Archive for January, 2012

The Pact of Zanjon, A Political Event

January 19, 2012 1 comment

History is a succession of events, first experienced, and then interpreted by men, a peculiarity that impregnates them with a certain subjective component. The difference between those two moments — the experience and the interpretation — is one in which objective events happening at a concrete moment can suffer various explications over time, depending on interests and ideologies. Thanks to this peculiarity it is possible to return to the events of the past and draw new interpretations, as valid as those that preceded them.

The signing of the Pact on Zanjón, on February 10, 1878, was a practical and consistent manifestation of what was possible at the time, and so contains valid lessons in matters of politics. However, in Cuba, where intransigent acts have always been given precedence over those that did not completely and immediately result in victory, they are denigrated and so lose whatever utility they might contain.

Much has been written and diverse are the opinions of that February 10 132 years ago, when the Cuban forces capitulated to the Spanish, but those prevailing are those that correspond to the dominant ideology, which has been nurtured by the Marxist thesis that considers violence as the engine of history. Such views are widespread through official information and the system of education that simplifies our history to present it as the united march of a people against its enemies. Hence the prominence of the Protest of Baragua over the Pact of Zanjon.

According to the Colonel in, and historian of, the War of Independence, Ramón Roa, the failure of that war lay in the internal problems, including indiscipline, mutinies and uprisings that occurred from 1874 until the end of the war. “A country’s independence,” said Roa, “was tied to personal independence,” an abyss from which emerged deep mistrust of all men. He added, “We welcome the theme of Independence or Death; but never dreaming we would have to struggle with it ourselves: I don’t mean to say the vast majority of Cubans, who were indifferent, who were with Spain, or who could not manage to save us, but with ourselves. ”

For his part, General Maximo Gomez, he argued, “Has tried to find a victim who make responsible, but has not attempted to study the facts, know the state of the army, and resources that he could have had, the more or less aid … received from the emigres and how the people of Cuba have responded in general to the call of their liberators. During the war, in its most brilliant period, which was1874 to 1875, the army could count on 7,000 men ready for combat.”

For these reasons Gómez demands that “the responsibility be divided among everyone, the blame belongs to the Cuban people and not the heroic few.” On another occasion the Generalissimo reminded us of the atrocities committed by the Cuban volunteers. There wasn’t a village in the country, however small, that did not have a section of volunteers, all Cubans and with Cuban leaders.

The undisputed historical fact is that the War, which began under the leadership of white plantation owners, ended under the leadership of blacks, poor whites and mulattoes, and the war which reached the central provinces ended up confined to certain regions of the East. To this regional and sociological evolution corresponded different attitudes, which explains why the war culminated in two ways and two scenarios: The Pact of Zanjón in Camaguey and the Baragua Protest in the East.

On February 10, 1878 in Zanjón, most of the forces accepted the peace plan presented by General Martínez Campos. In exchange for independence, Cuba would receive the same political, organizational and administrative conditions enjoyed by the island of Puerto Rico; in exchange for the abolition of slavery, freedom was granted to the Asian settlers and slaves who made up the insurgent ranks. As the pacts are an expression of the correlation of forces of the parties, the Zanjón was simply a reflection of it.

In Mangos de Baragua, a place chosen by Antonio Maceo, there was the famous interview-protest. The Bronze Titan (as Maceo was known), explains Figueredo Socarras, decided to protest against the manner of ending a war that had lasted a decade, but if the protest were energetic and eloquent, new hostilities would break out. The end result was reflected in the words of Captain Duarte Fulgencio “Muchachos, el 23 se rompe el Corojo,” a statement of intention to break the pact on March 23, which served as support for the next attempt for independence.

In the 15 days between March 23, the day hostilities were resumed, and on April 7, the day the fighting stopped, Cuban troops attacked the Spanish forces and they, in compliance with superior orders, did not respond to the machete charges, and instead merely responded with cries of Viva the Peace,” until finally the Cuban troops stopped the attacks. Then the representatives abroad returned their powers and resigned their positions, and by agreement of the Provisional Government, General Maceo left for Jamaica on May 9, 1878.

Zanjón was not everything, but it was what was possible at the time, so it was a political fact. They did not achieve independence from Spain nor the abolition of slavery, but there were the freedoms of press, association and assembly, which specified in detail in publications and associations within the island (political parties, trade unions, newspapers, etc.) that strengthened the activity of Cubans and paved the way for the resumption of the struggle for independence. Those liberties gained with the Pact of Zanjon, and now removed, were the foundation for all subsequent social movements, including those that culminated in the seizure of power in 1959.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Independent Unions Versus Updating the Model

The pronouncement of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), regarding the measures taken by the Government to deflate workforces and to bring about greater self-employment, published in the Journal of Communist Party on September 13, 2010, is a good reason to discuss the dependence of the Cuban labor union movement with respect to the State.

According to some paragraphs in the document: “The leadership of the Government has been working on a set of measures to ensure and implement the changes necessary and urgent to introduce into the economy and society …; In correspondence with the process of updating the economic model and the economic projections for the period 2011-2015, the Guidelines provide for next year’s reduction of more than 500,000 workers in the state sector …; Our state can not and should continue to maintain businesses, productive entities, of services and budgets with inflated payrolls, and losses that slow down the economy …; the union is responsible to act in its sector with a high level of demand and to maintain systematic control of the progress of this process from start to finish, taking the appropriate actions and to keeping their superior organs and the CTC [Cuban Workers Union] informed… ”

Both these paragraphs, like the rest of the document, show the total lack of independence of the CTC. There is no mention in them of the interests of workers, which the organization supposedly represents, such as the failure of wages with respect to the increasing cost of living, violations of the conventions of the International Labour Organisation that have been ratified by the Cuban government and the helplessness of the workers in the face of the administrative arrangements, such as the massive job layoff that is taking place.

To understand the impact updating the model will have on workers it is necessary to understand the process by which the labor movement was denatured.

The Cuban unions gave the first signs of life during the substitution of wage labor for slave labor. The creation of the Association of Cigar Makers of Havana, the first strikes and the establishment of regular workers, since 1865, prove it. The growth and strength of this movement led to the establishment of the great twentieth-century labor unions, which, resting on the freedoms and rights recognized by the Constitution of 1901, achieved considerable benefits, particularly in terms of wage increases and reduction of the duration of the workday, while playing an important role in major political events such as the overthrow of Gerardo Machado regime in the general strike on August 5, 1933: an unprecedented event in the history of Cuba.

The strength achieved by the labor movement was reflected in events such as: labor legislation passed in this period included the legal existence of unions, the right to strike, the eight-hour day, minimum wage for sugar workers, stable employment, holidays and sick leave and maternity pay, among other measures that were expanded and supplemented in April 1938 with Decree 798, the most important Republican labor legislation and one of the most advanced in the world; many workers demands became laws for the benefit of workers. The economic autonomy of the unions was reflected in the acquisition of properties, such as the construction of the modern building of Carlos III by the Electrical Workers and their leasing it to the Electric Company, the construction of the Havana-Hilton hotel by the Gastronomic Union and their leasing it to the Hilton chain, and development of the Grafico, by the Graphic Arts Union.

However, the destructive germ of that movement had been brewing since 1925. In that year, almost simultaneously, they founded the National Workers Center of Cuba (CNOC) and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Then, in 1934, with the founding of the Cuba Revolutionary Party (commonly called “the Authentics”), a struggle began with the Communist Party for control of trade unionism, which worsened in 1939 with the dissolution of the CNOC to make way for the founding of the CTC and, in 1944, with the Authentics victory in elections that year, so that during the celebration of the 5th Congress in 1947 — there were actually two conferences: one controlled by the Authentics and the other by the Communists — a ministerial resolution declared the Authentics Congress legitimate, at the expense of the Communists.

The subordination sharply manifested  itself before the coup d’etat of March 10, 1952. The then Secretary General of the CTC, Eusebio Mujal, who had called a general strike against the coup, accepted an offer from the Batista government in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC, which  dealt a severe blow to Cuban labor. In 1953, with the resurgence of labor strikes, the Authentics union leadership was trapped: if they supported they strikes they would be in conflict with the government, if they didn’t support them they would lose the workers movement, and Mujal opted for the latter: an alliance with the dictatorship.

The government that took power in 1959 needed to shore up union support for its project, and a general strike from January 1-5 served to consolidate it, and was used to create an illusory image of the role that workers had played during the insurrection. However, on January 22, 1959 came the first blow to trade unionism.

The CTC was dissolved and replaced by the CTC with the surname of Revolutionary (CTC-R). The resistance to such intention was swift. The Humanist Labor Front was created, where 25 of the 33 federations of industries joined together under the slogan Neither Washington nor Moscow! This opened  a period of conflict that was resolved at the Tenth Congress in November 1959, where David Salvador, appointed Secretary General of the CTC intervened, when asked by an observer of the Social Christian Movement, about what was then the plan for the workers, David responded firmly and laconically: “Whatever the Comandante [Fidel] says.”

Faces with the division, the then prime minister of the government, Fidel Castro, proposed a vote of confidence for the candidacy of David Salvador, leaving out the most prominent anti-Communists. However, after the Congress, the Labour Minister, Augusto Martinez Sanchez, did what the government could not do during the sessions of Congress: He began a process of dismissing the officers of the unions, and interventions in the and federations, which was not completed until they had a majority in the leadership.

Already by the XI Congress of the CTC-R in 1961, there were no traces of the former workers’ movement. For the first time a candidate was put forward for each position and every delegate, representing the Government, renouncing almost all the historic gains of Cuban unionism: the nine days of sick leave, the extra Christmas bonus, working a 44 hour week which was constitutionally increased 9.09%, among others.

The coup de grace came in 1966 during the XII Congress (which I attended as a delegate for Santiago de Cuba) in which Lázaro Peña, then Secretary General, was dismissed. Thus unionism came under state control and the CTC became an appendage of the Communist Party to control workers. The results of the subordination results were reflected in the 1976 Constitution, in which only six articles of Chapter VI are dedicated to the rights of workers, and ignore almost everything achieved by the union movement since the creation of CNOC 1925.

The process described was a consequence of considering that people are reducible to a form of organization where people act as mere implementors, which corroborates the undisputed proposition that autonomy is impossible without the existence of a genuine trade unionism.

In the current situation, i.e. in the absence of a genuine trade unionism, the Cuban Government, after exhausting all possibilities to survive without change, is undertaking some reforms under the name of updating the model, which will have a strong negative impact on workers with regards to the degree of helplessness in which they will find themselves before the State, which allows the State to decide for itself and is limited to seeking support for the workers, as evidenced by the current Statement of the CTC-R.

If the current government plan does not address the rights and freedoms that unions require to enable workers to move from the present mass condition to being true subjects of economic management, that is, that they can earn wages corresponding to the cost of living and that being an entrepreneur is no longer a privilege limited to those not born in Cuba, the State will face a new and resounding failure. There is no alternative: Either the independence of unions will be restored or there will be no update of the model.

November 12 2010

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Of Pardon and Amnesty

At the close of the Eighth Ordinary Session of the National Assembly of Popular Power, on December 23, 2011, General Raul Castro announced that “in a humanitarian and sovereign gesture,” the State Council of the Republic of Cuba had agreed to pardon more than 2,900 Cuban and foreign prisoners. Despite the positive that will come from 2,900 compatriots leaving prison to live with their birth family, this pardon, like the rest of the steps that the Cuban government has undertaken in recent times is marked by the inadequate, late and limited.

If Cuban socialism is a humanitarian and social justice system, as stated by the government, it would have to accept that releases of prisoners taken by the governments of Cuba prior to 1959, both in the colony as in the Republic, were equally or more humanitarian than the current pardon, and many times those releases were accompanied by other liberating measures that played an important role in social change after their enactment.

The pardon is a measure by which, on an exceptional basis, the Head of State forgives all or part of a sentence or substitutes for it a more benign one. It is, therefore, a favor granted where the prisoner is guilty, but the “magnanimity” of the Head of State can forgive him. However, in our political history it has been more common to offer amnesty which, unlike pardon, means eliminating criminal liability, that is it involves legal erasure of the offense, whether real or perceived. In that sense it is sufficient to cite four such examples:

In 1861, the Spanish government decreed an amnesty that allowed the return to Cuba of those condemned for political reasons, including the physician Antonio de Castro, who organized the irregular Masonic body that developed the separatist rebellion begun in October 1868. Examples of the prior were the patriots from Bayamo, Francisco Vicente Aguilera, Perucho Figueredo, Francisco Maceo Osorio, and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, all Masons and the rise of Las Clavellinas in Port au Prince, where 72 of the 76 participants were members of the Tínima, lodge including Ignacio Agramonte.

In 1878, thanks to the amnesty decreed by Spain in compliance with the Pact of Zanjón many exiles could return to Cuba. Suffice it to mention four of them: José Martí, Juan Gualberto Gómez, Antonio Maceo and Calixto Garcia. That amnesty was supplemented with other liberating measures arranged between 1879 and 1886, such as freedoms of press, of assembly and association enshrined in Article 13 of the Spanish Constitution, which allowed the legal existence of media organizations, and economic, cultural, fraternal, educational, labor union and political associations that participated in the preparation of the War of Independence in 1895.

In 1937, the then president of the republic, the colonel of the Revolutionary War Federico Laredo Bru, before convening the constituent assembly of 1940, intended to restore the constitutional order that had been interrupted since 1928, he issued a political amnesty that benefited more than 3,000 prisoners, thanks to which the exiles could return to Cuba, new political groupings were formed, among which was the Communist Revolutionary Union Party (1937) and its legalization in 1939 and created a conciliatory scenario from which emerged the brand new 1940 Constitution.

In 1955, Fulgencio Batista after the fraudulent elections of 1954, in order to retake possession, restored the 1940 Constitution that he had violated and granted amnesty to political prisoners, including the assailants of the Moncada Garrison, who in June 1955 founded the July 26 Movement, seized power and are the government until today.

These four examples illustrate the relationship between amnesty in Cuba and social change and highlight the limitation of the present pardon for two indisputable reasons: 1 – because the number of prisoners released is almost 5% of the prison population of the country, among them women, the sick, those over 60 and some convicted for crimes against state security who have served an important share of their sentences; and 2 – because forgiveness does not alter the current state of Cuban society, requiring changes, as it leaves in place the measures that allowed the imprisonment and does not recognize the state’s responsibility for such a high prison population.

Based on the information provided, the overwhelming majority of those released are in prison for common crimes. In this sense, the pardon is unfair, because the released are still considered guilty, thereby ignoring the responsibility of the Cuban state for the reasons that, in Cuba, robbery and theft were turned into everyday behavior, because the failure of wages and pensions promote crime as a way to survive, because of the need for subsistence and because of the many constraints imposed on Cubans lead to crime. Therefore a shared responsibility warranted a broader measure numerically, a self-critical recognition and support for other rights and liberties, so that fewer Cubans increase the prison population.

Similarly, with regards to the few political prisoners included in the pardon, the Cuban state has a good deal of responsibility for making a crime of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of 1940. Among them the right to march and form political organizations contrary to the regime, the autonomy of the University of Havana, prohibiting and limiting citizens from participating in the political life of the nation, and recognizing the legitimacy of resistance for protecting individual rights, and making any contrary act a punishable offense. In short, the inadequacy of the current pardon forces a move towards amnesty and the democratization of Cuba.

(Published in el Diario de Cuba on Friday, January 7, 2012)

January 9 2012

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Cuban History Marches Backward

For any society, it will be frustrating if its history, instead of progressing forward, heads backwards by leaps and bounds. This is the case for Cuban society, whose situation with regards to freedom and rights is the same or worse than it was leading to the Ten Years’ War.

In mid-nineteenth century Cuba, when the contradictions between a colony and a metropolis seems to be approaching a reformist solution, events took a different path. The Information Board, convened by the Overseas Minister with the participation of the Cuban commissioners in order to outline a colonial reform project, failed. Instead of the island reducing its tax contribution to 6%, a tax of 10% was imposed, which affected the interests of the island’s landowners, especially in the eastern central region.

Let’s look briefly at some of the decisive events.

On September 15, 1868 the Spanish monarchy was replaced by a provisional government, which continued to deny for the Island the freedoms claimed for Spain. The confluence of increased taxes, the lack of freedoms and a growing national sentiment, coupled with external factors unfavorable to Spain, resulted in separatist insurrection becoming the order of the day, which was structured from the Grand Eastern Lodge of Cuba and the Antilles (GOCA)*, an irregular Masonic body that became the center of discussion and investigation of social and political issues.

On October 10, 1868, the independence movement started in the East and in a short time extended to the center of the country. The need to coordinate the efforts of rebel groups led to the convening of the Assembly of Guáimaro, on April 10, 1869, which enacted the first Cuban Constitution of an eminently democratic character, based on the division of powers. However, ten years after the start of that civil-military exploit, the conflicts between military leaders, and between them and the President of the Republic, and between the legislative and executive branches, together with the warlordism and regionalism, put paid to the patriotic effort.

On November 14, 1876, when General Maximo Gomez had to leave the command of the invasion of the West — the largest operation of this war — the strategic initiative, both militarily and politically, was taken over by Spain. The enforcement of the policy of pacification policy enforcement fell on fertile ground. In September 1877, troops from Holguin established an independent canton, one of the regiments of Jiguaní faced the enemy, and in October, President Estrada Palma was taken prisoner. A few days later, representatives of the Chamber entered into conversation with the Spanish forces. And finally, the Central Committee, in charge of peace negotiations, on February 10, 1878, signed a document that ended the independence project; a war which, as José Martí said, “No one let us down, but we let ourselves down.”

From the historical point of view, the result of this enormous effort can not be measured only by the failure to achieve any of its basic objectives, but also by the current state of Cuban society, separated by a century and a half from the Cry of Yara, which had launched the war on October 10, 1868.

Then and Now

At that time, in exchange for independence and the abolition of slavery, between 1879 and 1886 the Press Law, the Law on Meetings and the Law on Associations were approved and put into effect and endorsed in the Spanish constitution. Thanks to these were created news organizations, economic associations, cultural, fraternal, educational, mutual aid and instruction and recreation, trade unions and the first political parties in Cuba. Thanks to the amnesty provided for in the Covenant and the permissibility for the exiles to return to Cuba, José Martí, Juan Gualberto Gómez and Antonio Maceo were able to set foot on Cuban soil once again.

The result speaks for itself: when he arrived in Cuba Gerardo Castellanos, sent by Marti to prepare the new uprising on the island, found a movement already organized in several provinces.

Currently, in the XXI century, those freedoms are limited, but those favoring the continuation of the struggle for independence are absent. Even worse. Each year, upon arrival at October 10, the official press, in tribute, recalls the uprising with events, articles and speeches, while at the same time meticulously going after every civic demonstration of freedom, as evidenced by the continuing repressive actions and the huge number of peaceful opponents arrested.

What did all this immense effort for independence, freedom and dignity of Cubans bring to the present in which we live? How is it possible that people who bled and suffered in the name of freedom are now in such a state?

*Source: Torres-Cuevas, Eduardo y Oscar Loyola Vega. Historia de Cuba 1492-1898, Formación y liberación de la nación. La Habana, Editorial Pueblo y Educación, 2001, p.210

November 14 2011

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

A First Step

On Thursday November 10 Decree-Law 288 on the legalization of the sale of homes took effect. Complemented with six ministerial resolutions, the decree significantly changes the legislation in effect in this area since the 60’s of last century.

With the new provisions Cubans, formal owners of property, become actual owners. Now they can not only exchange, but also donate, assign or sell their home to other Cubans living in Cuba, to those with residence abroad or to foreigners permanently residing in the country. To make use of this right requires that the property be registered at the Land Registry, along with a statement on the legality of the funds involved, and payment of a tax of 4% per transaction. The price of the property is as stated by the parties, provided that it is not less than the discounted value of the same. And the transactions will be conducted in Cuban pesos through the National Bank.

Now homes owned by Cubans who leave the country permanently will continue to be confiscated but the State will transfer the property to the co-owners or family members up to the fourth degree of consanguinity, for free. That is spouses, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, nephews, uncles and cousins, or persons who, with the owner’s consent, have resided for five or more years in the building.

An assessment of the scope of the new Decree-Law requires that we look at its background.

For years, the population growth, the aging of the housing stock, its deterioration because of lack of maintenance, increasing collapses of existing buildings and the slow pace of construction, formed a tricky situation. The Cuban model is more useful for distribution than productions, and involved itself in resolving the problems while circumventing the participation of citizens.

To that end a “battle for housing” began which ended in complete failure. From 1960 to 1970 they tried to produce 32,000 apartments a year, but the average did not exceed 11,000. From 1970 to 1980 there was a plan for 38,000, but they barely reached 17,000. In the decade of 1980s, the plan amounted to 100,000 homes a year, but the average did not exceed 40,000. Only in the 1990s, did it surpass 40,000, but then it declined. In September 2005, the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers announced another plan of 100,000 new homes per year, which also failed.

When the housing shortage created a frenzy of occupations and illegal construction, the government turned the focus from plans for construction to controlling the widespread disorder. The Law No. 48-Housing Act, enacted in December 1984, authorized the transfer of ownership to onerous “usufruct” and legitimate occupants, and allowed the legalization of homes that had been built outside the law. This measure gave formal ownership to about 750 thousand families, but its scope was limited to legalizing existing arrangements and putting an end to the lack of control. Illegalities, however, continued their march.

Four years later, in December 1988, a new Housing Act was promulgated. In one of its paragraphs it made that the personal property of the house was understood as the right of enjoyment thereof by the owner and his family, but could not become a mechanism of enrichment or exploitation. That is, the owners were forbidden to sell their property. This law could not prevent black market sales and construction.

In July 2000 Decree-Law 211 was issued authorizing physical inspections of buildings, requiring institutional approval for housing swaps, and giving state officials the right to determine the legitimacy of the property, undermining the rights recognized in the General Law 1988. In the same direction, in February 2001, new Decree-Law was adopted that effectively eliminated the sale between private parties and awarded and Municipal Housing Authorities the right of confiscation. So the box was closed.

The recent provision recognizing the right of the owner and removing the prior authorization of the Housing Authorities, is a recognition of the absurdity of the above laws. Its limitation is that it is directed to the sphere of circulation: property can change hands, but one cannot build new homes. If one of the objectives of the recent legislation is “to contribute to solving the housing problem,” then the right to property must be complemented by measures aimed at building and repair.

According to official figures in 2010 there was a national deficit of about 600,000 homes, more than half of the existing homes were in poor condition, and 85% were in need of repair. However, the reality is that the figures are higher.

Between 2001 and 2005 four hurricanes: Michelle (2001), Charley and Ivan (2004) and Dennis (2005) caused severe damage to housing. Then, in 2008, about half a million homes were damaged or completely demolished by the atmospheric phenomena of Fay, Hannah, Gustav and Ike. Given the failures of the construction plans, population growth and constant collapse of existing buildings, a conservative estimate shows a deficit of about one million homes in a population of more than 11 million. As the current population growth demands an annual 50,000 new houses, it would take several decades building a 100,000 homes a year to solve the critical housing problem.

The solution of the problem demands that citizens participate in parallel with the State, along with the creation of small and medium enterprises — private or cooperatives — for construction materials, repair, sale of materials, transport and alternative financing. It also requires multidisciplinary studies. In short, the joint participation of State and Society.

In this problem, Decree-Law 288 is only the first step. Important because it will generate a change in attitude among Cubans and because it is recognition, so far denied, of the right of ownership. Of course, this is only a first step.

November 15 2011