Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cuban Party Official on the Need for Criticism

Excerpts from an interview with Elíades Acosta, head of the Department of Culture of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba as published in Progresso Weekly

By Isachi Fernández

From the section ‘Cuba from the Inside,’ published in the portal Cubarte on Nov. 28, 2007.

Every once in a while, it is healthy to rethink what one has done, to calibrate how society has evolved. When you introduce changes in a sector, repercussions surge through the entire system. It's a question of the healthy exercise of good government.

Q.: To what do you attribute the so-called "critical indigence" that bogs down the media in Cuba?

A.: To several factors. There's the abuse of institutional practices to limit criticism. We cannot ignore that -- for many reasons and for a long time -- questions became a nuisance. True, the enemy uses our errors and our criticism.

Q.: Also our silence.

A.: Also. It uses all the empty spaces we leave. Criticism can help solve our problems; silences never solve anything. Asked to choose, we opt for criticism. We must abandon the practice of shushing down the problems, which does not help the Revolution but instead protects posts or positions or postures that are harmful to the ethical climate of society.

Institutionally, criticism was not always permitted, understood or encouraged. This creates a reflex attitude on those who are obliged to engage in [criticism] because of their work. Of course, this is not the task of a profession; criticism is a condition that is part of being a human being.

A kind of self-censorship syndrome is created: "I'm looking for trouble if I tackle a scabrous topic." "I'm going to stay in the center, so as not to invite trouble." A very dangerous vacuum is formed and, even though society may grow economically, it will decline in that climate.

Silences are fatal in a society; so are forgetfulness, self-censorship or unbridled censorship -- because censorship exists in all societies that are divided into classes. Wherever there is a State, there is censorship.

Q.: Sometimes, it is well concealed.

A.: It conceals itself well, when it comes to the market. But, going back to Cuba, the call to debate issued by Raúl on July 26 in Camagüey was beneficial in terms of avoiding that trap. Raúl himself, who heads the Party and the State, with all the moral authority he enjoys, told the people that this is the time to "remove our shirts" and discuss our problems.

The Political Bureau issued a document that supports criticism in the media. But what did we find? There is reluctance, inertia, there are people who are not prepared because they find it difficult to break the psychological barrier. But when we read the press, and we read the non-institutional press, and the e-mails (which are here to stay), we see that the people are participating.

We see a very healthy activation of the civic spirit of Cubans. In the wake of Raúl's speech, more than 5 million people have participated in the debates and 1.2 million opinions have been expressed.

Q.: When talking about a rearrangement in the country, what do you consider possible and convenient?

A.: Both are intimately linked. I recall a statement by Marx that was picked up by Lenin, a profoundly revolutionary and dialectic statement that goes: "Every contradiction carries within itself its own solution." Jules Verne said it differently: "What one man can dream, another man can bring to reality."

The aspirations of Cuban society, as expressed in the discussions that resulted from Raúl's speech, on the street, in homes and in Party nuclei, are possible and necessary. They are aspirations to material well-being, to the hope that you can take care of yourself and your family with the fruit of your honest labor. They are aspirations to personal and social development, to a greater access to knowledge, to a fuller life that is based on revolutionary principles.

Everything is done for a more efficient, more participatory society that recognizes and respect differences, that doesn't fall apart and does not place itself at the service of a foreign power.

What needs to be done in this country is a matter of efficiency, of participation, a matter of guaranteeing people a larger quota of responsibility because they feel co-responsible for the decisions.

We aspire to a society that talks out loud about its problems, without fear, where the media reflect life without triumphalism, where the errors are aired publicly in a search for solutions, where people can express themselves honestly, where the economy works, where the services work, where Cubans do not feel they are second-class citizens in their own country due to some measures that were indispensable in the past but that are obsolete and unsustainable today. We want a society with plenty of information, varied information, with high-level cultural products, where we can communicate with the world in a natural manner and can defend the essence of our identity and the accomplishments of the Revolution.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fidel Castro Loses a Publlic Argument on Human Rights Conventions

Fhil Peters of the Lexington Institute offers an interpretation of the political evolution of Cuba in his invaluable Cuba Triangle blog.

On International Human Rights Day, Foreign Minister Perez Roque, formerly private secretary to Fidel Castro, announced Cuba would sign two UN human rights conventions. A few days later, Fidel Castro sent a message to the TV round table recalling why Cuba had not done so six years earlier.
The section on labor union rights would provide “a pretext for imperialism to try to divide and fragment workers, create artificial unions, and reduce their political and social power and influence,” Castro said in 2001.

A section on education would “open the doors to the privatization of teaching, which in the past allowed painful differences and irritating privileges and injustices, including racial discrimination.”
Subsequently the government reiterated it would sign the UN conventions.

Phil's comment:

Castro asked that the text of his 2001 statement be titled, “History will tell who is right.”

Maybe history will also tell us who is in charge.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cuban dissidents note subtle change in Raul Castro's policies,0,1074204.column

South Florida

Ray Sanchez

Cuba notebook

December 16, 2007


That organizers drudged up a dozen souls for a peaceful march on International Human Rights Day was a feat in itself.

In the days before last Monday's march and other unusual rights demonstrations here, state security agents had rounded up and jailed as many as 80 dissidents to prevent them from attending the events, according to rights observers. About 30 others in the provinces who had planned to participate were prevented from leaving their homes.

But rather than face long detention and lengthy prison terms, the dissidents were swept up by authorities and detained for hours or even days and then released.

Nearing its 18th month in power, Raul Castro's interim government appears to be flirting with a more restrained approach to dissent on the socialist island.

"The government was less subtle in the past," said Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation. "The repression was pure and hard. Now they're being more cautious."

At the same time, Cubans are living through other subtle changes, including the screening of the Academy Award-winning film The Lives of Others. The film is about East Germany's dreaded Stasi secret police — a model for Cuba's own state security apparatus.

More than 1,000 Cubans waited for hours outside the Acapulco Theater for the film's debut during the Havana Film Festival last week. When the doors opened, the crowd stampeded for the seats.

"Something is changing in Cuba when this movie is being shown," said Cecilio, a 65-year-old independent journalist who attended the premiere, but did not want his last name used. "It means that at least some sectors of the government have an interest in changing old ways."

Many Cubans identified with the film: A captain in the German Democratic Republic's Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit that by the mid-1980s had recruited more than 100,000 East Germans to snoop and snitch on each other, pursues a playwright suspected of sedition.

When the film ended late Saturday, the audience exploded in a long round of applause.

"The movie captures nearly exactly a part of Cuban reality," said Sánchez, the human rights observer. "Many Cubans identify — not only the victims of the repression but the repressors themselves. We have our own Stasi, which is very powerful."

Days later, their work could be seen on the street. Minutes after Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque announced that Cuba will allow United Nations monitoring of its rights record, a dozen demonstrators staged a peaceful protest outside the UNESCO offices, a few blocks away from the foreign ministry.

Shouts of "Worms! Traitors! Mercenaries!" rained down on the 12 silent marchers, who were outnumbered by more than 100 furious government supporters and security agents.

The peaceful demonstrators, elbows locked, stepped into a clenched fisted and manhandling gauntlet on a warm December morning.

"Was this overkill because that is what they do automatically, or did the government expect that far more than a few dozen might have shown up for the demonstration?" Cuba analyst Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute, a think tank outside Washington, D.C., asked in his blog.

Last week, Cuba's state press dismissed the demonstrations as "street theater" orchestrated after "frenetic subversive activity" between dissidents and U.S. officials here. Cuba considers dissidents mercenaries in the employ of the U.S. Interest Section.

Ray Sánchez can be reached at rlsanchez@sun-sentinel .com.

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Friday, December 14, 2007

Payment System Reformed for Employees of Foreign Firms

Cuba allows foreign firms to pay in hard currency

Published on Monday, December 10, 2007

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters): Cuba on Friday said it will allow foreign companies to pay Cuban employees with hard currency, a move that legalises widespread "under the table" payments and requires workers to declare and pay tax on that income.

Representatives of 698 foreign companies registered with Cuba's Chamber of Commerce were told by Finance Ministry officials this week that as of Jan. 1, 2008, they must also record in their books all hard currency payments to staff.

Foreign businesses in communist Cuba employ staff through government agencies, which are paid in hard currency and, in turn, pay the employees in Cuban pesos worth 24 times less.

To supplement low wages, companies often pay Cuban staff an additional amount under the table in hard currency, and authorities have turned a blind eye, until now.

"This will normalize relations between foreign investors and Cuba," said Foreign Investment Minister Marta Lomas.

"Cuban workers receive their salary in pesos, and it is known that they receive another payment. We are adjusting the taxes to the circumstances," she said.

Multinational companies have long urged Cuba to allow hard currency payments, and joint ventures between foreign firms and the state already pay results-based bonuses to some Cuban staff in hard currency, about $30 a month on average.

"This will allow us to legally pay all our workers in hard currency," said a manager of a major foreign company in Cuba. "The bonus is, in effect, a wage."

Cuba wants to make the hidden payments above-board so that they can be taxed, said another foreign businessman.

Western diplomats said allowing foreign companies to pay in hard currency was a break with Cuba's egalitarian socialist system, and attributed the change to the less ideological rule of acting President Raul Castro, who took over when his elder brother Fidel Castro fell ill 16 months ago.

"This recognizes that some people are more equal than others in Cuba," said one diplomat.

Cubans have lived virtually free of taxes for three decades, so for many of those employed by foreign companies, filing annual income tax returns will come as a shock.

The National Tax Office was set up in 1995 and the next year began taxing the hard currency income of self-employed Cubans, mainly family restaurants known as "paladares," the closest thing to a small private business in Cuba.

Their taxes must be paid in hard currency according to a scale that rises as high as 40 percent.

Official Unemployment Statistics Challenged

Cuban newspaper challenges government employment claim

Published on Monday, November 26, 2007

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters): An official Cuban newspaper questioned government claims of 2 percent unemployment on Sunday in the latest challenge to government rhetoric begun under acting president Raul Castro more than a year ago.

The article in the Union of Young Communists' "Rebel Youth" newspaper questioned government claims that almost all young people are working or in school.

The Union of Young Communists is the youth wing of the ruling Communist party.

"The figures never reflect reality," said the article, which concluded that those involved in ensuring youth are working or studying should "tear themselves away from illusory figures" and take another look.

Among numerous examples provided by the two-page article was a report that around 16,000 youth in eastern Santiago were unemployed in 2006, when a survey by social workers put the figure at 29,000.

Eastern Granma province claimed only 2 percent of its population as unemployed in 2006, or around 2,000 people, while another social worker survey found the number of unemployed under 45 was 37,000, the newspaper said, including housewives and 13,000 men.

Raul Castro, since temporarily taking over for his ailing brother Fidel Castro 16 months ago, has urged the official media to be more critical, blasted bureaucrats for inaccurate reporting and encouraged debate among ordinary citizens over the country's social and economic ills.

Since then retail-level pilfering and fraud, problems with the free health care and education systems, a lack of entertainment for young people and worker apathy are some subjects that have captured the attention of the usually docile official media.

Fidel Castro, 81, suffering from an undisclosed intestinal ailment, has undergone various operations since stepping aside. He regularly comments on international and domestic affairs through writings published and broadcast by all media, but has not appeared in public.

Cuba launched a series of programs to reincorporate high school drop-outs into society in 2001 and has managed to find work or study for tens of thousands of them since then, in an effort that has helped limit drug use and violence in comparison with many other countries in the region.

However, Sunday's report said some youth signed up for high school equivalency and other community education programs, for which they are paid a government stipend, and never showed up. Many others refused employment because of poor working conditions and low wages, it said.