Archive for November, 2010

Some Topics up for Debate

Photo taken from the Internet

After a long time without participating in readers’ debates, I am encouraged by comments arising from the post “Cuba: potential exit scenarios”, which, as I stated at the end of the text, was written precisely with the intention of the discussion of the proposals I listed in it.

Doing a general review, some readers coincide on points that one can almost say are in agreement, for instance, preferring changes in Cuba to be peaceful, seeking consensus, eliminating exclusions, overcoming social apathy, giving up positions of hatred, and encouraging participation by the young. Other readers exposed somewhat more complex views; there are also extreme positions and plenty of pessimism (justified, by the way), from those who believe that nothing is worthwhile. I first want to insist that, as far as I am concerned, all criteria is valuable, but I can’t help but disagree with some cases and qualify others. If we want consensus, it must be assembled. I will try to be as concise as possible, although such a long, turbulent and complicated scenario as the current Cuban reality and the circumstances that led up to it cannot be summed up in this small space, nor will it be completed in a forum of such modest proportions as ours. I ask of you, therefore, to be patient with me. I will dedicate two posts (not necessarily continuous) to the issues, to avoid a long write-up.

I will base some of my principles on interesting points that have been made among the commentators. One reader believes that the intervention of international agencies, proposed as a possible solution to a humanitarian crisis should not be considered, since such a case should have occurred before 1994, when hunger and poverty reached high levels in the midst of the worst economic crisis when the socialist bloc collapsed, a phenomenon that was officially and euphemistically called “The Special Peacetime Period”. However, despite the hardships of those years, and particularly between 1993 and 1994, what might be described as a “humanitarian crisis” did not quite take place. It is true that there was a large segment of the population that was more vulnerable, including the elderly without filial support, children from dysfunctional homes, families with lower incomes and, of course, the most vulnerable groups in crisis situations: the physically and mentally handicapped, people with chronic illnesses, the homeless, etc. But at the same time, there were factors that helped alleviate the ravages of the shortages relatively quickly, among them, the legalization of the dollar, foreign capital investment, the proliferation of self-employment and -of course, a very important role- the family remittances. We should also not forget that, back then, the ration card was “more generous”, and we must take into account that a series of products was distributed that –though they were of low quality- they served the poorest tables. I keep those years’ cards, significantly more voluminous than today’s. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny the terrible wrongs suffered by most Cubans at that time, but, according to the parameters that international organizations establish, so far, Cuba has not actually produced a humanitarian crisis as it has happened in Rwanda, for example, or the former Yugoslavia, even in Haiti and in many other parts of the world, with the ingredients of massacres, famines that have claimed thousands of lives, permanent epidemics, wars, conflicts (ethnic or otherwise), the absence of social control, anarchy, etc.

On the other hand, the 1994 emigration was massive, but that is not the only or sufficient requisite for the intervention of such organizations. Previous migrations had also been massive, as in 1980 (Mariel) or 1967 (Camarioca); and in the first few years of the revolution, let’s say between 1959 and 1963, when extreme positions were being defined, both in the Island as well as in its foreign policy, and the process was polarized, which led to the flight of thousands of Cubans who were affected in some measure by laws dictated by the new regime, those who thought that the revolution would be a brief and transitory period, or that they simply did not share in Castro’s politics, among other reasons. There are mass migrations from the world’s poorest countries to more developed and rich ones. Revolutions have also driven migration. It is the story of Humanity, and there is little that international organizations can do about it.

Another position I do not share, but one that encourages a debate of vital importance, is the eternal accusation against the young. The view that young Cubans are apathetic, irresponsible or comfortable with the status quo does not seem very reasonable or realistic. It is true that there is a general crisis of values, that the lack of expectations creates a sense of frustration among the young and that fleeing the Island has become the hope of thousands of… young people? Isn’t that what they have seen and are still seeing their elders do for decades? Hasn’t it been and still continues to be the desire of tens of thousands of Cubans well into adulthood? Young people have also been leaving for 50 years, ones who did not decide to change the reality they rejected, ones who elected to (sacred word, by the way) create a destiny for themselves away from their country of origin. The “youth of today” are not, then, the ones who circumvent confrontation or the promotion of civil liberties. “Today’s youth” are not exactly the ones who are apathetic. It is not fair, nor can we forget that these young people of today saw us (their parents and grandparents) avoiding responsibility, failing in our professional projects, surviving within the double standard of public compliance and private protest, accepting, lying, often nodding in silent complicity, and always afraid.

It is even less accurate to say that today’s youth lack a rebellious spirit. They may become disoriented or confused at times, but they are in many ways nonconformists and rebellious. Why should we demand from them that which the ones with the most experience, the most reflexive and the best prepared have not been able to accomplish? I’m not saying we should leave things as they are, I say we should infect them with willpower and awaken in them the courage that every young person carries inside; I say we should chart a path of freedom where a lot of them will run us over. The phenomenon of the alternative blogosphere is there, begun by a handful of Cubans, mostly mature adults, which today includes a number of invaluable young people. Involving our youth requires the direct involvement -with positive actions- of the less young, members of all the forces of the emerging civil society, including the opposition, under all insignias, who must work on it.

Young people have been held back for half a century, submerged in the midst of a system that told them the future was a done deal, that destiny had already been charted by a process born of violence. At home, we did not tell them: “come on, let’s change things, let’s demand our rights and let’s make the Cuba we want”. The fact is that we told them: “stay put, don’t believe them, but shut up so you don’t get hurt; pretend to obey, study, get an education, one day things will change… and if they don’t change, leave. Look for a better world than this death place. Fighting the windmills is not worth the trouble, the others definitely do not appreciate it nor deserve it”. That has become the national truth. We haven’t exactly been a paradigm of civility and responsibility to our young people. Even worse, we have failed them. How can we claim from them what we are responsible for? Who made them the way they are? Are we better than they are by any chance? I don’t think so. I am especially grateful that some readers have debated such a crucial theme as the role of the young people in the process of change, because, to win their trust and to engage them at the end of a dictatorship and the nation’s reconstruction, is the greatest possible utopia in today’s Cuba. In spite of everything, I, for one, will continue to bet on the young.

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The Rolling Confessional

Photograph by Orlando Luís

If, as the result of some wonderful spell, lots of Cubans on the island were able to (and wished to) participate with us in this blog, they would agree with me in that there is a phenomenon, as curious as it is widespread, that has been ordained as usual, at least in Havana: taxicabs are a kind of rolling confessional. Anyone wishing to be convinced of this need only have 20 pesos in national currency, that is, the most national; choose any of the longer routes covered by the “boteros” or “almendrones” (shared-ride taxis), and listen to the verbal unloading of almost every traveler who climbs aboard the car. We really could do a study in Cuban society, its needs, aspirations, disappointments, frustrations and despair by only boarding an “almendrón”. But I am slipping: the phenomenon is not confined to almendrones on route.

Any car for hire, licensed or not, becomes an adequate venue and forum –- with no previous agreement — for an analysis of “things” to start flowing between travelers and driver. It is amazing how the simple act of boarding an automobile, getting seated, and shutting the door of such a minuscule space that it even forces physical contact with people who, up to that moment, are absolutely unknown and strangers to us, triggers a kind of magical communicative effect, and people unload a whole universe of complaints, tribulations and disagreements that, as a general rule, are not even heard in labor meetings or Popular Party assemblies.

In a moving vehicle, I have listened to everything, from the deepest analyses to crazy plans for fleeing the Island. Everything exists in the vineyards… of this other guy. No exaggeration. And most relevant is the almost unanimous feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction that prevails among travelers. There is talk of licenses to the self-employed (which most do not intend to apply for) and high taxes, the country’s untenable situation, the countless shortcomings, the market shortages, the horrible state of public transportation services, the poor conditions in hospitals, the overlapping but unstoppable rise in prices of primary (plus secondary and tertiary) goods, talk of “there is no fixing this”, “these people are not going to solve anything “, “how things were before (before the Revolution, before the Special Period, before the dual currency…)”, of the children who have left to live abroad and of those who yearn to leave, of the experiences of 50 years of deceptions expressed by people of diverse ages, backgrounds and professions in a few minutes of fleeting company. The interior of a taxicab is probably the only sincere public space we have left, a microcosm of complicity and consensus that unite us, though, at the end, it might only be an illusion as fleeting as the travelers themselves.

The day this country becomes like any other, in which each person is free and master of her own self and of her destiny — if that idyllic day ever comes at last — we will have to erect a monument to taxicabs. Not just because, overheated, noisy and rattling, they were able to assume the daily and permanent transportation of hundreds of thousands of individuals, or because they are humble substitutes for the psychiatrists’ couches that we see in the movies (our psychiatrists probably don’t have couches), but because they have also been small spaces of spontaneous freedom in which Cubans, when expressing themselves, and almost without realizing it, have played at not being slaves to transform themselves into — though only for a few minutes of their lives — citizens.

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Haiti: The Two Epidemics

Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. Photograph from the Internet

The media have been reporting the alarming growth of the cholera epidemic that is spreading through Haiti. It began soon after hurricane Thomas hit that very poorest of nations. Each new piece of information tells us of a constant progression in the number of infected and who dead are from the disease, and already cases are being reported in the Dominican Republic –- natural geographic heir of this and other types of Haitian diseases — and they are even talking about one case in Southern Florida, USA.

On another front, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, in its Sunday, November 21st edition, has just published the total number of Cuban health support personnel found there: 689 in total, including doctors, nurses, health technicians and staff service. This newspaper further adds that 530 of them work full-time on the cholera epidemic, and, so far, have treated 22,123 people, with 253 deaths. Simultaneously, informal rumors by people linked to the Public Health sector in the Island, as well as family and friends of the Cubans who are part of these hundreds of workers, claim that — in addition to the risk of contagion — there is the additional danger that flows from living every minute in the vortex of social cataclysm because, in Haiti, along with the current cholera epidemic, extreme violence coexists, exacerbated by the earthquake last February with its tragic aftermath of destruction, ruin and misery, which worsened after the recent hurricane and the outbreak of the epidemic.

Thus, there are two epidemics involving Haiti these days: cholera and violence. This last one — unleashed since 1791, with its bloody revolution, echo and parody of the French Revolution of 1789 — has been nourished by death, anarchy, despotism and destruction over two centuries, and ended in making the former thriving French colony a lamentable and permanent ruin. Haiti, in its secular poverty, is a paradigm of the work of social revolutions dressed in “liberation.” Not by chance, it is said that we are fraternal nations.

The foreign media gives an account of the numerous groups of Haitian vandals that commit assaults and other criminal acts against groups of UN assistance and other civilians, whom — in their crass ignorance — they consider responsible for the actual epidemic and for the “insufficient aid”, as if the extreme hygienic sanitary conditions were not the result of the brutal lack of culture and backwardness that make this country the poorest and most unhealthy in this hemisphere, or if the whole world had the obligation to assume the consequences of the barbarian state in which these people have subsisted throughout their turbulent history.

The note published in Juventud Rebelde is sparse and inadequate, the kind that abounds in our official press and often leaves us with more questions than answers. We do not know to what extent the Cuban health joint forces are safe in the midst of the epidemic, surrounded by violence, confusion and hatred generated by a people’s hunger, disease and helplessness. Nor do we have any information about plans that the authorities should have regarding their return to Cuba, the security arrangements that might have been taken to preserve their lives or whether necessary conditions of isolation and quarantine have been undertaken to keep under care and observation those who return from Haiti.

Experience has shown us that, when it comes to politics, the government ignores such trivial details as the integrity of our health. We have examples — sadly numerous, by the way — of how the “solidarity” of the revolution has led to the entry of diseases once eradicated or simply unknown to Cubans: AIDS, imported in the 80′s thanks to the military campaign in Angola, as well as dengue and hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, introduced later as a result of hasty programs or health “missions” that brought hundreds of people (vectors) from the most remote parts of Latin America’s geography to Cuban soil in a matter of hours, without any kind of sanitary control. We have also recaptured tuberculosis, currently on the dramatic increase on the Island, just to cite the best known examples of the collateral benefits brought to us by the ill-interpreted and even worse-applied official solidarity that embark on health programs generated by populist politics and interests that have nothing to do with altruism.

Let’s hope that, this time, the alarm is without foundation; that our doctors return as soon as possible from Haiti, safe and sound, and that the terrible cholera epidemic won’t prey on the Cuban population too. Presumably, the Island’s authorities will avoid a new misfortune at all costs that will further complicate the somber panorama that lies before us. It would be best for everyone.

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Cuba: Possible Exit Scenarios

Preliminary note: This article was originally published in the third issue Voices magazine for the month of October, 2010, and, despite its length, I wanted to post it on the blog in order to facilitate the participation of potential commentators who are interested in the subject.

The temptation to suggest possible scenarios out of the current socio-political and economic situation in Cuba may not be just pretentious, but also risky. It would be even more adventuresome to imagine solutions more or less simple or practical to emerge from the general crisis that has been prolonged by the imposition of such an inefficient and obsolete system that – with its burden of corruption, moral degradation, dislocation and despair — has dragged the country to a critical point that puts in jeopardy even our own nature as a national entity.

This is not an alarmist statement; I limit myself to formulate reality. Just take a look at the past 50 years of national history to ascertain the acute loss of values that has been on the rise in the face of the persistence of living in a precarious state of material survival, on the one hand, and under a dictatorial regime that castrates any manifestation of freedom and civility on the other. To this, add the elusive and irresponsible traits that typifies this human group, originator of what has been termed “Cubanity” (which is just the essence of the ambiguous nature of our character), the general apathy and the permanent exodus, to place us before the bleak picture of a nation that was aborted without having completed the necessary and sufficient maturity for its birth.

However, a bleak scenario is not an excuse to bury your head in the sand or to take off in flight — as is customary among us — but it must stir us towards the stance of knowing where we are, on the road to assume the risks of making errors in our standards and values, and to focus on trying to change course. Today, the dilemma could be for us to pick up our abused and scattered fragments in order to make ourselves whole, or simply to be resigned to stop being.

The speeches of sociologists, historians, economists and politicians from various backgrounds and sectors of society often refer to the current crisis as “the situation” Cuba in undergoing. However, this very concept — situation — contains in itself two immediate implications: 1) Its temporary nature, given that every situation is manifested within a limited period, and 2) it is a turning point for the inevitable move or turn leading to a way out. It is imperative, then, to define what general elements color the “situation” of the Cuban reality today, which for the current analysis, might be the following:

– Economically, a ruined country with a colossal foreign debt, which depends almost entirely on foreign investment, family remittances from Cubans living abroad and subsidies from allies (also situational). There is an explosive increase in the unemployment rate that, as officially announced, will be completed by 2012, when the number of layoffs will have reached over 20% of the workforce. In addition, there is no consideration for the national economy to be sustained by small and medium-sized private companies whose profits would be taxed and the benefits redistributed throughout the country. Agriculture, livestock and any domestic industry are virtually non-existent, and it needs to import 80% of the food consumed by the population.

– Socially, there is a loss of service quality and performance that were once favorite indicators of the “privileges” of the system, such as education and health. There is a general deterioration of the values, and feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, uncertainty and apathy that reach throughout society; loss of faith in the system and its leaders; escapism as a solution; the constant and sustained exodus abroad, and the almost complete absence of independent civil society.

Politically, the monopoly of power in a single party that is, at the same time, State and Government, establishing itself as a dictatorship in the hands of a military elite-turned capitalist business concern (state capitalism); foreign policy that has been marked by confrontation with the great hubs of power (the United States and the European Union) and the alliance with undemocratic regimes. In the interior of the country, groups and opposition parties are not acknowledged, and repression or harassment is ongoing against any outbreak of civic and alternative thinking resistance. On the other hand, due to the repressive characteristics of the system and because of historical and essential factors of Cubans, there isn’t even one proposal by the opposition sectors against the regime capable of uniting or stirring the interest of large social groups, and naming an alternative program for changes.

Other elements color the Cuban crisis, as its permanent character – with deepening cycles — and the fact that it also covers the ruling turret itself and a good part of its former followers. Add to that lack of exercise of rights in a country where lack of civic culture and the absence of freedom of individuals reign, which has led to a pernicious tendency of waiting for solutions from “above” or “from outside”, or the complacent and sickly stance that prefers to delay action until the biological cycle does its thing and takes away, once and for all, the ruling gerontocracy, whose average age is around, or exceeds, 80, as if the disappearance of a group of dictators might mean, by itself, the establishment of democracy.

At the center of this image, the government has taken too long to implement measures capable of addressing the general crisis and does not show any interest in seeking political solutions within the nation. The recently announced government measures that restore mom and pop-type, privately owned small businesses, etc., are superficial, outdated, anachronistic, and inadequate. They fail to meet expectations, and do not contribute to the welfare of the population. The popular reaction, meanwhile, has been as timid as the official proposals. Even the announcement of the wave of layoffs in just over a year, which will drag with it around 1.3 million state jobs, has caused some unease, dissatisfaction and uncertainty, but it has not produced even one public protest, though the beginning of the process of layoffs coincides with increased taxes on the self-employed, the removal of several products “subsidized” by the ration card, an increase in the electric rate, and rumors of the upcoming end of other subsidies and rising costs of services of water supply, sewerage, and telephone. The social landscape, however, shows a deceptive calm that seems subjected to extreme pressure, and is already releasing forces through the worst escape valves: the increase in crime and the rise in the handling of contraband.

All this places us facing the possibility of multiple exit scenarios, not necessarily desirable or inevitably exclusive, that is, several different scenarios may converge towards the same end. Taking into account the premises enumerated, the following can be stated, among other possible ones:

  1. Intensification of the deficiencies, with a corresponding increase in crime and social indiscipline, which can lead to extreme measures from the government, such as using the army to quell violence (violent response to violence, as part of the national history and culture) and the intensification of the persecution of independent civil society groups, which will lead to the emergence of a humanitarian crisis that might cause an international intervention in order to help overcome social instability.
  2. A migratory stampede that will eventually lead to further conflict with the United States and possible military intervention or pressure on Cuba. This scenario could also cause the intervention of an international organization.
  3. The expansion of the measures announced by General Raúl Castro and the acceleration of their implementation could lead, either by potential factors or by the urgency of overcoming the crisis, to a scenario suitable for the emergence of a sector of the population which, on becoming independent of the state, would favor the emergence of self-interest associations and would accelerate the revival of civil society.
  4. The alleged cracks within the top ruling caste and the military could give rise, through the disappearance or weakening of the “historic generation”, to the forcible seizing of power by military sectors most prone to changes, whose actions would depend on the establishment of a governing junta that, in the medium term, might lead to a process of democratization.
  5. In the short-term, the natural disappearance of the historical leaders, together with all the elements that fuel the current crisis, would result in a vacuum of authority and lack of control that could lead to chaos of unpredictable consequences.
  6. The establishment of future alliances, through programs lacking in ideology among opposition groups and the nascent independent civil society, could contribute to the strengthening of a social sector of intermediaries within Cuba, and to laying the groundwork for a scenario suitable for the establishment of effective critical action areas in order to gain status at the social level and begin to drive change “from within” while it garners and validates international support.

These scenarios are purely speculative, but are based on objective elements of reality. Certain events could accelerate or delay the events, for example, the ending of Venezuelan subsidies to the Island following the possible deposing of Hugo Chavez’s government in that South American nation in the 2012 elections, precipitating a collapse inside Cuba; the passing of the historic leaders, which could put us in a sudden or abrupt ending, or the sudden appearance of a new funding source to the dictatorship, which would allow for a respite and a further period of grace to continue in power. A very important element would be a change in the political context of the United States, in view of elections the same year, 2012. The possibility of a takeover by Republicans, supporters of a tougher line with the Cuban government, would significantly alter any scenario in Cuba, and influence its outcome. If the depose of Chávez in Venezuela and the elections of a Republican majority in the US coincided, the Island’s outlook would worsen even further, and the solution for a gradual exit to the crisis could aggravate exponentially. In addition, the dash of urgency and immediacy that Cuban –government, people and the opposition-imprint, as a rule, in each action, could stifle the opportunities to improve scenarios or take advantageous or favorable opportunities which might arise in order to prevent a violent context.

Addressing the issue from another angle, so far, no internal opposition movement has been strong and sustained enough to force the government to implement real change. The release of political prisoners has been taking place, by previous agreement between the government and the top hierarchy of the {Cuban} Catholic Church, is in response to strong pressure from independent civil society groups, which demonstrates the power of these groups when energies are coordinated for the sake of a common goal. It is understood that the present does not pose challenges just to the government. The “traditional” dissidence, in spite of its efforts and its longevity, hast yet to reach the visibility and maturity that the “situation” requires to be counted as a force that the government or national public opinion might have to take into account, so it is urgent for its members to implement new strategies, alliances and programs that offer attractive and viable alternatives, capable of breaking the cycle of social apathy, and move, at least, a representative group of Cubans to force for necessary changes. The task is difficult: never before was the moment more propitious to seek the support of the common Cuban, but neither were we ever so apathetic and displaced

This current analysis — incomplete, naturally — is not intended as a forecast or a prediction about the impending future of Cuba, nor is it immutable or exclusive: many events can occur that may alter or eliminate the scenarios included here, and it could also support the emergence of others. I do not intend to invalidate other opinions or analyses either. The intention that moves me is the development of an approach to establish a debate about the moment we are experiencing in Cuba today, considering the circumstances and nature of the events surrounding the Island now, and, hopefully, try to guess possible solutions. We have reached a critical point and this is a time of urgency, but we must ensure that, this time, the solutions are not limited to simple short-term adjustments or changes in figures. Maybe we do not have the civil forces necessary to conjure all the evils we are suffering and the ones ahead, but I dare to assure that some of us Cubans believe it is worth a try.

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Photo: Orlando Luis
“The first time you deceive me, it will be your fault, the second time, the fault will be mine”
(Arab proverb)

One of the skills we Cubans in the Island have developed in the face of the persistent ability of leaders to “speak without saying,” is figuring out official positions and intentions, not from what is expressed, but, just the opposite, from what is not said. The most recent example of this is reflected in the booklet on the guidelines to be adopted — not “discussed” — during the VI Party Congress of April, 2011, a document that, Cantinflas* antics and euphemisms aside, is still interesting, since it summarizes in just 32 pages the obvious failure of the socialist model imposed for 50 years. Finally, though this may not be what is proposed, it puts things in perspective, at least at the level of the root issue: the country is economically devastated.

Of course, this summary does not include official recognition of the national disappointment, nor does it at all imply the acceptance of any responsibility by the government for the critical economic situation in Cuba today. To recognize such a setback would unequivocally mean the resignation of the President, the Politburo, and of the Central Committee in its entirety, including all its carnival-style puppets (of which there are many); something unthinkable, since this operetta is precisely about trying to retain power even at a cost of (ouch!) introducing some minor changes.

It is easier, then, to pass the hot potato of blame to others who, according to what the Draft Guidelines of the Sixth Congress of the PCC suggests, could mean anyone, such as the Ministries of Economy and Planning, Finance and Prices, Labor and Social Security, or who knows what other scapegoat. Replacing the puppets, in short, that will always be expendable and missed by no one; at the end of the day, all the officials of different ranks here are die-cast, simple ventriloquists, and emerge with the label of “disposable”. If anyone doubts this, you just have to remember Lage, Pérez Roque and Soberón, to name some of the most recently removed from the carnival. And, though the regime has centralized all power for decades and has boasted of control over life and property, it has always shown real expertise in applying the “decentralization” responsibility for failures.

Nobody can understand by what discrete method so many economic and financial blunders could be committed over such a long time, mocking the supposedly efficient government controls. I, for one, do not believe it. There are also no guarantees in place to ensure that countless errors committed over half a century will not be repeated. At the end of the day, though they may change the officials du jour, the rules and the referees of this game will continue to be the same. And, since the crisis is systemic, encompasses all spheres of national life and has –- indeed — irreversible properties, there are no guarantees in place that “now” things will be different for the better. We cannot overcome social crises with assemblies, but this is something that, I am sure, the hacienda owners are aware of, so I suspect some hidden conspiracy behind the apparent good intentions and ill-specified good intentions of the government with a sudden celebration of a meeting that is eight years overdue, of a “political party?” that has pertinently demonstrated its ineptitude to govern. By the way, as I see it, the PCC –- just as it happens with the revolution — does not really exist, unless we are calling a “political party” that immense herd incapable of making decisions, designated to pay a monthly fee and, in addition, applauding the antics and commands of the Gerontocrats-in-Chief.

The Supreme Orate recently told the international press that, if there was an official responsible for the persecution of homosexuals in the decades of the 60’s and 70’s in Cuba, he was the one. But the unusual, almost posthumous revelation, cannot even qualify as repentance, because it was not accompanied by the appropriate apologies for the huge share of the suffering that the openly homophobic policy of “the revolution” caused. More than a mea culpa, his was an open, cynical, and boastful expression that almost amounted to saying: “Yes, it was me; I did it… so what?” That is the essential spirit of the dictatorship that is also revealed now, when it intends to “renew the model” not admitting, prior to that, the failure of an experiment that has cost several generations of Cubans so many tears and misery. Does it make sense to renew that which doesn’t work?

Today, despite the failure of the proposed “reforms,” the geriatric caste knows that a precarious card is being played in their runaway bet for more time in power, and they are asking Cubans for a new vote of blind faith. How many will be willing to bet on them?

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The Next Congress? Or the Last?

Any Cuban who followed the media on Tuesday, November 9th might have concluded that the Communist Party has suddenly gone underground. At least that should be impression when finding out the news that, next April 2011, the VI Cuban Communist Party Congress, which has been organized in great secrecy, will be the held. To add to the sense of unreality, the announcement took place within the frame of the celebration of the “Act for the Tenth Anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement for Cuba-Venezuela Cooperation” (¿?), and with no previous mediation for an official discussion among the membership base to establish the proposed members and the agenda for the Congress.

It has been reported that, this time, the one-party will have one theme, and only one, for the most momentous conclave, “the update of the economic model and social development of the country, whose guidelines — already developed by the paramount chiefs and ready to be digested by the lower membership and the rest of the “masses” — have been published in a booklet which, undoubtedly, was also developed in secret. One should, therefore, ask: can there seriously be a debate on Cuba’s economy without discussing the failed policies (and shod) which have put us in a state of terminal crisis? Is it possible, when tracing the economic patterns, to exclude the critical social situation in the country and to find ways to design their solution? It is clear that the government intends to use the swamp fires, flowing in the form of Chavista subsidies, from that cadaver called ALBA to divert attention from the problems at root level afflicting the nation. On the other hand, we don’t know if a delicate theme will be decided or if it will remain pending until another occasion: Will the First Secretary remain in office or will we have a “new” octogenarian ideologically renovating the model? Or, better yet, will there be elections in this sui generis Congress?

Another satirical touch that can lead to confusion is the provision of a copy of the brochure by the Cuban President to the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. Is he a member of the Cuban Communist Party? Does this man by any chance have the right to know, before the Cuban people themselves, the “Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy” that will supposedly chart this country’s destiny over the next five years? After thirteen years without holding the most important meeting, and without the renewal of its top leaders, in clear violation of the statutes of the organization, communist activists have been publicly excluded from its preparation: a just reward for their proverbial servility. After all –- the owners of the ranch in ruins might say to themselves — they always nod and applaud.

But, without a doubt, this time, the political farce that still clings to leadership here have exceeded their limits significantly; it is no longer possible to follow the desperate juggling of the heads of the three-ring circus. However, vigilance is needed, because not one thing of what is happening is by chance. The old dinosaurs are hiding some agreement with their South American pet. Something that may have to do with a new injection of petrodollars that will allow them to soften the blows on the Caribbean plantation slaves, at least for a very short period of time; perhaps the possibility to evade international pressure momentarily by a childish demonstration of proficiency. Time bought with this piggybank called Venezuela that the aspiring dictator continues to gouge at will. The Venezuelan people must have paid dearly for the little pamphlet which, in a false gesture of symbolic submission, the lesser Castro will surrender to Hugo Chavez!

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Another Broken Promise

March of The Ladies in White

The deadline that the Cuban authorities established for the release of all 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring, as formally agreed in their talks with the Catholic Church and reported by the media and abroad, expired at the stroke of midnight last November 7th . Thirteen of these 75 Cubans, however, remain in prison. They are, not by chance, precisely those who refused to leave Cuba when they were “liberated.” Obviously, it is very dangerous in the current conditions to have such free thought within the Island, especially with all the moral authority that these prisoners carry.

Once again, the government has proven that it doesn’t know how to honor its commitments. It mocks the public and leaves those who have wanted to wash the face of the most tenacious dictatorship this hemisphere has known standing in their underwear before the international organizations  Placing these 75 Cubans in jail in March of 2003 took only a few hours. Four months have not been enough to get them out of jail, while the struggle for their liberation has raged over seven years and threatens to take even longer. Meanwhile, evidencing that the essence of the government is repression, the harassment against private individuals and groups of independent civil society continues. How do we explain such arrogance and stupidity? Because of the impunity the regime has enjoyed for over 50 years of absolute power in the face of the fear of the Cuban people and the world’s patient tolerance.

The imprisonment and the “judicial processes” followed in that painful spring against citizens who had committed no other crimes than to express what they were thinking was a move that took a heavy political toll on the Castro regime, as some of the darkest spots of the system were put under a magnifying glass. It was, in addition, an incentive for other Cubans bent on disclosing to the world the material and moral deficiency of this government. However, used as hostages of government policy, the 75 continue to be a boomerang for the arrogant old men in uniform.

Now, when thanks to those imprisoned journalists and others who live in the relative “freedom” of our streets, much of the world knows about the Cuban reality, the long-lived military cabinet fears that these truths might make their way to the Cubans on the Island. That is why they repress every civic movement, even the small and humane gesture of a mother in the town of Banes visiting her son’s grave, a victim of the dictatorship, able to move solidarity and support from the simple people of her village.

But we know that the government is deaf and mute to the demands of the Cubans, so let’s ask the Mediator: what can the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as the official interlocutor of the conflict, tell us about this new broken promise? Do the ecclesiastic authorities deem the inauguration of the new Seminary a sufficient government concession, or will they insist on the government’s fulfillment of the commitment for which the Archdiocese was the spokesman? Can they give us a release date for our brothers and give us guarantees of complying with it, or must we be happy with just praying?

At the present time, it is necessary to keep the pressure on the dictatorship. Governments, individuals and civilized societies should not be in spiritual intimacy with tyrants. The Cuban government must ratify the pacts it signed on February 2008, comply with its principles, and stop persecuting the deserving Cuban people who have the courage to confront it. It is the Cuban dictatorship that must take steps down this path, beginning with the immediate release of all political prisoners.

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Wilfredo Vallín, President of the Cuban Law Association

While reading some information on recent statements by the Cuban Foreign Minister in the framework of the UN General Assembly, in which he once again makes charges against the European Union, I join, without hesitation, the side of those who consider insufficient the measure and steps of the Cuban government, and come out in favor of maintaining the Common Position. I see with surprise that some people talk about “the changes that have occurred in Cuba,” and I am almost tempted to remain silent before such disrespect. What changes are they talking about? Perhaps the slow release of political prisoners who should never have been incarcerated? Maybe those changes that a sharp commentator in the on-line newspaper Diario de Cuba has nicknamed “cambios timbiriches”*?

A brief review of certain events that have taken place in Cuba in the last week shows how false the “steps” of the Cuban dictatorship are, and brings out the official incompetence in matters of political and civil rights. In line with the ridiculous arrogance of the puppet up at bat nominally covering the Foreign Affairs folder, there has been an increase in the persecution and pressures on individuals and groups engaging in internal dissent, as in the case of attorney Wilfredo Vallín, President of the Cuban Law Association (not officially recognized) and the arrest of Reina Luisa Tamayo, along with 40 other activists in the eastern city of Banes, to cite only two known and very recent examples.

It’s well known that attorney Vallín, in addition to legal counsel, serves as an independent professor in various fields related to civil law. In his academic program various relevant issues are disclosed, including the laws themselves of the current Cuban Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act, among others, so often violated by the authorities responsible for ensuring their compliance. The Blogger Academy was honored to have Vallín in its faculty, and several of the groups of civil independent society that have organized self-improvement courses among their members have also benefited from his experience. Since the government feels it is so “dangerous” for the people to learn their rights, on Friday, October 29th, the regular repressors prevented professor Vallín from lecturing at a conference about UN Covenants before a group of citizens from various sectors and trends of thought. An entire operation was deployed to sabotage a completely legal activity, though one admittedly uncomfortable for the government. This is not the first time that elements from State Security have hindered the teaching-information activities of Attorney Vallín. Recently, they prevented him from appearing before the group from Convivencia Magazine, which the renowned scholar Dagoberto Valdés successfully publishes from Pinar del Río, proof of the official will to not just refuse an opening in civic or political matters, but to prevent the population from being exposed to the universal principles of Human Rights which, hypocritically, and as an occasional act of mere formality, the dictatorship has signed, though not ratified.

On the other hand, the arrest of Reina Luisa Tamayo and her colleagues on October 30th in Banes is, in addition to an outrage, another sign of the impotence of the authorities against the growing expressions of resistance of Cubans who insist in speaking out in spite of the repression.

Both cases are the clear government response to the European Union: the centers of world politics should be content with the proposed “patched-together street stand changes” that grocer Raúl Castro intends to implement. Rights in Cuba will not be tolerated.  Well, then, we will see what warm washcloths the PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Workers Party) and other permissive organizations will place, mercifully, on the battered face of the Caribbean dictatorship.

*Translator’s note: Impromptu street vendor’s stand, hut, or kiosk. Used to describe the changes, it implies the changes are improvised and unstable.

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