By Circles Robinson, editor
HAVANA TIMES — Dear readers, today we’ve reached eight years of bringing you our open-minded writing from and about Cuba. Most of the founders are still with us, and several new writers have also joined us in the last year.
When we started, I never expected it to last so long. It began as an after-work “labor of love”, at a time when I was still working for a Cuban government agency that assisted the Cuban media with translations.
In our official presentation of the site, the president of the Cuban Journalists’ Association (UPEC) publicly offered us his political support for our effort. My boss also stood up to say he was sure that Havana Times would make a good contribution to journalism from Cuba.
The idea of combining journalist and non-journalist writing was a novel approach for the Cuban media. I felt there was a need for greater diversity of opinion on issues involving Cuba’s past, present and future, and a fresh attempt to present the many viewpoints on the island’s reality.
From the beginning, we set out to distance our publication from the polarized and conservative Cuban government media as well as from the mostly foreign-based anti-Castro media.
Six months after beginning, UPEC privately withdrew its support for our effort; this came as a disappointment but no surprise. The sharp criticism of government policies by several of our bloggers was too much for an organization that is totally dependent economically and ideologically on the government/party line.
As the project continued, it began to hit home for me just how polarized the Cuban reality was from a media standpoint. At one point, four colleagues – three Cubans and one foreigner told me, in as many words, that those young people writing in HT should stop their complaining and just leave the country if they don’t like the system. Since then, tens of thousands of talented young people have left Cuba, an exodus that continues today at a high rate. In my opinion, this is a tragic loss to the nation.
Writing for Havana Times has presented risks for our writers. Cuba isn’t Mexico, Iraq or Colombia, and no journalist has been killed nor have any of our writers received a jail sentence thus far (although journalists from other independent media have). Nonetheless, several HT writers were blacklisted and are no longer able to work for the State, the only legal employer in their fields of study. A few have since left the country for further studies or to work abroad.
Some HT writers were already divorced from State employment and thus had more freedom to participate without reprisals, beyond occasional questioning by plain-clothes State Security agents. Others continue in their State jobs, using a pen name to try and dodge repression.
As a self-financed site with a little help from my friends, HT has refused to apply for any grants from direct or indirect US government funding sources. Since we can only pay a very small amount per article, this has been a disadvantage compared to sites with hundreds of thousands of dollars of yearly grants from agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), or compared to numerous Cuban government media outlets which have an army of full-time staff.
The issue of refusing such grant funding is a controversial one. Some of our writers lament the editorial policy of rejecting such funding which would allow us to pay a fair amount for articles. Others believe we should stay on the course as established.
I am not a fan of US foreign policy, neither the hard version (military aid or intervention) nor the soft “democracy building” funding. This, even when I may agree with some assessments regarding the lack of freedom and rights in the country involved.
I simply don’t buy the idea that Washington has the right to be the world’s policeman.
I also firmly believe that the US has many human rights and democracy issues at home to deal with, and that corporate control over its electoral processes and the resulting disenfranchisement of the US population should be the first item of US business.
On the other hand, I totally understand other independent Cuba-related media’s decision to accept such funding, as long as it doesn’t come with strings attached regarding their work. Some would say that there are always strings involved, but I prefer not to judge. Accepting outside funding from US government sources has allowed them to maintain a paid staff and pay a fairer amount to their writers. With the economic reality in Cuba, this is quite understandable.
And speaking of funding, HT is planning in the coming year to launch a campaign for reader donations and an effort to sell some Cuba travel related advertisements. This was not a necessity in the past, but it now is.
We have rarely asked our readership for help. I’d like to use this birthday celebration to recognize those readers who responded to our call this year to donate laptops to our writers, many without anything of their own to work on. The campaign facilitated their work by sending 15 laptops and 2 tablets, with a few more waiting in Europe for travelers to bring with them. To those who donated these essential computers, you have made an important contribution to both Havana Times and the individuals involved.
Eight years after our birth, we maintain the same vision and the same objectives. Some of our goals, in no special order, have been:
Instead of proclaiming success or failure, we will let you judge whether these goals have or have not been met. I can assure you however, that we at the Havana Times will strive to improve our publication each and every year.
Likewise, we would like to invite you to visit Cuba and write your travel experiences on the pages of Havana Times. Your impressions will help those on the island and abroad gain greater insight into life on the island.
HAVANA TIMES – The piece titled “Another Treaty of Paris” premiered yesterday January 24th at the Hors Pistes Event 2018 | La Nation et ses Fictions, at the Pompidou Center in Paris, France.
Its authors, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, recreate through a fiction piece, a supposed political testament found with the last reflections of Fidel Castro about his government, the Revolution and the future of Cuba.
Collaborators: Enrique del Risco, Pedro Ruiz. Commissioned by Hors Pistes and Elegoa Cultural Productions.
This being the last time I address you, I feel compelled to speak not only to those who have always accompanied me but to those who, for a mistaken notion of History, have opposed me. I want to address, finally, those who have accompanied me in my rough journey through the History of our country, no matter what side of the trench they were on: the attack on the Moncada barracks, Sierra, Girón, the Missile Crisis, Escambray, the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs), in Angola, in Ethiopia, at the Peruvian Embassy, the Mariel exodus, Case Number 1 of 1989 (which was the trial of Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez), the Maleconazo protest, at the Rafter’s Crisis, at the Sunday parades of the Ladies in White.
In each and every one of those moments, there were always Cubans willing to shed their blood or their fellowman’s blood, whether or not they were right! The task we had in front of us, to build socialism in the very face of the US Empire (or to prevent it, in the case of those who were opposed to the work of the Revolution) was a huge one. Sadly, today we are more capitalist than we were forty years ago, but we cannot say that our effort was in vain.
And it has not been in vain because it has allowed us to reflect on our successes and our mistakes. We have had many successes. And I do not only mean the education system, the health system, the Olympic medals or the great National Ballet. We must take into account the prosperous city that we Cubans have built on the other side of the Florida Strait, a city where compatriots from different generations and ideological and political conceptions of the world live together.
But also, in our effort to build a new society, we have made mistakes and have been guilty of excesses that should force us to reflect in order to avoid repeating them in the future. Because you might say, for instance, that never has any people in Latin America placed so much confidence in their leader and never has that leader betrayed this confidence to such an extent.
It could be said that, in my effort to defend the conquests of Revolution and Socialism, I stopped at nothing: neither the execution of such close collaborators as General Ochoa nor the murder of children, like those in the 13th of March tugboat. Further analysis would be required to determine if it was right to incarcerate, exile or execute so many compatriots or to have abused the people’s desires and efforts in the way that I did, to create a better world for so many.
It should be analyzed whether it was entirely correct and justified to destroy the wealth accumulated by so many generations since the beginnings of our Nation; or to make the new generations believe that our entire history was an endless accumulation of misery and that we could not aspire to anything but misery and underdevelopment.
It could even be said that never in the history of this country have the people been subjected to a government as criminal and arbitrary as mine; and that none of our rulers have possessed as much power as I had or abused that power to such an extent.
In any case, for all the failures, errors, excesses and negative tendencies suffered by this country in the last decades, nobody else can be blamed but me. The responsibility is absolutely mine. Am I going to blame somebody? No! The imperialists? No! I have to blame myself! Because, if my power were absolute, my responsibility should also be absolute in the face of the difficulties I have caused you.
For example, I could be blamed for the murder of over eight thousand people, the incarceration of tens of thousands for the felony of opposing me; and the exile of millions.
I could also be blamed for having destroyed all the best institutions in this country to build new ones at my service; found guilty of destroying the economy and annihilating its main industries; of shattering the best of our cities.
I could be blamed of turning every Cuban into a potential enemy to other Cubans and every Cuban family into a battlefield, infinitely divided. Be found guilty of turning hate and distrust into our official languages. I could be blamed for sending hundreds of thousands of our people to many parts of the world to kill and be killed for the greater glory of the Revolution.
I could be blamed for making this island an inhabitable and hostile place and for making escape from it the only possible hope for Cubans. Found guilty of the deaths of those trying to escape, and of course, the deaths of those executed while trying to escape.
Nonetheless, it was my duty to carry out this historical task and I remained true to it.
I don’t know whether you are willing to forgive me for these facts. I still want to apologize. Apologize to all of those who have been hurt by my actions and decisions. But I also want to apologize to those who obeyed and still continue worshiping me. Forgive me if I have turned you into the worst version of yourselves: into oppressors, informers, into experts in the different variations of human misery. Forgive me if I did not let you find a greater sense to your lives than to serve me and my “bigger than ourselves” projects, like I once said. Forgive me for insisting that you defend a regime in which not even your children can or want to live.
I apologize for slandering the past of this Nation just to praise the present I offered you; I apologize for all the future I could deny you.
I apologize if I twisted the Cuban’s personality, if I nurtured his or her selfishness and meanness; I want to apologize for encouraging flattery and persecuting criticism.
I want to apologize for destroying the meaning of certain words and concepts: for turning the good into bad and the bad into good; for persecuting decency and rewarding abjection; for associating the nation with my regime and making myself synonymous with the country.
I am sorry for making homeland synonymous with death.
I hope that recognizing these mistakes will make us wiser and more tolerant. That is why I invite my compatriots from all over the world to unite for the prosperity of the Nation, no matter what their ideals may be. I also want to warn the new leaders of my country to be very careful with power because power corrupts, as I myself have been able to confirm. And that, in the democratic future of the island, they remember these lessons.
Homeland and life. We will triumph!