Thursday, November 25, 2021

Rafael Hernandez Essays from Cuba Post November 15


Antinomies and conflict in the Cuban political situation (I)

  by Rafael Hernandez

The so-called “March for Change” and its ups and downs have highlighted the spectrum of ideas in Cuba’s society today. That spectrum mirrors a civic consciousness of the common sense, with ranges and shades that are not so new.  As is typical in many other societies, the Cuban common sense personalises and sentimentalises political events, supporting them or criticizing them, agreeing or disagreeing, giving them labels, even when possibly not understanding them.

In the ranges of this spectrum we can find antinomies which leave a mark on the Cuban political situation. By discussing these antinomies I am not trying to show “what most Cubans believe,” but just intending to illustrate the complexities of our consensus.

That common sense is aware of the heavy burden the US blockade imposes on our life as a whole; and knows that the US has always sponsored the political opposition. But these truths tend to blur, especially when they are used constantly in official speeches as the explanation for almost everything.

The Cuban common sense highly supports all efforts to enforce law and order. But the very civic culture fostered by socialism makes people perceive violence as an abuse of power, even against those who break the law.

Cubans have always disapproved the usual practices of the political opposition and its ultimate goals, although they do not necessarily think that everything they say is false or disagree with everything they propose.

Even when Cuban citizens share the basic principles and goals of socialism, they may disagree with some of the methods and justifications on which the State bases its policies.

They know that security is key to the national interest. But when national security is used for dealing with political problems, they may not agree with its effectiveness.

These antinomies are nothing new. Some observers have mentioned these contradictions and some others. However, they don' t dissect the underlying problems that characterize the political situation. Their criticism thus remains within the same common sense box, particularly when they try to advise the government or the opposition "what they should do."

Instead of opinions and advises, the political implications of current and alternative policies should be considered, without losing the specific context of these problems, in the here and now. Doing so would help to gain clarity, and perhaps to foster a civic consciousness of good sense, as Antonio Gramsci would say.

By sketching out a map of our political situation, my sole intention is to facilitate analysis and fostering debate. I will focus on the three actors and their interaction, but also their own dynamic: the political opposition, the Cuban government policy and the US factor.

The opposition

The three main structural weaknesses of the opposition, over time, have been the feuds between groups; the lack of leaders with political experience and capacity; and its convergence with US hostility.

The armed organizations of the 1960s, especially the anti-communist dissidence within those who opposed the dictatorship, including the Catholic Youth (Juventud Católica), gathered tens of thousands of active militants, willing to follow its leaders and pay the cost of that struggle. That is not the case of the current organizations. Although the social networks and the media contribute to making them seem bigger than they are, the leadership capacity to mobilize active members and to drive coherent policies is much less effective.

Unlike the opposition in other countries, their leadership has not held positions of representation in large organizations, or in government functions. They lack a realistic notion about political problems and the exercise of power. Dissidents who were cadres of the State, the mass and political organizations, the Security or the Party apparatuses, do not stand out as opposition leaders, even less in the latest generations.

Leaving aside the opportunists and adventurers who join the opposition as a way of life, most of its leaders with some intellectual level and a real political conscience are academics, journalists, artists, writers, even former teachers of Marxism, who one day declared themselves activists for the anti-government cause. These are book-based political animals, who, in order to learn how to combat the system, organize 100-hour seminars on Hanna Arendt's works, and the like. In general, the organic intellectuals of the opposition, who view the "Party-State" as a single bloc, do not understand very much about politics, nor do they believe that it is worth wasting time seeking dialogue or negotiation.

Repeating as a mantra to justify their struggle the unpopularity and repressive nature of the system, the majority of that leadership convinces itself that the State is unable to regenerate consensus with its own resources. They do not realize that, in addition to the coercive force to deal with subversion, that State enjoys a political capital, which is not just ideological. It has political mechanisms to neutralize the opposition maneuvers, even when more creative and sophisticated.

One strategic error of the opposition has been to believe that the use of force, in any degree and form (including "non-violent"), triggers the ring of national security. That alarm-bell has counterproductive effects for their goal of breaking up consensus and legitimizing themselves as a viable option.

Taking advantage of a fragile economic situation and the weakening of the public consensus to wrestle with the government, to try to extract concessions, and capitalize on these concessions to swell their ranks, increase political polarization. That wrestling also contradicts their own call for dialogue, reconciliation, national unity, peace, etc., but above all it fuels a volatile situation. In this particular context, the government is much less likely to react with the same disposition for dialogue and conciliation as they would with other social, and even political, demands.

As we very well know, a situation of instability and its consequences would be more threatening than any economic crisis, not only for the system, but also for society and the national interest, beyond ideological differences.

Furthermore, even if Cuba is not risking a political crisis that really threatens the control of power, the impression that the situation may be getting out of hand is already risky enough. Indeed, the mere perception that the opposition can wrench concessions under pressure may be interpreted as an inability of the government to deal with the crisis at hand. We must remember that this opposition is preaching a dialogue that, under the pretense of peace and understanding, is demanding pluralism with the groups that have the least interest in dialogue, those in die-hard exile and their leading sponsors.

The evolution of the Cuban situation in recent years suggests that the promise of reconciliation is a beautiful idea, but that when it is taken to its limits, it is a voluntarist dream of reason. Calling for a national dialogue with no boundaries should be , at best, a utopian project. A viable and sustainable republic based on the coexistence of old and new opponents, with veteran communists and the new left, militants of the anti-communist youth and of reformed socialism, the American politicians Díaz-Balart and Marco Rubio and the representatives in the Cuban National Assembly, the electorate of Coral Gables and of Mantilla, is unlikely, however many Martí quotes are pronounced to invoke it.

At the end of the day, with that seven-headed interlocutor, the key pre-condition for negotiation is not met: trust in what the other side will do.

The political culture of this opposition is illustrated by what they understand as human rights. They assume that true freedom of expression is dictated by the American way. They believe that the right to demonstrate on the streets is the essence of political participation; that a plebiscite is the fullest expression of democracy; that preaching the autonomy of the judiciary is equivalent to "the separation of powers;" that democracy is equal to a party system such as those prevailing in the Western Hemisphere; that political freedom involves all types of organizations regardless of their ideology; or that artistic freedom without boundaries is the measure of a society’s civic culture.

Among the dissidents I have known (some very close), there are those who became fed up with the liturgies of real socialism, suffered the effects of sectarian or extremist policies, lost faith when the Berlin Wall collapsed, and went into retreat or exile. Some of them take socialism for what they have experienced since the Special Period, or they inspired by the rhetoric that saturates the Cuban press and television. They were no longer interested in changing things and decided to throw in the towel; or they never even tried. There are also those who deserve a place on the podium in a universal history of opportunism.

Could the case of Yunior García mean something different within the leadership of these groups? How do you explain that, in just a few months, he went from dissenter to dissident? Has he enjoyed a dialogue within the system conferred greater legitimacy on his public march? Did not coming from the organized opposition give Archipelago greater credibility? What do the meanderings of his project and its outcome reveal?

We would need more room than what we have here to discuss these questions. As does understanding the US factor in this landscape. Do their policies towards Cuba respond to their commitment to the opposition? To the promise made to "freedom fighters," from 1960 to 2021? Is it that the compass of the national security organs which have always guided the relationship with Cuba, has been skewed off-course by the Miami magnet? What mystery could explain that in their policy towards Cuba, a tail like this could wag a dog like that?

Finally, is it that Cuba’s policy towards the US, and its willingness to resume the normalization process, may now depend on how they perceive the threat regarding the opposition groups and their allies? What other lessons and experiences could inform that policy?

I would say that this is already a hefty load of problems for a first round.

Antinomies and Conflict in the Cuban Political Situation (II)

   by Rafael Hernandez

My grandmother, a first grade teacher in a public school in Cabaiguán, used to receive Bohemia magazine. I got used to reading it from back to front, starting with the graphic jokes. The only thing I skipped was the section where Jorge Mañach, Herminio Portell Vilá, and other prominent intellectuals wrote, because at my 10 years of age I did not understand nor was I interested in the topics they dealt with.

That intellectual journalism, which dealt with all topics, is not very frequent today among us. Every time someone tells me that the average reader or the average TV viewer does not understand or is not interested in those topics, that they are too complex or sensitive, or that they are not prepared for political analysis, I wonder if they are talking about an island and a world inhabited by 10-year-old children.

Analyzing the political situation is not the same as enunciating the Cuba that the very diverse Cubans imagine or would like. Although I also have one, I have limited myself here to commenting on the complexity of a consensus shared by those diverse Cubans, which does not consist of "almost unanimous support," but of a social base with contradictory common sense, tensions and disparities aggravated by the crisis, as would be normal anywhere. To confuse the scale of consensus with that of oxygen in the blood, such that a 97% support indicates a "healthy" state, and one of "barely 80% or 75%" indicates "critical," would be a joke anywhere.

From that mixed consensus that sustains the system right now, I try to examine the political situation, starting with three actors: the new political opposition, the new government, and the new US administration.

However new they may be, these actors and this conflict cannot be understood outside of history, without links to the past, to factors of power, structures, institutions, and without the interaction of opposing interests between two States, that of Cuba and that of the United States. However, it is essential to identify what these actors bring with them and differentiate them from their predecessors, their own problems, and especially, their particular context. To understand them with a sense of this historical moment, of the fundamental change of circumstance that characterizes it, instead of thinking of them as islands that repeat themselves, as a famous Caribbeanist would say. Without discerning those problems, in relation to the conflicts they face and to the current Cuban society, it is not possible to reason about the political field, beyond ideological antinomies -as common sense tends to do.

Criticizing some postulates of that common sense that circulate in the media and even in the intellectual discourse does not require getting philosophical or even having read Gramsci. It is enough to put them to the test.

As a sample button, here are the following. "This political system has no chance of change, because it is dominated by a Leninist scheme." "The Party-State is a block from top to bottom, immobile and immovable." "National reconciliation depends on the political will of the government to dialogue with the opposition." "The Catholic Church is a particularly gifted actor to mediate in that reconciliation." "We are living through black years for freedom of expression." "The dissidence of artists responds to the lack of freedom of the guild and the closure of cultural policies."  "Young people have deserted the camp of the Revolution, and want to go and live outside." "The disappointment of the poor and the blacks with socialism has turned them into the social base of the opposition and its new leadership."  Et cetera.

In the substratum of almost everyone is the question of democratic functioning and citizen participation. To address it, it would be necessary to consider not only the so-called mechanisms of direct democracy -street demonstration, plebiscite, etc.- or voting every five years, but above all, systematic participation in decision making, control of policies, channeling of public opinion, dialogue with the government. Is such participation possible without a more democratic system, including the Party itself?

A few days ago, in an open letter to the President of Cuba, a Spanish Jesuit reproached him for not recognizing the total failure of the Revolution and the system of dictatorship of the proletariat. Some have not noticed that in 2022 it will be 30 years since the reform of the Constitution which erased the concepts of dictatorship of the proletariat and vanguard of the working class. And that this current year marked three decades of the elimination of religious beliefs as contradictory to Marxist and Leninist ideology.

I wonder if anyone presumes that being a private businessman disqualifies to hold office or join the Party. And that publicly criticizing Party policies by any militant makes him commit a flagrant violation of democratic centralism.

All the concepts underlined above are in the decalogue of Leninism. To this list of heresies should be added others, considered incompatible with the ideology by the previous political education. For example, the end of the teaching of atheism in schools, the introduction of a constitutional article allowing families headed by same-sex couples, the dismantling of the system of compulsory work-study scholarships in secondary education, the freedom to reside abroad without losing one's citizenship rights, etc. Perhaps the current problems of the Party are not precisely those attributed to a certain Leninism.

On the contrary, some Bolshevik practices could inspire greater democracy in Cuba. For instance, the struggle of the rank and file militants, the soviets and the trade unions to control the bureaucracy; the legitimacy of discrepancies in their ranks, such as the Workers' Opposition; the application of a New Economic Policy (NEP) with market and mixed economy; the encouragement of systematic debate below and above; the possibility of exposing in Pravda the criteria of all the militants, not only of some.

To legitimize democratic changes in the Party, here and now, could consider what Raul Castro himself said almost ten years ago: "if we have sovereignly chosen the option of the single Party, what corresponds to us is to promote the greatest democracy in our society, starting by setting an example in the ranks of the Party." So the PCC is not above the reforms, nor is it only a leading subject in their implementation, but also the object of a policy that calls to "change everything that must be changed."

Although we know that politics is not contained in speeches, the struggle to turn those words into reality has today more support than ever. What, however, is the yardstick for measuring that democratization? Recognizing, dialoguing and negotiating with political organizations such as those that predominate in the Cuban opposition, on the Island and in exile? I think that a most suitable question, congruent with the very Constitution of the system, would be: is it desirable for a socialist system to make room for a "loyal opposition" (defined by its purpose of improving the system, not liquidating it)?

Interviewing seven years ago a group of subjects with institutional responsibilities, this same question produced dissimilar answers.1

A former president of the National Assembly supported "the "parliamentarization of society," the constant discussion, in factories and collectives, of problems and proposals to address them," not the "manipulation of dissent into more or less loyal 'oppositions.'"

An acting General Secretary of the UJC stated that "a dissent among revolutionaries is very necessary." "In Cuba we still don't know that [loyal] opposition, because people financed by a foreign government to overthrow the Revolution cannot be called anything but mercenaries." She added, "I don't believe either that we have reached the ideal democracy...I don't rule out any formula for more socialism."

A popular educator from a religious NGO opined, "It is necessary to make clear the points that do not enter into negotiation; that is, what to be loyal to...There is loyalty to the principles of social equity, personal and national dignity, sovereignty, socialization of power, of the economy and of happiness; loyalty to popular power exercised by the people. If the bet is on these [principles], loyalty to political forms becomes more flexible, since it would be to the government that enforces those principles."

An academic jurist defined it as "an opposition that complies with the law of all, that does not pretend, through intolerance, to demand tolerance to the State; that does not use flags of excluding and inhuman ideologies, that respects the public order and the rules that we have given ourselves in democracy, is loyal to the Rule of Law, and therefore itself is indispensable."

A delegate of the People's Power in Marianao responded, "We have to give possibilities to that kind of opposition; the one that does not agree with the things that are badly done, and that can propose how to solve them...If it is in good faith, opposing things that do not give results helps to improve the socialist system, which ultimately is the people...Sometimes we criticize those who speak the truths, and we consider that they have political problems, but those people what they want is to see results."

An acting president of a cultural institution considered it "an antinomy. Because the opposition is a real opposition if it shows a certain level of organization, if it constitutes an alternative to the established powers. A revolutionary who opposes" a particular policy "is not an opponent; he is just someone who disagrees."

The editor of a Catholic magazine said that "one should act to improve the established system by consensus and not to liquidate it...Those who possess other ideological preferences should accept it with humility, but without ceasing to contribute their criteria and projects, although subordinated to the realization of the interests of the people. Thus we could enjoy a socialism capable of integrating, even ideological diversity...An opposition would not be loyal order to achieve its political purposes,...allies itself with foreign powers,...that possesses organic links with national or foreign instances in charge of promoting subversion, that does not care for the sovereignty of the country nor for social concord."

In these interviews, not only is it possible to observe the difference in nuances within the institutions of the State and within civil society, but also, between their visions then and now, in some particular cases.

A dozen years ago, in an official Cuban media, I mentioned the question of loyal opposition: "Will Cuban socialism be able to admit in the future, together with a renewed democratic institutionality, a decentralized system, a non-state sector, also a loyal opposition, within the system itself? That is not a question for U.S. congressmen and Euro-parliamentarians, but for Cubans living their future on the Island."

Curiously, while the Catholic magazine Espacio Laical celebrated the concept some time later, to the point of convening an event in 2013 where it was debated, the editorialists of Cubaencuentro considered it a crude ploy, "a padlock," behind which peeked the hairy ear of officialdom disguised as "liberal loquacity," aimed at "refreshing" the totalitarian discourse.

They seemed to ignore that those who coined it, in the mid-nineteenth century, did not conceive it as a formula to "seize power" or change the British system, but to make it politically more effective and broaden its consensus. They did not seek precisely to "pander" to dissenters, but to incorporate them into the complex task of governing. This explains why the U.S. partycracy never assimilated it, given its two hundred years of staunch bipartisanship.

I have expanded on this point because it illustrates the gap of a national reconciliation that some dream of resolving in one leap. It also shows criteria within the Revolution, below and above, that support a realistic democratization. Reformulated seven years later, that question would be read today as follows: to what extent would a policy aimed at expanding consensus, integrating the loyal opposition into the political space, be congruent with the new style of government? And one could add: is it in the national interest that this loyal opposition within the system, in favor of a more democratic socialism, be an option for those who advocate change, instead of leaving them out, and that some would end up being dragged along by the anti-communist opposition?

I can guess a reader who is already asking: And what would the US do? It would take a third round to comment on that.


 1 "Making socialist politics: a symposium," interviewer Daniel Salas, Temas # 78, April-June, 2014.

Antinomies and conflict in Cuban political situation (III)

The unpostponable path towards a more democratic system and with greater civil liberties is made difficult thanks to that U.S. policy that gives itself permission to speak on behalf of the same Cuban civil society that it maintains under siege.

by  Rafael Hernández December 15, 2021in Columns

Among the heap of antinomies that have populated U.S. politics from Jefferson to Trump, probably the most florid of all consists of trying, at the same time, to isolate Cuba externally and influence its domestic processes.

The reason that has always governed it, and also throughout this last half-century, is geopolitical, rather than merely ideological, economic, or domestic. If it responded to ideological or doctrinal factors, the key to this policy could be found in its Cold War anti-communist discourses on human rights and democracy. If it were due to economic interests, it would be dictated by the corporations expropriated in 1959-60, seeking to pressure a Cuban state “reluctant to compensate them.” If Cuba were just “a topic of local Florida politics,” the continuity of the constituents in the Cuban-American enclave, and their antinomies, would explain the United States’ hostility against the island.

Geopolitical logic, on the other hand, bases the application of a recourse of force called a blockade (not embargo) on hot war manuals, aimed at asphyxiating the country, and dragging it by force to a breaking point, according to the jargon from those manuals. At the same time, this logic explains the attempt to interfere in the internal political process, and to push it in the direction of U.S. interests.

Both dimensions of this strategy take shape around the objective of imposing a regime change that suits the United States. Naturally, neither of the two dimensions responds to the plural interest of civil society, democracy or citizen freedom of Cubans, inside or outside the island, nor is it associated with a peaceful change, unless it is a change in that preset direction.

In fact, this combination of siege and internal political erosion has been part of the universal strategic arsenal from Sun Tzu and Attila the Hun to Napoleon and Heinrich Himmler, passing through Clausewitz, skilled in combining the military and ideological excellence of their armies, which we now call penetration, psychological and cultural warfare, in order to soften the enemy inside and out. In its basic format, it was designed and applied against the Cuban Revolution, especially by the JFK administration team. Since then, it became clear that, far from working, it was very counterproductive, as recognized by the members of that team, meeting in Havana three decades later.

In the military field, the forefathers of that so-called New Frontier only stopped before the use of their own troops and means, including the nuclear attack. To save themselves the very high cost of direct intervention, they Cubanized destabilization, taking advantage of the tens of thousands of discontent people, whom they made their allies. Since then, U.S. politicians became obsessed with finding dissidents in the Revolution camp. “Even Castro himself,” reads an egregious memo from McGeorge Bundy, the JFK National Security Advisor, who had hosted Castro when he visited Harvard in 1959.

 However, this refined strategy and formidable resources put into play against such a small country, have always suffered from a practical policy deficit: it is very difficult to close all the accesses, doors and windows to a house, and at the same time try to influence what happens inside. Like the wolf of the three little pigs, the U.S. state continued to blow nonstop, while the house became more difficult to knockdown. This has been the quintessential antinomy of U.S. policy towards the island.

Although it is not the only one. Since listing them all would be an abuse, I will comment on only two.

In a previous note, I have pointed out that the anti-Castro and anti-communist condition involves an impossible group. This alliance between the United States and “the Cuban nation” has ranged from the Batista followers and their families (say, the Díaz-Balart) to ex-revolutionaries of all stripes (old militants of the PSP, the Catholic Youth, the 2nd Front, the Directorate, the July 26th Movement, the ORI, the UJC, the PCC….). Also the military of the dictatorship and some insurgents to overthrow it, allied later against the Revolution; members of Brigade 2506 together with former FAR and MININT officers who have become dissidents; to Granma journalists, Marxism-Leninism professors, and many who chanted hymns in the Plaza, together with those who always execrated them, now gathered in the ranks of the Mambisa Vigil and the marches through the streets of Little Havana.

It is not surprising that such an incongruous group reveals a certain ineptitude to act as an opposition bloc, sharing a common platform and leadership. Its slogan could be “against the Revolution everything, within the Revolution, nothing.” Sponsored by different sectors within the established powers — the CIA, the State Department, factions within Congress, politicians in the local anti-Castro industry — the opponents bear the mark of that support. Even leaving aside the epithets that the Cuban media dedicate to them, this brand contradicts its legitimacy as opposition in the eyes of many Cuban people, including those who disagree with or do not support the government.

This peculiar relationship between the state apparatuses and the successive cohorts of anti-Castroism is more convoluted than it seems, and gives rise to a kind of antinomy of Dr. Frankenstein. In the past, believing the diagnoses of that sponsored opposition led it to let itself be embarked in operations as delusional as the Bay of Pigs. Right now, this antinomy is revealed in the most recent statement of the Secretary of State himself on Cuba, with phrases culled from anti-government media inside and outside the island, and from its most combative organic intellectuals.

This discourse attributes the origin of the sit-in in front of the Ministry of Culture a year ago, and the dialogue with its representatives on the night of N27, to the anti-government political activism initiative of some artists installed in Old Havana. It identifies this elite, mostly white middle class, as “the voice of the Cuban people.” It summons the government for “redoubling its bankrupt ideology and failed economic system.” “It congratulates the Cuban people for continuing to demand that the government listen to them.” And “it urges the regime to heed its call, and allow it to carve out its own future, free from the threat of government repression.” It calls all of the above “supporting dialogue in Cuba.”

Not a word about restarting the granting of visas to the Cuban people; facilitating remittances from their relatives; resuming exchanges with artists, academics, athletes; encouraging scientific cooperation in the field of health and the fight against the pandemic; allowing Cuban Americans to invest and associate with their relatives on the island; recognizing the reforms aimed at opening space to the private sector, the market, the use of the internet, etc. Not the slightest hint of an announcement about the relaxation of the blockade mechanisms for the benefit of civil society on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

The last antinomy of this policy that I will comment on is the one that manifests itself in its counterproductive effect.

As much as the Cuban government mentions it to explain everything, the siege of the island is not a Castro paranoia, but a real geopolitical siege. To appreciate its meticulous scope, it is enough to observe a Chinese bank refusing to open an account for a Cuban or read the message “you are in a country where you cannot access this service” sent by Google or Yahoo to a laptop on the island.

The syndrome of the besieged fortress interferes in a thousand ways in daily life, and it is a red light that flashes before each proposed change to be implemented in Cuba. “How will they (the Americans) take advantage of this change, to try to pull the rug out from under our feet?” There is no better vitamin than this incessant harassment for the group of those who do not want to change anything in Cuba.

The Cuban Armed Forces and State Security were founded and grew from the origin of revolutionary power, and have been perpetuated in their current form because they respond to harassment from the United States. Their cost and their role in the system, as well as the centralization and verticalism that characterize the functioning of Cuban socialism, are inseparable from this challenge. Perhaps the most scandalous antinomy of U.S. policy towards Cuba today lies precisely in continually reproducing the conditions that operate against a more democratic socialism and the conquest of greater social and individual freedoms.

To put it another way, without leaving room for misunderstandings: the unpostponable path towards a more democratic system and with greater civil liberties is made difficult thanks to that U.S. policy, which gives itself permission to speak on behalf of Cuban civil society itself. which it keeps under siege. Its official support for the anti-government opposition recharges the atmosphere against the recognition and normalization of a loyal opposition, which contributes to expressing true diversity and plurality within a renewed Cuban socialism.

How do these antinomies work in the current political context of bilateral relations?

After the short summer of normalization with Obama and the four fateful years with Trump, the prolongation of Trumpism under Biden is what was missing to dispel the illusions of a re-normalization within this new Cuban government, which is heading towards the closing of a very difficult third year in office. Even if many of the agreements and mutual trust measures achieved with Obama continue to exist formally, the awkwardness and disinterest of this administration has kept the tone of relations as low as ever. It would not be realistic (or “pragmatic,” as some say) for this young Cuban government to invest a penny in promoting a tango that the other does not want to dance. In terms of cost-benefit, it is clear that Cuba would not win in this scenario what it could have, if Biden had kept his campaign promises. However, for the U.S. interest in relation to the island, the cost of opportunity could be higher than what some political observers seem to warn.

Indeed, Cuba is not an asteroid gravitating alone in front of a massive planet called the United States, in the middle of nowhere. This space is inhabited by numerous bodies. The void that the U.S. ceases to fill in the environment of the Cuban transition is assumed by others. They are not only Russia, China, Vietnam, but the European Union and Canada, with economic and political interests in this transition, as well as a considerable number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Middle East, whose political orbit has not drifted away from Cuba, despite the omens of derailment that flooded 2021.

Paradoxically, when we look back in time, perhaps we can appreciate this dramatic year as a turning point, where the continuity and rhythm of changes began to stabilize, despite the antinomies of the U.S. policy towards the Island.

Opposition Perspectives After November 15th

 La Joven Cuba

Biden's broken promises

During the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, each and every Democratic candidate promised a policy change toward Cuba. A year after Joe Biden's electoral victory, the bilateral relationship is even worse and the rhetoric of the Democrats in power seems to emulate the Republican administration's. Once again, electoral interests outweigh the values that the White House presumes in its relationship with the Island.

Millions of Cubans suffer an economic and humanitarian crisis comparable to the aftermath of the Soviet collapse in the early 1990s. Despite the high volume of political propaganda, simplistic narratives, and misinformation, the evidence points to a crisis created by three main actors: the global pandemic, the Cuban government, and the Trump-Biden administrations.

This situation of shared responsibilities is seldom analyzed in its complexity in our public sphere, which is increasingly partisan and polarized. Much less is this recognized in the rhetoric of both governments, always happy to blame the other for all the ills on the island.

During the first half of this year, the White House felt comfortable continuing to inflict economic misery on Cubans. With this attitude, it avoided angering the Cuban-Americans who supported Trump's policies and reinstated the confrontational dynamics that President Obama had condemned. The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic were used in their policy of regime change towards the island and there was no unconditional offer of humanitarian aid. It was a missed opportunity and a huge failure of empathy.

The protest of July 11th was the desperate cry of the Cubans due to a national crisis in which the policy of the United States also bears responsibility. Subsequent statements by the State Department and the sanctions they have applied since then make it clear that there is time for Cuba on their priority list, but that they prefer to indulge in hostile rhetoric and apply symbolic sanctions that have zero effect on Cuban rulers in order to indulge the Florida electorate. It is the same manual that Trumpism wrote for Cuba, except that its sanctions were not only symbolic but very real and today they are still in force with the complicity of the Democrats.

Putting on pause the revision of Trump's policies, in practice means contributing to the misery of these people. Joe Biden can prioritize the interests of the radical community of Florida, always eager to sacrifice their countrymen, or show empathy with millions of Cubans on the Island; but he cannot do both at the same time.

If the last seven years have shown something, it is that there is a sector of emigrants who adapt to the official policy of the United States towards Cuba, especially when they perceive that it causes changes in bilateral inertia. That the White House renounces dictating the terms of its relationship with the island and surrenders it at the whim of Cuban-American congressmen and senators indicates a lack of initiative.

Several polls carried out in Cuba reveal a consensus in condemning the US sanctions. Some media and radical actors try to hide this reality through actions of political agitation and propaganda that influence the White House, apparently with success.

La Joven Cuba addressed an open letter to President Biden in February this year that insists on the counterproductive nature of the sanctions. Among the signatories are several opposition leaders. On the eve of the protests announced for November 15, in an interview with Yunior Garci­a the leader of the Archipelago group, he stressed that the sanctions "affect the Cuban family, entrepreneurs and the people in general." The US authorities ignored these statements, selecting the claims of their interest and silencing those who are critical of their foreign policy.

There is little evidence to support a real commitment by the United States to democracy in Cuba. In its place, the empowerment of sectors related to Washington's interests on the island has prevailed, the favorite Cubans, as if the rest were not. This selective behavior is similar to that applied by the Cuban government, always making the interests of its followers visible and silencing the rest.

Respect for democracy, the will of the majority and decisions by consensus are constantly undermined by both governments and their policies have a polarizing effect on the island's society. Cuba does not need foreign guardianship and the US would be the least appropriate nation to influence our affairs after a history of interventions of all kinds in our country. If we were looking for democratic models, it would not be the American one either, flawed as the last years of domestic politics have shown. We do not need them to guide our civil society, which is getting more organized every day to, on our terms, achieve democratic change. What we need is for them to stop turning our people into collateral damage in a fight between governments.

This Democratic administration has chosen to prioritize its interests over its values; our people already judge it accordingly. It is not too late to embark on a new path, as Obama did. So far our diagnosis of the first year of Biden's government toward Cuba is simple: a lot of political opportunism, little moral courage and a lack of empathy with millions on the island.


We Can Only Avoid a Blood Bath in Cuba if the World Stops Looking Away

14ymedio, Madrid, 18 November 2021 — “The Cuban problem is not called Yunior García, the Cuban problem is called dictatorship.” This is how forceful the playwright and opponent has been from Madrid, where he has held a press conference to relate the “terror” to which he has been subjected by the Cuban Government and which pushed him to leave the island.

“The revolution devoured their children and their grandchildren,” he denounced before recounting in a chronological way how he came to the opposition militancy.

García Aguilera has criticized the government from the left, calling it a “conservative caste” that exploits the workers and uses the wildest capitalism, building hotels in the harshest moments of the pandemic. “The regime became a Goliath that crushes the people, David,” he said at one point, turning on its head the image frequently used by the ruling party — David against Goliath — to refer to its relationship with the United States.

The creator of Archipiélago has compared the Cuban regime with the regime in Chile of Augusto Pinochet and has insisted that the leadership of power lives in a “bourgeois” way while he is a “true revolutionary.”

“It is a macho government that is cruel especially to women, like Carolina Barrero, and Yoani Sánchez, and has made life impossible for continue reading

a long time,” he also pointed out, advancing a metaphor that he used minutes later: “The regime has become an abusive husband who beats his wife. ”
“What exists in Cuba is fascism, what I have experienced in recent days cannot be called something else,” he stressed in reference to the threats and harassment of which he has been targeted. “How can anyone believe that this is on the left?”

The young man does not accept that they are trying to discredit him by calling him a “counterrevolutionary”: “I am a revolutionary because I want to change the dynamics of my country.”

The activist has recounted the harassment to which he was subjected in recent days, at which time, convinced that he would be arrested, he applied for a preemptive visa with which he tried to achieve some type of subsequent negotiation that would help him get out of prison. However, after November 15, when he had been isolated and incommunicado for hours, he was aware that the Government did not intend to arrest him.

“If they kill me they make me a symbol, if they take me to jail they make me a symbol,” he said. It was at that moment that he realized, he says, that the Government was planning to keep him away from society by keeping him locked up in his home, a situation that he could not bear. “They yelled insults at me and I felt like a Jew surrounded by Nazis.”

“If the only thing I have is my voice and they take it from me, then they have won,” said García, who stressed that a “living death” awaited him in Cuba. Illustratively, he has recounted the day he suffered an act of repudiation that included bird corpses on the fence of his house and has used the image as a metaphor. “If we stay in Cuba they will behead us like doves,” he said.

The opponent has repeatedly declared his intention to return after overcoming his anger at recent events. “I need to heal myself from that rage to start the fight again, and that will be when my life and that of my wife are not in danger.”

García Aguilera has repeated that he refuses to request asylum in Spain and has said that Cuba is his country and his mother and son are there, so it does not even cross his mind to stay in Madrid in the long term.

The playwright says: “I have a 90-day visa and during my stay I am going to connect with artists and focus on the movement of Cuban artists here.”

The founder of Archipiélago has revealed that on the 14th, despite having his phone cut off, he found a means of communication through which he got in touch with the cardinal of Havana, whom he asked to pray for him because he was afraid of having rage. “I needed to heal my anger to find my balance. I never wanted to stop being tolerant.”

In the same way, he has confessed to reading “painful things” about him once he was able to access the internet after landing in Spain, and apologizes to his colleagues from Achipiélago for not being able to bear more pressure. “I have to forgive myself for being human and apologize for not being made of stone or bronze,” he added.

García Aguilera has also rejected the US embargo, which he believes acts as an ally of the regime by providing it excuses, and has vindicated the use of dialogue with all political forces if the time comes.

The opponent, who has been moved by talking about his 10-year-old son, has begged the international press to look for the stories of anonymous Cubans who have not had the luck that he has had, being able to leave the island thanks to his visibility.

He has also referenced the names of José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, visible head of the San Isidro Movement, Félix Navarro, of the group of 75, and Maykel Castillo Osorbo.

García Aguilera took the opportunity to close the press conference with a message calling on the international community to help. Thus, he opined that “it is inadmissible for Cuba to have a chair on the UN Human Rights Commission.”

At the same time he rejected, for the umpteenth time, an armed intervention. “A Cuba for all cannot be achieved through violence, but through dialogue. They believe that this fight is won through blows.”

“Let us not get angry,” he asked. “This cannot become a bloodbath. It is the only way we have to get out of this, because we cannot continue to be slaves. But we cannot achieve freedom at that price either,” he said. “A bloodbath can only be avoided if the world stops looking the other way.”


Archipielago Considers Reasons for Cuban Protests Valid and Extends Them to November 27

14ymedio, Madrid, 16 November 2021 — The image of Yunior García leaning out of the window of his apartment with a flower in his hand and dressed in white while a mob tries to block his view of the outside by lowering a Cuban flag over his window has become an icon of the civic struggle in Cuba. From Spain, the Cuban filmmaker Yimit Ramírez has made a poster that captures the essence of November 14, when State Security prevented the playwright from marching with a white rose, as he had announced he would.

As he explained to 14ymedio, Ramírez considers that the fact of “covering him with the flag is horrible… You can’t do that with the flag, but even less with people. These people are so outdated that they don’t even know their own horrors. It’s a very symbolic image. The flag as a prison.”

The Archipiélago platform considers that, despite the Cuban government’s attempts to prevent the Civic March for Change on November 15, “never have the Cuban people been more united in the fight for their rights” and so has called for the protests to be extended until November 27, one year since the sit-in of artists and intellectuals before the Ministry of Culture.

Between now and the 27th, the opposition group proposes a series of activities to make its message visible and asks people to continue wearing the color white and carrying a rose of the same tone, joining in on a cacerolazo (banging on pots and pans) at 9 o’clock every night, and spreading the message of what it is happening in the country among families and neighborhoods, particularly to those who do not have social networks.

In addition, they invite each sympathizer to bring a rose to a monument to a Cuban martyr whenever they deem it appropriate and safe, and documenting the act to spread it, since Archipiélago considers that there is still “a debt of honor to the Apostle* José Martí.”

The platform launched its proposal in a statement released after midnight in which it took stock of the previous day. In the text, they emphasize that the Government has criminalized and disrespected the right to freedom of expression, assembly and demonstration recognized by the Cuban Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and, what is worse, setting “Cubans against Cubans.”

“The Cuban government has responded to our demands as a dictatorship does: extreme militarization of the streets, more than 100 activists besieged [in their homes], arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, acts of repudiation, violence, threats, coercion and hate speech,” denounces the text, which warns that it will not accept this escalation of violence against peaceful citizens.

Despite all the efforts of the authorities, Archipiélago considers that the March was a success due to the solidarity received from 120 cities around the world and those who were able to go out into the streets within the Island or show their adherence to the mobilization with a minimal gesture. “We have surpassed ourselves as a nation and here is the resounding success of 15N”.

The objectives of the struggle that continues from today until the 27th continue to be the initial ones: the liberation of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, respect for the rights of expression, assembly and demonstration, the cessation of violence between Cubans for political reasons ,and the beginning of a dialogue that allows resolving differences through democratic and peaceful means.

In addition, the end of the statement opens a door so that the 27th is not the last day of activities. “If the Government does not give up its efforts to violate our rights, we will continue the civic struggle until Cuba is a State of Rights, a Republic ‘with all and for the good of all’.”

The platform notes that since the 16th, many people linked to the opposition are still unaccounted for, detained or besieged in their homes and sends its solidarity to all those affected.

For its part, the Cubalex Legal Information Center published this Tuesday a record in which it documents the arrests of at least 56 people in the context of civic days for change, of these 27 just on November 15, and they include 11 people reported in enforced disappearance.

Of the more than 50 people arrested, “11 were previously in detention for participating in the 11J [11 July] protests,” details Cubalex.

*Translator’s note: José Martí is considered a hero by Cubans on all sides of the divides, and is popularly called “the Apostle.”


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Webinar: Perspectives from Cuba of November 15 Protests and Consequences

Eyewitness accounts from Cuba of November 15th and beyond

Webinar  Friday, November 26, 4 p.m.  ET

The video of the webinar is available here

Watch it at your convenience and please share it as widely as you can.

The chat and Q&A are posted at the bottom of this  page with bios and resources.  

Going to Cuba to independently observe what took place on the 15th put us $2,000 in the hole.  Tax deductible contributions are greatly appreciated, click here  or mail a check to Fund for Reconciliation and Development, 64 Jean Court, Riverhead, NY  11901


Ed Augustin, resident journalist, NY Times, The Nation, The Guardian

Rafael Hernandez, editor, Temas magazine

Rita McNiff, travel provider, Like a Cuban

William LeoGrande, American University

John McAuliff, Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Ed Augustin is a British journalist who has been based in Havana for 9 years. He writes for the Guardian,  The New York Times and The Nation magazine. He broadcasts for NBC News.

Rafael M. Hernandez (Havana,1948) is a political scientist, professor, researcher and Chief editor of Temas,a Cuban quarterly in the field of social sciences and the humanities; he is also a published poet, essayist and playwright.  He has authored books and essays on US-Cuba relations, Cuban civil society, migrations, international security, culture and history.  He has served as co-chair of the Cuba Section of the Latin American Studies Association and been a visiting professor at Harvard and Columbia Universities.

A New York native and first generation Irish American, Rita McNiff is the founder of Like A Cuban, a boutique agency that curates custom “like a local” experiences for visitors to Cuba. An avid traveler herself, Rita visited Cuba for the first time in 2015. During her stay, she drove the island with a friend, picking up hitchhikers along the way, sharing rum and coffee with locals and, as the days went by, completely falling in love with the island and its people. Six years later, Rita’s journey of exploring Cuba continues and her mission to share the stories of the real Cuba, the people’s Cuba, with visitors to the island gets stronger day by day.   Rita lives in Havana, with her daughter Tessa.     <>

William LeoGrande Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, American UniversityProfessor of Government and a specialist in Latin American politics and U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America, Professor LeoGrande has been a frequent adviser to government and private sector agencies. He has written five books, including Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977 – 1992. Most recently, he is coauthor of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. Previously, he served on the staffs of the Democratic Policy Committee of the United States Senate, and the Democratic Caucus Task Force on Central America of the United States House of Representatives. Professor LeoGrande has been a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, and a Pew Faculty Fellow in International Affairs. His articles have appeared in various international and national journals, magazines and newspapers.  PhD, Syracuse University     

John McAuliff is the founder and director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.  He is committed to contribute to the full normalization of US relations with Cuba as he did with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  John has visited Cuba sixty-one times since 1971, all but the first visit from 1997.   His program focuses are expanding travel as well as educational and cultural exchange.  He collaborated with the Canadian-Greek Cuba Cruise and partners with Opera de la Calle and the magazine Temas.  A special interest is the role of Irish and Irish Americans in Cuban history and the Celtic links between the traditional music of Ireland and Cubans who immigrated from Asturia and Galicia.  <>


Personal reflections on being in Cuba for November 15th

   by John McAuliff, 11/30/31

"The Latest Round of Protests in Cuba Are a Bust—for Now"
But US sanctions and Covid have kept the island in a vise only made worse by a dysfunctional economy and long overdue reforms.      by Ed Augustin, The Nation, November 18, 2021


 by Stephen Kimber & John Kirk COUNTERPUNCH, November 22, 2021

Opposition Perspective after November 15th (14ymedio)

Rafael Hernandez:  Essays Post November 15th

"Five years after his death, is Castro's revolution floundering?"

Friday, November 26, 2021

HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) — Five years after Fidel Castro's death the revolution he started in 1959 appears to be at an impasse, with Cuba's economy battered and an ever-larger part of its population clamoring for change.

"Tourists trickle in to Cuba following pandemic slumber"

By Gustavo Palencia   November 25, 2021  Reuters

Dear Colleague Letter initiated by Representative Jim McGovern to "Address Humanitarian Crisis, Restore Engagement with Cuba" will remain open until December 3d.

Jill Biden in Cuba (Camaguey and Havana)


15:16:36 From  John McAuliff  to  Everyone:


16:07:56 From  Sheyla Paz  to  Hosts and panelists:

Hello everyone from Nashville. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving day!

16:11:03 From  Sheyla Paz  to  Hosts and panelists:

How is the food situation?

16:11:40 From  Thomas Hansen  to  Hosts and panelists:

How do you deal with currency exchanges?

16:12:54 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

I've heard from AA that this is because Cuban authorities have not given authorization beyond Jan 3rd.

16:13:54 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

How are the hotels?  I've been wondering because of being totally excluded from US travelers.

16:14:44 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

Of course, due to the pandemic, hotels worldwide have been very impacted by Covid, but perhaps in Cuba the situation is extreme.  [The problem is that Trump/Biden licensing restrictions block Americans from use of all hotels. JMcA]

16:14:58 From  Marcel Kunzmann  to  Hosts and panelists:

Question: How did you get the Abdala jabs as a foreigner? Cool! :)

16:15:00 From  sarah arizaga  to  Hosts and panelists:

What is the money situation? Do USD still work "unofficially"?

16:15:06 From  Thomas Hansen  to  Hosts and panelists:

currency exchange from dollars?

16:15:16 From  Michael J. Good  to  Hosts and panelists:

how is covid in the real communities?  Michael Good Birding guide  [Every community is being vaccinated nationwide.  J McA]

16:17:13 From  Elena Espinosa  to  Hosts and panelists:

I left Havana November 1st and I was exchanging my USD for 1:62CUP

16:17:31 From  Talek Nantes  to  Hosts and panelists:

How do the casas expect to be paid?

16:17:48 From  Gonzalo Lopez  to  Hosts and panelists:

Is the Mexican peso a good currency to take to Cuba now?

16:17:54 From  sarah arizaga  to  Hosts and panelists:

Cuba is saying they have approved all the US flights, and were waiting on US approval.

16:18:56 From  Talek Nantes  to  Hosts and panelists:

Is it safe to change US$ on the street to get a better rate?

16:25:59 From  John McAuliff  to  Everyone:

       Contributions to support our work for normalization, including a very expensive trip

16:28:28 From  Gonzalo Lopez  to  Hosts and panelists:

Could we get a copy of Rafael's presentation via email?   [The substance of it will probably be in his third essay which will be added to the blog post here.]

16:32:56 From  Ramon Bueno  to  Hosts and panelists:

Where is the mentioned blog found?

16:35:02 From  Rita McNiff  to  Sheyla Paz and all panelists:

Regarding the food situation, Sheyla, the paladars, many casas and hotels are well stocked. There are also food delivery options from restaurants, private grocery stores and farms with the apps Mandao, Pamicasa and direct sales

16:36:20 From  Merriam Ansara  to  Hosts and panelists:

thank you, John, and presenters. this very useful presentations and perspectives

16:36:57 From  Rita McNiff  to  Thomas Hansen and all panelists:

Thomas, any currency can be exchanged officially apart from the USD. That said there is a lot of exchange happening unofficially and that also makes exchanging USD an option.

16:37:21 From  Sheyla Paz  to  Hosts and panelists:

That’s fantastic to hear Rita. Thanks for the update and for being here!

16:41:55 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

Ed, do you believe that if tourism is coming back to better levels, the conditions of discontent will be quelled?

16:43:20 From  Circles Robinson  to  Hosts and panelists:

Ed don't forget to mention what led to the protest a year ago at the Ministry of Culture.

16:43:26 From  Rita McNiff  to  Andrea Holbrook and all panelists:

Andrea, The hotels that I have gone through in the last couple weeks are looking good, but I have only been in Havana. Some remain closed. The Kempinski, Parque Central actually only ever closed briefly and their conditions are very good right now. The Aston Archipelago, which will be the most luxurious hotel in Havana is set to open on schedule in March

16:45:07 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thanks Rita

16:46:02 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

God help Cuba

16:46:18 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

Sorry I am responding to what Ed is saying.  But that is quite a cocktail.

16:46:47 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thanks for inviting Ed.  Very important to hear his voice.

16:47:20 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

Another good question.....why didn't it happen?

16:47:25 From  Thomas Hansen  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thanks Rita.

16:49:03 From  Elena Espinosa  to  Hosts and panelists:

November 15 is the day schools opened again, tourism opened again. I don't think this was a coincidence.  The Cuban government crafted a great pro Cuba campaign to squelch the protestors.  [The date of tourism opening was chosen by the protestors.  Not sure whether school opening was also chosen first.  J McA]

16:52:22 From  Barbara Larcom  to  Hosts and panelists:

You mention Nicaragua as having heavy protests, but don't mention Honduras?

16:59:45 From  Michael J. Good  to  Hosts and panelists:

Caribbean Conservation Trust is planning a field trip for February... should we be good to travel in February? How is Havanatur doing?

17:02:20 From  William LeoGrande  to  Barbara Larcom and all panelists:

Not intentional.

17:02:46 From  Merriam Ansara  to  Hosts and panelists:

Dear Colleague letter

17:05:56 From  Merriam Ansara  to  Hosts and panelists:

current deadline is Friday December 3rd though it could be extended again

17:06:21 From  Christopher Baker  to  Hosts and panelists:

Good moment for a segue on the contribution that U.S. tourism can make to helping Cuba recover

17:07:20 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

Are you talking about the S. African variant?

17:13:10 From  Barbara Larcom  to  Hosts and panelists:

What do you think of Medea Benjamin's explanation, that people began to realize (between July and November) that while they may have some issues with the government, they also realized that a huge protest would only be damaging to their long-term prospects, because the government was their best option (compared to the opposition alternatives)?

17:16:31 From  Rita McNiff  to  Michael J. Good and all panelists:

Michael, I, myself am receiving groups from mid-January on and mainly due to the prohibitive flight pricing beforehand. February I feel will be good …bar anything happening with COVID worldwide. Havanatur is anxious and ready to receive clients now.

17:17:06 From  Michael J. Good  to  Everyone:

thank you rita

17:19:45 From  Tomas Moran  to  Everyone:

As a Cuban American who — for 60 years — has watched our inability to send money to our relatives like people here do to most other countries in the world, Biden’s position in going back on his promise is particularly grating.  You seem to accept that nothing is possible to change this.  Is there in fact any organized group trying to get more co-signers to the “Dear Colleague” letter, and how can I get a hold of that group?  [WOLA has a draft script posted J McA]

17:20:07 From  Merriam Ansara  to  Hosts and panelists:

also, would you again. urge people to urge their Rep to sign the Dear Colleague letter? New deadline is Dec 3. I posted to you link to the letter with the 55 signers to date

17:21:58 From  Thomas Hansen  to  Hosts and panelists:

Ed, you are too young to know firsthand the economic situation in the early 90s. I know from personal experience it was much worse than today.

17:24:07 From  Ed Augustin  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thomas - you’re right that I didn’t live through the special period. Too young. But I agree with you that the hardship of the special period was much more pronounced than today.

17:32:22 From  Merriam Ansara  to  Everyone:

Rafael, hurray for that news!!@

17:32:52 From  Gretchen Wahl  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thanks for some good news, Rafael!

17:33:19 From  Geoff Thale  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thanks all, have to go.   Very helpful discussion.

17:33:29 From  Merriam Ansara  to  Hosts and panelists:

I can really appreciate that news. I'm arriving Jan 7. look forward to seeing you

17:36:22 From  Andrea Holbrook  to  Hosts and panelists:

John, thank you for organizing this panel.  Thank you to your speakers.  This was really excellent.

17:36:28 From  Michael J. Good  to  Everyone:

enviromental policies around the Caged Bird Trade are seriously damaging the ecotourism markets... can the government change laws to stop this destructive policy of the Caged Bird Trade to ecotourism.

17:36:33 From  sarah arizaga  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thank you for the answers to the questions. And for all the very enlightening perspectives of the panelists.

17:46:45 From  Christopher Baker  to  Hosts and panelists:


17:46:50 From  Gonzalo Lopez  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thank you all. Thank you Rita for the specific answers.

17:48:33 From  sarah arizaga  to  Hosts and panelists:

I would love for people to take a stand against the hotel rules for the sake of disabled travelers. It is very hard to visit when you cannot stay in hotels. I consider it unfair discrimination.   [Can you get disability organizations to hammer the White House and State Department about this excellent point?  J McA]

17:48:43 From  Christopher Baker  to  Hosts and panelists:

Rita... please explain about the electronic card payments in stores, etc.

17:50:12 From  Liliana De Cespedes  to  Hosts and panelists:

Absolutely agree Bill.  The US government needs to stop being influenced by the powerful force that is the Cuban American US population.  Diplomacy and realistic negotiations between the country is the way forward.  It had a definite impact during the Obama administration.

17:51:14 From  Christopher Baker  to  Hosts and panelists:]

There are four locations now in Havana for PCR/antigen tests

17:53:18 From  sarah arizaga  to  Hosts and panelists:

can only stay at Quinta Avenida in Havana as US citizen

17:55:16 From  Christopher Baker  to  Hosts and panelists:

Much cheaper flights direct from New York on JetBlue than if you fly from Tampa

17:57:43 From  Michael J. Good  to  Everyone:

thank you so much everyone... this was enlightening...are you planning  more  in the future??

[We will do another webinar in January unless something changes sooner.  J McA]

17:58:35 From  Elena Espinosa  to  Hosts and panelists:

thank you for all your support for the Cuban people :-)

17:58:52 From  Peter Kornbluh  to  Hosts and panelists:

thanks John, and Rita and Bill and Ed and Rafael.

17:58:56 From  Rita McNiff  to  sarah arizaga and all panelists:

Christopher, the antigen test is only available at the airport and the Siboney clinic as of right now

17:59:32 From  Rita McNiff  to  sarah arizaga and all panelists:

Sarah unfortunately the Quinta Avenida is no longer legal

17:59:37 From  Donna Kross  to  Hosts and panelists:

Muchas gracias for this important information!

17:59:57 From  Thomas Hansen  to  Hosts and panelists:

Thanks John

18:00:05 From  Vannetta Perry  to  Hosts and panelists:

Fantastic forum!  Thank you so very much! I plan to return to Cuba soon and this is so helpful!

18:00:08 From  Rita McNiff  to  sarah arizaga and all panelists:

I agree with you about the disabled access. If you ever need help in that respect please do not hesitate to reach out I have options

Q & A

1 Hi John:  It would be helpful to hear about conditions in Cuba today.  For visitors is there plenty of food in paladares?  Are there any hotels that Americans can legally use? How is the COVID vaccination program going? James Friedlander

Regarding the food situation, the paladars, many casas and hotels are well stocked. There are also food delivery options from restaurants, private grocery stores and farms with the apps Mandao, Pamicasa and direct sales. There are still no hotels that US citizens can legally use. The COVID vaccination program has gone really well and the country is about 80% fully vaccinated.


Jet Blue begun adding this week. And the other airlines are expected to do so in the coming weeks. Pricing starts to normalize from the US as you look towards mid-January and beyond

4 How is the food situation for tourists? Sheyla Paz
"Reposting here for others: 

Regarding the food situation, Sheyla, the paladars, many casas and hotels are well stocked. There are also food delivery options from restaurants, private grocery stores and farms with the apps Mandao, Pamicasa and direct sales"

5 Where were the concerts you attended this week? eric nadel

La Guarida, El Sauce and the Capri..but there is a ton of live music and concerts happening all over Havana.

6 how are payments for travel working to Havanatur. peter Sanchez

It is still by transfer only and from the US specifically through Centennial Bank

7 what proof of vaccination do you need to show when you arrive? eric nadel

You need to use your vaccination card for a WHO approved vaccine

8 do americans need to bring euros instead of US dollars? eric nadel

Officially yes. Or Canadian or any other currency. Unofficially, USD is accepted as well

9 what are current US restrictions, esp. hotels, licenses ? Cliff DuRand

You still can not use hotels as a US citizen All the regulations pre-pandemic remain largely unchanged. Travel is still permitted under support for the cuban people. To fulfill this category you will need to stay in casa particulares

10 Has anyone you know used the immigration app, the free wifi, or the cash card announced recently by the cuban government? sarah arizaga

"From my knowledge, the cash card app has still not been released. If it has been you don’t see anything about it at the airport, perhaps they are giving it out through official groups but I have not been given this info yet. 

I have used the free wifi at the airport though. It worked well but the airport was quite empty."

11 Is the Mexican peso a good currency to carry to Cuba now? Gonzalo Lopez
Officially yes. But it will be harder to exchange it outside of cadecas and banks

12 Which currency are you using? sarah arizaga


13 If one can't bring US dollars into Cuba how does one exchange dollars for CUPs? Nicholas Long

you can change Canadian Dollars and Euros. Those are the most popular at the moment. But officially every currency outside of USD is accepted.

14 For much of the pandemic, airlines were selling flights that didn’t actually exist, in the hopes that eventually those flights would be approved.  Does it seem that something similar will be happening, or are listed flights now actual flights with approval? Ken Foster

all flights that are listed now are approved.

15 Regarding sanctions: can anyone explain the paradox of Cubans, including those actually in Cuba, who favor further sanctions and support the embargo? Ken Foster

Cubans are subject to state media going on about the sanctions on TV, radio and print all the time. They’ve been talking about it for decades. People are bored of it, many think it’s used as an excuse, other people don’t even hear it. So plenty of people, especially young people, think it’s a lie or a justification. I do think, though, that a strong majority of Cubans are conscious of the damage the sanctions do. I also have never met a Cuban in Cuba who supports the sanctions

16 Ed, do you have a sense among your circle of whether most Cubans want a new govt vs just a better life? sarah arizaga

My guess is that if the government were able to offer a better life - especially vis-a-vis the economy - a strong majority would let’s say “settle” for the government

17 Brilliant commentary by Ed! Christopher Baker

18 That has nothing to do at all with my question. Circles Robinson

19 Do you know what our latest requirements are Covid-wise.  I’m vaxed and boosted, and do I still need a test? Carol Steele

No test required prior to arriving in Cuba. You are just required to have proof of FULL vaccination. They will be randomly testing tourists on arrival and taking temps. [CDC requires Americans returning from all countries even if vaccinated to have either a PCR or GEN instant test J McA]

20 Going in a few weeks, and realized it could change, and continue to change, but do you know for now? Carol Steele
21 jennifer hosek
22 "Here a Nature article:

Cuba’s bet on home-grown COVID vaccines is paying off
Preprint data show that a three-dose combo of Soberana jabs has 92.4% efficacy in clinical trials."

23 Thanks for Ed's briefing. ...  Question:  Might recent events give the government a serious kick in the pants to get serious about economic reforms?  Might D-C actually use them to push the anti-reform guys out of the way?  The government has talking about reform for a long time, but ... Fulton Armstrong

I don’t have any special insight on this. I imagine Bill and Rafael would.

24 that's why they didn't materialize Ben Gritzewsky

25 Can we expect that the “remesas” to Cuban people change in the upcoming weeks or months? Will western union resume operations in Cuba any time soon? Wilfred Labiosa

It’s extremely unlikely.

26 Can funds be transferred from the US directly to private homeowners on the island if they have bank accounts in Cuba? Thomas Hansen

No. There are ways to do transfers through Europe and elsewhere. I don’t want to make this public because sometimes it can cause issues for the companies.  XXX…is a site through Spain that works very well for sending remesas. It is the only one for remesas that I know that is currently working.

27 Bill,    Figures in this administration that were involved in the opening have argued that the Cubans did not reciprocate properly.  Do you have any read on this perspective. Gary Prevost

28 If we are there as well-fed visitors, how do we face our Cuban friends there as they wait all-day on lines to buy the little food available to them if there is any left when they are admitted, and if they can afford the inflated prices.  Or those whose limited food purchased the day before is now spoiled in their poorly insulated refrigerator, because the power was cut for 8-12 hours that day.  (From what I gather from friends, it seems more a problem in the Provinces, not so much in Havana.) norman pearlmutter

"Norman, I understand your concern. But by staying away from Cuba, you are in no way helping improve the economic situation here. All the Cubans I know are desperate that tourism returns because they know with the money generated the situation will improve for all. 

If you are considering coming, help your friends with food purchases, bring them medicine and things that they may need and spend some money yourself in the country. You will be making a difference in bettering the situation and you will truly be Supporting the Cuban People"

29 Is there any merit in trying to get the travel industry together to pressure the administration on some of the measures such as the hotel prohibition? Andrea Holbrook

[Yes Yes Yes  J McA]

30 What role do you see in US policy toward Cuba of the key vote of NJ Sen. Menéndez in the 50-50 split in the Senate, facing key legislative in the near future (Build Back Better, Voting rights, etc.) Ramon Bueno

31 How is transportation to cities outside Havana?  Services outside Havana? Taxis still available to travel to other cities?  Buses for Cubans to travel between cities? Vannetta Perry

Private transportation is still running and readily available. There are fewer public transportation options but just takes a bit more planning.

32 What is considered the most restrictive measure where it comes to tourism in Cuba? Andrea Holbrook

[Loss of general licenses, including use of hotels.  J McA]

33 Can someone clarify if the Cuban government is primarily responsible for the slow rollout of flights from the US.  If so why have they prioritized flights from everywhere else.  Did they not want large numbers of Cuban Americans at this time? Gary Prevost

34 While the Archipielago demonstrations failed to turn out significant numbers of people, July 11th suggested high levels of discontent that are likely to continue in the coming months.   While tourism may go up, U.S. sanctions are, as Bill said, likely to  continue; the economy may not get worst, but it's not going to get a lot better.   What can the Cuban government do to respond to popular discontent, on the one side, and is discontent likely to manifest itself in some political fashion? Geoff Thale

35.  I have younger friends in Cuba who rely on people bringing supplies to them due to the embargo but who are now very much in favor of continued embargo sanctions, which is very strange, but probably due to their getting much of their news via Miami.  Your comments earlier were very enlightening and balanced.  Now I need to keep an eye out for your reports. Ken Foster

36 Does “FULL” vaccination mean having a booster as well? Peter Kornbluh

For the moment, it is the official WHO standard which is 2 for Moderna, Astrazeneca and Pfizer, 1 J&J

37 Lets go back to Prof. LeoGrande and ask him to lay out scenarios for after the midterm elections, if Dems increase majority—Val Demings wins on a conservative Cuba platform—or lose both the Senate and the House. And what could be expected in the period of time between 2022 and 2024. Peter Kornbluh

38 Is Biden administration policy similar to US policy post 91 when Cuba suffered economic decline after the demise of the Soviet Union? Now Cuba faces a not dissimilar crisis vis a vis  COVID and tourism.  Is Biden following a "kick them when they're down" strategy? Thomas Hansen

39 question for Rita: are casa prices holding the same or are they also increasing?  Thank you for all of the solid information. Jennifer Spelman

"Casas are mainly staying the same from my experience. But no one wants to accept CUP, so most owners are trying to find a solution to the AIRBNB situation. Right now any bookings made through Airbnb, and paid obviously in foreign currency by the tourist is being paid out in CUP here to the houses. 

All owners are asking for foreign currency payments so if you book directly you have room to negotiate if you are willing to pay in foreign currency. 

So my advice, save your Euros, CAD etc and only change a little at a time for restaurants and bars etc. You will be doing your Cuban drivers, casa owners a service by paying them in foreign currency."

40 Re. your comment, John, not all tourists are equal from an economic perspective. US tourists spend considerably more than any other country per person. Bob Schwartz

[I don't have the numbers but if you looked at only the on the ground American visitors who come in groups or independently, their per person expenditures are highest but their total number is not so big.  A lot more Americans were coming on cruises, but even with the cruise company port costs and optional excursion fees I don't know how much they contribute per person to the Cuban economy.  Passengers are mostly in Cuba only or one or two days and eat most of their meals on board.  The European and Canadians who largely just go to resorts may spend less on a per person per day basis, but there are a lot more of them.  J McA]

41 Urban agiculture - the organiponicos to alleviate food shortages and hunger? Susan Metz

I wish it were true. But from what I see they produce a only a small % of the vegetables that are consumed in the country. I think their expansion would be a great idea.

42 Rafael: While this is going on, the Constitutional Codes in Cuba seems to be changing, including the Family, Adoption, and other related codes to include LGBTTQ+ community. Do you think these policies will change or is it a facade to gain more support by this community? Wilfred Labiosa

43 What was the position of the Catholic church about 11/7 and 15/11? Yolanda Prieto

44 And the U. S. visitors not only spend more than others, but give much better percentage rate on their tipping. norman pearlmutter

45 check out the Agro at Calle 42 y 19 en Playa  Elena 

46 There is so much great info in the Q&A. Is there a way to save the Q&A? Vannetta Perry

47 I'm happy to say I've been doing this MANY times pre-Covid, and have a planned return for a short visit in coming April. norman pearlmutter

That is great and I know so so very appreciated

48 John. did you score posters? Ben Gritzewsky

[I have a couple of Obama posters for a $100 contribution.  J McA]

49 We operate an accredited study abroad program in Cuba.  How can we send funds from the US (or via Europe or Canada - if so how)? Thomas Hansen

50 Rita: please repeat where US cards are accepted Ben Gritzewsky

[Mastercard and Visa, but as far as we know just for Covid tests  J McA]

51 It is still illegal to bring back cigars and rum ot the U.S.! Peter Kornbluh

[Sadly, yes  J McA]

52 There are now four locations for PCR / antigen tests throughout Havana, announced yesterday Christopher Baker

53 I was able to send money to my cousin in Spain and he in turn transferred money onto my MLC card in Cuba and there was no surcharge placed by the Cuban government. Elena Espinosa

54 John.... can you please display all the participants Christopher Baker

[Not an option on webinar except in chat list  J McA]

55 Thanks to ALL of you! Fulton Armstrong

56 Thanks for all your help, Rita!  Thanks, John. Carol Steele