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Cuban Baseball: Declining Slowly but Surely / Dimas Castellano

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

By Dimas Castellano

As if what happened during the first three days of competition on Margarita Island was an exception and not a manifestation of the stagnation experienced in all spheres of Cuban society, a sports commentator on the television show Morning Journal said that “the team from Villa Clara did not meet expectations.”

In baseball, which is the topic before us, what happened could not be a surprise. The avowed superiority of “free” versus “slave” ball was not confirmed in practice. The challenge launched against professionalism in 1960 did not stand the test of time. But the acceptance of this fact by the Cuban authorities—though without public acknowledgement and coming too late—is still good news, because this decision requires them to banish the ideological slogan and return to the path that they never should have left.

In 1948, at the meeting of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation held in Miami, representatives of the professional leagues of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela formed the Caribbean Series. From the inaugural event in February 1949, when the Almendares team went undefeated to take victory in Havana until the close of participation in 1960 with the victory of Cienfuegos in Panama, Cuban teams won seven out of twelve championships: irrefutable proof of the quality of “slave” ball during those years.

Sports after 1959, separated from civil society, was monopolized by the state, and subordinated to politics and ideology. At a prohibitive cost for a third-world country, a supremacy was established in Central American, Pan American and worldwide amateur competitions for decades, which was heralded as the victory of free baseball over slave baseball.

Amidst that unfounded euphoria, in January 1967, the leader of the revolution said: “Professional sports has been eradicated, especially in one of the most popular sports: baseball … But the most interesting thing is that no professional athlete, whose business is sports, has played with as much enthusiasm, as much bravery, as much courage, as that demonstrated by our athletes, who are not professional.”

And in October 1975 he declared: “If in other Latin American countries no social revolution exists, if they don’t develop the social revolution, then no matter how many techniques they use, how many coaches they hire, how many things they dream up, they will not be able to achieve the successes that Cuba achieves in sports.”

The decline was slow but sure. The defeats in the World Classics, but above all the one suffered last year at the last stop, against the U.S. team, composed of university students between 19 and 23 years of age, who despite their weak offensive output swept five games from the supposed “amateurs” from the largest of the Antilles.

Now, 54 years after that decision, after the setback suffered and the loss of many talents who left “free” baseball in search of contracts in the Major Leagues, Cuba returned to the Caribbean Series with the winning team from the 52nd National Series, at a time when the rest of the participants exhibit a superior level to our baseball.

Villa Clara, reinforced with several of the most experienced top Cuban players—twelve of whom have been integrated into the Cuban team—faced the champions of the winter leagues from Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Three days were all it took to show the gap between them and us.

The first day we lost 9-4 to the Hermosillo Orange (Mexico), the second day to the Magellan Navigators (Venezuela) 8-5, and on the third day the Licey Tigers (Dominican Republic) beat us 9-2, to set a record: the worst performance by a Cuban team in the Caribbean Series.

On February 4 we saved face against the Mayagüez Indians (Puerto Rico), but now our inclusion was pure imagination and wishful thinking. As Oscar Sánchez Serra wrote in the newspaper Granma on February 4: “If the Orange win today against Puerto Rico, and if they lose tomorrow against Venezuela, and if the Dominican Republic wins one more time, then on Thursday, first place from the qualifying phase will play against the king of the 52nd National Series.”

We returned to “slave” ball at a distinct disadvantage. Teams like the Magellan Navigators, from an ALBA-member country, just as Cuba is, which can also count many active players in the U.S. Major Leagues, has in its ranks some Cubans who left the island, illustrating the tardiness of Cuba compared with similar countries.

Cuba has conditions and prospects: the permissibility, though still under state control, of some players participating in foreign leagues; the increase of wages to players, though still insufficient; Cubans can again enjoy Major League Baseball games on local television, though still with limitations; new programs have been implemented, such as one I enjoyed a couple of days ago that allowed an interview with the legendary Camilo Pascual. All this indicates that we are on the way, but the results of this first step, and some of the next, will not reach Cuba’s full potential, because it is one thing to decide to change, and another to rebuild what was destroyed.

After the night, however long it seems, follows sunrise. That we still have to listen to the likes of Yulieski Gurriel say that he hopes to get permission from the Cuban authorities to play abroad, or that the Cuban authorities still have not given him permission, indicates the presence of obstacles to be overthrown in order to achieve the freedom that our athletes have lacked, and determines the decline that we are paying for with defeats.

Translated by Tomás A.

From Diario de Cuba

10 February 2014

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Political Opposition and Negotiations in Today’s Cuba / Dimas Castellanos

September 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Interview of Dimas Castellanos by Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, published on April 26 and 29, 2013 in Cubanet.

Although still uttered timidly, recently you have begun to hear the word “negotiation” in some statements by the Cuban political opposition. Despite having diverse opinions about it, a negotiation is, in general, a process in which two or more parties try to find a mutually satisfactory solution to their problem, be it labor union, financial, military, commercial, political, etc.

The American expert on the subject, Herb Cohen, believes that “everything is negotiable” and defines negotiation as “a field of knowledge and action whose objective is to win the consent or the favor of the people from whom you want to get something.” He also says that the three main factors of a negotiation are power, information, and time.

In order to approach, from a Cuban historical perspective, an issue so complex, but which has had such importance for determining fundamental political changes in many countries and eras, we talked with sociologist and historian Dimas Castellanos, also known for his independent journalism in the digital magazine Consensus, in Diario de Cuba, and in other media.

Cubanet: Do you think there is still no pressure in Cuba that requires the government to negotiate?

Dimas Castellanos: First, this is not the case of an armed movement that occupied a region of the country over which the government now has no control, as in Colombia. Another thing that may force a government to negotiate is that the opposition has such influence over a sector of the population that it can create difficulties for the authorities.

In Cuba there is great discontent, manifested for example in the elections: almost fifteen percent of the voters did not go to the polls or annulled their ballots. But they did so spontaneously, by an individual act of conscience. No one should believe that this was in response to some opposition party that has that kind of drawing power.

So the government has no reason, nor anyone with whom, to negotiate. And on the other hand the opposition is not strong enough to prevent the government from doing what it wants.

Cubanet: What, in your opinion, is the reason for this situation?

Dimas Castellanos: In Cuba, there were always forces that at some point could compel those in power to do certain things. These forces do not exist today. When the revolutionary government took power, the first thing it did was to dismantle the whole network of institutions that existed, mainly civic institutions. So all the citizen organizations, which had been here since the end of the Ten-Year War, disappeared.

Civil society, which erupted with force in the Republic, achieved admirable results, as the strike by apprentices and masons demonstrated in 1901 and 1902, which spread to other sectors.

By 1910, the government was forced to enact several legislative measures favorable to the working class, such as the eight-hour day for government workers, payment in cash and not in tokens and vouchers (as before), and paid holidays.

The labor movement accomplished all that because it had real strength and could, for example, paralyze sugar mills or transportation. Cubans now are not as poor as they were, but we do not have unions and other civil society organizations able to play that role.

Cubanet: So is it essential, first of all, to set up the network again?

Dimas Castellanos: It’s hard to understand that this is a long-term battle. And you have to pace yourself and take advantage of all the gaps and openings to help the civic formation of citizens. Many dissidents want change for Cuba, just as I do, who am also part of the opposition, but I try to be as realistic as possible.

The government is sometimes forced to take some step, more for external reasons than from pressure from within Cuba. After more than fifty years, it has the luxury of making reforms from the same position of power, and therefore can determine the pace and direction they take. They can make a change in one direction, then take back a little, then shift it forward again, and play with it, but there is no internal force able to avoid it.

The government will negotiate when there is a force that compels it to negotiate, and that force has to be formed over the long term.

Cubanet: Do you share the opinion of many Cuban historians that the Protest of Baraguá represents a milestone in our history as a method of negotiating without compromising dignity?

Dimas Castellanos: I regret that the Zanjón Compact has not received the historical recognition that it should have, and that only the Protest of Baraguá has been glorified, because it demobilized the rebel troops in exchange for Spain allowing in Cuba a regime very similar to that which existed in Spain itself or in Puerto Rico.

The laws of the metropolis governed here starting from the Zanjón Compact, and from it came freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, among other benefits.

Despite all the limitations that it kept, there Cuban civil society was born and the first political parties were created. The union movement grew, newspapers spread, there were organizations of all kinds – political, fraternal, labor – that began to take on an enormous burden within society.

The burden was such that you cannot understand the beginning of the war in 1895 without the work that civil society did in the whole colony. That was a time, in terms of freedoms, very superior to what currently exists.

Due to the shortness of time that this form of communication offers and at the same time, due to the interest and to the meaty responses from Dimas Castellanos, we have divided this interview in two parts which will be available to the readers in a coming edition.

Cubanet: In his first responses for this two-part interview, Dimas Castellanos explained the reasons why, in his view, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba is not yet in a position to force the government to sit at a negotiating table. He also set out his criterion from examples of notable negotiated events that took place throughout our history. Just for this aspect we return to the theme.

Cubanet: How do you assess the role played by civil society in Cuba, as far as negotiation is concerned, in the Republican era, from its beginnings to 1958?

Dimas Castellanos: Negotiation played a role of obvious importance. The Constitution of 1901 is an example. The interventionist U.S. government allowed the formation of a Constituent Assembly and created the conditions for it, but, as it had the force of the occupation, it made sure that the Platt Amendment was incorporated to secure their power over the country.

More progressive Cuban forces strongly opposed the amendment and even traveled to the United States, but failed except for a few small changes. Although during the revolution those who signed the Platt Amendment were condemned, the truth is that there were only two options: either sign the addendum to the Constitution or the United States maintained its military control over the country.

And there were no longer mambises nor the Cuban Revolutionary Party, nor an economy; and a people, moreover, tired of wars. The best minds saw that they could lose everything and accepted the Amendment – although it was an insult, a humiliation – as a tactic, to then gradually remove it, as they did.

In 1934 the Platt Amendment was finally abrogated. And it was all through negotiation.

Cubanet: And in terms of the Constitution of 1940?

Dimas Castellanos: It was a master class in negotiating in which the participants ranged from communists to the extreme right. They arrived at a Constitution that provided balance, though perhaps, in my opinion, it was above the civic potential of the Cuban people. That is why afterward our military tradition manages to prevail.

There was not a strong civic tradition, but rather a dictatorship tradition, which is demonstrated in the governments from 1902 until the fall of Machado in 1933. Between that year and 1940 was very turbulent. After 1937 they managed to calm the situation a little and finally return to a democratic exercise that culminated with the Constitution of 1940.

Batista cleanly won the presidential election. Then Grau defeated him in 1944 with the Aunténticos, winning again in ’48 with Prío, and in 1952 he looked certain to defeat the Orthodox Party, which was nothing more than an offshoot of the Authentic Party, whose main argument was the prevailing political and administrative corruption.

Curiously, this corruption did not affect society, because, even though we were not very advanced in public spirit, the morality of the Cuban people was very high. After the 1952 coup, those who wanted to overthrow Batista were divided into two camps: on one side,  the civic forces (the Law Society, the Medical Association, the Lions Club, Rotary Club, etc..), and on the other, those who opted for armed struggle.

Cubanet: We now know which was the winning side. What is not well understood, especially by the Cuban population, is what later happened with the negotiating capacity of our civil society.

Dimas Castellanos: The Revolution became the source of power, without any compromise with what existed before and swept it all away.

Actually, the Revolution had the support of only one part of the population (the fighting was carried out by a few thousand men in a population of six million), mainly peasant farmers, but the massive support occurred afterward and the Revolutionary government acted with skill. The result: it disarmed Cuban civil society, all the autonomous movements disappeared (of peasants, students, women, workers, etc.).

The unions were taken over in January 1959. Many who disagreed with that course thought that if Fidel Castro had taken power by force, he could also be overthrown by arms, but all violent resistance was defeated.

Cubanet: When can you say that Cuban civil society finally woke up, after the long slumber imposed by the Revolution?

Dimas Castellanos: In the late 80s and early 90s opposition organizations and political parties began to emerge, but very weakly, because of government repression first of all, and because many of the people continued to identify with the power, despite its failure, because the mindset does not change very quickly. Also because of the monopoly the government maintains over the media. It can say whatever it wants about the opposition and it is hard to deny internally. So it is isolated and marginalized.

From my point of view, the political parties that were created in the 90s are now worn out. That hurts a lot and no one likes to be told that, but I personally come from one of those parties, the Socialist Democratic, which has disappeared.

But a kind of proto civil society began to develop and there are movements with a very stable work, although they are not talked about much, such as Dagoberto Valdés, in Pinar del Rio, who has a method of advancing step by step and for years has insisted on the power of the small, with a theoretical basis for change, an accumulated political thought that should be used at some point.

But the problem of dictatorship continues, which we have always suffered with.

Cubanet: And what about the current conditions for strengthening the bargaining power of the opposition?

Dimas Castellanos: Now the government is exhausted and the model has proved unworkable.

With lack of freedoms there can be no development of anything, from the economy to sports. Everything is damaged, and the rulers do not want to engage in the suicide of promoting reforms that bring them to the end of the road, and result in their criminal prosecution.

To advance the economy and get out of the disaster, the government knows it has to connect back to the developed world, especially Western Europe and the United States, which conditions the relationship on respect for human rights, so it has begun to make small concessions.

In any event, the developed world believes that these reforms are still insufficient. That’s why the government is going to have to make more changes.

Cubanet: Do you think then that the new circumstances and the new waves of opponents are creating the conditions for a possible negotiator?

Dimas Castellanos: Whatever happens, the time for negotiation will come, though not in a situation like now exists.
The example is in the release of political prisoners, where there was no negotiation between the government and the opposition. Although many criticized the Church, I find that there was no other way and that civil society, which the Church is part of, was strengthened. Although the Church was able to meet some of its own demands, I don’t really think it was because it has common interests with the government, except for momentary tactical considerations. Strategically, the government and the Church are not going in the same direction.
There are now 400,000 self-employed workers who do not depend on the state. But what work has the opposition done among these workers? They do not think about human rights, but about their most basic needs. What they want is greater economic liberalization.
These 400,000 self-employed are a field in which we must work. We ought to create many more spaces, small schools about Cuban history, political courses, lessons about what a constitution is, about rights, because people will gradually come around.
The opposition has not given the importance that it should to the formation of civic society. You cannot fight for change if people do not even know where they have come from or where they are going.
The day that the opposition can say that the fifteen percent of the population that does not attend the elections is on its side, it will be a minority against the remaining eighty-five percent, but it will represent a great force because then it would be structured, and then it would be realistic to see the possibility of negotiations.

That’s what we have to work for. If we look at the history of Cuba, we see that we have always been changing, and yet we are now more backward in human rights than in 1878, because we backtracked on civil liberties. The Revolution of 1959 seemed like the greatest thing, but we fell into a trap and ended up worse than before. So our work has to be from the ground up and with patience.

Translated by Tomás A.

10 May 2013

Everything Changes!

3-tablero-ifaMovement is a universal property: nature changes and society changes. The difference is that changes in nature respond to objective laws which operate with or without human involvement, while history is made by men, allowing them to hasten or delay change, but not to stop it. The need for social change manifests itself as a permanent dissatisfaction with what has been achieved, which makes society a perfectible entity.

In Cuba, the convergence of various factors – internal, external, historical, sociological and cultural – at a specific time and geopolitical space, led to the prevailing immobility of the recent decades. But these same factors, together with new ones, have placed the limits of immobility on the agenda. A reality that the authorities of the country, long entrenched in the idea that Cuba has already changed, have acknowledged in their discourse – the need to change whatever needs to be changed, or update the model, or both.

Attempts to homogenize the pluralistic society, changing the citizenry en masse, ignoring the vital role of rights and freedoms to determine what, when, and how to do things, first led to stagnation, then to decline, and finally resulted in a resounding failure with significant material and spiritual damage.

Although the infeasibility of the model has brought the economy to the point of collapse, the system continues to cling to an ideology with no future, to the point that, to paraphrase Lenin’s definition of a revolutionary situation, the coincidence in Cuba of: the exhaustion of the model; the stagnation of the nation; public discontent; external pressures; and consensus for change, forms an objective picture showing that those underneath do not want, and those above are not able, to continue as before. In this context, while clinging to immobility and the politics of confrontation, a series of events happened very early in 2010: the government denied entry to Cuba to a Member of the European Parliament, the Socialist Luís Yáñez; the political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died following a prolonged hunger strike; a similar strike was started by the dissident Guillermo Fariñas; and there were various manifestations of repression against the Ladies in White, which formed a new scenario at the very time when the government announced the “update of the model.”

Behavioral change was manifested in accepting and allowing previously unacceptable acts, such as: allowing Rosa Diez, leader of the Spanish Progressive and Democratic Union, what had earlier been forbidden to Luis Yáñez – to enter Cuba with a tourist visa and meet with several dissidents; the Cuban foreign minister meeting with the Troika of the European Union, where they raised the proposal of Cuba’s willingness to continue dialogue despite the alleged “media campaign against Cuba”; and the meeting of the Cuban head of state with authorities of the Catholic Church, where they addressed the issue of the Ladies in White, Fariñas’s strike, and the release of prisoners.

But while this change in behavior does not mean that the political will exists to democratize Cuba, there is an important practical result: the failure of inaction, as the issue of the prisoners could be a prelude to other urgent claims of society. I refer to rights relating to freely leaving and returning to the country, free Internet access, or freedom of expression, to name just three of the many needs of Cubans.

If the government’s tactic consists only in releasing prisoners to change the external appearance and to gain access to plans of cooperation and funding sources, it is on the way to a new and resounding failure. To avoid this it is important that, in the absence of an independent civil society with the legal recognition to act within Cuba, the international community, while encouraging the release of prisoners, should place on its agenda with Cuba the need to ratify human rights pacts signed more than two years ago and put the domestic legislation in line with those documents. It would be a grave mistake to implement aid to the government without it demonstrating its readiness to go beyond the liberation of political prisoners, which did not help either the government or Cuban society.

The desire to change must be demonstrated with the implementation of human rights, based on the dignity of the person, and the acceptance that, along with the government’s attempt to update the model, citizens enjoy the right to propose alternative models, which implies renouncing the strategic interest of remaining in power forever. Citizen participation parallel to that of the State is a requirement of modernity. Cuba has changed throughout its history and yet we are in a deep structural crisis, one of the causes of which has been the weakness or absence of civil society, that place of interaction and coexistence of diverse interests, where their autonomy and independence from the state constitutes an irreplaceable instrument for citizen participation.

The demonstration of the ability to retain power cannot be extrapolated to progress in the economy, which also indicates that it is insufficient to stop history. Everything changes, and Cuba is changing.

Translated by: Tomás A.

52,000 Homes: More of the Same

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For those who follow all the developments on the subject of housing in Cuba, the recent announcement that this year only 52,000 homes will be built, instead of 100,000, will not come as a surprise.

In “100 thousand homes, not now” an article I published in Consensus in 2005, I conducted an analysis of the report submitted to the National Assembly of the People’s Power by the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, Carlos Lage, in which he said that due to “improvement of the financial prospects of the country” they were going to “build and finish no fewer than 100,000 new dwellings per year beginning in 2006. Some of the arguments, from which I asserted they were sure not to complete this, were:

— Excessive attention to the construction of homes with the concept that “the principal builder is the family that will itself live on the property”, that is to say, “self-made” so as not to affect in the least “the works of the Battle of Ideas … “, to which professional builders would be devoted. That is, housing, the most vital and pervasive need of Cubans, does not qualify to be included as part of that battle.

— The illegality of the new concept. The Housing Act designates the Microbrigades as the “principal way to increase the plan for construction of housing,” while the new project, with no changes in the legislation, gives priority to the family as the principal constructor.

— Exclusionary nature. Lage said in his report that “outstanding social and revolutionary conduct will be given absolute priority in the selection process,” as a prerequisite “for selecting those to whom housing or materials are assigned.” That is, first the revolutionaries, an ideological criterion, discriminatory and exclusionary. Therefore people who do not attend military parades, although they are honest, hardworking and model families, would fail to qualify as revolutionaries, and would be excluded from the marvellous plan.

— Lack of a free-market for building materials at affordable prices. In Cuba, where high costs bear no relationship to incomes, they proposed “to set new prices and fees for all such payments, from the prices of imported resources and the foreign exchange costs of domestic production, using an  exchange rate most appropriate to the current situation … “.

— Indefiniteness of the property. Lage said in the report: “At present 86% of families own their homes, a figure that will rise as another 150,000 are added in the coming years …”. The difficulty is that the current owners of a property may not sell, lease, exchange, rent, or loan it as they see fit. In the section on the 6,000 housing units that the state would build to allocate for health professionals who complete international missions, it stated that “they will pay for the building materials with their savings in foreign currency: at cost, for those produced domestically, and at the foreign exchange rate, for those imported,” without clarifying whether the property owner is the State or the health professionals, for the same report stated that “… it is essential to preserve state ownership of the homes built by the state, which will be assigned for rent.”

So far the weaknesses listed were not taken into account to identify the actual causes of the failure to complete the program for 100 thousand. The goal, now cut in half, is threatened by a fundamental flaw: the construction of housing cannot fall back on families if they lack the institutions, the means, and the rights that would enable them to actively participate in solving such a vital problem.

It definitely requires placing in the forefront the human being and from there defining the social function of housing as the foundation of citizen participation outside political, ideological or any other type of criteria. Ignoring this reality with make it very difficult to reach the 50,000 homes announced for 2008, an insufficient goal in relation to the accumulated deficit.

Translated by: Tomás A.