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The arrival in Cuba on Monday of the former U.S. president Jimmy Carter “to have meetings with President Raul Castro and other leaders” has triggered a series of speculations ranging from the case of Alan Gross to the opening of breaches in the blockade-embargo.

But the oddest thing, in my view, is that this visit comes after a group of programs designed specifically to discredit and demonize meetings between opponents and personalities from Cuban civil society with American diplomats and citizens have been aired on national television .

Personally, I think it’s a good thing that Carter will talk with Raul Castro and be received in his office, what I can’t understand is: who has given Carter a certificate of good behavior that disassociates him from USAID, the State Department, the CIA and other demons?

Why can one sit and talk with a person who was of the commander-in-chief of all the armies of the Empire, while an ordinary common citizen can’t have a cup of coffee with a simple official from the U.S. Interest Section or with a representative of some American NGO?


A television program, in order to be classified as such, needs to be broadcast through a channel and aired on television. For now, we Cuban citizens disconnected from the State institutions lack the necessary resources to produce a program completely within the law. We have to content ourselves recording from an amateur cameraman or two, and then try to edit a version on the computer. Then, if the file isn’t too big, we will upload it to the Internet and interested people will find the URL to download it. Some will copy it onto a CD or a DVD or a flash memory and pass it onto someone else who will play it who will also reproduce it and pass it on to someone else as if it were the flu.

This is the experience we recently shared with a group of friends. Dagoberto Valdés, Miriam Celaya, Dimas Castellanos, Yoani Wilfredo Sánchez Vallin and this writer. For half an hour we talked about a very general theme: The capacity of Cuban citizens to be citizens, independently of the official institutions. The result: An audiovisual titled “Citizen Reasons.”

In this space we offer no revelations, nor do we call anyone to action. In a respectful way we address a topic about which participants express themselves freely. If conditions were favorable and if we agree that the effort makes sense, we will repeat the experience as often as we can, to touch on other aspects of our reality. There will be other guests.

Click on the link to see the video: Citizen Reasons

On Monday, March 14, the newspaper Granma published on the second page in huge point type, Agreement No. 30/11 of the Central Bank of Cuba Committee on Monetary Policy, where it was announced that from this day forward the dollar and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) would have a parity of one-to-one in the whole country. Retirees and hopefuls, cautious Cubans who had saved their “bucks” waiting for a better opportunity, thought that for every ten dollars they would be given ten convertible pesos, as happened from 1994 until April 2005. Or so thought those who didn’t read as far as the seventh paragraph where this information was added:

“It should be clear that profit margins currently applied to foreign exchange operations will be maintained. The purpose of this is to cover the costs of financial institutions that provide these services.”

It was worse for those who didn’t read the eighth paragraph where it specified:

“Likewise, the current 10% tax applied to those who wish to buy convertible pesos with U.S. dollars remains in effect, as compensation for the costs and risks originating in the manipulation of the latter as a consequence of the irrational and unjust economic, financial and commercial blockade, imposed, for more than half a century, by the United States government on Cuba.

So the hundred turns into 87 and not 100 as the optimists believed. Seven more CUC cents for every dollar sent by family overseas means little in the domestic economy though it can’t be denied that it’s a slow and timid step toward making our finances healthy.

Although this decision still doesn’t affect the exchange rate between CUCs used to buy products in hard-currency stores and moneda nacional — Cuban pesos — in which wages are paid in State workplaces. We can assume that the 1-to-24 ratio for selling CUCs and the 1-to-25 ratio for buying them won’t last forever and I dare to conjecture that when this relationship is modified, appealing to the same rationality invoked now, it will not increase the value of the bills illustrated with photos (Cuban pesos), while those illustrated with statues (CUCs) are worth more.

“I know the naysayers are coming now to pour cold water on my illusions,” a neighbor parodied in a tango tempo, on hearing a Cuban television report revealing a plan to flood with soybeans what has been taken over by marabou weed, where sugar cane was once planted in the fertile lands of Ciego de Avila. The long documentary had its premiere at the end of the last meeting of the full Council of Ministers and tasted of a long-hidden letter, revealed at just the right time.

After the program he told me he had committed the inexcusable error of not recording it, as the promises of the Havana Cordon* had never been recorded, nor the Ten Million Ton Harvest*, nor that flood of milk the intensively grazed F1 and F2 cows* would bring, nor the promises of amazing pedagogical results from the Schools in the Countryside*, nor the solution to the housing problems with the Microbrigades*, nor the micro-jet bananas* in the food plan, nor the success of the new Chinese locomotives* and so many others of the “Now we’ve got it…!” heard over the course of a half century.

Soy and corn as alternate crops is a brilliant idea, especially it if can be brought to pass without relying on volunteers and paying attention to profitability and ecological environmental sustainability; but not another “test project” that will be completed “no matter what the obstacles,” in order to prove that someone was right. Hopefully my neighbor’s tango parody will not end up like the original of, “Everything is a lie, to lie is to cry…”

Translator’s notes:
Havana Cordon: Fidel’s plan in the late 1960s to plant coffee trees in a cordon around Havana and to grow coffee as an export crop. It didn’t work; coffee doesn’t grow at sea level.
Ten Million Ton Harvest: Fidel’s “conservative” plan to have the largest sugar harvest in Cuban history in 1970. It failed.
F1 and F2 Cows: Fidel’s plan to “flood” the country with milk from hybrid Brahmin-Hereford cows. It didn’t work and milk is severely rationed in Cuba.
Schools in the Countryside: For decades Cuban teenagers were sent to boarding schools in the countryside to study and work in the fields. The program has been discontinued.
Microbrigades: “Self-help housing” through assigning groups of people from each workplace to build large apartment houses. Reinaldo was assigned from his workplace and lives in one of the apartments built. Still, Cuba has a tremendous shortage of housing.
Micro-jet bananas: Fidel’s project to import an Israeli growing method to flood the country with bananas. Bananas are in short supply in Cuba.
Chinese locomotives: Cuba has imported over 50 locomotives from China and they do help, but the trains continue to run late, often days late.

Link to Original Blog in Spanish

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Reinaldo Escobar (1947), an independent journalist since 1989, writes from Cuba where he was born and continues to live. He received his degree in Journalism from the University of Havana in 1971 and subsequently worked for different Cuban publications. His articles can be found in various European publications, and in the digital magazines "Cuba Encuentro" and "Contodos."

Desde Aquí/From Here is a personal undertaking born from the need to write about those topics that fill my head every day but that cannot find a space in the official Cuban media.

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