Raul Castro Squandered His Last Chance

US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, shook hands a year ago in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2017 — A year ago Cuba had a once in a lifetime opportunity. US President Barack Obama came to the island willing to turn the page on political confrontation. The gesture transcended the diplomatic situation, but Raul Castro – fearful of losing control – responded by putting the brakes on economic reforms and raising the levels of ideological discourse and repression.

Nations are not presented with opportunities every year, nor even every century. The decision to entrench itself and not to undertake political flexibilizations has been the Plaza of the Revolution’s most egotistical measure of recent times. Failure to know how to take advantage of the end of public belligerence with our neighbor to the north will bring this country lasting and unpredictable consequences.

These effects will not be suffered by the so-called “historic generation” – those at the forefront of the 1950s Revolution – now diminished by the rigors of biology and desertions. Rather than the generals in olive-green, the ones who will pay the price will be those who are still sleeping in their cradles or spinning their tops in the streets of the island. They don’t know it, but in the last twelve months a short-sighted octogenarian tricked them out of a share of their future.

The greatest waste has been not exploiting the international moment, the excitement about foreign investments, and the expectations everywhere in Cuba of taking the first steps towards democratic change without violence or chaos. It was not the job of the White House to encourage or provoke such transformations, but its good mood was a propitious setting for them to be less traumatic.

Instead, the white rose Obama extended to Castro in his historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro has faded, beset by hesitations and fears. Now, it is our job to explain to these Cubans of tomorrow why we were at a turning point in our history and we threw it away.

The Day of the Woman in Cuba, More Honored in the Breach / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

On Women’s Day, no protest march is scheduled in Cuba, as if the life of the women in this country was a bed of roses. (Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 8 March 2017 – Lying in bed, with the light off, feeling each one of her vertebrae howling. After coming home from work she spent four hours in the kitchen, bathed her invalid mother, helped the children with their homework, went shopping and prepared an administrative report. On TV the announcers offer congratulations for the Day of the Woman, but it sounds like a distant echo that does not influence her life.

On March 8, the workplaces end their days earlier, the officials intone mellow speeches and all the stands are sold out of flowers. The news is filled with images of women who cut cane, give life to babies, and carry guns on their shoulders. Nor is there any lack of politics. Officialdom takes advantage of the day to insist that only “after January 1959” have we Cuban women been recognized.

The National Symphonic Orchestra prepares a special concert, the Post Office sells postcards in bad taste, while the Cuba Workers Center – the only legal union in the country – dedicates the day to Fidel Castro and the “eternal president of the Federation of Cuban Women,” Raul Castro’s late wife Vilma Espín Guillois. There are no protest marches, no demands expressed, as if the life of women in this country was a bed of roses.

The noise of the music, the slogans and the triumphalism drown out our complaints. The day, made compulsorily festive, does not allow demands to emerge, nor talk – with bras shed – about the problems that threaten our daily lives. “Today is a day for celebration, not complaining,” many say; but tomorrow other topics will fill the agenda and there will never be “a good time” to talk.

Symptomatically, the initiative of a women’s strike under the slogan #NosotrasParamos (We Stop) does not find space here, although 45 countries have joined the protests to demand equality between men and women. The lack of independence of women’s associations and their subordination to the government prevents the idea of our taking to the streets with posters and demands.

Machismo and gender discrimination fill every space of our daily lives. In the media, a catchy children’s song tells the story of mother ant who urges her daughter to abandon her games and help her iron, sweep and scrub; but the capricious little girl prefers her dolls. In schools, teachers prepare an area of ​​pink kitchens and baby beds for the girls to play in, while they reserve trucks and play weapons for the boys. In workplaces, bosses feel the power to compliment, harass and touch their subordinates, often under the belief that “they like it.”

In the official discourse we are seen as decorative elements, as a necessary gender quota or simple pieces of the ideological gears. Power continues to maintain its old-fashioned, cheesy machismo, purportedly “chivalrous,” which veers from flattery to insult towards those in skirts. The woman who shares their ideology is a “beautiful flower of the Revolution,” the dissident only deserves that hard four-letter word that questions our morality.

The Cuban feminist movement is dead. This system was killed by depriving it of autonomy, extinguishing the discourse of demands and imposing the false premise that women emancipated themselves five decades ago. All a fallacy that hides the drama of millions of women condemned to double or triple working hours, subjected to sexual harassment and surviving every day with a dose of antidepressants.

The entire economic crisis that we have experienced has claimed women as its main victims. The shortages force them into the long lines to buy food and the stress, every day, of having to “invent” a meal. The accelerated emigration has separated them from their children and the layoffs at state workplaces have returned them to the house, back to the hearth.

Statistics about women professionals, deputies to the National Assembly, scientists in white coats or athletes, cannot hide the other side. The numbers of battered women, threatened by a boyfriend who has sworn to kill them if he sees them with another, those raped inside or outside of marriage or those who have had to exchange sex for promotions at work.

Where are the figures for the number of women murdered or beaten by their partners? Where can harassed wife who fears the next beating take shelter? Why not talk about femicide in the national media if each of us knows at least some case where a macho rage ended a life?

Today is not a day to celebrate, but to worry. A day of demands that have been extinguished by the music of a machismo reluctant for us to have our own voice.

Julio And Enrique Iglesias, Two Moments In The Life Of Cuba

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group "Gente de Zona". (Networks)

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group “Gente de Zona”. (Networks)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 January 2017 — My mother had a T-shirt with the face of the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, bought in the informal market in the early eighties. At a meeting of the Union of Young Communists they warned her she could not continue to wear it. The author of La vida sigue igual  (Life Remains the Same) had fallen into the blacklist of censorship and after that the garment languished in a drawer in our house.

This January, almost four decades after that point in my childhood, Julio’s son Enrique Iglesias has come to Cuba to film the music video for the single Súbeme la radio (Beam me up to the radio). A legion of fans is preparing to follow him to the locations where he will work alongside director Alejandro Pérez, musician Descemer Bueno and the Puerto Rican duo Zion and Lenox.

Although the national media have handled Iglesias’ visit with caution, the news spread rapidly among the people. There will undoubtedly be crowds around the places where the singer plans to go, in the style of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katty Perry, the Kardashians or Madonna, during their stays on the Island.

This Wednesday, many young people sigh to get an autograph of the successful artist and wait to capture on their cellphone a moment in which he approaches, passes, makes himself seen. They are women who are the same age as my mother was in those years when she was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt with the face of the other Iglesias, the forbidden one.

My mother could never go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch

At that time, the Cuban authorities offered no explanations about the ban. There were only rumors and half-statements: “He made statements against Cuba,” was heard in some official circles; “Julio sang for Pinochet in Chile,” warned the most furious militants, in reference to the artist’s 1977 trip to that South American country.

The truth is that Iglesias, the father, swelled the list of singers who could not be broadcast on radio and television. Has name was added to others excluded, such as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Nelson Ned and even Jose Feliciano. The latter was only broadcast again in the Cuban media much later on.

A few years before he was banned, the film inspired by the life of Julio Iglesias had been a blockbuster in the island’s movie theaters. Many viewers boasted of having seen the film several times in one day and the choruses of its songs displaced the songs of the New Trova.

Iglesias, as well as appealing to artistic tastes, meant a fresh wind at a time when Cuban music was filled with slogans. He spoke of romance, love, loss and oblivion, in a country where the bolero had been set aside and the only passion allowed was that which could be felt by the cause and the Revolution. He took off among young people, tired of so much focus on trench warfare and feeling the need for more flesh and less Utopia.

My mother was never able go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch. Another Iglesias has arrived, his songs are different and the Cuba in which he has landed little resembles that Sovietized island of old. Music just won a match over ideology.

Maduro, Disciple of a School in Decline

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 December 2016 – On television a speech by Nicolas Maduro reverberates. He is talking about international conspiracies, the enemy that wants to end the “Bolivarian” revolution and the “monetary mafias,” a refrain that recalls the deceased Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro, obsessed with blaming others for the disasters caused by his own decisions.

The differences in style between the two leaders are endless, but something more decisive separates them: Time. Decades have passed between Castro’s interminable oratory about Cuba and the Venezuela ruled by the erratic Maduro.

In that time, we Latin Americans have become suspicious of populist discourses and learned to reveal the seams of the redeemers, who hide authoritarians under their robes. Their political speeches do not work like they did before. Like those hackneyed verses that compare the eyes with the stars or the mouth with a rose, and that now only provoke mockery.

In these times, when from the podium the homeland is invoked too often, the spectrum of foreign interference is constantly dangled and results are never offered, this is the time to be on alert. If the leaders call on us to spill every last drop of blood, while they surround themselves with bodyguards or hide at some “zero point,” we have to cease to believe them.

A dose of skepticism immunizes against these pernicious harangues where it is explained that the country’s problems originate outside the national borders. Suspiciously, the whistleblower never takes any responsibility for the disaster and blames the failure on some alleged externalities and media wars.

Maduro was trained in the school of politics as permanent agitation, a school headquartered in Havana. To make matters worse, the Venezuelan leader has been a mediocre student, who interprets the original script with a lot of huffing and puffing, very little charisma and a huge dose of nonsense. His main blunder has been not to realize that the manual designed by Fidel Castro no longer works.

The Venezuelan leader arrived too late to take advantage of the gullibility that for decades made many people of this continent exalt dictators. His speeches resonate with the past, like bad poems, that neither move our souls nor win our affections.

Extremist Today, Democrat Tomorrow

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 August 2016 – In the nineties, this student was one of the most militant in his university classroom, until he managed to get a fellowship in Spain, and today he writes asking me, “Why do you put up with so much and not rebel?” From a rabid militant of the Young Communist Union (UJC) he went on to carve out a history as a clandestine fighter for the democracy he had to escape to because on this island “little could be done.”

The story of this colleague, who overturned his ideology at breakneck speed, came to mind lately on reading the intense controversy over the work sanction against the Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. The young reporter published on his digital diary a statement by Karina Marron, deputy director for the newspaper Granma, where she defined the current economic and social conditions as the basis for “a perfect storm.”

Along with the disciplinary measure, which consisted in permanent separation from his job at the station, Pantoja had to undergo a process of public disqualification that reached its climax in a text signed by Aixa Hevia, vice president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC). The official accused him of wanting to “create a history that allows him to cross to the Miami media.” Perhaps a projection of what she herself would do if the opportunity presented itself.

It would not be the first time that a well-known face from Cuba’s official journalism ended up “crossing the pond” and declaring on the other side that it was because “at that time I believed, but not any more.” The greatest extremists I have met in my life have ended up this way: burying their red or olive-green attire, without intoning the self-criticism that would give some relief to the victims they caused with their outbursts.

Over time, if ever, the instruments of censorship such as Aixa Hevia undergo a process of selective amnesia and forget all the damage they did to those who demonstrated greater honesty and consistency. They leave behind a trail of colleagues they have betrayed and helped to depose, without even sending them a short note of apology or condolences.

It is not Pantoja, in this case, who is carving out a “history,” but the sectarians like the vice president of UPEC, who is capable of lashing out against someone she should defend. As a representative of the journalists’ union, she should protect her colleague, instead of helping to sink him. But she has preferred to act in harmony with the censors rather than in solidarity with a professional who simply defended freedom of the press, information transparency and the right of his readers to be informed about what journalists think.

This is not about speculating whether Pantoja will exercise his right to perform as a journalist in another country because he is prohibited from doing so in his own. It seems more likely that someday it will be Aixa Hevia who will shed her chameleon skin to change her color in turn, to the dictates of the next power for whom she wants to behave as a mere instrument.

Recipe For Forgetting Fidel Castro

Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in Chinese. (EFE)

Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in China. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 August 2016 – Turn on the radio and the announcer reads a brief headline: “Fidel Castro, The Great Builder.” The man goes on to explain that the most important works of the country have come from this head that for decades has been covered by an olive-green cap. Weary of so much personality cult, I decided to watch television, but on the main channel a lawyer was detailing the legal legacy of the Maximum Leader and at the end of the program they announced a documentary about “The Invincible Guerrilla.”

For weeks, we Cubans have lived under a veritable bombardment of references to Fidel Castro, which has increased in proportion to the closeness of the date of his 90th birthday, this 13 August. There is no shame nor nuance in this avalanche of images and epithets.

This whole excess of tributes and reminders is, undoubtedly, a desperate attempt to save the former Cuban president from oblivion, to pull him out of that zone of media abandonment in which he has fallen since announcing his departure from power a decade ago.

We have left the man born in the eastern town of Biran, in 1926, in the past, condemning him to the 20th century, burying him alive.

Children now in elementary school have never seen the once loquacious orator speak for hours at a public event. Farmers have breathed a sigh of relief on not having to receive constant recommendations from the “Farmer in Chief” and even housewives are thankful that he does not appear at a congress of the Federation of Cuban Women to teach them how to use a pressure cooker.

The official propaganda knows that people often appeal to short-term memory as a way of protecting themselves. For many young people, Fidel Castro is already as remote as, for my mother in her day, was the dictator Gerardo Machado, a man who so adversely marked the life of my grandmother’s generation.

Followers of the figure of Fidel Castro are taking advantage of the celebrations for his nine decades of life to try to erect a statue of immortality in the heart of the nation. They deify him, forgive him his systematic errors and convert him into the most visible head of a creed. The new religion takes as its premises stubbornness, intolerance for differences, and a visceral hatred – almost like a personal battle – against the United States.

The detractors of “Él,” as many Cubans simply call him, are preparing the arguments to dismantle his myth. They await the moment when the history books no longer equate him with José Martí, but offer a stark, cold and objective analysis of his career. They are the ones who dream of the post-Castro era, of the end of Fidelismo and of the diatribe that will fall on his controversial figure.

Most, however, simply turn the page and shrug their shoulders in a sign of disgust when they hear his name. They are the ones who, right now, turn off the TV and focus on a daily existence that negates every word Fidel Castro ever said in his incendiary speeches, in those times when he planned to build a Utopia and turn us into New Men.

Tired of his omnipresence, they are the ones who will deal the final blow to the myth. And they will do it without hullabaloo or heroic acts. They will simply stop talking to their children about him, there will be no photos in the rooms of their homes showing him with a rifle and epaulettes, they will not confer on their grandchildren the five letters of his name.

The celebration for the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro is, in reality, his farewell: as excessive and exhausting as was his political life.

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Editor’s note: This text was published Saturday August 13, 2016 in the newspaper O Globo of Brazil

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.