We Ask For Transparency in Investigation of Tragic Plane Crash

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 May 2018 – The tragic images are hypnotic. Across a swath of agricultural land near Havana’s José Martí International Airport are scattered the remains of what, a few minutes earlier, was an airplane filled with 110 people traveling from the Cuban capital to the eastern province of Holguin. Only three passengers have been rescued and Cuba is facing the worst air crash in recent years.

The plunge of this Boeing 737-200 comes at the worst moment for the island. The diplomatic thaw with Washington has been halted for months and the 7% drop in the number of tourists over the first quarter of this year complicates the economic situation. A disaster of this magnitude can seriously affect an economic sector that enables the government to deposit hard currency in the dwindling national treasury. continue reading

The serious economic situation that affects Cuba’s ally Venezuela also intensifies this picture. Hopefully, in the coming weeks the Cuban authorities will open our territory to an international investigation because the victims include citizens of Mexico and Argentina. The secrecy that traditionally surrounds these types of investigations within our borders will be put to the test before the demands for information that will come from abroad.

To further complicate the moment, the official media just announced that Raul Castro, who remains at the head of the Communist Party, has undergone surgery and his successor in the position of president, engineer Miguel Diaz-Canel, is facing the most delicate moment of his mandate. This Friday he was seen arriving at the crash site, visibly alarmed, perhaps calculating the political costs the accident will have for his management.

However, the fundamental blow goes to the heart of the Cuban people and especially the family members of the hundred Cubans aboard that fateful flight that crashed at 12:08 pm on May 18. For them, there is the long pain of loss, the rigors of the identification of the bodies and the intense political campaign with which the ruling party will surround every step taken by medical and police institutions in the search for answers.

In their minds, the last moments with their loved ones will surface again and again, along with the sequence of coincidences that brought them to the aircraft leased by the state airline to the Mexican company Global Air. The stories of those who at the last minute could not obtain a ticket to travel and those who, on the contrary, were not planning to take that flight but by chance ended up on the list of fatal victims will emerge.

Doubts and questions will also arise, with demands for clear explanations in a country where the authorities have decades of training in doling out each piece of information. But not even this ability to remain silent will prevent people from relating the news of recent months and feeling that this Friday’s news has all the traces of a predictable tragedy.

The state airline, Cubana de Aviación, has been plunged for years into a profound crisis of constant flight cancellations due to the poor state of its fleet, consisting mainly of Russian airplanes with long years in service. The deterioration of their planes has forced the island’s main airline to continuously lease aircraft from other companies, and reduced their stature to almost nothing among their Cuban passengers.

The next few days are crucial. The reaction of the families will depend to a large extent on how the authorities and the airline manage the information about what happened. Transparency is now the most recommended approach but it remains to be seen if the Cuban government is going to choose it.

__________________________________

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

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

Cuban Government Demands Payment of Ghana’s Debt for Medical Services

Medical students from Ghana in Cuba. (Minrex)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 14 May 2018 — Cuban Deputy Minister of Health Marcia Cobas, in charge of medical cooperation in third countries, is upset because the Government of Ghana has not paid for the one hundred Cuban doctors assigned to that African nation as of September.

“It’s not fair,” Cobas said in a visit to Ghana, according to local media, which said she deplored the government’s attitude and said that even poorer countries, such as Chad, pay Cuban doctors on a regular basis. The island’s official press has not echoed the statements of the official.

Ghana’s debt for the services of the Cuban medical brigade amounts to 4.7 million dollars, according to the Ghanaweb site. This represents eight years of Cuban healthcare workers in Ghana. To date, only the doctors who are in Accra, the capital, continue to receive a salary from the government. continue reading

Last week the Cuban Ambassador in Ghana, Pedro L. Despaigne González, visited the headquarters of the Ghanaian Ministry of Health, where he was received by Deputy Minister of Health, Kingsley Aboagye-Gyedu. At the meeting, they discussed issues related to the Cuban medical mission, according to a brief official note from the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

Ghana, a country of 21 million located on the Gulf of Guinea, has been classified as one of the 40 poorest and most indebted nations on the planet. Although the poverty rate has been reduced to 28.5% of the population, life expectancy is only 55.4 years for men and 59.6 years for women, according to the World Health Organization.

The main causes of infant mortality include malaria, diarrhea and upper respiratory infection, as well as HIV infection, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and traffic crashes. The UN points out that the country has a high level of illiteracy and malnutrition and has high mortality rates.

Cuban specialists have been in the country since 1983. In 2016, Cuba signed a new health agreement with Ghana to send more doctors, while more than a thousand Ghanaians have graduated from Cuban universities, most of them in medicine.

Cuba has medical personnel deployed in 62 countries but does not provide data on the number of health professionals that are outside its borders, although in 2015 the number exceeded 50,000, according to the official press.

In recent weeks South Africa announced that it would reduce thethe number of medical students sent to Cuba, while other African countries signed cooperation agreements to bring specialists from the island despite the dissatisfaction of their local medical unions with that program.

The most recent statistics, published on the Cubadebate site, reported that the export of services is the largest source of income in the national economy, and contributed “an estimated 11.5 billion dollars as an annual average between 2011 and 2015,” according to the former minister of the Cuban Economy, José Luis Rodríguez, although that figure has fallen around 20% in the last two years because of the crisis in Venezuela.

 _____________________________

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

Carnival Lines Announces New Cruise from South Carolina to Cuba in 2019

A cruise ship docked in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Miami, 16 May 2018 — Carnival Cruise Lines announced on Tuesday the expansion of its cruise itineraries to Cuba with sailings from the port of Charleston, South Carolina, starting in 2019, while the airlines JetBlue and United Airlines also plan to increase their flights to the Island.

Carnival said in a statement that it will expand its trips to Cuba by 2019 with the first itinerary from Charleston and the addition of between 23 and 25 cruise days on five different ships departing from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, both on the east coast of Florida, and from Tampa, on the west coast of the state.

The ship that will sail from the port of Charleston is the Carnival Sunshine, with a capacity of 3,002 passengers and 102,853 tons, which will be the largest cruise ship that will dock in the port of Havana, said Carnival. continue reading

The Carnival Triumph will leave the port of Fort Lauderdale, the Carnival Paradise will depart from the Port of Tampa, and the Carnival Victory and Carnival Sensation cruises will sail from the Port of Miami, in southeastern Florida.

“Cuba has been a very popular destination among our cruisers and we are delighted to offer more opportunities to experience and explore this fascinating destination,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival, told EFE.

With regards to air service, United Airlines recently indicated that as of 20 July it will increase direct daily services between the city of Houston (Texas) and Havana.

“This expansion to Havana will provide significant public benefits to our city — where many speak Spanish — as well as to the region and the state,” Houston Mayor Houston Sylvester Turner said in a statement.

United Airlines, which opened its first ticket sales office in Havana in 2017, operates the “only service to the Cuban capital from the entire center and west of the United States” and also offers daily direct flights from New York, the airline said.

Meanwhile, JetBlue announced last week that as of 10 November it will operate direct flights on Saturdays from Logan International Airport in Boston to Jose Martí Airport in Havana.

JetBlue will also expand its flights to Cuba with up to three daily flights to Havana from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, north of Miami, also starting in November.

__________________________

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

"Mariela Castro Is Our Friend But That Does Not Make Our Church Communist"

Mariela Castro (left) and her husband, Italian Paolo Titolo (right), at a ceremony of the Metropolitan Christian Church in Cuba. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 17 May 2018 — The presence of Mariela Castro blessing LGBT couples on Saturday draped in a Christian stole, on the day against homophobia and transphobia in Cuba, has generated scorn among some Cuban believers. In recent days the press has focused on a new church established on the island with an inclusive agenda and the help of the National Center of Sex Education (Cenesex), led by the daughter of former president Raul Castro.

“Seeing the image of Fidel Castro presiding over a celebration of the rights of the LGBTI community and the believers of a Christian Church supporting him is a bit strong,” says the missionary pastor of the Lutheran Church, Ignacio Estrada, from Miami.

“Is it a mockery or a usurpation? The stole is a symbol of Christ’s authority, Mariela Castro should not wear it,” he says. The church the sexologist is pledged to is the Metropolitan Community Church  (MCC). For Estrada it is a mistake to mix politics with religion. continue reading

The MCC defines itself as a Church with a positive and inclusive message towards the LGBTI community. It also favors ecumenism (the unity of Christians) and is liberal in nature.

Since it was established on the Island in 2016, the MCC has been linked to Cenesex and it is common to see Mariela Castro participate in its ceremonies, impart blessings and encourage LGBTI couples.

A representative of the MCC board of directors in Cuba, who agreed to speak with this newspaper on condition of anonymity, denied that his congregation is trying to mix politics and religion.

“We understand our mission in Cuba and for Cuba, we work alongside those institutions that share our same vision, Cenesex is one of them, and is the one that has most supported us in our work, especially in the person of Mariela Castro, who is a faithful sympathizer of our church,” he said.

The pastor recognizes that they are sending a political message when they participate in governmental activities, but emphasizes that his main intention is to signal that a church “whose voice is dissident to the rest of the churches” is present in the country.

“There is a church in Cuba where the LGBTI community is accepted completely without limitations or conditions, because God loves us radically. Mariela is a deputy [in parliament], Raul’s daughter, our friend and obviously revolutionary but that does not make our church communist,” he added.

The pastor justified Castro’s use of liturgical ornament: “Many see her as a pastor for the LGBTI community, she uses that symbol not from a religious point of view, but as a symbol of a pastor, a companion, a protector,” he said.

The MCC, founded in 1968 in the United States, has more than 400 communities around the world. In Cuba it has around 100 faithful, but in just two years it already has three communities, in Matanzas, Santa Clara and Havana.

In 2016, the Institute of Global Justice of the Metropolitan Community Church awarded Mariela Castro the Be Justice award and the following year Castro responded by giving MCC founder Troy Perry the highest award granted by Cenesex.

Both Perry and the Rev. Héctor Gutiérrez, a Mexican bishop responsible for MCC in Cuba, have been in Havana. Mariela Castro and her husband, the Italian Paolo Titolo, witnessed the renewal of Gutiérrez’s marriage vows.

For Yadiel Hernández, a member of the First Baptist Church of Matanzas, relations between the Cenesex and the Metropolitan Community Church are “a business.”

“The MCC needs Cenesex and Mariela Castro because under the auspices of that institution they have grown in the country and at the same time Mariela Castro and Cenesex use the Church to promote their agenda,” he says and believes that if the MCC were to criticize the Government it would lose “its official favor.”

The MCC is not recognized by the Council of Churches of Cuba or by the office of the Communist Party charged with regulating the presence of religious organizations on the island. However, unlike other religious organizations born in recent years, it has not been persecuted, something that Hernandez attributes to its relationship with the daughter of the former president.

According to the World Christian Solidarity organization, the violations of religious and worship rights in Cuba increased in 2017 and there are churches that have been asking for official recognition for more than two decades, which forces them to meet clandestinely and be subject to searches by the authorities.

“The Church [i.e. the Christian churches] in Cuba is in a moment of expansion, many congregations from different parts of the world are arriving and some of them have a lot of money and seek support from institutions in the country,” says Hernandez.

Victor M. Dueñas, one of the activists who launched the We Also Love campaign in 2015 in favor of gay marriage in Cuba, does not believe in Mariela Castro’s “good intentions” in support of the LGBTI community nor in her adherence to the MCC.

“It is a betrayal of the Christian communities,” says the Presbyterian, who supports “an inclusive Church” but is outraged to see “the political agendas that can eclipse the Christian message.”

Dueñas, who along with a hundred Cubans asked for asylum at a Dutch airport last January, says Mariela Castro could do much more for the LGBTI community.

“We have been waiting ten years for the constitutional reform in which Mariela Castro has promised to try to include homosexual marriage, and in 2015, when other activists launched a campaign to promote it, she refused to support us,” he says.

The former president’s daughter has rejected that the objective of the Cuban Government should be the enactment of equal marriage and has indicated that socialism can not seek the “the simplest solution that appears nor repeat what others do.”

“In Cuba, laws are needed to protect LGBTI people so that they are not discriminated against, it is necessary to recognize police violence and take measures to prevent it, and projects that are independent of the State that defend LGBT rights, that they don’t hijack their discourse.”

___________________________

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

Cuban Government Tells UN Those Fighting For Regime Change Are Not Defending Defend Human Rights

Presentation on Cuba at the Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights before the UN. (@RosaMariaPaya)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, 16 May 2018 — Cuba declared on Wednesday at the United Nations Human Rights Council that those who act internally in favor of regime change cannot be considered as defenders of human rights, since in reality they are “agents of a foreign power.”

The Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, attended the forum to present his government’s report on the human rights situation on the island, as part of a Universal Periodic Review process carried out for all UN member states.

“In Cuba, the law cannot be violated (…) in the service of an external agenda of regime change, of the constitutional order and of the political system that Cubans have freely chosen,” said the minister, who said that those who act that way “do not deserve the noble qualification of defenders of human rights.” continue reading

On the other hand, Rodríguez affirmed that civil society is gaining increasing importance at the national level and that there are currently 2,200 such organizations of this type in the country.

He insisted that civil organizations participate extensively in the design, execution and evaluation of programs with social impact.

During his presentation before the UN Council, Minister Rodríguez defended Cuba’s “democracy model,” which he considered “participatory and popular” and which, according to him, is not limited to electoral processes, but includes effective citizen participation in public matters.

“Our electoral processes are not media contests between elitist political parties, in which candidates make promises that fail, and promote division, hatred, lies and corruption.”

“There is no single model of democracy, nor a pre-established or agreed formula for this concept,” stressed the Foreign Minister.

In another area, Rodriguez denounced that the “worsening” of the United States ‘blockade’ in the economic, financial and commercial realms is the “main obstacle” to the economic and social development of the island.

After the minister’s presentation, the delegations of the Human Rights Council member countries commented on Cuba’s report and made recommendations to the Government; one of the most repeated of these was that there be guarantees for freedom of expression, association, the press and peaceful gatherings.

Several countries asked Rodriguez to extend a permanent and unrestricted invitation to come to Cuba to the United Nations rapporteurs who monitor the progress and setbacks in specific human rights, and to allow them to visit the places they wish, including prisons.

Another suggestion that was mentioned by different delegations was related to the relevance of creating an independent national institution for human rights.

On the other hand, many countries congratulated the Cuban Government on the rights to health, education and culture that are guaranteed to its population.

Hours earlier, Cuban activist Rosa María Payá said that the Cuban government “mocks” the Human Rights Council and that the report presented to this body in the name of an NGO is “fictitious.”

“We are here to denounce the efforts of the Cuban regime to mock us, the Cuban citizens and the Universal Periodic Review process,” said the activist in a meeting with the press hours before that scrutiny.

“The report that the alleged entities of Cuban civil society have sent is totally fictitious, and not only that, they have invented 400 NGOs.”

Payá said that among these NGOs are “the Cuban Federation of Canine Sports, and the Cuban Association of Otolaryngology, which have nothing to do with human rights” and added that, normally, states present a report referencing some 30 NGOs.

The activist denounced that in neither the government report nor in that of the NGOs did they denounce “the reality of what is happening in the country.”

“There is no talk of cases of torture, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, which are still common, or express kidnappings*, which is a pattern that continues, and that the Ladies in White suffer every week,” Payá said, and she added “330 express kidnappings have been documented in the last month.”

In addition, Payá said that the number of political prisoners “currently equals 120 people with sentences handed down.”

The daughter of Oswaldo Payá stressed that, in recent weeks, five sentences have been handed down against human rights defenders, “and even defenders of environmental rights. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, an environmental activist has been sentenced to one year in prison, for denouncing threats to biodiversity.”

She also pointed out that there are “absurd cases like that of three activists who were sentenced to two and a half years in prison for demonstrating silently in the Plaza Cespedes who were accused and convicted of the crime of pre-criminal dangerousness, a ‘crime’ that exists only in Cuba and that ensures that you do not have to commit a crime to be arrested.”

With respect to Miguel Díaz-Canel’s assumption of the presidency on April 19, Payá said that the Cuban regime “is selling a process of political change when the appointee was hand-picked. In the last elections there were 605 candidates for 605 seats. The ability of Cubans to choose was zero.”

In addition, the activist denounced that the authorities have not allowed “hundreds of activists” to leave the island in the last months, and specifically related to the Universal Periodic Review “at least five” were blocked from leaving Cuba to prevent them from speaking out.

“We have no freedom to enter and leave as citizens, my own mother was not allowed to enter Cuba to visit the grave of my father,” she said.

*Translator’s note: Elsewhere in Latin America “express kidnappings” are abductions where an immediate ransom is demanded, for example the victim is forced to withdraw money from an ATM. In Cuba, the police and State Security frequently detain people for hours or days to prevent their participating in some political or artistic protest or activity, or to cause them to miss a flight to activities abroad.

_________________________

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

Cuban Biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola Sentenced To One Year In Prison For Contempt

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola and his family maintain that the authorities’ aim is to seize their farm in Viñales, Pinar del Río, and punish him for his opposition to the government. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 May 2018 — Cuban biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was condemned on Tuesday by the court of Viñales, in Pinar del Río, to one year in prison for the alleged offense of contempt, a sentence that has affected his closest relatives because it is the maximum penalty for this type of fault.

According to El Nuevo Herald, Ruiz Urquiola communicated through the activist Ailer González that, before being arrested last Thursday, “more than five men, officials of the Forest Rangers who did not identify themselves with first and last names, forcibly entered the farm.”  These individuals accused the biologist of cutting down trees to fence his land without permission even though he had an authorization to erect a barrier.

Urquiola was arrested at the farm in Viñales that he leases from the government when he refused to hand over his work tools to the officials. Apparently, Ruiz Urquiola accused them of operating as “the rural guard” (an allusion to Cuba in the republican era), a term that earned him detention for contempt. continue reading

The biologist started a hunger strike on Saturday to protest against irregularities in his case. His family claims that the Prosecutor’s Office, which requested four years in prison, had fabricated the case against him.

Boris González Arenas, a friend of the scientist, told 14ymedio that Ruiz Urquiola was held incommunicado for four days. “The process has been almost summary, giving very little time to find a lawyer and prepare the case,” he denounced.

“It is a horror what has happened, a crime of state with the clear intention of sending the message that under the government of Miguel Diaz-Canel the government remains the same repressor and that nothing has changed,” says González Arenas.

Ariel’s sister, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, told Diario de Cuba that the objective of the charges against her brother is to take the farm from her and said they will appeal the sentence, for which they have three days.

The house, located on the plot, and the land, is managed by the Urquiolas under a form of leasing known as usufruct, and they have developed it into a agro-ecological farm. In 2008 the Government of Raúl Castro authorized the leasing of idle state lands in usufruct to try to revive the agricultural sector. Urquiola has repeatedly denounced the raising of wild pigs in the area where his farm is located, a situation that has produced a negative environmental impact in a World Heritage Site with high natural and tourist value. His complaints have been directed to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Interior and the authorities of the People’s Power of the zone.

The biologist and doctor of Sciences has participated in several research projects on Cuban biodiversity. He also directed an international research effort conducted between the University of Havana, the Natural History Museum of Berlin and Humboldt University on the origin and settlement of the Sierra de los Órganos, in Pinar del Río.

In 2016, the scientist was expelled from the Marine Research Center under the official charge of unjustified absences, but, in his opinion, it was a plot against him because the authorities do not consider him “reliable” due to his political leanings .

At the end of that same year, the biologist was arrested three times for demanding the medicines needed for his seriously ill sister. After a hunger strike and a vigil outside the Havana Cancer Hospital, Ruiz Urquiola managed to get the delivery of the drug to his sister restarted.

_____________________________

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

Venezuela Buys Oil From Other Countries To Supply Cuba

The Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA paid a surcharge of up to US $12 per barrel for crude oil purchased in the international market that it then sent to Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 May 2018 – Last year, Nicolás Maduro’s government spent almost 440 million dollars to purchase of foreign oil to send it to Cuba under conditions that are advantageous to the island, while representing a loss for Venezuela, according to an investigation carried out by Reuters, which has obtained documents about the matter.

The shipments made by PDVSA, the state oil company, are the first documented confirmation that the South American nation is buying crude to supply its regional allies, especially the members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), because it is currently not extracting enough oil to support exports. continue reading

Venezuela delivered foreign oil at preferential discounts for these nations, even though the country is going through a liquidity crisis and has a critical need for foreign currency. The shipments were made in the midst of a serious social situation, due to the lack of food and medicines, together with galloping inflation, which exceeded 2,600% in 2017.

PDVSA went to the international market to compensate for a drop in its own oil production, unprecedented in the last 33 years. The country’s main industry has suffered a 28% drop in 12 months and its refineries are operating at a third of capacity. At the same time, there has been a massive resignation of workers due to low wages.

The Venezuelan state company paid a surcharge of up to $12 per barrel for the oil purchased in the international market that it then sent to Cuba, according to internal documents reviewed by Reuters detailing imports and exports from January 2017 to May of this year.

The oil that PDVSA acquired for Cuba came mainly from Russia and is of a type that is suitable for Cuban refineries, which operate mostly with machinery from era of Soviet involvement on the island.

Most likely, Havana pays for these supplies with services, in accordance with the agreement signed in 2000 by then presidents Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro.

In accord with that agreement, the Cuban Government provides the Miraflores Palace with advice and support in areas such as public health, sports training and cultural and educational matters.

Previously, the Venezuelan government only imported oil to mix with its own crude before exporting it or using it to feed its refinery in Curaçao.

However, the documents analyzed by Reuters reveal that in the last 17 months the company bought crude at market prices to deliver to its allies, and that the shipments never even passed through Venezuela.

The subsidized deliveries indicate that Maduro is seeking to maintain diplomatic and political support from Cuba, a key ally at a time when many governments in Latin America are distancing themselves from Caracas and the United States has put in place numerous sanctions against Venezuelan government leaders.

“Maduro is giving away everything he can because the support of these countries, especially Cuba, is all the political support he has left,” said a senior Venezuelan government official who declined to be identified.

Expenditure on foreign oil contrasts with the fall in the amount of non-oil imports. The bill for purchases abroad fell from 46 billion dollars in 2011 to 6 billion in 2017, according to data from the Central Bank of Venezuela and Ecoanalítica, an economic research organization based in Caracas.

However, PDVSA did not pay in cash for the crude oil it bought from foreign companies, but promised to return it, later, in oil shipments. With this decision the Government of Nicolás Maduro has mortgaged the oil reserves of his country since they will serve to pay an increasingly large debt, which already totals more than 60 billion dollars owed to China and Russia alone.

____________________________

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

Cuba’s Independent #00Bienal Resists Government Pressures and Carries Off Event

A talk with the artists Jenifer Acuña and Alejandro Barreras in Instar. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 May 2018 — The #00Bienal has withstood the pressures of the Cuban Government and concluded its first edition on Tuesday, having completed its program despite them. The authorities, who marked the event from the beginning with accusations of it being financed by the “counterrevolution,” have made every effort to prevent the participation of a large number of national and foreign artists, in addition to sending the police to close the exhibition spaces.

Last Friday the gallery-house El Círculo was the site of the greatest physical repression against the independent Biennial which, until that moment, had been carried out without large police deployments. State Security surrounded the property and prevented public access to the Co-Cina exhibition. An agent who identified himself as Efren even blocked the gallery door. “They did not let anyone in but we have everything filmed,” activist Lia Villares told 14ymedio. continue reading

Most of the events of the #00Bienal have been held in artist Tania Brughera’s Instar space in Old Havana, but there have also been events in other Havana municipalities including Marianao, El Vedado, Habana del Este and Santa Cruz del Norte.

In the neighborhood of Alamar, artists Iris Ruiz and Amaury Pacheco have also suffered reprisals for participating in the event. Authorities of the Housing Institute and local government authorities pressured them to stop the painting of several graffiti by the artist Yasser Castellanos, inside and outside their home.

“If we did not stop the work they told us they were going to bring a shock brigade to erase it,” Ruiz tells this newspaper.

However, the employees who arrived to undertake the erasure could not enter the house because the neighbors and friends of the artists supported them “to avoid the outrage.  After a while security agents arrived and said that Physical Planning would give us permission to paint,” Ruiz concluded.

“Three months ago everyone thought it would be impossible to stage the #00Bienal,” recalls Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of its main organizers. Among other reasons because “in the Cuban intelligentsia there is a lot of commitment to the system that gives them perks, but also many artists find themselves in a comfort zone that they do not want to leave.”

Despite the wide variety of exhibitions and artistic actions that took place, Otero Alcántara recognizes that “some of the artists announced in the catalog reconsidered a little and have not appeared” due to the harsh accusations that the official institutions launched at the event.

“I’m not a superhero or anything like that,” says the artist, who in recent years has become known for performances like those he held around the luxury hotel Manzana Kempinski, in Old Havana. His artistic actions have aimed to point out the economic gap between nationals and tourists.

“Being an artist is a life position,” confesses the artist, whose greatest current fear is that “the #00Bienal will be shelved within the historical passages” of recent years. “We would like the young filmmakers who recently published a statement to also do an independent film event.”

Threats and interrogations by State Security have been another technique in the attempts made to restrain the participants. Among those affected was the painter Luis Trápaga, removed from the National Artists Registry in retaliation for his involvement in the independent artistic event. The authorities of the National Council of the Plastic Arts, which manage the registry, informed him that the measure was taken because of his position “contrary to the cultural policy of the country.”

The artist José Ernesto Alonso participated in the #00Bienal with a survey that he drew from surveys conducted by international institutions that measure elements such as happiness, satisfaction and well-being in different parts of the world. “I created a guide that allows us to quantify the level of satisfaction that each Cuban has with respect to the current situation of the country.”

Alonso clarifies that “the greatest fear that an artist can have about being part of the #00Bienal is that it all ends up black and white,” and later “they come from the institution and they tell you: if you supported the independent biennial you can not participate in any more of the events we organize.”

Cuban artists such as Hamlet Lavastida and Sandra Ceballos are participate in the event. Ceballos’s independent gallery, Aglutinador, which opened in 1994, is one of the most important venues of the event. The curator Gerardo Mosquera, founder of the Havana Biennial in 1984, has also joined the independent event.

“Some foreign artists, such as the Spaniard Diego Gil, have been summoned by Immigration and they have been told that they can not appear in the Biennial,” says Cuban-American curator and artist Coco Fusco.

Fusco was also prevented on May 3 from entering the country after arriving at the Havana airport. A day later, the artist Gean Moreno, linked to the Institute of Contemporary Art of Miami (ICA), was held for 10 hours in Cuban Customs. Although he was finally able to enter the country, the authorities confiscated the piece with which he intended to participate in the #00Bienal.

The Brazilian artist Thiago Morandi was one of those summoned by the Identification, Migration and Immigration Directorate (DIIE), which demanded that he leave the event, but the photographer and audiovisual producer ignored the threats and continued to appear in the activities of the alternative event.

Ulises Valdés, a Mexican, was also summoned by immigration officials and told to cancel his presence at #00Biennial, but he told the uniformed officers to communicate directly with the consul of his country if there was any irregularity with regards to his presence in Cuba. The officers told him that to be eligible to participate in the event, he would have had to enter the country with a cultural visa.

State Security officials and DIIE members warned foreign participants that they were part of an “unofficial” event that is “financed by the Miami mafia.”

That assertion conflicts with the information provided by the organizers of #00Biennial, who say that all the funding that sustains the event “comes from crowdfunding, which is very transparent” through digital platforms, according to the independent biennial’s curator and organizer, Yanelis Nuñez.

Nuñez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the main organizers of the event, received important help from the artist Reynier Leyva ‘El Chino’ Novo, who contributed 3,800 CUC from the sale of one of his works to the National Council of the Arts.

The alternative event, which arose after the Ministry of Culture’s announcement that it would postpone the XIII Havana Biennial until 2019, has achieved its initial objective of granting visibility to younger artists, as well as creating a space that promotes debate in an environment of freedom.

 _________________________

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

Fall in Tourism Impacts Cuba’s Private Sector

A cruise ship at the Port of Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 14 May 2018 — The arrival of the enormous cruise ship, which shimmers under the May sun in Havana bay, does not ease the worries of the self-employed of the port, who are increasingly nervous about the decrease in the number of foreign visitors.

“A boat arrives with hundreds of travelers only a few fall to earth,” laments Clotilde Clo Rodríguez, a self-employed tour guide specializing in visitors from Canada and the United States. “Many Americans avoid leaving the ship because of the travel warning put in place by the US government,” she says.

Last January the authorities of the United States issued a change in their Travel Alert for Cuba, recommending their citizens to reconsider traveling to the Island because of the risk of suffering ’acoustic attacks’ such as those that affected 24 diplomats from that country. Although the warning was softened from a category 4 to 3, it makes many people decide not to step on Cuban soil. continue reading

The continuous statements by Cuban officials about the security of the “Cuba destination” have not managed to dispel the vistors’ doubts and fears.

“A year ago, by this same date, I had work almost every day with large groups but now I spend most of my time without customers,” laments Clo, who leads trips to places such as the Finca Vigía museum, the house where the writer Ernest Hemingway lived on the outskirts of the city.

US citizens are prohibited from traveling as tourists to the Island and there are 180 hotels, travel companies and stores managed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces that Washington has banned Americans from patronizing. However, some categories of travel are still allowed, such as trips to “support the people” or family visits.

Tourists in Cuba. (14ymedio)

“Cuba’s moment is over, because that enthusiasm that was here during Barack Obama’s term is gone,” says Clo. “Now, many of the clients I had at that time write to tell me that they prefer to go to the Dominican Republic, Cancun or Bermuda.”

The tourist guide attributes that decision to several factors, including “tourism prices in Cuba are still very high and the quality of service they receive is not up to that of other countries,” she says. “The mere fact that they can not access the internet from their mobile phones is already a limitation for business people.”

American tourists are very popular on the island because they give big tips. “In their country they are used to leaving between 10 and 20% of the bill for the waiters or those who attend them in some service,” says Clo. “That’s why people from the United States are fought over here.”

The damage left by Hurricane Irma also created a negative image among many who planned a vacation on the island. “People do not want to go to a country that requires work and although the hotels have been rebuilt, the hurricane has left damages that they feel, for example in the supply of fruits and food,” adds Clo.

A few weeks ago the authorities of the Ministry of Tourism restated the number of tourists arriving in Cuba in the first quarter of the year; they had initially reported an increase of 7%, but instead the number fell by 7%.

However, the Government maintains its commitment to welcome five million visitors in 2018, according to the commercial director of the Ministry of Tourism, Michel Bernal. An assertion that several entrepreneurs working in the sector told 14ymedio they doubted.

A few yards from the Capitanía del Puerto, a private cafe offers typical tapas and a variety of cocktails. “We are looking at hard times because not much tourism is coming to the area and those who come are traveling on all-inclusive packages,” explains Gustavo, a 28-year-old man who works as a waiter at the cafe.

“We had a very good run at the end of 2016 and the beginning of last year when it seemed that tourism was going to increase, but right now many people are facing losses around here,” he says. “Those who are the worst off are the owners of rentals that made investments to serve more customers and have not been able to make back that money.”

On O’Reilly Street, very close to the well-known Bodeguita del Medio, Dinorah is among the most affected by the decrease in visitors. “I’ve had less than 20% occupancy,” laments the owner of a spacious hostel with five rooms that include private bathrooms and air conditioning.

“It is difficult to pay [the taxes] for the licenses and to assume all the expenses that it takes to maintain this house if not enough tourists come,” Dinorah complains. “To make matters worse, I can’t cancel my license for the low season and then get a new one later, because right now they’ve frozen the issuing of licenses for this activity.” Proprietors of rental accommodations pay monthly taxes for each room, even if it is not occupied.

Last August, the Cuban government halted the granting of licenses for self-employment, a decision that has many entrepreneurs in the food service and private accommodation sectors in limbo.

“Between the restrictions that the Government places on us and the fall of tourism, it is becoming a headache to sustain these small businesses,” says the owner of the hostel. The decline has brought a drop in room prices. “Where I used to ask for $30 (USD) or $25 for one night, now I have to settle for $20 or $15 because if I get too demanding I’m empty.”

 _________________

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

Activist Iliana Hernandez Released from Jail

The activist Iliana Hernández, director of the television program Lente Cubano, was arrested for participating in the independent #00Bienal. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2018 — The activist Iliana Hernandez, director of the television program Lente Cubano (Cuban Lens), was released on Saturday after being arrested on Friday when she tried to enter El Círculo gallery, where a show that is a part of the independent #00 Biennial currently taking place in Havana is on display.

Initially her whereabouts were unknown, but on Saturday afternoon Hernandez’s relatives managed to locate her at Cotorro police station, after hours of intense search and the unwillingness of the police to release her location. Hernandez was finally released at night and was able to return home, as confirmed by telephone to this newspaper. continue reading

According to Lia Villares speaking to 14ymedio, State Security blocked several people from entering El Círculo gallery, including the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara organizer of the independent Biennial, who was accompanied by a group of foreign participants.

Last March, Iliana Hernández was declared a “person of priority police interest” after an interrogation at the Cojímar station, east of Havana. The police issued a “warning notice” to her and, in addition, she was prevented from traveling to Miami a few days later, as planned.

Iliana Hernández was born in Guantanamo and has been linked to the sports world and activism. Nationalized as a Spanish citizen after living several years in that country, she returned to Cuba in 2016 and founded her audiovisual channel Lente Cubano. Since then she divides her time between Spain, the United States and the Island.

“I do not plan to leave Cuba, I intend to fight to continue my normal life as I have until now between Spain and Cuba, which are my two homelands,” she said in a recent interview with this newspaper.

In a similar vein, activist Liettys Rachel Reyes, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, was prevented from leaving the country on Wednesday after being “regulated” by the authorities, according to her Facebook account.

Reyes went to the José Martí International Airport in Havana to try to board a flight to the United States but an immigration official told her that she was under a ‘travel restriction.’ “This is how things work with a tyrannical regime like this. One that every day violates the rights and fundamental freedoms of people,” she complained.

____________________________

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

Lack of Liquidity Affects Cuba’s Ability to Import Iodine for Salt

The instability in the supplies of raw material at the end of 2017 has had an impact on the supply of salt. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, 9 May 2-18 — After months of instability in the supply of salt, this week Cuba’s official media have finally addressed the shortage caused by the lack of raw materials and the damages left by Hurricane Irma. Granma attributes the worsening situation to the interruption in the importation of iodine, a problem that, in spite of being currently solved according to sources speaking to 14ymedio, has had effects that are still noticeable on the island’s dinner tables.

“When the hurricane hit the country, in September of last year, the country’s six existing saltworks suffered great damage,” said a note published Tuesday in the newspaper Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, responding to complaints from customers that have seen salt disappear from the markets in recent months. continue reading

The national media and a manager of the state-owned Salt Company (Ensal) both point to the lack of iodine, which is imported from other countries, as the reason for the crisis and the forced halt in salt production in October and November of 2017.

Officials with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (Mincex) in Havana confirmed the information to 14ymedio. “The lack of liquidity is affecting many areas because we do not have the resources available to buy raw materials,” said an employee of the ministry, on condition of anonymity.

“The last months of 2017 and the first months of this year have been especially critical in the availability of funds to buy things ranging from products for the pharmaceutical industry to vital ingredients for the production of food,” the Mincex worker said.

“We are jumping through hoops trying to buy things, but there is no money and we have to prioritize one sector over another,” a high ranking official of Mincex told this newspaper. “We have temporarily resolved the issue of iodine, but we do not know if we can make the next purchase because our room to maneuver is very limited.”

Salt production decreased in recent years, when the extraction of unrefined salt went from just over 280,000 tons in 2011 to 248,000 tons in 2016. The authorities blamed this reduction on weather problems and the “technical obsolescence” of the industry.

The production of refined, iodized salt for ordinary consumption through the rationed market and the network of stores that sell in hard currency, has also been reduced from 93,700 tons in 2012 to 76,100 tons in 2016, according to the Statistical Yearbook.

Cuba is going through a crisis in the availability of money to import supplies, which has been aggravated by cuts in aid from Venezuela. “There is no liquidity because foreign currencies are not coming into the country, and the State deficit consumes everything in circulation,” says Elias Amor, a Cuban economist based in Spain.

In 2017, the National Statistics Office (ONE) revealed a drop in trade between Cuba and Venezuela of 70% in just two years. A collapse that was felt especially in the daily life of Cubans with the worsening of the food supply and greater difficulties in transportation.

Salt, however, seemed a product that could survive the ups and downs of the economy and be produced on the Island, a country with more than 5,000 kilometers of coastline. But the regulations established at the beginning of this century requiring adding iodine to the product have complicated the task.

At the beginning of the century, the rule to iodize salt for human consumption on the island began as a strategy to combat health problems associated with iodine deficiency.

“Without iodine, salt cannot be produced for sale to the population,” emphasizes Alberto Fuentes, a chemical engineer who dedicated three decades of his life to the salt industry in the central zone of the country. “That’s why when there is instability in the supply of iodine everything is paralyzed, because we can’t get salt out to the stores.”

“In this case, a ‘perfect storm’ of problems has occurred,” says the engineer. “The result is that there is no salt and people are starting to get upset because something so simple is missing.”

 ___________________

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

Victor Mesa’s Sons Leave Cuba for the Big Leagues

Víctor Víctor Mesa and Víctor Mesa Jr. left the island to try their luck abroad, especially in the US Major Leagues. (The New Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 12 May 2018 — The sons of Victor Mesa — coach of the Industriales team and among the most recognized Cuban baseball players of all time — escaped from Cuba to pursue careers as professionals in the United States.

An article published on the sports website MLB.com reports that Víctor Víctor Mesa and Víctor Mesa Jr. left the island to try their luck abroad, especially in the US Major Leagues.

The young athletes signed a representation contract with the Magnus agency, which manages the careers of several Cubans, including the well-known Aroldis Chapman. continue reading

First, and due to their young ages, the brothers must become free agents with restrictions, a condition that prevents them from enjoying a more substantial contract in case they sign with a major league team.

The rumors about the departure from Cuba of Victor Mesa’s sons departure from Cuba have been growing for months. Victor Víctor, the oldest of the brothers, was seen on several occasions training in the city of Miami, but he had always returned to the island.

Víctor Víctor has played on the island for the Matanzas and Industriales teams, he has also played on the national team where he was valued as one of the young promises of Cuban baseball with the greatest potential.

The departure of the Mesa brothers is a hard blow for Cuban baseball that in recent years has experienced numerable desertions of athletes. The most famous of these was the February 2016 escape of the Yulieski brothers and Lourdes Gourriel Jr., during the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic.

__________________________

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

"My Detention Was A Kidnapping Ordered by Raul Castro," Daniel Llorente Says

Daniel Llorente a few hours after his release.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 May 2018 — Returning home after a one-year confinement at the psychiatric hospital in Havana, Daniel Llorente wants to continue his fight for freedom. In conversation with this newspaper, the man with the flag says he wants to recover the American flag that was confiscated when he raised it in last year’s May Day parade.

Llorente says that during the last days of his stay in the psychiatric hospital, security was redoubled around the ward where he was hospitalized. “There were police patrol cars and two guards when there was usually only one.” He suspects that the authorities were watching him so he would not try to escape and repeat his action on May Day, “The Day of the Workers.” 

“The flag that was taken from me I intend to recover because it was not confiscated legally,” says this self-employed taxi driver who has become the most visible face on the island in support of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana. continue reading

“I am going to write to the Council of State, to Granma newspaper and to the foreign press agencies so that they know that I want to recover my flag,” he says.

The waving of the American flag in front of the platform where Raul Castro awaited the start of the parade became the event of the day for the most important international media, which had convened to cover an event that the ruling party traditionally uses to show popular support for its management.

“They did not give me any document that says I’m free and there was no trial nor I was convicted, everything was very arbitrary,” the dissident explains.

“The doctor who treated me in Mazorra always recognized that I did not have any type of psychiatric problems and even the director of the hospital told me that he couldn’t do anything because it was State Security that determined everything about my case.” 

Llorente says that the year he spent in detention was in fact a kidnapping “by orders of Raúl Castro and State Security, in coordination with the State Council and with the complicity of Public Health and the Ministry of Justice… I had not committed any crime nor did I have psychiatric problems. What was I doing there?”

Llorente wants to remain an independent activist and insists on distrusting opposition groups “because without a doubt State Security has infiltrated many of them.”

“I want to deal with things in such a way that it’s always respectful of the law, without provocations, because against them you have to use their own laws,” he recommends.

“The State Security officials I talked to told me that when I had a problem I could call them and to do nothing without calling.”

From that 1 May 2017, he remembers all the obstacles he faced getting to the Plaza of the Revolution, the warnings he received from the police and the emotional moment when he slipped under the banner that was at the front of the parade. “When I saw myself running with the flag I could not believe it, it was very exciting.”

He was immediately approached by several men who took him down to the ground him and beat him. “I did not have time to see their faces and I was shouting: ‘I accuse Raúl Castro of mistreating the people of Cuba and the workers’.” He could barely breathe and one of his captors told him angrily: “You have to die.”

“They threw me to the pavement and tied my hands with the belt they took off me, I asked a doctor who was nearby to help me but she left,” says Llorente. Then he was taken to a vehicle and moved out of the Plaza. His ordeal was just beginning.

___________________

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

Cuba Denies its Participation in Plans to Attack Alvaro Uribe

The former president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio The Cuban Embassy in Bogotá spoke out this Wednesday about the alleged connection of Cuban intelligence in a possible attack against the Colombian senator and ex-president, Álvaro Uribe.

14ymedio, 11 May 2018 — The Cuban Embassy in Bogotá spoke out this Wednesday about the alleged connection of Cuban intelligence to a possible attempt against the life of Colombian senator and former President, Álvaro Uribe.

Diplomatic headquarters published a statement claiming the reported participation of Cuba and Venezuela in the failed attack was “manipulative.” Cuba “has never acted in the way some media outlets and resentful individuals are suggesting, regardless of how powerful its enemies are,” advised the text. continue reading

“That is not how Cuba acts; or is it that for certain people it is difficult to understand foreign policy based on principles, values, and ethics? Asked the diplomatic statement.

Senator Alfredo Rangel, a member of the Uribe Democratic Center, announced that the intelligence agencies of Venezuela and Cuba, along with Colombian drug traffickers were behind the threats to the former president.

“A triple alliance has been formed to attempt against the life of former President Uribe,” said the senator, who immediately accused Cuban State Security and the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin) of being behind the attack.

The accusation was supported by former President Andrés Pastrana, who, in a conversation with VocesRCN, said that it was President Juan Manuel Santos’ government’s turn “to state whether Cuba and Venezuela’s desire to attack against Uribe was true or false.”

The Minister of the Interior, Guillermo Rivera, confirmed that on 26 April the National Intelligence Committee informed the Government about a possible attempt against former President Álvaro Uribe.

“The president of the Republic, Juan Manuel Santos, asked me to communicate with Álvaro Uribe to share some urgent and delicate information,” said Rivera.

For his part, Uribe said that according to the information he received “there were local and foreign criminals involved.”

The Government has not released any further details about the alleged attack or accused any foreign country of having planned it. In Havana, representatives of the Colombian government met with delegates of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerilla to try to establish a ceasefire before the presidential election on 27 May 2018.

This is the fifth round of negotiations between the ELN and the Colombian government. In April, the Ecuadorian government, which served as a mediator, decided to withdraw after accusing the ELN of terrorist activities.

Cuba helped orchestrate the peace between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and that country. The peace agreement, forged in Havana, put an end to the continent’s longest-running guerilla and paved the way for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Juan Manuel Santos, the current president.

The process of peace with the FARC, now turned into a political opposition party, is undergoing especially tense moments after one of the leaders of the organization, Seusis Pausivas Hernández Solarte, alias Jesús Santrich, was detained and accused of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.

Translated by: Chavely Garcia

___________________________

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

"Deserter" Doctors Call a Demonstration Against Ban on Returning to Cuba

Cuban doctors in Colombia. (File EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 11 May 2018 — Two associations of health professionals from Cuba have called a demonstration for Saturday to be held in different cities around the world to demand that the Cuban government allow them to return to the island to visit their relatives. The organizers of the marches will protest against the ban on their returning to Cuba for eight years, which has been imposed by Havana on those who left medical missions abroad without permission.

“We want our demonstration to coincide with the celebration of Mothers Day so that the world can see how unfair it is that regime does not allow us to return to our own country to embrace our relatives,” the Cuban doctor Paloma Nora, now living in South Florida, explains by phone.

The Association of Free Cuban Residents in Brazil and #NoSomosDesertores #SomosCubanosLibres (We Are Not Deserters, We Are Free Cubans), whose members include thousands of Cuban doctors, have decided to hold this demonstration to put pressure on the new Cuban government to eliminate the regulation. continue reading

Cuba continues to deploy its medical personnel in 62 countries and does not provide data on the number of health professionals outside its borders, although in 2015 the number exceeded 50,000, according to the official press.

The most recent statistics, published on the Cubadebate site, reported that the export of services is the largest contributor to the national economy, bringing in “an estimated 11.5 billion dollars as an annual average between 2011 and 2015,” according to the former minister of Cuban Economy José Luis Rodríguez, although the figure has fallen approximately 20% in the last two years, due to the crisis in Venezuela.

Several human rights organizations have denounced the working conditions of Cuban professionals as “modern slavery.” The Cuban government keeps more than half of the salaries paid by the countries around the world where Cuban medical providers work. The Cuban government pays for shared accommodations, some food, and airline tickets in most cases, along with a small stipend.

If the doctors leave their positions under the control of the Cuban state, it classifies them as “deserters” and they are forbidden to return to Cuba for eight years. The same conditions are applied to athletes, teachers and musicians.

“We are an Independent Organization of Free Cubans residing in Brazil, fighting for our rights,” said Yuleidis Legrá, a Cuban doctor who left the official mission.

“I prefer to be a foreigner in other countries to being one in mine, I will never debase my soul by asking permission to leave, much less to enter my country,” he adds, paraphrasing José Martí.

The group #NoSomosDesertores #SomosCubanosLibres has been carrying out a Campaign for Family Unity for months, asking Havana for the chance to return.

In 2015, the Cuban government called for the return of health professionals who had taken part in United States’ Cuban Professional Parole program which was created to assist doctors who were escaping from missions. While the Parole program was in force, at least 8,000 professionals traveled to the United States between 2006 and 2017.

The Ministry of Public Health allows professionals to return to the island on the condition that they work in the national health system, with salaries between 60 and 80 dollars per month. The punishment for those who want to visit their relatives continues in force for those who refuse to return to live on the Island.

The lawyer André De Santana Correa, who represents 80 doctors on the island who left the Mais Medicos program in Brazil, says that the objective of the demonstration is to achieve “equal treatment for all doctors who participate in that program.”

The Mais Medico program was established in 2013 by President Dilma Rousseff with more than 11,000 professionals from the island; under the program the Cuban government keeps 70% of the salaries assigned to doctors.

“We want them to permit the possibility of re-contracting until 2019, which is only withheld from Cuban doctors,” says De Santana, who compares Cuban physicians with those of other countries participating in the healthcare program.

“How is it possible that a doctor who tried to visit his daughter hospitalized on the island is deported to Miami?” he says, outraged. “We are fighting to bring down the Berlin wall that exists in Cuba.”

 __________________________

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