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About the previous post, which -as expected- elicited many well and ill-intentioned comments, I noticed one in particular, a reader commenting about what used to be our digital magazine Consenso, which the commentator himself referred to as having opened a Cuban window on the world. I happen to agree with him and, as part of the management group and the editorial board of that magazine, I thank him for the memories and the praise.

But the truth is that his comment inspired me to search through those articles that were published at the time in Consenso, among which I found one from my friend and colleague Reinaldo Escobar relating to the subject of the debate: money. Because, though some were biased in reading my post and tried to twist the meaning of what I said, attributing it to my personally attacking those “who did not like14ymedio.com”, when read correctly, it shows that what I attack is the vice of envy, questioning other’s finances, exactly the same matter that Reinaldo Escobar discussed in Consenso in 2007. Contrary to my habit of not posting here articles I have not authored, I reproduce it today, with the previous authorization of the writer. You be the judge about its worth, and I hope you enjoy it.

Money Bristles

Reinaldo Escobar

It seems almost superfluous to explain that any political activity generates costs, from the essential existence of a professional staff, dedicated to party work on a full time basis, to the development and dissemination of documents, including trips involving transportation, food and lodging outside the cities where they reside; organizing seminars, meetings or press conferences, or simply connecting to the Internet. Can you think how it would be possible to carry out politics without these things?

There isn’t the slightest possibility for an entity in the nascent Cuban civil society to establish anything like a lucrative business to cover the costs of political work. There are no cafeterias, rental rooms, bicycle repair shops or birthday clown entertainers willing or able to meet those expenses. Not even one of the leaders of the internal opposition has his own resources, family assets from before the revolution, or has jewelry to sell or an inheritance to enjoy; most of them do not receive a salary, they are unemployed. However they engage in politics in a professional manner, they secure their own transportation and stays away from home, they undertake conferences, print documents, receive and send emails. Where does the money come from?

The Cuban government’s answer to this question is that the money comes from the US, be it Florida exiles, independent foundations, or the American government itself, which, if there ever was any doubt, has just approved an $80 million budget to this effect. It is known that some EU or Latin American countries also contribute, but it is clear that, according to the official interpretation of the facts, this last source of funds is, when all is said and done, from the US, by way of an extensive and tangled pathway.

Perhaps the most interesting question is not where the money comes from, but under what conditions it is received.

José Martí raised funds for Cuban independence from selfless Tampa cigars manufacturers, but also from wealthy American, Mexican and Cuban philanthropists. There used to be a picture at the Museum of the Revolution, long ago removed, where Fidel Castro was seen sitting at a table in front of a mountain (a small mountain) of dollars. The photo was taken in New York, while raising funds to buy the yacht Granma, plus weapons for the 82 revolutionaries. Were these donations subject to any conditions? Of course they were! The funds were donated, in the first case, to end the humiliating Spanish colony and in the second, on condition to overthrow Batista’s dictatorship. There is no evidence, not even hallway gossip, giving the impression that the money was used for the personal benefit of the apostle [as Cubans call Jose Marti], who always wore the same threadbare black suit, or on luxuries of the foremost leader, who, it is rumored, did not cross his legs in public so none could see the holes on the soles of his shoes.

The triumphant Cuban revolution received lots of aid from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, and I am speaking just of what is euphemistically called “fair trade between poor and developed countries”. I’m talking about ships full of weapons and other war supplies, about college scholarships, technology transfer, collaboration of police intelligence, even of space travel, which would have never happened if Cuba had not complied with the condition of becoming the first socialist country in the Western Hemisphere. It is a historical fact that when Che Guevara traveled to China, a joint communique was issued on completion of his trip, as is the custom, in which the Chinese, bragging with sincerity, objected to the qualification of “disinterested” made by the Cubans about the support the Asian giant was giving the small island.

In those early years, parallel to the subsidy of the revolution, the financing of the counterrevolution began. It is well documented that at least between 1959 and 1965 almost all the opposition activities were directly funded by the CIA, the Pentagon, and the US State Department. The central characters themselves have stated so, and all of them justified this financing, so obviously stipulated by the fact that the government of Fidel Castro was supported by Communist powers.

Today, Cuban dissidents are imprisoned when it is shown, or when there is a conviction, that they have received money from the US. That was, in every case, the heaviest accusations resulting in disproportionate sentences to which the 75 of the Black Spring of 2003 were subjected. This went as far as to include in the same boat journalists receiving payment in exchange for articles in foreign newspapers. It led, among other consequences, to new divisions among the internal opposition: those not receiving money and receiving it through the U.S. Interests Section, and those who did not receive funds from the US, but from independent institutions in Europe and Latin America.

What almost no one asks is where the money comes from today to publish all those costly national and provincial newspapers, organs of the Communist Party, of the Union of Young Communists, or the Central Cuban Workers Union. How were the open forums financed all this time, the militant marches, the whole material base of the “Battle of Ideas”, the campaigns for the rescue of the five combatants of the Interior Ministry, jailed in the United States, the trips abroad, the foreign guests at political events, billboards on highways, t-shirts with slogans, or the little flags.

Would it be possible to pay all that with the monthly member contributions to these organizations, which isn’t even enough to pay the salaries of thousands of professional cadres scattered throughout the whole country, in every province, in every municipality, occupying premises that do not pay rent, where water and electricity are consumed, where there are phones and secretaries, gas-guzzling cars that include a chauffeur?

Political work involves disbursements, be it from the opposition or the government. If the party in power has at its disposal boxes of public funds to cover expenses and those in the opposition, besides not having even legal recognition, also don’t have, literally, a place to drop dead, what is the recommendation? To let the government do whatever it wants without offering the slightest resistance, or to limit the action only to within earshot, without even a megaphone to amplify it?

The only option the members of the opposition on the island have been cornered into, in order to be able to exercise their specific political tendency, is that of accepting financing from whomever offers it, unless they are OK with being a “family faction” without the least echo in society. This is part of the deliberate intention on the part of the government to disallow any alternative of political change in Cuba. This intention stretches from a long series of die-hard slogans (socialism or death, we are ready to shed the last drop of blood, the Island will sink in the sea first…) to the modification of the constitution to enact the immobility of the system. The harder it is to dissent, the better for the government. If the material and legal obstacles aren’t enough, if fear of going to jail is not enough, that’s where the ethical scruples (prejudices?) come in, preventing decent people from accepting funds that automatically turn them into mercenaries of the imperialism.

Ideally, the Cuban media should not be the party’s fiefdom, but a public space for all political persuasions; with the state budget partially allocated to fund the work of civil society and of political parties duly registered under the law. If the state, instead of distributing all these funds and resources in an impartial manner, funds that proceed from the working class, monopolizes them only for the favored party, it loses its moral right to ask where the opposition’s money comes from. Additionally, it should not deny anyone the possibility of becoming a disinterested donor or a calculating investor. The state should protect those citizens who have a political proposal, the right to defend it and have it compete publicly and on equal terms, without being forced to sell their souls to the devil.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Posted 9 June 2014 by Miriam Celaya

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As expected, the birth of the new site 14ymedio.com attracted immediate attacks from the servers of the Cuban regime. A few hours after the media’s first appearance, it was redirected by official cyber-hosts to a dedicated page (oh, the satrapy’s supreme homage!), not to the disqualification of counterrevolutionary journalistic medium as such, but to its “insignificant” manager, the multi-award-winning – and multi-abominated — Yoani Sánchez-Cordero, evil among the worst.

Interestingly, the essence of the invectives against Yoani the terrific is not the legitimacy of exercising the right to free opinion, of creating an information media to and from Cuba, or of the desire that the media become, in addition to a source of diffusion, an enterprise producing income to Yoani and her associates, paying for her collaborators, promoting independent journalism and creating sources of employment. “The chicken in a chicken and rice meal”, as the ever soporific Lázaro Barredo might say, who had been director of the libelous “Granma” for a brief period, but who has currently disappeared from the public scene. It is about questioning what capital this blogger has available to fund such an enterprise, whether or not she deserved the awards she has received, and about the nature of her fabulous emoluments, which, in the imaginary collective of her embittered detractors is close to half a million dollars.

However, what is truly amazing is that there are some petty characters in the internal dissent (and even more conspicuous, characters of “the external”), who have joined the same chant, thus indicating that the perverse nature of the olive green autocrats has soaked into the conscience of Cubans beyond suspected limits, also poisoning a sector of those who call themselves – and indeed are — enemies of the Cuban dictatorship.

This virulence has reached such magnitude that it instills pity. How mediocre can an individual be who even feels threatened in the presence of the mere presumption of the success of others? Why must the prosperity or the awards and recognitions received by others be a cause for concern, especially when those “others” not only were and are our fellows in the cause, but at times have opened space and have shared with us their fortunes and misfortunes? What dark Cuban trait deprives us at times of the greatness of rejoicing in the victory of others?

In recent days I have been a witness to, not surprisingly, attacks launched on the new newspaper 14ymedio.com from our own “trenches” as if we were their worst enemies. Fortunately, many more words of praise and encouragement have been sent from the most diverse points, than the sour bile generated by the ever resentful.

The most poisonous reviews, of course, come from the most mediocre subjects. Some of these consider themselves “journalists”, perhaps in response to some magical genetic inheritance, though not necessarily from qualifications or pedigree, or because they feel they have exclusive rights of “antiquity”. If the latter were true, then we would have to recognize the special rights of the political power of the regime that has been exerting them for over 55 years in Cuba.

Also not missing in this sui generis repudiation meeting are certain top dogs inflamed with messianic aspirations, those who always know how, when, and where things should be done, and who cannot conceive, much less tolerate, something that is as healthy as it is helpful for the development of freedom which is simply called competition.

There are those who claim that competition, in order to be healthy, must have fair opportunities, which remedies the disastrous (and false) vulgar egalitarianism imposed by the Castros, whose deplorable consequences we know so well. They are clueless, despite living on “information” that such a thing as “equality” does not exist in any part of the world, and that one has to go out and seek the “opportunities”, such as wealth, they have to be conquered, creating them by intellect and efforts, because they do not fall from heaven, like divine grace, on anyone’s shoulders. And when one reaches them, there is absolutely no obligation to share them. In fact, it is morally harmful to do so.

Believe it or not, there are individuals from the Cuban dissidence who – in tune with the government itself — consider others’ successes as an obstacle to their own fulfillment, and, in the licentiousness of their personal frustration, they take hold of what action they deem appropriate, including complaints and catharsis about the hardships of the “un-rewarded” or the “unfunded for professional performance” –what we often call a cry baby – with such resentment that it reminds us of the national motto: “I don’t want to be as well-off as the Joneses, I just want for the Joneses to be as fucked up as me.”

These kind of individuals don’t consider talent, hard work, drive, courage, will power or – let’s say it brazenly and give it its due –ambition. For them, from 14ymedio.com, there is “unfair competition”, just because Yoani Sánchez has received funding (oh, what a damn word!) and because she can count on a decent enough comfortable place to work, so she doesn’t need to use the conjugal bed as a sofa. I would consider this an advantage a bit more hygienic than a status symbol, but – of course — I understand that we don’t all think alike. What is true is that, for some of the more stubborn enemies of the Castros, comfort and money (other people’s) are as dirty as for the olive green elite itself.

However, many conveniently ignore that they have received (or are receiving) financial help — something that I sincerely admire and hope never runs out – way before 14ymedio, before someone was awarded, and certainly, before the independent Cuban blogosphere was born and developed, otherwise they could not have sustained their newspapers or magazines, a reason for having allowed payment for collaborations for some time now. And congratulations.

That’s something, for instance, that the magazine Consenso, and later Contodos (2004-2007), could never do just because they lacked financing, a reason why many of them did not collaborate with that project, since they have always worked for money, as is normal and reasonable, though there have always been romantics that do certain things for free. It is understood that nobody is obligated to do it. So what’s the problem? Why are they wearing themselves thin attacking other independent projects? Isn’t it better that we have the greatest possible number of publications in order to continue penetrating the wall of the regime’s information monopoly?

Another practice that the “pure ones” demonize is marketing. They call it “media hype” as if it were something obscene, and they talk about “inflated ego”, “lack of humility” (a special merit that they apparently believe abounds among them). Because, at the height of perfidy, Yoani Sánchez is not settling for creating a newspaper, period, but she aims to “create the best newspaper”, states a critic (or should I say a criticizer?). And the question arises, what harm is there in pursuing perfection? Why shouldn’t anyone wish to reach that goal at a healthy pace, particularly when they work so hard to that end?

Personally, as a citizen journalist, I am in the habit of believing that the better I do my job, the more my readers appreciate it, whether or not they are in agreement with my opinions. So, with every effort I undertake, I go beyond, getting close or not to a certain extent, the perfection I aim for, why settle for less? Why should this be a flaw?

It is curious that certain people often parasitize on the opinions of others and present them as their own (which in itself is unfair, and even fraudulent), people who lack education, training or qualification — academic or self-taught — people who “decorate” with lies or hype the information given to them, who make up non-existent people in interviews they publish and limit their relative success in the overwhelming mediocrity (even more) of those around them – which, de facto, melds them into mediocre individuals — might seek to establish themselves as champions of honesty and virtue as well

And, since excessive vanity inevitably leads to the ridiculous, the sorrowful orphans lie or misrepresent reality: 14ymedio.com has never claimed to be the first independent digital medium in Cuba, or declared itself “anti-Castro” (or “anti” anything, but rather, “pro” rights, although it seems that the same is not equal), which is why, from the opposite ends, Yoani is accused of falling into “ambiguities” because there is always some moron who, despite lacking his own projects, feels he has the right to issue guidelines about what the projects of others should and must be.

And, finally, to finish off so much Castro-socialist drivel, designed for those masterfully defined as “perfect Latin-American idiots” by three academics a lot wiser than I am, let’s leave, once and for all, the eternal posture of the mentally herniated poor little victims, who will have to be fed and subsidized forever. Neither Yoani Sánchez nor 14ymedio.com, nor absolutely anyone else, other than the same individuals, are responsible for their own lack of success or of “financiers” to overcome their woes.

The formula for prosperity, dear idiots of this island village, is not to wait for generous patrons to appear, but to have something to offer. You should not have to sit down and wait for some bored mogul to want to “do justice” and throw you a financial bone.

Perhaps the wailing crew of the day should use the energy they employ in lamentations to work more efficiently and creatively. Incidentally, it would not be a bad idea for them to get up to date with the present. Don’t feel put out, none of that! These are only a few suggestions. That said, be adventurous, take risks. I am referring, in particular, to financial and professional risks, so don’t come back again with the morsel that this one or that one was taken prisoner, or that they take their lives into their own hands “on the street”, because that is a risk that all of we Cubans take, from the daredevil who establishes a political party or who writes independently to the poor devil who steals three pounds of meat from a warehouse. This is another one of our best entrenched myths. In Cuba, jail does not depend on anybody’s merits, but on the whim of the satrapy.

And if someone chooses to be personally offended by this post, know that I can’t be bothered with such tackle, but I respect all your conscious choices. If I have not mentioned names, is not to evade confrontation, but because I will not give them a single hit or a smidgen of brain cells, to a debate that, in addition, would be useless. We know that some people are hopeless. Time is usually a wise judge. Also know that making enemies does not move me, but false expectations are not believable: I pick my enemies. I don’t know if the recipients of this post are at the height of the conflict or in the process of getting there. At any rate, I wish you much success.

Published June 2nd, 2014, by Miriam Celaya
Translated by Norma Whiting

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In recent months entries in Sin_EVAsión have been sparse. I beg the readers to excuse my absences from this blog. Contrary to what may seem, such “gaps” are due to the increase in volume of my work. As you know, though this blog was not exactly the digital place where I started as a citizen journalist, it did contribute significantly to the dissemination of my work. It opened several possibilities for publication elsewhere, in which articles I wrote regularly appear.

Recently I also began to work with the new newspaper 14ymedio, an opportunity I could not pass up and a space where I will continue to work with opinion work, analysis, or reporting. In the blogger platform of that medium, my son, Victor Ariel and I have also started a collective blog. The title of this new blog is “A Pie y Descalzos” (On Foot and Barefoot), which aims to provide an overview of Cuba “from a viewpoint at ground level” i.e., from the common people. As a result, I’m often overwhelmed with work, which consumes my time and energy, affecting updates to this site.

I also have to ensure my regular income, because one cannot live by just romance and good intentions. If, however, in previous years I wrote for Sin_EVAsión almost exclusively, for some time I have had the opportunity to make some money writing for other media publications, so I am doing that. I am not the New Man, so my critics may vent their fury on this note and with a statement I make without a hint of pretense (as is my style): I love the money I get from the fruits of my labor and with my limited talents; I owe it to nobody, and I don’t intend to be embarrassed by it. To hell with the parasites and the envious ones. As an addendum, I will say I don’t get remittances, which fills me with satisfaction.

As for my friends I know they don’t need any explanations, but my respect and affection, so I address this note to them as well, to let them know that I’m still with them.

However, Sin_EVAsión will continue as my personal platform, the most intimate and beloved, the space of my own individual “me”. If my work has been of any value in this site, I owe it to my readers. Thanks for following, and don’t leave me. I won’t leave you either.

Eva-Miriam

Published in Sin EVAsión, 23 May 2014 by Miriam Celaya

Translated by Norma Whiting

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Reading a newly released item this Thursday, May 8th, on page 4 of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Terrorism, the True Face of Zunzuneo, by Amaury del Valle), brought to mind a lively flamenco-rumba that a Spanish singer made popular on the radio in the decade between 1970 and 1980. Perhaps some 50-something readers might remember its funny lyrics, about an individual who was upset because someone had called him “a cat”, which he considered an insult because “cats eat mice, mice eat cheese, cheese comes from milk, milk comes from a cow, a cow has two horns, Oh, oh, oh, I’ll kill him!” Cuckold (horned) was for him the true meaning hiding behind the nickname “cat” He was obviously being labeled cuckold, hence he made the association between such opposing ideas as a cat and a cow’s horns.

However, the newspaper article I referred to faithfully mimics the attitude of the song’s cuckold: it associates. Without doubt, the presence and intentions of the four suspected terrorists from Miami recently arrested in Cuba, with the networks Zunzuneo and Piramideo, which have engendered so much talk these few weeks. So, Zunzuneo and Piramideo are as “terrorists” as the four delinquents who were captured. In fact, the idea is not so far-fetched; the Cuban regime feels real terror in the face of information and the new communication technologies.

In order to understand how the author of the article arrived at such a brilliant conclusion — going forward I will refer to him by his initials, AV — it is necessary to undertake a scholarly effort not as entertaining as the song I remember, that is, we have to read and analyze the article so we can understand how AV’s stretched his imagination so he can have an ending like that of the cat and the horns.

AV recounts the events, following with the logic that Cubans must take as the only and unquestionable truth. He doesn’t need to offer any proof, the official lies are enough. No trial is necessary, the “confession” of guilt and the official testimony are more than enough. It doesn’t matter if they do it in a more crudely and in an increasingly worse way.

As stated, the four captured terrorists came “with a dangerous plan that had been brewing for over a year” and “slipped into the country” with the intention to attack military installations”. They intended to “provoke violent actions and sow chaos” to create “social unrest”.

It would seem that the offenders’ entry must have been illegal, given that no one can “slip in” by way of an airport gate, with all the controls at customs, borders and all the other security measures that exist. It is also unclear what danger could result from a terrorist plot against military installations, since in Cuba, according to the General-President himself, we enjoy military invulnerability. In any case, it would be a suicide attack, right? Finally, it is not clear how four wretched terrorists could possibly be able to provoke violent actions, chaos or subversion against millions of “revolutionary” Cubans. Undoubtedly, this time the creators of the myth have gone a bit far.

Following AV’s saga, the four bad guys were caught under the coaching of three other terrorists, also Miami residents with a long pedigree of actions against Cuba, who are — in turn — friends of the worst one of them, Posada Carriles (one of the subjects who has offered the most in practice towards the ideology and strategies of the power of the Castros for decades).

From that point, AV starts a long narration of Posada Carriles’ long terrorist sheet and all his avatars between 1973 and the present, and he also takes a tour of Magriñá’s actions. They — we are told– were the ones who “encouraged and financed” these four dunces who were just captured here.

And how does all this relate to Zunzuneo and Piramideo? Because, as AV states, “It’s too coincidental that the idea of perpetrating terrorist attacks that result in violent actions are precisely the plans that have been orchestrated in other regions of the world”. As if Cuba had the same geo-political, economic or strategic importance as that of Syria, the Ukraine and Venezuela.

AV also notes that, “It is very curious that these terrorist plans have been organized when there already existed, along the same lines, other secret plans which have already been uncovered, such as USAID and various U.S. agencies, to use modern technologies like the internet, e-mail, and cellular phone text messages, which would be used to organize supposed support networks to be mobilized in case of social upheaval.” The “empire” is an essential ingredient in the Castro’s sour soup.

AV concludes that the actions that the detainees planned against Cuban military facilities “are very similar” to the objectives pursued by the Zunzuneo and Piramideo networks, thus creating “a false statement of opinion about the Cuban reality”. With this, AV considered as “proven” the “progression of the plans orchestrated against Cuba”. In both cases, ultimately aimed at justifying “foreign military action” in our country (??!!). Pure terrorism.

And for this complicated concoction to be complete, AV’s exorcism could not lack the mention of the “violent opposition” in Venezuela, like Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, as well as “the irrelevant mercenaries advocating panic and death in Cuba”. Mission accomplished, AV. You took pains, and you sure earned a week’s bonus at the People’s Camping.

In conclusion, the matter does not have, not even close, the joke of the cat I mentioned at the beginning of this posting. It really isn’t funny at all. It is clear that the government, through its mouthpieces, has started a phase to “soften” public opinion, which usually precedes raids against dissident sectors and general worsening of the repression within the Island.

Because, as conspiracy theories go, we have to remember that the Castro regime and its sympathizers work the same as old marriages, and after such a prolonged coexistence many things are predictable. So it is a suspicious coincidence that, with such a difficult stretch that the Cuban economy is undergoing, with the growing social discontent and disillusionment, with the increasing exodus, deteriorating social services, lack of liquidity, the regime’s desperate need for foreign exchange and other clouds that darken the environment, a new “saving enemy aggression” has appeared on the Castro’s political horizon, useful to justify nationalist entrenchments and repression.

Neither does the worsening of mobile services seem to be a coincidence, despite the excuses offered by the (military) state enterprise in charge of those markets, or the fact that this pidgin article gets published in the official press just after the recent announcement made by blogger Yoani Sánchez of the impending debut of her digital newspaper. It must be uncomfortable for the olive green hosts that a new means of digital independent media is surfacing on the Island, just as more Cubans are getting access to mobile phone service with text messages and e-mail. It is a good idea to keep alert; the Castro-dogs must already be plotting what would be the most expeditious way to silence the criticizing voices within Cuba.

In any case, there are too many theories and guesses about the advocates of this old, outdated system, but nothing is going to save a system that has proved its inefficiency. Imaginary or real terrorists might not be the ones that will spoil the Castros’ rule, and their loyal servants will be surprised in the new Cuba, which we will have one day, who will truly be their masters.

But, as with cheating in a marriage, it is better that the cuckold himself learns of the deception, so I take the opportunity to send a personal message to the writer at Juventud (young?) Rebelde (rebel?) Amaury, you are a real cat!

Translated by Norma Whiting

9 May 2014

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1398445396_etecsa

Photo from the Internet

According to a recent official statement by Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA) [Cuban Telephone Company], the technical difficulties in messaging service and other cell phone problems are due to errors in miscalculating demand.

It is the system’s universal principle to come up with an inverse explanation to every difficulty, which could be interpreted as follows: it is not really the inability of the only telephone company in Cuba, but that there are too many users. That is, we are more addicted to communication than officials imagined.

Since this past March 3rd, when the new cell phone e-mail access system (nauta.cu) went into effect, considerable delays were experienced in SMS access, as well as additional service outages. Now the Central Director of Mobile Services, Hilda María Arias, stated that for over a year they carried out research and completed investment processes required for this service, however, they “did not calculate the fast pace for its demand in this short period of time”, and, due to transmitting of data, “more network resources are being used”, which has slowed e-mail, SMS reception, and cell phone service

Of course, while this official explains that steps are being taken to counteract the difficulties, the solution must come from an increase in forecast investments.

ETECSA, as we know, is the name of the communications monopoly in Cuba, controlled by military business leaders, who have now committed to expand services through new base stations that expand possibilities for Internet access, transfer the balance between cell phones and extend the expiration date of cellular lines.

Indeed, if this promise is fulfilled, this would be good news for those of us who are addicted to information and communication. In any case, to justify the current service difficulties after one year of researching the project, and knowing the huge demand for cellular service among Cubans, despite its high cost, seems more than mere miscalculation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 April 2014

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Image from the Internet

(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled ” Raul Castro Goes in Reverse”)

Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law “approved” by the usual parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the town on the topic of “Cuba”, for the Island’s official as well as for the independent and foreign press.

With the relaxation of the existing law–enacted in 1995–the new regulation is aiming to throw the ball to the opposite field: if Cuban residents of the US cannot invest in Cuba currently, it would no longer be because the regime bans it, but because of the shackles imposed by the embargo, a trick of the elderly olive green crocodile that continues with its wiles and snares despite the collapse of the system.

Amid the expectations of the government’s and of aspiring investors, there stretches a wide tuning fork of the ever-excluded: the common Cubans, or the “walking Cubans” as we say, whose opinions are not reflected in the media, magnifying their exclusion.

This time, however, the cancellation of the innate rights of Cubans is causing social unrest to multiply, in a scenario in which there are accelerated shortages in the commercial networks and persistent and increasing higher prices and a higher cost of living.

Rejection of the Investment Law

Shortages, as well as inflation, indexation and bans for certain items of the private trade, have caused many family businesses to close since January 2014 due to the uncertainty surrounding the heralded–and never properly explained–monetary unification.

In addition to the lack of positive expectations, these are the factors that thin out the social environment and lead to generally unfavorable reviews of the new law and its impact within Cuba.

An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the “approval” that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49 were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic about laws–in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various aspects of the law.

The main reasons for the people’s discontent are summarized in several main points: the new law excludes, arbitrarily and despotically, Cuban nationals, which implies that the lack of opportunities for the Island’s Cubans is being maintained.

Foreign investors will not only have great advantages and tax considerations which have never been granted to the self-employed, tariff concessions with respect to imports (which is just what traders in imported items asked for and was not granted); the State will remain the employer of those who will labor in foreign-funded enterprises, implying consequent hiring based on Party loyalty–be it real or fake, and taxed wages; widening social gaps between sectors with higher levels of access to consumption and the more disadvantaged sectors (the latter constantly growing).

At the same time, many Cubans question the vagaries of government policy which, without any embarrassment, favors the capital of the expats-–the former “siquitrillados*, the bourgeoisie, gypsies, worms, traitors, scum, etc.”–over those who stayed behind in Cuba.

The logical conclusion, even for those who stayed relatively associated with the revolutionary process, or at least those who have not openly opposed the regime, is that leaving the country would have been a more sensible and timely option to have any chance of investing in the current situation. There are those who perceive this law as the regime’s betrayal to the “loyalty” of those who chose to stay, usually Cubans of lesser means.

Another topic that challenges the already diminished credibility of the government is the very fact of appealing to foreign capital as the saving grace of the system, when, the process of nationalization of 1959, it was deemed as one of the “fairer measures” and of greater significance undertaken, to “place in the hands of the people” what the filthy bourgeois capital had swiped from them.

Cubans wonder what sense it made to expel foreign capital and 55 years later to plead for its return. It’s like going backwards, but over a more unstable and damaged road. Wouldn’t we have saved ourselves over a half a century of material shortages and spiritual deprivation if we had kept companies that were already established in our country? How many benefits did we give up since the State, that unproductive, inefficient and lousy administrator, appropriated them?

What revolution are you taking about?

At any rate, the majority has a clear conscience that the revolution and its displays of social justice and equality are behind us, in some corner of the twisted road. “Do you think this new law will save the revolution?”

I provocatively ask an old man who sells newspapers in my neighborhood. “Girl! Which revolution are you referring to, the one that made Batista flee or the one that is making all Cubans escape? The 1959 revolution was over the moment ’this one’ handed over the country to the Russians, now the only thing the brother wants is to give it back to the Americans and to keep himself a nice slice.”

I probably never before heard such an accurate synthesis of what the history of the Revolution means today to many a Cuban.

*Translator’s note: Those who lost investment and personal property when companies were nationalized in 1959 and early 1960’s. From one of Fidel’s speeches, “we broke their wish bone and we will continue to break their wish bone”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

11 April 2014

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Arrogance is a personality trait impossible to hide for those who suffer from it. In fact, it becomes more obvious when an arrogant individual tries to cover his proverbial petulance under a cloak of feigned humility. The worst of such a subject, however, is his histrionic ability that allows him to deceive considerable groups of people, particularly those who desperately need someone to speak “for them” or those who, quite the opposite, enjoy the blessing of authority.

In the case of Cuba, where freedom of speech, of the press, of information and of association are among the major shortages of this society, it is not difficult that, from time to time, some savior may appear self-proclaiming to be “the spokesperson for Cubans” which–it’s obvious–betrays immeasurable insolence, not only because it lacks the allocation of powers, but because it previously assumes an often repeated lie that, for some chumps, has become the truth: Cubans have no voice. Allow me, Mr. Arrogant and his troupe, to correct your mistake: Cuba’s Cubans do have a voice, what they lack is the means to be heard, not to mention the great number of deaf people in the world.

But, of course, a shining hero will always appear–usually with credentials and even with a pedigree–who, from his infinite wisdom, will quickly delve into the deeper intricacies of the Cuban reality and will be the only one capable to interpret it objectively because he, balanced and fair, “is not at the end of the spectrum”. Interestingly, these specimens proliferate virulently among accredited foreign journalists on the Island.

Since I don’t wish to be absolute, I suppose that there are those who are humble and even respectful of Cubans and of our reality, only I have never had the privilege of meeting them. It may be my bad luck, but, that said, to practice journalism in Cuba armed with credentials of a major media outlet and with the relative safety that your work will be published and–very important–duly financially rewarded, seems to have a hallucinogenic effect on some of them.

Such is the case of quasi-Cubanologist Fernando Ravsberg, to whom I will refer as “R” as an abbreviation, a journalist recently fallen from grace with his (ex) employer, the BBC, who has written a plaintive post following his clash with the powerful medium and, oh, surprise! after many years of working as a correspondent in Cuba and having collected his earnings has found that “he does not share their editorial judgment” as stated in his personal blog, Cartas Desde Cuba. R, inexplicably, took longer to find out the editorial standards of the BBC than to get acquainted with the intimacies of such a controversial society as that of Cuba. (more…)

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Image taken from the Internet

Chronic shortages in Cuba are extending their tentacles with renewed vigor. The cycles of absence of numerous products are ever more frequent, even in the markets that trade “in hard currency.” Lately toilet paper has disappeared (for the umpteenth time in recent months), and similarly there have been short “gap” periods in which there have been no toothbrushes, toothpaste, wheat flour, powdered milk, soaps and detergents, sanitary napkins, etc. Nothing seems to be safe from the black hole that is Castro’s socialism, in which life is reduced to “not-dying,” while running a perennial pilgrimage after those articles which, anywhere in the civilized world, are a part of the most common reality.

With regards to food, it’s better not to talk about it. It’s enough to see the Dantesque scenes offered to us by the lines that form at dawn whenever someone announces that this or that farmers market “is going to have potatoes.” The police in Central Havana are practically on a war footing attending to the brawls that occur in the crowds who aspire to buy the longed-for tuber.

Now it turns out that the shortages have reached condoms, those attachments needed for the safe practice of what some call “the national sport.” Things have reached such an extreme that it has come to the point where drugstores and pharmacies have mobilized staff to change the expiration dates that appear on this product–already expired–to “update” it and be able to sell it. There is testimony that in some of Cuba’s interior provinces this task has been assigned to recruits doing their military service: a strategy of total combat in the face of the alarms set off by this small and humble latex object. According to the authorities, this is being done “because the dates on the containers were wrong.”

Consumers, however, are wary. In a country where corruption and deceit are part of the reality, no one feels safe. Some paranoiacs go to the extreme of suspecting it’s part of an official conspiracy to promote births in Cuba… What it really does is lead to an increase in abortions.

At the moment, a friend tells me, half-amused half-worried, that if in the 90s she had buy condoms to use as balloons at her son’s birthday party–today a young man of twenty-something– now she will have to buy balloons to practice safe sex.

31 March 2014

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Photo taken from the Internet

The Cuban media, experts at manipulating jingoistic sentiments and fabricating nationalist trash, is using the anti-Cuba signs wielded by demonstrators against Nicolas Maduras’ government to manage at will national public opinion in the interior of the island. The task is simple, given the great disinformation of the natives here and the impossibility of accessing sources other than those offered by the Castro press monopoly. As a consequence, the most ignorant or naive, not to mention the ever-present useful idiots, walk around talking about how “ungrateful” the Venezuelans are, with the number of doctors and aid that “Cuba” has given them… As if it weren’t about a simple transaction of renting out slaves between masters, already generously paid for with petrodollars which are, in short, a treasure that belongs to the Venezuelans and not to the governing regime.

However, the most surprising thing is that these signs, along with the public burnings of Cuban flags, have been another touch that triggers outrage, not among the poor disinformed within Cuba, but among the Cubans of the diaspora, some of whom are speaking on behalf of “all” those born on this island, to attack the protesters who are every day risking their lives and liberty publicly and bravely protesting in the streets of several cities in their country.

I certainly understand the reasoning of susceptible Cubans: they feel alluded to when “Cuba” is insulted, and it’s no less true that directing the outrage against “Cubans” and not against the government would be, at least, erratic. Personally, however, I understand that it is not the intention of the opponents to Maduro and his cronies to insult Cuba, but to direct their rejection to the Castro’s regime, the outrageous interference of Cuban agents in Venezuelan intelligence and the army, the parasitism on the Venezuelan economy, the Castro control over national policy.

That’s why I do not feel alluded to in these acts. In fact, Cuba is for me something beyond the textile symbol of a flag. Venezuelan protesters are doing much more for their country than many Cubans, who today are offended by them, are willing to do for theirs. Believe me, my compatriots, with all due respect for their ideas, which as far as I’m concerned they can burn all Cuban flags they want, if this is the price to lift their own spirits and gain freedom. The day on which they fully regain their rights, and Cubans and Venezuelans sit down to talk together, I am sure that we will understand each other on the best terms. Until then, I offer them my deep admiration and respect.

24 March 2014

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Mass demonstrations in Venezuela. Image taken from Internet

The news agencies don’t have a moment’s rest these days: a satrap in Ukraine has been overthrown through demonstrations and street protests amid the harsh winter, people stand on long lines to see with their own eyes the pomp and pageantry in which the ex-ruler, an ally of Russia, lived.

In Venezuela, student demonstrations continue, supported by opposition leaders finally came together to confront the Maduro government. In Ecuador, the opposition has just delivered a commendable blow to the government authorities by winning an unquestionable majority vote during local elections this Sunday February 23rd in important places like Quito and Guayaquil, putting the brakes on the rampant President of the “citizens’ revolution.”

The world is moving at breakneck speed, changing scenarios and uncovering new players, while we in Cuba remain in the political Jurassic era, with a government of dinosaurs perpetuated in power.

Judging by the official Cuban press, external reality does not seem to exist, so the “events” may be a gray “syndicate” congress in a country where no syndicates exist, a few “reforms” that do not reform anything, or whatever is dictated by a government that misgoverns a colony of ants that spends its days striving for sustenance, untouched by the joy of the liberated, ignorant of the will and courage of the opponents of Nicolas Maduro, the civility of Ecuadorians who opted for the polls to control the excessive power ambitions of a thug vested as president, and of everything that happens in the world beyond the reefs of a damned Island.

Venezuela hits us especially close, because of its shameless sponsorship by the Cuban dictatorship, obsolete and ruined, extending its evil shadow over a nation rich in natural and human resources. Fortunately for them and for us, Venezuela is not a country of zombies. Nevertheless, it causes sadness and apprehension all at once to see evidence that other peoples are capable of what we are not.

Pity our country, Cuba, whose children choose silence and flight instead of exercising their rights against the olive green satrapy that condemns them to slavery and poverty.

Translated by Norma Whiting
24 February 2014

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