How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 17 September 2015 — 120 years ago, between 13th and 18th September 1895, twenty delegates selected from the five corps that the Libertador’s Army was divided into, and formed into a Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of Jimaguayú.

This Constitution, different from others in that it wasn’t structured in three parts — organic, dogmatic, and with a reform clause — but rather contained 24 consecutive articles without divisions into titles, sections or chapters. In it the Government of the Republic resided in a Government Council with legislative and executive powers. The executive power devolved upon the President (Salvador Cisneros Betancourt), while the legislative power stayed in the hands of the Government Council. In addition to a judicial power, organised by the Council, but functioning independently. The posts of General in Chief and Lieutenant General were vested in Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo respectively.

Appearing in the people’s history as a counterpoint to absolutism, constitutionalism is fundamental to governability. The constitutions reflect the requirements for social development. In that sense, the Magna Carta of Jimaguayú was an expression of the need of the new political and legal order of the Republic in Arms. It constitutes an important link in Cuban constitutional history.

On its 120th anniversary, the weekly Trabajadores of Monday September 7th and the daily Granma of 16th of the same month each included reports,  under the headlines: “Neither Marti nor radical”, and “120 years after Jimaguay respectively, which I am going to comment on.

1 – In Granma the historian Rolando Rodríguez is cited, who stated that Jimaguayú is a document of overwhelming importance in the history of Cuba, an indication of the legal and republican idea and the determination to provide a constitutional direction to the Cuban insurrection.

If that constitutional text is recognised as a necessity of the new political and legal order demanded by the island and an important link in our constitutional history, how can the official historiography consider it as a “document of significant importance in Cuba’s history”, without a critical reference to the present Cuban constitutional situation, which has little or nothing to do with — starting off with the divisions of power — the legacy of Jimaguayú?

2 – The article in Granma says that “Martí longed to drop the authority that the Cuban Revolutionary Party had awarded him at a representative meeting of the Mambisa combatants …” [Ed. note: term used to refer to any pro-independence fighter in the Wars of Independence]

In José Martí’s War Diary — referring to his encounter with Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómezon May 5th 1895 in La Mejorana — he wrote “… Maceo and Gómez talk in low voices, near me [1]: hardly speak to me. There in the hallway; that Maceo has another idea about government; a council of  generals with authority through their representatives, – and a Secretary General: the land, and all its functions, which create and support the army, like Army Secretary. We are going to a room to talk. I cannot sort out the conversation for Maceo: but V. stays with me, or he goes with Gómez? And he speaks to me, interrupting me, as if I were the continuation of the shyster lawyer government, and its representative … I insist on being ousted by the representatives who are meeting to form a government. He does not  want every operational head sending his man, his creation: he will send four from the Oriente: “within 15 days they will be with you. – and will be people who will not let  Doctor Martí mess with me there …” [2]

One may deduce from this text that in La Mejorana Martí considered his removal. These were his words: “I insist in being deposed before the representatives who are meeting to select a government.” That is not a longing, but a demand to not be removed other than by an assembly of representatives.

If the Revolutionary Party of Cuba started off on the basis of an analysis of the Ten Years’ War as an organising and controlling entity, and one which promotes awareness and is an intermediary link to get to a republic and that great mission had hardly got under way, it is difficult to accept that their hope was to shed their authority.

Also, if Martí’s attachment to institutionalisation and democracy led him in 1884 to move away from the Gómez Maceo plan, when he took the opportunity to write to the General in Chief: “But there is something which is higher than all the personal sympathy which you can inspire in me, and this apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to contribute one iota by way of a blind attachment to an idea from which all life is draining, to bring to my land a personal despotism, which would be more shameful and disastrous than the political despotism I am now supporting.” How can it be affirmed that Martí “was longing to be shot of the authority afforded him by the Revolutionary Party of Cuba”?

3. Granma says: “It is also established that every two years there would be an assembly charged with proposing necessary changes in accordance with changed circumstances, which would elevate it to a higher position than that approved in Guáimaro.”

If the 1959 revolution is seen as heir and continuation of the constitutional legacy, it would seem to be contradictory that, on taking power, instead of re-establishing the 1940 Constitution as it had promised to, it replaced it with statutes known as the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, without convening any constituent assembly.

Cuba remained without a Constitution until 1976 when there was approved the first revolutionary constitution modelled on the that of the Soviet Union, which prohibited any modification before 1992. Then, in 2002, the system installed in 1959 was declared irrevocable. With that decision, the Cuban constitution ceased to reflect ongoing changes which occur in any society, and became a braking mechanism on society.

The question is: How can our constitutional history be praised from the standpoint of a reality which negates it?

4. In the Trabajadores weekly paper, Antonio Álvarez Pitaluga states in En la de Jimaguayú that there was no balance of power and nor did they defend Martí’s thesis. It is said that Enrique Loynaz del Castillo and Fermín Valdés Domínguez defended  José Martí’s hypotheses, but I think that it is now difficult to sustain that position, because if you look through the documentation, above all the minutes of the Council of Government, you see that in all the Assembly’s discussion there was not a single mention of Martí, nor of his documents, nor any analysis of his thoughts. That is to say, they avoided it; you don’t necessarily  have to say they did it intentionally, but rather unknowingly, because many of the people there knew him, his work, his revolutionary activity, but not his thinking or his documents.

The questions are: 1 – Was Fermín Valdés Domínguez unaware of José Martí’s thinking? And 2 – if Fermín Valdés Domínguez, followed by the majority of the delegates, defended the division and limitation of powers, which was one of José Martí’s republican ideas, was the important thing that his name should appear in the documents, or that the majority should defend and impose his ideas, as actually happened?

The 120th anniversary and the two articles published demonstrate that you cannot deal with any historical event, much less one of such importance as the constitutional text of Jimaguayú, without relating it to the present in order to show that  we have either gone forwards or backwards. If we do not have regard to the limitations of the present constitution which cry out loud for fundamental reform, how does history help us?

[1] In the original, “I hear” is crossed out

[2] Martí, José. Texts chosen from three volumes. Volume III, p. 544

Translated by GH

The New Scenario and the Absence of the Citizen / Dimas Castellano

September 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Dimas Castellenos, Mexico City,  1 September 2015 — In Cuba, the concurrence among the failure of its totalitarian model, the aging of its leaders and the society. For this impact to be a positive one requires the presence of a missing factor: the citizen. If this thesis begs the question of how it is possible that in a country that is part of the Western world, and which has distinguished history of struggles, the citizen does not exist, the answer leads us to a complex phenomenon that demands more attention than has been given to it up to now.

The most immediate–although not the only–cause is contained in the dismantling of civil society that took place in Cuba in the Revolution’s first years, and in its later institutionalization. Civic education, the foundation of the citizen, began in Cuba in 1821 with Father Félix Varela[1], who upon assuming the post of head of the Constitution Department at San Carlos Seminary, defined it as the “institution of liberty and of the rights of man,” and conceived it as a means “to teach civic virtues.”

His work was continued by José de la Luz y Caballero[2], who arrived at the conclusion that “before revolution and independence, there was education,” and from this vision he conceived the art of education as being the basis of social change. This mission was carried on by succeeding generations of Cuban educators and thinkers up through the first half of the 20th Century.

Cuban civil society, which emerged as a result of the Pact of Zanjón in 1878, played an important role in the political/social problems of the Republic. This can be seen in the Protest of the Thirteen; the peasant struggles of San Felipe de Uñas, of Realengo 18 and of Ventas de Casanova; the strike movement that toppled the Gerardo Machado dictatorship; the student struggles for university autonomy and the repeal of the Platt Amendment; the Constitutional Assembly that gave rise to the Constitution of 1940 and the struggles against the coup d’etat of 1952; among other events.

The level of development that had been achieved by Cuban civil society was expressed by Fidel Castro during his trial for the assault of the Moncada barracks, when he said, “There once was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its liberties; a President, Congress and Tribunals; everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with total liberty. The government did not satisfy the people, but the people could change it, and there were just days left before doing so. There existed a public opinion that was respected and observed, and all problems of collective interest were discussed freely. There were political parties, educational hours on the radio, discussion programs on television, public acts, and enthusiasm reverberated in the people.”

Despite those educational efforts and the advances of civil society, the level of maturity attained was not sufficient to impede its dismantling. In 1959, the Constitution of 1940 was replaced by the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State; power was concentrated in the hands of the leader of the Revolution, and property was transferred to ownership by the State, whose final stroke was the “Revolutionary Offensive” of 1968, which liquidated the more than 50,000 small businesses that still remained in the country. The result was confirmed in the Constitution of 1976, which institutionalized the total, absolute control of the State over the nation’s politics, economy, culture, communication media, and all persons.

If to this is added the negative effect of the loss of ethical values, frustration, despair, apathy, and the sustained exodus from the country, the Cuban reality appears to us in its nakedness and shows us the extent of the damage done as well as that which is to come.

By their very nature, all totalitarian models are destined to fail. The difference between one and another model lies in its capacity to last for a short or long time, which in turn depends on the degree to which each one is capable of limiting the freedom of individuals. In Cuba’s case, before the failure and the possibility of losing power, the revolutionary elite reinforced political, economic and cultural repression, and intensified its monopoly over the educational system and communication media. It was a step backwards, guided by the policy expressed by Fidel Castro in 1961, “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.”

Held back by this idea, with a society disarmed of civic institutions and spaces, in the absence of the most basic civil and political liberties, Cuban society–conditioned by the growing breach between wages and cost of living–took refuge in survivalism, being obliged to carry out supplementary activities, almost always outside the law, in search of alternative sources of subsistence.

This behavior, carried out over decades, transformed what was acceptable social morality. The Cuban, having been dispossesed of the condition of being a citizen, responded thusly: to low wages, alternative activities; to the absence of civil society, a hidden life; to the lack of material goods, theft from the State; and, when all possibilities were exhausted, escape from the country.

This scenario, which characterizes the Cuba of today, requires a cultural action, which as Paulo Freire[3] would say, “is always a systematized and deliberate form of action that bears upon the social structure, in the sense of, variously, maintaining it as it is, effecting small changes in it, or transforming it utterly.”

Why is this? Because, as the engineer López[4] would certainly affirm, “the properties of a system are ultimately determined by the properties of its components and the linkages among them, which therefore ensures that the quality of the system cannot be better than its components nor design, being that these act as limiters on the quality of the system as a whole.” Therefore, a better Cuba is not possible without better Cubans.

Building this culture requires, paraphrasing the concept of affirmative action, an educational action, equivalent to those that are put in place to ensure the participation and development of marginalized sectors. The realization of such a culture includes two simultaneous and interrelated processes: 1- Citizen empowerment, which will result from the measures implemented by the White House, and which the Cuban government will, on its part, need to implement if they are to be fully accomplished; 2 – Changes to the interior life of the individual, which contrary to the first process is not doable in the short term, but without which other changes will be of little use.

For the reasons outlined above, Cubans are excluded from the decision making process, but the participation in this process does not begin until there is awareness of each individual’s responsibility toward the destiny of his or her country. And this responsibility begins when each one makes a personal commitment and, based on this, seeks the collaboration of other people. It is a matter of a lengthy, but inevitable, process that proceeds from the interior to the exterior, from the individual to society, from the nation to the world.

The transformation of Cubans into public citizens, into political actors, is a challenge as complex as it is unavoidable, an unreachable goal without first feeling change to be not just something necessary, but something possible. And the only way forward lies in participation, in learning by doing, in making mistakes and starting over until we become effective, until we become true citizens.

Given all that has been outlined above, education curricula must include instruction in responsibility, which begins with the individual, flows to society, and extends ultimately to the international community. Thus, liberty, responsibility, rights and duties comprise an interrelated and indivisible whole.

Therefore, the effect of the concurrence between the failure of the totalitarian model, the aging of its leaders, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States depends, above all, on our capacity to change so as to recover our condition as citizens which, in turn constitutes an inescapable necessity if we are to emerge from the stagnation in which we live.

[1] Félix Francisco José María de la Concepción Varela y Morales (1778-1853) was born in Havana and died in St. Augustine, Florida. He studied at the San Carlos Seminary, and the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Jerome in Havana, was ordained a deacon in 1810, and a priest in 1811. In the seminary where he studied, he occupied the chairs of Latin, Philosophy and Constitution.

[2] José de la Luz y Caballero (1800-1862), was born and died in Havana. He studied at the Convent of San Francisco, at the Royal and Pontifical University of Havana, and at the San Carlos Seminary. Educated in a religious ambience under the influence of his maternal uncle, the presbyter José Agustín Caballero, his love for his neighbor inclined him to the clerical life and the cloister.

[3] Paulo Freire (1921-1997), famous Brazilian educator. Among his most recognized works are Education as a Practice of Liberty (1967) and Cultural Action for Liberty (1970).

[4] José Ramón López, “Individual and Society,” article published in the digital magazine Consenso, Issue #5, 2005.

Previously published (in Spanish) in

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba Will Change To the Degree That We Cubans Change / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 3 July 2015 — The leaders of Cuba and the United States have just announced the first and most important result of the process of normalizing relations between the two countries: the reopening of their embassies in Washington and Havana.

The 196 days elapsed between 17 December 2014 and 1 July 2015 is 100 times less than what passed between that 3rd of January of 1961, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to break diplomatic relations with government of Cuba. Because of its significance, that brief period will remain recorded in the history of the two nations, but especially in that of Cuba, creating as it does a favorable scenario for the changes that the “Largest of the Antilles” urgently needs.

Time will tell how long it will take to recover what was destroyed in more than half a century. In that sense, the opening of the embassies is only the first step in a long and complex path, for the magnitude of the anthropological damage that has been suffered will require much time, effort and will to recover. But, without a doubt, resuming diplomatic relations will produce an inevitable impact in the medium-long term on the fundamental liberties and the reconstruction of the citizenry, which constitute the two greatest deprivations of the Cuban people.

January of 1959 burst into Cuban history brimming with hopes, but the turn towards totalitarianism, suffered by the revolutionary process insofar as civil liberties were concerned, took Cuba back to an era as remote as 1878 [1]. This regression, which constitutes the first cause of the deplorable state of Cuban society–from its economy to its spiritual life–is a paradigmatic example of what should never have been, but whose positive aspect is that it shows us what should not and cannot be repeated in our history.

Therefore, more useful than calling out the guilty parties (although they exist) in the present and future view, is to highlight the level of responsibility of all or almost all Cubans. In the same way that not knowing the laws does not excuse the responsibility of the lawbreaker; all of us who, in one way or another, for reasons that extend from ignorance to the perversity harbored within some egos, in lesser or greater measure, are co-respondents in what has occurred. I wish, therefore, in a few lines, to highlight one of our ancestral maladies: personal responsibility transmuted into social indifference.

As to the question regarding the significance of restoring diplomatic relations, the answers comprise a spectrum ranging from those who consider the problem to be resolved, to those who believe that nothing will change here; but the most generalized aspect of the responses is the absence of the Cuban’s role as an active participant in this process–a crucial fact that cannot be ignored if one wants to understand, and transform, our reality.

Cubans, bereft of the liberties and spaces that breathe life into citizenship, lost the notion of civic responsibility. Their participation throughout more than half a century was reduced to supporting or rejecting what was induced by the powers-that-be. Those who today are older than 70 years old were only 14 back in 1959; all they have known is subordination to a totalitarian authority. Thus the generalized indifference toward current events is a logical consequence.

In the Gospel of Mark (1:14-15), the story is told of the a Christian experience that has as much validity today as 2,000 years ago. According to Mark, when Jesus returned to Galilee, he began to announce the good news of God, saying: The time has come, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your way of thinking and living, and believe the gospel.

From that perspective, the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States can be an important factor in the recovery of lost liberties, and of the condition of citizenship. But this factor will be for naught without a change in the Cuban people’s way of thinking and living. To paraphrase Jesus, the time has come–which must be accompanied, as He did, with actions directed, in the first place, to a change in conduct, which includes assuming some responsibility for the change.

Therefore, the historic transcendence of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US depends on the degree to which we are capable of changing to recover the condition of citizenship–which, in turn, is an unavoidable necessity for getting out of the stagnation in which we live.

The US leader’s speeches, from 17 December through today, do not demand civic liberties as a condition for reestablishing diplomatic relations. The statements contain an explicit renouncement of continuing a failed policy, and the recognition that if something is not working, we can and will change it.

With that turn, without renouncing the commitment to human rights, the Cuban government is stripped of its arguments of the “plaza under siege” and “the enemy,” which allowed it to quash all critical demonstrations within Cuba. Now, in the new scenario, the changes that Cuba really needs depends on a change of conduct, similar to that contained in the words of Jesus in Galilee.

If the package of measures announced by the White House opens a process of transformations that favor the rebirth and strengthening of civil society, the result will depend on the disposition, capability and intelligence of Cubans to take advantage of a scenario that, in the medium-long term, will remove the bases that enabled the government to decide the fate of the country and of every one of its inhabitants.

The foregoing lends to the renewal of diplomatic relations (even if this is only the first step of a long and difficult path) a dimension that places it as the most transcendental political event in Cuba after the 1st of January of 1959.

Without ignoring the great obstacles yet to be overcome, the reestablishment removes a way out that was threatening violence and a massive emigration to the United States–while at the same time it will remove the bases that permitted the totalitarian model to decide the fate of the country and of every one of its inhabitants.

This is why the decision is useful to US interests, useful to the Island’s government, and useful to the Cuban people, as long as we are capable of change, and of maximizing this favorable scenario to advance our empowerment.

Therefore, the success of the measures announced by the White House, and the resumption of diplomatic relations, do not depend so much on the will of the regime as of that of the Cuban people; something that neither Obama nor any outside force can supply: Cuba will change to the degree that we Cubans change.


[1] With the signing of the Pact of Zanjón, which brought to an end the Ten Years’ War, a set of civic and political liberties were instituted that gave rise to Cuban civil society, legally endorsed.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

More but Still Falling Short / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 25 May 2015 — The goal was to match the results obtained in 1912. Failure to meet this target is nothing new, nor are the reasons why.

At the closing session of the XI Congress of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) on May 17, the second secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) said in reference to the sugar harvest, “We will produce almost 300,000 tons more than last year, but we did not meet our target.”

Such failures are nothing new. It has happened year after year due to negative impacts of voluntary work brigades and nationalization of the economy. In the case of sugar production it fell from 8.2 million tons in 1989 to 1.1 million tons in the 2009-2010 harvest, the same amount produced in 1904.

The measures adopted to halt the decline focused on low productivity and poor organization but sidestepped the root causes. In 2001, a year when there was less sugar produced than in 1919, a general was appointed to head the Ministry of Sugar. New measures were adopted which included plans to produce fifty-four tons of sugar cane per hectare, to extract eleven tons of sugar for every hundred tons of cane, and to close “inefficient” factories. Nevertheless, the decline continued its relentless march. The general was replaced, the Sugar Industry Business Group (AZCUBA) was created and an annual growth target of 15% was set for 2016. But again the root causes were ignored.

Faced with the shortfalls of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 harvests and after taking appropriate measures, AZCUBA announced that the upcoming 2013-2014 harvest would be better than any of the previous decade. The plan was to produce 1.8 million tons, 200,000 more than the previous year, which had been 1.6 million tons. The PCC’s second secretary, Machado Ventura, toured a sizable number of sugar mills on the island, appealing to workers’ consciences and urging them to plant more and better, noting that “the main limitation is insufficient sugar cane and low agricultural yields.” In spite of this effort, “the best harvest of the last decade” barely surpassed that of the previous year, even though sugar mills remained in operation until June, when sugar levels in the cane are considerably less and summer rains halt the harvest.

Once again without seriously addressing what the sugar industry required or implementing even limited measures, a new goal was set. The 2014-2015 harvest would reach two million tons, 400,000 more than the previous harvest, the same amount Cuba produced in 1912.

According to official press reports, operations began in July and by late November producers had completed 80% of the work. Resources arrived in the country on time. Two more sugar mills went into operation. A synthetic fertilizer, Fitomas-M, was applied to more than 100,000 hectares, resulting in greater concentrations of sucrose in the cane. A technological solution was devised to make harvesting feasible and sustainable under wet conditions. More than 3,400 existing hauling trailers were refurbished and put into service. Fifteen million dollars were budgeted for equipment to repair roads and irrigation systems. More than 90% of the harvesting process was to be mechanized and the amount of raw cane going directly into the hopper was to increase by 50%.

According to the president of AZCUBA these measures were part of five key strategies for meeting the goals of the current harvest by 1) restoring agro-industrial efficiency, 2) streamlining the harvesting and transportation systems, 3) maximizing capacity, 4) ensuring the quality and purity of the sugar and 5) working with human capital. Consequently, plans included a 23% growth in sugar production, a potential capacity above 70% and sugarcane yields of no less than forty-three tons per hectare. 

Providing his own distinctive touch, the second secretary of the PCC resumed his now customary tour of the provinces.

In December he praised the harvest at the Boris Luis Santa Coloma mill in Madruga, which confirmed the success of its investments and repairs. On December 25 he chatted with managers and employees of the Antonio Sanchez mill in Cienfuegos. He did the same on July 14 at Ciudad Caracas, where he expressed appreciation for its strong performance in the initial phase of the campaign. He toured cane fields and mills in Villa Clara and visited the colossal Uruguay mill in Sancti Spiritus. In Ciego de Avila he spoke with the directors of the Ciro Redondo, Primero de Enero and Enrique Varona mills. And he did the same in Camagüey at the Batalla de las Guásimas, Argentina and Brazil mills.

In January he reviewed the results at five mills and plantations in Granma province. In Satiago de Cuba he visited the America Libre, Julio Antonio Mella and Dos Rios operations, where he reiterated the need to produce more cane to ensure sustained growth. In Holguin and Mayabeque he demanded better results, singling out the poor performance of the Hector Molina mill, where he noted that “an inability to find solutions to recognized technical problems persists.” But he acknowledged the strong performances of the Boris Luis Santa Coloma operation in Madruga and the Manuel Fajardo operation in Quivican.

At the conclusion of the so-called little harvest on December 31, in which forty-two of the fifty mills completed production, it became clear that the results were better than those of the previous year, both in terms of harvesting and processing. Everything pointed to the growth targets being met. However, there was sugar cane being left unprocessed, production time was being lost, and problems in harvesting and transportation remained. At the end of January, milling operations were already five days behind schedule. At the end of February only 91% of the harvested cane had been processed. The journalist Ana Margarita Gonzalez reported in the weekly magazine Trabajadores on Monday, March 23 that, due primarily to equipment failures, production was only at 68% of capacity. At 6.93%, downtime was also quite high. By the third week of March the production shortfall was already at 8%.

Faced with impending disaster, officials once again turned to a much used but ineffective tool: the appeals drive. By the first week of April, production was at 77.2%, so union organizers and AZCUBA summoned workers, technicians and managers to a special day-long event intended to help meet the target. It was dubbed “For a Victorious April.” Its official notice stated that workers “have the responsibility to fulfill the designated production goals of each plantation and mill. Victory in the harvest shall be determined by the results we achieve this month.”

In spite of these efforts, by April 23 production was off by 9% from projections. And as is normally the case by this date, the pace was beginning to slow. For every fourteen operations that had fulfilled their quotas, three failed to meet their targets. Finally, on May 17 Jose Machado Ventura announced, “We will produce almost 300,000 tons more than last year but we have still fallen short.”

Agricultural and industrial inefficiency is a direct result of the state’s monopoly on property. Contributing to the problem has been the abolition of the colonato, a system that dating back the 19th century that ensured an adequate supply of sugarcane without political officials having to issue appeals or to tell producers what they had to do. Other factors include inadequate salaries and a loss of interest on the part of producers. The failures of the last twenty-five years — a period that spans from 1989 to 2014 — serve as incontrovertible proof of a failed centralized state planning system. They point to the need for structural reform of property laws, for salaries that reflect actual living costs and for lifting bureaucratic impediments that prevent growth. Instituting these changes is the only way to motivate workers in the sugar industry, previously the nation’s most productive sector and its chief export earner, which could in turn have a positive impact on GDP and improve the lives of all Cubans.

Previously published in Diario de Cuba.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Causes and Dangers of the Government’s Erratic Course / Dimas Castellano

The Antecedents

The Revolutionaries who took power in 1959 substituted the 1940 Constitution for the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State*, the Prime Minister assumed the powers of the Head of Government, and the Council of Ministers replaced the Congress. Measures for “the benefit of the people” were decreed that legitimized the power acquired through force. At the same time, civil society was dismantled and civic and political liberties cut. Power was concentrated in the leader, private property passed into the hands of the state, institutionality was undone, and the condition of being a citizen disappeared.

Economic inefficiency was superseded by Soviet subsidies until the collapse the socialist bloc sunk the country into a profound crisis. In response, the government introduced some provisional reforms subordinate to political power. With the triumph of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela a new godfather emerged, and the Cuban government, freed from the pressure of the crisis, put a stop to the reforms. Between that moment and the substitution of the Leader of the Revolution [when Raul Castro stepping in for Fidel Castro], between July 2006 and February 2008, economic deterioration determined the start of new changes within a context of modernizing the model.

The Failure

The transfer of power among the same forces that had held it since 1959 preordained that the order, depth and speed of the changes would remain subordinate again to political interests. This condition disabled the Minimal Plan of Reforms put forth by General Raúl Castro, which aimed to achieve a strong and efficient agriculture, reduce imports, increase exports, attract investments, halt illegalities, check corruption, deflate the public payrolls, and propel self-employment.

The subordination became instititutionalized during the First Conference of the Cuban Communist Party that took place in 2012. These proceedings revitalized the line suggested by Fidel Castro when, during the Cultural Congress of 1961, he asked, “What are the rights of revolutionary and non-revolutionary writers and artists?” and which he answered himself by saying, “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing. And this would not be any exceptional law for the artists and for the writers. This is a general principle for all citizens.” As it was not difficult to predict, in the absence of democracy, the change of form to preserve the content did not provide the expected result: the efficiency in preserving power could not be transferred to the economy.

Three years after commencing the modernization of the model, the decline has continued: farm production is deficient; sugar quotas are not reached; the reduction of imports and increase of exports are pending subjects; foreign investments have not reached the expected levels; the relationship between wages and cost of living worsens; illegalities continue their inexorable pace; and the limitations placed on self-employment and “cooperatives” have impeded these sectors taking off.

 The Transfer of Power

For biological reasons, the generation that took power in 1959 will exit the political scene in the next three years. This generation is confronting the need to legitimize its successors through different pathways than those through which they legitimized themselves. To do this, they would have to reform the state, including the constitution and the electoral law, against which emerge two simultaneous obstacles: the failure to modernize the model, and the reestablishment of relations with the United States.

The first obstacle is economic stagnation, a situation quite different from when they assumed power in 1959, and confiscated warehouses allowed power that had been acquired by force to be legitimized through the distribution of pre-produced goods. Added to this was the ever-growing exodus from Cuba, uncontrolled corruption, and the rise in citizen discontent, all of which prevents a transfer of power in conditions of prosperity.

The second obstacle is the White House’s new policy towards Cuba. The package of measures announced on 17 December 2014 will have an impact on the empowerment of Cubans, which is the weakest factor in changes for the Cuba of today. Throughout the unfolding of this process, the concept of the “external enemy” will begin to be eclipsed, hence the foreign contradiction — which played such a useful role in preserving power — will gradually be replaced by the contradiction between the Cuban people and government, which complicates the transfer of power.

If to these two great hindrances is added that the government is responsible for all that has occurred, good or bad, throughout more than half a century; that during this time the nomenklatura has acquired vested interests; that there are within it diverging opinions about how far the reforms should go; that the average age of its members militates against the vitality needed to undertake profound changes; and that for decades they have been able to govern unopposed — then the conclusion is that the government is not prepared to take on the contradictory propositions of making the reforms that the country requires, reestablishing relations with the United States, and preserving power. In this contradiction, which will continue setting the pace of the process in the short term, is contained, from my point of view, the explanation of the government’s erratic course:

On 17 December 2014, the Cuban president challenged the US government to adopt mutual measures for improving the bilateral climate, and advancing towards the normalization of ties between the countries (a step forward). On 28 January 2015, at the Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States [CELAC], he set forth four demands and said, “If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States will not make sense (a step backward). On 11 April, at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, Raul Castro reduced the demands and said that the principal obstacles to opening the embassies was the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the provision of banking facilities to enable financial transactions by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington (a step forward). Even though on 12 May, during goodbyes to French President François Hollande, he declared that when Cuba is finally removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism we will be able to name ambassadors, then on 20 and 21 May, during the third round of talks, the Cuban delegation entrenched itself in their interpretation of the Vienna Convention regarding the limits, the form, and the conduct becoming to North American diplomats (a step backward).

The American position could not have come as a surprise. Prior to departing for the summit in Panama, Barack Obama said, “Our new policy towards Cuba will also facilitate a greater connection to the Cuban people, including a greater flow of resources and information to them, and this is already showing results. We have seen an increase in contact between the people of Cuba and the United States, and the enthusiasm of the Cuban people towards these changes shows that we are taking the right path.” During the summit, Obama said, “Civil society is the conscience of our nations. It is the catalyzing force of change. It is the reason for which strong nations do not fear active citizens. Strong nations accept, support and empower active citizens… And when we engage with a civil society, it is because we believe that our relationship should be with governments and with the people they represent.” He made similar statements during the meeting he had with civil society representatives from Latin America, and in his personal encounter with Raúl Castro.

For her part, US delegation chief Roberta Jacobson, prior to the third round of negotiations, said during her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the relationship of the US Interests Section in Havana “with the broadest cross-section” of Cubans “will grow once diplomatic relations are established with Cuba.”

That is to say, if despite those declarations there was progress in the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and the provision of facilities for banking transactions in Washington, it makes no sense to delay the opening of the embassies because of some “interpretation” of the Vienna Convention.

Upon the conclusion of the third round of talks, the difference between the two delegations could be seen. In the press conference, in answer to the question about a fourth round, Josefina Vidal — from the Cuban side — responded that there has been progress, but that there remained pending topics to discuss forthwith. Meanwhile, Roberta Jacobson said more or less that for those topics another meeting was not necessary. Her position was that the diplomats would conduct themselves such as they do in other regimes similar to that of Cuba, where US diplomats have permission to travel within the country for periods that vary “between 24 hours and 10 days.”

The Dangers of the Erratic Course

The government of Cuba, for the reasons outlined, decided to introduce changes too late. For this reason the interrelation between economic stagnation, wage insufficiency, generalized corruption, popular discontent, and a growing exodus are incompatible with the slowness of the changes.

If this slow march is appreciated by the power structure as a guarantee of its stability, it is not so by Cuban society. The insistence on preserving power and the delay in initiating transformations have led to an extremely complex situation, internally and externally, which requires political will to act in keeping with the gravity of the matter.

To not act as a consequence of this scenario could lead to a fatal result, because an abrupt exit — for whatever reason that might cause it — would lead to a situation in which there would be no peaceful transition, and in which all, without exception, would be losers. Should this occur, the responsibility would fall on those who still hold the reins of power.

The prospect of relations with the United States — the most significant political event for Cuba since the 1959 Revolution — has generated an opportunity that should not be wasted. It is useful to the Cuban government, being that it provides it with “an honorable way out”; it is useful to US interests, for its own reasons; but above all, it is useful to Cubans, because it is a favorable context for their empowerment, and for them to once again become citizens.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba, 24 Jun 2015

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

26 June 2015

The Reestablishment of Civil Society: An Unavoidable Necessity / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 10 April 2015 — If by “civil society” we mean a group of autonomous associations, public spaces, rights, and liberties by which citizens exchange opinions, make decisions and participate in political, economic and social matters that interest them–with no more authorization than what emanates from the laws of the land–then we need to agree that this institution existed in Cuba since colonial times, developed during the Republic, disappeared after 1959, and is now in a process of resurgence.

Early Existence

Starting in the first half of the 19th century, illustrious figures such as Father Félix Varela, who called the constitutional studies program at the San Carlos seminary a “curriculum of liberty and the rights of man” and strove to provide an education in virtues; José Antonio Saco, who from the Revista Bimestre Cubana (Cuban Bimonthly Magazine) generated debates that fostered civic consciousness; Domingo Delmonte who, when this medium and other spaces were closed down, found in conversational gatherings a way of continuing the debates without official authorization; and José de la Luz y Caballero, who devoted himself to civic education as a premise of social change, with their labors forged the field for citizen participation.

Upon this ground, in 1878–when Spain, in compliance with Pact of Zanjón, granted Cuba freedom of the press, assembly and association–there sprouted Cuban civil society: political parties, newspapers, labor unions, societies of blacks, fraternal organizations, and other diverse groups.


With the birth of the Republic in 1902, civil society, having spread throughout the country, took part in the struggles of labor unions, peasants, and students, and in the intelligentsia’s debates conducted via the print press, radio, and television, about the problems afflicting the nation.

The importance of civil society was highlighted by Fidel Castro during his trial for the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, when–referring to the limitations suffered by civil society with Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’etat in 1952–he said, “There once was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its liberties; a President, Congress and Courts; everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with full liberty. The government did not satisfy the people, but the people could change the government, and there were only a few days left to do so. There was public opinion that was respected and heeded, and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, educational hours on radio, debate programs on television, public acts, and the people could sense enthusiasm.”


Having become a source of law, the 1959 Revolution–instead of fully reestablishing the Constitution of 1940–substituted it (without public consultation) with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State*, and thus began a fatal process for Cuban society: the concentration of power, the elimination of private property, and the dismantling of civil society.

The organizations that fought against the Batista government were merged into the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, which in 1963 became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution, and later, in October, 1965, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).

The diverse youth movement disappeared to give way, first, to the Young Rebels Association and, later, the Communist Youth Union. Women’s organizations of all types became the Federation of Cuban Woman. The associations of university students became the University Students Federation, and the pre-university-level ones became the Union of Secondary-School Students.

The labor movement was taken over, while the principle of university autonomy, endorsed in Article 53 of the Constitution of 1940, disappeared under the University Reform of 1962.

Organizations of employers met the same fate. The Landowners Association of Cuba, the Association of Settlers of Cuba, the Tobacco Harvesters, and the National Peasants Association, were substituted by the National Settlers Association, which was later renamed the National Association of Small Farmers.

The print, radio and television media, the enormous network of cinemas, the publishing domain, and cultural institutions were limited to the boundary set by the regime, with the intervention of the Chief of the Revolution during the 1961 Cultural Congress, when he asked, “What are the rights of the Revolutionary and non-Revolutionary writers and artists?” and he answered himself thus, “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, no right.” And there would be no exception to the law for artists and writers. This is a general principle for all citizens.

The organizations that made up civil society before its dismantling were not subordinate to the State nor to the administration in power at a given time. They were autonomous, a necessary condition without which they would have been unable to carry out the role they played in the Republic.

The subordination took practical shape with the adoption of the Constitution of 1976. Article 5 stipulates that the Communist Party is the supreme driving force of the society and the State.

Accordingly, Article 53 [1] recognizes freedom of speech and of the press insofar as these conform to the aims of the socialist society, and Article 62 provides that none of the liberties accorded to the citizens can be exercised against what is established in the Constitution and the nation’s laws, nor against the existence and aims of the Socialist State.

The resurgence of a civil society movement emerges from the stagnation and regression in the economy; from the generalization of corruption caused by the inadequacy of wages; from the growing exodus of Cubans and the aging of the population due to the diaspora, and the reluctance of Cuban women to bear children in those conditions; to the point of bringing the country to a dilemma: either change, or erupt in violence.

It demonstrates that the structural crisis in which Cuba is immersed has its root cause in the absence of fundamental liberties, in the decimation of autonomous civil society, and the non-participation of the citizen.

Even so, during the process normalizing relations with the United States — and on the eve of Cuba’s participation for the first time in the Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Panama [April 2015] — the Cuban Government, instead of recognizing the role parallel to the State’s that corresponds to an autonomous civil society, insists on proving the obsolete, absurd and unprovable: that any association that does not respond to the objectives of the Communist Party is an external creation and its members are paid operatives of the Enemy.

During the Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in Costa Rica, on 28 January 2015, Cuban President Raúl Castro asserted that the US counterpart should not try to relate to Cuban society as though there is no sovereign government in Cuba. A retrograde statement intended to continue denying the existence of civil society sectors that are not under Government control.

And during the Ninth Extraordinary Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which took place on 17 March in Venezuela, Castro reiterated that “Cuban civil society will be the voice of the voiceless, and will unmask the mercenaries who will present themselves as being the civil society, as well as their sponsors.”

In accordance with the conduct, the Party and the State have in recent days mobilized hundreds of official associations in the “Forum for Civil Society of the Seventh Summit of the Americas,” and in the forum, “Youth and the Americas We Desire,” among other events, to defend an indefensible past, without understanding nor accepting that, even in these official associations, as was evidenced in the above-mentioned events, voices were heard declaring that it was necessary to create an atmosphere conducive to debate, and create sites where the views of civil society can be confronted, so as to derive a collective interpretation of the country’s issues.

Normalizing relations with the US will not be enough to pull the country out of crisis if it is not accompanied by the reestablishment of fundamental liberties. There should be no doubt that these relations will contribute to citizen empowerment and to the reestablishment of autonomous civil society and of citizenship.

[1] Article 53 reads, “The University of Havana is autonomous and is governed according to its Statutes, and to the Law to which they should conform.”

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s Note: Also referred to as “The Fundamental Law of the Cuban Revolution”

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Computerization The Old-Fashioned Way / Dimas Castellanos

The Information Society (IS) is an effect of a process of convergence among technological advances, the democratization of information, and communications, which erupted in the 1980s with such force that it caused the United Nations to call a world summit on information, which took place in the Swiss city of Geneva in 2003. At this summit, a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action were adopted, whose principal beneficiaries are individual persons who have the training for intelligent and creative use of modern technologies, without which social and cultural progress would be impossible.

Among the demands of the new information technologies, arising from their transformative character, is the need for immediacy when introducing them. One peculiarity that distinguished Cuba since the colonial period: the steam engine, patented in 1769, was introduced into Cuban sugar production almost immediately. The railroad, inaugurated in 1825, linked together the towns of Havana and Bejucal in 1837. The telegraph, which sent the first long-distance message in 1844, initiated its first line in Cuba nine years later. The telephone, which premiered its first service in 1877, came to Cuba in 1881. The electric light bulb, which in 1879 was enjoyed in only a few important cities in the world, by 1889 was being utilized in Havana, Cárdenas and Puerto Príncipe, and in theaters such as Payret and Tacón. The motion picture, patented in 1895, was exhibited in Havana in 1897. Radio, which commenced in 1920, was launched in 1922 in Cuba. Television, almost parallel with the United States, began broadcasting from the first Cuban station in 1950. While the Internet began officially in Cuba in 1996, more than 10 years after it was in use in other latitudes.

This past February, the First Vice President of the Council of State, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, at the closing of the first National Computerization and Cybersecurity Workshop, set forth some issues regarding the Information Society that call for discussion, debate and consensus.

1. Internet access implies at the same time challenges and opportunities, and constitutes an action necessary for the development of society under current  conditions.

If the Information Society is distinguished by the generalized and efficient use of modern technologies in the era of globalization, when information has transformed the raw material of all activity and of each person, nobody could deny that, besides being necessary, it contains challenges and opportunities that must be faced. Regarding this thesis there cannot be disagreement.

2. Its access strategy should become a fundamental weapon of the Revolutionaries to achieve social participation in constructing the project for society that we want, starting from an integral design of the country. And I add that the usage strategy of this tool must be lead by the Party and should involve all institutions, and society, to achieve the fullest use of its potentialities in service of national development.

If we start from the premise that it is a necessity for all, then Internet access strategy cannot become a fundamental weapon of the Revolutionaries, but rather of all, because the Revolutionaries are only one part. And the project for society that we want (if that “we want” includes everyone) has to be agreed-upon by all.

Therefore that inclusive stragegy should not and and cannot be led by a party, which, as its meaning indicates, represents a “part,” whereas development is incumbent on all, not only on the Revolutionaries and the members of a party. This statement contradicts another part of the speech in which Díaz-Canel said that “we need to distinguish ourselves by a computerization with all, and for the good of all.”

3. Regulations and rules that govern access to the Internet and its use, should be coherent with current legislation, and align with the general principles of the Constitution and other laws, and adjust to the changing needs of social development.

Rather, besides being led by the Party and being a fundamental weapon of revolutionaries, Internet use should be coherent with the general principles of the Consitution and other laws. Here, the contradiction is so flagrant that it becomes inadmissible.

A phenomenon as modern and changing as the Information Society cannot be subordinate to a Constitution that urgently calls for profound reform, unless the purpose be that computerization should face the same fate as other projects in the country that remain stagnant.

The argument should be the opposite: the changes implied by an information society obligate us to reform a constitution that for a long time now has not met the needs of development, above all with regard to citizens’ rights and liberties, which constitute an unavoidable need of the Information Society, and which in the current Constitution are subordinate to one ideology and one party.

The preceding material demonstrates that the Information Society inescapably implies the respect for and complete defense of human rights, the recognition of their universaility, indivisibility and interrelation, and democratic access to the infrastructure and services of information technologies.

Díaz-Canel’s speech was uttered two decades after the official start of the Internet. It also came after President Barack Obama stated that Cuba has one of the lowest rates of Internet access in the world, that the cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitatantly high, and that the services offered are extremely limited.

Among measures intended to empower the Cuban people, President Obama listed the need to increase Cuba’s access to communications and its capacity to freely communicate, and so would authorize the commercial export of equipment to improve the capacity of Cubans to communicate, including the sale of communication devices and articles to establish and update related systems.

The delay in introducing these measures has been accompanied by restrictions that seek to ensure that information obtained online corresponds with the Revolutionary ethic, and will not endanger national security.

In 1996, Decree 2091 was issued, whose articles state that the basis of Internet access policies will prioritize the connectivity of legal persons and those institutions of greatest relevance to the life and development of the country; that to guarantee fulfillment of the principles laid down in the Decree, access to networked information services of global scope would be selective; and that direct access from the Republic of Cuba to global computer networks would have to be authorized by the Interministerial Commission created by the Decree. [1]

Later, in 2003, Resolution 1802 resolved: Charge the Telecommunications Company of Cuba to employ all technical means necessary to detect and impede access to Internet navigation services via telephone lines that operate in national, non-convertible currency, starting as of 1 January 2004. [2]

The creation of the Information Society is incompatible with the priority of the Revolutionaries, with subordination to ideologies, and with a Constitution that endorses these restrictions. The contradiction is there: either the demands of modernity are assumed, or we run the risk of continuing to widen the information gap in the country and of Cubans in relation to the rest of the world.

The full use of the possibilities offered by the new information technolgies to foment online access that is free and autonomous, rich and diversified, plural and thematic, interactive and personalized, is a necessity. Especially in the era in which the diffference among levels of development is measured in terms of Internet connectivity. Simply put, computerization the old-fashioned way must be uprooted.


1. Decree 209 of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers on Access from the Republic of Cuba to Global Computer Networks; 14 June, 1996.

2. Resolution 180/2003, dated 31 December, 2003, of the Ministry of Computer Science and Communications.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

27 March 2015


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