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Cuba: The Clueless Official Press / Ivan Garcia

April 22, 2014 Leave a comment

granma-620x330
There is an abysmal gap between daily reality and the information offered by a clueless official press.  Never in Granma, Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) Trabajadores (Workers) or any of the 15 provincial press organs was there news of the Castro regime’s flagrant arms smuggling to North Korea in violation of the United Nations’ embargo of the Pyongyang dynasty.

The boring and disoriented national press, print, radio or television, to date, has not reported about the spaces open for dialogue by the Catholic Church. Or local news that has had resonance, like the protest by self-employed workers in Holguin or the unlikely walk by a nude woman in the city of Camaguey.

They also ignore less tense or contentious matters, like the visit to Cuba by Big League ball players Ken Griffey, Jr., and Barry Larkin or by famous people like Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay Z.

Neither does it interest them for readers or viewers to find out that Cuban artists and musicians resident abroad visit the island and give performances, as in the cases of Isaac Delgado, Descemer Bueno and Tanya, among others.

They don’t even publish an article to analyze the insane prices for car sales or internet services.

On international topics, the old trick is to show only a part of the event.  For those who only read official media and do not have access to other sources of information, those who protest in Ukraine, Venezuela or Turkey are terrorists or fascists.

In Cuba it was never published that the dictator Kim Jong Un summarily executed his uncle.  Likewise, they kept silent about the atrocities that happen in the concentration camps of North Korea.  And about the degrading treatment of women in Iran.

Newsprint is usually occupied by cultural commentary and sports in an undertone, the television schedule, optimistic news about agricultural production or the good progress of economic reforms dictated by President Raul Castro and his advisors.

Apparently, they considered it inopportune to inform Cubans about the talks between the Cuban-American sugar millionaire Alfonso Fanjul and Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez.  Nor did they think it convenient for the common people to know that Antonio Castro, the son of Fidel, plays in golf tournaments.

Or that recently entrepreneurs with bulging wallets paid 234 thousand dollars for a handmade Montecristo tobacco humidor at the 16th Havana Festival where the most well known guest was the British singer Tom Jones.

Local reporting is directed by inflexible ideologies that presume that behind the vaunted freedom of the press is hidden a “military operation by the United States’ secret services.”

And they take it seriously. As if dealing with a matter of national security. That’s why the newspapers are soldiers of reporting.  Disciplined copyists.

For the Taliban of the Communist Party, the internet and social networks are a modern way of selling capitalism from a distance. The new times have caught them without many arguments. They assert they have the truth, but the fear the citizens testing it for themselves.

Reading of certain reports should be suggested by the magnanimous State.  They think, and they believe, that naive countrymen are not prepared or sufficiently inoculated for the propagandic venom of the world’s media.

Not even Raul Castro has managed to break the stubborn censorship and habitual torpor of the official press.  For years, Castro has spoken of turning the press into something believable, entertaining and attractive. But nothing has changed.

Destined for foreign consumption, official web pages and blogs have been opened. With their own voice they try to promote the illusion of an opening. The warriors of the word are for domestic consumption.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  Taken from the Cuadernos de Cuba blog.

Translated by mlk.

Spanish post
26 March 2014

The Silent Successes of the Cuban Dissidence / Ivan Garcia

February 7, 2014 1 comment

Gustavo-Arcos-Bergnes-620x330Before the olive-green autocracy designed economic reforms, the peaceful, illegal opposition was demanding opportunities in small businesses and in the agricultural sector as well as repeal of the absurd apartheid in the tourist, information and technology spheres that turned the Cuban into a third class citizen.

General Raul Castro and his entourage of technocrats headed by the czar of economic reform, Marino Murillo, were not the first to demand changes in national life. No.

When Fidel Castro governed the nation as if it were a military camp, the current “reformers” occupied more or less important positions within the army and the status quo.

None raised his voice publicly to demand reforms. No one with the government dared to write an article asking for immediate economic or social transformations.

If within the setting of the State Council those issues were aired, we Cubans did not have access to those debates. The tedious national press never published an editorial report about the course or changes that the nation should have undertaken.

Maybe the Catholic Church, in some pastoral letter, with timidity and in a measured tone, approached certain aspects. The intellectuals who today present themselves to us as representatives of a modern left also remained quiet.

Neither did Cuban followers of Castro-ism in the United States and Europe question the fact that their compatriots on the island had no access to mobile telephones, depended on the State for travel abroad or lost their property if they decided to leave the country.

Who did publicly raise a voice was the internal dissidence. Since the end of the 1970’s, when Ricardo Bofill founded the Committee for Human Rights; in addition to demanding changes in political matters and respect for individual liberties, he demanded economic opportunities and legal changes in property rights.

Independent journalists have also, since their emergence in the mid-90’s and, more recently, the alternative bloggers. If the articles demanding greater economic, political and social autonomy were published, several volumes would be needed.

Something not lacking among the Cuban dissidence is political discourse. And they all solicit greater citizen freedoms, from the first of Bofill, Martha Beatriz’s, Vladimiro Roca’s, Rene Gomez Manzano’s and Felix Bonne ’s Fatherland is for All, Oswaldo Paya’s Varela Project, to Antonio Rodiles’ Demand for Another Cuba or Oscar Elias Biscet’s Emilia Project.

The local opposition can be criticized for its limited scope in adding members and widening its community base. But its indubitable merits in the submission of economic and political demands cannot be overlooked.

The current economic reforms established by Castro II answer several core demands raised by the dissidence. No few opponents suffered harassment, beatings and years in prison for demanding some of the current changes, which the regime tries to register as its political triumphs.

The abrogation of absurd prohibitions on things like the sale of cars and houses, travel abroad or access to the internet has formed part of the dissidents’ proposals.

Now, a sector of the Catholic Church is lobbying the government. A stratum of intellectuals from the moderate left raises reforms of greater scope and respect for political differences.

But when Fidel Castro governed with an iron fist, those voices kept silent. It will always be desirable to remind leaders that Cuba is not a private estate and that each Cuban, wherever he resides, has the right to express his policy proposals.

But, unfortunately, we usually ignore or overlook that barely a decade ago, when fear, conformity and indolence put a zipper on our mouths, a group of fellow countrymen spent time demanding reforms and liberties at risk even to their lives.

Currently, while the debate by the intellectuals close to the regime centers on the economic aspect, the dissidence keeps demanding political openings.

One may or may not agree with the strategies of the opponents. But you cannot fail to recognize that they have been — and continue to be — the ones who have paid with jail, abuse and exile for their just claims.

They could have been grandparents who run errands and care for their grandchildren. Or State officials who speechify about poverty and inequality, eating well twice a day, having chauffeured cars and traveling around the world in the name of the Cuban revolution.

But they decided to bet on democracy. And they are paying for it.

Iván García

Translated by mlk.

6 February 2014

Goodbye to a Summit to Forget / Ivan Garcia

February 3, 2014 Leave a comment

cumbre-celac-en-cubaIf you walk through the marginal and mostly black neighborhoods of Havana, you will not hear people talking about integration, inequality, human rights, democracy or freedom of expression.

They are hard neighborhoods. Their priorities run toward having containers full of potable water: it’s been decades since the precious liquid arrived in their precarious dwellings through the obsolete pipes.

Residents of these slums, like Gerardo, who pedals a bike-taxi 12 hours a day through Central Park environs, feel satisfied when they have food for a week, deodorant, tooth paste and detergent.

Poverty in Cuban is not just overwhelmingly material. It is also mental. A sine qua non for a wide segment of the population. It does not matter if you proudly hang an engineering or law degree in the living room of your house.

The system designed 55 years ago by Fidel Castro has been a champion in socializing poverty. For almost everyone. He is to blame for salaries being symbolic and unworthy.

But the worst is not the crude material poverty that shames you when, for example, you travel through one of the more than 60 destitute neighborhoods, real slums, that arm themselves on a night on the outskirts of the city.

The big problem for the majority in Cuba is that they do not have legal tools for changing the state of things. That’s they way it is. And people know it.

That’s why the solution for many is to emigrate. Or to do political juggling acts, pretending to applaud the official discourse, legal snares and to steal all they can on their jobs.

The wear and tear of a regime that still governs after five decades of economic failures disgusts a growing segment of the citizenry.

It is already known that in autocratic Marxist societies networks of commitments, information censorship, fear and police effectiveness are woven in an effort to contain the internal dissidence.

But the power of Fidel Castro, almost absolute until the 1980’s. has been eroding. Now the people do not keep quiet about their disagreements or unease about the State’s gross mismanagement.

Today on the island, in any line, park, corner or public transport, you hear racy criticism of the Castro brothers. And an interminable list of complaints. Nevertheless, those querulous debates go no further.

A high percentage of the population does not trust the mechanisms of government. People power is a mere adornment. Letters to a newspaper, a minister or any Central Committee office that attends citizen complaints do not usually solve or manage the disparate problems raised.

For some years Cuba has been living in a time out.  Many believe that the solution to societal and economic structural problems is biological, and that they will be resolved by magic, when the Castros die.

As bad as they live and for lack of a future, a wide segment of Cubans is indifferent to meetings like the recently completed CELAC Summit. They feel like a tropical political comedy.

In the modern world forums and meetings between nations abound and lack concrete actions and practices. Right now, politicians of the whole world live at a low ebb. They have not learned to manage the needs and desires of their people.

On the American continent corruption and extreme neo-populism abound. To their credit they are democratically elected presidents. Except Cuba. A contrasting difference.

Also striking is the anachronistic discourse of the Cuban regime when compared with that of other regional politicians.

The speeches of the island’s representatives seem like outputs from the age of the dinosaurs. You listen to how Pinera, Humala, Santos or Rousseff openly express needs that affect their countries and their tangible bet on democracy and human rights.

Raul Castro, out of focus in his inaugural speech, analyzed poverty, inequality and other phenomena in Latin America as if Cuba did not also suffer from them. He tried to seem like a teacher holding class for a group of students.

The future of the world is increasingly of blocs. It is positive that Latin America is seen as an inclusive entity. The great merit of the Second Summit was declaring Latin America a Zone of Peace.

But there are many challenges ahead. The continent continues to be the most unequal and violent region on the planet. Caracas, Michoacan or Tegucigalpa are true slaughterhouses.

Neither can one get around the tendency of the governments of Ecuador, Venezuela or Nicaragua to reform the Constitution at their convenience. It creates a harmful precedent: that of politicians endorsed by institutions saturated by colleagues and buddies from the party that are perpetuated in power.

Demagoguery floats in several nations of the region. Political honesty and frankness is a rare bird.

It is not possible that none of the 31 governors that were at the Summit in Havana, elected in democratic plebiscites, with opposition parties and free press, have not questioned the Cuban regime about its lack of freedoms and its repression of the dissidence.

Like a Russian doll, the olive-green autocracy tries to regenerate itself and govern without respect to the democratic clauses of CELAC.

If they are committed to integrating the Cuba of the Castros into the Latin American and Caribbean community, ethically, some leader should let them know. And not exactly in a quiet voice.

Iván García

Translated by mlk.

3 February 2014

CELAC for Cubans: Indifference and Repression / Ivan Garcia

February 2, 2014 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ivan Garcia

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

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

Translated by mlk

29 January 2014

The New Cuban Rich / Ivan Garcia

January 15, 2014 1 comment

Plaza de la Catedral, festooned for the Year End Grand Dinner and which some new Cuban rich must have attended. *See below for dinner menu.

They are not as ostentatious as the new Russian rich who buy compulsively and empty the shelves of Marbella. Nor do their lifestyle and expenses have to do with a Qatar millionaire who for pure pleasure buys a bankrupt European soccer club.

The new Cuban rich have a different stripe and behavior. “There are several castes. There are the life-long privileged: ministers, managers of healthy businesses or generals who have exchanged the olive-green uniform for a crisp white guayabera. They may eat shrimp and drink Spanish red wine,” says an ex-official.

In his opinion, it is a very special class. “It is accessed by family genes, loyalty or sycophancy. But it is an exclusive preserve. Depending on their rank, these revolutionary burghers may have a yacht or even a Hummer.”

A person who knows about power says they usually go to Ibiza or Cancun on vacation. “They are above the law and the Constitution. By divine decree, they can have cable antennas, internet at home and several cars. They don’t need to turn off the air conditioning to save energy, and when the dollar was prohibited, the supposed enemy’s banknotes were in their wallets.”

There were and still are other kinds of “rich.” People call them “flowerpots.” It is a colorful fauna of petty thieves with white collars who swipe a few million pesos and abound in various levels of government ministries.

“They carry the party card for convenience or pull you into a lecture replete with revolutionary slogans. This caste has learned how to spin the system,” says a lady who was a servant in the home of a manager.

Common and ordinary Cubans know that they ride in State cars, with gasoline from the State and that they steal from the State. That they invest in family businesses. And under the mattress they keep dollars and euros, among other currencies. “The most intelligent defect on an official trip and with stolen money set up a discreet business in Florida,” asserts the ex-official.

The man on the street also knows that the number of private entrepreneurs who are earning quite a bit in their businesses is rising. Also, that in Cuba there exist the “body smugglers.” People who have always lived on the margin of the law. Selling drugs, brand name clothes, pirated perfumes, houses or cars.

And with the money saved, the ’body smugglers’ open a cafeteria or rent rooms to foreign tourists for 30 dollars a night. Other privileged people are the rich “de flay,” that is, “the Cubans who thanks to remittances sent by relatives in Miami, who in order to sustain the way of life of these bloodsuckers, often have two jobs,” says a retired teacher.

They all, from the olive-green caste to the rich “de flay,” demonstrate the difference from that vast majority of the population that eats a hot meal once a day and relieves the heat with a Chinese fan.

The new rich can afford the luxury of dining three times a week in a private restaurant and paying 150 CUC for a set menu at the Plaza de la Catedral in order to eat delicacies and await the new year listening to Isaac Delgado.

Some envy them. But, in general, Cubans accept the new rules of the game. They see well that their neighbor may have a business, make money and stay at a Varadero hotel.

And that the State may sell cars and permit you to travel abroad. They applaud the elimination of the absurd double currency and ask for better salaries, with the hope that someday they too might eat in expensive restaurants or visit Cayo Coco.

What people reproach is the hypocrisy of the regime’s leaders. That they speak in the name of the poor while they live and dine like the new rich from Russia. That’s why, when many Cubans see Raul Castro, it seems to them that they are observing Vladimir Putin. Maybe it is an optical illusion.

*Dinner Menu — In 2012 the set menu cost 100 CUC per person (about $110 US), but in 2013 the business Habaguanex raised it to 150 CUC, a worker’s salary for seven and a half months. What was offered on the menu would have filled the stomachs of the residents of any block from Central Havana, Marianao, Arroyo Naranjo or San Miguel del Padron.

Welcome cocktail: Creole mojito or San Francisco (without alcohol). Large chef’s assortment plate: mixed salad of fillet of beef, fired pork bun a la Camagueyana, marinade of three cheeses and cured ham crepes. First plate: main: Tower of turkey and glazed fruits, green and black olives over marinated vegetables. Main plate: Center cut beef tenderloin with extra virgin olive oil, plum and rosemary sauce and Crianza Cabernet wine. Side dish: Creamed potatoes.

Variety of rolls and breadsticks accompanied by pate with cheese flavored with basil and pimento. Desserts: Cheesecake and guava with candied apple and coffee caramel sauce. Assortment of Spanish nougats and good luck grapes. Brews: Cuban coffee and varieties of tea.

Beverages of your choice all night: Mineral water, fruit juices, soft drinks and national beers, white, rose, red and sparkling wines, anejo rum, whiskey and from Cuban mixology, Mojito, Cuba Libre, Cubata and Habana Especial. Also: Mixed grill of pork, turkey and roasted vegetables, creole stew with red mangrove, three kinds of paella (shrimp, rabbit or vegetable) and grand cake flambe with cognac. As amusement, a Magnum of champagne opened with a saber.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by mlk.

11 January 2014

What do Cubans Hope For in the New Year? / Ivan Garcia

December 22, 2013 Leave a comment

b12951-620x330December is a month of epilogues.  2013 brought new things for Cubans.  After the 14th of January, those born on the island could travel abroad without so much government oversight.

Even the dissidents.  Although with exceptions.  Opponents, hostages of the Black Spring of 2003 who are considered by the olive green-autocracy as being on parole, cannot leave Cuba.

In business new legal concepts have emerged.  Service cooperatives have been created and the State leases premises to individuals.  In the Mariel port there will be a special zone with a different wage and tax system.

In 2013 Hugo Chavez and Nelson Mandela died.  The two had repercussions on the island.  If Mandela is on an altar, the death of the Venezuelan leader brought worries.

And if the national industries work and do not produce extensive blackouts, it is thanks to the agreement that Chavez initialed with Fidel Castro, by which Cuba pays with doctors and advisors for more than 10 thousand barrels of oil a day.

And although Chavez does not have even a trace of Mandela’s symbolism and the people on the street are not loyal to that social experiment that the Bolivarian called as 21st Century Socialism, typical human selfishness to not lose benefits make many Cubans, simply to keep the status quo, prefer the unseemly Nicolas Maduro.

Maybe Maduro would get votes in Cuba than in his country.  And when people have lived 12-hour periods without light and someone offers it to them, in spite of Venezuela being mired in chaos and Caracas being a jungle of violence, people are capable of voting for Satan.

In 2013 Cubans continued on their own.  News of the protests in Kiev, the gag law in Spain, the re-election of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the global electronic espionage by the United States denounced by the analyst Edward Snowden or the apprentice dictator of North Korea executing his uncle, passed almost unnoticed.

Through illegal satellite antennas, SMS or those that pay 4.5 convertible pesos for an hour of internet — finally commercialized in 2013 — people prefer to be up to date on the latest record by their favorite singer, to see Brazilian soap operas, the films that are chosen for the Oscar, to see who will win the Soccer World Cup, to see the games of LeBron James’s Miami Heat or MLB baseball games in which Yasiel Puig or Arnoldis Chapman are playing.

Although for three years Cubans have enjoyed more economic liberties and now can stay in a hotel, buy or sell a house or get a car, in relation to political matters, people prefer to stay on the sidelines.

The ready arrests of dissidents, beatings of the Ladies in White or the acts of repudiation they keep watching from the sidewalk across the street.

The opposition continues being a particular clan.  They say and write things that the majority desire or lack, but the average Cuban sees it from as a great a distance as an Australian tourist.

In the syndicate meetings they get mad about the miserable salaries and ask out loud for a change in the system.  But if you suggest creating an independent syndicate, they look you up and down as if you were a strange insect.

Ask any Cuban what he wants for 2014 and he will tell you a better life for himself and his family.  Earning a decent wage and being able to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

The workers for their own account want more autonomy, a wholesale market, lower taxes and less State interference.  That 3D cinemas return and cheesy shops re-open.

The dissidents long for the Castro era to end.  For Cuba to enter the ring of democracy.  And that liberties be respected.

They have spent decades demanding it.  But they dedicate very little time to political proselytizing of their neighbors, which is whom they must convince.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by mlk.

20 December 2013

Cuba: Diplomacy and Repression / Ivan Garcia

December 19, 2013 Leave a comment

cuba-damas-644x362-620x330While General Raul Castro, a president handpicked by his brother Fidel, squeezed the hand of the United States’ leader Barack Obama at the State funeral of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, the special services and combined forces of the police mounted a strong operation around the home of dissident Antonio Rodiles, director of the Estado de Sats, a project where diverse political and civic strands that coexist in the illegal world of Cuban opposition come together.

Also on December 10, while the headlines of the dailies of the world media highlighted on their front pages the leaders’ unprecedented handshake, the hard guys of the State Security were repressing activists in the eastern region of Cuba and detaining some twenty Ladies in White in Havana and dozens of opponents in the rest of the country.

All this happens under the indifferent gaze of ordinary Cubans, whose central objective is to try to get two plates of food to the table each day. Neither for the corner grocer, the individual taxi driver or people waiting for the bus at a busy stop was the greeting newsworthy.

The regime knows that an elevated percentage of the population remains in the bleachers, observing the national political panorama. What is of the people is to subsist, emigrate or see the way to set up a small shop that permits one to earn some pesos.

Meanwhile, the olive green autocrats clamor to negotiate. But with the United States. It does not matter to them, for now, to sit down to dialogue with an opposition that has unquestionable merit: the value of publicly dissenting within a totalitarian regime.

It has paid its price. Years in jail, exile, and repression. But neither the right which it should enjoy — of being considered a political force — nor the acts of repudiation and beatings, have cemented a state of favorable opinion within a majority of citizens disgusted with the lousy governmental management by the Castros for 55 years.

Here is the key.  By being focused on the exterior, the dissidence does not count on popular support, on men and women who before the regime’s gross injustices throw themselves into the street to protest.  That weakness is what permits the authorities to not take it into account.

I do not believe one owes a handshake to a ruler who represses those who think differently.  This December 10 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Cuba is a signatory, turns 65.

No high flying political strategy has paid off after a series of steps that democratic countries have taken trying to push Cuba.

Neither the Ibero-American Summits or leading CELAC pro tempore have impeded the Havana Government in continuing to repress the dissidents with laws and physical violence.

Fidel and Raul Castro have dismissively mocked everyone and everything.  They initialed the Economic, Cultural, Political and Civil Rights Pacts in February 2008, and later did not ratify them.

Cuba is the only country in the western hemisphere where the opposition is considered illegal.  And the only nation that does not hold free elections to elect its presidents.

Cuba is not a democracy.  Obama well knows it.

If behind that handshake, the second in a half century by a president of the United States (the first was that of Bill Clinton with Fidel Castro at the Millennial Summit in New York, September 6, 2000), there exists a discrete message about future negotiations to repeal the embargo or improve relations between the countries, ordinary people and a sector of the dissidence would not see it as a bad thing.

Maybe the greeting does not come to be something more than ceremonial and isolated.  Or maybe a change of policy by the White House.  The gringos have always been very pragmatic.

In a serious negotiation, both sides must give.  The bad news is that the regime feigns change, but continues repressing the opposition.  Diplomacy on one hand, clubs on the other.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  One of the Ladies in White detained Tuesday, December 10, during a peaceful demonstration for the Day of Human Rights on the downtown corner of 23 and L, Vedado, Havana.  Taken by ABC.

Translated by mlk.

17 December 2013

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