14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miamia, 25 May 2017 — On the verge of being operated on in Miami for a traumatic cataract caused by a punch from a Cuban State Security agent during one of the many acts of repudiation against her, the dissident and former political prisoner Martha Beatriz Roque was forceful in evaluating the trajectory of the opposition on the island, which in her judgment, “has not found the right way to reach the people.”
“We have to engage with the people and in that interaction we have to transmit to them the reality of the regime, ideas that the people understand,” Roque told 14ymedio last Monday at the headquarters of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), where she attended a celebration of the 115th anniversary of Cuban independence. continue reading
Roque was the only woman of the group of 74 dissidents who were arrested, tried and condemned to long sentences for crimes against the security of the state in 2003, an event known as the Black Spring that shocked international public opinion. That was her second conviction; in 1997 she was tried for writing the document “The Nation Belongs to Everyone” when she was part of the Working Group of the Internal Dissidence.
“Often the opponents go out into the street and shout ‘Down with Fidel, down with Raul, long live human rights,’ but people don’t even know what their rights are”
“Often the opponents go out into the street and shout ‘Down with Fidel, down with Raul, long live human rights,’ but people don’t know what human rights are, often they don’t even know what their rights are,” she added.
The opponent recalled how the demonstrators sent by the government itself often shout, “Down with human rights!”
“We have to reach the people through things that interest them. The Cuban opposition hasn’t found a strategy that links to the people and their problems,” she said.
The government opponent believes that the people have not been allowed to talk about their rights for a long time, so it is useless to try to explain hypothetical proposals for reforms in the Constitution.
In her opinion, among the serious problems that Cuba is experiencing is the absence of a future.
“Cubans have no future, so they want to emigrate because they know that Cuba has no future. We must try to make people understand the importance of building that future,” she added.
On the Venezuelan situation and its repercussions on the island, Roque believes that Raúl Castro’s government “fears” the consequences that could come with the end of Chavismo, to which is now added the increasingly clear position of the American president, Donald Trump, on the policy towards Cuba.
“I think things are going to change a lot in Cuba if they change in Venezuela,” she said. She also said that the path found by the Venezuelan opposition was very difficult for Cuban dissident groups, because the conditions are very different.
“I think things are going to change a lot in Cuba if they change in Venezuela”
Roque believes that the absence of concrete actions against the Raul Castro government by the Trump administration “gave the regime a lot of strength to continue repressing the opposition” and in particular to groups “that annoy them a lot.”
The 72-year-old woman does not believe that significant changes should be expected from Raul Castro’s promise to step down as president of the Council of State in 2018.
“Castro does not leave power, he continues to lead the Party and in Cuba the Communist Party is who has power, which means that he’s not going to leave power at all,” she added, adding that the advent of new figures such as current vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel will not mean a change in the system.
“Diaz-Canel is a puppet who just opens his mouth when they tell him to say what they want him to say,” she added.
Despite the grim picture, the dissident says that there is “slow movement” within the opposition in Cuba and that this year will see the first fruits of “the long struggle of the exile and opposition to bring freedom to the island.”
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 May 2017 — Seen from the Venezuelan opposition as an army of occupation and from the Venezuelan government as soldiers of socialism, tens of thousands of Cuban professionals live a situation that is complicated day after day in convulsive Venezuela. The Cuban government has asked them to stay “until the last moment,” but misery, fear and violence are overwhelming athletes, doctors and engineers.
“We are not soldiers and we did not come to Venezuela to put a rifle on our shoulders,” says a Cuban doctor from the state of Anzoátegui who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals.
According to the physician, who has been working for two years in the country, Havana has asked them to remain “with honor until the last moment,” in a clear allusion to the possible fall of the Venezuelan government. continue reading
“We are working under a lot of pressure because the Medical Mission is adept at continuing to insist that services not be closed and that we maintain our position here in spite of everything,” he adds.
“We are afraid every day about what could happens to us. Sometimes they throw stones at us or they yell all kinds of insults at us. Every day there are demonstrations in front of the medical unit and nobody protects us”
In Venezuela there are about 28,000 health workers and thousands of others who are sports instructors, engineers, agricultural technicians and even electricians. The model of paying for Cuban professional services through the export of oil to Cuba has never been clearly exposed by the Venezuelan government.
According to Nicolás Maduro, since Chavez came to power, more than 250 billion dollars have been invested in the so-called “missions.” The former Minister of Economy of the Island, José Luis Rodríguez, published last April that Cuba received 11.5 billion dollars a year in payment for professional services rendered abroad, most of which comes from Venezuela. Other sources consider, however, that this is a very inflated number, although Havana’s profits are undoubtedly very high.
“We are afraid every day about what could happens to us. Sometimes they throw stones at us at the CDI [Centro de Diagnóstico Integral, doctor’s offices] or they yell all kinds of insults at us. Every day there are demonstrations in front of the medical unit and nobody protects us,” explains the doctor.
“So far they only attack us with words. They shout at us to get out of here, that they do not want to see themselves like us and other atrocities,” he adds.
The doctor, however, assures that those who work in the missions also do not want to be in that situation, but they are forced by the Cuban Government, that exerts pressure through diverse mechanisms.
“If we leave, we lose the frozen accounts maintained for us in Cuba. Also, if you leave the mission you are frowned upon in the health system and you have no possibility of being promoted,” he explains.
The Cuban government deposits $200 a month in a frozen account that at the end of the three years the mission lasts in Venezuela, totals $7,200. If the professional maintained “proper conduct and did their duty,” they can withdraw that money upon their return to the island. If they return before the established period or their participation in the mission is revoked (among other reasons for attempting to escape) they lose all that money.
In Cuba 250 dollars a month are deposited that can be withdrawn when the professional on the mission visits the Island once a year. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, they receive 27,000 bolivars, less than 10 dollars a month.
“If we leave, we lose the frozen accounts maintained for us in Cuba. Also, if you leave the mission you are frowned upon in the health system and you have no possibility of being promoted”
In the case of health technicians, Cuba pays them 180 dollars in a current account and another 180 dollars a month in an account frozen until the end of the mission.
A Cuban radiologist who is in the Venezuelan state of Zulia explains that for months they have no “Mercal,” a bag of food delivered by the Government of Venezuela.
“We live in overcrowded conditions with several colleagues and we do not even have potable water,” he adds.
“Thanks to some patients we can eat, but they are having a very bad time. We are repeating something like the Special Period that we experienced in Cuba,” he says.
Although he fears for his life because of the situation in the country, he says he is determined not to return to the island. “We have to endure until the end. It is not fair to lose everything after so much sacrifice,” he says.
Following the outbreak of the protests in Venezuela, Cuban aid workers have been directed not to leave their homes and have experienced reduced communications with their families in Cuba.
Following the outbreak of the protests in Venezuela, Cuban aid workers have been directed not to leave their homes and have experienced reduced communications with their families in Cuba
“The internet is very bad, you can not even communicate. We have been forbidden to go out after six o’clock in the afternoon, as if we were slave labor, and on television they broadcast news that has nothing to do with what we are living through,” he explains.
Julio César Alfonso, president of Solidarity Without Borders, a Miami-based nonprofit organization that helps Cuban health personnel integrate into the US system, says the exodus of professionals has increased in recent weeks.
“Even without the US Medical Professional Parole Program, which allowed doctors to obtain refuge in the United States, they continue to escape because of the situation in Venezuela,” said the physician.
Alfonso added that his organization is lobbying to re-establish the Parole Program, eliminated by former President Barack Obama in January, and allowing more than 8,000 Cuban professionals to enter the United States.
Eddy Gómez is an critical care doctor who worked in the state of Cojedes in western Venezuela. He decided to escape because he was afraid of the difficult conditions in which he was forced to work.
“We had to work in dirty places, without air conditioning, exposed to the fact that even the patients insulted us because we nothing to treat them with,” recalls the doctor who now lives in Bogota and acts as spokesperson for dozens of other professionals who escaped medical missions.
“We left Cuba looking for a better life, but in Venezuela we discovered a real hell”
“After the end of Medical Parole program people have continued to escape and come to Colombia. There are more than 50 professionals who left Venezuela after President Obama’s decision to eliminate it. We hope that Trump will admit doctors again,” says Gómez.
To escape Venezuela, the Cubans have to pay the coyotes about $650 to take them to Colombia. The path, full of dangers, includes a bribe to Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard that protects the borders, and to whom they must be careful not to show their official passports issued to them by the Cuban government because they would immediately be deported to the Island.
“There are many Cubans who have died violently in Venezuela, but the Cuban government does not tell the truth to their families, nor does it pay them compensation,” explains the doctor.
“We left Cuba looking for a better life, but in Venezuela we discovered a real hell.”
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 15 May 2017 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), announced his desire to reside in the United States, although he will remain attentive to what happens in Cuba to be able to denounce the arbitrary detentions.
Maldonado, whose girlfriend, Alexandra Martinez, is a US citizen, declined to respond to a request from 14ymedio to confirm his decision to remain in the United States. For her part, Martinez said that the artist was not going to give statements on the matter. continue reading
El Sexto recently concluded the exhibition Angels and Demons in San Francisco, where he staged a three-day performance in which he was enclosed in a replica of the punishment cell in Havana’s Combinado del Este prison where he was held.
The artist has been arrested three times for political reasons.
In 2014 he tried to stage a performance titled “Animal Farm,” in which he intended to release two pigs with the names Fidel and Raul painted on their sides. Although he never managed to stage the performance, it cost him 10 months in Valle Grande prison, on the outskirts of Havana.
The artist has been arrested three times for political reasons
“This can not be a one-day protest, right now this is happening in many countries, even our neighbors, and we have to report it,” Maldonado told EFE in reference to repressive actions against dissidents and human rights activists.
During the 36 hours of the performance in San Francisco, titled Amnesty, El Sexto remained without food in solidarity with the Cuban political prisoners Eduardo Cardet and Julio Ferrer, among others. The artist also dedicated his hunger strike to Leopoldo López and the other Venezuelan political prisoners.
Maldonado took the pseudonym El Sexto (The Sixth), with which he signed his graffiti on the streets of Havana, as an ironic response to the Cuban government’s campaign for the return of the so-called “Cuban Five,” five spies who were then in prison in the United States.
14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami/Havana, 4 May 2017 — The team at the Cubalex Legal Information Center and its director, attorney Laritza Diversent, have obtained political refuge in the United States following the intensification of repression against the nonprofit organization dedicated to legally advising Cubans.
Diversent, told 14ymedio, from a stop at Miami International Airport this Thursday, that this was a “very hard” time for her and her team.
“We are saddened that we can not continue to provide legal advice to people within Cuba, especially to many of the prisoners we helped, but since last September our work has not been safe in Cuba,” he said. continue reading
On September 23, 2016, agents of the Interior Ministry raided the Cubalex headquarters in Havana and confiscated their work equipment as well as two hundred files of people who were advised by the organization.
“We are saddened that we can not continue to provide legal advice to people within Cuba, especially to many of the prisoners we helped, but since last September our work has not been safe in Cuba”
One day before her departure from the country, the lawyer was summoned by the Attorney General’s Office to inform her of the legal proceedings brought against her by the authorities.
“It seems it is a new strategy to raid the headquarters of organizations. It already happened with Convivencia and with Somos+,” recalls the lawyer.
Diversent explained that she was accused of violating self-employment regulations.
“The State assumes that as we receive financing from abroad we hire people. As legal guardianship is not recognized as an activity to be carried out independently we are accused of violating the law,” she says.
She also reported that they had told a “string of lies” about supposed gifts given by her in exchange for speeding up procedures to legalize her home.
The Prosecutor’s Office ruled against a ban on her leaving the country, Diversent was able to verify. “They told me they knew I was working on the immigration process, and that they would allow me to leave, but that if I returned they would activate the investigation again,” she said.
“They threatened to accuse me of forgery and bribery if I returned to Cuba.”
The lawyer says that independent organizations such as hers are a direct target of State Security and are exposed to all kinds of harassment by the Government.
The lawyer says that independent organizations such as hers are a direct target of State Security and are exposed to all kinds of harassment by the Government
“State Security is aimed directly at us. The international community does not have a strong position with the Government, so we are subject to double discrimination: that of the State that calls us terrorists and mercenaries and that of international organizations and countries that do not support us because they seek to maintain good relations with the Cuban government,” she said.
Family reasons also carried great weight in this decision:
“I am a human rights activist, but I am also a mother. I have a son 17 and I don’t want anything to happen to him. In the case of women, the first thing they do is attack their children,” she said.
Diversent explained that she will be based in the state of Tennessee and that the rest of his colleagues will travel in three groups between May 25 and June 5.
The organization, based in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo in Havana and founded in 2010, provides legal advice but is not legally recognized within the island, despite the numerous reports it has drafted for the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, among other international organizations.
In July of last year the government refused to legalize Cubalex, after ruling that in Cuba no independent legal aid organizations are needed because “the State already defends the people.”
In July of last year the government refused to legalize Cubalex, after ruling that in Cuba no independent legal aid organizations are needed because “the state already defends the people”
Cubalex members, who have received refugee status, will be based in different states of the United States. However, the lawyer is confident that they will be able to meet at some point to restart the work. For now they have dismissed Miami as a possible site.
Two members of the group, Julio Iglesias and Julio Ferrer, must remain in the country because they are under criminal proceedings or in prison. Ferrer received a change of the precautionary measures against him this week.
“It really hurts me, what is happening to those in Cuba because of the commitment they have made to the people and the work they have done,” Diversent said.
The lawyer explained that for nine months they have been denouncing “violations of due process” in those cases but have not been able to do anything despite exhausting all the resources.
Following the raid on Cubalex’s headquarters, Amnesty International called for urgent action to “call on the Cuban authorities to allow members of Cubalex and other human rights lawyers and activists to operate freely without harassment or intimidation.”
“Cubalex will be legalized in the United States and will continue its work from here focused on supporting civil society organizations on the island”
Laritza Diversent’s trip to the US coincides with Thursday’s release of a communiqué from the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), which reports that there have been 1,809 arbitrary detentions in the first four months of 2017.
In April alone, the organization documented 467 arbitrary arrests, of which 335 were women, 132 were men and 147 were black people, ten of whom were “brutally beaten,” according to the activists.
The OCDH has stressed that a climate of repression prevails “at a time when the Cuban Government has achieved important international support like the European Union and the Government of Spain,” and warns that “in the coming months the political climate may be aggravated, as a result of certain nervousness of the Government before the difficult economic and social situation that is facing Cuba.”
“There is much to be done in international human rights organizations. There is a lot to do with the organizations that are inside Cuba, to support them,” she explains.
“Cubalex will be legalized in the United States and will continue its work from here focused on supporting civil society organizations on the Island.”
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 April 2017 — Cuban police are searching for a boat stolen from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and to find it they are raiding houses of former rafters, according to Solainy Salazar, whose husband tried to leave the island several times. That was the justification given by the authorities, including several State Security agents, who searched her home on Monday.
“I was resting next to my four-year-old boy when the neighbors called me and I discovered the officers who were searching my yard,” says Salazar by phone from San Miguel del Padrón in Havana.
“They came into the house and told me they were going to search everything because they were looking for an inflatable boat and that I and my husband were accomplices to the theft,” she adds. continue reading
José Yans Pérez Jomarrón, Salazar’s husband, has tried unsuccessfully to escape from Cuba six times, but has been intercepted by the Cuban Coast Guard or returned to the authorities of the island by its American counterparts. On his last voyage he took refuge, with some twenty Cubans, in a lighthouse 30 kilometers northeast of Key West.
José Yans Pérez Jomarrón, Salazar’s husband, has tried unsuccessfully to escape from Cuba six times, but has been intercepted by the Cuban or American Coast Guard and returned to the island
Although most of the rafters managed to be admitted a special program that gives them the opportunity to be relocated in a third country, because they were able to demonstrate “credible fear” of being persecuted in Cuba, for Pérez Jomarrón the outcome was different.
“When I finished my military service they offered me a job with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). As an inexperienced boy I agreed and when the immigration agents in the United States learned that I had once belonged to that repressive organ, they returned me to Cuba,” explains the rafter-turned-entrepreneur who at the moment is in Guyana looking at the possibility of some business linked to his commercial activity.
Police and State Security agents accused Solayni Salazar of being an accomplice in the theft of the boat and described all the members of her family as antisocial and counterrevolutionary. “They offended me with their words as much as they wanted and when I threatened them with filing a complaint they were indifferent, because they know nothing is going to happen to them,” says the wife, age 31.
“They threatened to arrest me. But they never brought the witnesses (required by law) when they did the search and they never showed me a court order to enter my home. And they did all this in front of my little boy,” she says.
In addition, she says, she was told that her husband was in Guyana escaping from the law, an argument that Salazar considers “completely false.”
Salazar believes that the authorities are persecuting her family due to her husband’s multiple attempts to illegally exit the country and because of his opposition to the government
“I fear for what will happen to my husband when he returns from the trip. Surely they will try to arrest him or persecute him for a crime he has not committed,” she says.
Salazar believes that the authorities are persecuting her family due to her husband’s multiple attempts to illegally exit the country and because of his opposition to the government.
“They do not want to give me jobs in state institutions. It’s a way to persecute those who disagree with official politics,” says José Yans from Georgetown via telephone.
The situation is increasingly complex for the Cuban authorities. “Now not only do we have to pay for a ‘crime’ we didn’t commit but we are suspected of everything else that happens in the country.”
Alfredo Mena, a rafter who tried four times to leave the island, was also searched last Wednesday.
Alfredo Mena, a rafter who tried four times to leave the island, was also searched last Wednesday
“They came to my house and broke down the door without a search warrant. They took me to the police unit and accused me of having stolen a boat belonging to the FAR (National Revolutionary Police),” says Mena, nicknamed El Pelú, by the locals.
“The officers who were dealing with me asked me why we wanted to go to the United States, because there they killed people like us and another series of lies,” he adds.
Mena, 50, a native of Granma province, says he was threatened with being “deported” to the East, because he resides in Havana without having an address officially registered in the capital.
Mena was fined 2,000 pesos for the crime of “receiving” for buying supplies for his work as a welder. Although he swears he is innocent, those metal parts are an indispensable component in the manufacture of the makeshift boats used to emigrate.
“Nothing they took had anything to do with the supposed theft of the boat. The only thing they do with these things is to reaffirm one’s desire to escape from such garbage,” he adds.
14ymedio, Caridad Cruz/Mario Penton, Cienfuegos/Miami, 17 April 2017 – teaching children cursive writing and educating them is much more than a job for Adrian, an elementary school teacher in Ciego de Avila. His threadbare pants stained with chalk dust make clear that he is not one of those most favored by the economic changes on the island, even with the recent 200 Cuban peso (about $8 US) raise in his monthly salary, which he received for teaching 27 third graders, more than the state class size norms.
In January, Ministry of Education Resolution 31 decreed a selective salary increase of between 200 and 250 Cuban pesos for those teachers who have more students in their classrooms than the norms set for primary education. In the case of junior high and high schools, the teachers who teach more than one subject also receive a cash incentive. continue reading
“Money is not the main thing in life, rather it is fulfillment, and that is what my profession gives me,” says this 29-year-old “emergent” teacher, who graduated in the years in which the chronic absence of teachers made Fidel Castro launch his Battle of Ideas and graduate thousands of young people as teachers with just eight months of training.
At that time the hook used by the Government was exemption from compulsory military service and the possibility of getting a university degree in humanities without passing the qualifying exams.
Most of the young people who started the project left after the first years of work in one of the lowest paid professions in the country.
The damages to the quality of education caused by the lack of preparation of these emerging teachers remain to be measured, although with the arrival of Raúl Castro to the power in 2006, that program, like the other programs of the Battle of Ideas fell by the wayside.
“In January they raised the salary, but they do not want to call it a salary increase because it only affects those who have more than 25 children in the classroom, but at least it’s something,” he says.
At the beginning of the century, Cuba decided to limit class size to 20 students, but the chronic shortage of teachers and the exodus of professionals to other better paid work prevented this plan from being maintained.
“For years I did the same job and they did not pay me extra,” Adrian laments. “The workers union’s only purpose is to march on the first of May of the plaza. They never demand anything.”
Adrian has a salary of 570 pesos, about 23 dollars. He lives with his mother, a retired teacher of 68, and he is the family’s main support. His salary “is not enough,” he confesses, so he secretly sells treats among the students at recess.
“If it was not for that, I could not make ends meet,” he says. “After all, nobody can live on their salary in Cuba.”
The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in recent years. In 2013 it was 512 pesos, two years later, 537 pesos
Teachers are not allowed to engage in business activities in schools, but many principals turn a blind eye to avoid losing the few experienced teachers they have left.
“They say that in some provinces, like Matanzas, the state sells food products to teachers at subsidized prices (above and beyond what is in the rationing system). If they did that, at least I would not have to sell candy,” he adds.
The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in recent years. In 2013 it was 512 Cuban pesos, two years later, in 2015, official data confirm that the average wage is 537 pesos, the equivalent of about 21 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) per month.
The current real wage, after deducting accumulated inflation, is equivalent to only 28% of the 1989 purchasing power, according to calculations by economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago.
Adrian’s mother, Elisa, recalls the years when she began as a “Makarenko” teacher (a collectivist method created by the Russian pedagogue of the same name) in the ’60s and says that the difficulties now are nothing compared to what her generation experienced.
“We earned 87 pesos a month and to be a teacher you had to climb Pico Turquino (the highest mountain in Cuba) and teach in very different places. There is nothing like teaching, it is teaching a person to fly. It’s the best profession in the world. If I were born again I would be a teacher again,” she says.
In the past academic year 2015-2016, there were 4,218 fewer teachers compared to the previous year. The trend has been accentuated since the 2008-2009 academic year in which official statistics begin to reflect the massive hemorrhaging of educators.
“Despite the salary of teachers and the conditions in which they perform their work, many remain in their posts. A driver in the city earns in one week what an education professional earns in a month,” says Elisa.
She receives a pension of 230 Cuban pesos a month, about 9 CUC. In the afternoons she has a small group of six children that she tutors for the price of 2 CUC per month each.
“I do it to help my son. We have to pay for the refrigerator, and life has become very expensive: a liter of oil costs almost a quarter of my retirement, and don’t even talk about the price of milk. Luckily I have an ulcer and they give me a ration of milk,” says the teacher.
Every afternoon Adrian collects the 27 notebooks of his students to review them carefully and correct the spelling mistakes. Jhonatán, “a javaito (Afro-Cuban) who escaped the devil,” helps him to carry them home.
“That nine-year-old boy’s mother was arrested because he was a jinetera (a prostitute). He lives with his father who is an alcoholic and who often beats him. The only signs of affection he receives are in school,” says Elisa.
“Being a teacher is not profitable but it teaches you to love,” the retired teacher says with emotion. “Sometimes Adriancito even buys the boy shoes because he has nothing to wear to school.”
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 — Juana Chiroles will never forget December 26, 2015. It was the last day she saw her son and her two nephews. As night fell the young men told her they were going to kill some pigs and had a rope and several implements. They never returned home.
Some days later she heard the news from people in the town: her relatives were among the 13 young people who left on a raft that night for the United States. Since then, the mothers of the small town of Modesto Serrano with 1,300 inhabitants in Artemisa province, “don’t sleep, don’t eat,” thinking about the fate of their family members.
The official silence and the absence of news suggests the worst, but Juana maintains the hope that her son is alive and will return home. continue reading
I’m a guajira with dirt on my feet and a little rough. I’ve never seen the internet and I don’t know anything about computers,” she says modestly on a static-filled call from a cellphone.
The woman, 54, explains that “you have to walk around to find cell coverage.”
Since January the US Coast Guard has only intercepted about 100 Cubans who were trying to cross the Florida Straits
Since the disappearance of her son, Alien Quintana Chiroles, 32, and her two nephews, Julián and Ronaldo Chiroles, 26 and 36 years respectively, they have done their best to find out about any rafters intercepted by the US Coast Guard United States, she says.
However, they have not been successful. Their relatives sailed when the well-known wet foot/dry foot policy was in place that allowed Cubans who touched American territory to be accepted as refugees.
President Barack Obama ended this policy last January, during his last days in office, and since then the US Coast Guard has only intercepted about 100 Cubans who were trying to cross the Florida Straits. A figure very far from the almost 10,000 who tried to escape the island by sea in 2016.
“A week after the people left, we started to hear they had arrived in Florida. Since then we learned it was a lie,” she says sadly.
Besides the Juana Chiroles’s son, those on the precarious boat included Ronaldo Chiroles Évora, 26; Orlando Santos Lazo, 45; Alberto Rodriguez Beltrán, 27; Yariel Alzola Cid, 27; Leandro Évora Salazar, 41; Ailetis Llanes Padrón, 33; Eduardo Cano González, 40; Wilson González Piloto, 26; Yordan Ramos Hernández, 27; Dariel Mesa Arteaga and Luis Arrastria.
“A month before they left, a similar boat with people from the same town arrived in Miami. That was what twisted their heads and they went away hoping that they would also experience the same fate,” says Juana.
The US Coast Guard, for its part, said in a letter addressed to this newspaper that they also have no records on these rafters
A spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection Office told 14ymedio that they do not have any information in their records that matches the names of the disappeared.
The US Coast Guard, for its part, said in a letter addressed to this newspaper that they also have no records of these rafters.
“What the families of the rafters experience is very dramatic. We have hundreds of reports of unresolved disappearances,” explains Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement, an organization of the Cuban exile that assists its compatriots.
“We have asked the United States government to establish a protocol to identify the bodies. So far, it does not exist and the bodies remain unidentified in the morgues until they are buried in mass graves,” says Sanchez.
Sanchez recognizes that after the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy the number of cases in which his organization helps has decreased substantially. However, he is concerned that what causes Cubans to try to escape from their country remains.
“President Obama (by ending the asylum policy for undocumented arrivals) created the figure of the undocumented Cuban rafter, who won’t show his face because he is afraid of being deported. We know that there is a dictatorship in Cuba, that is why Cubans escape and it has not been solved,” he says.
Between 2015 and 2016 there was a significant increase in the number of rafters
Last summer half of the crew of a raft handmade on the island disappeared in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and only the mummified remains of one of the rafters was found. The body carried the identity cards of two brothers who were among the crew of the boat.
Between 2015 and 2016 there was a significant increase in the number of rafters. “In the village of La Máquina, [a nearby area], several boats left until the police took action on the matter,” says Juana.
Her son tried four times to reach the United States. In one of his attempts he was picked up by a ship that delivered him back to the Cuban authorities. After paying a fine of 3,000 Cuban pesos, he continued to plan his next trip.
Juana studied engineering with a specialization in sugar chemistry, but was unable to exercise her profession following the collapse of the island’s sugar industry. She lives with her husband and cares for her younger brother, Felipe, affected by Down syndrome.
“I have a daughter and a seven-year-old granddaughter, my son Alien’s daughter. Her name is Alice Flor Quintana. Every day I tell her about her dad and I show her his photo so she will not forget him,” she says.
Convinced that “the love of mother can do anything,” Juana called on the Cuban authorities confirm that they had not been arrested for illegal exit from the country
Convinced that “the love of mother can do anything,” Juana called on the Cuban authorities to confirm that the rafters had not been arrested for illegal exit from the country. They told her no and they also did not know of any shipwreck in the days after the disappearance of her relatives.
“My hope is that at least they are at the Guantanamo Naval Base,” says the mother, knowing that rafters picked up by the US Coast Guard are often taken there. But 14ymedio has been able to corroborate that they are not there.
“My son is very beautiful and a great person, he is always happy, please, if anyone has seen him or knows where he is, help me find him,” she says, her voice breaking.
“The agony is immense. It has been a year since he left, but the pain is like the first day he left,” she concluded.
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 – Cuba just suspended the sending of a group of 710 health professionals who would have worked on the “More Doctors” mission in Brazil, our of fear of desertions, according to a report from the Brazilian press informed by that country’s Ministry of Health.
The decision not to send the doctors is an act of pressure from Havana in the face of the role played by the Brazilian government of Michel Temer, which has allows more than 80 Cuban health professionals to stay in the country after the end of their mission. continue reading
For the Health Ministry of the island, such action “is not in conformity” with the agreement signed between the two nations under the government of Dilma Rousseff. As a part of that agreement, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors remain in Brazil.
“The Cuban government fears that what is happening in Brazil could infect other Cuban doctors working in third countries,” says Julio César Alfonso, president of Solidarity Without Borders (SSF), a non-profit organization that helps doctors who deserted from the missions and to move to the United States and join the workforce in the healthcare system there.
“The Cuban government fears that what is happening in Brazil could infect other Cuban doctors working in third countries”
In the hospitals, polyclinics and doctors’ offices on the island there are 495,609 workers, according to the most recent official data. Of these, 58,000 are specialized doctors. The cooperation programs in which they participate, funded through international organizations, extend to more than 90 countries in the world, from Africa to Oceania.
Cuba has tens of thousands of doctors abroad. In 2014 the Government acknowledged that it received $ 8.2 billion for “export of medical services.” According to independent economists, profits have fallen by slightly more than one billion dollars, due to the crisis in Venezuela, but this “leasing out” of medical services continues to be the country’s main source of income.
Last January, in the last days of the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, the United States eliminated the Parole Program for Cuban doctors working abroad, a program that allowed deserters to travel legally to US territory and to benefit from the Cuban Adjustment Act.
“When Cuban professionals leave the country, they are able to see that they are part of a trafficking scheme that only benefits the Havana Government. The only way to rebel is to escape and Cuba is not going to allow that”
Alfonso and his team are confident that the administration of Donald Trump is going to reverse the Obama measure.
“It will take a few months, but we are working with great faith in that project to help the victims of the greatest human trafficking in the modern era,” he said.
Since 2006 the Cuban Medical Professional Parole has allowed 8,000 Cuban health professionals to escape and travel to the United States. In 2016, some 1,400 professionals from Brazil’s More Doctors program took advantage of these facilities. It is also estimated that more than 1,000 doctors from the island married Brazilians, a way to obtain permanent residency in Brazil and avoid the compulsory return to the island. Some 1,600 have taken the examinations to revalidate their titles and insert themselves in the labor market of Brazil.
Cuba has strictly forbidden its “health workers” to have relationships with “natives” and in its precise code of ethics requires that they “should be informed immediately,” to remain consistent with “revolutionary thinking” and “in no way be excessive” (sic).
Brazil’s health minister Ricardo Barros said that he had called on the Cuban government and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to relax conditions that forced doctors to return to the island.
After the dismissal of President Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the contracts for the doctors and obtained a 9% increase in payment
Brazil pays about $3,300 per doctor per month to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which acts as an intermediary – and charges for this service – with the Dealer in Cuban Medical Services. From the $3,300, the doctors themselves receive the equivalent of 800 dollars.
After the dismissal of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the contract for the doctors and obtained a 9% increase in payment.
It also achieved a 10% increase in for the cost of feeding doctors in indigenous areas.
“We were waiting for something like this to happen,” says one of the doctors working in the Sao Paulo region.
“The deputy minister, Marcia Cobas, has the eye on us, they do not want the hen that lays the golden egg to die,” he says.
“They treat us like slaves. We have to work harder than other doctors and they do not even let our families stay with us in Brazil beyond three months, the least they cold do is let them stay; they all have to leave,” says the physician, a specialist in Comprehensive General Medicine.
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 31 March 2017 — The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FDHC) launched its new program Artists For Rights in Miami on Friday and sent a strong message to the Cuban government’s “repressors”: You are being watched and your actions will not go unnoticed.
The artistic project seeks to sensitize artists and the Cuban people in general about the difficult situation of human rights in the island. More than 30 artists have contributed to the project’s first activity, among them artists who are in Cuba, in exile and in other countries such as Venezuela, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.
“In the gallery there will be pictures of all kinds, not necessarily political. What we consider to be political is the artist’s decision to contribute his art to the promotion of human rights in Cuba,” said Juan Antonio Blanco, president of the Foundation. continue reading
The first action of this new project is an exhibition of fine art open to the public at Calle 8 in Miami, the hub of the Cuban diaspora in the city.
Among the artists who will exhibit their works at the Cuban Art Club Gallery are Ramón Unzueta, Danilo Maldonado known as El Sexto, Claudia Di Paolo, Rolando Paciel, Yovani Bauta, Roxana Brizuela and Ramon Willians. The exhibition will be open from April 1st to 15th, and admission will be free
Blanco also talked about the Foundation’s project to identify and document the repressors that the Cuban government uses to muzzle the opposition.
“We have numerous documented cases of repressors, with photos and archives proving their participation in activities against civil society and human rights activists on the island,” he said.
“Publicity isn’t important to us, rather we want to have a psychological impact on military and paramilitary repressors. We want our message to reach those who carry out the acts of repudiation in exchange for a sandwich or for a T-shirt, so that they think about it three times,” he added.
According to the FDHC, in Cuba there are more than 70,000 prisoners, which is why it ranks as the sixth country in the world in prisoners per capita.
“There are thousands of prisoners who are in prison under the charge of ‘dangerousness’ [without having committed a crime] so they do not have to call them political prisoners,” he added.
According to Blanco, the Foundation is undertaking “quiet diplomacy” to ensure that these people who have been identified as repressors are not able to obtain visas for the United States or European countries.
The detailing of the record or repressors has not been without conflict.
“In Miami we have received denunciations against repressors, but we always ask the denouncer to sign a notarized affidavit that the repressor is accused of having carried out that work in Cuba,” he explained.
According to Blanco, his organization has had to face maneuvers by the Cuban government to delegitimize the work they are doing, by ‘leaking’ the names of people who are not repressors.
“The Havana regime wants to keep it quiet, it is not a priority, but that is precisely what we do not want. We seek to focus on violations of human rights in Cuba and we want Cuba to be a priority,” he insisted.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 25 March 2017 – Maria, 59, has a daughter in Miami she hasn’t seen for six years. Her visa applications have been denied three times and she promised herself that she would never “step foot in” the US consulate in Havana again.
Cuba is the country with the most denials of those who aspired to travel to the United States in the last two years. In the midst of an abrupt drop in the granting of visas under Barack Obama’s administration, the Department of State rejected 76% of the travel requests made by Cuban citizens in fiscal 2015, according to figures released by the US press. continue reading
Cubans are followed on the US consulate most-rejected list by nationals of Laos (67%), Guinea-Bissau (65%) and Somalia (65%). In the Americas, the others most affected, although far behind Cubans, are Haitians (60%).
Each interview to request a visa cost Maria about 160 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), with no chance of reimbursement, nor has she ever received any explanations about why her permission to travel was denied.
On each occasion the woman dressed in her best clothes, added an expensive perfume that her daughter sent her, and practiced her possible answers in front of the mirror. “No, I will not work during my stay,” she repeated several times. “I want to see my granddaughter who is a little girl,” and “I can’t live anywhere but Cuba,” she loudly repeats as a refrain.
She took with her the title to her house in Central Havana, a copy of her bank statement and several photos with her husband in case they asked her to provide reasons why she would not remain “across the pond.”
Last year 14,291 Cubans received visas for family visits, to participate in exchange programs, and for cultural, sports or business reasons, among other categories. The figure contrasts with the 22,797 visas granted in 2015 and, more strikingly, the 41,001 granted in 2014.
The State Department said that the reduction of visas granted in Havana is because of no specific reason, but that because the valid time period of the multi-entry visas was extended to five years in 2013, many islanders don’t need to return for new interviews to make multiple trips to the United States.
But Maria did not figure among the fortunate in any of her three attempts.
The last time she headed to the imposing building that houses that US consulate in the early morning hours, she prayed to the Virgin of Mercedes, made a cross with the sole of her shoe and put flowers before the portrait of her deceased mother.
She went to apply for a B2 Visa, the ones that allow multiple visits to the United States to visit relatives and for tourism. It seemed like the line lasted “an eternity” before they called her name, she said. Then came the iron-clad security to enter the building.
“The interview room had an intimidating coldness,” she recalls, and was long and rectangular. Applicants talked to immigration officials through shielded glass.
The woman’s feet trembled and the clerk on the other side of the glass gave her no time to explain much. He just made a mark on the form with each answer. A man was crying ata nearby window and an octogenarian lady sighed after hearing she was not approved.
More than two million Cubans reside in the United States, with an active participation in the economy and politics, primarily in South Florida
Maria knows that the United States and Cuba have signed an agreement for 20,000 Cubans to receive immigrant visas every year. In 1995, President Bill Clinton negotiated that agreement to end the Rafter Crisis, fueled by the economic recession that hit the island after the fall of the socialist camp.
More than two million Cubans reside in the United States, with an active participation in the economy and politics, primarily in South Florida.
The Cuban Adjustment Act, approved in 1966, allows Cubans to obtain permanent residence (a green card) if, after entering legally, they spend one year in the United States. A special welcoming policy only for Cubans known as wet foot/dry foot was cancelled in January; this policy allowed any Cuban who stepped foot in the country, even without papers, to remain, while Cubans who were intercepted at sea were returned to the island. In the last five years 150,000 Cubans took advantage of this policy to settle in the United States.
However, Mary’s intention is not to emigrate. She does not want to live in a country that is not her country, although her relatives have told her that Miami “is full of Cubans” and that Hialeah is like Central Havana.
Despite her Afro-Cuban rites and trying to maintain a positive mental attitude, in her last interview she didn’t have any “luck” either.
She received a quick denial and was given no chance to display all the answers she had rehearsed. In her opinion, the fact of being under 65 plays against her. “They approve older people who cannot work illegally there,” the lady assumes.
For Eloisa, a retired science teacher, that is not the reason, rather it is “hostility toward Cubans” by the US Government.
“The Americans want to take over Cuba. It has always been their greatest desire and because they cannot do it, they punish us by separating us from our children,” the woman says by phone. She has been a member of the Cuban Communist Party for 25 years and has had two children living in Houston for just over six years.
Although she only tried once, last year, the refusal from the consulate made her not want to try again.
“My children work very hard and I wanted to give them the pleasure of going to spend a little time with them. But hey, it’s not to be, “ she says in a voice that is brittle and resigned.
Mary, however, does not tire. This year her daughter will gain American citizenship and the woman hopes that this new condition will facilitate a positive response to her next request. Although this new attempt will leave her a little older and with almost $500 less in her pocket, in a country where the average monthly salary does not exceed $28.
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 16 March 2017 — A call from Cuba finally let Yandry Perez relax. His aunt had alerted him through an interrupted phone call from the north of Villa Clara, that for two days the whereabouts of his mother and his two younger brothers had been unknown. Organized in absolute secrecy to facilitate their flight, fifty Cubans escaped last weekend in speedboats to Florida, even though they knew they were no longer welcome there.
“For days we have been waiting for news, in complete uncertainty,” says Perez, who two years ago crossed seven international borders to seek refuge under the wet foot/dry foot policy, cancelled in the last days of President Obama’s term. continue reading
“When we heard the news that they had caught two boats with Cubans, we breathed a sign of relief,” he adds.
Last Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by an operations team from the US Customs and Border Protection. It had more than 30 migrants on board
His mother, Marlenes Romero Leon, 47, along with his brothers Yusdiel and Kevin, 20 and 11 respectively, boarded the speedboat as a last option to join the rest of the family that was in the south Florida, in a reunification process that was initiated some years earlier but was frustrated when Romero was denied a visa to travel to the Unites States to reunite with the father of her children.
“On television I was able to see one of my brothers, so I know they are being detained,” says Perez, who only wants to know where his family is so he can hire an attorney to take the case.
“We believe that can ask for political asylum. On more they one occasion they arrested my mother [in Cuba]. They didn’t even let her get to beach so she couldn’t escape Cuba,” he adds.
“My brother is a child, at least they should let us take care of him,” he says.
Last Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by an operations team from US Customs and Border Protection. There were more than 30 migrants on board, five of them ran off into crocodile filled mangrove swamps to escape the authorities but they were caught.
A few hours earlier a small boat with seven Cubans on board was intercepted at Blackpoint Park and Marina, south of Miami-Dade. Another boat with 21 migrants was detained in the vicinity of Cayo Largo.
“We can not give any information about the case or those involved because it corresponds to an open investigation,” an official with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said.
Authorities are investigating the boat operators who transported the Cubans from the island. If it is proved that they are human traffickers they could face severely punished charges
Authorities are investigating the boat operators who transported the Cubans from the island. If it is proved that they are human traffickers they could face severely punished charges in the United States.
Since the press announced the arrival of the Cuban migrants, Julio Infante has not stopped seeking the whereabouts of his father-in-law, who allegedly traveled on one of those boats.
“I’ve gone to several places but they always tell me that they cannot give out information. We’re desperate because we do not even know if he’s alive,” he says.
The missing man is Wilber Hechavarría, 46, who left Cuba on Monday. The relatives were supposed to call to his daughter, Yoandra, who was waiting for the news.
“I wanted to be with her and leave Cuba. She always wanted to leave the country because people there have to steal to eat,” says Infante.
“My wife came from Guatemala a year ago crossing borders. She arrived pregnant, we already have a family and we wanted her dad to be with us too,” he adds.
Although the migrants knew of the ending of the wet foot/dry foot policy, they ventured to cross the Florida Straits, confident that they would find some way to legalize their situation later in the United States.
For Infante, it’s all the same that the policy that facilitated the entry of Cubans to the United States is over.
“In the end, I would look for some way to legalize or be undocumented, but that will always be better than staying in Cuba,” he says.
“When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban migrant arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing“
Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen comments that when Cuban rafters arrive in US territory and do not surrender to immigration authorities, not only will they not be eligible for the Cuban Adjustment Act after staying in the country for a year, but they will not be able to obtain legal status even by marrying residents or citizens.
“When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban migrant arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing. The migrant can apply for political asylum if he is persecuted and fears to return to Cuba,” says Allen.
“If your case is credible you have the right to fight for asylum before a judge and, if granted, you could then adjust your situation through the Cuban Adjustment Act.
“If migrants who illegally entered the United States do not present themselves to the authorities, they remain undocumented and it is very difficult for them to legalize their status later. They are subject to immediate deportation,” he adds.
14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 8 March 2017 — Carlos began to travel to Ecuador when Cubans did not need a visa. He brought back clothes and appliances to sell in the informal market, until he discovered a more lucrative business: the import of electric scooters, the flagship product of those who do not want to wait hours for a bus or pay the fares charged by the fixed-route shared taxis known as almendrones (after the “almond” shape of the classic American cars widely used in this service).
At first, he sold these light vehicles discreetly from his garage on 23rd Street, centrally located in Havana’s Vedado district, he told 14ymedio. He asked between 2,500 and 3,000 Cuban Convertible pesos* for each bike, three to four times his investment. It was a “solid business,” he confesses.
“So we had several months until things went bad,” he recalls, referring to the visa controls that the government of Rafael Correa imposed on Cubans at the end of 2015. continue reading
The visa waiver Cubans had enjoyed in Ecuador since 2008, along with the immigration reform approved by Raúl Castro in 2013, led to an “airlift” with thousands of trips made each year by private individuals, allowing them to supply the Cuban informal market with products from the Andean nation. As the Ecuadorian door closed, there were other shopping destinations, including Russia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
For Yamilet García, a Cuban based in Miami, the ‘motorinas’, as they are called, are ‘a blessing’
“It is now more difficult” to find customers who are willing to pay what he was formerly able to charge for an electric scooters, explains Carlos. “There are a lot of people traveling,” so the number of “scooters of different brands and colors” has soared.
In South Florida, where the largest concentration of Cubans outside the Island is located, this business opportunity did not go unnoticed.
Yudelkis Barceló, owner of the agency Envios y Más based in Miami, explained to 14ymedio that for the last three years they have been in the business of shipping electric scooters to Cuba.
“The customer acquires the product and in a period of six to eight weeks they can pick it up at the Palco agency, west of Havana. Payment is made in Miami. The company offers Voltage brand bikes of 750 Watts and 1,000 Watts, which cost $1,450 and $1,600 respectively, plus customs costs (70 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC) plus 400 Cuban pesos (CUP) in the first case; and 170 CUC plus 400 CUP in the second case).
There are also other models of scooters: the Ava Aguila costs 1,950 CUC, the Hornet is 1,850 CUC and the Mitshozuki is 1,750 CUC.
Barceló notes that the shipment of this equipment is intended for personal use only, so his company does not violate the US embargo. Shipments are made by sea.
Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment
For Yamilet Garcia, a Miami-based Cuban, the motorinas, as they are called, are “a blessing.”
“Everybody knows what transportation is like in Cuba. I sent one to my brother who lives in Cotorro and he’s happy because he doesn’t have to wait for the bus or take the shared-taxis,” he says.
The Caribbean Express agency is another company that sends motorinas to the Island.
“They are taking four to five months” to be delivered, explains one of the sales agents who for protocol reasons prefers not to be identified.
“Only the Palco agency receives this type of product because it has the scanner to analyze them, so there is a delay,” he adds.
Another popular article among relatives who send products to Cuba are electric bicycles, much cheaper than scooters and with speeds of between 15 mph and 30 mph.
The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent months, has contributed to a rebound in orders
On the Island you can buy the 60 volt LT1060 model with a three phase 1000 watt motor that the Angel Villareal Bravo Company of Santa Clara assembles from components from China.
These are higher powered bikes compared to those previously produced by that factory, and they are capable of reaching speeds of up to 30 mph. They have hand controls to activate the horn, digital screen and disk brakes, among other features.
This model “has characteristics similar to those currently imported by many individuals” and will be sold in the government chain of “TRD stores at a price of 1,261 CUC,” Elier Pérez Pérez, deputy director of the factory explained to the government newspaper Granma, saying they expect to produce 5,000 units by the end of the year.
The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent months, has contributed to a rebound in orders.
Many motorists and passers-by complain, “If anybody hits you, they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about it”
Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment. A condition that many riders do not meet.
However, many motorists and passers-by complain, “If anybody hits you, they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about it,” says Pascual, a driver of a state vehicle.
“I’ve even found children under 16 driving these things,” he complains.
“I take care of it like it’s my child and the truth is that it has saved me from a thousand problems,” says Maikel, a computer engineer with a Voltage Racing bike.
His problems go in another direction. “There are few parking lots where I can feel safe leaving the bike and the cars don’t show me any respect on the road,” he complains.
However, he says that the motorina has totally changed his life by giving him a freedom of movement that he did not have before.
*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies. Cuban Convertible pesos are officially worth one US dollar each, although transaction fees raise the cost for foreigners converting money on the island. Cuban pesos are worth roughly 4 cents US each.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 6 March 2017 — At age 67, struck by old age and a miserable pension, Raquel, an engineer “trained by the Revolution,” scavenges among the garbage for the sustenance of each day. Her hands, which once drew maps and measured spaces where promising crops would grow, are now collecting cartons, cans and empty containers.
“My last name? Why? And I don’t want any photos. I have children and I had a life. I don’t want people to talk about me,” she says while agreeing to tell her story with a certain air of nostalgia and disappointment. “I never thought I would end up a dumpster diver, one of those who digs through the cans in the corners and is the object of jokes.” continue reading
Cuba has become the oldest country in the Americas, according to official data. It has been an accelerated process that surprised even the specialists, who had calculated that the problem would not become acute before 2025.
With a pension system that is unsustainable in the medium term, an economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a result of the aging population, the country is confronting one of the biggest challenges in its history.
“I receive a pension of 240 Cuban pesos a month (less than 10 dollars). From that money I have to spend 50 pesos to pay for the Haier refrigerator that the government gave me [when it switched out older, less energy efficient models] and an additional 100 pesos for the purchase of medicines,” says Raquel.
Although she is retired, the pharmacy does not subsidize the medicines she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. The state welfare program does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with relatives.
“One of the affects on the country of the aging population is a significant increase in public spending and the decline of the population of childbearing age,” explains Juan Valdez Paz, a sociologist based on the island and author of several books on the subject.
According to the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, health spending fell from 11.3% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012.
Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country’s fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. In order to compensate for the population decline, it would be necessary to raise that number to 2.4 children for every female of childbearing age. In 2015 there were 126,000 fewer active people than the previous year.
For Valdés, no society is prepared for the demographic difficulties such as those facing Cuba.
One solution could be to increase production or for emigrants to return, according to the specialist. So far both possibilities seem very distant.
In the country there are almost 300 Grandparent Houses (for day care and socialization) and 144 Elder Homes, with a combined capacity of about 20,000 places. The authorities have recognized the poor hygienic and physical situation of many of these premises. Many elderly people prefer to enter the scarce 11 asylums run by religious orders that survive thanks to international aid, an example of which is the Santovenia nursing home, in Havana’s Cerro district.
The cost to use the Grandparents House facilities is 180 Cuban pesos a month, and the Elder Homes cost about 400 Cuban pesos. Social Security grants a subsidy to the elderly who demonstrate to social workers that they can’t pay the cost.
Cuba had one of the most generous and most comprehensive social security systems in Latin America, largely because of the enormous help it received from the Soviet Union, estimated by Mesa-Lago at about 65 billion dollars over 30 years.
“Although pensions were never raised, there was an elaborate system provided by the State to facilitate access to industrial products and food at subsidized prices,” explains the economist.
“It annoys me when I hear about how well they care for older adults. They don’t give me any subsides because I live with my son, my daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren, but they have their own expenses and cannot take care of me,” says Raquel.
“I need dentures and if you don’t bring the dentist a gift they make them badly or it takes months,” she adds.
With the end of the Soviet Union and the loss of the Russian subsidy pensions were maintained but their real value fell precipitously. In 1993, the average retiree could barely buy 16% of what their pension would have bought in 1989. At the end of 2015, the purchasing power of pensioners was half of what it had been before the start of the Special Period, according to Mesa-Lago’s calculations.
Raúl Castro’s administration drastically reduced the number of beneficiaries of social assistance in a process that he called “the elimination of gratuities.” From the 582,060 beneficiaries in 2006, some 5.3% of the population, the number fell to 175,106 in 2015, some 1.5% of the population.
Several products that had previously been supplied to everyone through the ration book were also eliminated, such as soap, toothpaste and matches, and now are only available at unsubsidized prices.
The government has authorized some assistance programs for the elderly. The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly people to eat at subsidized prices, although it is a small figure considering that there are more than two million elderly people in Cuba.
Some elders receive help from churches and non-governmental organizations.
“People see me collecting cans, but they do not know that I was an avant-garde engineer and that I even traveled to the Soviet Union in 1983, in the Andropov era,” Raquel explains.
When she retired, she had no choice but to devote herself to informal tasks for a living. She cleaned the common areas of buildings inhabited by soldiers and their families in Plaza of the Revolution district, until the demands of this work and her age became incompatible.
“They asked me to wash the glass windows in a hallway on the ninth floor. It was dangerous and because I was afraid to fall, I preferred to leave it, even though they paid well,” she says.
For each week of work she was paid 125 Cuban pesos, (about 5 dollars) almost half as much as her pension.
Raquel now collects raw material to sell in state-owned stores, although she confesses that she wants “like mad” to get a contract with a small private canning company to sell her empty bottles and avoid the state company and its delays.
In the patio of her house she has created a tool to crush the cans she collects in the streets.
“In January I made 3,900 Cuban pesos from beer cans. Of course, you have to deduct the 500 pesos that I paid for the place in line, because I can not sleep there lying on a porch. Each bag of cans is worth forty pesos. It is eight pesos for a kilogram of cans.”
In Cuba, there are no official statistics on poverty, and the only data available is old. In 1996 a study concluded that in Havana alone, 20.1% of the population were “at risk of not meeting some essential needs.” A survey in 2000 showed that 78% of the elderly considered their income insufficient to cover their living expenses.
Most of the older adults surveyed said their sources of income were mostly pension, support from family living in the country, something from their work and remittances from abroad.
Many elders are dedicated to selling products made with peanuts or candy on the streets to supplement their income. Others resell newspapers or search the garbage for objects they can market and a significant increase in beggars on the streets of the country’s main cities has become apparent.
“It doesn’t bother me to go out in old clothes picking up cans. The one who has to look good is my grandson, who started high school,” says Raquel.
“The boys at school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very good and he is not ashamed of me, or at least he does not show it. He always comes out and defends me from mockery,” she says proudly.
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 3 March 2017 – With the opportunity to study at the university by passing the University entrance exams with the “minimum score,” the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) is offering an incentive for young women who want to enlist in Military Service, which is an obligation for men.
The announcement was made by the MES authorities during a press conference this Thursday, where they stressed that the requirements for regular entry to higher education for candidates who are not military women remain the same: “Pass exams in Math, Spanish and History with a minimum of 60 points” and compete in the provincial roster for a university seat.
“They will be offered first-rate careers and the Ministry will do everything possible to offer them the majors they request,” said a journalist at the meeting. continue reading
“An important element is that they will be given the possibility of enrolling in the regular day course,” he added.
The enrollment for the subjects that are studied in regular daytime courses will be 36,705 places for the next course.
In the case of women who choose to wear the green uniform of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, they will skip the requirement that they compete with other candidates in their provinces and may enroll in the universities simply by passing the entrance tests.
Recruits to compulsory military service in Cuba have the opportunity to study a university career through Order 18. That law privileges the recruits’ access to the university the second year after joining the FAR. In the case of women, they can start at the university the same year they enlist.
In the case of woman who choose to wear the green uniform of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, they will skip the requirement that they compete with other candidates in their provinces
After the arrival of Raúl Castro in 2006, university enrollment declined sharply, a trend that contrasted with the increase in the previous 20 years, when enrollment in the social and human sciences increased by 4,000%.
The entrance exams for higher education also underwent changes, becoming more rigorous.
Starting with Raul Castro’s reforms, enrollment in the humanities decreased by 83% while enrollment in the national sciences great by 13%.
In 2014, university enrollment decreased by 30%. In the 2014-2015 academic year there were 18,112 fewer university graduates than in the previous academic period.
According to statistics provided by the Cuban Government, 356,600 women worked in the country’s defense, public administration and social security in 2015, fewer than the 451,400 women that made up these organizations in 2014.
The Army continues to be one of the main institutions in the life of the Cuban nation. Its presence extends to the Government and controls the Business Administration Group that manages the main tourist companies of the country.
In 2016, Global Firepower placed Cuba in 79th position among the world’s major powers and one of the 10 most powerful military forces in Latin America.
Video: Lajas Blancas Camp Where Almost 100 Cubans Are Living
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 2 March 2017 – In the next few weeks Panama will deport almost 500 Cubans who remain undocumented in the country, after being stranded by the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy in January, which had previously allowed Cubans who stepped foot on American soil to remain in the country.
According to reports to 14ymedio by sources from Panama’s National Immigration Service, the deportations could begin when the Service’s director, Javier Carrillo returns; currently he is in Havana in the fourth round of migration talks between the two countries.
“The deportations depend on the agreement between the two nations, but we can confirm that all undocumented migrants who are currently in the country will be returned to Cuba,” said the official source.
“The Memorandum of Understanding for the deportations has been signed but the details have not yet been made known,” he said.
In Panama, 383 Cubans remain in the care of Caritas Panama, 92 in Lajas Blancas and another 24 in the shelter of the National Migration Service. For the migrants who are in the shelter set up by Caritas the news was disconcerting.
“They are very worried they did not expect something like this,” says Victor Luis Berrio, permanent deacon in charge of the Catholic institution.
Last week two Cubans attempted suicide by taking sleeping pills due to the uncertainty of their fate, they said
“At the moment we are making every possible effort to avoid the massive deportation of these Cubans,” he adds.
According to Berrío, his organization has sent a letter to the president of the nation explaining that all the humanitarian work of the Government could be jeopardized if they proceed with the deportation.
According to Deacon Barrios, who follows the message of Pope Francis to shelter refugees, “the authorities’ intention has always been deportation.” He thinks, however, that it will not come to pass, “without a fight.”
“We are going to open our doors so that Cubans in Lajas Blancas can come to Caritas and we will continue to protect these defenseless people,” says the deacon.
“The decision of Caritas is to defend all the migrants that are in its care,” he says.
Last week two Cubans attempted suicide by taking sleeping pills due to the uncertainty of their fate, they said. They were in a Cuban migrant camp in the village of Lajas Blanca, near the western Panama border. Many crossed the Darien Gap jungle to get there.