Castro Opponents Cast Off Differences In New Push For Democracy In Cuba

Efforts by the government to reorganize the island’s economy have sparked renewed opposition demands for serious democratic reforms. Willing for now to overlook their own differences, dissidents have joined forces under a new declaration.

Castro Opponents Cast Off Differences In New Push For Democracy In Cuba
More than a half century after its revolution, Cuba continues to be governed by the Castro family
Paulo A. Paranagua

HAVANA -- For many years now, the famous Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, 59, has been living in a house in the Cerro neighborhood, a humble district in Havana. Walls in the parlor display a poster referring to the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which Paya received in 2002; the portraits of his three children; and a picture of himself carrying the boxes containing the 25,000 signatures collected through the Varela Project. This project began in 1998 and asked for a referendum on democratic reforms in Cuba. Most of the 75 political dissidents who were convicted and sent to jail during the 2003 Black Spring were involved in the Varela Project, the most important dissident campaign to date.

On the sidewalk across the street, words painted on a wall say "on a besieged island, every dissident is a traitor." Paya admits that his "children grew up surrounded by attacks and harassment," but he is proud of their school results, something he attributes to their religious family education. "I met my wife in 1986, at the Cuban National Ecclesiastical Church (CNEC), which was a turning point for our Church," adds this Christian Democrat dissident. Ten years ago he prayed for Felix Varela, leader of both the Cuban Church and of the Cuban independence movement, to bless him and his petition for a referendum.

More than a dozen years after the Varela Project was launched, Paya is once again campaigning, though within in a somewhat different context. Cuba is now being led by Fidel Castro's brother, Raul, who is looking to reorganize the country's economy. Pava has convinced the main political figures of the opposition to sign a common declaration demanding say in Raul Castro's policy decisions. The declaration was launched in mid-July.

A country is not a cake

"This is a way of reminding people that we are here, and that we are the real change," explains Paya. "Raul Castro wants to make sure that the people who have been running the country for the past 52 years stay. Until now, the Castro brothers have run Cuba like a private farm and now they want to put it up for auction as if it were a cake to be shared. We don't want to privatize or to have foreign investments without people's approval."

The declaration signed by the opponents asks for legislative changes so as to guarantee freedoms of speech, association, protest and movement – both inside the island and abroad. The document also demands access to the media and the Internet, free elections at every political level and the organization of a constitutional convention. As Paya says, "we are defending our free education and a free health-care systems as well as the housing system, but we demand universal human rights. Otherwise, the measures that the government adopted will increase social inequalities and thus increase the risk of a social confrontation."

Many opponents are in favor of this peaceful transition, via a dialogue among all the Cuban people. Among those involved in the campaign are Martha Beatriz, a conservative, Cuesta Morua, a social-democratic left-winger, and former political prisoners such as Hector Maceda. Other dissidents include members of the Ladies in White group (wives or female relatives of jailed dissidents) such as Laura Pollan, and the political activist Guillermo Fariñas, well-known for his hunger strikes.

Interestingly, the opposition declaration makes no mention of the American embargo against Cuba, which many, but not all who signed the petition, would like the U.S. government to lift. The decision not to include the embargo issue was very much intention, according to Manuel Cuesta Morua. "The embargo is still a point of contention among us," he says. "The opposition understands that the current circumstances demand that we leave old discrepancies aside."

Cuesta Morua says there are also differences of opinion – among Cuban dissidents on the one hand, and foreign governments on the other – over the reforms being undertaken by Raul Castro. Some foreign governments are optimistic about the adjustments that are afoot. People in Cuba, in contrast, are much more jaded, insists Cuesta Morua.

"Cuban people know that the government is totally improvising so as to stay in power," he says. "What Cuba really needs is change, not a simple economic reorganization."

Read the original article in French

Photo - flippinyank

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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