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    Cuba’s 14ymedio Journalists Spend Two hours With the New York Times’ Ernesto Londoño

    Cuba’s 14ymedio Journalists Spend Two hours With the New York Times’
    Ernesto Londoño
    Posted: 12/06/2014 4:24 am EST

    14ymedio, 1 December 2014 — Ernesto Londoño, who authored six
    editorials on Cuba published recently by The New York Times engaged in a
    friendly conversation on Saturday with a part of the 14ymedio team, in
    the hotel where he is staying in Havana.
    Our intention was to interview him, but he told us the norms of his
    media prohibit his giving interviews without previous consultation. He
    also declined our proposal to take photos. Instead, he was eager to
    listen to our opinions in an atmosphere of mutual respect. There were
    two hours of conversation dedicated to refining, enriching and debating
    the controversial ideas that the newspaper has addresses in his editorials.

    The following is a brief synthesis of what was said there, arranged by
    topics and ascribed to the author of each opinion.

    Journalism

    Yoani Sánchez: Cubans are going to need a great deal of information to
    avoid falling into the hands of another authoritarianism. In 14ymedio we
    are including a plurality of voices, for example on the the issue of the
    embargo. We leave it to the reader to form his own opinion from a
    variety of information.

    Reinaldo Escobar: The official Cuban press, which is all the press,
    there are no public media, they are private property of the Communist
    Party. Now, has there been a change? Yes, there has been a change. Since
    a few years ago the newspaper Granma has had a weekly section with
    letters by readers where you find criticism of bureaucrats, things that
    don’t work or prices at the markets. But look, the emphasis is on the
    self-employed markets.

    So far I have not read a profound criticism of the prices at the
    convertible peso markets that the Government has, which are abusive. Nor
    can you talk about the legitimacy of our rulers or the impracticality of
    the system. Here are two big taboos, and in the third place, the topic
    of political repression. If they report on a repudiation rally, they
    show it as something spontaneous on the part of the people, without
    telling how the political police were behind it, organizing it all.

    Miriam Celaya: There are changes indeed. The problem is that there are
    real and nominal changes, and these changes are generally nominal. Now
    everyone in Cuba can legally stay in a hotel, which before was
    forbidden. They never explained why it was forbidden before. But Cubans
    cannot really afford the luxury of a hotel stay, with wages being what
    they are; nor can they buy a car, a house, or travel. The problem with
    the reforms is that they are unrealistic for the vast majority of
    Cubans. They are a government investment in order to buy time.

    There are two of those reforms that are particularly harmful and
    discriminatory for Cubans. One is the foreign investment law, which is
    explicitly for foreign investors and it does not allow Cubans to invest;
    and the other is a new Labor Code which does not acknowledge autonomy,
    the right to strike, and which spells out explicitly that Cuban workers
    cannot freely enter into contracts with potential companies investing in
    Cuba, which constitutes a restraint and a brake.

    Víctor Ariel González: Yes, things are changing, but we ask ourselves if
    really those changes offer a brighter horizon and why people keep
    leaving, even more are going than before.

    More apathetic youth?

    Miriam Celaya: It is a backlash against ideological saturation, a
    submissiveness which conditioned almost every act of your life to
    obedience, to political subordination, whether picking a university
    career, a job or an appliance, anything. Everything was a slogan,
    everything a roadblock. This has subsided somewhat, but previously, it
    was impossible to take a step without hearing “Motherland or death, we
    will triumph” and go, go… The investigations they undertook to see if
    you belonged to the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution… the
    youth of today have not experienced that bombardment of “the enemy that
    harasses us.” I did not bring up my kids in that, on the contrary, I
    tried to detoxify them. So this generation, the children of the parents
    of disenchantment, grew up devoid of that and are at a more pragmatic
    level, even at a marketing one, whose greatest dream is to leave the
    country.

    Economy

    Eliécer Ávila: The law governing the leasing (in usufruct) of lands for
    farmers to work them was the basis of a plan for increasing food
    production and lowering prices — so that the average salary for a day’s
    work might be more than just three plantains.

    I come from the banana plantations of El Yarey de Vázquez, in Puerto
    Padre, Las Tunas. The nation’s food supply is the most critical element
    in our collective anger. In January of last year, a pound of onions cost
    8 Cuban pesos (CUPs). Later, between March and April, the price rose to
    15. In May it increased to 25 CUPs and now, the onion has disappeared
    from low-income neighborhoods. It can only be found in certain districts
    such as Miramar, at five convertible pesos (CUCs) for 10 onions — more
    expensive than in Paris — while the monthly Cuban salary still averages
    under 20 CUCs per month).

    I know very few farmers who even own a bicycle. However, any young
    person who joins up with the Ministry of State Security is in no time
    riding around on a Suzuki motorcycle.

    Embargo

    Yoani Sánchez: When talking about the end of the embargo, there is talk
    of a step that the White House must take, and for me I don’t care for
    the idea that what happens in my country depends on what happens in the
    White House. It hurts my Cuban pride, to say that the plans for my
    future, for my childrens’ future, and for the publication of 14ymedio
    depend on what Obama does. I am concentrating on what is going to happen
    in the Plaza of the Revolution and what civil society here is going to
    do. So for me I don’t want to bet on the end of the embargo as the
    solution. I want to see when we will have freedom of expression, freedom
    of association and when they will remove the straitjacket from economic
    freedom in this country.

    Miriam Celaya: The reasons for the establishment of the embargo are
    still in effect, which were the nationalizing of American companies in
    Cuba without proper compensation. That this policy, in the limelight for
    such a long time, has subsequently become a tug of war is another thing.
    But those of us with gray hair can remember that in the 70’s and 80’s we
    were under the Soviet protectorate. Because we talk a lot about
    sovereignty, but Cuba has never been sovereign. Back then, Soviet
    subsidies were huge and we hardly talked about the embargo. It was
    rarely mentioned, maybe on an anniversary. Fidel Castro used to publicly
    mock the embargo in all forums.

    Reinaldo Escobar: They promised me that we were going to have a bright
    future in spite of the blockade and that was due among other things to
    the fact that the nation had recovered their riches, confiscating them
    from the Americans. So what was going to bring that future was what
    delayed it.

    Miriam Celaya: The issue remains a wildcard for the Cuban government,
    which, if it has such tantrums about it, it’s because it desperately
    needs for it to be lifted, especially with regards to the issue of
    foreign investments. I am anti-embargo in principle, but I can see that
    ending it unilaterally and unconditionally carries with it greater risks
    than the benefits it will supposedly provide.

    Victor Ariel Gonzalez: The official justification says that as we are a
    blockaded country so we have the Gag Law. Because we are under siege and
    “in the besieged square, dissidence is treason.” There are those who
    believe that if the embargo is lifted that justification would end. But
    you have to say that this system has been very effective in finishing
    off the mechanisms for publicly analyzing the embargo, it has killed off
    independent institutions. Then, how will people be able to channel
    discontent and non-conformity with the continued repression the day
    after the lifting of the embargo?

    Reinaldo Escobar: They will have another argument for keeping repression
    when the embargo is lifted. Write it down, because “this will be the
    test” as they say around here: “Now that the Americans have the chance
    to enter Cuba with greater freedom, now that they can buy businesses and
    the embargo is over, now we do have to take care of the Revolution.”
    That will be the argument.

    Repression

    Yoani Sánchez: In this country people are very afraid. Including not
    knowing they’re afraid, because they have lived with it for so long they
    don’t know that this is called “fear.” Fear of betrayal, of being
    informed on, of not being able to leave the country, of being denied a
    promotion to a better job, not being able to board a plane, that a child
    won’t be allowed to go to the university, because “the university is for
    Revolutionaries.” The fears are so many and so vast that Cubans today
    have fear in their DNA.

    Eliécer Ávila: We also need to understand how Cubans make their living.
    Ninety percent of Cubans do not work where their calling or vocation
    would take them, but rather where they can survive and make do. In this
    country, to be a Ph.D. in the social sciences is truly to be the idiot
    of the family. This is the same guy who can’t throw a quinceañera party
    for his daughter, who can’t take his family out to dinner at a
    restaurant. The successful person in this society is the manager of a
    State-owned cafeteria. This is because he controls the supplies of
    chicken, oil, rice, etc. and sells the surplus on the black market —
    which is really how he makes his living. The fundamental tactic to
    create social immobility in this country is [for the State] to make as
    many people as possible feel guilty about something.

    Self-employment

    Eliécer Ávila: People think that because there is now self-employment in
    this country, that there is a way to be more independent of the State —
    which is true up to a point. But the question is, how does a
    self-employed business person survive? I had to leave my ice cream
    business. After having received my degree in information technology, I
    was sent to the interior as a sort of punishment for having an incident
    with Ricardo Alarcón, who at that time was the President of the National
    Assembly.

    It was a turning point for me as I tried to become one of the first
    self-employed people in my town. I had a 1967 German ice cream maker.
    The process requires 11 products — including coagulant, which someone
    had to steal from the ice cream factory. Or rather, I should say,
    “recover,” because in this country we do not call that kind of thing
    “stealing.” The milk had to be taken from the daycare center, or from
    the hospital, so that it could be sold to me. The point is, there simply
    is no other way.

    All of these private businesses that are springing up and flourishing
    are sustained by illegality.

    Yoani Sánchez: … O en el capital que viene escondido desde el
    extranjero, especialmente desde el exilio. Hay restaurantes en La Habana
    que podrían estar en New York o en Berlín, pero esos han recibido dinero
    foráneo o es “lavado de dinero” de la corrupción y de la propia cúpula.

    Yoani Sánchez: … Or in the capital that comes clandestinely from
    abroad, especially from the exile. There are restaurants in Havana that
    could be in New York or Berlin, but those have received foreign money or
    are engaging in “money laundering” from the corruption and from the
    highest leadership itself.

    Eliécer Ávila: Many of these businesses are created so that government
    officials can place their children, grandchildren and friends in them,
    people who are no longer interested in the creation of the “New Man” nor
    in achieving a communist society. Rather, they want to launder their
    money and insert themselves in society like any other person.
    I do not know a single communist worker in Cuba who has been able to
    launch a business. Those committed Revolutionaries, who gave their all,
    are today the people who don’t have onions in their kitchens.

    Yoani Sánchez: Self-employment has been presented as one of the major
    indicators of the “reforms” or the Raul regime changes. But on the issue
    of self-employment many things are not considered: they have no access
    to a wholesale market, they can’t import raw material nor directly
    export their products. Thus, the annoyance all Cubans have with the
    customs restrictions that went into effect in September. The Government
    justifies is saying that “every country has this kind of legislation,”
    but in those countries there are laws for commercial imports.

    Miriam Celaya: They made a special regulation for foreign investors, so
    they can import, but not for Cubans.

    Yoani Sanchez: Another issue that greatly affects the economy is the
    lack of Internet connection. We’re not just talking about freedom of
    expression and information or being able to read14ymedio within Cuba,
    but that our economy is set back more and more by people not having
    access to the Internet.

    Luzbely Escobar: It’s not only that: Self-employment is authorized only
    for selling or producing, but the professionals cannot join that sector
    with their abilities. You cannot be a self-employed lawyer, architect or
    journalist.

    Miriam Celaya: A large administrative body was created to control the
    self-employed and it is full of corrupt individuals, who are always
    hovering over these workers to exploit them and relieve them of their
    gains. Some tell me that there are fixed fees for inspector bribes.
    Here, even corruption is institutionalized and rated.

    Eliécer Ávila: In this country, for everyone who wants to lift his head
    towards progress, there are ten who want to behead him. There is much
    talk of “eliminating the middleman.” However, the great middleman is the
    State itself, which, for example, buys a pound of black beans from the
    farmer for 1.80 CUPs, then turns around and sells that pound for 12 CUPs
    at a minimum.

    The New York Times Editorials

    Eliécer Ávila: It would be a great favor to Cuba if, with the same
    influence that these editorials are intended to have on the global
    debate about one topic [the embargo], they also tried to shed light on
    other topics that are taboo here, but that go right to the heart of what
    we need as a nation.

    Miriam Celaya: I have an idea. Rather than making gestures about the
    release of Alan Gross, rather than making gestures about making the
    embargo more flexible, I think that the strongest and clearest gesture
    that the Cuban government could make would be to liberate public
    opinion, liberate the circulation of ideas. Citizens should manifest
    themselves; this is something that is not happening here.

    Reinaldo Escobar: Without freedom there is no citizen participation.

    Miriam Celaya: What is going on with these editorials? They are still
    giving prominence to a distorted, biased view, composed of half-truths
    and lies about what the Cuban reality is. They are still giving
    prominence to what a government says, and Cuba is not a government.
    Cuba’s government today is a small group of old men, and when I say
    “old” it’s because of their way of thinking, of individuals who have
    remained anchored in discourse rooted in a cold war and belligerence.
    The Cuban people are not represented in that government.

    Yoani Sánchez: I read editorials when they came out but last night went
    back to read them more calmly. The first editorial is perhaps the most
    fortunate, because it achieves a balance between one side and the other,
    but there are some that I think are really pitiful. Such as the one
    about the “brain drain” because these medical professionals are living a
    drama in this country that is not recognized in these texts.

    First, I am against the concept of the theft of, or brain drain, because
    it accepts that your brain belongs to someone, to the nation, to the
    educational structure, or to whoever taught you. I think everyone should
    decide what to do with his or her own brain.

    That editorial gives no space to the economic tragedy experienced by
    these professionals in Cuba. I know surgeons who may be among the best
    in their specialty in Latin America and they can’t cross their legs
    because people would be able to see the holes in their shoes, or they
    have to operate without breakfast because they can’t afford breakfast.

    Miriam Celaya: There is something in that editorial that cuts and
    offends me, and it’s that slight of condescension, for instance, in this
    quote: “Havana could pay its workers more generously abroad if the
    medical brigades continue to represent an important source of income”…
    But, gentlemen! To do so is to accept the slavery of those doctors. It
    is to legitimize the implied right of a government to use its medical
    personnel as slaves for hire. How can that be?

    Yoani Sánchez: With regards to these medical missions, I must say that
    the human character, no one can question it, when it comes to saving
    lives. But there has to be a political side and that is that these
    people are used as a kind of medical diplomacy, to gain followers, and
    because of this many countries vote at the United Nations on behalf of
    the Government of Cuba, which has practically hijacked many countries
    because they have Cuban doctors in their territories. It becomes an
    element of political patronage.

    Another aspect is the economic, which is pushing doctors to leave
    because they can see the appeal of having a better salary, they can
    import appliances, pots for their home, a computer. Also, every month
    their bank account gets a deposit of convertible pesos, which they only
    get to keep if they return to Cuba and don’t desert from the mission.
    From an labor and ethical point of view it is very questionable.

    Another issue is the negative impact it has on the Cuban healthcare system.

    Luzbely Escobar: You go to a clinic and it is closed, or of the three
    doctors on duty, only one is there because the other two are in
    Venezuela, and then there is total chaos.

    Miriam Celaya: In these editorials, I have read “Cuba” instead of “the
    Cuban government,” and I have read that the members of “the dissidence”
    were considered “charlatans.” These definitions, in addition to being
    disrespectful, put everyone in the same bag. Here, as everywhere else,
    society is complex, and, while it’s true that there are charlatans among
    the opposition – and among the government too — there are a lot of
    honest people who are working very faithfully for a better Cuba, with
    the greatest sacrifice and risk.

    When they demonize it, then it seems that they are speaking the
    government’s language, as if they had written this in a room of the
    Party Central Committee and not in a newsroom of a country in the free
    world. Such epithets, coming from prestigious media, end up creating
    opinion. That’s a big responsibility.

    Dissidence

    Yoani Sánchez: In this country the nation has been confused with the
    government, the homeland with a party, and the country with a man. Then
    this man, this party and this government have taken the right to decide
    on behalf of everyone, whether it’s about growing a tomato or a cachucha
    pepper, or what ideological line the whole nation is going to follow.

    As a consequence, those of us who have ideas different from those of
    that party, that government, and that man in power, are declared to be
    “stateless” or “anti-Cuban” and charged with wanting to align ourselves
    with a foreign power. It is as if now, that the Democratic party is
    governing the United States, all Republicans were declared to be
    anti-American. This is, like all the countries in the world, plural. If
    you walk down the street you are going to meet every kind of person:
    anarchist, liberal, social democrat, Christian democrat and even
    annexationist. Why can’t this so plural discourse be expressed in a
    legal way? And why do people like is have to be excluded from speaking
    and offering opinions.

    Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison, MLK, MJ Porter and Norma Whiting

    Source: Cuba’s 14ymedio Journalists Spend Two hours With the New York
    Times’ Ernesto Londoño | Yoani Sanchez –
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yoani-sanchez/cubas-14ymedio-journalist_b_6279912.html