Archive for September, 2010

Haroldo Dilla, Cuban historian and sociologist. Photograph from the internet.

A few days ago, a friend of mine gave me an interesting opinion piece by Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, entitled “From Loyalty to Complicity.” I can’t tell the readers where it was published, because I don’t know, though it is dated Tuesday, September 14th, 2010, but it is a core article that puts back on the table a tricky issue: the role of Cuban intellectuals on the Island during the past 50 years and in the face of changes taking place in the country.

I must declare, for honesty’s sake, that I usually chase Dilla’s writings, because they are always illuminating and marked by moderation, sober analysis, synthesis, and a deep understanding of the Cuban reality. The article referred to has the additional benefit -which is appreciated- of being as full of energy as it is devoid of passion, a truly rare thing when it comes to debate among Cubans.

Its plot is not, in itself, a novelty: the characters are Cuban intellectuals, those who remain on the island and those in exile. The argument is based primarily on the debate –which took place ten years ago- about what Jesús Díaz called “the silent complicity” of intellectuals inside Cuba in the face of the negative traits of the system, defined by Aurelio Alonso, in turn, as “loyalty on the side of the more genuine revolutionary program.” The scenario in which the theme develops,  about which Dilla is commenting now, is the current Cuban reality, not a new theme, but a lot more complex than what it used to be 10 years ago, hence the importance of his article.

Dilla’s piece has also brought me back to the memory of another debate between intellectuals, which took place during the months of January and February 2007, following a TV show in which several individuals responsible for what, in the decade of the 70’s was known as the “gray quinquenium” (and “the gray decade” for others), an act that sparked true and spontaneous virtual discussion that went as far as to include strong questions about the cultural policy of the Cuban revolution.  Since the debate took place through e-mails among many Cuban intellectuals inside and outside the Island, the phenomenon transcended into “the little e-mail war” and slowly faded away, after the Culture Minister held a closed-door meeting at the Casa de Las Americas with a group of intellectuals and other personalities in the field of culture, by previous invitation only and with strict controls that prevented entry to a multitude of interested people and participants in the debate itself, who were swarming outside of the meeting place.

Those events, which I experienced personally as part of the editorial board of the magazine Consenso (later Contodos Magazine, both at Desdecuba.com web page), had a kind of expectation that Haroldo Dilla calls a “little ray” of enthusiasm, because we then believed that –finally- Cuban intellectuals would join in the push for change in Cuba and, as opinion leaders, they would generate the thinking guides necessary to equip the ideas of the aimless dissenters or the fed-up and disoriented “masses.”  We were hoping that the voices of many renowned intellectuals, who at times had even lent some prestige to the revolutionary process with their talent, would also rise against the lack of freedoms of Cubans and of their own group. It did not happen that way, with some exceptions.

There are special cases, like the poet Ena Lucía Portela, writer Leonardo Padura, actors Pablo Milanés and Pedro Luis Ferrer, and director Eduardo del Llano, among others, who dare to express concerns about the Cuban reality. Others, younger ones, are representatives of a generation that has broken ties with a system alien to their interests; they might represent hope if we could bridge the schism that often characterizes the alienating and escapist stances slowing down their self-consciousness about civic responsibility.

After that memorable virtual revolt of 2007, silence and luke-warmth again dominated. Official counsel returned to its ivory tower retreat, fear silenced almost all the protesters, and many of that time’s lost sheep tamely returned to the fold. The burning fires in some of the more illustrious were placated through small favors granted by the magnanimous power: some of their minor works were published or some others were edited.  Some trips and other little perks were granted, and those who could have become prestigious tribunes or promising compasses were, once again, silent.

Our best social scientists in dozens of institutions, witnesses of the critical social situation in the country, have been silent (silenced?) for too long, and, when they have spoken, it has been quietly and asking shyly and humbly, for permission of the authorities, like someone who fears to offend. Now the most devious insist that they are most useful remaining in their respective research centers, “discovering” the truths that we all know and suffer daily. They allege that they are waiting for “the most opportune moment” to bring their proposals to light. Perhaps some of those are good intentions, but who is better served by that silence? I know about what and of whom I am speaking, because I was trained in a social research center where some valued researchers denied in the courtyard what they did not dare to disclose at an event’s podium.

Today, we are faced with the dilemma of a Cuba that is divided between a capitalist government and a country suffering the rigors of a failed socialist project. The banquet among the elite of the ruling caste has intensified; discontent and uncertainty among modest Cubans pile up, and a death silence seems to reign among intellectuals, packed away and untouchable in their Parnassus. They, the ones with tribunes and microphones, with the authority granted by the knowledge, choose the silent complicity in the face of government corruption and the total absence of civil rights.

I fully embrace Haroldo Dilla’s denouncement, when he insists that “there is no reason to be complaisant with the Cuban political elite, including the outspoken octogenarians who have labeled themselves “the historical leadership.”  There is no room to believe that the silences, the cryptic criticisms and the requests for excuses are the price of loyalty to the revolution, socialism and the motherland, as the old slogan goes.

And, indeed, in Cuba, the revolutionaries of yesterday are the burden of today. They represent the most reactionary class society. The Cuban Revolution died decades ago. It is time to break the comlicit silence of which Jesús Díaz spoke, and which researcher Haroldo Dilla has brought to the debate arena recently.

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Possible Utopia (I)

Photography by Orlando Luis

In the last few weeks, one topic has become the focus of comments and expectations: the announced increase in self-employed persons, mainly from the massive layoffs that will literally leave half a million state employees out on the street in just one quarter. Speculation grows, while the case is being cooked -as always- behind the curtains of the Palace, with no clear information on the magnitude and pace of applications for licenses for those who will begin to operate outside the “protection” of the state.

There are many edges from which a question, at once complex and controversial, can be addressed, especially if we underline some of the unpublished touches contained in its embossed printing: never, since 1959, had the government prepared a similar wave of layoffs, not even in the critical conditions of the 1990’s. The Cuban Workers Union had not previously displayed, so publicly and openly, its complete submission to the State. On the other hand, it is totally absurd that the loss of half a million members might lead to the “strengthening the organization of the working class”, as its Secretary General recently stated, unless the government intends to recognize the right of unionization of the self-employed in different branches, which, of course, is unlikely.

For now I’ll just refer to one issue that seems to have been forgotten amid the comments, especially by the foreign press, which seems to overestimate the provisions of the government. A list of about 124 professions, trades and other occupations that will be licensed has been unofficially released, which has unleashed a wave of speculation even among ordinary Cuban citizens, who have not been formally apprised of the news. A foreign journalist just mentioned to me, with almost jubilant optimism: “finally, the Cuban government is implementing innovative changes.” Of course, I am also in favor of the changes and of the abolition of the dependency of individuals on the State, I just do not believe in half measures because they do not resolve the root of the evil, especially if these provisions are forced. We can’t lose sight that the government is applying them because it has no other alternative. Somehow, it will continue to try to exercise a strong hold on the new “independent” workers.  It remains to be seen if the measurements become “improvements” or not, and that won’t depend on the government alone.

Another detail: none of the occupations approved so far are new, but they have all been practiced illegally for decades. Who in Cuba has not retained the services of a carpenter, a mason, a welder or a plumber? Let’s be clear, if anyone here needs to buy or repair furniture, he goes directly to the nearest state carpentry and negotiates the terms and the price of labor with a carpenter. The raw materials and machine tools belong to the state; the benefit is private, in a process that my friend and colleague Dimas Castellanos has named “staticular work.” The same applies to the blacksmith or welder. Where do they get the oxygen, acetylene and metals for jobs in a city that, because of the increase in theft and violence, has bars on all its windows? In the workshops and state warehouses. Widespread illegal work is such that the authorities have chosen to look the other way, and today it enjoys almost total impunity.

So, these occupations have been carried out on their own and without any licenses because, in 1968, the State canceled all small family businesses or cooperatives offering such services, but it failed -both because of its inefficiency and the impossibility of such an endeavor by any State- to create the infrastructure necessary to offset people’s demand. As a corollary, an underground service market supplied with state resources to cover basic need requirements for the population was established. Revolutionary or not, every Cuban has had to resort to these illegal actions, aware that he is committing a crime and “resolving” the problem by their thievery against the State; in this scenario are included numerous individuals whom we know, responsible for monitoring for the CDR. At the end of the day, as the saying goes, “The thief who steals from a thief…”

And so it was that, in trying to eliminate all vestiges of individuals’ property in order to cause economic independence to adhere, and with it, their freedom, the government only managed to encourage crime and corruption. The new government measures of today are merely legalizing what until now was illegal and uncontrollable. After more than 40 years of the Revolutionary Offensive, we return to the starting point: the restoration of what should have never been abolished, the small private property.

But now, the other aspect of the matter is just how the self-employed will ensure, henceforth, the raw materials, which thus far have come out of state warehouses. Or, for example, how does the government plan for household appliance, bicycles or automobile repairmen to work without commercializing spare parts, as dictated by the business? Will there be warehouses that will sell parts and accessories at reasonable prices? Will the state be able to keep those stores stocked? Probably not. And, as for taxes, will they be fair and beneficial to workers? Because existing taxes are really abusive and arbitrary, which implies that most of the self-employed who have survived prefer to buy their products and raw materials on the black market and pay bribes to tax inspectors, to make their activity less burdensome. The pseudo-socialist self-employment, as a genuine product of this system, thus becomes a generator of corruption.

In the current climate, compromises are not worth it. The liberalization of so high a portion of the labor force and its insertion in the private production of goods and services will have to be sufficiently profitable to become effective and stimulate the domestic economy. In that case, the worker who is able to fend for himself will be able to overcome the current survival conditions and will attain the material well-being he wishes and deserves.  We must also note that, by being outside the official trade union organization -as logic would indicate- these workers should have the right to organize according to their own interests in order to demand the enforcement of contracts and commitments they might establish with the State. The self-employed would then cease to be “mass” to become citizens and strengthen civil society: the first step towards a possible utopia.

This time, the government must consider the fact that, with these layoffs and with the new legalization of the old self-employment, it will lose a great deal of the control (including ideological blackmail) that it exercised, at least over this half a million Cubans. There will probably be 500,000 less marching each May 1st to contribute their annual “labor day” to the Territorial Militia Troops, to pay its union dues to the State or to clamor for the release of these or the other heroes of the day… Unless licenses, like streets and universities, turn out to be for “self-employed revolutionaries”.

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Notice of price cuts

My produce stand, located at the corner of Árbol Seco and Maloja in  Central Havana, had a very promising sign a few days ago. It read as follows:

“Informing the population”
From the production results and the availability of agricultural products, price reductions were approved on all MAE small stands in the capital from September 3rd, 2010.

For the uninitiated, MAE means State Agricultural Market.

Following that, the sign enumerated significant per-pound price drops in plantains, cassava and sweet potato, as can be seen in the photo. However, as I approached the counter, I noticed that the establishment had only small, half-bruised avocados and some dregs of sweet potatoes. In response to my question, some customers there informed me that those would be the prices “when they had the produce”. Bottom line, there were none of the “discounted” items, although, days earlier and for several weeks, I know for a fact that there was an abundance of those three vegetables.

I’ve been to the little stand several times since then, without success. The news programs have reported the fabulous banana harvest, a large part of which is rotting in the fields for lack of transportation to take them to retail sites. The image of the food rotting on the ground contrasts against empty markets. More of the same. On the other hand, compared to the significant production of vegetables, there is a serious shortage of other popular high-demand products such as garlic, onion, pepper, fresh vegetables and pork, which demonstrates the continuing ineffectiveness of the structures and the inability to meet the needs of the population, among numerous other causes, because the scant official measures that stimulated agricultural production did not foresee the insufficiency of state transportation to make goods at point of sale effective.

For several days, plantains flooded the city. (Photo: Orlando Luis)

Week-end agricultural fairs are just a palliative to half-cover the popular demand, and are not stable in their offerings: just like they may offer a significant amount of products of acceptable quality for sale one week, they may offer significantly reduced varieties of produce of lesser quality the following week. In all cases, human crowds are inevitable.

Fear, on the part of the authorities, of private sector development in any of its variants, causes gaps in the markets and frustration of producers at the wasted effort. Excessive control is also a major obstacle that sabotages the natural flow between producers, the market, and consumers. It is not enough, then, to “change” an occasional piece of gear. The economy, exhausted, requires profound and effective changes. The government must release Cubans’ productive potential and their ability to work for themselves if it is really interested in reversing the crisis. Already they, the owners of power, have amassed their gains and it is known that they have put their sights on more lucrative and larger enterprises. How long will they hinder the progress of domestic business?

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Salvador Valdés Mesa, Secretario General of the CTC

On Monday, September 13th, in an unusual statement issued by the Cuban Workers Organization (the CTC), it was announced that half a million Cubans will lose their jobs in the coming months. The amazing thing is not the wave of layoffs in itself, (for a while, it has been rumored that about one million in total will lose their state jobs), but that the announcement, instead of being made by the employer, was assumed specifically by the organization which, by virtue of its name, calls to defend workers’ rights; such an organization which stands, in addition, for moderating to “maintain the systematic monitoring of the development of this process” (of layoffs). This is the paradigm of anti-unionism.

That is how it was made explicit that we will have 500,000 more unemployed by the end of March, some of whom are expected to swell the ranks of the so-called self-employed who will feed, by way of their taxes and leonine locks, the insatiable state coffers.

Without a doubt, this blogger would be guilt of false naiveté if she had ever believed that “the union”, as it is commonly called in every workplace, represented the interests of Cuban workers. Anyone who has ever been occupationally linked to a state job knows that the union is a pulley over the administrative machinery of the State. It is subordinate to it and to the nucleus of the single party at each center. As for me, I cannot remember once in my 23 years of official employment that the union, its members or its leaders ever supported me in any of the conflicts that I had to settle with different administrative levels, or in numerous complaints I had to file during my turbulent working life. I don’t remember “the union” ever forgetting to put out its hand… each payday. The financial collector of the CTC was present alongside the paymaster, to ensure the collection of union dues before the anemic wages would slip through the fingers of the “unionized”.

Another feature of Cuban trade union membership is automatic enrollment when entering the workforce, as with the CDR – an organization in which every Cuban is included as soon as he turns 16 – or with the FMC*, to which each girl “enters” at that same age. You start to work somewhere, and the mere fact of being part of the work force turns you into a member, per se, of the organization. No one asks if you want to unionize, no one explains your rights or the labor successes of the organization in favor of its members. You are limited to compling with its work plan, paying your fees, performing your “labor guard” and attending meetings and performing “voluntary” or “productive” jobs (they are not the same, but both are equally unproductive).  That, and an enormous feeling of helplessness, are common attributes that the union imparts to Cuban workers today.

From the very beginning of its commandeering of power, the Castro regime has been responsible for destroying each autonomous organization in Cuba. More than half a century of union struggles that became popular in the nineteenth century and brought significant benefits during the era of the Republic were cleverly monopolized by the revolutionary government, beginning in 1959. The legendary Sierra Maestra commander knew all too well what great power autonomous civic organizations safeguarded. The Cuban labor movement, dazzled with the populism of the revolution’s first steps and with the charisma of its leader, gave up its strength and its independence in the presence of the olive-green caste, and soon it evolved into the servile mass it is today. There are no more traces of union leaders of the stature of Jesús Menéndez or Aracelio Iglesias, just to mention two of the best known, or a union like that of the port workers or the employees of the electric companies of the 50’s.

But, in spite of all that, not even in my moments of extreme fantasizing would I have thought that it would be the Cuban Workers’ Union – the country’s only union – that would consent to make the appalling announcement of a record unemployment rate. I never heard of any country – not even those where “wild capitalism” prevails – in which the organization that protects the workers is the one announcing and controlling layoffs.  If any of my readers knows of a case, please enlighten me.

Finally, the facade covering the arrangement  is cracking. It is exposing, naked and publicly, the perfect plot between the CTC and the sole employer, the State Party Government, counter to the detriment to workers. Interestingly, we had true unionism while capitalism lasted. Tropical socialism did nothing but crush organized labor. At the present time, when the past structures of “socialism” are blurring, in Cuba we are going back to capitalism, though such confessions have not yet been made public. With its return, workers, without rights or awareness of their own strength, are confined to the most difficult place while the government safeguards us, in another of its usual gestures of infinite sacrifice: it is appropriating the “maleficent capitalist tools” for its own use.

*Federation of Cuban Women

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The Dying Bay

The desolate bay

Ever since Sebastián de Ocampo circumnavigated Cuba, between 1508 and 1509, the seduction of the then blue and clear waters of Havana Bay began. He named it Puerto Carenas* because he stopped here to repair some damage to his ship and to renew his fresh water reserves. Two small rivers flow into this bay. Ocampo did not know it then, but he had discovered, this early in the conquest, what would be the key port of Spanish trade with its American colonies. Anyway, the indigenous name prevailed, and the twins, the city and the bay, went on to share the same name: Havana. With its magnificent natural conditions, its narrow entrance channel, its three wide inlets, the width of its space and depth of its waters, Havana Bay is, even to date, ideal as a port and, consequently, an excellent geographical point, both as a destination for passenger ships and for maritime commerce. Almost from the beginning, and for numerous other reasons, the bay was the heart of the city, the center that inspired life and encouraged the economy. The city owes much of its history to its bay and she –for her part- jealously treasures the remains of ancient facts and legends in the mysteries of her dark cradle.

Since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, maritime traffic in Havana was already the most intense of the New World, and some of the largest galleons of the time were constructed in its shipyards. In the nineteenth century, it attained hectic commercial activity due to the Cuban sugar boom after the Haitian Revolution. Through the bay entered, over the centuries, tens of thousands of immigrants and an even greater number of African slaves; it was a widely open door through which poured many of the components that later scattered throughout the Island to lend flesh and spirit to the national culture.

Until the 1980’s, a period of false prosperity derived from the honeymoon with the defunct Soviet Union and of shady deals with the CMEA, Havana harbor was a veritable floating city for the large number of merchant ships that frequented its waters. Moored, anchored or flowing in and out, maritime traffic in the old bay imprinted on the city an atmosphere of movement that contrasts vividly with the spectral appearance it shows today. The bay is like a desert.

Towing crane next to the Santa Clara Pier

With its old docks, Machina and Santa Clara, in ruins, the floating dock empty and covered in rust, an old towing crane abandoned near the Santa Clara pier, sewage and waste-laden greasy water and the smell of pollution invading the space, the bay is a testament to the desecration of the historical memory of the city. She is a distinctive victim of the official apathy, but nobody seems to care. What difference does a little more or less crap in such a dirty city? Many young Havanans shrug their shoulders or look at me in disbelief when I tell them that the Havana Bay of my early childhood had blue water where you could find sea bass that were plentiful, flying fish and many seagulls. Not even my children believe it (“Are you sure, Mom, could it be that you are confusing your memories with your wishes?”) But grey-haired Havanans do know that what I am saying is true.

Dismantling of the jetties

These days, there is a rumor going around that at least part of the scarce maritime commercial activity has been relocating to the port of Mariel, and that a certain Brazilian company is financing the work that will result in a cruise ship terminal in the area of the old piers of the old city, in the so-called Casco Histórico. I don’t know how much truth there is in any of this, but I have seen some work being done in the demolition of the four piers adjacent to the Alameda de Paula and the old fire station, adjacent to the Regla launch pier.

I’m such an optimist that I want to believe that someday there will be changes that will benefit the bay, that -like before- will once again be a fountain of life and of well-being for the city and its inhabitants, that its waters will be clean and that, on a very special day I will invite my suspicious children to walk along the wall of the Malecón, as we so often did when I was still a young girl and they were two little kids. I dream about being able to show them then the quick flutter of the fins of the sea bass frolicking once again in the blue waters of my bay.

* From carenar: (to careen) to clean, caulk, or repair (a ship in this position).

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Open Letter to a Confused Supporter

Mr. Josep Calvet:

I have hesitated for some weeks to respond to comments that you have occasionally poured into our little forum, but recent events that will mark the fate of my country in a not-so-distant future, force me not only to answer, but also to do so publicly. My intention is, of course, to instigate debate while exposing how damaging the official propaganda has been and continues to be, and how much distortion it creates in the minds of people, including those living in the so-called society of information and democracy. I lay as a premise that, although I feel that your comments have not been disrespectful in their design, they have indeed been so in their content, as I will make clear in this letter.

A fellow countryman of yours paved the way for me when you made some statements, among them, the “subtle” difference that exists between solidarity with the people of Cuba or with its government. At this stage of the game, almost everyone knows that both positions –support for the dictatorial government of the Castro brothers or for the Cuban people- are mutually exclusive, but you obviously have not heard. And you could not find out in any way because, judging by your approach, you – in the best of cases – have been a victim of the media’s misrepresentation and manipulation that you attribute to others in your comments; the revolutionary eloquence has made you dizzy, as indicated by various symptoms: I see that your comments are profusely dotted with those ingredients that the official Cuban discourse has created and disseminated in what we might call the “Manual for collecting foreign solidarity”; its first chapter containing a main tenet: anyone who is not in agreement with the Cuban government is “without doubt or appeal” an enemy, spy, mercenary, etc., at the service of the U.S. government, ergo, he is being funded by that country’s Treasury Department. That’s why this ideal Manual abounds in acronyms used as menacing and demonic accents, such as USAID and USIS, which, by (and only by) the grace of the olive-green verbiage, become per se crime, trial and sentence. “They are funded by USAID,” “they connect to the Internet from the U.S. Interests Section,” are phrases that are used irresponsibly as you do in reference to anyone who questions the government, without considering that, because of the repetition of that chant, the supporters of the longest dictatorship in Latin America have caused the arbitrary imprisonment of many brave Cubans and has contributed to the suffering of tens of thousands of Cuban families.

And, believe me, I make an enormous effort to understand you, because it is difficult to believe so much cluelessness and such fierce indoctrination. If you even admit to not having understood many of the clarifications made in the post “A Pause,” where I explained how I connect to the Internet and the limitations we have in Cuba in order to maintain a blog while facing official harassment, how can you pretend that you do not succumb to the official propaganda machinery that has all the resources and all the power? Yet, I will not allow you to pin attributes that don’t fit me: I do not receive funding from anyone or any institution (my blog, far from being a source of income, is an expense to me), though I reserve the right to accept the personal help of friends who have occasionally offered it to me. I do not connect, nor have I ever connected from the USIS, not because I consider it sinful, but because I have not had the opportunity to do so. I do not consider it shameful to try to find in alternative sites the information and communication opportunities that the Island’s government denies me.

I understand that you do not have much knowledge about Cuban history beyond propaganda and text carefully edited by the regime. If you knew more about this country and its heroes, you would not commit such an offensive blunder as to state that this revolution is Martí-like. Be informed that José Martí was decidedly against socialism and the Marxist ideas, and that he made clear his rejection in an article entitled “La esclavitud moderna” (Modern Slavery), which was how he defined such a system. I suggest you find and carefully read this article which, by the way, the Cuban government has never released here, and which most of today’s Cubans are possibly unaware of. It so happens that you are also sadly mistaken even about this fact, when you contradict the pronouncements of the historic leader of the Cuban revolution himself, who has stated in more than one occasion that he has studied Marx since his youth, and that he read his works during his incarceration (a vacation, by the way) of a little more than a year, after rising up in arms and attacking a military barracks and causing the deaths of dozens of Cubans. For a lot less, other Cubans have faced the firing squad for the sake of “revolutionary justice.” The revolution has not really been, as you absurdly say, “a humiliation” for the U.S., but has reduced millions of Cubans to the humiliating condition of slaves.

Another glaring blunder: the Cuban people did not “rise in arms.” The guerrillas that fought the previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista (another big shot not worth talking about, but a mere amateur compared to Castro), consisted of only a few thousand Cubans, although it is true that the revolution, in its initial years in power, had resounding and massive popular support. The ICAP*, meanwhile, has not “existed for fifty years” as you claim, but was founded in the 1970’s as an institution created to support the government, not the people of Cuba. But don’t be embarrassed by a wrong date, which is not all that important, nor elementary. It is not surprising that someone who believes that an example of great altruism and solidarity is participating in a harvest of cooking bananas that will feed revolutionaries and dissidents alike is confused. That’s scarcely a symbolic gesture. I know that we Cubans have the widespread reputation for making light of things, but be informed that many of us cherish our freedom infinitely more than fried plantains.

On the other hand, let me inform you, Mr. Calvet, that your farm sacrifice does not impress me. Since the early age of 12 until I was 17, for six consecutive school years, I had to participate in agricultural tasks, separated from my family for 45 days each year, incorporated into that monstrosity of the revolution known as the Field Schools. I could not enumerate the number and variety of foods and vegetables I harvested, weeded, fertilized and even sowed, and none of it meant any improvement in my life. Contrary to what many believe, what we need here is Freedom, not foodstuffs. Not all Cubans have the brains of a pig.

As for your comment about the Ladies in White, whom you rudely described as “a crude imitation” of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, it is a heinous insult. As woman, mother and grandmother, I will not let you get away with such a transgression. Dictatorships, whether right or left, remain dictatorships. The Argentine Grandmothers you mention deserve all of mankind’s respect and consideration, but, in equal measure, the Ladies in White have given the world in general and Cuba in particular an unforgettable lesson in dignity. Know that their struggle is more valuable than that of the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra, because they have confronted the longest dictatorship in this hemisphere in the midst of the city and openly, not hiding in the thicket, not chasing after privileges and power, but demanding the release of husbands, brothers and children captive of the system, not with weapons, but with flowers in their hands, with truths and rights, not killing other Cubans, but marching peacefully through the streets, confronting the fascist hordes organized and financed by the government to suppress and beat them, and chanting a word that should be sacred to all human beings: freedom.

The Ladies in White have the extraordinary merit of being the first civic movement in the history of this country that has achieved an unprecedented victory against the government by sheer force of their will and of the righteousness of their cause. They do not need to imitate anybody, because they are authentic. Today, the Cuban government itself belies you and leaves you exposed for all to see.

I would suggest you go to the Official Cuban Gazette website to find out about the new law that grants the state the right to sell the land it owns (it owns virtually all lands) to construction companies for tourism purposes (Law-Decree 273, Articles 221 and 222.1, published August 13th, 2010), with 99-year leases and also to make sales with rights in perpetuity. It states, explicitly, that the law was enacted “For the purpose of expanding and facilitating the process of foreign investment participation in international tourism.”.

What The Gazette does not state is that this Law-Decree was created expressly to legitimize investments that some American companies are anticipating, in order to build more than a dozen golf courses for the exclusive tourism of millionaires, which is not, in itself, necessarily something negative, only that we citizens are excluded and do not have the right to invest or acquire land to participate in development plans of any kind. That is, we cannot be capitalists, but the state capitalism that prevails in this country gives itself the right to sell the country off in pieces, as if it were a birthday cake, with Cubans not taking any part in the festivities.

I do not know if Mr. Calvet will also perceive the subtlety that preferential buyers who will enjoy the privileges of ownership are precisely the “imperialist enemy” that attacks us, blocks us and harasses us, the same one that — so-called “illegally” — occupies the naval base at Guantánamo. The truly peculiar thing is that, if the base exists today, it is by virtue of an amendment that granted a foreign government the privilege of owning Cuban territory, promoted on the dawn of the twentieth century by an American politician. This new one, which gives away our country to American entrepreneurs and has been designed and imposed on the Cubans by the government of Cuba itself, is the “Castro Amendment.” Contrast this law with one published before it in the same Gazette, giving peasants the land they work and produce with their own hands “in usufruct for a term of 10 years.” It is not necessary to be an astute individual to detect who the owners of power in Cuba are codling, plus let’s not mention the mysterious fate of the proceeds from such sales.

As you can see, Mr. Calvet, the Official Gazette itself is responsible for confirming what “we, mercenaries” are saying. As you may see, additionally, it is a brazen impertinence for you to try to indoctrinate me about the needs of the Cuban people. Unlike the olive-green royalty that you so passionately defend, the same one who so anxiously share in the spoils of the country, I am part of this people, deprived of rights and hopes. How can you have the audacity to point out to the Cuban people what we need and against whom we need to fight? You are definitely clueless: over a century has passed since 1898, my good man, though I suspect that date means absolutely nothing to you.

As I stated at the beginning, Mr. Calvet, your fellow countryman has taken the responsibility to respond with dignity to your twisted interventions in this space. He gives you the benefit of a doubt; I wish I could do the same, but I keep some reservations, because if you allow yourself the suspicion of considering independent bloggers as paid by the U.S. government, you might be giving me the right to assume you are a paid employee of the discredited and despotic Cuban government, which is in the business of buying the world’s solidarity while mortgaging the present and future of this Island and of Cubans. At any rate, I appreciate your participation in this blog, but you lack the moral authority to judge those who are not in love with this government. If you have any intention to participate in this debate again, be truly respectful: do yourself a favor and get informed about the Cuban reality, arm yourself with arguments, and, above all, save yourself the slogans.

Miriam Celaya

* Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples

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Goodbye, Granny

Since I am not always home when the news comes on, and taking into account that information is an integral and offshoot component of one’s opinion, a few years ago I negotiated with a kind neighbor for the possibility of getting a secret subscription to the newspaper Granma. For a long time she has been friends with man who brings her the newspaper each morning. Cuban readers probably know that a clandestine subscription consists in coordinating with one of those retired old men who, in order to round out their meager pensions, agree to hoard the newspapers as they arrive at the newsstands, after having arranged with the official salesperson –the intermediary, who reserves a fixed number of papers each day- so that, for the modest monthly fee of 30 pesos (regular currency, of course) you can get one or another pastoral letter of the communist party which, with a different name and printing, repeat more or less the same thing.

Thus, the benefit is mutual: the newsstand vendor gets a little extra money by offering the reseller a newspaper, whose selling price is 20 cents, at 40 or 50 cents; the reseller, who often has a significant number of regular customers, gets a steady and modest profit without having to walk up and down the streets, in the rain or under the sun yelling: “Granma, Granma!” as happens with other unfortunate resellers; while we, those who have “subscriptions” are guaranteed to get, on a daily basis, a few printed pages that serve several purposes: sometimes they are useful to try to guess what are the other elders are up to (the ones in olive green, who do not have to sell newspapers to survive), the paper occasionally turns into material basis for critical analysis, to measure with any degree of accuracy the magnitude of our national disaster, or it’s useful for wrapping fish waste and other domestic detritus. It is an amusing paradox that, in this corrupt insular unreality, even Granma lends itself to shady business; the official organ of the single party feeds the list of contraband goods, possibly with the highest rate of incidence of crime, considering that some of us can afford to spend on the purchase of a daily newspaper, on the other hand, few times a year do we allow ourselves the excess of buying beef.

But today I have finally decided to quit. I’m sorry for the nice old man who has kept to his promise of bringing me my new Granma, on time and for such a long time, without missing a single day, except Sundays, when Granma is not published and I get, instead, Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). I’m sorry, in addition, because I will have to adjust my agenda and to try to watch at least some of the airing of the news broadcasts, but, definitively, in recent times, Granma (Granny) has completed its metamorphosis and has managed to absolutely become a newspaper without any news, a hard copy of disinformation and delusions. Each edition competes successfully for being worse than the previous one. Now, as if it weren’t enough for an anemic newspaper to fill large areas with the usual messianic delusions full of dark omens, they have started to publish, in several pages, three times a week, the pile of more than 800 editorial pages that (they say) Mr. F. wrote, although the first edition remains gathering dust, waiting for buyers in more than one bookstore in the city.

The “Granny”, frankly, might be of great interest to psychiatrists, mediums, gurus and other specialists, but not to me. I won’t allow such a burden of negative energy. Thus, I give up the “privileges” of my illegal subscription and close down my last link with the persistent miasma of the past: I personally shut down the Granma. Farewell forever, Granny!

Translated by: Norma Whiting

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