Circles Robinson Online

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Location: Havana, Cuba

is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cuba Needs Initiative but…

by Circles Robinson

HAVANA TIMES — Like the seemingly never ending US blockade that attacks Cuba’s economy from without, from the inside a corrosion process is gradually eating away at the relatively young 50-year revolution.

Nonetheless, taking initiative to stop the rust is much easier said than done.

Top Cuban leaders have noted repeatedly that to meet the challenges facing the nation, the country is in dire need of greater productivity, better quality services, and more efficient use of resources to reduce imports.

All these things require new ideas, methods and creativity. At the same time there is a conservative political class of managers at most workplaces and government offices who fear and resist any attempts to change the status quo. Anybody who has lived and worked in Cuba knows what I am talking about.

This group of “cuadros” (cadres), known for their political loyalty to their superiors, exist to guarantee the hierarchical top-down command structure, taken on decades ago in the face of the very real US treat.

While it might not have been the initial intention, their function often serves to stifle participation with the result being that many workers in socialist Cuba feel little different from their disempowered counterparts under capitalism.

Several factors influence the resistance to change from the bosses that consider themselves loyal lieutenants of the Revolution, including suspicion of new ideas as well as a defense of petty (but cherished) privileges and perks, and managerial authority.

A manager’s control over material resources, or access to them, in a country with great shortages can also be a big plus if that person’s ethics run adrift. And this has become so commonplace in today’s Cuba that chains of abuse of power and theft have become the norm instead of the exception, a reality President Raul Castro has pledged to fight.

The role of the media

I believe the media plays an important role in making visible these serious problems affecting the Cuban Revolution.

When we started Havana Times our aim was to put into practice a call made by the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC) at its VIII Congress last July to leave behind the self-censorship that has characterized the local press.

But taking initiative that could stimulate controversy is also risky in the media, although not in the sense of Mexico, Guatemala, Columbia and many other countries. In Cuba no journalist has been murdered since Ecuadorian reporter Carlos Bastidas Arguello in 1958, the year before the Cuban Revolution.

However, the drive to write about everyday life and problems in Cuba, and their possible causes, can quickly prove damaging to a writer or editor’s career. The fact is that managers in the Cuban media also want to avoid rocking the boat.

Ask young reporters working for the local media what happens when they take initiative to write about thorny or controversial issues in a more than superficial way.

One statistic illustrates the answer: While in countries like the United States, reporters and other newspaper workers have been laid off by the thousands during the current economic crisis, in tiny Cuba there are currently several hundred journalist jobs nationwide waiting to be filled.

Aside from the country’s aging population, one of the main reasons for the vacancies is that the profession, and how it is practiced, has little attraction to young Cubans. The media is seen as an ultra-rigid, monotonous, highly controlled field.

But a lack of workplace motivation is not only present in the media; it runs throughout many sectors of society. Many people agree that the biggest factor is the low salaries, but one could add that the opportunity for taking greater initiative could be a way to improve morale. People might then feel like active participants on the job, rather than alienated and indifferent, while waiting to be told what to do.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hillary Tough on Cuba Spies

by Circles Robinson

When you have spent a half century trying to overthrow a neighboring country’s government, assassinate its leaders and officials, and umpteen other types of sabotage, it should be no surprise that somebody’s conscious might go astray from the norm.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage this week about the former government employee Walter Kendal Myers, 72 and his wife Gwendolyn Myers 71, having passed on classified information to the Cuban government, which they reportedly admired.

Clinton did not say whether the Myers put in jeopardy terrorist actions planned against Cuba by Miami exiles with US government support, a practice that has been steadfast policy practically since Fidel Castro rode into Havana in 1959.

"I have directed our security personnel to review every possible security program we have, every form of vetting and clearance that we employ in the State Department, to determine what more we can do to guard against this kind of outrageous violation," Clinton told reporters at a news conference in Indonesia, reported Reuters.

Myers and his wife were arrested and charged with conspiracy to act as illegal agents of the Cuban government and conspiracy to communicate classified information to Havana. A hearing on Wednesday will determine whether the retired couple —who pleaded not guilty— will remain in prison until their trial.

The Myers, who live in northwest Washington D.C. face a possible 35-year sentence that would all but assure their death in prison.

The Obama administration is the 11th consecutive US government to maintain an economic blockade on Cuba and continues to forbid its citizens from traveling to the Caribbean island nation without special Treasury Dept. permission.

Bills are currently in committees in both US House of Representatives and the Senate to relax portions of the blockade and eliminate the travel ban. President Obama has not supported nor said whether he would sign such bills if they reach his desk.

On Tuesday, the Jamaica Business Observer quoted Daniel Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue and Sarah Stephens for Centre for Democracy in the Americas as saying at a conference in Kingston that at least the travel ban on US citizens wanting to visit Cuba may be lifted “by September or October.”

At the same time Stephens said “It will be very tough to get to that final ending of the embargo (called a blockade in Cuba) anytime soon. But I think that the lifting of the travel ban is real.”

Numerous business and travel related groups lobbying Congress to end the travel ban believe that an influx of US visitors to Cuba will eventually pressure the Obama administration to restore normal diplomatic and trade relations with the neighboring island.

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