No Rush… and No Results

In 1953, in his self defense statement [as he appeared at his trial for the Moncada Barracks attack] History will absolve me, Fidel Castro addressed some key issues pending in our country: land reform for instance. He announced on that opportunity, as a priority in his program, giving productive land to those in possession of five or less acres; a nationalistic and democratic project that had its first episode in October, 1958, when, in the middle of the guerrilla war a bill of law was issued from La Sierra Maestra. Once he took power, actual laws were passed–on May 1959 and October 1963–in which property titles were issued to 100 thousand farmers, but 70% of productive land remained in government hands.

The new monopoly of the land and the elimination of the institutions of the civil society related to the agricultural (farming) activity generated a progressive decrease of the agricultural efficiency, while about 40% of the productive land of the country became idle; a regression that was continued until Cuba lost the subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Since then, the government had spent millions of dollars to buy food supplies that otherwise could had been produced locally.

With such an obvious deficiency of the agricultural production, just five months after taking over the presidency of the State council and of the Cabinet, General Raúl Castro, conscious of the deplorable condition of economy, expressed emphatically: We have to focus on the land! We have to get it to produce! And he added, that sooner than later laws and regulations will be passed to (once again) lease idle lands to farmers on the condition they make them productive as soon as possible.

One week after his speech, the Official Gazette of Cuba published the Decree Law 259 on that regard. This measure, could not solve such a serious problem on its own, might have been valid if this law had been conceived as the first step in a long way to go, for which a strong political will is need to face the historical problem of private property in Cuba, worsened during the Revolutionary government which promoted large state farms (collectivism).

For its content, the Decree Law 259 of July, 2008 dictated from the totalitarian optics, evaded the root of the problem. This same law was just meant to lease small pieces of land of 30 – 100 acres infected with the marabu weed, and accompanied by multiple prohibitions such as: no building of houses, warehouses or infrastructure and no hiring of employees.The absurdity was that the Decree-Law, issued to attack an inefficiency whose primary cause if the inability of the State to make the land produce, is limited to offering parcels in usufruct (a kind of leasing arrangement), that it enjoying the fruits of the work of others, while the inefficient State reserves the right to keep the property. The results obtained in these conditions aren’t what was hoped for.

However, even though the above mentioned Decree-Law lacked the power to increase agricultural production, the law itself was an implicit recognition of the need for a change. Its main fault consisted of ignoring the possession of the property in hands of the producers and keeping the economic decisions subordinated to politics. Given its unsatisfactory results and the zigzagging process without the political will required, in December, 2012, Decree-Law 259 was repealed and replaced with the Decree-Law 300.

The new regulation made some advances such as: allowed the construction of housings, stores and other facilities; also allowed farmers to hire permanent or temp workers; and let farmers lease up to 5 acres, though limited to those that already had leased contracts and were associated to official entities: State farm, and State Cooperative Farms.

Decree-Law 300 brought the same fault of the previous one, the State kept the monopoly of land and private producers subordinated to the State. In its article 11 it states that the lessees can join as workers State Farms as legal entities, or as member of a cooperative farm, for which “the lessee yields the right of the land and other infrastructure to the entity to which he joins, such entity decides whether he continues working this land or not.”

In addition, the Decree-Law 300 preserved other limitations such as inputs and services not tied to the mentioned entities, with clear disadvantages for individuals regarding the term of the contract. Such limitation revealed once again there was not a strong political will to bring agricultural production to a profitable level and a desire to avoid creating domestic entrepreneurs.

The new failure is very well adjusted to the government reforms slogan of ” no rush but not pause “, in January, 2014 Law 311 was passed, which modifies Law 300, to extend the leases to up to 150 acres to the most productive sector of the peasantry, especially to people working for state farms, that were excluded in the previous legislation. However, the lease depends on there only being credit and services cooperatives in the municipality; and b) the State farms as legal entities, basic units of cooperative production and cooperatives of agricultural production in the municipality are located at a distance exceeding three (3) miles of the requested area.

This official data does not explain the fact that after leasing 3.7 million acres of idle lands (since Decree-Law 259 was adopted in 2008), there has been reported increase in production; although there is another 2.5 million acres of land idle of the  total 15.6 million acres of potentially productive land in the country. This negative result reminds us of that phrase of Jose Marti: “Cuba has an enormous potential to become a wealthy nation, but that is impossible if Cubans cannot be wealthy as well.”

Translated by: Rafael

From Diario de Cuba

2 March 2014

Cuba and the European Union: A Change of Tone and a New Dynamic / Dimas Castellano

March 10, 2014 Leave a comment

cuba eu flagsindexIn a statement issued on Tuesday, February 11th, Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, reported that the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union (EU) had authorized the European Commission and the EU’s senior representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, to begin negotiations on a political dialogue and cooperation agreement with the Republic of Cuba. He added that “Cuba will consider the invitation from the Europeans in a respectful and constructive way and within the context of Cuba’s sovereignty and national interests.”

This represents the possible start of negotiations on a bilateral agreement, which depends on the Cuban authorities’ willingness to accept the invitation. In this regard Catherine Ashton said, “I hope Cuba will take up this offer and that we can work towards a stronger relationship,” but added “the decision is not a policy change from the past,” which can be interpreted as a change of tone, not of substance. Meanwhile the EU ambassador to Cuba said that the policy is the same but there is “a new dynamic” and called the decision a “big step forward for a possible agreement,” adding that the agreement would “formalize cooperation at all levels on a firmer legal and policy basis.”

Transitions towards democracy are dependent on both internal and external factors, with the latter assuming greater or lesser importance in relation to the strength or weakness of the former. In retrospect we can see that this has been exactly the case with Cuba.

When revolutionary forces came to power in 1959, they became the source of all laws and led the country towards totalitarianism. The constitution of 1940 was replaced with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, which allowed the designated prime minister to assume the role of head of government and the recently created Council of Ministers to take over the functions of Congress. Subsequently, power became concentrated in the hands of the strongman and property in the hands of the state. Civil society was dismantled, and civil liberties and human rights were restricted. As a result Cubans were relieved of vital tools and opportunities for civil discourse, which meant losing their status as citizens.

In 1996 the countries of the then European Community, which maintained bilateral relations with Cuba, established the Common Position in order to “encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement of the living conditions of the Cuban people.” That decision, which provided moral support to the island’s opposition, sharpened differences between the EU and the Cuban government. When the European Commission delegation took up residence in Havana in 2002, it  welcomed Cuba’s request to sign on to the Cotonou Agreement (1), opening a new stage in bilateral relations. However, the imprisonment of 75 peaceful dissidents in 2003 and the execution of three young men who attempted to commandeer a boat to escape the country led the European Union Council (2) to reaffirm that its Common Position remained valid and in force.

In 2008, when hurricanes deepened the country’s internal crisis, the government signed an accord restoring relations with the EU and agreed to restart a political dialogue. The European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba issued a statement announcing the decision, with the Spanish government playing a key role, repealing the Common Position. However, just as Spain assumed the EU presidency in 2010, two events dashed the arrangement: Cuba refused entry to Spanish EU deputy Luis Yanez and the Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died the following month of a prolonged hunger strike.

If the Cuban government were now to accept the EU’s offer, it would have to agree to a dialogue on the subject of human rights and proceed to reestablish what it should never have abolished in the first place. Interestingly, we are not operating under the same conditions as in the past, when then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, said in reference to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, “If the EU were to drop its insistence on a sterile and confrontational voting procedure, then Cuba would be inclined to sit down with the EU to work out a plan.” He added that Cuba “would feel a moral responsibility to abide by the European decision and would sign the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the next day, indicating that we had entered a new stage in our relationship.”

Judging from the words of Catherine Ashton, certain demands would have to be on the table for EU countries to agree to negotiations.

She noted that, first, Cuban statutes would have to be brought into compliance with the United Nations Charter and all its instruments of international law such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 30 of this document states, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as conferring any rights to a state, group or person to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” It is a provision that for Cuba has special significance, as it was one of the sponsors of and signatories to this important document. Secondly, it would  also have to ratify human rights conventions it signed 2008, which form the legal basis for the principle of personal dignity and guarantee that the planned changes will have a positive effect on Cuban society.

To meet the first requirement, the Cuban government would have to halt political repression and summary imprisonment. EU countries would encourage exchanges with civil society so that Cubans might gradually emerge from the political margins to recover their status as citizens. This would help promote popular sovereignty so that Cubans might become the protagonists of their history and destiny.

In addition to other issues on the table there should be a requirement that the soon-to-be drafted Labor Code once again include the right to form free trade unions and the right to freely hire workers, two things that were part of the Labor Legislation of 1938 and the Constitution of 1940. Similarly, the new Investment Law should allow participation by Cuban nationals since the programs in which foreign investors are being invited to participate will be worthwhile only if Cubans benefit from these changes by having their rights restored. In the case of the Mariel Special Development Zone, the project will be of enormous benefit to the Cuban economy provided it helps lead to the country’s democratization. Otherwise, these steps will only strengthen the current economic and political model and condemn Cubans to continued civic, political and economic poverty.

(1) A comprehensive partnership agreement between the EU and 79 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Article 9, paragraph 2 states: “The Parties undertake to promote and protect all fundamental freedoms and human rights, whether civil and political or economic rights.”

(2) Name for the European Community’s heads-of-state and heads-of-government summit, which takes place regularly, at least every six months.

From Diario de Cuba

14 February 2014

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Cuban Baseball: Declining Slowly but Surely / Dimas Castellano

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

By Dimas Castellano

As if what happened during the first three days of competition on Margarita Island was an exception and not a manifestation of the stagnation experienced in all spheres of Cuban society, a sports commentator on the television show Morning Journal said that “the team from Villa Clara did not meet expectations.”

In baseball, which is the topic before us, what happened could not be a surprise. The avowed superiority of “free” versus “slave” ball was not confirmed in practice. The challenge launched against professionalism in 1960 did not stand the test of time. But the acceptance of this fact by the Cuban authorities—though without public acknowledgement and coming too late—is still good news, because this decision requires them to banish the ideological slogan and return to the path that they never should have left.

In 1948, at the meeting of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation held in Miami, representatives of the professional leagues of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela formed the Caribbean Series. From the inaugural event in February 1949, when the Almendares team went undefeated to take victory in Havana until the close of participation in 1960 with the victory of Cienfuegos in Panama, Cuban teams won seven out of twelve championships: irrefutable proof of the quality of “slave” ball during those years.

Sports after 1959, separated from civil society, was monopolized by the state, and subordinated to politics and ideology. At a prohibitive cost for a third-world country, a supremacy was established in Central American, Pan American and worldwide amateur competitions for decades, which was heralded as the victory of free baseball over slave baseball.

Amidst that unfounded euphoria, in January 1967, the leader of the revolution said: “Professional sports has been eradicated, especially in one of the most popular sports: baseball … But the most interesting thing is that no professional athlete, whose business is sports, has played with as much enthusiasm, as much bravery, as much courage, as that demonstrated by our athletes, who are not professional.”

And in October 1975 he declared: “If in other Latin American countries no social revolution exists, if they don’t develop the social revolution, then no matter how many techniques they use, how many coaches they hire, how many things they dream up, they will not be able to achieve the successes that Cuba achieves in sports.”

The decline was slow but sure. The defeats in the World Classics, but above all the one suffered last year at the last stop, against the U.S. team, composed of university students between 19 and 23 years of age, who despite their weak offensive output swept five games from the supposed “amateurs” from the largest of the Antilles.

Now, 54 years after that decision, after the setback suffered and the loss of many talents who left “free” baseball in search of contracts in the Major Leagues, Cuba returned to the Caribbean Series with the winning team from the 52nd National Series, at a time when the rest of the participants exhibit a superior level to our baseball.

Villa Clara, reinforced with several of the most experienced top Cuban players—twelve of whom have been integrated into the Cuban team—faced the champions of the winter leagues from Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Three days were all it took to show the gap between them and us.

The first day we lost 9-4 to the Hermosillo Orange (Mexico), the second day to the Magellan Navigators (Venezuela) 8-5, and on the third day the Licey Tigers (Dominican Republic) beat us 9-2, to set a record: the worst performance by a Cuban team in the Caribbean Series.

On February 4 we saved face against the Mayagüez Indians (Puerto Rico), but now our inclusion was pure imagination and wishful thinking. As Oscar Sánchez Serra wrote in the newspaper Granma on February 4: “If the Orange win today against Puerto Rico, and if they lose tomorrow against Venezuela, and if the Dominican Republic wins one more time, then on Thursday, first place from the qualifying phase will play against the king of the 52nd National Series.”

We returned to “slave” ball at a distinct disadvantage. Teams like the Magellan Navigators, from an ALBA-member country, just as Cuba is, which can also count many active players in the U.S. Major Leagues, has in its ranks some Cubans who left the island, illustrating the tardiness of Cuba compared with similar countries.

Cuba has conditions and prospects: the permissibility, though still under state control, of some players participating in foreign leagues; the increase of wages to players, though still insufficient; Cubans can again enjoy Major League Baseball games on local television, though still with limitations; new programs have been implemented, such as one I enjoyed a couple of days ago that allowed an interview with the legendary Camilo Pascual. All this indicates that we are on the way, but the results of this first step, and some of the next, will not reach Cuba’s full potential, because it is one thing to decide to change, and another to rebuild what was destroyed.

After the night, however long it seems, follows sunrise. That we still have to listen to the likes of Yulieski Gurriel say that he hopes to get permission from the Cuban authorities to play abroad, or that the Cuban authorities still have not given him permission, indicates the presence of obstacles to be overthrown in order to achieve the freedom that our athletes have lacked, and determines the decline that we are paying for with defeats.

Translated by Tomás A.

From Diario de Cuba

10 February 2014

Currency Unification: Causes and Limits / Dimas Castellano

The road to exit the crisis is clear; what is lacking is the political will to travel it. Among the partial reforms the government of Raul Castro announced was the enforcement of a timeframe for measures to eliminate the dual currency, implemented following the loss of Soviet subsidies.  A look back at the topic helps to identify some of the causes and limitations of the announced timeframe.

In the period between the two great wars of independence that took place in the second half of the Cuban 19th century, the Island became the first country to exceed a million tons of sugar, of which more than 90% was exported to the United States.  That permitted the neighboring country to impose on Spain the reciprocal trade agreement known as the McKinley Bill, through which was established the free entry of Cuban sugar into that nation.

At the same time there was a high concentration of land ownership, especially in American companies.  In that condition of economic dependence, at the end of Spanish domination, the occupation government introduced the dollar as the basic monetary standard, which was imposed until the disappearance of the other currencies (French, Spanish, Mexican), which explains the presence of the dollar in the first years of the Republic born in 1902.

In that context, with the nationalist purpose of diminishing the dependence with respect to the American dollar, the government of General Mario Garcia Menocal dictated in 1914 the Law of Economic Defense, which gave birth to the national currency. That law established a gold standard as the monetary unit with the same weight and purity as the dollar. So, from a nationalist decision emerged the first version of dual currency in Cuba, which lasted until the ’50’s of the last century.

In a different way, in 1991, the disappearance of the Soviet Union provoked the loss of the enormous subsidies based on ideological relations, which overlapped decades of inefficiency of the Cuban model.  That fact, united with the depression in sugar prices, drove the country to a profound structural crisis baptized with the euphemism Special Period in Times of Peace. In answer to the crisis, the Cuban government, instead of undertaking a profound reform aimed at achieving a proper and efficient economy, defined a strategy aimed at saving the model and maintaining power. With that goal it introduced several contingency measures.

In 1993 the Basic Units of Cooperative Production were created, by which a beneficial interest in idle state land was given to workers; farmers markets and self employment were authorized; tourism and foreign investment were introduced; family remittances from abroad were admitted; possession of the dollar was decriminalized, and, in 1994, its free circulation was authorized, giving rise to the current dual currency.

As one might appreciate, the dual currency introduced in 1914 was motivated by reasons diametrically opposed to what happened in 1994. The first created the introduction of a national currency parallel to the dollar, the second legalized the dollar as a parallel to the national currency.

The road and political will

The causes that led to the dollarization in 1994 have their roots in the first revolutionary measures, whose declared goal was the disappearance of all commercial relations and, with them, the disappearance of money.  In 1960, all domestic and foreign banking entities that existed in Cuba were nationalized, in 1961 they were centralized in the hands of the State, while the direction of those activities was placed in the hands of the revolutionaries from the armed struggle.

The same thing happened with figures whose conception of the economy differed from those of the leader of the revolution, as happened with the economist Felipe Pazos Roque, founder and first president of the National Bank of Cuba since its foundation in 1948, who in spite of abandoning that responsibility because of his position against the Coup of 1952 and being named again as head of that institution in 1959 was replaced some months later by commander Ernesto Guevara.

The course of the process was more or less the following: the dollar was introduced in 1994; the convertible peso (CUC), a second national currency as an alternative to the dollar and the same value as the dollar, was created; in 2004 the circulation of the dollar was eliminated; then a tax of 10% was imposed on the dollar, and the CUC was re-valued relative to the dollar by 8%; in March of 2011 the original one-to-one value was resumed but the 10% tax remained. In summary, the duality was maintained thanks to which Cuba is the only country in the world with two national currencies, neither of which is really convertible.

The dollarization and the dual currency, besides magnifying social differentiation, increased the loss of value that the Cuban peso already had, one of whose manifestations was the expressed inflation in prices on the black market, the drop of wages and the discouragement of production.

Cuban currency, a representation of money, lost or reduced its functions as a means of value, an instrument for acquisition of goods, a means of accumulation of wealth, an instrument of liberation from debt and a means of payment. That’s why monetary unification, even if it constitutes an essential step for the current or for any other Government, will not resolve the current structural crisis, due to the fact that Cuban currency is not backed by the Gross National Product, that is to say, by the sum of goods and services that permit it to resume its functions and to be compared with foreign currencies.

The way out is in prioritizing productive efficiency, for which domestic and foreign investment is required, which would provide the country with capital, technology and markets, which in turn demands a new Law of Investments and the elevation of current salaries, which do not manage to cover more than one-third of basic necessities.  But as one can only distribute what is produced, the Government faces a complex contradiction: without increases in salaries, Cubans are not ready to produce, and without production, it is impossible to raise salaries, which will make monetary unification by itself futile.

In short, a comprehensive project that includes the decentralization of the economy, permits the formation of a middle class, removes the obstacles that stop production and restores citizens’ rights and liberties is missing. The road is clear, what is lacking is the political will to travel it.

Translated by mlk.

Taken from: Diario de Cuba
17 December 2013

Current Ideas / Dimas Castellanos

One hundred and twenty-five years after his death on August 11, 1888, the scientific results that the eminent chemist, physiologist, agronomist, industrial technologist and science writer Alvaro Reynoso y Valdez bequeathed us are still on the waiting list.  While the official Cuban press pays exaggerated attention to events and people linked to politics and wars, it limits mention of Reynoso as part of the celebrated anniversaries without investigating his work or pressing for his contributions to become productive results.

Alvaro Reynoso, one of the Cubans who collaborated through science for the progress and formation of the basis of the Cuban nation, studied at San Cristobal (Carraguao) college, graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the Havana Royal and Literary University, continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he graduated in 1856 and obtained a doctorate, becoming one of the best chemists of his era.

From the earliest years of study he began to publish his scientific results: a new procedure for the recognition of Iodine and Bromine; diverse new combinations of ammonia in ferrocyanides; action of the bases on salts and in particular on arsenides; separation of phosphoric acid from its combinations with metallic oxides; the presence of sugar in the urine of sick hysterics, epileptics and its relationship to respiration; the effect of bromide on poisoning by curare (a poison used by Indians to poison their arrows); studies about the artificial breeding of freshwater fish, and others.

On graduating in 1856 some twenty of his works had been presented in specialist publications in France and Spain.  He was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Madrid and the Royal Academy of the History of Spain, he received the Royal Order “Professor of Chemistry Applied to Agriculture and Botany” from the Havana General Preparatory School and the “Professor of Enlarged Organic Chemistry” at the Central University of Madrid, among many honors.

On returning to Cuba in 1858 with a laboratory endowed with the most modern equipment and instruments, an excellent mineralogical collection and a valuable scientific library, he took possession of the Chemistry Chair and in 1859 replaced Jose Luis Casaseca as the director of the Havana Institute of Chemical Investigations, an institution that he converted into one of the world’s first agronomic stations.

Parallel with his investigative work he dedicated himself to writing.  In 1868 he began to collaborate as scientific writer for the Marina Daily, where he had a column in which he published articles about drinking water; he reviewed the first trial carried out in Cuba in April 1863 of the Fowler steam-powered plow, with which he began the mechanization of sugar cane in Cuba; he was a writer of the Annals and Memories of the Royal Development Board and the Royal Economic Society; he published in the Magazine of Agriculture of the Ranchers Circle on the island of Cuba and in other press organs.

Among his published works are: Details About Various Cuban Crops, where he compiled his contributions about non-sugar cane agriculture such as corn, coffee, cotton, tobacco; Progressive Studies on Various Scientific, Agricultural, and Industrial Subjects, a collection of articles published in the press about the cultivation of sugar cane in all its phases, as well as experimentation plans by the Institute of Chemical Investigations and the planting of sweet potatoes, yams, corn and rice destined for human and animal consumption.

In the middle of the 19th century, when Cuba was first in the world in production of sugar and the last in productivity, supporting his thesis that the true making of sugar is in the reeds, he devoted himself to resolving this contradiction. The results were gathered in his crowning work Study of the Culture of Sugarcane where he integrated all the related operations with the culture and harvest of the grass, from the negative effect of the logging of virgin forests to fresh grinding for avoiding alteration of the juices.  This work published in 1862 was re-published in Madrid in 1865, in Paris in 1878 and in Cuba in 1925 where it was re-printed in 1954 and 1959 in addition to being published in Holland.

An aspect of his ideas which is barely mentioned, is that Reynoso considered the autonomous participation of the Cubans in the political estate reform of the colony as a legitimate demand.  That’s why, in his systematic analysis he never avoided the topic of agricultural property.  He considered, just the same as Francisco de Frias and Jose Antonio Saco, the need to establish a sugar cane agriculture with native small farmers and immigrants, where the incentive of ownership, much different from the slave system, was a basic component to push forward the modernization of the agricultural economy.

However, in the year 2001, when due to the continuous decrease in sugar production, less than 3.5 million tons, the then Sugar Industry Minister, General Ulises Rosales del Toro announced two projects to reverse the situation: one, to restructure the sugar industry aimed at achieving industrial performance of 11% or extracting from each 100 tons of sugar cane, 11 tons of sugar; and the other one baptized with the name of the distinguished scientist with the objective of reaching 54 tons of sugar cane per hectare.  With both projects, as announced then, Cuba could produce 6 million tons of sugar (the amount produced in Cuba in 1948).

Towards that end, instead of taking into account all the elements which participated in the production process as taught by Reynoso, some 100 sugar factories were closed, with the land distributed for the use of other crops and sidestepping the damaging state monopoly on land ownership.  The amount of 2002-2003 harvest – the first after the implementation of the “novel task and one of the worse of all times” – was 2.1 million tons, barely half of the production in 1919.

From there and until the present time the industry inefficiency, the unavailability of sugar cane, the low results of land usage and the high cost of production per ton has repeated year after year.  In the last harvest, 2012-2013, the plan of 1.7 million tons was not reached for many reasons, but especially because of the unresolved problem of the land tenancy was attempted to be resolved through the leasing approach known as usufruct, maintaining the inefficient State as owner and the economy subordinated to politics and ideology; which shows not only in the sugar production but in the agricultural production and all facets of the economy.

 Taken from: Diario de Cuba

14 August 2013

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Free Baseball vs. Slave Baseball

The facts and news about the sport of balls and strikes, learned during the recently concluded month of July, settle the dispute between amateur and professional baseball in favor of the latter.

It started with the debut of Yovani Aragón in the World Port Tournament of  Rotterdam, a less demanding event than the Olympic Games and the World Classic, where the spiritual mentor captured the ninth title for Cuba.

It was followed by the series between the U.S. collegiate national team and the Cuban team, in which the Antillean team displayed the weakest performance in recent international matches: weak hitting, a high number of strikeouts, failure of the first batters, flawed tactics, errors in fielding and throwing to bases, and they stole 15 bases in 16 tries. For its part, the American squad also had a weak offense, but had 12 pitchers throwing between 93 and 98 miles per hour.

The Cubans, who had defeated the student selections in 8 of 10 tries, with more experience and with an average age of 26.6 years, were defeated by a team whose ages ranged between 19 and 23. The Cuban mentor, Victor Mesa, who hoped to win three or more games, had to settle for a crushing defeat. Something similar to what happened in the third World Baseball Classic, when he said “We will win the Classic. That’s why we came, not for anything else”; but he failed to improve on the fifth place finish in the second Classic.

To these two facts the following news was added:

1 – The Granma native Alfredo Despaigne, hired by the Campeche Pirates of the Mexican League, hit 6 for 6 on July 24, equaling the record set in 1936 by the “Immortal”, Martin Dihigo.

2 – Yasiel Puig, from Cienfuegos, was awarded the Best Player and Rookie of the Month for June, after his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 26 games he led in batting, was the leader in on-base percentage, hit seven home runs and drove in 16 runs. With 44 hits he was second on the all-time list of rookies in their first month, four behind the mark set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

3 – Jose Iglesias, infielder for the Boston Red Sox, was selected Rookie of the Month in the American League. In 25 games he batted .395 with four doubles, two triples, one homer, six RBIs, 17 runs and eight walks, had 11 games with two hits or more and a streak of 18 straight games with base hits.

4 – Jose Fernandez, pitcher for the Miami Marlins, with little more than three months in the major leagues, was named to the All-Star Game along with Aroldis Chapman of Holguin, closer for the Cincinnati Reds, while Yoenis Cespedes from Granma, of the Oakland Athletics, won the home-run competition during All-Star Week.

5 – Veterans of the Industriales team played several games during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the club in Miami, where the Industriales players from the island faced off against Industriales players living in the U.S.

JORGE EBRO el Nuevo Herald

The facts and news take us back to the time when professional baseball was abolished. Until then Cuba had a large presence in international events. After the First World Amateur Baseball Series, held in London in 1938, the following five were held at La Tropical Stadium in Havana, of which the island won four. Meanwhile the Caribbean Series was created at the request of Cuba, when in 1948 it proposed to delegates from Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela, to hold an annual series among the champion teams to decide the best of the region. Havana was host to the first in 1949. From there, until 1960, Cuba won 7 of the 12 series, the last five in a row.

In keeping with a longstanding relationship between politics and sport, the leader of the Revolution made a long speech about baseball. On January 2, 1967, he said: professional sport was eradicated, and above all, it was eradicated in that sport, which was one of the most popular: baseball… But more interesting is that never did any professional athlete whose business is the sport, play with such enthusiasm, so bravely, with such courage, as do our athletes, who are not professionals.

Certainly the Revolution took baseball to all the people in the country, constructed several stadiums, renamed the Grand Stadium the Latino-American Stadium of del Cerro, and added new bleachers. In exchange, it prevented Cuban players, with the qualities of stardom, from measuring themselves against the best players in the world and deprived the Island’s fans of the enjoyment of professional baseball which, live or on the radio and television, they had enjoyed from anywhere the country.However, professionalism was not eradicated, rather it was hidden. If a professional is someone who is paid by salary for the work performed, the players of the National Series, who received their salaries for that work, have been professionals from then until today.

With that “free” baseball Cuba established supremacy for decades in the Central American amateur, Pan American and global competitions. It proclaimed the great victory over “slave” baseball. Brimming with pride, in October 1975 it said: if in other Latin American countries there is no social revolution, there is no development of the social revolution; regardless of technique, regardless of how many trainers they hire, regardless of how many new things they devise, they can’t match Cuba’s successes in the sport.

The illusion vanished. Cuba had been beating the amateurs with a professional team. When the match-ups with the presence of professionals began, “slave” baseball proved superior to “free” baseball, as in the Classics. The results started to disappoint. But the worst has been the hundreds of players who have defected in search of “slavery,” which has affected especially pitchers. Almost all of the best pitchers of the last 20 years left the Island: From René Arocha to Odrisamer Despaigne and Misael Siverio and with them hundreds of players from all categories.

After a long and brilliant baseball history, measured against the best in the world and having triumphed, countries with no tradition in this sport beat us, or we win by scaring them. The climax has been, not the loss against other professionals, but against college students, true amateurs who faced the “amateurs” of the greatest of the Antilles and swept them in five games.

Cuba is in decline relative to the rest of the world. The dispute between amateur and professional baseball is decided in favor of the latter. The strategy outlined in 1961 needs to be abandoned. Although not publicly acknowledged, which is too much to ask, the most important thing is to accelerate the steps being taken to return to the road we should never have abandoned. For now Cuba will attend the upcoming Caribbean Series to be held in Margarita Island, Venezuela, but the dream of many fans and many of those who now shine in Professional Baseball, is to represent Cuba in the next Classic. It is not a big demand, it is simply to allow Cuban players residing abroad to defend the colors of their flag, as do players from the rest of the 15 countries participating.

Taken from: http://www.diariodecuba.com/deportes/1375365754_4465.html

6 August 2013

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Political Opposition and Negotiations in Today’s Cuba / Dimas Castellanos

September 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Interview of Dimas Castellanos by Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, published on April 26 and 29, 2013 in Cubanet.

Although still uttered timidly, recently you have begun to hear the word “negotiation” in some statements by the Cuban political opposition. Despite having diverse opinions about it, a negotiation is, in general, a process in which two or more parties try to find a mutually satisfactory solution to their problem, be it labor union, financial, military, commercial, political, etc.

The American expert on the subject, Herb Cohen, believes that “everything is negotiable” and defines negotiation as “a field of knowledge and action whose objective is to win the consent or the favor of the people from whom you want to get something.” He also says that the three main factors of a negotiation are power, information, and time.

In order to approach, from a Cuban historical perspective, an issue so complex, but which has had such importance for determining fundamental political changes in many countries and eras, we talked with sociologist and historian Dimas Castellanos, also known for his independent journalism in the digital magazine Consensus, in Diario de Cuba, and in other media.

Cubanet: Do you think there is still no pressure in Cuba that requires the government to negotiate?

Dimas Castellanos: First, this is not the case of an armed movement that occupied a region of the country over which the government now has no control, as in Colombia. Another thing that may force a government to negotiate is that the opposition has such influence over a sector of the population that it can create difficulties for the authorities.

In Cuba there is great discontent, manifested for example in the elections: almost fifteen percent of the voters did not go to the polls or annulled their ballots. But they did so spontaneously, by an individual act of conscience. No one should believe that this was in response to some opposition party that has that kind of drawing power.

So the government has no reason, nor anyone with whom, to negotiate. And on the other hand the opposition is not strong enough to prevent the government from doing what it wants.

Cubanet: What, in your opinion, is the reason for this situation?

Dimas Castellanos: In Cuba, there were always forces that at some point could compel those in power to do certain things. These forces do not exist today. When the revolutionary government took power, the first thing it did was to dismantle the whole network of institutions that existed, mainly civic institutions. So all the citizen organizations, which had been here since the end of the Ten-Year War, disappeared.

Civil society, which erupted with force in the Republic, achieved admirable results, as the strike by apprentices and masons demonstrated in 1901 and 1902, which spread to other sectors.

By 1910, the government was forced to enact several legislative measures favorable to the working class, such as the eight-hour day for government workers, payment in cash and not in tokens and vouchers (as before), and paid holidays.

The labor movement accomplished all that because it had real strength and could, for example, paralyze sugar mills or transportation. Cubans now are not as poor as they were, but we do not have unions and other civil society organizations able to play that role.

Cubanet: So is it essential, first of all, to set up the network again?

Dimas Castellanos: It’s hard to understand that this is a long-term battle. And you have to pace yourself and take advantage of all the gaps and openings to help the civic formation of citizens. Many dissidents want change for Cuba, just as I do, who am also part of the opposition, but I try to be as realistic as possible.

The government is sometimes forced to take some step, more for external reasons than from pressure from within Cuba. After more than fifty years, it has the luxury of making reforms from the same position of power, and therefore can determine the pace and direction they take. They can make a change in one direction, then take back a little, then shift it forward again, and play with it, but there is no internal force able to avoid it.

The government will negotiate when there is a force that compels it to negotiate, and that force has to be formed over the long term.

Cubanet: Do you share the opinion of many Cuban historians that the Protest of Baraguá represents a milestone in our history as a method of negotiating without compromising dignity?

Dimas Castellanos: I regret that the Zanjón Compact has not received the historical recognition that it should have, and that only the Protest of Baraguá has been glorified, because it demobilized the rebel troops in exchange for Spain allowing in Cuba a regime very similar to that which existed in Spain itself or in Puerto Rico.

The laws of the metropolis governed here starting from the Zanjón Compact, and from it came freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, among other benefits.

Despite all the limitations that it kept, there Cuban civil society was born and the first political parties were created. The union movement grew, newspapers spread, there were organizations of all kinds – political, fraternal, labor – that began to take on an enormous burden within society.

The burden was such that you cannot understand the beginning of the war in 1895 without the work that civil society did in the whole colony. That was a time, in terms of freedoms, very superior to what currently exists.

Due to the shortness of time that this form of communication offers and at the same time, due to the interest and to the meaty responses from Dimas Castellanos, we have divided this interview in two parts which will be available to the readers in a coming edition.

Cubanet: In his first responses for this two-part interview, Dimas Castellanos explained the reasons why, in his view, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba is not yet in a position to force the government to sit at a negotiating table. He also set out his criterion from examples of notable negotiated events that took place throughout our history. Just for this aspect we return to the theme.

Cubanet: How do you assess the role played by civil society in Cuba, as far as negotiation is concerned, in the Republican era, from its beginnings to 1958?

Dimas Castellanos: Negotiation played a role of obvious importance. The Constitution of 1901 is an example. The interventionist U.S. government allowed the formation of a Constituent Assembly and created the conditions for it, but, as it had the force of the occupation, it made sure that the Platt Amendment was incorporated to secure their power over the country.

More progressive Cuban forces strongly opposed the amendment and even traveled to the United States, but failed except for a few small changes. Although during the revolution those who signed the Platt Amendment were condemned, the truth is that there were only two options: either sign the addendum to the Constitution or the United States maintained its military control over the country.

And there were no longer mambises nor the Cuban Revolutionary Party, nor an economy; and a people, moreover, tired of wars. The best minds saw that they could lose everything and accepted the Amendment – although it was an insult, a humiliation – as a tactic, to then gradually remove it, as they did.

In 1934 the Platt Amendment was finally abrogated. And it was all through negotiation.

Cubanet: And in terms of the Constitution of 1940?

Dimas Castellanos: It was a master class in negotiating in which the participants ranged from communists to the extreme right. They arrived at a Constitution that provided balance, though perhaps, in my opinion, it was above the civic potential of the Cuban people. That is why afterward our military tradition manages to prevail.

There was not a strong civic tradition, but rather a dictatorship tradition, which is demonstrated in the governments from 1902 until the fall of Machado in 1933. Between that year and 1940 was very turbulent. After 1937 they managed to calm the situation a little and finally return to a democratic exercise that culminated with the Constitution of 1940.

Batista cleanly won the presidential election. Then Grau defeated him in 1944 with the Aunténticos, winning again in ’48 with Prío, and in 1952 he looked certain to defeat the Orthodox Party, which was nothing more than an offshoot of the Authentic Party, whose main argument was the prevailing political and administrative corruption.

Curiously, this corruption did not affect society, because, even though we were not very advanced in public spirit, the morality of the Cuban people was very high. After the 1952 coup, those who wanted to overthrow Batista were divided into two camps: on one side,  the civic forces (the Law Society, the Medical Association, the Lions Club, Rotary Club, etc..), and on the other, those who opted for armed struggle.

Cubanet: We now know which was the winning side. What is not well understood, especially by the Cuban population, is what later happened with the negotiating capacity of our civil society.

Dimas Castellanos: The Revolution became the source of power, without any compromise with what existed before and swept it all away.

Actually, the Revolution had the support of only one part of the population (the fighting was carried out by a few thousand men in a population of six million), mainly peasant farmers, but the massive support occurred afterward and the Revolutionary government acted with skill. The result: it disarmed Cuban civil society, all the autonomous movements disappeared (of peasants, students, women, workers, etc.).

The unions were taken over in January 1959. Many who disagreed with that course thought that if Fidel Castro had taken power by force, he could also be overthrown by arms, but all violent resistance was defeated.

Cubanet: When can you say that Cuban civil society finally woke up, after the long slumber imposed by the Revolution?

Dimas Castellanos: In the late 80s and early 90s opposition organizations and political parties began to emerge, but very weakly, because of government repression first of all, and because many of the people continued to identify with the power, despite its failure, because the mindset does not change very quickly. Also because of the monopoly the government maintains over the media. It can say whatever it wants about the opposition and it is hard to deny internally. So it is isolated and marginalized.

From my point of view, the political parties that were created in the 90s are now worn out. That hurts a lot and no one likes to be told that, but I personally come from one of those parties, the Socialist Democratic, which has disappeared.

But a kind of proto civil society began to develop and there are movements with a very stable work, although they are not talked about much, such as Dagoberto Valdés, in Pinar del Rio, who has a method of advancing step by step and for years has insisted on the power of the small, with a theoretical basis for change, an accumulated political thought that should be used at some point.

But the problem of dictatorship continues, which we have always suffered with.

Cubanet: And what about the current conditions for strengthening the bargaining power of the opposition?

Dimas Castellanos: Now the government is exhausted and the model has proved unworkable.

With lack of freedoms there can be no development of anything, from the economy to sports. Everything is damaged, and the rulers do not want to engage in the suicide of promoting reforms that bring them to the end of the road, and result in their criminal prosecution.

To advance the economy and get out of the disaster, the government knows it has to connect back to the developed world, especially Western Europe and the United States, which conditions the relationship on respect for human rights, so it has begun to make small concessions.

In any event, the developed world believes that these reforms are still insufficient. That’s why the government is going to have to make more changes.

Cubanet: Do you think then that the new circumstances and the new waves of opponents are creating the conditions for a possible negotiator?

Dimas Castellanos: Whatever happens, the time for negotiation will come, though not in a situation like now exists.
The example is in the release of political prisoners, where there was no negotiation between the government and the opposition. Although many criticized the Church, I find that there was no other way and that civil society, which the Church is part of, was strengthened. Although the Church was able to meet some of its own demands, I don’t really think it was because it has common interests with the government, except for momentary tactical considerations. Strategically, the government and the Church are not going in the same direction.
There are now 400,000 self-employed workers who do not depend on the state. But what work has the opposition done among these workers? They do not think about human rights, but about their most basic needs. What they want is greater economic liberalization.
These 400,000 self-employed are a field in which we must work. We ought to create many more spaces, small schools about Cuban history, political courses, lessons about what a constitution is, about rights, because people will gradually come around.
The opposition has not given the importance that it should to the formation of civic society. You cannot fight for change if people do not even know where they have come from or where they are going.
The day that the opposition can say that the fifteen percent of the population that does not attend the elections is on its side, it will be a minority against the remaining eighty-five percent, but it will represent a great force because then it would be structured, and then it would be realistic to see the possibility of negotiations.

That’s what we have to work for. If we look at the history of Cuba, we see that we have always been changing, and yet we are now more backward in human rights than in 1878, because we backtracked on civil liberties. The Revolution of 1959 seemed like the greatest thing, but we fell into a trap and ended up worse than before. So our work has to be from the ground up and with patience.

Translated by Tomás A.

10 May 2013

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