington. One needs only mention the operation that
took 14,000 children from Cuba without their parents in the 60's or the
fact that US visas are now offered to Cuban doctors.

They attack where it hurts. It's no coincidence that the White House
offers such opportunities to doctors and not to bricklayers. Physicians
who carry out service missions abroad are now the main source of income
for the Cuban economy.

During external conflicts all politicians argue that it's necessary to
restrict civil liberties. This is not a not a new argument and nor is it
one that's exclusively Cuban – as is well demonstrated through the US
Patriot Act signed into law in 2001.

But citizens should keep an eye out that the restrictions on civil
rights are only the essential ones, preventing politicians tempted to
take advantage of emergencies to resolve other problems of a domestic

In the case of Cuba, there are also some immigration regulations that
are not public, so Cubans never know whether the official who denied
them their exit permit was acting within the law or was going around
those laws currently in force.

My colleague's article ends by saying that "Cuba will open the door to
whoever it wants, whenever it wants and in the way it wants." This is
logical reasoning as long as when it refers to "Cuba" it means the Cuban
nation as a whole.

There is no doubt that a country has the right to legally regulate
migration according to its needs, but to speak of "Cuba" means that, in
addition to the government and the authorities, the majority of its
citizens support those measures.

I didn't do a formal survey, but none of the Cubans I know is in
agreement with the semi-secret immigration regulations, paying $400 USD
for the world's most convoluted paperwork or having to beg foreigners
for a "Letter of Invitation.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original)
published by BBC Mundo.

A Chip Off The Old Block: Che’s Daughter / Ángel Santiesteban

A Chip Off The Old Block: Che's Daughter / Ángel Santiesteban
Angel Santiesteban, Translator: Unstated

As if by agreement, Mariela Castro flatters the Dutch system of
prostitution in the Amsterdam red light district, and Aleida Guevara
(both without highlighting they'd come from the most advantaged sperm of
their fathers who fertilized the eggs of their mothers), counsels the
President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias, that he should nationalize
the entire press. Their declarations do discredit to themselves. In each
interview they gave they received a red card and a penalty.

To recommend such barbarism to the Caudillo shows an Olympian
underestimation of him, as if it hadn't already previously occurred to
him. Perhaps little Aleida didn't read about Chavez's closure of the
newspapers and radio and TV channels? Couldn't she imagine that her
uncle Fidel had already advised the same.

What is happening is that times now are not the same if we compare them
to the decade of the sixties, and no one has informed this brat that she
has lived in a bubble (having had the privilege of believing that
socialism is effective because her table has never lacked filet mignon,
nougat, apples and wine, all as a great concert of imports), and she is
unaware that the world is watching and expressing its disagreement with
such abuses and lack of democracy, and, precisely because of these
follies typical of dictators, in recent times the most important
political changes in contemporary history are taking place.

I'd like to note that this post has been the most difficult of all those
written by me so far. I find Aleida so alien, so distant from the events
of the world, that at times it seems to me as if she is mentally
retarded. I saw her with her children in primary school many times, at
5th and 62nd Streets, with her arrogant airs and figure, looking at the
rest of the parents over her shoulder at a prudent distance so as not to
mingle with the plebs. I could also appreciate the sly contempt with
which the parents responded. Listening to the teachers, after flattering
her, cursing her and cataloging the ungratefulness and abuse of her
position as "daddy's girl."

In addition to her caudillo-taliban education, you have to remember her
genetic inheritance, hence Aleida Guevara's pose as a Court Aristocrat,
nails bared as is natural. It doesn't take much imagination to know what
she would be capable of if you put a little power in her hands.

I always remember the shocking testimony of Comandante Benigno, who may
have known Che well, when they went to execute the peasant who told the
enemy the coordinates where they could find Fidel Castro's guerrilla
camp in the Sierra Maestra, and after a "summary trial," the accused was
led by Che, William Galvez and Benigno, and as they left the camp,
looking for a place to carry out the execution, they hear an unexpected
gunshot very close to their ears. The shock made them take a defensive
position, when they looked they saw the body of the peasant fall with
his head exploded from a shot by Che, who, cold-bloodedly, put away the
pistol and advised them to hurry back because it was going to rain.
There's nothing more to say. To end this interminable story, on his
arrival at La Cabaña prison, where he established his command post, he
provoked a river of blood with hundreds of firing squads. He spent more
bullets in La Cabaña than in the entire guerrilla war.

In Africa, after the battle in which an African soldier, in order to
save his own life, had to abandon his machine gun because of its weight
and the difficulty of moving it, Che called him a coward in front of
everyone. And the African soldier refuted him, explaining that he had no
other human choice. And Che, with the same coolness with which he
destroyed the peasant's head with his bullet, said laconically, "you
made a coward of yourself." And in the follow battles the soldier chose
to lose his life rather than abandoning the machine gun again, and the
same Che, later in his diary, recognized that it had been his fault. He
had this gift of killing people, directly and indirectly, those who
because of ideology and by chance ran into him.

And now his daughter, she takes after her father, doesn't know the
reality of Cubans, lives in a house that she doesn't know how or by whom
it got built and she's never had to pay the costs of it, drives a car
without having earned it, at a cost which is the sweat of people who
were never consulted about whether they would accept the sacrifice for
her comfort, and now on her Trip to Peru she assures the press, thinking
herself greatly conversant in the political and social world, that she
has counseled the dictator Hugo Chavez to imitate her uncle Fidel. How
ridiculous is this girl from the court? I can't forget when, as an
adult, she went to Argentina for the first time, and in less than a
month returned speaking with the intonation of her father. She was
greeted at the airport before a world cringing in embarrassment, in
front of her uncle Fidel, who timidly watched her butcher the accent, a
capricious cadence at a desperate speed.

And now she comes to us with her know-it-all airs, wandering the world
with the people's money and the memory of her father. I'll never
understand how there can be people who are proud of a man who ordered
executions and who, himself, with his own hand, carried out the
sentences. It seems to me that the figure of Che has been the image most
manipulated in our era.

Now we have to endure this daughter of her father and niece of her
uncle, who comes to us with her extremist actions that reaffirm, in
addition to her genetics, the sentiments of her biological family and
the work of her in loco parentis Fidel Castro.

As my aunt would say, "God save us, and take us confessed."

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

January 10 2012

January 8th in Cuba: Jubilee and Repression / Luis Felipe Rojas

January 8th in Cuba: Jubilee and Repression / Luis Felipe Rojas
Luis Felipe Rojas, Translator: Raul G.

What a surprise his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will find when he visits
the two main cities of Cuba. To kick off the Year of Jubilee, the
repressive machinery unleashed a wave of aggression in nearly all the
cities in the country against dissidents who were simply trying to
assist religious mass on Saturday in El Cobre Sanctuary or on Sunday in
their respective towns. Will Cardinal Jaime Ortega call on the Cuban
authorities to provide an explanation of all the arrests, beatings, and
acts of mob repudiation which have occurred during these days? Would he?
Regardless, it seems like it will be a visit marked by restriction of
movement and temporary and arbitrary arrests.

This Sunday, January 8th- a date which coincides with the official
celebration of the entrance of the bearded rebels into Havana during
1959- Catholics throughout the country were trying to celebrate the
beginning of the Year of Jubilee. In Holguin, Caridad Caballero, her
husband Esteban Sande Suarez, and Denis Pino Basulto- all of whom are
members of the Eastern Democratic Alliance- suffered under an operation
directed by Political Police Major Yordanis Martinez (aka The Burnt
One). Martinez ordered that they be arrested and they were then driven
to the Operations Barracks known as Pedernales. The three of them were
trying to assist mass in the Catholic Church which is located in Barrio
Pueblo Nuevo. At the time of writing this report, they had released the
married couple, but Pino Basulto was driven in a police vehicle towards
an undisclosed location. The fate of husband and wife Franklin Peregrino
del Toro and Berta Guerrero Segura from Cacocum was very similar.
Meanwhile, in Holguin they also arrested Zuleidis Pereza, Adisnidia
Cruz, Marco A Lima Dalmau, Mariblanca Ávila, and Yonart Rodríguez. That
Sunday, I also received a text message detailing an act of repudiation
outside the home of a Lady in White Yazmin Conyedo in Santa Clara. In
the house, there were also other women which has been cornered by a
large police operation which also impeded them from going to Church.

On the previous day, Saturday January 7th, Roberto de Jesus Guerra
shared an SMS message with me, which he later published on Twitter. The
message read "They are carrying out a mob repudiation attack against the
home of Maritza Castro in Cerro, Havana. More than 100 soldiers are
throwing stones, sticks, and bottles". And, from Guantanamo, I received
news from Isabel Pena that a neighbor of hers felt offended by someone
who put up an anti-government sign in public, and that person
aggressively confronted her and shouted obscenities and threats, even of
death, to her. That person even told her that he "felt like slicing her
open like a pork".

These acts of vandalism occurred in the midst of certain clerical hype
about the improved relations between the cardinals and those who implant
terror in Cuba.

The two locations chosen to be visited by the Pope (Santiago de Cuba and
Havana) will, once again, display an oppressed people who wish to
un-politicize every minute of their battered lives.

Although Meurice Estiu (The Friend) is no longer with us, we are in real
need of a titan who tells it like it is…who tells the truth to the
General President as he stands before him.

Translated by Raul G.

10 January 2012

Trova, Validation or Evocation? / Yoani Sánchez

Trova, Validation or Evocation? / Yoani Sánchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez

The singer intones one of his old songs on the stage. The public presses
closer, repeats the chorus, is moved to delirium. This week we've
enjoyed one of the many festivals of trova music that have begun, this
time, in Santa Clara province. With themes ranging from the romantic to
the most contentious social issues, the event allows to to hear some
happy new releases and other well-known compositions. Musical creation
that had its golden age in the seventies, but that its now losing ground
to more commercial and fast-paced melodic forms. Most young people don't
want to hear trova ballads with lyrics that speak of complaint or daily
chronicles, they prefer to relax and enjoy themselves, to abandon
reality, if only for one night. They go to the clubs to escape what is
outside, not to be reminded of it. So those ideological tunes — alluding
to the New Man or the society he will inhabit — have been thrown into
the well of forgetfulness.

Despite the loss of popularity, there are still dozens of cultivators of
the trova song tradition in Cuba. They sing for people who prefer to
ponder daily life and its absurdities rather than run away to another
dimension. There are also many of us who still shudder at the lyrics of
Silvio Rodriguez, separated as we are from him by an abyss of political
opinions, a ravine of philosophical positions. When it comes time to
organize our musical — or literary — libraries, we've learned that the
best idea is not to do it by party preference… if we don't want to
suffer the sad loss of numerous authors.

Beyond the quality of the chords and verses, a good part of the public
seeks in trova ballads their ability to evoke past memories: a first
love, a close dance, the difficult years, that day of the first kiss, or
the concert where we met someone very special. They trigger memories,
like Proust's madeleine, but which enter through the ears rather than
the palate. When the singer appears with his guitar in hand, he is, in
reality, engaging us in an act of remembrance: taking us back to those
times when we were so young, when Nueva Trova had not yet been totally
faded by the acid of reality.

January 10 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Parabolas of Discord / Jeovany J. Vega

Parabolas of Discord / Jeovany J. Vega
Jeovany J. Vega, Translator: Unstated

It happened one April morning in 2007, when at about 8:00 am I heard the
strident platoon that patrols the surrounding streets roll up; I felt
the braking and slamming doors, the dry orders, the neighbors' alarm. In
a minute I saw a swarm of police rain on the roofs of the neighborhood
and watched them dig up wires in the patios. We later learned the result
of the operation: they fined all the customers, and seized everything
used by those responsible, plus a fine of 20,000 pesos for the latter.
They dismantled this clandestine web of foreign cable TV operating time
in my neighborhood, with which many residents, for several months, had
offset the tedium of Roundtable discussion shows on Cuban television.

Although several years have passed, the Phoenix was again resurrected.
On November 14 on the last page of the newspaper Granma it referred, in
an article by Ricardo Alonso Venereo, to the case of someone who was
"reduced" to the law after several years devoted to the illegal
installation of satellite dishes and satellite reception equipment. Of
course those who mount these networks do not do it for philanthropic
ends, but it is undeniable that in this case the profit is established –
as it almost always is – from unmet needs, in this case, the avidity of
prisoners who want to know, from this little Caribbean prison, what goes
on beyond the horizon, beyond the speeches and diatribes so often
repeated in this exhausting life; to know how the world is changing
despite the fact that here the same faces persevere.

Recurrent cases, either isolated or through raids of that style in my
neighborhood, show the existence of two opposing positions: on the one
side the neighborhood backsliding into "cardinal sin," wanting to look
out to the other side of the world, and on the other side government
authorities, denying to the letter, doing everything possible to avoid
it. Although these illegal networks usually are limited to recreational
programming broadcasts, regardless of politics, and almost always in bad
taste – tear jerkers, soap operas, TV serials, films, light
entertainment, etc. – nothing will stop them periodically repeating
these "exemplary punishments" because so far nothing points to the Cuban
Government's intention to create legal mechanisms to make these services
accessible to the people.

This issue, like others, brings out the worst cynicism, that can ensure
that hotels that charge $60 per night are "for the Cuban worker" because
now, theoretically, the law "permits" it; the cynicism that proclaims my
"freedom" waving to the audience silk in hand, while an iron hand grips
my civil rights. Well, now these cynics say "Cuba is not against the use
of technology, instead … but it requires order, control …" understood to
mean repression and censorship! As said by cynics, someone outside of
the Cuban reality could understand that any Cuban worker can apply for a
license for this equipment to the Agency for the Control and Supervision
of the Ministry of Informatics and Communications, but it is well-known
that this service is provided exclusively to foreign residents in Cuba.

Since repressors do not know what to do about a society that has created
its own underground formulas to evade inquisitorial control; in a world
that has changed, they observe and question; to the alternative
mechanisms that have emanated from a fledgling civil society but, after
all, a civil society; to an opposition not officially recognized, but
that refuses to shut up despite the most sophisticated and systematic
reprimands. Oh yes … definitely they do know what to do, they only know
how to repress and while still going through saints.

Another raid, this time against satellite dishes, they will be back
tomorrow for the bloggers, independent reporters, in short, any
alternative voice, any source of discrepancy that can deny or call into
question the official position. It does not stop the cross in my country
against the cracks in the wall of the barracks. Is a constant, literal
whip against everything that violates the absolute monopoly over the
information the Cuban state needs to control its fiefdom. They are very
clear on this point: only in the grossest manner at the level of
information the individual must stay away from the truth; only on the
basis of depriving the Cuban people of their right to access alternative
sources can they impose, by force, their own views.

December 27 2011

Cuba activist says brief detentions doubled in 2011

Cuba activist says brief detentions doubled in 2011
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

HAVANA, Cuba (AP) — A leading Cuban human rights campaigner said
yesterday that brief detentions of dissidents nearly doubled in 2011
compared to the year before.

The report released by Elizardo Sanchez, who monitors arrests as head of
the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation, said there
were 4,123 arrests of dissidents, nearly all of them lasting "for
several hours or days", up from 2,074 in 2010.

Cuba's government, which calls dissidents "mercenaries" in the service
of Washington, disputes Sanchez's statistics. A state-run website
reported last year that several names on his list were Bolivian and
Peruvian athletes and an 18th-century painter. He acknowledged the mistakes

but said his people had been tricked by security agents pretending to be

Sanchez also reported that arrests spiked to 796 in December, more than
any other month, even as President Raul Castro's government announced it
was releasing more than 2,900 prisoners, mostly common criminals serving
long terms.

Cuba no longer has any inmates considered "prisoners of conscience" by
Amnesty International after freeing the last of dozens of intellectuals
and social activists in 2011. Many of those left the country for exile.

Cuba takes baby steps toward capitalism

Cuba takes baby steps toward capitalism
5:30 AM Wednesday Jan 11, 2012

Communist country's embrace of free market not an unmitigated success

A year at the vanguard of Cuba's economic revival has not brought Julio
Cesar Hidalgo riches. The fledgling pizzeria owner has had his good
months, but the restaurant he opened with his girlfriend often runs at a
loss. At times, they can't afford to buy basic ingredients.

Yet the wide-faced 31-year-old says he is grateful to be in business at
all. A year ago, Hidalgo was concocting chalky pastries in a Spartan
state-run bakery where employees and managers competed to pilfer eggs,
flour and olive oil, the only way to make ends meet on salaries of just
US$15 ($19) a month. Today, he is his own boss, a taxpayer, employer and

"I think my expectations were met because in Cuba today I couldn't have
hoped for anything more," he said one recent December afternoon as his
girlfriend, Giselle de la Noval, served customers. "We survived."

Hidalgo's story is mirrored by many of the entrepreneurs the Associated
Press followed through 2011 in a year-long effort to document Communist
Cuba's awkward embrace of free-market reforms.

Their experiences, like the reforms themselves, cannot be described as
an unmitigated success. Of the dozen fledgling business owners,
including restaurateurs, a DVD salesman, two cafe owners, a seamstress,
a manicurist and a gymnasium operator, three have closed down or begun
working for someone else, and one has been harassed by her former state
employers. None could be considered successful by non-Cuban standards.

But despite their struggles, many tell of lives transformed, dreams
realised, attitudes changed, and doors opened that had been closed for
more than half a century.

For Hidalgo, personal hardships have added to the challenges of starting
a business on a Marxist island that has looked askance at
entrepreneurship since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution turned a one-time
capitalist playground into a Soviet satellite.

After suffering through a slow, hot, summer when nobody wanted a pizza,
Hidalgo had to close for two months to care for his grandmother, who has
Alzheimer's disease. Even while the business was shut, he and de la
Noval had to make tax and social security payments, wiping out the few
hundred dollars they had saved.

They reopened in late November with so little money they can't always
afford to serve their house special.

"We've had to start from scratch, but the only reason we didn't lose the
business altogether is because we were disciplined," said de la Noval,
23. "Before we did anything, we always put away the money we needed to
pay the state."

A year that President Raul Castro described as make or break for the
revolution has ended after a dramatic flurry of once-unthinkable reforms.

In October, the Government legalised a used car market, and a month
later extended it to real estate, sweeping away decades of prohibitions.
In late December, the state began extending bank credits to new business
owners and those hoping to repair their homes.

But one of the most powerful reforms was Castro's decision last year to
greatly expand the ranks of the self-employed, part of a somewhat
unsuccessful effort to trim bloated state payrolls.

Some 355,000 people have received licences to start their own
businesses. On nearly every street in Havana and in thousands of hamlets
and towns across Cuba, makeshift signs and bright parasols mark the
entrances of new businesses, and the long-lost cries of kerbside vendors
hawking everything from fruit and vegetables to mops and household
repair services fill the warm Caribbean air.

The Government has declined to release any statistics on tax revenue or
payroll savings from the reforms, except for an October report in the
Communist Party newspaper Granma that said tax revenue from new
businesses had tripled.

Cuban leaders last month lowered their forecast for economic growth for
2011 to just 2.7 per cent from the 3 per cent originally hoped for. By
contrast, China is forecast to grow by about 9 per cent in 2011, Vietnam
by between 6 and 6.5 per cent and Brazil by 3.8 per cent.

Because most entrepreneurs don't have the capital to start innovative
businesses, many have opened cafeterias, nail parlours, small roadside
kiosks and the like.

Maria Regla Saldivar is a black belt in taekwondo who got a licence to
give private lessons to neighbourhood kids in a scruffy park across the
street from her job.

She began the year with dreams of persuading the Government to let her
turn an abandoned dry-cleaning warehouse into a private recreation centre.

But the Government refused to grant her a lease. Then her bosses at
Cuba's National Sports Institute docked her pay because they said her
outside work was affecting her performance. She quit. Finally, her
former boss prohibited her from using the park for martial arts lessons,
which are technically prohibited. The Government considers it
potentially deadly training, even though most of Saldivar's students are
not even teenagers yet. "It's called envy," Saldivar said of her boss.

She insists she is not teaching taekwondo, slyly calling the discipline
"Quimbumbia" a word of her own invention. She has moved classes for her
14 students into the tiny covered patio in the back of the apartment she
shares with her teenage daughter.

But Saldivar says she has no regrets. She says making business decisions
for herself has increased her self-esteem, and she is thrilled that
she's managed to put away US$80, about four months salary at an average
state job. "You may laugh, but for me it's a lot of money," she said,
running her coarse fingers over the stripes on a pair of sky-blue track
suit bottoms she bought. "I've wanted these for so long and now I have
them. I look like a proper trainer now, not someone out picking mangoes
from a tree."

Rafael Romeu, the head of the Washington, DC-based Association for the
Study of the Cuban Economy, said Castro had "changed the conversation"
since taking over from his ailing brother in 2006, pushing the
leadership to get the island's economic house in order rather than
blaming external factors such as the 49-year US travel and trade embargo.

But so far, the changes don't go far enough to revive Cuba's moribund

"These are positive steps but when you say them out loud, just think
about it. ... You are allowed to have a cellphone, you are allowed to
buy a home, you are allowed to buy a car or have a microenterprise. This
is not the fall of the Berlin Wall. These are not major changes," he
said. "Cuba has tremendous difficulties. This is a marathon, and they
are taking baby steps."

Romeu, who has worked around the world studying emerging economies, said
that Cuba was moving much more deliberately than the Chinese did when
they began opening their economy in the late 1970s, or the Vietnamese a
decade later.

Cuba's predicament is somewhat different, as well. Both China and
Vietnam were deeply agrarian economies whose challenge was lifting tens
of millions out of crushing poverty, Romeu said. Cuba is a more urban
country with an ageing population whose citizens have got used to
benefits including health care and education, but who have grown
accustomed to a system that doesn't make them work for such middle-class

"In Cuba, the challenge is sustaining the middle class, not creating
one," Romeu said.

Still, some reforms seem to be moving along more quickly than many
analysts had hoped.

Business is booming at a street corner long known as the centre of
Havana's informal real estate market. Only now, the handwritten listings
on trees openly advertise legal home sales, instead of disguising them
as property "swaps".

Mendez Rodriguez, an unofficial real estate broker, said the buying and
selling was aboveboard, controlled by a relatively untangled bureaucracy.

"Everything is by the law now," said Rodriguez, even if his profession
is not officially licensed. He and other so-called facilitators work for
"gifts" left to the discretion of their clients, he said.

Rumours that real estate brokers would be the latest addition to the
list of 181 licensed entrepreneurial activities have not come to pass,
but there's still hope the profession will be added in 2012. Rodriguez
said the opening seems to have led to a steep increase in prices, with a
home worth US$20,000 a couple of months ago going for 50 per cent more

Javier Acosta has sunk more than US$30,000 he saved as a waiter into his
own upscale establishment, and says business is far from booming.

"There are days when nobody comes, or when I have just one or two
tables, and then there are days when the place is filled."

He said his costs run to about US$1000 a month, and when business is
slow he struggles to break even.

Yet the reforms, he says, have changed the face of Cuba, and cynical
countrymen who doubt the opening will be lasting must wake up to a new

Despite his struggles, Acosta says he would take the risk again if given
the chance.

- AP

Challenges Facing Cuba’s New Left

Challenges Facing Cuba's New Left
January 11, 2012
Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES, 11 ene — Cuban political scientist and columnist Haroldo
Dilla recently published an essay on the need for a new left to be born
in our country.

Nevertheless for me, as someone who considers themself a member of that
political wing, those words (at least most of them) didn't resonate. Nor
did they resonate with most of the "new leftists" I know.

Haroldo's commentary invites us try to specify what is (and what is not)
the "new left," who belongs to it and who doesn't – a task that I leave
for the wisest among us.

Instead, I'm going to discuss the "new leftist spirit" that has been
astir here in Cuba.

In recent decades there has been born not one or two isolated groups,
but an entire spirit, a new (or deeper) consciousness among earthlings,
and also among Cubans.

This new awareness includes a lot of environmentalism, queerness, cool
solidarity (also with other species), pantheistic religion that
ubiquitously assumes a divinity threatened by the consumerist and
alienating praxis of the current regimes, and of politics in the sense
of activism from below against the established powers.

I would suggest, though not everyone will agree, that this is a left motion.

Like with the "indignados" at Puerta del Sol (Madrid) and elsewhere,
this new left is far removed from centralism, authoritarianism,
chauvinism, the traditional symbols of the left as well as
representative democracy. It distances itself from the spectacle of the
struggle between parties, elections, private ownership and other aspects
in common with the "Western" paradigm.
I don't deny that some people in this new wave (I'd say that only a
minority feel fairly strongly about this) still believe that this regime
is not beyond hope and that the "historic leaders" can lead the change.

Another minority (one that is given much attention and fanfare) consists
of those who only focus on the issues of civil and human rights, and who
believe that social democracy is a way out. (This is a minority within
this "new leftist spirit" to which I'm referring, though perhaps not
among the general population).

But back to Dilla. Later in his commentary he states: "But at the same
time, I think that this emerging left is facing several critical issues
that it must resolve if it wants to actually be a political alternative
in Cuban society."

A "political alternative in Cuban society"? What a joke! For the time
being, I don't think such a thing can be hoped for, and for several reasons.

Building from the ashes

In the first place this is because the movement is still very immature
and (in my opinion) too few in number. Castro Stalinism fell like an
atomic bomb on the left tradition, hurling people — by their natural
rejection — into the arms of capitalism and liberalism.

The left now has to reconstitute itself from the ashes and it must do it
at the rhythm of those who are little by little building a new paradigm.

Secondly this is because participating in the political struggle in the
traditional style would mean renouncing the essence of the movement. It
would involve, for example, the role of an "enlightened vanguard" and
everything derived from that: top-down "verticalism," internal police
organization, the frequent purging of heretics, demagoguery,
representativeness as a mode of relations between professionals and the
rest of the movement, and so on.

However, what's clear is that the new left should propose (explicitly or
by example) the alternative of "achievable good living" (i.e. not
committing the idealist's sin).

There is much talk of cooperatives but — be careful! — when some new
leftists suggest this as a way of organizing work (versus private
enterprise and wage labor), aren't they invoking another form of
totalitarianism where everything would have to be turned into
cooperatives, and where everyone would have to be connected to work in
that manner?

In any case, I'm not denying that this movement has before it plenty of
dilemmas constituting veritable mountains in its path. It wouldn't be
bad to hear "And you, on your tiptoes!"(*), but maturity can't be rushed.

As for the question of time running out, I think the left can take it
easy regarding this point: there will always be plenty of work for it.
* In Mambi mythology, when one of the Maceos died in combat with the
Spanish, the mother, Mariana Grajales, said to another of her sons who
was still a minor "And you, stand on your tiptoes so that you can head
for the jungle to fight." Maybe that wasn't the exact expression – but
who really knows?

In Cuba's hinterland a businessman is born

In Cuba's hinterland a businessman is born
By Marc Frank
GUAIMARO, Cuba | Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:06am EST

(Reuters) - Guaimaro, just one of many small poor and dusty towns along
Cuba's sparsely travelled central highway, is best known as the spot
where the island's first constitution was signed during the independence
war with Spain.

These days the talk of the town is about a different sort of
independence in state-dominated Cuba - the privately owned Magno
restaurant, the most luxurious place in Gua imaro. Its owner Tomas
Mayedo Fernandez is a local boy who once did jail time for involuntary
manslaughter but now, in just over a year as an entrepreneur, is a big

The eatery is one of more than 1,000 home-based restaurants, or
paladares, that have opened on the Communist-run island since
restrictions on small private businesses were loosened in late 2010, as
part of a broader reform of the Soviet-style economy undertaken by
President Raul Castro.

A meal at the Magno will cost you the equivalent of a few dollars for a
beer and sandwich to $10 or more for steak and lobster, in a land where
the average wage is less than $20 per month.

There are just two other private eateries and a few shabby looking
state-run restaurants in Guaimaro, located 400 miles (650 km) east of
Havana. But they cater more to the local population rather than
passersby and do not boast air-conditioning, lobster, shrimp, beef,
whiskey and aged rum.

"I didn't know anything about running a restaurant, but I liked the idea
of going into business and so when the law changed I began, little by
little," said Mayedo, a strapping young man and son of a cattle rancher
in his mid-30s .

Mayedo lived in the second story of the once-crumbling, century-old
building. He sold clothing from his living room to make ends meet and
looked down on the ruins of the empty store front and big back yard the
neighbours had turned into a garbage dump.


The place nevertheless had potential because it fronted the central
highway, giving it access to a larger customer base than just the small
town, he decided.

"We were already working to clean the place up before the law changed,"
Mayedo said recently, taking time off from his chats with arriving
suppliers and his pacing back and forth with mobile phone in hand.

He began with a small cafeteria, but then on December 10, 2010, he
opened the restaurant beside it . His plans did not stop there.

"We also have a jewellery repair shop and in two or three years I want
to build a place in the back to rent out rooms," he said.

Like the rest of Cuba, many of Guaimaro's residents have family living
abroad, especially in Florida, and as luck would have it, U.S. President
Barack Obama lifted restrictions on Cuban Americans visiting their
homeland just a few months before the Magno opened for business.

Over the recent holidays the town - where legs, bicycles and horse-drawn
buggies are the main form of transportation - was dotted with rental
cars, many of them driven by visiting Cuban Americans who wanted to
treat their relatives and friends to a nice meal while out on the town.

There was only one place to go - the Magno, which has become a sort of
destination restaurant that is well known in the area .

"December was by far the best month we have had," Mayedo said.

His wife Yaima Lopez helps run the Magno, while his aunt, a retired
state economist, takes care of the books. Two cousins, with some cash
earned working in Angola, where thousands of Cubans work as doctors,
construction workers and teachers, lent him the seed money.

"I'm paying them back little by little, but they don't pressure me," he

The hardest times were when Mayedo waited for his clientele to build up
and worried he might go bankrupt.

"Like all businesses the first year or two are the most difficult. And
this is the countryside, not the capital where there is more demand.
Here we depend on the people who pass by on the highway," he said.


As his business has grown, Mayedo has added eight full-time employees to
help operate it.

The biggest challenge has been training a workforce that is disciplined
and pays attention to details, he said.

Mayedo said he has had no serious problems with the government, is
grateful for the reforms underway and believes they are here to stay.

"I thank them for giving us the opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves
that we are capable of doing this well," he said.

"No state can subsidize an entire population, it is impossible.
Furthermore, we provide jobs, pay taxes and help the economy in a big way."

Mayedo doubted he would become a millionaire any time soon because,
despite the reforms, there are still limits.

"The system is designed to allow us to keep living, not become rich. But
yes, my life will keep improving," he said.

In a land where everyone worked for the state and there was no income
tax until recently, one is now being levied on hundreds of thousands of
small businesses and farms that have appeared due to Raul Castro's reforms.

Mayedo said his aunt was preparing his first income tax return even as
he spoke.

Now that was something to worry about at a sliding scale of up to 50
percent of earnings, Mayedo admitted, but better to pay 50 percent of
earnings than no tax on no earnings at all, he said with a shrug.

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Philip Barbara)

Have Cubans Lost Their Rebeliousness?

Have Cubans Lost Their Rebeliousness?
January 10, 2012
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 10 — Recently I read one of Yoani Sanchez's incisive
articles stating that Cubans have had their capacity for rebellion
rooted out.

Her statement alluded to the inability of Cuban society to produce a
socio-political rebellious response similar to the ones that occurred at
different times with the Czechs, the East Germans and the Russians
themselves. Certainly, this question is nestled in the minds of many
people who are interested in the issue of Cuba – and I'm no exception.

For fifty years, Cubans — as members of a very liberal Western society,
and as a people who waged enough wars and revolts to fill several
history books — have stoically endured an authoritarian political
regime, a true dictatorship over their basic needs (here I recall Agnes
Heller), which in the past twenty years has been an economy
characterized by chronic shortages.

This makes me wonder about what's the exact meaning of this surgical
removal of our rebelliousness of which Yoani speaks.

As we are in the New Year, when we're always allowed a few extra
frivolities, I would like to share some speculation about that subject.

Above all, I don't think they extirpated the capacity for rebelliousness
of post-revolutionary Cuban society but instead, they created a model
devoid of it.

In other words, the society we know today is the result of a fatal
siphoning off that (in the beginning) not only kicked the bourgeois
class out of the country, but also a very considerable part of the
middle class. In this same way, it destroyed not only the political
right wing but also the center and a significant portion of the left.

What remained was an amorphous and disorganized mass of the population
subjected to the aesthetically pleasing but confusing concept of "the
people." Moreover, they were led by a very radical left with no more of
a commitment to democracy than to the virtues of their own power and to
the applause of those entangled in the even more confusing
"worker-peasant alliance."

In such an asymmetric condition, the "dictators of the proletariat"
enjoyed a unique position to engage in social engineering that
substantially altered the social composition of Cuba. Moreover, they did
their best (Sam Farber brilliantly demonstrates this in his latest book)
to omit the nurseries of nonconformity.

The popular masses benefited from the many social programs. In fact,
they experienced a powerful surge in social mobility (I don't think that
mobility was as intense in any other period in the history of Cuba),
which undoubtedly helped to create areas of consensus.

However, sociologically this would have worked to produce a higher grade
of social subjects and an increase in their capacity for rebelliousness;
this means the capacity that Yoani mentioned should have grown.

But this didn't happen, since at the same time the Cuban economy began
to be heavily subsidized — with this continuing for nearly two decades —
based on its political relationship with Moscow. This allowed Cuban
authorities to govern with considerable autonomy with respect to society
and to the disastrous economy that they themselves had generated.

Ultimately, the material reproduction of society and the authoritarian
political system didn't depend on internal variables but on political
relations with the Soviet Union.

In addition, in their relationship with society they were in an
excellent position to produce a credible ideology that pointed to an
unstoppable march hand in hand with the "laws of history" and their
"indestructible friendship" with the Soviets.

This ideology, as Alejandro Armengol has rightly noted, was not
super-structural, but structural, as they still would like it to remain
– and effectively it is for the hard-core supporters, certainly the
minority, but enough to demonstrate government control of the streets,
while the vast majority of people remain waiting in a perennial state of
wait and see.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc was a hard economic blow, but it could
be assimilated by a rigid system of political and police control. Cuban
authorities, masters in the art of saying the same thing and the
opposite without blushing, blamed the CIA for the whole mess and shifted
all of their sermonizing onto a nationalist tack.

Again they got the best of their antagonists: Cuban-American politicians
and the Republican right.

They produced the best case of social mobility that they could come up
with: a new migratory stampede that within a few days put several tens
of thousands of young Cubans on American soil and forced the US to
renegotiate a more favorable immigration accord.

When the economy began to recover and new subsidies started coming [from
Venezuela] in the name of Simon Bolivar, the population had already
stopped growing and had even begun a dangerous decline, which
constitutes the most disturbing sign of the contemporary Cuban situation.

In other words, when the rebellious capacity was growing and had better
prospects for functioning, the government clamped down on it with such
power that people decided to protest with oars. In fact, they only
protested in the streets — for a few hours — when they lost hope in
being able to paddle away.

If there's something that needs to be recognized about Cuba's leaders,
particularly Fidel Castro, it's their unparalleled talent to retain
power, whether by adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing.

They have been the receivers of a macabre combination of Stalinism along
with tyrannical and Mafioso-like "caudilloism" – all seasoned with the
Jesuit charm that the commander learned in his Belen boarding school.
With this they have offset their remarkable economic disabilities,
seduced Tyrians and Trojans, and survived allies and enemies alike.

My doubt or question is whether we are at the inevitable end of the
incantation or if the Cuban elite has the new resources to accommodate
themselves. On the one hand, the state-society relationship has lost its
protective function and is vanishing in the aisles of the marketplace,
social inequality and the impoverishment of a very high percentage of
the population.

In addition, society is generationally different from that which
frantically applauded the entrance of the barbudos (the bearded guys)
into Havana and cheered Cuban-Soviet friendship, whose basis took the
form of three meals a day.

While it's true that the regime has a strong ability to control
repression, and the arrival of the Scarabeo 9 oil rig can lead to a new
era of relative prosperity, I don't think this will be sufficient to
reproduce the pattern of fissure-proof subordination that was clamped
down so tightly on the capacity for rebellion.

This is especially so since in any circumstance the only way that the
economy can function under the new conditions — including with
accumulation for the benefit of the emerging the middle class — is to
defragment markets and close the most exclusive legal and political gaps.

While none of this automatically produces democracy, it does create a
more open setting, especially in a liberal Western society like Cuba.

In any case, everything I've said is obviously a hypothetical position,
useful only for discussion.

Especially for those of us who from very different political positions
and desiring a change without violent disruptions, are convinced that
changes organized from above without pressure from below and dependent
solely on the will of the elite can only lead to "updated"
authoritarianism and the recycling of political and cultural mediocrity.

This is what the so-called orderly transition involves, lots of order
but little transition.

The capacity for rebellion is essential.

(*) A Havana Times translation (from the Spanish original) published by

US says offshore oil drill to be deployed in Cuba is OK

Posted on Wednesday, 01.11.12

US says offshore oil drill to be deployed in Cuba is OK
By Juan O. Tamayo

U.S. Coast Guard and environmental safety officials have inspected and
OK'd an offshore oil drilling platform headed to Cuba, under an unusual
arrangement designed to allay concerns about a possible spill that could
foul the U.S. coastline.

The inspection of the Scarabeo-9 platform was completed Monday off the
coast of the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago by personnel from
the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety
and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

"The review is consistent with U.S. efforts to minimize the possibility
of a major oil spill, which would hurt U.S. economic and environmental
interests," said a statement issued late Monday by the Interior Department.

Plans by the Spanish-based Repsol YPF oil company to use the platform to
drill off Cuba's northwestern shores, about 70 miles from the Florida
Keys, have sparked U.S. concerns about a spill as well as the U.S.
embargo's impact on efforts to control any damages.

To ease the worries, Repsol invited the U.S. inspectors to check out the
platform before it arrives in Cuba and has promised to meet all U.S.
requirements when it starts to drill, even though Scarabeo will be
operating in Cuba's Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Scarabeo platform was built in China, with less than 10 percent of
its components made in the United States, specifically to sidestep the
U.S. commercial embargo on the island.

The Interior Department statement said the inspectors "reviewed vessel
construction, drilling equipment, and safety systems – including
lifesaving and firefighting equipment, emergency generators, dynamic
positioning systems, machinery spaces, and the blowout preventer."

"The review compared the vessel with applicable international safety and
security standards as well as U.S. standards for drilling units
operating in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. U.S," the statement noted.

"Personnel found the vessel to generally comply with existing
international and U.S. standards by which Repsol has pledged to abide,"
although the review "does not confer any form of certification or
endorsement under U.S. or international law."

Cuba's plans to drill for oil in deep waters off its northwestern coast
have sparked fears among some environmentalists and some U.S. Congress
members that oil spilled in Cuban waters could reach U.S. waters and

The accident last year at the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling
rig similar to the Scarabeo platform, killed 11 workers and spilled
hundreds of millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

Repsol YPF has contracted with the Cuban government for the right to
explore in a section of the Straits of Florida that is generally deeper
than the area where the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Paths of the General / Luis Felipe Rojas

The Paths of the General / Luis Felipe Rojas
Luis Felipe Rojas, Translator: Raul G.

This article was written by Luis Felipe Rojas for 'Diario de Cuba'. It
has been re-posted on this blog:

In regards to the year which has just begun, it is evident that the
directions of the Cuban government are like forked transit lines. With
more desires to give orders to its members than to implement any sort of
political economy, on January 28th they will hold the First National
Conference of the Communist Party (PCC).

Towards the end of March the General-President will receive the Vatican
authorities, rosary and timbrel at hand. And during the middle of the
year he will once again be in the limelight, with our without the
fulfillment of promises. Cuba will once again see how dreams and
demands dissipate.

On a tour which was expected to come sooner or later, the Castro
leadership has gone up against itself. Against the inflated staffs,
administrative corruption, and economic inefficiency. The three whips
of Cuban society have been exposed in numerous public meetings: the
communist congress and the ordinary session of the National Assembly.

We would have to see if the Cuban technocrats are willing to change
their mentality and cast away their furies against the same projects as
always. While the historic direction holds tight to the old art of
snapping orders and marching, thousands of Cubans try to improve their
lives selling what they themselves cultivate, carrying out service jobs
or applying their talents to new technologies.

However, enthusiasms aside, the penalization of difference still weighs
heavy over the heads of the majority of Cubans, as well as the rake
against free association and the establishment of unions, and laws like
Social Dangerousness which seem to belong in the Middle Ages.

Without being able to defend their most basic rights, the Cuban
citizenry, since the beginning of the millennium, has been trapped in
the delicacies of capitalism and civilization which has been placed
before them. They produce foreign currency, which they cannot freely
enjoy. They substitute imports with medical services which they can
rarely enjoy and, on top of that, they carry the weight of errors
committed by the senile leadership.

The more moderate forces among the rulers (which are not always visible)
opt for a change of tactics and for a reasonable strategy which would
favor the betterment of the citizen. A consensus of the majority of
workers has demonstrated the weariness produced by slogans and
inefficiency of promises.

The criticisms of Raul Castro and the dissidents of the government are
going to crash against the accommodated tendency of the bureaucrats.
Attempting to impregnate from stamps of eternal solidarity with Cubans,
the maximum leadership deprives them of health services which are
obliged to serve their third-world contemporaries.

At this point, many are asking themselves about the relationship between
the statistic offered by Cuba of 4.9 children who have died per each
thousand born alive, and the fact of not publishing the statistics of
the budget cuts in the public health sector. Will this statistic be
upheld despite the cuts? As for the popular sophism of 'tossing the
house out through the window', there is also the fact that there are
many necessities, due to a weakened system of primary attention.

Upon being asked if he was a militant (of the Communist Party, of
course), a well known professor for the University of Oriente responded,
"No, I am the culprit". The joke has transcended university property
and illustrates the disillusion of that 'minority' (in the words of
Rafael Rojas) which, in regards to political strength, has transmuted to
another social ill.

Translated by Raul G.

9 January 2011

Open Letter from the Writer Ángel Santiesteban-Prats to the New President of Spain / Ángel Santiesteban

Open Letter from the Writer Ángel Santiesteban-Prats to the New
President of Spain / Ángel Santiesteban
Angel Santiesteban, Translator: Unstated
Havana, 20 December 2011

President Mariano Rajoy, I turn to you on the day my daughter celebrates
her birthday. Just thinking of the Cuban young people, I decided to
write you these humble and sincere words without standing on ceremony
other than to offer you well-deserved congratulations, and to cry for
the young of my country whose only horizon is the Straits of Florida
which cause so many deaths. But not before giving you a small account of
the last two governments of my country and the impact they have had on us.

Since the absence in power of Spain's People's Party, three elections
back, the freedom of Cubans has been banished. We quickly received a
half-communist minister representing the PSOE (Socialist Workers Party),
who came to negotiate with the Castro brothers. Since then, the silence
and Spanish president Zapatero's complicity threw its dark mantle over
the Cuban archipelago. The days when the freedom of the people was more
important to Spain than relations with a tyrant, were long gone.

That complicity with which the Cultural Attache welcomed those of us
with the intention to participate in some literary contest in Spain, and
the envelopes full of stories and hopes, ended. From that time on we no
longer received the latest published books from the Iberian peninsula,
nor the journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana which had provided us
with the latest cultural events in the world and, especially, in the
culture of our diaspora forbidden on Cuban soil.

The literary, essay and photography contest thought up by the Spanish
embassy, which was juried and where I was told there was no pressure
because they would award the prize to some irreverent text despite the
political system that scorns us and exists in this country, only got as
far as a call for entries. The official policy of support for
marginalized artists vanished. We also lost the profound and hard work
of the Hispanic-American Center because the dictatorship closed it, not
wanting there to be a space for the cultural freedom it supported.

Then, the meeting with the ungainly ambassador of whom I only remember
his name "Lazarus," and who joked about a Bible passage, "Lazarus, arise
and walk," because the Lazarus sent to us only came to lie down at the
feet of the dictator. And the following meeting for Columbus Day, which
we had celebrated in the ambassador's residence for many years, and
Lazarus just read our group what his work plan was going to be, which
was "nothing," making him the second Government of the Island. Since
then we haven't gone back despite continuing to receive an invitation.

Months later the Ambassadors of the European Union wanted a
meeting-dialogue with Cuban writers in the residence of the Ambassador
of Austria, which chaired the EU at the time. Attending were Leonardo
Padura, Amado del Pino, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Reinaldo Montero and me.
Each gave his vision of the social reality.

Some Ambassadors wondered about the relationship between Venezuela and
Cuba, and thought that perhaps, as expressed by the Spanish Ambassador,
that starting with a substantion improvement in the economy, there would
arise an improvement in individual freedoms. He was hoping for better
times for Cuba, the raising of the national economy and social freedoms.

When I intervened I said that with reference to the possibility of
"economic improvement", I found myself pessimistic, given that the years
of dictatorship had demonstrated gross mismanagement of the assets of
the People, and that in the unlikely event that Venezuela became what
the Union Soviet and the rest of the socialist camp had been for Cuba,
it would be disastrous for individual liberties, as rather than being
strengthened, repression would also increase.

That the Ruler (at the time it was Fidel Castro, now it is his brother,
but it has always been the same last name), had ceded his harsh
dictatorship from the Special Period, when he lost credibility and
followers, but there was a return to economic consolidation, which I
doubted we could say for certain that it would sharpen the repression,
censorship and imprisonment of opponents of the government.

After the meeting ended, while having refreshments, I was approached by
Ambassador Lazaro, who told me light-heartedly, "Don't be so
pessimistic." I gave him a look as impotence threatened to overcome me.
"Sir," I said, "how is it possible that you dare to ask for optimism
from one of the members of the third generation that this process has
consumed without any benefit. Fidel Castro is a human crushing machine."

The ambassador wanted to escape but I stopped him: "Never," I
pronounced, "have I seen the Cuban State prosper, not in economic
matters nor in individual liberties, and unfortunately we two are going
to be alive to see it."

The Ambassador raised his arms and walked away. We never met again. I
did not accept his invitations. Wherever he finds himself today, he
should remember the words that without being an expert in political and
social matters, were offered to him, a career diplomat, most
disadvantaged by our forecasts, with his failure as Ambassador and his
role in a boring and submissive political party, so much so, that his
own workers in the Spanish embassy in Havana let us know that they had a
room full of the journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana, which they
couldn't distribute because the government had forbidden it in secret

In those two governments of Zapatero, we have suffered the shamelessness
of both presidencies (Zapatero-Fidel and Raul Castro) and their minions.
Supposed achievements in the matter of the prisoners of conscience have
only served them to be accomplices in helping to take the lid off the
pot and relieve the pressure and thus avoid a social explosion on the
island, to procure some respite for a process that is asphyxiating at
times, an that resorts to strategies intended to improve its
international image, award accomplices, and ultimately ultimately extend
a system which the population does not believe in, such as releasing the
prisoners of conscience to Spain which agreed to receive them as
political refugees, but which disengaged from them after their arrival
and haphazardly left them in the hands of God. The Master of Ceremonies
of this sizable circus was Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos.

In the end they demonstrated that releasing the prisoners was not done
for humanitarian but for political reasons.I also pray for them and I
urge you to provide them the place they deserve after suffering
persecution, torture and imprisonment, it would be very kind of you to
stop this escalation of agony, and end something that started ill. Ii is
in your hands to do it.

Of course, we know that while the Popular Party has won, it doesn't mean
it will resolve the immense problems that have shaken Spain, much less
solve the dilemma of the Cubans. What we are sure of is that at least
you, President Mariano Rajoy, have extended a hand in solidarity and
know how to take the measure of a dictatorship that is dying, but that
even in its death throes, keeps kicking and is willing to take the lives
of those who confront it.

Recently Cubans have lost a friend, intellectual and former Czech
President Vaclav Havel, but God has provided us with you. Having called
the Czech writer to His side, he is right to leave this task in your hands.

With humility we simply ask you, President Rajoy, for an ambassador who
respects us and offers a place to the thoughtful opposition, dedicated
and determined to achieve the freedoms inherent in being human.



Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translator's note: Slight changes have been made in this letter for
English-speaking readers who may not know what positions those named
hold or held in Spain and Cuba — they have been added.

December 26 2011

Catching Up / Regina Coyula

Catching Up / Regina Coyula
Regina Coyula, Translator: Unstated

After the claustrophobic feeling of having no internet for two weeks,
catching up with events will not be easy, adding the softness of these
days. I will summarize in three stories that remained me with me like
feedback after the holidays.


North Korea is one of my favorite fears. The North Koreans are my
confederation of dunces. I have seen and read enough about the subject,
including an authorized biography of the recently deceased and the
documentary One Day in the Life, by his Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
both little gems. To see the dear comrade in his glass coffin surrounded
by flowers, I don't know about others, but I was reminded of Disney's
Sleeping Beauty. I thought Asians were very restrained in expressing
their grief, but I have seen a massive and unanimous cry on camera.
Hysterical or histrionic, hinting of complications for those who do not
cry. In sharp contrast with the death of Vaclav Havel, who only found
space in a column of the inside pages of the newspaper Granma, Kim Jong
Il and his designee Kim Jong Un, have been media sensations.

This monarchical succession has not faced the least objection to our
media. The Juche idea, Marxism in a free version of the Great Leader,
nor is it accused of being revisionist, a term indeed fallen into disuse
because of the multiple interpretations and accommodations that everyone
makes in the theory of Marx. I do not see such a succession for Cuba
even though some people cherish the idea of leading by means of DNA.
Yesterday I woke up to the news that the North Korean ambassador has
just been awarded the Friendship Medal by our Minister of Foreign
Affairs. With friends like these …


My first association on hearing the announcement of an amnesty for
nearly three thousand prisoners, from the mouth of our President, was
what that figure would represent as a percentage of the total prisoners
in Cuba. I have understood that our prison population per capita ranks
as one of the highest in the world, so the measure is positive from any
point of view, but still do not know if the Black Spring prisoners,
released on parole, are included. In my information isolation, I threw
out a tweet asking for details via text message, and I got an account
key to activate over the Internet, and the Internet was something I
didn't have at year end. Conclusion: I still do not know, but I'm told
that the list of the releases is in the Official Gazette. In his
long-standing practice of giving prisoners to distinguished visitors,
the Cuban government will offer the highest figure to Ratzinger.


Cachita is what Cubans call their patron saint — something family and
friendly that sounds very good to me. The Virgin has traveled around the
country, and the demonstrations of devotion, as opposed to the outraged
people (a phrase in common use by the government), have been
spontaneous. The Cardinal seems to be interested in politics, and in
that love-hate relationship, makes some space. It is not the figure that
seduces me, but the drawing power of faith, which is something else, and
the Virgin of Charity of Cobre has shown it.

January 6 2012

Cuba and Cuba / Regina Coyula

Cuba and Cuba / Regina Coyula
Regina Coyula, Translator: Unstated

Yesterday, two pleasant women from Madrid appeared in my house. One of
them follows Bad Handwriting, and the other came with her because she
didn't want to come alone. After the introductions and making
arrangements with the driver of the Soviet-made Lada car that brought
them, they told me they had been in Cuba since the last week of
December. Fascinated by so much local color, they showed me many photos
of beautiful young men with tanned skin and suggestive musculature —
"Wow!" — the one who didn't read me said she admired me (and assured me
she would read me in the future without fail) — "And what a New Year's
Eve! My God!"

Laughing, I listened to their accents, the sound of it more entertaining
than the details of their New Year's Eve "a la Cubana." But once I got
used to their pronunciation and their turns of phrase, I realized that
they had experienced the New Year in a country different from mine. A
country with streamers, candies, grapes, champagne, live music,
fireworks, and a countdown. The only thing in common was the pork and
black beans.

They didn't skip the coffee, which they found very good, but I didn't
deceive them, I told them it was mixed with a "substitute" which is
added to the coffee sold in local currency. They were delighted with the
experience: Cuban blogger, adulterated coffee, Soviet era car. We took
several photos, including with the waiting Lada, with just enough time
for them to collect their luggage and head to the airport.

I said goodbye to them with genuine sympathy and leaned into the car
window to tell them there was a place they had to visit, without fail.

"Where? We've been to Trinidad and Varadero is the cat's pajamas."

"You mustn't forget to go to Cuba."

January 9 2012

And If Nothing Happens? / Reinaldo Escobar

And If Nothing Happens? / Reinaldo Escobar
Reinaldo Escobar, Translator: Unstated

It is less than three weeks until the First National Conference of the
Communist Party of Cuba, and it seems that almost no one cares about
what will happen there. Perhaps we haven't lost the habit of events like
these coming accompanied by billboards, posters, TV spots, heroic
exploits of labor dedicated to them, and other things of that type,
perhaps the sober publicity already forms a part of the Party's new
methods with which it wishes to inaugurate this conference. I don't
know, the truth is that the lack of enthusiasm doesn't correspond to the
importance that this occasion should have, where the 'historic
generation' that started this process will have a final opportunity to
clarify their intentions regarding the future of the Nation.

As a responsible citizen I feel that I have a civic duty to express
myself, going through the steps ahead of time of overcoming the dilemma
between giving and denying legitimacy to those people called together by
the Party. The easiest thing would be to declare those days a vacation,
and to pay no attention to what is agreed on there. But I live in a
country where the current constitution establishes that it is this Party
that commands and leads, leaving me no choice but to listen and hope.

January 28, 2012 is a new opportunity to pay attention. We cannot
discount the possibility that the delegate from Piedrecitas, or the
young secretary from a unit in Magarabomba, may take it in mind to rub
salt in the wound in the middle of a plenary session, and that, through
a window inadvertently left open, a fresh wind might blow in to awaken
the entire paralysis. If nothing happens, that is to say if the boring
unanimity prevails, if no one appears who dares to say, with total
clarity, "my mouth is my own," if amid the rhythmic applause they
approve by proclamation the same concepts that currently tie our hands
and isolate us, if in the end the Conference becomes more of the same,
then we will see how those who expected something react. I suppose that
at least they won't add to the applause, and they will take one more
step up in the shadows, that is if they are not afraid to live.

9 January 2012