IF IT WERE JUST THE MARABÚ . . .CUBA'S AGRICULTURE 2009-10G.B. Hagelberg
"We face the imperative of making our land produce more . . . the needed structural and conceptual changes will have to be introduced," Raúl Castro famously proclaimed on 26 July 2007, a few days short of a year after provisionally taking over the reins of Cuba's government from his incapacitated older brother. Nine months later, now formally confirmed in power by the National Assembly, he told a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party on 28 April 2008 that food production had to be their top concern as a matter of the highest national security.
In countries otherwise so very diverse as the United States, Russia and Nigeria, Germany, Iran and the Dominican Republic, Sweden, Brazil and Honduras, the four years that Raúl Castro has de facto presided over Cuba would constitute a full term of office, towards the end of which supporters and opponents of an administration argue over its record during a general election campaign. While Cuba's one-party regime marches to the beat of a different drummer, its people – like people across the world – respond to the thrice-daily call of their stomachs. Cuba is no exception to the applicability of the time dimension in politics and economics, and the passage of time is a necessary yardstick for judging this government's effectiveness.
What brought the food situation to the fore of the government's agenda were the ballooning cost of food imports and an alarming deterioration of the food export-import balance pressing on the merchandise trade balance, now that foreign exchange earnings from sugar exports no longer offset outgoings for other agricultural products. Other countries also felt the impact of sharply increased international commodity prices in 2007-08. Cuba's government, however, could not blame soulless world markets alone if people did not have enough to eat. The downsizing of the sugar industry – more demolition than restructuring – had engendered hundreds of thousands of hectares of idle land, on which dense thickets of marabú (Dichrostachys cinerea) bore highly visible evidence of the state's mismanagement of the island's resources. Fifteen years or so into the "Special Period in Time of Peace" that began with the end of Soviet-bloc supports for the Cuban economy, the government was faced with the specter of a return to the drop in food availabilities, if not the nutritional deficits, experienced in the first half of the 1990s – a double dip in current economic recession parlance.
So what has the government done in the farm sector in the four years of Raúl Castro's stewardship?• Debts amounting to tens of millions of pesos owed by state agencies to cooperative and independent farmers have been paid. However, the revelation that barely had the old debts been settled when new debts began to accumulate (Varela Pérez, 2009a) undermined claims that the deficiencies which allowed such arrears to arise had been eliminated (cf. Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2007).• A reorganization of the agriculture ministry begun in 2007 reportedly resulted in the closure of 83 state enterprises and the transformation of 473 loss-making units, with 7,316 workers transferred to other jobs. Analysis of 17 enterprises selected in a second stage showed the possibility of more than halving the number of employees in management. Overall, the ministry counted some 89,000 "unproductive" workers in the state sector – not including Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs), undertakings that "after many ups and downs and ambiguities have still not fulfilled the mission for which they were created" (Varela Pérez, 2009b). More recently, agriculture minister Ulises Rosales del Toro stated that more than 40,000 "indirect workers" in the sector had to be relocated (Pérez Cabrera, 2010).• Controls formerly exercised directly by the agriculture ministry from Havana have been shifted down to municipal level. To what extent this actually reduced the bureaucratic apparatus and made life easier for producers is uncertain. The Cuban economist Armando Nova Gonzàlez expressed doubt, arguing that the functions of government and of business management were still being confused: while one structural level had been eliminated, two had been created by introducing a chain of service enterprises to supply production inputs. That was all very well, but how were the producers to acquire the inputs? Through a market, or, as hitherto, by central allocation, which for years had been shown not to be the best way? (Martín González, 2009)• Shops selling hand tools and supplies for convertible pesos (CUC) have been opened in some municipalities. The degree to which this has created direct access to production inputs has so far been limited by the small number of such outlets and the range of goods on offer. Some fraction of farmer income from produce sold to the state and otherwise is also denominated in CUC. But for the acquisition of larger items and bulk quantities, bank loans in that currency would have to become available (Nova González, 2008).• Sharply increased state procurement prices – some, notably for milk and beef, to double and more their former level – have, by all accounts, been an incentive to raise output.But these measures did not amount to structural or conceptual changes, though they could awaken hopes that those would come.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
At the end of the first four years of Raúl Castro's watch, the one structural change worthy of the name in agriculture is the mass grant in usufruct of idle state land, mainly to small farmers and landless persons. Although these transfers are surrounded by conditions, Decree-Law No. 259 of 10 July 2008 is deeply revisionist in concept since it implies – more clearly than the conversion of state farms into UBPCs in 1993 – the abandonment of the long-held doctrine of the superiority of state or parastatal, large-scale, mechanized agriculture reliant on wage labor, of which Fidel Castro had been the foremost exponent in Cuba. Over the signature of Raúl Castro as President of the Council of State, it was decreed that landless individuals could obtain up to 13.42 hectares and existing landholders could bring their total area up to 40.26 hectares under licenses valid for up to 10 years and successively renewable for the same period. Existing state farms, cooperatives and other legal entities could apply for the usufruct of an unlimited area for 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.
No detailed statistics of operations under Decree-Law No. 259 seem to have been published since mid-2009 (González, 2009), cited in Hagelberg and Alvarez (2009). The information on land areas by type and tenancy in the most recent yearbook of Cuba's National Office of Statistics stops at 2007 (ONE, 2010, Table 9.1). Different global figures can be found in media reports. Raúl Castro informed the National Assembly towards the end of 2009 that around 920,000 hectares had been transferred to more than 100,000 beneficiaries, which represented 54% of the total idle area (Granma, 21 December 2009). This would put the magnitude of the total idle area at the outset at 1.7 million hectares. Almost five months later, Marino Murillo Jorge, minister of economy and planning, gave the congress of the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP), the national association of small farmers, the same figure of 920,000 hectares as the land transferred under Decree-Law No. 259, adding that around half of the areas so assigned remained idle or insufficiently exploited (Granma, 17 May 2010).
From the second half of 2009 onwards, the reportorial focus in the state-controlled mass media has shifted noticeably from implementation of Decree-Law No. 259 to advancing a so-called Agricultura Suburbana program. Raúl Castro gave the cue in a speech to the summer 2009 session of the National Assembly (Granma, 3 August 2009):Let us forget tractors and fuel in this program, even if we had them in sufficient quantities; the concept is to execute it basically with oxen, because it is about small farms, as a growing number of producers are doing with excellent results. I have visited some and could verify that they have transformed the land they are working into true gardens where every inch of ground is used.
Raúl Castro entrusted this new initiative specifically to Adolfo Rodríguez Nodals, the head of the National Group of Urban Agriculture (since renamed National Group of Urban and Suburban Agriculture) in the agriculture ministry. The group, he declared, "has obtained outstanding results in urban agriculture, fruit of the exactingness and systemacity expressed in the four controls that it carries out annually in all the provinces and municipalities of the country" (Granma, 3 August 2009). This suggests that Raúl Castro still prized centralized control over operational functionality, evidently unconscious of the fact that it is wholly unsuitable for the management of small-scale mixed farming.
While the idea of the Agricultura Suburbana plan may indeed have come from the experience of the Agricultura Urbana program created in the 1990s (Rodríguez Castellón, 2003) and shares some of its policy objectives and features, such as high labor intensity, the two schemes are as distinct as town and country, horticulture and agriculture. Agricultura Urbana rests, in the main, on patios (domestic gardens), plots (empty lots planted to vegetables) and so-called organopónicos – low-walled beds filled with soil and organic matter, with or without drip irrigation, in the open air or in shade houses, their high-tech name derived from hydroponic installations that could not be maintained after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The system, now reportedly embracing around 10,500 organopónicos alone and occupying more than 300,000 workers (Luben Pérez, 2010), no doubt contributes substantially to the food supply and has other advantages. Equally, Rodríguez Nodals's group undoubtedly fulfills some useful functions by providing advice and facilitating access to supplies in other countries easily available. Its face to the wider public, however, consists of tedious reports of its quarterly inspections and the grades it bestows on its charges, rather in the manner of an elementary school teacher (e.g. Varela Pérez, 2010h).
In contrast, the basic structural model of Agricultura Suburbana is the finca, a small farm, most often in private hands, located in an eight-kilometer-deep ring between two and ten kilometers from urban centers. The plan is being rolled out in stages stretching over five years, some selected municipalities at a time. Its declared objective is to source the food supply of population concentrations as far as possible from nearby crop and livestock producers primarily reliant on animal power for field work as well as transport. Around the city of Camagüey, the test ground for the project, it is ultimately to comprise some 1,400 units with a total area of roughly 65,000 hectares, 80% of which is agricultural land, the greater part devoted to cattle (Hernández Porto, 2009; Carrobello, 2010; Frank, 2010). Introduced as an experiment in 18 municipalities at the beginning of 2010, the program would be progressively extended to some 600,000 hectares across the whole country, according to ANAP president Orlando Lugo Fonte (Bosch, 2010).
The emphasis put on narrowing the distance beween producer and purchaser – distributor, processor or final consumer, on employing animals in place of internal combustion engines in field work and haulage, and on using compost instead of inorganic fertilizers shows that the Agricultura Suburbana program, like the government's other major agricultural policy initiatives in the last 20 years from the creation of the UBPCs to Decree-Law No. 259, is inspired above all by the need to reduce Cuba's dependence on imports, both food and production inputs, at a time of extreme economic stress. To go by the official propaganda, were Agricultura Suburbana enterprises to be characterized by a logo, it would have to feature a pair of oxen. Hence it is disconcerting to find that Cuba's stock of draught oxen appears to have shrunk by a quarter from 377,100 to 284,700 between 2004 and 2009, in contrast to a growing equine population (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.15 and 9.24). If ONE's figures are right, the question can reasonably be asked: do the policymakers in Havana know what goes on down on the farm?
Regardless of whether it offers a perspective of more than a semi-subsistence agriculture, the shortage of material resources to back up the effort to return swathes of mostly marabú-infested land to production under Decree-Law No. 259 favored the more measured approach of the Agricultura Suburbana program. The authorities were admittedly overwhelmed by the flood of requests for plots triggered by Decree-Law No. 259 (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009a). Within barely more than a month of opening the door to submissions in the autumn of 2008, some 69,000 applications were received – 98% of them from individuals and 79% of these from persons without land – according to official figures (Nova González, 2008). Another month of so later and the number of applicants had swelled to some 117,000 (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009a). Was the notorious Cuban dislike for agricultural work another myth? If a fan of the Beatles, Raúl Castro may well have been reminded of the lyrics of Eleanor Rigby: "All the lonely people / Where do they all come from? / All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?" Declaring the distribution of idle land in usufruct one of the great challenges for the coming year, he rather optimistically told an interviewer on the last day of 2008: "We have already put behind us the first, initial obstacles we encountered because of atavistic bureaucratic habits" (González Pérez, 2009).
In fact, many successful applicants found that what they had signed up for was, as the trade union organ Trabajadores recalled later, hacer de tripas, corazón – summon up the guts to root out the marabú, "most often without the necessary tools and without a gram of herbicide, by sheer spirit alone" (Rey Veitia et al, 2010). An investigation by a team of Juventud Rebelde reporters in March 2009 unearthed multiple problems – lack of hand tools, machinery and fuel, insufficient financial support, uncertainty over whether even a shelter was permitted on the plot, shortage of fencing wire, and bureaucracy – along with concern over the technical unpreparedness of people new to farming (Pérez et al, 2009). In rebuttal of purported exploitation of the issues by foreign news agencies allegedly intent on defaming Cuba, Trabajadores sought to dampen down expectations: "It would be a delusion to think . . . that any agricultural process that begins with the request for the land could bring significant productive results in only nine months . . . . Bureaucracy? Yes, it is a process that implies steps and involves various agencies" (González, 2009).
Yet similar complaints of shortages, delays, irregularities, bureaucracy, and official incompetence have resurfaced again and again (e.g. "Efectuado pleno . . .," 2009; Rey Veitia et al, 2010). The persistent bureaucracy made the front page of Granma when farmers informed José Ramón Machado Ventura, member of the Politburo and first vice president of the councils of state and of ministers, at an ANAP meeting in Havana, of the "diabolical" mechanisms holding back pigmeat production in the metropolitan area (Varela Pérez, 2010e). And Juventud Rebelde quoted an outstanding young farmer (Martín González, 2010):For some time I have been supplying eggs to a school in the community. Until now I have done it with the hens I have, but they have to be replaced because they are getting old and don't produce. When I asked for replacements, there was so much paperwork that I am still thinking about it.
LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND STATISTICS
A bane in the lives of the Cuban people, an incompetent bureaucracy constitutes a minefield for the country's leadership. In their efforts to devise agricultural reforms, Cuba's policymakers labor under a big informational handicap. The government is ill-served by its statistical apparatus. A cardinal case in point is a monograph survey of land use, released by the National Office of Statistics in May 2008, which put the idle agricultural land at 1,232,800 hectares, equal to 18.6% of all agricultural land, as of December 2007 (ONE, 2008). Presumably, this was the figure that guided the framers of Decree-Law No. 259 of 10 July 2008. The number was repeated in ONE's statistical yearbooks for 2008 and 2009 (Table 9.1), published in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and is still the most recent available from that source. However, as casually revealed in Trabajadores, it appears to have been a gross understatement: "A study of the idle state lands arrived at 1,691 thousand hectares" (González, 2009). The provenance of this study has remained unidentified, as far as is known, but a figure in the order of 1.7 million hectares is now evidently the accepted magnitude of the idle land area existent on the eve of Decree-Law No. 259.
Hagelberg and Alvarez (2009) underlined the scope for statistical manipulation offered by a metric of land utilization that allows inclusion of areas merely earmarked for a crop, as officially employed in Cuba in respect of sugarcane. Carrobello and Terrero (2009a) subsequently pointed to another possibility – there may have been no second study, merely a reclassification of categories that moved the goalposts: "But if we add [to the figure of 1,232,800 hectares] the pastures of doubtful utility, 55% of the agricultural area was not cultivated." Agricultural statistics everywhere must, by the nature of things, be granted a margin of error and should not be interpreted too closely. But this is a discrepancy of a different order. In a matter as sensitive as idle land, pollution of the statistical process by political or ideological considerations cannot be excluded. A century-old practice of maintaining grassland reserves in sugar plantations to expand the cane area when profitable to do so moreover conjures up an image of turf wars between the agriculture and sugar ministries.
However, ONE publications also contain numerous infelicities hard to ascribe to political contamination. For instance, the most recent ONE statistical yearbooks (ONE, 2009 and 2010) report tonnages of sugarcane processed in each season since 2002/03 (Table 11.3) greater than those produced for delivery to the mills in the respective season (Table 9.4). Though perhaps not on a par with the biblical miracle of the loaves and fishes, the magnification amounts to as much as 900,000 metric tons in 2002/03 (4.1%) and 800,000 tons in 2006/07 (6.7%). Examination of earlier editions of the yearbook indicates that this inconsistency began in 2002/03, the first crop following the restructuring of the industry. The technical indicators displayed in Table 11.3 – cane milled, sugar produced, yield and polarization – are a farrago of incongruities and plain error. Unusually, ONE references these solecisms to the sugar ministry, but that does not absolve it of responsibility since it is the controller of the national system of statistics and guarantor of their quality.
The question-mark hanging over ONE's integrity, competence and professionalism notwithstanding, it is for outside analysts the only source of the data necessary to present more than an anecdotal picture of Cuban agricultural performance. Accurately weighing the impact of the three major hurricanes and a tropical storm that occurred in 2008 – described as the most destructive hurricane season in Cuba's recorded history (Messina, 2009) – both on that year's output and regarding after-effects, is an additional problem. Messina noted miscellaneous reports of damage and losses in tree and arable crops, chicken and egg production, and sugar factories. But the expected high levels of loss were not reflected in the official data. Discussing the possible reasons for the lighter than anticipated losses recorded, Messina thought the most plausible explanation was that particularly in perennial and tree crops the greater part of the harvest takes place in spring and was largely completed before the hurricane season. The full impact of the 2008 weather events would therefore not become apparent until the spring harvest of 2009 and would have to be taken into account in looking at that year's figures.
Table 1 summarizes the official data on 2009 performance in the major crop and livestock categories. The information for the non-state sector is said to comprehend Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs), Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPAs), Credits and Services Cooperatives (CCSs), as well as dispersed private producers and estimates for house patios and plots (ONE, 2010, Chapter 9, Introduction). No breakdown into its components is provided in the yearbook. Given the hybrid character of the UBPCs (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009), their assignment to the non-state sector is debatable. Interestingly, they are carried on a separate government register from CPAs and CCSs (ONE, 2010, Chapter 4, "Institutional Organization," Methodological Notes). The estimates for patios and plots may also include self-provisioning patches of state enterprises, UBPCs and CPAs; but it is reasonable to suppose that the majority are in private hands. In any event, it is understandably difficult to capture the full volume of production in this category (Messina, 2009).
Table 1: Cuban food crop and livestock production, 2009
Production Change from Non-state share (%) (1000 m.t.) 2008 (%) 2008 2009
Tubers and roots 1565.6 12.4 86.6 86.1Bananas and plantains 670.4 –11.6 82.7 84.5Horticultural crops 2548.8 4.5 82.1 80.4Paddy rice 563.6 29.3 87.5 85.8Corn 304.8 –6.4 93.4 91.8Beans 110.8 14.0 97.0 94.5Citrus fruits 418.0 6.7 37.9 38.8Other fruits 748.0 1.3 92.2 90.8Deliveries for slaughter, live weight Beef 130.0 4.9 n.a. n.a. Pigs 271.0 –7.2 41.0 44.8Poultry meat 42.6 <0.5 77.8 77.9Cow milk 600.3 10.0 86.4 86.4Eggs 2426.8a 4.2 19.1 23.4
a Million units.Sources: ONE, 2010, Tables 9.9, 9.11, 9.17, 9.18, 9.20, 9.22, 9.23. Percentages calculated by the author, in the case of the non-state shares of pigs delivered for slaughter, poultry meat and eggs, indirectly by subtraction of the output of state enterprises from total production.
With the sole exception of rice, recorded 2009 outputs in the major crop lines listed in Table 1 were below – in some cases, far below – their levels in 2004, the first year shown in this edition of the yearbook. Average yields per hectare (ONE, 2010, Table 9.12) were the lowest for the six-year period 2004-2009 – except citrus fruits, in fourth place from the best, higher than expected, and other fruits, in fifth place. The record is better in livestock products, with only poultry meat not reaching the 2004 figure. Except in egg and poultry meat production (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.22 and 9.23), there are also clear signs of improved efficiency, with average beef and pig live weights at slaughter and milk yield per cow on rising trends, although still at very low levels (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.17, 9.18 and 9.20).
Not so much legacy effects of the 2008 weather as badly distributed and overall low rainfall the following year (ONE, 2010, Table 2.3) was probably at least in part responsible for lackluster 2009 crop yields, alongside of more secular factors. Messina (2009) surmised that citrus output may still be affected by the bacterial citrus greening or Huanglongbing disease, a conjecture confirmed by Varela Pérez (2010c). Growing corn in Cuba is constrained by low yields and high production costs. Some of the output swings in either direction are easily traceable to official actions on prices and resource allocation. Potato producers enjoyed priority in the supply of imported seed, fertilizer and plant chemicals. Rice and beans are focal points of the policy of import substitution. Milk production mirrors the effect of price incentives and the increase in small-scale stock farming as a result of Decree-Law No. 259, among other factors. On the other hand, the drop in the delivery of pigs for slaughter suggests a classic hog cycle farmer response of herd reduction after encountering marketing difficulties in 2008.
Unsurprisingly in an agriculture as exposed as Cuba's to governmental intervention as well as the vagaries of the weather, there is scant evidence of stabilization in domestic food production. A greatly expanded area planted was the principal factor behind a comparatively large tomato harvest, the main contributor to the smallish rise in the horticultural crop total. Memories of losses due to the inability of Acopio, the state procurement agency, and of processing plants to handle last year's tomato crop are likely to be reflected in 2010, if the large decreases in area planted and production in the first quarter, compared with the same period in 2009 (ONE, Dirección de Agropecuario, 2010) are a guide. Compared with the same period in 2009, the first three months of 2010 saw bananas and plantains up 75.1%, but tubers and roots down 9.0%; horticultural crops down 25.1%; corn up 4.9%; beans down 30.5%; paddy rice up 45.5%; citrus fruits down 21.7%; other fruits up 16.1%; live weight beef and pig deliveries for slaughter down 3.2% and 3.3% respectively; cow milk down 6.0%; and eggs down 1.1% (ONE, Dirección de Agropecuario, 2010). Unless the 2010 rainy season breaks the severe drought that began in late 2008, the government could easily find itself again between the Scylla and Charybdis of a national food crisis or a huge food import bill.
PRIVATE ENTERPRISE TO THE RESCUE OF THE STATE
If there is a clear message from the data, it is Cuba's dependence on the non-state sector – and to a greatly increased extent on the truly private part thereof – for the national food supply. The gradual 245,000-hectare (25%) expansion of the agricultural land owned or leased by private operators that took place between 1989 and 2007 (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009) was dwarfed by the structural change in land tenancy within the space of a few months by the implementation of Decree-Law No. 259.
This is too recent a development to have made an impact on the non-state shares in output shown in Table 1, most of which were already of a high order. However, it is reflected in the non-state shares in crop areas harvested and in production – in seven out of eight categories higher in 2009 than in 2008 (Table 2).
Table 2: Non-sugar food crop areas harvested and in production, 2009
Area Change from Non-state share (%) (1000 ha) 2008 (%) 2008 2009
Tubers and roots 246.0 25.4 87.8 90.8Bananas and plantains 106.4 27.2 82.7 88.8Horticultural crops 278.6 7.5 86.7 88.4 Paddy rice 215.8 38.7 88.0 87.6Corn 204.0 57.9 91.2 95.5Beans 150.6 58.0 94.9 96.3Citrus fruits 47.9 5.0 54.0 62.2Other fruits 91.7 10.4 85.6 88.1
Sources: ONE, 2010, Tables 9.6, 9.8. Percentages calculated by the author.
Overall, the total area harvested and in production of the crops listed here grew by 293,353 hectares from 1,047,559 hectares in 2008 to 1,340,912 hectares in 2009 (ONE, 2010, Table 9.6), an increase of 28.0%. The expansion of the non-state share was greater, both absolutely and relatively, amounting to 296,571 hectares from 906,981 hectares in 2008 to 1,203,552 hectares (ONE, 2010, Table 9.8) – an increase of 32.7%.
Indicative of the impaired state of Cuba's agriculture, however, is that while the 2009 areas of all these crops exceeded the previous year's, those of bananas and plantains, horticultural crops and citrus fruits had yet to recover their 2004 level. The total 2009 area of 1,340,912 hectares exceeded the corresponding figure for 2004 by just 114,279 hectares, or 9.3%.
Another measure of the enhanced role of the non-state sector – in this case excluding UBPC affiliates who are considered ineligible to belong to it – is the growth of the organization representing private farmers, although there is a confusion of numbers. Towards the end of 2009, a member of the national bureau of the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños was reported to the effect that nearly 57,000 new producers had joined the organization and that a further 3,000 new entrants were expected, with an equal growth in the membership of credits and services cooperatives (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009b). The figure of some 60,000 new farmers was subsequently confirmed by Orlando Lugo Fonte, ANAP's president (Hernández, 2010). But Lugo Fonte has also reportedly said that the small farmer sector had grown by "more than 100,000 new members" as a result of the transfer of idle lands under Decree-Law No. 259 ("Destacan potencial . . ., " 2010; Fernández, 2010). However, on the eve of the 2010 ANAP congress he spoke of 362,440 members in CPAs and CSSs, organized in 3,635 base units (Varela Pérez, 2010g). This figure would be roughly consistent with the addition of 40,000 new members to the 327,380 reported in 2005, which was the influx Lugo Fonte had initially expected in 2009 to result from Decree-Law No. 259 (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009). While a large fraction of the new producers undoubtedly had previous farming experience as agricultural laborers or technicians – the personnel made redundant by the downsizing of the sugar industry alone constituting a big pool, the fact that the bulk of the applicants for land under Decree-Law No. 259 were previously landless led Armando Nova, an academic and member of the Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, to speculate on "the beginning of a process of 'repeasantization'" (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009b).
Recognition at the apex of Cuba's leadership that Decree-Law No. 259 had created new economic and social "facts on the ground," with political implications to be closely watched, would explain the participation of first vice president and Politburo member José Ramón Machado Ventura in ANAP regional meetings in preparation for the association's tenth congress in the spring of 2010. In a conspicuous display of political manpower, agriculture minister Ulises Rosales del Toro, Politburo member and a vice president of the council of ministers, and ANAP president Lugo Fonte, member of the Communist Party's central committee and of the council of state, were regularly outranked at the presiding table of these gatherings by the No. 2 in the national hierarchy.
REALITY – UP TO A POINT
In his speech to the National Assembly in July 2008, Raúl Castro himself returned to his oft-quoted 1994 statement, near the nadir of Cuba's fortunes following the collapse of central and east European communism, that "beans are more important than cannons." Previously, in April, his focus on food production together with the announcement that the long overdue sixth Communist Party congress would be held towards the end of 2009 had ensured that the subject would continue to figure prominently in the debates about Cuba's future that the regime had organized throughout the country. As it turned out, the congress was again postponed in July 2009 and the prospect then offered of a party conference has also still to materialize. But whatever the authorities gained from the debates in gauging the popular mood, identifying hot spots, preparing the citizenry for cuts in public services and state jobs, and providing a safety valve for discontent, there is one visible result: the greatly increased reflection in the mass media of the raw reality that people have long talked about in the street.
A notable example is the acknowledgment by the veteran chief spin-doctor of the sugar and (more recently) of the agriculture ministries, Juan Varela Pérez, of the defects of the UBPCs (Varela Pérez, 2009c):Time showed that, not having been recognized as true cooperatives, many remained halfway between the state farm and the CPA [collective farm composed of former private holdings]. [Their members] were neither cooperativists nor wholly agricultural workers; a limbo was created, but moreover factors deforming their essence arose, to the point of maintaining intact the structure of the original enterprises, to the control of which they were subordinated.In a subsequent article, Varela Pérez (2010b) listed the differences between genuine cooperatives and the UBPCs that had worked to the latter's detriment. But the new realism goes only so far. The UBPCs failed, with few exceptions, because "they strayed from the essential principles approved by the Politburo . . . the approved basic principles were forgotten" and because of "the violation of the concepts that brought the UBPCs to life." Yet it was the regime's penchant for centralized decision-making and micromanagement that dominated in the creation of the UBPCs in 1993. "We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves," La Rochefoucauld wrote long ago. As long as this is the case, the new openness cannot progress from description of symptoms to diagnosis of causes and thought-through response.
Recognition that beans are more important than cannons has not so far led the government to more than tinker with two major issues that weigh on the overall performance of Cuba's agriculture: the debacle of the sugar agroindustry and the flawed system of state controls over farm inputs and outputs.
For the sixth year running – and, ironically, when world market prices reached their highest point since 1981, Cuba has produced less than 1.5 million metric tons of sugar in 2009/10, a fall of more than 80% from the average annual output of the 1980s. In the last days of the harvest, Reuters (3 June) put the final figure at 1.1-1.2 million metric tons.
In early May, a note from the council of state announced a change of sugar ministers, the outgoing having asked to be relieved of his responsibilities "on recognizing the deficiencies of his work which were pointed out to him" (Granma, 4 May 2010). An agronomic engineer, he had been promoted from first vice minister less than 18 months before, after a 38-year career in the sugar sector. His replacement, a chemical engineer, has similarly risen from first vice minister, after more than 30 years in the sugar sector. The new incumbent will not be a minister for long, however, if the knowledgeable Reuters and Financial Times correspondent in Cuba, Marc Frank, was right that the sugar ministry would soon be transmuted into a corporation (Reuters, 7 April 2010).
The day after this announcement, Varela Pérez (2010f) blamed what he called the poorest sugar crop since 1905 on bad organization, overestimates of the available cane, and "a high grade of imprecisions and voluntarism." But if this had to be the main tenor of a story put out to explain the defenestration of the minister, disclosure that 55% of the crop area had not been fertilized, only 3% irrigated (down from up to 30% in the 1980s) and that sugarcane was "today the lowest paid [product] in agriculture" rendered implausible the pretense that "disciplinary measures" and "perfecting the system of administration" were all the answer required. In calling for the restoration of sugarcane to the place corresponding to its continued significance economically and as "part of Cuba's patrimony," Varela Pérez either forgot or hoped his readers will have forgotten Fidel Castro's denunciation in 2005 of sugar as the "ruin" of Cuba's economy and belonging to "the era of slavery" that was the cue to reduce the industry to its present penury. With the 2009/10 harvest having starkly demonstrated "the effects of the cane crisis" to the point where continued decline could end in the industry's extinction, there was an echo of the old Cuban saying, Sin azúcar, no hay país – without sugar, there is no country, in the way Varela Pérez (2010i) posed the question how to begin restoring sugar's "noble and economic tradition" that "has distinguished Cubans historically." The repeated emphasis on the unremunerative cane price – responsibility of the ministry of finance and prices – suggests that the Cuban regime is not exempt from the inter-departmental differences regularly seen in other governments.
The other big issue – the state's control over what goes into and comes out of agriculture – lies at the heart of the Cuba's command economy, which explains the regime's reluctance to tackle it in a fundamental way despite the record of its vices stretching over decades.
In what is until now the most recent attempt to make the system more efficient, the distribution and marketing functions of Acopio in Havana city and province passed from the Ministry of Agriculture to Domestic Commerce in August 2009. But within barely more than a month, it was clear that Mincin "was not sufficiently prepared for the task," with the result of "significant losses" of perishable products (Varela Pérez and de la Hoz, 2009a). Anxious to find some progress, Granma's reporters returned to the scene again and again (Varela Pérez and de la Hoz, 2009b, 2009c, 2009d), faith triumphing over experience: "However many difficulties, the socialist market has to be a mission possible," they wrote. It remained just a hope. In the first two months of 2010, the state food markets in the capital received only 62% of the supplies they were supposed to get from the farmers in the province. Among the reasons: growers had been left without the fertilizer and plant protection chemicals they needed in the last quarter of 2009, and Mincin still had not got its act together. Bizarrely, a regulation prohibited trucks carrying produce from other provinces to enter the city, even with the proper documentation, and with Mincin company buyers no longer picking up various kinds of horticultural produce, Havana province farmers were reducing plantings (Varela Pérez, 2010d).
Across the island, apparatchik interference with supply and demand has at different times and in different places thrown a variety of spanners in the works. Farmers who have heeded government calls to produce more have pitched up against a worn-out infrastructure. In Granma province, an unspecified amount of rice was lost, some was processed below quality, and growers still held 1,000 tons dried manually owing to insufficient industrial drying, milling and storage capacity, and these were not the only problems (Sariol Sosa, 2009). In a Villa Clara municipality, the government got itself into a tangle with farmers who, urged to plant a greater area of garlic than contemplated, produced about double the crop it had contracted to buy (Pérez Cabrera, 2009). In Camagüey, the state lactic products company was not ready to cope with the increased volume of milk deliveries, and the milk spent, on average, four and a half hours on the road between producer and processor, to the detriment of its quality (Febles Hernández, 2009). Mangoes similarly overwhelmed the infrastructure in Santiago de Cuba (Riquenes Cutiño, 2009). A cross-country survey of the non-citrus fruit situation (Carrobello and de Jesús, 2010) found some improvements, notably the appearance of roadside sales points and ambulant vendors; but production and distribution continued to be hampered by lack of irrigation facilities, input shortages ranging from fertilizer and plant chemicals to gloves and boxes, difficulties in obtaining bank credits, and the rigidities of the state procurement apparatus. Yet though he grumbled about various deficiencies and incongruities, ANAP's Lugo Fonte still thought that the cure lay in rigorous contracting between parties and was not prepared to identify the monopsonistic and monopolistic position of state enterprises in relation to the farmer as the root of the problem (Barreras Ferrán, 2010).
A whiff of oligarchal factionalism came from a Lugo Fonte interview in which he recounted the conditions that had depressed cattle farming in the private sector. Small farmers had been allowed to sell their animals only to state companies, most of which did not have scales and bought the cattle "on the hoof," based on the color of the hide, the tail and the horns, and with a high charge for slaughtering – all in accordance with regulations. These rules had been dumped and beef prices sharply raised. But, in order to preserve their margin, the companies were now hindering producers from sending animals directly to the abattoir by refusing to rent vehicles (Varela Pérez, 2010a). And while ANAP members were being encouraged to send raw milk straight to retail outlets, Lugo Fonte lamented that this practice had not been extended to other products, such as eggs (Varela Pérez, 2010g).
If Acopio was provoking "downpours" of criticism, the mechanisms of supplying farmers with inputs were causing a "tempest," Juventud Rebelde, the Communist Party's youth organ, reported on the weekend of the ANAP congress (Varios Autores, 2010). More was to come at the congress itself. Entitled "For greater farm and forestry production," much of the 37-point report of its commission on production and the economy was given over to a somewhat unselective survey of the gamut of products, from rice to medicinal plants, and from beef to honey, in which greater output could replace imports and enhance exports (Granma, 17 May 2010). But coupled with this were demands on government to resolve a host of functional issues: credit provision; water usage approval; allowing producers to sell directly to retailers, tourist facilities and slaughterhouses; promoting local micro and mini-industries; seasonal price differentiation; crop insurance; tax reform; access to building materials; freeing the cooperatives from restrictions and empowering them to enter into contracts; and reforming quality norms. Of sufficient importance to deserve a point by themselves were the "innumerable concerns" raised by the delegates from Havana city and province concerning the system of commercialization piloted in these territories – excessive product handling, crop losses, arguments over quality, retail outlet permits, state company margins, cartage, container return, and trucks owned by cooperatives being barred from delivering straight to the city's state markets.
MARKET DEREGULATION? NOT YET
Closing the congress from the government side, minister of the economy and planning Marino Murillo Jorge made it clear that there would be no relaxation of the state's control of food marketing (Granma, 17 May 2010). In the sole reference to what he admitted was "one of the subjects most discussed in this congress," he claimed consensus on the need to improve the quality and compelling force of contracts, so that the parties meet their obligations and the quantities agreed are planted, harvested and marketed, avoiding the sale in the suppy-and-demand markets of produce not certified as surplus to contract or allowed free disposal. Government and ANAP had to collaborate "to solve as soon as possible the problem of illegal intermediaries who artificially raise prices without contributing to society."
Concerning market reform, Murillo Jorge had but one announcement – the government would "organize the creation in the majority of the municipalities of the country of an input market where producers could acquire directly the resources necessary for crop and livestock production, replacing the current mechanism of central allocation." The price policy governing this market, he spelled out, "must guarantee, on the one hand, recognition in the acopio price [the price at which the state acquires products] of the real costs of production and, on the other, the elimination of the great number of subsidies that the state pays today through the budget." Whether this market will amount to something more than adding to the small number of existing stores selling tools and supplies for convertible pesos and how it will obtain its merchandise, if not by central allocation, was left in the dark.
All together, it is hard to resist the impression that this was a holding operation at which ANAP delegates could let off steam, but from which they emerged none the wiser about key government policy areas that affect the private farm sector. A number of subjects, Murillo Jorge said, were "in process of analysis and study within the context of the updating the Cuban economic model," naming taxation (of both farmers and their workers), the contracting of outside labor (stating that more than 100,000 wage workers were employed by cooperatives), and the prices of inputs and of acopio.
Speaking to the congress of the Communist Party's youth organization in April 2010 (Granma, 5 April), Raúl Castro acknowledged the existence of voices urging a faster pace of change. Whether the regime's tempo is dictated by the magnitude and complexity of the problems facing Cuba, as he claimed, by divisions among the leadership, by lack of the cash needed to jump-start major reforms, by incompetence, or by all these, is an unknown – certainly to outsiders. Specifically in the area of farm policy, the twists and turns over half a century invite the question: do the policymakers really understand agriculture and how it develops? When it comes to the effective application of scientific and technological advances – highlighted by Murillo Jorge as "an aspect that requires the greatest immediate attention," for instance, are Cuba's policymakers sufficiently versed in the agricultural history of other countries to appreciate the interactions of market forces, farmer-boffins, equipment manufacturers, chemical companies, plant breeders and agribusinesses, alongside of public institutions such as experiment stations and extension services, that drive innovation?
Although located, broadly speaking, towards the opposite end of the spectrum from the extensive model of agroindustry growth that hit the buffers in the second half of the 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the concept now being promoted is similarly extensive in several respects. In pursuit of the goals of replacing imports and increasing exports of agricultural products, the government campaigns to substitute human muscle and animal power for engines, compost for inorganic fertilizers, home-grown animal feedstuffs for concentrates, and prioritizes the expansion of land under cultivation over raising yields. Comprehensible, up to a point, as fire-fighting in the midsts of current economic and financial woes, can these methods generate a serious improvement in Cuba's agricultural trade balance? While the application of idle land and labor will surely increase the domestic food supply, can it make the country anywhere near self-sufficient? Is this model viable in the longer run?
Disturbingly, in all the hype in favor of using oxen for field work and transport, there is nary an indication that either the costs of breeding, rearing, training, feeding and apparelling the animals, or the productivity of a team, including its driver, taking into account speed of locomotion and length of working day, have been factored in. Likewise missing from the hymns to the benefits of compost are signs of awareness that to make enough compost for general application entails industrial-scale production techniques with specialized equipment.
To project the picture of a new mentality gestating in the countryside, Juventud Rebelde located, for its edition on the weekend of the ANAP congress, a few young farmers earning several times the average national wage (Varios Autores, 2010). "In my case," said one, "when I get the money together, I'll buy myself a cellphone, because I need it; let them tell me that, like other presidents of cooperatives, I don't have with what to communicate." Twenty-first century aspirations in Cuba, as elsewhere. For his part, Raúl Castro – spookily bringing to mind Churchillian rhetoric – proclaimed before the National Assembly on 1 August 2009: "They didn't elect me president to restore capitalism in Cuba or to surrender the Revolution. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it." For that, he realized, beans are more important than cannons. Does he understand that they are more important than command and control?
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Cuba—A Way Forwardby Nik Steinberg, Daniel Wilkinson
In a 1980 interview, Gabriel García Márquez told The New York Times that he had spent three years writing a book about life in Cuba under Fidel Castro. But, he said, "now I realize that the book is so critical that it could be used against Cuba, so I refuse to publish it."
In view of the Colombian author's past concern for the victims of Latin America's authoritarian regimes, it seems likely that what he called a "very harsh, very frank book" addressed Castro's systematic repression of dissent: the rigged trials behind closed doors, the abysmal "reeducation" camps, the long prison sentences. Castro's methods may have seemed relatively tame when compared with the mass slaughter of civilians by US-backed regimes throughout the region, for example in Guatemala. Yet as the cold war ended, these dictatorships gradually gave way to civilian rule, and the Castro government was left standing as the only one in the hemisphere that continued to repress virtually all political dissent. García Márquez's book remained unpublished.
The fact that Latin America's most renowned writer would censor himself in this way may actually say more about the plight of Cubans under Castro than anything in his manuscript. For the notion that to criticize Cuba is to abet its more powerful enemies was, for Fidel Castro, the key to achieving what his prisons alone could not—ensuring that his critics on the island remained isolated and largely ignored.
For years, many believed that the last thing keeping the region's democratic tide from sweeping across Cuba was the unique force of Fidel Castro's character—the extraordinary combination of charisma and cunning with which he inspired and corralled his supporters, provoked and outmaneuvered his enemies, and projected himself onto the big screen of world politics. Under his leadership, Cuba had made impressive gains in health care, education, and the eradication of extreme poverty. But the promise of the Cuban Revolution had been undercut by years of chronic deprivation, exacerbated by the US embargo, and brought to the brink of collapse by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which had propped up the island's economy for decades. Democracy would come to Cuba—the thinking went—as soon as Fidel Castro was no longer standing in its way.
Then in June 2006, his health failing, Castro was forced to step down formally after nearly five decades in power. And nothing happened. No popular uprising in the streets, no Party shake-up, no coup. Instead, his younger brother, Raúl, took up power and, though lacking Fidel's charisma, was able to keep the country running smoothly. Within months, it seemed clear that Cuba's single-party system could continue without Fidel at the helm.
Some still held out hope that Raúl Castro would begin a process of political reform, a Cuban perestroika. Those looking for signs of an opening pointed to several of Raúl's early actions, including state-sponsored public forums ostensibly aimed at encouraging criticism of government policies and the signing of the two major international human rights treaties.
But was Raúl Castro allowing genuine criticism of his government? Was the repressive machinery being eased or even dismantled? A year ago Human Rights Watch set out to answer these questions. We knew it wouldn't be easy. The Cuban government welcomes tourists to the island, but has for years denied access to international rights monitors. Foreign journalists are followed around by undercover agents: their e-mails are monitored and their phones tapped. Those who publish in-depth stories on controversial issues face expulsion.
Our first step was to write to the Cuban government requesting authorization to visit the island. Human Rights Watch does not normally request permission to do its work, but it seemed like a good way to test whether the government's attitude had changed. The government never responded.
We then got in touch with several local dissidents. Outside of Cuba, people often refer to "the dissidents" as though they are a single, unified political group. They are not. They do not share a single ideology or objective. Rather, the dissident community is made up of a variety of Cubans scattered across the island, some of whom belong to small groups, and others who work alone. A dissident may be someone who writes articles critical of the government, attempts to form an independent labor union, or simply refuses to attend meetings of a local revolutionary committee. What ties these people together is that they engage in activities that the Cuban government considers contrary to its policies, and therefore "counterrevolutionary."
We obtained reports of alleged government abuses from several unauthorized human rights groups in Cuba, whose leaders have persevered over the years despite tapped phone lines, restricted mobility, frequent police raids, and periods in jail, relying on a few committed volunteers to compile lists of political prisoners and testimony about violations. But tracking down the alleged victims to corroborate these reports often took weeks. E-mail access on the island is virtually nonexistent, and many families outside of Havana do not have phone lines. When we were able to get through by phone, some people were too frightened to speak. Others spoke cryptically to avoid arousing the suspicion of listening ears. Still others spoke freely until their lines went dead, mid-sentence. While we did manage to conduct some full-length interviews, it became increasingly clear that the only way to get the full story would be to visit the island.
It would prove to be the most difficult research mission Human Rights Watch had undertaken in the region in years. Our team entered on tourist visas and traveled the length of the island by car, telling no one in advance that we were coming and never staying in any town for more than one night.1 The fear we had sensed over the phone was even more palpable on the ground. Some people became so uneasy talking about government abuses that we cut short the interviews and moved on. Several alerted us to watching neighbors who monitored suspicious activity for the local Revolutionary Defense Committees. A Baptist minister, when asked about human rights, told us quietly that what we were doing was illegal and asked us to produce identification.
Yet many people welcomed us into their homes, where they spoke frankly of their experiences. Small boxes and folders were brought out from beneath beds and inside kitchen cabinets, with official documents that corroborated their stories. Among much else, we were shown a court ruling from a dissident's trial, which his wife and children were not allowed to attend; a parole order warning a journalist that he could be returned to prison at any time; a letter denying a critic of the government permission to travel.
Piece by piece, the evidence stacked up. The human rights treaties had not been ratified or carried out. The "open" forums to discuss government policies were governed by strict rules that prohibited any talk of reforming the single-party system. More than one hundred political prisoners locked up under Fidel remained behind bars, and Raúl's government had used sham trials to lock away scores more. These new prisoners included more than forty dissidents whom Raúl had imprisoned for "dangerousness." The most Orwellian provision of Cuba's criminal code, this charge allows authorities to imprison individuals before they have committed a crime, on the suspicion that they might commit one in the future. Their "dangerous" activities included failing to attend pro-government rallies, not belonging to official party organizations, and simply being unemployed.
We published our findings on November 18, 2009.2 It was only then that we received a response from the Cuban government: a public statement, published that day, declaring our report "illegitimate and illegal."
If the crime of the political prisoners is essentially voicing their opinions, a main function of imprisoning them is to isolate them from their potential audiences. Ramón Velásquez Toranzo taught theater until his political activities cost him his job. In December 2006, he set out on a silent march across the island to call for the release of Cuba's political prisoners. On the road he was repeatedly threatened and beaten by civilian Rapid Response Brigades, according to his wife and daughter, who accompanied him. He was twice detained and forcibly returned to his home by police. On his third attempt, he was taken to prison and given a three-year sentence for "dangerousness." Raymundo Perdigón Brito, who had worked as a security guard before he too was fired for "counterrevolutionary" activities, wrote articles critical of the government for foreign websites until, in 2006, he was sentenced to four years in prison for "dangerousness." Digzan Saavedra Prat, a shoemaker, documented abuse cases for a local human rights group, an activity that cost him his job and caused him to be convicted of "dangerousness" in 2008. His indictment accused him of "being tied to persons of bad moral and social conduct," "setting a bad example for the new generation," and "thinking he is handsome."
Those who continue to speak out while in prison are isolated even further. One man was arrested and sentenced to four years for "dangerousness" after he tried to hand out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in public in 2006. In 2008, he attempted to commemorate International Human Rights Day (December 10) by reading the Universal Declaration aloud to fellow inmates. But according to his wife, a guard cut him short, ordering him to eat the text—literally. When he refused, he was beaten, thrown into solitary confinement for weeks, and sentenced in a closed-door hearing to six more years in prison for disrespecting authority.
We heard many similar accounts from former prisoners and the relatives of current ones. Those who refused "reeducation" or questioned prison conditions were thrown into solitary confinement cells measuring three by six feet for weeks, even months, on end. Their visits were cut off, phone calls denied, and letters confiscated. Since Cuba has for years refused to grant human rights monitors access to its prisons, it is difficult to get firsthand general accounts of the conditions inside. The most comprehensive—by the sixty-seven-year-old journalist Héctor Maseda Gutierrez, currently serving a twenty-year sentence for his writing—had to be smuggled out of prison virtually page by page. It is titled "Buried Alive."
While not all dissidents are locked up, nearly all are effectively imprisoned on the island itself. In clear violation of international law, the Cuban government requires its citizens to obtain permission to leave the country, and those marked as "counterrevolutionaries" are generally denied it. The prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez—whose posts comment on the daily indignities of life in Cuba—has three times been refused permission to leave the country, twice to accept international prizes and once, in March 2010, to attend a conference on the Spanish language.
The emergence of a nascent blogosphere has been heralded as a sign that Cuba is opening up, yet the government systematically blocks critical websites and strictly controls access, forcing bloggers to upload their posts using thumb drives and illegal back channels. Because an hour's use costs roughly one third of Cubans' monthly wages, and since there are few connections outside of cities, the average Cuban has no access to the Internet. Although Yoani Sánchez was named one of Time magazine's one hundred most influential people, most Cubans on the island have never even heard of her, let alone read her blog.3
The Cuban government also seeks to isolate dissidents from their communities. They are fired from their jobs and blacklisted from employment. They are subjected to public "acts of repudiation," in which mobs surround their homes, chant insults, throw stones, and sometimes assault them in plain view of their neighbors. Friends and family members are warned to keep their distance, lest they too be branded counterrevolutionaries and punished. Under the "dangerousness" provision, even spending time with someone who is considered "dangerous" is punishable, a kind of "dangerousness" by association.
"People who come to my house are immediately called by state security and reprimanded," Eduardo Pacheco Ortíz, a human rights defender and former political prisoner, told us. "Then these people—for fear of losing their jobs, for fear that [the authorities] will take it out on someone in their family—simply stop talking to me."
After Ramón Velásquez Toranzo was sentenced to four years for his silent march across the island, his son René, who had not marched with his father or considered himself "political," was fired from his longtime job without explanation, then repeatedly denied work on the grounds that he was not "trustworthy." Members of the local Revolutionary Defense Committee regularly harassed and threatened him in public. Police warned his friends that they would get in trouble if they kept hanging around him, until he had few friends left. His girlfriend was forbidden by her parents from seeing him. "Some days I wake up and I think: I have nothing. I am nobody. I have no dreams left for my future," René told us.
Some outside observers contend that the existence of around two hundred political prisoners has little impact on the lives of the 11 million other Cubans. But as the blogger Reinaldo Escobar recently wrote, "Why then does an index finger cross the lips, eyes widen, or a look of horror appear on the faces of my friends when at their houses I commit the indiscretion of making a political comment within earshot of the neighbors?"4 The political prisoners may be small in number, but they are a chilling reminder to all Cubans of what has been a basic fact of life for half a century: to criticize the Castros is to condemn oneself to years of enforced solitude.
In addition to declaring our report illegal, the Cuban government also claimed it was part of a broader effort to "trample" Cuba's "right to free self-determination and sovereign equality." This charge, while no more credible than the first, warrants serious attention, for it is reflected in the concerns of García Márquez and many others outside of Cuba who have for years been reluctant to criticize the Castros.
Invoking national sovereignty may be the most common tactic used by governments around the globe—and across the political spectrum—to counter criticism of their abusive practices. It is the international equivalent of the "states' rights" claim that segregationists in the US South used for years to defend their racist laws and policies. The aim is to shift the focus of public concern from the rights of abuse victims to the rights (real and imagined) of the states that abuse them.
What sets the Castro government apart from most others that employ this tactic is the fact that Cuba has indeed, for five decades, faced an explicit threat to its national sovereignty—coming from the United States, a superpower ninety miles off its shores. In the 1960s, the threat took the form of covert military action, including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and multiple botched assassination attempts. It continues in the form of the economic embargo established by President Eisenhower in 1960, later expanded by President Kennedy, and eventually locked in place by the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. Also known as "Helms-Burton," the law prohibits the president from lifting trade restrictions until Cuba has legalized political activity and made a commitment to free and fair elections. It also prohibits lifting the embargo as long as Fidel and Raúl Castro remain in office. In other words, it requires that Cubans be free to choose their leaders, but bars them from choosing the Castros. It is thus a program to promote not only democracy but also regime change.
It is hard to think of a US policy with a longer track record of failure. The embargo has caused much hardship to the Cuban people but done nothing to loosen the Castros' hold on power. Instead it has provided the Cuban government an excuse for the country's problems. Billboards line the roads outside Havana with slogans like "Eight hours of the blockade is equivalent to the materials required to repair 40 infant care centers." The excuse is effective because it is at least partly true.
The US policy has also served the Castros as a pretext for repressing legitimate efforts to reform Cuba from within. The most notorious example of the past decade came in response to the Varela Project, a grassroots campaign designed to take advantage of a constitutional provision that allows a national referendum on any reform proposal that receives 10,000 signatures. The organizers spent years holding meetings and gathering signatures, enduring repeated harassment by authorities, attacks, and arrests. In May 2002, they delivered more than 11,000 signatures to the National Assembly.
The response was crushing. Rather than put the referendum to a vote (as required by law), the Castro government countered with its own referendum, which proposed amending the constitution to declare the socialist system "irrevocable." This referendum passed, according to the government, with 99 percent of the public's support. Not long afterward, the government began its most aggressive crackdown in years, arresting seventy-five "counterrevolutionaries," including many Varela Project leaders, and sentencing them to an average of nineteen years in prison.
In a news conference immediately following the crackdown, Cuba's foreign minister claimed that the Varela Project had been "part of a strategy of subversion against Cuba that has been conceived, financed, and directed from abroad with the active participation of the US Interests Section in Havana." The United States had indeed been supporting civil society groups in Cuba for decades. In 2002, the year prior to the crackdown, the State Department devoted $5 million to "democracy promotion" in Cuba, channeling it through the US Interests Section in Havana and nongovernmental groups based mostly in Miami. For instance, several Cuban journalists received salaries from US-funded Internet publications critical of the Castro government.
Nonetheless, many of the seventy-five were convicted without any evidence of support—direct or indirect—from the US government. And in those cases where the Cuban government did show they received US support, it provided no credible evidence that the recipients were engaged in activities that would be considered illegal in a democratic country.
According to Cuban court documents, the support took the form of supplying, through the US Interests Section in Havana, equipment like fax machines ("used systematically in sending information to counterrevolutionary cells located in Miami"), books ("all with a pronounced subversive content"), and medicine ("with the explicit purpose of winning over addicts to their cause"). In other cases, the prisoners had been paid by the US for filing articles or radio reports for foreign outlets, or visiting the US Interests Section, where they had "access via the Internet to the websites of enemy publications…[and] counterrevolutionary dailies like the Nuevo Herald, the Miami Herald, Agence France-Press, Reuters, and the American television channel CNN."
Many governments require civil society groups to register funding they receive from foreign states. But for Cubans there is a catch: to register funding from the US government is to admit to a crime punishable with a prison sentence of up to twenty years—even when the funding merely supports activities like human rights monitoring, labor organizing, and establishing independent libraries. In fact, these activities are illegal in Cuba even when pursued without US support. The criminal code explicitly outlaws "actions designed to support, facilitate, or collaborate with the objectives of the 'Helms-Burton Law.'"
Since promoting democratic rule is a central objective of Helms-Burton, any action taken toward that end can therefore be considered a crime. In this way, just as criticism of the Castros is equated with abetting their enemies, promoting democracy is equated with US-sponsored regime change.
But if the pretext for the crackdown was bogus, it nonetheless served a crucial function: to recast the government's repression of its citizens as the story of a small nation defending itself against a powerful aggressor. It was the same tactic that Fidel Castro had been employing to brilliant effect for decades. By casting himself as a Latin American David besieged by a US Goliath, he usurped the role of victim from his prisoners. The sleight of hand worked because, for many outside of Cuba, the indignation provoked by the US embargo left little room for the revulsion they would otherwise feel for Fidel Castro's abuses.
Raúl Castro has adopted this same tactic, so that when outsiders hear of Cuba's political prisoners, many think first of what the US has done to Cuba, not what Cuba has done to its own people. While the prisons, travel restrictions, and information controls make it difficult for Cuban dissidents to get their stories out to the world, the Castros' portrayal of Cuba as a victim makes audiences abroad less willing to hear these stories. The effect is to seal Cuba's prisoners off from international sympathy and reinforce their prolonged solitude.
Once a year, for nearly two decades, the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the US embargo. In 2009, the resolution passed 187–3, with only Israel and Palau siding with the United States. While this condemnation is deserved, there is no such UN vote to condemn Cuba's repressive policies, or comparable outrage about its victims.
This discrepancy is particularly pronounced in Latin America, where the long history of heavy-handed interventions and outright coups has left an abiding aversion to US bullying. Even leaders whom one might expect to be sensitive to the prisoners' plight choose to remain silent. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil was himself imprisoned by a military dictatorship, and former President Michelle Bachelet of Chile is the daughter of a political prisoner (and herself a torture victim). Yet in recent years, both have made state visits to Cuba in which they embraced the Castros and refused to meet with relatives of political prisoners.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of leaders have praised the Castro government as a standard-bearer for the region. President Evo Morales of Bolivia says that Cuba "teaches the entire world how to live with dignity and sovereignty, in its permanent fight against the North American empire." President Rafael Correa of Ecuador speaks of the "Latin American pride" he feels when witnessing Cuba's ongoing revolution, which "secured the reestablishment of human rights for all Cuban men and women." Perhaps the most fervent supporter is President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, whose government has taken over the role, once filled by the Soviet Union, of keeping the Cuban economy afloat by providing millions of barrels of subsidized petroleum. Chávez calls Cuba's revolution "the mother" of all Latin American liberation movements, and Fidel Castro "the father of the motherland."
Over the past decade, a growing number of voices in the United States—including editorial boards, research organizations, and advocacy groups—have called for an end to the embargo. But they are far from winning the policy debate in Washington. Anti-Castro hard-liners within the Cuban-American community continue to wield disproportionate influence, even if their dominance has waned in recent years.
The opponents of the embargo have failed to be persuasive. Many have sought to play down the scope of repression in Cuba out of a concern—similar to García Márquez's—that criticism of the Cuban government will only strengthen the hand of the anti-Castro hard-liners. But by making this strategic choice, they have undermined their credibility among the very people they need to persuade: those who are justifiably concerned about Cuba's political prisoners. Moreover, they are unable to offer a politically workable solution to members of Congress, who will never vote to end the embargo if this will have no effect on the regime's abuses.
The embargo must go. But it is naive to think that a government that has systematically repressed virtually all forms of political dissent for decades will cease to do so simply because the embargo has been lifted. Nor is it realistic, given the effectiveness of the Castros' repressive machinery, to believe that the pressure needed for progress on human rights can come solely from within Cuba. The embargo needs to be replaced with a policy that will bring genuinely effective pressure on the Castro government to improve human rights.
For this to happen, the United States must make the first move. President Obama should approach allies in Europe and Latin America with an offer to lift the US embargo if the other countries agree to join a coalition to press Cuba to meet a single, concrete demand: the release of all political prisoners.
Some governments are sure to rebuff the offer, especially in Latin America. But for many others, the prospect of ending the embargo will remove what has long been the main obstacle to openly condemning the Cuban government's abuses. And concentrating this multilateral effort exclusively on the issue of political prisoners will make it far more difficult for leaders who say they respect human rights to remain silent.
The new coalition would give the Cuban government a choice: free its political prisoners or face sanctions. Unlike the current US embargo, these sanctions should directly target the Cuban leaders—by denying them travel visas or freezing their overseas assets, for example—without harming the Cuban population as a whole. Ideally this ultimatum alone would suffice to prompt the government to release its prisoners. But even if it did not, the new approach toward Cuba—multilateral, targeted, and focused on human rights rather than regime change—would fundamentally transform the international dynamic that has long helped the Castros stifle dissent. The Cuban government's efforts to isolate its critics at home would lead to its own isolation from the international community.
In the absence of such a shift, Cubans seeking reform will continue to face daunting odds. Any hope of drawing attention to their cause will require desperate measures, such as the hunger strike recently carried out by Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a dissident who had been in prison since the 2003 crackdown. For eighty-five days, Zapata Tamayo's protest went largely unnoticed. It was only when he finally starved to death in February—becoming the first Cuban hunger striker to perish in almost forty years—that the world reacted. The European Parliament passed a resolution condemning his death as "avoidable and cruel" and calling for the release of all political prisoners. The Mexican and Chilean legislatures approved similar declarations.
The Cuban government responded in familiar fashion: it blamed the US. The state news organ claimed that Zapata Tamayo had been "thrust into death" by the "powerful machinery of the empire." When several other dissidents began hunger strikes in the following days—including Guillermo Fariñas, a journalist who at this writing is reportedly near death—Cuban authorities dismissed them as "mercenaries" of the US. Decrying what he called a "huge smear campaign against Cuba," Raúl Castro told the Cuban Congress, "We will never yield to blackmail from any country."
Raúl Castro seems confident that he can defuse this latest challenge with the same sleight of hand his brother used so effectively in the past. And indeed, the flurry of condemnation following Zapata Tamayo's death appears to have already faded. But more than just a tactical move, Raúl's response reflects a vision for Cuba's future that does not bode well for those desiring change. It is the vision he set forth on the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in 2009, addressing the nation from the same public square where Fidel had first proclaimed victory:
Today, the Revolution is stronger than ever…. Does it mean the danger has diminished? No, let's not entertain any illusions. As we commemorate this half-century of victories, it is time to reflect on the future, on the next fifty years, when we shall continue to struggle incessantly.
A story of struggle always needs an adversary, just as a claim to victimhood needs an aggressor. After playing this role for fifty years, the United States is now in a unique position to bring about change in Cuba: when it stops acting like Goliath, the Castro government will stop looking like David. Only then will Cuba's dissidents be able to rally the international support they need to end their long years of solitude.
—April 28, 2010"
For Cubans, transition aheadBy Ted MannUpdated 03/28/2010 03:18 AM
Still recovering from post-Cold War changes, the country seeks a new economic reality
Reporter Ted Mann and photojournalist Sean D. Elliot traveled to Cuba last week with the Amistad, the reproduction schooner built at the Mystic Seaport. In 1839, the original Amistad was homeported in Cuba when it was sent to ferry kidnap-ped Africans bound for slavery.
Matanzas, Cuba – Fernando Chacón is an oil engineer by training. In the 1980s, he studied the trade on state-sponsored sabbatical in the Soviet Union. He speaks fluent English, but also Russian, Italian and German, among other languages.
Still, here in the sleepy countryside between the industrial port city of Matanzas and the tourist resort beaches of Varadero, Chacón is working as a tour guide at La Dionisia, the former site of a coffee plantation that held around 200 African and Afro-Cuban slaves. Chacón handles the tour groups that arrive in the new blue-and-white air-conditioned buses (they are Yutongs, made in China and found throughout greater Havana these days), making a quick circuit of the ruined outbuildings of the place, hoping for a convertible peso or two as a tip at tour’s end.
Despite his training, Chacón does this job by choice: The money, pesos here and there from the dozens of Ukrainians, Canadians and even Americans who will pass through today, is better this way.
The visit of the schooner Amistad to Cuba was intended by its organizers to provide a chance for Cubans and Americans to examine their shared history of racial discrimination and interchange. But for the small group of Americans who sailed the ship here or came to meet it, the trip has also provided a unique perspective on a Cuba in flux, one trying to maintain the systems and ideals of the revolución that is now in its 52nd year, even as national leaders court a new tourism sector that is, at its heart, a capitalist enterprise.
And while the political subtext of U.S.-Cuban relations was constantly on the mind of American and Cubans alike during the course of the Amistad visit, the treatment of internal political dissidents here was treated with a notable silence.
Scarcely a word about the Damas de Blanco, or Women in White, who were in the midst of seven days’ worth of marches through Havana as the Amistad’s support crew arrived in the capital. The marches, which were reportedly disrupted by counter-demonstrators loyal to the government and by police, mark the seventh anniversary of the Castro regime’s imprisonment of more than 100 dissidents considered by Amnesty International to be political prisoners.
For their part, some Cubans interviewed here in the past week believed that international attention to the dissident protests, and to the February death of prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in a hunger strike over prison conditions, have been greatly overplayed by foreign press opposed to Castro.
But Cubans are remarkably matter-of-fact about the stress points in this economic system, which by some measures is experiencing significant gains, while still perpetuating significant burdens for Cuban citizens.
At the center of the country’s economic conundrum is the convertible peso, or CUC, which was introduced, along with the decriminalization of foreign currencies and tourism businesses, to help Cuba escape the so-called Periodo Especial that followed the collapse of Communist regimes – and major Cuban trading partners – in the early 1990s.
That recession remains the dark shadow of what is seen in the U.S. as one of the brightest developments of the booming 1990s: the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse, one by one, of authoritarian Communist regimes all over Europe. The end of the Cold War was hailed by politicians from both parties in the United States, and as recently as last year’s presidential election, invoked by President Barack Obama and others as the triumph of American principles of economic freedom throughout the world.
Meanwhile in Cuba, multiple Cuban sources said in conversations last week, the sudden elimination of trading partners like East Germany and the U.S.S.R. slashed the nation’s gross domestic product by as much as 35 percent.
Oil and petroleum products, of which Cuba produces very little of its own, virtually disappeared.
“We didn’t have blackouts,” said Michel Rodriguez, who works as a translator for Cuban officials and helped facilitate the Amistad visit. The surprise, she said, was when the lights came on at all.
Cubans had trained for a generation for a “Special Period in Time of War,” said Rodriguez. Instead, they found themselves mobilizing for a “Special Period in Time of Peace,” he said, mobilizing against an assault by economic forces, rather than military ones.
Rodriguez, like other Cubans who spoke of the period last week, remembers the period of austerity in clear detail.
A university student throughout the Special Period, Rodriguez was among the thousands living in the housing developments and neighborhoods east of Havana who rode painfully heavy, Chinese-made bicycles to the mouth of the harbor tunnel that leads to central Havana. There, those masses waited to load themselves and their bikes onto convoys of buses for the trip through the tunnel, only to begin peddling up through the city on the other side.
Thousands rode the so-called “camel” buses around the city and countryside – giant trucks, their open beds covered with canvas awnings to ward off the weather, or simply hitchhiked.
Rolling in a tour bus along the Vía Blanca through the neighborhoods around Playa de Este, the jovial Jorge Diaz pointed out the neighborhoods where residents struggled to raise government-issued chickens for food at the height of the ’90s austerity program (most of the chickens died, he said) and the routes followed by the camel buses to shuttle workers into the city.
“Now we hear everyone talk about a world economic crisis,” he said, grinning. “Come on! We are professionals at that.”
Fuel shortages meant that busy avenues of Havana, like the Paseo Martí and the iconic seaside boulevard of the Malecón, were stilled.
“You could go out to the middle of the street and lie down for three or four hours and not be hit by any bus or car,” Rodriguez said.
Today, those same streets are once again full of Chinese-made vehicles.
Now, they are the ubiquitous blue and white Yutong buses, along with Chinese-made sedans like the Geelys that augment Havana’s legendary automobile traffic of 50-year-old Chevys and barely held-together Soviet Ladas.
In the heyday of its alliances with communist governments around the Eastern Bloc, 70 percent of Cuba’s economy was exports, Rodriguez said, including coffee, sugar and cigars.
Now, 70 percent of the post-Special Period Cuban economy revolves around tourism, primarily in Havana and in the coastal resort town of Varadero, just down the coast from Matanzas, but also from developing centers in the east, including the province of Holguín. Cuban leaders hope to attract more direct air travel to such sites, Rodriguez said, to entice even more vacationers.
The country has also moved aggressively to tap its natural resources, using foreign investment to spur the development of nickel-mining operations.
And Diaz, shepherding his American charges along the Malecón, shares another daydream of national officials: the possibility of moving the remaining industrial port facilities that line the Havana harbor out to Mariel in the west, leaving the entirety of its downtown piers vacant for a hoped-for surge in cruise-ship visits. In the daydream version, the financing is arranged through one of Cuba’s sympathetic local neighbors, such as Brazil.
In Havana, the cobble-stoned streets of Habana Vieja play host to armies of tourists speaking foreign tongues, bearing bright-colored backpacks and spending their multicolored CUC bills by the thousands.
But that surge in economic activity in the official currency of tourists, the CUC, isn’t necessarily trickling down for all Cubans, who receive the separate, Cuban peso – a far less valuable currency – in salary for government-controlled jobs, and must use it to purchase a narrow variety of goods that recipients said scarcely rises above the level of subsistence.
Talking late one night in a hotel bar in Matanzas, after his shift had concluded at a nearby dance club and restaurant, a Cuban named Alexander said $5 CUC would make up roughly half of his weekly ration of Cuban pesos, which he used to pay for beans, rice and other staples. Commodities Americans would consider essential, from deodorant and toilet paper to new shoes, must be purchased with as many CUC as people like Alexander can scrape together through tips, black market services for tourists and occasionally a quiet request for a gift from a sympathetic foreigner.
But even the possession of CUC by someone in his position was a risk, Alexander said.
“For me, for having one peso, I could be in jail,” he said in English. “For talking to you, I could be in jail. Cuba is like Haiti, like Dominican Republic. But in Haiti, you can say it is a bad country. Not in Cuba. I could be dead for that in Cuba.”
To understand the economy, he added, “you need to go in the streets.”
There, contradictions reign.
The quiet necessity of CUC is demonstrated again and again. A young man who drives his souped-up 1955 Chevy as a private cab for a pair of American visitors apologetically insists on depositing his fares around the corner from the Parque de la Libertad, away from the police at the corner of the square. He is earning convertibles on the sly.
In several days of walking in the streets of Matanzas, countless residents expressed surprise and delight to discover Americans walking through the residential neighborhoods that climb the hills up from the port, though several wondered aloud if the visitors were lost, trying to find Varadero.
But the country also maintains a fierce pride in its independence, from the 19th-century martyrdom of the national icon Jose Martí to the boastful wall slogans and billboards erected by the Party of the People’s Power to commemorate the continuing of the revolution of 1959.
“Defendemos la patria y la revolución con las ideas y las armas hasta la ultima gota de sangre,” reads the sign outside the pillared entrance to the Port of Matanzas, where the Amistad docked for three days. It is a quote from Fidel Castro: “We will defend the fatherland and the revolution with our ideas and our weapons until the last drop of blood.”
Back in the hilly neighborhoods behind the port, a young, muscular man who gave his name as Carlos is sitting on a concrete stoop on a long staircase that rises up the side of a bluff to Calle 63 over the Rio Yumuri. Asked his profession, he says simply, “nada,” and when asked what he might do for work in the future, he shrugs and smiles, eventually conceding that it is a complicated question.
A mile or so down the slope, in an alley between two houses, Yainiel Rodriguez Marckintoch is cutting a friend’s hair. To them, the major obstacle to economic progress and improvements in quality of life for Cubans remains the U.S. embargo.
“It should be ended,” says Jorge Aerrí, who is sitting beside his friend. The effect of the embargo has been “very bad” for generations of Cubans, he adds.
Still, in private conversations, Cubans here concede that the current socialist system yields its own problems.
For an example, one individual suggested, consider the system of housing: The majority of Cubans do not own their apartments in Havana and Matanzas, but live in those assigned to their families after the redistribution of property that followed the revolution.
The only legal transfer of such properties is by passing them down to descendants, or in apartment swaps in which no money is supposed to change hands.
In practice, the individual said, this simply means that a small family searching for a bigger place to live must save up enough in CUC to conduct an under-the-table purchase of a new apartment, a transaction that leaves buyer and purchaser alike vulnerable to exposure and substantial legal penalties.
After land reforms during and after the Special Period, farmers can pool land into cooperatives to improve economies of scale, and some privately own livestock like cattle, as opposed to those that are the property of the government. But a farmer cannot slaughter his own cattle for meat – the beef for the ropa vieja in the tourist restaurants of Habana Vieja is either government-slaughtered or imported.
“So smart guajiros tie the cow near the railway,” the individual said, using the Cuban term for peasant. “When the train comes” – he smacked his fist into his palm – “they say, ‘act of God.’”
But the same individual, admitting frustration with some of the government’s policies, nonetheless did not subscribe to the sharp rhetoric of President Obama, who criticized “disturbing” human rights conditions and the government of Raúl Castro last week, just as the Amistad was making its visit to Havana.
The failure of such economic conditions to trigger a more overt opposition to the existing power structures in Cuba is something even vocal dissidents in the country acknowledge.
“For those of us with the illusion that people are preoccupied by the most burning issues of the day, it’s always a little frustrating to come across a group of men shouting and gesticulating passionately, not about how to end the country’s dual monetary system, nor how to reclaim some right they’ve been cheated out of, but only about whether some play was the right thing to do, or who, among all the players, is the best batter,” wrote Yoani Sanchez, the author of the blog Generation Y, in a post last week about the ongoing Cuban baseball finals between Industriales of Havana and their rivals from Villa Clara.
A costly struggle
Ricardo Alarcón opens with a joke. As president of the National Assembly of the People’s Power, he acts as the speaker of the legislative chamber, which means he rarely has to speak, but instead orders others to take the floor.
Alarcón, one of the most powerful politicians in Cuba, is speaking at a late-evening reception on the open terrace of the Ludwig Foundation in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado, flanked by Cuban artists, the leaders of Amistad America and others who arranged the quasi-diplomatic visit that is the schooner’s trip to Cuba.
Alarcón is speaking primarily about the struggle for racial equality that is the primary subject of the Amistad event, but toward the end of his remarks, he interjects a note on economics. Other nations around the Caribbean threw off the yoke of colonial power as Cuba did, he notes, but too often entered independence with the same structures of racial and class hierarchy in place.
“From the very first day, that struggle was indivisible from the struggle of black people who had been exploited and overexploited in this island,” he says.
Other countries have tried less radical change, and have retreated from the 1959 ideal of mandating equality even if only harsh measures will work. But not Cuba, Alaracón says.
“And that is the reason why this struggle has been so difficult, why it has cost us so dearly.”
Tuesday, February 02, 2010Rage Against the Marxist Machineby Humberto Fontova
Hugo Chavez' inspirational debt to Ernesto "Che" Guevara is such that he titled his regime's socio-economic model, "Mision Che Guevara." Don't look for much of this in the MSM–but as I write Venezuela's youth are hitting the streets in the tens of thousands and with raised fists–AGAINST Castro/Che brand- socialism (having gotten a taste.)
In response, Chavez' police and brownshirt goon-squads (some mimicking their national leader by wearing Che T-shirts) bludgeon, tear gas, shoot and arrest hundreds of rebellious Venezuelan youth.
Arguing with Idiots By Glenn Beck
In fact, nothing could be more fitting. In a famous speech in 1961 Che Guevara denounced the very "spirit of rebellion" as "reprehensible." "Youth must refrain from ungrateful questioning of governmental mandates" commanded Guevara. "Instead they must dedicate themselves to study, work and military service."
Youth, wrote Guevara, "should learn to think and act as a mass." Those who "chose their own path" (as in growing long hair and listening to Yankee-Imperialist Rock & Roll) were denounced as "delinquents." In his famous speech Che Guevara even vowed, "to make individualism disappear from Cuba! It is criminal to think of individuals!" he raved.
As luck would have it, this very month GQ magazine modestly crowned itself the crowner of the "25 Most Stylish Men in the World." Based on their cover, the top contender for the top spot seems like cheeky free-spirit Johnny Depp, who appears shirtless–all the better to display his Che Guevara pendant.
On top of jailing political prisoners at a higher rate than Stalin's and murdering more people in its first three years than Hitler's in its first six, here's an (abbreviated) list of the things prohibited under penalty of jail and/or forced labor by the regime co-founded by the gentleman cheeky free-spirit Johnny Depp flaunts on his t-shirts, kerchiefs and pendants:
1. To say "Down with Fidel!" or "Che Sucks!" Cuba's constitution" mandates 18 months in prison for anyone overheard cracking a joke against Castro or Che. If the neighborhood CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, imported to Cuba by the East German STASI, who grandfathered it from Hitler's Gestapo) overhears any such deviation from "ideological purity" the regime "will want a word with you."
2. Travel abroad without permission from the government. (which is granted mostly to regime toadies and hacks.
3. Switch jobs without regime permission.
4. Switch homes without regime permission…
5. Publish anything without regime permission.
6. Own a personal computer, a fax machine or a satellite antenna.
7. Access the Internet. Cuba's Internet is under constant regime "surveillance." By the secret police. Only 1.7% of the population has access to the web, a lower percentage than in Papua New Guinea. This is a nation that pre-Castro/Che had more telephones and TV's per-capita than most European countries
8. Send your children to a private or religious school. All schools belong to the Communist party.
9. Tune in to any free radio or television station. In Cuba all media is property of the Stalinist regime.
12. Read books, magazines, or newspapers, not approved by the regime. All books, magazines, and newspapers in Cuba are published by the Stalinist regime.
13. Receive publications from abroad or from visitors. This is punishable by jail pursuant to Law 88.
14. Openly communicate with foreign journalists.
15. Visit or stay in hotels, restaurants, beaches or resorts for tourists. (regime permission is granted to a tiny number of regime hacks and toadies)
16. Accept gifts or donations from foreign visitors.
17. Seek employment with foreign companies allowed to do business in Cuba. (regime permission is required for employment with these accomplices with Stalinism.)
18. Own your own home or business.
19. Earn more than the wages established by the regime for all employees: $7-12 monthly for most jobs, $15-20 monthly for professionals, such as doctors and government officials.
20. Sell any personal belongings, services, homemade foods or crafts without regime permission…
21. Fish along the coastline or board a boat without regime permission.
22. Belong to any independent trade union. The regime controls all unions and no individual or collective bargaining is permitted; neither are strikes or protests.
23. Organize any artistic performance without regime permission. (Don't look for this announced at the Sundance Film Festival but before Robert Redford released the Motorcycle Diaries he was mandated to travel to Cuba and give a special screening for approval to one of the film's co/producers: Fidel Castro. So in effect, this Castroite provision can actually extend beyond Cuba's borders.)
24. Select a doctor or hospital. The regime assigns them all.
25. Seek medical help outside of Cuba.
26. Hire an attorney. All are assigned by the regime.
28. Refuse to participate in an event or mass demonstration organized by the Communist Party. (Turn down such an "offer" and watch your food rations shrink and employment status crumble.)
29. Refuse to participate in "voluntary" work for adults and children. (see above)
30. Refuse to vote in a single party election featuring only Stalinist candidates nominated by the Stalinist regime.
31. Transport any food products for either personal or family consumption between provinces.
32. Slaughter a cow. This "felony" is sanctioned by five years imprisonment.
33. Purchase or sell real estate or land.
34. Select a career. In the selection process for universities (all of which belong to the Stalinist regime), regime apparatchiks select it for you, closely reviewing your record of "ideological purity," as reported to them by regime snitches.
35. Invite a foreigner to spend the night at your home.
36. Buy milk in a regime outlet for any child older than seven years. Only Cuban children up to seven years of age have the right to pay a quota for milk. After that, parents can only obtain milk in the black market—if caught and their "ideological purity" (as reported by regime snitches) is in question, jail time is usually in the offing for the hapless Castro subject.
Today the world's largest Che Guevara image adorns Cuba's headquarters and torture chambers for its KGB and STASI-trained secret police. And cheeky free-spirit Johnny Depp seems delighted to flaunt this emblem from his pendants, shirts and kerchiefs. In a Vibe Magazine interview a few years back, Johnny Depp boasted of "digging" Che Guevara.
On the other hand, Venezuela's youth see what's coming with "Mission Che Guevara." And as we saw in harrowing detail above—want no part of it.
"I bet you were expecting a Hollywood putz," boasted Depp to his obsequious Vibe magazine interviewer who seemed dazzled by Depp's penetrating sagacity. "Bet you expected some f**cking commodity without a brain in his head!"
Nothing of the sort, Mr Depp. In such as Hollywood and Cannes, you tower as an exceptional intellectual commodity.
Humberto Fontova : Rage Against the Marxist Machine – Townhall.com (2 February 2010)http://townhall.com/columnists/HumbertoFontova/2010/02/02/rage_against_the_marxist_machine
Thursday, January 21, 2010Che Guevara Exposed: The Killer on the Lefties' T-Shirtsby Humberto Fontova
Editor's note: This exposé on Che Guevara first appeared in the June 2009 issue of Townhall Magazine. To subscribe to Townhall Magazine and get your free copy of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution," click here.
The U.K. Guardian interviewed Oscar-winning actor Benicio del Toro earlier this year regarding his role as Che Guevara in Stephen Soderbergh's new movie "Che." "Dammit This Guy Is Cool!" was the interview title. "Del Toro was fascinated with Che Guevara from the first time he heard his name mentioned in the Rolling Stones song 'Indian Girl,'" reads the introduction to the interview. "I hear of this guy, and he's got a cool name, Che Guevara!" says del Toro. "Groovy name, groovy man, groovy politics! So I came across a picture of Che, smiling, in fatigues, I thought, 'Dammit, this guy is cool-looking!'"
Well, there you have it. In effect, Benicio del Toro, who fulfilled an obvious fantasy by starring as Che Guevara in the four-and-a-half-hour movie he also co-produced, revealed the inspiration (and daunting intellectual exertion) of millions of Che fans—and not only recent ones. "1968 actually began in 1967 with the murder of Che," recounts Christopher Hitchens. "His death meant a lot to me, and countless like me, at the time. Che was a role model."
Upon winning the Cannes Film Festival's "best actor" award (Sean Penn headed the voting jury) for his "Che" role, del Toro dedicated the award "to the man himself, Che Guevara!" "Through all the awards the movie gets," gushed del Toro during the award ceremony, "you'll have to pay your respects to the man!"
As a celebrity-hipster fan of Che Guevara, del Toro has plenty of company paying these respects. Johnny Depp conspicuously wears a Che pendant from his neck and in a Vibe magazine interview proclaimed his "digging" of Che Guevara.
The New York Times titled its review of Soderbergh's movie, "Saluting the Rebel Underneath the T-Shirt." In fact, had del Toro, Depp or Hitchens been born earlier and in Cuba and attempted a rebel lifestyle, their "digging" of Castroite Cuba would have been of a more literal nature. Del Toro, Depp and Hitchens would have found themselves chained and digging ditches and mass graves in a prison camp system inspired by the man they "dig." Had their digging in a Cuban forced-labor camp lagged, a "groovy" Communist guard might have shattered their teeth with a "groovy" Czech machine-gun butt, or perhaps slashed their buttocks with some "groovy" Soviet bayonets.
In a famous speech in 1961, Che Guevara denounced the very "spirit of rebellion" as "reprehensible." "Youth must refrain from ungrateful questioning of governmental mandates," commanded Guevara. "Instead, they must dedicate themselves to study, work and military service." "Youth," wrote Guevara, "should learn to think and act as a mass."
"Those who choose their own path" (as in growing long hair and listening to "Yankee-Imperialist" Rock & Roll) were denounced as worthless "roqueros," "lumpen" and "delinquents." In his famous speech, Che Guevara even vowed "to make individualism disappear from Cuba! It is criminal to think of individuals!"
Tens of thousands of Cuban youths learned that Che Guevara's admonitions were more than idle bombast. In Guevara, the hundreds of Soviet KGB and East German STASI "consultants" who flooded Cuba in the early 1960s found an extremely eager acolyte. By the mid '60s, the crime of a "rocker" lifestyle (blue jeans, long hair, fondness for the Beatles and Stones) or effeminate behavior got thousands of youths yanked out of Cuba's streets and parks by secret police and dumped in prison camps with "Work Will Make Men Out of You" emblazoned in bold letters above the gate and with machine gunners posted on the watchtowers. The initials for these camps were UMAP, not GULAG, but the conditions were quite similar.
Today, the world's largest image of the man that so many hipsters sport on their shirts adorns Cuba's headquarters and torture chambers for its KGB-trained secret police. Nothing could be more fitting.
Ignorance, of course, accounts for much Che idolatry. But so does mendacity and wishful thinking, all of it boosted by reflexive anti-Americanism. The most popular version of the Che T-shirt, for instance, sports the slogan "fight oppression" under his famous countenance. This is the face of the second in command, chief executioner and chief KGB liaison for a regime that jailed political prisoners at a higher rate than Stalin's and executed more people in its first three years in power than Hitler's executed in its first six.
THE REAL OPPRESSOR
In 1959, Cuba had a population of 6.4 million people (with a higher per capita income than most Europeans, by the way). According to Freedom House, 500,000 Cubans have passed through Cuba's prison systems, proportionally more than went through Stalin's Gulag. And many of Che Guevara's political prisoners qualify as the longest-suffering political prisoners in modern history, having suffered prison camps, forced labor and torture chambers for a period three times as long in Fidel and Che's Gulag as Alexander Solzhenitsyn suffered in Stalin's.
The figures for the Che/Castro murders and jailings do not come from any "biased" Cuban-exile source. They're available from "The Black Book of Communism," authored by French scholars and translated into English by Harvard University Press, not exactly headquarters for any vast right-wing conspiracy.
In 1956-7, this world-famous "Anti-Imperialist" who often signed his personal correspondence with the moniker "Stalin II," appalled some of his fellow anti-Batista rebels by applauding the Soviet slaughter of Hungarian freedom fighters. All through the horrifying Soviet massacre, Che dutifully parroted the Soviet script that the workers, peasants and college kids battling Russian tanks in Budapest with small arms and Molotov cocktails were all "Fascists and CIA agents!" who all deserved prompt execution.
"Executions?" Che Guevara exclaimed while addressing the hallowed halls of the U.N. General Assembly Dec. 9, 1964. "Certainly we execute!" he declared, to the claps and cheers of that august body. "And we will continue executing as long as it is necessary! This is a war to the death against the revolution's enemies!"
According to the "Black Book of Communism," those firing-squad executions had reached 14,000 by the end of the '60s, the equivalent, given the relative populations, of more than 3 million executions in the U.S. "I don't need proof to execute a man," snapped Che to a judicial toady in 1959. "I only need proof that it's necessary to execute him! … Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. We execute from revolutionary conviction."
Upon arriving in Havana in January 1959 after an utterly bogus guerrilla war (The New York Times breathlessly reported of "thousands dead in single battles!" The official tally compiled by the U.S. embassy after two years of ferocious "civil war" was 184 dead on both sides, half New Orleans' annual murder tally.), Che Guevara immediately recognized the moat around Havana's old Spanish fortress La Cabana as a handy-dandy, ready-made execution pit. So he promptly put his firing squads to work in triple shifts.
Edwin Tetlow, Havana correspondent for London's Daily Telegraph, reported on a mass "trial" orchestrated by Che Guevara in February 1959, where Tetlow noticed the death sentences posted on a board before the trial had started.
"When you saw the beaming look on Che's face as the victims were tied to the stake and blasted apart by the firing squad," former Cuban political prisoner, Roberto Martin-Perez, told me, "you saw there was something seriously, seriously wrong with Che Guevara."
"Castro ordered mass murder," remembers Martin-Perez, "but for him it was a utilitarian slaughter, in order to consolidate his power. A classic psychopath, the butchery didn't seem to affect him one way or the order. But Che Guevara, as his chief executioner, relished the slaughter."
As commander of this prison/execution yard, Che often shattered the skull of the condemned man by firing the coup de grace himself. When other duties tore him away from his beloved execution yard, he consoled himself by viewing the slaughter. Che's second-story office in La Cabana had a section of wall torn out so he could watch his darling firing squads at work.
A Romanian journalist named Stefan Bacie visited Cuba in early 1959 and was fortunate enough to get an audience with the already famous Che Guevara. Upon entering the chief executioner's office, Bacie saw Che motioning him over to the office's newly constructed window. Bacie got there just in time to hear the command of "Fuego!," hear the blast from the firing squad and see a condemned prisoner man crumple and convulse. The stricken journalist immediately left and composed a poem, titled, "I No Longer Sing of Che." ("I no longer sing of Che, any more than I would of Stalin," go the first lines.)
Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution
WOMEN AND CHILDREN, TOO
Even as a youth, Ernesto "Che" Guevara's writings revealed a serious mental illness. "My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any vencido that falls in my hands! With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl!" This is from Guevara's famous "Motorcycle Diaries," though Robert Redford somehow "overlooked" it while directing his heartwarming movie of the same name.
The Spanish word vencido, by the way, translates into "defeated" or "surrendered." And indeed, "the "acrid odor of gunpowder and blood" very rarely reached Guevara's nostrils from actual combat. It came mostly from the close-range murders of unarmed and defenseless men (and boys). Carlos Machado was 15 years old in 1963 when the bullets from the fi ring squad shattered his body. His twin brother and father collapsed beside Carlos from the same volley. All had resisted Castro's and Che's theft of their humble family farm.
Rigoberto Hernandez was 17 when Che's soldiers dragged him from his cell in La Cabana, jerked his head back to gag him and started dragging him to the stake. Little "Rigo" pleaded his innocence to the very bloody end. But his pleas were garbled and difficult to understand. His struggles while being gagged and bound to the stake were also awkward. The boy had been a janitor in a Havana high school and was mentally retarded. His single mother had pleaded his case with hysterical sobs. She had begged, beseeched and finally proven to his "prosecutors" that it was a case of mistaken identity. Her only son, a boy in such a condition, couldn't possibly have been "a CIA agent planting bombs."
"Fuego!" and the firing squad volley riddled Rigo's little bent body as he moaned and struggled awkwardly against his bounds, blindfold and gag. Remember the gallant Che Guevara's instructions to his revolutionary courts: "Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail." And remember that Harvard Law School's invitation to Fidel Castro to speak on campus, and rollicking ovation he received, happened in the very midst of this appalling and lawless bloodbath.
The victims of this Stalinist bloodbath were not exclusively men and boys. In fact, the Castroites were well ahead of the Taliban. On Christmas Eve 1961, a young Cuban woman named Juana Diaz spat in the face of the executioners who were binding and gagging her. They'd found her guilty of feeding and hiding "bandits" (Che's term for Cuban rednecks who took up arms to fight his theft of their land to create Stalinist kolkhozes). When the blast from that firing squad demolished her face and torso, Juana was six months pregnant.
The term "hatred" was a constant in Guevara's writings. Here's a taste from this icon of flower children: "Hatred as an element of struggle"; "hatred that is intransigent"; "hatred so violent that it propels a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him a violent and cold-blooded killing machine."
A RECORD OF FAILURE
The one genuine accomplishment in Che Guevara's life was the mass-murder of defenseless men and boys. Under his own gun, dozens died. Under his orders, thousands crumpled. At everything else Che Guevara failed abysmally, even comically. In 1965, while planning a military campaign in the Congo against crack mercenaries commanded by a professional soldier who helped defeat Rommel in North Africa, Che confidently allied himself with "soldiers" who used chicken feathers for helmets and stood in the open waving at attacking aircraft because a muganga (witch doctor) had assured them that the magic water he sprinkled over them would make .50 caliber bullets bounce harmlessly off their bodies. Six months later, Che fled Africa, narrowly escaping with his life and with his tail tucked tightly between his legs.
Two years later, during his Bolivian "guerrilla" campaign, Che split his forces, whereupon they got hopelessly lost and bumbled around, half-starved, half-clothed and half-shod, without any contact with each other for six months before being wiped out. They didn't even have World War II vintage walkie-talkies to communicate and seemed incapable of applying a compass reading to a map. They spent much of the time walking in circles and were usually within a mile of each other. During this blundering, they often engaged in ferocious firefights against each other.
"You hate to laugh at anything associated with Che, who murdered so many," says Felix Rodriguez, the Cuban- American CIA officer who played a key role in tracking Guevara down in Bolivia. "But when it comes to Che as 'guerrilla,' you simply can't help but guffaw."
DREAMS OF DESTRUCTION
Che's genocidal fantasies included a continental reign of Stalinism. And to achieve this ideal, he craved "millions of atomic victims"—most of them Americans. "The U.S. is the great enemy of mankind!" raved Guevara in 1961. "Against those hyenas there is no option but extermination. We will bring the war to the imperialist enemies' very home, to his places of work and recreation. The imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves. Thus, we'll destroy him! We must keep our hatred against them [the U.S.] alive and fan it to paroxysms!"
This was Che's prescription for America almost a half-century before Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and Al- Zarqawi appeared on our radar screens. Compared to Che Guevara, Ahmadinejad sounds like the Dalai Lama.
On Nov. 17, 1962, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI discovered that Che Guevara's bombast had substance. They infiltrated and cracked a plot by Cuban agents that targeted Macy's, Gimbel's, Bloomingdale's and Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal with a dozen incendiary devices and 500 kilos of TNT. The holocaust was set to go off the following week, the day after Thanksgiving. Che Guevara was the head of Cuba's "Foreign Liberation Department" at the time.
A little perspective: For the March 2004 Madrid subway blasts, all 10 of them that killed and maimed almost 2,000 people, al Qaeda used a grand total of 100 kilos of TNT. Castro's and Che's agents planned to set off five times that explosive power in some of the biggest department stores on earth, all packed to suffocation and pulsing with holiday cheer on the year's biggest shopping day. Thousands of New Yorkers, including women and children—actually, given the date and targets, probably mostly women and children—were to be incinerated and entombed.
A month earlier (during what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis), Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had salivated over the prospect of a much more satisfying holocaust. "If the nuclear missiles had remained, we would have fired them against the heart of the U.S., including New York City," boasted Guevara in November 1962. "The victory of socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims." Che thought he was speaking "off-the-record" to Sam Russell of Britain's Daily Worker at the time.
But for the prudence of Nikita Khrushchev, the Butcher of Budapest, those "millions of atomic victims" might have come about. Despite the diligent work of Kennedy Camelot court scribes and their ever-eager acolytes in the mainstream media, publishing and Hollywood, many serious analysts conclude that Fidel's and Che's genocidal fantasy was a much bigger factor in Khrushchev's decision to yank the missiles from Cuba than President Kennedy's utterly bogus bluster, threats and "blockade."
AMERICAN MEDIA AND THE MAKING OF AN ICON
So for many, the question remains: How did such an incurable doofus, sadist and epic idiot attain such iconic status?
The answer is that this psychotic and thoroughly unimposing vagrant named Ernesto Guevara de la Serna y Lynch had the magnificent fortune of linking up with modern history's top press agent, Fidel Castro, who—from The New York Times' Herbert Matthews in 1957 through CBS' Ed Murrow in 1959 to CBS' Dan Rather to ABC's Barbara Walters to NBC's Andrea Mitchell, more recently—always had the mainstream media anxiously scurrying to his every beck and call and eating out of his hand like trained pigeons.
Had Guevara not linked up with Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City that fateful summer of 1955—had he not linked up with a Cuban exile named Nico Lopez in Guatemala the year before who later introduced him to Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City—everything points to Ernesto continuing his life of a traveling hobo, panhandling, mooching off women, staying in flophouses and scribbling unreadable poetry.
Not to be outdone in the trained-pigeon department, while making their new film, Steven Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro repeatedly visited Havana to coo and peck away as anxiously as those newsmen while the regime tossed out its propaganda crumbs. Indeed, Soderbergh's very screenplay is based on Che Guevara's diaries, published in Havana with the foreword written by Fidel Castro himself.
"'Che' Film Gets Thumbs up in Cuba," ran the headline from CNN's Havana bureau on Dec. 8. Benicio del Toro had just introduced it in person as the highlight of the Havana Film Festival. "It's a privilege to be here!" gushed del Toro to his Stalinist hosts. "I'm grateful that the Cuban people can see this movie!"
And why shouldn't Castro's subjects be allowed to view his movie? Weren't Stalin's subjects allowed to watch "The Battleship Potemkin"? Weren't Hitler's subjects allowed to watch Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of Will"? Both were produced at the direction of the propaganda ministries of totalitarian regimes—as was mostly the case with Soderbergh and del Toro's "Che." A proclamation from Castro's own propaganda ministry dated Dec. 7, 2008, actually boasts of their role: "Actor Benicio del Toro presented the film (at Havana's Karl Marx Theater) as he thanked the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) for its assistance during the shooting of the film, which was the result of seven-year research work in Cuba" (emphasis added). The ICAIC is an arm of Stalinist Cuba's propaganda ministry.
More than his sadism, megalomania or even his epic stupidity, what most distinguished Ernesto "Che" Guevara from his peers was his sniveling cowardice. In 1967, Che learned that taking on Fidel Castro as agent has its drawbacks. As many of his former colleagues all attest, "Fidel only praises the dead." So prior to whooping up his revolutionary sidekick, Fidel Castro sent him "to sleep with the fishes."
Too bad Soderbergh and del Toro didn't interview the former CIA officers who revealed to me in interviews how Fidel Castro himself, via the Bolivian Communist Party, constantly fed the CIA info on Che's whereabouts in Bolivia. Including Fidel Castro's directive to the Bolivian Communists regarding Che and his merry band might have also added drama to their film. "Not even an aspirin," instructed Cuba's Maximum Leader to his Bolivian comrades, meaning that Bolivia's Communists were not to assist Che in any way—"not even with an aspirin," if Che complained of a headache.
One day before his death in Bolivia, Che Guevara—for the first time in his life—finally faced something properly describable as combat. So he ordered his guerrilla charges to give no quarter, to fight to their last breaths and to their last bullet. With his men doing exactly what he ordered (fighting and dying to the last bullet), a slightly wounded Che snuck away from the firefight and surrendered with fully loaded weapons while whimpering to his captors: "Don't Shoot! I'm Che. I'm worth more to you alive than dead!" His Bolivian captors viewed the matter differently. In fact, they adopted a policy that has since become a favorite among Americans who encounter (so-called) endangered species threatening their families or livestock on their property: "Shoot, shovel and shut-up."
Justice has never been better served.
Humberto Fontova : Che Guevara Exposed: The Killer on the Lefties' T-Shirts – Townhall.com (21 January 2010)http://townhall.com/columnists/HumbertoFontova/2010/01/21/che_guevara_exposed_the_killer_on_the_lefties%E2%80%99_t-shirts?page=full&comments=true
Posted on Tuesday, 11.10.09KARL MARXReality defeated communist theoryBY CARLOS MONTANERwww.firmapress.com
Twenty years ago, the rubble of the Berlin Wall crashed down loudly onto Marxism and pulverized it. Something that, paradoxically, confirmed Marx's opinion about theories, which he explained in his Theses on Feuerbach: “It is in practice that man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the worldliness [Diesseitigkeit] of his thinking.''
Marxism simply could not withstand its confrontation with reality. It promised paradise on Earth and spawned 20 horrendous dictatorships. It left 100 million dead. It impoverished half a planet. It retarded the scientific and technical progress of numerous nations and debased several generations of people who were forced to lie and celebrate a regime they deeply detested.
When Marx died, his disciple, comrade and friend Friedrich Engels described the two “great contributions'' of the German thinker: historical materialism and surplus value.
What were these? Historical materialism (a ridiculous hypothesis that ignored the enormous complexity of human nature) postulated that religion, the political system, the institutions of law, moral, art, etc., constituted the “superstructure'' generated by the interests of the ruling class that controlled the “infrastructure,'' that is, the means of production.
According to Marx and Engels, once private property disappeared and the workers gained control of the productive apparatus, the superstructure would radically change.
As to surplus value, it was an error that emerged from the theory of value held by the classic economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Marx believed that the value of production depended on the human labor attached to it, so the capitalist enriched himself by appropriating the difference between the price of sale and the real cost of the goods or services produced. That was surplus value.
A couple of years before Marx's death (1883), a young Austrian economist, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk demonstrated to him his mistakes and incidentally pointed to the contradictions on that theme that existed between Volume One and Volume Three of Das Kapital.
Why did these two intellectual blunders generate a catastrophe as gigantic as the communist dictatorships? First, because in order to dismantle the bourgeois state and remake the relationships of property according to the utopia Marx had designed, he prescribed (and his disciples heeded him) a dictatorial stage directed by the proletariat.
In other words, he advocated a goals-oriented ethic capable of justifying any monstrosity that might lead humans in the direction of happiness and progress. Later, Lenin and other cruel communists created a method of social control through police repression that turned out to be unbeatable. Once the cage had been built, it was very difficult to escape from it.
Why, in the end, did communism sink? Basically, because of the demoralization of the ruling class when faced by the material and spiritual failure of Marxism-Leninism. The communists could not ignore the comparison between the two Germanys or the two Koreas. They saw with envy how all the scientific and technical discoveries took place in the Western democracies endowed with capitalist economies.
They had learned ad nauseam that Marx was wrong when it came to theory, and that the implementation of his ideas had senselessly led millions of human beings to slaughter and driven into poverty those societies that had tried them.
To deal with that situation, the reforms began; but Marxism was not reformable. Marx's presumption that he had discovered the laws that rule history and economic development was hogwash that could not be corrected.
His theory of surplus value and, in the end, his inability to understand the concept of subjective value, could not be modified either. It was like believing that the Earth is flat.
The provisional era of the dictatorship of the proletariat had become a nightmare. It was not a phase but a repugnant goal controlled by the security apparatus. For that reason, when they tried to fix the system, the edifice collapsed. It had been built on a false foundation.
Only Cuba and North Korea stubbornly cling to the error, but it's only a matter of time. In those countries, not even the ruling class believes a word of the official line.
Reality defeated communist theory – Other Views – MiamiHerald.com (10 November 2009)http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/other-views/story/1325237.html
Anniversary of a Castroite MassacreBy Humberto Fontova
In the predawn darkness of July 13, 1994, 72 desperate Cubans – old and young, male and female – sneaked aboard a decrepit but seaworthy tugboat in Havana harbor and set off for the U.S. and the prospect of freedom.
Let Jack Nicholson label their captive homeland "a paradise!" Let Bonnie Raitt rasp out her ditty calling it a "Happy Little Island!" Let Ted Turner hail their slavemaster as a "Helluva guy!" Let Democratic party honcho Frank Mankiewics proclaim Castro "one of the most charming men I've ever met!" Let Michael Moore hail the glories of Cuba's healthcare in Sicko. Let Barbara Walters add gravitas while soft-soaping Castro during an "interview": "you have brought great health to your country."
The people boarding that tug knew better. And for a simple reason: the cruel hand of fate had slated them to live under his handiwork.
The lumbering craft cleared the harbor and five foot waves started buffeting the tug. The men sprung to action as the impromptu crew while mothers, sisters and aunts hushed the terrified children, some as young as one. Turning back was out of the question.
A few miles into the turbulent sea, 30-year-old Maria Garcia felt someone tugging her sleeve. She looked down and it was her 10-year-old son, Juan. "Mami, look!" and he pointed behind them toward shore. "What's those lights?"
"Looks like a boat following us, son," she stuttered while stroking his hair. "Calm down, mi hijo (my son). Try to sleep. When you wake up, we'll be with our cousins in a free country. Don't worry." In fact, Maria suspected the lights belonged to Castro patrol boats coming out to intercept them.
In seconds the patrol boats were alongside the tug and – WHACK!! – with its steel prow, the closest patrol boat rammed the back of the tug. People were knocked around the deck like bowling pins. But it looked like an accident, right? Rough seas and all. Could happen to anyone, right?
Hey, WATCH IT!" a man yelled as he rubbed the lump on his forehead. "We have women and children aboard!" Women held up their squalling children to get the point across. If they'd only known.
This gave the gallant Castroites nice targets for their water cannon. WHOOSH! The water cannon was zeroed and the trigger yanked. The water blast shot into the tug, swept the deck and mowed the escapees down, slamming some against bulkheads, blowing others off the deck into the five-foot waves.
"MI HIJO! MI HIJO!" Maria screamed as the water jet slammed into her, ripping half the clothes off her body and ripping Juan's arm from her grasp. "JUANITO! JUANITO!" She fumbled frantically around her, still blinded by the water blast. Juan had gone spinning across the deck and now clung desperately to the tug's railing 10 feet behind Maria as huge waves lapped his legs.
WHACK! Another of the steel patrol boats turned sharply and rammed the tug from the other side. Then – CRACK! another from the front! WHACK! The one from behind slammed them again. The tug was surrounded. It was obvious now: The ramming was NO accident. And in Cuba you don't do something like this without strict orders from WAY above.
"We have women and children aboard!" The men yelled. "We'll turn around! OK?!"
WHACK! the Castroites answered the plea by ramming them again. And this time the blow from the steel prow was followed by a sharp snapping sound from the wooden tug. In seconds the tug started coming apart and sinking. Muffled yells and cries came from below. Turns out the women and children who had scrambled into the hold for safety after the first whack had in fact scrambled into a watery tomb.
With the boat coming apart and the water rushing in around them, some got death grips on their children and managed to scramble or swim out. But not all. The roar from the water cannons and the din from the boat engines muffled most of the screams, but all around people were screaming, coughing, gagging and sinking.
Fortunately, a Greek freighter bound for Havana had happened upon the scene of slaughter and sped to the rescue. NOW one of the Castro boats threw out some life preservers on ropes and started hauling people in, pretending they'd been doing it all along.
Maria Garcia lost her son, Juanito, her husband, brother, sister, two uncles and three cousins in the maritime massacre. In all, 43 people drowned, 11 of them children. Carlos Anaya was 3 when he drowned, Yisel Alvarez 4. Helen Martinez was 6 months old.
And all this death and horror to flee from a nation that experienced net immigration throughout the 20th Century, where boats and planes brought in many more people than they took out – except on vacation.(despite what you saw in The Godfather, actually, in 1950, more Cubans vacationed in the U.S. than Americans in Cuba, as befit a nation with a bigger middle class than Switzerland.)
Thirty one people were finally plucked from the seas and hauled back to Cuba where all were jailed or put under house arrest. They hadn't been through enough, you see. But a few later escaped Cuba on rafts and reached Miami. Hence we have Maria Garcia's gut-wrenching testimony presented to the UN, the OAS and Amnesty International, who all filed "complaints," reports, "protests.".
This was obviously a rogue operation by crazed deviants, you say. No government could possibly condone, much less directly order such a thing! Right?
Wrong. Nothing is random in Cuba. One of the gallant water-cannon gunners was even decorated (personally) by Castro. Perhaps for expert marksmanship. A three-year old child presents a pretty small target. A six-month old baby an even smaller one. "Magnificent job defending the glorious revolution, companero!"
And what about the net result of all the "petitions," "protests," etc. by OAS, the United Nations – by all these revered "multi-lateral" organizations?
Well, just last week OAS president Jose Insulza, between sputtering insults at the antiseptically constitutional government of Honduras, proclaimed his "great respect and admiration for Fidel Castro."
And barely a year and a half after his pre-meditated massacre of women and children, Fidel Castro received an engraved invitation to address the United Nations on its glorious 50th anniversary. Castro was actually the guest of honor. "The Hottest Ticket in Manhattan!" read a Newsweek story that week. "Fidel Takes Manhattan!" crowed Time magazine.
After his 'whoopin, hollering, foot-stomping ovation in the General Assembly ("Castro got, by far, the loudest and warmest reception," Time wrote) Castro plunged into Manhattan's social swirl, hob-knobbing with dozens of gliterattigliteratti, pundits and power brokers.
First, over to Mort Zuckerman's 5th Avenue pad as the guest of honor for a glamorous luncheon. A breathless Tina Brown, Mike Wallace, Bernard Shaw, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters were all on hand, clamoring for autographs and photo-ops. Diane Sawyer simply lost it in the child-murderers presence. She rushed up, broke into that toothy smile of hers, wrapped her arms around Castro and smooched him warmly on the cheek.
"You people are the cream of the crop!" Beamed the bearded man of the people to the rapt guests.
"Hear-hear!" chirped the delighted guests while tinkling their wine glasses in appreciation and glee. According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, on that visit Castro received 250 dinner invitations from American celebrities and power brokers. And who wants to bet a dollar to a donut that today all 250 moan and wail about the "horrors" in Guantanamo.
So what's the alternative if you can't flee Cuba? Well, in 1986 Cuba's suicide rate reached 24 per thousand – making it double Latin America's average, making it triple Cuba's rate during the unspeakable Batista era, making Cuban women the most suicidal in the world, and making death by suicide the primary cause of death for Cubans aged 15-48.
At that point the Cuban government ceased publishing the statistics on the self-slaughter, disguising them as "violent deaths," etc. The implications horrified even Cuba's Stalinist rulers.
American Thinker: Anniversary of a Castroite Massacre (13 July 2009)http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/07/anniversary_of_a_castroite_mas.html
Washington offers aid to hurricane-blasted CubaPosted on Fri, Sep. 05, 2008Associated Press
LA PALMA, Cuba –The United States has offered Cuba $100,000 in emergency aid for the victims of Hurricane Gustav and is willing to send far more if a U.S.-approved disaster assessment team is allowed to tour the hardest-hit areas.
All aid would be provided through international relief organizations, with none going directly to the communist government, said Gregory Adams, a spokesman for the U.S. Interests Section in the Cuban capital.
''We're awaiting a response from the Cuban government, whether they say yea or nay,'' Adams said. “It's not a shift in U.S. policy, it's a response to a humanitarian emergency.''
The Cuban government has not commented on the offer from its traditional foe.
Gustav damaged 100,000 homes, so the initial U.S. offer works out to only about $1 per home in need of repair.
But Cuba's government is facing sky-high expectations from those who lost everything in the storm. Yanet Pérez, for one, is convinced the government will build her a new home.
''I have faith. Other times when catastrophes have happened, they have mobilized and rebuilt,'' said the 28-year-old, who was slumped in a rocking chair with her 1-year-old daughter in front of the skeletal remains of her home in La Palma. “Those with children are given priority.''
Such sentiment sounds much like the propaganda that clogs state-controlled radio and television — but also reflects the genuine expectations of people who have always been promised that the communist system will provide for them, especially when times are hardest.
Living up to those expectations is an important test for Raúl Castro, who succeeded his brother, Fidel, as president six months ago.
While Gustav killed at least 122 people, including 26 in the United States, Cuba reported no deaths, thanks to mandatory evacuations. Still, the Category 4 hurricane will worsen an already severe, island-wide housing shortage.
Thousands who moved into temporary housing after Hurricane Michelle in 2001 still live in the decrepit apartments without proper water and sewage, and many are skeptical about quick recovery from Gustav as well.
''You have to keep pestering the [Communist] Party or they do nothing,'' said Josefa Fuentes, 52, who complained that officials won't fix the hole the hurricane left in her roof in Batabanó, a low-lying fishing community south of Havana.
Russian planes carried tents, floor tiles, pipes and food to Havana on Thursday, and several Latin American countries have pledged to send aid. But Fidel Castro wrote this week that repairs could cost billions — on an island where the average state salary is only about $20 per month.
The U.S. government offered aid after Hurricane Michelle, too, and Cuba turned it down. But Cuba took advantage of a 2000 U.S. law allowing direct-payment sale of U.S. food and agricultural products to the island. Today, America is Cuba's top supplier of food.
Havana offered 1,600 doctors to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in August 2005. The State Department said that Cuban help was not needed.
Gustav's center roared close to La Palma, a banana-growing town flanked by breathtaking green, limestone mountains, leaving piles of sticks where homes once stood. The region is where Cubans plant their finest tobacco, though the crop won't be affected because Gustav hit before planting season.
Work to rebuild homes is still days off, but trucks loaded with metal sheets for roofs and other flimsy construction materials have begun arriving.
Much of the recovery will fall to the military and brigades of students and young communists forced to work hard and fast for little or no wages.
In the one-room Batabanó home that Maria Elena Araujo shares with her wheelchair-using husband, the hole Gustav punched in the roof allows sunlight to shine at jagged angles on the bed. Araujo said officials told her it didn't require urgent attention.
''We don't have any support from anyone,'' the 54-year-old said. “I don't see a solution. I hope it doesn't rain.''
Back in La Palma, Pérez and her family are living in far worse conditions. Hurricane Gustav tore off the roof and crushed the walls and floor. ''It's a total loss,'' she said.
They sleep in a wood hut crammed with furniture salvaged from the house. There's no electricity. A truck rumbles by every day with potable water and milk for the baby. But the family has to cook on a camping stove, subsisting on rice and beans it stored up before the storm.
''The food is the hardest thing. There's not enough of it,'' said Pérez, who said she'd like to slaughter one of the chickens her husband raises, but that a lack of refrigeration means eating all the meat in one sitting.
Is Cuba Socialist?Submitted on 21 July, 2007 – 23:50 :: Marxism and Stalinism | Books | Cuba | Workers' Liberty 2/1, September 2001
Paul Hampton Reviews "Cuba: Socialism and Democracy" by Peter TaaffeThis book is a pseudo-debate between Peter Taaffe of the Socialist Party and CWI (formerly-Militant) in Britain and Doug Lorimer of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) It is also, I guess, an attempt to check the recent rash of Castro-worship in the Scottish Socialist Party, with whom Taaffe maintains a strained relationship.
The DSP, following the lead of the American SWP, rejects Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, preferring Lenin's blurred and outmoded formula of a "democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants" as the programme for revolutions in countries of less capitalist development. It endorses Castro's leadership largely uncritically, and sees Cuba since 1959 as a socialist state.
Taaffe subscribes to permanent revolution, and is thus more critical of Castro. Yet Taaffe shares fundamentally the same framework as Lorimer, believing that Cuba under Castro is, as Russia under Stalin and China under Mao were a deformed workers' state, historically more progressive than capitalism, and in some senses (nationalised property, planned economy, welfare gains, absence of a bourgeois class) part of the socialist alternative. More critical of Castro than the DSP, the CWI (in a pamphlet by Tony Saunois) constructs a mythical version of Che Guevara with which to associate itself. Despite some telling points, Taaffe never manages to nail Lorimer's Stalinoid politics.
Why isn't Cuba socialist? The 1959 revolution was not made by the Cuban working class but by the guerrillas of the July 26th Movement (J26M). There were no Soviets in Cuba in 1959 and the general strike the previous year had been a failure. There were no signs of workers seizing the factories, establishing committees for workers' control. There was no proliferation of independent unions challenging the Batista regime. The J26M was neither rooted in the working class, nor advanced a socialist programme.
The Castro regime, pushed into a corner by US imperialism, did indeed overthrow capitalism in Cuba after 1959, but only to construct a form of exploiting society on the model of the Stalinist USSR. Castro constructed a one-party system. Only supporters or members of the Cuban Communist Party can stand in elections. The trade union movement, purged after 1959, is now bound hand-and-foot to the state. Dissident political groups, even those opposed to the US blockade, cannot exist legally.
The welfare system in Cuba before the 1990s was indeed better than Batista's, and on a par with the best of equivalent capitalist states, such as Costa Rica and Taiwan. But Cuba was already one of the richest countries in Latin America before 1959. In the 1980s it depended on an annual $5 billion subsidy from the USSR, as well as on the exploitation of Cuban workers and peasants. After Russian support was withdrawn in 1989, the economy collapsed, to be drip-fed only by the recent expansion of tourism and business ventures.
In foreign policy, the Cuban state whistled to the tune of the USSR, supporting the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the crushing of Solidarnosc in 1981. In Africa, Cuba switched from the Eritrean national liberation movement to supporting the Derg in Ethiopia. Closer to home, Castro failed to condemn the slaughter of students in Mexico in 1968, gave his stamp of approval to the recently ousted PRI regime, even when it committed electoral fraud in 1988 to stay in power, and failed to back the Zapatistas. Socialists support Cuba's right to self-determination, and oppose the US blockade, but that does not commit us to silence on Castro's anti-working class policies at home or abroad.
Taaffe mentions some of this, but does not draw the threads together. Chapter Four asks: "Is there a privileged elite?" and shows that the Castro leadership has all the attributes of a ruling class.
Taaffe evades the fundamental problem for his position — how can a "workers' state" have been created without the active intervention of the working class? — and expresses a "workers' statism" that dare not speak its name.
The extent of Taaffe's illusions is indicated in passing when he implies that Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who recently orchestrated the oil price rises through the OPEC cartel, might be the new Fidel Castro. He also writes that it was wrong to support the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. True, but what about some political accounting for the nine years in which Taaffe's tendency supported the Russian troops!
Letters From Prison: Castro RevealedBy Ann Louise BardachSunday, February 25, 2007; B05
In April 1959, just months after a charismatic 32-year-old revolutionary named Fidel Castro seized the reins of power in Cuba, a slim volume of his correspondence, titled "Cartas del Presidio," or "Letters from Prison," was published in Havana. The book contained 21 letters addressed to Castro's inner circle of supporters, including his wife, Mirta Diaz-Balart; his half-sister, Lidia; a future mistress; the father of a fallen comrade; and nine missives to his devoted friend and political devotee, Luis Conte Aguero, who published the book.
The letters, however, have not appeared in English until now, and after 1960, when a disillusioned Conte Aguero fled Cuba, no further copies were printed in Havana. Nevertheless, this collection of Castro's writings — virtually the only unofficial writing he ever did — has become something of a Rosetta Stone for historians, biographers and journalists seeking to understand the man who would become Cuba's ruler for life. Some may argue that a careful reading of the letters foretells what would transpire in Cuba over the next 50 years. Others could say that the Castro of these letters is not the Castro he would become.
Both are true to varying degrees.
The letters begin several months after Castro's ill-fated attack on the Moncada military garrison. The brazen assault made Castro a household name. But it also irreparably wounded his wife's family, which included ministers in Fulgencio Batista's cabinet. Castro was now directly at war with his brother-in-law, deputy interior minister Rafael Diaz-Balart, who had introduced Fidel to Mirta when the two men were friends at the University of Havana.
To supplement her income while Castro was in prison, Mirta accepted a modest stipend from her well-connected brother through his government ministry. Castro's discovery of this arrangement catapulted him into a bottomless rage. Ruled by pride, as he has been throughout his life, he perceived the bequest as an attack on his honor — never mind Mirta's needs.
In a letter to Conte Aguero, he railed:
" I never imagined that Rafael could be such a scoundrel and that he had become so corrupted; I cannot conceive how he could have so pitilessly sacrificed the honor and name of his sister, exposing her to eternal shame and humiliation. . . . It is a chore to push away the mortal hatreds that seek to invade my heart. I do not know if there is anyone who has suffered more in these past days. It has been a terrible and decisive test, with the capacity of quashing the last atom of kindness and purity in my soul, but I have made a pledge to myself to persevere until death. . . . After such weeping and sweating of blood, what is left for one to learn in the school of sorrow?"
Castro and Mirta divorced while he was in prison, and she remarried and moved to Madrid. Although they reconciled about 10 years ago and the widowed Mirta returned to live in Cuba at Castro's request when he became ill, Castro waged a scorched-earth campaign in 1955 to keep his son Fidelito. Custody of his son — and of his country — became his twin jailhouse obsessions. And his battle for both reveals a man with an indomitable will and steely determination. Of his fight for Fidelito (which he won) he wrote to his sister Lidia: " I do not care one bit if this battle drags on till the end of the world. If they think they can exhaust my patience and, based on this, that I am going to concede — they are going to find that I am wrapped in Buddhist tranquility and am prepared to reenact the famous Hundred Years War — and win it! To these private matters, add my reflection on the political panorama — and it will not be difficult to imagine that I will leave this prison as the man of iron."
The letters amply illustrate Castro's many gifts: his formidable erudition, strategic thinking and natural leadership. They are also an early indicator of his Machiavellian cunning and his genius for public relations. And they dramatize his resentments and rages. Castro was remorseless and unforgiving of his perceived enemies, a man for whom compromise was a mark of weakness. In another letter to Lidia, he boasted, " I have a heart of steel and I will be dignified till the last day of my life." What must this intensely proud and private man have felt about the public disclosures of his recent medical travails, in which every inch of his intestines has become fodder for the world media?
In an early letter, from December 1953, Castro decides that he and his followers will forgo Christmas as a protest against authorities. " It is decided we shall not have Christmas — not to even drink water on that day as a sign of mourning. . . . There is no point for prisoners like us to aspire to the joys of Christmas." Castro banned the public celebration of Christmas in Cuba for nearly 30 years in 1969.
And yet the letters suggest that Castro was a man of unusual spiritual depth — and a fervent believer in God. Addressing the father of a fallen comrade, he writes: " I will not speak of him as if he were absent, he has not been and he will never be. These are not mere words of consolation. Only those of us who feel it truly and permanently in the depths of our souls can comprehend this. Physical life is ephemeral, it passes inexorably. . . . This truth should be taught to every human being — that the immortal values of the spirit are above physical life. What sense does life have without these values? What then is it to live? Those who understand this and generously sacrifice their physical life for the sake of good and justice — how can they die? God is the supreme idea of goodness and justice."
Any reasonable reading of these letters would lead one to anticipate that Castro would have been an exceptional steward for his country. His laments about the cruelty of Batista's secret police suggest that he would institute a system grounded on human rights. He wrote mournfully of the slaughter of his followers after their capture: " As for the prisoners, the entrance to the Moncada Garrison could well have had the warning posted in Dante's Inferno, 'Abandon all hope.' . . . Scenes of indescribable courage were exhibited by those tortured. Two young women, our heroic comrades, Melba Hernandez and Haydee Santamaria, were detained at the Civil Hospital. . . . To the latter, still in the barracks at dusk, a sergeant . . . with bloody hands, showed her the eyes of her brother which he had just gouged out. Later that night, they also gave her the news that her fiancé, also a prisoner, had been killed. "
Of his own situation he bitterly complained:
"About me, I can tell you that the only company I have is when they lay out a dead prisoner in the small funeral parlor which is across from my cell; there are occasions of mysterious hangings, strange murders of men whose health was annihilated by means of blows and tortures. But I cannot see them because there is a six foot screen blocking the only entrance to my cell, so that I may not see another human being, alive or dead. It would be too much magnanimity to permit me the company of a corpse!"
Most of all, it seemed certain that his outrage against Batista's upending of the 1952 national elections would have led him to promptly reinstate free and transparent elections in Cuba. " Any great civic-political movement ought to have sufficient force to conquer power, by either the peaceful or the revolutionary route, or it runs the risk of being robbed of it, as happened to the Orthodox[Castro's political party] just two months before the elections."
And he lamented the trend toward cults of personality in Latin American politics. " I believe fundamentally that one of the greatest obstacles to the formation of such a movement is the excess of personalities and the ambitions of groups and leaders."
But in a few short years, Castro himself would become the looming personality in the hemisphere, while maintaining an inviolate zone of personal privacy for himself. Moreover, Cuba has not had a presidential election since 1948.
Toward the end of his incarceration, Castro began a correspondence with an ardent young supporter named Maria Laborde, in which he expressed a desire for a more intimate exchange. "The inscription on your card was so beautifully written, I have set my hope on the pleasure of soon receiving a letter from you, with the only variant that you use 'tu' instead of 'usted.' Could this be too much to hope?"
Castro's wish was realized soon after his release. Although it is not widely known, he began a liaison with the devoted Laborde, who later bore him a son.
In May 1955, just 13 days before his release, a light-hearted Castro wrote to his sister, ironing out his future housekeeping arrangements: " Regarding material comforts, if it were not essential to live with a minimum of material decency, believe me I would be happy living in a tenement and sleeping on a cot with a box in which to keep my clothes. I could eat a plate of malanga or potatoes and find it as exquisite as the manna of the Israelites. . . .
" There is nothing more agreeable than having a place where one can flick on the floor as many cigarette butts as one deems convenient without the subconscious fear of a housewife, vigilant as a sentinel, setting the ashtray where the ashes are about to fall. . . . Do not think I am an eccentric or that I have become one. . . . Books alone I need."
On May 15, a triumphant Fidel, his brother Raúl, and their followers strolled past the gates of the Isle of Pines prison — the beneficiaries of a national amnesty for political prisoners that Castro had campaigned for from his cell. Castro went directly to Havana to resume his campaign to topple the Batista government while Raul went to visit their ailing father in Biran. Angel Castro was a brawny, self-made land tycoon with whom Fidel had had a sometimes contentious relationship. Two months later, the brothers and their followers fled to Mexico. Castro would never see his father again.
Several years ago, Castro seemed to have made his peace with his father and installed a photograph of him on the wall of his office. Angel Castro died in 1956 of an intestinal hemorrhage at the age of 80 — precisely the age at which Castro became gravely ill with a similar affliction.
Ann Louise Bardach is co-editor of "The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro," due out this week from Avalon/Nation, and the author of "Cuba Confidential" (Random House).
Kosher chicken now available in CubaBy JENNA ROSMANCJN Intern
A halachic-based humanitarian and educational organization has begun slaughtering kosher chickens for the Cuban community on an ongoing basis.
“Even though in the past we had periodic chicken slaughtering… [From now on] every few weeks we’ll have another few slaughterers go down,” said Rabbi Simon Aisenbach, executive director of the Canadian Friends of Cuban Jewry (CFCJ).
“Every two to three weeks, a team goes down there to slaughter chickens, and we’d love to do more, but it’s based on how much we can put together. It’s a very costly project, but the more money we get the more we can do.”
The organization pays $6.80 for each chicken.
Rabbi Aisenbach said it’s difficult for the average Cuban to access poultry or meat on a regular basis.
“It’s very costly and the average individual makes very little there,” he said. “They have a few dollars that they accumulate, they’ll spend it on something else, like vegetables and eggs, which you can get more of for that same price.”
Two hundred and twenty families receive the 500 kosher chickens from the CFCJ. The number of chickens distributed to each family varies according to need, said Aisenbach.
Cuba’s only Orthodox synagogue, Adath Israel, serves as CFCJ’s distribution centre.
While the organization has made strides making chicken available, there is still some work that needs to be done before kosher beef is available to Cuba’s Jewish community, which Rabbi Aisenbach estimates to be around 1,000 and is centred mainly in Havana.
He said that while it is possible for the community to obtain a certain number of cattle from the government, “it’s not simple for them [the government] yet to digest this concept that in Jewish law a big part of the animal would not be kosher, and a big part of the animal, which maybe is kosher, is not halachically allowed to be eaten.”
“The Halachah with beef is a lot more complicated. There are tens and maybe hundreds of details, which… exist in kosher slaughter, pertaining [to] the cattle versus the chicken,” he said.
The CFCJ wrapped up its 101st mission to Cuba on July 9. The next group of shochtim (kosher slaughterers), all of whom are from South America, arrived in Cuba July 16 for a three-week stay.
The CFCJ, founded in 1994, is Chabad’s official representation in Cuba.
Its annual summer camp there, Gan Israel, begins July 23 and wraps up on Aug. 31.
The camp program is structured for the children, but parents or older siblings are invited to enjoy a day out and have a good, satisfying meal and “to enjoy different experiences that they cannot and would not all year round,” Rabbi Aisenbach said.
“We provide these kids with meals on a daily basis, and we thought we could provide the parents as well with the physical sustenance as well as the educational component.”
Rabbi Aisenbach said religious education and spiritual support is provided solely to the Jewish community, but the organization will not deny anyone humanitarian assistance, regardless of religion.
“We never differentiate, not only with the halachic Jew, but between the Jew and the non-Jew at all,” he said. “Even recently, we got a call for help to provide medicine from a completely non-Jewish couple. As much as we can, we try to help everybody. It’s important to help every human being for that matter.”
Rabbi Aisenbach is pleased with how his organization has been received by Cuba’s small Jewish community.
“It means everything for them, the fact that they know that they have an address and literally whatever they need, besides the ongoing humanitarian aid distribution,” he said.
“We have our representatives there, and anyone can turn to them, at any moment, with any subject, be it religious, educational or primarily humanitarian… [For] anything like shoes, clothes and medicine, [the community can] turn to us.”
ssue Date: March 24, 2006
Paradox rules in Cuba
Where ‘the simplest things are always the most complicated’
Part 1 of 2 on CubaPart 1 looks at daily life as Cubans experience it, 47 years after the revolution, from free baseball to frequent blackouts. Part 2 will look at the Catholic church in Cuba today.
By DAVID EINHORNHavana, Cuba
Salvador Márquez is an industrial engineer who drives a taxi, works 12 hours a day seven days a week, and lives with his wife and three children in his mother-in-law’s apartment because of Cuba’s chronic housing shortage. Yet when his 5-year-old son draws a picture for a foreign visitor, Márquez insists he add a Cuban flag. And he is bursting with pride because 15-year-old Antonio has been accepted into the Lenin Vocational School.
Márquez prefers to talk not about daily hardships but instead about Cuba’s health care and education systems, which are consistently ranked among the best in Latin America. He draws a religious parallel: “Look at the idea of Jesus: to share the bread. What we are doing here in Cuba, for all of its hundreds of problems, is closer to Christ than anything else in the post-modern world.”
Luis Mario Carbó, 37, sells jewelry and shirts out of the crowded apartment he shares with several other people in a dilapidated barrio of Old Havana. Although businesses from department stores to jazz clubs are run by the state, Cubans are permitted to sell goods out of their doorways. You can usually count the numbers of pens and hair bands on their tiny tables. Compared to most, Carbó’s offerings are a cornucopia of merchandise, yet he chafes under the arcane rules that govern private enterprise in Cuba and has been arrested and jailed twice for trying to flee to Miami on a raft.
“For me, the ideal of socialism is more like a perfect lie,” he said. “And it’s an elaborate lie, because behind the scenes everything is being manipulated to disguise the truth, which is that we are living here week to week, day to day, minute to minute.”
He quotes José Martí, the hero of Cuba’s war for independence: “I have lived inside the beast and I know its entrails.” But, then, Márquez had quoted Martí as well to forgive the regime its sins: “Even the sun has its spots.”
Thus in this 47th year of Cuba’s historic revolution, it remains in the eye of the beholder whether the nation is a socialist paradise or a living hell. That raging and seemingly endless debate often steals the stage from the incongruities across every walk of life that are the real show on this island of nearly 12 million people.
“Ay mi amor,” purrs a woman in response to a simple question about where to find a certain museum, “in this country, the simplest things are always the most complicated.” Cubans joke that their national sport is la lucha — the struggle. The punch line goes unstated: The reference is to the daily struggle, not the revolutionary one.
Yet only in Cuba does an unemployed electrician complaining about the nation’s constant blackouts and dysfunctional economy suddenly roll up his sleeve to show off a tattoo of Che Guevara. Long dead and thus liberated from actually having to administer the revolution he wrought alongside Fidel Castro, Che remains an icon to the Cuban people, the ideal of all that socialism portends to be.
At Cuba’s midseason all-star game, an enormous banner of Che behind home plate flutters in the tropical breeze. In this most baseball-crazy of nations, some 50,000 fans have flocked to a stadium in Havana. Admission is free — a triumph of socialism if ever there was one. Yet serious fans want to talk about Orlando “El Duque” Hernández and his brother Livan, Cuban defectors who pitch in the U.S. major leagues. No one mentions their politics; they just want to know their earned run averages. Besides, many in attendance are teenagers more interested in dancing the regatón between innings than in baseball, much less in Che, the revolutionary legend.
Not even religion is immune from Cuba’s dualities. The government reinstated Christmas as an official holiday following a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998, but today almost no one in Cuba celebrates it. In what was an avowed atheist state until restrictions on religious freedom were relaxed over the past decade, the largest denomination is likely neither Catholic nor Protestant but rather Santería, which combines traditional African religions with Roman Catholicism.
In the topsy-turvy economy of Cuba, Maritza Pérez took two months leave from her job as a financial analyst earning $18 a month to clean houses rented to tourists in order to pay for her upcoming Santería consecration, a ritual that involves animal slaughter and other ancestral customs. As a maid, access to tips in foreign exchange gives her the opportunity to earn $30 a month. Dressed in white as a sign of her efforts to purify herself — a common sight on the streets of Havana – the 42-year-old single mother regularly attends a Catholic church but also prays to icons in her cramped apartment that range from dried fruits to daggers, rocks and dolls.
Pérez happens to live next door to the office of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, government-run councils organized by block that watch over neighborhood activities. As if suddenly reminded, Pérez concludes an interview by giving thanks for all she has in life to neither her Catholic nor African saints, but rather to Fidel Castro.
Cuba reaches its paradoxical heights in its approach to tourism. A socialist state whose goal is a classless society has put in place a class-based system of tourism that borders on apartheid. Many Cubans are reluctant to walk near a tourist hotel for fear they will be questioned by the authorities as to why they are there. Cuba even uses a dual currency: for tourists, the convertible peso, which matches the dollar, and for its citizens, the Cuban peso, at about 24 pesos to the dollar. Tourists who live in the convertible world, which includes hotels and restaurants, pay prices on par with the United States or Europe. A Cuban baseball cap costs $25 in state-run souvenir stores, and there are no “knock-offs” to be found on Havana’s streets, virtually barren of commerce compared with other Latin American cities.
A ride for a tourist in a modern taxi is as expensive as in New York City, and passengers even are required to put on their seat belts. Cubans, however, are prohibited from riding in those taxis, just as the crammed and beat-up taxis reserved for Cubans at cheaper prices are prohibited from picking up tourists. Ever alert to the irony of their second-class status, Cubans refer to the vintage-1950s autos that constitute their fleet not as taxis but as maquinas (machines). Reflected Carbó, the shopkeeper, “One day as I was waiting forever for a maquina, I looked across the street and saw a line of empty taxis, waiting for tourists.”
No discussion of Cuba can be complete without touching on the third rail that is politics. After Castro repeatedly broadcast virulent anti-U.S. speeches in late January, Cubans took to the streets for a massive state-run demonstration against American policies. The vast majority of Cubans get their news exclusively from state-run media and have no access to cable television or the Internet, so the government’s demonization of President George Bush, in particular, has become part and parcel of daily life, expressed in everything from billboards to television ads to Castro’s relentless diatribes. The run-up to the march thus augured something of a collective catharsis to exorcise Castro’s rage, which is shared by many Cubans suffering from the U.S. economic blockade.
But this is Cuba, remember, where nothing is quite as it appears. In fact, as dawn breaks the march is nothing if not orderly and the atmosphere is festive. Salsa bands play and smiling marchers dance joyously even as they hold up posters comparing Bush to Hitler. From the rhetoric one might have expected an orgy of anger, but as the morning wears on it becomes apparent that with schools and offices closed, most marchers are more interested in enjoying a day off.
David Einhorn is a freelance writer based in Washington.
National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2006