Jose Marti, Tell the Tyrant… / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Commentary by Carmen Zampallo in the forum of the article “Martí and his Myth,” by José Gabriel Barrenechea, published at 14:30m on the 17 May 2015. Thanks, Carmen, wherever you may be!

Where are you Martí? What have you become? In your name have been created tyranny, torture camps, and forced labor. Yes, Marti, we live with dictatorship, with cells and beatings that you never imagined. Martí, the tyrant in green clothes erected you as an idol and today he kills us, Martí, and nobody listens.

The cruelty by the cruelty of a disciple? There is nobody like him for hating the Cuban people and, Martí, it is said that the Tyrannosaurus will rest beside you. I do not believe it, Marti, since he has never let you rest in peace. What’s more, fortunately, he would be eternally within the reach of your fist and your foot. Although the temperature of his tomb is infernal, thirty human rights offices will be erected after its fifth consecutive cremation. Continue reading “Jose Marti, Tell the Tyrant… / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Martí, tell the Tyrannosaurus there that I am Hubert Matos, Eloy Gutiérrez, Reinaldo Arenas, Ricardo Bofill, Pedro Luis Boitel, Payá, and so many political prisoners, and those shot and killed.

I am a medical slave, a family divided; we are commanders, Communist guerrillas and other who are not Communists, betrayed by him. I am his rebellious sister, I am a business and an angry right. I am a dancer, I am a sportsman and a censored painter. I am a gay person, a religious person in the UMAP concentration camp, I am a rafter at the bottom of the sea.

I am exiled trapped in Ecuador or Mexico and I am a pilot shot down north of Havana. I am a mother who has seen all the dead depart.

We will adjust accounts and take care in the Beyond that no-one ever returns to this beautiful land. They finished their time, finished, and the living will undo that maximum creation, that hematic auctioned unproductive Caribbean satellite.

Martí, hopefully you will rewrite and publish the now-hidden texts that contained your opinion on the nascent socialism. They were removed from your work.

Hopefully you get it… I hope they do not hit you.

From the blog of Jeovany Jimenez Vega 

Translated by Hombre de Paz

Cuba, a Tax Haven for the Untouchables / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Panama Papers confirmed that Cuba controls the Venezuelan passport system (courtesy)
The Panama Papers confirmed that Cuba controls the Venezuelan passport system (courtesy)

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 6 June 2016 — In recent weeks, the world has taken a great interest in the scandalous revelations of the Panama Papers. Millions of documents have revealed the  shady side of celebrities, politicians and leaders in every region and of all political colours.  And, of course, a government as chameleon-like as Cuba’s was not going to be an amazing exception, the missing condiment in this soup.

The very serious revelation that the Castros’ government and its Venezuelan counterpart contracted the services of a German business, by way of the Mossack Fonseca law firm — trying in that way to not appear tied in with such unsavoury accomplices — to arrange the production of the current version of the Venezuelan passport, and the subsequent control over the distribution of this document since then by Havana, has been the most embarrassing thing that has been revealed by these documents about the island’s government. Continue reading “Cuba, a Tax Haven for the Untouchables / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Although many people are waiting avidly for new revelations which incriminate high Cuban officials, this writer would not be surprised, nevertheless, if absolutely nothing of the sort happens. This certainty derives from a total conviction in a long-established truth, which is the most obvious and elemental of all: none of the Castros has ever needed to deposit his fortune or cover up his activities in tax havens, simply because they have never needed to avoid any kind of audit. They alone are their only auditors, judges and participants in their shady activities, in which nobody else can stick their fingers in — period. Or, in fewer words, both dictators have always considered Cuba to be their exclusive private tax haven.

In order to back up this accusation, let’s look at the most widely-held definition of what is a tax haven. Normally it is considered to be any territory or country which complies basically with the following conditions:

If the jurisdiction levies no taxes, if it permits non-residents to benefit from tax breaks, even when they in fact carry out no activities in the country.

If there is no transparency, if there are strictly private bank accounts, and the personal details of owners and company shareholders do not appear in public records, or indeed they permit formal representatives, called nominees, to be employed.

If the laws or administrative practices do not permit interchange of information with other countries or international organisations for fiscal purposes in relation to taxpayers benefitting from exceptionally low tax rates.

In order to understand the present analysis, we have to start off from the incontrovertible premise that the same geographical space is cohabited by two antagonistic Cubas. One of them is the Cuba of the dictators and the regime’s historic “sacred cows,” and a whole entourage of opportunists, high level executives, managers of important companies, all of whom are absolutely tied in with the government, and the highest level officials of the Ministry of the Interior and the armed forces, as well as Cuban ambassadors overseas. Their respective families and lovers also belong to this elite, along with good friends, and the cream of this Cuban neo-bourgeoisie, the emerging upper middle class, and also — and why not? — all those businessmen and foreign diplomats resident in the island.

A completely different totally opposed reality, is the life lived by the ordinary Cuban. 90% of us Cubans live in this lower class Cuba, and this is where I live, with my family and all my friends, just like the overwhelming majority of Cuban professionals and everyone who works for the state. It is the Cuba of miserable salaries and the everyday pursuit of your daily bread. It is this Cuba, which is poor and hopeless, that wave after wave of Cuban young people are fleeing.

So we have the upper class Cuba convinced that it has no obligation to account for anything to lower class Cuba. If we consider these realities, only apparently overlapping, as two separate countries, which in practice is what they are, we are then able to understand why it is not hyperbole or gratuitous to say that the Castros have for more than 50 years enjoyed the advantages of having their own tax haven.

But, finally, why should we consider Cuba to be a tax haven? Very simply, we are talking about a country without the most basic legal or civic mechanisms to indict the most corrupt, because it is precisely those people who call the shots. It is a country without division of powers, which guarantees the total impunity of those people.

There has never existed in post-revolutionary Cuba either an official press which denounces anything, or a police authority which investigates anything, or a public prosecutor which accuses any one of the most corrupt people in the government, because — get this — you cannot take at face value the the periodic purges of disgraced officials, because in these cases the order always comes from the current dictator’s executive, and never from the judicial system which should naturally deal with it. There are far more than enough examples of investigations which have faded away into nothing when they have been countermanded from above, which no-one dares to question.

When you check it out, there are all the elements here of the above-mentioned definition. We have a caste which doesn’t pay any taxes on their informal or illegal businesses, or if they do pay them, they are just a token in relation to the real level of their income.

We have a government which has always practised the most absolute and systemic secrecy in relation to the private lives and real incomes of its most important chiefs, and also a rigid censorship over whatever may be produced to evidence their over-the-top schemes, managed by unscrupulous front men, referred to above as nominees. And finally we have a body of law, for the most part in violation of the most important human rights, but made to measure for the aspirations of the elite to maintain their power and influence.

Cuba is still today a tax haven for the untouchables, with all institutions in submission to this privileged class which lives like kings on the Olympic heights, disconnected from the reality of the people who live beneath them in poverty and want.

In fact, if you asked a thief or corporate tight-wad who want to fill their bank accounts on the margins of any tax responsibility, what would be the country of their dreams, they would definitely say that that country would have a government which didn’t waste its time on listening to useless pleas from its people, which was hard-line and keeping a grip on its power — it would be ideal if, by the way, it was the only one legally recognised in the constitution — and which would guarantee that it would leave me in peace to get on with my business dealings, sorting out unionists and trouble makers. That is to say, a government keen on the most profitable exploitation of whatever you can come up with.

Our hypothetical crook would say that in that fantasy world, I would have a monopoly of all markets, which would practically make me a God who could order, to my heart’s content, the fate of millions of consumers who would have no choice apart from what I offer, which would allow me to speculate by selling dear whatever cheapo thing I imported.

I would love to carry out my activities, our respondent would continue, among serious, upright people and businessmen who understand that the best business is the one which generates the most profit in the shortest time possible, no matter who may be hurt.

I would like a country to have no division of powers, in which every judge, right up to the Supreme Court, was subordinated to a powerful man, an arch-calculator, through whom everything flows, as smooth as silk, and protected from indiscreet gazes.

Just think, dear reader, whether that elite country, the above-mentioned Cuba, with its life-long privileged class, where greed and opportunism reigns, the Cuba of despotic generals and criminals who go unpunished, should not be considered to be a genuine and very exclusive tax haven. If such a country could not be classified as such, then a guanábana is not a spiky green fruit. Needless to say,  whatever similarity to real life here would not be a coincidence. Draw your own conclusions

Translated by GH

The Dictatorship Between Obama’s Wink and Maduro’s Fall / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 22 February 2016 — Cuba started 2016 looking toward an uncertain horizon: a parasitic economy in the red, bankrupt for decades, as dependent today on Venezuela as it once was on Soviet gulag; a neo-bourgeoisie oligarchy clinging to the same absurdity that has plunged us into the manure; lazy leaders turning a blind eye to the people’s needs, despoiling millions in their secret accounts and willing to do anything to maintain their privileges; the main economic gears — like GAESA (the state entity that controls almost all retail in the country), the monstrosity that controls the principal corporations and the entity that does or does not authorize every foreign investment on the island — in the hands of impudent soldiers who know nothing of economics but know very well the language of despotism. Continue reading “The Dictatorship Between Obama’s Wink and Maduro’s Fall / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Image of "Liborio" -- the Cuban "everyman"
Image of “Liborio” — the Cuban “everyman”

In my country there is no division of powers and this guarantees the absolute impunity of the Communist Party and Political Police henchmen in exercising the most shameless repression against the dissent of ideas. Cuba is a country that stepped into the year 2016 as a country without laws, in the hands of an elite of tyrants who are as concerned about Liborio’s poverty as they are about the existence of water on Mars.

Faced with such a bleak picture, we see perpetuated the exodus of the most fertile of Cuban youth, in an irrepressible flight that ends up being the hallmark of my generation and which I have already taken. The current immigration crisis in Central America — unleashed by Havana with the docile complicity of Daniel Ortega — is the most recent evidence of the lack of credibility with which Cuba’s youth look on the stale promises of octogenarian Raul Castro, and the insubstantiality of his alleged economic “reforms,” and can be read as the clearest plebiscite of rejection the old dictator has received — something he will never allow to occur in actual practice — before the eyes of the world.

Amid this dramatic internal situation two critical elements from outside carry influence: the policy of concord/legitimation toward the dictatorship offered a year ago by Barack Obama, and the imminent collapse of the Venezuelan monstrosity, that will bring the inevitable consequence of cutting off its payment of “royalties” to Havana.

The combination of both at this time come with the inevitable culmination — finally! — of the vital life cycle of historical gerontocracy of the Revolution, and this places Cuban society at a complex crossroads, as yet unknown.

I was always a staunch advocate of lifting of the US embargo on Havana. As for millions of Cubans, for me it has always been very clear that 80% of the excesses and endless shortages suffered by us during the last half century have been due to the bad faith and the mediocrity of the government of both Castros, so always I considered that the termination of this policy would clearly unmask, before history, the real culprits of our ruin.

But I confess something: when the revocation of sanctions against the dictatorship threatens to become a reality, right now Caracas is skimming off the last crumbs and the repressive Castro advisors are packing their bags, looking to a resumption of relations between Cuba and the United States. This leaves me with a sense of pleasurable frustration, difficult to explain, but very similar to the disappointment of a power outage at the movie theater at the exact instant when the hero is about to liquidate the film’s villain.

Without taking as absolute what is outlined above, I can’t help but taste in my imagination the diarrhea that would have dotted the halls of the Council of State and the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party — not to mention the offices of the Cuban political police — if the collapse of Venezuela had occurred without the last minute escape hatch thanks to the providence of the almighty Obama.

The question is obligatory: under what rock would Havana’s parasitic regime — consummately incapable of generation resources for itself — looked for its next benefactor? They couldn’t count on Putin’s Russian because despite the astronomical forgiveness of old debt and the geostrategic plans of the Tsar seeing Havana with its tip oriented to South America, it has become clear to everyone that the Island-of-Eden phase was definitely in the past and the Kremlin tovarich (comrades) are not willing to support their loony-tune boy from the old days any longer.

Much less could they count on neo-capitalist China, because beyond the coincidence of its totalitarian party/state ideological/strategic similarity, business with the great Asian economic giant demands timely payment in hard cash, something the Cuban dictatorship has no ability to take on for obvious reasons.

In short, little doubt remains: if the collapse of Caracas had happened in the absence of this opportunistic escape route to save the dictatorship in water up to its neck looking toward the brutal north — the same one they sneered at — there is no questions but that more than one general in Havana would have literally shit his pants. People could not face, again, the rigors of those terrible years that started in the ’90s known as the “Special Period.” Things aren’t like then, and tempers are short and the entire top brass knows that were a new “zero option” [extremely severe economic austerity] be considered, a very different rooster* would be singing in Cuba.

*Translator’s notes:  An expression similar to “a horse of another color” that can have a good or bad meaning; in this case a very negative one.

Translated by RSP

Cuba and the Phantom of the Internet / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Free Internet, Mayor’s Office of Guayaquil (Ecuador). Image courtesy of photographer Julio R.B. for Jeovany Jimenez Vega.

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 January 2016 — A ghost is haunting Cuba: the phantom of the Internet. All the forces of the old guard have joined in a holy crusade against that spectre: the Castros and Ramiro Valdes*, the censor, before ‘Furry’ Colomé Ibarra and now Fernández Gondín**, the radical communists and all the opportunistic cops … Thus begins the Manifesto of the Internet for the Cuban people, placed at a horizon so far away that it’s as elusive as everything else concerning connection to the outside world.

Walking through any park in Guayaquil, Ecuador, at every Metro stop, in many cafes and shops, in every mall, and at every corner, I find at each step an announcement of a free Wi-fi signal, and my thoughts fly to my closed little island.

Internet censorship in Cuba is a subject that has been brought up so many times it now stinks. The amply demonstrated reluctance of the Cuban Government to cede a bit of ground in its information monopoly has ended up putting our country at the bottom of the index of connectivity on the whole American continent, and in the select group of those who are behind globally. Continue reading “Cuba and the Phantom of the Internet / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

I’m bringing up the trite question again on this page, before the news that the representatives of both governments of Cuba and the U.S. have sat down to talk about the subject in recent days, as part of the thaw fostered after 17 December 2014 by the Obama administration and accepted by Raúl Castro, but only because Venezuelan President Maduro’s boat is going under.

But I certainly heard nothing new. “The blockade prevents the financing of any United States project to enlarge the infrastructure; it would be precisely to democratize the administration of the global network; that if cyber-security, that if the solar storms or the rings of Saturn” —  whatever excuse the censors could use to delay our right to unconditional access to the world highway.

Surely nothing was mentioned by the Cubans at this meeting about the three-quarters of the Venezuelan submarine cable that remained, deliberately, without exploiting its potential for almost a decade, and they dissimulated or evaded when any allusion was made to concrete proposals, on more than one occasion, by U.S. businesses to make investments in the island, which, in the short term, would make Internet service accessible for the average Cuban and would ostensibly improve telephone service.

Before every proposal by the U.S. or any other country on the matter, the Cubans have followed their usual strategy: find a problem for every solution. On this rough point the dictatorship has its eyes fixed on its only intent: maintaining, at all cost, until its last breath, the most absolutely possible iron control of information. Thus every U.S. proposal came up against this primordial interest, since the dictatorship knows that censorship is a vital matter.

When I walk through the streets of Guayaquil and see at every step announcements of a free Wi-fi signal offered by the city, and the posters from cyber cafes inviting you to use the Internet at a comfortable speed and without restrictions, for U.S.$1.00 for three hours of connection (!), and I see on every roof a parabolic antenna or a coaxial cable, I can’t help but contrast this reality with the Cuban government’s cynical policy and ETECSA’s*** monopoly on “free” Wi-fi service at selected points in drips and drabs.

They all have something in common: you pay $2.00 CUC (more than U.S. $2.00) for an hour with a very slow connection, in a country with an average monthly salary between U.S. $15 and $20. You get connected from a navigation room, outdoors in a park, or “accommodated” under the sun on a sidewalk, but never from your home, since such a service is available only for the Regime’s acolytes, and you always have to show your identification and personal data when you enter.

Furthermore, you should know that every click of the keyboard or every site you visit will be spied on, and you will find that all the sites that are inconvenient to the Government have been zealously censored.

For my part, beyond the fact that my blog, Citizen Zero, is not approved in Cuba — I didn’t have the occasion to try the “superb” Wi-fi service or ETECSA’s navigation room — I will never forgive the satraps of Havana who, by their cojones (balls), vetoed something as simple as a video-conference with my children. This is something that hurts and offends, and converts my conflict with the dictatorship into something personal.

As for their policy, however, there is inescapable evidence to take into account, which is the essential and last cause of the problem: the uncontainable and absolute terror of the Cuban dictatorship before the unsubmissive truths poured out on the Web, which it hides them from the Cuban people because the despots who dis-govern depend on this censorship to perpetuate their power. The Cuban dictatorship’s dilemma is as simple as that. This “menace” makes them lose sleep.

Translator’s notes:

*He defended Internet restrictions, saying, “The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled.”

**The old and new Ministers of the Interior.

*** La Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., Cuba’s one telecommunications company.

Translated by: Marlena (PL) and Regina Anavy

Human Rights in Cuba: Nothing Has Changed / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 11 December 2015 — Seven years have passed since the signing of two United Nations’ covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and exactly one week from the first anniversary of the announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. Now at the threshold of 2016, it would be worth reminding ourselves how we got here.

In the past year some have advocated lifting the tools of political pressure to which the Cuban government is still subject. Basically these are understood to be the US embargo and the European Union’s common position. However, the alleged reforms undertaken by Raul Castro in recent years are still a frequent source of argument. Continue reading “Human Rights in Cuba: Nothing Has Changed / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

If we accept the premise that since 1959 Cuba has been a one-party state —  and evidence indicates that the presidency of Raul Castro is in essence a continuation of the presidency of Fidel Castro — we can also assume with a high degree of certainty that the psychology of the regime is exactly the same as it has always been. This logically leads to the following question: Is there reason to hope that, if the sanctions were lifted, the military oligarchs would finally grant the Cuban people the rights outlined in the above-mentioned UN conventions, whose ratification and implementation by Cuba have been pending since February 2008?

Optimists would point to the reforms initiated by Raul, but anyone who takes a closer look at the so-called “transformations” would see that very few of them led to a practical, beneficial or immediate turnaround in the lives of Cubans inside or outside the country.

But if we approach this in good faith, we would have to acknowledge that some measures represent a more drastic and positive turnaround than others. Among them are the restoration of the right to travel overseas and authorization for private individuals to buy and sell their homes.

We cannot forget, however, that the 2013 emigration law stipulates that some professionals may not travel freely “in light of regulations aimed at preserving a qualified work force.”

Nor can we dismiss the fact that the Cuban government may also prevent persons from entering the country who have been accused of “organizing, encouraging, carrying out or participating in actions hostile to the Cuban state… when reasons of defense and national security so suggest;” or that the government may “bar entry into the country to those who have been declared undesirable or who have been expelled.” This makes clear just how wide a margin this delicious tool of coercion gives the repressors to maneuver.

In terms of the authorization to buy and sell houses, let us remember that this law is saddled with a series of burdensome regulations pertaining to sale prices that allow the government to meddle in something in which it has no business, a reminder that here nothing good ever lasts for very long.

However, a glance at the rest of the package does reveal a curious mindset in these so-called reforms. It is extremely difficult to accept the sincerity of the “authorization” to buy used cars when they are set at stratospheric prices; or the corrupt approach by the managements of new cooperative businesses when they remain subordinate to inefficient state enterprises; or the imposition of exorbitant taxes on private businesses when they are deprived of a wholesale commodity market; or all the limitations that have led to an obviously failed agricultural policy, to name a few

But more serious than these economic trifles is the persistence of repressive policies that continue to promote the duet between the Communist Party and State Security. From the offices of what is still the only legally recognized political party, they are still drafting tactics and strategies that will later be put into practice in the street by the political police’s henchmen.

Arbitrary arrests and the weakest of legal protections are persistent problems in Cuba in 2015. They are the bastard offspring that result when there is no separation of powers. Physical assaults and acts of repudiation are still being perpetrated with impunity while no one in authority can be bothered to intervene.

Government henchmen are ordered to stab opposition leaders and harass in broad daylight women who are carrying no weapons other than white gladiolas. An iron-fisted and absolute censorship of dissident thought persists while the regime continues to exercise a tight monopoly on the media and the press.

It still vetoes easy access to the internet, something now well-advanced in the second decade of the 21st century. We can therefore conclude that the changes that have been introduced in Cuba up to this point are insubstantial and of a purely cosmetic nature.

These military oddballs are no longer capable of offering up anything new, so it is only logical to question their good intentions for the future and their ability to conceive a plan for real prosperity, especially if the formula requires any change of course.

It remains to be seen whether these reforms reflect a sincere desire to open the door to a globalized economy for the Cuban people. It is more reasonable to assume that they amount an endless series of delaying tactics by the same old oligarchs to hold onto power.

But in the event that the international community, the Cuban people and the Cuban opposition decide to give them a vote of confidence, would this guarantee that the above-mentioned UN conventions would be ratified and implemented, and that this would result in a turn towards democracy?

In the light of psychological mindset thus far exhibited by the regime, logical reasoning would lead to the undeniable and unmistakable conclusion that this would never happen, that it would only result in a sudden transfusion to all the repressive resources of the regime and its receiving unwarranted international recognition.

There is no chance the Cuban government will become any more economically efficient, only that it can rely on having more resources to squander and more millions in its overseas accounts to feed its delusions of grandeur. Once a beast has tasted blood, nothing else will do.

And once liberated from these instruments of political pressure — and with the tacit international approval that this implies — an autocratic government like that of the Castros will never ratify the UN conventions. On the contrary, it will become even more vicious, as has already been made clear by its repression of dissidents from a comfortable and relaxed position.

History has definitively shown us that some people never change. Three decades of marriage to the Soviet Union demonstrated that the Cuban people were never the intended recipients of all that wealth. If it was not the case then, why would we suppose it would be any different now, especially after so many years of corrupt and lethargic governance?

Clearly, freedom in Cuba is not dependent on the actions of any foreign government. Instead, it depends on the courage and wisdom demonstrated by its people. But unconditionally accepting every international condition without the island’s people having to suffer, struggle or expect anything would not seem to necessarily be helpful.

2015 ends without there being the slightest indication of accommodation regarding our civil rights or of even something as basic as ratification of the aforementioned human rights conventions. In this context, making unconditional concessions to the totalitarian regime in Havana, just as Caracas is teetering on the brink, would be a strategic disaster for my people and would delay by several decades the arrival of democracy, for which as the Cuban nation has waited so long.

Exodus, Cubans and the Law of Adjustment: the Beginning of the End? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 30 November 2015 — The present migratory crisis, unleashed by the Nicaraguan Government’s refusal to permit transit through its territory for Cubans walking to the United States, has brought to the foreground a drama that has been going on for decades.

Too many stories of suffering and death have spattered the dangerous route followed by tens of thousands of emigrants from the island going north through Central America. But what could have been a rapid solution of the problem at the meeting of chancellors of the Central American Integration System (SICA) which took place this week in San Salvador was frustrated by the intransigence of Daniel Ortega’s Government, obstinately opposed to permitting the caravan’s passing in spite of the good will shown by the majority of the governments in the region in handling the matter as a humanitarian problem rather than a question of national security. Continue reading “Exodus, Cubans and the Law of Adjustment: the Beginning of the End? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

It’s not by chance that the present crisis generated, a few days ago, Raúl’s recent visit to México. On Aztec soil, the dictator was assured of blocking the last obligatory link of the stopover of these terrestrial rafters, getting from Peña Nieto’s Government — the same one that criticizes the U.S. when it deports Mexicans — its unrestricted commitment, beginning now, to deport any Cuban it encounters passing through.

Scarcely days later, suspiciously, the governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua also announced measures that were analogous. But the Costa Rican Government revised rapidly and authorized transit visas to the caravan, and later assumed a constructive posture when the Nicaraguans sent army troops to stop the attempt of these emigrants to cross the border. Things still remain at this point two weeks later.

This dramatic situation of thousands of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica, like a shot centered even more attention in the U.S. on the justification or not of keeping alive the Cuban Adjustment Act, and intensified one even chillier polemic that, as never before in half a century, ended by putting this regulation on the dissection table of US policy.

These are compelling questions that line up like daggers toward the center of the problem: would the abolition of this law stop the exodus of Cubans? Is that law really the essential cause of the perpetual flight maintained during decades by a considerable part of my people? What would happen if the Cuban Adjustment Act was repealed this very day?

The matter seems to me as obvious as the question, “What color is a white horse?”  I’m among those absolutely convinced that if the repeal of the law materializes this would only redirect the present exodus from the island. In case speculation turns into fact, it would produce only a momentary reduction in attempts to leave; but once the initial stupor is overcome, and spurred on by the real cause of their flight — the absurd hardships imposed by a Communist dictatorship — Cubans would continue arriving at their own rhythm in the United States, even under an illegal status — amply exemplified by Mexicans — since one river more or one river less would mean nothing to those who also are ready to row 90 miles and brave the sharks.

Trying to reduce the motive for the stampede and the discriminating protection offered by the Cuban Adjustment Act would simplify the matter too much and would disavow the categorical fact that a quarter of the Cuban population remains dispersed outside the country; and if it is true that most live in the U.S., it’s also true that the Cuban diaspora has left barely any virgin space between both poles in its sustained and frenetic escape.

Even if the abolition of the existing Cuban Adjustment Act led to another that was rigorously directed to the contrary, the exodus would continue as long as the present cause exists, which is the absolute lack of hope for Cubans — above all for the youth, of course — under a totalitarian regime, a dictatorship that has hijacked the future of their nation and traitorously curtailed any possibility of wellbeing for its people, that has systematically obstructed their prosperity and has submitted them to the most oppressive and unhealthy despotism that has ever been known in the American hemisphere.

The latest news seems to presage a long wait for those stranded in Peñas Blancas: the lack of agreement of the good will of most of the chancellors meeting in San Salvador before the bad faith of Managua, in addition to the mentioned policy of extradition assumed by México, added to the new migratory policy announced by Ecuador of requiring a visa for Cubans beginning next December and the recent detention of hundreds of Cuban migrants in Panamá by the express petition of Costa Rica thus appear to warn them. The recent UN announcement of support for the Government of San José in its humanitarian attention to Cubans in Peñas Blancas and its intention to find a solution for the crisis – all are very illustrative evidence of the gravity and regional repercussions of the present migratory crisis.

But in all this mess, what stands out above the rest of the elements is the intransigence of Daniel Ortega’s Government: the hermetic posture assumed by Managua is very striking.

They have managed to stigmatize the Cubans on the Costa Rican border as being a mob of criminals, and they arrived at the ridiculous — in their desire to ingratiate themselves with their accomplice in Havana — by demanding that Costa Rica remove the Cubans from the border, because they consider them a danger to national security, even knowing that if they gave them passage the Cubans wouldn’t even stop for a drink of water, and not a single one of them would remain in Nicaragua after 24 hours.

The unconditional acquiescence shown by Daniel Ortega — disguised as ultranationalism in the presumed protection of territorial integrity — is so shameful and boot-licking, and is strictly aligned with his servility to Havana’s directives.

This chapter of the drama has shown America and the world that Cuba continues stuck in time as thousands of Cubans remain stuck in Costa Rica, living testimony to the despair of a people who now expect nothing of the dictators who misrule their country. All the ostensible reforms proclaimed by the regime of Raúl Castro are left unveiled as barren tinsel, and a shattering proof of that is the perpetual flight that never stops.

The very late and biased official pronouncement of the Cuban Government on the subject — blaming, of course, the Cuban Adjustment Act for the disaster — and the scandalous indifference shown by the Cuban embassy in San José in regard to the irregular situation of those thousands of their citizens on Costa Rican soil are highly illustrative evidence that the Cuban dictatorship continues holding exactly the same arrogance and contempt as always for the rights of my people. The despotic message released by the tyrants in Havana loudly and clearly suffices as a warning to those dreamers who still hope to harvest some fruit from the tree.

Translated by Regina Anavy

 

Censorship, the Vital Artery of the Cuban Regime / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 4 November 2015 — The recent termination of Juan Carlos Cremata as a theater director, the previous suspension of “The King is Dying,” his last work on the stage of the Theater Center, and the publication online some days ago of an inflamed letter from the prestigious critic, Enrique Colina, motivated by this fact, once more stoked the embers of the polemic on censorship in Havana. Affectionately remembered for 24 per Second, his excellent program — definitely a reformer of our cinematographic culture and to whom more than one Cuban owes his passion for the best of this art — Colina comes out this time in valiant defense of Cremata and, by extension, of all censured creators in post-revolutionary Cuba. Continue reading “Censorship, the Vital Artery of the Cuban Regime / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Whoever wants to follow a common thread along this long life/agony of the Castros’ “Revolution” doesn’t have to do more than wind his finger over the uninterrupted line of censorship, that indispensable tool of the Cuban Regime, together with physical repression, always used to keep itself in power against the will of the people. Such exercise would confirm a historical maxim: as a matter of essence, no dictatorship would ever abandon this aberration simply because it’s codified in its DNA, because it forms an unbreakable indissoluble part of its very nature.

The hierarchs on the Plaza of the Revolution are completely aware of this. They know very well that if the dictatorship stopped repressing and censuring, it would be signing its own death sentence, because freedom of thought and personal morality are incompatible with the grim, closed will of dictators.They are fruits exclusively cultivable in lands fertilized by democracy, and that word is excluded from the technical catalogue of Havana’s own dementors.*

Repression and censorship are as inherent to the Cuban dictatorship as nuclear fusion is to sunlight, as moisture is to water. In fact, this lethal combination constitutes the only way in which someone can stay in power for 56 years in spite of governing so scandalously badly, against the vital interests of the Cuban people, and having sunk his nation into the most serious economic and moral ruin in its history.

Before there were other reasons chosen by the inquisitors, and they didn’t always have a useful or political “justification” that was clear or immediate, but on no few occasions we suffered prohibitions that were simply trivial, like banning those great songs of four boys from Liverpool, or for frankly stupid reasons like prohibiting a religious cult when it wasn’t attacking the Regime’s political stability in any way.

But at this point there are still incidents like that with Cremata, definitively contradicting those who have wanted to limit this systematic governmental rebuke to the Five Grey Years of the ’70s – which some prefer to extend to black decades. Today you can again see behind the curtain the same hairy hand that for half a century ordered the creation of UMAP (forced labor camps) or the ostracism of Virgilio Piñera and José Lezama, or so many others.

No artistic expression exists that has escaped this evil in the Cuba of the Castros. Today the long defense continues and the same dark presence reports that, really, nothing has changed during this long staging, only that these are new times, and the same gerontocracy now prevents full access to the Internet and satellite television, the possibility of an independent press properly legalized and, furthermore, subjects all the official press to the most hermetic censorship. Every radio or television director still has on his desk, very visible, a long list of prohibited music and artists, and the editorials ban annoying authors, almost always giving priority to the most mediocre in the sewer of opportunism.

The hangmen are the same, but now Cuba isn’t; Cuba is definitely tired because it knows by heart, from being repeated so much, the old masquerades that only look for something new, “…retouching the makeup.” So virile gestures of solidarity like those of Colina and unconditional commitments like those of Cremata are always comforting.

Gestures like this are necessary to make it clear that behind that “…appeal made by the greatest urging of the Government to assume reality with a critical sense, with honesty and an ethical commitment” – the only point where it disagreed with Colina – there is nothing but hypocrisy and purely abject demagoguery.

But again the ghost of censorship levitates over the large estates of Birán, like an evil called to endure as long as the hangmen last, an evil not willing to cede, which always makes an effort to extend itself, fatally menacing our consciousness. Again the shadows enthrone their domain in the middle of the medieval village where sad songbirds, already buried by History, stubbornly refuse to die.

*Translator’s note: From Harry Potter, soul-sucking wraiths that live off peoples’ worst fears. 

Translated by Regina Anavy

 

Proposal with Regards to the Retirement of a Tyrant / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 12 November 2015 — Recently the octogenarian Raul Castro again spoke about his upcoming retirement in February of 2018. For someone who has never not heard the same last name leading the country during his entire life, this is unusual news, so this Cuban wants to put a humble proposal to his President, so that he can ruminate on it over time: I propose the General, when he retires, continue to be consistent with his career, and have the courage to fully incorporate himself into the society that he, along with his older brother, created — something that certainly no one has seen the tenant of “Point Zero” (i.e. Fidel Castro) do.

To accomplish this the General would have to renounce all the privileges kept during the last five-and-a-half decades of his life — earlier as Minister of the Armed Forces and then as President, but always as a life member of the Council of State and the Central Committee of the Communist Party — and incorporate himself into this flavorsome reality as one more retiree. Continue reading “Proposal with Regards to the Retirement of a Tyrant / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

He would receive no financial support from his powerful son-in-law General Luis Alberto, nor from his little daughter Mariela, the Lady Di of CENESEX. So, amid his helplessness, he would be left if he dared with the consequences of the austerity always demanded by the Castro brothers for millions of Cubans but never for themselves.

Asking him to return to a certain lost village in east of the country [i.e. Biran, where he was born] would seem excessively cruel, so we would start by moving his residence from wherever he is, to some humble Havana neighborhood — for example Cerro, Marianao or Central Havana — and issue him a ration book, to which, of course, he would have every right in the world.

We would then sign him up for a succulent retirement check, let’s say 1,000 Cuban pesos a month — some $40 US — which would be five times what the average retired Cuban receives — some $8 US a month — and so, in this way, no one could accuse us of bad intentions.

At this point we would dissolve our undeserved fraternity, and from this moment would leave the man who is today the President of the Republic, at the mercy of this picturesque social environment that, for decades, has surrounded more than 90% of retired Cubans.

After several months of picking up his ration quota — six pounds of rice, a quarter pound of beans, some eggs, “chicken for fish”* and half a pound of oil a month — the ex-president’s palate would, gradually, forget the taste of beef filets, lobster, good caviar and those expensive wines that he acquired a taste for from his older brothers.

Given the high devaluation of the currency, his checkbook — due precisely to the erratic policies maintained by both dictators — would be empty after the first ten days each month and our retiree wouldn’t have a cent and would start to feel the full rigor of all the scarcities the rest of the retirees suffer just two or three days after they collect their money.

The ex-president would no longer have a cupboard filled with select supplies and would quickly become accustomed to seeing the monotonous landscape of nothing but frost in the empty freezer, and then he would confront, without resources, the merciless prices of the food markets and the brand new “TRDs” (literally: Hard Currency Collection Stores) which, thanks to the initiatives of the previous government — meaning: his — continue to exfoliate the wallets of the Cuban people.

He would no longer live amid comfortable air-conditioning, because it would consume more than half of his income, but instead he would hold onto some old repaired fan, and he would pray every day to the Virgin that it would not malfunction, and as for buying a second-hand car at one of the State agencies with prices fixed by the previous government — he would understand that it would take seventy years of his retirement income — assuming he didn’t eat, dress himself, buy shoes nor pay the electric bill. He would no longer have cars with full tanks of gas waiting at his door every day, and would be forced to travel using one of the worst systems of public transport in the world — one of the hot potatoes inherited by the following government.

Of course, after several months of poor nutrition, health problems would soon appear, but then the ex-president could no longer access the exclusive hospital known as CIMEQ, nor “La Pradera,” nor the Cira Garcia International Clinic — available almost exclusively to the upper crust and foreigners. But, with lots of luck, he would be admitted to some stinking room in a crumbling hospital, where there would be no shower nor working toilet, where he would have to bring his own sheets, and where there would be a scarcity of medicines and supplies to heal him. There he would be attended by doctors frustrated after decades of poverty-level wages and lack of personal expectations, but despite everything, these professionals would try to attend to his needs as well as the hostile environment would allow them to.

By then the retired General would have seen his desire to take a coveted tourist trip to Mexico go up in smoke for good. He would not be able to travel to that Aztec land nor any other, nor could he even reserve a room in the lowest category Cuban hotel at the risk of dying of hunger, because the previous government — that is, his — established that it would cost an entire monthly retirement check to stay just one night.

It goes without saying that by now our illustrious retiree would have been convinced that there is no sweet tamarind** nor dictatorship with any shame, but if he keeps quiet not out of common decency it will be so as not to expose himself to some of those shameful acts of repudiation that he still orders today, a risk that cannot be discarded now that his friend Furry is not long the Minister of the Interior.

However, at this moment if, out of mercy, one would give Raul Castro one piece of advice, it might be: Never sit in the warm sun at the end of the day at any peaceful Havana park along with other retirees because if the dictator showed up there — much to his disadvantage this title is usually lifelong — he would likely receive his own repudiation rally. He would know first hand, and not through cold police reports or insensitive functionaries, how much resentment and pain is harbored in these old hearts.

He would hear about the irremediable uprooting of their grandchildren, the youth now fleeing the tyranny in migratory waves across the Straits of Florida or through the Central American jungles, and he would hear, with absolute certainty, more than one story of dead rafters.

Only then, under the silence of those trees, would he perceive the tyranny in all its dimensions and how much hate is held by this betrayed generation that lost its dreams and its lives in the shadow of so much infamy.

Translator’s notes:
A common expression in Cuba which indicates ration card holders “may” substitute chicken for their allotment of fish. As fish is virtually never available to ordinary people, the “may” makes it something of a joke.
**Jeovany is remaking an expression loosely related to the English expression: “The best X is a dead X.” Among the frequent examples found on-line is: “There is no good Communist, nor any sweet tamarind.” Other examples are commonly racist, homophobic, or other forms of hate speech.

Monetary Unification in Cuba, an Unresolved Issue / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“National Money” (Cuban pesos) in one hand, “hard currency” (Cuban convertible pesos) in the other.

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 October 2015 — Without a doubt the most complex challenge Raúl Castro’s regime has in the short-term is monetary unification. The use in the country of two national currencies for the last two and a half decades has ended up generating an inestimable distortion in the internal finance system, which by itself would be enough to illustrate the chaos reigning in the economy, of which this is a sharp reflection.

The recent declaration of U.S. Senator Rodney Davis on the imminence of change awakened expectations on the subject, which has been strikingly absent in the speeches of the General/President and in the official Cuban press, in spite of the fact that its persistence converted it some time ago into something unique. If several contemporaneous countries once permitted the indistinct circulation of a foreign currency together with their own, I don’t remember one that used two national currencies together, like Cuba has done since the ’90s: to wit, the Cuban peso, the CUP — so withered, humble, poor — and the CUC, the all-powerful Cuban “convertible” peso*. Continue reading “Monetary Unification in Cuba, an Unresolved Issue / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

For more than two decades, 90 percent of Cubans have received their monthly “salary” in CUP, and when they shop in the “dollar” stores, they have to pay in CUC, at a rate of 25CUP/1CUC. This is the biggest scam suffered by our people since the arrival of Columbus. In the previous period, before the arrival of the CUC at the beginning of the ’90s, there had already been quaint situations, since during the better part of that phase Fidel Castro made the simple holding of foreign currency – above all the American dollar — into an authentic body of crimes reflected by all the letters in the penal code, and hundreds of Cubans suffered in prison.

But it’s worth little to dig up the past; today we need to turn over a new leaf and write a new chapter. Like neophytes, we don’t really hear the intimate ins and outs of the economy, habitually plagued by obscure nuances that we can’t guess. But it’s worth it anyway to ask concrete questions about the unification of Cuban currencies. One indispensable step would be to demand, starting now, every opportunity sighted on our horizon.

Today every proposal stipulates, as a prior condition, the coherence of its financial system, since nothing else would earn the essential credibility that international organizations and investors need. So, since everyone is aware of this, why delay one more day with the inevitable change? But this is where you would have to stop to avoid this necessary step from ending badly and generating disastrous social consequences in the short-term.

But all this supposes that the Cuban Government — the one definitively responsible for having generated and maintained such an unusual policy — assumes responsibility for the complete process in a way that mitigates potential harm; and that it will happen in the least abrupt way possible, without generating or minimizing possibly traumatic consequences for the already-poor Cuban people.

I’m speaking concretely. I wonder if, instead of having an abrupt change of currency right now, it wouldn’t perhaps be possible to gradually reevaluate the weaker money, through a programmed process and with public knowledge — let’s say lowering the exchange rate of the CUC in the CADECA (the official exchange bureau) at a rhythm of 1 to 2 CUP monthly — so that at the moment of exchange the rate would be less pronounced than now, let’s say 10 to 1, for example.

Another element to take into account is the time it would take for the population to complete the change, meanwhile guaranteeing the possibility of exchanging all the cash circulating without the Government interposing senseless obstacles. Those in the old guard remember the untimely way in which this process was carried out at the beginning of the ’60s, and all the absurd limitations imposed at that time, which caused a considerable part of the money in circulation to simply became void.

Right now there can’t be any justification for the Cuban Government to appear arbitrary. In its place, a period of some months should be available to complete the change, during which both currencies would continue to circulate at the fixed rate until the one destined to disappear remains only a numismatic memory. After all, as any grandfather will tell you, he who hopes for much can wait a little, and something that has harmed us for so many years can’t be reversed in a few days.

On this point I’m beginning from the supposition that the currency that will disappear will be the CUC. The untimely presence of this spawn, “convertible,” paradoxically, only inside Cuba, together with the Cuban peso, would be something senseless and counter-productive in a Cuba that is open to the world. No sane person would consider retiring the CUP from circulation in place of the CUC. To do this suddenly, after fomenting rumors during the last two years about the presumed permanence of the CUP, which is still being exchanged for CUC in the street, would be a miserably low blow.

Of course, for everything to succeed, or to put it another way, to be something that doesn’t imply huge domestic trauma, the political goodwill of the elite Cuban Government would be necessary: something that up to now hasn’t exactly been celebrated. If it is economically coherent, it should free up productive and commercial openings, which would foster an immediate circulation of goods and services generated by wealth, all of which would be possible in the short-term — an effort which, although at the beginning wouldn’t be achieved on a large-scale or with all the urgency that circumstances demand, would be oriented, without doubt, in the right direction, and would then be a comforting first step in support of the stability of a future single currency.

Then in the short and mid-term, the positive result could be felt, but only if the Government accedes to immediately freeing up the management of the private sector of society and stops putting unreasonable obstacles in the way of every private initiative. This would be, in my humble and novice opinion, a variant to take into account. Studying to see if this would be something practical and attainable now is a job for the experts; it is only one more proposition.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban “convertible” peso is not actually “convertible” anywhere but inside Cuba. The exchange rate on the US dollar is nominally 1:1, but a 10% “surcharge” is applied, distorting the exchange rate. Exchanges with other foreign currencies — for example the Canadian dollar or the euro — are not taxed.

Translated by Regina Anavy

 

Poverty, the Cuban Dictatorship’s Recourse / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Revolution is Going Well… Ever Onward! Fidel

Jeovany Jimenz Vega, 12 October 2015 — Doctor A, with 20 years of uninterrupted work to his credit, owes nothing to the little he receives in salary. Besides not being enough to feed his family, it has not allowed him to procure a proper roof and so he still lives in his shabby doctor’s office. After many disappointments, A is now tired of waiting for an improvement that will never come and chose to add his name to his polyclinic’s list of Collaborators: to go work abroad on some official “Medical Mission,” the only alternative he can see to better his life in the near term.

Engineer B works in the Mariel Free Zone and almost never seeks the light of day with his children due to the rigor of his work schedule. He knows that in the Development Zone foreign engineers and technicians receive several thousand dollars a month for the exact same work he does, but at the end of the month he receives some one hundred dollars, more or less; his share of the hard cash that goes directly from the foreign firm to the government coffers in exchange for his labor, without ever passing through his hands, and thus he is exploited by the government. Continue reading “Poverty, the Cuban Dictatorship’s Recourse / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Teacher C is overwhelmed with work plans and rare is the day that doesn’t end with her at home planning her next class. During her thirty year career she has trained two generations; the father who today trusts his son to her was, in turn, taught to read by her. Nor can C live on the salary paid by the government and soon she will receive a pension that will condemn her to penury. But C can’t do anything about that, sowing light in new minds, and despite everything leaving home every morning to practice the profession she loves.

Cigar maker D is a master of rolling Habaneros. For decades he has taken the best leaf in the world and made cigars smoked by millionaire celebrities. Every day D stocks a showcase where this tobacco is sold at $250 Cuban Convertible Pesos (almost $280 US) a box, and like a good veteran, every Feria del Habano awakens a confused mixture of pride and frustration in him that he is unable to define. But D does not receive a fair wage for rolling what represents $2,000 US a day — instead, like the majority of Cubans, he receives a pittance compared to the wealth he generates.

Millions of frustrations accumulated over five decades of the Castro’s misgovernment in Cuba would make this summary interminable. A revolution that triumphed supposedly to destroy the exploitation of man by man has over time degenerated into a scheme of domination that ended up sowing poverty evenly over our country.

When the causes of such an accumulation of so much inequity and misery are analyzed–regardless of the path followed to reach a synthesis–the unavoidable conclusion upon identifying the source of all power today in this tyrannized Cuba, is a single, simple one: the poverty of my people has been the supreme economic and strategic resource of the Cuban dictatorship.

In essence, it is not nickel, nor tobacco, nor tourism, nor the systematic frauds committed by the ETECSA monopoly, neither is it the “emergent” petrochemical industry (which lost its momentum when Caracas succumbed); it is not even the billions generated annually by the more than 60 official Cuban medical missions around the world, which have allowed the rule of the Castro regime to last for more than a half century despite governing in such a disastrous manner from any point of view. If one wants  to get down to the heart of the matter, if one wants to find the common backstory behind all the ills, we will always find poverty as the sine qua non condition that perpetuates the disaster.

Only a physician sunk in poverty that threatens his family’s stability, his health and even his life, would choose to go work in the opposite end of the earth, even with the knowledge that they will steal 80% of what he is supposed to be paid. Only under pressure by the most dire proverty does that engineer, that tobacco farmer or that teacher find himself forced to go out every day and plunder life. Only by being dragged down by the most absurd shortages has it been possible for my people to remain submerged in this protracted torpor, with their thinking reduced to what is on their plates and far from the hazy “utopianisms” of civic philosophy.

Anyone seeking to understand how a once proud and prosperous people, who knew how to rid themselves of more than one tyrant, ended up in this shameful state, should firstly disabuse himself of any simplistic view, such as the one that holds that if we allowed so many outrages, it is simply because we are a pack of cowards. But anyone who has had a close encounter of the fourth kind with a Cuban who is all fired up will have perceived that this explanation is not congruent with a temperament that tends towards the explosive. The true answer will, of course, be much more complex.

The causes that keep this game of dominoes closed have to be found in the devious despotism riding on the train of a Revolution that triumphed with the unconditional support of 90% of its people. Anyone who ignores this pair of dichotomies–the initial massive support for that movement, along with the demogogic, cunning character of the top brass–will go off in the wrong direction if he tries to understand the evolution of post-1959 Cuban society, because it was that very initial turmoil that allowed the despots to modify the social framework according to their preferences before the eyes of a people who were all too credulous. The rest was determined by the rebels in the Escambray mountains, hanging teachers with barbed wire, among other bloody events, which conferred clear-cut justification on the politico-military elite to reshape the dog’s nest while letting him sleep.

The rest is known history and today, even when more amicable winds are starting to blow from the North, and weary now of the arguments pulled from the top hat of the Central Committee–that same elite that once dictated and sustained a scorched-earth economic policy with regard to any hint of private or family business–and which continues betting on keeping us in poverty as the only way of ensuring its continued power.

Thus it was for more than 50 years, and thus it has been since last December 17. Now almost a year since that historic announcement, and with both embassies fully functioning, the Cuban regime yet maintains itself as static as the walls of La Cabaña prison, restricting in just the same manner all possibility of incentives for the Cuban people, and continues displaying the same terror as always toward any alternative that supposes prosperity for my people–for it knows this to be incompatible with its monopoly of power.

Today every passing minute shows evermore that the true culprits of our misery and insolvency have always been at Revolution Square; never was there need to search for them even one meter to the North. They have always been the same, but today they remain convinced that the only way to keep a people subdued is to keep them in poverty and privation.

Poverty seen as a deliberate cause of evil, and not as its consequence–the poverty of my people adopted as a deliberate strategy of long-term domination: this is the fundamental and revelatory concept that once and for all puts everything in perspective.

I want you POOR, Fanatic, Worshipful and Thanking me for it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

 

Shortages in Cuba: A Deliberate Strategy? / Jeovany Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 19 October 2015 — In Cuba the shortage of goods, including basic staples, has been a continuous phenomenon in all retail chains for decades, so repetitive that it seems  incorporated into the very genome of the regime, and has become one of the hallmarks of the laziness, inefficiency, and mediocrity of the economic and military dictatorship of the Castros.

Many alternative websites inside and outside of the island have warned about the phenomenon so constantly that, given its magnitude, even the official press has had no option but to recognize the severity of the problem on more than one occasion. It is not news to anyone that the official voices blame this disaster on the American embargo—which they have inexorably called a “blockade” even though right in front of their noses are windows adorned with goods coming from all four points of the compass. Continue reading “Shortages in Cuba: A Deliberate Strategy? / Jeovany Vega”

Thousands of times we have been victims of the onerous consequences of living under an autocracy that exercises its monopoly over the entire national network of commerce. This unnatural and comfortable position has allowed inept and lazy despots to flaunt their irresponsibility by gambling with the most pressing needs of my people, and we have witnessed over and over how they raise prices without explanation, or how many times they leave a particular product on the shelves for years because due to its poor quality the only way to get rid of it is to force its sale.

But what is happening today in Cuba seems to be different and I suspect that this time something more is being arranged behind the scenes. During the past year we have witnessed a worsening of this phenomenon to an unexplainable extent, and we have seen a greater shortage than usual, perhaps the most acute and long-lasting since 1994. All Cubans have observed this in their own place of residence, and have also learned that the situation is the same, if not worse, in other locations.

Especially in recent months the shortages have been so apparent and widespread, have gained such intensity throughout the entire country, and have been so prolonged that it makes one suspect that this is not just another cyclical crisis of scarcities in supply—recognized even by the deaf-mute State newspaper Granma—but this time we could be facing a crude tactical maneuver to achieve a specific short-term goal. This is something happening against the tide, during times in which there should be relative improvement, given the winds that have blown since last December 17 (the day the United States and Cuba announced the resumption of relations). But from the thinking and actions of the olive-green clique, they seem not to perceive it like that, and everything indicates that they have preferred to reset the sails according to their unhealthy inclination of maintaining control at all costs.

A very simple fact demonstrates the profound contradiction: in accordance with the license granted by Congress, Cuba imported $710 million in food directly from the United States in 2008, but in 2013, in contrast, it imported only $348 million, and in the first half of 2015 it decreased even more, buying only $119 million. So they consolidated this decline at the same time as they were advancing the secret negotiations with the US government during 2014, and then, paradoxically, intensified it after the proposed bilateral thaw was made public.

So the questions arise: Could it be that our military autocracy is convinced of the imminent fall of its strategic ally in Caracas at the next elections and is preparing us now in order to minimize the inevitable impact that the suspension of the Venezuelan subsidy will cause? Or maybe the assertion of US Congressman Rodney Davis is coming true, about the impending monetary unification in less than a month, and the Cuban government finds it necessary, for some mysterious reason, to have a record of minimal wares then available for sale?

Or maybe it’s all merely a tactic designed to maximize the psychological perception of improvement when the clique unveils its next opening, while freeing for sale all the merchandise that today is deliberately hidden, in order to “prove” that this systemic shortage always was, indeed, the fault of the “Yankee criminal blockade” and no one else?

Maybe they don’t want to give us any breathing room in case the elections of 2016 do not produce a Democrat successor to guarantee the continuity of the process initiated by Obama. Or they’re just afraid to risk that we would demand some changes in the rules of the game too quickly for Raul Castro’s taste (he is addicted to “changes” without haste and with many delays), or that we would too quickly sniff the aroma of the proposals from the North that ultimately they are not willing to allow.

Maybe it’s one or all of these reasons. But aside from all the speculation one thing is without doubt: the Cuban dictatorship’s short- and medium-term plans include none that even remotely contemplate any real improvement in our standard of living, much less any effective opening to commerce that would in any way empower the Cuban people; and to accomplish them, there is nothing like promoting this perpetual shortage, which after all has demonstrated its undeniable effectiveness in dividing the attention of the masses and preventing them from focusing on uncomfortable issues. No one doubts that the evil intentions on Havana’s Mt. Olympus are more than sufficient to devise such a mean-spirited strategy .

Translated by Tomás A.

 

Bergoglio’s Havana Tango / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 27 September 2015 — The recently concluded visit of Pope Francis left Cuba awash in a wave of controversy. To the amazement of some and the disappointment of others, a pope known for being direct, almost penetrating, in his incendiary statements to the centers of world power, and who has shown courage in opening a Pandora’s box inside his own institution, to the delight of many enjoying the show, was nevertheless too cautious in facing the Cuban dictators.

From someone who has taken steps considered truly reckless in contrast to the millennial conservatism of his Church, who arrived in Havana preceded by his reputation as a radical reformer, and whose statements on behalf of the dispossessed have even earned him the absurd accusation of being communist, many expected a bolder more direct speech against those responsible for the well-known disregard of human rights on the island.

But such disappointment may have originated from an incorrect assessment of the exact coordinates of his passage through Havana, the uncharted context in which his visit occurs: it happens that the country visited today by the Argentine Pope is not the same one visited by Wojtyla in 1998; nor even the same one visited by Ratzinger in 2012. Continue reading “Bergoglio’s Havana Tango / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Just because the dictatorship is exactly the same doesn’t mean that Cuba is. The political audacity of Obama in diametrically reversing a policy perpetuated by his nine predecessors in the White House is not the focus of this discussion, but the consequences of this shift are undoubtedly far-reaching.

This has obviously affected the political scene inside and outside of Cuba because in the short term it has conditioned a different attitude toward the island and has raised more expectations in the entrepreneurial sector of the informal Cuban economy.

Because a country is the sum of the needs and aspirations of the people who inhabit it, something well-known to Bergoglio, an expert on human nature, he must have opted for prudence out of the conviction that it was the appropriate thing right now.

Let’s put everything in context. Bergoglio is a Pope who has publicly agreed to mediate one of the longest and most bitter conflicts in modern history, and therefore follows the golden rule of all mediators: do not embarrass any party taking a neutral position. He knows that the world is watching his every gesture.

He also knows the penchant of the Cuban side to concoct absurd pretexts, and he knows that any confrontational statement could cool the climate of the current negotiations. At this time the pope is a political actor and conducts himself as such.

In Cuba we saw a Bergoglio focused on his purpose of bringing the two parties closer to try to resolve a longtime dispute. We are in the presence a man in the prime of his personal maturity and at the summit of his life’s work, conscientiously serving in a delicate negotiation.

Like any good politician, who never sacrifices the final objective for intermediate skirmishes, he simply puts his mission ahead of any personal opinion he may have on the matter and keeps his attention fixed on achieving the goal.

Nevertheless, his personal visit to Fidel Castro was disconcerting—he was not required by protocol to visit someone who at this point does not occupy any official positions. If instead he had not visited Fidel’s home, he would have sent a clear political message about his desire to break with a past that Cuba urgently needs to leave behind. But for either practical or purely personal reasons he chose to give a media selfie to the dictatorship.

Seeing him with the man who has most damaged the Cuban nation has been deeply disturbing, but time will unveil the true intention of his encounter and only then will we know how ethically justified his decision was.

Controversies have also arisen about his later statements denying knowledge of the arrests of hundreds of Cuban dissidents during his stay on the island. But not meeting with any dissidents fit pragmatically with his objective when seen from the viewpoint of a mediator: this would have unduly strained the climate of the visit, in the view of the Cuban government—and is something, by the way, that was not required given the essentially pastoral character of his tour. Viewing everything in this light, it was simply a diplomatic matter of refraining from making inflammatory statements.

But all this made more evident still the dilemma of the Cuban Catholic Church; caught between the brittle pride of a suspicious dictatorship and hurting those who are supposed to be its people has presented a profound ethical dilemma.

We are facing a new scenario in which age-old questions are repeated: what is the role of the Catholic Church, located between a suffering people and the despotism of their oppressors? Where is her exact place in this puzzle of contradictions? To what extent should the successor of Peter be politically involved? Or maybe the question is much simpler still—Which side would Jesus be on at this crossroads of our history?

At this time Francis, who delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly in keeping with his style, has opted not to take a risk regarding Cuba, has decided to dance to the rhythm of his own tango, and from the stairway seemed to sing “goodbye children!” as one who knows all the answers beforehand.

Conditioned Salary for Doctors / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 14 September 2015 — Speaking of rumors — it’s been going around for months, but nothing official has yet been said about it — there is a rumor that the Ministry of Public Health will increase the monthly salary of doctors in Cuba  to 5,000 Cuban pesos (equivalent to a little more than $200 US). This would be very good news, but on the island things are seldom what they seem, and according to what is rumored it could also be a rotten deal: to receive this salary the worker will have a sign a contract — which apparently will not be elective — in which he or she commits to not traveling outside of Cuba during the following five years, or perhaps ten years according to other versions. And it is also said that in the eastern provinces this document has already been presented to the workers.

If this is true, it would be sheer nonsense to subordinate this salary to something that has no relation to our healthcare performance. Continue reading “Conditioned Salary for Doctors / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Like in every contract, the one allegedly being proposed would clearly establish working days and hours, it would fix the rules of discipline and standards in relation to employer/employee and also recognize the rights to our twice-yearly two-week paid vacations, but at this point the powers of the administration would stop. What we decide to do with our free time is outside the administrative jurisdiction of the center and its ministry, it is something completely personal is not for anyone else to make these choices. Then, if it is clear that this is an unrelated matter, it would be absurd to make such a requirement.

Of the recent measures announced by the newspaper Granma, theoretically we can infer that the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) has become aware, although very late, of the severity of the health care situation in the country, but conditioning a salary as deserved as it is long postponed on something so personal and alien to our work as what we do in our free time, would be a misplaced imprudence.

Such an attitude from our ministry would show that at bottom, nothing has changed. This posture greatly tarnishes the intended spirit of reconciliation of the new proposed policy, and belies the alleged “good intentions” of the Cuban authorities towards those healthcare professionals who choise to remain in Cuba or who want to return after working for a short time abroad. Behind such conditionality one can see the gleam in the eye of the tiger, the always authoritarian gesture, the same despotism, in another disguise and other trappings, but in the end the very same despotism as always.

Could it be that so much time of impositions blinded that forever, that pride will end up annulling judgment? Can they no longer do anything truly clean? Will they ultimately be incapable of sincere propositions and everything will be left, one more time, in an opportunistic simulation, in a perpetual dissimulation.

Of course, signing or not signing such a contract would be a matter that each one has the full right to accept or not according to their personal decision, but these professionals should know that once they sign it, this document would place them in an unjust position of subordination and would be a legal yoke in the hands of the administration, which will undoubtedly use it without hesitation when the time comes to justify future arbitrariness.

Personally, I never would sign it. It is not a question of wanting or not wanting to travel outside Cuba tomorrow, it is that here there is a principal much more elemental: that is the right to choose to do so or not always belongs only to me. So it is a simple matter.

 

“There Will Not Be A Wave Of Physicians Returning To Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Jeovany Jimenez Vega

 Dr. Jeovany Jimenez in 2012, presenting a protest outside the ministry and Public Health in Havana.(Reinaldo Escobar)
Dr. Jeovany Jimenez in 2012, presenting a protest outside the ministry and Public Health in Havana.(Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Mexico, 7 September 2015 — Late last year, Dr. Jeovany Jimenez Vega decided to go to work in Ecuador on a private contract. From Guayaquil, where he works with his wife, he has read in the official Cuban press the new relaxations that allow healthcare workers who have emigrated to return to the Public Health System in Cuba.*

The doctor, author of the blog Citizen Zero, was separated from his profession in 2006 in retaliation for a protest over low wages in the health care sector. He subsequently staged a hunger strike as a result of which he managed to be restored to his previous job at the hospital in Guanajay. This time, he responded by email to several questions for readers of 14ymedio on the new measures, and the expectations and doubts they generate.

Reinaldo Escobar. To what do you attribute the new, more relaxed policy towards Cuban doctors working overseas?

Dr. Jeovany Jimenez. It’s obvious that this is a reaction to the massive exodus of professionals from the health care sector. The Cuban authorities have had plenty of time, decades in fact, to do everything that they are promising today. But it is only now, when faced with a stampede, that they are implementing a much fairer policy. Our work abroad generates 8 to 10 billion dollars annually, so we deserve a better deal. Continue reading ““There Will Not Be A Wave Of Physicians Returning To Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

Up until now health care workers been subject to poor pay, despotic treatment and capitalist exploitation of their labor, in the strictest sense of the term. When they go overseas on an official medical mission, they get only 20% of the amount agreed to by the two countries. Not one word has been said about this, though it goes right to the heart of the desertion issue.

Escobar. Do you think that many of these doctors living abroad are planning to return to the Island?

Jimenez. There is not much demand to return from doctors who deserted their medical missions or went to work as individual contractors. They made a firm decision after careful consideration. What is quite clear to millions of Cubans is the deep, systemic and unfortunate deterioration of health care at all levels throughout the country. We have witnessed decades of progressive structural deterioration of doctors’ offices, medical clinics, dental clinics and hospitals. Meanwhile, the Cuban government continues to divert funds to polish its machinery of repression, while the neo-bourgeoisie spends big on luxury hotels and excursions to Turkey.*

Escobar. So you do not see it as a new beginning?

Jimenez. I very much doubt that we are looking at real change from the regime. We are dealing with a government in which everything else continues to operate exactly the same way, one whose internal dynamic is that of a true dictatorship, one that shamelessly and systematically represses opposing ideas and basic human rights. There has not been the slightest indication that would suggest these measures might be the beginning of a new way of thinking which could lead to real change.

We are simply looking at a pragmatic adjustment to deal with new circumstances.

Escobar. What has been the reaction among the doctors you know?

Jimenez. It varies from happiness to disdain to skepticism.

Escobar. Is it possible to reverse the exodus of health care professionals with this new policy?

Jimenez. Every Cuban doctor who makes the decision to work overseas does so as a result of negative personal experiences and because he is looking for different, more promising opportunities. In most cases he leaves because of very trying working conditions: a ridiculously low monthly salary that is gone within a week, disrepect, routine arrogance and even despotism from ministry officials and the government. This professional has experienced a high degree of frustration at having devoted the better part of his life to his occupation without being justly compensated.

This doctor feels defrauded if not betrayed. As a result, his frustration and mistreatment play into the decision on whether or not to return to Cuba.

Escobar. Will there be a wave of doctors returning to Cuban hospitals?

Jimenez. It’s very doubtful there will be a massive return but it is not beyond the realm of possibilty that some people will decide to return after working for a time overseas, especially if the authorities stand by their word for once and put into practice what they have promised. But we all know there is a big gap between what the Cuban government says and what it does.

II very much doubt there will be a wave of returnees, much less that it will happen immediately. There is too much mistrust from decades of broken promises. At the  moment, there are not many people who, having made the most significant decision of their lives, will come back just like that because of an article in the newspaper Granma.

Escobar. Do you think this measure could create an opening for more doctors to leave Cuba once the sanctions for doing so have been eliminated?

Jimenez. The era of fear of reprisal is becoming a thing of the past. At this point it might seem to some people like the shot at the beginning of a race, but there are still many professionals who never left the country because they found other sources of funding. There are those who have chosen to work outside Cuba, or who have received loans from family and friends, or who have saved money from a medical mission abroad.

Escobar. Besides the cost of a ticket, what other obstacles are there to leaving?

Jimenez. In recent months there has been a practice, no doubt deliberate, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries of delaying the issuance of all legal documents.  The obvious goal has been to hinder, as much as possible, physicians and professionals from other fields from leaving the country. This policy can only be interpreted as a deterrent to discourage future escapes.

Escobar. The announcement that appeared in Granma mentioned that those who left after the new Immigration Act took effect in January 2013 may return, but it said nothing about those who left before. What about that?

Jimenez. If that were the case, it would be the perpetuation of a great injustice. Preventing any Cuban citizen from freely returning to his own country is a very serious violation of human rights, one that has been practiced by the Cuban government for half a century. For anyone who still has doubts that this is a vile dictatorship, consider this: a group of officials prevented a doctor from seeing his children for eight years! And for something as mundane as a disagreement over his employment contract. That is all it takes to be accused of “deserting” a mission.

A decision like that, even if it were at odds with the central objective of the new policy, would be made for no other reason than to discourage doctors from leaving and encouraging the return of the greatest possible number of those who have left.

Translator’s notes:

*In a recent statement the Cuban Ministry of Public Health indicated that health care workers who had left the country would be allowed to return to to Cuba to work under “conditions similar to those they previously had,” whether they had left for economic, family or professional reasons. The measure is intended to help stem the tide of medical professionals leaving the country.

**A reference to recent photographs published in the international press showing Fidel Castro’s son Antonoio Castro Soto Del Valle enjoying a luxury vacation in Turkey.

Palliative Treatments / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 2 September 2015 — Several weeks ago it was rumored that the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba (MINSAP) has prepared a series of measures for the benefit of its professionals. Viewed as a whole, these proposals could be seen as a countermand to that other policy from several months ago of widespread reprisals, within the island and throughout the network, which amounted to a stupid and unrealistic frontal assault against those who decided to leave the country for individual contracts that were not part of any official medical mission.

Certainly the previous “circular” from the minister bet heavily on the hardline to discourage individual medical recruitment abroad by all possible means: he began ordering the disqualification of all those working in the sector who left without authorization from MINSAP to work abroad on their own; he shamelessly applied pressure on other governments, including through diplomatic channels, to prevent individual contracting; he even ordered punishment of those who decide to return to work in Cuba after working abroad, including the immediate withdrawal of their passport at Customs (as an official collaborator) upon returning to Cuba, among other crimes previously analyzed in my blog Citizen Zero. Continue reading “Palliative Treatments / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”

But this time other rumors—again nothing published officially—brought a more conciliatory breeze from the island. Apparently someone more clear-thinking and realistic, or simply more pragmatic, had to point out that the previous measures would have little practical value, high political cost, and would ultimately only succeed in discouraging the potential return of professionals who had never decided to live permanently away from Cuba.

As for being disqualifed from practicing on the island: how could being deprived of a salary of $60.00 a month matter to someone who returns to Cuba with tens of thousands of dollars? Prohibiting this professional from practicing in Cuba would be ludicrous, particularly at a time when the Cuban government is advertising openings because, after all, in practical terms, where will they spend their money when they get back but in Cuba? Who would be most affected in this fight: the reluctant Ministry quite pressed for professionals, or the worker who could wait for years with all the patience in the world, without any urgency, for the Minister’s replacement?

Almost every time the olive-green dictators have chosen one of the many measures directed against the welfare and prosperity of my people they have done so through a recognizable modus operandi: they ordered their army of neighborhood informers to put out trial balloons and then return to their masters with the views they heard about how the future crime would be perceived by public opinion, to thereby forecast the reaction that would follow once the edict in question was implemented.

So far, despite the undoubtedly positive way the presumed measures were “announced”—aside from the fact that they are part of a containment strategy in the face of a mass exodus of professionals due to the failure to meet their expectations—it seems that these measures were untimely taken; or better said in good Cuban … “that train has left the station.”

Now it will be much harder to dissuade a professional who in the first month of work abroad has received remuneration significantly greater than that received in ten whole years of work in Cuba. Hopefully there will be some good news, but due to the long-proven track record of the Cuban government in spreading rumors—it has now become one of their favorite hobbies—I once again frankly doubt it.

Translated by Tomás A.