Who is really blockading us? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The brand name of this company selling chicken portions in Havana tells you its origin: these products arrive here from the other side of the iron curtain, from the enemy’s shore. This “Product of USA” reminds us that more than ten years ago the US Congress approved licences for selling food products to the Cuban government, on a cash-only basis, but with the result that also for years the chain stores selling in CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, i.e. hard currency) on the island have insisted in selling these chicken portions at up to 4.50 CUC (about $5). If we bear in mind that historically this has been one of the cheapest meats on the world market, we can easily see that food for the people is not exactly treated as a special case by our government when it comes to turning a profit.

But to this type of profit in CUC we have to add its analog in CUP (Cuban pesos). Also years ago the state-run Food and Business Companies joined in the party: many administrators immediately “saw the light” and proceeded to start selling a pound of raw chicken on the black market for 25 pesos, that’s to say, the price  of the prepared product, like fried chicken, and so they keep hold of the surplus oil, and you can guess where that ends up.

In the end, Liborio, [a cartoon character representing the typical poor Cuban peasant] poor man, caught in the cross-fire, doesn’t receive his monthly bag of chicken, oil — and lots of the other things, speaking of Lindoro, [incompetent Lindoro is an archetypal useless boss of an unproductive Cuban company] –  that the people in headquarters get: poor Lindoro, who, in reality is the only loser. And the main culprit in all this continues to be the Cuban government, because of its obstinate and half-assed economic focuses, and also because of its unscrupulous pricing policy — the same one which fixes the price of a USED Geely auto at $38,000, which doesn’t cost $5,000 new, or which tries to sell us a shitty Suzuki moped for over $12,000 which cost a little more than $300.

Here everything comes down to the same thing; simply and straightforwardly our government is always pursuing one goal: blocking the well-being of the people by every means possible. And so, we should ask, who is it that is really blockading us? Lets see what the “Yankee Blockade” theorists have to say about that.

Translated by GH

9 October 2014

 

What Happens If Ebola Comes To Cuba? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Ebola outbreak on the world epidemiological scene will obviously involve a huge challenge for every country that is reached by the current epidemic, already registered as the greatest in history and that in recent days has reached about 9000 confirmed cases — although experts say that figure is an undercount.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that the epidemic is not being confronted will all the political rigor that the moment demands on the part of the international community and also warned that if the situation is not brought under control in time, by 2015 it predicts an incidence of about a million and a half cases.

It is easy to conclude that arriving at this state of things the danger would only grow exponentially.  We are confronting an extremely contagious illness of non-vectoral transmission, that can be spread person to person through the most subtle contact with any bodily fluid of an infected person — and that may be transmitted sexually to boot, given that the virus is isolated in semen until 90 days after recovery. Continue reading

New Customs Restrictions in Havana: Another Turn of The Screw / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

I avert my gaze with disgust from the broadsheet of troubling portents that the newspaper Granma has become. Recently, the newspaper published new customs regulations the Cuban government has imposed on its own people. In essence, they amount to a significant reduction — now significantly less than 120 kg — in the weight of non-commercial goods allowed to be brought into the country by the average citizen.

There is also a significant reduction in the value of merchandise allowed to be brought in, from 1,500 pesos beforehand to 1,000 pesos now. Everything determined to be above this limit is to be confiscated. Additionally, there is an ominous decision by the Ministry of Finance and Prices to raise the duty on merchandise received by mail from 10 to 20 CUC — some 500 pesos, the equivalent of a month’s salary — on each kilogram above the initial 1,500 grams.

Like a soothsayer looking into his crystal ball, I can clearly see the inevitable consequences of these measures. Without much effort, I can spot the corrupt customs officials in every Cuban airport rubbing their hands and growing increasingly rich, charging the helpless traveller ever juicier extortion fees, enriching themselves with impunity with millions stolen under the impassive gaze of all the political and government authorities gathered around the feast. Continue reading

Why Is Another Cuba Necessary? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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

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

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

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

University Entrance Exam in Mathematics to be Repeated in Havana

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

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

Memories of One December 10th / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Act I: The Barricade

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I need to get by,” I reply.

“No, you cannot,” he shoots back.

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

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

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

Congratulations: Free Trade of Agricultural Products / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By: Jeovany Jiménez Vega

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

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

“Your health service is free… but it costs”

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See:  It costs.  By Regina Coyula.

Translated by mlk.
28 April 2014

 

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

The art of consecration

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

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

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

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

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

“So be it!” commanded the emperor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 March 2014

 

Fearing a Prosperous People / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 February 2014

 

In No Man’s Land / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 December 2013