Category Archives: Blog

CUBA: LA POLÍTICA COMO CIENCIA Y COMO TABÚE

ARTICULO ORIGINAL

El autor, aborda la despolitización de la sociedad en Cuba a través de la consigna de la Revolución, a su vez, reafirma la necesidad de la crítica y de la discusión política, así como del conocimiento del sistema político.

Cuba es un país desbordado de política, y a la vez extrañamente apolítico.

​A pesar de toda la inflación de los símbolos políticos, no hay espacio para discusiones políticas genuinas, debates verdaderos, y análisis a fondo del proceso político. Escasean fuentes confiables de información y evaluación de las políticas públicas en la isla. La política está en todas partes, pero como tótem (¡La Revolución!) y tabúes, no como un proceso deliberativo en el sentido de Aristóteles o Hannah Arendt.

​A pesar de la aparente fertilidad de las ciencias sociales en Cuba, medida por el número de revistas académicas y institutos de investigación, lo que encontramos todavía en Cuba son ciencias sociales y humanidades desangradas, que sí hablan de problemas en la isla, pero nunca de poder. Eso solo lo puede hacer a fondo en el exilio y por cubanólogos de afuera, pero casi siempre con datos insuficientes. Por eso los estudios cubanos se basan demasiado sobre repertorios discursivos, dada los escasos datos cuantificable y la falta de transparencia institucional en la isla. Incluso las estadísticas económicas son, a menudo, poco confiables.

 Dentro de la Revolución, No Política

​En la conocidísima novela 1984 de Orwell, desbloqueada en la isla a partir la Feria del Libro de 2016, la Newspeak, o neolengua, “was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.”[2] De la misma manera, el gobierno cubano se ha esforzado para despolitizar la sociedad, “achicando” el lenguaje utilizado para hablar de política en el país, reduciéndolo a consignas (o mots d’ordre en el sentido de Bourdieu). La consigna mayor es la misma “Revolución”: origen y fin (mito) de la política; fuerza infinita, omnisciente y omnipresente; actor y proceso; persona, en el sentido de máscara (Grenier, 2020). ¿Quien es responsable de tal o cual decisión? En fin, la Revolución, es decir todo y nada.

Una temprana víctima del achicamiento del lenguaje fueron las ciencias sociales, en particular la ciencia política, eliminada como disciplina académica a principio de los años sesenta bajo la consigna: “La universidad para los revolucionarios” La sociología también fue abolida de 1980 a 1991. Un marxismo leninista de corte soviético (e.g. Konstantinov, Yajot, Makarov) pronto se convirtió en pensée unique en la isla. Con “las ideas de emancipación social de Marx, Engels y Lenin” (Constitución de la República), no hace falta ciencia política—disciplina burguesa por definición, ya que supone una autonomía de la esfera política, y que a la pregunta “quién obtiene qué, cuándo y cómo”, para citar la famosa definición de la política del politólogo Harold Lasswell, la respuesta no puede ser solamente la burguesía o el proletariado.

El economista y cubanólogo canadiense Arch Ritter destaca algunas de las implicaciones de esta situación. Para él, “una de las consecuencias de la ausencia de la disciplina de ciencia política en Cuba es que solo tenemos una vaga idea de cómo funciona realmente el gobierno cubano. ¿Quién en el Politbureau y el Comité Central del partido realmente toma decisiones? ¿Hasta qué punto y cómo las presiones de las organizaciones de masas afectan realmente a la toma de decisiones, o el flujo de influencia siempre es de arriba a abajo y no el inverso? ¿Qué papel desempeñan las grandes empresas conglomeradas que se encuentran en la economía del dólar internacionalizada y la economía del peso en el proceso de formulación de políticas? ¿La Asamblea Nacional es simplemente una concha vacía que, por unanimidad, aprueba cantidades prodigiosas de legislación en períodos de tiempo extremadamente cortos?” (Ritter, 2013). Enseguida pregunta retóricamente: “¿Por qué este análisis político está esencialmente prohibido en las universidades cubanas? Puedes adivinar la respuesta” (Ritter, 2013). Bueno, sí, podemos: tiene que ver con los tabúes acerca de “quién obtiene qué, cuándo y cómo”.[3] Como lo afirmó Masha Gessen con respecto a la sociología en la Rusia de Pútin: “An ideal totalitarian regime would find a way to obtain sociological data without the sociologists” (Gessen, 2016). No existe un régimen totalitario ideal, así que el plan B es tener científicos sociales, pero controlados.

 Fingir el Pensamiento Crítico

​Los estudiosos de las ciencias sociales e intelectuales en Cuba deben rechazar el dogmatismo y celebrar la crítica y los debates, como invariablemente lo hace el mismo liderazgo político[4]. Sin embargo, es sabido que de ninguna manera se puede cuestionar los dogmas oficiales sobre la infalibilidad del liderazgo histórico o la identificación de la dirección con la Revolución, así como la irrevocabilidad del sistema político comunista de partido único. En otras palabras, hay que fingir el pensamiento crítico.

​Ha sido aconsejable para los científicos sociales partir de un repertorio marxista leninista, como fundamento metodológico e ideológico de todas investigaciones, o al menos no confrontarlo con una perspectiva alternativa. Se ha podido explorar teorías no-marxistas (el posmodernismo fue popular durante los años 90), pero con cuidado, sin cuestionar el paradigma único. También se acogen con beneplácito las blandas descripciones de las estructuras jurídicas y los debates pseudo técnicos sobre las políticas públicas en revistas de ciencias sociales como Temas.

​Previsiblemente, los “debates” en Cuba cuentan con oradores ultra-cautelosos que en su mayoría están públicamente de acuerdo unos con otros, siendo toda la energía redirigida hacia las polémicas contra los enemigos oficialmente sancionados y los flagelos intemporales del gobierno: dogmatismo, burocratismo, corrupción, descontento juvenil, residuos pre-revolucionarios del sexismo y el racismo, y por supuesto, el imperialismo norteamericano, el “bloqueo” y el orden mundial capitalista. Todos se animan para “mejorar el socialismo” y la revolución. El liderazgo político rutinariamente desafía a los “intelectuales públicos” y periodistas a atreverse más, no menos: signo infalible de la presencia de la censura sistemática.

​En cualquiera de los “debates” de “Último Jueves”, por ejemplo, las soluciones a los problemas convergen hacia el ideal oficialista: más participación, más compromiso con La Revolución, y a mejorar un sistema político en construcción perpetua. Es significante que cuando unos se atreven a abordar el tema de “cómo funciona el sistema político en Cuba,” como fue excepcionalmente el caso de un “debate” de Último Jueves en febrero de 2016, no hubo ninguna discusión sobre “cómo funciona”, solamente comentarios generales sobre posibles mejoras, las cuales invariablemente pasan por una reafirmación de las aspiraciones oficiales. Cuanto menos se habla de poder, más se habla de ideales políticos universales (justicia, participación, igualdad).

 Pensée unique

​El marxismo de corte leninista permite una politización de la “ciencia” y conlleva un aura científica a la política (el “materialismo científico”). Ha sido una ideología conveniente para el gobierno cubano y para otros gobiernos comunistas por dos razones, ambos relevante para entender el marasmo de las ciencias sociales cubanas.

​En primer lugar, abrazar y estudiar sus textos canónicos adormece la curiosidad sobre los procesos de toma de decisiones reales bajo un tipo de régimen que fue solo un sueño durante la vida de Marx: el comunismo. Marx escribió ampliamente y a veces con perspicacia sobre las fallas estructurales de las sociedades capitalistas (y pre-capitalistas). Pero aparte de sus nebulosas referencias a la Comuna de París y las glosas sobre las estrategias revolucionarias en su “Crítica del Programa de Gotha”, el análisis de Marx del comunismo es más teleológico que político. En la Cuba de hoy, el marxismo leninista es un repertorio de códigos ideológicos y un arma que permite criticar los enemigos del gobierno.

​En segundo lugar, el marxismo (no tanto su versión leninista) puede usarse como una teoría o un paradigma en ciencias sociales, como ocurre en todo el mundo–hoy en día en las humanidades y estudios culturales más que en ciencias sociales y para nada en economía. Pero en sociedades abiertas, el marxismo compite con otras teorías e interpretaciones, lo que le da una vitalidad inexistente en países donde es una pensée unique como en Cuba. No es sorprendente que el marxismo no sea muy sofisticado en Cuba: la ausencia de crítica genuina, la cual pasa por la confrontación con otras perspectivas, es una sentencia de muerte para cualquier perspectiva científica o filosófica.

​Un tropo común utilizado por los porteros de las ciencias sociales oficiales es que el marxismo cubano es crítico y humanista, al revés del marxismo soviético “rígido” y “mecánico”, defendido (y definido) por nadie. Se puede criticar el “estalinismo”, entendido como desviación del modelo leninista original (oficializado en la misma constitución cubana), pero no la Constitución de Stalin de 1936, la cual es el modelo por la constitución cubana de 1976. En Cuba, el rechazo del “marxismo mecánico” es mecánico. Tiene que ver con posicionamiento político y burocrático, no con la práctica de la crítica, sin la cual ningunas ciencias sociales pueden florecer.

​Hay buenos cientistas sociales en Cuba, por la misma razón que hubo buenas pinturas erótica en la época medieval: porqué el talento y la imaginación siempre pueden manifestarse a pesar de los parámetros más estrechos.

 MSI, 27N, y Articulación Plebeya

​El espacio público se abrió inesperadamente con la irrupción del Movimiento San Isidro en septiembre de 2018 y la manifestación frente al ministerio de cultura el 27 de noviembre de 2020 (27N). Se trata de un movimiento de jóvenes artistas y periodistas independientes, con demandas bastante parecidas a la Glasnost (más espacio de expresión), pero con relámpagos de críticas metapolíticas que amenazan el régimen. Recordamos que el mundo del arte goza de una autonomía relativa y condicional impensable en la universidad. El arte de vanguardia, por definición disonante y elitista, es también una fuente importante de proyección internacional y de divisas por las arcas del estado (el embargo no se aplica a la venta de producción artística).

​No hubo, que yo sepa, apoyo significativo de la universidad al movimiento, salvo una larga petición, con más de quinientos nombres de “intelectuales cubanos,” titulada “Articulación Plebeya”.[5] Si no me equivoco, la grande mayoría de los firmantes viven en el extranjero, y el texto de la petición se limita a celebrar el bien común, la paz, el medio ambiente, el diálogo, la inclusión, y mucho más parecido, todo “dentro del marco de las leyes y la Constitución.” Aunque llama la atención el pasaje sobre el rechazo a “toda acción estatal violenta,” el tono más conciliador que el del MSI o 27N indica claramente la presencia de parámetro más estrechos en la academia que los que rigen el mundillo de las artes y de lo que podemos llamar la sociedad civil cubana.

 Conclusión

​Un país no puede sobrevivir sin historiadores, matemáticos, economistas, biólogos, etc. Aparentemente sí se puede subsistir sin genuinas ciencias políticas … pero ¿a qué precio? Y las ciencias sociales en general, ¿que pueden cumplir si el máximo de crítica posible es la revista “Temas”? ¿Y si Cuba Posible ya no es posible?

​Para funcionar bien y utilizar plenamente su capital humano, un sistema político necesita transparencia, información, examen crítico de las políticas públicas, sin miedo a la verdad. En Cuba se necesita mejores datos sobre cómo funciona realmente su sistema político, y análisis a fondo de los problemas y de sus posibles causas políticas, levantando el velo del secreto que cubre la mayoría de las transacciones políticas. ¿Es esto posible “dentro de la Revolución”?

Referencias

Grenier, Y. (2020). Cuban Studies and The Siren Song of La Revolución. Cuban Studies.

 Ritter, A. (2013). Political Science: When Will Cuban Universities Join the World?. The Cuban Economy. Recuperado de: https://thecubaneconomy.com/articles/2013/06/political-science-when-will-cuban-universities-join-the-world/

 Gessen, M. (2016). Sociology, According to Putin. The New York Times. Recuperado de: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/05/opinion/sociology-according-to-putin.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&moduleDetail=inside-nyt-region-3&module=inside-nyt-region&region=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region

 [1] St. Francis Xavier University​

[2]. “Achicar” el lenguaje también es una característica de la distópia totalitaria en la obra maestra de Boualem Sansal, 2084, La fin du monde (Paris: Gallimard, 2015).

​[3]. Asimismo, Armando Chaguaceda afirma que “la ausencia de estudios a fondo y la falta de acceso público a temas clave como la composición de la élite política cubana y su circulación real y mecanismos de toma de decisiones mantienen casi toda la producción en el campo en un nivel superficial.” Armando Chaguaceda, “House of Cards and Political Science in Cuba,” Havana Times, 21 March 2014,

​[4] Ver el último capítulo de mi libro: Yvon Grenier, Culture and the Cuban State, Participation, Recognition, and Dissonance under Cmmunism (Lexington Books, 2017): chapter 6: “Faking Criticism.”

​[5] “Articulación plebeya: a propósito de los sucesos en el Ministerio de Cultura,” El Toque, 28 de noviembre, 2020.

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Protest in Cuba: SPREADING NONCONFORMITY IN THE AGE OF COVID AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Dec. 16, 2020

Original Article, from Saltwire, Nova Scotia

People protest in solidarity with dissident artists in Havana. – Reuters

YVON GRENIER

Something extraordinary is happening in Cuba these days — and I am not talking about the absence of Canadians on its beaches.

Hundreds of mostly young artists, independent journalists, and some academics, are raising their voices against censorship. Some of them even call the regime for what it is: a dictatorship.

Discontent has been brewing in the island for some time, especially among young Cubans. But the spark for this rapid escalation was a few arrests too many, as well as the wider availability of social media over the past two years.

First, there was the arrest and imprisonment of an irreverent rapper (Denis Solís) for “disrespecting authority.” Solís is a member of a loose and mostly artist-based collective named the San Isidro Movement. The “MSI” emerged in 2018, to protest against new restrictions on freedom of expression.

Then, Solís’ arrest, the video of which he made available on social media, prompted some of his friends to go on hunger strike in the MSI headquarters, demanding his release and calling peers to join them in protest. It was their turn to be detained, by police in civilian clothes, who illegally broke into their apartment for the alleged misconduct of violating the COVID-19 testing protocol. The websites they were using to call for action were blocked by the government — so much for the public health concern — but, apparently, too late: digital nonconformity was already spreading wide in the community.

Arbitrary arrests are common in Cuba: There were close to 2,000 cases in the first eight months of last year. But this time, a straw broke the camel’s back. On Nov. 27, up to 300 mostly young Cubans turned up in front of the ministry of culture, calling for the release of Solís, greater freedom of expression, and … dialogue with the minister of culture. Many more would have joined had the place not been blocked by security agents.

In a one-party communist state that criminalizes opposition, no collective and public protest of this magnitude was ever attempted or tolerated in Cuba since the revolution — with the possible exception of a repressed LGBTQ parade last year.

This appears to be a wide opposition movement. There are known dissidents (like “artivist” Tania Bruguera), and a few irreverent but institutional cultural figures, like film director Fernando Pérez and beloved actor Jorge Perugorría, who offered support. In between, one finds a whole ecosystem of potential dissidents, who are not (yet) advocating open confrontation with the so-called “revolutionary” (in fact conservative) government. Many of them are independent journalists and bloggers, like Carlos Manuel Alvarez (age 31), who publicly called for “conversation …  not just with a supporting actor like a minister,” but directly with President Díaz-Canel.

Unavoidably, protesters were cheered on by the usual suspects in the U.S. government; no less predictably, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel called the event an “imperialist reality show.” Official media called the protesters “mercenaries,” and even “terrorists”. Two white members of the almost all-white ruling class (Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela, and former Minister of Culture Abel Prieto) indulged in tropical Trumpism, smearing the mostly poor, brown and black crowd as “vulgar, tacky and miserable” (Mariela), and “marginals” and “criminals” (Prieto). Even an occasionally dissonant but mostly official bard of the regime like singer Silvio Rodríguez, whose songs were actually sung by the protesters, publicly said that the government was handling this very badly.

All of this may seem like a footnote compared to massive anti-dictatorial demonstrations and violent crackdowns in Venezuela and Nicaragua — or even anti-neoliberal demonstrations in democratic Chile and Peru. Cuba is a dictatorship, but not one that systematically tortures or opens fire on crowds. (This may change.) In addition to exporting its opposition (about 20 per cent of Cubans live abroad), the government secures compliance most effectively with neighborhood spy networks, public shaming (the infamous “acts of repudiation”) and incarceration. This toolkit has been in full display in the past two weeks.

Change in Cuba?

This may just be a moment, an important one, in the awakening of civil society. Cubans generally toe the line, and know what line not to cross. But the “little police” in each and every Cuban, as they often call this mechanism of self-control, is increasingly disrupted by other voices. Social media is a big factor here, so the Cuban government may crack it down more. But it would be a mistake. Young Cubans are already fed up, and crave change (or exile). If artists can connect with them more broadly, this moment may lead to something bigger.Yvon Grenier is a professor, department of political science and resident fellow, Mulroney Institute of Government, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish.

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US NGO EXPENDITURES AIMED AT INFLUENCING CUBA’S INTERNAL AFFAIRS

Tracey Eaton | June 4, 2021

Original Article: US NGOs and Cuba

For Tracey Eaton’s site, see http://cubamoneyproject.com/data/

Non-governmental organizations spend a ton of money trying to influence internal affairs in Cuba. In January 2000, I published tax documents that gave some insight into spending trends. See “NGOs sink millions of dollars into Cuba fight.”
I have reviewed a sampling of tax and audit documents filed since that time and am sharing excerpts of those below.
Tax documents are useful because give specific figures for an NGO’s revenue and expenses. Trying to find the same information on government spending websites is sometimes difficult and confusing.
These documents show that some NGOs rely on several sources of government funding, share money with each other and sometimes pass along grants to unnamed “sub-recepients.” Tax records also make clear that hundreds of Cuban activists receive money from U.S. government-financed NGOs every year as part of an extensive democracy-promotion campaign.

Directorio Democrático Cubano, Inc.
A February 2021 audit of the Directorio Democrático Cubano shows that the Miami-based NGO spent $1,050,270 on radio programming, humanitarian aid, civic activities and other programs in 2019.  The audit, which found no problems or irregularities, shows that the Directorio received:

  • $644,936 from the National Endowment for Democracy, via the State Department
  • $111,637 from the International Republican Institute, via the U.S. Agency for International Development
  • $188,323 from the Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia, via USAID
  • $104,343 in donations

The NED funds included $514,458 that went toward the Directorio’s Radio Republica operation, which touts itself as the “Voice of the Cuban Resistance.”
The Directorio is located at 730 NW 107th  Ave. in Miami. The group’s national secretariat is Orlando Gutierrez, who received a salary of $77,116 in 2018. Finance director Eddy Cento received $66,774, according to a 2019 Form 990 tax document

Here’s how the audit described the group:
Directorio Democratico Cubano, Inc. (“DDC”) is a not-for-profit organization incorporated on November 14, 1995 and was granted tax-exempt status under Section 501(C) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code on December 3, 1996.
DDC was established:

  1. To rescue the Cuban national culture by fostering the identification of the new generations of Cubans and Cuban-Americans with the Cuban nation.
  2. To promote freedom and democracy for Cuba in the face of the current dictatorship.
  3. To get the Cuban youth, both inside and outside Cuba, actively involved in the process to promote the respect for human rights and democracy in Cuba.

The above is being accomplished by promotion of democracy through various venues. The promotion of democracy is built on the principles of free flow of information to the Cuban people, humanitarian aid to provide support to the political prisoners and their families, and international activities.

  • Radio Republica transmissions are essential in providing the Cuban people with information and also provide an avenue whereby Cubans on the island can speak and be heard by their fellow civic-minded brothers and help promote democracy in Cuba. Radio Republica helps build a solid base in democratic principles by providing information to people who desperately need it.
  • Humanitarian aid helps the civil society with basic necessities and helps strengthen the non-violent struggle for democracy. The assistance to the political prisoners and their families, as well as to activists, in many areas, is essential to secure their survival.
  • International activities around the world to expose the lack of freedoms that exist in Cuba help build an international solidarity movement to assist the civic leaders in Cuba and speak out and denounce when the Cuban government unjustly imprisons or tortures these civic leaders.

The Directorio reported that it paid 1,930 people a total of $48,628 for “civic activities,” the Form 990 document shows. That averages out to $25.20 per person. The group also gave humanitarian aid in the form of cash grants to 236 people. Six people received a total of $1,002 in equipment, and 125 people received $21,769 in food and medicine.
The Form 990 reports paying $83,442 to two employees for radio programming, and $20,205 to 744 radio reporters.  The record also shows that the NGO received $3,583,161 in federal funds from 2014 through 2018.

Continue reading re. other US NGO Programs

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CUBA APPROVES LONG-SOUGHT LEGAL STATUS FOR PRIVATE BUSINESSES

Reuters, Jun 02, 2021  

Marc Frank

Original Article

HAVANA — Cuba has approved a reform that includes long-sought legal status for private businesses that began operating decades ago under the title of “self-employed,” state-run media reported on Wednesday.

Top officials have said for months they were planning changes to sort out rules for state-run companies and private cooperatives and businesses so they can function on an equal footing in the Communist-run country.

The Council of Ministers agreed the measure at its latest closed-door session, state-run media wrote, without detailing when it would become law.

The reform would include legal status for the private sector’s thousands of businesses from eateries and garages to construction and beauty salons and for cooperatives.

“With this decision we are approving how to organize the actors in our economy, which goes much further than the simple recognition of some of them,” Communist Party leader and President Miguel Diaz Canel was quoted as stating.

Unlike Communist Party-ruled China and Vietnam, Cuba has been slow to implement market reforms to its Soviet-style command economy.  But the government has picked up the pace in the face of a severe economic crisis and food, medicine and other shortages it blames largely on U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, while admitting failure to reform is also at fault.

Still, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz emphasized the state would remain the dominant economic player, insisting “we are not privatizing the economy,” according to the report.

Private farmers and cooperatives have operated for decades in Cuba in agriculture. The “self-employed” sector meanwhile – that includes businesses, their employees, trades people and others such as taxi drivers – has expanded over the past decade to include more than 600,000 workers.  Thousands more work in non-agricultural cooperatives, a new category allowed in 2012. Authorities had suspended issuing new licenses for such cooperatives but under the new reform will start issuing them once more.  All in all, the private sector now makes up around a third of the six million strong labor force.

Oniel Diaz, co-founder of the private businesses consultancy AUGE, said approval signaled a further expansion of the private sector was on its way, but it still could take a while.  “The wait continues,” he tweeted.

 (Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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YEA OR NAY ON THE EMBARGO. WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

What does a recent survey tell us?

by Guillermo J. Grenier

OnCuba News,  May 28, 2021

Original Article C

The French philosophe and essayist Michel Montaigne often used the phrase “What do I know?” to express the subjective limits of knowledge. What can any individual really know about the world? About others who inhabit it? I pose this question to myself often. It’s part of the job description for being a critical sociologist. I scratch my head in puzzlement each time that I gather data to analyze my compatriots in South Florida. What do I really know about Cuban Americans? Many will jump to answer, “You know nothing. You are clueless,” and they might be right. But you would think that after nearly thirty years of writing about and studying Cubans in the United States I would know something about what makes our “moral community” tick.  But when faced with the question Que sais-je?, which translates into a very Cuban, “Qué sé yo?” I have to admit that many of the moving parts of the community remain a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a pastelito. 

Take, for example, the resurgence of pro-embargo sentiments among South Florida Cuban American. It’s a grim turn even if not totally surprising given the Jarabe de Trump that many have savored in recent years. 

What is driving this macabre enthusiasm to endorse an archaic, cold war policy designed in 1962 to isolate Cuba and bring about regime change because, as stated in Kennedy’s infamous Proclamation 3447, the country is “incompatible with the principles and objectives of the Inter-American system; and, in light of the subversive offensive of Sino-Soviet Communism with which the Government of Cuba is publicly aligned?” Seriously? There is still support for a policy designed to “protect” the Americas from the threat of “Sino-Soviet Communism?” Directed at Cuba? Does this policy remain a vital element in the foreign policy of the United States? The world has changed so much but we seem to have changed so little.

Maybe there is more behind this seeming callous attitude of “que se jodan” exhibited by my fellow denizen of the Cuban diaspora than sheer opportunism. After all, we are not all YouTube mavens making a nice living peddling fear and disinformation. Most of us care about our friends and relatives on the island. About half of us send money when we can afford it and sending food via Katapulk is becoming a thing. Many on the island depend on us, if not for survival, for support, especially during this horrific pandemic period. 

Maybe championing the embargo, in the minds of those who do, is part of a larger plan. Maybe supporters see in the embargo a part of a broader strategy to improve the lives of Cubans throughout the island. Qué sé yo?

I want to understand why so many of us insist on supporting a foreign policy implemented to punish and isolate when we know that change in this globalized world is brought about by contact and negotiation. Why do people support the embargo? Why do they support lifting the embargo? 

With the help of the colleagues at OnCuba News, I floated a questionnaire on their platform and various social media streams (FB, Twitter) to try to understand why Cuban Americans either support or oppose the nearly sixty-year-old sanction. This is not a scientific sample, but the 361 responses (as of May 19) allow us to create broad categories to describe the types of reasons shaping opinions. 

Continue Reading

……………………………………….

Conclusion

To be honest, I harbor no illusions that the Cuban American vox populi will raise in an exilic chorus supporting the end to the embargo. I see no sign that we are willing, as a community to come to terms with our Big Lie. To recognize that the embargo, as a policy to motivate change in Cuba, has been a resounding failure and has not met the expectations of its supporters. It is a zombie policy which should have been killed by years of evidence verifying its failure but stays alive, eating the brains of Cuban Americans. Supporting the embargo is evidence that our community has been successfully recruited to brutalize the Cuban people by assisting the U.S. in its feeble attempt to project American power. I worry about the history we are helping to shape.

The only hope that I hold for seeing the lifting of the embargo in my lifetime is for the U.S. government to act in its best interest. In this unique case, the best interests of the United States are aligned with the best interests of Cuba, its people and government. 

Accepting this might not be easy for those who have developed an identity based on opposition to the Cuban government, but it is the reality we face. Let’s give in to a moment of clarity. We cannot, with any credibility, demand changes in others when we, as a community, remain so unwilling, or unable, to change. 

But, I could be wrong. What do I know?

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INTERVIEW: TED A. HENKEN WITH CAMILA ACOSTA, “MY AWAKENING”

Original ArticleTed Henken, 05/26/2021

At the age of 15, Camila Acosta Rodríguez (Isla de la Juventud, 1993) won a scholarship to study at Havana’s prestigious Vladimir Ilich Lenin Vocational High School, which she graduated from in 2011. She went on to study Journalism at the University of Havana. Before graduating in 2016, she did internships in various official media outlets in the capital including Granma, the official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

These experiences did not give her much in the way of journalistic practice. However, they did provide her with two elements that have since proven essential in her professional development. First, she realized at an early age that she couldn’t do journalism in a media system structurally designed to serve as a channel for the party’s “ideological propaganda machine.” Second, and quite ironically, these internships and her subsequent period of social service as a reporter at Canal Habana provided her with much freer access to the internet than she had had at the University of Havana.

She took full and frequent advantage of this crack in the wall of state-imposed censorship to spend endless and “spectacular” hours searching for information on Facebook and YouTube. “For that, the internships actually helped me tremendously,” she says with a laugh.

She resigned from Canal Habana after just a year and a half because this short period of time was more than enough for her to experience “first-hand all the censorship and lack of freedom of expression one must accept when working in the official Cuban media. Being exposed to that,” she clarifies, “also taught me how to criticize the official media and defend my current position as openly against the island’s reigning political system.”

Acosta has been working as an independent journalist for less than two years, a task she began full-time in August 2019 as a reporter for CubaNet. She has also made several award-winning documentaries about Freemasonry in Cuba and has published her journalism in other independent digital press outlets, including Periodismo de BarrioEl ToqueOnCuba, the cultural magazine Árbol InvertidoDiario de las Américas, and Diario ABC. Additionally, she is a member of 27N, a movement born on November 27, 2020 as a result of the now historic spontaneous demonstration that took place that evening in front of the Cuban Ministry of Culture.

Since fall 2019, Acosta has experienced in flesh and blood nearly all the repressive strategies that the Cuban government’s state security agents unleash against those who attempt to practice journalism free of ideological control on the island.

She has been evicted from a series of different rental apartments in Havana, fined for the crime of “reception,” fined under Decree-Law 370 (against which she has been one of the clearest and most constant voices), interrogated and strip-searched, arbitrarily arrested in public, “regulated” from traveling abroad, placed under house arrest, and defamed both on social media and national television. While arbitrarily detained, state security agents have stolen money from her and broken or confiscated at least three of her cell phones, which has become one of the most basic tools necessary to carry out her work as an independent journalist. Finally, members of her family have been summoned for interrogations of their own and threatened with reprisals if they couldn’t get her to stop reporting.

Despite all this, Acosta has chosen not only to stay in Cuba and continue working as a journalist but also to focus ever more intently in her reportage on what she calls “the root causes of Cuba’s problems,” which for her is “the prevailing political system in Cuba, the dictatorship.”

That is to say, she wanted to go beyond simply “playing with the chain” of the system by cataloging its endless string of negative consequences without ever touching “the monkey,” the totalitarian political system itself, which for her is the root cause of all the problems. Here she cites the well-known Cuban expression that sets the unwritten rules for “legitimate” criticism within a system that still claims it’s a “Revolution”: “tú puedes jugar con la cadena, pero no con el mono” (you can play with the chain but not with the monkey). “I wanted to get to the causes,” she insists.

As a direct result of her playing with this “monkey” again and again, of giving visibility to figures from the political opposition through her interviews and investigative reporting, and of making clear and repeated denunciations of state repression and of the island’s reigning dictatorial political system itself, she quickly fell into the crosshairs of the island’s extensive state security apparatus, which has tried unsuccessfully to silence her.

However, their repression has backfired. She is ever more emboldened.


Could you describe your family and social origins? What kind of work do your parents do, and how “integrated” was your family in the revolutionary process growing up?

My parents are working class. My father is a farmer and my mother is a bookkeeper in a state-run cafeteria.

My mother’s family was always quite integrated in this political process. My aunt, an internationalist doctor, is a member of the Party. My maternal grandparents were also Party members for many years. My grandmother even belongs to an “Asociación de Combatientes,” given her past resistance against the Batista dictatorship. On my father’s side, it’s just the opposite. My father’s brother had to go into exile in the United States because he was the leader of a dissident organization on the Isle of Youth. My paternal grandfather is from Matanzas, and in the 1960s they removed him from his land because he supported the rebels in the Escambray mountains. In other words, that side of my family is against the Cuban regime.

How “integrated” were you when you were young? How would you describe your educational experiences up through high school?

Since I was a child I was much more influenced by my mother’s side of the family. In addition to the indoctrination I experienced at school.

I was always a very good student. I participated in all the student academic competitions, starting in elementary school. In middle school, I became part of the group of students chosen to as school leaders.

In the ninth grade they suggested that I join the Union of Young Communists (UJC), which they did with the best students, but I refused. By then I had become a bit suspicious of anything ideological. I just wanted to study. I didn’t want to be linked to any political-ideological issue. That’s why I rejected membership in the UJC.

Later, in high school, when I was in eleventh grade, I decided to ask to join the UJC because I believed that it would help me win a spot to study Journalism at the university, the major I had already decided on. Many times, belonging to the UJC can help you get into the major of your choice. But once a student at the University of Havana, I was never really that active in the UJC. Of course, I did go to some marches and other political activities that were mandatory. And at one point I think I was even secretary of the UJC among my cohort because nobody else wanted that job. I had to put in my time for a year, but I really didn’t do anything much. It was all quite banal.

How and why did you decide to study journalism at the University of Havana?

I am from the Isle of Youth (although I prefer to say “the Isle of Pines”) and when I was 15 years old I came to study in Havana, at the Vladimir Ilich Lenin vocational high school, because there were no such schools on the Island. In my last year of high school, I decided to opt for a degree in Journalism, because it was the major that most aligned with my talents and sensibilities. I always liked the humanities and found that I performed best in those subjects. I have also always liked to read and stay informed. And I wanted to do something in which I felt useful, where I could help other people and do something to transform my reality, my country, the things that I believed should be changed.

Back then, what were the things you wanted to transform or change?

I really didn’t see myself doing the same thing every day, or doing an office job where I didn’t get any feedback. Because I am one of those people who constantly sets goals in life. I always try to improve myself spiritually and professionally. And I think that with Journalism I have achieved that: I get feedback and spiritual nourishment from the practice of my profession.

What social concerns did you have when you were still unsure about the character of the Cuban political system?

I did not understand that in a system that was said to be so humanistic (the official discourse of promoting equality or eradicating inequalities) there were so many inequalities. For me, in practice, there were many contradictions: I saw that theory had nothing to do with reality. I saw that there were mothers who could barely feed their children. I myself suffered having to go without many necessities. I went hungry when I was on scholarship and the Lenin vocational school, between the ages of 15 and 18. When I started college, I barely had clothes to wear because my parents are working class and didn’t have the resources to support me here in Havana. My mother earned about 300 pesos a month, and a pair of shoes cost me 500. Things like that, which I didn’t understand at the time, made me ask: “How is this possible?”

My aunt, who is a doctor, had to go on an international medical mission for a year when her daughter was just 3 years old. Later, when her daughter was about 7 or 8, she had to go back to another mission, this time to Venezuela. And she was away from our family for six years. She would come back once a year to visit, but only for a month. Her daughter and I, we practically grew up together. I experienced all her pain, having to be apart from her mother. And I also understood that my aunt had to do it because it was the way she saw that she could get ahead financially. To help her family.

In fact, during those years she was the one who helped just about all of us to find clothes and shoes, to put food on the table. And I used to ask myself: “How is it that a professional, a doctor, has to go far from her country to survive economically, if this is her country? This is where she studied. Here she can work…” And at the same time, I saw how terrible the health service in Cuba was, the educational system. These were things that I questioned.

Along with this family experience, when I came here to Havana I realized the great social differences that exist in Cuba. In the provinces, in the towns, at that time this was less evident. For example, at the Lenin school, there were children of many political leaders, of people with a lot of resources, and they dressed very well. And they made fun of people like us, who came from the Isle of Youth, from small towns, and who didn’t dress as well as they did. They discriminated against us.

In Havana, I also began to see that many people could afford luxuries like going to bars and parties while I couldn’t. Some students even drove to campus in their own cars wearing expensive clothes. While there were others, like me, who could barely afford a pair of shoes.

When I decided to study Journalism and during the time I was studying for my major, I had these social concerns but was unaware that Cuba was a dictatorship, for example. I didn’t even know there were political prisoners. Little by little, especially after graduation, with greater Internet access, I started to meet people from the opposition and to open up to a world totally unknown to me.

After graduation, I think was my awakening. Over time, I have been able to access many banned books that broadened my horizons and helped me to better understand all those concerns that I had had.

What are some examples of the books you discovered at that time?

I have read Journey to the Heart of Cuba by Carlos Alberto Montaner. I read Juan Reinaldo Sánchez’s book, The Secret Life of Fidel Castro. I have also read, for example, the book by Andrés Oppenheimer, Castro’s Final Hour. It was very important to me. It inspired me tremendously. I have found it difficult to find books by Rafael Rojas, but I keep looking. I have also read the book by Comandante Benigno [Daniel Alarcón Ramírez] Life and Death of the Cuban Revolution. Benigno was one of Camilo’s guerrilla fighters, and later part of Ernesto Che Guevara’s guerrilla force.

On the Internet, I have been able to find many works on Cuban history. I have also interviewed many people as part of my research project on Freemasonry in Cuba. There were even freemasons among the Cuban political prisoners known as “los plantados.”

What attracted you to the idea of ​​being a journalist in a country like Cuba?

The constant exchange with people, feeling that I was providing people with a social service. Since I became an independent journalist, many people have approached me for help.

What kind of help have they requested?

I have covered cases of families in Old Havana whose homes are in danger of collapse. And when I publish these articles, the authorities are forced to visit these buildings and try to remedy the situation in some way.

Another experience I had, last year, was a family that contacted me through a friend, because the father of the family had a son with chronic schizophrenia. This was around the start of the pandemic when there was all this paranoia in Cuba of arresting and fining people for not wearing a mask. So, this young guy, suffering from schizophrenia, decides to go out for a walk. And the police catch him without a shirt or a mask. They gave him a summary trial, without a lawyer and without the presence of his family, and sentenced him to a year in prison. His father had not been able to visit him during the whole process. He even took his medical history to prove his condition, but the authorities did not take it into account.

I did some investigative reporting on this case, and as I began to inquire about all the violations that were being committed, in less than 10 days they released this kid. They called his father and handed him over without further explanation. He is free. After being sentenced to a year in prison.

People have found, in the independent press, a form of social denunciation. They can be heard in the face of so much injustice. Those are the things that comfort me, make me proud of what I do. And that’s why: the public service I provide thanks to the profession I chose.

What did you write your thesis about and why? Who was your thesis director?

I graduated from the Communication School at the University of Havana in 2016, and my thesis was a video documentary on the history of Freemasonry in Cuba. My tutor was Maribel Acosta, a tenured professor at the University.

Freemasonry was a subject that interested me. First, I set out to put together a book of interviews. But then I saw that there was material worthy of a documentary, because nothing of the sort had been done before. In fact, in all modestly, mine was the first documentary on the history of Freemasonry in Cuba.

Freemasonry has been quite momentous in this country’s history. The first separatist conspiracies in the 19th century were orchestrated by Freemasons. The Cuban flag and the national coat of arms were both devised by Freemasons. The national anthem was written by a Freemason. The Ten Years’ War was also hatched in Masonic lodges. José Martí was a Freemason. Later, during the years of the Republic, the Masonic order continued to have tremendous influence.

Later as I delved more deeply into my research on the history of the order in Cuba, I discovered that the female branch of Freemasonry, for example, was something has been almost completely ignored. Right now, I am finishing up my book on all this so I can enter it into a journalism contest. I think the main contribution I make is on the history of the order in the last 60 years, which is also unknown, unpublished.

How would you describe your internships at different state media outlets during college?

They were all about the same political-ideological question. I don’t think they contributed much to my development. I do remember that at Granma what we did was accompany older journalists in their coverage and see how they did things. And they gave us advice.

However, we students spent most of our time on the office computers. Sometimes we even skipped class so we could go on-line. The Internet access they gave us at the university was negligible. It didn’t allow us to do anything. Back then, I didn’t even know what Facebook was. I had never had a laptop or anything like that. So, to walk into a newsroom with so much connectivity, to find myself with access to all that, for me it was something spectacular.

I remember spending hours and hours on Facebook, on YouTube, watching videos, looking for information. For that, the internships actually helped me tremendously.

What was your first job with the official media?

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HOW BIDEN’S INACTION IS AGGRAVATING CUBA’S FOOD CRISIS

If President Biden wants to support human rights in Cuba and empower the Cuban people, he can start by alleviating the food crisis by ending Trump’s prohibition on remittances and restoring the right of U.S. residents to travel.

By William M. LeoGrande May 27, 2021

Original Article,  in Common Dreams,

While President Joe Biden dithers about when or whether to keep his campaign promise to roll back Donald Trump’s economic sanctions on Cuba, people on the island are going hungry. Cuba imports 70 percent of its food and its foreign exchange earnings have plummeted due to the cut-off of remittances by Trump and the closure of the tourism industry by COVID-19. Increases in world market prices for food have aggravated an already precarious situation, producing severe shortages and a looming humanitarian crisis. 

Hunger has been a weapon in Washington’s arsenal against Cuba ever since Dwight D. Eisenhower sat in the White House. In January 1960, Ike suggested blockading the island, arguing, “If they (the Cuban people) are hungry, they will throw Castro out.” In April 1960, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester D. Mallory proposed, “Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba…to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Even though the United States no longer prohibits the sale of food to Cuba, by intensifying economic sanctions, Washington impedes Cuba’s ability to earn enough money to buy adequate food supplies from anywhere.

President John F. Kennedy imposed the most comprehensive economic embargo that the United States has ever imposed on any country, including prohibitions on both food and medicine sales. The core of that embargo has remained in place ever since.

From 1975 to 1992, Cuba could buy goods from the subsidiaries of U.S. companies in third countries. Ninety percent of the $700 million in goods Cuba bought annually was food and medicine. President George H. W. Bush, with presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s support, signed the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, cutting off those sales just as the Cuban economy collapsed due to the loss of Soviet aid. Cubans went hungry then, too. “Food shortages and distribution problems have caused malnutrition and disease,” the CIA reported in August 1993.

The Trump administration’s campaign of “maximum pressure” was designed to block Cuba’s sources of foreign exchange earnings by limiting U.S. travel, remittances, and Cuba’s earnings from the export of medical services. The goal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told European diplomats, was to “starve” the island to bring down the regime. So far, President Biden has left all these sanctions in place.

Even though the United States no longer prohibits the sale of food to Cuba, by intensifying economic sanctions, Washington impedes Cuba’s ability to earn enough money to buy adequate food supplies from anywhere. Moreover, by exacerbating food shortages, forcing Cubans to stand in line for hours in the midst of the pandemic, U.S. policy also impedes Cuba’s ability to control the spread of COVID.

The international community regards using food as an instrument of coercion to be a violation of international humanitarian law. In 2018, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve Resolution 2417, which condemns the deliberate deprivation of food “in conflict situations” as a threat to international peace and security. Resolution 2417 focuses on armed conflicts, but the underlying principle is no less applicable to conflicts in which one country has the ability to impose food insecurity on another, even without the use of armed force.

The international community has also made clear what it thinks of the U.S. embargo. Since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has annually voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo because of its “adverse effects…on the Cuban people.” In 2019, the vote was 187 in favor, three against (the United States, Israel, and Brazil). 

The Biden administration has yet to complete its review of Cuba policy, but officials, when asked, never fail to say that it will center on democracy, human rights, and “empowering the Cuban people.” In his confirmation hearing, Brian Nichols, Biden’s nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, declared, “We should be focusing our efforts on what is best for the Cuban people.”

No long, drawn out policy review is needed to recognize that there is a food crisis in Cuba due in part to U.S. policies, and that helping alleviate it is a moral obligation—an extension of the responsibility to protect.

On Cuban Independence Day, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken addressed the Cuban people directly, assuring them, “We recognize the challenges many of you face in your daily lives,” and pledged, “We will support those improving the lives of families and workers.”

Fine sentiments, but their sincerity is belied by the Trump-era sanctions that the Biden administration has done nothing to change, sanctions that make the daily lives of Cuban families harder. Having enough to eat is a basic human right, too, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt affirmed when he included “Freedom from Want” among his “Four Freedoms.” Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States signed, includes adequate food as a right.

If President Biden wants to support human rights in Cuba and empower the Cuban people, he can start by alleviating the food crisis by ending Trump’s prohibition on remittances and restoring the right of U.S. residents to travel. Remittances put money directly into the pockets of Cuban families. Restoring the right to travel will help Cuba’s ailing private sector recover post-COVID. The resulting inflow of foreign exchange currency will enable the government to import more food, especially for marginalized populations—single mothers, the elderly, and the poor—who have no direct access to hard currency.

There is no excuse for delay. No long, drawn out policy review is needed to recognize that there is a food crisis in Cuba due in part to U.S. policies, and that helping alleviate it is a moral obligation—an extension of the responsibility to protect. Moreover, these are actions Biden promised he would take during the presidential campaign. Every day he delays is another day that Cubans go hungry.

William M. LeoGrande is Professor of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

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ON TELEGRAM, CUBANS ARE COMING TOGETHER TO REVOLUTIONIZE THE INTERNET

They might loosen Washington’s tight grip with the help of a powerful ally: Google.

Original Article

By Ricardo Martínez, Rest of World, 5 May 2021 • Mexico City, Mexico

It’s April and the sun rises over Havana at 7:07 a.m. People are already sitting outside their homes chatting about the weather reports coming from a TV that caters to multiple families. Each day, 2 million Habaneros invigorate their city’s economy by running unpaid errands, selling basic goods to people who have received dollars from relatives in Miami, or getting to work for a government-fixed wage in a state-run enterprise.

Until recently, Cuba was mostly stuck in the past. But it’s changing fast. Over the past two years, increased internet access has transformed the lives of Cubans. Cuba has become home to a thriving tech scene featuring YouTubers, influencers, artists selling NFTs, filmmakers making movies about social media, and a large group of local programmers shaping the digital conversation. They gather across dozens of mobile applications, e-commerce outfits, and digital enterprises.

Erich García Cruz is one of them. He is a 34-year-old programmer and pioneering YouTuber who wakes up around 11 a.m. every morning to his two kids and wife at a home in Havana’s Santos Suárez neighborhood. He makes breakfast — and plenty of coffee — while he begins his day by checking his phone. García Cruz is lucky because he’s one of just over 4.4 million people out of Cuba’s 11 million who have accessed the internet on their mobile devices. Mobile data did not exist for the island’s inhabitants until 2019 and SIM cards cost $40, a sum an average Cuban cannot spare. The government-controlled monthly wage is just under $88. 

Cuba’s access to the internet came late compared to the rest of the world. But fast forward to 2021, and these digital pioneers are experimenting with virtual reality and toying with ideas of cyborgs. They are led by people like García Cruz and a growing tech crew of young crypto-users, AI explorers, and experimental techno DJs. They may be over 1,000 miles away from Washington, but this digital lobbying strategy is proving fruitful. It could potentially prompt companies like Google and big tech to seize the opportunity and advance their corporate interests.

While García Cruz chats over buttered toast with his family, a few blocks away, an old-fashioned radio tunes into the Communist Party-run Radio Reloj. The station provides live round-the-clock news updates. “Eleven fifteen minutes

García Cruz has been a digital entrepreneur since 2015, when the internet was barely arriving on the island. Back then, he hacked the state-controlled network through leaky internet protocols and began navigating his very own internet experience. Six years later, he knows this is only the beginning of what could be a massive economic opportunity for the island.

“There is a large segment of people in Cuba, who are seeing the internet as a platform for entertainment and one in which they can chill or simply build human connections. But I see the internet as a very powerful tool for entrepreneurship, to do business, to automate processes in real life, and to make money,” García Cruz told Rest of World. His mission is for everyone in Cuba to prosper financially from the internet instead of being glued to it as if it were a superfluous gaming console or a Facebook feed.”

Despite his optimism, García Cruz is aware of the limitations that he and millions of other internet users on the island face. They cannot fully access an array of virtual products and services provided by American companies — like Venmo or Google Earth — because of restrictions imposed by what they call “counterproductive” U.S. sanctions.

“I was born in 1986 and I never thought I would reach the point in my life where I am at now. I have achieved many things in Cuba and I’ve become an influencer,” García Cruz said. After spending years online, though, he is frustrated with the way that sanctions limit his internet experience. “It’s mind-boggling that I am personally prohibited from accessing hundreds of thousands of resources on the internet because of restrictions imposed in 1962.”

For García Cruz, the equation is simple. The only reason he can’t access a world of resources is because he is a Cuban citizen. When he tries to register for PayPal, Cuba is not among the list of accepted countries. He thinks that’s wrong — and sad. “We’re entrepreneurs, not political activists,” he said.

Unlike previous generations born under the embargo, García Cruz may hold a tool that can pry open the blockade from within the island: his fame. With almost 2.4 million video views and nearly 59,000 followers, his YouTube channel, Bachecubano, is arguably the most-watched tech channel in Cuba. His videos are also featured in the island’s iconic paquete, Cuba’s answer to pre-internet digital multimedia spread across the island through hard drives hand-delivered to subscribers.

Julio Lusson is another influencer in Cuba’s tech scene. He hosts a Telegram channel where thousands of Cubans — both on the island and across the Florida Straits — are planting the digital seeds for the 2020-born generation to reap.

“The internet is the strongest tool I have,” Lusson told Rest of World. “The internet right now means money, it’s investment – I benefit from it.” He lost his job as a DJ during the pandemic and credits the internet to his survival. Lusson hosts a YouTube channel featuring the latest in tech available to Cubans; TecnoLike Plus has over 1.6 million views and over 18,000 followers.

The Telegram group, which Lusson manages, is home to conversations all about the latest tech gadgets popular among young Cubans. They talk about products like the OnePlus Watch, the recent Apple Event, and about sending money to Cuba via ETECSA. There are long audio conversations about how best to make the most of gadgets locally. It’s a side effect of decades of scarcity; Cubans are the ultimate resourceful collaborators. 

his kind of collaboration has led to speedy innovation at scale. In February 2019, Karla Suárez and Rancel Ruana founded Bajanda, a Havana-based ride-sharing app. They launched just two months after the Cuban state internet company ETECSA made data services available to mobile users — before then, Cubans could only access the internet from city hotspots and ETECSA-run internet cafes.

“The Internet is like a Pandora’s box: once you open it, there’s no turning back,” Ruana told Rest of World. “Cubans are seeing the cases of success and saying: If someone like him can develop a ride-sharing app, why wouldn’t I be able to create an app? They are seeing it’s possible to thrive from the internet.”

In less than two years, homegrown apps that are common in most other Western countries — ranging from food delivery to ride sharing — are now available to Cubans. And though Ruana is confident about his business model, he requires better services than the ones provided by ETECSA. “We have the privilege of having home internet services called Nauta Hogar,” he said, “We are lucky to live in an area where we can get that service.”

Unlike Ruana, Adriana Heredia, another Habanera entrepreneur, runs Beyond Roots, her Afro-Cuban products enterprise, solely on mobile data. It is an extremely expensive endeavour for the young Afro-Cuban economist, who promotes Cuba’s Afro-descendant culture and builds on the heritage of 3.8 million Afro-Cubans. Internet prices are a recurrent setback for many, because the price to access the internet bears no correlation when compared to the money an average Cuban can make. Everyone wants cheaper connection prices.

In March, Lusson gauged the opinion of his more than 2,000 Telegram subscribers by asking in a poll: “Do you want the blockade to end so that more of Google’s services can be accessed in #Cuba?” Of the 431 that answered, the overwhelming majority –– 88% of votes –– responded “Yes”, 2% said “No,” and 10% chose “I don’t care!” (Most likely those members residing comfortably in the U.S.).Frustration about the internet access restrictions has boiled into action. Cuba’s tech crew is more cautious about its approach to lobbying than other politically-motivated activists. García Cruz made this clear in a March 23 Telegram message when he wrote: “Politics CANNOT be allowed to go hand in hand with ONLINE BUSINESS.”

In that same post, García Cruz went on to make a digital call-to-arms, asking fellow members of the Cuban tech crew to tweet out against the blockade that left Cubans without online payment solutions. He took special care to ask people to “TAG THE CEOS of big companies, especially @BrettPerlmutter.” The Cuban Twitter community quickly jumped on board and the hashtag #EEUUnblockMe went viral. 

The campaign was a success: Brett Perlmutter, head of Google Cuba, publicly championed it later on Twitter the next day and invited García Cruz to tell him more on 90 Miles, a podcast hosted by Susanna Kohly, co-founder of Google Cuba.

“This is something that’s very painful for me, personally,” Perlmutter told García Cruz on 90 Miles. “I’m sure it’s painful for every Cuban who lives in Cuba and has to face the reality of the fact that many internet services that are available to users around the world are not available to the Cuban people. And they’re not available by way of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which actually censors information from reaching the hands of the Cuban people.”

Since 2015, Google, along with broader U.S. business coalitions, have been working together with Cuban entrepreneurs to cross this divide. Today, Cuba is connected to the internet thanks to a single submarine cable that runs from Venezuela to the island. Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has provided the government with the majority of the network’s infrastructure, including cell towers and 4G. 

With increased internet access, the tech crew feels their hands would suddenly be let loose to create, innovate, and prosper. Cubans — who are hackers by nature after decades of shortages —  are trusting that the internet will be their endless economic opportunity provider.

While there have been numerous efforts to normalize relations between both countries, including a September 2018 meeting in New York City between Google and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, rapprochement stalled when former president Donald Trump took office.

But Cuba’s tech crew appears to be taking an alternate route. By intensifying their contact with Google via Perlmutter, instead of looking to pressure Washington directly, their hope is that the tech giant will lobby the U.S. on their behalf. It is an effort they will have to continue pushing with the current administration; on April 16, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden is not considering a change in policy towards Cuba.  

In spite of diplomatic uncertainty between the island and Washington, Google’s annual programming competition, Code Jam, is going forward uninterrupted. “It’s true that Google Code Jam is available in Cuba,” Perlmutter tweeted on March 27. His words were again picked up, disseminated, and praised by the Cuban tech crew, especially because the Head of Google in Cuba had endorsed yet another voice in the local tech scene, Rancel Ruana — the software engineer and founder of Bajanda.

“Hopefully other leaders in the tech world like you [Ruana] and Erich García can share this news,” concluded Perlmutter in his tweet. And he penned the hashtag #CubaIsACountry, which the Cuban Twitter community has made viral in recent weeks.

The pattern has been made clear: The tech crew and the Head of Google in Cuba play off each other in a digital effort to pressure leaders in the U.S. to reevaluate restrictions for the improvement of the island’s internet experience.

If the strategy were to succeed, it would be a win win for Google and local developers. Perlmutter could make his turf the biggest digital market in the Caribbean overnight, and the tech crew would suddenly have access to new content and lucrative opportunities. With the help of big tech companies and coalitions, Cuban developers and entrepreneurs could materialize the momentum they’ve quickly built and are pushing forward. They just don’t want political rhetoric to get in the way. The tech crew is pragmatic and can side with any company out there or even the Cuban government, so long as they are offered the internet access they desire.

Ruana, the software engineer at Bajanda, has never been to the United States, though he lives with the impacts of the sanctions every day. “I can’t access certain platforms. I would like for there to be a relaxation of restrictions to the average Cuban citizen, like me,” he said. 

García Cruz finally goes to bed at 3 a.m. after hours of creative flurry in front of his computer. Just three hours later, Heredia is up brewing coffee while she reaps the digital fruits of her Afro-Cuban startup. Even with its tenuous connectivity, Havana never sleeps — the tech crew can only imagine what full internet access might mean for their island’s future.

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WILL JOE BIDEN CONTINUE AMERICA’S DELUSIONAL CUBA POLICY?

An effective Cuba policy requires a realist mindset that recognizes, once and for all, Washington’s inability to impose its will on Cuba.

by William M. LeoGrande

The National Interest, May 21, 2021.

Original Article

As President Joe Biden considers what to do about Cuba, he should resist the seductive delusion embraced by so many of his predecessors that just a little more U.S. pressure will bend Cuba’s communist regime to Washington’s will. Sixty years of history is evidence to the contrary.

This delusion has a long pedigree. As relations deteriorated in 1960, U.S. Ambassador Philip Bonsal made a pitch for one last attempt at reconciliation. The terse reply from his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Mann: “Our best bet is to wait for a successor regime.”

Washington has been waiting ever since. For decades, successive U.S. presidents have convinced themselves that Cuba is on the brink of collapse and tougher sanctions can push it over. Dwight Eisenhower thought that cutting off U.S. imports of Cuban sugar would roll back the revolution before the end of his term in office. John F. Kennedy thought the Bay of Pigs and the CIA’s secret war would do the trick. Lyndon Johnson hoped to strangle the Castro regime by recruiting Latin America and most of Europe to join the U.S. embargo. Richard Nixon turned a blind eye to terrorist attacks by Cuban exile groups, and Ronald Reagan ratcheted up economic sanctions and put Cuba on the terrorism list—all to no avail.

Despite repeated failures, Washington officials keep convincing themselves that the policy of pressure will work if we just keep at it. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, they were certain that Cuba would be the next communist domino. In August 1993, the CIA concluded, “There is a better than even chance that Fidel Castro’s government will fall within the next few years.” The obvious implication: there was no point in seeking reconciliation with an adversary about to collapse.

When the Cuban regime survived that depression, the rationale shifted: Fidel Castro was the linchpin holding the system together; when he died, the regime would die with him. In 2006, Fidel fell ill and transferred power to his brother Raúl Castro, leading Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state in George W. Bush’s administration, to predict the regime’s imminent end. “Authoritarian regimes are like helicopters. There are single fail point mechanisms,” he explained. “When an authoritarian leader disappears from an authoritarian regime, the authoritarian regime flounders…. That’s what we’re seeing at this moment.”

But the transition from Fidel to Raúl went smoothly, necessitating the invention of yet another rationale for U.S. policy—Venezuela. Cuba was supposedly so dependent on cheap oil from Venezuela that when the inept regime of Nicolás Maduro collapsed (as it surely would under U.S. pressure), the loss of oil would cripple the Cuban economy and bring down the regime. Yet despite a fifty percent decline in oil shipments over the past decade, the Cuban regime is still standing.

Barack Obama was the only president to say out loud what everyone else in the world has known for years—the policy of hostility is an emperor with no clothes. In announcing his new policy of engagement on December 17, 2014, Obama called the old policy, “an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests.”

Supporters of U.S. sanctions are never at a loss for creativity, however. They denounced Obama’s policy for failing to bring democracy to Cuba in the two years before President Donald Trump repudiated it, while celebrating the resumption of sanctions that have failed for sixty years. Their rationale: Cuba is (again) on the brink of collapse. Supposedly, the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the retirement of Raúl Castro (who turned out to be a much more effective leader than U.S. pundits predicted) are the one-two punch that will finally knock out communism in Cuba. If the past is any guide, the odds on this are not good.

President Joe Biden supported Obama’s opening to Cuba and promised during the 2020 campaign to resume engagement. But early signals from administration officials indicate that an internal debate is underway between those who favor returning to Obama’s policy, and those who would continue the policy of pressure, leaving many of Trump’s sanctions in place. There may be domestic political gains to be had by maintaining the status quo, but no one should pretend it will produce anything positive as foreign policy. Meanwhile, the Cuban people are the ones suffering its effects, not the Cuban government.

An effective Cuba policy requires a realist mindset that recognizes, once and for all, Washington’s inability to impose its will on Cuba. Policymakers need to give up the illusion that sanctions will produce victory, and get about the hard work of engaging with a regime that we may not like, but that is not going away any time soon.

William M. LeoGrande is Professor of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

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SECRECY, INTIMIDATION, AND CRACKING THE ‘IRON WALL’ AROUND CUBA

In this month’s Meet the Investigators, Barbara Maseda tells of the challenges of finding data and documents in Cuba, a country where journalists are threatened and harassed and where information is kept hidden away.

By Sean McGoey

May 18, 2021

Original Article: Cracking the ‘Iron Wall’

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists collaborates with hundreds of members across the world. Each of these journalists is among the best in his or her country and many have won national and global awards. Our monthly series, Meet the Investigators, highlights the work of these tireless journalists.

This month we speak with reporter Barbara Maseda, who is the director and founder of Proyecto Inventario, an open data initiative that helps journalists to find data and documents to support their reporting in Cuba, a country without transparency policies and with very poor internet access. Barbara shares valuable insights into what’s happening behind the “iron wall” that the regime has built around itself, and tells us that even though authorities actively intimidate Cuban journalists — even threatening their families — she believes it’s because the government is afraid of the power of their reporting.

Sean McGoey: Welcome back to the Meet the Investigators podcast from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. I’m your host, Sean McGoey, and I’m an editorial fellow here at ICIJ. This month, my guest is a journalist whose mission is to ensure that vital information is actually available to the public, even when the government tries to prevent that from happening.

Barbara Maseda: My name is Barbara Maseda. I’m a Cuban journalist. And I run a project called Inventario that works with data and information that is very hard to come by in a country as closed as Cuba.

McGoey: Here’s the rest of my interview with Barbara Maseda. What made you want to become an investigative journalist?

Maseda: When you grow up in a country where everything is a secret, it’s not very hard to want to uncover those types of truths that are not out there for you to get to know. When you see what our peers are accomplishing in other parts of the world, you wonder why you don’t have that in your country. And it makes you want to have that for your country, for your people.

McGoey: What are some of the challenges that journalists face trying to do their job in Cuba?

Maseda: What we had was this iron wall that was keeping the island completely isolated in terms of information from the outside world. This absolute control that the government used to have makes it very hard for journalists to have access to the bread and butter of our profession — sources who are going to give you information.

For starters, independent journalism that is not controlled by the government is illegal. You cannot register a news organization. You’re not going to be acknowledged as a reporter who wants access to a source. And if you have a whistleblower in another country, we do not have the culture or history or the condition for the emergence of this particular type of individual, who is going to give you access to something that you’re going to follow and turn into stories.

There are other countries where authoritarian regimes have a very tight grip [on] many things and treat journalists in a similar way. But I think that in the case of Cuba, it’s that the system is very cohesive, and there are no cracks in that system — or we’re starting to see some of those cracks now. It’s a problem that I think has been changing in the last few years with the emergence of the internet.

McGoey: So given those conditions that you describe, what was it like to study journalism in a country that seems to be fairly hostile to the profession?

Maseda: I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Havana, [in] the school of communication. So my degree officially says that I have a bachelor’s in journalism from a Cuban university.

But — and this happens a lot in the Cuban space — we have labels or terms that mean something very different outside of Cuba. So when you go to the school of journalism, you would expect the standard reporting skills that you learn anywhere else. And what really happens is that nobody ever tells you that your role as a journalist is to hold the Communist Party to account.

It’s the contrary, actually. You are trained to be a watchdog, but for the interests of the establishment. And if you never question any of that training, you’re gonna keep doing something for the rest of your life that is labeled as journalism, but that in practice is not working in the public interest — is not work that is holding the powerful to account.

What many people do, is you go outside of the Cuban borders and you try to get some training, or you try to get inspired by the work of others. After you spend so much time isolated, getting exposed to that kind of work can be really powerful.

Continue Reading.

Inventario’s map of clashes between police and protesters in Havana.

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