Marxism Professor is Cuba’s Social Networks Czar / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 October 2017 — A Marxism professor who is also an official of the Ideological Department of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is responsible for implementing the Cuban government’s strategy for the use of social networks from the island.

Joaquín Suárez González , 52, a graduate of Marxism, Leninism and History at the  “Félix Varela” Pedagogical Institute in Santa Clara, and an official of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the PCC, is in charge of organizing the propaganda maneuvers through the social networks, and distributing among an army of netizens the tasks approved and supervised by the Council of State, the Council of Ministers, the National Defense Council, and the National Defense and Security Commission, Martí News has learned. continue reading

Engineers, programmers, designers, specialists in Support and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), make up this small elite group led by Suárez González, who, upon the conclusion of the elections and the installation of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) in Venezuela, won the recognition of President Nicolás Maduro for working actively and without rest for more than 24 hours in the rapid dissemination of the campaign and the hashtags for use in different platforms.

Social networks are the most active and dynamic phenomenon in the world today, so the tactic that the Cuban government manages is not to impose the benefits of the communist system and its doctrine, but to reach as many users as possible, and try fascinate them by showing the most attractive and unique side of the so-called “revolution.”

To carry the message of the Cuban government through social networks, all the state administration agencies, ministries and the press are subordinated to this commando of technologists and ideologues.

The Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), Intelligence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), are responsible for transmitting “when and how to act” to the different embassies, consulates, collaborators, and “Friends of Cuba” so that all of them, in unison, can activate profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and support each entrusted mission, whether it be to ask for help for the destruction caused by a hurricane, to enhance the firmness of a people that provide solidarity to a needy nation, to discredit dissidents and/or influence, with the help of cyberspace, the opinion of thousands of young people everywhere in the world.

The most recent action took place during the “Networks Operation for the 149th anniversary of the Beginning of the War of Independence,” on October 10, when the remains of the hero Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and the outstanding patriot Mariana Grajales were buried in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery of Santiago de Cuba (where they joined the remains of José Martí and Fidel Castro).

According to Joaquín, on that occasion, the hashtags #VivaCubaLibre, #Cuba, #10deOctubre, #CubaEsNuestra and #SantiagodeCuba were the most significant.

Currently the cybernetic troop is training on the networks to launch incentive politics with the purpose of collecting opinions to design strategies and hashtags, and to “viralize” the last stage of the nomination process of candidates with a view to the elections for Cuba’s presidential turnover in 2018.

Cubans Eat the Most Expensive Eggs in the World / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida — The lack of planning on the part of the Ministry of Agriculture has been the main trigger for the fact that hundreds of poultry farms have generated a crisis now experienced by Cubans as the absence of eggs, along with the high cost of such an important food when it can be found.

Low egg production, allegedly caused by severely stressed hens after the passage of Hurricane Irma, has forced the black market importing of this essential food from the beach resort of Cancun, in Mexico. The whole thing seems like a plot invented by some filmmaker for a science fiction movie, but no, it’s real news, coming from the island.

Cuban TV national and provincial news programs are showing repeated images where some producers in the national assembly debate the steps necessary to rescue the production of eggs, and attribute the scarcity of the product to the indisposition of the birds, in addition to the destruction of more than 615 poultry houses by Hurricane Irma. continue reading

But the main trigger continues to be the lack of planning by Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture, such that hundreds of poultry farms have generated the crisis that Cubans suffer today for the lack of this food source that is such a staple for ordinary Cubans.

A note published on October 1 in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth, the official voice of the Cuban Communist youth) announced that as an emergency measure to meet the needs of the people, the government will sell “more than one million eggs, five per consumer, at a price of 1.10 pesos each.”

I do not know the psychology of birds; but it is crazy that within the Cuban fauna, the hens belonging to the State are the only ones stressed out. The private farmers are, according to all reports, “raking it in,” selling eggs from small producers at 4 pesos each.

The origin of this crisis, which is not the first and I suspect will not be the last, is not found in avian tension, anguish or depression, but in other elements that affect the production of the most popular of all the foods that make up the essential diet and the basic Cuban food basket.

The hurricane is not the culprit. The poultry industry in Cuba has had a continuous and acceptable development, has good breeding stock, mainly in layers, and has achieved a production per bird of 280 eggs per year, with a weight of 3.2 pounds per ten eggs produced. However, by not respecting the living space requirements of these animals, plus the low availability and quality of water, causing a high incidence of prolapse, along with the lack of adequate food, has caused the layers to acquire the vice of picking at each other’s feathers, and harassing their companions, especially when they are in their nests. All this has a very negative effect on egg production.

The egg crisis on the island has no quick solution, and it also affects self-employed workers in restaurants that survive between the desire to hide, the need to trade and the frenzy of the market.

“We have a partner who supplies us with flan, custard, pudding, cakes and other desserts that we offer in the restaurant; but they aren’t selling because if the police grab them in the street with any product that contains eggs in the recipe, they charge them with receiving stolen goods,” explains the owner of a small paladar (private restaurant).

But that small group of restaurant owners who, cautiously and shrewdly, have managed to scale the ladder and break, in plain sight, although invisibly, the egalitarian aesthetic imposed by the Revolution, managed to find harmony in the contradiction and devised the solution (quite expensive, by the way). They travel as a group and import, without formal permits, cartons of egg that accompany them as luggage from Cancun to Havana. No doubt, André Breton (author of the Manifesto of Surrealism), lacked imagination.

Where the Influential Are Above the Law / Juan Juan Almeida

Ariel Pestano Jr. crouching in catching position. His father played on the Cuban National team and won silver and gold medals in the Olympics. (Foto: Mayli Estévez Pérez)

Juan Juan Almeida, 25 October 2017 — Pressured by the influential and under the protection of a superior command, a Cuban court imposed a prison sentence on a young self-employed worker who, acting in legitimate self-defense, caused minor injuries to the son of a well-known Cuban sports figure, Ariel Osvaldo Pestano.

On July 1, Renny Ferrer Suárez, 31 years old, with no political or criminal background, the son of a math teacher, freely turned himself in to the authorities in the town of Caibarién [a coastal municipality in the center of the island] , after having had an altercation with Ariel Pestano Jr. and a friend, who assaulted him. The reaction of Ferrer Suárez caused slight injuries to the son of the Cuban baseball star. continue reading

“No one arrested him, he showed up at the local police station and after taking statements, they released him; but the [former] star receiver of the Cuban team and deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power (the Cuban Parliament) [father of the injured], used his influence beyond the borders of this small town. He spoke with Raúl Castro’s grandson in Havana and, without anyone expecting it, a counter-order appeared that ended up imprisoning Ferrer for 49 days until the day of the trial,” explains Leonardo Rodríguez, resident of the town of Camajuaní.

During the time that Ferrer Suárez was detained, his family was harassed, threatened and even stoned.

Ferrer says that the people who harass him are taking advantage of the prestige that Ariel Pestano has in the area. Several members of the police, lawyers who know the case and even Lieutenant Colonel Soto, a delegate of the Ministy of the Interior in Caibarién, know that they have been vicious toward Renny, but they cannot act against the power of Pestano and his powerful friend from Havana.

“Maria del Carmen, Renny’s mother, is terrified. She is a person who maintains an irreproachable behavior and, as a worker, there are no complaints about her. She is a selfless teacher who stayed to fight against all odds, facing difficult periods like the mass exodus of workers in the education sector. This is a small town, everyone knows each other and we all know that Renny is a quiet boy who worked as a self-employed person in the shoemakers’ guild. But the Pestano family are boasters who function as modern chieftains. Here in Camajuaní, as in any other small town, being a player on the national team is more important than being mayor,” the source adds.

The trial for Case 42/17 was held on September 6 in the municipal court of San Juan de los Remedios, in the province of Villa Clara. The Pestano family attended; but the boy who was next to the alleged assailant when the altercation took place did not appear at the hearing. Instead, the prosecution put a pair of false witnesses on the stand who were dismissed because the judge could not hide that they did not know the defendant and that the testimony they gave was riddled with inconsistencies. However, Renny Ferrer Sánchez was sentenced to serve one year in prison, with the additional sanction of being restricted from visiting the beach of Caibarién for three years.

“They denied my appeal, I filed a complaint for harassment, but they did not take it into account. I am ready to serve a year in prison, but I am also willing to denounce what happened. Not only for justice, but also so that no one else has to suffer what is happening to me,” Renny Ferrer concluded in a telephone conversation.

Cuba Converts Cultural Venue to State Business / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 November 2017 — The Cuban authorities decided to close a private cultural venue that revolutionized the Matanzas nights, place its employees in front of a court, and then reopen the place as a state disco.

Located on General Betancourt Road, in the residential area of Peñas Altas in Matanzad, and under the slogan “A universe to be discovered,” the modern Galaxy club became the most famous private audiovisual iniciative for young people with fat wallets.

Customers had to book in advance if they wanted to enjoy the shows or theme nights, among which were parties with different themes: beach, Brazilian, Hawaiian, gym, fitness shows, or the attractive “semaphore parties” (where those who dress in green are single, yellow means looking for a couple, and red signals committed). The club was attended by more youth from the capital than from the city of Matanzas itself. continue reading

Things go well in Cuba, until one day they go badly. Galaxia was a busy club until it ceased to be a successful ship and became the Titanic. The raids and arrests were carried out in mid-August, but in early November, local authorities decided to reopen the site using the same equipment and furniture as before. They just changed the name; now it’s called La Bella Atenas.

“For the municipal council, the club had a culture of drug consumption and pimping practices that neither the police nor any of its employees were able to control; but as the space left by the Galaxia club was an essential part of the local income and the cultural landscape that the province devotes to the recreation of youth, it was decided to reopen, change the name to clean up the image and make it work as part of the state company that operates nightclubs and luxury restaurants,” says a municipal party official who prefers the prudence of anonymity, saying that there is a fine line between telling the truth and forced silence.

“The officers of the Anti-Corruption Unit of the DTI (Technical Research Department — i.e. State Security) said they found elements indicating that drugs were trafficked there, foreign capital was laundered, and paid sexual acts were directed, controlled and performed to the benefit of the managers,” said sources close to the case who can not explain why the owners of the place and most of the employees, without even being military, were all put before the Western Military Court of Matanzas.

Part of the popular rumor says that due to the gravity of the case and the evidence collected of the illegal activity that took place in Galaxia, the prosecution determined that the acts constituted a threat to the well-being and the security of the area. The other part of the proclamation says that the whole scandal is a dirty plan orchestrated by someone with influences who wanted to close the place to appropriate an established business. The Cuban authorities, for a change, have not offered any version of their own.

It is appropriate to remember that during the extraordinary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power [Cuba’s single unicameral parliament], held on May 30, Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo said that in the new socialist model of the island “the concentration of the property and wealth, even under the existence of private forms of management is promoted.”

Translated by JR

Cubans Between Openings and Closings / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 November 2017 — As of this November, Cubans will be able to do the paperwork to get a visa to travel to the United States in third countries. The application for an immigrant visa can be made at the United States consulate in Bogota, and for a non-immigrant visa at any US embassy outside Cuba.

The measure, taken in response to the sonic attacks, and which to some extent has as an objective to pressure the Cuban government with the removal of a great part of the US embassy personnel in Cuba along with the closure of certain consulate services, will increase the work of American officials and result in costs and travel inconveniences to Cuban families. But it will not upset the Castro leadership which, by the way, just a few days ago, announced a dodgy counterattack with spectacular effect. continue reading

An agreement signed on 4 November 1994 by his excellency Señor Pardo García-Peña, former Foreign Minister for the Republic of Columbia, facilitates visas for indeterminate times for Cubans who have a diplomatic passport.

The agreement, ratified on 27 October of that same year, by the former Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina, also allows that citizens who are holders of official passports will be allowed to enter Columbia either in transit or to remain in the country for up to 6 months.

The government of Cuba maintains a similar protocol with Belize, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Suriname and other 66 countries.

And this is normal. According to international treaties, diplomatic and official passports should be issued only to people who require them for matters of an official nature during their trip abroad. But what the advisers of the government of the United States apparently ignore is that the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) and a group of travel and immigration laws that have been very well designed by the government of the Republic of Cuba, delay the use of this type of documentation to a much wider group.

Decree 26/78, which regulates the use and issuance of passports in Cuba, authorizes the possession of a diplomatic passport to members of the Politburo and the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, as well as a very long list of other other officials that includes: Members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba; heads and deputy heads of departments, heads of sections and officials of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba; members of the Council of State; deputies to the National Assembly; members of the Council of Ministers; Presidents of Organizations of the Central State Administration that are not part of the Council of Ministers; General Secretary of the Cuban Workers Center; president and vice president of the Supreme People’s Court; Attorney General of the Republic; deputy prosecutors of the Attorney General’s Office; Judges of the Supreme People’s Court; first secretaries of the Provincial Committees of the Communist Party of Cuba; Presidents of the Provincial Assemblies of Popular Power; vice-presidents and vice-ministers of the Organisms of the Central State Administration; diplomatic and consular officials of the Republic, advisers and commercial, economic, cultural, press, military, air and naval attachés; officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diplomatic Post; department heads of the National Assembly of People’s Power, of the Council of Ministers and its Executive Committee; advisers to the vice presidents of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers; advisers and officials of the Council of State, Council of Ministers and its Executive Committee, as well as their respective Secretariats; department heads of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and of the Ministry of the Interior; department heads of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and of the Central Bank of Cuba; delegates to International Conferences or intergovernmental or diplomatic conferences; and as many other officials of the Communist Party of Cuba, the State and the Government, the Minister of Foreign Affairs deems convenient and necessary for the full accomplishment of the entrusted missions; and, very especially, family members of the people listed above. And all this includes authorizing travel even if the trip is not for any official purpose.

Now, if the American intention, in addition to protecting its consular staff assigned to the embassy of Havana, seeks to encourage popular discontent on the island, I am sorry to say that the advisers, at least on the Cuba issue, are more confused than Don Quixote at a wind farm. Popular approval of the Cuban government has just been noted, with the official decision, already published, to eliminate the “authorization” of the passport for Cuban emigrants to Cuba; to allow Cuban citizens residing abroad to enter and exit Cuba on pleasure boats; to allow Cuban citizens who left the country illegally to enter Cuba; and tofacilitate the process so that the children of Cubans living abroad, born abroad, can obtain Cuban citizenship and an identity document. A measure that, incidentally, responds clearly to the current occasion in a theatrical way to show the “integrative” and conciliatory face of the government. It is no coincidence that it was announced at just the moment when the member countries of the United Nations (UN) are preparing once again to vote for or against the Embargo.

Cuba, as always, has an economic, political purpose and seeks to incite the exiled-emigrant pulse; but this time it has a sarcastic addition; repealing the infamous “habilitación” — the special permission now required for Cubans abroad to to return home — and to allow more family and nostalgia-related trips with affordable prices make an infallible convoy. Starting this coming January 1, instead of going out to spend a Saturday night on the town in Miami, it will be cheaper to spend the weekend in Havana.

US Citizen Sentenced to 13 Years for Espionage in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Alina López Miyares

Juan Juan Almeida, 10 October 2017 — A US citizen and her husband, a former Cuban diplomat, were sentenced to long prison terms by a military court in Havana on espionage charges.

Alina López Miyares and her spouse, Félix Martín Milanés Fajardo, were sentenced to 13 and 17 years in prison, respectively, in a summary proceeding that took place behind closed doors, according to reports obtained by Martí Noticias. continue reading

The trial was held in the Court of Justice of the Military Court, located in Marianao, on October 2, with the relatives of the accused forbidden to be in the court.

The process, delayed twice, came three days after the United Statesdecided to withdraw most of its diplomatic staff from its embassy in Havana, amid growing bilateral tensions over acoustic attacks on 22 members of its legation .

López Milanés was arrested last January at the Havana airport when she was about to travel to Miami. In December 2016, her husband, Milanese Fajardo, a retired Cuban diplomat  had been arrested; he worked at the Permanent Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York. They met in New York and have been married for over 10 years.

Both were being investigated by Department 1 of Cuban Counterintelligence under suspicion of providing information of a secret nature, the use of which could damage state security, according to a source related to the case.

López Miyares was born in Havana in 1959 and left Cuba when he was 8 years old. She was educated in the United States, obtained three doctorates and is a teacher by profession. Shee had recently been repatriated to Cuba.

The trial, registered as Case Number 1 of 2017, took place between 10 am and 2 pm. The inmates arrived at the military court in separate cars, handcuffed and guarded by officers in olive-green uniforms. The defense was undertaken by criminal lawyer Abel Alejandro Solá López.

The mother of López Miyares, who lives in Miami, was able to see her daughter at the entrance to the courtroom, but could not witness the trial, said a source consulted by Martí Noticias.

For the crime of espionage, the prosecution requested 30 years of deprivation of liberty and an equal term of abstention of rights.

“During the investigative process, the prisoners were pressured to modify their statements and influence the prosecutor’s decision,” the source said.

The court handed down a sentence of 13 years for Lopez Miyares and 17 for Milanés Fajardo. The final resolution will be signed on 24 October and the parties will certainly agree to appeal the sentence.

Cuban Medical Collaboration Suspended in Kenya and Mozambique / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 3 October 2017 — Kenya and Mozambique indefinitely suspended their collaboration with Cuban medical services which were under contract in both countries.

The announcement was “restricted information” distributed through emails send to the heads of all the provincial health services, between 25-27 September, according to Marti Noticias.

The sudden action is a concern to the Cuban government, which has gained international recognition and credibility through its health programs. continue reading

The email explained, briefly, that Mozambique refuses to contract through “More Doctors” (General Integral Medicine), and until further notice Kenya has stopped receiving new Cuban health workers.

This is a hard blow to the program of exporting Cuban doctors, which generates both income and gratitude for the “white coat” diplomatic policy.

In 2016, the program of professional services — primarily medical — generated $11.5 billion dollars in income for the Cuban treasury, a figure that greatly exceeds the profit fro tourism, which brings the national economy $2.8 billion.

The Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) maintains strict secrecy about the causes that gave rise to the unexpected and simultaneous revocation of agreements with two countries that maintain excellent relations with the island.

It is worth noting that Cuba and Kenya signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 24, with the aim of encouraging the start of medical cooperation in that African nation. And on June 18, Cuban President Raul Castro received his Mozambican counterpart, Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, and the official press reported that both leaders spoke in a fraternal atmosphere about the state of relations, historical ties, collaboration and international issues.

The sudden decision of both African nations not only surprised the Cuban authorities, but also the 602 doctors who were planning to travel to Kenya this October 2.

Cuba: Endangered Cybersecrets / Juan Juan Almeida

DATYS employees

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 September 2017 — Developing Information and Communications Technologies as a strategic sector is an old premise for the Cuban government, but the migration of professionals to the non-state sector is the main enemy for the computerization and national cybersecurity program.

“Let’s say that structurally we can have control of the data that circulates in the different cellphone networks, cybercafes, wifi sites and the more than a million users who have access to the Internet through Nauta accounts [from ETECSA, the state telecommunications company]. We also work together with a group of attorneys to structure a legal and regulatory framework for navigation, that contains decrees and complementary rules according to the cybernecessity,” says a graduate of Jose Antonio Echeverria Technology Univeristy (CUJAE), speaking to Marti Noticias.

In 2015, the First Vice-President of Cuba’s Council of State and of Ministers, Miguel Díaz-Canel, announced the creation of the Council for Computerization and Cybersecurity, which would be subordinate to the country’s top management and fulfill the mission of coordinating and controlling policies and comprehensive strategies associated with the world of technologies, and that would put cybersecurity ahead of computerization. continue reading

Several institutions remain associated with this Council, whose mission is to safeguard integrity, independence and technological sovereignty; as well as to strengthen the presence and impact of the Cuban system in the social networks: The Computer Network Security Office (OSRI) is directly subordinated to the Ministry of Informatics and Communications.

The Computer Network Security Office (OSRI) is directly subordinated to the Ministry of Informatics and Communications.

“I am terrified of this group because they are very well equipped and like hunting dogs they can inspect and find even what you have erased.” says the source, one of those potentially chosen to be part of the Cuban delegations that will participate in the 19th World Youth and Students Festival, in the Russian city of Sochi.

DATYS is another group of programmers that belongs to the Ministry of the Intertior (MININT), and is responsible for manufacturing and selling software. This is the group that makes biometric programs for fingerprint recognition, it was this group that implemented the identification system in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, among other countries.

SOFTEL is another small, strategic, vanguard community that offers advanced IT solutions, explains the interviewee. It has its headquarters within the University of Computer Science (UCI) and now is working on GalenLab, a software for the implementation of digital medical records.

The source referred to two systems created by SOFTEL: Galen Lab “Blood Bank,” to create blood banks and donor registries; and Galen Lab “Diagnostic Methods,” engaged with the process inside a laboratory that allows access to the exams of each patient of the Cuban medical system and of any of the medical missions of Cuba abroad.

SERTFOD is another group of young people dedicated to cybersecurity. It belongs to the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and since last July was authorized to provide services outside the FAR. Now it is in charge of repairing computer media, in addition to installing alarms and surveillance cameras in several civilian companies, and even in foreign companies. This group is in charge of managing the technology and methods that operate in a condition of secrecy or compartmentalization.

“The organization exists and is up and running; the problem is that our leaders belong to an age group that refuses to be a part of the digital age and that has sidelines the more than 25,000 professional experts in this area,” adds the source.

With low wages, poor working conditions, zero professional achievement, and the inability to negotiate patents and intellectual property, it is understandable that these specialists, skilled personnel with well-kept secrets, emigrate.

The Castros Celebrate While Cuba is Inundated / Juan Juan Almeida

Castros celebrate while Hurricane Irma batters Cuba

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 September 2017 — On Friday, September 8, the day the faithful celebrate the feast day of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, Hurricane Irma — a powerful category 5 storm — slammed into eastern Cuba with full force.

An onslaught of huge waves, heavy rains and hurricane-force winds caused damage that is hard to calculate and will be even harder to repair. The official press reported the loss of at least ten lives.

In response, General Raúl Castro wrote and published an article in Granma, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, entitled “A Call to Our Combative People.” In a sublime display of hypocrisy, this very fanciful piece ended with the declaration — and I quote — “Let us take up the recovery following the example of Cuba’s Commander-in-Chief, Fidel Castro.” continue reading

Clearly, solidarity is a universal moral principle that we should all practice. But not because of a sterile lecture which — in the case of this harangue by the country’s ruler — amounts to nothing more than an attempt to play upon people’s hopes.

The youngest of the Castros — a man of hooded eyes and meager talent who is also in the line of succession to the presidency of the Council of Ministers and Council of State — expressed his sympathy for the thousands of Cubans who have lost everything. These people are no doubt unaware that on the same day, September 8, as Baracoa and the entire eastern portion of the island were experiencing the destructive effects of winds that exceeded 200 kilometers per hour and caused damage to the electrical grid, homes and agriculture, the Castro family — or at least the most high-profile members of this clan — had marked the day by celebrating together at Saint Francis of Assisi Basilica and Monastery in Old Havana.

While the residents of Gibara were experiencing the desperate anguish of terrifying floods and the frustrations of being without electricity, the Castro dynasty’s hereditary princes — Alejandro, Nilsa and Mariela Castro Espín ( Raúl’s kids); Antonio, Alexis, Alex and Angel Castro Soto del Valle as well as Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart (Fidel’s sons) — were enjoying refreshing, well-made mojitos and the enchanting delights of caviar, squid and salmon with raspberry jam on thin layers of crustless bread in a charming Baroque edifice in Old Havana. The occasion was the debut and launch of a pair of books entitled “Fidel Castro and the United States” and “Raúl Castro and Our America.”

The cousins, children of the two powerful Castros, greeted each other affectionately but sat apart, at once together but separate.

It was like a sexless marriage in which, owing to certain commitments, the parties still share a bed. They allowed themselves to celebrate their good fortune dispassionately and without resentment while, at that exact moment, the unfortunate were fleeing from Irma’s impact.

In truth, I don’t know what Raúl was thinking. I believe he was probably thinking what a blessing it was to be handed by divine fiat the mantle of Commander-in-Chief.

Dr. Eusebio Leal, Havana’s official historian, presided over the event. The man in charge of compiling the data for this masterpiece, which is already being touted as the next best seller, was the astute and temperamental Colonel Abel Enrique González Santamaría who, in addition to having a doctorate in political science, is also senior adviser to the Defense and National Security Commission. He wore a light olive guayabera to the event, a color that might be described as a dull Sierra Maestra green.*

It is only natural that we should dress in subdued tones in these difficult days when people are seeing a lifetime’s worth of work taken away in seconds by the force of a hurricane.

*Translator’s note: a reference to the color of the military fatigues worn by Castro and his revolutionaries when they were operating in the mountains.

The Eternal Persecution of the "Deserters" / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 6 September 2017 — A recent email leak in Cuba confirms that although the island’s Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) facilitates the travel procedures for the collaborators it sends to missions in different countries, the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), which controls the regime’s organs of repression and citizen control, has absolute power to obstruct departures and avoid desertions.

On 7 August 2017, Cuba’s Central Unit of Medical Cooperation (UCCM) requested the Department of Foreign Relations (MINSAP), via email, to prepare five transit visas for Spain who were planning imminent travel to join the Cuban Medical Brigade in the African archipelago that forms the Republic of Cape Verde. continue reading

This singular cyber-message, brief and to the point, said that the collaborators must collect their transit visas on 12 September at the Spanish consulate in Havana, and must present themselves the day before at UCCM’s headquarters, located on CUJAE Highway in the capital municipality of Marianao.

The doctors involved are Neuvis Vázquez del Llano (surgeon), Manuel Luis Rodríguez Lavernia (surgeon), Aida Silvia Fuentes Abreu (pediatrician), Pablo Raúl Rosell (surgeon) y María Elena Pérez Jiménez (anesthetist).

So far so good. UCCM is the institution in charge of ensuring Cuba’s commitments with regards to International Medical Collaboration are met, and it is normal that it should also be in charge of the visas and travel of the collaborators.

The story’s dark and irregular point comes to light when, by magic and hours apart, a second email, dated Wednesday 9 August, is sent from Roberto Morales, Cuba’s Minister of Public Health, to the Cuban embassy in Madrid, with a copy to the African state, instruction that by orders of Jesús López-Gavilán, chief of the MINIT department that deals with health, that when the collaborators’ flight date is confirmed, it is imperative that an official of Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Madrid go to Barajas International Airport (the misspelled missive explains), because after an investigation and check of communications with family members abroad, it was determined that one of the five physicians, without specifying which, but repeating the names of the five mentioned above, has shown what are describes as strong indications and intentions to defect.

Cuba Planning to Send Medical Brigade to the U.S. to Aid Victims of Hurricane Harvey / Juan Juan Almeida

Cuban medical workers gathered prior to heading out to provide services abroad.

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 September 2017 — The Cuban government is making plans to send a team of medical specialists to the the state of Texas as soon as possible to offer aid to flood victims of Hurricane Harvey.

The government sent an urgent order to the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), which was later announced to the provincial branches in a videoconference headed by Dr. Marcia Cobas, a deputy in the National Assembly and Deputy Minister of Health for Medical Aid, International Relations and Information, as reported to Martí Noticias by sources close to the organization.

During the video conference, all provincial medical aid agencies were informed that the possible transport of a significant number of eligible Cuban aid workers to the Havana Convention Center, located on Vía Monumental and Cerrera Cojímar, for intensive training in preparation for personal interviews in September is under consideration. continue reading

A brief synopsis of the video conference was later distributed by email to MINSAP directors.

This is not the first time that Cuba has offered medical aid to the United States. In August 2005 the Cuban government created the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Medical Specialists for Disasters and Epidemics to aid populations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama affected by Hurricane Katrina.

In this instance, MINSAP plans to enlist eight-hundred aid workers from different medical fields capable of responding immediately to the demands of the affected population.

MINSAP has already prepared a list of 1,000 potential team members which includes specialists from twelve provinces and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud. The provinces with the highest number of pre-selected physicians are Santiago de Cuba (230), Havana (160), Holguín (160) and Granma (110).

According to the report obtained by Martí Noticias, the professionals chosen are required to bring the following documents to the interview:

Medical diplomas as well as diplomas for specialized fields in which they hope to work.

  •  Curriculum vitae in English, with an emphasis on medical skills.
  •  Photocopy of national ID card.
  •  Photocopy of professional card.
  •  A photo in any format

“Attached is the transport plan, organized by categories and provinces. We must take all measures necessary to fulfill this task, which is of highest priority,” concludes the document, which was circulated by email and signed by Ovidio L. Alba Betancourt, head of SMC (Medical Services of Cuba), a branch of Central Unit for Medical Cooperation (UCCM).

Earlier this year, Cuban doctors travelled to Chicago to participate in an aid program in that city for at-risk communities with limited resources as part of a collaboration that will last for close to a year. Cuban doctors will focus their attention on maternal and infant care as well as the detection and prevention of cancer.

From August 14 to 17, specialists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in collaboration with the Cuban Academy of Sciences, participated in a binational symposium in Havana to discuss approaches to vector controls for Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can transmit diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

Angola Rejects Service of Cuban Medical Collaborators / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 15 August 2017 — In an unprecedented decision that could have diplomatic repurcussions, the Angolan government rejected the 189 Cuban collaborators prepapred to travel to join the Cuban medical mission in that African country.

The unexpected decision was communicated to Havana through an email sent from Luanda by the ANTEX company, and received in Havana in the office of Roberto Morales, Cuban Minister of Public Health, on 31 July.

ANTEX is a Cuban military company, registered with the Cuban Chamber of Commerce which has signed important agreements to provide services and development of joint venture companies with the Angolan government. continue reading

On 24 February, with several ministers and representatives from both nations, Cuba and Angola celebrated the thirteenth session of the Intergovernmental Commission, which confirmed the need to establish and/or expand their bilateral and cooperation commitments in some sectors, such as planning and finance, education, construction, transportation, culture, energy, water, agriculture, geology and mining, fishing, urban planning, industry, communications, health and the biopharmaceutical industry.

The reasons why Angola is rejecting these Cuban aid workers are lost among various versions from sources that have preferred to remain anonymous. Among the problems mentioned are the payments for the services of the Cuban professionals, among other possible reasons.

The relationship between Angola and Cuba began in 1960, and was sweetened in 1961 when then-Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós met with MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) representation at the first conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade and offered to provide, with charitable spirit, the Cuban experience.

The link began to take shape on June 25, 1975 in Maputo, when the late Angolan President Agostino Neto met with Armando Acosta, who presided over the Cuban delegation to the festivities for the independence of Mozambique. It was at that moment that Neto asked Acosta for urgent help  to train thePeople’s Armed Forces of the Liberation of Angola.

But it was not until 15 November 1975, when the first Cuban ambassador to Luanda, Oscar Oramas, signed the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries with then-Angolan Foreign Minister José Eduardo dos Santos. From then until now, there had never been an incident that could tarnish bilateral relations.

The Cuban medical mission began in Angola at the same time as the Cuban troops arrived. During the conflict more than 450,000 Cubans passed through Angolan territory, among them doctors, teachers, engineers and soldiers.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, Vice-President on Paper / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 30 August 2017 — He was born on April 20, 1960. Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, a former university professor and first vice-president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, is an “architect” of limited inventiveness and little ingenuity, a simple leader fashioned by political necessity.

A video made last February has in recent days gone viral. In it, this gentleman leader can be seen at a Communist Party conference giving the most strident Stalinist-style harangue. But aside from the way some are interpreting this deplorable action, it is worth noting that such behavior is typical for Cuban leaders, defending power they do not have.

Skilled, with good eyesight and an even better sense of smell, the first vice-president of the Caribbean’s largest nation squanders his bravado on what he describes as “an avalanche of subversive proposals and projects.” Among those he mentions are the compendium of digital content informally distributed on the island and known by everyone as The Weekly Packet, certain privately owned businesses that recall the 1950’s, and the digital magazine OnCuba, which he promises to close. continue reading

This deplorable proceeding will go down in history, and certainly not as a glorious moment. This reminds me of the catchy chorus from a song by the Spanish singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina, which goes: “For lies, those of reality. You promise everything, but give nothing…”

I understand that clever people take advantage of the ignorance of others, that scholars have opinions, and that talk show guests talk. But the video was made in February. It is now September, OnCuba is still in operation and the Weekly Packet’s programming is still being distributed. In a dictatorial nation such as this, calling Díaz-Canel a vice-president is as dubious as calling Kim Jong-un’s barber a hair stylist.

Too bad for Díaz-Canel. For someone who can be as imposing as a Spanish galleon at full sail, he comes off as a marionette, someone who seems to forget that in Cuba it is the Party that, for the moment, holds power.

The second-secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, Dr. José Ramón Machado Ventura, made it clear to him when he decided not to grant Cuban legal status to the Che Guevara Foundation due to simple personal problems with his family. To date, the late guerilla leader’s former home remains nothing more than a legal studies center. The same thing happened to a foundation established by the famous Cuban singer Pablo Milanés, which he also shut down under the pretext that it was encouraging tendencies more suited to a capitalist lifestyle.

One has to remain hopeful and look at the facts before coming to any conclusions about the future of Cuba. It does not necessarily matter whose head wears the crown but rather who holds the scepter and sits on the throne.

What is clear is that, with barely five months to go before that fateful day in February 2018, there is still no real successor to the current leadership.

Cuba Prepares to Ship Masses of Health Workers to Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 29 August 2017 — The crisis in Venezuela has generated the mobilization of a greater number of Cuban “collaborators” in the healthcare sector than ever recorded in history, some of them committed to participate in the military exercises called by president Nicolas Maduro.

While president Nicolas Maduro stirs up the internal forces with military skirmishes against the threats of the United States and blocks the signals of two emblematic television stations, Venezuela is receiving with particular discretion an unprecendented number of Cuban health workers, which includes both doctors and other professionals in this sector, according to reports obtained by Martí Noticias.

Starting at 7 in the morning on 17 August and continuing until today, the Central Unit of Medical Cooperation (UCCM), in Havana, has managed to accelerate the travel of an army of white coats, ready to perform their labors in Venezuela. continue reading

Currently, there are some 28,000 health professionals in Venezuela, but the number could be quickly augmented in the coming days.

In less than 15 days they have processed more than 2,000 Cuban health workers, among them nurses, intensive care and medical emergency physicians that come from the health system of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). An act that, for some, seems to be the underside of humanitarian aid.

The collaborators come from all provinces of the country, although the processing center is in Havana.

“Whether from the FAR or not, the Cuban health workers that the UCCM has sent to Venezuela are not a political party and do not occupy leadership positions in any of the spheres of Venezuelan sociopolitical life,” according to a source in the Cuban medical sector.

The informant said they all go as doctors, nurses or health-related people, “willing to provide excellent medical care and care for patients with the same respect and love they learned in school.”

“Guns kill, medicine opens a path that has no going back,” the source added.

However, it is striking that according to a document distributed from 21 August, doctors from the FAR were cited, as a matter of obligation, and as subordinates, to form part of the Bolivarian Sovereignty military exercise that began in Macarao, on 26 August.

In a context like that of Venezuela today, no one can camouflage themselves under a profession that holds an important space in the life of Venezuela.

“In the UCCM we have the responsibility to guarantee the fulfillment of the commitments made by the Cuban government in the field of international medical collaboration. For this reason, the fact that Cuban doctors, processed by UCCM, are part of this or any other military exercise, constitutes a flagrant violation of the peace and medical cooperation agreement — to strengthen the historic bond of friendship between both peoples, and to work In order to promote and promote the economic and social progress of the two countries with the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean — which was signed on 30 October 2000 in Caracas by Cuban Commander in Chief Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías,” the informant said.

Cuba Ignores Sanitary Crisis To Not Frighten The Tourists / Juan Juan Almeida

Setting up for Carnival

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 August 2016 — Holguín, the Cuban province reporting the greatest increase in cases of zika, dengue and haemorragic conjunctivitis, might experience an increase in the level of contagion with the arrival of travellers wanting to visit the area in the upcoming carnivals programmed from 17th to 20th August.

Doctor Luis Arlet González, Provincial Director of Public Health, Julio Caballero, First Secretary of the Communist Party in the town, and Julio César Estupiñán, President of the Provincial Assembly of People Power (the local government), have more than once warned about the danger of celebrating  carnivals in the middle of this epidemic. But the First Secretary of the Communist Party in the province, during the last meeting of official organisations, made known the decision not to cancel the merriment for fear of frightening the tourists. continue reading

“It seems unbelievable that with the number of cases of zika, dengue and conjunctivitis reported daily, they could think of holding celebrations. For the Party, as always, all they are interested in is the income raised by filling the nearly 5,400 homes dedicated to tourism and they play the game without thinking that the city’s principal value lies in the inhabitants’ welcome and the beauty of the town set in 60 kilometers of beach and sun. Tourists look for contact and that, without a doubt, increases the contagion which is expected to soon reach pandemic levels”, says a frightened doctor at the “Vladimir Ilich Lenin” University General Hospital in the town.

The government recently provided funding for what is called “Operation Good Health”, which involves mobilising volunteers to carry out fumigations, and includes personnel able to locate infected people and raise awareness using the local media. But, in spite of these efforts, the number of patients increases daily.

Travel agencies receiving inquiries from travellers worried about the local situation avoid raising fear and uncertainty among overseas visitors. The provincial authorities decided to lock away those patients labelled as most contagious, but when the admissions at the “Lucía Iñiguez Landín” Hospital Clínico Quirúrgico in Holguín were overwhelmed they found themselves obliged to open up the nursing facility to take in the affected people.

People with contagious epidemic haemorragic conjunctivitis are being locked away in classrooms and lodgings in Celia Sánchez Manduley University, a long-established school for social workers, which, incidentally, has announced that the start of the next course will be postponed until September 20th, or until further notice.

Nevertheless, in the face of the incomprehensible decision to proceed with the carnival preparations, and in the closing stages of the preparations for the festivities in the provincial stadium and the busy Los Álamos and Libertadores Avenues, the local authorities have pronounced themselves satisfied on becoming aware on August 10th that Havana has ordered the activation in the province of the protection and security plan.

All the infantry units were quartered, the air force, the anti-aircraft defences and the navy were put on alert. But as the saying goes, nothing good lasts forever; such a colossal military mobilisation was not because of the epidemic, but because  General Raúl Castro, president of the Council of State and the Ministries of the Republic, was on vacation this weekend in his paradise hideaway in Cayo Saetía, on the north coast of East Cuba.

Translated by GH