Archive for June, 2010

Claret’s Mediation in the Case Against the Camagüey Patriots

Antonio María Claret (1807-1870), after undertaking outstanding evangelistic work in Catalonia and the Canary Islands, Participating as co-founder of the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretian Missionaries) and being ordained bishop, was sent to our country to become the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, which covered the territory from the provinces of Guantanamo to Ciego de Avila, a vast region where evangelical work had been poor due to the absence of the bishops for 18 years.

To better develop his mission, Claret prepared a pastoral letter addressed to the initiation into the Christian life with similarities to the current Social Doctrine of the Church, legalized thousands of marriages, founded the Brotherhood of Instruction in the Christian for evangelistic work, and together with Mother Maria Antonia Paris also founded the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretian).  His pole star was always the dignity and priority of the needy as shown by the credit unions created for workers and farmers, the aid to women without dowries to marry, support for helpless widows, and his attention to agriculture, a sector for which he wrote two books on modern agricultural methods, established a farm in Camaguey for poor children and developed a plan intended to turn peasants into real owners.

His arrival to Cuba came when the slave trade was still throwing thousands of Africans on our shores. As the chance to abolish slavery was not in his hands, he called for, following the example of St. Paul, charity in the treatment of the prisoners, equality between blacks and whites, and the elimination of trafficking, while authorizing interracial marriage and demanding the enforcement of civil and ecclesiastical laws containing benefits for the slaves, as the Edict of Good Government, the Regulation of Slaves and the Synod Laws.  The ethical value of his conduct lay in the fact that the colonial authorities forbade the clergy to criticize the existing legislation; as slavery was legal he had to face more than one proceeding against him.

Although Claret declared himself to be apolitical, he was actually a supporter of the monarchical system and against independence. However, as a man of the Church, he never turned away from his missionary work. In his autobiography he wrote: “I’ve never gotten into policy matters, I see and ponder the progress of things, but do not say a word.” Although he felt that direct political action was an impediment to the priestly ministry, the truth is that no one who cares about and deals with the poor, the sick, workers and slaves, can be seen as separate from politics.

The best proof of the foregoing Claret himself presented with his attitude during the trial, conducted in August 1851, which sentenced to death Joaquín de Agüero and other Camaguey patriots who rose up against the metropolis. He considered them patriots because, although they were supporters of annexation, he couldn’t ignore that their political views took in all those who admired the American model for its democratic character, and were not just advocating for union with the United States with the selfish concern of preserving slavery.

That was the case for Joaquin de Aguero, who started in public life by abolishing slavery in his own properties, nearly two decades before Carlos Manuel de Cespedes did the same in La Demajagua. The reason stemmed from the fact that, as annexation implied separation from Spain, those who had ideas of independence could not accept the participation in the first stage, that is the separation. The Marxist historian Sergio Aguirre, in Citizenship and Nationhood in Nineteenth-Century Cuba, referring to Joaquin de Aguero, Isidoro de Armenteros, Francisco and Ramon Pinto wrote: “They were all, it seems, annexationists. But were they motivated by, mistakenly, by a healthy democratic intention? Or were they mortgaged to the Cuban nationality in the interests of slavery? For whom was independence was the real target? Logically, the most likely seems Agüero. The least likely, Pinto.” Another historian, Oscar Loyola, in Cuba and Its History, acknowledges that the annexation was not a single unifying goal and he argues that Aguero rose up in defense of the separation of Cuba from the metropolis.

In support of those Cubans who fought for independence from Spain, Claret, who was a supporter of the monarchy, asked for that their death sentences be commuted in exchange for his own life: a courageous attitude with ethics consistent with the Christian principles.

In a letter to the Captain General of the Island, on July 26, 1851, wrote: “As Your Excellency is aware I was never involved in political affairs, but on this island religion and politics are so intertwined that one hardly can speak of the one with the other, even should one wish to.” For his conscientiousness he was the victim of several assassination attempts, including the incident in 1856 in the city of Holguin, where he was wounded in the cheek and right arm with a knife.

In 1857 Claret, on being appointed personal confessor of Queen Isabel II, left Cuba. As a result of the liberal revolution of 1868 he went into exile with the Queen and died a refugee in an abbey in France on October 24, 1870. For his work, the Latin American Bishops asked Pope Leo XIII for his beatification, the cause was introduced in 1887, he was declared Venerable in 1890, beatified in February 1934 and canonized by Pope Pius XII on May 7, 1950.

Similar to Bishop Pedro Agustín Morell, who mediated and defended the slaves of El Cobre in 1731, San Antonio María Claret, interceded for the lives of a group of patriots from Camagüey. Little-known facts, which are part of our history and they contain many lessons for the present Cuban.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Congresses Are Not the Answer

7-el-quid-no-estaLast May 17, the official Cuban press published draft resolutions prepared by the committees that met during the X Congress of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP); the resolutions were adopted at the closing session, held at the Theatre of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. A critical reading of these documents and the speech of the Minister of Economy, reveals a truth: the solution for Cuba’s inefficient agriculture does not depend on congresses.

The words of Minister Mariano Jorge Murillo seem to be the guide to the projects approved by the delegates to the Congress, because, roughly speaking, the resolutions responding to the “projection of the economy until 2015,” presented by the Minister: reduce imports of food and raw materials for animal feed; increase production of rice, beans, corn, milk, meat, coffee and other items; develop the national database of animal feed to replace the hundreds of millions of dollars that are invested in buying whatever it may occur within the country; and develop guidelines that constitute the essence of the 37 projects developed by the Committee No. 1: Production and Economics.

They recommend that state ministries further enhance rice production, design a program of not less than 100,000 hectares per year to produce beans and chickpeas, and other similar programs devoted to corn, soybeans, root crops, vegetables and fruits. In addition, they should: promote a program of micro and mini industry; refine the program of cattle development; increase pork production without increasing imports of feed; enhance the equine program to create new breeding mules and horses; develop a program with all livestock keepers to fatten up and sell their own animals directly to abattoirs; and develop a popular movement for the production of eggs without importing feed.

It also asks to extend the experience of urban agriculture to suburban areas and incorporate these cooperatives and plans; not allow any union to cut cane that is not planned to be ground; seed 100% of the remaining cane area in 2011 and by the next Congress reach a minimum of 54 tonnes per hectare. Also, support the recovery and development programs in coffee and cocoa; require each cooperative to complete an approved forest program for2015; approve a tobacco development program in the eastern provinces; increase the production of organic fertilizers; and request families that have the potential to produce rice, beans, oil, eggs, milk and coffee and to relinquish those products distributed by the ration stores at subsidized prices; and take steps to protect all their assets and avoid the State having to assume the cost of damages.

In short, the first thing that is obvious in the recently completed Congress is the lack of autonomy of the ANAP to discuss and agree on projects from the perspective of the interests of its partners. For example, an issue so vital to agricultural production and so rooted in the peasantry as is the current structure of land ownership was conspicuous by its absence.

It is clear that for decades the Cuban state has clearly demonstrated its inability to produce. Just remember that sugar production, the main agricultural product of Cuba throughout its history, in 1903, fresh from Cuba in the War of Independence and the incendiary torch, produced 1 million tonnes, an amount that is now almost a dream. A setback that forces Cuba to buy sugar from other countries to meet its external commitments. And one of the causes, though not the main one, of this failure lies in the ownership structure that concentrates the most and the best land in state hands.

However, private and cooperative sectors, despite the lack of autonomy, with less land, produce the bulk of agricultural products. Adding the 920,000 hectares delivered under Law 259, the cooperative-farmer sector has 41 percent of agricultural land, but contributes about 70% of the value of agricultural production, without taking into account that of the 920,000 delivered hectares, about half remain idle or under-used, either for lack of experience or because the owners in usufruct lack the most elemental tools to put them into production. For its part the state, with nearly 60% of the land produces only 30% of the output. Despite this overwhelming data, the state holds for itself the right to retain most of the land in its own hands and surrenders to the real producers as only small plots of usufruct.

As a result, Cuba, a country with a tradition of farming and a favorable climate has been forced to import an increasing percent of what it consumes, because despite all measures, the declined could not be stopped and nothing indicates that it can be by agreements achieved by the Congress of the ANAP; it appears that as the item was not in the speech of the Minister of the Economy, he decided not to address it. All of this indicates the vital importance of autonomy for any association, to avoid being ordered to discuss certain issues.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Plácido, Forger of Cuban Identity

8-placidoOn June 28, 1844, among the many victims of the horrible racist repression known as the Escalera Conspiracy was Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Plácido). His guilt was not in having participated in subversive activity against the metropolis, but simply in his condition as a free man, mulatto, with talent and liberal ideas, an extremely dangerous combination at such a tumultuous time and the so-called Year of the Leather.

The causes of the shooting of Plácido remind us of the sector of free blacks and mulattoes who appears in the island’s sociology from the same sixteenth century. Children of Spaniards and slaves, selfless slaves or informers, escaped slaves and free slaves bought for money, were some of the ways this sector formed. From agricultural production to the arts, free blacks were the backbone of the economy in the nineteenth century. Thanks to their efforts and talent they managed to acquire small holdings and certain cultural pre-eminence, which allowed them a certain social participation and interaction with whites.

This free sector, with marked features of Cuban identity, established a close relationship of solidarity and cultural identity with the slaves. They felt both Creole and Cuban in a process of identification that had for its base what Ramiro Guerra called a dual desire for civil liberty and social equality of the slave and free black. All this cemented the organization of the councils and in turn was strengthened by their establishment, from the seventeenth century, of the Battalions of Black and Brown Loyalists.

The rapid growth of slavery in the nineteenth century marked its highest point between 1840 and 1845. A particular case was the province of Matanzas, where the number of mills exceeded the figure of 300 and where the increase in the abuse generated a string of riots that spread from the Conchita mill in 1839 to the Conspiracy of the Ladder in 1844. Events that covered practically all the collections of slaves in the area threatening the economic interests of Creole planters, merchants of the Peninsula and the metropolitan government.

The repressive response involved more than four thousand people. Of which 78 were sentenced to death, nearly 600 sent to prison, more than 400 deported and 300 physically abused during the process. Repression was directed by Captain General Leopoldo O’Donnell simultaneously against free blacks and against the white intellectuals who opposed the slave trade. The aim was to decapitate the irrepressible abolitionist movement, at a time when the sector composed of free mulattoes and blacks, as well as making economic progress, accounted for 58% of the inhabitants of the island, and when they still held fresh memories the bloody slave rebellion in Haiti.

The freedom that is expressed as armed insurrection in Latin America, in Cuba had its expression from the culture. The definition of what it meant to be Cuban was initiated in neoclassical poetry of Zequeira Manuel and Manuel Justo de Rubalcava, which served as the foundation for romanticism of José María Heredia and Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, taking off from the flora and fauna typical of the island and an awareness of the differences from the Spanish. In the process, Plácido, whose poetic gifts were apparent from an early age, along with Cirilo Villaverde, Felix Tanco, Ramón de Palma, Anselmo Suárez y Romero, José Jacinto Milanés and Domingo del Monte, formed from  different corners of our culture, a constellation of romantic Cubanness shaping the process.

Son of a mulatto and a Spanish dancer, because of his economic situation Placido was forced, parallel to his poetry, to work as a carpenter, designer, typographer, painter and silversmith. He was a spontaneous poet, easy versifier, and highly sensitive. Oath, To A Bird, The Death of Gesler and the decima, Habaneros, Freedom!, his celebrated romance, Xicotencatl, The Flower of the Cane, The Flower of the Coffee, and the poems written before his death: Farewell to My Mother, Adios to My Lyre, and Prayer to God, the latter declaimed as he walked to the scaffold to be executed, are sufficient to demonstrate the presence of his El Siboney and Creole background and his poetic quality and libertarian thought.

Francisco Calcagno, in “Poets of Color” tells us that Plácido “does not sing only of Cuba but if sometime your fantasy is of Cubanness, that is, so to speak, everything he paints.” For the Cuban identity within him, for his attachment to the homeland that led him to refuse offers as José María Heredia did in 1836 to travel abroad, for his contribution to the formation of national identity and the courage with which he faced his fate, Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, The Bard of Yumurí, has a space reserved for him in the pantheon of Cuban culture.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

The Church and Mediation: The Experience of Bishop Morell


One of the roles of mediation in conflicts is a change in images and attitudes that the parties cannot reach on their own, especially when they are adversaries, or when one of them is opposed to any solution not entirely in their favor; thus, among the many requirements and characteristics a mediator must have, is being acceptable to all contenders.

In Cuba, as happened in other colonized countries of America, African natives were brought for use as slave labor. These human beings, without contact with their homeland and with no possibility of returning to it, were subjected to intolerable working days and the most cruel physical abuse. The first and most prolonged response to this deplorable situation was rebellion. They responded to the violence with violence, generating a heartbreaking story of pain and death that lasted several centuries and marked the formation of the Cuban nation.

One of these episodes of rebellion took place in Santiago del Prado, a village formed around the copper mines of the Santiago area, popularly known as the sanctuary of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, where history records the first mass rebellion of Cuban slaves. The background of this event dated from the year 1677, when the colonial authorities, to provide for the eviction of black workers who lived there, provoked an uprising in the surrounding mountains. On July 24, 1731, half a century after the first uprising, the strength of the slaves of the King of Spain — a condition that led to that core characteristics — refused to comply with the provisions of the Governor of Santiago de Cuba, Colonel Pedro Jimenez, and rose up in arms again to claim their rights.

Bishop Pedro Agustín Morell de Santa Cruz and Lora, the most brilliant, comprehensive, deep and interesting personality of the Catholic Church during the first centuries of Cuban history and the most important scholar of the eighteenth century Creole society,  was the leading researcher of the bases and institutional and ideological developments of the country, who would finish a great number of academic works in his time. He had to act as mediator between the governor, who wanted to overcome the rebels by force of arms, and slave rebels, who were willing to defend their claims to the very end, while Bishop Morell worked to achieve a bloodless solution acceptable to both parties.

His work as a mediator had major relevance because the obstacles were not only half a century of conflict between slaves and slave, but also the fact that the Church in Cuba, as in the rest of Hispanic America, was subordinate to the State; a dependency which had its origins in the failure of the repression against Christianity, starting from the crucifixion of Jesus and continued by the Roman emperors until the 4th century, until the authorities realized that the survival of the empire depended more on the influence of Christianity than on their impossibility of exterminating it. With the change in policy, put into practice by Constantine the Great, the church won its freedom, acquired the character of a legal religion and took on a global dimension, in exchange for being subject to the imperial throne.

In 1486 Pope Innocent VII through a papal bull granted Royal Patronage to the kings of Spain over the kingdom of Granada. With that background, when it turned its attention to the evangelization of the American aborigines, Pope Alexander VI, in response to the request of the Spanish kings, granted them in 1501 the privilege previously granted to Granada, by which he transferred to the Crown a set of rights and responsibilities which allowed the monarch to found churches, identify geographic dioceses, present mitres and ecclesiastic benefits, collect tithes and choose to send missionaries to the New World. Although in 1646 it was granted independence and immunity of the clergy, with respect to civil authorities, the Church continued to be dependent on the Crown; a dependency that was accentuated in the second half of the eighteenth century at precisely the time when the uprising of the slaves of Cobre occurred — with several royal provisions that made the higher ecclesiastical authorities of the island dependent on local authorities. As a result the bishops and other representatives of the Church which had enjoyed a relative independence, had to take an oath of loyalty to the State and recognize its rights.

It is notable how Bishop Morell, in such unfavorable conditions, assumed the role of mediator. He met with the parties separately, analyzed the causes of conflict and on understanding it sided with the slaves, whom he defended with real authority. In his report to the king on the uprising of the miners, dated August 26, 1731, Morell showed that the origin of the conflict came from the way they had been treated. All of the rules affecting holidays and care for their families had been violated; violations that extended to and harmed even free blacks. In his report, the Bishop wrote that slaves had a delusion that simply said that they were free and that the royal decree supporting this had been concealed by the rulers of Cuba. He added that: the lack of the understanding of the rebels was added the desire for freedom.

Through dialogue the rebels were convinced to go back to town until peace was achieved in exchange for lifting the measures that had provoked the uprising. Seventy years after mediation by Morell, this time led by Father Alejandro Ascanio, the workers — blacks and mulattos enslaved in Cobre — gained their freedom by Royal Decree, eight decades before the abolition of slavery in Cuba, which was read to the Patroness of Cuba, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, on May 19, 1801. An experience with lessons for what is now happening in Cuba relative to the demand for the release of the political prisoners.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

A Vital Initiative


The Alternative Cuban Blogosphere Academy just held its first graduation. On Thursday April 8 in the afternoon, 32 graduates received their certificates accredited in the headquarters of that institution, based in Havana.

Unlike the traditional graduation, diplomas of cyber-journalists were handed over to each other by their own graduates, a detail that reflects the horizontality with which the course was developed during the five months between October 2009 and March 2010, during which teachers and students learned from each other in discussions and exchanges of ideas, experiences and information. Another interesting fact is that the five teachers were also students of the Academy.

In addition to the subjects taught — Project Management in Word Press, Ethics and Law Applied to Journalism, Editing and Technical Journalism, Photography, Cuban Culture and Photography — along the way several specialists delivered lectures on the Cuban economy, ethics, religion and other subjects which completed the training of students. The first result, which is also the main objective of the Academy is that all students already have a blog or have one under construction.

The group of graduates, comprising 12 females and 20 males with an age range between 16 and 70 years, along with political differences, religious and occupational diversity reflects a degree that, to paraphrase Don Fernando Ortiz, could be described as cyber-hash.

If the graduation of the Academy had taken place in Switzerland or in Haiti, the fact would not possess any importance nor would it count as news. However, the fact that is has occurred in Cuba, a country devoid of civil liberties, to promote an institution of such features, without state control, gives a different connotation.

An initiative of the young Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, the Academy is, among other things, a result of the decision to participate in the nation’s problems. Aware that civil society and the State are two sides of the same society, each has its functions, and the elimination of social spontaneity by the State means the cancellation of citizen participation. Both Yoani and the rest of the group decided to bypass the absurd decision that in Cuba everything has to be an initiative of the Government or sponsored by it. The efforts worked to change the reality that in our country we cannot continue moving in a direction opposite to social progress.

Now, for this vital initiative to become a force for change, it must address the aspirations of others, because it is a cultural action that tries, through the use of freedom of expression, to show that human dignity that is a guarantee the other freedoms. And that is precisely the small contribution made by the Alternative Cuban Blogosphere Academy.

Graduates, with the knowledge they have acquired, are in a position that they can — as indicated by the diploma — open and maintain a blog in response to their interests and leanings, and also generalize the experience, since graduation occurs in a context where the debate of ideas is ongoing. This public space is so vital that despite the restrictions, it has been impossible to ignore it. When the Communist Party convened the Fourth Congress in 1990 with a call for debate, more than three million people marched, making it necessary to backtrack on the offer. In early 2007, the controversy that began among some intellectuals generated heated discussions that demonstrated their urgent necessity. A few months later, when called to discuss the speech the President of the Council of State on July 26, 2007 in Camaguey, once a  there was a surge in public complaints. This trend was subsequently reflected in the approaches of students at UCI, at the National School of Art, in sectors of the intelligentsia, in criticism of their own supporters from the power structure, including familiar figures on the Cuba left and it was, albeit timidly, even reflected in the official press.

It was natural as it were, that on and off since the colonial period up to the Republic, at gatherings, associations, institutions and the press, the debate reached a magnitude which makes it impossible to explain any event in our history without taking it into account. Suffice it to recall that from the time of the Zanjón Pact in 1878, Spain granted Cuba the freedom of press, association and assembly, which emerged through publications and associations and generated public debate about the problems of the island in that context, Juan Gualberto Gomez started and won a process against the colonial authorities, through which the Cubans were able to sustain and discuss publicly the ideas of independence on the condition that they do not incite rebellion.

The emergence of citizen journalism, marked by the use of new technologies and social participation in the production and exchange of information without having to submit to the State, to its institutions or editorial policies, explains why what started with a weak flash is becoming an explosion of the Cuban blogosphere, because alternative journalism, independent, participatory and citizen-led, meets the requirements of traditional journalism and adds others that are only possible with new technologies in the context of a globalized world.

Breaking the monopoly of information, providing and disseminating a critical and transformative vision and new principles, recovering fundamental freedoms, shaping public opinion and promoting civic participation as a subject of change, are some of the huge challenges of today.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Why Mediation?

5-porque-la-mediacionIf the political prisoners were sentenced only for thinking differently from the Government and acting accordingly, there would be nothing for it but to free them. This is a generally held viewpoint in some sectors of Cuban society, which includes figures like the singer Silvio Rodriguez, who stated that the sentences imposed on these citizens were excessive and they should be freed. In this context the question has arisen: If it is more logical and easier to release them, what is the reason for the mediation?

It turns out that this logic is insufficient to unravel a political conflict, that though it has an ethical component it is irreducible  that aspect. Emerging from the coexistence of conflicting interests and identities, the case of the Cuban prisoners has its roots in the attempt to eliminate the plurality of our society. The need for mediation lies in the role it can be play in changing the images and attitudes of the parties, so as to enable them to move toward a perspective of dialogue. Mediation, although it emphasizes the present and future, requires taking into account the causes of the conflict which are rooted precisely in the field of politics, understood to mean a sphere that transcends the state, as evidenced by the existence and participation of civil society in the contemporary world.

In Cuba, a regime established in 1959 for reasons that are not covered by this analysis, evolved toward totalitarianism. The process of dismantling civil society and public spaces culminated in 1968 with the Revolutionary Offensive, which did away with at a single stroke the tens of thousands of small private establishments still operating. To be monopolized by the politics of the State, a State with only one Party, and that Party for an enlightened elite, resulted in laying the foundations of totalitarianism.

The cancellation of social spontaneity, which sustains and nourishes the human destiny, led the country in the opposite direction from the “luminous project”; for when the State has complete power over civil society, it prevents citizens from being political subjects and turns all who question its validity into enemies of the “homeland.” From this criterion, the State’s relationship with those who disagree ceases to become political and becomes a police matter against the enemies of order. This result can be defined as less democratic, because democracy implies the existence of the freedoms and the rights of the people lost in this process.

From this “achievement,” that is since the dismantling of civil society, the construction of the bright future offered by the ideology of power was projected, from which individual and group interests ceded their place to a common project, where the individual would be replaced by the mass, until the “success” became failures, from the economy to the spiritual deterioration. A fact that, although recognized by the Government itself has not so far been accompanied by the political will to proceed with the changes, which must include the revival of autonomous civil society. Hence the release of prisoners, if it occurs, can only be the starting point. To think otherwise is to ignore the causes that have led us to the point of stagnation and regression in which we live.

To treat those who think differently as the enemy is the result of considering humanity — diverse and plural — like an entity reducible to a particular social organization. The supposed superiority of such an organization is the belief that it is based on a transcendent truth that can explain everything. If the government has decided to make some changes in relation to political prisoners and from this change is trying to “update” the cause of the crisis model, you have to accept that other citizens, with their own ideas, enjoy the same right to propose alternative models . Mediation should help to understand this truth: the existence of the opposition is a necessary condition for the consolidation of a democratic regime. Therefore, if after the current release of prisoners, those who think and act differently are still considered evil and the law that allows them to be convicted for their thoughts remains, we will be back at the root of the problem, and so the work of the mediation would be reduced to the release of these new prisoners in turn.

The essence behind this whole affair is that politics is not simply a result of the social character of men, but also of their plurality. With the loss of consensus through tacit ignorance of the rights of others, mediation as a path to dialogue and negotiation is the best, if not the only way to restore the lost consensus, a restoration that for ethical, legal and political reasons presupposed the recognition of plurality. Blackmail consisting of “my way or the highway!” has proved ineffective and inadmissible. State political repression, as dangerous and severe it is, is not only ineffective with regards to what is being proposed, but also demeaning to those who exercise it.

For all these reasons, the release, immediate or gradual, or all detained for political reasons, although it solves a serious problem, it will not get to the root of it. At the same time conditions are required for freedom. Otherwise, we simply create a new form of domination that our tortured history can no longer resist. For this not to happen, freedom requires the existence of legalized public spaces in which citizens can exercise their political rights independently: this is the challenge and way out.

If the government, albeit belatedly and very slowly, decides to go in that direction to solve not only the problem of current prisoners, but also the future of Cuban society, it would score a goal in its favor. And if the Church as a mediator in the immediate solution to the problem of political prisoners, manages that the two parties, State and Society, progress the dialogue and mediation of the negotiations it will earn the well-deserved recognition of Cuban citizens and world. The opposite would be a disaster for everyone.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

If Dissent Isn’t a Problem…


Taking into account both the words of the President of the Cubans Councils of State and of Ministers about promoting open discussion and not seeing a problem in dissent but rather a source of the best solutions, as well as his earlier statement that structural changes and the related and necessary changes in concepts should be introduced, I would like to state, expressing myself as a democratic socialist, my opinions on some of their planned approaches from April 4, at the close of the Ninth Congress of the Union of Communist Youth. I refer to the following four aspects:

1 – Without a strong and efficient agriculture … we can not hope to sustain and increase the nutrition of the population that still depends on imports of products that can be grown in Cuba.

2 – Unless people feel the need to work to live … We can never encourage a love for work, or solve the chronic shortage of builders, agricultural and industrial workers, teachers, police and other essential offices that are slowly disappearing.

3 – Without the formation of a strong and consistent social rejection of illegalities and various manifestations of corruption, it will continue that more than a few will get rich at the expense of the sweat of the majority.

4 – If we maintain inflated payrolls in almost all spheres of national life (it is estimated that there is an excess of workers of over one million people) and pay wages without any link to results, raising the amount of money in circulation, we can not expect prices to stop their constant rise, deteriorating the purchasing power of people.

As ideologies assume that everything can be explained without taking into account actual experiences, once purposes are defined the difficulties start when you begin to implement them. According to the Cuban president, we must break the hold of dogma and assume implementation with firmness and confidence, already underway, of our economic model. This statement contains an insoluble contradiction, for it is impossible to guarantee the survival of socialism in Cuba by updating the model that generated the crisis.

The State and civil society are two elements of the same system and if the State cancels civil society, as has happened in Cuba, it prevents citizens from being political subjects. The policy concept is broader than the state and the latter’s monopoly in all spheres generates binding rules that convert anyone who questions their legitimacy into enemy. That reality is at the root of the difficulties in which we are immersed. Therefore, if this is true, the way out is to be found in the substitution of democratic and participatory model for the current totalitarian one. Insisting on the above is to announce, in advance, a new failure.

It is necessary to renounce the pre-established schemes. Democracy has to do with the sovereignty of the people, and recent government statements presuppose that citizens share their values. This presumption underlay the Revolutionary Offensive, which ended all vestiges of economic independence of citizens in 1968 and in addition was responsible for: the process of correcting errors and negative tendencies of 1986; the timid reforms initiated in the early years of the decade of ‘90‘s of the past century; the counter-measures from 1995 to 1996; the thousand battles lost against corruption; measures in agriculture announced in July 2007; and the minimum plan submitted in February 2008, of which the most significant has been the Decree Law 259 for the delivery of land in usufruct.

This latter is a project created by the failure of the insistence to preserve the land the property of an incapable State, while farmers are prevented from owning their own land. Now, two years later, a similar program begins with the lease of their premises to barbers and hairdressers, an odd and isolated little experiment, but nevertheless one of a limited set of measures that could be effective if they were part of a program of structural changes.

The experience of the past 42 years has shown that none of these measures can possible resolve what they were intended to, for two reasons: one, the complexity of business in each country prevents absolute centralization, and two, the lack of civil liberties makes it impossible to implement. With socialism, in all its variants, all you can do is to deny the idea of a socialist democracy, without which it is impossible to solve any of the announced purposes. Rather non-democratic socialism has led the country into a state of disrepair ranging from economics to morality and generated rejection of the concept of socialism.

At this point, which has been compounded by having no policy framework — a fact recognized in the speech of April 4 — no new project can come from a group of persons, whether or not they are experts, nor from a political party because the party as indicated by its meaning, is only part of society. It requires the participation of all, with that all being the Cuban people, without exception, political, ideological or otherwise. A people prepared to have every right to participate in defining their nation. In short, we are and will be unable to leave the current state of stagnation and recession without the willingness to abandon the essentially totalitarian system, so that Cubans can enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms such as those of opinion, assembly, association, access to the Internet, freedom to exit and enter the country, to own property, and to receive a salary corresponding to the cost of living. Freedoms and rights are impossible to implement from the current model. Therefore, the solution to the crisis must be citizen participation, which means the public debate to define a consensual direction.

Finally, with regards to implementing the model it occurs in an international context unfavorable for such purposes. The international community is beginning to show increased attention to the state of civil liberties in Cuba, which further limits the ability of government with regards to international relations and the economic support needed. In such a situation to implement internal changes would be to show the “enemy,” but especially Cubans, the will, ability and confidence in the people. That is, responding to the external campaign with an internal debate.

It is not giving in to “blackmail” but the needs of Cuba. This way, different from the dilemma of “concede or disappear” consists of “change for the people, the only way to legitimize permanence, what would be permitted would be not only what has been resisted for half a century, but also and above all, the necessary internal solutions for the country. Sooner or later Cuba will have to undertake profound structural reforms, and these processes take time and the time to initiate the changes, if not already long past, is at its limits.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Confrontation, a Strategy?


Although external foreign policy stems from the internal, the conflicting relations between Cuba and the United States reversed this relationship. In 1959 the Cuban government described itself as follows: Between the two ideologies or political and economic positions that are being discussed in the world, we have a proprietary position. However, the measures taken, as it affects American interests, generated the shift to totalitarianism, and one of the results was the elimination of civil society and the violation of human rights. In this context, member countries of the European Union (EU) that maintained bilateral relations with Cuba, decided in 1996 to adopt a Common Position in order to encourage democratization and respect for fundamental freedoms, which was reflected in public recognition of the Cuban opposition.

This recognition increased tensions until 2003, when Cuba asked to join the Cotonou agreements, a set of cooperative relations between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries — which involve the commitment to promote and protect fundamental freedoms and human rights. However, in the same year, because of the imprisonment of 75 peaceful opponents and the shooting of three youths who tried to capture a boat to flee the country, the EU Council reaffirmed the validity of the Common Position. Finally, from October 2008, when Cuba managed to resume cooperation without conditions, the Spanish government proposed to repeal it, but in January 2010, although Spain held the EU presidency, Cuba was denied entry by Spanish MEP Luis Yanez and the following month political prisoner Orlando Zapata died after a prolonged hunger strike, two events have undermined the Spanish proposal.

The confrontation with the U.S. and Europe united Latin America in the rejection of the agreement of the OAS, which conditioned the readmission of Cuba on the acceptance of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which requires respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, plus the failure to ratify human rights conventions signed since 2008. From this, one can infer the existence of a strategy to disengage from any commitments that would undermine the Cuban government with regards to restoring civil society, respect for human rights and democratization; instead, Cuba has chosen to build bridges with institutions like the ALBA, where apparently no such requirements.

Despite government resistance, the relevance of civil liberties requires, eventually, a change in internal politics and external relations to an approach based on dialogue as a guiding principle and ongoing strategy. Then we will start by releasing all political prisoners, ratification of human rights covenants, attaching the legislation to these covenants and opening a national debate on issues that affect us, so that Cubans can participate as subjects in the destiny of their nation. It is simply a timing issue.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Claudio Jose Brindis de Salas

2-brindis-de-salas1During the first half of the nineteenth century most of the people of Cuba were of African origin, which explains the strength and influence of their culture, especially black-mulatto musicality, distinguished by its immense creativity, extraordinary force and captivating originality. This music reached the largest number of performers and fans compared to the music from the Iberian peninsula, to the point that its rhythms, initially considered by white people as savage, came to be incorporated as their own. One of the black musicians that influenced that process was undoubtedly Jose Claudio Brindis de Salas, son of another black musician of the same name.

At first glance it incomprehensible that aspects of the culture of seemingly underachieving people can become dominant, but when we explore a bit in history and we come into contact with figures like Brindis de Salas, father and son, the mystery disappears. The moral is, to paraphrase Walterio Carbonell, without the knowledge of the particularities of the African cultures that influenced us we can not understand the process of formation of the Cuban nation

Brindis de Salas the father — the brother of the Count of Casa Bayona, whom his mother nursed — was famous in Havana in the mid-nineteenth century. Brindis became one of the most educated and famous blacks of the time, he cultivated poetry, was a composer, bandleader and musician of the Battalions of Browns and Mulattos. During the events of the Conspiracy of the Ladder, in 1844, he was arrested and tortured along with thousands of other blacks, expelled from the island and subsequently arrested for returning illegally. After being released, unable to recover his few possessions, he tried unsuccessfully to recreate his old orchestra until he died in extreme poverty.

Brindis de Salas, Jr., unlike his father, was born when the figure had entered Havana society and already had a solid cultural background. When, according to the musicologist Serafin Ramirez, music was the delight of all, the cultivation of art was widespread and opera companies and concerts of the first order quite frequently visited Havana.

Brindis de Salas began his studies with his father and continued them with Van der Guth, a famous Belgian concert pianist based in Havana who was affectionately called “attack violin,” with whom he progressed remarkably, but it was thanks to his studies at the Paris Conservatory with the most famous teachers of the time, that the union of talent and ideal conditions resulted in one of the most extraordinary musical figures of the nineteenth century.

His musical aptitude was evident from an early age. At age eight he composed a dance called The Sympathizer and two years later he debuted at the Lyceum of Havana with great success. Since the beginning of his studies, and in every performance in Paris, Brindis a long career was marked by triumphs. His natural talents, refined and enriched by study, gave an enviable expertise in the domain of the instrument and the audience. “It would seem,” wrote a French commentator of the time, “as if a hidden hand draws the most sublime notes from the instrument, making them appear as emanating from heaven.”

Once he completed his studies he triumphed in Italy, the country of origin of the violin, where he performed at the Conservatory of Milan and the Scala Theatre, and in Berlin, he was appointed chamber musician to the Emperor. Also St. Petersburg, London, Portugal and Spain were witnesses to his expertise. In Argentina, fans bought him a genuine Stradivarius, in Mexico, although acting almost simultaneously with another violinist Jose White — another black violinist from Cuba, who also graduated at the Conservatory of Paris — he also triumphed. Venezuela, Central America and Cuba enjoyed his wonders.

International critics in particular acclaimed his art and named him the King of Octaves and the Cuban Paganini. In these critical comments we find expressions such as: extraordinary talent who speaks six or seven languages, possessor of a legitimate arc portamento while an energy that has printed the momentum characteristic of his race, shows a deep understanding, reveals a wonderful spontaneity in his creations and a boldness in style worthy of the immense talent of the artist.

His strong personality led to uncontrollable negative consequences for his life. In Germany he lost the relationship with his wife and three children, who following the family tradition were also violinists, and inconsistency in maintaining his skills generated a clear decline in his artistic genius. Thus, the excesses of his exalted temperament, spurred by the glory, undermined his health: tuberculosis and destitution invaded. Its decline was evident in his last concert at the Teatro Espinel in Spain.

We cannot ignore the memory of such famous black musician, awarded the Grand Cross of the Black Eagle, a member of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Austrian orders; the chamber violinist of the Emperor of Germany, who carried his fame and insolence out into the world to return to die in Buenos Aires, the scene of his former triumphs, in extreme isolation and poverty on June 2, 1911.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos