Archive for May, 2011

The Agrarian Problem


In the struggle for land ownership and against eviction in Cuba, many farmers and farm workers lost their lives. Among them is Niceto Perez, who was killed May 17, 1946. In tribute to him and the rest of the martyrs of the field that day, the Law of Agrarian Reform was promulgated in 1959 and the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) founded in 1961. A brief look back to such a vital issue in our history can form an idea about the achievements and what we are still waiting for in this area.

The diversification of agricultural property in the sixteenth century began with the delivery of circular farms for raising livestock to Spanish settlers in Cuba. Later, in the spaces between haciendas–unowned land–other farmers were allowed to farm, but the royal decree issued in 1819 to identify the rightful owners did not recognize the latter. For this reason about 10 thousand families were robbed of the land they worked. Subsequently many farmers were displaced by the advance of the sugar industry, with orders No. 34 and 62 issued in 1902 by the government auditor, by which the railroad companies and U.S. investors could acquire land. From this process emerged the modern estates with over half of the country’s land in the hands of national and foreign companies.

The discontent of the peasants had begun in 1717, the year that about 500 armed planters staged a protest against the tobacco monopoly which set the price and quantity and prohibited the sale of the surplus, similar to the current Empresa de Acopio. Those protests were repeated until 1723, when the growers of Santiago de las Vegas were hanged; later farmers were involved in the independence struggles of the nineteenth century. They developed, in parallel, associations to defend their interests. In 1890 they founded the Association of Settlers in the areas of Manzanillo and Bayamo, and in 1913 the Farmers’ Association of the Island of Cuba. Beginning in 1930 they began a broad struggle against eviction and for better markets, prices, credits and rent rebates.

Under the guidance of the Communist Party in October 1937, the First National Farmer’s Congress was held and they created committees, unions and peasant associations in the six provinces, some of whose demands were endorsed in the 1940 Constitution. The Second National Peasant Congress in 1941 created the National Peasant Association (NCA), and likewise, but under the direction of the Authentic Party, was founded the Peasant Confederation of Cuba (CCC). During the government of Fulgencio Batista, between 1940 and 1944, families settled on lands abandoned by the state and landowners. One such case took place in the hacienda Uvita, Sierra Maestra, with over thirty-three thousand acres. However, each settled family was only given “five hens and a rooster, a plow, a machete and a few dollars,” similar to the current distribution of land in usufruct by Decree-Law 259. Despite these efforts, in 1944 54% of the land was concentrated in large estates, while many peasants continued to live in poverty.

In his brief “History Will Absolve Me,” Dr. Fidel Castro proposed to grant land to all tenant farmers, subtenants,  sharecroppers and squatters who occupied plots of up to 165 acres. Accordingly, the October 10, 1958, the Commander of the Rebel Army, Law 3, arranged to transfer land ownership to the occupying lots of less than 165 acres and on 17 May 1959 he signed the Agrarian Reform Act, which limited large estates to just under 1,000 acres and gave titles to a hundred thousand families, who could get 66 acres without payment and purchase additional lots to complete 165 acres. With this Act, the State concentrated in its hands, 40.2% of the country’s arable land.

The Second Law, issued on October 3, 1963, lowered the maximum of 165 acres with 100,000 other properties turned over to the State, increasing its properties up to 70% of arable land, accounting for volume higher than all prior estates. Then in the ‘70’s, with the intent to further reduce private property, they insisted on the socialization of farms that had been in private hands. As a result of this effort, the number of Agricultural Production Cooperatives increased from 136 in 1977 to 1,369 in 1986, 64% of private lands, a process in which the ANAP had to intervene directly in order to convince farmers to join their farms and work together collectively. Currently non-state land is about a quarter of the arable land, with more than half in tobacco, corn, beans, cocoa, coffee and vegetables that are grown in Cuba.

Army General Raul Castro, in his speech on July 26, 2007 in Camaguey, explained the need to produce in Cuba–where surplus land and rainfall of the last two years had been generous–the food the State was buying abroad at high prices. That is, he took up the unresolved issue of the inefficiency of state agriculture, of which sugar is a paradigmatic case, since the island had emerged from the eighteenth century as the world’s largest sugar producer. However, two centuries later, when the entire industry and agriculture are almost all in state hands, it has fallen from 8.5 million tons produced in 1970 to 1.2 million in the 2010-2011 harvest. A result similar to the early years of last century and without any correspondence to the thousands of professionals, academia and research, machinery, irrigation systems and technology now existing.

In the Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution, adopted recently, it was confirmed: that the socialist planning system will remain the principal means to address the economy, the socialist state enterprise is the main form, and encouraging the participation of foreign capital will continue. However, it turns out that the system of socialist planning, the state-owned monopoly and granting rights to foreign businessmen that are refused to Cubans, are among the main causes of the current crisis. Three aspects sufficient to lead to new failures.

For the foregoing reasons, the Cuban Government should amend Decree-Law 259 to transfer ownership to the peasants of the land which the State is unable to make productive, and increase the limit from 100 to 165 acres, consistent with the farmers’ struggles and in memory of Niceto Perez, and of the previous laws and the needs of the country.

(Published in el Diario de Cuba ( 17 May 2011)

May 20 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Babalawos Women’s Meeting in Holguin

One of the sessions of the event

Between March 8th and 9th in the eastern city of Holguín, the First Meeting of Women Iyaonifá in Cuba was held. During the event the association the “Universal Sisterhood” was established, the first organization of its kind in our country. During the meeting, of a universal character, 31 delegates from La Habana, Matanzas, Morón, Holguín and Santiago de Cubawere  directly involved, and attending virtually were delegates from Venezuela, Mexico, Panama and Spain.

The opening, coinciding with International Women’s Day, began with a drum ceremony to honor ancestors and prominent figures. In particular, Àgbàyé Arábìnrin Oluwa — the first Iyaonifá known in history, who lived about 200 AD in Nigeria — Fermina Gomez, Latuán and Maria Moserarrate, among other priestesses of the cult of Ifá and women important in the history of Cuba like Mariana Grajales and Celia Sanchez Manduley. On the second day the session founded the international Universal Sisters  association and priestesses were chosen to develop legislative and executive policies for the fledgling institution.

As announced, the two key objectives of Universal Sisters are: (1) Regain the position that corresponds to the female gender in the African religious context, and (2) To contribute, by their example, to the reduction of distance between different families and institutions of babalawos that exist in Cuba.

The Constitution of the Universal Sisters is the result of an effort directed as repositioning women in the religious Afro-Cuban and Afro-American context in Cuba which started nine years ago, when the Ìranlówo Ifa Temple House (Salvation is Ifá) led by Víctor Omolófaoró, consecrated with the rank of Iyaonifá, equivalent to Babalawo for men, the Cuban women Maria Cuesta Ifachina and Nidia Aguila Ifabiola in March 2002, and the Venezuelan Alba Marina Portals Ifayeni in June 2004, who became part of list of women on the continent led by Patri D ‘Haifa, the first American woman consecrated in New York City in 1985.

For Victor Omolófaoró the consecration of women is justified: because essential knowledge in Yoruba traditions is received at a great age and male slaves who arrived in Cuba, because of their youth, did not have it; because African women arrived on the island with the knowledge required for performing initiations; because until the third decade of the twentieth century women existed in Cuba with these characteristics; for the religious activities of the House that she directs are copies of the ceremonies performed between 1860 and 1930 in Cuba and those undertaken by the Yoruba peoples of old; because the initiation performed corresponds to the international movement of the signification of women; because they have received visits from several Nigerian Iyanifa; because Professor Wande Abimbola Awise Agbaye, Ifa Inspector in the World, makes no distinction between men and women, as both can study and receive a hand of Ifa through knowledge, study and practice; and because the spiritual leader of the Yoruba religion in the world, Chief Awoyemi Aworeni Adisa Mokoranwale, said that women “can undertake Itefa to be converted into Ìyáonífá or Iyá-awo, a priestess of Ifa …. ”

The solo work initiated by the Ifa Ìranlówo Temple House is followed today by several babalawos of the country and the number consecrated has risen within Cuba to 58, demonstrating that gender equality within the Yoruba religion is on the road to consolidation. A fact that recalls what happened in 1857 with the first abakuá oath of whites in Cuba, for which Petit (Andrés Quimbisa) was accused as a traitor and of having  sold the secret to whites. Likewise, the consecration of women priests and the birth of Universal Sisters is an important moment in the history of African religions in Cuba and of gender equality.

April 11 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Racial Discrimination in Cuba, a Problem to Resolve

Racial discrimination in Cuba goes back to the slavery system introduced by Spanish colonialism. Given the demand for sugar in world trade, the Creole oligarchy freely engaged in the slave trade and the massive importation of slaves from Africa, a trade in human beings that took off with the British occupation of Havana, to the point that by the mid-nineteenth century the proportion of blacks exceeded that of whites on the island. From the economic, social and cultural relations between slaves and slave owners, or between blacks and whites, sprouted the roots of racial discrimination that continue today.

The vast majority of slaves went to the sugar plantations, prisons with a high male composition where the concept of family disappeared for blacks. A spiral of violence developed that had among its significant moments the uprising led by José Antonio Aponte, the first Cuban who structured a national conspiracy in order to abolish slavery and to overthrow the colonial government; it peaked with the famous Conspiracy of the Staircase, in which thousands of blacks and mestizos were involved. In these difficult conditions the black slave became Creole, but different from the white Creole, which prevented the development of the sense of belonging and common destiny that characterizes nations.

Along with whites, in 1868 blacks joined the struggle for independence. The first, seeking economic and political freedoms; others for the abolition of slavery. The Pact of Zanjón that ended the war did not achieve either of these two objectives, but instead yielded a set of freedoms that blacks took advantage of to associate legally. In 1886 slavery was abolished and at the beginning of 1890 Juan Gualberto Gomez, one of the champions of racial equality, outlined several principles for civic struggle, similar to those employed six decades later by Martin Luther King in America. Also, in 1892, he founded the Central Directory of Societies of Color to claim their rights and prepare for the resumption of the struggle for independence.

If in the Ten Years’ War blacks and mestizos participated as soldiers and reached high ranks, in 1895 they came to occupy the most senior military positions. Equality and solidarity was imposed on racial prejudice in the expertise in machete charges and life in the jungle, which allowed blacks to move from a sense of inferiority to be thought of as heroes. Upon arrival of the Republic in 1902, the skills demonstrated in the war were of little use in competing in the labor market, for which training was required and economics, two requirements almost entirely absent in the black population.

From this state of inequality emerged the idea of fighting evil on their own. To that end, in 1908 the Independent Party of Color (PIC) was founded, the first of its kind in the hemisphere, and in May 1912, the PIC took up arms to enforce their claims by force. The Government’s response — less than a century ago — was a horrible slaughter against the “inferior race” that claimed the lives of thousands of dark-skinned Cubans, hindering the process of identity and common destiny.

After this event, thanks to public debate and the labor movement, blacks made some progress. Prominent figures from Cuban culture and politics, from the press and radio, participated in discussions on racial discrimination that helped the social and cultural development of black consciousness and strengthened the common destiny. One result was the inclusion in the 1940 Constitution of a fundamental anti-racist principle; any discrimination on grounds of race, color or class and any other cause which offends human dignity was outlawed and punishable by law. However, the law itself was never enacted to achieve its implementation.

The Revolution of 1959 dealt a severe blow to racism, but was wrong to consider discrimination a result of class society, and in thinking that by removing the classes, it would automatically disappear. This approach led to the suspension of debate. Thus, together with the benefits of the Revolution, blacks, like other Cubans, lost instruments and civic spaces that had led to the progress already made. Racism expelled from public spaces took refuge in the culture, and blacks — who did not emigrate — were excluded from family remittances. The result is the current pattern: a decreased proportion of blacks in management positions in companies operating in foreign currencies and on television, and also their high representation in the prison population in the country, the growth of prostitution and of school dropouts.

This, combined with the failure of the economic model, and the problem of unemployment, as the majority still live in the poorest districts of the country, becomes a potential danger that can not be dismissed. This picture of social injustice was partially recognized in the recently held Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, which raised the systematic issue of insufficient political will to ensure the promotion to decision-making positions for women, blacks, mestizos and youth as well as the difficulties, after 52 years of the Revolution, of improving the racial composition within the ranks of the ruling party itself.

In short: the colony had no interest in solving the problems of blacks; the Republic recognized the problem, allowing association and public debate, as reflected in the Constitution and made some progress, but unaccompanied by institutional arrangements; the Revolution took educational and institutional measures, but dismantled civil society and limited rights and civil liberties that had served as the basis of the slow progress made. Now it requires strong political will to: recognize the failure of racial integration and in consequence spaces, civil rights and freedoms to restart the public debate on the issue, providing in some cases necessary priority to the most marginalized and taking on the problem within the education system, including free access to information, until the social differences between blacks and whites shrinks and definitely settles into a common destiny among all Cubans.

Currently the issue is being debated in some small spaces, such as the Brotherhood of Negritude, an association that still lacks legal recognition. The essential fact in the Cuba of today consists in the minimum freedoms that underpin human dignity and the status of citizen do not exist and so they must be implemented. There is a need to remove all restrictions to freedom, responsible for hindering the civic education and participation in addressing major national issues such as racial discrimination, a problem that continues to hamper the formation of the Cuban nation and calls into doubt the Cuban model of socialism, if we can call it that.

(Published in

May 27 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Politics, The State, The Market and Civil Society

As societies are complex systems of interrelated elements, when they face structural crises with harm to all their components, it’s impossible to remedy them with changes limited to one aspect of the system, as is the case with the economy; in its place there needs to be comprehensive approach. Among the elements whose influence is essential and must be taken into account are Politics and political parties, the State, the Market and Civil Society, to which I shall refer briefly.

Politics and political parties

The relationships that various groups establish in the production and appropriation, depending on their position regarding the ownership of the means of production, can serve both to speed and to slow development. Political ideas, one of the ways in which these material relations are reflected in the government and the governed, are an important instrument of change. These ideas are embodied in political parties–which in a State of laws are an expression of pluralism and instrument for the participation of certain groups in politics–but also make an appearance in the State, in the relations between State and society, and among the different States.

Through politics, each social group tries to obtain the greatest advantage and exercise its dominion over the whole society, which has to manage so that that dominion is accepted as legitimate by other groups without the use of force, and for this reason, politics is also defined as the art of making possible what is necessary, without resorting to war, which, according to Klewitz (1) is its continuation.

Because of its supremacy over all other ideological forms of consciousness, politics has a major impact on life and the fate of persons and peoples, which is why Lenin (2) considered its expression concentrated in the economy. Because of its internal dynamics, politics, emerging from relations between classes and parties, has evolved to become field of social participation on a global scale which, surpassing the class-party structure, has become an unavoidable necessity for popular participation.

Hence the importance civil society assumes, which includes the current social movements and social networks in various parts of the world. The best example, independent of the direction taken, are the changes that are taking place currently in North Africa, while in Cuba, the absence of the citizen as a political subject is one of, if not the main, causes of the current crisis.

One manifestation of the interrelatedness of all social phenomena is that the scientific, technological, economic and cultural advances, without any corresponding reflection in social justice, democratization and civil liberties, led to the crisis, whose resolution requires the restoration of this lost correspondence, which comes about through the democratization of society.

In December 2007, the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, said: We have one party, but we must become a more democratic party. Etymologically “party” comes from “part,” and such an intent becomes unrealizable, since the democratization of Cuban society demands can not be overridden by the interests of a party, for the simple reason that with social diversity is impossible to frame everything within one party bounded by an ideology.

Thus, democratizing society, which is what Cuba needs, means that each person or group has the right to associate freely, as an expression of their dignity, their freedom and their interests. Thus, the solution does not lie in the democratization of the party, but of the whole society, imposing a need to replace article five of the current Constitution for the recognition of a multiparty system.

The elections to choose delegates to provincial assemblies and deputies to the National Assembly, held in January 2008, are proof of that need. Despite the campaign being run for the united vote, that unity decreased, while the sum of abstentions, invalid ballots and selective votes, amounted to 1,370,725 voters, 16.13% of the total, a clear signal the existence of a nonconforming sector which eventually will reclaim political space.

Although a multi-party system is not included in the Guidelines to be discussed at the upcoming Communist Party Congress, they have put on the agenda the irreducible diversity and depletion of the current model, since there is no valid argument to challenge it. No basis to suggest that José Martí founded a single party, because others, also, autonomously founded their own.

Martí conceived of the Cuban Revolutionary Party as an institution organizing, controlling and creating awareness to direct the war that would bring the Republic, not to dominate and to prohibit the existence of different parties after the victory, not to work for the predominance, current or future, of any class, but of the group, under democratic methods involving all the forces of the country; for the brotherhood and common action of Cubans living in Cuba and abroad.

Therefore, politics can not be marginalized with regards to the changes being implemented in Cuba, as its impact on social life, affecting everyone, requires the participation of all. From this vision we see some of the influences of politics in the state, market and civil society.

The State

From the city-states in ancient Greece to the multinational states, a distinction is established between rulers and ruled that characterizes all political societies. In them, when sovereignty resides in the people, its members are citizens; when it lies in one person, they are subjects. Among its functions are establishing relationships with other areas and the preservation of internal order.

Under certain conditions the state replaces and controls the lives of citizens. In the cases in which it assumes totalitarian control, there is almost always a dominant party which limits or nullifies freedom for the benefit of a supposed collective, where the person, to be subjected to the State’s will, suffers a considerable diminution in human dignity, which makes the States-Parties into an institution contrary to progress; while in democratic States sovereignty resides in the will of the people who put into the hands of the government the responsibility for certain areas and functions.

In the case of Cuba, the revolutionary movement that took power in 1959 ignored the diversity of opinion and imposed a centralized organization under the supervision of the state, which gradually led to the loss of the established consensus. The reason is that the temporary changes, taken and reported as final, opened the way to totalitarianism and consequently to the conversion of of the State into a single reference point. The consequences are clear: the collapse of Eastern Europe, the deposing of rulers anchored in power for decades in the Middle East, and in Cuba the crisis in which we are now immersed.

The Market

The social division of labor presupposes a diversified and specialized activity that involves the need for the exchange, from which commodity production emerges and is developed to the point it reaches in our time. The ownership of the means of production constitutes the basis of economic relations and, therefore, the market such that it also implies an influence on production and the market because it involves a certain appropriating of the fruits of the work without which they lose interest in the possibility and the meaning of any results. The market, therefore, is a form of social relationship where different people with needs, money, products and services, come together for an exchange. In this sense the market, although it is the result of production, becomes an active element in promoting the production and services that in term are consumed and create new demand.

When the market expands it stimulates production and when it is limited it stops. In this respect the policy outlined by the State is crucial to get one or the other result. The free competition of producers and consumers is a critical factor for production growth, diversification of products and the quality of them. Similarly, as history shows everywhere and at all times, when the state suppresses this freedom, as in Cuba, by eliminating the interest of the people in the outcome, it impacts the quantity, quality and diversity of production until it becomes the caricature it is today where there are products with the quality so-called “of the population”, our old department stores and neighborhood bodegas. The cause of this decline is clear: the economy, if it remains a prisoner of politics, degenerates, and becomes a factor in material and spiritual poverty.

Free trade, an ancient human activity, when it is prevented or suppressed by the politics of party-state, generates the black market, rising prices, the growing number of guards and inspectors and corruption, which shows the very close links between politics, political parties and the State with the market.

However, the Communist Party, while it has recognized mistakes in economic management, which is an important step, is tied to ideology and has decided that the planning and not the free market will be the hallmark of the economy. What is required, faced with the failures which that decision predicted, is to return to the problem and decide between the centrally planned economy, and the economy of the market governed by free price mechanism or the social market economy, where for the sake of social justice the dominance of monopolies is limited while the market remains a place of free competition and a development factor, as centrally and bureaucratically-determined prices, the lack of flexibility in getting information about scarcity or abundance of products, about whom is more effective, and who produces higher quality and lower prices. Why? Because by its passive nature the Cuban model requires the consumer to influence the determination of the quantity and quality of what should occur. This argument requires changes in current policy so that all Cubans participate in deciding what is most appropriate and adapted to our conditions.

This history of humanity and of Cuba shows the need to spread democracy to the economy. This involves the creation of the economic citizen, an active entity with rights to property ownership and effective participation in decision-making and profits. Thus, better management is not just that which contributes to economic growth but that which also achieves the best participation as a basis for the distribution of wealth. The most efficient economic system is one that allows citizen participation, sustainable growth and rising living standards; it deregulates economic life, the institution of various forms of ownership and competition among them.

Civil Society

Civil society emerged in opposition to the feudal state in which there were no civil liberties and legal guarantees for the individual. As the declared objective of liberalism was to ensure individual freedom, it was necessary to remove the tyranny and arbitrariness and replace it by the rule of law, limited by the social control function to ensure freedom of individuals(3), i.e. owners. Civil society was understood then as the space limited to owners to deploy their associativity.

In contemporary conditions, characterized by rapid scientific-technological and economic advances, and claims of popular participation in public life, civil society has claimed a role. What we understand by this is the existence of associations, public spaces, media and property, independent of the State, based on the freedoms and rights legally endorsed, to enable citizens to participate actively in the debate and the decision of the political, economic, social and cultural problems. Due to its characteristics, civil society requires the existence of fundamental freedoms known as Human Rights.

By its nature, civil society is the seat of the plurality and difference, a permanent school of civility and ethics and a solid link between citizens and the nation, its culture, history and development. Its distinguishing feature is independence from the state. Its existence and effective functioning requires the institutionalization of human rights.

Civil and political rights: freedom of conscience, speech, press, assembly, association and the right to vote, are the basis for communication, exchange of opinions, the harmonizing of behaviors, decision making, building partnerships and the multiparty system.

The concept of human rights, being the source of respect, integrity and dignity of persons, is a valuable reference in the struggle of peoples and individuals for material and spiritual improvement. They have a decisive and momentous relationship to quality of life, social life and development. They are expressed in concepts and principles aimed at recognition, respect and observance of legal guarantees to facilitate the participation, integrity and dignity of the human person, and are universal, indivisible, inalienable and sacred….

The advances made in human rights throughout history, at the end of World War II were identified, synthesized, and converted into a Declaration adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization in 1948, and later took shape in International Law. One of those documents came into force between January and March 1976: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both binding to their signatory states, beyond any moral statement to work for their fulfillment.

In Cuba, those freedom-rights have a long history, their institutional manifestations were early in the nineteenth century constitution of the mambisas, broke into the Constitution of 1901 and expanded in 1940, when they added the right to march and form political organizations against the regime, university autonomy, the statement of punishable acts of prohibiting or restricting citizens’ participation in the political life of the nation, and recognition of the legitimacy of the resistance for the protection of individual rights. Some of those rights, as set out formally in the constitution of 1976, may be used only for the purposes outlined by the ruling party, which indicates that the area of ​​law is closely connected with politics, and must undergo reforms to catch up on a matter so crucial to all peoples and for all Cubans.

What I have tried to present is limited to calling attention to the need to take into account a comprehensive approach to finding out way out of the Cuban crisis, since politics, political parties, the State, Market and Civil Society, together with rights and liberties, among other things, form an inseparable whole the ignorance of which inevitably leads to a worsening of current problems.

Havana, 28 February 2011

(1) Karl Von Klewitz (1780-1831), Prussian military theorist and author of the famous work “On War,” published post-mortem in 1832.

(2) Vadimir Ilyich Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917

(3) J. L. AC ANDA. Civil Society and Hegemony, p.109. Havana: Research and Development Center Juan Marinello, 2002

Published in the digital magazine Convivencia, No. 20, March-April 2011

May 6, 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos