Tag Archives: Fidel Castro

Reporters Without Borders: CUBA, CONTINUING ORDEAL FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA

May 3, 2017.

Original Report here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking

A self-styled socialist republic with a single party, Cuba continues to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator year after year. Fidel Castro’s death in 2016 effectively changed nothing. The Castro family, which has ruled since 1959, maintains an almost total media monopoly and tolerates no independent reporting.

Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, threats, smear campaigns, confiscation of equipment, and closure of websites are the most common forms of harassment. These practices are ubiquitous and are buttressed by an arsenal of restrictive laws. Unless forced to flee the island to protect themselves or to keep working, the few independent bloggers and journalists must cope with drastic restrictions on Internet access.

December 2, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO’S HERITAGE: FLAGRANT MEDIA FREEDOM VIOLATIONS

Castro has been hailed as one of the leading figures of the 20th century and father of the Cuban people in many of the thousands of messages that followed the announcement of his death. But behind the revolutionary’s romantic image lay one of the world’s worst press freedom predators. The persecution of dissidents was one of the distinguishing features of his 49 years in power, and constitutes the harshest aspect of his heritage.

The current situation in Cuba speaks to this. Cuba continues to be one of the worst countries in Latin America for media freedom and ranks 171st out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl, who replaced him in 2007, is now also on RSF’s press freedom predator list.

Cuba’s constitution permits only state-controlled media outlets. Independent news agencies and bloggers who try to dispute the state’s monopoly of news and information are subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrest and draconian censorship.

As a result, independent news agencies have often had no choice but to go into exile and post their news reports online from abroad. This is far from ideal because Internet access within Cuba is still very problematic (only 5% of households have internet access).

Finally, with two journalists currently jailed, Cuba continues to be one of the few western hemisphere countries where reporters can still be found behind bars. Venezuela and Panama are the other two.

But the situation was much worse under Fidel Castro himself. The father of the Cuban revolution imposed a climate of censorship and used often violent methods to prevent the circulation of any news and information at variance with that provided by the state media.

The persecution peaked in 2003. In March of that year, the authorities arrested more than 75 dissidents including 27 journalists, who were given summary trials and sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison for talking about democracy in Cuba.

They included RSF’s then correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso, who ended up spending seven years in prison. There were several waves of arrests during this period, dubbed the “Black Spring.” Unauthorized journalists were targeted and accused of collaborating with the United States if their reporting referred to Cuba’s dissidents, human rights violations or the everyday lives of Cubans.

The persecution continued during the ensuing years and in 2007, when Fidel Castro was about to hand over to his brother, Cuba was the world’s second biggest prison for journalists, with a total of 25 held. Prison conditions were appalling and torture was often reported by the families of Cuba’s detained journalists and dissidents.

Many different methods were deployed against Cuba’s independent news providers including arbitrary arrests, beatings and phone tapping. But permanent censorship was one of the constants of the Castro years, both before and after the Black Spring.

Ever since its creation in 1985, RSF has constantly denounced these abuses, using awareness campaigns, protests and international mobilization. Several of our contributors and correspondents have been threatened or imprisoned. They include Roberto Guerra Pérez, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 on a charge of disturbing public order and was released in 2007.

Guerra bravely continued his fight for media freedom, launching an independent news agency called Hablemos Press in 2009. But the Cuban police harassed him and his reporters and repeatedly prevented them from working. After receiving anonymous death threats, he had no choice but to go into exile in October 2016 in order to ensure his and his family’s safety.

The battle waged by RSF and many other local and international NGOs must go on so that exile is one day no longer inevitable. But for the time being, the day-to-day existence of Cuba’s journalists is still marked by fear and self-censorship.

Cuba’s journalists currrently fear that the father of the revolution’s death will be accompanied by a new crackdown. This must not be allowed to happen. Instead, it must open the way to a new era of pluralism and freedom of opinion.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IN CUBA, THE POST-FIDEL ERA BEGAN TEN YEARS AGO

January 23, 2017 2.49 am EST

Ramón I. Centeno, Postdoctoral fellow, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

Original Article: Post-Fidel Era

Ever since Fidel Castro died in November 2016, foreign observers – journalists, political tourists, and the like – have flocked to the streets of Havana. Let’s go and see communist Cuba before it is too late! they reason.

What this reaction misses is that Cuba has already changed: the post-Fidel era is a decade old.

My new research, published in Mexican Law Review, shows major shifts in the governing style and ideology of the country. The charismatic leadership that epitomised Fidel’s time in power is gone, replaced by a collective arrangement. And Cuba’s centrally planned economy has integrated market socialist features.

These changes will likely be accelerated by Barack Obama’s recent repeal of the US policy that gave Cuban migrants favoured immigration status – both by eliminating an escape route for dissatisfied citizens and by reducing potential future remittances.

The end of charismatic leadership

When Fidel fell gravely ill in July 2006, he provisionally delegated his dual posts – president of the Council of State and first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba – to his younger brother Raúl, long-time head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and second secretary of the Communist Party. As Fidel’s health further deteriorated, the National Assembly made Raúl president in February 2008.

This move kept succession within the family, but Raúl has rejected any Kim dynasty-style future for the country. If ten years ago Cuba looked more like North Korea than China, today the opposite is true.

Leadership and ideology in surviving communist systems in 2016. Created by author.

Breaking with Fidel’s decades-old practice, Raúl recommended to the delegates of the sixth Party Congress in April 2011 that they limit public officials to a maximum of two five-year terms; this soon became the official Party line.

In the short term, term limits meant that Raúl Castro’s presidency would end in February 2018, which he has confirmed. In the long term, that raised questions on the post-Castro era. To be sure, in 2013 Miguel Díaz-Canel, a Communist Party insider, was promoted to first vice president of the Council of State – the first time ever that a revolutionary veteran did not hold that position. Technically, according to the Cuban constitution, if the president dies, the first vice-president takes over.

The seventh Party Congress, held in April 2016, nonetheless appointed Raúl Castro to be first secretary. While this does keep a revolutionary veteran in control of a key post after 2018, for the first time the head of the Cuba’s Communist Party will not be the same person as Cuba’s president.

The rise of market socialism

Market socialism can be defined as “an attempt to reconcile the advantages of the market as a system of exchange with social ownership of the means of production.”

As if following this definition from the Oxford Dictionary of Social Sciences, the sixth Party Congress approved that from now on “planning will take the market into account, influencing upon it and considering its characteristics.”

This is a clumsy engagement with the market, treating it as an alien from outer space. And it epitomises the current ideological hardships of the Cuban regime.  Still, Raúl Castro has overseen the largest expansion of non-state socioeconomic activity in socialist Cuba’s 50-year history.

Cuba’s National Office of Statistics reports that in 2015 71% of Cuban workers were state employees, down from 80% in 2007, and the number of (mostly urban) self-employed workers has grown from 141,600 in 2008 to half a million in 2015. In a country with a total workforce of five million, this is not a trivial change.

From 2008 to 2014, more than 1.58 million hectares of idle land has been transferred into private hands. That’s nearly a quarter of Cuba’s 6.2 million hectares of agricultural land, roughly on par with state-owned land (30%).

In sum, the market is no longer the enemy, it’s a junior partner in Cuban central planning. The last Party Congress, Cuba’s seventh, approved the continuity of controlled liberalisation efforts by turning market socialism into Communist Party doctrine, stating that “the State recognises and integrates the market into the functioning of the system of planned direction of the economy.”

The new Cuban polity

The rise of market-socialist ideology emerged, to a substantial extent, from the decline of charismatic authority.

Cuba’s next generation of leaders –- expected to take over in 2018 -– will not enjoy the same unquestionable legitimacy as its founding fathers, much less that of Fidel Castro. So the inevitable passing of the revolutionaries still in power today, most of whom are in their 80s, makes the already difficult process of revamping the regime even tougher.

Raúl Castro’s challenge over the past decade has thus been not only to make his presidency stand on solid ground, but also to make sure that such a ground endures after he leaves. The question of economic performance was clearly central to that task. Raúl saw market socialism as a way to strengthen Cuba’s economy without abandoning its Castro-era ideals. The revolutionary veterans’ interest in seeing the system they built survive is unsurprising, and it explains their rejection of any capitalist encroachments. But it remains to be seen how long – and if – this ideological limit will survive them.

Let’s return to the earlier chart presenting a comparison of surviving Communist countries at present. It shows Cuba today, after ten years of Raúl, located somewhere in between North Korea (where an orthodox Soviet-style economy is still firmly entrenched) and countries such as China and Vietnam that have seen capitalism restored, and somewhat closer to the latter.

But the difference between “medium” market acceptance and “high” market acceptance is a substantial one. The latter presupposes a comeback of the bourgeoisie – the social class of owners of the means of production, expropriated by Castro’s revolution – and thus far this key ideological limit remains strong in Cuba.

Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, many have assumed that the fall of communist Cuba is a matter of when not if. Only by abandoning the focus on “the fall” and understanding how communist rule has survived in Cuba we can grasp that Cuba has already changed mightily.

Welcome to the second decade of the post-Fidel era.

Some Cuenta-propistas, January 2015, Photos by Arch Ritter

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

MY FAMILY’S TEARS OF JOY AND SADNESS FOR CASTRO’S CUBA

Son of a Cuban émigré, John Paul Rathbone asks what Fidel’s death means for the republic’s people

John Paul Rathbone, Financial Times, December 2, 2016

Original Article: Joy and Sadness for Castro’s Cuba

It has been many years since my family celebrated the usual exile toast which tacitly imagined Fidel Castro’s death — “To next Christmas in Havana!”

My mother’s family left Havana in the autumn of 1960 — 18 months after Castro came to power — expecting to return soon. But as the years passed, the toast I heard as a child growing up in London grew heavier with irony. By the end of the 20th century, it was repeated only because the repetition was comic. Then, last Friday at 10:29pm, Castro really did die. His younger brother, President Raúl Castro, made the announcement on national television.

I learnt the news on Saturday morning, in New York. My phone was lit up with texts and emails. In Miami, the night before, my niece had rushed out of her apartment in the Cuban district near Calle 8 to join the euphoric crowd. In Madrid, a cousin celebrated in a Cuban dive bar with a hip audience and politics far to the left of his own — and those of the owner, a black Cuban in his early 60s who served the crowd cocktails but kept his satisfaction to himself. From Havana, the mother of a friend left a strange message on his answering machine: “Fidel is dead”, and then a long silence before she hung up.

“DEAD” was the bald Miami Herald headline on its special edition. There was little more to say. Cuba has been “post-Fidel” since he retired from public office in 2006 because of ill-health, formally handing over power to Raúl in 2008. One friend who heard the news on Friday night simply went back to sleep. The revelry outside Miami’s famous Versailles restaurant soon rang hollow. It was a moment instead for grief, that churning of old emotions whenever a major figure in your life dies.

I called my mother in London. Although she left Cuba several years before the revolution for reasons that had nothing to do with politics, she often returned and had cheered Castro’s jubilant rebels and thrown flowers in their path when they had marched into Havana 57 years ago, the dictator Fulgencio Batista vanquished. She claims to have hugged Camilo Cienfuegos, the most-loved rebel leader, that day. But then Castro nationalised my grandfather’s store, and soon her parents and siblings and their children left too. “So many memories,” she told me.

zqqqq

Camilo  Cienfuegos  and  Fidel  Castro, January  1 1958

I returned to Miami on Sunday evening. Driving home from the airport, I asked my Uber driver, a 26-year-old who left Havana four years ago, about his weekend. He was dismissive. “I understand the celebration. It’s not of a person’s death. It is of the end of someone who has caused so many people so much pain. But nothing really has changed. I stayed at home.”

Charismatic defiance

There is still, though, the public weighing of Castro’s life, the lengthy consideration of this versus that. Hero or villain?

First, we need a necessary correction of perceptions. Even Cubans who dislike him sometimes take a strange pride in Castro. “Fidel embodied the best and worst of us,” wrote Achy Obejas, a Cuban-American novelist, in a New York Times column this week. “We hated his ambitions and loved that he had them. Hang out with a bunch of Cubans, and the minute someone gets imperious, someone else will call her out for the ‘little Fidel’ in her.” It’s in every Cuban, really.

Castro (left) is shown in file photo dated May 1963 holding the hand of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during a four-week official visit to Moscow. Castro resigned on Feb. 19, 2008 as president and commander in chief of Cuba in a message published in the online version of the official daily Granma.

Castro (left) is shown in file photo dated May 1963 holding the hand of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during a four-week official visit to Moscow. Castro resigned on Feb. 19, 2008 as president and commander in chief of Cuba in a message published in the online version of the official daily Granma.

Castro was epic, especially from afar. He seemed to rule forever. He was the Quixote whose defiance of the Yankee monster warmed the cockles of the hearts of the red, the young and the poor. His charisma was inarguable.

There were also the achievements, especially Cuba’s lauded education and health systems, and the fight against South African apartheid. His longevity — outlasting 11 US presidents — won him the respect of Latin American leaders. European, African and Asian politicians played court too.

Up close, however, his portrait becomes like the picture of Dorian Gray. There were the summary executions in the early days of the revolution; the stifling ideology that followed; the neighbourhood snooping; and the official discourse with its sledgehammer words like “conflict” and “struggle” but never “prosperity”, “reconciliation” or “harmony”. There were, and still are, the desperate escapes across the Florida Straits in makeshift rafts, the stultifying economy, the drain of the talented and the young seeking a life for themselves as exiles, and the fact that while Cuba’s island population is 11m, another 2m live abroad.

More than anything, though, there has been the terrible breaking apart of families — and Cuba, under all the politics, is a family affair. I think of this analogy. At his height, Castro was the father of the nation — the man who shaped everyone’s lives. Yet he was also an abusive father. On Tuesday night, as I watched the state funeral in Revolution Square on the television, I noticed that Raúl never used the word “brother” during his tribute speech. With Castro, it was politics all the way.

FILE - In this April 19, 2016 file photo, Fidel Castro attends the last day of the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba. Fidel Castro formally stepped down in 2008 after suffering gastrointestinal ailments and public appearances have been increasingly unusual in recent years. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP, File)

FILE – In this April 19, 2016 file photo, Fidel Castro attends the last day of the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba. Fidel Castro formally stepped down in 2008 after suffering gastrointestinal ailments and public appearances have been increasingly unusual in recent years. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP, File)

Cuba waits

Castro’s death at the age of 90 is, of course, one of the most unsurprising news events ever. The obituaries were written long ago. Nothing happening this past week on the island has been improvised either, even if most Cubans had probably not expected to trudge through nine days of state-mandated mourning, with alcohol sales banned.

On Wednesday, after tributes from foreign dignitaries the night before, Castro’s ashes were driven off in a cortege on an 870km tour across the island. On Sunday, his ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, in a tomb next to José Martí’s: Castro has thereby sought to appropriate the legacy of the poet and man of letters who is Cuba’s most famous independence hero.

Castro’s own legacy will be disputed for years. For every argument in its favour, there is a riposte. What is inarguable is that the island is physically crumbling, and the economy in desperate need of investment and funding. Socialist Venezuela, Cuba’s closest ally, faces an economic crisis. Soon Caracas may no longer provide Havana with the aid and subsidised oil it needs.

When I last visited Cuba in July, there were blackouts. A euphoria I sensed in February, an expectancy of change triggered by President Barack Obama’s historic visit and the prospect of subsequent US rapprochement, had faded. The significant but small economic reforms launched by Raúl have stalled. The generals still control the most lucrative sections of the Cuban economy. When Raúl steps down as president in 2018, as he has promised, the system will probably be much the same as now. But perhaps it will be otherwise.

Cubans also face the prospect of Donald Trump. The US president-elect has threatened to reverse Mr Obama’s detente. “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the US as a whole, I will terminate the deal,” Mr Trump tweeted this week.

It is hard to see the logic of how a return to a US policy that failed when Castro was alive will succeed now that he is dead. Squeezing Cuba again will more likely prompt the turtle to shrink back into its shell. But does Mr Trump really want that for the island nation anyway, even if many Cuban American Republicans do?

It is only a straw in the wind, but Maria Romeu, who concierges yacht charters to Cuba from Florida, continues to take lots of bookings from her largely Republican clients. On a recent Havana trip, the 58-year old Cuban American took four wealthy Trump voters on a city tour where they imagined where the Trump Tower might be built. “They were quite elated and the possibility of not going to Cuba next April did not cross their mind,” says Ms Romeu, who adds that the bookings for next summer are intact. “I’m taking their lead.”

It is ironic that the death of one of the 20th century’s most charismatic nationalists, the narcissistic father figure Fidel, coincides with the rise in the US of another charismatic nationalist, Mr Trump. For some, it is a worrying symmetry; a populist playbook seen before.

“I don’t care if Castro is alive or dead. That was already a done deal for me,” a family friend wrote on Facebook. “Instead I care about those who still think he was great. That is bothersome, and dangerous, because it is a trap. A trap that can ruin lives — like those who think Donald Trump is great, [believe his promises] and yet you see the train wreck coming.”

I left for Cuba on Friday, with no great expectations, but wanting to witness Castro’s passing. His death, it seems to me, truly marks the end of the 20th century and also of certain attitudes that already seemed old-fashioned and outdated many years ago.

joyn-paul-rathbone

John Paul Rathbone

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

BACKLASH IN CUBA: OBAMA’S HISTORIC VISIT WAS A SMASH HIT IN HAVANA. FIDEL CASTRO WASN’T GOING TO TAKE THAT LYING DOWN.

By Ann Louise Bardach

Politico Magazine, June 10 2016

Original Article: BACKLASH IN CUBA

HAVANA—These days Fidel Castro doesn’t often leave his comfortable home in Siboney, a leafy suburb west of this city. But on April 19, the 89-year-old Cuban leader emerged, aides at his side, wearing a royal blue Adidas sports jacket over a blue plaid shirt, and was driven two miles to the immense Palacio de Convenciones. Inside he was greeted by a thousand members of the Communist Party, the ruling body that has been Cuba’s sole political party for half a century. They were wrapping up their four-day conference, generally held twice a decade.

Fidel is ailing and officially retired, having incrementally handed the reins of power to his brother Raul over the past decade. But he remains a history buff, a news junkie, and a man keenly concerned with his legacy. And he was not pleased with what he had been hearing.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzPresident Barack Obama had spent three high-profile days in Havana at the invitation of Raul. And the visit, to Fidel’s dismay, had been an immense public success, generating as much excitement and buzz on the island as the arrival of The Rolling Stones for a free concert a few days later. While state media treated Obama with cautious distance, there was no mistaking the thrill of ordinary Cubans as the president toured local sights, watched a baseball game, and drove through Havana with his family and entourage. They dubbed the president Santo Obama. “He’s more popular than the Pope!” one exultant habanera told me.

If the first state visit by a sitting president in 90 years struck Fidel as an unseemly and undeserved victory lap, there was troubling news as well from the Southern Hemisphere as well. Two of the island’s staunchest allies were fighting for their political lives. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was nearing impeachment; Argentina’s former president, Cristina Kirchner, was about to be indicted. Indeed, the entire left-wing coalition of Latin America, methodically cultivated by Fidel for decades, was unraveling. The death of Cuba’s Midas-like patron, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, had birthed a feeble successor who is unlikely to survive the next year; Ecuador’s leftist president was bowing out, while Castro champion Evo Morales of Bolivia had lost a referendum for another presidential term. Peru and Uruguay had lost their center-left leaders. If not a political tidal wave, a domino effect of sorts was shifting the Southern Hemisphere from left to right.

Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Maximum Leader, understood that something had to be done.

Cuba’s Party Congress sets the economic and political agenda of the island, and many, on and off the island, had anticipated that this year’s conclave would further crack the door open to more reform. As the U.S. and Cuba have navigated their rapprochement, their progress has continuously been buffeted by the alternating agendas of the two brothers: Fidel, the intransigent revolutionary, and Raul, the cautious reformer. Obama hoped that a state visit before the Congress would give a boost to Raul’s reform-minded approach, however modest.

Cubans, too, had their eye on the meeting, and many of them expected that the Party would at least start to retire its octo- and nonagenarian ruling elite, the historicos who came up with Fidel and Raul and have been governing the island since. Raul himself had fueled those hopes by urging an age limit of 70 for senior Party officials.

It did not happen that way. Instead the Party’s elders, with the blessing of Fidel, spent the first three days of the Congress issuing a series of retrograde edicts and re-establishing their hegemony. Rejecting the retirements of the old guard, they went on to quash reforms intended to rescue the country’s moribund economy.

For a finale, Fidel addressed the Congress for the first time since 1997. The date of his appearance, April 19, was not coincidental. It fell on the 55th anniversary of the doomed U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, when Fidel’s army vanquished the CIA’s ill-conceived coup, captured thousands of U.S.-backed rebels, and utterly humiliated the world’s greatest superpower.

The days when Fidel routinely gave furious six-hour orations in olive-drab military garb are long gone. Now with hair white as the sands of Varadero Beach, he did not attempt to stand on his feet. Instead, he was helped to a chair at the center of the dais. “This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” Fidel somberly told the throng.

Although Fidel spoke with a gravelly rasp, those looking to hear conciliatory words were quickly disabused of that hope. “The ideas of Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet,” he insisted, and their achievements “will endure.” And to that end, the firebrand Fidel exhorted those present —charged with setting Cuba’s agenda through 2030—“to fight without truce.”

“Soon, I’ll be 90 years old. Soon I’ll be like all the others,” Castro intoned as if giving his own eulogy. “The time will come for all of us.”

Then the old lion, albeit with a patchy beard and a thinning mane, roared again, one last time: “We must tell our brothers in Latin America—and the world,” he declaimed, “that the Cuban people will be victorious!”

In the closed, hermetic world of Cuban politics, Fidel’s speech marked a pivot in what has arguably been the country’s most remarkable three months since the Missile Crisis of 1962. The ceaseless whiplash includes a ballyhooed U.S. presidential visit, a Party Congress slamming the door on reform, a Fidel valedictory finale, and a series of fresh dramas in the long-running saga of the Brothers Castro.

On June 3, Raul turned 85, to be followed by Fidel’s 90th birthday on August 13, a pair of personal milestones that have the brothers keen to cement their legacies. “The Castros are robust and long-lived,” boasted Raul on his big day; he also chatted with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who called offering birthday wishes.

As the brinkmanship between the two Castros plays out, it’s likely to shape the course of U.S.-Cuban relations for the next generation. In that respect, it was possible to see the Congress as an episode in the long-running drama between two brothers to whom appearances matter deeply. Raul, the internationalist, got to produce the Obama Show. Fidel, the nationalist, won the right to orchestrate the Party Congress and to deliver his response to President Obama’s proposal of accelerated reform and cooperation with the U.S.

And Fidel’s message was unmistakable: Over my dead body.

This was hardly the step forward the White House had hoped for when it orchestrated its historic, if hastily planned, state visit in March. For Obama, Cuba was his “Nixon in China” moment, a legacy move to close the last chapter of the Cold War in our hemisphere.

It could not have contrasted more clearly with the previous U.S. presidential visit. In 1928, the Republican Calvin Coolidge sailed into Havana Harbor on a battleship. Obama, on the other hand, delivered his first words to the Cuban people before he even debarked from Air Force One. They came, cool, breezy and direct, in the form of a tweet. “¿Que bolá Cuba?” he tweeted, using the island slang for “what’s happening?” “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”

Cuban officialdom adopted a noticeably stiffer tone. Despite Obama being the single most important head of state to visit since 1959, Raul Castro—who has personally greeted more than one pope and innumerable national leaders upon their arrival—did not appear at the airport to welcome him. Instead, when the First Family touched down amid an insistent gray rain, they were met by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who greeted the president on the tarmac with a cordial handshake.

The government-run media gave a similarly cool treatment. On the eve of Obama’s visit, Granma, the organ of the Communist Party, devoted its six thin pages to the arrival two days earlier of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Cuba’s principal patron since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Havana, Maduro was robustly feted, even bestowed a new honorific title, with Raul declaiming that “we will never abandon our Bolivarian revolutionary friends.”

Obama’s trip had been something of a rush job, as state visits go, and behind the scenes, the U.S. had been on the back foot from early in the process. The date of the trip hadn’t been finalized until January. One consideration in the timing was to ensure the visit came prior to the Party Congress, with the White House hoping to be a moderating influence when it convened. But the driving force, according to sources at both State and the Vice President’s office, was that the president and first lady very much wanted a family trip, and the March 20-23 dates coincided with spring break at Sidwell Friends School for daughters Malia, who’s been studying Spanish, and Sasha.

The trip planning also augmented tensions between the White House and the State Department that dated back to the historic Cuban deal announced in December 2014. The landmark agreement had effectively ended the Cold War between the countries and began the process of normalization: Cuba agreed to release numerous political prisoners and return imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross along with a significant U.S. intelligence asset, Rolando Sarraff, in exchange for the U.S. returning the remaining three of the “Cuban Five” convicted spies. Although negotiations like this would normally be led by the State Department, Obama had deputized his trusted aide and speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, to make a deal with Cuba happen. The 18 months of secret negotiations largely bypassed the State Department; only one State veteran, Cuba policy specialist Ricardo Zuniga, who partnered with Rhodes, was fully trusted by Obama’s innermost circle, to maintain the secrecy demanded by the administration. Likewise, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, known as MINREX, was exiled from negotiations. The key player on the Cuban side was none other than Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, Raul’s 50-year-old son, a steely hard-liner widely believed to be his father’s heir apparent.

The rushed trip also gave the Cubans leverage to shape the agenda, or try to: No meetings with human rights activists, they insisted, and they would decide the guest list, including which U.S. reporters made the cut—a loaded issue with Cuba, which has a long history of barring American reporters who report seriously on the island.

Matters were not looking good, and the press around the reconciliation was getting worse, until Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a trip to Havana in protest weeks before the state visit. Kerry’s bluff worked, and from then on, the U.S. got what it wanted. The Cubans reluctantly issued visas for the reporters; the president had meetings with entrepreneurs, dissidents, human rights activists and even held a news conference, all to be recorded by live television coverage.

***

It is nearly impossible to overstate the impact of President Obama’s arrival in Cuba. The shift in outlook was tectonic. In the course of the visit, I heard more than one habanero refer to Obama as “El Negro de Oro”—the Golden Black Man, a flattering pun on “black gold.” It didn’t hurt that to many Cubans, Obama just looks Cuban; his mixed-race background gives him something in common with the half the island’s population that identifies as mulato, black or mestizo today.

The Obama family made the requisite tourist stops, including the city’s grand Cathedral, built in 1777 from blocks of coral; they took a walking tour led by Havana’s remarkable official historian, Eusebio Leal. Despite failing health and being in considerable pain, Leal gamely guided the Obamas through historic Havana in and around the Plaza de Armas.

The buzz of la bola en la calle—Cuban street gossip—was that the visit had prompted previously unimaginable upgrades to parts of the capital. Every building that the Obama entourage passed had been repainted, and every road his limousine traversed had been repaved. Some streets were still being paved and re-striped just hours before his arrival. “Come visit us,” cried out residents of neglected, pot-holed barrios in what became a weeklong running joke, “y llevar el asfalto!” — “and bring the asphalt!”

The culmination of the trip was Obama’s exquisitely crafted speech, delivered in downtown Havana’s Gran Teatro with Raul Castro and the senior Politburo present, along with an array of invitation-only favored Cubans. “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” Obama began, thus ending the half century David-and-Goliath face-off that once almost brought the world to its end. The speech, written by Rhodes, hit every note. Millions of Cubans watched, many saying later they were overwhelmed by emotion, as an American president spoke directly to them, not at them.

“I had tears in my eyes,” said Marta Vitorte, who watched the speech in her Vedado apartment. A former official in the Foreign Ministry, Vitorte for the past decade has run one of Havana’s most popular and upscale casa particulars, or private home rentals. “This is the beginning of the future of Cuba,” she gushed.

But for the island’s 11-million-plus inhabitants, an even more jaw-dropping moment had come earlier in the visit. On Day Two, Obama had cajoled Raul into participating in a live news conference, taking unscreened questions from American reporters.

Considering Cuba’s antagonism towards a free press, Raul’s participation was stunning and, no doubt, a spontaneous decision he quickly regretted. The Cuban leader was plainly displeased by a question on human rights by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, but he was infuriated by CNN’s Jim Acosta who asked, “Why are there Cuban political prisoners in your country?” Raul visibly bristled, having never endured an unfriendly press query. “Give me the list right now of political prisoners to let go of them,” Raul huffed. “Tell me the name or the names … And if there are political prisoners then before night falls, they will be free. There!” (Lists of prisoner names were promptly circulated on social media—none of whom are known to have been released since.)

“Oh my god,” said a former Cuban diplomat. “It made Raul look weak. No one here has ever seen anything like that.” | AP Photo

As the conference streamed live, Cubans watched a flustered Raul lose his cool, then abruptly end the news conference and march over to Obama to raise his arm in a victory salute. A bemused Obama was having none of it, and let his arm dangle. “Oh my god,” said a former Cuban diplomat. “It made Raul look weak. No one here has ever seen anything like that.”

***

Obama’s show-stopping appearances could only have mortified Fidel Castro, a public-relations genius, who was keenly monitoring the visit from his home. “Never abandon propaganda—even for a minute,” he had counseled compatriots in a 1954 letter. “It is the very soul of our struggle.”

Today, for hard-liners of Fidel’s generation, la lucha, the struggle, means just two things: keeping the principles of the Revolution alive in Cuba; and keeping themselves alive and in power.

At the very minimum, Obama had rewritten Fidel’s carefully scripted drama, in which the U.S. plays the rapacious foe. Suddenly, America seemed far less menacing. As the Cuban novelist Wendy Guerra wrote, in the wake of Obama’s visit: “Since you left, we are little more alone, because now we have to find another enemy.”

“The enemy always drove the story,” says Marilu Menendez, a Cuban exile and branding expert who now lives in New York. “It justified all of [Fidel’s] excesses.”

Even before Obama left the island, Fidel let it be known that that he took a dim view of the visit. Just days after Air Force One departed, an article appeared in the state-run Tribuna de la Habana that accused Obama of lording over a racist country and “inciting rebellion” in Cuba by meeting with pro-democracy activists. Its headline, roughly translated, “Black Man, Are You Dumb?” was a firebomb. “Obama came, saw, but unfortunately, with the pretend gesture of lending a hand, tried to conquer,” wrote Elias Argudín, a government loyalist, “choos[ing] to criticize and subtly suggest … incitements to rebellion and disorder, without caring that he was on foreign ground. Without a doubt, Obama overplayed his hand. Minimally, I can say is … ‘black man, are you dumb?’”

Following a wave of blowback, Argudín offered a quasi-apology for “causing offense,” noting that he himself was black. In a typically mysterious Cuban chess maneuver, the story was briefly deleted, then reposted on the paper’s website, while running in the print edition.

The column was only the first public salvo from hard-liners signaling their distress over the American president’s visit. A few days later, Fidel himself published a searing 1,500-word public letter, a full-throated denunciation of the visit and, by implication, Raul, who had hosted it. Entitled “Brother Obama,” it ran on Page 1 of Granma. Obama’s grand speech (which had begun with a famous line from the beatified patriot José Martí) was derided by Fidel as “honey-coated”—merely by listening to it, he warned, Cubans “ran the risk of having a heart attack.” And then Fidel dropped the hammer: “We don’t need El Imperio—The Empire—to give us any presents!”

Though Fidel and Raul’s lives have been anchored in decades of sibling love, collaboration and feuding, Fidel must have known, or quickly learned, that his public harpooning had gone just a bit too far. And so on April 8, a week before the highly anticipated Congress, Fidel made another unusual outing from his home. Wearing a white blousy sports jacket with a black wool scarf tied around his neck, Castro, aided by a cane, spoke briefly at the school named for his late sister-in-law, Vilma Espín.

Espín had been Raul’s wife and compañera in the Revolution from the early 1950s, and had served as Cuba’s de facto first lady. But when she died in 2007, Fidel did not attend her funeral. His own illness served as a reasonable excuse, but as one former Cuban official told me in Havana, none of Fidel’s family—neither his children nor his wife, Dalia—attended either. The snub deeply disappointed the family-centric Raul, who also serves as the Castro clan’s patriarch. Since then, the official said, Raul typically has a weekly family dinner, not with Fidel’s brood, but with his in-laws, the Espíns.

So it was impossible not to interpret Fidel’s tribute as a peace offering to Raul, in advance of the Congress, where it was imperative that the brothers present a unified front. “I’m sure that on a day like today, Vilma would be happy,” Fidel intoned to the schoolchildren in his weakened voice.

Vicki Huddleston, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, said the brothers knew they needed to project unity. “They do not want it to appear that there are divisions,” she said. Veteran Cuba negotiator and U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, suggested that the brothers’ brinkmanship was sometimes simply ritual role-playing—a kind of “good cop-bad cop within the Castro family.”

***

The dynamic between the Brothers Castro is of great import to Cubans, of course, and also determines what issues they allow on the table with American negotiators, and at what pace they are willing to address them.

On many issues the brothers are genuinely in lockstep, such as ending the U.S. embargo. While Cuba relentlessly hammers on about “el bloqueo”—the blockade, the hyperbolic term it uses for the embargo—its current prohibitions have been whittled down to a fraction of what they once were. Through executive actions, the Obama administration has lifted an array of trade and investment restrictions. Completely normalized trade and banking will have to wait for Congress to rescind the embargo officially, but whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins, the Cubans think they will have the requisite votes in Congress to get it done. With GOP Senators Jeff Flake and Rand Paul leading the charge, they expect a vote to come at some point in 2017. But until then, the embargo continues to be useful propaganda about the bully “Empire” to the north.

The embargo can be seen as Cuba’s short game. The longer game is Guantánamo—the territory, not the prison. Even more than the embargo, this 45 square miles of Cuba’s easternmost province has long served as Exhibit A of the crushing foot of El Imperio. As Raul reminded Obama on Day Two of his visit: “It will also be necessary to return the territory illegally occupied by Guantánamo Naval Base.”

While the prisoners held in Gitmo are the issue attracting global attention, for Cuba, they’re simply helpful propaganda in its quest to get its land back. America does have a lease, a 1903 deal stipulating that Guantánamo and its deep-water harbors be used as a “coaling station.” (The rent is $4,085 annually, and the Castros proudly boast that they never cashed a rent check—although they did cash one in 1959.) Cuba now argues that America’s current use of the land is in violation of its lease. “If this was a straight-up landlord-tenant law, the landlord would kick your butt right out,” says Jose Pertierra, a Cuban-born lawyer who shuttles between Havana and Washington.

A former Cuban diplomat told me he expects the Gitmo crusade to get louder and more insistent going forward. “We don’t really care about the prison,” he said, “but [the government] is going to politicize it as a human-rights violation [and] a breach of the lease.” In Havana, I asked Ben Rhodes if the Cubans had put Gitmo on the table as a chip. “There are never discussions in which Guantánamo does not come up,” he answered.

As talks between the countries haltingly advance, it is on domestic economic and political issues where the internal Cuban factions part company. In the 1990s, with the collapse of their Soviet patron, Raul began to see Cuba’s future very differently than his older brother. Raul had studied and visited China and Vietnam, and he liked what he saw: economic powerhouses fueled by competitive capitalism but all under the steely control of the Communist Party.

Fidel, on the other hand, mistrusted any version of capitalism, however dressed up as socialist entrepreneurism. He had railed against perestroika and glasnost and repeatedly warned Mikhail Gorbachev it would be the beginning of the end. (And indeed, it was the end of the Soviets’ billion-dollar patronage of Cuba.)

Unlike his brother, Raul has acknowledged cracks in the pillars of Cuba’s 65-year-old political system; insiders consider them serious. “There is no more discipline within the traditional ranks,” a retired government official told me. “No one wants to belong to the CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the neighborhood snitch organs]. No one feels they have to belong to the Communist Party.” He added: “Five years ago, if you didn’t belong to the CDR or the Party, you weren’t going to get a promotion or could get in trouble. But there is no more fear about it.”

Likewise, such bastions of the Revolution as the Federation of Women, the Workers Union, and the Young Communists League are losing members, I was told. All these organs that have buttressed the Revolution are in decline, losing momentum as membership oozes away. “Everybody’s looking down the road about how to be an entrepreneur or a capitalist,” said a man who has turned his home into a casa particular.

For the past two years, Raul has been beseeching allies and trading partners—Russia and much of Europe—to forgive loans and debts incurred over decades, an estimated $51.5 billion, according to Emilio Morales of the Havana Consulting Group. (That figure that doesn’t even include debts owed to Venezuela and Brazil.)

And there is a relatively new reality on the island: corruption. “It’s a daily event,” he said. “If you have money, there’s nothing you cannot get,” then lowering his voice, “even a visa to leave Cuba.“

While Fidel may choose to turn a blind eye to the domestic woes of his country, he is keenly attuned to the fact that there are larger, inexorable forces at work. The Southern Hemisphere is plainly drifting away from Cuba. In 2006, as he lay gravely ill, Fidel could gaze out at Latin America—populated by Lula in Brazil, Evo in Bolivia, the Kirschners in Argentina and his adoring student and patron, Hugo Chavez—and rest serene that fidelismo and Cuba’s future were secure. If Fidel had died that year, as he has said he very nearly did, he would have been one satisfied soul.

But 10 years later, he has lived to confront a radically different picture. Cuba has lost all its patrons, except for the dramatically reduced oil shipments from Venezuela. Both Russia and China have set limits on their future largesse. Meanwhile, the U.S. rapprochement is making it inescapably clear that Cuba’s economic salvation lies, once again, as it did in the first half of the 20th century, in American investment and tourism—meaning ever-deepening ties to Fidel’s lifelong bête noire, the U.S.

So despite the rhetorical saber-rattling, and the alternating star turns of Raul and Fidel, Cuba is going through the only door that, for now, is open: Making friends with Uncle Sam. With no fanfare or pronouncements, U.S. and Cuban negotiators met recently and laid out an agenda for meetings well into the next year covering property claims, trade, environmental concerns and cooperation on narcotics.

In late May, the Cuban government announced that small and medium-size businesses would be legalized. The Party Congress may have repudiated change, but change is happening nonetheless.

Most crucially, there is the daily bonanza of ever-multiplying dollars from U.S. tourism. “More than 94,000 Americans have visited Cuba from Jan-Apr 2016,” proudly tweeted Josefina Vidal, a Cuban official who heads the U.S. division of the Foreign Ministry in May, “a 93% increase with respect to same period 2015.”

Leonardo Padura, Cuba’s most famous living writer, recently tried to explain his country’s contradictions. “If you say [Cuba] is a communist hell or a socialist paradise, you’re missing all the nuances,” he told EFE, the Spanish news agency. “Cuba is a society that apparently has not changed, but it really has.”

That assessment could apply just as well to Raul. Both a “reformer” and a “historico” by definition and personal loyalty—having fought alongside Fidel since 1952 and, since 1959, having run the Cuban Army, the country’s most powerful political organ—Raul has evolved into a pragmatist of necessity over the past 25 years. At the same time, Fidel has doubled down his resolve to resist reform. And like Cuba, the relationship between the deeply bonded brothers apparently has not changed, but it really has.

At his birthday last week, when Raul was toasted by family and friends after hosting a Caribbean summit, there was much to celebrate—replete with historical ironies. Fidel may have rescued Cuba from the clutches of the U.S., but it is Raul who is rescuing Cuba from Fidel.

Ann Louise Bardach is the author of Cuba Confidential (2002) and Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington (2009), as well as the editor of The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro and Cuba: A Travelers Literary Companion. She interviewed Fidel Castro in 1993 and 1994 and met Raúl Castro in 1994.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GRANMA, OFFICIAL RECORD OF THE SEVENTH CONGRESS OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA.

GRANMA, EDICIÓN ESPECIAL, SÁBADO, 14, M AYO 2016

“El desarrollo de la economía nacional, junto a la lucha por la paz y la firmeza ideológica, constituyen las principales misiones del Partido”

The complete document in a PDF File is here: GRANMA, EDICIÓN ESPECIAL, SÁBADO, 14, M AYO 2016

Or Here: http://www.granma.cu/file/pdf/gaceta/congreso%20pcc.pdf

zzzzazazazzaa

zaaza

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Economist: “FIDEL’S LAST STAND”

The Economist, April 29, 2016

Original Article: Fidel’s Last Stand

WHEN Fidel Castro made a brief appearance at the Cuban Communist Party’s seventh congress on April 19th he was greeted with prolonged applause. “Well, let’s move to another subject,” he eventually said, his stentorian voice distorted by age. It was a joke. But he might as well have been turning the page on the historic visit to Havana by Barack Obama in March and the expectations it generated among Cubans of speedy changes. Having reminded his audience that he would soon turn 90 and that death comes to all, Fidel went on: “The ideas of Cuban communists will endure.”

No serious student of Cuba imagined that Mr Obama’s visit and his televised call for free elections would prompt overnight change. But the party congress proved to be a disappointment even by the cautious standards of the reforms that Raúl Castro, Fidel’s slightly younger brother, has set in train since he took over as president in 2008.

The stasis was symbolised by the retention as second party secretary (behind only Raúl) of José Ramón Machado Ventura, an 85-year-old Stalinist ideological enforcer. Even officials had hinted that his powerful post might be passed to Miguel Díaz-Canel (56), the vice-president and Raúl’s putative successor as president in 2018. Five new, youngish members joined the politburo, but none is known to be a reformer. Earlier hopes in Havana that the congress might approve an electoral reform and a bigger role for the rubber-stamp parliament were dashed.

Raúl Castro devoted part of his opening report to the congress to answering Mr Obama. Complaining of a “perverse strategy of political-ideological subversion”—a reference to Mr Obama’s call for the empowerment of Cuba’s small businesses and incipient civil society—Raúl told the delegates that “we must reinforce anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist culture among ourselves.” As for free elections, he twice insisted: “If they manage some day to fragment us, it would be the beginning of the end…of the revolution, socialism and national independence.”

He insisted that the “updating” of Cuba’s economy, to give a bigger role to the non-state sector and remove distortions and subsidies, would continue “without haste but without pause”. In fact, the reforms have all but halted: of the 313 “guidelines” approved at the previous congress in 2011, only 21% have been fully implemented. The government recently reintroduced price caps on some foodstuffs.

Days before the congress Omar Everleny Pérez, the most prominent of the reformist economists advising Raúl, was sacked from his post at the University of Havana. His alleged fault had been to share information with American academics. Mr Pérez has often called for the reforms to go faster.

One hypothesis is that Raúl can afford to move more slowly because of the injection of dollars from Mr Obama’s loosening of restrictions on tourism, remittances and investment. That may be true in the short term. But Raúl himself offered a withering critique of Cuba’s underlying problems, criticising “out-of-date mentalities”, “a complete lack of a sense of urgency” in implementing change and the “damaging effects of egalitarianism” in failing to reward work or initiative. He lamented the economy’s inability to raise wages, which “are still unable to satisfy the basic needs of Cuban families”.

So what explains Raúl’s caution? He said that he had joked with American officials that “If we were to have two parties in Cuba, Fidel would head one and I the other.” Joking apart, that rings true. Many of the Communist Party’s 670,000 members are terrified of change, fearing the loss of security, perks and privileges. They see Mr Obama’s opening to Cuba as an existential threat. Fidel is their reference point. He acts as a brake on reform.

What Raúl, in his neat and tidy way, is doing is to institutionalise the Cuban system, which long depended on Fidel’s whims. He has set out a gradual process of transition to a post-Castro leadership. He is no liberal democrat: he praises the balance between state planning and the market in China and Vietnam. He has initiated both a “conceptualisation” of Cuba’s socioeconomic model and a revision of the constitution to incorporate his reforms. These will be the Castro brothers’ political testament.

But Raúl, unlike Fidel, is a realist. He knows that the system does not work and that the steps he has taken, especially the opening to the United States, have unleashed expectations of change and a better standard of living. Cuban society is evolving fast, even as the political leadership remains as stodgy as a government-supplied lunch. In the medium term, something will have to give.

zzz20160319_woc510_4

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

UPDATING THE PARTY: CUBA’S NEW (AND NOT SO NEW) LEADERS

Original Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-m-leogrande/updating-the-party-cubas_b_9766014.html

By William M. LeoGrande, Professor, American University in Washington, D.C.

Huffington Post, April 24, 2016

Alluding to his own mortality, Fidel Castro told the delegates to the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party he founded that this would probably be his last speech to such a gathering. When the members of the new Central Committee were announced the following day, Fidel was not among them. Generational succession is high on the agenda of Cuba’s leadership, still dominated at the highest level by “los historicos“ — the generation that fought together against the Batista dictatorship and founded the revolutionary regime.

At the previous Party Congress in 2011, Raúl Castro emphasized the need to build a contingent of experienced young men and women for the inevitable succession. To ease out the old guard, he introduced term limits for top government and party positions — no more than two five-year terms — and pledged to abide by the limit himself by stepping down as president in 2018.

At the Congress this month, Raúl reiterated the importance of rejuvenating the party. An aged leadership was “never positive,” he said, reminding listeners that three leaders of the Soviet Communist Party died within months of one another a few years before it collapsed. Henceforth, Castro proposed, 60 would be the maximum age for admission to the Central Committee, and 70 would be the maximum age for assuming any leadership position. Nevertheless, renovating the leadership will involve a “five-year period of transition to avoid doing things in haste,” Castro explained, echoing his watchword for updating the economy: “without haste, but without pause.”

The blend of old and young was visible in the new Political Bureau. Only two of the fourteen members in the old body were dropped — General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, who retired as minister of the Interior in October 2015 because of ill-health, and Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez, who was removed as Minister of Economy and Planning in 2014. José Ramón Machado Ventura, the architect of the party apparatus over preceding decades, retained his post as second secretary despite the fact that he is widely seen as a conservative, skeptical of economic reform. In 2013, Machado stepped down as first vice-president of the Council of State, replaced by heir apparent Miguel Díaz-Canel. Machado’s retention as party second secretary suggests that Raúl Castro is intent on maintaining unity at the top — despite differences in opinion — as the party navigates the politically treacherous waters of economic change.

Five new young members were added and their professions signal the issues the leadership sees as critical going forward. Three are technocrats: one is minister of Health, one works in biotechnology, and one works in information technology — all high value-added fields that Cuba hopes will form the foundation for its 21st Century economy. The other two new members are the leaders of the trade union federation and the women’s federation, organizations that, between them, comprise almost all Cuban adults. The inclusion of these two leaders speaks to the party’s need to keep ears to the ground for early warning signs of grassroots discontent unleashed by the economic reforms. y   yy The composition of the new Central Committee also suggests how the leadership is preparing its team for the future. Twenty-five percent of the old committee was dropped, but the membership was expanded from 116 to 142 to accommodate the addition of 55 younger members, all below the age of 60, bringing the average age of the body down to 54.5 — younger than the committee elected in 2011. The new committee is also 44.4% women, up from 41.7% in 2011 and just 13.3% in 1997; and 35.9% Afro-Cuba, up from 31.3% in 2011 and just 10.0% in 1997.

The Central Committee of the party represents an extended leadership group, the members of which typically hold other important posts in various state institutions. The relative bureaucratic influence of those institutions can be seen in the Central Committee’s changing composition. The biggest increase in representation in the new committee is for government officials working in economic and scientific fields (Table 1). They represent 23.2% of the new Central Committee, up from just 19.8% in the 2011 committee. Presumably, these people are more technocratically minded, and more likely to support economic reform. Representation of the party apparatus increased only slightly, to 32.4% of the committee, up from 31.0% in 2011.

Contrary to pundits who insist that the Cuban regime is really run by the military, the armed forces and police were the big losers in the renovation of the Central Committee. Even though the committee expanded from 116 to 142 members, the number of military and security officials fell in absolute terms. They comprise just 9.2% of the membership, down from 13.8% in 2011. Moreover, the long term trend in the number of active duty military and security officials in the Central Committee has been downward ever since 1965 (Figure).

Fidel Castro wasn’t the only prominent Castro not included in the new Central Committee. Neither Raúl’s son, Col. Alejandro Castro, who negotiated the December 17 agreement to normalize relations with the United States, nor Raúl’s daughter, LGBT activist Mariela Castro, were included. Their absence was, no doubt, a disappointment to opponents of the U.S. opening to Cuba who have been predicting that Alejandro would succeed his father, thereby consolidating a Castro family dynasty — North Korea in the Caribbean.

The new Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party reflects the priorities and style of its First Secretary. The party itself maintains the leading role, but the committee has a more technocratic tilt, positioning it for the complex economic tasks ahead. It combines a large new cohort of younger members, while retaining a core of experienced elders to smooth the generational transition. The increased representation of women and Afro-Cubans reflects their important role in society and politics, connecting the party to these key constituencies. In short, the new leadership exemplifies a party updating itself for the future without renouncing its past. yyy yyyyy yyyyyy

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

CUBA’S AGING LEADERS TO REMAIN IN POWER YEARS LONGER

zzqqFidel Castro is applauded by his brother, Cuba’s President Raul Castro, right, and the second secretary of the Central Committee, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, left, during the closing ceremonies for the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 19, 2016.)

By Michael Weissenstein | AP April 20, 2016

Original article: Cuba’s Gerontocracy Continues

 HAVANA — The former guerrilla fighters who founded Cuba’s single-party government will hold power for years to come after a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress kept President Raul Castro and his hardline deputy in the top leadership positions.

Fidel Castro, who held power for nearly five decades before ill health led him to make way for his brother, delivered a valedictory speech to the congress Tuesday and called on it to fight for his communist ideals despite the fact that he is nearing the end of his life.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro said in his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them.”

Raul Castro, 84, said he would remain the party’s first secretary and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 85, would hold the post of second secretary for at least part of a second five-year term.

Castro currently is both president and party first secretary. The decision means he could hold a Communist Party position at least as powerful as the presidency even after he is presumably replaced by a younger president in 2018. Castro indicated that he and Machado may also step down before the next congress in 2021, saying this year’s session was the last to be led by Cuba’s revolutionary generation.

Machado Ventura, who fought alongside the Castro brothers to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, is known as an enforcer of Communist Party orthodoxy and voice against some of the biggest recent economic reforms.

Despite the ascension of five younger party officials, including three women, to the party’s powerful 17-member Political Bureau, the day’s events disappointed many Cubans who had been hoping for bigger changes at the top of the single-party state.

“I would have liked younger people with fresh minds,” said Luis Lai, a 31-year-old printing-company worker. “The same party, but able to articulate ideas of people of my generation. Older people should retire.”

Fifty-five years after Fidel Castro began installing a single-party system and centrally planned economy, younger Cubans complain bitterly about low state salaries of about $25 a month that leave them struggling to afford food and other staple goods. Cuba’s creaky state-run media and cultural institutions compete with flashy foreign programming shared online and on memory drives passed hand-to-hand. Emigration to the United States and other countries has soared to one of its highest points since the revolution.

Limited openings to private enterprise have stalled, and the government describes capitalism as a threat even as it appears unable to increase productivity in Cuba’s inefficient, theft-plagued networks of state-run enterprises.

The ideological gulf between government and people widened last month when President Barack Obama became the first U.S. leader to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. He gave a widely praised speech live on state television urging Cubans to forget the history of hostility between the U.S. and Cuba and move toward a new era of normal diplomatic and economic relations.

The Cuban government offered little unified response until the Communist Party’s Seventh Party Congress began Saturday, and one high-ranking official after another warned that the U.S. was still an enemy that wants to take control of Cuba. They said Obama’s trip represented an ideological “attack.”

Shortly after the congress ended, government-run television showed rare images of 89-year-old Fidel Castro seated at the dais in Havana’s Convention Palace, dressed in a plaid shirt and sweat top and speaking to the crowd in a strong if occasionally trembling voice. State television showed at least one delegate tearful with emotion, and the crowd greeting the revolutionary leader with shouts of “Fidel!”

“This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” Fidel Castro said. “We must tell our brothers in Latin America and the world that the Cuban people will be victorious.”

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

ARTÍCULO DE FIDEL, “EL HERMANO OBAMA”

No necesitamos que el imperio nos regale nada. Nuestros esfuerzos serán legales y pacíficos, porque es nuestro compromiso con la paz y la fraternidad de todos los seres humanos que vivimos en este planeta

28 de marzo de 2016

Granma 30 de marzo de 2016

Articulo original y completo: ARTÍCULO DE FIDEL

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

RIGHT AND LEFT, FROM A CUBAN PERSPECTIVE

Juan Antonio Blanco | Diario de Cuba | 2 Mar 2016

Original Article: Right and Left, from a Cuban Perspective

 zraulfamily28216iRaúl Castro, accompanied by a son and grandson. (Diario de Cuba)

From Havana I get an email seeking to address the challenges facing the country applying the binary axis of “Left” and “Right.” I imagine that two factors lead to this interest. One is an incipient ebb in regional populism. Another is the congress in April of the island’s only legal party – the same one that imposes on Cuba these dubious semantics and focus, exercising a monopoly over all State institutions.

But the language of the Jacobins and Girondins from the 18th century does not allow us to understand what is happening in the 21st century, in any geographical region.

The dilemmas facing humanity today cannot be solved applying the outmoded concepts of Left and Right. Neither do the labels of socialism or capitalism apply. As I stated in Tercer Milenio (Havana, 1993) what we are experiencing today is a change of eras, not an era of changes. This period is characterized by the rapid obsolescence of all that we knew. As Moisés Naim recently reminded us, everything is now extraordinary. From the fall of the USSR and the Eastern bloc, to Kodak being sunk by Instagram, and taxis by Uber.

Discussing the future of Cuba – or of any country – based on the conceptual coordinates of the last century is a futile and even dangerous exercise.  It is not possible to address and resolve these current challenges if they are not designated lucidly.

Cuba today is simply a poor country, disconnected from global processes; with a dreadful physical, communications and financial infrastructure; two decades behind in the acquisition of reliable and fast internet connections; public services (health, education, transport, water, electricity, sewage), whose quality is plummeting; degraded land, and the lowest wages in the hemisphere. It is also a closed society, where there is no basic freedom to exercise the right to free expression, association, movement, the forming of unions, or political choice, such that citizens have no way to peacefully alter this sorry state of affairs and achieve prosperity.

The policies that could resolve this mess are not socialist or capitalist, but rather good or bad, efficient or inefficient. Those in force today are terrible and counterproductive.

Revolution? The “Cuban Revolution” was already being quashed even as forces were fighting Batista, when a group of totalitarians yearning for a caudillo began to plot how to liquidate their comrades after their victory. Talking about this in 2016 is a big scam. What exists in Cuba is a totalitarian regime in the hands of a family, a clan.

Sovereignty? How can one uphold it in the 21st century to oppose citizens’ civil rights when Cuban society as a whole is deprived of the right to self-determination?

Nationalism? It is difficult to defend the government’s administration based on this outdated concept, nurtured in the late 18th century, when Havana prefers to negotiate with foreign powers and refuses to even dialogue with its own citizens.

I do not share the idea that the “bureaucracy” is the Big Culprit. Power in Cuba is held by two families with the same surname: Castro. Around them is a select military cadre. Together they constitute a permanent elite wielding power. Below them is a bureaucracy that serves only to “manage” their interests, not to make key decisions that benefit the country.

Lage, Robaina —and Díaz Canel today— were never members of the governing elite. They are simply CEOs, always expendable. Cuba’s real owners exercise their privileges as if the island were a private company registered under the trade name “Cuban Revolution.” They attach to this corporate appellation a series of qualifiers —”progressive,” “leftist,” “anti-capitalist” and others— which only serve to distract from reality.

I laugh when I think about Bernie Sanders and Podemos speaking, terrified, of a casta that represents 0.1% of the population but owns more than half of the economy. In this regard, as in others related to human rights, they suffer from a severe moral hemiplegia by selecting the victims they prefer to “defend.” When the offender is in their political camp, they choose to look the other way. In Cuba some 100 people rule the roost, lording it over the rest of the island. What percentage do they represent in relation to the 11.5 million citizens on the island, and the other two million off it?

Invoking the abstraction “state ownership of the means of production,” the “shareholders” of this dubious corporation, and the family presiding over it, claim permanent and unlimited exploitation rights over Cuba, not even needing to be the formal owners of work or recreational facilities, or real estate. They also have unlimited powers to do whatever they please vis-a-vis all other Cubans. The demand for freedom and human rights is the only solution that goes to the heart of the problem.

Modernity died in the ovens of Auschwitz. Absolute respect for the sovereignty of Germany allowed Hitler’s government, first, to deprive citizens of their freedoms and rights, and, then, under the shadow of a closed society, to undertake a forbidden process of rearmament. The Soviets and the Cuban government were able to secretly install nuclear missiles on the island because there existed no basic freedoms to denounce that operation in time. The Khmer Rouge initiated a national genocide —which rendered any dissent impossible, even within the party— and then turned on its former ally and neighbor: Vietnam. Hanoi, incidentally, did not hesitate to adopt a policy of “regime change” to install, at gun-point, a government that would be friendly to it in Cambodia.

The human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of 1948 take as their reference point those adopted by the French Revolution, but with a substantial difference: thereafter it was established that such rights were not just a national affair, but a good that was to be protected by the international community. It is not a question of moralizing. Respect for these rights is vital for international stability and security. The signers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various international agreements for the protection of citizens’ rights have recognized that their sovereignty in this regard has limits.

Without freedoms and rights Cuban society will be neither socialist or capitalist, left-wing nor right-wing, but rather remain a sort of disastrously managed private Estate, employing slave labor. And a country whose owners can again pose a serious danger to their neighbors.

This, I think, is what we need to talk about.

zCaptureJuan Antonio Blanco Gil

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment