Archive for March, 2011

The Protest of the 13

At a gathering last February with young people interested in the political history of Cuba, on my referring to the protest of Thirteen, one of those present threw out the question: Why do these events do not occur today? I reproduce here my response in honor of the 88th anniversary of that memorable event and to share it with readers of el Diario de Cuba.

The event occurred during a tribute of the Cuban Women’s Club for the Uruguayan writer Paulina Luisi, on March 18, 1923 at the Academy of Sciences, and consisted of a group of young people staging an act of civics and national dignity that contains valuable lessons for Cubans today.

Dr. Alfredo Zayas Alfonso, who held the presidency, was the first leader in three decades who was not an officer during the War of Independence. Politician and lawyer, he was popularly known by the nicknames “The Chinaman Zayas,” and “The Stingy One.” After occupying various political responsibilities, he left the job of Vice President of the Republic in 1913, and appointed himself Official Historian of Cuba with a salary of 500 pesos a month. During his presidential term he won — “purely by chance” — the first prize in the National Lottery twice, erected a statue to himself while alive and gave free rein to the game, and so ended his term with a personal fortune of several million pesos.

Parallel to these activities, the first railroads spread across the country, the cities were notable for electric lighting and urban trams, the first journey by air from Havana to Santiago de Cuba was made, and radio burst forth in Cuban homes. Meanwhile political and administrative corruption reached worrying levels. One such example happened to the Old Convent of Santa Clara where, during the inflationary period, known as the “Dance of the Millions,” a private business bought the Catholic Church for less than a million pesos, and then, when the country entered the crisis know as the “Lean Years,” at a time when prices had fallen, Alfredo Zayas bought it for 2.3 million, more than double the initial price paid.

Several members of Zayas’s cabinet objected that the purchase was approved by law, among them the Finance Minister who refused to endorse the deal, forcing the President to replace his signature with that of the Secretary of Justice, Dr. Regüeiferos Erasmus, who had been invited to deliver a speech at the Women’s Club tribute to Paulina Luisi.

At the moment when he was about to begin speaking, 15 youths rose in protest and one of them, the young lawyer and poet Rubén Martínez Villena, apologized to the president and announced the group’s decision to leave the room in protest against the Minister of Justice, who had signed the deal for the purchase of the Convent.

The next day, The Herald published a manifesto known as the Protest of 13, as two of the original 15 participants abstained from signing. The document said they felt honored and pleased to start a movement against the immorality that debased the country and announced hereafter that they would be willing to adopt the same attitude of protest toward any act in which a person was stained by lack of patriotism or citizenship.

The arguments used to answer the question of why such events do not occur now were as follows: First, because parallel to the moral decay of the ruling elite, the civic virtues of citizens, which never disappear entirely, were re-emerging in various social sectors of the country at that time. Second, because the institutionalization of democracy endorsed in the 1901 Constitution — including the separation of public powers, the recognition of freedom of expression, religious freedom, freedom of assembly, association and movement in and out of the country, habeas corpus and the inviolability of the home — allow this type of civic demonstration.

The trade union movement, starting at the time of the Strike of Apprentices in 1902, spread across the country and influenced the passage of several laws favorable to workers. The university students demonstrated in 1921 against granting the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa to General Leonard Wood and Enoch H. Crowder, and in December 1922 the University Students Federation called for autonomy.

After the Protest of the Thirteen, the Cuban Action Falange was created, as were the Retail Group and the Veterans and Patriots Movement. In 1918 the Socialist Group was created in Havana, which led to the founding of the Communist Party in 1925, and the Cuban Junta of National Renovation, in 1923, published the Manifesto to Cubans, to name but a few isolated examples.

The absence of these freedoms and spaces that served as support for citizen expression disappeared. Now, when it’s not about political and administrative corruption but rather a profound structural crisis that affects everything and everyone, attempts to engage in civic conduct are denigrated by the State which possesses a monopoly on the communication media and has a numerous and efficient police apparatus dedicated to repression.

Comparing the scenario that produced the Protest of the Thirteen with the present, one can understand the magnitude of the setback suffered by Cubans in the area of civil and political rights, to the point that the government praises the behavior of the authors of that Protests at the same time they repress anyone who follows their example.

However, as virtues never disappear entirely, the citizenship behaviors are reemerging, Cubans begin to become citizens, a process that needs to be accompanied by educational actions from the existing core of civility, to form a culture of rights as a necessary premise for the participation of Cubans in their own national destiny.

Rubén Martínez Villena 1 was born on December 20, 1899 in Alquízar, Havana province. He obtained his BA in 1916 and the law in 1922. He joined the Communist Party of Cuba in 1927 and died on January 16, 1934 in a sanatorium in Havana.

(Taken from the Diario de Cuba (, el 17 de marzo de 2011)

March 21 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Cuba and Egypt, Similarities and Differences

The overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt has encouraged the idea that a similar event could occur in Cuba. That conclusion, based on similarities, doesn’t take into account the differences between the two scenarios.

The governments of both countries emerged in the 50’s of last century, formed one-party systems, nationalized economies, and lacked or limited civil liberties. Both, in the midst of the Cold War, played a game of strategic interests alien to their own peoples. In Egypt, the withdrawal of Western economic aid for the construction of the Aswan Dam and then the adverse outcome of the war with Israel in 1967, led them to turn for aid to the Soviet Union. In Cuba, the rupture of relations with the United States, and later the failure of the 1970 sugar harvest, conditioned dependence on the Soviet Union and Cuba’s entry into Comecon. Despite these similarities, other political, historical and cultural factors led the two countries in different directions.

In Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, at the head of a group of soldiers, overthrew the Egyptian monarchy of King Farouk I in 1952, created the Arab Republic of Egypt where he held the post of prime minister and then president. At his death in 1970 he was replaced by Anwar al-Sadat, who, without abandoning the totalitarian model, gave a twist to the previous policy, establishing a government with the head of state as President of the Republic and a regime of economic liberalization and policies to attract the capital of the West. Egypt recognized the State of Israel and, on the failure of its peace project, allied with the Soviet Union and launched the war against Israel in 1973. Though negotiations it regained the Suez Canal and the Sinai oil fields. Then, at Camp David, Sadat signed an agreement to resolve the conflict, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the death of Sadat in 1981, Muhammad Hosni Mubarak came to power and introduced some political reforms that allowed the Muslim Brotherhood greater participation. However, due to its support for sanctions imposed on Iraq for the invasion of Kuwait, and his military contribution to the coalition that confronted that country in the Persian Gulf War, his enemies initiated violent actions that led to hundreds of victims and, in response, the Government executed dozens of opponents. In this situation, in 2005, Mubarak presented a new proposal for constitutional reform which, among other things, changed the form for presidential elections, but the protests continued, demanding deeper civic and political freedoms.

In the 56 years that transpired between Nasser’s becoming president and Mubarak’s overthrow, power was held by three governments, that without renouncing to totalitarianism, introduced changes that allowed certain legal and public participation in important sectors of civil society, without which the current outcome would have been much more difficult if not impossible.

In Cuba, Fidel Castro led the insurrection that attacked the Moncada Barracks in 1953, landed on the island in 1956 and took power in 1959. From that moment began a process that nationalized the economy, formed a single party system, dismantled the existing civil society, established absolute control over the media, and controlled citizens through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Thanks to grants from ideological allies, he could ensure systems for health, education and sports, and the sale of subsidized products through the rationing system which, along with the dispute with the United States, served to attenuate the inconsistencies between state and society.

If changes Egypt began in the 1970s, in Cuba they did not begin to materialize until 2008, after the appointment of General Raul Castro as President of the State Council. Those changes, limited and conflicting, are taken shape since December last year, when Raul affirmed that 2011 would see the beginning of a gradual and progressive implementation of structural and conceptual changes in the Cuban economic model.

These differences in conditions explain why the events in Egypt are not manifested equally in Cuba. However, what occurred in that country could become a lesson of global scope for the present-future, depending on how Egypt’s process evolves to the establishment of democracy, freedoms and civil rights.

Egypt’s lesson is that in the history of social changes that emerge from revolutions led by elites or charismatic figures, which take up the demands of their time and place to move the “masses” to overthrow the existing order, once they assume power they ive themselves the right to generate regimes that are similar to or even worse than the ones they overthrew. However, recent events break this trend, because the subject of the changes has not been a single figure, the elite, a movement or a political party, but rather the people, The consolidation of this process depends on the capacity of citizens to put pressure on the Army, which has the responsibility to establish a democratic regime.

If the objectives sought by the Egyptians are achieved, then, to the thesis that history is made by men, we must add two observations: one, that so far some men have participated in their condition as “the masses,” or the objects of other men — drivers, leaders, strong men, chiefs — who in reality have become subjects; another, that what happens with many revolutionary processes must be considered proto-historic, because even the Egyptian lesson, the people of those counties have not been true subjects, but objects. Then, the thesis that history makes men assume their full value only when people participate in their condition as subjects.

(Printed in Diario de Cuba, , 18 February 2011)

February 21 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

February 24: Old and New Demands

Social harmony implies that scientific, technological, economic and cultural rights have a corresponding reflection in social justice, democratization and civil liberties. The absence of this correspondence makes the demands of the past coexist with the present and, therefore, its solution has to be undertaken jointly, which gives a high degree of complexity to the processes of change.

Some essential aspects contained in the Program of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) are still pending completion. Therefore, the PRC’s 116th anniversary on February 24 is an excellent opportunity to address an issue so vital.

Technical advances introduced in the mills, the replacement of slave labor by employees and the centralization of ownership in large sugar estates in the late nineteenth century, turned Cuba into the first producer of sugar that reached a million tons; in exchange, the economy was subject to a single product and almost entirely to a single market, which generated a structural deformation and unjust redistribution of wealth which was reflected in the plight of workers, poor peasants and freed slaves, a situation which led to the resumption of the revolutionary struggle in 1895.

José Martí, in his analysis of the failure of the Ten Years War, expressed in New York in January 1880, arrived at a set of principles which constitutes the foundation of the theory of revolution: the role of politics, its democratic and participatory character and observation of the time factor, the revolution as a form of evolution and the need to unite the various factors toward the same end; a study that put him in the highest ranks of Cuban politics.

After 12 long years of work, on April 10, 1892 the PRC was declared established simultaneously in all associations, from which would emerge the Republic that he wanted to create. That purpose was defined in the Rules of the Party, “founded in the frank and cordial  exercise of the legitimate capacities of man, a new people of sincere democracy, able to overcome, through actual work and balance of social forces , the dangers of sudden freedom in a society made for slavery”[1] so, said the newspaper Patria, “The struggle for independence that today germinates will ultimately lead to independence tomorrow.”[2]

Democratization, freedom, human dignity, present in every speech, article and document prepared by Martí, would constitute the foundations of the Republic.

The Resolutions of November 1891 suggest that the reason for the PRC was the need to join together in  republican and free action all the honest revolutionary elements to create a fair and open republic for the good of all. And in the program, known as the Manifesto of Montecristi, it is proclaimed that “War is not…  the insane triumph of one Cuban party over another, or the humiliation of even a wrong group of Cubans, but the formal demonstration of the will of a sick country tested in the previous war to throw itself lightly into a conflict that can only end by victory or the grave …” [3]

In his speech on October 10, 1889, he stated: “All of the motherland is the common property, and free and inalienable object of the action and thought of everyone who was born in Cuba. The country is the joy to all, and pain of all, and heaven for all, and no fief or chaplaincy of anyone, and public affairs to which a group or party of Cubans put their hands with the same absolute right that we put them, is not theirs alone, and of privileged ownership, by subtle virtue and contrary to nature, but as ours as well as theirs …”[4]

In the dissertation With all and for the good of all, in 1891, he said: “We close ourselves to the passage of a republic that does not come prepared through means of dignity worthy of man, for the good and prosperity of all Cubans!”[5] In a letter to José Dolores Poyo, dated in December of that year, he said: “It is my dream for every Cuban politician to be entirely free.”[6] Similarly to Maximo Gomez he wrote: “The government of men is the highest mission of human beings, and should only rely on the men who love and understand their nature.”[7] On the same occasion he said: “For if in the things of my country it was given me prefer one good to all others, a fundamental right that all those of the country from top to bottom would enjoy, and without which all other goods would be fallacious and insecure, the one benefit I would want to secure: “I want the first law of our republic to be a tribute of Cubans to the full dignity of man.”[8]

The work organized by the PRC is expressed inside and outside the country. The multiple uprisings that occurred throughout Cuba, despite the failure of the Fernandina Plan, confirm this; in the eastern area alone more than 30 surveys from Guantanamo to Las Tunas were produced, so the Grito de Baire — the Cry of Baire — could, in justice, be called the Grito de Oriente — the Cry of the East.

Now, 116 years after this tremendous effort, due to the absence of democracy, freedom and the dignity of the Cubans, sugar production barely exceeds that of that time, with the difference that instead of one and a half million people now we are almost 12 million; the unfair distribution of wealth became widespread poverty; the land was absorbed almost entirely by the state, which made it impossible to realize Marti’s dream to form a country of many smallholders; the elimination of barriers that prevented the dark-skinned Cubans participate on equal terms is not accompanied by the appropriate affirmative action and the elimination of the debate the issue, discrimination remains in the racial prejudices that breed in the colony; and the desired free and democratic Republic took the form of totalitarianism.

In short, the fundamental reasons why tens of thousands of Cubans took up arms in 1895, for which they fell and/or other infinite sacrifices, are still awaiting realization. To those reasons are joined the demands of modernity. That is, old and new problems that demand joint solutions.Thus, Martí’s ideas that he tried to realize in the late nineteenth century, remain valid in 21st century Cuba.

Havana, 22 February 2011

1 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Obras Escogidas en tres tomos. TIII, p. 26
2 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Obras Escogidas en tres tomos. TIII, p.99.
3 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Obras Escogidas en tres tomos. TIII, p. 511
4 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Obras Escogidas en tres tomos. TII, p. 367
5 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Obras Escogidas en tres tomos. TIII, pp. 9-10, 17
6 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Obras Escogidas en tres tomos. TIII, p. 24-25
7 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Obras Escogidas en tres tomos. TII, p. 16
8 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Obras Escogidas en tres tomos. TIII, p. 9

(Taken from Diario de Cuba,, 23 February 2011)

March 1 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos