Several Cienfuego Residents Hospitalized with Malaria / 14ymedio

The Damují River empties into Cienfuegos Bay and is an ideal site for the propagation of the mosquito that carries malaria. (collruiz)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Cienfuegos/Miami, 10 January 2017 – About a dozen people have been hospitalized at Gustavo Aldereguía Lima Hospital in Cienfuegos with a diagnosis of malaria detected in Rodas, a municipality in southern central Cuba.

The cause of the disease is plasmodium, a parasite that is transmitted to humans through the bite of the female mosquito part of the anopheles genus. It is potentially deadly and affects various areas of the planet.

“They are undergoing sanitation efforts. They have eliminated the source from the Damují River and we are in the middle of an intense fumigation campaign through the streets,” explained a nurse from a Rodas polyclinic who chose to remain anonymous in the independent press due to fear of repercussions.

“It is something that cannot be spoken about unofficially. The Health Minister himself, Roberto Morales Ojeda, has visited the province on various occasions in the past several weeks,” confirms the same source.

Morales, born in Rodas, was at one time the director of the Municipal Unit of Hygiene and Epidemiology of that town and the municipal director of health in Rodas and Cienfuegos.

According to a Rodas native who now lives in Miami, alarm has spread throughout the population, which totals about 30,000 inhabitants.

“Family members call and describe the situation they find themselves in, but when you look for information through the official press there is nothing to be found,” says the anonymous source.

Malaria is an acute febrile illness. The first symptoms, which include fever, strong headaches, chills and vomiting, begin a week after the mosquito bite.

According to the medical literature, if the disease goes untreated within the first 24 hours, some cases of malaria, such as the one propagated by the parasite plasmodium falciparum, can escalate, often leading to death.

Children may show symptoms of severe anemia, sometimes even affecting the brain. In adults there can also be adverse effects on various organs.

For the spread of malaria to occur, mosquitoes need to have an area where they can reproduce, specifically, sitting fresh water and big puddles. Rodas is known as “the village of the Damují,” due to the presence of the river in the lives of the inhabitants. The river, which empties into the Bay of Cienfuegos, has the perfect conditions for anopheles mosquito reproduction; hence, the river sanitation campaigns.

Translated by Chavely Garcia

Obama Leaves A Poisoned Gift To Trump And Castro / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

US President Barack Obama with President-elect Donald Trump at the end of their meeting in the oval office at the White House in Washington. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, 16 January 2017 — Raul Castro’s government, after reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington and easing international pressures – which allowed it to renegotiate a large part of its foreign debt – did all it could to prevent the rapprochement from resulting in increased business with the United States and its internal influence in Cuba.

Many called President Obama’s policy toward the island a failure and systematically blamed the president for giving the Castro government everything in exchange for nothing.

Havana’s demands increased and hardened. The Cuban government continued to blame the “blockade” and the Cuban Adjustment Act for the country’s economic disaster and the stampede of Cuban citizens to the United States, while nothing or little was done to alleviate the internal situation, improve democratic prospects and take advantage of the possibilities offered by the Obama’s executive orders. Continue reading “Obama Leaves A Poisoned Gift To Trump And Castro / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos”

Few comment that the end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy – a “gift” from Obama a few days before handing the government over to his successor – can put both Raul Castro and Donald Trump in check, because the closure of this escape valve could generate such an increase in the internal pressure within Cuba that it will destabilize the government and force it to undertake changes it has never wanted to, or confront a crisis of incalculable consequences.

The challenge would be not only for Raul Castro, but also for the new tenant in the White House, who until recently denied that Obama was born in the United States and announced an strong hand with Cuba. It will not be the outgoing president who now has to face the eventual complications generated by a pressure cooker on the verge of exploding on the southern border of the United States, who always tried to avoid the country’s intelligence with its impossible complications.

The closure of this escape valve could generate such an increase in the internal pressure within Cuba that it will destabilize the government

The person who will have to deal with this from the north – with the consequences of this decision and all its effects and who would have preferred not to have to mention it, for its undesired effects – is going to be Donald Trump and not Barack Obama.

Both the president-elect of the United States and Raul Castro are going to have to see what they can do to avoid unleashing the hitherto contained anger of the Cuban people, when hundreds of thousands of young people realize that they have no hope of improving their lives outside the system that blocks them.

Undoubtedly, the “horse’s head” would be for Trump, but the worst part could touch the government of Raul Castro in his final year, a man who did not know, did not want to, or could not, take advantage of the opportunities offered by Obama and instead offered an elegant farewell, in the mouth of his soldiers: a crown of lead for his head.

Now, the outgoing president, so attacked by Trump in his campaign and whose hand outstretched towards Raul was not equally returned, will be able to lounge comfortably in the front row to enjoy the spectacle that could be generated – and is already being generated (thousands of Cubans on the way, spread from Ecuador to Mexico, with an uncertain future) – by his final measure, which the Cuban people will end up suffering.

Cuba Has Almost 400 Private Cooperatives Five Years After Their Authorization / EFE, 14ymedio

A self-employed barber is one of more than 535,000 private or non-state workers in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2017 —  Cuba registered a total of 397 private cooperatives – in culinary, personal and technical services – a form of economic management created in 2012 that is still in the experimental phase, sources said Friday during a national workshop to analyze their operation.

Non-agricultural cooperatives have been formed in sectors such as trade, gastronomy, passenger transport and cargo movement and associated services, with construction, industry, food, energy and accounting activities, according to a report from the state agency Press Latina. Continue reading “Cuba Has Almost 400 Private Cooperatives Five Years After Their Authorization / EFE, 14ymedio”

The experiment of autonomous cooperatives focus on activities that offer solutions to local development and contribute to the well-being of the population, based on principles that are in line with international best practices, said Grisel Tristá, a member of the Commission for the implementation and development of the economic reforms approved by the Cuban Government.

At present, 62% (248) of the private cooperatives operate in the areas of commerce, gastronomy, technical and professional services; 17.4% (69) in construction; and 8.5% (33) work in the industrial branch, according to data cited by the official.

Cuba closed the year 2016 with more than 535,000 private or non-state registered workers, according to the latest data released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security

As he explained, the test of this form of economic management that operates with self-employed workers continues in order to “consolidate” the structures authorized by the Government, with the aim of “validating concepts and practical knowledge” that will allow them “to increase in scope” in the future within the economic structure of the country.

Tristá also mentioned that 93 of the total number of cooperatives approved by the Council of Ministers remain to be constituted, most of them related to the administration of state eating establishments in Havana, a measure that is being gradually applied in order to improve service in that activity.

This workshop on non-agricultural cooperatives, which will conclude this Saturday, examines, among other issues, the linking of producers and wholesale markets with cooperatives, training of members, application of legal rules and labor unions in cooperatives.

Among the most debated topics are the poor mechanisms for the training of partners and the problems with the supply of products in the wholesale markets, according to official media.

Cuba ended 2016 with more than 535,000 registered private or non-state workers, according to the latest data released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Naive Commentary about Two False Currencies / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Retail store that accepts payment in both currencies. Sign: Now! Easy to pay in CUP (Cuban pesos). (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 January 2017 — It is not common, in the middle of all the gloom and the torrents of noteworthy dates that constitute the bulk of the official press, to find a journalistic work that brings to light — even partially — the obstacles that derive from one of the most stubborn problems of the Cuban economy: the double currency system.

A report published this Sunday in Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) evauated the sales results in both national currencies (CUP and CUC) in the so-called shopping centers. The report indicates that almost three years after the start of this “experiment,” it becomes apparent that the resulting benefits are reduced almost exclusively to the simplification of the exchange process. Continue reading “Naive Commentary about Two False Currencies / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

The only improvement is that shoppers who only have ordinary currency (CUP) interested in making purchases at the foreign currency shops do not need to exchange their currency into CUC at the currency exchanges before they shop

In the case of more comprehensive terms, the improvement is that shoppers who only have ordinary currency (CUP) interested in making purchases at the foreign currency shops do not need to exchange their currency into CUC at the currency exchanges (Cadeca) before they shop, thus avoiding the consequent inconvenience of long lines, wasted time and sometimes traveling from distant places, as they can now transact their purchases in the stores themselves in CUP.

Another advantage that, without going into the sordid details, reporters mention, is that with the undifferentiated use of both currencies “the illegal currency market has been restricted to a minimum.” In practice, this does not mean that the underground exchange markets have disappeared or been weakened — as the article implies — but that the excellent health the illegal transactions continue to enjoy occurs in closed spaces. As is well known, some go this route when they sell their properties intending to emigrate, so they can take some hard currency capital (in dollars or euros) with them.

In contrast to the two modest improvements mentioned, the report lists a string of difficulties, among which are the errors derived from the lack of training of personnel in how to operate with the two currencies, which has caused numerous mistakes; the instability of the specialized labor force and the “lack of experience” in the “accounting treatment of monetary duality”; along with the “insufficient capacity of safes and cash registers” to store the cash in the stores.

The lack of an automated system to register operations with the new payment instrument — that is, Cuban pesos — is another problem, which means “accounting errors” or “differences in the daily schedule due to errors in the operation of cash registers”, among other limitations, not attributable to the stores, but related to the eternal governmental improvisation and emergency strategies to alleviate deep and old evils.

A recurring problem is the displeasure of those customers who pay in CUP and get their change back in CUC

A recurring problem is the displeasure of those customers who pay in CUP and get their change back in CUC. The lack of coins and small bills in the shopping centers is ever-present, so that customers are short-changed, which harms their buying power and benefits the employee in charge of collecting payments, who, at the end of the day, pockets the overage from the cash register. The matter is aggravated by the increased demand for stores to keep available change in CUC, because it is mandatory that customers paying in CUP be given their change in hard currency.

Among the most interesting points, although scarcely mentioned tangentially in the report, is the complaint of an interviewee who criticizes the confusion created by the buy-sell in two currencies, especially by the exchange rate that the stores apply (where 1 CUC is equivalent to 25 CUP), while in the currency exchanges, the Cadecas, the exchange of 1 CUC is equivalent to 24 CUP.

Stores go beyond their function as commercial entities when they carry out a banking operations or currency exchnages that would legally be the job of the National Bank, a distortion proper to a system where the bankrupt economy cannot offer real financial support to its currency, so money has no realistic value. On the other hand, there is a single entity, the State-Party-Government, as sole administrator and owner of everything, from Banking to commercial establishments and most services, so that the currency has a virtually symbolic function and, significantly, is only valid within the national territory.

Since we are talking about monetary distortion, the most palpable reflection of the ambivalence of such a fictional* currency as the CUC is the capricious difference in values that it acquires in its popular usage, depending on whether it is whole or fractional currency. In the informal market, the fractional currency – that is coins – loses value.

Mysteriously, there seems to be an unwritten law where the use of coins in CUC currency places it in the informal market at an equivalence of only 20 pesos in CUP

This aberration manifests itself in every informal transaction, for example, in what the passenger of a private sector taxi pays for the service: if the trip costs 10 Cuban pesos (CUP) and the passenger pays with a CUC, he will probably get 14 CUP in change, the equivalent of the CUC at a rate of 24 CUP, which is the same value one finds in the Cadecas.

However, if that same passenger pays for the service with coins in CUC currency (say, 50 cents), the norm is that he won’t get any change back, though the driver is supposed to give back 2 CUP. Mysteriously, there appears to be an unwritten law where the use of coins in CUC currency places it in the informal market at an equivalent of only 20 pesos CUP.

The same thing happens if a one peso CUP purchase is made (informally, 5 cents CUC), as in the case of a plastic bag or newspaper bought from street vendors, usually elderly retirees looking to increase their meager income in this way.

Another notorious issue that is mentioned is the high prices of store products, which become more evident when the payment is in CUP. Obviously, the use of the CUP in the commercial and service networks highlights the enormous inflation that has been enthroned in Cuba which is masked, somehow, when the sale is transacted only in CUC.

It does not cause the same psychological effect to buy a bag of powdered milk at 5.65 pesos CUC as it does to pay 141.25 pesos CUP, which is 35.3% of the average Cuban monthly salary (400 pesos CUP). In addition, there is talk of “high prices” in Cuba when we should be discussing the devaluation of the CUP currency and workers low wages, which depress the consumption capacity of the average Cuban to a minimum.

We shouldn’t overlook the efforts of those who, from the dictatorship’s monopoly of the press, strive to pull the monkey’s chain, even if they continue to fear him

Other many collateral points of the report deserve to be mentioned, such as the refusal of most commercial establishments to offer statements to the official press — a formidable obstacle that constitutes the daily bread of the independent press trying to question officials, official institutions, or to cover supposedly public events — and the reporters’ allusion to the informative, cultural, social and civic role that they must fulfill. But it is not possible to cover in one article the extent of the debates these subjects deserve.

Despite everything, with its successes and evasions, the article in Juventud Rebelde gets credit for uncovering at least the tip of the iceberg of some of the most serious wrongs that the Cuban economy exhibits, and implicitly points to the urgent need to put an end to the dual currency system, a thorny question that – inexplicably — was not on the agenda at last December’s National Assembly sessions.

None of the problems nor their solutions were there. The villain remains hidden behind an army of scapegoats and small-time officials. We shouldn’t overlook the efforts of those who, from the dictatorship’s monopoly of the press, strive to pull the monkey’s chain**, even if they continue to fear him.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Translator’s notes:
* Despite its name, Cuban Convertible peso, the CUC can only be exchanged for foreign currencies within Cuba, and in fact it is illegal to take Cuban currency out of the country.
** A common expression in Cuba – referencing ordinary people’s relationship to power – is “You can play with the chain but not the monkey.”

Publisher of ‘Coexistence’ is Incommunicado in State Security Headquarters / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Karina Gálvez, editor of the magazine Coexistence in Pinar del Río. (Alongthemalecon)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 21 January 2017 — The editor of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the economist Karina Galvez, is still being held incommunicado 24 hours after a spectacular police raid on her home in Pinar del Río.

Gálvez is accused of tax evasion, something that the editorial team of the Coexistence Study Center precluded in a press release.

“Karina has no business, nor is she self-employed in her work, nor does she work for the Cuban state,” says the letter signed by the team of the first think tank in the western part of the island. Continue reading “Publisher of ‘Coexistence’ is Incommunicado in State Security Headquarters / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

The members of Convivencia explain that the accusation refers to the sale of Galvez’s home: “All the transactions carried out in 2014 are in order and all corresponding tax payments have been made.”

According to the note, the detainee is being advised by the team of lawyers of the International Legal Consultancy in Pinar del Río.

Karins Gálvez’s house is sealed and friends and relatives are prohibited from entering. According to the official who identified herself as Major Odalys, the house is “occupied” and Galvez will be held incommunicado for seven days, after which she may receive a visit to give her personal cleanliness supplies.

“They have not taken anything from the house, what they have done is pasted on the doors and the garage papers handwritten in ink,” Yoandy Izquierdo, a member of the editorial team ‘Coexistence’, told 14ymedio.

According to Izquierdo, after a week, police and state security officials will determine whether they will impose “a precautionary measure, bail or imprisonment.”

The break-in of Galvez’s house came within a few hours of the inauguration of the new interior minister, Julio César Gandarilla, who exercises command of the National Revolutionary Police and State Security forces.

Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, director of the Coexistence Study Center, has highlighted the increase in repressive actions against the center, which has no political affiliation.

“This is part of the harassment that the Study Center has been suffering intensely for months. I was warned that life would be more difficult for us and we are not in a time of maintaining alternative positions,” Valdes said in a telephone conversation with 14ymedio.

“What they have done to Karina Gálvez is a clear violation of human rights and it seems to concern the production of thought for the future of the country, when precisely what we Cubans need sit down around the table and discuss how we can solve the serious problems our nation is experiencing,” he added.

On Christmas Eve, Galvez had been summoned to the Department of Immigration and Immigration (DIE) where she was questioned about her travels outside Cuba.

Valdés himself underwent an intense interrogation last October when she was told that her academic activity represented a danger.

On November 25, State Security banned a meeting of the Center that was intended to address the issue of culture and education in the future of Cuba.

“The repressive wave grows and spreads like we have never seen. We are very worried and we want to make a warning call,” said Valdés.

Cubans on the Island are Concerned Trump Will Appeal Cuban Adjustment Act / Iván García

Rafters arriving on a beach in Miami in September of 2015. The arrival of Cubans to the US by sea, land or air has grown in the last year. Source: El Nuevo Herald.

Note: This post was published the day before Obama announced the end of the “wet foot-dry foot” policy.

Ivan Garcia, 12 January 2017 — Seated in front of a computer and surrounded by wooden shelves filled with DVDs pirated from US channels, Marcos, who earned a degree in biology three years ago, has half a dozen clients who are reviewing an extensive list, including CDs, flash memories, TC shows, novels and films.

To mitigate the heat of an unusually tropical winter, a noisy Chinese fan in a fixed position expels a stream of air that the customers appreciate.  In his stall you can find the latest audio-visual material produced in the United States. Continue reading “Cubans on the Island are Concerned Trump Will Appeal Cuban Adjustment Act / Iván García”

“Whatever you want, Quantico, Designated President, Black List and others that are on US TV right now. I also copy 2015 movies, documentaries and under the table I sell ‘skin’,” says Marcos, referring to pornography, in high demand in Cuba.

In the little stands that sell DVDs, in barber shops, bus stops and in the old fixed-route shared taxis, they talk about baseball, football, the bad economic situation of the country and, at times, Donald Trump.

By chance, a client who wants to buy the four seasons of House of Cards, compares Claire, the wife of the fictional president Frank Underwood in the serial, with the Clinton marriage in real life.

“That witch looks like Hillary. To my taste, Fired and House of Cards are the best serials on American television,” Marcos says and then launches into a spontaneous discussion of the man who is expected to be the next inmate of the White House.

“Forget about what his policies will be like toward Cuba. Trump could be the worst thing that could happen in the United States in a long time. It’s true that la yuma (the USA) is more a business than a country. But politics is not a business. The guy is silly, egotistical, and supports an outdated isolationism. The United States is going to be set back ten years in strategic matters and geopolitics due to his intentions to ally himself with Russia and weaken NATO,” analyzes Hiram, who often travels to Miami to visit his children.

“We Cubans are going to have to bite the bullet. This year the Cuban Adjustment Act is going to disappear. Those who want to go, better hurry up and leave,” says Marcos.

Due to the bad international press, which usually beats up on Donald Trump, a wide segment of Cubans sense that hard times are coming for Cuba, Latin America and the rest of the world.

“May God have mercy on our souls. But this guy (Trump) is not squeaky clean. I remember a reality show he had called The Apprentice. The program was stupid. In reality, the guy has a screw loose. I don’t know why the Americans voted for this nut,” asked Felicia, a clerk in a store in the west of Havana.

Curiously, the state press still has not exploded with its extensive repertoire of analysis and vitriolic profiles written by its “star” amanuenses, like Iroel Sánchez or Sergio Gómez.

“The gringo is kissing Putin on the lips, like the little Ruskie is a pal of the government, there is a waiting period, to see what Trump-boy is going to do,” comments a pedicab driver in the old part of the city.

For Gregory, a political science graduate, it’s incomprehensible that the official media rails against Obama with extreme rudeness and maintain complicit silence about “the endless crap that comes out of the mouth of Trump. An erratic guy if there is one. In the name of the working class he talks about making America great again, but the team he he has assembled comes from the world of finance and business. The Americans who voted for him, he sold them a mirage. The past never comes back. Globalization, whether we like it or not, is a fact. If Trump were president of a banana republic in Africa or Latin America, there would be a coup for sure,” says Gregory.

Of course, the ordinary Cubans who are most worried are those with plans to emigrate or travel frequently to the United States.

“I have to hurry up my exit, because when Trump is installed in Washington the Cuban Adjustment Act’s days are numbered. According to my family in Miami, almost all the members of congress of Cuban origin, from Marco Rubio to Carlos Curbelo, want to repeal it. If I don’t leave in 2017, I’ll grow roots in Cuba,” emphasizes Daniel, 24 and unemployed.

Very close to the agricultural market in Red Square in La Vibora, Carmelo insists that “this guy is going to screw up everything. The government is going to regret not resolving everything with Obama. Look what he’s doing with the Mexicans. If Trump decides to take on Cuba, no one is going to save us from a new Special Period,” he says.

Like everything fashionable, people like to opine about the Trump phenomenon. But the truth is that many Havanans are indifferent to the tinkerings of US policy and its likely harmful effects on the island.

“It makes no difference to me who’s in. With Bush, Obama and Trump, we Cubans are equally fucked. What benefit has there been for the people with the reestablishment of relations with the United States?” asks Jorge, a grocer in a bakery in Central Havana, and he answers himself, “None, we haven’t benefitted in any way.”

And the thing is, aside from their opinions, Cubans who breakfast on coffee without milk understand that the problems in Cuba pass through the Palace of the Revolution and respond to one name: Raul Castro.

Castro II is the one who has the key to offer solutions to the country’s citizens. If he proposes it, fine. But for now, the general-president is in a state of hibernation.

The Castro Clan is Fighting over Point Zero, Fidel Castro’s Home / Juan Juan Almeida

Fidel Castro’s widow, Dalia Soto del Valle, and one of their five sons Antonio (Courtesy)

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 January 2017 — Point Zero has unleashed a conflict between the Castro Soto del Valles and their cousins of the “emporium,” the Castro Espins (Raul Castro’s children), who are trying to expel Dalia, Fidel Castro’s widow, and her children from the strategic property.

It all seem carefully calculated, to maintain the appearance of a well-groomed, well-brought-up happy family. Health, fame, money, power, good moods and excellent humor; but less than three months since Fidel’s death, the fight between the members of the clan for the exercise of power over the famous parcel that for years served as the refuge of the former commander-in-chief, has become the beginning of a great soap opera that promises to have many episodes. Continue reading “The Castro Clan is Fighting over Point Zero, Fidel Castro’s Home / Juan Juan Almeida”

Located to the west of Havana, in the municipality of Playa, in the Jaimanitas neighborhood, exactly at 232 Street between 222nd and 238th, is Point Zero, the apple of discord.

“They are pushing to get Dalia out of Point Zero,” says one of the bodyguards of the late Commander-in-Chief who, in addition, adds that he feels hurt because none of the bodyguards were invited to the funeral.

“A lack of respect, a personal affront, and to justify the eviction they come up with three cheap justifications,” says the source.

1 – They are going to destroy everything so that nothing is left and no one else can access the “last estate” of Fidel Castro.

2 – They are going to convert Point Zero into a museum with limited access. Remodel it and include it as a part of an exclusive and obligatory tour that will only be shown to important visitors.

3 – They are going to maintain the property as the temporary residence for future Heads of State of the island.

I do not know what the outcome will be of this truculent story. But what I do know, is that, by resolution, the properties used and enjoyed by the maximum leaders do not appear on the Registry of Property because they are a part of the “Associated Housing and Possessions Linked to the Council of State” and cannot be inherited.

The provision is that the widows abandon the property where they lived with the political leader. This was the case with the wives of José Alberto “Pepín” Naranjo and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, to cite the examples of two deceased leaders.

But of course, there is always an exception. I know of one. The “leadership of the country,” understood to mean Raul Castro, for personal interest and affection, is authorized under the incontrovertible power of … “I feel like it,” to transfer a property from the regime’s “Basic Possession” to “Personal Property.”

“Dalia can be called the most varied epithets; but she was the wife of Fidel and dedicated herself to that man. If they confront her, I assure you that we are going to see the unleashing of the tongue of more than one* Castro Soto del Valle” according to the firm statement of one of the many former daughters-in-law of the dead commander.

*Translator’s note: Fidel and Dalia had five sons and Fidel had another  son with his first wife and other acknowledged children.

We Have to Take Responsibility for Our Own Land… / Somos+

Somos+, 14 January 2017 — Forty-eight hours have passed since we have officially declared ourselves, as a movement, with regards to the elimination of the “Wet foot/Dry foot” policy. There is a reason for that: We do not want to say anything without, at least, consulting the National Council and the greatest possible number of active members. Also, it was prudent to read and listen to all the explanations to correctly understand the scope of the measure.

Today we affirm that, in the long term, we consider it positive for Cuba as a country, a nation and a homeland. Continue reading “We Have to Take Responsibility for Our Own Land… / Somos+”

We are deeply pained by the situation of thousands of Cubans stranded in distant countries, almost all of us have some family member in this situation. We know their expenses have been huge as have their sacrifices. But logic tells us that the departure of the all the people of Cuba will not fix the problems that face us.

On the contrary, to the extent that the already limited number of energetic and dissatisfied youth leave the island, the ability to rebuild our society is ever more distant, starting from the profound changes which can only be driven by millions of people determined to take control of the reins of the nation.

Many argue for the exceptionality of the political situation of Cubans, we among them. But it was precisely the thousands of Cubans traveling through Latin American who are leaving us alone in this thesis, because when we put our cameras in front of people they always say the same thing: “We are not leaving because of political problems, but to improve our economic situation.”

Some even throw in slogans in support of Fidel and Raul, or proudly show off tattoos with images of the creators of the system in which they cannot support themselves. It was these images that convinced a great share of international public opinion that there is no difference between Cuban emigrants and those from the rest of the continent. So?

In our opinion, if this attitude had been put into practice 20 years ago, or never existed (as it doesn’t exist in many former-Soviet controlled countries), another rooster (or hen) would be singing today in Cuba — that is, everything would be different.

If doctors are treated like modern slaves, they should unionize with or without permission, and no longer accept this business model that is a thorn in their sides. Those serving on “missions” abroad can take advantage of the ability to use social media and their access to the news media to unite in a just fight for their rights.

If young people don’t have opportunities, they also should join together in their institutes and universities and peacefully express their demands. Do no accept that some gentlemen who have lost all contact with reality have condemned them to material and spiritual poverty for the rest of their lives.

If parents do not see a future for their children, demand changes in the educational system so that the children will be prepared to be 21st century citizens. Do not let the authorities use their children as instruments of political propaganda and do not teach them, at home, to remain silent and bear up “until we can leave.”

We will probably sound harsh, weird, evil, like oddballs, in the midst of this whole wave of more or less justifiable sentimentality, but with full honesty, we are tired of this sick and victimizing mentality that describes us as the mental and political underdogs of the world, which we are not.

We are comforted by the idea of expressing this opinion from here. We hope that with time this measure will contribute to more of our compatriots taking responsibility for our land, wherever they are. Our entire family cannot move to the neighbor’s house, much less because we don’t like “our own parents”? Because those gentlemen are not our parents, not even our friends or allies… they are common people like you and me and can and should be exchanged, dismissed, replaced, expelled from their jobs if this house doesn’t work. And… it doesn’t work.

Let us stay and fix our own house. Together, we will be more.

Somos+ (We Are More) National Council

Havana

14 January 2016 

Vicissitudes of Paying with Two Currencies / 14ymedio

The sign on the cash register states, “There are no coins, no pesos. Please cooperate.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 January 2017 – In March of 2014 the experiment of allowing customers to pay with Cuban pesos (CUP)* in hard currency stores, which previously only accepted Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC), began. The measure is being extended throughout the country and now includes food services and hotel reservations. However, the scarcity of small change has significantly affected the initiative.

There are no coins, nor pesos. Please cooperate,” reads a sign next to the cash register at this hardware store in Havana. In line, people check their pockets to count out the exact change for a hose, a light bulb, or a simple connector for the TV antennae. The worst are those who pay with Cuban pesos, which almost always implies change in coins of one, five or ten centavos in in CUC.

Compañero, don’t be so strict,” the clerk pleads with a customer who is protesting the difficulty. But then someone appears who pays with 25 centavo pieces in CUC for a brush that costs 3 CUC. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. At least this time they have managed to overcome the obstacles of the dual currency system.

See also:

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

 

‘El Nuevo Herald’ Asks Obama To ‘Open The Door’ To Stranded Cubans’ / 14ymedio

Thousands of Cubans were trapped in Central America following the announcement of the elimination of the wet foot/dry foot policy. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2017 — An editorial in El Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald asks Barack Obama to open the door to Cubans stranded in Central America and Mexico after his “sudden decision” to end the wet foot/dry foot policy. The text, published Friday, says that the presidential order “has had unexpected consequences that will lead to unwarranted human suffering.”

The newspaper notes that the US decision to withdraw the automatic entry into its territory of Cubans, “has left thousands of Cubans stuck in transit at the Mexican border, on the Florida Straits and even at Miami International Airport.” Continue reading “‘El Nuevo Herald’ Asks Obama To ‘Open The Door’ To Stranded Cubans’ / 14ymedio”

The editorial chronicles the tragedy of some families who “were separated simply because of bad timing — some family members were processed through Border Patrol before the president’s order took effect while their relatives were still in line.” A situation that has left migrants “stuck in limbo” who, “if they return to Cuba, they will not be treated kindly, and they cannot stay in Central America or Mexico for long without facing deportation.”

Obama “should amend his order and allow in anyone who has proof that they left Cuba by January 12.”

The Cuban authorities, however, have stressed that returned persons “will rejoin society normally unless they have committed a crime during their irregular immigration process or have debts with justice.”

El Nuevo Herald believes that the US president “can help” and should “modify his order and allow in anyone who has proof they left Cuba by January 12.” An opportunity for the current president to end his term with “a humanitarian gesture.”

The South Florida newspaper calls for just such a step, as migrants “were not given any warning this would occur as they were making their long journey from Cuba.” The paper says, “there is no turning back for them. They bet their future on the promise of America, just as so many others from so many other countries have done.”

The elimination of the Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals is also strongly criticized in the text, which calls for extending “a generous hand” to those health professionals and “giving them entry into the United States.”

The editorial boards of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald are seeking “a small window of opportunity for Cubans standing face-to-face with a shut door.” Should Obama not live up to their expectations, they look to “President-elect Donald Trump to show mercy and amend the order.”

The text clarifies that, “once those who are in transit have arrived, the door can be closed” and calls for “beginning the difficult task of carrying out a real immigration reform that will continue to promise the opportunities of the American dream.”

Cuban migrants stranded on their way to the United States “should have the opportunity to finish their trip,” the editorial concludes.

Translator’s note: This translation uses the Miami Herald version of the statements in the editorial – rather than a direct translation from the Spanish – where the topic addressed is substantially the same.

Police Raid the House of Activist Belkis Cantillo in Palmarito Del Cauto / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, reported the raid on the home of Belkis Cantillo, leader of the Citizens for Democracy movement. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2017 — At six on Saturday morning the police raided the house of Belkis Cantillo, leader of the Citizens for Democracy movement in Palmarito del Cauto, Santiago de Cuba. The officers showed up a few hours after about a dozen women of the organization walked to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, as reported to 14ymedio by Jose Daniel Ferrer, coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

The opposition leader said that on Friday the activists arrived at the church consecrated to the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba, “with the intention of reclaiming the space that the political police have taken away from us in the Sanctuary.” This morning the police entered Cantillo’s house in the municipality Mella “where elderly people and children live,” says Ferrer. Continue reading “Police Raid the House of Activist Belkis Cantillo in Palmarito Del Cauto / 14ymedio”

“Several witnesses report that the political police arrested a 19-year-old girl who is six months pregnant, Martha Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo,” said Ferrer, former prisoner of the Black Spring. He adds that “the telephones of family members have been siezed, so it has become impossible to communicate with them.”

Citizens for Democracy is a group formed by women and founded in September 2014. Its members are residents in the towns of Palma Soriano, Palmarito del Cauto and the city of Santiago de Cuba. The fundamental demands of the organization focus on respect for human rights and civic liberties.

Last year, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary arrests in the country, a figure that “puts the Government of Cuba in first place in all of Latin America,” said the report of the independent organization.

Cubans in Panama ‘Irregularly’ Will Have to Leave the Country / 14ymedio

The director of Caritas Panama, Deacon Victor Berrío, speaks to Cubans. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 13 January 2017 — The more than 100 Cubans who are in Panama illegally must leave, according to the director of Panama’s National Immigration Service, Javier Carrillo. “They will not be deported, but immigration law applies,” the senior official told 14ymedio.

Under that law, migrants “in an irregular situation” could be returned by air to Cuba or taken to Colombia from where they entered Panamanian territory. More than 80 Cubans are in the shelter set up by Caritas to welcome the immigrants.

To a question about the situation of Cubans who do not have a visa to return to Colombia, Carrillo responded: “Is your country not a place?” Continue reading “Cubans in Panama ‘Irregularly’ Will Have to Leave the Country / 14ymedio”

“What Obama did is abominable. We did not expect it. We may have some hope when Donald Trump takes power,” says Andrés, one of the Cubans who have set out on the long road from the island to the US.

To a question about the situation of Cubans who do not have a visa to return to Colombia, Carrillo responded: “Is your country not a place?”

According to Deacon Victor Luis Berrio, head of Caritas in Panama, Cubans are not illegal immigrants but “special immigrants.”

“We are waiting for the change of government in Washington. In the worst case, the Church will intercede in their favor so that they are treated in a special way,” he speculates.

According to statistics from Panama’s National Migration Service provided to 14ymedio, during 2016 more than 750 foreigners were returned to their countries of origin. Of these, only 5 were Cubans.

Most Cubans who arrive in Panama have entered from the border with Colombia, where they travel after traveling without a visa from Cuba to Guyana or the Lesser Antilles.

Two large groups of Cubans were transferred through an airlift that the Government of Panama agreed with Mexico last year. In total, about 5,000 Cubans left on those occasions, but the flow of migrants continued.

“So far [Panama] Immigration has not told us anything nor have officials come here. We have to wait, we have no choice, “says Andres.

The Drama of Hundreds of Cubans Who Have Their Bags Packed / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in various Latin American countries in their flight to the US. (Archive).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Havana/Miami, 14 January 2017 – Yeny Varela cried bitterly this Thursday when she heard on national television about the immediate end to the wet foot/dry foot policy.

Repatriated to Cuba from Mexico after a long month-and-a-half trip from Ecuador in 2014, and after raising the necessary funds to leave the country again, her hopes of escape from the Island were ruined.

“I did everything to get to the United States where I have my elderly aunt and uncle. I went to the embassy, and they denied me a visa, I walked from Ecuador, and the Mexicans deported me, the last thing I had managed was a work contract in Mexico for which I paid thousands of dollars, and now I have lost everything,” she laments.

At 32 years of age, this young Havanan believes that the best years of her life are behind her.

“And now where do I go?” she says. Continue reading “The Drama of Hundreds of Cubans Who Have Their Bags Packed / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

“They (the US government) are doing that because they believe that they are going to force a change, but it’s not going to happen,” she says. Although everyone is “sick” of that system, no one can protest because “they disappear you,” she says.

“Do you really believe they are going to give you a visa at the embassy? No one believes that. Don’t you realize that once someone has a visa he’s going to stay?” she adds.

Varela is not the only one dressed up with no place to go. In Villa Clara, Rosa, age 26, had sold her house and all her belongings to begin the dangerous trip through Guyana.

Cuban women stranded while trying to make their way to the US through Central America. (EFE)

Her intention was to make the trip that thousands of other migrants have made in recent years to get to the southern border of the United States. After the immigration policy change, she is “devastated.”

“Our intent was to leave the country in order to live a little better. There are no opportunities here,” she explains. The Villarena does not plan, however, to go to the United States embassy to seek political asylum.

“I don’t involve myself in politics, that doesn’t interest me. I wanted to leave Cuba for economic reasons,” she explains.

Now she will have to start again from scratch. Meanwhile she decided to live with her mother.

Not only in Cuba were migration plans cut short. Throughout the continent hundreds of Cubans who were headed to the United States border have seen their plans thwarted.

“I never get involved in politics at all, but Obama has been worse than Pontius Pilate, seven days from leaving the presidency, it was not for him to have done such a thing,” says Maria Isabel, a Cuban who lives in Argentina and was preparing her trip to the United States.

“I have left everything behind. I was just taking a small step here in order to continue my journey,” she says.

According to the Cuban, who spent three months awaiting papers to continue to Mexico, the most misguided thing about the Obama administration’s decision is that it “tackles the consequences but not the causes.”

“How many people have risked or lost their lives? The degree of despair and frustration is so great that we can only cry,” she laments.

The latest statistics from the US Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services calculate that 56,406 Cuban citizens benefitted in the last fiscal year from the wet foot/dry foot policy.

After the resumption of relations between Cuba and the US, a migratory crisis unfolded which had regional repercussions when several thousand Cubans were stranded in Central America after Nicaragua refused to permit the islanders to pass.

With the later closure of the Costa Rican and Panamanian borders, the crisis spread to Colombia and Ecuador when those countries took steps to prevent mass migration from the Island. Two “air bridges” arranged with Mexico allowed the evacuation of the Cubans; however, since the departure of the planes from Panama in May, hundreds of other migrants continued arriving.

More than 80 Cubans on their way to the United States are in a hostel run by Caritas, a non-governmental organization tied to the Catholic Church.

One of them, Andres, says that “Obama is abominable” and that they did not expect it.

His situation was apparently made worse by the Immigration General Director’s statements only a few hours earlier that Cubans must leave the country.

However, the migrants being sheltered by Caritas have the support of the Catholic Church, which will intervene to prevent their deportation, as explained by Deacon Victor Luis Berrio, head of the organization.

At least those in Panama have protection, says Yuniel Ramos, who together with another 40 Cubans is continuing his journey through Honduras to get to the American border.

“They will have to do something with us because Cuba won’t take us back,” he adds.

But the doors to the United States are now closed for Cubans.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

End of Program for Resettlement in the US Causes Anxiety Among Cuban Doctors Who Have Fled Missions / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban Health Deputy Minister Marcia Cobas greets the island’s doctors at the University of Brasilia. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 January 2017 — Thirty Cuban doctors met Friday in Bogota to protest the ending of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program, which until yesterday allowed Cuban medical personnel working in third countries to qualify for a visa to go to the United States.

The CMPP was created by the administration of Republican George W. Bush in 2006, to enable thousands of professionals to escape from Cuban medical missions abroad.

Havana has long called for its repeal, which was announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday, and had made it a condition for progress in normalizing relations with Washington. Continue reading “End of Program for Resettlement in the US Causes Anxiety Among Cuban Doctors Who Have Fled Missions / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

“We went to protest for them to keep that program that is vital for Cuban doctors,” says Alberto López, a Cuban critical care specialist who escaped from a medical mission in Venezuela.

In ten years, more than 8,000 Cuban professionals have benefitted from this program, especially in countries like Venezuela and Brazil.

“We fear for what could happen to our colleagues. There are many people who are on the way and we do not know what can happen now, because they can neither return to the mission nor to take shelter under the parole program,” explains Lopez.

Havana has long called for its repeal, which was announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday, and had made it a condition for progress in normalizing relations with Washington

Another of the protesters called for the granting of visas to all those who have been waiting in Colombia for a response to their requests.

“We are working as waiters, in markets, in whatever we can. We hardly have money to pay our expenses because we lost everything in our Cuban bank accounts. We’ve been waiting for months, and now Obama comes out with this. And I was counting on it,” he says.

The “healthcare cooperators,” as the Cuban government calls them, are assigned a bank account on the island where each month some of their wages are deposited in dollars. Those accounts, which remain frozen until the end of the mission, are seized by the Government if the doctors desert.

For Dr. Julio César Alfonso, president of Solidaridad sin Fronteras (Solidarity Without Borders) a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Cuban doctors who come to the United States, “it is very regrettable that President Obama leaves such a sad legacy to the Cuban community.”

Alfonso regrets that the new policy does not take into account that Cuba’s healthcare personnel who are working in third countries have the status of “modern slaves.”

“Cuban medical missions are considered one of the largest human trafficking operations that has ever existed in history,” he says.

“Doctors have always tried to escape. What is going to happen now is that it will end the organized ways of escaping from this reality. It is very negative what is happening,” says the doctor, who estimates that more than 3,000 professionals will be in migration limbo because they have escaped the missions but no longer have the certainty they will be accepted in the United States.

” Cuban medical missions are classified as one of the largest human trafficking operations that has ever existed in history”

The Cuban health system has 495,609 workers, according to the most recent data provided by the Government, of which more than 58,000 are specialized doctors. Its cooperation programs, which are funded through international organizations, extend to more than 90 countries in the world, from Africa to Russia.

The discomfort extends among Cuban doctors “on mission” in several countries.

“When health professionals leave Cuba we do it with an official passport. The government appropriates most of our salary and if we escape we are prevented from returning to Cuba for eight years,” explains a doctor living in Brazil who claims to have completed all her paperwork to receive the Parole. However, she asked that her identity not be revealed,” just in case.”

“Yesterday I was very nervous all afternoon, suddenly we got that bucket of cold water. I can only think of the other professionals that this measure leaves without protection. There are hundreds who were waiting for the opportunity to defect,” she explains.

Through the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program, the Brazilian Government, at that time under the presidency of the Workers’ Party and allied with Cuba, hired more than 11,000 doctors through the Pan American Health Organization. The agreement, which included a payment of $ 3,300 per doctor per month, plus the payment of other fees for accommodation, represented significant income for the island’s economy, which in 2014 acknowledged that it received $ 8.2 billion in exchange for “medical services.”

Of the salary agreed to with the Government, only a third is paid to the Cuban professionals.

Since the beginning of the program in 2013, defections have been routine. In 2016, 1,439 health professionals escaped to the United States; another 1,600 took the exams to revalidate their titles in Brazil and to obtain contracts to work their on their own. Marriage has also been another way to escape the control of the Cuban government. According to data provided by the Brazilian authorities, more than 1,000 Cubans have marital ties with citizens of that country.

“I was able to submit my paperwork. Now I have to wait, but what will happen to others who were thinking of fleeing?” asks a Cuban doctor who was in Venezuela.

“At least before you had the security of knowing that if you jumped you would have a place to fall. If you escape now you know you’re playing outside the rules,” an X-Ray specialist, who works in the state of Anzoátegui, said using the vocabulary of sports. “Venezuela is going down the tubes like Cuba but now we have no choice but to stay here.”

When A Hope Is Lost / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A dozen Cuban rafters arriving off the coast of Florida on April 26 of this year. (Youtube / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, 13 January 2017 — The end of the wet foot/dry foot policy entails among its many consequences the loss of hope for a great number of Cubans. Few times in our national history has a decision taken outside the borders of the island touched the lives of so many Cuban citizens in a medullary and definitive way.

Among those affected are migrants already on their way to the United States, as well as those who have sold their property and possessions to pay for the expenses of the journey, those who were waiting for an opportunity to desert from an official mission abroad, or simply those who dreamed of escape from the island. In total, tens of thousands of people. Continue reading “When A Hope Is Lost / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

However, there is a much larger number. Incalculable. The one made up of all those who saw in the possibility of emigration a motivation to behave with docility in the face of difficulties. They were the ones who trusted that, at the moment when they could not longer bear the hard daily life of the island, they had a way out: a raft, the jungles of Central America, the Mexican border, the Bering Strait…

The only hope is that we recover the courage to face our reality and assume the consequences

Like the last drops of water in the canteen while crossing the desert, the lifejackets the stewardess holds up for emergencies, or the last gulp of oxygen with which the diver must try to reach the surface, the wet foot/dry foot policy represented hope for many on the island. The illusion that if they reached their limit there would always be a lifeline to cling to.

“If it gets ugly, I’ll up and leave,” was a recurring thought shared among young and old, poor or new rich, dissidents or government officials. It relieved them to know that, from the closed box which Cuba has become, they had a way out. Perhaps they would never use it, but it was a balm to know it was there.

From now on there are no lifejackets under the seat, no water in the canteen to cross the desert, and there is no oxygen left to return to the surface. The only hope is that we recover the courage to face our reality and assume the consequences.