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
Trying to analyze the strategy of the Castro brothers is an exercise in pure abstraction. Their way of moving tokens on the political board tends to go against logic. The incarceration of 75 dissidents ordered by Fidel Castro in the spring of 2003 was a miscalculation. Foreign pressure led General Raul Castro to correct the error.
In February 2010, the death of peaceful opponent Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a prolonged hunger strike was the trigger for the government to initiate tripartite negotiations with the national church and the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.
Committed to tepid economic reforms, the Castro II regime needed international recognition and to attract foreign investment. The liberation and subsequent exile of almost a hundred political prisoners permitted the olive green autocracy to ease pressure, buying time and a little political oxygen.
Not much. Enough to tiptoe across the world stage and mitigate the criticism by western governments for the repeated violations of human and political rights.
Political prisoners constitute a formidable weapon in the Castro regime. They are exchange currency. A valuable piece in any negotiation. It has always been so. After the Bay of Pigs victory in April 1961, Fidel Castro swapped enemy soldiers for stewed fruits and powdered mashed potatoes.
It was common, passing through the Palace of the Revolution, that foreign dignitaries would bring in their pockets lists of prisoners to free in exchange for credit, economic help or support for the regime. A frowning comandante denied or authorized the liberation of an opponent. Not everyone has the same value for local leaders: it depends on the media interest that they have outside of the island.
They are like hunting targets. Armando Valladares, Huber Matos, Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo or the poet Raul Rivero were valued prisoners. Their liberty was measured in greater concessions by European governments and favorable votes in international tribunes. Facts and figures are not known about the quantity of money or long term loans that the release of a dissident has meant in these 54 years.
With a view to negotiate with a favorable wind, the Cuban jails have always been full of dissidents. In the ’70’s there were thousands. Hundreds in the 21st century. These days there is a problem. The jails are empty. Harassment, repression, arbitrary detention of peaceful democrats by special services continue. But behind bars there are no heavyweight dissidents that serve to establish an advantageous deal.
The old and sick gringo Alan Gross is thought to be the one they can get the most for. Obama and Hillary Clinton demand his freedom without conceding anything in exchange. Then they decided to incarcerate an “A-list” dissident. There had to be others on the waiting list from whom the regime thinks it could get better yields. It is here that Antonio Rodiles comes into play.
Miriam Celaya, journalist and alternative blogger, considers that the probable prosecution of Rodiles as a resistance figure encompasses several possible readings. And it could be a trial balloon to measure the international brouhaha.
Also, Celaya thinks, after the presidential election victories by Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama, guaranteed petroleum for six years and the remittance greenbacks from the United States thanks to the measures towards family reunification approved by President Obama, the military mandarins feel strong.
The reporter also analyzes the trajectory reached by Rodiles in his free debates about national issues or his Demand for another Cuba that has put the Havana government on the defensive.
Antonio Rodiles is a liberal dissident, open and modern. Nephew of General Samuel Rodiles Plana, at the front of a legion of combat veterans usually convened to verbally lynch and hand out blows to the Ladies in White and peaceful opponents.
The legal charge brought against Rodiles is a mockery of human intelligence. In what way can a man resist a violent detention surrounded by dozens of guys trained in personal defense techniques? The only manner of resistance that the Cuban opposition has is to scream quite loudly its disagreements and to condemn the abuses. The ration of beatings always comes from the opposite sidewalk.
The presumed conviction of Antonio Rodiles creates a new and bad precedent on the national map. It is a message of coming and going by opponents, independent journalists and bloggers. No one is safe. The regime offers two exits: you either shut up or you buy a one-way airline ticket. Whoever does not accept the rules of the game can go behind bars for some years.
The era of fear returns. The screech of cars with tinted windows outside of the house. The loud knock on the door. The uncertainty of your personal and family life. It is the nature of the regime. Crushing and censuring you with the use of force. The essence of the doctrine based on prison for those who think differently. It was always so.
The time to fill the jails has arrived. Bad times have returned.
Photo: EFE, taken by the Bolivian daily, El Dia. According to information published in the newspaper Granma May 22, 2012, the penal population of Cuba exceeds 57,337 prisoners, of which 31,494 are under closed detention and 25,843 in open installations. From December 2011 to May 2012, through different benefits, some 10,129 inmates have left jail, among them 2,900 pardoned.
Translator’s note: Antonio Rodiles has now been released with a small fine and the charge of resisting arrest dropped.
Translated by mlk
December 1 2012
It’s not just the legal harassment. There is also their ration of slaps, subtle taekwondo blows in the ribs, insults by fanatics spurred on by the special services, threatening phone calls at the break of dawn or arbitrary detentions.
The further they live from Havana, the more brazen and open is the intimidation. Independent journalists of deep Cuba, after spending several hours in a pestilent cell, are released in the night, far from home, on a hidden roadway surrounded by sugar cane plantations.
None of the free journalists can collate his information with State institutions. All the officials shut the doors in their faces. Nor do they offer you facts or figures. But there is always a way of getting them. Sometimes, employees of state agencies, sick of Fidel Castro’s inefficient socialism, whisper to you first hand information or numbers.
Anonymous people bring you internal regulations, figures about suicides or the analysis of the latest meeting of the provincial Party. In exchange for nothing. They just want to broadcast aspects of the sewers of power. Nonconformist technocrats, beat cops, low ranking military soldiers, prostitutes with years in “office,” marginalized slum dwellers and budding athletes are the true architects of any story or news.
Each text that goes out from the mature laptops of many independent journalists has a dose of review filtered by those deep throats desirous of changing the Cuban political compass. Years of writing under the hostile barrage of fire and harassment have polished the style of these lone wolves.
When one speaks of journalism on the margin of state control in Cuba, some indispensable names must not be forgotten. From human rights activists Ricardo Bofill and Adolfo Rivero Caro, who in years of hard repression reported about the violations of essential rights of man, to Yndamiro Restano, Rafael Solano, Rolando Cartaya, Raul Rivero, Ana Luisa Lopez Baeza, Iria Gonzalez, Tania Quintero and Ariel Tapia, among others.
Rivero Caro is no longer with us. The rest sleep far from their homeland, anguished about the future of Cuba, dreaming that they walk along the Malecon or drink coffee brewed in their Havana homes. The repression, the jail and the harassment by the regime forced them into exile. We have had to get by without them.
There is Luis Cino. I present him to you if you are not familiar with harassment. He has a blog, Cynical Circle and writes high quality chronicles on Cubanet and Digital Spring, a newspaper managed in a Lawton apartment. It is a reference. For the quality of his work and his human condition.
In Downtown Havana, surrounded by empty lots and buildings that scream for repair, cradle of prostitution and con artists, of people who think twice as fast as the average Havanan, bastion of misery, prohibited games, children induced by their parents to beg for coins, stronghold of the sale of melca and imported marijuana, here, in the heart of the capital resides Jorge Olivera.
Tall and quiet mulatto. A softy in every sense of the word. He was one of the defendants of the Black Spring. Not even a walled cell could erase the perennial smile from his face. Seventeen years after beginning as an independent journalist, Olivera has not lost hope of greeting his friend Raul Rivero again and together founding a new kind of daily in a future Havana.
Meanwhile, Jorge keeps firing with his pen. Stories, opinion pieces and poetry drafted at night. In Santa Fe, surrounded by cats, we can find Tania Diaz Castro with a long track record in the Cuban opposition movement. In Regla, among quacks and religious syncretism, a reporter from the barricades, Aini Martin Valero also has a magnet for news.
Juan Gonzalez Febles is another sharpshooter, he currently directs Digital Spring. The lawyer Laritza Diversent lives in a village in keeping with its name: Calvary. According to a state decree, the majority of its inhabitants, natives of eastern provinces, are illegal. They survive in overcrowded cardboard and aluminum shacks.
To relieve legal illiteracy, Diversent opened in the dining room of her home a legal consultancy, Cubalex. And for various digital sites she writes articles on legal topics, without jargon. Some are very popular in her neighborhood.
If he ever aspired to be a councilor, Roberto de Jesus Guerra would succeed. There is no need to know the address of his home. The locals indicate to you the home of this communicator born in the east of Cuba, agile and tireless in the search for information. He ably manages the audiovisual equipment and has the instincts of a detective. It was Roberto de Jesus who got the scoop about the medical brutality that may have cost the lives of 27 psychiatric patients in January of 2010.
Miriam Celaya a reporter of the race. She resides near the “mall” of Carlos III in Downtown Havana. We independent journalists, who agree on almost nothing, do agree that Celaya is one of the best columnists of that other Cuba that the government tries to ignore.
On all the island there are independent journalists, some are better known and have more experience than others. But all report the vision of their community and their country. They are the cry of the citizens who have no echo in the official press.
Translated by mlk
November 24 2012
A drunk, off duty, enforcement agent, white, justified the racist Cuban police archetype that turns a black or mestizo into a presumed delinquent with an old refrain learned from his mother: “Not all blacks are thieves, but all thieves are black.”
The guy is not a bad person. He is a good father, a high caliber criminologist, and he does not consider himself racist. But it was what he learned in his childhood. Racial prejudices abound within Cuban families. Then they are carried into to real life.
The Havana agent’s attitude becomes that of the National Revolutionary Police on operation and raid days: of every 10 citizens that they stop on public thoroughfares, 8 are black. It is a mentality problem.
A couple of years ago, a friend who worked in a foreign firm told me that he was considering buying skin whitening creams. I did not believe him. “According to a market study, the cream would have great acceptance among Cubans,” he told me.
As I never saw them for sale in the foreign currency stores, I thought I had heard a joke of bad taste. In the book Afrocubans, the historian and anthropologist Maria Ileana Faguagua says that in 2009 a Spanish firm studied that possibility.
Several consulted persons, who are dedicated to the treatment of hair for women of the black race, said that those creams would sell like hotcakes. “One can think what one likes. But I have spent 20 years straightening ’kinks,’ and I’m telling you that many black and mixed women would give anything to lighten their skin and become white,” said a white Havana hairdresser.
Certainly, black pride on the island is not at its best moment. What has happened to black people has not been slight. It is always good to review history.
And it is that since 1886, when slavery was officially abolished in Cuba, blacks were left at a clear disadvantage with respect to whites. They had no property. No money. No lineage. And much less social recognition.
Years later in the Republic, their decisive support in the fight for independence was barely taken into account. In spite of that support, they only got work as stevedores, cane cutters or construction workers.
Many black families did not tranquilly accept their fate to live at the bottom. And some managed to climb the steep and difficult social ladder.
But they were few. Then, as is known, Fidel Castro came to power. And he decided to resolve racial differences by means of decrees and encampments where blacks and whites were mixed and would become “comrades.”
At first it was not bad. But racial prejudices in Cuba were very subtle. They were — and are — very deeply rooted in the minds of the majority. And that cannot be legislated. If you really try to demolish barriers, you need a systematic educational effort, in the long run, and to include blacks and mulattoes in the power structure.
That was already most difficult. One thing was that the personal bodyguards or soldiers sent to the Angolan civil war were the color of petroleum, and another, that they formed part of the status quo.
Although after 1959 blacks gained spaces, and shared carnivales, ball games, scholarships to study at the high schools in the countryside and university studies with whites, later no matter how much talent they had, they remained shackled within the mediocre professional group that retires without having been able to climb socially or politically.
From time to time a black man lands himself a high ranking government or party job. A matter of image. But blacks continue on the lowest social rung.
Of course, they are mostly in jail and on sports fields. With the exception of chess or swimming: according to old racist concepts, blacks are a failure in those disciplines.
Similarly, the dark skinned are good for playing musical instruments beyond the drums. Or singing boleros, Cuban folk songs, salsa, rap and reggaeton.
Now if they aspire to join the company of Alicia Alonso, they are looked at with suspicion. Almost with sadness, an old teacher told me: “I have nothing against blacks, but their anatomy causes them many problems in classical ballet.” She overlooked the triumphs of Carlos Acosta, a black cuban ballet dancer in the London Ballet.
If in music and sports black usually have the one, also they have known how to get a slice of prostitution. Looking for something different or because of the myth that they are good in bed, many Europeans travel to Cuba to satiate themselves sexually with those of dark skin. Cheap pleasure.
But while the prostitutes are offered in clubs and night zones of Havana for 20 dollars, some black men keep seeing their future in the distance, above all in Europe.
The worst of the worst in Cuba today is to be a black, dissident woman. Ask community activist Sonia Garro. Graduated in nursing with brilliant grades, she suffered the racism in her own flesh from some creole mandarins.
One afternoon, proud of being the first professional in a family whose members had been dedicated to the worst paying jobs, with her best dress and pair of shoes, she went to the Astral theater to get her diploma. When it came time for the group photo, a provincial director asked her to move away: “Those of your color don’t turn out well in photos.”
Years later, Sonia told me that her anger was such that she left without getting her diploma. In a short time, she became a dissident.
Some days before the arrival of the Pope on the island, last March, forces of the political riot police entered her house as if they were terrorists. Using rubber bullets and excessive violence they charged Sonia and her husband, Ramon Alejandro Munoz, also an opponent. They awaited proceedings in harsh prisons. She was in a women’s jail, he in a punishment cell in the Combinado del Este because he refused to put on the prisoner’s uniform.
Blacks in Cuba cultivate their destiny with the few opportunities they have to triumph. Their failures are triple their successes. A high percentage live badly and eat worse. Their patience is exhausted. And they have decided to leave behind being culprits of their race. Like Sonia Garro.
Photo: President of Citizens for Racial Integration, Juan Antonio Madrazo (on foot in the center, with pink shirt) with relatives, friends and members of the Mystery Company of Voodoo, during a celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, last March. They are all proud of belonging to the black race. The woman on foot on the left, with the pink dress and blue handkerchief, is Teresa Luna, Madrazo’s mother, who has received threats from State Security, according to what Leonardo Calvo has denounced.
Translated by: mlk
May 27 2012