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

Internet in Cuba, I’ll believe it when I see it / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

 “If you want to free a country, give it the internet.” Wael Gonium

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 25 February 2015 — A vice president who gives an assurance that the country “… is committed to social information” but who then automatically sees it as being led by the communist party, and who sees it as “…a key weapon for the revolutionaries to get participation in the social project we desire“: who at the same time emphasises that “… everyone’s right to the internet presupposes the duty to use it properly and in accordance with the law, and also presupposes the responsibility to be vigilant about the defence of the country and its integrity“, and a Deputy Minister of Communications assuring us that along with the economic development of this sector there must also be running in parallel the “political and ideological strengthening of the society,” are indications that we will not see anything different anytime soon after the recent Information and Biosecurity workshop ends.

The underhand warning which indicates the presence in the front row of Col. Alejandro Castro — implied candidate to inherit the family throne — and the silence whenever the subject turns to his father, President Raúl Castro; Comandante Ramiro Valdés’ permanent position in charge of the Ministry of Communications — twice ex-Minister of the Interior, the most rancid relic from Cuba’s continue reading

historic establishment and the chief implementer of current repressive methods — all reciting together the same refried speech and the repeated ignoring by the Cuban government of the latest offers of the US telecommunication companies for when the embargo controls are relaxed, are factors which make us think that nothing is about to change in Cuba in relation to the internet, and that we are only starting a new chapter in this soap opera of demagogy and cynicism.

The Cuban-in-the-street can’t see it any other way, living under a government which, up to now, has charged him a quarter of his monthly basic salary for every hour on the internet; for him, every word heard at the end of the workshop referred to continues to smell of bad omens, sounds like more of the same, especially when we bear in mind that this shameless tariff is not for any high quality high-speed service, in the comfort of our homes, as you might expect, but which they have characterised in the worst way, only available in cyber rooms of the dual-monopoly ETECSA-SEGURIDAD DEL ESTADO, and, because of that limited to their opening hours, at a 2 Mb/second speed, and using PCs with restricted copy-paste and often with disabled USB connections, with all keystrokes tracked and with more than one “problematic” page blocked. In fact, nothing you wouldn’t expect from a government which recently created a brand-new Cyberspace Security Centre, presumably intended to become a virtual equivalent to the notorious Section 22 of its police policy.

Meanwhile, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, I repress my swearwords every time I stop in front of a cyber room’s poster offering me three hours of internet for a dollar!, in a country with an average monthly salary of about $500, a country which is also third world, but which offers free wi-fi in many public places, including bus stations, in restaurants and malls, where internet and TV satellite dishes are a common urban sight even in the poorest neighbourhoods. There couldn’t be a more obvious contrast between this reality and what we Cubans have to live with in Cuba.

All the above confirms for me every day more strongly my ongoing conviction that information control will be the last card in the deck that the Cuban dictatorship is going to give up. Nothing will have changed in Cuba for so long as all Cubans don’t have open unconditional uncensored access to the internet from our homes. This is such an obvious truth, and would represent such a decisive step forward toward the real opening-up of Cuban society, that only on that day will I believe that change has started. It’s as simple as that.

Translated by GH

 

White Flag to the Regime in Havana? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By: Jeovany Jimenez Vega — Those who advocate the elimination of the mechanisms of political pressure to which the Cuban government remains subject — I mean basically the United States Embargo and the Common European Position — often wield as a fundamental argument the alleged climate of reform undertaken by Raul Castro during the last few years.

One can suppose that this oversized expectation had its roots in the profound and systematic stagnation that characterized the big government of Fidel Castro, because the incorrigible bearded man became the extreme social framework in an immutable and absurd style that would have been impossible for anybody after him to modify in any way without it being perceived as a relief.

But if we accept the obvious premise that since 1959 one government has existed in Cuba — since it has already shown that in essence the mandate of Raul, with all its sweetening, has not been more than the prolonging of the mandate of Fidel — we can assume also, with a solid level of certainty, that the psychology of the regime continues to be exactly the same.

That drives us to a logical question: Would one expect that, in the case of these sanctions being lifted, that this olive-green oligarchy, at last, would grant the long awaited rights continue reading

provided by United Nations Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, as well as Economic and Cultural Rights, whose ratification and implementation Havana has kept has a pending topic since February 2008?

The optimists would return to the idea of the Raul Castro reforms, but anyone who can make a more thorough approach to these alleged “transformations” will find that very few have actually represented a practical change, one which would have a beneficial and immediate impact in the life of Cubans on the island.

But we work from very good faith — which our counterpart has not deserved — and we accept that among these measures, some represent a more drastic and positive change than do others; among these the freeing up of the right to travel outside the country and the authorization of the purchase and sale of homes between native-born people.

We cannot forget, nevertheless, that the emigration reform has been in force since January 2013, stipulating that some professions are not permitted to travel freely, “…in virtue of the rules intended to preserve the skilled labor force…“; nor can we scorn that it also establishes as “…inadmissible…” for anyone accused by the Cuban government of “Organizing, encouraging, carrying out, or participating in hostile actions against the fundamental economic and social policies of the Cuban state…” to enter the country, “…When reasons of Defense and National Security are so advised…” and that the government considers that they should “… Be prohibited from entering the country, for being declared undesirable or thrown out.”

It is made more evident by the wide margin of maneuverability that this delicious tool for coercion leaves the repressor.

As for the authorization for the sale and purchase of homes, let us remember that the act has just recently foisted a series of annoying regulations of prices, that results in a return to the government’s hand, interfering where it isn’t called for — to remind us that here good things never last too long.

Now, a look at the rest of the package certainly will show definite signs that reveal suspicious edges in these so-called “reforms.”  Because it is really very difficult to accept the sincerity of these measures such as the “authorization” to buy used cars at astronomical prices; or the corrupt focus on the management of cooperatives like the transport ones, for example, that leaves it members (never owners of their means of working) with a useless margin of autonomy; or the imposition on the rest of the small business owners of unfair fees on prices or excessive taxes and the non-existence of a retail market that would supply them with the most basic primary materials; or all the limitations that make ever more evident the failure of the policies undertaken in the agricultural sector, as well as the refusal to liberate the management of the livestock farming sector while slaughtering and/or selling a cow continues being a capital sin that in Cuba one still pays for by up to 20 years in prison.

These are, among others, current evidence and premonitions that cast a shadow over our overall state in the short and long term and seriously put into question the will of the Cuban government.

But still more serious than the immutability of these “trivialities” of an economical nature, is the persistence of the repressive policy that continues fomenting that lethal duet: Communist Party-State Security. It is from the offices of what continues to be the only legally recognized party that the strategy, then executed by the henchmen in the street, is drawn up.

Today in Cuba arbitrary detentions persist and the most abject precariousness of due process guarantees — bastard daughters of the lack of division of powers — continue to perpetrate with impunity the beatings and repudiation rallies against opponents, without any authority protecting them so that they can avoid it.

Hitmen are ordered to stab the opposition leaders and suppress women who don’t bring arms but carry white gladioli in plain view.

They persist in a strong and absolute censorship of dissident thought by means of an absolute monopoly over the means of broadcasting and all types of press, and in addition, they veto any access to the Internet for the people and it is already the 21st century.

Therefore, we can conclude that in Cuba the “changes” that they have produced are insubstantial and skin-deep, purely cosmetic, nothing that heralds a real opening up to anything that sounds remotely like democracy.

If, in the end, this new mediocre generation isn’t capable of offering anything different, it would be more than logical to doubt its future good intentions or its capacity to conceive a scheme for real prosperity, and very much less so if the formula, whatever it is, includes moving away from the known path.

It is completely questionable that these “reforms” reflect a sincere attempt at opening the doors for the Cuban people to the potential that a globalized economy offers today. It is more coherent to think that we are observing delaying maneuvers that only serve to perpetuate the same people always in power.

Should the international community, the Cuban people and the internal opposition decide to offer a vote of confidence and give way: at what point would they offer guarantees that they would later ratify and implement the Human Rights covenants, and would that produce an immediate opening for democracy? Here all logical reasoning leads to the conclusion that this would never happen.

To revoke the sanctions now, would be translated into nothing more than an immediate oxygenation for the regime, without excluding, of course, its repressive mechanisms. It would not become a more efficient Cuban government from the economic point of view but would simply have more resources within its reach to squander and rob, to fatten still more the millionaire accounts of it oligarchs hidden abroad, and even to ennoble its delusions of grandeur.

The beast has already tasted blood and will stop at nothing. An autocratic government like that of the Castros, once it has released its instruments of political pressure and with the tacit approval internationally that this would imply, would never ratify the human right covenants but, on the contrary would probably repress more viciously than ever dissident thinking but from a much more comfortable position than previously.

This octogenarian generation that subjects the destiny of my country to its whims is definitely out of step with the needs of my people. No original protest has yet affected its dusty epaulets. These neo-burgesses will never consider a dignified exit from the poverty and inequality into which they have plunged us, because they know that this would mean an end to their privileges.

If history teaches us anything it is that unwise concessions, or those made at the wrong time, over the long term do more harm than good to the people who mistakenly assume them, and it also teaches us that there are definitely people who never change, and the pleiade that now leads this country according to their testicular fickleness is an excellent example.

The three decade marriage with the former Soviet Union made clear that the Cuban people will never be the final destiny for these riches; and if history proved that at that time why would we assume it would be different now when the indolence and corruption of the government are higher than ever.

To extend this blank check to the totalitarian government in Havana, and at this precise instant when its better half is tottering in Caracas, without the slightest sign of friendship to the internal opposition nor the recognition of our civil rights–as most recent events have pointed in the complete opposite direction–and without even having ratified and implemented the already signed United Nations covenants on civil and political rights as well as those on social and cultural rights, would be a catastrophe in strategic terms for the Cuban people and possibly delay, for many more decades, the coming of democracy for the long-suffering Cuban nation.

Translated by: BW

9 December 2014

 

Personal Epitaph to Fidel Castro / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“Here rests a man who died millions of times” should be the epitaph engraved on the marble that finally covers him. By then, some will feel despondent, as if the earth were caving in on them; while others, no doubt, will receive the news with terrestrial joy. But absolutely everyone will be in agreement about something: that on that day the most loved and most hated man of the last two centuries in Cuba will have ceased to exist.

But Fidel Castro will not have died that day, because before then, little by little, he will have suffered millions of prior deaths. For some, for example, he has been dead since that first morning when he “couldn’t find” the way from Moncada while another group of reliable men were being sacrificed in the assault; and for others, he died when he legalized the death penalty at the beginning of 1959, every time echoes of gunfire from La Cabaña were heard; or perhaps a few months after that, when amid all the mystery the sea swallowed Camilo’s hat–and he was pronounced dead after just three days of dubious “searching.”

continue reading

But later, thousands of Cubans buried Fidel Castro when, after having denied it many times, he suddenly announced out of nowhere that he was communist–even after having accused “traitor,” Huberto Matos, in a brief trial, of being the very same thing–and declaring without apology the socialist character of a Revolution that didn’t belong to him, but rather to the people listening to him with surprise.

Some days later, he would die again for other thousands of Cubans when they learned about the day Che Guevara died, abandoned by Manila [his code word for Havana], in the desolation of the Bolivian highlands.

Certainly for hundreds of thousands of Cubans, Fidel Castro died once and for all that fateful day in March of ’68, when the “Revolutionary Offensive” usurped every family-owned business without the slightest compensation—an act of vulgar and unpunished looting that betrayed those who, just 15 years earlier, he had called “the people” in his self-defense during the Moncada trial.

Also for millions of people in the Third World, he must have died in ’79, when as president of the Non-Aligned Movement, he preferred to be a chameleon and said nothing while Afghanistan, a member state of that world organization, endured an insidious attack by insurgent troops of the Soviet army, the unconditional ally of the incorrigible bearded one. Or perhaps, for those same millions, he already had died slightly more than a decade earlier, when he applauded the emergence of those same Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia there to extinguish fervor for the Prague Spring.

But not all of his deaths were so grandiloquent and transcendental, because Fidel Castro also suffered many routine deaths during those dark decades: he died every time a Cuban was humiliated at the door of an off-limits hotel or of one of those elitist stores open only to tourists; each time family members were separated or a life was lost at sea because there was no legal way to emigrate from their prison; each time sincerity was punished and, under his personal aegis, hypocrisy and duplicity were praised; every time a defenseless Cuban was beaten while trying to exercise rights that had been taken away, each time a repudiation rally was carried out; he died every time a father was imprisoned or one of his sons was robbed of his future; the great dictator also died with each truncated dream and with each empty plate.

Nonetheless, it’s certain that when the death of Fidel Castro is finally announced–the death of his physical waste, I mean–the news will make headlines everywhere. Then every editorial board or columnist should take some time for reflection, because beyond all the love or hate generated by the eternal bearded one, it is imperative that we learn once and for all the lesson, so that no other people, ever, under no circumstance or latitude whatsoever, once again deposits the same power in the hands of a single man, regardless of how beautiful, just or sublime the cause he proposes appears to be.

But when Fidel Castro suffers his definitive death, it will inevitably be the day when Cuba wakes up with the sun of truth and, with its light, opens Pandora’s box: only then will we be able to know the exact magnitude of his megalomania, re-examine his true face, the mask hidden beneath so many decades of false rhetoric and unmeasured devotion to a personality with sick ways resulting in a pathology of character that extended across an entire society for more than half a century.

He whose dream was to pass for a genius will have left in his barren path nothing less than a country in the most absurd financial ruin and, what’s worse, buried in an abyss of moral ruins. And, if the gospel promises, “by their fruit you will recognize them,” then for that day, on which he will definitively die, my people will finally calibrate in all its magnitude the reach of his betrayal and his proverbial demagoguery.

Precisely now, when all around him there is a ridiculous pact to be silent about facts of indisputable transcendence, while many are making jokes about the idea of his death or his tacitly accepted decrepitude, I raise my prayer to heaven: may God offer him many more years of life, enough so that any day in our near future he shall be granted, in the midst of his well deserved mental fog, intermittent lapses of absolute lucidity.

I would ask God for those days, or minutes, of total lucidity for the tyrant, but it’s important that there be enough of them so that he who caused us so much harm has crystal clear awareness of how my country and my people raised themselves up from the ruins as soon as they could break free; as it will be in the future, the homeland was truly better once emancipated from his despotism.

I would ask God for those few days of lucidity, before returning to ash what was ash, so He may again submerge him in darkness to dodder without glory, ruminating on his permanent defeat. Then, yes, Fidel Castro will depart for the eternal misery that he deserves, as a tenuous and embarrassing memory…and not exactly absolved by History.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

15 January 2015

 

I also demand / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

*Everyone in Peace /  Raise your hands, unite / our voices /  #YoTambiénExijo /  The 30th at 3:00

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

For the mere act of having been born a man, to be thinking, already implies in inalienable right to express myself freely without waiting for the permission of another man.

Because my right of freedom of assembly and association are provided for by international agreements recognized by the civilized world, and these agreements are found to be above the decision of the dictators that try to continue enslaving the mind of my people with its out of date demagoguery.

Because the universal right of peaceful protest implies that the streets and plazas that belong to all Cubans and not to that group that tries to set themselves up as the only owner, that group that tries to monopolize the street only for the “revolutionaries.” continue reading

Because if a real revolution is progression, dialectical forward, 180-degree turn forward, then the retrograde breed that from the power hinders the progress of my people today doesn’t deserve anything but to call themselves counterrevolutionaries.

Because more than 50 years of monologue from an undeserved altar already was too much and today it is its turn before the jury of the people of Cuba, to the betrayed, today has arrived, finally, the offended’s turn.

For all this, I also demand:

That the Cuban government ratify and immediately and unconditionally implement the International Covenants on Civil and Political Human Rights and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights that it left pending as of February 2008.

That the Cuban authorities officially recognize the existence and legitimacy of the Cuban opposition, and consequently call democratic elections where the entire spectrum of the plurality of thought of Cuban society is represented.

That an effective separation of powers be established. In this sense, it would be essential that the People’s Supreme court, highest authority of judicial power, stop being under the Council of State, highest authority of executive power, so that the judges of the People’s courts being affiliated with the Communist Party of Cuba would be prohibited, something that would favor their credibility in the impartial exercise of justice.

Let it consequently stop the harassment, persecution or any type of repression of any individual group that tries to express its political position publicly and peacefully, as well as stopping the arbitrary detentions of civic activists that represent a dissident proposal.

That the Communist Party of Cuba and Cuban State Security stop organizing the sad infamous acts of repudiation, which are profoundly damaging to the dignity of those that they perpetrate, as well as unequivocally noxious to the public morality; consequently those acts become considered as a body of crime by the existing Penal Code, at which moment will be sanctioned under the law as they have always been: authentic acts of vandalism, that include invasion of the home and/or aggression and danger to persons.

That it establish an appropriate legal framework that guarantees a full freedom of the press and total access and without censorship to the Internet as means for the exercise of our freedom of expression, from which all can, without fear of being punished for it, to propose a better way of changing these ruins that we inherit in that nation that we have, as the first law of the republic, the cuban worship of the full dignity of man.

For all these reasons: #YoTambiénExijo

Translated by: BW

 

Cuba and the United States will resume their relations… alea jacta est* / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

1419224626_989708By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The decision by the governments of Cuba and the US to normalize diplomatic relations could go down in the record books as the news of the year – and among the most momentous world news of the century so far. The more than 50 years of litigious relations – one of the longest disputes in human history – will justify every headline, column, or essay that will be devoted to this topic.

But it is worthwhile to reflect objectively on the possible consequences that this decision will have on the Cuban people – a decision made without taking into account the internal opposition voices that for years have been sounding alarms about the potential dangers of repealing instruments of pressure such as the US embargo and the European Union Common Position – without the Olive Green government having, at least, ratified and implemented the International Covenants on Human Rights that it signed in February, 2008.

A lifting of these coercive mechanisms without a minimum guarantee that these agreements – as well as other demands made by Cuban civil society – will be implemented, would imply the definitive and certain recognition of legitimacy that this dynastic government so badly needs – right when it knows itself to be crushed by historical evidence, and seeks, desperately and at any price, some escape route. continue reading

For a long time I have counted myself among those who opt for the end of the embargo, because I have always thought that without this great excuse, within a very short time the Havana totalitarian regime’s economic inefficiency, a purely endogenous evil, would definitively be shown for the sham that it is. I am still today convinced of this argument, but the coincidental timing of a series of very specific circumstances, in the midst of an unprecedented context, has made me question several points in this regard.

There is one essential difference between this particular moment in time and any previous phase of this Stalinist regime. By now it is quite clear that the old guard of the Sierra Maestra has run out of time. The failure of their proposition is no longer something yet to be proved; it is established historical fact.

These octogenarians know full-well that the days of free petroleum that Moscow provided for 30 years will never be seen again; that for now, China might be smiling, but in business matters, a deal’s a deal, payment will be required, and then, what will they do?

Cuban officials also know that under the conditions that were in force until this past 17 December – and despite their much-vaunted Foreign Investment Law – they would be unable, given their well-deserved reputations as petty con-men, to deceive any important foreign investor with half a brain in his head. Besides, they know that Cuba’s tourism industry will never take off because it cannot compete with all the surrounding excellence in the region – and that they lack the financial resources to repair this mega-disaster.

On top of it all, they know that their main source of revenue – the exploitation of public health professionals – is in imminent danger of a major setback if its principal market, Venezuela (which appears about ready for the death sentence) succumbs. In addition, the ever-increasing emigration of qualified personnel from this sector augurs the potential downfall of this dirty global money-laundering operation.

For all those reasons, the Castro regime strategists long ago looked towards the brutal and disordered North that despises them and fixed their hopes on that lifeline that Obama is now casting to them just when they were exhaling their last breath…

Now, the generalship (which in another time might have been intransigent) will once again open its legs (as it did for that community of beaten-up gusanos (worms)** in 1980, when it ran out of money in the 90s). Now “The Enemy,”*** which presumably is the same one to whom not even an inch can be given, is suddenly transfigured (to the surprise of some and the rage of others) into the floating piece of wood remaining after the shipwreck, the lifesaver for an eternal Robinson Crusoe who had already wreaked as much damage as possible upon his lost island.

In spite of all this, I remain a supporter of the lifting of the embargo but only – and this is non-negotiable – if this act is accompanied by, or is conducive to, the unconditional deference to the human rights of my people by the low-lifes…I’m sorry, I meant to say, by the apex of the Cuban establishment.****

However, once this decision is made, two unavoidable consequences appear on the immediate horizon. On the one hand the Cuban government will breathe easy, receiving in the short-term a respectable income stream that otherwise would have been out of reach (or, and it’s the same thing, it will feel safe and more secure than ever to refine new repressive strategies).

On the other hand – and this is their favorable edge – this totalitarian government has finally run out of its principal justifying argument against its “perpetual enemy” and can no longer maintain its stance as “a besieged people” (or, and again, it’s the same thing, from this moment on, the world will judge that our economic ruin is really due to the stubbornness of the Cuban leadership that kept this country stuck in the past).

In case things remain as they are portrayed to us, the Cuban people will continue being deprived of such basic civil and political rights as that of opinion and freedom of thought, of assembly and association. The regime will continue vetoing our right to access the uncensored Internet.

In the Castros’ Cuba, the existence of one, single Communist and despotic party – perhaps even more despotic and autocratic than ever – will continue to be legal, as well as one official press subject to the same censorship as always. The world will continue to hear ever more frequent and violent news reports of repressive government actions against an opposition that will continue to be officially unrecognized, and of elections that will continue to be a total farce – with the only possible sleight-of-hand coming from the Plaza of the Revolution.

This is what very likely would occur starting now, assuming that in this mise en place all the pieces have been shown to us. I say this because I do not discard the possibility that between both governments there has been a much deeper and more ambitious roadmap drawn up than what has been publicly announced. At first glance one has the impression that the US gave up too much for the little offered by Cuba – and that if both parties have demonstrated anything in common, it is how obstinate they can be when they think are right.

The evident asymmetry of the proposals is surprising, even suspicious. On the US side, there is so much that reflects a splendidly generous Obama. As for Cuba, we have a grey Raúl Castro focusing on the return of the three prisoners, while relegating the end of the half-century embargo to an aside, as though speaking of baseball season playoffs.

From this I infer that there is much more to these proceedings than meets the eye –especially if we consider, in all its weight, the direct intervention of Pope Francis.

Also, I do not discount the megalomaniac instinct of the Castros requiring that all announcements be issued progressively, in a scattered manner – slowly but relentlessly, in Raulist language – so that there should be no ugly impression that in the end they surrendered before the evidence that Fidel Castro publicly recognized years ago, that the Cuban economic model doesn’t work.

To accept this proposal would not be at odds with the pragmatic North American spirit, for which the only important thing is to achieve the stated goal, even more so if the sole obstacle is something so fragile and simple as the injured macho pride of some little old decrepit men.

But in the end, the die is cast: From now on, Cuba and the US will be good and respectable neighbors. Obama and Castro announced it barely a week after thousands of Cuban opposition members and civil rights activists were threatened and/or beaten and/or detained – but certainly all repressed – this past 10 December, International Human Rights Day, scarcely 90 miles from the North American coast.

However, to let Mr. Obama off the hook, it must be recognized, that 90 miles of open sea is too far for the President to be able to hear the cries of helplessness and the din of the crowds; to be able to perceive the intangibles of fear, pain from beatings, and the taste of blood.

This agreement being the prelude to the imminent implementation of the European Common Pact, we must face this certainty: As of today, we are left alone vis-a-vis the Monster. The fight is being observed by the world at a prudent distance. From now on, the liberty of Cuba will be, more than ever, our task alone.

Translator’s Notes:

*Latin for “the die is cast”
**“Gusano” (worm) is an insult hurled by the Cuban regime and its supporters to any person who has opposed the regime in any way, or who has left the country to escape it. The term has become a symbol of pride among opponents and exiles.
***”El Enemigo” (The Enemy) is a common epithet used by the regime, the state-run media, and supporters, when referring to the US.
****The writer is making a play on words, offsetting the Cuban slang word 
crápula (low-life) against cúpula, which literally translates as “dome” but is commonly used to denote those at the highest level of power.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

22 December 2014

Havana: City of the “Marvelous” Unreality / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jean-Paul de la Fuente, director of New7Wonders, the Swiss foundation behind the online contest to name the seven most marvelous cities of the world, is visiting the Cuban capital. Having been received by Marta Hernández Romero, president of the Havana Provincial Assembly of Popular Power, and Eusebio Leal Spengler, city historian, already De la Fuente takes on, from the moment of his arrival, the typical profile of the tourist who, from his birds-eye view, cannot perceive to what unsuspected point it is difficult for the average Cuban to live in his beloved city.

I cannot understand how anyone who knows at least something of the functioning dynamic of the Cuban capital can propose this city as a contender for such a prize, much less the inexplicable manner in which Havana ended up on the final roster alongside such urban centers as Barcelona, Chicago, London and Mexico City.

From there we can only presume that all these persons who voted to keep La Giraldilla‘s city among the final contestants for membership in that select group of urban marvels have one thing in common: none of them live in a shanty town in El Cerro, in a tenement in Centro Habana or in Marianao on the banks of the Quibú River, subsisting on a salary of 20 dollars a month for sustaining his whole family; none has suffered seeing his child drool over the inaccessible toy; nor does he know what an “un-ration” book is, nor has he asked himself, at five in the afternoon, gazing into his empty larder, “What the fuck are we going to eat tonight?” continue reading

He has never endured standing in line for several hours to buy some semi-decomposed ground meat. He never rode at peak times on one of those dinosaur, two-humped “buses” we called “camels,” hanging from the door; nor has he (for decades!) been carrying water in buckets up to a 4th floor flat, or paying 100 pesos a pop for the indolence of the pertinent functionaries.

He has not been forced to live “temporarily” in a shelter (for 15 or 20 years!) after being left homeless by one of those all-too frequent building collapses that occur in this semi-destroyed city.

Enthusiasts could allege that this selection is based on rates of health and education that compose the standards of a deceptively high Index of Human Development — which paradoxically places us above such regional economic powers as Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, México and Brazil.

We would have to see if these enthusiasts would be so ardent after visiting a medical office (in terrible structural conditions), left empty because its doctor was dispatched by the government to a foreign mission — or because the doctor decided to leave the practice because working as a taxi driver provides a much better living.

One wonders if the enthusiasts would be less enthused upon visiting a hospital beset by similar disastrous structural problems, and where the doctors and allied professionals labor under dramatic levels of personal frustration. Such a scene can be perfectly extrapolated to the education sector — the Cuban government’s other trump card — which during the 2000s touched bottom, following Fidel Castro’s failed mega-experiment that brought it to ruin.

It turns out that Havana is (as is the rest of the reality that we Cubans live inside the island) of a complexity so grotesque at times and so subtle at others, that it becomes quite difficult to comprehend for someone who arrives, sips a daiquirí, and then returns to the comfort of his routine, as surely Mr. de la Fuente will, without managing to infer just how profoundly dysfunctional this city can be, a city that is now shown-off from the immaculate balconies of the Ministry of Tourism.

I do not speak solely of the deplorable state of our highway system, with its monumental and deep potholes and clogged storm drains; nor of the generalized absence of garbage containers which contributes to the filth in the streets; nor of the vacant tenements or the buildings in ruins.

The point, beyond all that, is a matter more grave and profound: it is about the incapacity of the Cuban government to solve our problems, and its lack of political will to open us up to the world; it is about the abusive pricing the government sets and the dual currency system it maintains; the punishing customs restrictions that effectively block the transport into the country of merchandise that would make our lives easier, and the oppressive reticence towards anything that would encourage our personal prosperity.

It is the absurd refusal to allow us to purchase an automobile at a minimally decent price, for example, thus to keep Havana still plagued by rickety cars left over from the first half of the last century; it is the systematic prohibition against our access to that same Internet that De la Fuente uses today to sponsor his contest and which is denied to the millions of us Cubans who live on the Island — and who do live on the banks of the Quibú River, eat decomposed ground soy meat, get around on primitive transportation, and cannot access the Internet — our legitimate right to post words like these on his site.

Finally, it is here that one would have to consider all of those “small things” that, all together, ultimately make this city “marvelous” — or asphyxiating — for the humans that reside in it. And up to this point, I have not mentioned at all fear, that ethereal resident of all cities in Cuba, and which is among its most hurtful complications: the fear of being annulled by an all-encompassing power that investigates and controls everything, so well-known by every opposition-member or dissident; this omnipresent fear whose intangible nature makes it impossible to include among the criteria considered in this brilliant contest from Switzerland, New7Wonders.

26 November 2014

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Cuban Health Care Workers’ Motives: Idealism or Necessity? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

 

Raul Castro waves goodbye to a Cuban healthcare worker leaving for an overseas post
Raul Castro waves goodbye to a Cuban healthcare worker leaving for an overseas post

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

During an interview last Thursday on his afternoon radio program the host, Ninoska Perez, told me about the mood she perceived in the Cuban medical brigade workers dispatched a few days ago by Raul Castro. She was struck by the “unfriendly” demeanor some of these professionals showed upon leaving for West Africa to confront the Ebola epidemic. I could not comment because I had not seen the television program in question, but her observation did cause me to think about the motives of Cuban health care workers who have joined medical missions in recent decades.

Although regularly presented by the Cuban government as examples of lofty philanthropic aspirations, in reality these missions have become in the span of a few short years the main source of income for this Caribbean nation. We have all witnessed how the government in Havana — rather than simply acknowledging that this is a fee-based service from which it has, on the whole, profited handsomely — continues to portray my self-sacrificing colleagues as selfless messiahs.

At the same time it downplays the notion that a health care worker — someone who is paid poverty-level wages — might embark on such a mission in order to somewhat mitigate his desperate economic situation. The pretense is that this is more than simply a contract labor issue, something for which a fee is paid. In itself this is certainly not immoral, but the assumption is that the “new man” is motivated only by the purest form of altruism.

Far be it for me to question those who put themselves in harm’s way. As I am not God, I have no right to do so. In light of what they are doing, a modicum of humility on my part is in order since I am not the one facing possible exposure. Nevertheless, a number of facts come to mind that cannot be denied.

First of all, the Cuban professionals who have been sent on these missions for more than a decade now do not do so under the same conditions as their counterparts from other countries. Elsewhere, these things follow a natural course. In other words, the workers themselves make the decision to enter into employment contracts based on their own interests and prospects.

Under a totalitarian government like Cuba’s, however, the parameters are quite different since our professional workers are not operating from a position of personal freedom.

It is no secret that a health care worker on a medical mission almost never has any say over where he is assigned. And once in the host country, he is monitored as though he were a child. This applies to his personal relationships — from the people with whom he talks and associates to when and where he goes out with them — as well as to even very small payments for outside work, which are expressly forbidden.

Furthermore, while working overseas, his “salary” is no more than 15% to 20% of the contract price agreed upon by the two governments. In many cases this amounts less than the legal minimum wage in the host country. The remainder is retained by the Cuban treasury.

Upon his return, our colleague is not allowed to bring into the country anything more than stipulated by the mission director, which amounts to a few very limited boxes of merchandise, and then only after his period of service has officially ended. Back in Cuba, he can access only half of the salary he was paid, with the balance remaining frozen in some Cuban bank.

In the event he should decide to end his term of service earlier than expected for personal reasons, he would be considered a deserter and would forfeit all the money he had earned. Even his family would not be able to access his bank account. He would also be strictly prevented from returning to Cuba for eight years, even for a short period to visit his children or in the event of a serious illness or the death of one of his parents.

Given all this, it is understandable why Ninoska would describe the current contingent as “an army of slaves.” Setting aside the harsh description, it is evident that the relationship the government maintains towards individual workers is not one of respect but rather continues to be punitive and despotic in nature.

But there are parts of the world that still do not understand that the government that treats its citizens in such an arbitrary way is the same one that is sending our colleagues to Africa. It is the same one that is killing us at airports with astronomical prices and draconian customs regulations, the same one which pays us salaries that are laughable when compared to a cost of living that reaches soaring heights, the same one that does nothing to mitigate the state of affairs it itself has created and encouraged, all of which are incompatible with its humble proclamations of universal generosity.

Under such circumstances — knowing they face threats from an oppressive force that is both employer and executioner — it is impossible to assess the sincerity of some our health care workers when they appear in public singing the praises of the revolution, the party and proletarian internationalism. It is quite disturbing to see a familiar face among this group after having heard him complain bitterly about living and working conditions that are sometimes simply bad but often are appalling.

This “benevolent” government — the only one that is sends its physicians off to glory or to death — demonstrates its contempt for us in the most brutal way. And the reason it can do this with impunity is because it keeps trotting us around like victory pennants, or like the collateral behind the emotional blackmail it uses to garner votes and commitments from foreign governments in international forums.

That is why in domestic policy they can afford to grossly neglect the welfare of their own people. Who would guess that a government that takes the “laudable” action of sending a contingent to Africa larger than those of the rest of the world combined would be capable of subjugating its own people? How would a world dazzled by such an admirable initiative suspect that our civil rights are not respected or that on a daily basis we are subjected to physical attacks, arbitrary detentions and fully orchestrated acts of repudiation?

When Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, or John Kerry, US Secretary of State, praises the Cuban government — even when it is clear their remarks are limited only to its role in the current health crisis — they voluntarily or involuntarily concede ground and thus give Cuban authorities another slap on the back, allowing them to perpetuate their domestic policy of indentured servitude.

But those of us dealing with this grim reality are not deceived by those who have a monopoly on everything, even when they are disguised as sequined divas on the world stage. We don’t forget that this is the same government which continues to speculate with our most basic needs. We know that they intend to perpetuate our misery because they know that a bankrupt people, materially and spiritually impoverished, will always be more susceptible to their whims than a serene and prosperous people.

From Citizen Zero I wish my colleagues from Cuba and around the world much luck and success in this critical mission, which is essential if humanity is to eradicate this dangerous scourge. At the same time, I cannot help but abhor the way the Cuban government politically manipulates the personal risks these workers are assuming. Ultimately, it will be the infallible, inexorable and certain judgment of history that will separate the gold from the dross and the diamond from the coal.

27 October 2014

Who is really blockading us? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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

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

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

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

Translated by GH

9 October 2014

 

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

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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

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

Although a first clinical trial for a vaccination has just been implemented, the reality is that for now the medical treatment protocols are in their infancy in the face of a disease that in previous outbreaks has reached a lethality of between 90% and 100% of cases and in the face of which one can only commit to treatments of its severe complications and to practice the usual measures for life support.

Today is raised before man a threat by one of the bad boys of virology, which demands the implementation of the most extreme biological containment measures, as well as the use of the most specialized and scrupulously trained personnel for its handling.

Such a scene places before us the most elemental question: what if Ebola breaks out in Cuba? This is not negligible, and it stopped being a remote possibility after the departure of a detachment of hundreds of Cuban professionals destined for the African countries flogged by the epidemic. Let’s remember the possibility that it was that route used by cholera to reappear in our country, imported from Haiti after an absence of 120 years, and not to mention the everlasting dengue fever.

The eruption of this most dangerous illness in Cuba could simply take on shades of tragedy.  Beyond how dissipated may become the customs of the inhabitants of the alligator, I am inclined to fear by the experience of one who has seen too often the systematic use of recyclable material, the usual practice in Cuba, even when long ago the world definitively committed to the exclusive use of disposable material: the idea of treatment centers for these patients winding up recycling suits, gloves or other materials because it occurs to some pig-headed guy from the “higher level” that this would “guarantee” safety under such circumstances is terrifying.

In a country where too many times a doctor does not have in his office something as basic as running water and soap in order to wash his hands, it will be understood what the demand for costly minimal material demanded for handling patients with Ebola would involve, and if besides we take into account that the almost generality of our hospital infrastructure is not designed or prepared objectively for the containment of this kind of scourge, now we will be able to raise a prayer to the Virgin to save us from the trance.

On the other hand, let’s not forget how reticent the Cuban authorities have shown themselves to be about publicly reporting on the incidence of epidemics when one considers that this might risk the affluence of tourists or the successful conclusion of some relevant international event — the Cuban dengue fever mega-epidemic of 2006 is still an excellent example in that regard.

With all these antecedents at hand, chills are felt before the possibility here considered and the questions that remain unanswered.  Will the Cuban Public Health System be prepared to control the Ebola outbreak with the required speed?  Will we Cuban professionals have the training, methodology and even the discipline necessary for adequately confronting a contingency of this caliber — and that quite few seem to have faced before?  When the moment arrives, will our government be ready to report the truth bluntly to the people and to the world?  Will this “infallible” government that has exported dozens of medical missions around the world have the humility to recognize its inability to control it and to seek help?

Since the strategy followed until now by WHO at an international level may be debatable — which has accepted being faced with the most serious epidemiological problem since the appearance of AIDS — in regard to the transfer of the foreign sick in order to receive treatment in their respective countries.  Obviously this increases considerably the possibility of transcontinental spread of the virus.

Instead, it would be much more recommended and safe to create adequate conditions in the country where each case is confirmed through a centralized and functional network of field installations correctly equipped and with the full extent of security that is presupposed, where each patient is diagnosed, isolated and treated on site.  For example, it would be worthwhile to consider, in order to implement this kind of possibility, the immediate conversion of uninhabited coastal African islands under the supervision of the experts of WHO and similar organizations such as Doctors Without Borders.

Means analogous to these, and apart from any legal or political assessment, would be more convenient and effective for the containment of this epidemic.  Even the UN — which came to air the topic at the Security Council — could deliver strong resolutions that support and regulate these variants, and it would all be justified by the gravity of a moment that is not made for warm cloths.  It requires taking the strongest measures everywhere the illness is found, if with these measure rapid control of the situation is achieved — including the extreme recourse of military quarantine where it comes to be evidently applicable and necessary.

Admittedly, this proposal may be offered to varied readers, but in operative, practical terms it may constitute the only option that guarantees concrete solutions that stop the advance of this fearful scourge.  It may be now or never: we live at a critical time that demands critical measures. What is not rushed today for lack of political will, governmental indolence or timidity by world institutions, undoubtedly will tomorrow charge a much more dramatic and global human and economic cost.

Translated by mlk.

16 October 2014

 

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

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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

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

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

They do this under the very noses of the Interior Ministry officials responsible for “catching them.” This is the same Interior Ministry that is so well-informed and ready to suppress ipso facto any activity of the opposition, however small it might be, but that suddenly becomes “blind and disoriented” in the face of these scandalous, illegal transfers of money.

Nevertheless, I do not foresee in the magic ball the flow of “mules” who supply the black market being halted any time soon. They have “greased” too well those same corrupt officials through bribery. Nor do I see these restrictions leading the Cuban people to buy more shoddy, third-rate goods at scam prices in the hard currency stores; people took note of the pillage happening there a long time ago.

In the depths of my imaginary ball I see very clearly indeed people’s increasing disgust with a government that grows ever more out of touch with them, mired in a delusional fantasy and crafting the kind of measures that only serve to make life more miserable with each passing day.

The Cuban government has demonstrated that it knows no limits when it comes to besmirching us. It is sickening to hear the arguments used to justify these despicable measures. Confiscating a mobile phone in an effort to keep it off the flourishing black market is like grabbing the wrong end of the stick, as is trying to grab certain products brought in by certain passengers.

If someone imports dozens of televisions and computers while someone else brings in dozens of printers or desktop PCs and it is done through customs and with the blessing of officials, it means there were good “rea$on$” to permit it. This does not justify adopting a sweeping policy to deal with a few individuals but which ends up affecting us all.

Furthermore, even if an enthusiasm for acquiring wealth by those importing these goods is demonstrable, it is not something that can be demonstrated at the airport, nor is it the responsibility of the General Customs Service to do so. For that there is a body of regulations and inspectors, whose very job is to see to it that legislation is enforced on the ground. But to accuse all of us of the same thing and to make us pay in the same way is a huge stretch.

Without being naive, it is certainly not natural or ethical for someone who does not know my needs or the size of my family to presume that whatever I bring in beyond what he happens to deem appropriate is of a “commercial character.”

We should never forget, however, that the enduring maxim of the authorities of this country is to ignore the principle of the presumption of innocence. Here you are considered guilty until you can prove otherwise.

Meanwhile, we remain the only country where the government insists on fining its own citizens — no matter how much they try to sugarcoat it, this is what it amounts to — at the customs house door for the “crime” of simply trying to improve their lives.

Translated by mlk

14 July 2014

 

Why Is Another Cuba Necessary? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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

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

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

What is keeping the Cuban government from ratifying these conventions? What does our ruling elite fear? It would be worthwhile to briefly analyze the implications of what this action might have, at least in theory, on Cuba’s socio-economic dynamic. I say “in theory” because the Cuban revolution was born, consolidated and has withered, all within half a century. Cuba was a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though this never disrupted the long saga of abuse suffered by its people over this entire period of time.

Ratification of these agreements would “require” the Cuban government, the Communist Party and the state security apparatus — in essence they are one and the same — to officially recognize the existence of civically organized opposition political parties with the right to nominate candidates for elections as pluralistic as the people they would represent.

It would require the government to suspend and subsequently prohibit all repressive actions against individuals and organizations engaged in peaceful opposition, including acts of repudiation and brazen assaults in the street. Those carrying out such assaults would face the risk of trial by impartial courts issuing fair rulings based on due process and without regard to political considerations. It would also require authorities to amend the Penal Code to recognize these actions for what they in fact are: crude acts of vandalism.

It would require them to recognize our right of assembly and association as well as our right to peaceful public protest, and thus to suspend all hostilities against opposition marches organized by the opposition and to halt the waves of arbitrary arrests intended to prevent them, as is routine practice today.

It would require them to respect our right to free expression and the ability to exercise it through all possible means of mass communication, and thus to allow unrestricted access to the media, including the press in all its forms, and immediate, full and uncensored access to the internet.

Ratification would require them to respect the fundamental right of parents to choose the kind of education that their children receive rather than leave them with no choice but stale political indoctrination. It would also guarantee our right to receive a fair salary, one that would allow us to live without having to trade our dignity for paltry handouts.

Today these and other universal rights, which lie beneath the totalitarian aegis, are the focus of these covenants. Their broad scope, representing the vindication of human dignity, explains the strong aversion that dictatorships have always shown towards them.

These conventions are neither “abominable propaganda tools” nor a form of “bourgeois domination” by “global capitalism,” as they are often characterized in government propaganda. They are in fact among the most advanced instruments conceived by humankind to prevent a return to the barbarism from which the UN arose in mid-20th century. This in why only the most retrograde governments openly oppose them.

No one here is talking about “returning to a shameful past — a stale and decrepit slogan — or sighing nostalgically for bygone eras. This is simply no longer possible. The world has changed too much and, along with it, Cuba and its people. The only thing anyone here talks about is bringing the country up to date, of no longer being the breeding ground for laziness, and of the ambition of some to begin turning it into a source equality and prosperity for everyone.

This is why last Monday I “physically” signed this citizen petition along with my wife, Dr. Aliette Padron Antigua (I had already given my “virtual” support a few weeks ago) and submitted it to the headquarters of the Council of State. We endorse this campaign because we firmly believe that another Cuba — one without abuse, where all Cubans live together in dignity and peace, the Cuba for which our forebears gave their lives — is still a valid and possible dream.

30 June 2014

 

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

University Entrance Exam in Mathematics to be Repeated in Havana

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

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

Without doubt, the lamentable economic hardship suffered by our country´s educators influences all this, with a “salary” similar to that earned up to now by our doctors, and which has kept both groups on the edge of poverty for decades. But, it isn’t for nothing that I write here the word “influences” rather than “determines”.

As a result of mysteries of human nature, at the same time and place as some tend toward hypocrisy, others behave stoically. I know honourable examples of teachers who never were shamelessly two-faced and who have lived with decency while enduring poverty, and for that reason I cannot accept that necessity is enough in itself to affect everyone equally, however oppressive it may be.

It’s clear that in this case as well, the people detained and prosecuted — eight of them according to what was published by Granma — belong yet again to the lower classes. Although transparency is always reasonable, because it is the “raison d´etre” of all genuine journalism, and it is worthwhile making an example, I ask myself if this official melodrama would be equally able to denounce a sacred cow, a commander or historical leader of the Revolution, in the event of it being shown that they were implicated in some such difficulty.

Translated by GH

18 June 2014

 

Memories of One December 10th / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Act I: The Barricade

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I need to get by,” I reply.

“No, you cannot,” he shoots back.

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

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

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

 Act II: The Detention

I try telling the agents of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) that the handcuffs are not necessary, but they clamp them on tightly. In a few minutes I am at the Territorial Unit of Criminal Operations and Investigations (DIVICO 3) located on 62nd Street at 7th and 9th in Playa, where I am met along the side of the parking lot.

They take off the handcuffs but their imprint — on the skin, that is — will last for hours. The booking officer asks for my name and the group to which I belong. I identify myself and I say that I do not belong to any group. There is no point in telling him I am a doctor, who would have been at Rodiles’ house for only 20 minutes because the next day I am on call at the hospital for 24 hours and must now get home. Moments later another agent appears and asks, “Haven’t you had problems with your work…  or something like that?”

“Yes, that’s me,” I say, almost interrupting to save him from further reflection. Having verified my coordinates, he leaves. That is when the man I presume to be the boss relaxes his tone of voice a bit. I tell them they are making a serious mistake, that it will lead to nothing, that they have no right to detain me, that they should try other methods.

“So, tell me,” asks the official, “how would you solve this?”

I tell him it was not up to me to solve the problem. He spends the next hour trying to persuade me to go home but I insist that first I have to go to Rodiles’ house.

“You can go there some other time but not today,” he tells me emphatically. “If you try to do it again, we’ll just arrest you again. We’ll be at this all day, so let’s just avoid the hassle.”

During this “impasse” I manage to talk for a few minutes with Gorki Avila, who is in great pain after his “peaceful” arrest. The agents come back, convinced the game is deadlocked. They confiscate my camera and send me to a jail cell.

Act III: Convicted

It is an almost hermetic cell of about 50 square meters and about 6 meters high that, in addition to a door, has a single barred window half a meter tall and about 5 meters from the floor. Three granite benches are the only elements besides the walls, which are painted with several layers of quicklime in an attempt to cover up the graffiti of slogans and curses that bear witness to the cell’s history. Inside are thirteen detainees whose luck today has been similar to mine. They tell me that before they arrived there were others who passed through and estimate that — in this one unit — there may have been fifty prisoners, including several women.

Act IV: The Wait

In time boredom and heat set in, forcing me to remove my pullover. The hours pass in fleeting conversation with occasional outbursts from those screaming at the top of their lungs at the sons of bitches. At the end of the afternoon they bring in Gorki, who is still in pain and complains repeatedly of a headache. After awhile we manage to get him medicated at a nearby clinic and he returns, his pain eased.

About 8:00 PM hunger sets in. Those who so desire are taken to eat but I decline. I guess captivity has taken away my appetite. It is at this moment that the official I saw earlier that afternoon chooses to diffuse the tension— he says to call him Mandy — by playing the good cop. In a tone that in other circumstances might be described as conciliatory, we chat and even philosophize a bit. I take the opportunity to reiterate, for the third time, that I need to call home and, also for the third time, that I am running out of time.

Just then it occurs to me that not only am I being arbitrarily detained but that I am what would technically be described as a missing person. My family will have been waiting for me for several hours without knowing of my whereabouts. For a long time the cell door has remained open, giving the impression that we could leave our confinement and go have a cup of coffee at the corner, if only we were dumb enough to believe it.

The hours pass and little by little the detainees are released so that by 10 PM only five of us remain. Around 10:30 PM they call out for Edilio, an attorney with the Cuban Legal Association, along with another detainee. Now there is only Gorki, Aldo (who manages the Castor Jabao website*) and I. Around 11:00 PM three mats appear and it is then that I resign myself to spending the night in jail.

 Act V: “Liberated”

In the morning the bars finally open and they call out my name. I say goodbye to Gorki and Aldo, who would remain there 12 hours more. At the exit a PNR official shows me a document. In the place where I am supposed to sign, someone has already written, “Did not sign,” which saved me the trouble since that was exactly what I was thinking anyway. The document mentions something about counter-revolution but I tell them they should look for counter-revolutionaries among the crooks who are embezzling this country. They give me back my camera but not before completely draining the battery

After the Terminal Lido stop the bus takes me towards Artemisa. I am gross. I quickly bathe, have something for lunch and head back to Havana for my shift at the hospital because, in spite of it all, it is not the members of my team nor my patients who are responsible for my detention.

Last Act: The Next Day’s Pill

My shift is a killer. When I get home that evening, I open the newspaper Granma to find that in a farewell address at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, President Raul Castro spoke movingly of the need for the people of Latin America to be “respectful of diversity, with the conviction that dialogue and cooperation are the way to resolve differences and civilized coexistence of those who think differently…”

I do not find out about this until the next day for reasons that are obvious. As the president of this country, who now chairs the United Nations Human Rights Council, is delivering his speech, this Cuban was being detained for 16 hours for trying to attend a State of Sats meeting. This amounted to a violation of his right to freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of thought, considering he was only thinking of going to this meeting.

The question one then has to ask is, What is the Cuban government afraid of? Could it be that the it has not ratified the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it signed in 2008, because it intends to continue its attacks on our civil liberties. This is precisely why, now seven weeks later, I am providing an account of these events. In light of the evidence, further comments are unnecessary.

*Translator’s note: a satirical Cuban website. 

29 January 2014