Mutual Respect / Fernando Damaso

The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States has been well received by the majority of Cubans both within and outside the island. Although it represents only the first step in solving the dispute between the two governments, it provides the basis for achieving a normal coexistence between close neighbors, both geographically and historically.

During the process of resolving this dispute, it is hoped that steps will also be taken to resolve another dispute: that between Cubans and their government

As expected, there are those who do not agree with this first step, who reject it and will do everything possible to make it fail. These people are found within the governments of both countries, as well as among the internal and external opposition. Some have lived too long under this dispute, and it is too difficult for them to give up what has become a way of life.

I am referring to government figures, who have made careers for themselves taking advantage of the dispute, enjoying the perks, experiencing neither shortages, scarcities, nor the “Special Period,” and also some opponents who, although it has cost them a great deal of work, have benefited from it, through media attention, economic assistance, and the occasional trip abroad.

This is also happened with some Cuban-American politicians, Both Democrats and Republicans. It is a well-known reality and cannot be ignored.

Those of us who are committed to change and have as our main objective the well-being of Cuba and all Cubans, without any kinds of differences or exclusions, I call on to fight to overcome the obstacles that undoubtedly will appear, and to advance this process.

It is noteworthy that, in recent days, in the press and in the Government-supported blogosphere, there have appeared some articles which, instead of promoting understanding and good relations, try to fan the flames of discord, recalling difficult times in recent history, where the only culprit, with or without evidence, continues to be the American government, while Cuba continues to play the role of innocent victim: they appear to be stuck in the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf

If we really want to have good relations with our neighbor, and so the language of the barricade and of the ignorant, used for so many years, should begin to vary: respect, to be effective, must be mutual.

18 January 2015

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New Year Desires / Fernando Damaso

For the five-year period 2011-2016, the Cuban authorities planned for a 5.1% growth in the economy. It was later reduced to 4.4%. However the average growth has been 2.7%, with this year, 2014, being the worst with a growth of only 1.3%. This has displaced 2009, when growth was 1.4%, as the year with the worst numbers since the beginning of the so-called updating of the economic model.

We now have more than 20 years of sustained economic stagnation, which demonstrates that despite all the efforts undertaken so far to overcome it, the model does not work. It has brought a great deterioration in social services, which can clearly be felt among citizens, regardless of the official propaganda that tries to convince them of the contrary.

There has been a demonstrated inability to recover the industrial indices and agricultural production, and in addition all of the infrastructure has suffered considerable deterioration. Real salaries today represent 35% of the level of 1989. All of this taken together has affected the government’s credibility.

Despite systematic declarations to the contrary, it is necessary to increase the speed of reforms and to reduce the number of experiments that are undertaken prior to transformations. The time lost worsens the economic situation of the citizens.

8 January 2015

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Different Disputes / Fernando Damaso

The initiation of changes in the historical dispute between the Cuban government and the different government administrations of the United States that has begun with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, should address, as has been pointed out by both leaders, other issues that may not be so easy to resolve.

Despite this first step and the others to come influenced from within Cuba, this does not mean that the other important dispute will be solved: that between the Cuban government and its citizens.

This dispute has become more complex because for too many years power has been exercised by only two people, supported by their closest generational followers, who have committed multiple and costly political, economic and social errors, which were never addressed in time and which have affected the entire country, precipitating a too prolonged crisis, due to which they have lost credibility with the citizens.

For some time, despite the fact that the authorities do not want to recognize it and continue to bet on a national unity that we all know to be in form only, a great number of Cubans demand changes, not only economic but also political and social. They demonstrate it with their families, friends and even neighbors, although they still don’t dare to express it out loud.

Those who think that economic reforms will not generate demands for political reforms are mistaken. The Cuban nation needs to renew itself and catch up with the times. Will this be facilitated by the few living representatives of the historic generation in the time they have left to them, or will it be done by representatives of new generations, who still, perhaps, remain unknown to the majority of the people?

On officially letting go of the “external enemy,” the authorities will find it very difficult to continue to use it as a pretext to block the exercise of the individual rights of every citizen. They can continue talking about general rights, as they have done up until now, but they cannot ignore the others. Resolving the external dispute requires them to begin to resolve the internal one.

31 December 2014

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Hip-Hop in the Spotlight / Fernando Damaso

I love information / I need an airplane / I need information / I love information


Allegations continue in the Cuban official press about the subversion organized by USAID against the ruling regime in the country. Now it touches the hip-hop musical movement. I will not devote time to whether or not it is true or a fictional plot released by the Associated Press news agency, because I prefer the episodes of “Homeland.” I will address some unpublished questions which I consider more important and which constitute the genesis of the problem.

It is no secret that in the Cuban musical world there are groups and performers cheered on by the authorities who enjoy economic privileges and dissemination, those popularly called “officialistic.” These participated in a repudiation rally organized by the Pineapple Festival in Ciego de Avila, to offer just one example. They are abundant and we see and hear them in many Government political activities.

Currently they will be present on Christmas Eve, Christmas, or New Year’s, not to make these events any more agreeable, but to celebrate the 56th anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution. I don’t remember that during the Republican Era musical groups and performers answered to the government or to political parties.

There are others who, while addressing the acute social problems that plague the country, are questioned by the authorities, enjoy no privileges, and have to fend for themselves to survive, primarily in “underground” spaces. They have emerged and do emerge, not because USAID creates them, but as a result of the absurd government policies maintained for 56 years, which have destroyed the lives of thousands of Cubans and the country, leaving young people with no hopes in their own land.

Protesting musical groups and performers have existed and do exist in every country, including the United States, and have not been created by USAID. They are respected and form part of the musical world of those with equal rights. To suggest that events in Serbia or Ukraine were promoted by USAID through groups of this type is not only a laughable, it shows a lack of respect for the intelligence of readers.

When will our authorities stop blaming the “enemy” for the problems they themselves created? When will they accept their fault?

Respect for differences and preferences refers not only to the sexual, but also to the political, religious, musical and many others. Until there is full freedom for all Cubans, there will be musical and other types of protesters. USAID is not to blame.

15 December 2014

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Latent Concern / Fernando Damaso

Whenever the Cuban authorities, meet to discuss new laws, decrees, dispositions, or regulations, we citizens find ourselves overcome with worry and uncertainty. It happens that, after the legislation is approved, the only thing they have done is to restore rights arbitrarily violated for years (for example, to possess hard currency, to buy or sell homes or cars, to travel abroad, to enter and to stay at a hotel, etc.), and soon new adaptations which limit or hinder their application appear.

This situation creates a climate of instability, which does not help the measures adopted to take root and become a part of national life, because they lack what is commonly called “a fixative”: at any moment they can be changed and, for the most part, rarely for the better.

Previously, so as not to have to comply with the established legality, they simply argued that this or that article was frozen, that is, it had no application. This allowed them to violate the legislation without having to modify it. As now, they pretend that everything is legislated and complied with, the fashion is to change it every now and again, according to the convenience of the authorities.

Laws must be made, even in our changing times, to remain in effect for at least 15, 20 or more years. This allows us to get to know them and to gain experience in their application. To change them every year demonstrates the inability of those who write them and the irresponsibility of those who approve them.

The Constitution of the United States is a good example: it is almost 300 years old and has never been changed, adapting only through a few amendments. Because of this it is known by its citizens and used in daily life.

Our constitution of 1940, undoubtedly the best that has been written until now, only lasted 18 years. Currently in Latin America the first thing every president does on taking power is to change the Constitution that brought them to power, to suit their own interests, which is a harmful practice. If this happens with the Constitution, which is the fundamental law, what happens to the rest of the laws.

Unfortunately, between experiments and changes in laws, there appears to be no time to accomplish concrete work to solve serious national problems that affect the economy, politics and society.

The laws themselves, while necessary, do not solve problems: they simply constitute the legal framework within which they can be resolved.

7 December 2014

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Change of Scenery

Clearly, though we have not been aware of it until its recent announcement, there has been a change of scenery in Cuban policy, at least in regards to differences between the two governments.

This shift requires a repositioning of the forces in play as well as a tactical and strategic revision. To simply accept or reject it based on preconceived notions is not enough, nor does it demonstrate intelligence or responsibility. A serious and profound evaluation of what this represents and of the possibilities it offers or precludes is necessary. All human actions — especially those involving politics — present both positives and negatives. Taking advantage of and advancing the former while minimizing the latter is not easy but it is certainly possible.

After more than fifty years of maintaining intransigent positions, a major hurdle has been overcome through the will of the governments of Cuba and the United States. This is good for both the Cuban and American people.

It it is now the turn of  Cuban civil society, both on the island and overseas, to help consolidate this initial change and advance other political, economic and social policies. Therefore, the government and civil society must set aside years of confrontation and rejection, and put Cuba first.

What has been achieved externally must be repeated internally. This constitutes the best path towards achieving a peaceful transition to a democratic, inclusive and peaceful regime in which there is equal opportunity for all Cubans with all their differences.

The repetitive, triumphalist rhetoric — exemplified just a few days after the announcement of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in the phrase, “With a people like the Cubans, the Revolution can last for 570 years” — should not be a cause for concern; it is simply more of the same.

Incidentally, it reminds me of Hitler’s claim that the Third Reich would endure for 1,000 years. Fortunately, history does not take verbal overstatements seriously. Nevertheless, one should be cautious; the best-laid plans are sometimes destroyed on the ground. Let us hope that is not the case here.

One truly worrisome aspect is the suggestion that only a few Cubans are opposed to the system — and this because they receive material and moral support from outside Cuba.

In reality, there are hundreds of thousands who disagree with the regime, although only a few hundred say it out loud. It would be a terrible error for the authorities to believe their own myth about the unity of all Cubans with regard to the Revolution.

23 December 2014

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Winning as a Political Obsession / Fernando Damaso

 File photo


The odd relationship between bread and circuses has been with us since the days of the Roman Empire. When the former is in short supply, the latter is in abundance. Cuban government officials have been putting it to use for years, with a strong emphasis on the latter. Sporting events, among other diversions, have always served as a convenient circus. The recently concluded Veracruz 2014, also known as the XXII Central American and Caribbean Games, have been no exception.

A delegation of top athletes was assembled — one capable of obtaining the most gold medals — with the goal of placing ahead of all the other participating countries. No thought was given to allowing younger athletes to compete with a view to future sporting events more important than Veracruz 2014 — something that other countries took into account, by not sending their principal figures, saving them for higher-level events.

One notable case was Jamaica’s in track and field and athletics.  It also occurred with some team sports, such as football [soccer] and baseball, in which first-class players did not compete, except in the Cuban teams.

Also well-known is the case of the hammer-thrower Yipsi Moreno who, having already retired from the sport, was called and included in the delegation with the objective of ensuring one more gold medal. And it happened with baseball, for which the Cuban national championship games were delayed so that a team could be assembled that would flatten the competition and ensure a gold medal for Cuba.

It turns out that, for the majority of countries, including the host, Mexico, sports do not constitute a political necessity as they do in Cuba. To sports, therefore, these other countries do not dedicate as many economic resources as, comparatively, the Cuban government does.

It is good to remember that, for years now, our rulers have been obsessed with the idea that the country be seen as a leader in diverse spheres. For this they have tried to prepare and present Cuba as a major force in medicine, education, hydraulics, music, sports and others — in many cases producing more noise than results.

Strangely, never have they been concerned about the country being seen as a political or economic power.

This sick obsession makes our athletes compete under extreme pressure, because they take on — before rulers, political and popular organizations, the people and their families — an obligation to win the gold, given that the other medals are not as valued (although in the official propaganda, when the gold isn’t obtained, it is said that the silver and bronze shine just as brightly). Besides, they have to do it as though fulfilling a patriotic duty. In reality this is too much of a useless burden for a human being to bear. It could be that, among other economic and political reasons, this is also why so many athletes and sports figures decide not to return to Cuba and end up defecting.

 Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others.

1 December 2014

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