Why Is Another Cuba Necessary? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Among the series of international instruments related to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Implementing them requires two basic steps. First, they must be signed. By doing this the state in question agrees to analyze their meaning and by implication to accept their stipulated terms.

The second and more significant step requires them to be ratified, an action which requires the state to modify those aspects of its constitution and statutes that are not in accordance with the spirit of the covenants. Once ratified, the government’s position goes from one of tacit compliance to mandatory compliance. Since these amendments become binding, they ensure, at least theoretically, respect for the rights outlined therein.

The campaign “Por Otra Cuba” (For Another Cuba), launched by members of Cuba’s civil society, seeks to secure the rights outlined under the above agreements, which were signed by the Cuban government back in February 2008. Though more than six years have passed since their signing, they have yet to be ratified. In fact Cuba is among an “elite” group of eight governments that have not yet taken this second and definitive step. Continue reading

About The Matter of Academic Fraud in Havana / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

University Entrance Exam in Mathematics to be Repeated in Havana

It happened several years ago and it’s now one of those open secrets that even the kids know about: the bribery of teachers and professors at all levels of teaching has ended up being, as a result of habituation, something almost folkloric; and although it would be unfair to tar the innocent and the guilty with the same brush, it was certainly worth while having fired off warning shots about a matter which has reached scandalous proportions, all the more so for having had the public spotlight shone on it, in view of the terrible moral consequences, with implications for all of us.

We are not always talking about bribery in the form of straightforward cash. There is a whole range of resources available to the brown-nosers and ostentatious people to achieve their objective and once the target teacher has been singled out all you have to do is study his needs and specific tastes in order to fire the shot, which could be delicious snacks, made to measure clothes, expensive perfumes or exclusive invitations, for example. Continue reading

Memories of One December 10th / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Act I: The Barricade

I notice the foul stench the moment I turn the corner and see the piles of garbage blocking the street. A pair of patrols is stationed, threateningly, half a block away. I keep walking as though it has nothing to do with me but a State Security agent — dressed in civilian clothing and without identification, as per usual — stops me and I realize that it is, indeed, about me.

“Good afternoon, where are you headed?” he challenges me.

“To a friend’s house,” I reply, allowing myself this small amusement.

“But… to whose house?” asks a second agent, approaching inquisitively and also dressed as a civilian, of course.

I cut to the chase and look him in the eye. “Yes, I’m going to [Antonio] Rodiles’ house.”

“Let me see some identification,” he demands, as though issuing an order. The radio transmits my information and immediately the agent returns, this time with an unequivocal command. “You cannot pass!”

“Yes, I need to get by,” I reply.

“No, you cannot,” he shoots back.

“Then let’s see what you do about it because I need to pass,” I say self-righteously.

Because of my “insolence,” I am subjected to a thorough search for a cellphone I do not have.

“Frisk him and take him away!” he finally orders. It is 4:20 PM. Continue reading

Congratulations: Free Trade of Agricultural Products / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By: Jeovany Jiménez Vega

The decision of Cuban authorities to ease restrictions on the commercializing of agricultural production (to be implemented in practice as outlined, it would be that and not a greater increase in “flexibility”) must be received with relief in both corners of the ring, for both producers and consumers; the first for obvious reasons, the latter because they are stake-holders from the first round at their local farmers markets. Continue reading

It’s “Free” . . . But Healthcare Costs Us / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“Your health service is free… but it costs”

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

You’ve been able to see them for almost two years in every health care unit of the Cuban Public Health System, from any primary care office or clinic, passing through each second level hospital, even in tertiary care centers in each Institute.  They welcome us from the door of the consultation room or from the trade union wall and assure us that our omnipotent government has always been zealous to guarantee absolutely fee medical care for our people.

Seen that way, without more, it would seem a simple matter.  In this world, where to the shame of the species, dozens of thousands of children still die of curable illnesses because they do not have access to a few tablets and a measly intravenous infusion, it would be the most natural thing for Cubans to prostrate ourselves in gratitude before such an excess of philanthropy.  But if there is one thing we learned long ago it is that here, when you look into the background of the matter, we have all been charged.

It is true that the hospital does not charge us directly at the hospital or at our children’s school, but without doubt the cash register at the “hard currency collection store” (TRD*) charges us, and in a currency arbitrarily overvalued 25 times in relation to the other currency in which we are paid an unreal salary of little use to us.

These words are not trying to be an inquisitorial onslaught against the health care system to which I belong, whose essential function is impeded by limitations that no sector in Cuba can escape.

Any gratuitous attack would leave on this page the odor of the knife in the back, an aroma that this Cuban detests, but 40 years of hammering did not end up convincing me that guaranteeing a right, or trying to, grants in any way authority to my government to deprive us of other rights as essential as that.

And it is here — more than at the door of the TRD and the hotels, or in the immoral taxes of the General Customs Office, or in the extortionate cost of each consular administration abroad, among other hundreds of shameful examples — where we millions of Cubans have been charged the true currency exchange: it has been through the humiliation of the famous diplo-tiendas*, or in the door of the prohibited hotels, or through the despotism of the migratory authorities or the mistreatment by any other kind of official or through the systematic deprivation of our civil and political rights.

And invariably in the background posters like the one illustrating this post justifying as life-saving the entitlements that crush us at every step.

On the other hand these public governance schemes are not unique to Cuba nor to socialism, as has historically been insinuated to us.  There are dozens of examples of countries — and not necessarily from the first world — that sustain health and education systems as public and free as ours, and all without demanding in exchange such high doses of individual freedom.

Very true it is that sustaining the presumed public health costs each state on a world level very dearly, and Cuba was not exactly going to be the exception, but also I remember here that each Cuban worker has about 30% deducted from his monthly salary precisely to cover these public expenses.

I also remember that when our state undertakes to guarantee public health and education services — the two prime examples — it does not fulfill only a duty but its more conspicuous obligation, perhaps its only authentic obligation.

In particular, I ask myself by what magic method the Cuban government invested $4386.00 pesos in me alone, for the approximately 120 consultations that I did in my last 24-hour medical shift, in which I used only — if we except the $24 pesos that they paid me for night hours — my stethoscope, my blood pressure monitor, and some disposable depressors.

But as I am not an economist, I better leave the accounts to others and dedicate myself, as a good cobbler, to my shoes.  After all, it is true that it costs us . . . and quite expensively, for sure.

*Translator’s note: The government itself named the stores that sell only in hard currency, “Hard Currency Collection Stores”–TRD is the Spanish acronym–making explicit that their major purpose is to capture for the government coffers (through extreme overpricing) a major share of the remittances Cubans receive from their families abroad. Many items are often, or only, available in these stores (or in the black market).  An early incarnation of these stores were known as “diplotiendas,” that is “diplomat stores” catering to foreigners residing in Cuba.

See:  It costs.  By Regina Coyula.

Translated by mlk.
28 April 2014

 

With Regards to the Promised Salary Increase for Doctors / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The art of consecration

It’s said that on a misty winter day the old Chinese emperor, aroused by the longing for spring, desired to delight his eyes with a painting of a beautiful bird, and as the desire of any emperor is an order for his vassals, the search began immediately, first among the artists of the court, and later further and further afield, to the borders of that vast empire that seems to be the borders of entire world.

So, after long investigations, they found in the most distant region, a painter as skilled as he was wise: it was said that after so much reflection on the mysteries of the universe he had come to glimpse the most hidden secrets of the universe; it was said he could talk to the birds in the forest.

That humble maestro was presented to the sovereign who solicitously asked what he needed to paint the perfect bird, a beauty never seen in live, a bird worthy of adorning the palace of an emperor. The wise painter answered that he needed a large workshop, five servants, one year, and one hundred gold coins. “So be it!” commanded the emperor.

They tell how a year passed and the maestro was sent for and he came, just as he was, and to the scandal of the idle court, wearing his stained painter’s smock. The sovereign asked, “Is your work ready?”

“No my Lord,” responded the maestro, “now I need a still larger workshop, ten servants, five years and two hundred gold coins.”

“So be it!” commanded the emperor.

They tell how five winters later the maestro was again called to appear before the sovereign. “Let’s see,” he said, “show me, finally, your work.”

“It’s still not ready, my Lord,” responded the maestro, “I need ten more servants, five more years, and five hundred gold coins.”

Not believing his ears, the emperor consulted his ministers and counselors who warned him against such an absurdity. But the longing for spring overcame him and he decided, again, that it would be thus.

Finally after five more long winters, the emperor, compelled by hope and curiosity and determined not to wait one more day, decided to visit himself the workshop of the painter who now seemed too demanding. When he entered with his entourage he found himself enveloped in a mysterious light, in silence, in the middle of the spacious salon. The maestro bowed with respect.

“Everything is ready, my Lord,” he said, and immediately revealed to the incredulous a blank canvas. At the offense, the emperor stared, understanding nothing.

Only then did the maestro take a few minutes to mix the exact colors, and according to the legend, before the astonishment of the emperor and the amazement of the court, he painted, in sublime and serene strokes, the most beautiful nightingale in the world.

10 March 2014

 

Fearing a Prosperous People / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

On the very day that the government “freed” the sale of domestic automobiles for working people, imposing tariffs only a millionaire could afford, my son stood transfixed before a shop window displaying those little toy cars that our leaders sell in hard currency for the equivalent of an average person’s monthly wage.I could not ignore the obvious analogy.

A few days earlier I was reading something in the newspaper Granma that for a moment made me happy. But then I immediately read something like, “prices will be adjusted based on agreement between the parties…” and something began smelling rotten to me. It was too good to be true. This allows the state to quadruple the price for everything it sells us in one fell swoop.

It isn’t enough that they charge us an average of 5,000 to 6,000 CUC (between 5,500 and 6,600 U.S. dollars) for used rental cars the tourist industry no longer wants — cars which have logged thousands of miles and whose manufacturers’ warranties are invariably no longer valid.

During all those years that the Ministry of Transportation’s notorious “letter of authorization” for auto sales was in effect, private cars were basically assigned to artists, athletes and public health employees voluntarily working overseas, and then only in certain select cases.

The fact of the matter was that a doctor or athlete, overwhelmed by more pressing needs — like housing, for example — more often than not decided to sell his letter of authorization to the highest bidder. Over time the price went from an initial 5,000 CUC to between 10,000 and 12,000 CUC.

For obvious reasons this meant the total price for any second-hand sale varied from 15,000 or 17,000 up to 25,000 CUC, depending on the car’s make and model. And this was for low-cost, used cars — prices that in other countries would get you a new car with a warranty, which you could buy on credit or on other favorable terms, or with an extended warranty, which would never add more than 2,000 to 3,000 (or up to 5,000 dollars).

But here we have the Cuban state once again playing the role of street-corner thug, ready to openly commit assault with a deadly weapon using a new form of attack on a people who no longer expect anything but low blows. They could not even bring themselves to honor the thousands of letters of authorization that still remain unredeemed.

Nor could they bring themselves to adjust the price by a prudent amount, considering that the cars had already been paid off years ago through rental fees. The temptation was too great. Too much money danced in the hoodlums’ heads. There was too much “ham” for them to keep quiet.

They licked their chops and sharpened their claws until they could not stand it any longer and finally launched the attack. They use the extortionist’s most basic logic: After all, if anyone is going to get paid, it may as well be me since I am the one who most deserves it!

But in essence this is really nothing new, nothing that we have not seen many times before. What can else one expect from a state that has a monopoly on everything, one which for decades — long before the 2008 global financial crisis — sold us all the crap it bought at a 500 to 1,000 percent markup?

Or was it not the Cuban state which issued and enforces the resolution that automatically increased by 250% the price of all goods exiting its ports? These goods then head to the stores where corporate entities and retail outlets have you by the balls, continuing the slaughter by multiplying these prices several times over.

Who else but the Cuban government increased the price of almost every item in its TRD* stores by a massive 30% — this for goods of the poorest quality — at the end of 2004? Or is it not the Cuban state which now leases us a 10 kg cylinder of liquid gas for 500 pesos, a price greater than the average Cuban’s monthly salary?

Who is it that sells us a roll of toilet paper for almost 40 Cuban pesos? Who among us has never spent several months’ wages on a pair of dilapidated shoes? Who but our own state sets the price of the tiniest toys — toys for children who were born to be happy — at between 300 and 500 Cuban pesos, or the price for ordinary jeans at roughly 700 Cuban pesos? Who decided that we must work an entire year in order to spend three days in a mid-priced resort hotel?

Now they want to shift responsibility by having us pay the price for their bad policy decisions while cynically making sure that the dividends from this scam go to pay for improvements to public transportation. Implementing these measures only serves to discredit them. Meanwhile we Cubans  simply laugh at our misfortune, choosing to see it as yet one more screwup.  By treating it as nothing more than a bad joke, we rely on our Creole humor to dispel our anger.

But this writer has chosen to take the matter seriously, no matter how great the temptation to engage in irony and ridicule — how easy that would be — and no matter how much the white-collar criminals operating throughout the country, who make such decisions with the full consent of the nation’s highest political and governmental authorities, might warrant it.

They — the same ones who decided that my children, not theirs, could not drink milk past the age of seven — “pay” us not with salaries but with rubbish that vanishes within in a few days.

This is the essence and heart of the matter: they fear a prosperous people because such a people would be less easily manipulated and less servile. They know that prosperity ignites too dangerous a light in men’s eyes, which makes them irreverent and resolved. Sooner or later these men end up clamoring for openness and freedoms, something the mind of Caesar could never have imagined.

*Translator’s note: TRD Caribe S.A. is chain of retail stores owned and operated by the Cuban military. “TRD” is the acronym for Hard Currency Collection Stores, by which the military makes clear their purpose for being in the retail business.

5 February 2014

 

In No Man’s Land / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Life has led me to two basic conclusions. The first: the solution to the world’s most serious problems will not be capitalism, because although it fosters creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit, it’s also an exclusionary system that exacerbates man’s most primitive instincts.

Despite the few dozen countries that have achieved a good economic status under this scheme, more than 150 are in a more or less dramatic state of poverty — a dynamic consistent over several centuries and that persists in relation to the social stratification within countries — and given its speculative nature, it has been proven to be incapable of avoiding the economic crises that characterize it.

This scheme has failed to rid the world of hunger and its neoliberal variant only ended up accumulating political and economic power in a select block of nations that have turned global institutions in a casino that articulates the strategies of domination against the poorest countries. Capitalism seems to me an intermediate stage or step on the way, perhaps a necessary one, but never the end goal of the human species.

The second conclusion: the solution is not the “socialism of the barracks,” a sequel to the Soviet model, whose Stalinist variant produces dire consequences for the individuality of man. After 50 years of implementing this scheme, the economy of my country is destroys, my people are subjected to a constant and unjustified impoverishment, directly opposed to the entrepreneurial spirit of man and his freedom of expression, generating a sickening climate of immorality.

If the Cuban Revolution triumphed specifically to end class privileges, half a century later there persists a caste that lives above the law and that enjoys privileges denied the common people. Although in Cuban well-stratified social classes still persist — an exclusivity that some ideologues attribute to multiparty capitalism — because if someone earns 100 times the income of a doctor and looks over his shoulder, it’s because he feels he belongs to a different social stratum.

So far I would only consider that what point societies governed by democratic socialism, but despite their boasting enviable standards of living and social security, they are not exempt from political corruption, nor do they escape the consequences of capitalist crises like the current one, which left the world bankrupt when the bubble burst.

When I venture into these neophytes meditations — very personal, indeed — I am stepping on a minefield and run the risk of being stranded in no man’s land, but to assert otherwise would be dishonest on my part, or would be speculating on matters that remain, for us, too distant in time.

The name does not define the essence, but whether it’s called communism, or Project Venus of the Reign of God on the Earth, I am referring to that future society that we all want to live in — which would make us all potentially communists or Venusians or Christians — where man freed of selfishness finally thinks of his neighbor as himself; a world without famines or wars, generator of the most advanced technology that would function exclusively for the progress of humankind; a future where states would be supplanted by a superstructure that would harmonize the pulses of a single global society in the midst of universal peace.

But before this can happen man would have to be reborn. This hypothetical world — which would be the final solution — is still not visible, it’s far beyond the horizon and in any case it remains to be seen whether it would be possible within the next 500, 1000, or 2000 years, and if so it would be only if we escape the annihilation that threaten us because of human greed and stupidity.

Never has man known his world better, never has he launched a deeper or more profound look at the universe or at the details of a cell, and yet never has there been more spiritual poverty or known less about himself; never has he been so helpless against his own demons.

Thus, I conclude that the next leap must be qualitative: it would be a profound ethical transformation that would be called upon to save humanity. So far these are just chimeras for a being that carries with him too many miseries. But sometime will happen that brings us the humility and reminds us that we are only ephemeral stardust left by chance by God navigating the universe. Even if after everything the end of the world doesn’t come, perhaps he wants to say that the forgotten, condemned to 100 centuries of solitude, this time will have a second opportunity on the earth.

2 December 2013

 

Words into the Wind / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega, M.D.

When I spoke during the discussion of the Draft Law to amend the Labor Code a couple of weeks ago, I said that our industry (public health) generates 50% of the GDP of this country; that it represents an income of between 8 and 10 billion hard-cash dollars every year; that this is a lot of money, which should be enough to significantly increase the salary of the sector that produces it; that those who remain here deserve as much as those who go on work medical missions abroad; that I will never understand why a prestigious professor of medicine, after decades of dedication, earns one-third the salary of an office manager trained for fifteen days.

It’s not just that our salary is ridiculous, but that it is particularly absurd in this country of merciless prices. We have patients who easily earn three to ten times our salary, and not from self-employment, but also from the few state jobs that link salary to performance; or simply through “struggling” — that is, stealing with both hands. It is high time to put an end to this humiliating situation, because if there exists today in Cuba a sector that is able to increase substantially the wages of its workershere we’re not talking about the ridiculous two pesos per hour for nighttime work — it’s public health. I said all this, a couple of weeks ago, when I was able to speak.

My specific proposal? A basic monthly salary for a recent graduate of 800 Cuban pesos (roughly $33 US), increasing by 150 pesos every two years up to, for example, 1,500 pesos eight or ten years after graduation; 100 pesos per each medical shift at multi-specialty and primary care clinics, and between 150 and 200 pesos in hospice facilities depending on the workload assumed by each specialty, never less than 5 pesos an hour for night duty, 200 pesos for biohazard risk, 200 for administrative positions and teachers — it could be higher for provincial or ministerial positions; 250 for certified masters and 500 per specialty completed. And finally, it would be fair to give longevity pay after fifteen years of work at 100 pesos every five years (100 after the first 15 years, 200 after 20, 300 after 25 and so on) and finally a retirement that does not force those who served their people for decades to live on a little less than a beggar would get.

Of course, this is my humble opinion, launched into the ether from the perspective of the sufferer, not remotely like that of an experienced economist. But something convinces me that an industry generating so much money could handle it comfortably. They’ve already made a timid gesture with sports, so why not with the sector that generates similar wealth, which provides reasonable assurances that it will continue, and which is showcased to the world as a success story?

Those who make these decisions should take into account that these are professionals who know that, if they approved a monthly salary like this (I’m talking about 150 U.S. Dollars), it would still be less than they could earn abroad for a few hours of work under circumstances qualitatively very different, despite which — I venture to guarantee — in most cases they would not want to abandon their country. I remains to be seen if the words spoken in meetings all across this country will fall on deaf ears, if it will do any good to throw this bottle into the sea, to throw these crazy words into the wind.

Translated by Tomás A

17 October 2013

Self-Employment: A Key to Disaster / Jeovany J. Vega

The signs in the photo read, “The Revolution; Thriving and Victorious. Keep Moving Forward” and “Towards the Future with Firm, Confident Steps.”

Whenever the subject comes up, I remember an anecdote a friend once told me. One morning in March 1968 he and an uncle, the owner of a small fruit stand, opened their store early. The story behind this hard-working man was that he had gotten his start by making the rounds of the major streets in Artemisa, selling fruit from a pushcart. Little by little he made improvements to the cart until he was at last able to rent a storefront and transfer his operation to that location which, after many years and great sacrifice to his family, was finally his. But as he was waiting on his customers on that fateful morning in 1968, an official dressed in olive green and carrying a briefcase appeared at the doorway.

“Are you the owner?” the official inquired.

“Yes,” said the man.

“Could you please step outside?” the official asked from the doorway.

When the owner went out, the official crossed the threshold and once inside said, “This property has just been expropriated by the Revolution.”

And that was that. My friend told me that the former owner could not go back in even to get a chain that he had left at the cash register along with his wedding ring a few minutes earlier.  Like thousands of other Cubans he was dispossessed of the small family business in which he had invested so much over many years. The old folks tell me that after the so-called “revolutionary offensive” you could not find so much as a fried croquette for sale on the streets.

A recent State of Sats* panel focused specifically on the current state of self-employment in Cuba, a sector whose fundamental dynamics vary depending on what stage of post-revolutionary history we are discussing. Panel members recalled the various phases of uncertainty this sector has gone through to get to where it is today. Many of us remember the circumstances under which this economic alternative was “officially” introduced. At the peak of the Special Period it served as the government’s exit strategy, an escape valve used to relieve the extreme pressure that had built up. I myself remember the giant headline printed at the time in Granma: “Self-Employment Is Not an Economic Solution.” In other words, though they promised to take the policy seriously, government actions in the early years refuted that pledge, making the whole thing seem farcical.

We all witnessed how, as soon as it started feeling more confident, the government began to impede development in this sector by imposing all sorts of restrictions, designed simply to force the self-employed out of business. Faced with the inability to pay the excessive taxes demanded of them and with bankruptcy as their only other option, thousands of small business owners turned in their commercial licenses. There was, of course, political motivation involved. It was about needing definitive proof that private businesses could not compete with the immaculate efficiency of socialist businesses. In the meantime, the government maintained a rigid policy of denying all new applications for commercial licenses for most activities. It was a policy that continued into the following a decade and one whose results are still felt today. It meant that only those businesses that were profitable enough to pay sky-high prices for raw materials on the black market and bribes to inspectors and police officials survived. It also led to widespread moral decay in society in general, a condition which still afflicts us today.

The government claims that this time it has the political will to guarantee a different outcome. But there are indications — some subtle, some overt — that hint at the real intentions covered over by the tone of official rhetoric. For example, there is still a body of legislation on the books giving legal authority to agencies such as the Office of Public Prosecutor to bring charges against individuals — whether they be agricultural producers or newly self-employed workers — who only find out about it after they have lost the shirts off his backs.

Most authorized businesses, which generally are required to show proof of purchase, still have to cope with the insurmountable obstacle of sky-high prices for supplies and raw materials, making any attempt to turn a profit into a joke. The state remains the sole supplier, a situation directly at odds with changes made early this year to the emigration policy. It means that a producer is not allowed to directly import supplies even when it is possible for him to do so. This stands in stark contrast to the “analogous” examples of China and Viet Nam, where such transactions are easy.

Entire crops rot in the field because of the inexcusable irresponsibility of the National Stockpile Corporation — the only body of its kind authorized by the government — which so fears intermediaries that it has never indemnified anyone. Real autonomy has never been granted to these new enterprises, which remain subject to the ludicrous operational methods of the ineffective state system. This is also the case with transportation cooperatives, whose members are prohibited by law from owning their means of production, just one of thousands of problems too numerous to mention here.

In short, I have the impression that the current situation is fundamentally not much different that of the past. When a business fails, it can be attributed to poor management by the owner. But, if we see a massive trend occurring, then we are talking about ineffective management affecting an entire country. Surely we Cubans are not that bad as administrators, especially when it involves risking our meager savings in a family business.

Those who formulate such policies understand mathematics yet have nevertheless designed a dysfunctional system. They doggedly insist on sticking to it because their ultimate goal is not to assure the success of these “nano-businesses.” Rather it is to impede them so that prosperity might be achieved through a management system that has wasted decades through inefficiency and administrative indifference, all of which began on that fateful day in 1968.

I hope I am wrong but, as long as we continue on the current course, I have a feeling self-employment in Cuba, as represented by the small family-run business, will be the key element in a future disaster.

Lice and nits removed.

*Translator’s note: An independent Havana-based organization which sponsors public discussions on civil society and democratic political change in Cuba.

25 September 2013

 

Cubans: The Plague of the New Century / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Since the Cuban government enacted amendments to an emigration policy that had remained unchanged for over 50 years, a trend that could have been foreseen is increasingly apparent: now almost all embassies suspect that every Cuban is really an immigrant, and consequently they have turned the process of obtaining a visa into a chimerical enterprise, translated into requirements that place the bar too high for most applicants.

These embassies may only exercise the sovereign right of each state to decide who enters their territory and under what conditions they will allow it, but there are stories that are so illustrative that they suspect that within this wood they could also have termites and to illustrate what I am describing here in broad terms, I have the testimony of Israel Reinoso Valdés , a Cuban citizen residing in Guanajay, Artemisa Province.

It turns out that Israel, along with Alonso along Lázaro Gonzáles Alonso and Gerardo García Álvarez — both also Cubans, residing in Guanajay and Mariel, respectively — decided to apply for a visa at the Guatemalan Embassy in January 2013.

The three young men met each and every one of the requirements of the embassy and consequently each was issued a tourist visa under the current procedure (Israel was issued visa No. 1,704,909). The three reserved tickets for February 6 for the price of $599.00 CUC, and flew to Guatemala on TACA flight TA451, which left Havana at 4:55 p.m. and arrived at their destination the same day at 8:20 p.m., local time.

Israel says that once at the airport they were taken aside by the Chief of the Immigration Group, Jose Canisa Valenciaga, who in an extortion attempt demanded from each of them the sum of $1,200.00 USD, which they had to pay through an intermediary, if they wanted to clear Customs; otherwise they would be deported to Cuba.

When they refused, the three Cubans were detained for more than 10 hours, held incommunicado like criminals, and not even allowed to use the restroom or make a phone call to their consulate.

The three young men were actually deported to Cuba on February 7, 7:00 PM, local time. The following day they delivered a first document of complaint to Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), in which they explained the essential details of the abuses committed against them by the Guatemalan authorities. After over a month with no response, Israel delivered a second complaint to MINREX and then made several more visits and multiple phone calls, all unsuccessful.

MINREX is legally, morally, and ethically obligated to represent its citizens in every country in which there is a Cuban consulate, and to ensure their rights, as is guaranteed in every Cuban passport that is issued. Absolutely nothing justifies MINREX ignoring the humiliation, abuse, and arbitrariness that a Cuban citizen has been or may be subjected to by any foreign authority.

True, the final decision on entry to a country may be subject to the discretionary consideration of the customs or immigration authorities, but here we have the case of citizens who rigorously complied with all the requirements of the Consulate of Guatemala in Havana — which as a result issued a visa that gave them the legal right to enter the country — and who in correspondence submitted all documents in the form requested by the relevant authority, but this was not sufficient to avoid being the victims of such arbitrariness.

There are rules, international mechanisms, and tools that can be used to resolve cases like this, where it is clear that three Cubans were victims of an outrage, because nobody in their right mind would pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket and fly thousands of miles just to drink a glass of water and return the next day without even clearing customs.

It is indisputable here that three Cuban citizens were subjected to a tremendous humiliation, were victims of attempted extortion and an undeniable abuse of power by corrupt officials.

Cuba maintains diplomatic and consular relations with the Republic of Guatemala and MINREX has an embassy in that country, so it has the resources necessary to intercede before the competent authorities — in Guatemala or any other country — to press the appropriate claims in cases like this where they deem that our rights were violated.

If that is not the case, then why are we paying the 100 CUC (the average salary for six months of work) we are getting charged for our passport, which supposedly certifies that, wherever we are, we remain under the aegis of the Cuban Government?

Or does that only apply during the time when we have to fill the plazas during grandiose parades, and not at the time when we need actually need help — away from our land in front of a despotic official? Will they always leave us in a state of helplessness when we decide to leave this country, where contrariwise they treat foreigners with kid gloves?

I doubt very much that their counterparts would stand idly by in a similar situation if a victim in Havana was a citizen of Germany, France, the United States, or any country whose Foreign Ministry is respected.

MINREX, the voice of the Cuban government to the world, should be at the pinnacle of what this moment demands, and it is therefore unacceptable to abandon us so completely — in this case it should never have been so slow as to issue its final response almost five months after the complaint was made, and thus tacitly agreeing that these young men “… did not meet the requirements of the Migration Act …” when in fact they met every requirement demanded by the Guatemalan Consulate. Moreover saying in effect that the three young men lost the money for their passage without recourse.

What if suddenly this case is not an exception? What if we have discovered a clear trend to treat us as the new plague, at least those of us who come to where we want to go?

Today it was Israel, Lazarus, and Gerardo. Tomorrow it could be any Cuban, including me of course. Because as a result of the brutal reality in which we live, and the indolence of our Foreign Ministry, we could be condemned to be seen as outcasts, as those “welcome” in the context of work missions, but then regarded with suspicion if we decide to travel to these countries by our own choice.

We, the children from the same land as the one that declared that “homeland is humanity,” something surely unknown to those corrupt Guatemalan customs officials.

By: Jeovany Jimenez Vega
19 August 2013

 

About the Beating of Ana Luisa Rubio: An Obligatory Reflection

Ana Luisa Rubio, a censored and dissident Havana actress, received a beating outside her home on the afternoon of Friday, 6 September, that caused multiple contusions on her face, head and the rest of her body. A few minutes later I received her telephone call in Artemesia: I heard her terrified voice trying to tell us, but barely able to give any details.

Ana Luisa then received the supportive visit of several friends, and that night was accompanied by Antonio Rodiles and his wife Ailer to the emergency room at the Manuel Fajardo Hospital, where she received medical attention and a certificate of her injuries was drafted. That same day she made the relevant police report, for the umpteenth time, to bring charges against the aggressors.

It was impossible for me to travel at that time — transport to Havana at that hour is virtually nonexistent — and as I had a 24 shift on Saturday, I was only able to visit her on Sunday morning. It was not until I saw the extensive traumatic bruising around her left eye, in the corner of the mouth on that side, still swollen, as well as on other places on her body, that I realized the magnitude of the aggression.

Then Ana told me that that afternoon some kids, innocent lures, repeatedly rang her doorbell — which, she said, was consistent with a history of provocations that she has been suffering for years, and has reported a dozen times without that law enforcement authorities doing anything. When she answered the door an outrageously angry woman neighbor rushed her ready for action, followed by a stranger and in seconds there were several men, also unknown to her, who joined in the beating. The modus operandi said it all. The images speak for themselves. The impunity confirms all suspicions that State Security was involved.

Now, the obligatory reflection of this Cuban who was not an eyewitness to these events and which I will try to discuss as objectively as possible. To not get suspicious:let’s suppose it was the unheard of case of a neighbor, truly outraged, inexplicably seconded completely viciously by various strangers, men and women included. Would it not be a case of assault against the person,recognized as a crime in the existing Penal Code and therefore punishable?

Why, then, shouldn’t the authorities act vigorously to enforce the law, arrest the main aggressor, who lives a few doors from Ana Luisa — and expose the guilty? Honestly, I feel that this is a very remote possibility if we consider that the attack was consummated on a woman who despite her vulnerable nature has dared to challenge the absolute power.

I am completely certain that if, the attacked had been anyone other than that “uncompromising revolutionary” regardless of the reasons, Ana Luisa would already be ready for sentencing. But in this case something happens that can not be ignored: casually insist several days before — I insist it was casually, not to get too suspicious — in the afternoon of August 24, Ana had undertaken a one-person public act of protest in the Plaza of the Revolution, and that it does explain a lot.

So as I see it: as long as this is a country where there is a separation of powers and the Prosecutor allows such abuses; a country where the police authority, far from ensuring the safety of the person, is congenial in complicity with the oppressors; as long as this a country without a committed press, able to submerge itself in a sterile catharsis, but never risk a finger on the burning sore; as long as State Security and the Communist Party arrogate to themselves the power to organize the notorious rallies of repudiation and infamous beatings — denigrating, not for the alleged victims, but for those who perpetrate them; as long as freedom of opinion and association are constantly violated and fear corrodes the dignity of man; as long as there are cowards capable of taking advantage of the helplessness of women like Ana Luisa, nothing, absolutely nothing in this suffering country has changed.

13 September 2013