Shameful Friends

Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 May 2016 – People with whom we share sorrows and joys are a reflection of ourselves, however different they may appear. As friends we choose them to accompany us, but also to complete us, with the diversity and continuity that our human nature needs. The problem is when our choices of coexistence are not based on affinities and preferences, but on interests and alliances focused on annoying others.

In the same week, the Cuban executive has embraced two deplorable authoritarian regimes. A few hours after Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez met with government functionaries in Belarus, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution hosted a meeting between Raul Castro and a special representative from North Korea’s Workers Party. Disgraceful comrades, shamelessly embraced and praised by the island’s officialdom.

In a world where civil society, calls for the respect for human rights, and movements that promote the recognition of rights are making themselves heard ever more loudly, it is difficult for the Cuban government to explain his good relations with Europe’s last dictator and with the cruelly capricious grandson who inherited power through his bloodline. What united the island’s authorities with similar political specimens?

The only possible answer is sticking their finger in the eye of Western democracies and the White House. The problem with this attitude lies in the demands from these fellow travelers for commitments and silences. Diplomatic friendship is converted into complicity and the comrades end up defining the nature of those who have chosen their company.

37 thoughts on “Shameful Friends

  1. TIME MAGAZINE: Former Cuban Prisoner: Human-Rights Violations Remain – by Armando Valladares (author of Against All Hope, about the 22 years he spent as a prisoner in Castro’s gulags.)

    Many of the Damas de Blanco—Cuba’s infamous wives, mothers and daughters of jailed political dissidents—were recently detained on their way to Sunday Mass with their families. But you likely didn’t read about these arrests in the American news media. You were much more likely to have read about the first Carnival cruise ship to sail from the U.S. to Cuba. Coverage of the “historic voyage” featured photos of Carnival executives clinking champagne and waiving miniature American and Cuban flags and images of happy Cubans lining the shores of Havana alongside gleaming antique cars. Never mind that Cuba initially refused passage to Cuban-born Americans.

    The Cuban government is especially good at violating the human rights of its people, and then labeling the victims as the criminals. I spent 22 years in Catro’s gulags for the simple crime of refusing to place a sign on my desk that read: “I’m with Fidel.” I lost 22 years of my life, and countless friends and family, for that sin against the regime. I spent eight of those years naked, when I refused to wear the prison uniform of a criminal. Of his treatment at the hands of the Cuban authorities, after they had destroyed his church and the house of worship for many more, Rev. Travieso said he was made to feel “like a common delinquent.”

    Despite backslaps between Raul Castro and President Barack Obama and vacationers packing their bags for Cuban beaches, my jailers are still in their back-alley business of rounding up everyday citizens, violating their most basic human rights, and then slapping them with the label “criminal.” Last year, the number of documented political arrests was almost as high in just one month as it was in the entire year of 2010. Hostility to religion is especially enflamed, with one human rights group counting 2,000 churches marked as “illegal” by the government last year, 100 of them slated for the same fate as that of Rev. Travieso’s. That group found a nearly 1,000% increase in overall religious liberty violations from 2014 to 2015.

    The Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) further said that any effort towards a dialogue is not viable if these demands are not accepted. For its part, the government priority is to block or delay a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. Given the high level of polarization and confrontation for more than 15 years there are no bridges between the government and the opposition here. Civil war talk prevails on both sides, with “chavistas” accusing the opposition of coup-mongering and being the allies of imperialism; and the opposition refusing to recognize any legitimacy in the regime. UNASUR Secretary General Ernesto Samper reported the separate meetings and said they would continue.


  4. Venezuela’s oil income drops to under US$ 100 million per month

    The drop in oil prices, the weight of foreign debt service cost, and lower production levels have drastically closed the stream of oil dollars that used to flow into Venezuela’s state coffers, lowering real income contributions to mere drops. Experts report that PDVSA contributions to Central Bank accounts are now below US$ 100 per month, after costs and debt service. This is in contrast to US$ 2-3 billion the company used to contribute two years ago. Russ Dallen, managing partner at Caracas Capital Markets, explains that “the numbers do not work”, leading the Maduro regime to sell off its few remaining foreign assets and spend reserves on importing around US$ 1 billion in food each month. Maduro himself has acknowledged the gravity of the situation, and said: “If we look to January 2010, income was US$ 1.790 billion; it was US$ 2.463 billion in January 2011; it was US$ 3 billion in January 2014; US$ 815 million in January 2015; and in January 2016 we only have US$ 77 million”. More in Spanish: (El Nuevo Herald:

  5. Pingback: Shameful Friends — Generation Y | I am Puddin'

  6. Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raúl Castro and director of CENESEX and family participated in the funeral of socialism dressed in Chanel.

    Mariela Castro with their children in the parade of Chanel, Paseo del Prado, Havana, May 3, 2016

    The royal family and the new class of the communist elite enjoying the privileges of the capitalist system. There disrespect for the Cuban people is sickening. What a bunch of hypocrites.

  7. Chanel glamour comes to now fashionable Cuba

    Karl Lagerfeld’s latest collection goes on display in Chanel’s first Latin American catwalk show

    Agence France Presse
    Wednesday 4 May 2016

    International celebrities and Cuban bigwigs have graced the red carpet in Havana as the French fashion house Chanel staged its first Latin American catwalk show.

    Karl Lagerfeld’s latest collection was infused with the styles and colours of the Caribbean island.

    Cubans without an invitation to the exclusive event packed the balconies of old Havana or lined the police cordon outside, straining to catch a glimpse.

    “What a sight. But I would have liked to be closer to the models,” said 52-year-old Mireya Correoso, who said she had never seen so much luxury and showbiz in one place.

    t was the latest in a stream of international cultural events on the communist island as it opens up its diplomatic and commercial relations.

    “The world is finally opening up to Cuba. Everyone wants to come and taste the forbidden fruit. Everyone wants to discover it, savour it, enjoy it, explore it,” said Mariela Castro, the daughter of the president, Raúl Castro, and a prominent gay-rights activist on the island.

    Other high-profile people attending included the Hollywood stars Vin Diesel, Tilda Swinton and Geraldine Chaplin. Diesel is in town shooting the latest Fast and Furious action movie.

    Last month the Rolling Stones played a concert in Cuba, after a visit by the US president, Barack Obama.

    Obama and Castro’s December 2014 announcement of a rapprochement between their two countries has kindled new interest in Cuba, long isolated by a US embargo and its status as one of the last bastions of communism.

    In announcing the show, Chanel said: “The cultural richness and the opening up of Cuba to the world have turned it into a source of inspiration.”

    The show took place on an open-air catwalk on the Paseo del Prado, a long seaside boulevard in a scruffy neighborhood that got a makeover for the occasion.

    The half-hour show ended with a brief appearance by the German designer, dressed in his trademark gloves and a sequin jacket, who received a burst of applause and conga drums.

    Speaking before the show, the local designer Idania del Rio said: “I think that catwalk is going to be more for Chanel than for Cuba. I don’t know whether the people here in Cuba are ready for this type of product.”

    Nevertheless, as a fashion designer she was curious: “I want to see what $40,000 clothing looks like,” she said.

    Afterwards, the 33-year-old was not entirely impressed: “It was very interesting and maybe too nostalgic. A lot of Cuban cigars, colours and hats from another era. It represented a Cuba that doesn’t interest me right now, because today’s Cuba is another, more contemporary Cuba.”

    For years, the communist principles that ruled in Cuba after Fidel Castro won power in the 1959 revolution insisted on equality, even in clothing. Foreign brands were not available until the 1990s, when the market started to open up gradually.

    Cuba entered a crisis after the Soviet Union, which had financially supported its communist government, fell in 1991. Cubans had to wear imported second-hand clothes from state-run stores. Authorities called it “recycled clothing” but ordinary Cubans referred to their trips to the official shops as “rag-shopping”.

    With its cabarets and casinos frequented by US film stars and gangsters, pre-revolutionary Cuba had a thriving fashion scene. The end of the Soviet era encouraged a rebirth.

    The future of fashion will depend on if and when US politicians end the 54-year-old embargo – still in place despite the diplomatic thaw.

    “When we become a normal country, without the embargo, we will be leaders of fashion,” said Cuba’s best-known living designer, Raúl Castillo.


    BERNIE SANDERS US SENATOR: Close The Gaps: Disparities That Threaten America – Friday, August 5, 2011 — “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?”

    NPR AUDIO STORY : Venezuela Is Running Out Of Beer Amid Severe Economic Crisis – by JOHN OTIS — Mendoza is the chief executive of Venezuelan food giant Empresas Polar, which was founded in 1941 and is now the largest private company in this socialist country. But Polar has come upon tough times. Many of its processing plants are running at half-speed, and thousands of employees have been furloughed since April, when all four of the company’s breweries were shut down by a barley shortage.

    The government controls access to foreign currency, and Mendoza says it has refused to provide the dollars Polar needs to import barley, which doesn’t grow in Venezuela’s tropical climate.

    As Mendoza leaves the brewery, Polar workers break into a chant: “¡Materias primas ya, queremos trabajar!” — “Raw materials now — we want to work!”

    It’s not just these workers who are frustrated — Venezuela has fallen on hard economic times recently, even though it’s home to the largest oil reserves in the world. Petroleum prices have plummeted and analysts say the government’s economic policies are making matters a lot worse.

    Price controls and the expropriation of farms and businesses have driven down food production. Lines outside supermarkets grow longer, and shortages of staples like milk, meat and bread have led to outbreaks of rioting and looting.

    Still, the government refuses to change course.

    But in a bizarre twist, President Nicolás Maduro is trying to pin the crisis on Polar. Government TV spots claim — without evidence — that the company is deliberately scaling back food production and hiding inventories to sabotage the economy.

    FOX NEWS LATINO : U.S. companies fleeing Venezuela to escape country’s collapsing economy – By Franz von Bergen
    Since 2013, when Nicolas Maduro assumed presidency in Venezuela and plunging oil prices began wreaking havoc on the country, more than a dozen U.S. companies have been forced to sell, stop or reduce their operations in the South American country in order to avoid damage cause by the economic crisis. In the past three weeks alone, Coca-Cola announced that it had to stop production in the South American country due to a scarcity of sugar, while Bridgestone, a tire company based in Tennessee, decided to sell their assets to local investors and Kimberly Clark, a paper product company based in Texas, reduced its production by 90 percent.

    At least 35 companies in the Standards & Poor’s 500 have expressed concerns about Venezuela in the past two months and many have discussed removing Venezuela from its global operations, according to an analysis by USA Today.

    That has left Venezuela, already reeling from empty supermarket shelves and a lack of basic goods, with a dearth of American products.

    The U.S. companies pulling out of Venezuela say they are feeling the squeeze because of the country’s hyperinflation.

    “The company hasn’t received dollars to import raw material since January. About 700 workers had to be suspended. We don’t know how much time we can survive like this,” Williams Bolivar, head of Kimberly Clark Worker’s Union, told Fox News Latino.


    Is it reasonable to demand that the recall vote be held in 2016 despite the opposition’s delay in initiating one?

    No. There was a presidential recall vote in 2004. Eight months elapsed between the opposition submitting the signatures at the end of November 2003 and the vote being held in mid August of 2004. The opposition is not at the stage of having collected the signatures required for a recall vote. It has only gathered signatures for the national electoral council (the CNE) to begin the process: gathering signatures totaling 1% of the electorate starts the process; then gathering – and having the CNE verify – signatures representing 20% of the electorate triggers a vote.

    A detailed map of the process also shows that the January 10, 2017 deadline is a very tight one even if the CNE engaged in no foot dragging at all. I think the opposition does have some credible complaints about foot-dragging by the CNE, but what the opposition’s international cheerleaders completely ignore is that the tight deadline is due to the opposition’s delay.

    Had the process been initiated by the opposition in January of 2016, it would have either guaranteed the recall vote in 2016 (I am assuming like everyone else does that they would have been able to get the signatures), or been able to make an irrefutable case that foot-dragging by the CNE was the reason it didn’t take place. Having delayed for months – setting aside the histrionics of the OAS president Luis Almagro and others – alleging that a constitutional right to recall has been trampled if the vote doesn’t happen in 2016 is unjustified.

    Lastly, Almagro’s vitriolic demands for a recall vote in 2016 in Venezuela stand in stark contrast to Almagro’s polite disagreement with the parliamentary coup in Brazil and his collaboration with US bullying aimed at imposing fraudulent elections in Haiti.

  12. “This is extremely important and totally and completely the truth” – Omar Fundora

    REUTERS: Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerrilla to mainstream? – By Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta

    Newspapers and broadcast media are state-controlled and do not run commercial spots. Only the state and its joint ventures with foreign firms like Havana Club rum are running integrated advertising campaigns, mainly abroad.

    Restricted and expensive Internet access means few businesses, even those in the tourism sector generating dollar revenue, can afford to advertise on the web.

    So, young Cuban designers are coming up with “guerrilla” means of promotion, like offline apps, tee-shirt branding and commercials on El Paquete, a package of often-pirated media delivered across Cuba on USB sticks.

    In one video, surgeons wearing face masks lean over, apparently operating on a client. Yet the patient is a broken phone, not a human, and the ad is for the “Cellphone Clinic”.


    All areas of marketing here are new. Before the reforms, businesses like Carballo’s beauty parlor existed but were illegal, so they did not market themselves and hid in shabby living rooms.

    State-run restaurants and shops faced no competition so made little effort to differentiate.

    “Marketing is tricky for us in Cuba because we did not grow up in a world of supply and demand,” Carballo said.

    Cuba will likely try to keep advertising low-key and consumerism in check.

    “The most important thing is that marketing does not invade our daily space,” said Sergio Pena Martinez, head of the Institute of Design that teaches marketing, Cuban-style. He compared ads in the United States to a “virus.”

    Cubans need information to make informed decisions about what restaurant to go to for example but they do not need adverts interrupting television or radio, endlessly generating more consumer wants, he said.

    Some of the old guard already feel things have gone too far.

    “Our country has turned into a store of adverts and signs,” grumbled Roberto Gomez, a 78-year old Communist Party member. “I would never have imagined this.”

  13. This is extremely important and totally and completely the truth. The United States Imperialism in the World ( an imperialism in the political, communication, economics and cultural) provides leadership for the Rich nations of western Europe and Japan. This group of nations constitute the inertia that stands in the way of the creation of a more inclusive World. In Latin America, the leftist organizations of nations against the Right and U.S. imperialism are the force of the workers of Latin America, who together are responsible for the collective production of goods in Central and South America. These Latin American nations, which Cuba is one of them, opposes the greed and individual distribution of the Latin American workers collective creation of goods by the Right. The Right Liberal Democracy and “free market” by necessity requires apartheid and individual distribution of the goods created by the collective of workers. This creation of privilege in a society is a violation of human rights which Socialistic Democratic Republics oppose.

    324. En este contexto, los Estados Unidos de
    América y sus aliados pugnan por conservar
    sus posiciones de dominación
    imperialista, en los ámbitos económico,
    político, militar, tecnológico,
    comunicacional, frente al desarrollo de
    nuevos polos de poder mundial y regional,
    contra las fuerzas que luchan por
    un mundo más justo, equitativo y sostenible,
    y se oponen al dominio de las
    transnacionales, a la acelerada concentración
    de la riqueza y al agravamiento
    de la pobreza, la desigualdad y el subdesarrollo.
    325. Participaremos activamente en el impulso
    al proceso de concertación política
    e integración de “Nuestra América”,
    en especial desde el ALBA y la Celac,
    en aplicación de la Proclama de América
    Latina y el Caribe como Zona de
    Paz, frente a la ofensiva del imperialismo
    y las fuerzas de derecha.
    326. Continuaremos desarrollando amplias
    y multifacéticas relaciones con los países
    que edifican el socialismo; con las
    hermanas naciones del Sur, asentadas
    en la solidaridad, la cooperación
    y el beneficio mutuo; y con los países
    industrializados sobre la base de la
    igualdad soberana, la no injerencia en
    los asuntos internos y las ventajas recíprocas.
    327. Contribuiremos en los procesos multilaterales
    y organizaciones internacionales,
    de conformidad con los Propósitos
    y Principios de la Carta de las Naciones
    Unidas y el Derecho Internacional,
    principalmente en defensa de los intereses
    de las naciones del Sur.

  14. You guys that like to criticize the Cuban government should take the time to read the Development Plan for Cuba through 2030 created by the government of Cuba. I can’t imagine anybody that claims that the Cuban government stays in power by the use of might instead of the support of the Cuban People. This is a good plan for the future of Cuba. In Cuba it is the law to have Collective ownership, mixed ownership, private property and any other type of ownership you can imagine. So how can you argue against Cuba not having liberty and Human Rights…it is transparent to me that they do exist and I am sure it is also transparent to people in government around the World.

    Son las siguientes:
    a) La propiedad socialista de todo el
    b) la propiedad cooperativa;
    c) la propiedad mixta;
    d) la propiedad privada;
    e) la propiedad de organizaciones políticas,
    de masas, sociales y otras formas

    who can argue against this: Unity, change what needs to be change, equality, liberty, civility, defending sovereignty, you cannot crush ideas and the truth…and more….justice for Cuba and the World …this is what our socialism is about…

    Revolución es sentido
    del momento histórico;
    es cambiar todo lo que debe
    ser cambiado;
    es igualdad y libertad plenas;
    es ser tratado y tratar a los demás como
    seres humanos;
    es emanciparnos por nosotros
    mismos y con nuestros propios
    es desafiar poderosas fuerzas
    dominantes dentro y fuera
    del ámbito social y nacional;
    es defender valores en los que se cree
    al precio de cualquier
    es modestia, desinterés,
    altruismo, solidaridad y heroísmo;
    es luchar con audacia,
    inteligencia y realismo;
    es no mentir jamás ni violar
    principios éticos;
    es convicción profunda de que no existe
    fuerza en el mundo capaz
    de aplastar la fuerza de la verdad y las ideas Revolución es unidad,
    es independencia, es luchar por nuestros
    sueños de justicia para Cuba y para
    el mundo, que es la base de nuestro patriotismo,
    nuestro socialismo y nuestro

  15. The Cuban military is helping the Chavistas in Venezuela too, and has played a significant role in events of the last half century in Latin America and Africa. Quite recently Cubans went to fight in Syria!


    WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL : On U.S.-Cuba military cooperation, proceed with caution – Welcome to the brave new world of military-to-military contact with Cuba, the Obama administration’s latest idea for engagement with that island nation. -Latin American military and police crave the legitimacy that comes from ties with their U.S. counterparts. A great bipartisan achievement in U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America over the past three decades has been to condition military cooperation and assistance increasingly on respect for the rule of law and human rights — rather than turn a blind eye to military abuses in the name of either anti-communism or the war on drugs, as U.S. officials so often did in previous years.

    Today, in a hemisphere where military dictatorship was once widespread, no generals rule. The exception is Cuba, where Gen. Raúl Castro’s word is law. Normalizing military-to-military ties between the United States and Cuba, for the sake of fighting drugs or other “common threats,” would imply that civilian rule doesn’t matter so much to us anymore — that Cuba’s military is morally equivalent to its hemispheric counterparts — when, in fact, it is deeply complicit in political repression and corruption.

    Legislation pending in Congress would block full military-to-military normalization until Cuba democratizes. At a time when Cuba’s beleaguered civilian democracy activists need unequivocal U.S. moral support, the administration and outside supporters of its Cuba policy should not be eager for potentially compromising relationships with the Cuban people’s uniformed oppressors.

  17. New poster boy Che, a pretty drag queen, battle cry in favor of imperialism, “Hasta la Victoria Secret”, meaning capitalism forever. Che Guevara has become the “Great Salesman of Capitalism.” Che paraphernalia is everywhere. C’est très disgusting.

  18. Che-nel in Cuba
    The nomenclature of the PPC Political Buru present:

    A Cuban-French coproduction with Mariela Castro, Tony Castro, Tony Castro Jr. and the special
    Performances of Karl Lagerfeld and Vin Diesel.

    Posted By: Liu Santiesteban 6 mayo, 2016

    Chanel in Cuba or Che-nel or Cha-cha-cha- nel in Cuba…
    If Che raise his head, will freak out, or better, hallucinates with the current madness of the old men in Cuba, “The Castros,” and several generations of CUBA-NOS, or “new men” of that island, pointed to the infernal and wonderful delirium of the “frivolité” capitalist.

    Amazed with the banal foam of actors, actresses, models of “Che-nel,” or Chanel, dancing Cha-cha-nel in Havana, for the wonderful avenue del Prado or Paseo Martí, which is our Rambla, so my Catalans friends understand me; Beyoncé, Rolling Stones, Vanessa Paradis, Van Diesel, Rihanna (who showed her ass and all), Paris Hilton, Karl Lagerfeld, and Obama, who paraded a little earlier than Chanel. Among other magicians and other circus performers …

    HAVANA TIMES: Conceiving Cuba’s Social and Economic Model – By Osmel Ramírez Álvarez — It’s been a few days now since the 32-page tabloid detailing the conceptualization of Cuba’s social and economic model and the National Plan for Economic and Social Development through 2030 has been on sale at Correos de Cuba stands. To summarize, it talks about Cuban socialism as the continuation of the radical orthodoxy model, that is to say the Marxist-Leninist model, which has supposedly been enriched with the ideas of Marti and of our other national heroes. It’s the same old ideology in whole, repeated word for word as it appears in the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, or in the ancient documents which govern the Party, or in any Marxist philosophy book written by Jose Luis Rodriguez in the 80s or 90s. We’ve known what the new changes would be for quite some time now, but amidst all the mystery and its delayed release, I thought it might have held some surprises.

    Legalization of private property, (within limits and of course subject to Party interests);
    Legalization of small and medium-sized private businesses and micro
    companies, (within limits and of course subject to Party interests);
    Recognition of free markets as a complement, still on a minor scale,
    to the official planned centralized economy, (within limits and of
    course subject to Party interests);
    Legalization of private property, (within limits and of course subject to Party interests);
    And the impact on the Cuban economy as it enters an international economic context.

  20. What may seem like strength is actually weakness. The freak shows are only anomalies, leftovers from the geopolitical reality that ended a quarter century ago.
    The more pressing question is China: The Chinese communist party is exeedingly afraid of public unrest, and is trying to figure out how to stop the massive malinvestment. They know that something’s gotta give, but dither because they’re afraid of losing control. Therefore the commies probably won’t be able to engineer a soft landing. Hard times ahead for China and the world.
    When something is unfair, you can get mad or get even. Most Cubans won’t be able to afford luxuries for many more years, but they can establish businesses and create employment.
    The Chinese protest a lot and loudly, because they’re being rudely awakened from the dream of riches which was becoming reality…

  21. THE WEEKLY STANDARD MAGAZINE (June 6 Issue) : It Can’t Just Be a Business Deal What’s next in U.S.-Cuba relations? – By OSCAR ELIAS BISCET and JORDAN ALLOTT

    There has already been a vigorous debate about President Obama’s decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba. His recent visit to Havana inspired a wide range of feelings, with many Cubans and Cuban Americans still believing it to be a mistake. But what’s done is done. The real question now is what the U.S. government should be pressing for in its newly established dialogue with the government in Havana. There is nothing inherent in the idea of U.S.-Cuba relations that implies Cubans’ basic human rights will ever be recognized. After all, many other tyrannical governments have reasonably constructive relationships with Washington.

    As Milton Friedman liked to note, economic freedom is a necessary condition for other freedoms, but it is not a sufficient condition. For example, think of the Chinese model. Economic reforms in that country have dramatically improved the lives of Chinese citizens, to be sure. But they remain unfree to voice political opinions, unfree to worship as they see fit, and subject to press and Internet censorship. And of course, they absolutely lack any say in who governs them or how.

    The same could become true in a Cuba that only opens economically, without a corresponding blossoming of other human freedoms. It is not hard to imagine a Cuba where U.S. businesses merely take advantage of cheaper labor and a new consumer market. Perhaps, at best, a small group of handpicked Cubans would be able to take advantage of some of the economic freedoms—but even then only as long as they don’t step out of line.

    This is the Cuba that Raúl Castro seems to think he can preserve. So far, neither the Obama administration nor the international community has offered evidence to prove him wrong.

  22. MIAMI HERALD (Video) : José Daniel Ferrer, the man behind Cuba’s largest opposition group – Former political prisoner heads the Cuban Patriotic Union, an organization in eastern Cuba that has launched a campaign urging the island’s people to let go of their fear – by Nora Gámez Torres

    Irreverent youth, activist in the Christian Liberation Movement’s early days, political prisoner and now leader of Cuba’s most active opposition group, José Daniel Ferrer is probably one of the biggest headaches for the island’s government. One of the 75 political prisoners jailed in the 2003 crackdown known as Cuba’s Black Spring, the 45-year-old Ferrer was one of the last to be freed in 2011 under a parole that barred him from leaving the country. He arrived in Miami last week, after the government gave him a one-time permission to travel abroad.

    After his release Ferrer founded the Cuban Patriotic Union, UNPACU by its Spanish initials, which he estimates now has more than 3,000 members and sympathizers, mostly in Santiago de Cuba and other parts of eastern Cuba although it also has members in Havana, Camaguey and the Isle of Youth.

    How he managed to gather those 3,000 supporters — a number that is small in an island of 11 million people yet is significantly large compared to other dissident organizations — is a question with more than one answer.

    Read more here:


    PANAM POST: Beyond the Tourist Façade Are Cuba’s Victims of Communism – by By Jonas Sundgaard

    Havana’s roads received a new layer of asphalt along the beautiful Prado Boulevard and the colorful buildings in Old Havana were shining brighter than ever prior to Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba. The decay and poverty in the city, however, is too prevalent and pervasive to be hidden by a quick make-over in honor of the first visit by a US president in 88 years. Cuba offers exotic beaches, magnificently colored American vintage cars from the 1950’s, joyous salsa rhythms and iconic cigars. But this is largely a façade, behind which lies a very different reality. During a private trip to Cuba that coincided with Obama’s visit to the island, my wife and I got a small peek into real life under the communist Cuban regime.

    My wife and I both speak Spanish, which provided us with ample opportunity to engage with the local Cubans. We gained an insight into the lives of the vast majority of Cubans who do not see as much as one peso of the billions that are now flowing into the country.

    Even so, tourism is essential for Cuba. Without it, the country would probably be on the verge of famine. But while the tourism industry has raised the living standards of thousands of Cubans, it does not change the fact that most ordinary citizens still live a life of poverty with very few opportunities to change their fate and improve their general circumstances.

    Going Beyond the Tourist Façade

    One late afternoon, walking along the Malecón waterfront, my wife and I started a conversation with two Cuban brothers in their 30s. We were so fascinated with their story and their openness that we spent the rest of the evening and the following afternoon with them.

    Both brothers were engineering graduates. One earned the equivalent of $16 US dollars a month, the other $22-25 dollars a month. That is less than half of the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 USD a day, and the meager state-funded food rations hardly alleviate the hardship. An average Cuban public servant earns about $20-25 USD a month.

  24. YOUTUBE: The Alvarez Guedes TV Special (Spanish only)


    MIAMI HERALD: Cuban comedian Guillermo Alvarez Guedes to be celebrated at UM event – Gustavo Perez-Firmat, 67, David Feinson Professor of Humanities at Columbia University, will lead discussion – By Daysi Calavia-Robertson — “Recordando a Guillermo Alvarez Guedes,’’ an hour-long event to celebrate one of Miami’s most beloved and iconic comedians, Alvarez Guedes.

    When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Casa Bacardi del Instituto de Estudios Cubanos y Cubano-Americanos, Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, the University of Miami, 1531 Brescia Ave. Coral Gables. Free but reservations are recommended. Call 305-284-2822.

    For many years, Cuban comedian, actor and radio host Guillermo Alvarez Guedes was the undeniable king of Miami’s Spanish-language radio. His profanity-infused jokes and storytelling style dominated the airwaves of La Clasica 92.3 fm, where he hosted Aqui Esta Alvarez Guedes for more than a decade.

    His radio show, which ended in 2011, garnered a loyal following of thousands. But it was his ability to tirarlo todo al relajo (make a joke of everything) as well as his larger-than-life personality that made him a star in the South Florida exile community.

    Now, almost three years after his death, “Recordando a Guillermo Alvarez Guedes” (“Remembering Guillermo Alvarez Guedes”), an hour-long event hosted by the National Association of Cuban-American Educators (NACAE), , will celebrate the life and times of one of Miami’s most beloved and iconic comedians.

    “Alvarez Guedes was a crucial cultural figure in Miami and in Cuba,” said Gustavo Perez-Firmat, 67, who leads the association and is a David Feinson Professor of Humanities at Columbia University. “In Cuba, the question is not ‘to be or not to be’ but ‘eres vivo o eres bobo’ (you’re either bright or you’re a fool) and he was definitely ‘un vivo.’ He had that Cuban sense of humor and relajo. … He helped Cubans during that period of exile;he defined a whole epoch.”

    Perez-Firmat, who teaches Cuban-American Culture and Spanish-American Literature at Columbia and is the author of Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way, was born in Marianao, Cuba. His family moved to Miami when he was 11.

    He remembers growing up listening to Alvarez Guedes’ jokes, anecdotes and stories.

    And though he never met Alvarez Guedes, he says he attended many of his shows in Miami and Puerto Rico, where Guedes lived for a few years before settling in South Florida.

    “It’s funny but one of the highlights of my life was following him [Alvarez Guedes] around Dadeland Mall because I was too timid to go up to him and say hello,” he said. “Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘As you get older, it’s more difficult to have heroes but it’s just as necessary.’ For me, he’s become one of my heroes.”

    Read more here:


    QUARTZ NEWS: Welcome to the new Cuba, where dog baths cost what some state workers make in a whole paycheck – by Ana Campoy — Havana, Cuba: If there’s anything more anathema to the ideals of the Cuban Revolution than a chihuahua-sized hoodie, I don’t know what it is. Yet a Havana pet boutique I came across on a recent visit was selling dog coats in both female and male designs for the equivalent of $18, not far off an entire monthly salary for the average state worker. The pet specialty shop, one of several in the Cuban capital, also had doggie nail polish and American dog treats, likely smuggled in a suitcase on a flight from Miami. In today’s Cuba, the Castro brothers stick to their communist spiel in speeches, tourists continue to drool over Old Havana’s crumbling facades, but Cubans have moved on. Their sights are on branded sneakers and all-inclusive beach vacations, the latest MacBook Air and a car to get to work in. And thanks to legal changes in both Cuba and the US, a growing number of them can actually afford those things.

    As one local observer put it, the well-off have become the neediest people in Cuba. And new businesses to serve those needs abound. For $60 a session, the island’s nouveaux riches can get rid of tacky communist-era tattoos. For $10 more, they can have a facial mud mask—another superfluous vanity in a country where much of the population is seemingly blessed with near-flawless skin.
    The rise of this consumer class is the new Cuban revolution. Its members are sidestepping the island’s schizophrenic, half-planned, half market-driven economic model, and going full-blown capitalist. Give them a few years, and they will turn Cuba around.

    CHARTER 97 NEWS: UN Special Rapporteur: No Changes In Dismal Human Rights Situation In Belarus – Despite lifting sanctions from Lukashenka, the regime made no steps towards democracy – 5/26/2016

    The situation with human rights in Belarus hasn’t changed. Such conclusion is contained in the report of UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in Belarus Miklós Haraszti, which will be presented at the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, BelaPAN news agency informs.

    The session will take place on June 13 – July 1 in Geneva. The report contains information received by the Special Rapporteur up to March 31, 2016.

    In his report, Haraszti points out such positive fact as the release of 6 political prisoners on the eve of the “presidential election” in 2015. Alongside with that, the Rapporteur remains passed about the fact that the political prisoners’ release “was conducted in the same rule-of-thumb style as their imprisonment”. Apart from that, the released were not restored in their civil and political rights.

    During the “election” itself, unlike the 2010 election, the authorities refrained from violence against political opponents, and they did not arrest the rival candidates, the Rapporteur notes. However, despite this, the election wasn’t considered by the OSCE as “more trustable than the election of 2010”.

  27. Yoani…there is nothing hard to explain about the relation between Belarus and Cuba….Money Talk…Money has a way to overcome differences and polarization on issues, ideals and principals sometimes with some folks…

  28. Belarus ready to help Cuba establish modern TC, computer systems

    Mon, 23/05/2016 – 17:16
    During the meeting

    MINSK, 23 May (BelTA) – Belarus is ready to assist Cuba in establishing modern telecommunications (TC) and computer systems, Belarusian Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov said as he met with First Vice President of the Council of State, the Council of Ministers of Cuba Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez on 23 May, BelTA has learned.

    Andrei Kobyakov emphasized that the relations between Belarus and Cuba have reached a high level of mutual confidence and respect. The countries have established a political and economic basis for cooperation. Belarus and Cuba have over 30 international agreements. “The cooperation between the two states has a solid foundation. We have achieved a high level of strategic partnership that can serve as an example to follow for other countries,” the head of the Belarusian government believes.

    The Belarusian Prime Minister stated that the trade between Belarus and Cuba is constantly growing. In 2015 it amounted to $67.3 million, which is one and a half times more than in 2014. The bilateral trade was balanced. Belarus’ exports stood at $36.3 million with imports at $31 million. However, in Q1 2016 Belarus’ imports outstripped exports. Andrei Kobyakov gave instructions to consider ways to improve the situation.

    Belarus and Cuba are working to implement a number of mutually beneficial economic projects. For instance, facilities to assemble cabs for MAZ vehicles at an enterprise in Santiago de Cuba is under construction. The parties are also considering the possibility of assembling Belagromash farm machines in Cuba and opening representative offices of MAZ and MTZ there. “We expect to implement the contracts to supply MTZ repair kits and MAZ vehicles,” Andrei Kobyakov stressed. The countries are drawing up contracts to supply StankoGomel, Belagromash, MTZ, and Minsk Motor Plant products to Cuba.

    The head of the Belarusian government pointed out that the close political and economic interaction is accompanied by cooperation in scientific, technical, cultural, humanitarian areas and education. For example, there is a Belarusian-Cuban commission for cooperation in science and technology. Belarus suggested drawing up a draft concept for the establishment of a high-tech park in Cuba. “Belarus is ready to assist you in creating cutting edge telecommunications and computer systems. I invite you to discuss these promising cooperation areas,” Andrei Kobyakov said.

    The Prime Minister emphasized that the relations between Belarus and Cuba are open and sincere. He invited Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez to discuss in detail the items on the bilateral agenda.

    Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez thanked the Belarusian side for hospitality and the opportunity to meet with government authorities. “We are happy with the results of the visit. Our countries have close cooperation ties,” Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez stressed.

  29. 30 Agreements between Belarus and Cuba

    Positive trends in Belarus-Cuba trade, economic relations praised

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko praised positive trends in Belarus-Cuba trade and economic relations. The issue was on the agenda of the meeting with First Vice President of the Council of State and Ministers of Cuba Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez on 23 May, BelTA informs.

    The President emphasized that there has been certain progress in the Belarusian-Cuban trade and economic cooperation, the trade turnover between the countries has increased. “We appreciate the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States of America,” Alexander Lukashenko said and added that it will also have a positive impact on the economy of Cuba.

    Good trends can be seen in the agricultural industry and other areas of big importance for the Cuban economy, the Belarusian leader remarked. “We also see our place, Belarus’ place, in the Cuban economy. We are prepared for this cooperation. Moreover, a good basis has been created because about 30 intergovernmental agreements being part of a solid legal framework have been signed,” the head of state is convinced.

  30. 25 May 2016 07:01

    Electoral legislation of Belarus corresponds to international standards

    The electoral legislation of Belarus is in line with international principles. This was stated by the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting on the preparation and conduct of election to the Parliament. According to the legislation, the election date should be announced not later than June 10.

  31. 23 May 2016 21:05

    Belarus and Cuba ready to make new step in development of bilateral relations

    The mutual interest in deepening partnership was expressed at the meeting of the Head of State and First Vice President of the Council of State of Cuba Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez. There is positive dynamics in the trade and economic cooperation between Belarus and Cuba. The trade turnover between the countries almost doubled over the past year. Cuba is our stable and time-tested partner. The two countries share the same position in economic and political issues. Cuba wants Belarus to participate in social and infrastructural development of the country. In particular, it is interested in our experience in the field of agriculture and the creation of high-tech parks.

    Vice-President of Cuba celebrates peace initiatives of Minsk. It confirms the strategic relationship between the two countries.

    The main topic of the meeting was the economy. Cuba is actively developing agriculture. The country is familiar with our equipment. According to various estimates there are about 15 thousand Belarusian tractors in Cuba. Last year, 450 pieces of agricultural machinery were supplied there.

    One of the most recent agreements was signed in April for the supply of MAZ equipment worth almost 4 million Euros. The delegation is especially interested in energy-efficient engineering. It is planned to create an assembly production of Belarusian equipment in Cuba.

    In addition to official meetings First Vice President of the Council of State of Cuba is going to visit the Museum of the Great Patriotic War and the mound of Fame.

  32. Pingback: Shameful Friends « How to s..t on humans

  33. UN NEWS CENTRE : Belarus: execution shows ‘callous disdain’ for international human rights law – UN experts – 13 May 2016 – United Nations human rights experts today condemned Belarus’ continued use of the death penalty following reports that a man whose complaint was before the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) had been executed, despite a specific request from the Committee for a stay of execution. “I am appalled by reports of the recent execution of Sergey Ivanov by the Belarusian authorities,” said Miklós Haraszti, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. Reports indicate that Mr. Ivanov, who was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in 2015, was executed on around 18 April this year.

    Mr. Ivanov’s brother had petitioned the Committee, arguing that Mr. Ivanov’s trial had been unfair. During the trial, he remained handcuffed and was obliged to wear special clothes with the label “capital punishment” on them. It was also alleged that he was not brought promptly before a judge upon arrest and had limited access to a lawyer.

    Mr. Ivanov’s execution means Belarus, since 2010, has executed eight people whose cases were registered for examination by the Committee under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Belarus is a State party.

    Belarus remains the only country in Europe and Central Asia that applies the death penalty, despite repeated calls for its abolition from many in the international community, including the members of the European Union and the Council of Europe.

    Mr. Haraszti once again urged the Belarusian authorities to adopt a moratorium on the death penalty, as an interim legal step towards it full abolition.

    The human rights expert also voiced grave concern at news that another defendant, Sergei Khmelevsky, was sentenced to death by a court on 6 May. “The news testifies to the lack of progress on the human rights situation in Belarus,” he said.

  34. Cuba BTI report for 2016

    Level of Socioeconomic Development

    Compared to the profound and deeply rooted inequalities in other Latin American societies, Cuban society after the 1959 revolution became highly inclusive – except for political criteria that excluded government opponents from social or administrative leadership positions, and the high levels of emigration of the former elites resulting from the political confrontation. Key social services such as health care and education became accessible to everyone regardless of income, race or gender, and housing reform greatly decreased the spatial segregation of society. However, new inequalities have surfaced following the economic crisis which started in 1989 and the introduction of monetary dualism (i.e., first the introduction of the dollar, and later of the convertible peso). Officially, published data on the Gini coefficient are calculated excluding the impact of hard currency, and thus deliberately miss a key element in society’s rapidly increasing inequalities.
    The 2014 Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Cuba 44th, with a value of 0.815, second only to Chile among the Latin American countries. Though it has a rather low gross national income per capita, the country profits from an eroding but nevertheless still strong educational system. All Cuban data on income, however, is utterly misleading. The official rate used for statistics, which puts the Cuban peso at par with the dollar, is fictitious. In 2014, the monthly median salary in the state sector was about $20, according to the state exchange office rate. At the same time, a wide spectrum of goods is provided by Cuba’s state-socialist economy for free or at extremely low prices (housing, subsidized food, healthcare and education), so that monetary income is not the key to access in the same way as elsewhere. As a result, most international measures of poverty – at least those referring to income per capita – tend to be misleading. As a consequence, official Cuban think tanks speak of a “population at risk” rather than of poverty. According to these sources, before the start of recent economic reforms, about one-fifth of Cubans were considered to be “at risk,” meaning they claimed a monthly income below $4, grew no food and received no remittances. The majority of Cubans without significant access to dollars live in
    Socioeconomic barriers hardship, even if health care and schooling are provided free of charge. There is high pressure for out-migration. Since 1990, about 500,000 Cubans have left the island.
    Infant mortality is very low by global standards, and life expectancy is at European and North American levels. There is no social exclusion by race or gender, though some discrimination continues to exist. However, since the 1990s and particularly since 2010, economic reforms have enhanced social inequality notably. In addition, remittances from Cuban emigrants travel along family lines, and hence are clearly related to skin color. Access to remittance flows from relatives abroad has become one of the key social dividing lines. As remittances and other income can now be invested in business operations, these new inequalities are becoming structurally ingrained. Furthermore, subsidies are being gradually cut and prices made more market-oriented, implying more exclusion for those with low incomes. This has also begun to affect pensioners, which might become a group at risk of poverty if policymakers do not act to correct this issue. Moreover, Cuba’s regional disparities increase as the new growth sectors largely concentrate in and around Havana, whereas much of the countryside is suffering from the decline of the sugar industry, with little new to compensate for it. Cuba’s high domestic migration pressures from the provinces to the capital are contained by restrictive administrative means.
    The state has achieved a relatively high level of formal gender equality, reflected in a score of 0.35 (or rank 66) in the UNDP Gender Inequality Index. The HDI values for female and male Cubans are not far apart. Female education enrollment is high. Gender hierarchies nevertheless persist, and women shoulder a much higher share of household and family care obligations than men – both tasks where the state provisions have decreased sharply over the past years, reinvigorating old gender inequalities.
    Economic indicators

    $ M GDP Export growth% Import growth
    GDP growth% %
    2005 42644.2 11.2 47.5 35.7
    2010 64328.2 2.4 13.8 23
    2013 77149.7 2.7 5.2 8.3
    2014 – – –

    Strategic Outlook
    President Raúl Castro has enacted a peaceful political transition from his brother’s highly personalist leadership style to a much more institutionalized, bureaucratic state-socialist regime. In the immediate future, the regime faces three key challenges:
    1) Market reforms need to deepen in order to push the domestic economy, in particular as Venezuelan support will be decreasing. The pending monetary unification is necessary but a high-risk operation, as it will very likely trigger inflation. It is essential to keep this inflationary process under control. All economic measures – new opportunities for private business, downscaling the state sector, trimming state companies to become efficient, unifying the two currencies – will produce winners and losers. And they further increase social inequalities in a country where social equality and state welfare have been key sources of regime legitimacy.
    2) The détente with Washington that crystallized in the December 2014 accords to resume diplomatic relations is likely to increase domestic pressures for liberalization. For decades, the single-party regime was legitimized as the expression of national unity against U.S. imperialism; political opponents were decried as a “fifth column” and “mercenaries” of the U.S.; spaces for debate and criticism were curtailed under the imperative to “keep the ranks closed.” As the image of the U.S. as Cuba’s perennial enemy blurs, this line of legitimation will lose traction. Social actors on the island will likely demand more voice, access to information, and tolerance for plural discussion, as well as economic rights. The Cuban leadership will have to navigate a gradual opening of state-society relations or else resort to more manifest repression.
    3) Members of the revolution’s “historic generation” are in their eighties, and the regime has to engineer the generational transition of its leadership. As Raúl Castro has announced he will not continue as president beyond 2018, the question of the top leadership position will not surface until then. While he appointed Miguel Díaz-Canel, some 30 years younger, as his first vice president and presumptive successor, neither Díaz-Canel nor any other cadre can be seen to have a similarly uncontested leadership position as Fidel in the past or Raúl at present. While the amalgam of state, Communist Party and armed forces is likely to remain the backbone of the regime, intra-elite frictions and rivalries may increase.
    Notwithstanding, in the short term, elite consensus seems sufficiently high to assume that the current process of state-controlled, gradual, top-down economic reform will continue to be the dominant policy line in coming years. The reform process initiated by Raúl Castro has been “worked through” the relevant institutions of state and party, making them structural goals rather than simply the expression of his personal preferences or short-term crisis management measures. Cuba’s economic reforms are still woefully limited. Moreover, corruption has become a severe problem.
    In this context, the demand for transparency will be a key concern if the consolidation of an “uncivil economy” is to be avoided. A more solid legal foundation for the new market actors and
    BTI 2016 | Cuba 36
    for equality of access should be supported. International actors can and should contribute know-how and material support for credit or supply markets. Measures aimed at achieving a sustainable social security system and countering the erosion of quality in the education and healthcare systems are also needed. The substantial decline in state employment and subsidized welfare, combined with the new money-making options provided by the growing market sector, has already led to new dimensions of social inequality.
    Much will depend on the ability of the reform process to bring tangible benefits in compensation for the loss of old securities. As the new market actors will depend on the state’s goodwill, an alliance between the ruling state elite, the Communist Party, the military and the winners of the market-based reform process may become a feasible model enabling the retention of power. The great unknown is whether the people’s reaction to this process will remain as passive as in the past. The high rate of emigration plus new business opportunities on the island certainly have a significant potential to divert energies from the disaffected away from political contestation.
    As long as the government feels firmly in control, it is likely to continue a careful course of opening space for debate within official institutions, with exemplary yet occasional sanctions for those who cross the line. If these spaces for debate are fostered, and if the de facto toleration of oppositional voices extends, both could contribute to the eventual foundation of a more far-reaching democratization of the country at large. This could expand the options for nonconformist voting in National Assembly elections, perhaps by applying to these elections the same rule that already applies to municipal elections: two candidates per post. With regard to opposition groups, the state will seek to avoid heavy-handed repression that would cause international uproar, instead pursuing a strategy of authoritarian containment. The quest to expand citizen rights on the island, securing a more pluralist debate and access to information, will remain at the center of the political agenda.

  35. Strategic Outlook for Belarus

    The most likely result of the 2015 presidential election is that Lukashenka will have stood for re-election and secured a fifth term as president. The authorities will have resorted to electoral manipulation in order to inflate the turnout and disguise the fact that in all probability many disillusioned and apathetic voters stayed at home. Past experience has shown that, without a credible alternative, socioeconomic insecurity and a decrease in the favorability ratings of Lukashenka in opinion polls do not translate into mass public unrest or increased support for the opposition. The political opposition, which always faces immense pressure from the regime and suffers from its own internal divisions, will have likely been unable to offer that credible alternative. Having secured a fifth term, Lukashenka will face some serious economic decisions, if indeed he has succeeded in postponing them until after the election.
    The Belarusian economy will require the major structural reforms that have long been avoided in order to secure macroeconomic stability and future growth. These include budget and tax reforms, transparent privatization, price liberalization, diversification, better targeted social support, and an end to politically motivated salary and pension hikes. Not only have the IMF, World Bank and European bodies been recommending this, but also Russia and regional Eurasian institutions. The regime has avoided this in the past to manipulate the economy for political advantage, but the failure of the political business cycle to bring the expected benefits in 2015 may make it possible for the authorities to justify finally making painful and unpopular reforms with a view toward long-term growth.
    Belarus will continue to seek to normalize relations with the West. Minsk may hope to secure sympathy from the EU by portraying Belarus as a buffer against a resurgent Russia and, therefore, deserving of technical and economic support from Brussels, regardless of a lack of progress on democratization. Following Lukashenka’s likely election victory in 2015, policymakers and advisors in the West will make the same recommendations they did after the 2010 and 2006 elections: communicate more with the Belarusian people to nurture a domestic audience for reform; encourage the opposition to focus more on grassroots engagement with voters; and work with lower ranks of the administration on achievable goals while still holding the elites accountable for the lack of democracy. This time there may be more success in following through on these recommendation, as it is likely that Minsk will have no choice but to look beyond Russia for support, so Brussels should seize the opportunity. The West should resist the temptation to ignore or overlook Belarus in their understandable focus on Russia and Ukraine.
    As economic difficulties in Belarus continue, with or without reforms, Lukashenka is likely to appeal to the public as a patriot and defender of the nation, without antagonizing Russia. The Belarusian authorities will be both unwilling and unable to turn their back on Russia completely. Lukashenka has demonstrated an uncanny knack for overcoming political and economic difficulties through expediency, pragmatism and opportunism; however, a potential fifth term to 2020 could pose the greatest challenge to Lukashenka’s presidency yet.

  36. According to the World Bank, Belarus is an upper middle-income country. Poverty is low and disparities in income are narrow. Among the country’s other advantages are relative ethnic and religious homogeneity. The UNDP Education Index shows the country’s labor force to be relatively well-educated, but this is an ambiguous legacy of the Soviet system. There are concerns that quality of education is being sacrificed for quantity of enrollment.
    Demographically, the country has seen a steady decline in population, with a decrease of half a million people between the 1999 and 2009 national censuses. This is further exacerbated by increased emigration since the 2011 economic crisis in Belarus.
    As one of Europe’s few landlocked states, Belarus also has limited access to international trade routes. It is not prone to major natural disasters. UNAIDS estimates the number of people living with HIV/AIDS by 2013 to be 25,000. The prevalence rate in adults between 15 and 49 is 0.5%, which is quite high by European standards.

    Structural constraints

    Belarus possesses negligible or at best weakly developed civic traditions. The activities of civil society organizations continue to be seriously restricted by the authorities. Nevertheless, Belarusian civil society is surprisingly active compared to many other post-Soviet societies. Since the late 1990s, the Belarusian Assembly of Democratic NGOs has established a united national coalition of NGOs. A National Platform has been created to engage with the Civil Society Forum of the EU’s Eastern Partnership program. However, the state has also been active in creating government-oriented civil society organizations, which are primarily aimed at consolidating Lukashenka’s power.Traditionally the general public knows very little about civil society organizations and citizen participation in them is low. However, independent polling by IISEPS in 2014 suggests that public awareness is increasing. The number of respondents who said they were aware of civil society organizations, be they independent or state-run, increased from 25% in 2012 to 52% in 2014. This is not necessarily accompanied by increased trust or involvement in civil society activities however. Participation in Civil society traditions projects focusing on specific local issues are more popular than politically-oriented activities. People prefer to support or participate in particular activities than to support any civil society organizations over the long term.
    Belarus has no substantial or dominant ethnic or religious conflicts. Nevertheless, the authorities can restrict, for example, the activities of religious communities, as witnessed with some of the newer Protestant churches operating in the country, which are dismissed by the authorities as sects. The government has created a regime-loyal Belarusian Union of Poles to counter a more independent-minded alternative public association representing the Polish minority. These developments are not so much manifestations of ethnic or religious strife, but rather show the massive level of state intervention in all aspects of society.
    Belarusian society remains divided over the legitimacy of Lukashenka as president. There has not yet been a violent radicalization of the opposition and violent incidents at protests are usually initiated by the authorities. The crackdown against protesters in Minsk after the 2010 elections and the bloodshed in Ukraine at the culmination of the Euromaidan protests in early 2014 have tempered any public interest in potential street demonstrations against the Belarusian authorities.
    External pressure from Russia to foment internal conflict is not impossible. Tactics employed in Ukraine such as claims to defend the rights of ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers could be employed. Belarus, however, has much less fertile ground for nurturing such cleavages and there is no equivalent of a separatist region such as Crimea which could be exploited. A concerted information campaign by Russia in the Belarusian media space which might stir up tensions in a bid to apply pressure on Lukashenka in the run-up to the 2015 elections cannot be ruled out, as was witnessed in the months leading up to the 2010 poll. A handful of articles critical of linguistic Belarusification and the potential threat to Russian speakers in Belarus have already appeared in the Russian media.

  37. Summer 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s election as the first, and so far only, president of the Republic of Belarus. He is currently the longest serving political leader in Europe. The period under review coincided with a relatively quiet point in the Belarusian political cycle, with no parliamentary or presidential elections. The majority of those arrested in the violent crackdown after the 2010 elections have since been released, although a handful of political prisoners remain in jail. The focus of both the state authorities and political opposition has been on the forthcoming presidential elections scheduled to occur before the end of 2015. On the administration side, there was a major government reshuffling at the end of 2014. Meanwhile, the opposition was still debating its tactics and strategies for the upcoming election and at the beginning of 2015, with less than a year before the polls open, had not yet reached agreement.
    Weak economic growth and precarious macroeconomic stability following an economic downturn in 2011 once again erupted into a full-blown crisis at the end of 2014. A currency crisis in Russia finally precipitated a long expected devaluation of the Belarusian ruble, a new threat of hyperinflation, and the prospect of a drop in real incomes for Belarusian households in the run up to national elections. Usually at this stage in the political business cycle, politically motivated manipulation of the economy would be expected to ensure that wages and pensions went up prior to the election. Lukashenka had promised an average monthly salary of $1,000 in 2015, which is now highly unlikely. Serious structural reforms to address the underlying problems in the Belarusian economy have still not been undertaken.
    Relations with the West remain cool, with a travel ban on blacklisted Belarusian officials and some limited economic sanctions still in place. In spite of being a founding member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, relations between Minsk and Moscow have also been strained. Lukashenka has been conspicuous in his lack of public support for Russia’s interventions in Ukraine during 2014. While professing fraternal ties with Russia, the authorities in Minsk have
    BTI 2016 | Belarus 3
    also increasingly emphasized the distinctiveness of Belarus and reasserted the sovereignty of the country.

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