Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Plague Continues

The Plague Continues / Fernando Damaso
Fernando Damaso, Translator: Unstated

I had no intention of returning to the issue of state inspectors, which
I addressed on 14 April of this year under the title "Inspectors: the
new plague." However, subsequent events witnessed by me and verified
information given by some vendors on their own, the main victims, force
me to do so.

Let me make myself clear, I am not against State inspection, but I am
against the arbitrary manner in which it is performed and its methods.
Going after a self-employed seller, as if he were a criminal or a
fugitive from justice, at the first opportunity, punishing him with
excessive fines — no lower than 250 pesos national currency the minimum
monthly wage of a Cuban — is not inspecting anything, rather it is a
witch hunt, especially when these inspections are not undertaken of
government facilities, most of which remain dirty and unhygienic, as if
there were no health regulations for them.

To fine a seller of homemade crackers or a vegetable seller 500 National
Pesos because they stayed in one place for more than 20 minutes, is
absurd and unjust. So is fining a candy seller who sells outside a
school, given the demand of some clients, because according to the
inspector this is prohibited because children can make themselves sick
and the school director is responsible for their health. Yet at the same
time the school is filthy, unpainted, with areas and bathrooms closed
off, the drinking water — if there is any — comes directly from the
street, there is a lack of drinking fountains, the hygiene stands out
for its absence, and the students, without any cafeteria, have no lunch,
it being replaced by what's called a "hearty snack" (a little bread with
some pasta and a miniscule glass of soy yogurt), which is not a snack
much less a hearty one.

What is striking is that the voluminous apparatus of inspectors is
directed only against the self-employed, who pay high monthly taxes (600
Cuban pesos to sell cotton candy on a corner). It seems that it is only
them who the authorities are interested in inspecting and it so happens
that by fining them they take away the meager earning they can get, in
order to avoid their becoming rich and a part of the famous 1%, leaving
them to belong to the 99%.

The plague continues making its rounds without any kind of control, and
in the face of the rejection of the majority of the population, who
every day reject it more and support the self-employed vendors, who
offer better and more varied products and services than the
establishments of the State.

September 29 2012

For Old Fashioned Housewives

For Old Fashioned Housewives / Regina Coyula
Regina Coyula, Translator: Unstated

When the washing machine was a gadget of the future, or when it hadn't
reached the distribution it has, washing by hand was an art. Whether in
a bowl, pan or sink, the white suds, but especially the characteristic
whap-whap-whap typical of rubbing clothes between fists, signaled the
presence of a consummate laundress.

As far as I know it was always a women's occupation, men who needed
washing done, with their awkward hand positions, or with a saving brush,
would omit the ritual of soaking the piece over and over again,
immediately accompanied by the whap-whap-whap.

At that time in my past when I gave it my best in the useless Schools in
the Countryside, in the first of these (1967), my bunk mate was Silvia,
a black girl three years older than me, shrewd and flirtatious. Silvia
spent the week with her hair in plastic rollers secured thanks to an
electrical cord wrapped around the ends of each roller.

Every night before bed, without a mirror but with tremendous skill,
Silvia unrolled her rollers and rolled them up again. On Saturdays
Silvia barely combed her hair, where the results of the week's rollers
was clearly evident.

But my admiration for Silvia was in the laundry, where why managed to
return white shirts to their original color after wearing them to work
in the fields. As a part of my conversion from a mama's girl to a "New
Woman" my mother changed my sheets, towel and work pants on the weekly
visit, but the rest I had to wash myself.

I tried to imitate the Silvia's dexterity and her whap-whap-whap, but
didn't accomplish either. My shirts finished those forty-five days
pinkish-brown while Silvia's came back impeccable.

After that I was determined to master the mystery of scrubbing clothes,
and even get the exact rhythm of the whap-whap-whap. I've discovered
that this sound has nothing to do with the efficiency of the wash, so
when I need to wash something really dirty I always use a brush. The
whap-whap-whap is comforting music.

September 27 2012

The Silence of the Cauldrons

The Silence of the Cauldrons / Rebeca Monzo
Rebeca Monzo, Translator: Unstated

Once again they are celebrating another boring anniversary of the
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) on my planet. As time
goes on, fewer and fewer people lend their efforts to this farce.

As I was visiting a friend yesterday afternoon in Vedado, I was able to
observe in the formal garden of her building–which still retains the
architectural beauty it had in days past–four neighbors gathered around
a filthy and dented cauldron, poking the logs of a fire that the wind
was determined to put out. They were speaking in loud voices, telling
jokes in bad taste, clad only in shorts and exposing their bare torsos.
It was an image that might well have been found in an engraving from an
old history book about primitive civilizations.

These men were accompanied by three cute little dogs, one of whom had a
woman's name. I made a comment about this to a lady in the elevator with
me. Incensed, she told me it was not just a dog's name, but a bad joke
that showed a lack of disrespect for a neighbor in the building, who had
the same name. To me this was yet another indication of the class of
people to be found making the traditional caldosa* for this event.
During my entire trip home to Nuevo Vedado it was the only preparation
of this sort I was able to observe. It must have been because it was
still early.

Something else I noticed was that the smells coming from the cauldron
were neither pleasant nor unpleasant in spite of the fact that something
was obviously boiling in it. I then realized that almost no one from the
CDR – at least not on my block – went door-to-door requesting food
donations for the celebration's communal pot any more as they often did
some years ago. Certainly, food is not only scarce but the prices are
excessively high and almost no one is in a position to give it away.
Besides, there are ever fewer people attending these events since in
their own homes many have to confront on a daily basis what could be
described as – to paraphrase the title from an old film – the silence of
the cauldrons.

Translator's note: Caldosa is traditionally a thick broth or stew.After
the Cuban revolution cooking it became a communal event in which
neighbors brought whatever ingredients they had at hand. Some say this
came about because of food scarcity; others believe that the change had
more to do with the collective emphasis of socialism. (Source:

September 28 2012

Cuba plans to increase biofertilizer production

September 30, 2012 -- Updated September 30, 2012 12:42 HKT

Cuba plans to increase biofertilizer production

Cuba has approved an investment program to build several plants to
produce biofertilizers and biopesticides, as part of its efforts to
revitalize the depressed agricultural sector, a senior official said.

Attending an international forum "Labiofam 2012″ which closed here
Friday, Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez said Labiofam would
establish the new plants in a three-year period.

Labiofam is Cuba's most important group devoted to the production of
biotechnological products for agriculture and medicine.

Besides providing farmers with biofertilizers and biopesticides, the
project aims to maintain yields, import substitutes and protect the

Rodriguez said scientists were seeking nutritional alternatives for the
soil to reduce the use of high doses of mineral fertilizers, including
nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Cuba has some 350,000 farmers engaged in food production for a
population of 11.2-M.

Cuba imports each year 80 percent of its food, with a bill fluctuating
between US$1.5 and 2-B.

The revival of agriculture to increase food production on the island is
considered an "urgent challenge" and a matter of "national security,"
Mr. Rodriguez said.

Costa Rica rejects high number of medical graduates from Cuba

Costa Rica rejects high number of medical graduates from Cuba
Chrissie Long 30 September 2012 Issue No:241

Graduates of Cuba's Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina, or ELAM, are
"gravely deficient" in their preparation to practise medicine, the head
of Costa Rica's most celebrated medical school told journalists last month.

Of the 138 graduates who failed the medical licensing exams in Costa
Rica, 59 were graduates of ELAM, said Ricardo Boza Cordero, director of
the medical programme at the University of Costa Rica.

According to Boza, the students were largely behind in fundamental areas
including paediatrics and gynaecology-obstetrics, and failed to achieve
passing scores in the 11 exams administered.

"Taking into account that some who will practise as doctors in Costa
Rica come from foreign universities, we have to make sure they
understand the particulars of our national medicine," he told news sources.

"We made the decision to institute a general exam that evaluates their
knowledge of basic subject matters in the curriculum and clinical

The fact that 43% of those who failed the licensing exam studied in Cuba
comes as a surprise to those familiar with the health system there.
Doctors from Cuba, a country that has long been known as an epicentre of
medicine in Latin America, have been sent all over the world to aid in
health missions in disaster zones.

The country boasts one of the highest life expectancies in the
hemisphere and excellent healthcare coverage rates, according to the
World Health Organization (WHO). Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sought
medical care on the Caribbean island when he was diagnosed with cancer
in June 2011.

Lack of congruence in curriculum?

But the issue may not be one of quality of education, but the lack of
congruence in curriculum. While Costa Rica may be putting emphasis on
some subject matters, Cuba could be preparing students for other areas
of focus.

The majority of the medical students who failed the test are graduates
of ELAM, a university established in 1999 to provide medical care to the
world's poor.

The university accepts economically disadvantaged students from all over
the world and, through a six-year, free programme run by the Cuban
government, prepares them to practise medicine in their home country.

Boza did admit that the ELAM and Costa Rican curricula were not aligned
in at least 80% of the subject matters. The students were tested on the
20% in which the curriculum diverged under a new examination system
introduced this summer.

Many of the students who took the exam have since protested, claiming
they should have been grandfathered into the old testing methods – that
it, they should not be disadvantaged by the new exam rule, because they
were part of the rule that came before it.

ELAM graduates face hurdles elsewhere

Costa Rica is not the only country in which ELAM graduates are facing
hurdles in licensing exams.

According to a 2010 WHO article: "Their degrees must be validated by
sometimes reluctant medical societies and, even once they receive
validation, there may be no jobs waiting for them in the public sector
where they are most needed."

According to André-Jacques Neusy, executive director of the
Belgium-based non-profit Training for Health Network, who has studied
innovative medical schools throughout the world and is familiar with
ELAM, the Cuban medical school is well aware of the challenges of
integrating graduates into the health systems of other countries.

"ELAM has many graduates in many countries," he said, "and in many parts
of the world, they are not accepted.

"Part of it is Cuba being Cuba," he added, referring to the political
hurdles. "Another issue is that the receiving countries may not have the
capacity to absorb additional doctors. There may not be enough jobs."

In Honduras, graduates from ELAM were excluded from a residency
programme because the government simply did not have enough funds to
extend to them.

By contrast, in Uruguay last month, 90 graduates of ELAM were accepted
into medical practice, news sources there reported.

Referring to the situation in Costa Rica, Neusy said: "I find it hard to
believe that the students were rejected on aptitude alone."

Rachel True, who has been collaborating with ELAM through a US-based
non-profit known as MEDICC, which focuses on enhancing health
cooperation between the two countries, said the issue of accreditation
is very possibly political.

"With anything having to do with Cuba, there are politics involved," she

Prepared to practise in under-served areas

In True's experience, graduates are uniquely prepared to practise
medicine in under-served areas. Because there is such a strong emphasis
on community engagement and social accountability, the students who
graduate from ELAM have a strong desire and a thorough training to
improve health among impoverished populations.

"ELAM does a better job than we do in the United States of preparing
doctors to enter social service," True said.

"Studies have shown that students enter medical school in the United
States with a very high level of altruism. They want to do good. But
that drops off significantly as they approach graduation because they
have to find ways to repay their debt.

"In the ELAM programme, students don't have debt."

True, who tracks the 200 students-graduates of ELAM who have returned to
the US, said the students are very well prepared. "Many of them have
entered residency and have been successful."

Costa Rica saturated with doctors

The students returning to Costa Rica faced the unfortunate situation of
a health system saturated with doctors.

The ELAM graduates are competing with doctors not only from the
country's prestigious public schools, but also from a number of private
universities that have surfaced in recent years.

The country is also trying to position itself as a medical tourism
destination for North Americans and Europeans looking for more
affordable medical care. For that reason, quality control is of high
importance, not only for the Costa Rican government but also for the
country's medical schools.

Boza brings that point home: "The University of Costa Rica needs to
guarantee the preparation and high standards of all the professionals
that come to the country with a degree in medicine and surgery obtained
from a foreign university, with the goal of guaranteeing the welfare and
health of all the inhabitants of the country as well as maintaining the
high standards of quality in the medical sector."

For the ELAM graduates who didn't pass the new examinations? The
university is considering letting them take the exams retroactively.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The General, ‘Reforms’ and the Myth of the Renewal of the ‘Model’

The General, 'Reforms' and the Myth of the Renewal of the 'Model' /
Miriam Celaya

Six years after the Proclamation in which Fidel Castro delegated almost
all power to his brother, and four years after Raul Castro officially
took the reins of government, almost all optimism about the possible
beginning stages of transformations to advance the economy in Cuba have
faded. Much less can there be any illusions regarding freedoms and rights.

Wrapped in his aura of "a pragmatic man" — based on projects carried out
in the '90s, when he was Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces
(FAR) and created joint ventures, with the participation of elite and
"trusted" officers, in hard currency economic activities: tourist-hotel
complexes, stores, restaurants, etc. — General Raul Castro has become
another failed hope for those who aspire to any economic opening, even
if moderate, with a greater involvement from ordinary Cubans, as well as
for those who thought that such an opening would lead to a gradual
lifting of the numerous restrictions that annul and restrict any
possibility of citizen prosperity.

Four years is the usual time allotted to the president of a democratic
society to develop a government program and demonstrate its
effectiveness and capacities in a nation, a period during which the
reduction in poverty and the creation of jobs are usually permanent
objectives and two of the most important indicators of progress of every

In Cuba, however, after this period of time, not only is there no
government program with clearly established goals and timelines — even
the mere promise of a daily glass of milk for every Cuban is an
insoluble economic challenge for the government — but there exists an
explicit demonization of individual prosperity endorsed in an open war
against "enrichment," while officially announced layoffs have affected
more than 1,300,000 workers. No government of a free society could
survive such nonsense.

This calamitous socioeconomic state has led the general-president to
offer his oft repeated phrase of "introducing structural and conceptual
changes," a line meant to distract public opinion as well as to delude
the unwary. It is, in reality, a diversionary tactic to allow the ruling
elite, instead of improving the situation or generating social benefits,
to gain what we Cubans are losing: time. An apparently reformist
discourse to disguise a retrograde and twisted economic policy and the
complete lack of any intention to introduce changes.

So, in the last two years the masquerade of an opening was carried
forward through the proliferation of tiny businesses, while at the same
time an attempt was made to legitimate a state of permanent
experimentation — in both the economy and in issues inherent to
citizens' rights — which on the one hand justifies the slow application
of the so-called "reforms," and on the other gives the government
impunity, the grace of eternity, and the present and future arbitration
over every aspect of national life, be it the economy, politics, or any
other niche of society.

Against the 'reforms'

In any event, it was a timely retirement. The General himself was in
charge of assuring that this time there would be no retreat on
self-employment, as had happened during the '90s. Let no one doubt,
under Raul's regime self-employment had come to stay. What's more, there
would be no discrimination against the self-employed and the dignity of
individual effort would be recognized. In the excitement of the economic
plans of small family businesses as a palliative to the national misery,
self-employed workers seemed to have become the Revolutionaries of our time.

But, indeed, it was barely the mirage of a moment, because it soon
became evident that some family businesses, despite being in unequal and
unfair competition with the State, not only survived, but were more
attractive than their peers in the State sector. Many sellers of
clothing, footwear and accessories have better prices, as well as
products of better quality and variety which — in the absence of an
internal wholesale market — are sent by their families abroad. Some even
offer articles not sold in the hard currency stores.

Something similar happened with the private restaurants: the owners of
these businesses receive products and supplies from abroad that cannot
be purchased in this country, or whose prices in the domestic market are
prohibitive. As a consequence, and given that their earnings depend on
their own effort, the quality of the food and service in the private
restaurants is greatly superior to that of the State's.

The official reaction shows that retreat on the reforms is not only
possible, but inherent in the system. Recent actions include the
increase in customs tariffs against imports, and exaggerated
hygiene-sanitary measures against the private restaurant sector (not
also enforced on the filthy State establishments), added to the other
burdens placed on self-employment such as abusive tax rates and the
corruption of inspectors and other officials.

As an aggravating factor, self-employment remains illegal under the
constitution, as to date there has been no repeal of Article 21, which
established that "the ownership of the means and instruments of personal
or family labor cannot be used to obtain profits through the
exploitation of the work of others." This is a situation that allows the
authorities to walk back or stop the process "until adjustments are made
in the pertinent laws."

Currently, the issuance of license for self-employment has slowed
greatly, while the return of licenses already issued has accelerated.
Everything indicates that self-employment became too broad a task for
State control, and too narrow a horizon for the aspirations for
prosperity for many of the proto-entrepreneurs who chose this route as a
possible path.

Now the most recent of the Raul regime's proposals is the oldest
"innovation" in the world, to be applied "experimentally" in Cuba:
non-State cooperatives. Which, of course, shouldn't be understood
literally as cooperatives independent of the State. This initiative
hides under the induced historical amnesia that the Cuban people suffer
from, given that before 1959 there were numerous independent
cooperatives on the Island which worked perfectly: taxi drivers,
restaurants, various trades, and even doctors and lawyers. Why
"experiment" in something that is known and whose efficiency is more
than proven? Undoubtedly, this is another scam that is added to the list
of well-tried reforms.

The Cuban "model" and its "renewal" that won't be

We've all heard the general-president speak of "the Cuban model" when it
comes to economics. To "renew" this "modal" has been his roadmap, the
backbone of his government endorsed program (?!) in a set of guidelines
almost no one remembers.

Few Cubans, however, could describe the concept. What elements support
the existence of a Cuban economic model? Did the numerous (innumerable)
economic failures derive from the preposterous plans of Castro I,
indisputable architect of the national ruin? Is the more than half a
century record of moving from first place to last place in this
Hemisphere surpassed only by Haiti in misery?

Are the galloping corruption, the chronic inefficiency, the insufficient
salaries, the barriers and immobility, more appropriate hallmarks for
defining a "Cuban model"? And if so, in what sense would it be renewed?
Is there anything salvageable in the supposed model? It's a rhetorical

The essential contradiction facing the government today lies in the
impossibility of achieving economic progress or furthering reforms
while, at the same time, repressing individual liberties. The system's
totalitarian character doesn't allow any movement; this is the lesson
that the government has learned over these four years.

What Cubans have learned is that there will be no true reforms generated
from government initiatives, while all the conditions still have not
matured for proposals for change to be generated by citizens. For the
government, the only thing left is repression as a means of survival.
For Cubans all that is left is the dilemma between rising up and emigrating.

There will be no solution to the crisis in Cuba as long as the United
Nations Human Rights Covenants, signed by the government itself in
February 2008 and never ratified, are complied with, but it is the job
of Cubans themselves to see that these don't become another waste of
paper. The only possible and effective renewal in Cuba today is the
recovery of civil society, the restoration of the Rule of Law, and of

From Diario de Cuba

20 September 2012

Fleeing from Wise Monkeys

Fleeing from Wise Monkeys / Ivan Garcia
Ivan Garcia, Translator: Unstated

I am not given to interviews. Nor do I like them. Ninety percent of the
time I turn down requests for them. A journalist's role is to question,
investigate, analyze and write. What I like about print journalism is
the anonymity. Information, news, reporting or chronicling are what
matter. Not the author.

I am caught between two currents. Government media outlets have accused
me of being "counterrevolutionary." Just like that, nothing more. I have
never visited the United States Interest Section in Havana and I do not
connect to the internet at an embassy. I swear it is not because of some
neurosis. It is that I am disgusted by diplomats' tendency towards flattery.

I pay 15 CUC out of my own pocket for two hours of time and once a week
I go online from a Havana hotel. My first priority is to send my
dispatches and, if time permits, I read online journals in Spanish and
copy some texts, usually sports stories and world news.

The internet connection in Cuba is slow and the minutes remaining do not
leave enough time to read emails or to visit Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.

I would like to be able to read more blogs by renowned journalists from
major media outlets directly, but I have to make do with links my mother
sends to my email address. Once a week I copy them on USB's, and later
calmly open and read the articles on my laptop at home.

A news story captures the reality of the person writing it. No matter
how much one may try to be balanced and objective, the article always
somewhat reflects the journalist's views.

I flee from wise monkeys, those whose egos are so big they often keep
two beds in their rooms—one for themselves and one for their egos. No
blog can completely capture the complex Cuban experience.

There are hookers, male prostitutes and gays disgusted by the economic
inefficiency of the government. There are also people who believe in
socialism and are confident that Raúl Castro's reforms will work.
Whatever beliefs one has, they should not be an impediment to dialog and
the possibility of building bridges.

I like to write about losers. Or winners who are about to become losers.
We are all Cubans. We do not all have to think the same way, nor should
we. That would be very boring. When the government understands that it
cannot govern only for the benefit its supporters, it will grow strong.

Some accuse me of being very critical of the dissidents. Once I
described them as "banana dissidents," which made me a countless number
of "enemies." They did not shoot me because they couldn't. Instead they
chose to accuse me of being a "security agent" and other such nonsense.
For its part the government writes me off as a "mercenary." This is the
price one pays for having one's own standards. I am a bothersome journalist.

But I do not see why people who think differently cannot have a civil
discussion. We must stop gritting our teeth and clenching our fists and
learn how to accept our differences. It is very easy to accuse and
defame. It would be healthy to erase all these human miseries and
distrusting attitudes.

The future of Cuba will be decided in ten years time. Perhaps less. All
Cubans, whatever our beliefs, should put forth our best efforts to
change and improve society. When we learn to say "I do not agree with
you" instead of the more typical "you are mistaken," we will grow as a

September 26 2012

There Should be a Bridge

There Should be a Bridge / Jeovany Jimenez Vega
Jeovany J. Vega, Translator: Unstated

It's not their best song but the theme cuts me to the bone. I listen
again to the Arjona clip and again I shiver, I get up and punish the
keyboard with a pain that hurts me, a pain that I try to put into words
but can't, because 50 years already seems like too much time and too
many dashed hopes, scattered, promised and postponed, shipwrecked in the
Straits even today.

First and core cause of each and every one of the deaths suffered by the
rafters in the narrow gap, the travel ban was always a slap on the
cheek, my only people divided in two, more than by the Gulf Stream, by
the storms of intolerance. Due to this vilifying the professional and
the athlete as a "deserter"; citizens served up a la carte, Spanish or
Mesopotamian, who suddenly take advantage of their distant pedigree; the
hookers who leave trafficking their bodies; selling their spit of the
silence of cowards who fake it for crumbs; I see how the dignity of so
many Cubans is prostituted.

Family separation caused by migration policy which the Cuban government
has imposed for over half a century deserved to be categorized as a
crime against humanity in whatever forum is respected. No other
arbitrariness, among those held by the Cuban government during this time
has been so traumatic and harmful to the people who experience it.

I say the people, because their selective nature strengthens their
outrageous nuance: while depriving the people of their genuine right to
travel, senior politicians and government wander the world, along with
their children, wives, and — why not? — their lovers; they leave and
return openly under cover of official missions or as managers of phantom
firms and no one know what they do, and if these enjoy their
scholarships in Europe, while those pass through Cancun, while I and
mine have never gone farther than Matanzas.

It's been over a year since Raul Castro publicly announced that his
government would implement changes, which he did not specify, and the
travel and immigration mechanisms, but already we are looking out from
our subtle autumn and he gives the impression he doesn't care, that they
still have an entire lifetime to achieve the reunification of the Cuban

Every day that passes without the doors opening will be a shameful day
and a new temptation for disgrace. Rarely was a leader at such a
crossroads having in his hands, so clearly, the power to fix it; today
the responsibility rests on his shoulders for every new death in the
Straits as until yesterday Fidel Castro was responsible for implementing
and maintaining intact for half a century this monster that causes so
much pain in my people, that has essentially caused the most dramatic
exodus in Cuban history.

There they tell of the mourning of the mothers and the absences and the
look of the orphaned and dead children. Now is the time to vindicate,
unconditionally, this right of the Cuban people! Anyone who opposes it
at this time will be tried inexorably before history and found guilty
for this slow genocide.

But while the power calculates in the shadows, I live with a recurring
dream: in the midst of a vast and peaceful sea, on a bridge without
borders or tolls two children gaze with clear eyes, offering diaphanous
smiles, embracing without fear and forgetting everything. Sitting on a
pile of new dreams they contemplate a warm sun that comes close to the
edge of the common horizon, "The dawn is here brother," they say, "the

Cuba, 4 Italian reporters released, trial today

Cuba, 4 Italian reporters released, trial today
13:52 29 SET 2012

(AGI) Rome - All four of the Italian journalist detained in Cuba have
been released. The four, who were interviewing the presumed murderer in
the Lignano Sabbiadoro homicide, should be tried live at 3:00 Italian
time for visa irregularities reported Stefano Cavicchi, photo-journalist
for Corriere della Sera. The four journalists were interrogated for 12
hours in Camaguey, Cuba's third largest city, situated 500 kilometers
south-east of Havana, and then returned to their respective hotels while
awaiting the hearing. The four, besides Cavicchi, Mediaset reporter
Ilaria Cavo, her technician Fabio Tricarico and Messaggero Veneto
journalist Domenico Pecile, were picked up by six persons who broke into
the house of Reiver Laborde Rico, the 24 year old brother and presumed
accomplice of Lisandra, the young woman who has confessed to the August
19th murders of Paolo Burgato and Rosetta Sostero. .

U.S. man jailed in Cuba meets with Jewish reps

September 29, 2012, 1:51 PM

U.S. man jailed in Cuba meets with Jewish reps

HAVANA Imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross told visitors Friday
morning that he is feeling well, although his weight is down to 146
pounds, and that he fasted on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Adela Dworin, head of Cuba's Jewish Community, and David Prinstein,
president of the Patronato Synagogue, spent nearly two hours with Gross
in an air-conditioned visitors' room at Havana's military hospital.
Gross is serving a 15-year sentence for attempting to create a network
of Internet users - outside of the control of the government - whose aim
was regime change.

Dworin, who last saw the 63-year-old Maryland native exactly four months
ago, said that his mood was optimistic, unlike back in May when, she
said, he displayed "anger and frustration."

During the nearly two-hour meeting, Dworin said Gross acted as host
offering them coffee or tea that was set out on a small table on one
side of the room.

She described their conversation as wide-ranging, covering his health,
the U.S. presidential election, and Cuban baseball, describing himself
as a fan of the Havana team, the Industriales.

Gross, who has already been jailed for two-and-a-half years, said he
hoped the U.S. would end its embargo of the island and establish normal
relations, reports Dworin, who added, "He said he is enchanted with Cuba
and once freed he could return to Cuba along with his wife."

Dworin and Prinstein have been allowed to regularly visit Gross on
Jewish holidays.

Gross reportedly told his two visitors that he lifts weights and walks
within the hospital grounds daily. He indicated a lump under his shirt
on the right side of his back and said a "scan" had been taken and the
results sent to his wife. Dworin understood from what he said that the
growth was not malignant.

She said that Gross told them he had recently been visited by his wife,
Judy. He also said that his daughter, who had breast cancer, is now
doing well.

According to Dworin, Gross is extremely concerned about his mother, who
has lung cancer. He told his visitors that he speaks with her by phone
but fears he might not get to see her alive. Gross said he has asked
Cuban authorities for permission to visit her, promising to return to
Cuba to finish serving out his sentence. He has not received a response
to his request.

After a visit with her husband at the beginning of this month, Gross'
wife Judy expressed concern for what she described as his deteriorating
health. In subsequent days a top Cuban Foreign Ministry official said
Havana was ready to sit down with the U.S. to discuss a solution to his
case, but that Washington has not responded to their offer.

The Gross family lawyer fired back quickly with a statement sent to the
media saying U.S. officials have told him that the Cubans have not put
any offer for Gross' release on the table.

Cuba has indicated it would like swap Gross for five Cuban intelligence
agents sentenced to long prison terms in the U.S., but Washington has
rejected such a trade.

Italy: 4 journalists detained in Cuba

Italy: 4 journalists detained in Cuba
Last Updated: Saturday, September 29, 2012, 19:11

Milan: The Italian Foreign Ministry says four journalists have been
detained in Cuba. The journalists work for the Mediaset TV network, the
Messaggero Veneto daily and two for the Milan daily Corriere della Sera.

The Messagero Veneto said the journalists had traveled to Cuba to follow
up on a double murder, seeking interviews with a Cuban who had been
living in Italy and whose sister has been detained in the case. He
denied in an interview with the daily any involvement by himself or his

The Messaggero Veneto said on its website today that its correspondent
faced a hearing later today. The newspaper said that the four had
entered the country with tourist visas and were stopped when because
they were working as journalists.

Friday, September 28, 2012

CDR: Citizen Representation or Political Control?

CDR: Citizen Representation or Political Control? / Yoani Sanchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sanchez

The stew was cooked on firewood collected by some neighbors, the flags
hung in the middle of the block and the shouts of Viva! went on past
midnight. A ritual repeated with more or less enthusiasm every September
27 throughout the Island. The eve of the 52nd anniversary of the
founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the
official media celebrate on its commemoration, a song intended to
energize those who are a part of the organization with the most members
in the entire country, and to dust off the old anecdotes of glory and power.

But beyond these formalities, which are repeated identically each year,
we can perceive that the influence of the CDR in Cuban life is in a
downward spiral. Gone are the days when we were all "CeDeRistas" and the
acronym — with the figure of a man brandishing a machete — still shone
brightly on the facades of some houses.

Amid the ongoing decline of its prominence, it's worth asking if the
committees have been a more of source of transmission of power to the
citizenry, than a representation of us to the government. The facts
leave little room for doubt. Since they were created in 1960, they have
had an eminently ideological base, marked by informers. Fidel himself
said it during the speech in which he announced their creation:

"We are going to implement, against imperialist campaigns of aggression,
a Revolutionary system of collective surveillance where everybody will
know who lives on their block and what relations they have with the
tyranny; and what they devote themselves to; who they meet with; what
activities they are involved in."

These words from the Maximum Leader are now difficult to find reproduced
in full on national websites and newspapers. In part because, despite
the unconditional support for the Commander in Chief, the current
editors of these spaces know very well that such language is totally out
of sync with the 21st century.

That is, what seemed like an exalted Revolutionary speech delivered from
the balcony of the Presidential Palace, in the light of today has all
the hallmarks of partisan despotism, of the grossest authoritarianism.
Big Brother announcing his plan. If those words excited exaltation at
the beginning of the sixties… they now provoke in many a mixture of
terror, disgust and embarrassment for the man who spoke them.

The "sweeter" side of the CDR is the one that's always related in
official reports, talk about a popular force dedicated to collecting raw
material, helping in the vaccination of infants, promoting blood
donations, and guarding neighborhoods against crime. Put like that it
appears to be an apolitical neighborhood group ready to solve community

Believe me, behind this facade of representation and solidarity is
hidden a mechanism of surveillance and control. And I'm not speaking
from the distance of my armchair or from the lack of knowledge of a
tourist who spends two weeks in Havana.

I was one of those millions of Cuban children who stockpiled empty jars
or cartons, cut the grass and handed out anti-mosquito products in the
CDRs all over the country. I was also vaccinated against polio and even
tasted some plate of stew or other during the fiestas of this organization.

In short, I grew up as a child of the CDR, although when I reached
adulthood I refused to become a militant among its ranks. I lived all
this and I don't regret it, because now I can conscientiously say from
the inside that all those beautiful moments are dwarfed by the abuse,
the injustices, the accusations and control that these so-called
committees have visited on me and millions of other Cubans.

I speak of the many young people who were not able to attend university
in the years of the greatest ideological extremism because of a bad
reference from the president of their CDR. It was enough during a
reference check from a school or workplace for some CDRista to say that
an individual was "not sufficiently combative" for them to not be
accepted for a better job or a university slot.

It was precisely these neighborhood organizations who most forcefully
organized the repudiation rallies carried out in 1980 against those
Cubans who decided to emigrate through the port of Mariel in what came
to be known on the other shore as the Mariel Boatlift. And today they
are also the principal cauldron of the repressive acts against the
Ladies in White and other dissidents.

They have never worked as a unifying or conciliatory force in society,
but rather as a fundamental ingredient in the exacerbation of
ideological polarization, social violence, and the creation of hatred.

I remember a young man who lived in my neighborhood of Cayo Hueso, who
had long hair and listened to rock music. The president of the CDR made
his life so difficult, accused him of so many atrocities simply for the
fact of wanting to appear as who he was, that he finally ended up in
prison for "pre-criminal dangerousness." Today this intransigent — this
one-time "Frikie" from my block — lives with his daughter in
Connecticut, after having his life and reputation dragged through the
mud like so many others.

I also know of several big traders in the black market who assumed some
post in the committees to use as a cover for their illegal activities.
So many who took on the role of "head of surveillance" and were
simultaneously the biggest resellers of tobacco, gas, and food in the
whole area.

With few exceptions, I did not know ethically commendable people who led
a CDR. Rather they attracted those with the lowest human passions: envy
before those who prospered a little more; resentment of someone who
managed to create a harmonious family; grudges against those who
received remittances from family abroad; dislike for everyone who
honestly spoke their minds.

This deceitfulness, this absence of values and this accumulation of
grievances, have been been one of the fundamental causes for the CDRs'
fall into disgrace.

Because people are tired of hiding their bags so the informing neighbor
can't see it from their balcony. People are tired of the worn out sign
in front of their house with the figure with the threatening machete.
People are tired of paying a membership fee to an organization that when
you need it takes the side of the boss, the State, the Party.

People are tired of 52 anniversaries, one after another, like a stale
and nightmarish deja vu. People are tired. And the way to express this
exhaustion is with the lowest attendance at CDR meetings, failing to go
on night watch to "patrol" the blocks, even avoiding tasting the stew —
ever more bland — on the night of September 27.

If doubts remain about why people get tired, we have the words of Fidel
Castro himself on that day in 1960, when he revealed from the first
moment the objective of his grim creature: "We are going to establish a
system of collective surveillance. We are going to establish a system of
Revolutionary collective surveillance!"

27 September 2012

Our People’s Lawyers

Our People's Lawyers / Cuban Law Association, Wilfrido Vallin Almeida
Cuban Law Association, Translator: Espirituana, Veizant Boloy, Wilfredo
Vallin Almeida

The news hits me because it's so inconceivable: as he was trying to find
out the situation of a person detained in Santiago de las Vegas, the
young lawyer Veizant Boloy, of the Cuban Law Association, was arrested.

This arrest took place inside a police station. Veizant was handcuffed
and locked in a cell as well. There are no charges; there is no Arrest
Record; there is nothing. Now in Cuba not only are the lawyers who are
not pro-government not allowed to inquire about an imprisoned person,
but those who question and demand compliance with the law must be punished.

The officer, obviously irritated, told him:

"We no longer tolerate lawyers in police stations taking an interest in
those who are detained."

And in a different moment:

"For us you guys are not lawyers."

For some time we have known the defenseless situation existing in Cuba
regarding those who are detained and that we lawyers cannot be with them
from the moment they are taken prisoners. We can only do it after a
certain amount of time, when the police have already done what they
deemed appropriate.

But this matter of not allowing us even to inquire about the situation
of a person who is detained is the height of arbitrariness… but only to
demonstrate to what extents goes the harassment of those for whom the
laws were not written.

And that harassment results — I have no doubt — from the fact that many
people are willing to inform other Cubans of the Citizens' Demand that
was delivered to the headquarters of the National Assembly of the
People's Power on June 20th of the current year.

That demand urges the government to ratify the UN Covenants on Civil and
Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which seems
to be the last thing it wants in this world.

In acting in a repressive and violent way against what they themselves
signed, those who do it show their true face to the international
community… who observe what is happening not only in Syria or Africa.

Finally, whether they want it or not, those Covenants will be ratified
and we will continue to work to that end, we who — although some may not
like it — are OUR PEOPLE'S LAWYERS.

Translated by: Espirituana

September 24 2012

Cuba registers more gifts of homes than sales

Cuba registers more gifts of homes than sales
IANSBy Indo Asian News Service | IANS

Havana, Sep 28 (IANS/EFE) Between January and August of this year, Cuban
notaries handled some 45,000 property transactions, with gifts of real
estate exceeding sales, an official with the justice ministry said.

Olga Lidia Perez Diaz Thursday discussed at a press conference the new
law in force for almost a year that allows purchases and sales of real
estate and the gifting of homes according to contracts between
individuals, a law that put an end to the decades-long prohibition on
such activity.

She warned of legal consequences for anyone found to have disguised a
sale as a donation in an attempt to avoid paying taxes.

Nevertheless, she said that over the year that the law has been in force
not a single transaction has been nullified.

Of the 45,000 transactions, the majority occurred in Havana and the
provincial capitals.

The government of President Raul Castro last November gave the green
light to Decree 288, which modified the General Housing Law of 1988 by
easing restrictions on the transfer of housing among private individuals.

The measure - along with another similar one governing the buying and
selling of vehicles - is part of the government's economic reform plan
to "update" the socialist model and put an end to decades of
prohibitions and restrictions in assorted areas.

According to the National Housing Institute, 85 percent of Cuba's
roughly 3.7 million homes are within the sphere of private property.

Up until 2010, Cuba, which has 11.2 million citizens, had an
acknowledged shortage of some 600,000 houses, and - according to
government figures - more than 50 percent of all such structures are in
need of repair.


China, Cuba to intensify trade as Havana meets debt payments

China, Cuba to intensify trade as Havana meets debt payments

HAVANA — Cuba will intensify its economic ties with China, having met
payments on its debt with Beijing, its second largest trade partner,
Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas announced on Thursday.

Speaking on state-run television, Cabrisas said Cuba is committed to
"strict compliance of our financial obligations with China, including
those related to the rescheduling of our debt."

Cabrisas, who gave no details about the size of Cuba's debt with China,
made his remarks after the conclusion Wednesday of the latest round of
bilateral trade talks.

China's growing investment in Cuba can be seen in the context of helping
Cuba's domestic development, the minister said.

"We are heading into a higher stage (of investment) as part of our
social and economic development plan for our country," Cabrisas said.

Beijing's Minister for Commerce Chen Deming, who represented China at
the talks, said Cuba's payments towards its debt had "contributed to the
restoration of confidence" between the two trade partners.

China is Cuba's second biggest trade partner after Venezuela. Their
bilateral trade in 2011 was $1.9 billion, with about two-thirds of that
balance in China's favor. Trade reached $870 million for the first half
of this year.

The deal covers 10 joint enterprises -- six in Cuba, four in China -- in
several areas, including farming, light industry and tourism.

The agreement also will allow Havana to obtain replacement parts for
thousands of trains, buses cars and trucks purchased from China in 2006
by then-President Fidel Castro. Another important project involves
China's assistance with construction at Cuba's key port of Mariel, news
reports here said.

Havana exports primarily commodities to China such as sugar and nickel,
as well as some biotechnology products.

Independent news agency under threat in Cuba

Independent news agency under threat in Cuba
Published: September 28, 2012 Updated 3 hours ago
By DANA SANTS — The Institute for War & Peace Reporting

It appears that Cuban authorities are determined to eliminate one of the
few independent sources of news on the island nation.

That was the message conveyed to Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, the head
of the independent Hablemos Press, by one of the agency's reporters who
is currently in prison.

The reporter, Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias, was arrested earlier this
month on charges of "disrespecting" Cuban President Raul Castro and his
older brother, Fidel. Martinez has since required medical treatment for
injuries sustained while in custody.

While Martinez has been taken into custody on numerous occasions, this
is the first time the reporter has actually faced charges. Guerra
speculates that the Cuban security service want to take the journalist
"out of circulation" temporarily.

Independent journalists and human rights advocates are regularly
detained in Cuba. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says
"political conformity" is enforced through "short-term detentions,
beatings, public acts of repudiation, forced exile, and travel

An editorial in the state-controlled newspaper Granma in late July
described independent journalists, opposition parties and human rights
defenders as "vulgar agents whom the United States government and its
allies pay, supply and instruct. They betray their nation for a few coins."

Guerra himself is no stranger to confrontations with the authorities. He
was arrested and beaten by police earlier this month.

In a Twitter posting on September 25, Guerra said, "Neither my phone nor
Magaly's (his wife) can receive calls. Only yesterday were we able to
begin sending messages, but we can neither make nor receive calls."

It's all part of the government's attempt to limit access to Hablemos
Press, he suspects.

Hugo Landa, who heads the U.S.-based Cubanet website, says Hablemos
Press plays an essential role by providing information about what is
really happening in Cuba.

"Hablemos Press has become a source of independent information that
covers practically the entire island ... despite the government siege
that makes this very difficult," he said. "They are also able to quickly
send their reports to the outside world, giving them a value of
immediacy that is often lacking due to restricted Internet access in Cuba."

From his prison cell, Martinez Arias asks colleagues to remain calm,
asking them simply to "continue their work as journalists."


Dana Sants is an independent journalist in Mexico. This article first
appeared on a website maintained by The Institute for War & Peace
Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of
conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War &
Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site: For information about IWPR's funding, please go to

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers.
McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the
opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the
views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

2012 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Spain remains Cuba’s largest European source of foreign direct investment

Spain remains Cuba's largest European source of foreign direct investment

HAVANA, Cuba, Thursday, September 27, 2012 – Business people from Cuba
and Spain are meeting in Havana today to assess new business projects
that could increase investment flows between the two Spanish-speaking

Official sources report that, in 2011, Spain was among the main trading
partners of Cuba, after Venezuela and China.

Madrid officials have established Spain as the first European investor
in Cuba, with more than US $1.5 billion dollars received annually and
indications that number could grow in the near future.

Despite the current economic and social turmoil in Spain, organisers of
the 18th Business Cooperation Committee between the two countries remain
optimistic that entrepreneurs from Cuba and Spain will find new mutual
business opportunities for 2012-2013.

According to the program for the day, representatives of both
delegations will give lectures about the updating of the Cuban economic
model and the prospects for the Spanish economy in the current crisis.

José Antonio Vicente, director of the Zaragoza Fair, will provide
details of the Biotechnology Fair to be held in Spain from October 9th
through the 11th this year and explain the sector priorities for the
Iberian nation.

In the 17th Committee, held in March 2010 in Havana, participants
evaluated investment projects, export of services and strategic
alliances in areas such as information technology and communications,
iron and steel industry and the joint development of vaccines.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Human rights activists detained in Cuba

Cuba: Human rights activists detained in Cuba

UA: 276/12 Index: AMR 25/022/2012 Cuba Date: 25 September 2012


dozens of cuban opposition activists detained

Members of the Ladies in White have been detained in Havana and several
other places in Cuba. Some remain in detention and the authorities have
failed to provide reasons for their detention or information on their

From 21 to 24 September the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) held
several activities, including masses and marches in Havana, to celebrate
the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy (Virgin de la Merced) and in memory
of former political activists. Since 20 September, various members of
the Ladies in White have received intimidating notes aimed at preventing
them from taking part in activities. Reports from the group state that
the headquarters in Neptuno Street, Havana have been surrounded by
police officers.

Around 50 members of the group, who travelled from different provinces
of Cuba to attend the activities, were arrested on their way to Havana.
The majority of them were released and deported back to their provinces,
however 19 remain detained and their whereabouts are unknown. On 24
September as the Ladies in White planned to attend mass, an act of
repudiation (acto de repudio see background information) took place at
their headquarters. Government supporters and state agents gathered in
the street chanting pro-government slogans and intimidating the women.
In the early morning of 25 September 18 members of the Ladies in White
were arrested at the headquarters.

Amnesty International believes that the repeated use of short term
detentions of members of the Ladies in White and other activists in Cuba
is a tactic used to silence dissident voices in the country and prevent
peaceful activities. Furthermore the systematic arrest of activists
travelling from the provinces to Havana represents an excessive
limitation to freedom of movement and represents excessive control and
harassments of dissidents.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

Calling on the authorities to reveal immediately the identity and
whereabouts of all members of the Ladies in White arrested between 21-25

Urging them to immediately release the detained members, unless there is
sufficient evidence to charge them with an internationally recognizable
criminal offence;

Urging them to immediately cease the harassment and intimidation of
members of the Ladies in White and all other citizens who seek to
peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and
association, and immediately stop arbitrary restrictions on freedom of
movement of Cubans inside Cuba.



Raúl Castro Ruz

Presidente de la República de Cuba

La Habana, �Cuba

Fax: +53 7 83 33 085 (via Foreign Ministry); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban
Mission to UN)

Email: (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)

Salutation: Your Excellency

Interior Minister

General Abelardo Coloma Ibarra

Ministro del Interior y Prisiones

Ministerio del Interior, �Plaza de la Revolución, �La Habana, Cuba

Fax: +537 85 56 621; +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)


Salutation: Your Excellency

And copies to:

Attorney General

Dr Darío Delgado Cura

Fiscal General de la República, �Fiscalía General de la República,
Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella, Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba

Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above


dozens of cuban opposition activists detained
ADditional Information

Acts of repudiation (actos de repudio) are government coordinated
demonstrations, usually carried out in front of the homes of political
opponents, attended by government supporters, state officials and law
enforcement agencies aimed at harassing and intimidating opponents and
are often used to prevent them from travelling to participate in
activities. During an act of repudiation, political opponents and human
rights activists are subjected to verbal and physical abuse by groups of
people chanting pro-government slogans. Police are usually present but
fail to intervene to stop the assaults. Such incidents frequently
involve the Rapid Response Brigades (Brigadas de Respuesta Rápida), a
structure set up in 1991 and composed of Communist Party volunteers
whose task is to deal with any sign of 'counter-revolution'.

Local human rights activists and others believe these incidents are
orchestrated by Cuba's security services to intimidate any opposition.

The Ladies in White was formed by a group of female relatives of the 75
prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned in March 2003 for their
peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government. The group
would attend mass every Sunday in the capital, Havana, dressed in white,
to pray for the release of their relatives. Afterwards they would take
part in a procession from the church to a nearby park, carrying white

A solidarity group called the Ladies in Support (Damas de Apoyo)
subsequently emerged to support and participate in activities organized
by the Ladies in White. In early 2012 the two groups merged and all
members are now considered to be Ladies in White. After the release of
all the prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown, the
Ladies in White have been campaigning for the release of political
prisoners and for the lifting of restrictions on fundamental civil and
political freedoms in Cuba.

The Ladies in White have repeatedly suffered harassment and intimidation
as they have attempted to carry out their peaceful activities. They are
frequently subject to acts of repudiation by government supporters and
members of the security forces, and also to short-term arbitrary
detentions in order to disrupt their activities.

Name: Members of The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) and other
opposition activists in Cuba

Gender m/f: both

UA: 276/12 Index: AMR 25/022/2012 Issue Date: 25 September 2012

Cuba Surgeons Write to Raul Castro About Disastrous Health Care System

Cuba Surgeons Write to Raul Castro About Disastrous Health Care System
Translating Cuba

Open letter from the General Surgery Department of the "Calixto Garcia"
Hospital to the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and
President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Army General Raul
Castro Ruz

To be good is the only way to be happy.
To be cultured is the only way to be free.
But, given human nature, one needs to be prosperous to be good.
José Martí

The "Calixto Garcia" hospital in Havana takes as its mission to provide
specialized preventative-curative medical care and rehabilitation
without interruption to the population through high-quality medical care
and high professional standards [1]. With its 100-year history it has
been a permanent school of surgeons in the country, and an important
element in our country's struggle for independence; many of our
professors were clandestine combatants [2] and brilliant doctors on
international medical missions of great importance.

Surgeons at the hospital, respecting the Hippocratic Oath [3], have
historically been characterized as being critical and self-critical, but
especially combative in the face of difficulties, bad decisions taken,
and the multiple errors that affect our nation, and that little by
little are endangering the future, taking health as a pillar of the
transformations arising in the Revolutionary period, and our duty to
provide a professional and dignified medical care, in accord with the
scientific advances of the 21st century.

After countless reports to the head of the service, hospital management,
discussions within the core of the Cuban Communist Party, and our long
standing inability to participate in discussion at other levels with the
leaders of the ministry, where medical personnel present their
uncensored opinions [8] and ways to solve the major problems currently
plaguing the health sector, which include everything from training to
direct care, a group of surgeons felt it their elementary duty [8, 9,
10] and agreed to send this letter to the head of the service, for the
sole purpose of informing him of the extremely serious elements in
healthcare delivery to the Cuban people, which apparently at this time
when it is happening in public health in general, and in our hospital in
particular, the lack of immediate plans to resolve them are unknown by
the top political leadership of the country, contrasting inversely with
the official discourse of our media.

Medical care, and especially surgery in our center is a great disaster,
characterized by:

A hospital with a destroyed physical structure, due to its age and
innumerable poor quality and short-term repairs.
A lack of important resources for the care of patients, because of
inadequate distribution, insufficient management, or excess work because
of the reduction of this activity in other hospitals for similar reasons.
Human mental deterioration accompanied by the loss of the minimum
attention to the person, who spends long days of free labor for a
significant number of hours, and in a country where the "free perks"
have been ended, and where working conditions are below those of any
poor place in the world.

In our hospital the surgical services have been declining and the number
of operating rooms has been reduced from about 30 for all specialties to
no more than 10 at present, which although greatly destroyed still
provide this vital service to the people. The irregularities in these
operating rooms, their constantly broken air conditioning, lack of
water, lack of adequate equipment in some of them, means that cancer
patients cannot be operated on in time in our institution, others with
benign conditions, susceptible to immediate treatment when diagnosed,
develop complications because of delays in the resolution of their problems.

And as if that weren't enough, the urgent conditions also present great
difficulties. These, which constitute an important number of cases, are
referred from some other place in the city, many times transferred
poorly, which puts the lives of these patients in danger and even kills
them when theoretically this could have been avoided. Despite the fact
this this is the only surgical priority this hospital serves a good part
of the time, they must sometimes wait more than 24 hours between their
arrival and their emergency surgery, mainly because of the lack of
available operating rooms and of sufficient and adequate personnel, but
also because of the physical exhaustion of the doctors who raise these
issues and raise them again and discuss these problems at every possible
level and/or a good part of the time put the responsibility on the
orderlies, cleaners, and in addition put the full responsibility for
sick patients on their families, the sick patients themselves, and society.

The deficiencies in the health care system are so serious, in our
opinion, that we are forced by these issues and others of resources that
continue in a temporary or permanent way, to provide care to our people
that is not professionally ethical or dignified, as is our sacred duty.

Moreover, the repairs undertaken at our hospital, that have been
underway for more than 10 years, have done little to change the
unviability of a horizontal hospital in current times; the majority of
the repairs are putting make-up on old buildings, performed with
terrible quality and, of course, lasting a short time, which increases
the frequency of new repairs.

Rooms that have waited 10 years for repairs, today crumble four months
after they open, with the first downpour; leaks, collapses of the false
ceilings, and a number of important areas declared inhabitable, are a
daily fact of life in our work and our patients' stays.

The suspension of operations because of the weather, water, insufficient
rooms, or whatever cause, is no longer unforeseen but rather is
commonplace. As the operating rooms are no longer available to solve the
problems of the patients, now it is us, the surgeons, who must
prioritize one or another patient in an an unfortunate and exhausting
search for surgical opportunities for a Cuban whom we only know, sadly,
because of his illness.

The only thing we need to add to this depressing picture is the working
conditions of the doctors and the personnel in general, starting with
wages that are not enough to support a family, degrading working
conditions; including lack of a place to rest during long days of
surgery or work, the several miles walked between rooms, in the dust,
the sun, and many times the rain; the terrible quality and quantify of
food; the lack of a decent place to take care of one's physiological
needs; and no showers to cool off in the intense heat or to clean up
before contaminating a surgery, almost force us, when they become
permanent, to change our mentality.

The fatigue leads to well studied complications [4, 5, 6, 7]; if on top
of that we add the ridiculous figure of 2-1/2 gallons of gas a month for
those fortunate enough to have cars, not even enough to go to and from
work for the first week of the month, among many other mistreatments; it
all completes the picture of deteriorations that definitely have a
bearing on the medical care that is offered to the people.
Today it is impossible to ask doctors, even with a car, to come to the
hospital in the middle of the night to check on their surgical patients,
or to come on Sunday, as was common among surgeons historically; and
what's more it's impossible to ask them to perform a new operation on a
patient with complications at 10 PM and you don't have to be very
intelligent to know what happens with a case when a patient has been
repeatedly operated on five times by different surgeons.

We believe that this situation generates unquestionably disastrous
complications in patients, where studies show that after six hours of
work of a surgeon's complications multiply [4, 5, 6, 7]; and of course,
that's talking about working with appropriate comfort. Also in many
cases, death, which we cause when we have a terminal patient with almost
no hope; it is not ethically dignified because we can't do for him what
he deserves or should have, at the time it should be done: we have
multiple examples from all the surgeons who work in this hospital, and
the great number of the population who observe and criticize, that what
is said in the media has no connection to our country and our hospitals.

We think that our government has a commitment in all this, because it
exists to meet the needs of the people, to solve the problems of the
people, of the workers, simply because they are responsible for
maintaining the hospitals, for properly training the workers in a high
quality and fair educational system, for developing an ethical education
consistent with the work they will be doing, or anyone thinks why do
doctors, engineers, builders undertake the missions they do in their
work: they do it because their work makes things better, for their
family and the society they live in, but unfortunately that is only
achieved in our country by leaving it, leaving the country that gave us
birth [10], which is ours by right, and nobody, absolutely nobody, has
the right to take away our identity under any circumstances, and for
which we must give even our lives for our nation to remain independent.

The misfortunes narrated here do not come alone, they come about slowly
when the investment is maintained for years in the living standards of
the people with their ability and dedications, the socialist law well
known by everyone: "to everyone according to his work." When the
leaders, with their laws, decrees, special circulars, and their
decisions and provisions, are compromising the future, how long will we
thank the centenary generation for having fulfilled their duty and
obligation of liberating Cuba, while our generation wants to fulfill its
duty to develop and give our families, our children, our Cuban brothers,
the life they deserve, while the destructive tracks of corruption run
riot with a singular debauchery on every side of society where we turn
our gaze?

As José Martí said: "given human nature, one needs to be prosperous to
be good." The government is responsible for all this, not only for
knowing it, but also for fixing it. So, and before it's too late,
leading to events like those at the Mazorra hospital [where 40+ patients
starved and froze to death], we decided in this group of doctors,
sacrificing, hard-working, dedicated, ethical, and above all badly
treated, to report to you and to those responsible all of our concerns,
in our modest opinion serious ones, from this place so undervalued on
the social scale, which is the heroic and historical general surgery
service of the oldest hospital in our beloved country.

[3] Juramento Hipocrático.
[4] Editorial. Revista Canadian Medical Association Journal
[5] Journal of the American Medical Association

[8] "Now whomever wants to speak will speak, good or bad, but whoever
wants to will speak. Not as happened here, when only those who spoke
evil spoke, there will be freedom." Speech by Fidel Castro. Parque
Cespedes, Santiago de Cuba, on January 1, 1959.

[9] "… How can we say 'this is our homeland' if the homeland does not
have anything? 'My homeland', but my homeland does not give me anything,
my homeland does not sustain me, in my homeland I'm starving. That's not
a homeland! Will the homeland be for a few, but not a homeland for the
people. Homeland does not mean only a place where one can shout, talk
and walk without being killed; homeland is a place where you can live,
homeland is a place where you can work and earn an honest living, and
also earn what is fair pay for your work. Homeland is where the citizen
is not exploited, because if they exploit the citizen, if you take away
what belongs to him, if you steal what he has, that is not homeland."
Speech by Fidel Castro Ruz, at the Town Square of Camagüey, the January
4, 1959.

[10] "… it is precisely the tragedy of our people not to have a
homeland. And the best evidence, the best evidence that we have no
homeland is that tens of thousands of children of this land are leaving
Cuba for another country to live, but they have no homeland. And not
everyone who wants to leave goes, only those who can. And that's true
and you know it." Speech by Fidel Castro Ruz, at the Town Square of
Camagüey, the January 4, 1959.

Taken from, 22 September 2012

Cuban gov't accused of smearing dissidents

Cuban gov't accused of smearing dissidents
Cuban dissident Marta Beatriz Roque. EFE/File

Havana, Sep 26 (EFE).- Former political prisoner Marta Beatriz Roque on
Wednesday said that Cuba's Communist government "is using low and dirty
methods" to discredit the opposition and confuse public opinion.
Roque earlier this month headed a hunger strike that was joined by a
score of other dissidents to demand the release from prison of a
colleague and to protest the circumstances the opposition finds itself
in, a protest state television described as a "media show" and an
anti-Cuba campaign.
"Indisputably, the government is very bothered by the strike and the
repercussions it has had internationally," Roque told Efe in a response
to Tuesday's piece on state television.
The dissident economist said that the reproduction of images taken
inside her home and the broadcasting of several of her telephone
conversations in the reporting are "violations of privacy. What has been
done is unconstitutional."
"All that is manipulated," she added, going on to say that she is not
going to "justify at all what the government says because they are
telling lies and we have the truth."
The reporting on Cuban state television said that at least 13 dissidents
who had declared themselves to be on hunger strike were actually eating
during that time and it presented the testimony of a man said to be one
of Roque's neighbors who claimed that the dissident asked him to buy
fruit and vegetables during the protest.
After pursuing the hunger strike for eight days, Roque announced that
she was terminating the fast on Sept. 18 upon learning that Cuban
authorities had promised to release Jorge Vazquez, though he has yet to
be let out of prison.
The Cuban government views the dissidents as counterrevolutionaries and
"mercenaries" funded by the U.S. government and Cuban exile groups.

Corruption of a Political Elite

Corruption of a Political Elite
September 26, 2012
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES — A few weeks ago, Cuban academic Esteban Morales returned
to the same issue that in 2010 cost him his membership in the Communist
Party, though he was reinstated in 2011. That issue: corruption.

Morales raised the issue tactfully, with all due discretion, and if in
2010 he pointed to ex-general Rogelio Acevedo's alleged embezzling of
millions, in 2012 he raised his concerns pointing to the poor soul who
might sell a few crates of beer under the table to buy their child a
birthday cake.

Obviously a great deal of what Morales says is true, and corruption is
both grand scale and petty. I would also agree with him about the need
to address this growing corruption in Cuba and that this will require
greater transparency and more public debate.

I would also say that it's going to need more political will and a more
decent and modernized police force. In addition, something elementary,
is that it would require a more dynamic and inclusive economic system
than this current eyesore in ruins that the general/president wants to
update, inside and out.

Nevertheless, this is an issue that requires much more analysis than
what Morales is spending on it. Though I'm sure that I won't be able to
do a better job, I will nonetheless try to toss out some polemical ideas
with no other intention than to stimulate further discussion.

If by corruption we understand it as the appropriation of resources and
values outside of institutional structures and existing norms, then
there has always been corruption in post-revolutionary Cuba. It's not a
problem of the world crisis or the market.

There were always officials who benefitted from sums of money and
quantities of products far in excess of what was due to them by law. In
these cases, it has especially been reflected in salaries. Corruption
also existed in the forms of nepotism, influence trafficking, impunity
and deceitful cooptation.

Everything was inherent in the reproduction of the elite itself and the
cultivation of political loyalties.

This was a form of corruption that could imply family trips abroad,
paradisiacal vacations at beachside resorts, free cars and gasoline for
all of them, nice houses always available, all types of gratification
for secret lovers, etc. But this was also a form of corruption centrally
administered from and that didn't allow a substantial accumulation of

At most it was possible to store used items, because the system itself
didn't favor capitalization. This is why it didn't encourage autonomy.
It was necessary to be a member of the apparatchik and defend the
structure tooth and nail, including the supreme leader and the immortal

On the contrary, autonomy meant returning to the plebeian austerity that
was practiced by those at the bottom: eating from the ration book, going
swimming on the "dog teeth" (sharp rocks) of Monte Barreto "beach" and
being a pedestrian.

When an official was punished for corruption, this didn't mean that
others weren't corrupt, but that the one sanctioned had broken some
golden rule and hadn't taken it sufficiently into account that their
prosperity was revocable. Accusations of corruption appeared regularly
when an official fell from grace either for trying to practice
corruption on their own or because they committed some other
inadmissible slip up.

In 2005 Fidel Castro delivered a marathon speech in which he said
corruption could bring down what he called "the revolution." It was a
single point in a four-hour tirade in which he also talked about
everything from drinking hot chocolate to the imperialistic threat.

Nonetheless, this was sufficient to inflame the intellectual class,
always interested in saying something without dying in the attempt. And
it's possible that when Esteban Morales wrote his first article in 2010
he had been motivated by the words of his political leader.

But this involved not only an echo weakened by time, but one that was
also confused by the circumstances, because what Fidel Castro protested
in 2005 was the proliferation of a type of corruption that he couldn't
control and that could change many of the rules of the game: He feared
corruption with a relationship to the market.

Since then, corruption no longer refers to how much an official takes
from what politically they're assigned, but how much they appropriate
based on their aggressiveness and unscrupulousness in a world that
basically disregards vertical political controls.

Ex-general Acevedo didn't fall from grace because he appropriated what
wasn't his. That's something done every day by many high-level Cuban
officials, their children and lovers. This is done by many of those
cheerful guests of that elegant Havana – including the heirs of the
Castro clan (as was described by Lois Farrow Parshley in a recent article).

Acevedo surely fell from favor because he exceeded what was permitted,
because he accumulated on his own, because the system doesn't admit
loose electrons or because his foreign accomplices weren't reliable.

There could have been another reason with which I'm unfamiliar, but he
wasn't sacked simply because he was corrupt. It was not because at some
moment he wore crocodile-skin shoes or sported a solid Rolex, though nor
had his worn-out humanity been decked out on those nights of the famous.

The corruption that prevails in Cuba today, the one that's really
important, is the one that's occurring in the process of the primitive
accumulation of capital by a political elite in its bourgeois metamorphosis.

Of course there's also another form of corruption that Morales describes
very well. This is the one happens from below, the one that is the
result of the holes in a worm-eaten system. Sometimes this is to live
better and other times it's simply in order to live at all, and in this
latter instance, more than corruption – it's resistance.

Because in the end, the system that exists today is inseparable from
that corruption that implies the switching of products, wrongful
billings, work hours used for other purposes, state cars used for taxis,
among other calamities that happen when the state possesses everything
also doesn't know how to manage it.

But to speak only about this is to talk about what's secondary while
omitting what's fundamental. This is, I repeat, something that is
happening to all the partisans of the "orderly transition" (where
there's a lot of order and very little transition) when they want to
shape public opinion: They are always talking about love without ever
mentioning sex.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by

The Race Issue that Never Seems to End

The Race Issue that Never Seems to End
September 26, 2012
Maria Matienzo Puerto

HAVANA TIMES — Adela's in-laws are a typical Cuban couple of their
generation…an elderly pair with shared hatreds. The mother-in-law still
hasn't forgiven the father-in-law for his infidelity committed with a
black woman way back during their first years of marriage.

She brings it up every chance she gets, but he'll say nothing. Still,
Adela told me that that the black woman was the love of his life but
that the relationship didn't go forward precisely because of her being
black. What was his family going to say?

That was the thinking of many white men of that time (at least I thought
so). Black and mulatto women were only "chosen" as mistresses, but never
as wives, though there were plenty of anomalies of course.

How terrible, right? Given the already disadvantaged social position of
women, being black or mulatto was yet another — let's say — "subcategory."

I had thought these social constructs had been left behind in the
distant 20th century when another friend, Elena, started telling me
about what happened to her in a relationship that ended a few weeks earlier.

After a several weeks of "passionate" lovemaking, the guy — a white man
emerging as one of Cuba's nouveau riche — decided they shouldn't
continue because he was falling in love and that such a relationship was
going to interfere with his plans.

She was devastated, while he never realized that the feelings might be
mutual. Nonetheless, Elena understood and consoled herself thinking that
for her, too, a relationship at that time could have been counterproductive.

But, as the old saying goes, "Lies have short legs." Less than two weeks
after the breakup "European social style" — without tears, pleas or an
excess of heartbreak — there came the news. He was engaged to a gorgeous

There were no complaints from Elena…there was really nothing to complain
about. She was left with a bitter taste in her mouth for having been
rejected, tossed to the side like a piece of old furniture, livestock or
who knows what else.

These personal stories that seem drawn from old-fashioned melodramatic
novels continue on in modern times.

I don't know how things are in other parts of the world, but here the
issue of race has no end. When you think some things have progressed a
little, you realize that others have slipped backwards I don't know how
many steps.

And if we add to this the fact that education here isn't aimed at making
people more assertive in seeking needed changes in our society, I really
don't know where we're going.

Cuba – In Search of an »Orderly Transition«

Cuba – In Search of an »Orderly Transition«
26/09/2012 By Uwe Optenhoegel and Florian Pronold

For the first time since the demise of the Eastern Bloc Cuba's socialist
rulers are undertaking serious reform. However, the leadership lacks
courage and trust in the people.

In Cuba, some things work differently. The visit to the island by Pope
Benedict XVI at the end of March 2012 brought this home once again. The
Western media tried to engineer a meeting of Cuban dissidents with the
Holy Father and to get the Pope to commit himself to hauling the Castro
brothers over the coals for their human rights policy. The Pope did
nothing of the sort, heeding the advice of his Cuban bishops who had
preached cooperation. The Catholic Church also knows that the small
group of regime opponents are not a force at the moment and thus cannot
be a vehicle of change.

And change is happening in Cuba at all levels: economic, political and
social. But it is coming primarily from the heart of society, fuelled by
the ongoing economic misery and recently spurred on by speculation about
the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. This is because Cuba's
current economic model depends to a considerable extent on his
subsidies. Cuban socialism is not a carbon copy of the East European
version. Cuba is not half as Catholic as Poland. The Cuban trade unions
remain the Party's »transmission belt« in workplaces, but there is no
patriotic mass movement with ideas of its own, such as Solidarnosc in
the 1980s. In Havana there is neither a charismatic workers' leader in
the same mould as Lech Walesa, nor a civil rights advocate of the
stature of Vaclav Havel.

The Pope limited himself to vague criticisms of Marxism and talked about
human rights only in carefully weighed words about Christian charity.
Instead, before the eyes of the world the Vatican criticised the 50-year
US embargo as inhuman and gave his blessing to the new line of
cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Cuban state in the
transformation process. The basis of this alliance is the fact that the
Church no longer questions the legitimacy of socialism in Cuba. As
Cardinal of Havana, Jaime Ortega, has emphasised in numerous talks with
Western politicians that the Catholic Church regards Cuban socialism as
the result of a people's campaign for national independence and thus as
identity-shaping, in contrast to the situation in Central and Eastern
Europe where in 1945 socialism rolled into most countries mounted on the
tanks of the Red Army.
The Myth Is Fading

However, Cuba's myth is fading. Social services, once the pride of the
Revolution, are no longer affordable and are becoming markedly poorer.
Nevertheless, the regime is holding on to the ambitious social policy of
the Revolution: in recent years the share of education, health care and
social security in GDP has increased. Given the poor economic
performance, however, even these priorities are not enough to maintain

The inefficient economy has alienated the people from the government.
The generation who lived through the Revolution and benefited from it is
slowly dying out. The unproductive planned economy offers the young
generation the prospect neither of work nor consumption. The relatively
homogenous and egalitarian society distinguished by the overcoming of
social injustices and racial barriers is a thing of the past. Beneath
the surface of power political stability Cuban society is diversifying.
Fidel Castro elevated Marx's proposition »From each according to his
abilities, to each according to his needs« into a maxim. This promise
has lost credibility. In Cuba social exclusion can be seen once more.
This development touches a nerve in the Cuban psyche. Anyone without
access to the »peso convertible« linked to the dollar easily falls into
poverty. Particularly affected are the growing number of old people
living alone and Afro Cubans. At the same time, individual origin is
once again becoming important for educational success.

Even the government of President Raul Castro no longer closes its eyes
to all this. For the first time since the end of the Eastern Bloc Cuba
is seriously on the path of reform and trying to modernise the centrally
run economy. At the beginning of the 1990s, the economic crisis caused
by the demise of real socialism was still interpreted as externally
induced. In contrast, the current crisis is seen as a consequence of
Cuba's lack of its own economic model. No one has expressed this more
emphatically than Raul Castro himself, who said before the Cuban
National Assembly in 2010: »Either we change or we go under«. Mistakes
are admitted and the focus is on putting them right. The time is also
over in which Cuban officials declare that every problem on the island
is due to the US embargo. The embargo has long performed a dual function
for Cuba. It continues to do the country considerable economic damage,
but at the same time it has a stabilising effect domestically: it makes
it possible to cultivate the bogeyman of an overbearing imperialistic
neighbour against whom one can only defend oneself with revolutionary
discipline and unity.
Chávez Keeps the Ailing Economy Alive

The state of the economy as reform of the economic model gets under way
is extremely poor. Half a century after the Revolution Cuba has not been
able to get its planned economy off the ground. Within the framework of
the division of labour of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance
(COMECON) the country was committed to deliver sugar or other foodstuffs
and raw materials. When the Eastern European economic community and thus
the Soviet subsidies ceased Cuba had to completely rebuild its economy.
Fidel Castro passed this task on to his brother and then Defence
Minister Raul and his »Forcas Armadas Revolutionarias« (FAR). The
successful completion of this mission marked the entry of the Cuban
military into the economy, at least in its more modern sectors. Since
then they have extended their influence and today are the pragmatic
driving force behind the reforms. Although in this way collapse was
avoided the economic sectors built up since then – tourism, nickel
exporting and, to a certain extent, health services and biotechnology –
have not developed enough to cover the country's need for foreign
currency. For years Cuba has lived with a structural foreign trade
deficit, with high foreign debts and, as a result, a shortage of
liquidity. When Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela at the end of the
1990s Fidel Castro found a new source of subsidies. Although they kept
alive the ailing planned economy, at the same time they stymied the
promising reform efforts, a serious wrong decision that cost Cuba a lost
decade with regard to economic policy.

Meanwhile, the island has an economic structure in which the
»productive« sectors account for only around a quarter of value added,
with the service sector accounting for the rest. Cuban economists talk
of a »dysfunctional tertiarisation« that threatens the healthy
development of the economy. Since the beginning of the 1990s the Cuban
economy has not been in a position to ensure the necessary
recapitalisation, the basis of its very existence. Gross fixed-asset
investments fell by 47 per cent between 1989 and 2007. In 2006 they
accounted for only 13.5 per cent of GDP and remain at this level today.
This is half the level of 1989 and around half of what is regarded as
necessary for sustainable growth. Thus Cuba lies below the Latin
American average of around 20 per cent. The country is de-industrialised
and there are almost no intact value chains, to say nothing of the
dilapidation of the infrastructure.

The dual currency that followed dollarisation at the start of the 1990s
continues to have grave consequences for Cuba's wage earners. It became
the main catalyst of social differentiation. Wages were paid in the
Cuban peso, which has little purchasing power. Most basic necessities
are traded in the convertible CUC, however. For this reason Cubans who
have access to foreign currency are much better off than their fellow
countrymen who do not. People acquire hard currency either through
remittances from Cubans living abroad, through tourism or through
foreign trade. Generally speaking, additional incomes from remittances
and from the black market or private economic activities significantly
exceed regular incomes. Thus paid work is becoming increasingly
unimportant. This system creates entirely the wrong incentives. The
fact that a waitress, a taxi driver or the cleaners at a tourist place
earn four times as much as a doctor or a teacher is leading to the
inversion of Cuba's social pyramid. Consequently, many young people are
asking themselves whether it's worth getting a good education. And more
and more highly qualified professionals are emigrating to places where
they can earn good money even without qualifications.
The search for a new development model

Against this background the government has been introducing economic
reforms since summer 2010 which became official policy with the adoption
of the "Guidelines on Economic and Social Policy" at the Sixth Party
Congress of the Communist Party in April 2011. The Guidelines represent
a »roadmap« for seeking a new sustainable development model. A debate is
going on concerning the future balance between the state, cooperative
and private sectors. There is no doubt that the reforms are intended to
rescue socialism and not to weaken or abolish it. The turnaround is
supposed to be brought about by privatisations in crafts and small
businesses, as well as private production and marketing of foodstuffs on
land leased from the state on a long-term basis. Furthermore, the
decentralisation of decision-making and budget components to provinces
and municipalities as well as more autonomy for state enterprises is
under discussion. The distribution of land has already been going on for
around two years. Besides this, Cuba is strengthening the cooperative
sector and is cutting back the widespread social subsidies, for example,
food ration cards and canteens in state-owned workplaces.

But the bulk of the economy will remain under central planning and the
most important means of production will remain in state ownership. The
guiding principle of the reforms is farewell to a paternalistic state.
The goal of this agenda is to reduce wage costs by making people
redundant in the state sector and to raise the extremely low labour
productivity in state-owned companies. The private sector now being
created and the cooperatives are supposed to absorb those made redundant
and improve the availability of goods and services. The new
self-employed are supposed to improve state finances through their
taxes. In agriculture the measures are supposed to lead to a rapid
increase in production in order to substitute imports of agricultural
products (Cuba's food import rate is around 80 per cent) and to give the
state some financial room to manoeuvre.
Where Are Job Seekers Supposed to Find a Job?

The labour market is characterised by massive underemployment and low
productivity. Already by April 2011, 500,000 state employees were
supposed to be laid off, rising to 1.3 million by 2015. Given a working
population of 4.9 million this is a very ambitious goal. But this reform
measure has barely taken off. Even Cuban experts were unclear as to
where the army of job seekers were supposed to find jobs. The list of
professions set free for self-employment seemed as though it was from
the nineteenth century, not the twenty-first. It is now slowly being
extended to include modern professions. However, labour market reform is
proceeding, albeit more slowly than planned. According to the trade
unions, in 2011 around 800,000 employees were affected by implementation
or restructuring processes.

The expansion of crafts and small businesses has been more successful.
According to official data the number of »cuenta propistas« – »employees
on their own account« rose from around 145,000 in 2008 to around 360,000
at the end of 2011. In part, this is likely to be the result of the
legalisation of what were previously black market businesses. Pensioners
are also coming back into the labour market. By 2015 the sector is
supposed to account for around 35 per cent of employees and a similar
share of GDP.

The obstacles to the success of this reform measure are in the small
print, in the realisation of accompanying or preparatory measures to
enable the new micro and small businesses to operate in the first place.
This includes the setting up of credit lines, regulations on tax and
social security, import and export provisions, structural reform in the
banking system and so on. This process has proceeded sluggishly so far.
It remains to be seen whether the incentives made available so far are
sufficient to persuade the population to use their scarce resources and
the organisational and improvisational capacities honed on the black
market within a legal framework. Bureaucratic irresponsibility and the
primacy of political control could also stymie people's initiative and
willingness to take risks.

But even if the reforms were a total success the effects would largely
be limited to the domestic market and the labour market. For Cuba it
would be a major step forward to improve the supply situation and give a
permanent place to private initiative and responsibility. But the
leading Cuban economists also know that this would be merely one step on
the long way to a more sustainable economic model. The agenda of further
structural reforms is long: a new policy is needed with regard to
foreign direct investment, a company and macroeconomic innovation
policy, a reorientation of foreign economic policy, establishing a
functional tax system, integration of the two currencies and a growth
strategy that finally gives the state a certain financial leeway.

Summarising how things stand at the moment one could say that although
the modernisation process is moving slowly and is too tightly
controlled, at least it is continuous. And it is rather a matter of
trial and error than a master plan. In terms of overall economic growth
the effect of the reforms was still negligible by 2011; in previous
years growth was between 2.5 and 3 per cent. However, one thing is
clear: if the roadmap is implemented it will change Cuban socialism

While economic reform is already under way, the transformation of the
political system that many expect has been much slower. The government
is well aware of the difficulties and the President never gives a speech
without mentioning the necessary »change of mentality«, although with
limited effect. Not least the numerous middle ranking cadres of the
Party have a whole host of power and privileges to lose if there is more
transparency, part privatisation of economic sectors and
decentralisation. Raul Castro has repeatedly addressed the opponents of
reform and has called on sceptics in the Party and in the political
leadership to change their mentality or step down. There are many
indications that Cuba is on the way to a two-speed state: economically
the Party congress's reforms are being implemented, while politically
some sections of the Party reject rejuvenation and adaptation of
structures to the new realities.

Whether the Party bureaucracy will do itself a favour by maintaining a
blockade is doubtful. This is because economic reforms are already
taking on their own momentum. The economic changes are not only being
steered by other groups in the leadership who are less ideologically
entrenched, but in individual reform areas policy is being discussed
with experts from outside the government, a novelty in Cuba that is
making the political process somewhat more transparent to the public.
Should Europe Go for Change through Rapprochement?

The EU and its member states are following the Cuban reform process with
interest without being able to develop a sustainable stance. Instead,
they are creating obstructions of their own. Official policy is
continuing to follow the »Common Standpoint« inspired by the
conservative Spanish government under Jose Maria Aznar in 1996. The
point of this is to link an improvement in economic relations to
progress with regard to human rights. This policy has not achieved its
aims, however, and it has been clear for some time that it has failed.
In the meantime many EU member states have concluded bilateral
cooperation agreements with the island, thereby circumventing the policy.

To date, the human rights situation has been a sensitive issue in
relations with the European Union. Amnesty International also continues
to point out violations in its reports. However, there is reason for
hope. In spring 2011 through the mediation of the Catholic Church not
only were all political prisoners released who were sentenced after the
conflict with the EU in 2003, but dozens of other cases were dealt with.
»The European Union, which had made the arrest of 75 opponents of the
regime a key issue in bilateral relations, must acknowledge their
release if it doesn't want to lose credibility«, writes Bert Hoffmann of
the GIGA Institute for Latin American Studies. Given the proven
ineffectiveness of the »Common Standpoint« the question arises for
European policy of whether it should finally emancipate itself from
backing the US embargo policy and rather fall back on a tried and tested
European policy, »change through rapprochement«.
Going Its Own Way

The reform process that is now under way has taken on proportions
comparable to the beginning of reform in China or Vietnam. Like the
Asian reference model Cuba is setting out on this path under the
leadership of the Party. However, to date the economy has not been
opened up to anything like the same extent as happened in Asia in the
mid-1980s. At the current stage of globalisation the classic path of
catch-up industrialisation is probably blocked for Cuba. Opportunities
could be opened up by establishing a cluster economy, developing niches
on the world market, which appears to have been done successfully in
biotechnology. The production factor needed for that is the only one
that Cuba has in abundance, a well educated population.

Havana is banking on a »transición ordenada«, an orderly transition.
Only in this way can the Revolution be saved, according to the
»comandantes«. There should be no attempt to copy a model but rather to
seek the country's own strategy to overcome the crisis. Whether the
pragmatic path propagated by Raúl Castro is pursued consistently remains
open. Even if the reform measures succeed further structural challenges
remain. However, on the basis of the good educational level and with a
combination of Cuban composure and improvisational skills acquired
during hard times the reforms could provide a way out of the economic
agony. To date, it sometimes looks as if the leadership lacks courage
and trust in its own people to put forward bolder reforms. The key to
success lies in Cuba alone. However, transformation without any risk
whatsoever and entirely under control will scarcely be an option. And
only the future will show whether it will be possible to continue the
course taken »without haste but without pause« (Raul Castro) in the face
of Cubans' dissatisfaction with their economic situation.

The original German version of this column was published in Berliner
Republik (Issue 3+4, 2012)