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Although several days late, I take advantage of a brief opportunity to connect to wish all readers a happy New Year and to wish them every success in 2014. As a special note, this blog is turning six years old around these days, so I intend to renew it in the coming weeks. I have been a bit away from this website due to other work commitments.

I was very busy during 2013 but greatly satisfied, including seeing the book Cuba in Focus published, which was co-edited by my colleagues Ted Henken and Dimas Castellanos and has come out in its English version. We aim to have it published also in Spanish, for better circulation in Cuba.

At any rate, we will continue move forward with our work, hopes and optimism.  I wouldn’t know how to face life in any other way. I will return soon, eager with new passing pursuits. Thanks and a big hug.

3 January 2014

Photograph from the Internet: No Comment.

Time goes on and the funeral of the famous first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, still occupies the pages of the press. Almost everyone feels indebted to praise the infinitely glorious Madiba, re-editing, in countless paragraphs, the deceased leader’s life and seeking to enhance his virtues persistently, to the point that we no longer know for sure if Mandela was a human being or a saint on earth. It is praiseworthy to remember with admiration and respect people who have realized valuable deeds, but I don’t personally react well to icons, paradigms or however they are defined.

Well, then, for all good things Mandela did for his people, for his example of relinquishing power when he could have retained it, due to his charm and charisma, his ability to forgive, so necessary and lacking among us, and all the good things he did throughout his long life, but I prefer to remember him as the man he was, an imperfect individual, as all of us human beings are, which puts him in a closer and more credible position in my eyes.

So, in the presence of so many stereotyped speeches and so much politicking brouhaha deployed at the funeral of a deceased who may have wished less fanfare, I decided to honor him in my own way: celebrating his existence because he lived to fulfill such lofty mission as freedom and justice for his people, during the pursuit of which he suffered repression and imprisonment, just as Cubans aspiring to the same ideals for their people are still suffering, as those who have lived in the confinement and injustices of a dictatorship not just for 27 years, but for over half a century.

But I will allow myself a special tribute to Madiba by modestly imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation: I forgive you, Nelson Mandela, for the friendship with which you paid tribute to the vilest dictator my people has ever had, and for the many instances on which you exalted him and gave him your support. I forgive you for having been wrong in granting privilege to the oppressor instead of the oppressed, for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine. I forgive your accolade to the myth that was built on violence, although you were a symbol of peace for humanity. I forgive you for having condemned us though you hardly knew us, forgetting the tribute in blood that my people made in Africa for which you, like a fickle mistress, thanked the satrap, who has never had the dignity to sacrifice himself for us, for you, or for your kind.

I forgive you, then, and I am reconciled with your memory to keep remembering and respecting the best in you. I know many, with vulgar hypocrisy, will demonize me for questioning you, but they won’t hurt me, because my soul is hardened by virtue of having been attacked and criticized before. It is my hope that this time my detractors will be so consistent with your preaching of kindness they seem to admire so much that they will eventually forgive me. May you also forgive this Cuban’s audacity and irreverence, who believes in the virtue of the good works of men, because she has no gods, but I was not able to resist the temptation to also utter what’s mine in the hour of your death.

And if either you or the mourners of the day won’t forgive me, I don’t care. At any rate, it will be further proof that, deep down, you’re not perfect; at least we’ll have that in common. Don’t take offense, in either case, you were a great person, and I will never match any of your many merits. Rest in peace, sincerely.

13 December 2013

Rafters - Picture from the Internet

Rafters – Picture from the Internet

In numerous conversations with Cubans, émigrés as well as those “on the inside” (I share the experience of living every day under this Island’s sui generis [unique] conditions with the latter) surfaces a phrase, coined through several decades, whose credibility rests more on repetition by its own use and abuse in popular speech than on reality itself. “In Cuba, whatever is not forbidden is mandatory”.

I must admit that the former is true enough. If anything abounds in Cuba it’s prohibitions in all its forms: those that truly are contained in laws, decrees, regulations and other provisions of different levels, all aimed at inhibiting individuals and controlling every social or personal activity, what the coercive nature of the system imposes on us, even if not legally sanctioned, (for example, male students can not wear long hair, music of any kind may not be broadcast through radio or TV, people may not gather in certain places, etc.) and those we invent, that is, the self-imposed prohibitions of people who since birth have been subjected to fear, indoctrination, permanent surveillance and to the questionable morality of everyday survival that forces one to live thanks to the illegalities, that is, violating injunctions established by the government beyond common sense. It is natural that transgressions abound most wherever greater number of taboos exist.

Now, the “mandatory” is another matter. It is rather about a total legend that, be it through ignorance or for another number of reasons (irrational at that) it’s a legend that serves many Cubans to unconsciously justify their behavior and to embed themselves in the civic mess that is choking us. The list of “obligations” would be endless, but some of the handiest can be summarized as follows: belonging to organizations that are pure pipe dream, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, Territorial Militia Troops, Cuban Workers Central, Pioneers Organization, High School Student Federation, University Student Federation, etc., all of them with payment of dues and attending different rituals according to the agendas, also supposedly of a “mandatory” nature.

But many Cubans seem to consider it mandatory to vote for the Delegate, attend meetings and accountability meetings, to shout slogans, sing the National Anthem, salute the flag, honor the martyrs of the revolutionary calendar, to sign political commitments, other documents and a very long list.

Actually, there is the assumption that failure to comply with these “obligations” would result in some reprisals, such as the loss of one’s job, our children not being accepted in some study centers, not being eligible for certain child-care or semi-boarding services for children of working mothers, etc.. However, many of us have found from experience that none of the above mentioned is in truth mandatory, but it constitutes the general answer to the fundamental prohibition that weighs over this nation: it is forbidden to be free.

Oh, Cubans! If ever the courage that drives so many to brave the dangers of the sea in an almost suicidal escape, to create a new life away from here, to survive in such precarious conditions inside, and to succeed against all obstacles outside of Cuba, could be turned into overcoming the fear of the regime, how different everything would be! If so much energy could be directed towards changing our own reality, we would make the world of prohibitions disappear in no time, that world that has kept us in chains for half a century, and we would stop feeling compelled to be slaves forever.  It is not mandatory, but it is also not prohibited.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 November 2013

UN Human Rights Council

The recent election that resulted in Cuba joining the membership of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for a period of three years has aroused contradictory positions in various opinion sectors, both within and outside the Island. No wonder, since it means the recognition of a totalitarian government that has curtailed all individual and collective freedoms for Cubans for decades, and even today continues to deny rights as essential as those of association, freedom of press, speech and information, just to mention some of the most hard to conceal.

Some optimists, with exaggerated candor, consider that the presence of representatives of the Cuban government – not “of Cuba” — in the HRC could be positive as leverage over the government, since the authorities would be subject to greater scrutiny from the organization, and to fulfill the obligations characteristic of democratic systems, which would lead to an eventual easing or transformation of the human rights situation in Cuba.

Pragmatists, however, are of the opinion that, up to now, belonging to international organizations and commissions that, at least de jure, and with varying degrees of success in advocating the defense of economic, political and social progress for Humanity, has not been an important or sufficient element to promote democratic change in Cuba.

In fact, as the official press release boasts, “Cuba was a founding member of the Council, where it remained until 2012, (…), so we are returning to the forum after a year as a State observer” (Granma, November 13th, 2013, p. 5) without an incidence of any sensible improvement on human rights in Cuba. Additionally, the Cuban government has received recognition in such sensitive areas as health, education and nutrition on more than one occasion, despite the deterioration suffered by the first two items and the chronic failure of the third. Many Cubans interpret so much recognition as a mockery of the plight in which they live and as an affront to decades of resistance, sacrifices and efforts by the essentially peaceful internal dissent.

Of course, the official press is ecstatic. A Granma editorial (Wednesday November 13th, 2013, front page) proclaims Cuba’s election to the HRC as an “earned right” and “a resounding recognition of the work undertaken by our country in this matter”. And, so there be no doubt that the government will persist in applying human rights their own way, using the same excuses as always, that edition’s page 5 editorial reprinted a statement by Anayansi Rodriguez, the regime’s ambassador to the Geneva-based international organizations.

She said that this “is a victory of the Cuban peoples that have learned how to withstand more than five decades the U.S. embargo”, and later warned that “there are no unique democratic systems. Each nation has the right to determine, in a sovereign way, what is the most convenient system for its full realization of human rights”, an ambiguous phrase that Cubans know how to clearly interpret as “the Castrocracy will continue using access to international agencies as another resource to legitimize the oldest dictatorship that the civilized world knows and adulates”.

This is nothing new under the sun, which sometimes seems to show more spots than light, as demonstrated by other obscure members also elected to the HRC on this occasion: Russia, China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, Namibia and Mexico, countries in which, independent of nuances and gradations, violation of human rights is part of everyday reality.

Obviously, for the United Nations and its various forums, the precarious global balance requires certain concessions, even those that hurt democratic values. Thus, for better or for worse, the Cuban dictatorship will have another three years grace to try to destroy this international organization.

It is known that, beyond Cuba’s negligible human or financial support to the UN, the primary mission of Castro diplomacy is to jeopardize the functioning of all the forums created for the promotion of democracy, to thin out discussions, to distort agendas, to create antagonism, to polarize the minds and to make use of the venues as platforms to attack the governments of free nations, particularly the US, though that country – of its own choosing — does not belong to the HRC.

The democracy dreams of Cubans, orphans of rights, will gain little or nothing with this pat on the backs of the Castros. The consolation prize (for chumps) is that they will not win over the HRC or democratic countries with such dubious membership either. To some extent, except for the gaps, we will both suffer punishment and penance.

Translated by Norma Whiting

15 November 2013

A friend of mine, whom I will refer to as “Greta”, is a doctor and holds a responsible position at a clinic in an “upscale” neighborhood in Havana. Although not well versed in political issues and ideologies in general, or in Marxism in particular, for many years she accepted membership in the PCC [Cuban Communist Party] because being a member facilitated access to certain benefits, such as getting her daughter into a child care facility quicker, a semi-boarding school for her older child, and a little faster advancement in her career, beyond what would be expected of her average talents.

Greta is not, therefore, a communist revolutionary or even a system sympathizer, nor is she of the opposition, but an opportunist, sheltered into the regular rhythm of a system that does not bother you much as long as you pretend obedience and follow the guidelines.

Or at least that’s the way it was until very recently, when a “professional division” of the municipal CCP went to a meeting of militants at her clinic and expressly gave the directive for an ideological mission: because of the increasing attrition of doctors and other health professionals from the so-called internationalist missions abroad, all members of the “party nucleus” of the clinic were required to visit relatives of the deserters to inform them that such defectors should not consider themselves final émigrés, but that they had a period of two years to evaluate their return to Cuba to continue to quietly practice their profession and to enjoy “all rights”, just like the rest of Cubans on the Island. (Yikes!)

Greta dropped her nail file (she uses the nucleus meetings to update her manicure or to check her cell phone). She could not believe her ears. Now, in addition to her daily walks visiting patients, their families and doctors’ offices, responsibilities of her job, which she carries out well, she would have the additional duties of visiting the “deserters” homes because the political authorities generously “pardoned” them. She, who had managed to not participate in repudiation rallies or in sanctioning meetings, would have to “get at the conscience” of the relatives of the doctors and technicians who have left so they would, in turn, convince them of the possibilities of “returning to the motherland”.

Barely a week before, Greta had made her regular visit to the parents of a good friend, a doctor like her, one of those “deserters” who resides in the US as of a year ago and works as an ambulance paramedic. She picked up a few pictures that he had sent and had some delicious coffee sent by the ex-traitor to his parents. Her friend, or anyone who she knows of, would never dream of coming back to reclaim rights in Cuba… not even those who stopped practicing their profession and now work in other jobs in the health care field.

The militants looked at each other, perplexed. Just a few months ago, the clinic’s management had called a morning meeting to condemn the betrayal of a new defector (another one) who had betrayed his people and the revolution and didn’t even deserve a drink of water… What was this crusade now, pardoning those who had never asked to be pardoned and who, it is clear, would never make use of it? It was the height of absurdity.

And that’s the point where Greta’s tolerance collapsed. She rose from her chair and snapped at the “cadre of leaders” that that was their job to do, and not that of the doctors at the clinic. That’s why they had been assigned a salary, an air-conditioned office and a car with a tank full of gas, while she and the rest of the staff of doctors had to wear out their shoes walking the streets in the heat of the sun to accomplish their jobs. That said, Greta picked up her purse from her seat and left the meeting, leaving behind a stunned silence, followed by a murmur of approval, and barely five minutes after that, the meeting came to an end.

Greta is now waiting for the next meeting, at which they will certainly take away her party card and a great burden off her shoulders. I asked if she was afraid of losing her job and she answered, in her usual smiling and mocking way “with the great number of physicians abroad and all the ones that will continue to stay abroad, they will probably ask me to please not leave… In short, it’s likely that, along with my party card, they will take away my administrative duties, so I will fare better than before: more time to dedicate to my patients, to my family and to myself.  I may even start a private practice, like some of my other doctor friends. I will be one more of so many deserters who will be staying.”

Going forward, Greta will have to be careful. This type of desertion of a doctor towards the private sector inside Cuba will certainly not be granted the authorities’ pardon.

Translated by Norma Whiting

8 November 2013

Photo taken from the Internet

On Thursday September 26th, the conclusion of the Youth Bloggers Interactive Workshop, taught by Pedro Miguel Arce, columnist for the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada was held from Monday the 23rd at the headquarters of the Information Center for the Press in Havana under the auspices of the José Martí International Institute of Journalism. A video-conference was held so that fleeting shooting star and, at the time, renowned Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, could have an interchange with students, journalists and Cuban bloggers, that is, nothing more nor less than with the representatives of the official press.

On Thursday September 26th, the conclusion of the Youth Bloggers Interactive Workshop, taught by Pedro Miguel Arce, columnist for the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada was held from Monday 23th at the headquarters of Information Center for the Press in Havana under the auspices of the International Institute of Journalism José Martí. A video-conference was held so that fleeting shooting star and, at the time, renowned Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, could have an interchange with students, journalists and Cuban bloggers, that is, no less than with the representatives of the official press.

Of course, we must not forget that Julian Assange seems to be quite candid, and, not by choice two evil women — whom now Mr. Columnist for La Jornada, an expert in communication, defines as “two dubitable Swedes” — tried to involve him in a lawsuit under “false accusations,” who knows with what intentions. By the way, I don’t quite understand the use of the adjective “dubitable” in this context, but it really doesn’t sound very kind. At first I would have wished that some of the students and young Cuban bloggers gathered there had pointed out to the editorialist that that’s not how revolutionaries refer to women, but then reconsidered when I recalled the revolutionary methods used in Cuba to treat females: the Ladies in White and other women embarrassing to the regime are living testimony of this. In comparison, it could almost be said that Mr. Arce is the perfect gentleman.

In any event, Assange contributed little to the journalists’ meeting. In addition, the invitation to the Australian was made quite late, the Assange case is already more than cold, so the issue does not qualify for marketing. As for his solidarity and sympathy with the four spies for the Cuban dictatorship, it went from being a pretty gray parley for someone who once shone in the minds of Internet freedom, but at the end is an inconsequential personal position that could be dispensed with, yellow ribbon and all.

Once there were independent Cubans who were attracted by the somewhat romantic idea of standing up to the monopolies of information and, in fact, there were those who openly declared their admiration and sympathy for Assange. Not me. Personally, experience has taught me to distrust all messiahs of any color, especially those that offer the status quo as an offset to total anarchy. We know by now that under the skin of this smiling little blond, who strives to come across as sympathetic, are hidden twisting paths, very different from the transparency he claims in his preachings.

However, this star in its twilight fell sharply into the temptation to take sides when he accepted an interchange — not with an audience representing the full spectrum of Cuban digital journalism with multiplicity of voices, proposals and thoughts which could be a real show of freedom — but with a select group of individuals who had to go through the most rigorous screenings to be elected as soldiers of that monotone barricade present in said online journalism workshop, the voice of authority of the Cuban dictatorship.

What is more, although independent blogger Yoani Sánchez was mentioned in the Assange-Castro-journalism dialogue, to brand her once again as a U.S. government mercenary agent and all the usual attributes government media have showered her with, she was not able to answer many epithets and accusations because she was not invited to the event and workshop, despite being the best known exponent and founder of the independent blogosphere, creator of the Blogger Academy and the largest blogger platform in Cuba, and has even published works on the use of Word Press.  Assange, the champion of free speech, the angel of truth, did not question her unusual absence or that of other bloggers and journalists from independent digital media.

But some truths, though out of context, did come out at the meeting. For example, I agree with Assange in that the Internet “for the first time offers us the most powerful tool to destroy media control and manipulation. But we face a great battle. The Internet allows each one of us to express the truth.” Don’t we know it, the bloggers and independent journalists who use the web to express our truths and break the official media blockade, which keeps us in a constant battle, not just on the web, but also in our physical lives! The government is sure to know that it doesn’t allow the expansion of internet usage at the same time it keeps many of our pages filtered, while maintaining a constant harassment against the exercise of freedom of expression, opinion and information! That explains why it is not possible that there is a Cuban Assange.

That is why it’s interesting that Assange has declared he is impressed that Cuba “has managed to withstand 50 years of embargo within a mere 90 miles away from the U.S.”, and he doesn’t know how this has been possible. The truth is that, to clarify to ‘solidarity Julian’ the issue of “the embargo” and “the heroic resistance of the people” would be quite difficult, judging by the oblique view he has on Cuban history and reality. It’s almost pitiable the (naïve?) way this guy, so shrewd and experienced in computer battles seems to have fallen victim to the media hallucinations manufactured by the Castro totalitarianism. Personally, I don’t think so, but my readers already know that I tend to be insightful with some eccentric characters…Assange is not the exception.

However, to give him the benefit of the doubt and to assume his intentions to be good, we could give him a very brief answer, telling him that what he terms “the resistance of the Cuban people” — which, in reality is the ability of the longest dictatorship in the West to cling to power — may be due, among other factors, to the solidarity of people like him.

So, thank you, Julian, but, seriously, don’t strain yourself! We have had enough without your support. At any rate, I return the favor with this post: I may be one of the few proud Cubans who paid some kind attention to your cyber-presentation as an ally of the Castro’s long media-monopoly. After all, I’m embarrassed for you. Your unfortunate fling has brought to mind a phrase from the most authentic popular jargon, which years ago was used to pass sentence to the worst of the worst faux pas: “Yo! Your thong fell off!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

30 September 2013

polici_as_cuba-300x244Monday, October 14th, 2013 | By Miriam Celaya, www.cubanet.org — If there is something in the past 55 or so years in which Cuban regime has been efficient it’s in the administration of news according to its own interests, a trick that consists in covering with words several printed pages and all the “news” media, without actually saying anything. Or another variant, not less crafty, which consists in launching information that they know will cause expectations and agitation in the public’s opinion, and then placing another, more significant story, though at first glance it may not seem so, and then it can pass virtually unnoticed.

Such was the case of a convoluted news story published in the newspaper Granma last October 3rd, 2013 (“They Explain Changes in Criminal Legislature”, front page), at a time when the announcement of the ban on the sale of imported clothing to the self-employed and their seizure by the authorities was capturing all of the attention of public opinion. In fact, there has been no reaction of opinion on the subject of the legislature, though they complement the recent official measures against the self-employed.

represores-300x262The preliminary survey revealed that the amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act do not seem to have aroused the people’s interest. However, they legitimize the atmosphere of impunity that characterizes the relationship between the repressive forces and the population. With the Decree-Law 310/2013 “the powers of the municipal courts are extended to adjudicate offenses punishable to up to eight years’ imprisonment” (previously it was up to three years), while “the acting authorities, such as the Revolutionary National Police and others have other jurisdictions, so they don’t necessarily have to send all cases to the tribunals”. The police force –that niche of uniformed filibusters- will be both guardian, captor, judge and executioner of citizens

Police confiscates goods from the self-employed

Police confiscates goods from the self-employed

Another newly introduced amendment in the law is Decree 313/2013 of the Council of Ministers, which states “in which cases goods associated with a crime should be seized, and what entities should be in charge of the property directly related to a crime and what entities should be responsible for their acceptance or for securing them…” Items thus confiscated “could be marketed immediately and contribute to the state budget” and if “it is decided to return the goods” to an individual and the goods have already been marketed, the individual will be given goods of “similar characteristics” or he will be compensated financially. That is, the authorities will have the prerogative to establish the legitimacy or lack thereof of people’s assets and of what rights they may or may not have over the goods; the assumption of the power to sell particular properties to the State and the decision to determine in what cases property will be returned to citizens and at what values if they are to be compensated, all, of course, at the discretion of the same authorities.

1gR7aw.Em_.84-300x243It is scary to think what levels of helplessness the common Cuban has reached, with the increases in the power of the PNR and the courts, that is, the repressive institutions at the service of the government. All this in a scenario marked by corruption at all levels, and particularly among the agents of “order”, in theory responsible for ensuring the public peace. I cannot think of anything more absurd of this government than to try to maintain social control by empowering an army of semi-illiterate corrupts supported by law professionals, as if this way the chaos that is upon us could be avoided.

A few years ago, the General-President, whom some optimists considered a reformist pragmatist, announced that the measures to “renew the model” would not be retracted. He lied, but perhaps the original intention was truthful. The reality, however, showed that even the slightest chance for prosperity and economic independence goes beyond official controls and a totalitarian system cannot survive a reform process, however tentative and insufficient they may be.

The recent amendments introduced to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act are an attempt, as useless and it is desperate, to put the genie back in the bottle. A twist of the screw so unfortunate that it will heighten the shift toward the worst case scenario: more corruption and repression against people increasingly unhappy and frustrated, just the least prone components to the control and order which the Cuban authorities are pursuing.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Cubanet, 14 October 2013

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