Are We In Transition?


Yoani Sánchez, Madrid, 9 July 2014 – Right now I am taking part, along with several Cuban activists, in a seminar on the Spanish transition being held in Madrid. Organized by the Association of Ibero-Americans for Freedom and the Spanish Transition Foundation at the Casa de America, the event includes the participation of nine activists from within the Island from many different sectors, such as law, citizenship, human rights and journalism. An opportunity for us to meet with each other without the police cordons or acts of repudiation.

While I listened to several speakers, I remembered when, in 2011, I watched the series The Transition, with the voice of Victoria Prego. Coincidentally, the morning I started to watch the excellent scenes of that documentary and the analysis that accompanied it, a friend from Madrid visited me. She looked at the TV screen and said to me, “I experienced many of those events, but at that time I didn’t know we were in transition.” Her phrase has stayed with me as solace and hope all these years. Today, in the Casa de America, I remembered it.

Are we Cubans living in the transition? Just asking this question is enough to annoy some people and excite others. A transition – the experts and analysts tell me – needs more political, social and economic evidence. A word of such magnitude requires real substance, not just desires, others warn me, also with very good arguments. If it turns out that an irreversible and defining change has occurred within Cubans, could we see that as the transition? In this case, the micro look beats out the macro analysis.

Every day I meet more people who are no longer collaborating, who no longer believe, who no longer support the system. I also stumble upon people who aren’t interested in watching official TV, or taking part in official events, or accepting official perks. What do we call that? May the transition theorists forgive me, but if that is not a change, what is it? “Pre-transition” perhaps?

8 thoughts on “Are We In Transition?

  1. FOX NEWS LATINO: Venezuela auto industry in “unprecedented crisis”

    Venezuela’s auto industry is facing an “unprecedented crisis” after vehicle sales plunged 83 percent due to manufacturers’ inability to access the dollars they need to purchase imported components, the National Chamber of Commerce for Auto Parts, or Canidra, said.

    Assemblers sold just 6,200 vehicles in the first quarter of 2014, a steep drop of 83 percent compared to the same period last year, while auto-parts importers have reported a similar decline in sales, Canidra President Jose Cinirella said in an interview with private TV network Televen.

    Cinirella said “it’s no longer just the auto-parts sector that’s in crisis, but the entire automotive sector,” a scenario “unheard of in the past 50 years.”

    “The entire Venezuelan automotive industry is in crisis, an unprecedented crisis,” he added.

    He said the situation stems from “problems acquiring foreign currency, paying off debt, and repatriating dividends and capital” due to strict currency controls.

    In 2003 then-President Hugo Chavez, who died last year, instituted those controls to stem capital flight and they have continued under his successor, Nicolas Maduro, who introduced a three-tier exchange system.

    In a June report, the Automobile Industry Chamber of Venezuela, or Cavenez, said auto production plunged 83.3 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period of last year.



    FINANCIAL POST: Cuba opens up car sales to the public for the first time in decades and the prices are insane

    HAVANA, Cuba — It’s not your typical car lot.

    Just steps from the Florida Straits, dozens of vehicles sit covered in grime and baking in the Caribbean sun. An elderly security guard slumps in a sleepy waiting area, and customers are nowhere to be seen.

    A price list hanging on the green chain-link fence hints at why: US$85,000 for a 6-year-old Peugeot compact; US$46,000 for a tiny 2008 Citroen C3 hatchback that would cost less than a third of that in Europe. Elsewhere, a larger, new Peugeot 508 lists for US$262,000, five times its price in Britain — and more than a millennium worth of paychecks in Cuba, where wages average about US$20 a month.

    The euphoria that greeted a January reform that lets Cubans buy vehicles from the government without a special permit for the first time in decades turned to anger when the prices were posted. When authorities announced recently that just 50 cars had rolled off the lots of state-run dealerships in the first half-year, bringing in US$1.3 million in sales, it was tempting to call the policy a failure.

    But analysts say it seems the measure was designed to work that way.

    “I think there’s only one explanation … the government does not want to use its foreign exchange reserves to import cars for a retail market,” he said. “So therefore the only way that it’s worth it to them, to import a car for US$20,000 and then sell it retail, is to soak up US$50,000 worth of liquidity.”

    However, a recent tour of several dealerships in Havana found the same 400% markups as before. Not a single potential client was in sight. Employees refused to speak to reporters, though one confirmed that prices have not budged.

    There are no publicly available statistics on how many vehicles circulate in Cuba, but visitors to Havana marvel at how empty the streets are for a city of about 2 million people.


    N.Y. TIMES: Profits Vanish in Venezuela After Currency Devaluation – By WILLIAM NEUMAN

    Venezuela, once an apparent profit center for multinational companies, increasingly looks like a financial black hole.

    Despite the nation’s socialist-minded government, large American and other foreign companies thrived here for years, benefiting from limited competition, brand-hungry consumers and close commercial ties with the United States. At the same time, Venezuela’s overvalued currency greatly inflated the dollar value of sales on companies’ books, lifting their bottom lines, at least on paper.

    Now the country’s economic chaos is taking its toll, as currency restrictions and a major devaluation cause profits to evaporate.

    The economic crisis in this major oil exporting nation has grown since the longtime president, Hugo Chávez, died in March last year. The new president, Nicolás Maduro, has been unable to come up with a consistent set of policies to curb raging inflation and other ills, although there are signs that reforms may be on the horizon.

    The problems are rooted in the country’s currency, the bolívar.

    Under standard accounting practices, American companies have long booked sales and profit on their Venezuelan operations using the primary exchange rate set by the government. For years, the currency has been overvalued, allowing multinational companies to post strong numbers.

    The country’s high inflation — currently around 60 percent a year — has also meant that the prices in bolívares that companies charge for many goods and services have risen sharply. That has pushed up bolívar sales figures even higher and exacerbated the distortion when they are converted to dollars.

    “It’s all smoke and mirrors,” said Jonathan M. Rosenthal, co-founder of Newfoundland Capital Management, a hedge fund based in São Paulo, Brazil, that holds short positions in Brink’s, betting that its stock will fall as the impact of Venezuela’s crisis on its business becomes clear. He said such accounting has filled the books of many companies with “phantom profits.”

    Now companies are feeling the pain from a series of currency devaluations over the last year and a half.

    First, the government changed the fixed exchange rate to 6.3 bolívares to the dollar, from 4.3. Then it created a three-tier exchange rate. The primary rate of 6.3 bolívares is largely intended for importing essential goods like food and medicine. Then there’s an intermediate rate of 10.5 bolívares to the dollar, available to companies invited to take part in government auctions, and another, created earlier this year, of 50 bolívares, which was intended to be open to all companies and individuals, although access has been fairly restricted. Both of those rates fluctuate slightly.


    Orlando Borrego (born 1936, Holguín, Cuba) is a Cuban economist, writer and former guerrilla who worked with Che Guevara during the Cuban Revolution. Immediately after the revolutionary army’s entrance in Havana Borrego worked alongside Guevara at La Cabaña fortress. He was appointed Head of the Military Economic Board and served as a prosecutor at the trials of several members of the Batista regime. In October 1959, Che was named head of the Department of Industrialisation, which was set up within the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA). INRA had been set up to institute the Agrarian Reform Law of May 1959. Che decided to bring Borrego to INRA as his deputy, Aleida March as his personal assistant and José Manresa as his secretary. However, the following month, Che became President of the National Bank, and Borrego was left to run the Department of Industrialisation. The two continued to meet regularly to discuss all progress and measures taken. In February 1961 Che was appointed head of the newly expanded Ministry of Industries (MININD), with Orlando Borrego as his Vice-Minister. Borrego played an important role in the development of the Budgetary Finance System.

    In 1964, the massive Consolidated Enterprise of Sugar was split off from MININD to form a separate Ministry of Sugar. Borrego was appointed head of the new Ministry. Borrego continued to be an adherent of the Budgetary Finance System, and worked closely with Che to improve it. When Che left for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1965, he left Borrego with his personal copy of Das Kapital. Borrego met with Che for the last time in 1966, during secret preparations for Che’s ill-fated expedition in Bolivia. Borrego left as Minister of Sugar in 1968. Although equipped with little evidence, Cuban-American writer Servando Gonzalez, a well-known critic of Cuba, has claimed that Borrego was fired by Fidel Castro in a fit of rage for expressing his doubts over the possibility that the 1970 sugar quota would be attained.[1] Both Castro and Borrego have dismissed Gonzalez’s assertion as complete myth. Borrego finally achieved his doctorate in economics from the University of Havana in 1973.

    From 1973 until 1980, Borrego served as an advisor to the Council of Ministers of Cuba, while at the same time achieving another doctorate from the Central Economic Mathematical Institute in the Soviet Union. In 1997, alongside Che’s son Ernesto, Borrego visited Lebanon, where he met with President Elias Hrawi, toured areas near the border with Israel and expressed support for the Lebanese people’s struggle against Israeli occupation.[2]

    Currently Borrego serves as an advisor to the Cuban Ministry of Transport. He has visited Venezuela on several occasions, where his book “Che – El Camino del Fuego” was praised by Hugo Chavez as helping him to discover Che as a thinker and an economist. He also visited Great Britain in 2008 on a tour organised by Rock Around the Blockade where he spoke alongside philosopher Jesús Garcia and student leader Yoselin Rufin.


    SAMPSONIA WAY: Yoani Sánchez interviews El Sexto, (Imprisoned) King of Spray – by Yoani Sánchez – July 10, 2014

    The Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), has now been in custody for six days, charged with “violation of domicile and injury.” His trial is scheduled for July 10, and, according to Cuban activists, Maldonado will be prosecuted.

    In late 2012, the writer Angel Santiesteban Prats was convicted on similar charges and still remains an inmate of a forced work center on the outskirts of Havana. As a general rule, people critical of the government are not judged on political grounds but rather for “common crimes” with the objective of reducing solidarity and international pressure.

    Below, Sampsonia Way presents an interview with El Sexto, conducted by Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez on June 26, 2014.

    Winking at art, a non-authorized decoration on the walls, graffiti maintains its irreverent and clandestine air that distances itself from galleries and approaches our eyes.

    If one day there is a tour of Cuban graffiti, it will have to include this gangly young man called El Sexto*. A character of the night, of agile fingers, he has marked facades, bridges and traffic signs all over Havana with his art.

    Many consider him an artist, others accuse him of vandalizing the city and marking landmark places, but, how does El Sexto see and construe himself?


  5. Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba: The case of Danilo Maldonado “El Sexto” has been suspended indefinitely and he has been released from detention. Thanks to all who supported! ‪Cuba‬ ‪Human Rights‬

  6. Mario,

    Yes, the transitioners do think you are stupid.

    So do I.

    And so do most Cubans.

    You’re the type of guy who quotes Granma.

    If you wish to be intelligent one day I suggest you read alternative news sources and open your mind.


    Workers income in Cuba is low, something between Honduras and the Dominican Republic. But some employers pay better then the others and on the picture above we can see the lucky ones on the company trip to Madrid.

    These transition dreamers did not just fly to enjoy paellas and jamon iberico, the food so much bettter then in Cuba. They have two jobs to do. The first is to define transition in a way the employer wants: transition as transfer of ownership. Do you see any person at the table as a future owner of Havana Libre or a majority stakeholder of ETECSA? I don’t. They are expendable, like every employee in the capitalist society. They just work for the profit makers in spe who do not reveal their names, of course.

    Their other job is the smoke screen. Every thief needs it badly. So, as you can read above, they come from “sectors, such as law, citizenship, human rights and journalism”. Thats it. Not from finance, economy, management, budget administration or investment sectors. These topics should better be hidden behind – read their lips – multiparty elections, private media and human rights (US edition).

    Hey, transitioners! Do you think we are stupid?

  8. Yoani,

    It is a loss of fear.

    When a small but noticeable minority of dissidents find the courage to speak their minds in public, it makes a huge difference to ordinary citizens who feel they don’t have to pretend so much.

    The same thing happened gradually in Eastern Europe after the death of Stalin and before the fall of communism.

    But there is a huge difference between not pretending to like Castro and openly speaking out against Castro.

    The Castros have seen the fall of Socialism and are using high levels of violence against the slightest signs of public dissent.

    It has been obvious for years that nobody in Cuba believes in Socialism, so Castro’s top brass just want to hold onto power in a Chinese-style transition to capitalism.

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