The Castros in Their Labyrinth / Yoani Sanchez (From the New York Times)
Posted on May 27, 2014
By YOANI SÁNCHEZ, MAY 27, 2014, The New York Times
HAVANA — A mix of grease and melted cheese drips from the pizza to the
concrete floor. It's a hot day and the man is holding the slice at the
counter of a coffee shop. While he waits, the clerk comments on how this
is "a country where no one understands." To which the customer replies,
now with his mouth full: "Well yes, and that 21st-century socialism
thing is going to have to wait until the 22nd century."
So far, the government of Raúl Castro has issued nearly half a million
licenses for people to work in the private sector. This is a huge change
from 1968, when every single job — even shining shoes — was
nationalized. During the revolutionary offensive, all small businesses
ended up in the hands of the government. Private Cuba was swept away and
stigmatized, only to be reborn decades later. In 1993, spurred by an
economic crisis, Fidel Castro permitted the reopening of the private
sector. This turned out to be Mr. Castro's worst defeat — one he tried
to mask as a victory, as he usually did whenever he stumbled.
But it was left up to his brother Raúl to make the most concessions to
the free market. "The longest distance between capitalism and capitalism
is socialism," according to a joke heard on the streets of Havana. This
confirms the economic course taken by the administration in the last
five years. Voices in the circle loyal to the system are accusing the
government of betraying the regime's Marxist-Leninist principles.
Those critics are right. Since taking power in 2008, Raúl Castro has
granted a series of concessions that spin the island's compass toward a
system without paternalism, but also without rights. Permission to set
up small private companies coincided with the layoffs of hundreds of
thousands of Cubans, who held government positions for decades and are
now unemployed. The term for them in the official lexicon is
"available." This way no one can say they have lost their job in the
It is like trying to control a car that has been stranded for decades,
but now that it is in motion, nobody knows which direction it will take
— not even the driver.
The Castro regime has lost power with these small changes. Allowing
Cubans to sign cellphone contracts helped swell the state coffers but
gave citizens a tool for information and communication. Every little
move toward flexibility has provided some economic relief to the
administration and, simultaneously, a relative loss of control.
When immigration reform was enacted in January 2013, the new ability to
travel without major restrictions eased social unrest. But dozens of
dissidents and activists are now able to attend international
conferences where only official representatives were allowed before.
What Fidel Castro had prevented for decades began to happen.
Various governing bodies and other groups around the world can now hear
the proposals, arguments and demands of Cuba's democratic forces. The
myth of the Cuban Revolution suffered a great loss as soon as its
critics' voices started to be heard. It is no longer a monologue. Now
there's a different and polyphonic choir, one the official propaganda
tries to silence with the useless strategies of demonization and fear.
On the economic field, caution, fear and slowness characterize the
so-called "Raúlist reforms." The octogenarian leader appears to know
that if he speeds up change, the entire sociopolitical model could
dismantle before his eyes. While he keeps delivering the same message
and proclaiming that changes are "for more socialism," the reality makes
it clear that Cuba is transitioning to a sort of capitalism exempt of
labor rights and civic freedom.
On a street in Havana, a woman asks another if she watched the
"educational channel three" the night before. She is cryptically
referring to the signal captured illegally by satellite dishes — a
phenomenon the police have tried but failed to eradicate. A growing
number of Cubans build their own receivers to enjoy television
programming from Florida. Copies of those shows, popularly known as "the
package," are distributed on USB sticks or external hard drives by
Officials criticize "the package" as consumerist and banal, but the
truth is the government fears the weakening of the information monopoly
it holds. If children do not grow up watching shows and cartoons loaded
with nationalism and slogans, it will be hard to have them behave like
loyal soldiers of the Revolution. The television screen has always been
a very effective means for government indoctrination.
It is probably this fear that is prompting the official propaganda
backlash against technology. When the "Cuban Twitter," known as
Zunzuneo, came to light, the government media used the situation to
demonize mobile phones, email, social networking and every single
peripheral with which we communicate in these modern times. A few days
ago, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde ran a cartoon of the Statue of
Liberty holding a cellphone instead of a torch. The message was clear:
Information and communication technology are the tools of the enemy.
Castrismo, however, is losing the battle. Biology is ending the historic
generation, while the economic opening is creating a class that does not
depend on government salaries, the growing dissident faction is slashing
the regime's international prestige, and the loss of control over
information is reducing its leverage over people. All of these are, at
the very least, death-threatening obstacles in its way.
The clock of history is advancing in Cuba, but in daily life time still
struggles to move forward.
Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban writer, has launched the island's first
independent digital newspaper, 14ymedio.
Source: "The Castros in Their Labyrinth / Yoani Sanchez (Fromthe New
York Times) | Translating Cuba" -