Cuba-Brazil: The Battle of the White Coats

Cuban doctors who stay in Brazil will be forbidden entry to the island for eight years. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 19 November 2018 – We saw the conflict coming. From the moment Jair Bolsonero won the elections in Brazil, Cuba’s official discourse increased in rhetoric against him and prepared public opinion for the rupture that was imminent.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for the Plaza of the Revolution was the statements by the president-elect in which he warned that he would change the conditions of the agreement under which more than 8,300 physicians from Cuba work in Brazil’s Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program.

Last Wednesday, tensions escalated to their highest point when the Cuban Minister of Public Health announced that he was cancelling the contract and removing his professionals from the South American country. The official notice, read out on all of the island’s the news programs, repeated that Bolsonaro’s threats would not be tolerated but deftly ignored some of his words. Particularly those where the rightist leader insisted that the Cuban doctors should receive their full salaries and be able to bring their families to stay with them while they were in the program.

The Cuban government has made medical missions a lucrative business. With professionals deployed in more than 60 countries, the money raised by this practice is Cuba’s largest source of foreign currency, estimated to exceed $11 billion annually.

In the case of Brazil, Havana pockets 75% of the 3,300 dollar salary Brazil pays for each doctor, while the health professionals only receive a quarter of the total. On the Island, in a bank account which they do not have access to, their “Cuban” monthly salary of about 60 dollars accumulates, which they can only collect if they return to the island.

Those who leave the Mais Medicos program under their own will are considered deserters and are banned from entering Cuba for eight years. During the time the Workers’ Party (PT) was at the head of the Brazilian government, the doctors who escaped from their contracts were pursued by the Brazilian police and could be returned to the Island if they were arrested. None were allowed to bring their family members to be with them during their missions, and they were often housed in overcrowded hostels shared with other doctors, nurses and hospital technicians.

Despite so many difficulties and the low earnings, the missions were very much desired by the doctors because they were able to buy goods that are not available in Cuban markets, and to make contacts that would later allow them to return to Brazil privately, with a contract to work in some clinic.

Beyond its ability to provide healthcare for many Brazilians in the poorest areas of the country, the Mais Medicos program hid a political operation to build support for the leftist Workers’ Party and guarantee it the votes of the lower classes. It was clear that Cuba’s interest in this outcome was not going to continue with Bolsonaro in charge, thus it was only a matter of time before Castroism removed its healthcare professionals from Brazil. It only remains now to ask how many of them will actually return to the island.

The president-elect of Brazil has announced that he will grant political asylum to all Cuban doctors who request it and it is expected that a considerable number will benefit from this offer. Those who do so will lose the right to return to their homeland for many long years, they will be called traitors and, most likely, their families on the island will be under pressure. The battle of the white coats has barely begun.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Flour Shortage Affects Thousands of Private Businesses in Cuba

The Cuban milling industry is going through a bad time because of the lack of raw material and problems with infrastructure. (Imsa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, November 18, 2018 — First eggs went missing, then it was sugar’s turn, and now it’s wheat flour that has been added to the list of products that are lacking in Cuban markets. The valuable ingredient is the basis of many recipes that are sold in private businesses, like sweets, breads, and pizzas, and so its absence puts the menus of these cafes and private restaurants in crisis.

The problems started in the middle of this year, when the lack of spare parts for mills and a drop in the arrival of raw material caused a shortage of wheat flour, as Jesús Rodríguez, first vice president of the Business Group of Food Industry (GEIA), told the official press at that time.

After the crisis generated by the deficit of the product in the markets for several weeks, authorities decided to import 15,000 additional tons to guarantee the preparation of bread for the rationed market and bread bound for social assistance. However, the hard currency stores remained secondary in the distribution. continue reading

Without a wholesale market to go to, the self-employed must buy from the network of retail businesses. “A few months ago we could still find a 5-kilo bag of flour but now not even the 1-kilo is available,” laments Jesús Ruiz, a vendor of sweets on Calle Infanta in Havana.

“For our business flour is the main ingredient, because pastries, cakes, and all the other sweets that we sell are made from flour,” the entrepreneur explains to 14ymedio. “When there is none, we can only remain open selling soft drinks and shakes, so we have a lot of losses, it’s as if they have taken away the oxygen that allows us to breathe as a cafe,” he points out.

Traditionally many owners of private businesses go to the black market to stock up on flour. The product arrives in the informal business network after being diverted [i.e. stolen] from bakeries on the rationed system and other state centers. However, the deficit of the past few months has sharpened the administrative controls and notably diminished the illegal sale of flour.

The shortage of the crucial ingredient “isn’t going to have a short-term solution,” according to an employee of the José Antonio Echevarría mill in Havana, one of the principal wheat processing centers in the country. The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, attributes the deficit to the “terrible situation of the infrastructure” of the industry.

“The spare parts that we were waiting for haven’t arrived, and the mill is far below its capacity, it’s only milling to satisfy the demand of the subsidiary services, like the one-pound loaf and whatever is bound for schools or work centers,” he clarifies. “From the 500 tons daily that we were expecting to be processing by this time of the year, we aren’t doing even a fifth of that.”

“But it’s not only a problem of parts, but also that the transporting of cereals via Cuba Railways and other methods isn’t functioning well,” adds the mill worker. “Sometimes the merchandise stays in our warehouses and deteriorates because they don’t come to pick it up in time.” Nevertheless, he emphasizes that the whole situation has worsened in the past few weeks because of the lack of raw material.

“There’s no money to buy wheat and even if we had a great industry with all new equipment, we can’t make miracles if there aren’t products to put through the mills,” he specifies. “Wheat flour is considered a strategic line of goods and it is like this for us, what will remain for other industries that aren’t prioritized,” he questions.

Something similar is happening at the Turcios Lima plant, also in the capital, which for the past few years hasn’t managed to regain the 130 tons of wheat that it obtained once a day. The other three mills, out of the five in the country, are located in Matanzas, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba, all of them in a deteriorated technical state.

In the portfolio of opportunities for foreign investment is included the assembly of a wheat mill for processing 300,000 tons of flour each year at a cost of $120 million, but the offer has generated little interest until now.

“Most affected are the businesses that sell Italian food,” says Ricardo Valdés, courier at a restaurant specializing in pizza and pasta in Havana’s Chinatown. “The flour reserves that we had for some emergency are running out and we don’t know if we are going to be able to remain open by the end of the year,” he tells this newspaper.

In the Milling Factory of Havana, located in the Regla municipality, the telephones haven’t stopped ringing in the last few weeks with calls from self-employed people worried about the supply of the product. The joint-venture, specializing in flours, semolina, and wheat bran, processes the majority of the merchandise that ends up on the shelves of stores that sell in convertible pesos.

In the last year packages of flour of a foreign make, originating primarily in Italy and Spain but also Mexico, have also arrived at these businesses. “We don’t have foreign flour now, either, because we ran out even though it’s more expensive than the nationally produced kind,” assures an employee of La Puntilla market, one of the best stocked in the capital.

“When we put out a few packets they run out right away because the self-employed take them,” says the employee. “We’ve had to put limits on purchases so that people don’t take 10 or 20 packets at once, but this doesn’t solve the problem.”

A few meters away, a private business offers empanadas, pizzas, and churros. “We are going to stay open until we run out of our last bag of flour but after that we will have to close,” says the owner. The self-employed man believes that a solution could be allowing people to import the product in a private manner. “But that would be asking a lot because they don’t allow us commercial import.”

The entire vast framework of businesses, small shops, points of sale, and the most sophisticated restaurants that operate on a basis of flour wait for the state to manage to revive production or permit private people to bring in the basic ingredient from other countries.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

El Patrón Feels Wronged

Jair Bolsonaro conditioned Cubans remaining in the Mais Medicos program, to their receiving their total, among other measures. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 November 2018 — The most significant thing about the statement from Cuba’s Ministry of Health (Minsap) announcing the withdrawal rom Brazil’s Mais Medicos program is that it does not clearly mention the real causes of such a dramatic decision.

The angry reaction arose after Señor Bolsonaro, president-elect of the giant South American nation, announced that the new conditions for Cuba to remain in the collaborative program would be: first, that the Cuban doctors would have to revalidate their credentials according to Brazilian standards; second, that the collaborators would receive their full salary – that is the money that Brazil pays for their services would go entirely to them; and third, that they would have the right to bring their families with them to Brazil. continue reading

The official statement from Cuba’s Ministry of Health only mentions the need to revalidate the title, which is interpreted as disrespectful, as emphasized by the words: “It is not acceptable to question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of Cuban collaborators who, with the support of their families, currently provide services in 67 countries. ”

Another reason to terminate this collaboration which is not confessed in the Minsap statement, is that the Cuban government does not want a right-wing ruler to be able to show achievements in the health of his nation’s citizens. That was an advantage that Cuba was happy to offer to the Workers Party as part of the practices of political clientelism, which includes quotas for young Latin Americans to come to Cuba to study medicine.

Cuba today has about 8,300 doctors in Brazil for which Brazil pays a salary of 3,300 dollars a month, but in reality the doctors themselves receive only 25% of that because the rest goes into the coffers of the Cuban government. Hence, many doctors have been annoyed that Minsap’s statement announcing the withdrawal of the mission says, “Employees have been kept employed at all times and receive 100% of their salary in Cuba” without clarifying that the salary it is talking about is a monthly payment that seldom exceeds the equivalent of $60 US, insignificant when compared to the nearly $2,500 that the state receives for each doctor in Brazil.

On the national television midday news, where the statement was read in full, it was added that “Cuba’s medical collaboration in the world is used to pay for investments or programs that reach everyone on the Island, that generate income that contributes to the economic and social development and circumvents the United States blockade. ”

Since August 2013, when Dilma Rousseff organized this program in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization, Cuban doctors were warned that they could not enter into contracts “freely” – that is on their own – and also since then they have been prohibited from taking revalidation exams.

Any “disobedients” caught in this “lack of discipline” were immediately returned to the island as punishment and if they dared to leave the mission they were defined as deserters and consequently were forbidden to return to Cuba for at least eight years.

In fact, the great offense that Bolsonaro has given the Cuban Government is to open the doors of his immense country to doctors who want to work there. Until now, the first reaction to the Cuban decision was a message on Mr. Bolsonaro’s Twitter account, where he lamented the withdrawal of Cuba from the Mais Medicos program; the second was his promise made at a press conference to give asylum to doctors who wanted to stay in Brazil.

In these critical moments for the Cuban economy, the annual 11.5 billion dollars that the country receives for the provision of professional services around the world, will be significantly reduced with the abrupt termination of the presence in Brazil, but in addition, the doctors who have to return to Cuba before their end of their “missions” in Brazil will be harmed.

Despite the difficult conditions that result from establishing themselves in places where no other medical professional wants to be and despite the burden of the low salary – from which the doctors had to cover their own living expenses – Brazil was one of the places most desired by Cuban doctors who, beyond their spirit of solidarity and altruism, wanted to fulfill a mission there to solve at least part that nation’s shortcomings in the provision of healthcare.

If something has been clear, it is that among the priorities of the Cuban government, rather than the humanitarian vocation to save lives, were to improve the image of a leftist party before its electorate and to earn money at the expense of the exploitation of professional work.

It is an indisputable sovereign right of Brazil to require any professional to revalidate their qualifications to practice in the country. It is a right of doctors to receive in full the salary that is being paid for them, and then pay the taxes on that salary that the law provides. It is also their right to be accompanied by family members if they wish.

Where is the offense?

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Nobody Knows How To Eradicate Pollution From Cuba’s Agabama and Sipiabo Rivers

The official press criticizes the obsolete infrastructure, which contributes to the poor state of the waters. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2018 — Three months after the local press in Sancti Spíritus denounced the contamination of several tributaries of the Agabama and Sipiabo rivers, surrounding the municipality of Fomento, swimming has been banned in those waters by the authorities,  due to the lack of action and the exchange of accusations between different institutions that have not yet resolved the situation.

“What have the main entities done to take action to counteract the pollution of the aquifers? What factors have contributed to the phenomenon that instead of  improving it is getting worse?”, questions an article in the Escambray newspaper, which notes that about five years ago bacteriological analysis of the water began.

Last July, the Provincial Center of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology reported that they had carried out analyses of 10 water samples in the swimming areas of Balnerario, Ramblazo and Campismo Popular La Hormiga, whose waters are fed by the Agabama and Sipiabo rivers. In all of them  “the presence of total coliform bacteria and fecal coliform over the permissible parameters” were found, the official media reports. continue reading

Among the causes of the pollution reported by the Ministry of Public Health in October are the discharge of domestic wastewater and the excrement of pigs raised by individuals in their homes. Although experts from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (Citma) maintain the hypothesis that the Agabama River is contaminated from Santa Clara.

The local press argues that, according to the provisions of Law No. 124 of Terrestrial Waters that governs the management of this resource and guarantees its protection and quality, the power to ensure the quality of water is the responsibility of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), Citma, the Ministry of Public Health, and the local bodies of the People’s Power. These organizations do not know how to come to agreement in order to to solve the water problem in Fomento.

“I was unaware of the magnitude of the closure of the swimming areas due to the contamination of surface waters,” the Provincial sub-delegate for Hydraulic Resources,Yusliadys Lorenzo Coca, told Escambray.

The Hydraulic Utilization Company does not seem to know anything about the situation, either. The technical director of the entity, Francisco Hernández Lorenzo, said that he also did not know about the imbalance, alleging that they are responsible for the sources of the supply. When the local journalists reminded him that the company is the owner of the water, the manager placed blame on a higher institution. “Public Health should have communicated to do a joint study, because this has an impact on the population,” he replied.

Citma, for its part, placed the responsibility on other institutions. “Who is responsible for taking action?, those who use the water and manage it: Hydraulic Resources, Agriculture, Azcuba, local bodies of the People’s Power,” said Néstor Álvarez Cruz, director of the Environmental Unit in Sancti Spíritus.

“While in the law there are many that bear responsibility, in practice few take action on the matter, and the solution may take as many years as the pollution lasts,” the Escambray article points out in conclusion, while denouncing the lack of knowledge on the part of the competent authorities, the lack of organization and the obsolescence of the infrastructure.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Slams the Door on the ‘More Doctors’ Program in Brazil

More than 8,300 Cuban healthcare professionals work in Brazil (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 14 November 2018 — Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health (Minsap) reported on Wednesday in an official statement that it is withdrawing from the Mais Medicos social program in Brazil due to the “derogatory and threatening” words of president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who announced modifications to this project that the Cuban Government considers “unacceptable.”

Minsap has also circulated a message among Cuban doctors who work in Brazil to continue working until their transportation is organized for their return to the island. The message specifies that doctors must “avoid provocations” and maintain “self-care and protection.”

In the official note published on Facebook on Wednesday, Minsap emphasizes that in the five years of work in that country “about 20,000 Cuban employees performed 113,359,000 patient consultation” serving a population of “up to 60 million Brazilians,” (out of a total population of about 209 million), at a time when the Cuban brigade represented 80 percent of all doctors participating in the program.

“It is not acceptable to question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of the Cuban collaborators who, with the support of their families, currently provide services in 67 countries,” the Cuban health authorities added.

Jair Bolsonaro’s reaction was immediate. In his Twitter account he said that Brazil had conditioned the continuation of the program on a validation of the credentials of the more than 8,500 Cuban doctors in the country according to Brazilian standards, along with a change that would allow them to personally receive the full salaries Brazil pays for them. He also demanded that they be free to bring their family members with them. “Unfortunately, Cuba did not accept,” he added.

Minsap affirms that the collaborators “have stayed at their jobs at all times and receive 100 percent of their salaries in Cuba,” without mentioning that the Cuban Government keeps at least three quarters of the amount received from Brazil for the services of Cuban health professionals.

“Those who come here from other countries earn the full salary [that Brazil pays for them]. The Cubans earn approximately 25% of the salary [Brazil pays for them]. Does the rest go to fuel the Cuban dictatorship?” Bolsonaro asked on November 3.

Before being elected president, Bolsonaro had been very critical of the agreement signed in 2013, under which more than 18,000 Cuban doctors were sent to Brazil under the government of Dilma Rousseff. At that time, the Workers Party, an ally of Havana, agreed that through the intermediation of the Pan American Health Organization, Cuba would keep about 75% of the 3,300 dollars a month that Brazil pays for each Cuban doctor.

After the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the contract for its doctors and obtained an increase of 9% in the payments for them. The Plaza of the Revolution also achieved an increase of 10% for feeding the doctors in indigenous areas. None of that money went to the doctors, according to several testimonies obtained by this newspaper.

In Cuba, where the average state salary barely exceeds $30 a month, a mission abroad is one of the most common legal channels for qualified professionals to increase their income, despite not receiving the full salary paid for their services.

The Cuban State has declared that it receives more than 11.5 billion dollars annually in income from professional services abroad, and that this income is the country’s main source of foreign currency.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Open Letter to Miguel Diaz-Canel

Mr. Díaz Canel, you have a privileged opportunity to make history in Cuba and become the leader who moved the country forward (ACN)

14ymedio bigger

Author: Marcos Nelson Suárez, Dallas, 11 November 2018

 

Mr. Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of the Republic of Cuba:

I write as a compatriot who does not reside on the island. In the late seventies, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping took a historic step of unthinkable consequences that resulted in turning the People’s Republic of China into a world economic power, a country that back then was extremely backward and paying the tragic consequences of Mao Zedong’s policies, including the deaths of more than 70 million Chinese.

After a decade of applying the euphemistically known “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (read “free market economy”) China began to grow and, in less than 30 years, has managed to free more than 400 million Chinese from poverty and become the second largest economy in the world.

You have a privileged opportunity to make history in Cuba and become the leader who moved the country forward.

During the last few years, and possibly forced by circumstances, Raúl Castro developed timid reforms, but reforms that at last have provided some relief to the Cuban population after more than half a century of low productivity, lack of incentives and, in general, a economy that has depended on foreign benefactors.

You know well that more than a million Cubans have abandoned our homeland in search of a better future that, although promised in every speech, was never achieved.

Although the US embargo affects the economy of the country, especially because it limits foreign financing, the countries of Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union, were not under economic embargo yet were three decades behind in relation to their Western European neighbors.

If you want to overcome the US embargo, the first thing you must do is eliminate the barriers that prevent Cuban citizens from bringing what they want to market from abroad. There are no real reasons why, while foreigners can invest in Cuba and develop businesses, Cubans should be barred from doing so. Today, at airports abroad, I see my fellow countrymen arrive without luggage and return to Cuba loaded with televisions, car parts, motorcycles and everything that they are allowed to import.

I think the real reason for the limitations is the fear of the Communist Party of Cuba of losing power. However, both China and Vietnam have eliminated these restrictions and there is no reason to suppose that the power of their corresponding communist parties is in danger. Both countries developed repressive tactics that keep those who aspire to democracy at bay. Something similar can happen in Cuba.

Deepen the reforms. Open the door to opportunities. In fact, give preference to Cubans instead of foreign companies.

Take advantage of the opportunity that history has given you. Be the true leader who assumed a historical role and drove Cuba towards the growth and welfare of its citizens.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The US Coast Guard Repatriates 37 Cuban Rafters

The passengers on the boat consisted of 29 men and 8 women. (US Coast Guard)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 November 2018 — The 37 Cuban migrants traveling in a boat heading north towards the United States were intercepted on Sunday by the Coast Guard Service of that country and repatriated to Cuba. The passengers of the boat, which was located by an air patrol, were 29 men and 8 women, according to a statement from the rescue service.

The Coast Guard patrol boat William Trump intercepted the rafters after they were located and the crew proceeded to embark them onto the ship, where they received food, water and medical attention. One of the migrants was treated for headaches.

“Many times these intercepted vessels are overloaded and unsafe, and the risk is simply not worth the possible reward,” said Lt. James Hodges, of the Coast Guard’s Seventh District, who said he was proud of those who participated in the mission.

The US armed forces’ rescue service notes in the statement that, since the 1st of October, 82 Cuban migrants have tried to enter the United States illegally by sea. During the 2018 fiscal year, which ends on September 30 for the administration of that country, 296 migrants tried to illegally migrate to the United States.

“These statistics represent the total number of interceptions in the Straits of Florida, the Caribbean and Atlantic waters,” the institution explained.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Independent Media “Open The Doors Of Imagination And Creativity”

Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez graduated in 2015 from the University of Marta Abreu in Santa Clara and went on to work at the newspaper ’Vanguardia.’ (Yariel Valdés González)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, November 11, 2018 — Two years after several young journalists from the newspaper Vanguardia in Villa Clara wrote a letter strongly criticizing the operation of the official media, 14ymedio spoke with one of the signers of that document to discover the motives that led them to write it and the consequences that it had in their professional lives.

Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez graduated in 2015 from the University of Marta Abreu in Santa Clara and went on to work at the newspaper Vanguardia, the provincial organ of the Cuban Communist Party in the Villa Clara. Now, when he speaks about the letter that changed his life, he makes clear that he does it in a personal capacity and not in the name of the group of writers. continue reading

The recent graduates arrived at the newspaper “with the desire to change everything” but they collided with censorship, which he calls “terrible.” The editorial disorder also affected them and in that environment of hostility they decided to write the letter in which they ennumerated their concerns and criticisms regarding the official news spaces.

In the text they reported, among other subjects, that many media outlet bosses rejected articles on social problems because the ideas expressed in them were not in line with “the interests of the country at the current time,” or because they were “too critical.”

Today Rodríguez believes that the only error was signing the letter in the name of the Foundation Committee of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) of the newspaper and he believes that it would have been better for it to appear signed only with the names of each journalist. “The structures of the UJC, at the municipal and provincial level, harassed us and tried to convince us to sign and publish a mea culpa,” he laments.

The text of the retraction was written but never saw the light of day because it didn’t placate the authorities, since it only regretted that the missive had been leaked. “We wrote that letter not to publish it on the internet, but rather to read it in the framework of the Provincial Plenary Session of the Cuban Journalists’ Union in Villa Clara in 2016,” explains Rodríguez.

The publication of the document had the effect of a fragmentation bomb among the journalistic and literary circles of Villa Clara. Various intellectuals circulated emails asking that the young people not be harassed and standing in solidarity with the proposals, but the official Cuban Journalists’ Union (Upec) considered it an intolerable act of “protest.”

The director of the newspaper ’Vanguardia’ warned the young reporters not to collaborate with independent media. (Capture)

“It was hell,” recalls Rodríguez. Following the letter’s publication in various digital media outlets, representatives of the municipal and provincial UJC reproached them for having violated the procedures of the organization, although they were never able to prove that they were responsible for the leak of the text to the independent media.

In reality the letter had been conceived for the Provincial Plenary Session of Upec and sought to reaffirm, specifically, the right of reporters to continue collaborating with independent media in the style of El Toque and OnCuba. “The director of the newspaper told us that we couldn’t collaborate with them but we responded that the laws don’t prohibit it.”

Rodríguez recognizes that it wasn’t only a question of publishing in spaces with greater editorial liberties. “Working in other outlets also helped us to live because with 345 Cuban pesos a month, around $14, nobody lives.” With the salary he was receiving at the Vanguardia newspaper he didn’t have enough “even to pay for the trip from home to work.”

Now, he recalls the moment during the meeting with Upec when one of the signers of the letter rose, began to read it, and all the others put themselves behind her so that she would not be alone. After that in the hallways the other reporters moved away when they saw them or watched them with looks of fear as if they had done something very dangerous.

The climate of pressures became oppressive and as soon as Rodríguez finished his social service he asked for leave from the Vanguardia newspaper. The majority of the other signers who stayed “were leaving sanctioned for different reasons” and the authorities “used very different pretexts” to get rid of them.

Currently Rodríguez is part of the team of Tremenda Nota, a magazine focused on minorities, where he works as editor and reporter. “The advantage of working in independent media is that it opens the doors of imagination and creativity.” Contrary to when one works at an official newspaper where “the doors are shut and you crash into impassable walls.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Customs Confiscates Opposition T-Shirts at Havana Airport

T-shirts against Decree 349 seized by Cuban Customs at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, November 6, 2018 — The campaign against Decree 349, an article in the the proposed new Cuban constitution which includes strict rules on artistic expression in public spaces, has collided with Cuban customs restrictions. Upon her return to the island, artist and activist Yanelys Nuñez reported on social media that customs officials at José Martí International Airport  had confiscated eight T-shirts with anti-decree slogans she was bringing from the United States.

On Sunday Nuñez and a fellow artist, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, returned from a three-day trip to Miami, where they had been participating in an artistic event. The items, which were produced in the United States by Cuban-American designer Coco Fusco and were adorned with an illustration by Alén Lauzán, were seized after customs officials had inspected their baggage. Two of the shirts belonged to Nuñez and the other six to Otero. continue reading

“As soon as they saw ’349,’ they told us it was subversive propaganda,” the activist explained to 14ymedio. She and Otero had travelled to the United States to participate in an event organized by a not-for-profit organization, Creative Time, entitled “On an Island: Defending the Right to Create,” at which they made a presentation critical of Decree 349.

The artist has already said she will file suit in Havana to reclaim the two shirts that were confiscated and is currently receiving legal advice.

Before boarding their flight to Miami, Nuñez and Otero were detained at the airport while their luggage was being searched. Though authorities did not confiscate anything at the time, the delay caused them to miss their flight on American Airlines. Later that afternoon they were able to catch another flight to Miami on the same airline.

The main complaint of those critical of Decree 349 is that, in every case, artists must obtain prior approval from a cultural organization, which they are forced to join, before executing their work. This requirement directly impacts those who create work outside a state-sponsored framework. The result is that the content of their work is subject to regulation.

The campaign against Cuba’s Decree 349 is important to Yanelys Núñez because “the government survives on its image.” Her goal is for more artists and cultural institutions to “speak out against this blatant censorship by the Diaz-Canel government.” She plans to continue exerting significant pressure to achieve its repeal.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Praying Towards Mecca From Havana

Seeing Cuban Muslims preparing to pray in the street is no longer a strange image for passers-by. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 3 November 2018 — Readings from the Koran, the Islamic hijab, and prayers while facing towards Mecca are increasingly seen in Cuba, where the Muslim community has been growing in recent years. The initial surprise has given way to curiosity, and passersby stop to ask questions when they see an image like the one in the photo above, where men profess their faith in the middle of a populated street in the Havana neighborhood of La Timba.

Last year, Imam Yahya who is of the Sunni branch and president of the Cuban Islamic League closest to officialdom, estimated that about 5,000 Cubans are converts to Islam. The current mosque in Havana, located on Oficios Street, has become a meeting point for many tourists passing through Havana, as well as African students and diplomats based in the island. continue reading

Prayer centers have also appeared throughout the country and in small cities such as Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey there are small Muslim communities.

In the next few years one of the largest mosques in Latin America will be completed in the capital city, which will be financed by Saudi Arabia and is expected to accommodate some 10,000 Muslims.

However, “Cubans who have converted to Islam is one thing, and those who live tied to the teachings of Muhammad is quite another,” said Yasser, 52 and a resident in the Cerro municipality, speaking to this newspaper.

“As in other religions that are practiced in Cuba there are many who simulate or are two-faced in this,” laments this Havanan. “In my neighborhood we are one of at least three families of Lebanese origin,” he says, but he complains that many of the Cuban Muslims he knows “go to the mosque in the morning and at night they drink rum and dance reggaeton.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Uruguay Consulate in Havana is Filled With Cubans Applying for a Work Permit

In the Uruguayan consular offices, the visa interviews for the coming four weeks will be scheduled on first working day of the month. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 November 2018 — Dozens of people approached the Uruguayan consulate in Havana on Tuesday to ask about the visas for work, education, family reunification and emergencies, which the government of that Latin American country has said it will begin to grant to residents on the island. The increase in the number of migrants in Uruguay has led the authorities to reorganize the reception of migrants and has positively affected Cubans.

The information about the new visas is still brief because they will only be valid beginning in 14 days, when the decree that President Tabaré Vázquez signed on October 29 comes into effect. Once the new procedures go into operation, Cubans will be able to complete the visa process from the Island.

In the Uruguayan consular offices, the visa interviews for the coming four weeks will be scheduled on first working day of the month. continue reading

“On December 3, interview appointments will be handed out and we hope that many people will come,” said one of the consulate’s security guards. “Today many have come to ask about it but we are not dealing with anyone who did not get an appointment at the beginning of November and we have no new details about the visas that have been announced.”

Carlos Manuel Ávila, 28, traveled all morning from Cárdenas in Matanzas to “be in front of the consulate at dawn,” he told 14ymedio. “This is an opportunity that I do not want to lose because it is a small, quiet country, where they speak Spanish and one can prosper,” said the young man sitting on a narrow wall next to the house in Miramar where visas are processed.

Waiting on the wall outside the Uruguayan consulate in Havana to obtain a visa. (14ymedio)

Avila has tried twice in vain to reach the US coast on a raft, but a few months ago he decided to “bet on legal migration to a country in Latin America.” His older brother is one of the 5,000 Cubans who have gone to settle in Uruguay.

“First, he thought it would only be for a while, until he could continue to the United States,” says Ávila, but “over time he has taken a liking to Uruguay and does not want to leave.” Now, the brother works as a car mechanic in a workshop in Montevideo and “is raising money to bring his wife and children.”

With the repeal in January 2017 of of the wet foot/dry foot policy that facilitated residence procedures for Cubans arriving on land in the United States, emigration from the island has been reoriented to other countries, such as Chile, Uruguay and Brazil.

The work visa that will begin to be offered at the Havana consulate is only given to those who present a contract with a company duly registered in Uruguay. “That is not a big obstacle because there is already a good community of Cubans there and some have been entered the labor market,” says María Elena, a 44-year-old interior designer who was waiting Tuesday for the forms to obtain a work visa.

“My husband has been there for eight months and is already working as a civil engineer, now the company where he is hired is going to help me get there to work with them,” she says. The couple will leave two children in Havana “waiting for our economic situation to allow reunification.”

The designer is pleased that the new requirement to show a work contract with a Uruguayan company repeals the previous one that required showing a bank account on the island with a deposit of about 5,000 CUC. “Before you had to juggle to get that money but now all the energy has to be used to find a contract.”

Among the dozens of applicants who have arrived at the consulate since the announcement, the majority inquire about an employment contract but there is also no lack of young people interested in pursuing studies in the country.

For Cubans who are already in Uruguay, the situation has also improved since November 1, when they began to be able to deliver proof of arrival at the Chancellery, which they can present to employers to work. Previously, the Ministry of Labor fined companies that hired employees without an identity card.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cubans Can Get Permits to Work in Uruguay From the Island

The contingency plan in force since Thursday is allowing temporary documentation to Cubans who are already in Uruguay irregularly. (Leonardo Mainé)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 November 2018 — The Government of Uruguay will begin granting work, education, family reunification and emergency visas to Cubans who request one from the Island, as announced by Jorge Muiño, director of Consular Affairs and Liaison of the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry, in statements to El País newspaper.

With this measure Uruguay is trying to contain the growing irregular migration from Cuba, which has led to the collapse of its immigration systems. The Uruguayan Foreign Ministry estimates that the number of Cubans in the country already numbers between 4,800 and 5,000 people.

Muiño said that the work visa is the one that will benefit Cubans the most because it does not require them to have money in a bank account, as is the case for a tourism which islanders have used until  now to enter Uruguay. continue reading

To obtain the work permit, applicants must have a contract or a verifiable promise of work. “It can not be just anyone hiring someone, it has to be a duly registered company,” he said.

With this document, Cubans will be able to obtain a provisional certificate, good for one year, until they are granted permanent residence.

At the end of October, Uruguay decided to give temporary work permits to Cuban citizens after a 72-hour protest organized by a group of them. The migrants demanded that the waiting time for an interview for a visa, which had reached seven months, be reduced.

The measure began to be applied on Thursday. Cubans are asked to provide the foreign ministry with a proof of arrival document that allows the employer to legally contract with the worker, and this allows the latter to receive a Uruguayan identify card. Previously, the Ministry of Labor imposed fines on companies that hired people without an ID.

The authorities intend to offer this type of document until December 21 of this year, although El País indicated that the delays will continue due to the fact that the National Directorate of Civil Identification is overwhelmed.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Lack of Water Hits Several Hospitals In Central Cuba

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Cardiocenter in the city of Santa Clara. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos / Miami | November 09, 2018 – The deterioration of the hydraulic infrastructure in the center of the country is hitting hard at several hospitals in the region, which cannot function normally as they suffer from daily rationing of the water supply to complete cutoffs in the supply lasting more than three days, a situation that workers and users of these centers point out.

“We have a problem with the water supply. The authorities are trying to solve it with tanker trucks, but no surgical operations have been carried out in the past three days,” a worker of the Ernesto Che Guevara Cardiocenter told 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

This hospital complex, located in Santa Clara and the only one of its kind in the center of Cuba specializing in heart disease, has been paralyzed for more than 72 hours due to the lack of potable water. continue reading

The Cardiocenter serves patients from Villa Clara and Cienfuegos up to the province of Camagüey. The same employee explained that the problem not only affects the Cardiocenter but also all the hospital facilities in that city.

The country’s water networks are very deteriorated, authorities have said, so that other hospitals in the region also suffer similar problems. This is the case of the Cienfuegos Gustavo Aldereguía Lima Provincial Hospital and of the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital, in Sancti Spíritus, which have had to ration water to avoid interruptions in the service.

A worker at the hospital in Cienfuegos complained that, at night, there is no water in the emergency surgical rooms and that the surgeons have to wash their hands with bags of saline. Last August, the inhabitants of this city had to face the lack of water not only in hospitals, but also in their own homes.

The facilities at these medical centers have several decades of use and have never, for all practical purposes, been repaired. This is coupled with a serious water leakage problem that is common throughout the country.

The former president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, Inés María Chapman Waugh, noted that every year more than 3.4 billion liters of water are lost through leaks in the country. The loss from pumping this water that ends up in puddles and small streams in the streets is valued at around five million euros, according to the official press.

“My sister is waiting for a heart valve replacement, how is it possible that they cannot operate because there is no water?” laments Luis, who waits outside the Cardiocenter.

The official press points out that in the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital in Sancti Spíritus the 400,000 liters that are stored in the cistern are not enough to satisfy the needs since it is wasted. A recent report by the newspaper Escambray indicates that “cascades” are heard during the day, in reference to the leaks that spill all the water accumulated in the storage tanks into rooms and offices.

The director of the hospital, Eduardo Pedrosa Prado, also explained the water restrictions they endure. When the company Acueducto stops pumping water to the medical center, the decision is made to cutoff the internal pumping at 10:00 at night. The hospital runs out of water until 5:00 in the morning because otherwise the water stored in the cistern would not be sufficient for the next day.

The same routine used by the Gustavo Aldereguía Hospital in Cienfuegos is carried out in Sancti Spíritus. The nurses wash the hands of the surgeons with glassfuls of water that they extract from the gallons that they save during the day.

“We have become accustomed to this situation, but it is unhealthy and it endangers the lives of patients. We spend our lives in front of the world saying that we are a medical power and we send aid to other countries, but the truth is that nobody knows the sacrifice of those of us who work in public health,” a surgeon tells this newspaper.

The state of the bathrooms in the rooms of the provincial hospital of Cienfuegos is “lamentable”, says Ernestina Guzmán, a companion of a patient with kidney problems.

“The toilets do not have tanks. To flush you have to load a bucket of water and throw it into the toilet, and often there is not even water, so the bad smell stays around all day in the room,” she details.

Guzmán laments that the cleaning of the facilities “does not meet the needs of the hospital.” She maintains that even inmates are sent “to clean the rooms because nobody wants to work for the salaries paid by Public Health. They clean up badly and  do not even use the appropriate disinfectants for a hospital,” he complains.

“I already know that healthcare is free, but even though it is, or precisely because it is everyone’s right, hospital centers should have quality,” she adds.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

A Sip in The Versailles: Coffee and Elections

Exiles from five decades ago, young people who mix English with Spanish and newcomers from the island gathered at the famous Cuban exile restaurant in Miami. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, 8 November 2018 — The Versailles smells of coffee, intense and short like those drunk copiously by some of those who on Tuesday night awaited the election results in Florida. Exiles from five decades ago, young people who mix English with Spanish and newcomers from the island who finished a sip as the results became known, little by little, about the numbers from the ballot boxes.

Autumn does not exist in Miami and on this Tuesday night, sweat ran down the forehead of Julita, a Cuban woman who has been in Florida for two years after entering through the border with Mexico when the wet foot/dry foot policy was still in effect. On the outskirts of the most emblematic Cuban exile restaurant, the woman laughed, danced a few steps and waved a small flag of the island.

The joy of Julita, 68, did not spring from the fact that her favorite candidates had won at the polls, because in reality she does not yet have a US passport and cannot vote in the elections. However, it was the first election she lived in the land of Uncle Sam and it was all a surprise for her, a former militant of the Communist Party who now avoids talking about her past. continue reading

With two naturalized children already in the United States, the Cuban woman has had intense weeks. “I had to tell my family that we were not going to talk about politics at the table because we always ended up fighting,” she says, surprised by the passion that these mid-term elections have unleashed, but at the same time enjoying “the heated discussions that occurred.”

Cuban Americans in Florida experienced a tense environment before legislative elections in which there were several surprises and numerous disappointments. “I voted for María Elvira Salazar because she is very charismatic and she is also Cuban,” says Rodolfo Morejón, another Cuban who was finishing coffee outside of Versailles while waiting for the final tally to be published.

Social networks had boiled over for weeks in a real pitched battle where many friends came to insult each other, lifelong acquaintances were blocked and every demonstration for or against a candidate raised disgust on all sides.

Salazar, a well known figure inside and outside the island due to her long career as a journalist on Florida television, was one of the losers on Tuesday, where the pulse for the 27th district was won by her opponent Donna Shalala, former president of the University of Miami. The victory of the latter can be read in terms of a “de-cubanization of politics” in the city with the most exiles from the island.

Shalala met to celebrate with her supporters at the Woman’s Club of Coral Gables. From there she spoke to her followers who did not take their eyes off a huge screen that was broadcasting the results and shouted euphorically every time there was a victory for the Democratic Party and an area of the map of the United States was colored blue.

“The best one won,” shouted one of her voters assembled in the The Versailles and who was adorned in the blue color of the Democrats and wearing a baseball cap with the flag of the solitary star. “It does not matter if you are Cuban or American, young or old, more charismatic or less charismatic, what matters is that you are a decent and hardworking person,” he added loudly.

Donna Shalala, former president of the University of Miami, won the race for the seat in the U.S. Congress from Florida’s 27th District. (14ymedio)

Annie Betancourt, a 70-year-old Democrat, was also pleased that Shalala won the seat that Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had vacated. “She conducted a positive campaign based on her knowledge, she is a person with government experience and in the political issues that matter to the voters of the district, such as health and education”, says this Cuban resident of the United States since 1960, who was a state representative in Tallahassee.

The tumult also reached the island, where through illegal satellite dishes many followed the step by step process, more out of curiosity than real interest. In the neighborhood of Centro Habana, María Eugenia and Gerardo, both retired and with children living in Florida, stayed all night glued to the television so as not to miss “the spectacle”.

“We do not understand much, but at least you see that the people care about who will be their representatives and are going to the polls enthusiastically,” says María Eugenia, who after midnight saw the last part through a cable that a neighbor, 200 meters away, rents for 20 dollars a month to enjoy totally American programming.

“Now when my daughter calls me I can comment as if I had been there,” says the retired woman who admits she has not participated in the neighborhood discussions about the new constitution. “No, why, going or not going will not change anything, that’s why it’s so different.”

Hundreds of kilometers away from the banned satellite dish and the retirees who were watching  the elections like those who watch a show, the Versailles café loses neither the heat nor the intensity. To the extent that losers and winners are confirmed, it tastes more bitter for some and sweeter for others.

The night is finished off by a young Cuban-American girl who carries in her hand a stamp that says “I Voted”. She mixes her words in Spanish and English and celebrates the importance of going to vote because for her “every voice is important” and “although we do not all think alike, it is good to go out and express what we want with the vote”.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Empty Nest

The work ‘Medialuna’ reproduces the concept of the empty nest in a country with high incidences of emigration. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 8 November 2018 – There are parents who cross their fingers that their children become independent and others who sigh in the distance because their offspring have emigrated or have moved away from home. In a country where there is a deficit of more than 800,000 houses and the housing problems force several generations to live together under one roof, it is easy to think that nobody suffers from the empty nest syndrome, but it is not so.

According to the Population and Housing Census conducted in 2012, 12.6% of Cuban households are made up of single adults. Many of them have seen their children leave to go abroad or start a new life together with their partner in another house. Loneliness, depression and questions about the meaning of one’s existence appear in many of these parents. For social and medical services, recognizing these symptoms and helping those who suffer from them is essential.

“There are elderly people who come here more for the company than the food,” an employee of the Pío Pío Comedor of the Family Service System, located in the Havana municipality of Playa, tells 14ymedio. The locale offers breakfast, lunch and food to retirees with low resources in the area, but another of its functions is “to serve as a meeting place,” says the worker who works in food preparation. continue reading

Many of the elderly people who eat in Pío Pío live alone or with other older adults. “They are people who dedicated a good part of their lives to the care of their children and in a moment they were left alone,” laments the employee. In the living room, which functions as a dining room, several old people converse and one shows the photos of a son who lives in distant Hamburg.

The Cuban family has been scattering in recent years with the upturn in travel abroad and emigration. Often younger children leave in search of new horizons and with the promise of helping their parents financially.

In the case of women, the effects of this separation can be expressed with greater severity. 49.1% of older adults living in single-person households are females with a median age of 69 years. For the psychologist Miguel Lugones, mothers feel “that the home is lonely, that their children have grown up and become independent and she feels that she has lost her leading role socially.” The empty nest seems wider and more alien for them.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.