Archive for March, 2010

Responsibility In the Presence of the Hatian Tragedy

In February 2010 an earthquake took the lives of near a quarter of a million Haitians, causing material loses of billions of dollars. Two centuries before, in August of 1791, an insurrection had provoked the downfall of that nation. The analysis of the relation between these two happenings puts in evidence the responsibility of the colonial powers and that of the Haitian’s authorities in the existing conditions of that country. The vandalism against its original inhabitants, the forceful transportation of thousands of African slaves and the violence used against them, generated a hateful spiral. There, in 1519, Cacique Enriquillo confronted the Conquistadors for 13 years and the first black uprising took place in the New World. This act of violence repeated itself until the explosion that brought about the French Revolution of 1789.

The process of colonization initiated by Castilla, designed by a generation of nobles, clergy, soldiers and civil servants due to the prolonged war against the Arabs, made Castilians wanting to come to enrich themselves not through laboring since they were not artisans or burgesses. It was at the beginning of the XVI century when sugar started to be produced in La Espanola that the soldiers who took the places of the burgesses were not prepared to engaged in trading, in opposition to the countries that aspired to displace Spain in the colonial dominion of the region

In the social aspect, in addition to the authority of the king, La Espanola had a rigid social structure integrated by four sectors: Big Whites, Small Whites, Mulattoes and Slaves. The distinctive characteristics of the relation among them was hostility, while their only point of identity based in the hatred and devaluation of the Black Slaves which constituted the great majority. In the economic aspect, the colonial French oligarchy brought together the most advanced methods of capitalism with the most backward social system, producing an explosive situation that brought about the French Revolution. In it, the king’s officials opposed the Revolution, the Big Whites were in favor until the execution of Louis XV. The Small Whites battled to make themselves equal to the Big ones and the Mulattoes joined to have their rights recognized; but none of them thought about the lot of the Slaves. The contradictions among them led to the uprising of the Mulattoes and the execution of its leaders, opening the doors to the generalized violence that brought about the rebellion of the slaves who killed their owners, women and their children with the blows of machetes.

The beginning of the war against Great Britain, Holland and Spain motivated a rebellion of the Big Whites that compelled the island’s authorities to grant the freedom to the slaves who fought on its side. With the Big Whites defeated, their positions were filled by the Mulatto’s chiefs. But then, Toussaint L’Ouverture, a black slave fighting against the French troops on the West side of the island and given the rank of General by the Spanish government changed sides and started fighting on the side of France after the abolition of slavery Decree issued in 1793. It was because of this that he was made the Governor’s Deputy and ascended to General in Chief of the Haitian forces. Thus, coming to occupy a prominent place in relation to the Mulatto’s chiefs.

In January of 1801, Toussaint declared the island as “One and Indivisible”. He penetrated from the West that was occupied by the Spaniards and proclaimed the freedom of the slaves, not counting on Napoleon Bonaparte who had another agenda. In response, Napoleon sent troops to defeat the revolutionary leader and establish on the Spanish side. L”Ouverture surrendered in 1802, was detained and sent to France where he died. When in 1803 Napoleon announced his intention to restore slavery, Jean Jacques Dessalines, together with other black leaders, rose and with the help of Great Britain drove away the French. After the victory, Dessalines proclaimed himself Emperor, decreed the systematic destruction of all persons of French descent and declared the independence of the occidental part of the island (Haiti) in January of 1804.

The 13 years of war provoked the death of more than 100 thousand blacks, 50 thousand French and the immigration of tens of thousands. The owners of the land, the money and the factories fled with the knowledge, methods and the capital, many of whom arrived in Cuba in four waves starting in 1791. The anarchy, despotism, the Coup D’Etats, the dictatorships and the commanders, many self-proclaimed Emperors or Governors for-life, like Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Duvaliers, father and son, succeeded until the present. Facts that are generally ignored by historians who detail, uncritically, the revolutionary developments that changed the richest colony of this age into the West’s most backward country.

Three elements must be kept in mind: first, violence. Once violence breaks loose it acquires autonomy. The hundreds of thousands  liberated Haitian slaves took it upon themselves to act in an anarchic way in the presence of the freedom for which they were not prepared. Second: once Toussaint L”Ouverture took the reigns of power, in his obsession to build a strong economy, designated the “liberados” (those who had been freed) to possess the old properties and submitted them to a state similar to the one before. But failure did not wait. They lacked the knowledge of capital and of administration that were lost with the death and/or flight of Whites and Mulattoes. Third: L’Ouverture, by declaring himself General Governor for life, put in evidence that the freedom he proclaimed was foreign to any democratic practice. It is because of this that the article “Haiti in History” by Marta Rojas, published in the Granma newspaper on Friday, January 22, 2010, in which the author states that for the first time “In Haiti” the supreme dignity of man and Blacks is inaugurated in the planet, the “Government of a Republic” with responsibility and intelligence, lacks fundamental truth.

What happened in Haiti is a double call: to reflect on the dangers of the use of violence and the damage to personal or governmental self-interest, and the need for joint and several action, regardless of ideology and geopolitical status, for the horrible situation the country finds itself in. The ancient cities of Europe, the United States and the countries that benefited from the disaster of 1791, including Cuba, which took its place in the production and international trade at the time, have a great debt to Haiti. It is not enough to build houses, forgive debt, send food and medical care. That is simply the introduction of insufficient resources. It also imposes an affirmative action, a special project involving Haitians as real subjects, respecting their culture. This means, together with a short-term plan to mitigate the immediate damage, another long-term project aimed at raising the level of the people to put them in a position to approach Western levels.

Translated by David Fernandez

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

To Save Without Changing: An Impossible Utopia

5-salvar-sin-cambiazThe Letters section in the daily paper Granma, published on Thursday, Jan. 29, included some opinions about the privatization of food in Cuba. Spontaneous or targets, their appearance in the official press demonstrates the necessary citizen participation in solving national problems and the damage from dividing Cubans by the simple fact of whether they support or oppose the opinions of power. Though late and insufficient, the publication of the Gonzalez De la Cruz’s opinions, without classifying him as a counterrevolutionary, is a small step but a step nonetheless.

Consider four of these opinions:

1 – “The situation we have is to not to try to privatize anything, because in practice it has already happened… What kind of social property are the centers of services and food in which the expenditures are the State’s, while the benefits with every kind of fraudulent and illegal origin go into the pockets of those who work there…” And he adds, “What would it mean to the State to eliminate the current farce of state property? Nothing more than the elimination of a colossal cost in salaries, social security, an enormous bureaucratic apparatus and a huge consumption of materials impossible to recover…”

2 – “The property, be it private or State, when it is in a social use it is valid. To blame private property in general as a return to capitalism and for this obvious motive, is like labeling the steam engine capitalist for having led to the development of this system…”

3 – “Historical materialism establishes that the economic base determines the superstructure… I wonder what morality is supposed to be emerging from this kind of state property that we have where State assets are used for people’s profit and plunder.”

4 – “… if we want to save our socialism, it is not enough to proclaim monotonous slogans, we must do it from inside with the necessary corrections, and soon.”

It seems that Granma is promoting a debate about privatization which, as Gonzalez de la Cruz said, is already happening in the worst way. It is the worst because the obsession with avoiding the formation of a Cuban middle class led to a sui generis privatization, without legal owners, which has been detrimental to the State as well as to society. This reality requires, sooner or later, a process of real privatization where Cubans can become legitimate owners. In March 2001, in a paragraph in Moral Citizen in the digital daily Encuentro en la Red, I wrote, “A huge and efficient network of products and services, at the margin of the law, functions across the breadth and width of Cuban territory. Offering articles both original and adulterated, from a sewing needle to a private detective, from a beautiful Caribbean woman to an astrological consultation, from shoe repair to the construction of mansions… lacking their own sites, the network uses those of the State, where they market and provide their services. From this the term Estaticular arose, that is the expenditures of the State and the profits of the individual. The principal source of supply is theft, with the consequent corruption…”

In the presentation Conceptual Aspects of Property, delivered at a seminar on the present and future of the civil Cuban economy Dec, 15-16 2000, I stated, “In society personal development is realized through social relationships and collaboration, and property is an instrument that allows this collaboration to take place… the choice is not between private property versus social property, but the ability to consider, at certain time and place and under certain conditions, what are the ways most advantageous  to the development of the community, making the institution of property a foundation of social order.”

With regards to what morality is emerging from the kind of state property we have, the answer is simple: the morality that corresponds to the material base that sustains it. In the article Moral Citizen, I said, “What is the dilemma of the Cuban family if a job is not the main source of income? The answer is survival… If, moreover, this conduct is socially acceptable and each family in one way or another lives with and shares them, then this is morality, precisely the negative morality of survival.”

More recently in Cuban Agriculture: Change Everything That Must be Changed (2007, no. 7), I wrote, “When the relationship between ownership and appropriation is lost, as has happened in Cuba…, the result is that the citizens, dispossessed and prevented by law from being owners and/or receiving according to their contributions, rather than responding to heroic calls for productivity… they prefer to seem the means to survive through illegalities, deceptions, theft, lying, and appropriating the property “of all the people,” with the consequent damage and ethical deterioration of the citizens.”

In addition to the mandate of the martyrs, as Gonzalez de la Cruz said, there is one thing that cannot be ignored. In Cuban Agriculture… I said, “Both the practical thousand-year history, and the science of economics, have demonstrated the irreplaceable role of workers in increasing the production and productivity of work, an area in which property plays a valuable role… A reality absent from existing property relations in Cuba, which block full participation, in a country where economic potential lies precisely in the high quality of its citizens.”

In every era Cuban thinkers worried about the widespread promotion of small and medium-size property. The Bishop Juan Jose Diaz de Espada, produced a project in 1808 based on a diversified economy of small farmers; Jose Antonio Saco proposed the conversion of slave plantations into small parcel agriculture; Francisoc de Frias, Count of de Poos Dulces, believed that Cuba should be the country par excellence of small property and cultivation on a small scale; Enrique Jose Varona, both in the colony and in the Republic, counseled promotion of the small owner and building a national middle class; and Jose Marti believed that the Republic was in a state of equal rights for everyone born in Cuba, a place of freedom of expression and thought and of many small owners. So, since colonial times, they were creating an infinity of small properties that was consolidated with the concept of social function defined in the 1940 Constitution, and that gave birth to an important sector of small and medium-size Cuban entrepreneurs whose last protests were swept away with the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968. Then, in 1993, the timid reforms initiated, which responded more to the preservation of political power than to the needs of society, were halted by the counter-reform of 1996.

These and other opinions were raised many years ago. The only novelty is that, after the problem has worsened, other Cubans have returned to the subject and the official press publishes them without calling them enemies or counterrevolutionaries. The problem is that if you really want to find a solution to such serious problems you must have a real and inclusive debate, regardless of ideologies and the interests of the power, which inevitably will require structural changes. Progress toward effective citizen participation, or continue hurtling toward disaster.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Blame Somebody Else

4-mazorraIn spite of the fact that the rumor had traveled from mouth to mouth, the information from the Ministry of Public Health on January 16 left the Cuban people astonished. Twenty-six patients had died at the Psychiatric Hospital in Havana. After attributing these deaths to low temperatures, patient’s risks factors, biological deterioration, respiratory infections and other ailments, a note issued by the Ministry attributed these deaths also to the inadequate measures of care, and announced that the people responsible for these events would be taken to the corresponding court of justice, which indicates that the cause is somewhere else.

A disaster of such magnitude -in a hospital where the services were depressing until 1959 and to which enormous human resources, technicians and financiers were dedicated to make it a leading institution in mental health care- requires other explanations.

Love goes before medicine

Fifteen centuries after Avicena and Claudio Galeno wrote medical treaties in the II Century, these texts have continued to be the basic ones for this discipline. In spite of the thrust given by Italian universities during the Renaissance, we had to wait  for the development of chemistry, biology and biochemistry and for the treatment of diseases. It was not until 1628 that an Englishman called William Harvey discovered blood circulation, the function of the heart and refuted Galeno’s theories. At the end of the XIX Century, the Frenchman Luis Pasteur elaborated the theory of germs and founded Microbiology. In regard to Psychiatry and the mental health diseases, a design of a system of identification and classification for these problems that did not appear until the last decade of the century. In the case of Cuba, it was Dr. Tomas Romay in 1834 who inaugurated the class of Medical Clinic in the hospital ward. It was then that medicine on the island started down the scientific path

These events demonstrate that man’s diseases precede medical science and treatment precedes the emergence of science. It also explains how people who practiced this occupation for so many years without any specialized preparation, although armed with a principle that, to parody Jose de la Luz y Caballero, could be summarized as: anyone can attend the sick, to heal, only those capable of practicing the love for the neighbor.

Since the XVI Century, when the first hospitals were founded in Cuba, members of different Religious Orders took care of the treatment for the sick. One of them, the Hospital San Juan de Dios, was under the care of the Juaninos Brethren since the year 1603 when they arrived in Cuba. From that date on, any type of illness, including mental patients, were treated in their facilities. In 1942, many centuries after, the same Order inaugurated the Sanatorium San Juan de Dios, especially for Psychiatric illnesses. It is symptomatic that in spite of lack of medical knowledge, their facilities never were the object of criticism, as has occurred now with the Psychiatric Hospital in Havana. It was not by chance that all of the 16 private sanatoriums owned for nervous patients that existed in Havana, were nationalized in May of 1964, with the exception of San Juan de Dios, an act demonstrating the importance that love has in the treatment of patients, especially the mentally ill.

The Psychiatric Hospital in Havana

Even though the forceful seclusion of the mentally ill patients was initiated in 1804, it was in 1857 that the “Casa General de Dementes de la Isla de Cuba” (Home for the Mentally Ill of the Island of Cuba) known popularly as Mazorra, was inaugurated. The common denominator of that Institution -reflected by the media before and after 1959- was the malnutrition of the patients, disease transmission and early death. In January of the same year, Commander Eduardo Bernabe Ordaz Ducunge was put in charge of this Institution. He remodeled the facility, transformed the caring system and introduced a scientific emphasis in the medical treatment directed towards the rehabilitation of patients. It was under his direction that concert bands, baseball teams the psychoballet were formed and the publishing of a specialized magazine started. As the years went by, Mazorra seemed to be part of the past, to the point that in the Central report to the Cuban Communist Party, Fidel Castro said: The National Psychiatric Hospital was during the Capitalistic era a warehouse filled of patients, where horrible things were happening and many times the patients died of hunger and abuse to the extreme that some directors were doing business with funeral homes.  To mention Mazorra was to mention Dante’s Inferno.”


The question is whether what happened is a single occurrence or a manifestation of decline. It is illusory to think that in any society, where all the elements are interrelated that one of them, say public health or any other, may function with efficacy when all the others do not. It only requires mentioning three aspects without which efficiency in  health care is impossible: the manifest productive incapacity, the insufficiency of salaries that makes all workers seek any additional source of income, most of the time illegally, and the moral decadence that all these factors bring about.

These and other elements, missing from the note of the Health Department Ministry, explain the lost of food, clothing and medications in Mazorra, as well as the lack of attention to the mentally ill. It is not until the authorities proceed to make profound structural changes, from the economic to the ethical education and the love of thy neighbor that it will be possible to come out of this state of deterioration. These changes are impossible without the corresponding civic liberties and without the political willingness to confront them.

The guerrilla style and the voluntarism have been exhausted. It is not enough to give patients in a matter of hours what they never should have been without and that those supposed guilty be punished, since the original causes, as they lay somewhere else, will provoke, here today and there tomorrow, similar or worst effects.

Translated by: David Fernandez

Yanez and the Common Position

3-yanez-y-la-posicion-comonAs soon as Spain occupied the presidency of the European Union (EU), the Cuban authorities prohibited the Spanish Member of the European Parliament, Luis Yanez, from entering the national territory. Yanez arrived at the Island on a tourist trip accompanied by his wife, the Deputy Carmen Hermosin. The prohibition, regardless of whether Yanez had or had not the intention of meeting any dissident, goes against the understanding of the EU that “High Level Officials visiting Cuba, may converse with the peaceful opposition”.

For Cuba, the visit of Yanez constituted an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that it really wished to better its relations with the EU and support the Spanish Minister of Foreign Relations, in favor of the suspension of the Common Position which consists in “encouraging a process of transition to a pluralistic democracy, respect for Human Rights and the Fundamental Freedoms, as well as a sustainable recuperation and the betterment of life’s condition for the Cuban people”.

The message implicit in this event could be read this way: It does not matter whether they are Socialists, Liberals or Conservatives. It does not matter if they have a moderate and constructive position or that they may criticize Human Rights violations. It does not matter if they come as politicians or tourists. Simply said, we are not going to change anything. We prefer to have a confrontation. The reaction came immediately. The President of the European Council, Jose Luis Zapatero, who up to this point was in favor for the EU to change its position in dealing with the Cuban authorities, declared that: “The policy of the EU towards Cuba it not a priority during our presidency”, and “Europe must show a demanding position before the Cuban Government.”

The EU, the largest supra-national organization of the world, composed of 27 countries, and the United States of America, the major economic and military power of the world, form two important forces in the international arena with defined policies in regard to the internal situation of Cuba. Such policies are in accord with respect to the declared ends, yet different in respect to the legitimacy and methods employed.

Since the Trade Embargo of the United State against Cuba started, the policy of confrontation between both governments was that of animosity as oppose to dialogue. That policy, illegitimate on the basis of International Law, did not help us in strengthening our position but it made it more difficult. Instead of protecting us against the arbitrariness of the State, it collaborated with it. Instead of promoting the appropriate climax for the advance of Human Rights, it made it regress. On the other side, the Council of EU1 adopted in 1996 the Common Position based on dialogue and collaboration, which was ratified in 2005.

Fourteen years after the adoption of the Common Position, it has not attained its proposed objectives. In the Spring of 2003, when the inclusion of Cuba in the accords of Cotonu was being discussed, the relations were interrupted due to the repressive wave by the Cuban government against the Internal Opposition. Later, in 2008, when the relations were re-established, the possibility that the policy of the EU based on critical dialogue would predominate over the policy of confrontation emerged. More recently, in 2009, with the change of policy of the present U.S. Administration towards Cuba and the weakening of the confrontational line, the hegemony for critical dialogue was created.

The importance of the critical dialogue -much more prominent in this time of globalization- is based on the social processes of change within countries, depending on internal factors as well as external ones. Contingent on the greater or lesser force of the first ones, the second ones assume a larger or smaller importance. In the case of Cuba, the weakness and destruction of the potential subjects related to change, explains and conditions the importance of the exterior forces.

The Common Position, in its new context, arrives at the right time to accomplish the pending objectives: the transition to a pluralistic democracy, the respect for Human Rights and the Fundamental Liberties. If the Cuban Government intends to conduct those relations by way of confrontation, the response of the EU must not be to renounce to the dialogue, much less to favor the suspension of the Common Position, given that the Cuban Government has not done anything that can justify it. Nor do the difficulties in the negotiation processes, nor the unfounded expectations of change, constitute reasons to discontinue such policy.

The unconditional liberation of all the political prisoners, the end of repression, the persecution for political reasons and the ramification on the part of the Cuban Government concerning the Political Rights’ Pact and the Social Economics and Cultural Pacts, signed in 2008, bring about three problems of great importance in order to measure the fulfillment of the objectives of the Common Position. These three things are so crucial for the society and for the dignity of the Cuban people that they cannot be subjected to any other type of demands, as was the intention of the Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations when during a visit to the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva he declared that: “If the EU were to depart from the sterile vote at the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva,” Cuba Would be willing to sit down with the EU to agree on a program.” And that Cuba, “would feel the moral debt to go along with the EU decision and would sign a Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Pact the following day acknowledging that we have started a new agenda in our relations”.

Among the objectives of the EU in its relations regarding the critical dialogue with the Cuban Government, the unfolding of contacts and interchanges with the civil society must be taken into consideration so that its citizens may emerge gradually from the political marginality in which they find themselves and may be able to participate in the conformation of Cuba’s democratic future. The inability of the actual model based on determined “free” medical and educational services in exchange for the lack of liberties and basic rights, has led to the general deterioration from the economic to the cultural, going through a state of increasing moral crisis which will be the most difficult thing to fix in the future.

Were the EU to decide to full re-establish the cooperation without taking into consideration the demands contained in the Common Position, it would be helping to strengthen the immobility and sustainability of a situation that is threatening the existence of the Cuban nation.

Translated by David Fernandez