We were few and labored… / Jeovany J. Vega

What you see here was once the seal of the centrifuge of our washing machine. A frightening little sound every time we turned it on that announced it was already signing the song of the peanut seller, until more than a month ago it told us, gentlemen I’m retiring, and it expired along with the motor damp underneath.

Between naiveté and hope I went in vain to the State repair workshop and collided there with the predictable evidence: in the intricacies of the black market — virtually the only one available for these purposes — this piece of rubber would cost between 20 and 25 CUC, that it at least 500 Cuban pesos, plus the usual labor cost, without which we would have to wash our clothes by hand.

This happened exactly when our ministry decided to start “paying” doctors 2.00 Cuban pesos (less than 10¢ U.S.) an hour for each night shift from 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM, which is 24 Cuban pesos per night shift — and so with an average of five night shifts a month this comes to 120 Cuban pesos, or the equivalent of some $5.00 U.S. now added to our monthly salaries for this work.

The incontrovertible evidence strikes us in the face again: while we public health professionals devote ourselves to our work, we continue to be the last link in the food chain; the pittance added to our salary today proves it. Other sectors triple or quadruple the pay, however mine, which for more than a decade has been the greatest source of hard currency entering the country (in exchange for doctors on “medical missions” abroad in countries like Venezuela), is kept destitute, in practice and deliberately.

Luckily selfless helping hands took on our repair, and although we always have to buy the part, having had to pay the full price for the disaster would have tripled our cost.

However, this still meant paying an entire month’s salary. While this is happening our minister determines that we do not deserve more than 2 Cuban pesos per hour for night duty, which destroys our health. They definitely do not respect us.

By: Jeovany Jimenez Vega.

29 May 2013

Caracas in a Photofinish Final / Jeovany Vega

I confess that I, like many, was surprised how hard-fought the fight was. Fewer than 300,000 votes difference, and both candidates with more than 7 million votes, is virtually a dead heat that calls for a deep reflection: how is it possible that after all these missions implemented by the Government of Hugo Chavez even half of Venezuelans voted for the alternative, Capriles? Could Venezuelans be so ungrateful? Or is what is hidden behind this shift a part of history that always escapes whenever you look through a single prism?

As I said in my second to last post, almost every reference on the subject has brought me colleagues who are returning from Venezuela, workers who left under conditions that I refrain from judging so as not to stoke the demons. But the truth is that now we get indisputable evidence: half of the electorate voted for the project that advocates reversing more than a decade of Bolivarian Revolution and choosing to return to the previous scheme.

I know well, from my own experience, that the ocean waves tend to distort the reality emitted by the antennas; so it is that hundreds of millions of earthlings still have a distorted sense of the Cuban reality, for example, and by analogy the same thing could happen in this case.

I speculate on the possibility that behind Hugo Chavez’s discourse, however sincere, is sheltering this opportunistic element that never fails in these situations: a whole caste of officials who in the name of the movement have filled their pockets and positioning themselves just to see how much they can benefit themselves, something that could be seen every day by this whole mass of people who voted on both sides, and that is not transmitted, presumably, on Telesur.

But personally, my sixth sense makes me doubt the alternative, Capriles; I simply do not see that he has the charisma to lead a nation. With the entire economic livelihood of the oligarchy there to count on for logistical support, I suspect that the money has been their only currency. It puts me in the dilemma of choosing, never having opted for someone so devoid of magnetism.

Although to offer an opinion from more than six hundred miles of stormy Caribbean away implies a margin for error, “especially when dealing with such complex realities,” this is something that I assume mine isn’t more than one opinion among millions.

I hope that whatever path this sister nation takes, whatever it is, includes the most absolute political and economic independence and the greatest justice and social inclusion possible, and that it all comes through paths of peace because it is this and no other dream that I desire for my own people. But as I see things now, the government of Nicolas Maduro will have to walk a very fine line if he wants to continue his ambitious social project, because it’s absolutely certain that, from inside and outside the country, powerful and dark shady deals are going to be working against him.

23 April 2013

The Dream, the Forest and the New Wolf / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“…because, although a nation may collapse, its mountains remain. And with the mountains there remains man’s eternal responsibility to preserve what is essentially his, which is his soul. And with that responsibility there remains the possibility of yearning and striving and the satisfaction that comes with doing it.” Hanama Tasaki

Fifty years ago the triumph of the Revolution was a paradigm for an era about to begin. The serious social problems that it sought to stamp out and the head-on antagonism towards the U.S. government marked its early years with a tense and radical tone. The justice of that struggle, the immense jubilation of a sea of people celebrating victory and later developments such as the literacy campaign, the invasion at Bay of Pigs and the October missile crisis would confer glory on its charismatic bearded leaders. It was a romantic image that resonated with every leftist movement throughout the world. At the time, as so often happens in similarly fervent eras, it seemed that anything was possible.

As one might imagine, to bring these dreams to life, a different type of man was needed. He had to possess his species’ highest virtues, be capable of making huge sacrifices while losing nothing. He had to be someone trustworthy, who acted in accordance with his principles to the point of being willing to die for them. There was an urge to forge an altruistic being, indifferent to the miseries of the past and without the slightest trace of selfishness. There was a need for a man aware of his moment in time and of the legacy he should leave. He aspired to be the perfect being “outlined in the speeches of Che Guevara” and was called upon to be the model for an idealized future. In other words, he was the dream of the New Man.

But that vision did not lead to a smooth road towards the promised land. While large estates, foreign holdings and properties belonging to the wealthy were nationalized in the early years, with the onset of the “revolutionary offensive” of 1968 such government measures were redirected against the very Cubans who had so fervently supported the Revolution less than a decade earlier. They often found themselves stripped of their small family businesses, whether they were simple little neighborhood stores, humble produce stalls, or tiny shoeshine stands. These misguided and extreme measures were followed by decades of economic stagnation and a flourishing bureaucracy that did nothing but demonstrate how inappropriate it was to adopt a carbon copy of the Soviet model.

The passage of time also saw an absence of civil guarantees, the lack of a separation of powers and an ethical impoverishment brought on by a press subjugated by censorship, all of which created an atmosphere of social hypocrisy that could only grow exponentially. The initial promise of plurality was necessary to motivate the people to wage war against tyranny of Batista’ as well as against assassins the likes of Ventura Novo and Cañizares, of Pilar García and Rolando Masferrer. It ultimately degenerated into a civil and spiritual poverty that today we recognize with embarrassment.

Now, fifty-four years later, I ask myself what remains of that dream. What of the utopia of the New Man have young people today inherited? The fantasy died in the cradle and in its place arose someone capable of the full range of hypocrisy, someone who runs from truth like vermin from light.

In he shadow of fear was engendered a lazy and selfish being, unable to put himself forward civilly with principles, unable to concern himself with anything that doesn’t have to do only with him. Insensible to the pain of others inadvertently powerless to go further, beyond the boundaries of his little plot, and in his Kafkaesque insect dimension, vegetates in his own harvest of misery without ever uncovering the great common parcel.

I don’t want to say that my inquisitive mind or judgement are infallible, nor do I want to wipe the slate clean, but it greatly distresses me that the behaviors that should be dark exceptions are the shameful norm: I look with sadness at the minimum level of spirituality of this youth, focused on fashion and reggaeton but too uneducated and superficial to notice major issues.

Elevated concepts like nation, commitment, duty or sacrifice are as alien to the average youth of today as the concepts of quantum physics. And it’s not that it’s wrong to live intensely, to wear the latest fashions and dance to the point of delirium, “because youth only comes around once and as beautiful as it is, it is fleeting,” but there should be, along with joy, depth… isn’t this Guevara?

The mega-experiment of the schools in the countryside had everything to do in such moral devastation, which for decades kept several generations of Cubans away from their families in the most critical phase of their adolescence, while their personalities crystallized.

In the classrooms of these boarding schools there was a climate of adequate teaching, “high quality in many cases,” while in the dorms many times the prison code prevailed: good had to adapt itself to sign of evil, and never vice versa, if you wanted to survive; their that young person in the making could descend to the most obscene unscrupulousness.

To this must be added the unfathomable crisis of values that came with the decade of the ’90s. The profound deterioration of people’s living standards prompted a mass exodus of teachers from the National Education System with its logical consequences, and meanwhile in the streets the law of the jungle was definitely enthroned.

Then libretazo of the 2000s “with its never achieved its Comprehensive General Teachers, its video-conferences and massive graduations of emerging, and volatile, teachers,” struck the final blow. The sad result we are touching today; it is my generation and my daughter’s generation that is the product of those years: the insensitivity, the worst education, the most arid vulgarity are the norm and, after so much time, have reached epidemic proportions. In short, we have created a Frankenstein and today we do not know what to do with it.

But I maintain the stubborn hope that not all is lost. Against such desolation I offer in opposition Jose Marti’s unshakable faith in human improvement. I have a living certainty that my people will draw, from the illustrious examples of their history, the strength necessary to rise from its ruins; so that the New Man we dreamed of one day, and whom I resist considering an impossible chimera, is finally born as the “son of universal values, not of political indoctrination” for the ultimate good of the fatherland.

We do not need the man of prefabricated harangues: essentially we need to rescue this man from the moral abyss dug by simulation and lies. We urgently need a Revolution of the soul.

“What can we count on…?!” the myopic skeptics scream. And the response worthy is what Agramonte shouted that shook the insurgent swamp: “The shame, we can count on that, the shame all Cubans deserve!”

by Jeovany Jimenez Vega

25 March 2013

Requiem / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

With the attempted coup of April 2002, the Venezuelan oligarchy tried to remove from power and/or murder Commander Hugo Chavez, leader of the nascent Bolivarian Revolution. There were moments of intense drama: the uncertainty of the early hours of his ouster and then the tsunami of people, the fiery waves that came down from the hills to restore their elected president to Miraflores Palace, a display of pure courage. That was an impressive and spontaneous reaction; since then the world was certain that something was brewing in Venezuela, something more important than simple ascent of a leader: this was a people with real aspirations, who performed an incredibly brave act of atonement for their true leader.

Parallel events, like the Llaguno Bridge Massacre, widely manipulated by the pro-coup media — “snipers who smashed the skulls of Venezuelans on both sides so as not to arouse suspicions when it came time to accuse the Chavistas,” they reported — and others like the siege of the Cuban embassy, the violent closure ot the official TV channel, and the precipitous recognition by various nations of the “transition government” that lasted no longer than an ice cube in the sun, largely defined Latin American during the following decade and are now Histroy, like it or not by the detractors of Hugo Chavez.

I have never visited Venezuela, so I can not offer an opinion with complete certainty about a reality that I never experienced. Many of my references have come to me from Cuban doctors, nurses or technicians who served there during different stages and I who told me  about an excessive social violence, “the painful legacy of past decades,” with youth organized crime, with trigger-happy almost-kids perpetrating crimes in cold blood; they tell me of constant political tensions, the rising scarcities of life, and the opportunistic showing its face on both sides of the conflict.

If there is anything I am aware of, it’s that for the government of Hugo Chávez nothing was exactly easy. But I’m convinced that “I could be wrong about all that,” that in the Venezuelan case the scarcities referred to are greatly speculative, driven by wealthy opponents, because I can’t understand how this could be in such a rich country, with the largest recognized oil reserves in the world.

But one cannot ignore the fact that this oligarchy still retains enough economic power to sabotage, should it decide to do so, precisely because the Government of Hugo Chavez “in addition to its socialist project, but different from the Cuban experience,” respected private property in Venezuela, giving the State control over the most strategic sectors.

Recently we Cubans watched how Maduro delivered his first speech as President, “in which he immediately called elections” under the same roof with known pro-capitalists opponents who listened with respect and were treated with respect, and, through Telesur, the station that could be called the Chavista “official” TV, we watched Capriles deliever his clumsy speech quite naturally before this and other media of the press; a lesson in tolerance we need to learn.

With regards to the elections of this coming April 14, I have few doubts. With hisspeech to the country, Capriles simply dug his own grave. The opposition leader gave a masterclass in political stupidity, in how to incisively attack not only the institutions, but the human sensibility of people still in deep mourning, with a tirade that left a bad taste in the face of elections too close to allow times to make amends.

I am convinced that this slip will cost Capriles tens or hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of votes. I predict that this election, with the emotional component in his favor, will be won by Maduro by a margin greater than the last one won by Chavez.

To his credit, the commander left a legacy of millions of literate, owners of new homes, through missions like Robinson, Barrio Adentro, Habitat and Great Housing Mission, among others who completed a total of 21 and who sought, above all, to humanize the life of ordinary Venezuelans.

Commander Chavez died after a long battle during which he never lied to his people about his health. With Honorary Doctorates from 10 universities, the “José Martí” International Award of UNESCO, and he earned dozens of international awards, honors and medals, he died convinced of the justness of his struggle, that neoliberal capitalism is guilty of the serious problems in Latin America, of the great hoax and lying to the third world by global institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. He died believing that Bolivar gave us a saving proposal two centuries ago, and therefore embraced that dream until his last breath.

The media of humanity honored him, including the UN General Assembly, the OAS and virtually all regional bodies. Fifty heads of state and government, as well as hundreds of world personalities attended his funeral and left an undeniable mark on the new dynamics of North-South relations. All this convinces me that Hugo Chavez will not belong to us but to history, and maybe not today but tomorrow, History will issue the final verdict.

1 March 2013

Reading Agenda Item 1 / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

1Perhaps the concern I feel over the recent visit of Russian President Dimitri A. Medvedev to Cuba is due to my natural incompetence in economic matters, but in truth reading the first item on his agenda leaves little room for doubt. The Russian Prime Minister clearly establishes as the primary purpose of his visit, to establish a “Convention on the regularization of the debt of the Republic of Cuba to the Russian Federation for credits granted in the period of the former USSR.”

It couldn’t have been stated more clearly if it were etched in stone. Any malcontent could get the impression that Comrade Medvedev came to hand us the bill for everything having to do with Russian for the three decades of “cooperation” during the Soviet era. However much this issue is decorated or obscured with the other nine points which are of little importance, that time of Russian dreams has been left definitively in the past by this generation of Russian politicians and they’re giving us a clear and concise message: the seem disposed to collect everything they are owed, down to the last centavo.

I recently reflected on the post-war period and how much a society can progress through an opportune focusing of its efforts. A little more than a decade after the Second World War, Europe was completely changed. Cities flattened by Nazi bombs were rebuilt in the carefree abandon of the ‘60s, and the same thing happened in Japan, once it was stripped of it military ballast. The world watched how, despite the nuclear aftermath, the land of the rising sun rebuilt at a dizzying speed and became a world economic power. A similar evolution occurred in Germany, with all its cities bombed by the RAF, including Berlin having been attacked by the artillery of the Red Army.

However, after three decades of broad Soviet economic protection — equivalent to a Marshall Plan designed especially for us — left us unable to take flight. The fact is, we have given history an eloquent example of how to waste such an opportunity.

But, as it was in the past it continues to be today, and Moscow doesn’t believe in tears. Now Comrade Mededev arrives, at this time and with that message, which could not come at a more inopportune time, no matter how one depreciates the amount for the differences in the value of the old ruble and the agreement to pay in a decade.

Watching the press conference I saw something — arrogance? — in the gestures of the Russian, and something else — worry? — on the face of our President Raul. To tell the truth, I don’t know where we are going to get everything we would need to pay back for thirty years of resources wasted by the handful — I wonder if this would be possible — because at that time no one knew — not the KGB, nor the CIA, not even God — that there would be glasnost, or perestroika, and that someone would one day postulate, for good or ill, the apparent end of history.

29 March 2013