Before 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.
Translated by mlk.
6 February 2014
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.
Translated by mlk.
3 February 2014
“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.
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
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.
Translated by mlk.
11 January 2014
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.
Translated by mlk.
20 December 2013
While 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.
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
The regime alleges that most women postpone motherhood until they have passed 30 years of age, the same as in the First World, for the sake of their professional careers. Opponents and dissident journalists point in another direction.
They assert that it is a problem more of an economic nature than professional pretensions. After Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, the doors of the working world opened to many women who lived maintained by their husbands, raising children, completing domestic chores and listening to radio soap operas.
But in spite of women having a more relevant role in all spheres of public life — except in politics, where they are a distinct minority — since 30 years ago, they have on average less than one child by the conclusion of their reproductive years.
I consulted 18 childless women aged between 19 and 43. Also six mothers with young children about the difficulties and shortages in raising a baby.
The figures are disturbing. The Cuban people are aging. And decreasing. More people die than are born. Other bad news is that less than one girl is born for each woman capable of bearing children.
Let’s review some numbers. The average age in Cuba is 38 years. In 2025 it will rise to 44. By then more than 26% will be more than 60 years old.
In 2030, 3.3 million people will exceed that age. Currently the group of Cubans older than 60 is 17.8%. Greater than the segment of children under 14 years which is 17.3%.
The gap, according to analysts, has to grow. Emigration is one of the factors that hampers maternity in Cuba. More than 30 thousand people leave each year for the United States or somewhere else on the planet in order to improve their precarious living conditions. The majority of those emigrants are young women and men with good academic training. It is a tragedy.
Yudelis, a 21-year-old university student, is clear. “One of the causes of women not wanting to have children is the economic situation, which is burning. I myself live in a house with three different generations. My parents, my grandparents and I. My boyfriend has the same situation in his home. If we were to marry and try to have children, where would we live?”
Yudelis finds only one answer: “To emigrate, nothing else occurs to me if I want to start a family. If I wait for things to improve economically in Cuba, I would never have children. It’s been bad since I was born. I do not believe things will improve in some five years.”
Eighty-five percent of the 18 women surveyed who do not have children think that the economic factor is key to not starting a family. Eleven of them live in homes with numerous family members and without the best conditions (62% of dwellings on the island are in fair or poor condition).
Elsa Lidia, 41-years-old, still has no child. She watches the calendar with worry. “I don’t have much time. But I live on a tenement, in a little room with a barbeque. Five of us live in 30 square meters. My parents’ room is separated by a plasterboard partition. My sister and I sleep on the bed. My brother sleeps on a cot in the living room. I have a had a formal relationship for years. My partner wants to have children. But how? With my salary of 450 pesos (20 dollars) as a mid-level technician I will never be able to aspire to buy myself an apartment with a price of 10 to 20 thousand dollars.”
The future for Elsa Lidia is a bad word. “I have no family abroad. My life project is day to day. When I think what is going to become of me in five years I panic.”
Some of the women surveyed who still are not mothers live in good houses, are high caliber professionals, and receive dollars from relatives living abroad.
“But I do not want to raise my child surrounded by uncertainty. With the anguish of whether I will be able to feed him well, buy him clothes, shoes, toys… With my salary I cannot guarantee a good level of life. It is very difficult to have a family in Cuba in the current economic conditions,” says Sulia, an architect.
I was investigating with mothers who have children 5 years and under. After the flower bouquet and the unmatched emotion of childbirth, four of six consulted suffer deprivations in raising them.
And it is not a medical problem. During pregnancy the State guarantees a daily dose of iron and vitamin complex called Pre-natal. In the neighborhood offices or clinics they keep track. They advise them about adequate weight and they receive free advice about how and for how much time to breastfeed the future baby.
Even through the lean ration book they offer them an extra quota of three pounds a month of beef and fish. And some extra kilos of root vegetables. Maybe those attentions, rare in a poor Third World country, have provoked the Save the Children organization, with headquarters in London, for the second consecutive year to consider Cuba as “the best country in America to be a mother.”
Probably the British NGO ignores the problems that begin after birth.
I spoke with Yadira, a young computer science graduate. “I have had three abortions. I took contraceptive pills. But even so I got pregnant and it was dangerous for me to undergo another D and C. I cannot stand another. We fixed the room as we could. The family gave me a crib. Through the ration booklet, the State offers you 10 meters of antiseptic cloth and gauze to make diapers, baby cologne, a pair of shoes, a cream for the baby, three soaps and a baby bottle, among other things. It costs 85 pesos. But it is not enough. If the child gets sick, as mine is, problems increase.”
The pediatrician recommended that Yadira buy in one of the foreign currency stores the formula NAM by Nestle; each can costs more than 4 CUC. “The baby was consuming two or three cans a month. We had to sell personal articles to be able to buy them for him.”
According to the consulted mothers, some with more solvency than others, the advisable thing is to save no less than 600 dollars and to be able to guarantee a proper layette. The prices of strollers, playpens and walkers are sky-high.
One rocking cradle between 110 and 130 CUC. A playpen between 80 and 140 CUC. The stroller between 60 and 180. A crib mattress exceeds 50 CUC (the average salary in Cuba is 20 dollars a month, and one CUC, with exchange fees and taxes, is a little less than one dollar).
“Add to all that, as he grows, food, clothes, shoes toys, walks and birthdays. Even having the money, there are articles that are scarce and cost a lot I work to get them. One does not regret having a child, but in Cuba it is very hard,” says Yadira while her two-year old son sleeps rocking in an iron chair.
Photo: Hospital Materno Ramon Gonzalez Coro de Havana. Taken from The Hard Test of Maternity.
Translated by mlk
5 October 2013
In 23 years, Cuba has gone from being one of the world’s sugar refining nations to exporting the sweet grass for the consumption of the tourist sector. If in 1990, in the dawning of that silent war that was the “Special Period,” 8.2 million tons of sugar were produced, in 2013 a little less than one million was produced.
This year the sugar harvest was 11% less than predicted in the state plan. Only with that fabulous capacity that the official media have to cushion failures, did they adorn the disaster with tinges of optimism.
A peripatetic television reader said that, in spite of a deficit in the production of 133 thousand tons, “the sugar harvest of 2012-2013 was the best in the last nine years.” According to the official version, the poor results indicated “difficulties in efficiency due to technological obsolescence in the agricultural industry and machinery, poor organization and indiscipline.”
The sugar harvest fiasco is a hard economic blow. A ton of sugar on the world market is valued at 400 dollars. Therefore, the rickety state finances lost an income of 53.2 million dollars.
President Raul Castro has tried to revitalize the formerly premier national industry by making butcher cuts. In 2012 he closed the enormous bureaucratic apparatus of the Ministry of Sugar and, with a third of the employees, created a state enterprise called Azcuba.
The entity announced that it aspired to an increase of 20% in the sugar production with respect to the prior harvest of 1.4 tons. The possibility was studied of managing a center in the province of Cienfuegos with the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.
The preparation of the harvest was thoroughly planned: petroleum to be consumed by means of transport, inputs for cane cutters, pieces of spare machine parts for the mills and output that should be obtained per 33-acre tract sowed with cane.
The forecast was a resounding failure. I asked a sugar industry expert why, for a long time, the sugar production has not exceeded the barrier of 2 million tons. Currently he is retired, but for several years he worked in the Ministry of Sugar, in days gone by a powerful institution, with a millionare budget and a structure surpassed only by the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.
In that time, the official traveled half the world, buying equipment and machinery. “If you want to know what has stopped working in the current sugar campaigns, you have to do a little history. After 1911 in the Cuban republic, sugar production fluctuated between 5 and 7 million tons. They were harvests that rarely took three months. The productivity per hectare was among the best on the planet. At the level of Hawaii or any sugar power of that time. The Cuban industry was a jewel, with a world class efficiency. With the arrival of Fidel Castro into power in 1959, there began the slow decline of our premier industry.”
The specialist continues his story. “Blunders and volunteerism succeeded each other in abundance. The lack of spare parts for the machinery of the mills and the insufficient training of technical personnel in the mills, who occupied important posts thanks to their political loyalty, were undermining the sugar industry. Castro involved himself in the sector on an authoritarian basis. His plans and fantasies caused a lot of damage. By pure whim, he substituted the cane variety that was planted in the fields, very resistant to plagues and with high sucrose volume. The ’Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest’ in 1969-1970, was the coup de grace. Those consequences are still taking their toll on the production of sugar.”
According to the expert, Castro was like a devastating hurricane, a noxious plague. “He not only planned the cold campaign in a wrong way, the subproducts that the cane generates were also wasted. Sugar powers like Brazil take advantage of it all. The cane is not only sugar or alcohol. It serves to produce furniture, medicine and animal protein, among other features.”
In the Cold War years, when Cuba allied with the communist countries of Eastern Europe, the island sold its sugar production at a preferential price. Inputs, fertilizers and machines were not lacking. In the Holguin province, some 800 kilometers east of Havana, with Russian technology, a factory was built that produced cane cuttings.
By the end of the 20th century, all the sugar machinery was being dismantled. In 2002, the government put into place a plan of plant conversion. Of the 156 existing plants, 71 produced sugar; 14, sugar and molasses for livestock feed; and of the 71 others, 5 would be converted into museums, 5 would be kept in reserve, and the other 61 would be dismantled. But in 2005 government sources reported that between 40 and 50 of the still active plants would be closed.
In October 2002, Fidel Castrol designed a reordering of the sugar industry and named it Alvaro Reinoso’s Task (he was a considered a founding father of the scientific agriculture in the island in the 19th century). In a public speech he said that in the coming weeks schools would be opened for no fewer than 90 thousand industry workers. In an undercover manner, thousands of sugarcane workers were forced out of work.
Today, dozens of sugar mills and its warehouses are considered scrap. Along with the “company towns” around them, where people subsist eating little and badly and consuming alcohol in alarming quantities.
Via the rationing book people get five pounds of sugar per person. In the black market the prices of this commodity is almost prohibitive in a country where the average monthly salary is $20 dollars. The cost of a pound of white or refined sugar is $8 Cuban pesos (40¢ US), and $6 Cuban pesos (30¢ US) for raw or dark sugar. Due to its awful quality, there have been more than a few occasions where the tourism industry has had to import refined sugar from the Dominican Republic and Brazil.
When the history is retold about the leading and monumental failures of Fidel Castro’s revolution, the sugar industry will be in first place. From a great exporter in the past to an importer in the present. That’s a bitter reality.
By Ivan Garcia
Translated by mlk
22 September 2013
January 1, 2013, the Castro brothers’ autocracy turns 54 years old. That leaves 20 years in order to equal the duration of a Communist Party in power, the CPSU, in the former Soviet Union.
Only North Korea, China, Vietnam or Mexico with the PRI, have been governed longer with the same party. In the succession of its governments, Cuba is comparable to North Korea. With the difference that the Sungs have governed since 1948. It is true that on the island the impressive cult of personality that exists in red Korea is not practiced. But what has made us emulators of the North Koreans has been the continuity of power in a single family. No other communist state has created a dynasty.
Fidel Castro is the indisputable leader of the Cuban Revolution. Founder of the July 26 Movement, no one — or few — knew who he really was when he entered Havana on January 8 of 1959. From his turbulent past, some historians identified him as a gangster gunman in his years as a university student.
If he was a Marxist, he never practiced the ideology openly. He did not serve in the Popular Socialist Party. Nor in his letters or dialogues with friends from that period has his support or admiration for the Soviet cause been demonstrated. More likely he was a home-grown guy. Future history will tell us what was his true motive for turning 180 degrees in his democratic and liberal discourse of 1959 and making a giant leap, enlisting in the socialist bloc of eastern Europe.
Anyway, Fidel Castro is a quite anarchic Marxist. At his whim, he conciliated the discourse of the humanist Jose Marti and the quotes of the general Antonio Maceo. And he tried to give his support to the Communist ideology by promoting and supporting with weapons and money the armed struggle in Latin America and Africa.
Despite Castroism not being a recognized ideology or doctrine, nor existing a text that explains to us what it deals with, in Cuba its followers call themselves “Castristas.” A dangerous cocktail of fanaticism, authoritarianism and personal loyalty. If the leader, as they still consider him, tells them they should mobilize for a war against gringos, here go his partisans to build anti-aircraft refuges and to train with AK-47s. In his name and his revolution, thousands of Cubans were disposed to immolate themselves in the missile crisis of 1962. Or they departed for unknown places in Angola and Ethiopia and involved themselves in civil wars.
For the official discourse, Fidel Castro is synonymous with Fatherland. Whoever opposes him is a traitor and can go to jail. Then in 2006, because of illness, Fidel saw himself forced to cede power to his brother Raul, a clear dynastic intention pervades the air of the Republic. If the sons and nephews of Castro I, in appearances, are not installed in the estates of power, the offspring and relatives of Castro II do have intentions of controlling the State.
Now the brothers from Biran are two grandfathers, 86 and 81 years of age, in full retreat. Cuba’s luck will be decided in the next decade. Maybe sooner. The economic monopoly exercised by the military entrepreneurs and the control of special services by Raul’s son Alejandro Castro Espin permit glimpses of the succession within the power apparatus.
With an illegal, hounded and weak opposition, the designs and plans of the Castro brothers to “perpetuate their revolution” are not preposterous. It remains to be seen how long Castroism is capable of surviving when its creators no longer live. It is complicated to make predictions about Cuba’s future. It’s the same for an unexpected situation changing the path of the island towards democracy, so in 2059 thousands of Cubans may gather in the Plaza in order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the revolution.
January 1, 1959, few on the island and in the world thought that a bearded young man of 32 years of age and his retinue of guerrillas would occupy power for the next 54 years. No statesman or dictator in the 20th century governed as long as Fidel Castro. A world record that now belongs to him.
Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images. Taken from Global Post.
Translated by mlk
January 6 2013
Some years ago, when the Politburo headed by General Raul Castro was studying alternative ways to apply reforms capable of reactivating the moribund island economy, Marino Murillo, fattened ex-colonel converted to the “czar of transformations” said that Cuba was gambling by using unproven methods in its transformations. It is not bad to think for yourself.
The only thing that the proposal from the same group pompously in power for five decades has demonstrated is the failure of its management. I do not call into question the capability of Cuban economists and technocrats. Although their pioneering theories have never resulted or drawn attention in western academies or on a jury for the Nobel Prize, audacity and experimentation are preferable to the habitual inertia in closed and totalitarian systems.
Something had to be done. The economy had fallen by some 35% of GDP, if we compare it with 1989. After crossing a desert, where the mission was to survive, with thousands of people desiring to emigrate, sparse and very bad food, 12-hour power outages and factories turned into museums of idle machinery, Fidel Castro applied some of the advice that Carlos Solchaga — sent urgently by the Spanish president Felipe Gonzalez in order to advise tepid reforms on the island — whispered in his ear.
The patches permitted opening some individual work initiatives and pockets of mixed economy. It was a stream of oxygen. Always with a lone scowling commander watching the car’s advance. When in Caracas there appeared a loquacious anti-Yankee skydiver, declaimer of poems and singer of Venezuelan dance tunes, Fidel Castro understood that the era of facing those insolent gringos was back.
With high taxes, he locked and blocked the work on his own account. He no longer needed that legion of “hucksters.” People who demonstrated that they could live better without the shelter of the State. While the licenses of the self-employed expired, Castro I resumed the discourse of Father State, he unsheathed the saber and anti-imperialist oratory. Thanks to the Venezuelan Santa Claus there was light.
The bearded one was thinking big. Economic alliances with Latin American insurgents that only worked in theory, energetic plans for revolution and discussions about the properties of chocolate bars and baby cereal. Suddenly he got sick. Cuba is like a family farm: after me, my brother. Decided beforehand, it fell to Raul Castro to administer. So it was.
Castro II has his rules. He knows that in order to govern a long time or to cede the dynasty to a son, relative or other trusted person, he needed to ignite the economic plan. He had to make changes.
When one decides to make economic reforms, one must make them. For one overwhelming reason: if the parallel utopia keeps living on news loaded with optimism, inflated macro-economic figures and cheap nationalism, the citizenry might lose fear and furiously explode on the streets.
The General’s theory resumes the popular refrain of “full belly, content heart.” For the official technocrats, the Cuban is happy with rum, women, reggaeton and hot food in the pot, as if we were modern slaves.
With enough food and options for making money, the crowd would ignore that “foolishness about human rights” and not demand democracy or a multi-party system. That is why the sacred premise of Raul Castro is “beans are more important than cannons.”
The native reforms suffer from authentic reformers. It’s the same breed. Another weak point is the incompleteness of those reforms. Except for the authorization to buy or sell a home, where an owner has the right to do what he wants with his property, the other hyped liberalizations have flaws. It is like a house over a swamp.
When Castro II gave the green light for Cubans to have mobile telephones, he wanted to demonstrate that the regime was “democratic.” And he did away with “tourism apartheid” when he permitted citizens to lodge in hotels. On eliminating the two prohibitions, it was discovered that under the command of Fidel Castro we had been third class citizens.
The Lease Law of the land has suffered several amendments in four years. At the beginning land was rented for only ten years and the peasant had no right to construct his home on the parcel. Later it was corrected. I ask myself if it would not have been more viable to start from the beginning with the option of renting the land for 99 years and license to raise a house.
So it happens with the sale of cars. One can buy an old American car 40 or 50 years of age or a ramshackle car from the Soviet era. Now in order to get one at an agency requires permission from the State. It would be simpler if anyone, money in hand, could buy a new car. It would end price speculation and the framework of corruption that has been created around the sale of cars.
Immigration reform also has deficiencies. To have to pay for a passport in foreign currency is an anomaly. And an absurd law that the regime grants itself, by maintaining a blacklist of professionals, athletes and dissidents.
Another big problem, not approached by the General’s reforms, is the double currency. It has been talked about and debated, but the first thing that should have been done is to implement a single currency. Cuban workers pay the equivalent of 52 pesos for a liter of oil, 235 pesos for a kilo of Gouda cheese and from 360 to 1,200 pesos for a pair of jeans. And they may only earn an average salary of 450 pesos. The honorable worker, who does not steal on the job, lives the worst.
The government says that in order to raise salaries productivity must increase. But the workers think that for so little money, it is not worth the effort to labor with quality and efficacy. A vicious cycle that the regime has not learned or wanted to cut. In four years of reforms and six of Raul Castro’s government, ostensible improvements in the country are unseen. Cafes and trinkets have increased. More than 380 thousand people work on their own account and do not depend on the State to raise their quality of life. That is something good.
But an integrated economy is not built selling bread and cakes. In great measure, the government is to blame for the high prices of many products, by not creating a wholesale market intended for private work and maintaining quotas of 80% of agricultural production that a farmer must sell at laughable prices to the State.
In 2006, when Castro II was designated President, a pizza cost 7 pesos, now the cheapest costs 12. A haircut was worth 10 pesos, now it is worth 20. The list is long. In this rainy fall of 2012, the price of each article and service is higher. Salaries have stayed the same for six years.
There is a crunch in the pockets. The segment of the population that receives hard currency can keep paying for food and products of a certain quality. But their money continues to lose value. 100 dollars in 2004 are worth 60 currently. Due to the 13% state tax on the dollar and the rising prices, currency in the hands of those who receive remittances has devalued.
Nor do people have much confidence in the reform managers. They are the same ones who in one way or another brought the country to the edge of the precipice. Cuba needs reforms. Serious, urgent and profound reforms. According to Mart Laar, who was prime minister of Estonia and was at the head of structural reforms in the ’90’s, the simpler the reforms, the more successful they will be. Laar points out that in politics there is only one sure thing: sooner or later you will be out of power. If fear of reforming deeply is too great, you will leave sooner. And most importantly, you will be out without have done anything.
These are not hollow words. Estonia is one of the nations that took a giant leap, from a communist economy adrift to a functional national project. Another case is Taiwan, where their own citizens initiated changes knowing that they would lose power. Now they have returned it to the government with a fresh start.
It is good think for yourself. But also you should learn from those nations that have triumphed in their reform processes. It is worth it to take account of experience. And logic.
Translated by mlk
December 1 2012