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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Demagoguery: A Cardinal Sign of the Cuban “Revolution” / Jeovany Vega

I want you POOR, fanatic, worshipful and grateful

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 20 August 2015 — A few weeks ago we were amusing ourselves with news reports about the vacation tour of Prince Tony Castro. Apparently, tired of playing golf in a country where 99.99% of the natives have never set foot on a golf course, the only Cuban participant in the latest Ernest Hemingway Fishing Tournament (and, coincidentally, its only winner) decided to hop over to the opulent hotels of Turkey. None of this would be especially notable if Tony were the heir to the throne of the Sultan of Brunei; but he is no more and no less the son of the most vertically anti-capitalist personage of the second half of the 20th century: the feudal lord Fidel Castro. continue reading

By now, however, nothing should surprise us, because demagoguery was always the most cardinal sign of Fidelism from its first moments of existence. This same dictator took it upon himself to practice it whenever he could, raising it to the level of an Olympic sport. Fidel’s ambivalent posture in those first days of the Revolution, making assurances that he was not a communist–only to later shed his skin when circumstances were propitious–is established historical fact. But besides this facet inherent to his high politics, in the personal sphere, also, Fidel always maintained a double life, until time and the public confessions of various high-ranking officials, disenchanted with the Bearded One’s lechery, revealed the truth.

Thus we learned that this gentleman always had multiple lovers. Then I remembered how an uncle of mine, a principled militant communist, and honest (whom I remember on more than one occasion asking my mother for some change so that he could buy cigarettes at the Artemisa Coppelia that he himself managed) was expelled from the Party for the unpardonable sin of having a lover.

A little more recently, following the death of Antonio Gades, we would find out that the Iberian artist was the baptismal godfather of the children of Raúl Castro himself. Then we would recall then how for decades, Party membership was denied to thousands of sympathizers of the regime precisely because of their religious beliefs–and even much worse, how thousands of workers were harassed, and how the future of tens of thousands of young people was truncated as they were expelled from their university studies for not having denied their faith.

Now we know that the feudal lord was a consummate connoisseur of wines and expensive cheeses, and we also learn about all those mini-palaces, yachts, foreign vacations, children sent to European boarding schools, and private hunting preserves for the exclusive use of the olive-green oligarchs–or rather, about a long saga of bourgeois privileges that for decades the big shots enjoyed on the backs of my people.

We should in no way be surprised now that the dandy Tony Castro should treat himself to a little getaway, renting a “humble” yacht worthy of Bill Gates, and pay thousands of dollars in luxury hotel stays for hismelf and his entourage. After all, the boy is only doing what he saw his elders do.

Someone could argue that it is legitimate for any president or son of a president to take these “small” liberties, but this is not the case, at least not in the Cuban case. Fidel Castro spent too many hours giving speeches for 50 years, requesting austerity from the Cuban people, beating his breast and shouting to the four winds that not only were they honorable and good, but also that they were absolutely the best and the most honorable of the universe; Cubans always marked an irreproachable dividing line between that paradigmatic paradise of immaculate honesty bordering holiness, and the “perfidious capitalist rot” that now does not seem to much scare the Antillean Dandy.

Of course, there are also the getaways to Cancún by the leaders during those decades in which foreign travel was prohibited, the secret Swiss bank accounts, the reserves of other generals (also replete with millions which were never revealed), the nauseating corruption that yields millions for the godless bureaucrats in Customs, the mile-long list bribes given to high-level functionaries of the Foreign Trade ministry in exchange for miserable contracts and purchases; among other Kodak moments for the memories of the dictatorship, such as Cause #1 against General Ochoa, which yet stinks of cocaine in the Cuban memory.

Not to be omitted are the businesses and properties owned by other heirs to the Castro/Communist thrones in other countries, where they kiss the asses of the creme of world capitalism, among other familiar “trivialities” that are (always) charged to Liborio’s* tab; all of which would help us calculate, but only intuitively, 7/8 of the hidden parts of this immense iceberg which is the Cuban Robolution.

“Translator’s Note: “Liborio” is a symbol of the Cuban people, or of the essence of Cubanness. He is usually pictured as a mustachioed peasant with long sideburns, wearing a guayabera, a straw hat on his head, and a machete in his hand.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Citizen Zero Resumes Publication / Jeovany J. Vega

Dear Friends of Citizen Zero:

Due to an unfortunate error, I found myself unable to publish on my site for more than two months. Thanks to the help of esteemed and friendly hands, as of today I am resuming my publishing. I hope that my faithful readers will forgive me for this lamentable delay. This blog will always be at the service of Truth and Homeland.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

20 August 2015

 

Examination of the Latest Ministry of Public Health Crusade / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 3 April 2015 — The gods of Olympus have spoken. In their eyes we, miserable creatures, must simply obey and resign ourselves to complying with their divine whims. I will try to translate into the language of mortals the outrageous coercive measures ordered by the Cuban government, through the Minister of Public Health, to try to stem the current exodus of healthcare professionals. In the same order in which they were set out, it would read something like this:

4. Stop the increase of individual contracts* in Angola: Because the African country is forever indebted to Cuba since the 1980s war, it goes without saying that it is obligated to comply with everything that Havana orders. In other words: Cubans in Angola as cannon fodder, yes; Cubans in Angola to work honestly, without being exploited by the Cuban government, never. continue reading

5. Confiscate the official passports of all employees upon their arrival at the airport: Here we have the Ministry of Health taking measures that, apart from their obvious illegality, really belong under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Immigration of the Interior Ministry, in Cuban Customs. This shows, if anyone still doubted, that in this little country everything converges in a single, centralized, and despotic power, which has no qualms about treating all of us, without distinction, as common criminals.

6. Promote agreements with private clinics: Here we have that slavery-promoting monster, the  Distributor of Medical and Health Services, trying to wrap its tentacles of control around each private clinic in every country where Cuban doctors have decided to emancipate themselves from its networks. This shows how sick and delusional its obsession is to block the personal success of our professionals.

7. Review the interministerial agreements so they don’t allow freedom of contract: This proposal, which the leaders of Havana hope to establish in half the world, covering both public and private institutions, is nothing more than a subconscious reflection of what Cuban medical missions have always been: a lucrative method of emotional blackmail. That is, if I provide you with doctors at bargain prices, who are willing to go into those dreaded favelas (off-limits even to the police), exposed to dangers that your own doctors would never accept, you are obligated to comply when I “renegotiate” with you the terms of the contract.

8. Explicitly reflect the commitment of no individual hiring in the individual agreement with the employee: This is actually nothing new. Until now it has always been an uncompromising principle that not only is individual hiring prohibited, but even something as simple as an employee in a foreign country just talking with someone who is an actual or suspected opponent of the “regime friend.” Cuban employees will never be allowed freedom of movement, such that they are prohibited from leaving their assigned place even for something as nearby and ordinary as shopping, for example, without the consent of their bosses—meaning the political hitmen, who are officially and completely in control, placed there by Cuban State Security.

10. Disqualify those who dare to disobey Caesar from practicing their profession: The professionals who today work abroad, for wages far more appropriate than they received in Cuba—including those on official medical missions—are not willing to be used like toilet paper. It is ridiculous to claim that there are only 211 cases countrywide of those who decided to work outside Cuba “without authorization,” when in fact the number is in the thousands.

12. Deem the failure to comply with the requirement of giving advance notice to terminate the employment relationship as a serious disciplinary infraction: If there is some reason in this, then common sense dictates that timely notice should be given of any decision to abandon a certain place in order to timely look for a substitute. But that raises the question—why have thousands of professionals refused to comply with something so basic? Are we Cuban doctors so irresponsible? Or is it that ultimately we cannot rely at all on the “goodwill” of our leaders, after being subjected for many decades to all kinds of arbitrariness, abuse, and despotism, and to our most basic needs being ignored? Aren’t these the same ministerial and governmental authorities who for more than a decade applied the unprecedented policy that required us to wait for more than five years if we wanted to travel abroad, waiting for the “release” from our minister? Finally could it be that these authorities no longer have any credibility in the eyes of their workers? Here I recall the old saying of grandfather Liborio: when there is revenge, there are no grievances.

13. Issue disqualification notices to workers who violate procedures for leaving the country: Professionals who take the irrevocable personal decision to work temporarily or permanently abroad, for wages far more appropriate than those they receive in Cuba including those on official medical missions—are not willing to be used like toilet paper.

14. Relocate those returning to Cuba after working abroad under an individual contract to a lower-status position—never to the position they originally occupied: The punishment, not as a vindicating end, but as an inviolable fundamental principle, as the cardinal sign that never fails in the mind of the despots. This section shows that those who today are exporting as authentic their pretensions of “change” and sweetened “reforms” remain the same miserable characters as always.

16 and 17. Organize, in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry, meetings with the relevant foreign ambassadors in Havana, and direct the team leaders and Cuban ambassadors in their respective countries to discourage individual contracts: Once again they reveal the long tentacles of the political mafia of Havana. Here we have the incredible act of the Cuban government, through its Ministry of Health, taking an openly interventionist position, dictating measures inside other countries, trying to impose decisions about their healthcare policies. It’s a good thing that, with evil US imperialism interfering in the internal politics of other countries, the immaculate Cuban Revolution is there to stop it! Where would these poor people be without this greatest Revolution of ours?

*Translator’s note: A contract made directly between a host country and a Cuban doctor, without payment to the Cuban government.

 

 

Minimal Vindication of Jose Marti / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Painting by Carlos Enríquez of the death of José Martí.

Jeovany Jimenez Vega,20 May 2015 — In the laudable attempt to demystify José Martí, pens of the most dissimilar calibers have been employed, and all the efforts seem paltry given the transcendence of his legacy. But not all have headed in the right direction in their efforts. I concur with the argument put forth in a recent article that questions the impact of José Martí on the Cuban people during the phase immediately preceding the uprising of 24 February, 1895.

To gauge Martí’s influence within Cuban society before 1895–which, given the improbable and rudimentary level of which his advanced doctrinal thinking could reach a semi-literate Cuban population relegated to the Cuban insularity at the close of the 19th Century–would be as absurd as to presuppose that his impact would have been exclusively limited to that humble sector of the population, isolating it for no reason from the rest of a society already resounded impatiently at the imminent possibility of the war. continue reading

This would always be a biased view, because it would ignore the principal aim of the Master’s* discourse on the pages of Patria [newspaper funded and directed by Martí] and from the lecterns of Tampa and Key West: to the Creole intelligentsia, called to amplify the message precipitating the imminent push into the interior of the Island; to the military leaders, called to drag into the scrubland, inciting them with their natural leadership, the great mass of Cubans who would be the shock troops of the future Liberating Army.

The influence Martí was able to exert over the lowest-majority classes (and ultimately those most decisive in the future conflict) cannot be deduced linearly, but rather it necessarily winds through a typically extensive network of message intermediaries. While it is true that the Cuban peasant had little opportunity to imbue himself with the Martí Doctrine, nonetheless that tide of contained rancor against Spain was ready to overflow by 1895; it was waiting only for the wink of an eye, the order of the commanders of old, to be unleashed in new charges against the merciless metropolis. If that tension reached the critical point of no return, it was precisely because of the enormous and tireless organizational work and political proselytism deployed by Martí–a gigantic odyssey whose importance anyone objectively analyzing the prevailing dynamic of the final phase of the Rewarding Truce will never be able to underestimate or minimize.

It is true that Cuba at that time was going through a precarious and circumstantially complex economic situation, but bitter precedents should be taken into account: the failed attempted coup of the Little War and, later, the great frustration engendered by the failure of the Gómez-Maceo Plan [in 1885]. Therefore, it would not be farfetched to assert that, were it not for the catalyzing miracle of the Apostle,* that hour could well have passed without much fanfare.

Martí was not a military man. His strategic genius was developed purely in the political realm and was based on his exceptional diplomatic skill. This undisputed ability would carve the Master with the steady hand and tenacity of a goldsmith, throughout his life, through an exponential process of self-purification that finally converted him into a man of irascible and reactive temperament within this kind, magnetic, charming and edifying being whom History bequeathed us–so forceful that he conquered for the common cause men who were made as of stone, divided for years. Returning to the course of the Revolution those bronze-like characters was his major accomplishment, and also his way of knocking on the door of every Cuban country hut with the hilt of the liberating machete.

Too many obstacles were at that time coming between the Martí ideology and the poverty of the Cuban peasant. However, the task of translating the martyr of Dos Ríos’ strategic plan to the language of country folk was assumed by principal figures of the big war: one Máximo Gómez who had given to Cuban émigrés an unequivocal sign of his unconditional support for Martí by sending his son, Panchito, along with Martí on a proselytizing tour through the revolutionary clubs of the US; one newly-married José Maceo, who barely had to be urged by the Master to join the enterprise, overlooking his hurt pride at the racism of the last conflict–“only Martí was able to pull me from my love nest,” he would say; and one Antonio Maceo, the final man, who despite the misunderstandings, also added his unconditional machete to the deed and, having barely arrived in Oriente, would lead a massive charge of thousands of mambises through the scrub.

To those rough and uncultured men it was enough to have the presence in the camps of Cuba of their legendary leaders for them to be willing to die for the war previously conceived by Martí’s genius. Many joined, but the decisive presence of every one of these generals in the Cuban scrubland was a personal triumph of the Apostle; if the mambí soldier had greater or lesser awareness of it, very little would it matter to this man so little motivated by personal honors, but History is conclusive in this respect: If the miracle of the uprising was wrought, it was because beforehand, Martí–by way of his most formidable tool, the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC)–patiently and systematically organized, with regal intelligence, the colossal conspiracy.

It borders on insolence to reduce to mythical status the exalted merits of the Cuban who combines in himself such a sublime confluence of virtues. Yes, we greatly need to demystify Martí, strip him of the saintly cassocks that he never wore, and take him down from the altars that he never sought for himself. But to demystify him does not imply wiping out his proven merits: let us take care that our repugnance for the saccharine storyline and opportunistic flattery of despots who seek to legitimize themselves does not obscure before our gaze the brilliance and authentic nobility of the visionary hero.

Definitely, it was not a military man who fell at the light of day in the first skirmish, and if he was promoted in death to Major General by the unconquered Máximo Gómez–profound knower of men and quite sparing in conferring honors–it was also because the great soul of the Old Man from Baní, forged in all the pains of war, was ultimately conquered without reservation by the mysterious influence of the Master.

And let us not forget: If one gesture by Gómez was enough to mobilize the entire mambí army, along with this gesture–as his supreme victory–went the order of he who died at Dos Ríos for the poor of the Earth.

See: Martí and the Idea of a Single Party.

Translator’s Notes:

* A common epithet of José Martí in Cuban writings.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

CUC vs. the Dollar: A Perpetual Tax? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 31 May 2015 — On Thursday, May 29 Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. It had been on the list since 1982 because of what Washington saw as the Cuban government’s decades-long history of harboring members of the Basque terrorist group ETA, Colombian FARC guerrillas and more than one fugitive from American justice. It had negative implications for Cuba’s dictators in regards to international banking operations and financial transactions in Cuba. It had also led to expansion of the U.S. embargo, which even today prevents Cuba from utilizing dollars in commercial transactions. Those who carry out such transactions risk confiscation of their assets and/or hefty fines.

Actually, Cuba’s inclusion on the list always struck me as being neither here nor there. It seemed inconsequential compared to the reality surrounding us, with the multiple and eloquent examples of what can only be described — without fear of overstatement — as a policy of domestic state terrorism: an absolute, blatant and always apparent hostility, mercilessly perpetrated by Havana’s gerontocracy against anything which might suggest personal well-being or family prosperity in Cuba. continue reading

I believe the Castro government has instituted a long string of unpopular measures in order to keep the population in a perpetual state of economic insolvency bordering on destitution. The constant pressure to put food on table leaves people neither the time nor the inclination for “dangerous” expressions of civic involvement.

This absurd policy, along with our insulting salaries, means we are subjected to exorbitant gasoline prices at the pump despite the collapse of oil on the world market. Be even slightly careless and you are hit with an electricity tariff. Then there is the outrageous increase in the price of liquefied gas.

Still in place are the arbitrary exchange rates set by CADECA, the government currency exchange, the detestable extortions at gunpoint at airport customs, the constant obstacles with which the private sector must deal and the obscene exploitation of medical personnel working overseas by a government acting as pimp. All these measures, decreed from Havana, make almost any other list of villainies pale in comparison.

This time-honored policy of subjugation has been specifically linked to this arbitrary tax since 1994 when, from his reverberating loins, Fidel Castro decided to tie the U.S. dollar to the sacrosanct convertible Cuban peso, the CUC.

It was a measure which overnight reduced by 20% the purchasing power of everyone who had for decades been receiving remittances from emigré family members scattered across all corners of the globe. It has unquestionably been a lucrative source of income for the island’s economy for years.

On November 8, 1994 the Central Bank of Cuba issued Resolution 80, which stipulated that a 10% tax would be applied whenever U.S. dollars are exchanged for CUCs. Later, in April of 2005, the Committee on Monetary Policy instituted a further 8% currency exchange fee on the U.S. dollar and other foreign currencies.

This means that, when changing U.S. dollars in Cuba, there are three factors to keep in mind: there are the 10% tax stipulated by Resolution 80, the 8% surcharge outlined in Accord no. 15 by the Committee on Monetary Policy, and the approximately 3.5% commercial fee charged by CADECA for such transactions. Based on these considerations, you can calculate that, for every $100 USD you receive, CADECA will give you 80.42 CUC.

But, in a boomerang effect, these decrees carried a hidden cost. In addition to completely distorting the domestic economic system, they inevitably had an extremely negative impact on tourism to this particular spot in the middle of the exotic Caribbean, a region full of beautiful beaches and better deals which attracted millions of vacationers disinclined to pay such excessive taxes and fees.

There could be many possible consequences once Cuba is removed from the blacklist. These days there is one that especially concerns me because of the immediate and direct impact it could have on families in Cuba. I ask myself, given the likelihood that Cuba could will be able to conduct international business transactions in U.S. dollars, which was the argument used to justify the aforementioned tax, will the Cuban government now repeal this onerous levy on exchanges involving this currency and the CUC? Will the military leadership be so shameless as to retain this blatant method of mass extortion, no matter what, in light of this fundamental change?

Repeal of this tax is today inextricably linked to the often announced and often postponed currency unification. Now Cuba’s dictators will have to weigh two factors. On the one hand there is their undisputed and regressive commitment to exploiting the Cuban people by any means possible while promoting anything that leads to financial ruin and insolvency. On the other hand there is the need, as recommended by experts on the subject, to rationally coordinate the mechanisms of Cuba’s economic system in a way that at least appears credible to international organizations, banks and future investors.

Not doing so would increase the already heightened perception of risk on the part of more than one businessman, whose sense of intuition prevents him from relying entirely of the good intentions of Raul Castro. There have been too many stories of swindles and scams for them to think otherwise.

But ultimately, if the Cuban government had one iota of shame, it would immediately repeal this abominable and unpopular tax which has had such a negative impact on the well-being of the Cuban people. It would stop treating our poverty like its principal asset, like a disgraceful pedestal which for more than fifty-six years has served as the foundation for the longest and most refined dictatorship the Americas have ever known.

 

For Sucelys*, to Be Reborn Tomorrow / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, because they know not what they do.  Luke 23:34

I write without knowing if she will get to read these words, or if she would understand them, because there are matters in life that take us a minute or perhaps an hour to understand, but others take a year, and there will undoubtedly be some that will take a whole lifetime.

Every time I view the video in which she screams at that journalist in Panama, amidst all the vulgarity of the scene, that she financed her airfare with her miserable salary, it does not cease to amaze me.

How could she lie like that, when even a child knows that this is impossible, that all those costs were subsidized by the government? Could she explain how she was able to get by without buying clothes or shoes, how she was able to survive without buying food for years, and all while wholly saving the salary that her “Revolution” pays her so that she could travel for those couple of days to the Summit, only to add her yelling to the din of another hundred activists in the official “civil society,” who supposedly made similar “sacrifices”? continue reading

Her lost gaze in Panama provokes more than shame, sadness; there is no conviction behind those shouts, only alienation and fanaticism. Even so, she was honest when she confirmed that the Cuban people funded her expenses.

Perhaps she should have been more cautious, because she was speaking at that moment about something that cuts deep: that Rapid Response Brigade that Raúl Castro sent to Panama to scream (really, they did nothing else) financed their travel with money not paid to my colleagues–doctors and nurses–nor to my children’s teachers, and the thousands of Cuban retirees who survive on eight dollars per month.

This money could have been used to restore a Havana that is at the point of collapse, to repair the millions of potholes, improve the lamentable state of the water supply or our deplorable public transportation system–evils that persist after decades of mis-government that squanders the national treasure on repulsive political “lobbies” such as the one that boycotted, with its egocentric bluster, the forum in Panama.

But, at heart, I understand her. Like her today, I, too, one day believed in the Revolution–with a pure faith I believed in mine, the inner one, the one I never reference in quotation marks–when all the trumpets seemed to herald our apocalypse beneath the storm clouds of 1994. At that time, the future became full of uncertainties, just as the extensive waters of the Florida Straits became full of live balseros [rafters] and dead memories.

Back when I was 23, having lived under the aegis of absolutism and the megalomaniac cult of the “big brother” iconoclast, I, too, was a fervent militant of her UJC [Young Communist League]. I did not want to–or did not know how to–or could not–(perhaps I will never know for certain) assume another posture.

And while this was going on, Sucelys was still dressing her last dolls, but she had not even been born in 1980, when some Cubans as alienated as she stopped viewing other Cubans as brothers and sisters, and hurled the same offenses that she recycled today in Panama, initiating this era of shame that still haunts us.

But one fine day, my reason adjusted its glasses, I understood, little by little, the terrible error of my distorted view, and that tyrant–formerly irreproachable–became smaller and smaller in my eyes, and returned before me to his natural condition of cockroach.

I awoke one fine day questioning myself on everything, and when I found the answers, there was no going back: I definitively disconnected myself from that matrix and questioned all my assumptions, pulverizing some and reaffirming others, but being born again in the process, from a position of personal liberty, definitively more tolerant of others, and more at peace with myself.

As history tends to repeat itself in the form of a farce, I thank God for not having placed me then in the saddest role of the scene, for having wisely shielded me from playing the part of a hired gun.

I don’t know if she will someday be able to be reborn, but I can’t help but be saddened to see her girlish eyes racked with hate, her hands that are meant to soothe a child or friend, instead of making the gestures of war, and screaming lies that darker and more-sinister others placed in her mouth, the mouth of a daughter, mother or lover.

A good Cuban used to say that in a dictatorship, all of us are victims–including the tyrant, who is the most tortured by his fear–and that almost always, the most captive are those who least perceive their bondage.

Sucelys, brilliant psychologist that she is, must know that in this truth is hidden the key to man’s alienation, to his dissolution en masse until all that’s left is that amorphous and malleable material subject to the whims of the tyrant.

The Social Forum convened at the Seventh Summit of the Americas should have served, at least, to enable the civil societies of America to extract one clear lesson: this is what happens when a totalitarian dictatorship takes over the designs of an entire nation, and alienates whole generations.

In Panama all were witnesses to the transformation of man to beast, to irrational being, to automaton repeating screams and empty slogans but unable to exchange coherent arguments in a quiet voice. May this serve as one more proof that the sleep of reason engenders monsters.

This is why today I wish to leave the balm of forgiveness and harmony on the wound that this foreign shame inflicted on Panama, because the homeland always needs more bridges and fewer walls, and the day will come when Sucelys’ gaze will be cleansed of rancor.

I dream of that day being so beautiful and purifying that the hired guns of today will also become, thanks to the miracle of redemption, part of the authentic civil society of tomorrow. This message will wait, as though in a bottle tossed to the sea, to be read when the rebirth happens.

PHOTO: Official Cuban mob at Summit of the Americas in Panama, April, 2015.

Translator’s Notes:

* This post is in the form of an open letter from the author, Jeovany Jimenez Vega, to Sucelys Morfa Gonzalez. Morfa was part of a contingent of Cuban government supporters ostensibly sent to Panama to challenge dissidents attending the Seventh Summit of the Americas in April, 2015. This article from HavanaTimes.Org provides more background about her. Regarding the incident itself, this report from independent Cuban news site 14yMedio was filed on the day it occurred.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

27 April 2015

 

My Minutes With the Pope / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 9 May 2015 — What would I say to Pope Francis if I could speak with him minutes before his meeting with Raúl Castro?*  If Jesus came into the world to save the impure, to sit also at the table of the Pharisees (those with souls most contaminated by the splinter of evil), what could I say to His Holiness that would convey to him all the pain of my people, and advise him of the true dimension of disaster through which my country lives?

Tomorrow* the Pope will face the representative of a deformed creation made up to fool the world about its true wretched nature, which hides its true face behind curtains splattered with the blood and suffering of my people. Raul Castro represents the longest-running, most perfidious and subtle dictatorship known in the Americas, whose sinister side is known only by the humble man of miserable means who dares not speak up for fear of certain reprisals; or the censored journalist confronting taboo subjects; or the ethical writer marginalized by an apostate pseudo-intellectualism who, like a prostitute, traded in his dignity for status**; or the civic activist trampled-on for defending her truths. continue reading

This Raúl Castro–at once President, Prime Minister, and Secretary General of the only legal party in my country–is the same one who orders or permits every threat, raid, repudiation rally or beating visited with impunity upon peaceful members of the opposition, every arbitrary detention and prison sentence levied without charges, as well as the constant harassment of a dissident movement not officially recognized but which he fears in his bones.

In short, Raúl Castro is the one ultimately responsible, along with Fidel Castro, for every one of the thousands of abuses that confirms the totalitarian-despotic nature of the regime that he represents. This man does not represent the people of Cuba because he was not elected in a democratic process, because his fear of the Cuban people keeps him from convening a plebiscite. By the same token, his entourage of minions never participate in public debates under equivalent conditions, and just recently, in Panama, offered to the world the most shameful and caveman-like lesson in incivility.

This man will give assurances that his government cares about the world’s poor when in reality, on dozens of official medical missions, he keeps an army of semi-slaves captive in the most despicable state of deprivation of their rights. To say that the primary source of income for the dictatorship is a supposed philanthropic venture, clearly typifies its root strategy: its monumental demagoguery.

In worldwide forums, the government insists that “differences be respected,” yet in Cuba it routinely thrashes dissidents and opponents. While outside the Island it applauds the people’s egalitarian right to technology, at home it denies us free access to the Internet. While it denounces other governments’ policies of domestic espionage, it keeps my people defenseless against the severe and constant vigilance of the political police. While in forums it voices complaints against the injustices of “savage capitalism,” it brutally exploits its own workers, and criticizes neoliberal stopgap measures while it plays the market with astronimical prices and makes daily life unsustainably expensive for the average citizen.

His Holiness should know that this charmless man sustains his government by the people’s fear, by systematic deception, by fomenting the most abject hatred of dissent, by the insolent satiation of the greed and basest instincts of his accomplices in power, by the bribery and blackmail perpretrated by all of his followers, and by the brute force thrust unmercifully against any who deviate from his commands.

His Holiness should know that this man represents the neo-bourgeoisie tied to power on the Island and not to the people of Cuba. All of the Holy Father’s gestures to reconcile this dictatorship with the world do not benefit the wellbeing of the Cuban people as long as our country is not free, and all the riches generated by these changes will inexorably end up in thehands of that indolent elite that despises us.

All this would I tell Jorge Mario Bergoglio [Francis’ name before he became Pope] prior to his visit with this little man–or, perhaps overwhelmed by a pain that I admit I am incapable of conveying in a few minutes, I would manage only to ask for his most humble prayer for retribution here on earth on the dark souls of all tyrants.

View Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

Translator’s Notes:

* This post was written prior to Raúl Castro’s scheduled meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, which took place on Sunday, May 10, 2015.

** Here, the writer is referring to author and former Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto, who denounced the presence of independent civil society representatives at the Summit of the Americas in March, 2015.  Various members of the Cuban opposition have expressed disappointment over Prieto’s perceived selling-out to the regime. This sentiment is exemplified in this post by another independent Cuban blogger.  

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Elections in Cuba: The Never-Ending Farce / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Municipal delegate elections. Vote 2015 Cuba.

Jeovany J. Vega, 19 APril 2015 — When on this day, Sunday, 19 April 2015, the last poll closes, nothing transcendent will occur. Despite the statistics manipulated by the newspaper Granma and its libels about an electorate that presumably will have gone to the polls freely and massively to give its “absolute support” to the Revolution, at this stage that never-ending story will deceive very few people.

Irregularities at the polls; ballots that can only be marked “with pencil!” so that they can later be adulterated and thus avoid generating inconvenient statistics; candidacy commissions controlled by the only legal party in Cuba (the Communist one) who handpick the president of every assembly from the municipal level on up to the Council of State: assemblies all of which from San Antonio on the west to Maisí on the east will decide nothing outside the line approved by the one dictatorial party, and they will question nothing, but rather during their time in office they will do nothing more than unanimously approve every “guidance” emanating from Olympus. continue reading

The people of Cuba know only too well that they cannot expect anything new from this farce, that this scheme is all played out and will never offer new paths, that it is only more of the same. Thus I will not beat a dead horse but rather today I will reflect on one detail that emerged weeks ago on various online sites: in an event practically without precedent, two dissidents from Havana managed to be nominated as candidates as potential delegates to the National Assembly of People’s Power by their respective districts – something almost unheard-of in today’s Cuba.

Even so, Hildelbrando Chaviano, from the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, and Yuniel López O’Farrill, from the Arroyo Naranjo municipality, had to resign themselves to being branded as “counterrevolutionaries” in their published candidate biographies, as being part of what the nomenklatura calls “splinter groups,” among other pejorative names — outright calumnies and propagandist accusations.

But beyond it being certain that these candidates in effect openly oppose that concept of “Revolution” sustained by the Demagogues-in-Chief of the Communist Party of Cuba, I ask myself: And the other candidates, what about them?

Perhaps it will not be published in the rest of the biographies, for example, that a certain candidate, despite being an “honorable” Communist militant, also increasingly embezzles the resources of the state-owned enterprise that he runs?

Or that other one, a fervent member of a Rapid Response Brigade and participant in multiple repudiation rallies “in defense of the Revolution,” has been expelled from various positions because of continued stealing?

Or that this one, always the enthusiast in any Mayday parade that is organized, nonetheless also manages to loot any state-run warehouse that falls into his clutches?

Or that this dedicated Party comrade does not live off of her salary, but rather thanks to the natural talent that her prostitute-daughter has deployed in a chupa-chupa — something she is well aware of and approves?

Or that this old CDR-member, so combative in denouncing any countryman who enters his field of vision, yet he tolerates the sale of black-market tobacco in his own home?

Or perhaps that a certain veteran of the glorious Combatants Association does not live off the absurd pension “guaranteed” by his “Revolution,” but off the remittances arriving from that troubled and brutal country to the North that he despises?

Or that this other functionary from the provincial party lives like a millionaire thanks to the shamelessness of her husband, one of the thousands of thieves legalized by the General Customs office at the Havana airport?

To enumerate the list of moral duplicities and corruptions would make interminable the biographies of a good portion of the current candidates — and it would be even more rotten were we to ascend the ranks from the municipal to national levels.

The publication of these biographies filled with distorted information and morbidly dissected — specifically in the context in which they try to dissuade potential voters — well deserves legal action from a respected electoral authority, even the prosecutor’s office — but this would only be possible if we lived under the Rule of Law, and never in the totalitarian Cuba of today.

At any rate, if this were about competing on a level playing field for the vote of the electorate, according to what is established by law, it would be very healthy to air everyone’s dirty laundry and expose their shit equally (and I do not say that the militancy or sense of civic responsibility of Hildelbrando and Yuniel are such).

If this were to occur, I assure you that the stink would rise high and spread far in a country where half a century of absurd laws and legal limos have not left barely a place for honesty and individual prosperity to be sheltered under the law.

Let us be absolutely certain of this: today in Cuba, the “voting” will be done by millions of hypocrites and criminals.

Not participating in the election farce is the answer

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison