The Turn of the Outraged / Jeovany Jimenez Vega #Cuba

In March 2007 the Attorney General of the Republic replied just once to the first of three applications by two doctors who had been unjustly disqualified. It wasn’t just a technical report issued by a non-political and autonomous body against two citizens who considered their rights had been fundamentally violated, but this retrospective response was a vendetta, a written crucifixion using biased and politically-chargedlanguage.

But for some mysterious reason, and in spite of the fact that more than five years have passed, I woke up this morning with a couple of doubts circling in my mind. This is what they were about: if, hypothetically, the two people affected were now to decide to file a lawsuit at the Peoples’ Tribunal against those responsible for the serious injury suffered, what process would they have to follow? Would it now be considered appropriate for our Attorney General to accuse these officials – who doubtless still occupy public service positions – of having subjected us to public humiliation and grave professional and family damage?

Above all, the conclusion would unavoidably be drawn that we should be reinstated in our profession and recompensed for the salary owed to us to cover the period in which we had been disqualified; the implication would be clear that it was a total injustice, and that in order to throw the book at us they played with the truth, they slandered us and, obviously, someone was responsible. Today I would ask our “honorable” Attorney General who five years ago dismissed all the evidence in our favour, if we still have the right to accuse those persons who, enjoying full authority, never did anything.

I wonder if one could still proceed on the grounds of perjury and defamation against the then Provincial Director of Health of Havana, Dr Wilfredo Lorenzo Felipe, who is now Municipal Director of Health of Guanajay, and his wife, Doctor Beatriz Torres Pérez, who was then Dean of the Western Branch of the Institute of Medical Science of Havana, against the then Minister of Public Health, Dr. José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, who is now the Head of International Relations of the Central Committee of the Party, who ignored the 10 letters sent to him, and the present-day Minister, Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda, who ignored several others.

I wonder if one could proceed against the President of Parliament,Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada on the basis of perversion of the course of justice, and against Esteban Lazo, Vice President of the Council of State, and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, First Vice President of the Council of State, or Raul Castro, our President, who received four letters which were not replied to – just a question. All these persons, even if they weren’t responsible for what happened, at least knew about it for years and did nothing about it.

Moving on, I ask myself if the Attorney General of the Republic would consider it to be in order to commence an action for perversion of the course of justice against itself as an institution, for having, since mid-2007, rejected the evidence which should have resulted in our immediate readmission, as it showed that the facts were twisted in order to punish us for political reasons. I am supposedly living under a Rule of Law – as my government assures us – which gives me the authority, I believe, as an ordinary citizen — perhaps Citizen Zero — to place before the relevant powers such resources as I believe necessary to guarantee my personal liberties.

I am not proposing to dig around in the shit. My long and patient struggle to return to work in my profession has made me grow and rise above my miseries. Now I am only driven by curiosity, because although I have the right to feel resentment still, nevertheless I have decided to follow the noble advice of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez, those blessed miscreants who, just a few hours after my reinstatement, proposed that from that moment I should concentrate on my health and forgive everything; after everything it was those “warmongers” who – paradoxically – put it to me that I should have the courage and stature to forget.

by Jeovany Jimenez Vega.

Translated by GH

November 13 2012

 

An Indecent Proposal / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

In response to an article published by Jean-Guy Allard in the newspaper Granma on November 12, in which Yoani Sanchez is accused, for the umpteenth time, of being “a mercenary working for the United States.”

Clearly the theme “Generation Y” has escaped the hands of those responsible for calming the troops, and I presume this has upset the dream of countless government operatives, real and virtual, at all levels of Cuban counterintelligence.

As in my role as a doctor I’m obliged to look after the physical as well as the mental health of every Cuban, today I am trying to convey to the author of this article and to State Security — including its Section 21, that maintains a very intense romance with this young woman in Havana — a doubt that assails me: if the U.S. government and/or the CIA have contracted with this “mercenary” and this is what motivates her, financial payments, she works only for this, then the solution to their insomnia is extremely simple: why don’t they bribe her? Why don’t they pay her more and call it good?

If there is something that history has amply demonstrated, it is that the mercenaries, without honor and flag, serve the highest bidder; then the solution is easy: if the people to the north have paid her some miserable half million euros, then pay her, let’s say, a million, or five, or even ten, and surely her eyes will jump out of her head at such an irresistible offer. After all, in this heart vacant of principles there is nothing more than greed, so now it’s time to raise the stakes on this out-of-control woman and you’ll see how fast she changes sides and sinks into an absolute silence, as such a contract would require.

Although I have been to her house many times, the only life of Yoani’s that I know is the publicly visible one. Despite the cordiality with which she treats everyone there, along with her husband — that also irredeemable soul, Reinaldo Escobar — there are barriers that respect and prudence presuppose. Because of this I don’t aspire in this post to offer an apology, not to mention that’s not my personal style, it’s about something much more elemental: someone who has managed to feed a blog that receives, according to Wikipedia, 14 million visits a month — making it the most visited page in the Spanish language network — doesn’t need it.

As for me, I don’t seek anything personal from Yoani either, and what’s more, having never flattered or bowed down to absolute power and the onerous owner of everything around me, capable of ruining my life with a snap of his fingers, then I’m not going to do it before anyone.

But it fries my bacon that in the official Cuban press, which is scandalously silent about the high level corruption overrunning my country, everything is reduced to the old story of money money money — as evidenced by the fact that absolutely every Cuban political opponent, from the oldest and most recalcitrant to the latest upstart, without exception, is accused of this.

So fine, back to the point: paying this “depraved” woman more would be a solution, right? And given that, thanks to the blockade, budgets for repressive activities are tight, something unlikely, say 500,001 euros ought to be enough. After all, for these out-of-control people, according to the official accusation, the difference of a single dollar ought to be enough to make them collapse, drooling, at the feet of their new master.

In a country where millions keep their mouths shut and fake it for a leadership position, for the assignment of a State-owned car, for a little work mission abroad, what wouldn’t this libertine do before such an offer. I think, I suppose, I am saying, the best thing to do with this trifling sum — which would be worth extracting, with due prudence, from the secret account of some tycoon who’s robbed millions from this little country — would be enough to rid the general staff of such a pain in the testicles.

I do want to note, though, that I acted here only from the professional point of view, from an analgesic vocation to relieve the discomfort caused by this chick with iron balls — undoubtedly the largest and most powerful on the island, nobody questions it — and all would be carried out in the most secretive and strict confidentiality.

After all, we doctors work for free in Cuba, it’s nothing to me, but it’s amazing, I remain concerned that the genitals … I mean the genial… strategists of State Security never thought to follow such an elementary strategy.

November 27 2012

 

Upgrade of Cuban Migration Policy? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

It is already a fact: the awaited “migration reforms”, announced by Raul Castro a month and a half ago, arrive with a lot of noise — much ado about nothing. Published “casually” five days before the elections for delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of Popular Power, the modification to Law No. 1312 “Law of Migration” of September 20, 1976, was again the plastic carrot hung in front of the herd. Some simpleton might believe his opportunity in life has arrived, but the disillusionment — I really wish I were wrong on this point — sooner or later will reveal the true intention behind a decree where they repeat the verb “to authorize”too much which has ruled the destinies of a people confined to their borders for more than half a century.

According to my understanding of Decree-Law No. 302, issued by President Raul Castro October 11, 2012, and published in the Official Gazette last October 16, nothing changes for the professional Cubans — including thosefrom the Public Health, needless to say — we continue dragging that cross that the government became by havingdevoted ourselves to the cultivation of knowledge. Once again it pays us so: leaving us at aclear disadvantage, violating our right to travel, depriving us ofany opportunity to meet the world. Articles 24 and 25, subsections f, make it very clear when they exclude from leaving the country all those who lack “the established authorization, pursuant to the strict rules of preserving the qualified work force…” which with one blow leaves millions of Cubans out of the game.

One does not have to be really smart to notice that articles 23, 24 and 25, added entirely to the former Law of September 1976, give fullpower to the authorities to refuse passport, to refuseentry and equally to refuse exit from the country, respectively and according to subjective criteria, to any person inside or outside of Cuba, all of which serves to leave bare the true, hypocritical and deceptive nature of this law. Too much ambiguity leaves open Article 32, subparagraph h — and by extension the same subparagraph of Article 25 — when they establish that some clerk can refuse the award of the passport and/or exit from the countryto anyone, “When for other reasons of public interest the empowered authorities determine…”, ambiguity which will serve to continue detaining millions of Cubans under this blue sky every time the Cuban Government feels like it. These articles and subparagraphs will be hanging, like the sword of Damocles, over all Cubans.

The other invidious facet of the matter: Article 24, by means of its subparagraphs c, d and e, establishes as “. . . inadmissible. . .” for entry into the country — because they put them into the same category as terrorists, human and arms traffickers, drug dealers and international money launderers — those accused by the Cuban Government of “…Organizing, encouraging, managing or participating in hostile actions against the political, economic, and social fundamentals of the Cuban State“, “When reasons of Defense and National Security so suggest” and also — this is the little jewel in the crown — all those whom the Cuban Government considers must “Be prohibited from entering the country for being declared undesirable or expelled.” If one wants it clearer, pour water on it: it is a given that those Cubans with politicalstandards divergent from the Government lines will continue being deprived of travel, and in case they do manage to leave the country, they assume a high risk of not being permitted to return, and this includes, of course, the millions of Cubans and their descendants who live outside of their country.

Something remains clear: as long as one authority might prohibit those of us living in Cuba from leaving freely, and also prohibitthat anyone of the millions that live outside return unconditionally to the embrace of their homeland, no one will be able to speak of realfreedom of travel; this is an individual’s exclusive decision and will never be a clerk’s because, right to the end, it is inalienable. As long as they make us leave our families here as hostages as a prerequisite to travel abroad, freedom of thought is abridged with an exit blackmail, if even one Cuban is denied his right to freely come or go as his birthright, nothing will have changed in Cuba. Time will have the last word, but for now everything seems pure illusion; for the moment, on the balcony of Havana, this little room is just the same.

Translated by mlk.

October 25 2012

 

A Summer Night’s Nightmare / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

This has been a rainy year in Cuba, and as if to do justice to the energy of this season, in Artemisa last Saturday afternoon it rained buckets including a concert of terrible thunder. An hour after having cleared up, around 5 PM, the guest who didn’t make it was seen approaching: the blackout. The strange part of it was that the presumed break waited an hour after the last ray of sunshine to make its appearance on the scene. The hours passed, with midnight the terrible certainty arrived: this would be a long day, we slept without electric current in the midst of this horrid summer. It wasn’t the first time, nor the end of the world nor much less, but in this country of timid advances and serious setbacks, I couldn’t help shuddering at the thought that these nightly blackouts would return to be a part of the daily landscape.

But if we speak fairly, we have to recognize that we haven’t had power outages for years, at least in my and neighboring towns, they stopped being habitual only to convert themselves into real news, then the strategy of getting better autonomy in the territories by installing generators gave, seemingly, the hoped-for results. Today, the blackout occurs only in the case of breakage, and is generally short. But when it comes, it does it with the aggravating factor of finding most Cuban homes enslaved to electrical service, then together with the sensibility of selling us electrical appliances — it must have something to do with an idiosyncratic problem — the insensitivity of shutting down our liquid gas service, by which more than one Artemisan saw themselves dark in the afternoon-night of this Saturday.

Inevitably, my mood soured by the intense heat made my thoughts fly back in time and I remembered — how could I forget? — those summer nights of 1993 and 1994, those tortured nights of neighbors sleeping in doorways, and at the heat of the roofs, at the mercy of the mosquitoes, to flee from the suffocating heat. In those days the “alumbrones*”, because the daily blackouts lasted between 16 and 20 hours, even whole days, they were, together with the scarcity of food and the virtual absence of transport, the most palpable evidence that we had hit bottom.

Although the morning came, it wasn’t until almost Sunday mid-afternoon, after 17 hours that seemed too long for fixing a break, that the service was re-established and I breathed a sigh of relief. Over the kitchen, like witnesses to an involuntary vigil, stood the burned-up remains of the candles and the memory of this nightmare of a summer’s night.

*Translator’s note: “Alumbron” is a Cuban word coined to mean when the electricity is ON. The existence of the word is testimony to the fact that at certain times in recent Cuban history the electricity being ON has been the unexpected state of affairs, while blackouts were the common and expected state of affairs.

Translated by: JT

August 10 2012

 

The Last Card in the Deck / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Talking some months ago with a friend the polemic centered around the selective prohibitions maintained by our government against all common sense and that directly damage the Cuban people. Then my friend maintained that the last to be lifted, in his judgment, would be the prohibition against travel, but I maintained then, and I still believe it, that the last card of the deck that they will give up will be free access to the internet.

The strict control maintained during the revolutionary phase about all kinds of information, the iron censorship over all kinds of press and the absolute monopoly supported against all slogans over how much radio, publishing, writings, contests, magazines or pamphlets saw the light of day, and finally the more recent odyssey suffered by the ghostly fiber optic cable launched from Venezuela, which has been shrouded by a dense cloak of mystery — a topic officially excluded from our press — are elements that convince me of this.

The right to freely access information without censorship is inherent to the liberty of modern man, and opposing it is something like a confession of guilt by a retrograde power opposed to the most elemental rules of democracy. In the case of the Internet, that matter of touching a key in the morning while still in pajamas and having before your eyes as much publication as has been launched in the world — an unthinkable luxury within Cuba for the average Cuban — is a very serious matter.

I won’t fall for the naiveté of saying that in cyberspace everything is peachy and absolute transparency reins, free from the impurities of a tendentious press, but it is undeniable that, as never before, it offers opportunities to civil society to spread the truths that are contrary to the interests of the powers that be.

Internet censorship has been instituted as one of the crown jewels with respect to limiting our liberties.To oppose now in the second decade of the 21st century what has been one of the most ingenious creations of man, what has turned into a depository of his knowledge and spirituality like nothing else, is simply and plainly a crime. It is a duty of the Cuban people to demand tirelessly this right because from the very moment that it is won we will be much freer.

Although the final labor of censorship continues yielding its fruits. During the last weeks I have had, and I will have in the future, serious difficulties updating my page. Citizen Zero, like other blogs, will enter into a brief, involuntary silence, all for not having a site to connect us with the Internet. This makes me repeat once more the big question: if the Cuban government says it is in possession of the absolute truth, then . . .what does it fear? If the big world press publishes on its web its versions, instead of ours, so “ethical and objective,” publish theirs. It happens that I am an adult, university graduate and I know how to read; I want to access both with my own eyes, and I do not see the sense, now overwhelming me, that a reader on the National News on TV should go to the trouble of doing it for me.

Translated by mlk

May 27 2012

 

White Coat / Yoani Sánchez

Dr. Jeovany Jimenez on the 11th day of his hunger strike
Dr. Jeovany Jimenez on the 11th day of his hunger strike

Guanajay has a central park that looks like one of a larger town and a gazebo with the majesty of an entire capital. Right there, for 28 days, Jeovany Jimenez staged a hunger strike demanding his right to return to his practice as a physician. He had been expelled from his profession in 2006 when he protested a miserable wage increase for public health personnel. He complained about the meager 48 Cuban pesos ($2 USD), to be added — with great fanfare — to the salaries of surgeons, anesthetists, nurses and other health care professionals. Along with the administrative action applied to him, he was also expelled from the Communist Party in which he was active. In late 2010 and in the absence of any institutional response to his complaints, he opened the blog Citizen Zero on the Cuban Voices platform.

After sending the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) a score of letters over these last five years, the proscribed Dr. Jiménez resorted to a desperate strategy, to stop ingesting food until reinstated in his position. Amidst the sadness of his friends and the curiosity of passersby in Guanajay Park, he started to lose both pounds and hope. From March 5, he refused to eat and saw only two options: abandoning his strike without achieving his goals, or ending up in a coffin. The most unlikely scenario was his legal reinstatement as a doctor, given the stubbornness of our institutions when it comes time to rectify an injustice. And yet, the miracle happened.

On Sunday, two officials from the Ministry of Public Health brought Jeovany Resolution 185, which allows him to return to work in his profession. It even reinstates the monthly salary that he was not paid over those six years of unemployment. To achieve this “happy ending” Dr. Jimenez came armed primarily with his tenacity, this constant that many of his acquaintances cataloged as almost an obsession. This protest didn’t have a political slant, it was work, relying on the magnificent tool of the Internet to give it visibility, along with the microphones of journalists from foreign radio and television stations who shed light on such a disproportionate administrative punishment. But the final touch was his own body. That body that he was sworn to care for in others and that he put at risk in himself to return to the right to heal. A doctor who has struggled so as to return to the clinic, stethoscope around his neck, in the whitest coat, with his prescription pad, deserves more, he deserves a diploma in gold.

2 April 2012

The Ex-Militant Requests the Floor / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The First National Conference of the Communist Party of Cuba, recently held on January 28th and 29th, left a permanent bittersweet taste. First Secretary Raul Castro said that one of its objectives was to, “promote greater democracy in our society, starting with an example within the ranks of the Party.” In this light, any person outside of the harsh reality that we Cubans live — not the virtual mysticism preached by the ruling party — could sigh hopefully. But millions on the island, hardened by the repetition of phrases like these, we claim the benefit of the doubt.

In my capacity as an ex-militant of that party, of which I was a member for 10 years until I was expelled in 2005 – without ever having committed any act of corruption, crime or treason, but only by this story that ended in the creation of this blog “Ciudadano Cero” (Citizen Zero) in Voces Cubanas — I ask to speak.

I think that if the Communist Party wants to be minimally tolerant in relation to society, it should begin to be so in relation to its own members. An anecdote to illustrate it will suffice: In mid 1999, I had the silly idea to ask, in my heart, how the recently issued Resolution 54, of the Ministry of Public Health, would be implemented in light of the Cuba-US migration agreements in place since 1994, after the Rafter Crisis, to prevent a worker who received a U.S. visa from leaving the country, perhaps for years, would not that contradict the letter of these agreements?

Well, this “mischief” cost this Cuban boy a year of tense meetings with officials of the Municipal Committees and Provincial Party to penalize me for trying “….to question the decisions made at the central level.” I did not back off, but such fuss over a simple little question – not even made public, but kept within the party – and eventually I opened my eyes to a reality: someone who uses his own judgement and he leaves, with his music, headed elsewhere, in the Communist Party of Cuba they do not join to think, but to obey orders without restrictions, without questions, but rather obey orders unrestricted, divine, unquestionable, dictates from the higher-ups who only listen when people applaud and never when they ask questions.

Then he concludes, if this mechanical operation of party members persists, in the face of such a psychology, would one expect a different attitude toward the rest of the people?

When reading in Raul Castro’s closing speech in the newspaper Granma, from the headlines and leads it is obviously an antagonistic contradiction: The party states the need to “…promote greater democracy…” yet refuses so resoundingly to officially recognise differing political positions.

“Ending the principle of a single party would be….to legalise the party or parties of imperialism on our native land…”. Most clearly, impossible: the question remains are you with me or against me!

Such an approach still admits the possibility that Cubans have different opinions, genuine patriots willing to safeguard the independence of their country. Thus the emphasis is on Fidel’s classic syllogism of leader-Revolution-nation, in which there is only one way to be a consistent patriot: by being an ardent admirer of the Revolutionary leader and obeying even his most absurd decisions.

In a discourse that emphasizes analogies historically used by the Cuban government to demonise various political schemes (plurality = demagoguery = commercial exploitation of politics = appeasement to the U.S.), our President criticizes “…the validity and usefulness of so-called representative democracy…” because “…has become invariably the concentration of power in the class that holds the economic hegemony…” and he says it as if in Cuba, even with specific nuances, the same thing didn’t happen.

Too often our people witness that the most notorious corrupt – Raul recognizes it – are the ardent activists who for decades maintained their status of stratospheric life before the impassive gaze of the Party and government authorities. If this is known, despite a press censorship comparable only, perhaps, to the one that governs North Korea, it is easy to imagine what would happen if in our own in a fit of ethics, difficult to conceive, unwrapped Pandora’s box. For all this we were married to the lie and they forced us to live with her.

I remain stunned by Raul Castro when he asked the party “…to foster a climate of maximum trust and the conditions….for the most comprehensive and frank exchange of views, both within the organization, its links with the workers and the population, encouraging disagreements to be taken with ease and respect, including the mass media… to be involved with the strictest accountability and accuracy in this endeavour… with proven objectively and without unnecessary secrecy.

It turns out that over the last year and a half, I myself have gotten to Raul Castro four letters which clearly expounds our case, Raul himself here speaking completely ignores them and likewise it did reach the main Cuban periodicals without their ever having the courage to publish them.

Although my astonishment increased when I hear the President ensure: “You have to get used to telling us all the truths from the front, looking into his eyes, disagree and argue…when we consider that we are in the right…” however, finally awakened when displayed in fact, stating that everything will be “…of course, in the right place at the right time and in the right way…

This blog is run by someone who dared to disagree and that is why he was expelled from the party, lost his specialty, Medicine, and was then barred from practicing his profession. It is a curious way of understanding the right to dissent and of “naturally and respectfully accepting differences“! In fact, I would advise the First Secretary a little “caution” when talking, for example, about the danger the corrupt assume, that it not end with he himself expelled from the Party for challenging them, as recently happened to Professor Esteban Morales.

But where this speech is worthy of “coven” award for the great Creole humor it distills, it is the point at which the First Secretary assures us “...that in the Party there must be a definitive end to the top down control — the ’boss-ism’ — its force is moral, not legal… it is the moral force!

To listen to this in a country where the Communist Party arranges and controls everything – even the prosecution, forgive the repetition – is hilarious. It is no secret that while the Party says in public that it does not govern, not manage, and that its function is to “guide” that “…it demands all those responsible fulfill their, without interfering in the administration…” – I do not see how it is possible to do one thing without the other – however, the reality is that nothing of political or administrative importance is approved without the consent of the Communist Party, its leaders have unlimited powers, the Party gives and takes, according to its interest, officials from all levels of government, appointed and replaced at leisure managers, company directors, provincial directors, ministers, generals, trade union leaders and mass organizations, and it arranges which “NGOs” will be approved and which will have his profile.

It promotes and fires deputies of all levels, presidents of municipal and provincial assemblies of the Popular Power, in the end, it is the manager of the totality of life of this country without any type of limitation, with an attentive eye on these civil servants to be thrown out the window for minor slides.

In this way, the Cuban government – of which all the high officials are, incidentally, communist militants – reaches the audacity to proclaim to the four winds, when you want to question the Cuban electoral system, that it is not the Communist Party that postulates, that what happens “in theory”is for one simple reason: it doesn’t need it, because it is the lord and master of this country. If the party frowns; ministers, deputy ministers, colonels and generals grow pale. But if the party raises its voice and gives them a swipe, they defecate their pants.

So why shouldn’t we recognize that the party actually nominates them all?

In the end, this speech holds in abeyance some basic questions: Would the Cuban government dare to officially recognize the political opposition now that the Party says it is willing to “promote democracy”? Deciding to limit the stay in government positions to two terms of five years – after spending more than 50 years in it themselves – are they finally convinced that power intoxicates when exercised for too long?

Also in this speech – like those Fidel Castro used to make – starting from the atrocities perpetrated by the imperialist blocs, he tries to legitimize atrocities committed by our government against its own people, as if the one justifies the other. Yes, the world is screwed up, but in this little rock that suffers under the Caribbean sky, the civil rights of 11 million Cubans are finally slaughtered with the permission of the Communist Party.

Translated by: Hank Hardisty

February 26 2012

 

Dr. Jeovany Jimenez Vega Explains Why He Is Now on Hunger Strike / Jeovany J. Vega

Video 1 of 3 – Describes being barred from practicing medicine for circulating and submitting a petition signed by 300 healthcare workers requesting an increase in wages.

Video 2 of 3 – Describes his attempts to have his case heard by government institutions.

Video 3 of 3 – Describes the actions the authorities took against him.

6 March 2012

Country of Pixels / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The night of Saturday, February 4, was celebrated at the home of Antonio G. Rodiles, precursor of the “Estado de SATS” project in the municipality of Playa, Havana, the award ceremony for the first edition of the Independent Social Photography Contest “Country of Pixels” initiative launched mid-2011 from the site of the same name by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, one of the most talented photographers of our generation. Once the call for entries was put out, every one brought their projects and their ideas, in the most heterogeneous way, in which everyone came, through the most different life experiences, to the doors of this always exciting art.

In my particular case, I came to Photography urged by necessity. It was a summer night in 2000, I enlisted to go to the local cinema to see the movie showing — “Sapphires, blue madness”, I remember — and poking around I didn’t find in my holy house one peso, the single peso needed for entrance. That night I held back my desires and while I undressed my mind was making plans about how to remedy this disaster. I reflected on the serious fact of living in a country where a doctor, with already 6 years of work experience behind him, didn’t have one miserable peso — I’m speaking literally — to go see a movie.

Then Photography came to my aid and over more than a decade fed the flesh and spirit. At the same time it saved daily life, Photography molded my vision of life to its code; it taught me never to go first, before any issue, before taking sides or judging look all around, probe each edge.

It taught me to always look twice, that every question, like every person, every context, is always too complex to attempt a synthesis at first glance. It reminded me that light has texture, its breezes, its unique smells and own spells; that life is perpetuated in its colors, but everything has light and shadows, even black and white includes a beautiful gamete of intermediate grays that enrich and will always be worth discovering.

I found that every matter, even the most elusive and hostile, has its human angle, kind and beautiful, when viewed from the exact point; that beauty lives in the most unsuspected corners, not only in the innocence of the flower — which touches you by its natural state of being — but also the human beauty-creation, which the sensitive lens arranges with patience from the pestilent ruin of the grotesque tenement.

It taught me that each scream, kiss, blow, jump, smile, wink, hand outstretched or in a fist, are unrepeatable miracles of life, in their unceasing flight, concatenates and can be loved in that one way: intense and ephemeral. It invited me to not lose my focus in human misery but to search for the source of every look, including from the meanest of men, the hidden spark of the divine being.

So it will always be worth the pain to fight to live “Country of Pixels”; because the images of a people are as good as their tears, their words or their innermost dreams. It will always be worth it, so that the children of tomorrow will know how much pain we had to pay to heal the hatred, to not swallow the poison they put to our lips, those who, dark and sinister, today we want confined to absolute poverty of the soul.

February 6 2012

 

All Roads Lead to Rome / Jeovany J. Vega

A sentence is never free, not when you live in Cuba. Here, the plan of absolute centralization is not only limited to economic relations but also, perhaps even to a greater extent, all reading material is given a pro-government hue. Undivided power in the essential condition for this to happen. Absolutism has made sure that all channels of social interaction move towards the central hub of decision making. Then, with military precision, the orders of the political-military duo, coming from the Communist Party-State Security pairing, will be executed. If oneestablishes a rigid manifesto, the other contributes the copious amounts of intelligence which, once analized in the only centre of power, means that the tactical or strategic decision most convenient for the establishmentis taken without any concern that this might directly contravene the written ‘law’. Nuestro caso (our case) is an excellent example of what I’m saying.

There are two moments in our history in which this modus operandi can be seen to be typically ignorant of the truth. The first in March 2008, aftertheattempted hunger strike mentioned here, we decided to restart negotiations with the State Departmentby conventional means. 10 days later the only response that we had received from the government in 5 years arrived. ‘…we have decided to inform the Ministry of Public Health, for your consideration and reply.’ That is to say, they sent us to the slaughterhouse one again, becoming both judge and part of the entity on which it called. A secondincident came three years later, last 15th August, when I wrote to the Granma newspaper– some days later I alsowrote to The Workers and Rebel Youth – only getting a couple of lines from Granma in reply. ‘Your letter has been sent to the Ministry of Public Health for your consideration and reply according to convention.’ Obviously, the uniformity of stylewarns that it is the same hand writing in both cases.

Last 3rd December, Latinamerican Medicine Day, Granma congratulated me with this succinct reply, this time sent by conventional post, for directing myself towards the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section once again, more than 3 months earlier. I’d already had a reply on the 10th October by email – that time must have been for my birthday – had begun, on 17th October, with an affectionate letter to its splendid editor Lazaro Barredo Medina. The stamped envelope, when it arrived at my door, reminded me that, in spite of the world having spun hundreds of thousands of times, whenever and wherever the emperors come to power, all paths, roads, boulevards, lanes, avenues, tracks and trails – even short cuts – lead ultimately to Rome.

Translated by Sian Creely

December 21 2011

 

Chronicle of Asclepius in Cuba (Part 2) / Jeovany J. Vega

Translator’s note: Asclepius is the ancient Greek god of Healing and Medicine

If you are moderately well-informed you know that we 11 million Cubans living in Cuba are subject to a ban on free travel abroad. In this case it’s not about a personal decision, but requires that you be invariably authorized by an arm of the Ministry of the Interior with discretionary power to say yes or not to your “permission to leave”; a privilege that becomes the stuff of blackmail, with perks awarded to those who remain “quiet” and refusals as punishment for the irreverent, to set an example to others. This general prohibition is contained in the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) Resolution 54, specifically designed for those who work in Public Health, and which presents a bleak picture.

But returning to our mental exercise, here we have our thoughtful doctor who is forbidden to travel abroad, who can’t support his family on his evanescent salary, who can’t go to work in another better paid sector because the Resolution prohibits it, with a purely decorative Union that bows to the orders of the Administration and the Party, through which he can’t channel any solution to these basic problems, nor will it acknowledge his starvation wages, nor the terrible conditions of hygiene and good, coupled with the lack of resources and medications which, save in happy exceptions, he passes his medical shifts in our polyclinics and hospitals; shifts for which our doctor, incidentally, does not receive even a penny.

Then our thoughtful physician has only one way out, and resignedly chooses the only door left open; he applies to be part of some medical mission that our supportive government sustains in some dozens of countries. He just has to fill out the rigorous documents, and spend a few months or years, and then our doctor leaves his office or hospital to care for the poor of the world.

I believe in human solidarity like I believe in the light of the sun, but in life you have the discern the luster of gold from the shine of the mirrors. When a doctor, dentist or other Cuban health professional leaves to work on a foreign mission, regardless of any moral valuation, he does it under indisputable circumstances. This worker, until now deprived of a decent wage, will from this moment forward receive 300 or 400 dollars a month, while his family in Cuba – which under no circumstances Is allowed to accompany him — will receive his full wages in Cuban pesos along with 50 convertible pesos every month.

Although under certain circumstances it can come to more depending on the destination country, it will never exceed 15% to 20% of what the host country is paying Cuba for his services. This is an estimate, as this information is practically inaccessible, but it’s true that around 80% of what our doctor generates in his contracted wages — not taking into account extras for additional tests, radiology studies, etc., which are generously covered — goes directly to the coffers of the Cuban state to be administered by human functionaries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban health workers abroad receive a wage that in many cases is less than the legal minimum wage for a native of the country they are working in. When the worker returns to Cuba on completing his mission, he is once again subject like any good Cuban to the travel ban. Any professional that abandons his mission is invariably treated like a traitor, and is never permitted to enter Cuba again and will not be able to see his children grow up; he will not even be authorized to come in the case of an illness or death of a loved one.

Now let’s look at a revealing fact: over the last decade contracting for medical services has brought the Cuban government tens of billions of dollars, and has become the country’s largest source of export earnings. The selfless medical missions which our government exports to the world’s poor, in the last decade, have generated between five and eight billion dollar annually; tourism is a distant second at two billion. This number accounts for the export of services only; our professionals in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are third in line, surpassed only by the nickel industry and the petroleum products.

Note, first, the enormous economic dividend this implies, and secondly the obvious, and no less important, political benefit, that makes our leaders smell like Messiahs and garners votes for them in international forums. Add to that, thirdly, the escape valve it provides for the mood of the worker, who knows if he waits patiently for a mission abroad he can multiply his salary by 20 to 40 times during the two or three years, on condition he remain silent.

For the protestors, the outlaws, they will never join this mass of internationalists who now amount to about half of our practicing physicians who, clearly, resent the quality of medical care offered to the Cuban population.

Every human society is a complex system of relationships that require adjustments in their mechanisms and which should reward personal effort, because this will encourage respect for the value of honest labor. In this system, each one should have a well-defined place. While it is the role of the doctor to safeguard health and human life, that of the senior leaders of this country should be to guarantee the strategic design of a balanced and functional society and this, without a doubt, they have not managed to accomplish after 50 years of projects and conferences.

Not only did they fail in their design, but they did so resoundingly. The apologists talk about “free” education and health, but without attempting to complain of the sun for its spots, I suggest that this is relative, because the money they don’t charge me at school or at the hospital, bleeds from my fingers in the hard-currency stores with their absurd policy of extremely abusive prices, where things are marked up 500% or 1000% over their wholesale price.  Also, to guarantee an education and people’s health is not a gesture of goodwill, but an obligation of the State. We mustn’t forget that over his whole life a worker salary is cut by 33% to guarantee his Social Security. This gloomy subject is rarely spoken of in my country.

I have clean hands and I like to play it straight, so someone who’s playing a game can save the lectures on patriotism. I believe the necessary Revolution of 1959 was right and authentic, but I can’t applaud what it has condemned us to, because if there is no respect for the rights of man, there is nothing left to defend.

I am with the Revolution, but will never resign myself to its errors, nor with the acts of demagogues and opportunists. I am a doctor, a Cuban, I live in the real and difficult Cuba, not in the TV newscasts and I do not wish to emigrate. I graduated in 1994, and since 1998 have had a specialty in General Medicine. I was a third-year Resident in Internal Medicine until April 2006 when, in my last year, I was suspended from the study of this specialty and then disqualified from the practice of medicine in Cuba, for an indefinite time in October 2006, along with a colleague, Dr. Rodolfo Martinez Vigoa.

The ancestral intolerance to which we were already accustomed made the powers-that-be react as if we had thrown a Molotov cocktail. Terrified by that tiny consensus, they did what they do best: put down by force and show of dissent. They never responded, they were unscrupulous and brutal. The details of this injustice are fully known by all the relevant central agencies including the Attorney General’s Office, without anyone doing anything to fix it.

I am one more among tens of thousands of Cuban doctors who live every day under this outrageous reality. I live under a government that deprived me of the right to exercise my profession for political considerations, that systematically censored my opinions, that took away my right to travel freely, that doesn’t respect my right to receive information first hand and that denies me 21st century Internet access, all of which give an idea of how retrograde they are when topic is man’s right to think freely.

The government that commits this flagrant violation of the rights of millions of Cubans now occupies no less than the Vice Presidency of the Human Rights Council of the UN. If you had the patience to read this far, you already have a rough vision of what our professionals in Public Health experience. If you belong to the group of apologists or those with clenched fist, know that this is the Cuba that you applaud or condemn so fervently as your conscience dictates.

August 19 2011

Mariela Castro in the Red Light District / Jeovany J. Vega

Towards the end of October, sociologist Mariela Castro Espin, Director of the National Center of Sexual Education of Cuba (CENESEX), while on a visit to this country, expressed her admiration for the “dignified manner” with which prostitutes uphold the value of their work in Holland.

But in these latitudes, whose Revolution since its first steps eliminated prostitution and where the sending of thousands of Cubans to the camps of the notorious UMAP* became so naturally institutionalized under the ethereal category of “improper conduct”, this being expressed by the daughter of our President, seen quite suddenly, takes some work to digest.

It is indisputable that Cuban society – not exempt yet from discrimination based on this motive – has become, for the good of all, more tolerant in everything relating to sexuality, including the more permissive modality with which the phenomenon of prostitution is perceived after the upturn in values made acute with the arrival of the 90’s, but it would be well to ask … will we see in 2012 the Director of CENESEX propose the structuring of a “Red Light District” in Havana? Would the “profession” be institutionalized as one more job alternative for the million workers finding themselves furloughed in the last few months? Will our picturesque Jineteras (prostitutes) count on a labor union of their own to represent them? Would they have base leaders, their meetings of associates, their union halls across the whole country? Would this Union be a part of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (Cuba Workers Union) and as such be represented in their congresses? Would our government dare go so far?

Mariela Castro’s words, unsettling for some, surprising for others, are sufficiently eloquent: “I admire and respect the way in which [the prostitutes of the Red Light District] have found a dignified way of doing their sex work and made themselves worthy of respect. Really, it has been a pleasure to get to know directly how they do it … What I have enjoyed the most is seeing how they have known to create a process and dignify the way they make this work worthy, because it is a job. And, moreover, making their rights respected. That seems very important as much as the health care, protection from violence, protection from abuse in a broader sense.

Though she doesn’t clarify how or how much “directly” she knows how the licensed prostitutes “do what they do,” it is indisputable that much of the evolution in the way in which some part of Cuban society projects with respect to homosexual persons and transsexuals, is due in good measure to the work sustained by the CENESEX. Now then, along with this forward step, a different treatment is urged regarding the topic of prostitution and all of this only forms a part of the strategy that seeks to export to the world the mirage of the opening being extended to civil rights, it is a polemic that enters speculative terrain, something many here see as certain.

Not withstanding, today my neighbor Eva, the jinetera, with much faith, did her ministrations to Oshun and to Elegua so they give her her aché (life force), so they sweeten life a little and so that they blaze the trails, a little bit at a time.

*Translator’s note: UMAP (translated into English) stands for Military Units to Aid Production. These were labor camps established in 1965 where undesirables such as homosexuals, “bourgeois,” “counterrevolutionaries,” Jehovah’s Witnesses and others were incarcerated.

Translated by: lapizcero

November 28 2011

To Be Or Not To Be / Jeovany J. Vega

Photograph by Orlando Luis Pardo

The eternal dilemma, to be or not to be, is the capital crossroad that became evident in the life of every Cuban since the 26th of July 1953. This date initiated the stage of struggle that placed into tension the Cuban society of that moment. The verticality that that generation imposed on the enterprise was conducive to the victory of 1959, gave culmination to an exploit that was supported by the majority of sectors of Cuban society of the time. The Revolution triumphed amidst absolute popular jubilation, with the unconditional support of more than 90% of the population. A contribution to this was the discontent engendered by the deep social and political crisis into which Fulgencio Batista and his horde of assassins and corrupts sank the country after their taking of power with the military coup of March of 1952. This, along with the tradition of struggle that spanned the first half of the last century, created the conditions for the overthrow of that dictatorship.

After the triumph, the official discourse, gradually more and more radical, led to, among other consequences, what I would call the great error of the Cuban Revolution: The “revolutionary offensive” of 1968 by which the government of Fidel Castro “intervened” – that is to say, confiscated – all the small enterprises and family businesses, all the way down to the shoe shine stands. This definitively deprived the political Leadership of the country of the support of that not insignificant sector of the population; but this is a matter that is more complex and merits its own post.

Precisely because of the traumatic nature of the history that occurred, I have always been grabbed by incredulity when I hear a Cuban of today expressing that he has no political opinions, as if this was possible in a society as polarized as ours, where there is practically nobody that doesn’t have a relative, a friend, or an acquaintance, that lost their small business, launched himself to the sea looking to escape, or suffered somehow from the lack of civil guarantees. I am of the opinion that the same gregarious and thinking nature of man, imposes on him having a perspective on our social issues, all according to his intellect, his cultural baggage and the degree of information he possesses. That this individual does not dare assume an active militancy or frontal critique, that is a matter for a different discussion, but it is almost always subject to its own judgement.

There will always be the estranged, those who sway to the flux of circumstances like kelp in the bottom of the ocean. In this bundle belong both the fanaticism of the communist militant, who refuses to accept evidence in front of his nose, as well as the “high religiosity” of the believer, that prevents him from involving himself in any matter related to “worldly things” since it contaminates his pure hands. To this we have to add those opportunists who know that by opening their mouths they would lose their slice of the pie, or those who simply see with indifference how this country declines, without moving a muscle unless it is to protect their pocketbooks or to look at the shine of their acrylics. All of them, nonetheless, protest in the intimacy of their kitchens, before the empty pots, or before the thousand faces that reflect misery, but are incapable of expressing themselves publicly, either from indolence or pure cowardice.

At this point, we enter the topic of this dual morality that sinks more than one Cuban up to his neck in manure. In this manner, those who question a physician for talking with sincerity about his honestly earned salary, can be the same ones who embezzle the finances of a state enterprise, or mishandle the people’s resources by appropriating merchandise from a store. In fact, a considerable part of administrators, at all levels of organization, are active Communist militants, and for this, everywhere that a corruption scandal erupts, there is always a “combative” nucleus of the Party and a Union that never saw the corrupts coming, but – such a paradox! – are scandalized if 300 workers sign a document and deliver it to their Ministry. But all those who embezzle, steal or mishandle, can be seen later waving flags and voicing slogans in the parades around the Plaza.

Thus, between the utopia of dreams and the disenchantment of reality, between the to be and the not to be, we see how the promise of the “New Man” dissipates. Maybe it is because this man – not Cuban, not Anglo-Saxon, not Communist or Christian, but a man sui generis – is still not ready to be emancipated from his egotism, to extend his hand in exchange for nothing except the joy of serving. Some day this spiritual hatching will come and this excellent creature, child of man and God, will be reborn, but in the meantime, we have to remember, with each step, the solemn declaration of our Martí, farsighted and sublime, when he said “… a nation is made from men as they are, not as they should be”.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 4 2011