After Hurricane Irma, Sending Help to Family in Cuba is Complicated

Residents of Animas Street seek relief from the intense heat sitting on the sidewalk, because of the lack of electricity (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nora Gamez, Mimi Whitefield, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 September 2017 – Concerned that the Cuban government does not usually accept donations from the United States, the Cuban-American community is looking for alternatives to help their families on the island, which has been devastated by the passage of Hurricane Irma.

According to a preliminary evaluation by the United Nations, 3.1 million people have no running water. Although the government has offered no estimates, thousands are without homes, destroyed by the fury of the winds or the floods. In the capital alone around 4,200 homes were damaged and in the province of Camaguey, where the eye of the hurricane passed over, 7,900 homes were damaged. According to the official press, some 26,000 people are still in shelters. Some have returned to their villages, despite their houses being in ruins.

Idanis Martín, 34, has lived for the past two years in West Kendall in Florida but the rest of her family resides on Goicuría Street in Caibarién, in Villa Clara, one of the places hardest hit by the hurricane which touched down in Cuba as a category 5. continue reading

“Everything there was destroyed. My family says there’s not a bush left standing in the village,” she told 14ymedio by phone. “The little [food] they had spoiled,” because of lack of electricity. “They told me that the last box of chickens sent to them rotted when there were more than half left,” she added.

Still recovering from Irma’s passage over south Florida, this Tuesday she sent her family ground beef, a box of chicken and pork cutlets that she bought online at Supermarket 23 for some 130 dollars.

Although their digital site doesn’t say so, Supermarket23 is probably one of the multiple Cuban government sites that, from Canada, allow people to buy products and foods very hard to get in the shortage-plagued markets of the island, although at higher prices.

“They deliver it right to the door of the house. It takes between a week and 15 days and is very useful because they don’t have to go to the hard currency stores,” explains Martin, who works in Miami in an agency that provides services to the elderly.

“Those of us who have a little more have to help those who have nothing,” he says.

“Other Cubans in Miami are going to the package agencies to help their families on the island, but the process is slow due to the damage to ports and airports on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Yudelkis Barcelo, manager of Envíos y Más Express, an agency that sends packages to Cuba with a location in Miami, said there still hasn’t been an appreciable increase in the number of packages to the island after Irma and that the restoration of the flow of goods between the two countries “will take time.”

“We don’t have the infrastructure ready. The airport and the ports are now recovering from the hurricane. It’s still going to take a little time to get back to normal,” she said.

Reopening the airports on the island will facilitate the shipment of food and other humanitarian supplies. The government has received donations from other countries, among them Venezuela, Vietnam and Panama. Jose Marti International Airport reopened Tuesday, but Santa Clara airport, which suffered severe damages, will not be open for flights until the end of October, said American Airlines spokesperson Marta Pantin.

Several organizations in the United States are campaigning to raise funds and provisions with the idea of ​​helping Cubans. But without government approval, US organizations will not be able to ship large quantities of food. It is time to find creative solutions.

After Irma left Cuba for Florida, the Cuban American National Foundation got in touch with civil society groups it works with in Matanzas, east of Havana.

“We said we were going to send them money and they said: ‘We need food,'” said Pepe Hernández, president of the Foundation.

So the Foundation plans to work with package agencies or employ so-called “mules” to deliver essential items. Some mules charge only the ticket price to and from the island for carrying 100 pounds of merchandise; others charge between four and six dollars a pound, Hernandez said.

Hernandez explains that the Foundation is also evaluating other ways to help the inhabitants of the island. One of the initiatives is to cover the costs of those who want to send money through Western Union to Cuba. With the help of civil society organizations, they also plan to come to the aid of people in need, not necessarily linked to opponents.

“Civil society groups plan to go to affected areas and identify families in need,” he said. “They will take their names, numbers and addresses, and then we will send each family $100 through Western Union,” which has 450 offices throughout Cuba.

The Foundation also seeks to push for an assistance program that provides funding to Cubans who need to make repairs to their homes. The program, which provides up to $1,200 in assistance, has made it possible to repair 60 homes so far.

“Now we hope to intensify this program and we hope there will be more donations,” Hernandez said. “So far, the Government has not given us any problems with this program.”

But this is not always the case when it comes to sending aid from the United States, especially if it comes from the Miami community. When Hurricane Matthew struck Guantanamo Province, in the east of the country, the Catholic Church was not authorized to receive planes on the Island with food donations from the Archdiocese of Miami or from Catholic Relief Services based in Baltimore.

The Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, said he was finally able to make a cash donation to the bishop of the Diocese of Guantanamo but without a wholesale market on the island and with supply problems in the network of supermarkets controlled by the state, he had to buy the necessary products abroad.

Other initiatives to raise money and send it to Cuba, such as the one promoted by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights based in Madrid, rely on the Catholic Church for the distribution of aid on the island, the only institution, beyond the state, with an independent infrastructure to do so. Different agencies of the UN have a presence in Cuba but they must coordinate the delivery of donations with the state.

The Archdiocese of Miami is accepting financial donations through Catholic Charities and other entities to help the residents of the Florida Keys and Caribbean Islands whipped by Irma’s fury, including Cuba.

“We have food and water available but we cannot send them until they tell us they need them and the ports and airports are open to receive them,” said Mary Ross Agosta, Director of Communications for the archdiocese.

Wenski said he planned to go to Cuba for the inauguration of the new bishop of Ciego de Ávila on 30 September, and hoped to better understand the needs of Cubans and “see how we can help them.”

Although many in Florida are still recovering from the damage caused by the hurricane, Wenski acknowledged that he had seen “a lot of generosity. There is a great spirit of solidarity. We are all breathing with relief in Miami because we avoided the worst of Irma and that can inspire generosity. ”

“We will see if it changes this time and Cuba is willing to accept donations,” Wenski said.

CubaOne Foundation, based in Miami, and Give2Cuba, based in Seattle, have taken another path. Working together, both are seeking volunteers to raise money through the Crowdrise platform and bring provisions to help the victims on the island, especially in the provinces of Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spíritus and Santa Clara, most affected by the hurricane.

CubaOne has organized several trips of young Cuban-Americans to know the Island and Give2Cuba took humanitarian aid to Baracoa, very affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Giancarlo Sopo, co-founder of CubaOne and president of its board, explained that the trip, authorized by the United States Department of the Treasury under the category of people to people, would take place in October. But before that, CubaOne has joined the 3:05 Cafecito campaign to collect food, medicine and other supplies and send them to Cuba through Cáritas.

“Our community is concerned about the Cuban people,” said Sopo, “and we will do everything possible to support them during this difficult time.”

To donate to the victims of Hurricane Irma in Cuba:

Archdiocese of Miami: To donate to Catholic Charities, visit www.ccadm.org and https://give.adomdevelopment.org/irma.

CubaOne Foundation: To register for the humanitarian aid trip to Cuba, visit the organization’s website http://cubaone.org/irma-relief/

CubaOne and 3:05 Cafecito are collecting food, medicine and other necessities, at 1549 SW 8th Street, second floor, from 10 am to 7 pm.

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This article is part of a collaboration agreement between the south Florida newspaper El Nuevo Herald, and 14ymedio.

Under Raúl Castro, Cuban Education Has Lost Teachers And Budget

The country needs 16,000 more teachers to cover the deficit in all areas of education. (Telesur)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 31 August 2017 — The red and white uniform has been washed and ironed for two days; next to it, a blue neckerchief. Eddy Alberto is eight years old and is starting the second grade at the Héroes de Yaguajay elementary school in the province of Sancti Spiritus. When he grows up, he wants to be a teacher and he has been asking his mother about the beginning of school for a week.

“On Monday, the tragedy begins again,” says Yanelis, Eddy Alberto’s mother, by telephone. “Last year they were three months without a teacher and according to what a teacher’s aid told me, this year they don’t have anyone either. They are going to put the librarian in charge of teaching them,” she adds with annoyance.

On September 4, more than 1,750,000 students will begin the new school year in Cuba. There will be 10,698 educational institutions opening, but some problems, such as teachers for all classrooms, continue to drag on from year to year. continue reading

According to official data from the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), in 2016-2017 there were 248,438 classroom teachers, some 21,600 fewer than in 2008 when Raul Castro became president.

The country needs 16,000 more teachers to cover the deficit in all areas of education. In addition, between 10,000 and 13,000 teachers are on staff but out of the classroom for personal problems or maternity leave, as recently acknowledged by the Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez, in an interview with the magazine Bohemia.

Deficit of teachers in Cuba, by province: The country needs at least 16,ooo more teachers. (14ymedio)

To remedy the exodus of teachers, the minister proposes several options: the hiring of teachers, the reinstatement of retirees, and the use of university students as teachers at other levels. Velázquez also said that her Ministry has created “a system of moral encouragement” for teachers. Some provinces, such as Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba, will send teachers to others where the need is urgent, such as Matanzas and Havana.

Since taking office, first as interim president (2006) and then as president elected by the National Assembly (2008), Raul Castro substantially reduced the budget of the Ministry of Education. Expenditure on Education fell by 5 percentage points as a share of Gross Domestic Product, from 14% in 2008 to 9% in 2017, as it appears in the Budget Law approved last January by the National Assembly. During this period, 1,803 schools were also closed, according to official figures.

Number of schools in Cuba under Raul Castro’s government. Source: Cuban National Office of Statistics and Information  (ONEI)

“The problem is that nobody wants to be a teacher because they pay them very little and they exploit them a lot,” says Yanelys.

Last year the Ministry of Education provided a salary increase of about 200 Cuban pesos for teachers with a greater teaching load. Even so, the average salary of an education professional is around 533 Cuban pesos, a little more than 20 dollars a month.

The reduction of resources has had a direct impact on the quality of the education system. According to the minister, more than 20% of school facilities are in a state between regular and bad.

The lack of encouragement to study education has been recognized by the same authorities, who saw with astonishment that only 58 undergraduates opted for three of the university teaching courses of the more than twenty that were offered in the province of Cienfuegos.

Numbers of classroom teachers in Cuba. Source Cuban National Office of Statistics and Information  (ONEI)

“For a long time, coverage and quality, as well as accessibility to the educational system, made Cuba one of the most lauded countries in Latin America,” explains the Cuban academic Armando Chaguaceda from Mexico.

However, he believes that many professionals have been lost “because there is not an adequate attention to the teacher.”

“They spent much more money on the training program for ‘emerging teachers’ than on simply recognizing the value of the work of thousands of self-sacrificing teachers,” he explains.

At the beginning of the 21st century, then-President Fidel Castro created the Teaching Schools for Emerging Teachers and Integral Teachers, which in just a few months prepared primary and secondary school teachers to make up for the exodus of professionals. After nearly a decade and thousands of graduates, the teacher deficit continues.

Education under Raul Castro; 21,600 teachers leave the classrooms; 1,803 schools closed; 78% fewer university students; education expenditures drop by 4% of GDP; 20% of schools are in regular or bad condition; average teacher salaries don’t exceed 25 CUC monthly (roughly $25 USD)

The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, Dagoberto Valdés, acknowledges that the country is facing a major challenge: “The civility and ethical and civic education of children leaving schools is shameful. It is something that marks the culture of our people,” he says.

Convivencia, a think tank in the province of Pinar del Río, prepared last year, as part of its Thoughts for the Future of Cuba, a report with concrete proposals on education.

“There is a serious demographic problem in the country that is already reflected in educational enrollment. There are fewer and fewer people who enter the education system and graduate,” laments Valdés.

The number of graduates with university degrees has fallen as sharply as enrollment, which has fallen more than 78% in the last decade.

“We believe that a true educational project is needed that integrates both the school and the family and civil society, without ideological shading, but based on the cultural heritage of the nation, from [Father Félix] Varela to [José] Martí,” he dreams.

Cubans Stranded In Panama Are Wary of the Deportation Initiated By the Government

Some twenty migrants organized a press conference outside the Gualaca camp in Chiriquí province to complain that they have been victims of a “deception”. (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 August 2017 — This Monday the process began to repatriate 75 undocumented migrants who were stranded in Panama after the United States ended the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who touched American soil to stay. The Cubans stranded in Panama accepted that government’s proposal to return to their own country, in exchange for financial support and a visa to legally return to Panama, but some say they feel “betrayed” because the first deportees were not given an appointment at the consulate.

“We feel betrayed by Panama because they sent the first two emigrants to Cuba and did not give them an appointment at the consulate in Havana,” one of the Cubans, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said via telephone. continue reading

This Monday a Cuban couple was repatriated to the island and according to the Panamanian Deputy Minister of Security, Jonathan Del Rosario, they received economic aid so that they can start over as self-employed. Regarding the consulate appointment, the couple says that they were only given telephone numbers for the Panama consulate in Havana and not a date as the deputy minister had said.

“I am a man of my word, and everything we have promised is going to be fulfilled,” Del Rosario told 14ymedio from Panama City.

According to the vice minister, the pre-appointment is a record that shows that the migrants have fulfilled the promise to return to Cuba. “The list of those who return will be transmitted to the consulate through the Foreign Ministry,” he explained.

“We have to have patience and confidence because everything we have promised has been fulfilled over time,” he added.

The first Cuban returnees were the ones who had spent the most time outside the country. According to the families of both migrants, who live in Havana, the trip was in line with what was planned and they are now “reuniting with family.”

“I have been very clear, very honest and very frank, I do not see why the migrants are suspicious,” said the deputy minister, who added that “those who misbehave or become rebellious will move from the Gualaca shelter to Migration for their deportation.” He lamented that the repatriation process could be at risk because of the despair of some islanders.

So far, no other migrants have been sent back to Cuba because it is the Panamanian administration that pays for the tickets and economic support, something for which it is still organizing the budget. “It’s a complex process that requires time,” Del Rosario explained.

Meanwhile, a dozen Cubans organized a press conference outside the Gualaca camp in Chiriquí province on Tuesday to complain that they have been victims of a “deception.”

“Not all Cubans think in the same way, there are some of us who are ungrateful and don’t value what this country is doing for us, but we are not everyone,” says a second migrant who asks for anonymity for fear of the protest leaders.

“We are desperate, that is true. The months pass and we are still here thinking that we will have to return to Cuba and start from scratch,” he adds.

Note: Our apologies that these videos are not subtitled in English

The Cubans fear having to face the difficult task of getting an appointment at the Panama embassy in Havana. Some applicants have waited more than six months to be seen by the consulate due to the thousands of calls received every Thursday to process visas to that country. Faced with increasing demand, Panama’s Director of Immigration, Javier Carrillo, told 14ymedio that the number of visas would increase from the current 500 to about 1,000.

At the end of June, the Panamanian government proposed to the 124 Cubans who were in the Gualaca camp that they voluntarily return to their country in exchange for $1,650 and a multiple entry visa to Panama.

A little more than half of the undocumented immigrants accepted this proposal because of the impossibility of legalizing their status in the country or entering the United States where, as of January 12, with the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans lost the privilege of being granted automatic refuges status if they reached American soil.

‘Che’ Guevara Welcomes Passengers At Miami Airport For A Few Hours

A poster with the image of the Argentine guerrilla was exhibited for some hours by mistake in one of the main terminals of the Miami airport. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 September 2017 — Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez, whose family had to go into exile after the Cuban Revolution in 1959,  never thought that his image would be linked to that of Ernesto Che Guevara, one of the “bearded ones” who established communism in his homeland.

The image of Guevara welcomed passengers at Miami International Airport for a few hours on Thursday night and continuing into Friday morning, just a few yards from another image showing Giménez as part of the exhibition The Irish in Latin America, sponsored by the Irish embassy in the United States to highlight the contributions of immigrants from that country to the history and culture of Latin American.

“Che Guevara wanted to make people ‘an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine’, as he put it. Far from being considered a hero, they should measure him by the same yardstick as Osama Bin Laden” continue reading

“The picture of Che is no longer there, they took it away,” said an airport employee who asked to remain anonymous.

“I saw it last night and I did not agree. They should have put another photo of a celebrated person from Cuba, but not Che who was a murderer. It’s fine that the communists in Cuban or Venezuela display it there, but not here,” said the employee of Cuban origin.

Greg Chin, communications director for the airport told 14ymedio that in one of the preliminary versions of the art exhibition organizers presented the poster with the image of Argentine guerrilla, but that the authorities of the terminal made it clear they would not display it out of respect for the community.

“It was taken down early in the morning. It wasn’t on display at the airport for even 12 hours,” he explained.

The image of Giménez remains at the beginning of the exhibition ,which contains a total of 27 posters with personalities of Irish descent that marked Latin American history. The legend under his image extols his Irish ancestry and credits the ties he has created between the two communities.

The mayor’s office said he “deeply regrets” the incident and they were unaware of the images that would be displayed at the airport.

“In an essay about the exhibition they included the image of Che Guevara and the staff of the air terminal themselves expressed their rejection of this figure and what it represents in Miami,” said Stephanie Severino, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.

The exhibition is divided by the main countries where the Irish emigrated to. Five of the images are dedicated to Cubans and highlight historical figures such as José Martí, Father Felix Varela, Ricardo O’Farrill and Alejandro O’Reilly.

Ernesto Guevara, born in Argentina, participated in the struggle against Batista and then joined the revolutionary government with Fidel Castro; the Irish exhibition presented him as a physician committed to social justice.

Fragment of the original exhibition of “The Irish presence in Latin America”. (Courtesy)

“After graduating as a doctor, Ernesto spent the rest of his life fighting against poverty and injustice in Latin America,” declared the exhibit, classifying him as “one of the most celebrated revolutionaries of the twentieth century.”

The image of Che that was displayed last night at the airport’s E terminal was created in 1968 by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick. It is a poster in white and red with the image of Che Guevara under the name VIVA CHE, and is inspired by the famous photograph taken by Alberto Korda.

The Irish ancestry of Guevara comes to him through his paternal grandmother, Ana Isabel Lynch, born in Argentina. The family’s Irish roots from Patrick Lynch, who established himself in Buenos Aires in 1740, married to a wealthy heiress.

The Irish embassy in the United States told this newspaper that the panel with the image of Che was not supposed to be included . “It was removed as soon as we discovered the error this morning. We fully understand the sensitivity and deeply regret the error,” said communications director Carol Jordan.

María Werlau, director of the NGO Cuba Archive, dedicated to collecting information on Cuban historical memory, believes that the image of Che Guevara is one of the “most successful” advertising campaigns in history.

Werlau is the author of a book entitled The Forgotten Victims of ‘Che’ Guevara which details the shootings directed by the Argentine guerrilla after summary trials in Havana’s La Cabaña fortress.

Che’s biographies are voluminous but almost never thoroughly investigate his crimes. Guevara was one of the forerunners of the infamous UMAP in Cuba [forced labor camps for dissidents, priests and homosexuals]. He wrote against the Indians and against the blacks. In his own writings he recognized that he liked to kill,” she explained.

For Werlau, placing the image of Che next to patriots like Martí and Varela is the “product of the ignorance.” According to the expert, the Cuban exile has not been able to raise awareness of the need to dismantle the propaganda of the Government of Havana.

Che Guevara wanted to make people ‘an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine’, as he put it. Far from being considered a hero, they should measure him by the same yardstick as Osama Bin Laden,” she added.

Cuban “Collaborators” on Foreign Missions Will Pay Customs Duties in Cuban Pesos

Cuban legislation stipulates that Cubans and foreigners residing on the island can pay customs duties on imports in Cuban pesos only once per year.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 August 2017 – Currently, Cubans and foreigners residing in Cuba are permitted to pay customs duty on imported products in Cuban pesos only once per year. Subsequent import duties must be paid in Cuba’s other currency, the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), which is worth 25 times the Cuban peso (CUP). New rules will allow doctors, teachers and other “Cuban collaborators abroad” – that is professionals that the state “rents out” to other nations – to pay subsequent customs duties in CUP. Tourists and Cubans residing abroad must pay all customs duties in CUC.

The new measure from the Ministry of Finance and Prices seeks to stop the hemorrhaging of professionals who are working on “missions” abroad, which bring the country great economic benefits.

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, Cuba earned more than $11.8 billion from the export of services in 2016, although some analysts believe the figure is unlikely, given that medical personnel in some countries such as Brazil and Venezuela have “deserted” from their postings. continue reading

Many of the professionals that Cuba sends to third countries are contracted through Cuban government agencies, which keep the vast majority of the money paid by the other countries for their services. However, these “missions” are attractive to the workers because they offer the ability to purchase clothes and domestic appliances abroad, as well as paying a salary higher than they would receive on the island.

The new measure of the Ministry of Finance and Prices seeks to stop the hemorrhaging of professionals who are sent to work in “missions” abroad, which bring the country great economic benefits

“They [the government] know that we are tired of being exploited. This has been a demand we have made for a long time,” says a Cuban doctor living in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who asks to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

Those who desire to pay the customs duty in Cuban pesos on a second set of imports will have the right to do so only if “the head of the Organ or Body of the Central Administration of the State to which the collaborator belongs” sends a request to the General Customs of the Republic, and it will only apply to those who have to return to Cuba for “official business,” because of a delay in their vacations, or because their work on the mission abroad has ended prior to the planned date due to changes in the workforce.

“In Venezuela, the situation is worse than in Cuba. The only reason that we come here at the risk of our lives is the chance to bring something to our families because we have to ask even to send our soap there,” an intensive care nurse in Caracas explains to 14ymedio.

This health worker, who fears for his life due to the political and economic crisis of Venezuela, does not explain how it is possible that, even with all the profits that he contributes to the Government of the Island, the authorities impose a fee on him to send cellphones to his family.

“They were stealing from us twice: first they took our salary and then, when we arrived in Cuba, they bled us dry at Customs,” says the professional.

According to the current import law, residents who import goods with a value between 50 pesos and 500 pesos have to pay 100% of the value of the product and goods valued between 501 pesos and 1,000 must pay 200%.

Cuba Spends Less on Healthcare Despite the Aging of the Population

The 20,000 places for care of the aged are not enough in a country with two million people over age 60. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 10 August 2017 – The Cuban population is aging at an inverse ratio to the investment required to support this share of the citizenry. Almost 20% of Cubans are over 60, and a recent government study sees aging as “the nation’s biggest demographic challenge.”

Health spending fell from 11% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012, according to data from the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba. The investment in social programs affecting the elderly has been reduced since Raúl Castro initiated timid reforms in the country’s economy.

The economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago has calculated that the number of hospitals in the country has decreased by 32% since 2007, while personnel engaged in public health has fallen by 22%. Despite the steady increase in the number of elderly people in the country, there are only 20,000 places in some 300 grandparents’ homes (for day care) and 144 nursing homes. continue reading

According to sociologist Elaine Acosta, there is evidence that a significant share of Cuba’s 2,219,784 people who are over 60 “lack effective opportunities to enjoy a dignified old age.”

In addition, the expert believes that “the difficulty of social policy to anticipate and plan the resolution of problems related to old age only aggravate the crisis of care that faces Cuban society.”

In the face of what could be the end of trade with Venezuela, the aging population of the island, which has seen the purchasing power of its pensions reduced by almost 50% since 1989, is facing an unsustainable pension system in the medium term, Mesa-Lago explains.

The situation is complicated, because Raul Castro’s government eliminated many of the goods and services formerly provided ‘free,’ drastically reducing the items covered by Social Assistance, as well as the number of beneficiaries.

In 2016, 54,968 older adults received social security pensions, some 8,415 fewer than in 2011. This population segment has also been hit in recent years by the elimination of subsidies for several products in the ration book, and the resulting quadrupling of prices.

Proportion and growth rates of the population aged 60 and over in some Latin American countries. Source: ECLAC

A study published by Cuba’s National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI), reports that 79% of Cuba’s elderly live in urban areas, while the remaining 21% live in rural areas. Women make up just over half of the island’s aging population, at 53%, with men accounting for 47%.

The phenomenon of aging generally occurs in societies that have achieved a high rate of human development. Among the elements that influence a country’s aging statistics are migration, fertility rate and mortality.

In the case of Cuba, life expectancy was 79.5 years in 2015, one of the highest in the Americas. However, the low level of fertility – 1.6 children per woman, closer to European figures – and a steady migration have contributed to raise the average age of the country, which in 2016 reached 40 years.

Percentage share of elderly population by province. Source: ONEI

The impact of the aging of the population reaches all spheres of society and has repercussions on the economy, because an important segment of society ceases to produce and has to be sustained by an ever smaller population or workers, notable in the Cuban case. Social services face an increase in the demand for services to the elderly and there is also a direct impact on the pension system.

Relative to population, Cuba’s oldest provinces are Villa Clara, Havana and Sancti Spíritus, in which the population over 60 is 23%, 21% and 21% of the population, respectively. The youngest province on the island is Guantanamo, followed closely by Artemis and the Isle of Youth.

Population in thousands over age 60, by province.

In the case of municipalities, the youngest are Yateras and Caimanera, both in Guantanamo province, with only 13% of the population over age 60. Those with the highest proportion of elderly are Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality – the location of the headquarters of Cuba’s octogenarian rulers – where 27% of residents are over 60, followed by Placetas and Unión de Reyes, both with 25% elderly populations.

“According to estimates by the United Nations Population Division, Barbados and Cuba will be the most aged countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the immediate perspective,” the ONEI reports.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which funded part of the study, notes in its research that in 2025, 25% of the Cuban population will be over 60, a figure that will reach 33% of the population by 2050.

Total Cuban population projected to 2050.

Cuban Government Obscures the Figures to Hide the Magnitude of Emigration

Cuban migrants arriving in Mexico. (INM)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 3 August 2017 — Fewer than 42,000 Cubans have emigrated since 2013 according to official statistics published in Havana. However, US officials say they have welcomed more than 141,528 Cubans during the same period. The enormous discrepancy between these data is explained by the lack of transparency of the Cuban Government, which conceals the magnitude of migratory movements by counting them in the general category of citizens traveling abroad.

“Cubans do not migrate in great numbers, but they travel more and more,” said Ernesto Soberón Guzman, an official with the Foreign Ministry. In 2016, 723,844 Cubans went abroad, according to the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI). continue reading

Cuban Immigration. Sources: Cuban government and US Homeland Security. Orange line: Cuban emigrants admitted to the United States (US figures). Grey line: Cuban emigrants (Cuban figures)

If tens of thousands of Cubans who left the country do not appear as emigrants, it is because many of them return before the end of the two-year term that marks the end of their rights as residents on the island, explains Cuban sociologist Elaine Acosta.

“Others have decided to undertake the process known as repatriation, which allows them to regain their residence in Cuba and stay abroad,” adds Acosta.

Cuban law considers that those who remain abroad “continuously for a term longer than 24 months and without the appropriate authorization,” to no longer be citizens.

Those repatriated are counted in the official statistics as resident in the country, although in reality they live abroad. The same thing happens with those who return before the expiration of the 24-month period of a stay abroad.

This management of the figures shows a sudden decrease in emigration. Prior to the 2013 reform, more than 45,000 people left, but in 2014, for the first time in over half a century, ONEI says that more people returned to Cuba than left.

Number of trips abroad by Cubans (Source, Cuban government)

These figures contradict the figures published by the United States, which registered the entry of 141,528 immigrants from Cuba since 2013, not including rafters, while the ONEI only reported a general total of 41,935 émigrés during the same four years.

In addition, the figures from Havana include all Cubans who leave the country permanently, whatever their destination. Ecuador, which was also a popular destination for Cuban emigration, received 33,700 people from the island since 2013. And in the same period Spain registered more than 15,000 new residents who were born in Cuba. That is, the sum of Cuban immigrants in Ecuador and Spain, not including the US, which is the primary destination of Cubans, exceeds the total number of migrants counted by Cuba’s ONEI.

Residents in Spain born in Cuba according to the National Institute of Statistics. Historical series since 2010. (INE)

Elaine Acosta, the sociologist, believes that both segments (the emigrants who maintain their Cuban residence and the returnees) have significantly increased the number of trips abroad from the island, as in the last five years almost half a million have gone abroad.

On the other hand, returnees were only about 14,000, according to the ONEI. This category implies that the citizen recovers his or her rights on the island, among which include participating in the electoral process, receiving free care in the national health system, being able to own property, and the coveted permit to pay import duties once a year in Cuban pesos (CUP) – versus in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), worth 25 times more.

“The quality of migration statistics leaves much to be desired because they respond to an ideology and there are no studies to break down the figures,” explains the sociologist, who regrets that the ONEI figures do not say how many Cubans who travel abroad have another nationality or residence. Another shortcoming noted by the specialist is that only the number of departures is counted, not the number of individuals who have traveled abroad.

For the sociologist, based in Miami, the national press uses the official figures to “depoliticize” the causes of the exodus. “This is an instrumental use of emigration to reinforce the thesis of economic migration and hide the reality that people are living,” he adds.

Osmanis Gálvez, 42, who emigrated to the United States three years ago, says he returns to the island at least once a year. He was recently repatriated after paying 100 CUC in an office of the Ministry of the Interior.

“I will not go to live in Cuba, but this is a way to inherit my mother’s house and bring her the products she needs without having to pay for them in dollars at Havana customs,” he says.

Frank, a Cuban who has resided in Miami for two years, did not need to be repatriated because on obtaining his permanent residence in the United States, he immediately traveled to Cuba and was able to “enter” before the two-year term expired. Since then he has been traveling once a week to Cuba as a “mule”to carry products to supply the island’s growing black market.

Although travel is one of the most common desires among Cubans, it remains the preserve of those who maintain work and residence outside national borders or have relatives abroad to finance the escape, since on the island the average official monthly salary isn’t even $30, and a plane ticket to Miami costs almost a year’s salary.

 

Cuba Has No Plan B To Make Up For The Loss Of Venezuela

Cubans are tired of being unable to access foods of animal origin other than chicken. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 4 August 2017 – “It doesn’t matter when, all we get are feathers,” complains the father of a family, disgusted on finding no kind of meat other than chicken in the Hard Currency Collection Stores (TRD), the state chain that sells only in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). Since the beginning of the Venezuelan crisis, Cubans have been bitter about the shortages in retail markets, a problem that will grow in the coming months, according to economist Omar Everleny Perez.

The country cut 1.5 billion dollars in imports in the first half of the year, which will directly affect the population,” said Perez, in conversation with 14ymedio. continue reading

Trade balance: imports (black line) and exports (orange line) in Cuba since 1950.

The abrupt cut in imports stems from the decision to use 2.306 billion dollars to make payments on external debt, renegotiated with the Paris Club and other creditors, adds the former director of the Center for Studies of the Cuban Economy.

“They renegotiated a debt that they had not paid since 1986. Creditors waived up to 90% in some cases, but they had to pay that remaining 10% and could only do so by cutting imports,” he explains.

According to Perez, a contributor to the magazine Temas, the national economy is beginning to show signs of macroeconomic recovery but it is not enough.

“From the macro point of view, it seems that there will be a change in the trend line, but 1% growth does not tell you anything. The country needs to grow from 5 to 7% — and not just for one year — so that people feel it,” he adds.

“With this rate of growth, seeing an improvement in living conditions would take at least 30 years. How do you say that to a 50-year-old?” Pérez quips.

Cuba announced that at the end of this semester the economy had grown by 1.1%, after a GDP fall of 0.9% in 2016. Pérez attributes this positive result to tourism, which grew by 23%, and the sugar cane industry, which produced about 1.8 million tons of sugar.

“Tourism is changing lives in many parts of Cuba. For example, in the municipality of Trinidad, the revenues of the non-state sector surpassed those of state enterprises for the first time. In this municipality the private sector generated 56.9% of the total collected,” he says.

The Havana Consulting Group has just published very interesting data on the increasing contribution of remittances to the functioning of the national economy. The Miami-based consulting firm says remittances grew 2.7% in 2016 to $3.444 billion, surpassing net revenue from tourism that year, according to official sources.

The difference is even greater when compared to net tourism receipts, which will not exceed $1.3 billion after deducting the costs of imports needed to cater for tourists, especially food, as Cuba produces nothing.

Gross income from remittances (orange line) versus tourism (black line).

Pérez Villanueva is worried about the strong impact that the eventual fall of Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela would have on the Cuban economy.

“Venezuela continues to be Cuba’s number one trading partner, despite its crisis. For the past two years, the problems of that country have been growing, but no measures have been taken to counteract the end of that trade relationship,” he says.

Perez believes that Havana should be thinking of sending its highly skilled labor to other countries with oil reserves like Angola or Algeria. “It will never be the same as with Venezuela and those countries could not absorb the number of doctors [that Venezuela has been paying for], but at least it would cushion the blow,” he says.

Trade by country over time.

Cuba could take advantage of currently low oil prices to buy fuel from other allied nations, such as Russia or Algeria, but the lack of credit is a chronic problem, according to the Minister of Economy and Planning, Ricardo Cabrisas, who acknowledged in the Report on Behavior of the Economy and Planning 2017 that the Island’s ability to obtain loans is affected by the amount of debts due.

However, according to Pérez, Cuba is trying to strengthen new mechanisms to generate electricity from renewable sources, but “it needs time and money.” There is also an attempt to revive national oil production, which is declining due to the depletion of the wells.

“If the supply of Venezuelan oil is stopped, it would not be as it was in the USSR. We receive from Venezuela half the fuel we need, and in the time of the former Soviet Union we received virtually all of it,” he added.

“The country should bet heavily on foreign investment,” says Pérez Villanueva, who was ousted after a series of lectures in which he displayed his critical opinion on the economy’s progress on the island.

“The guidelines say that foreign investment is not a complement to domestic investment but rather a part of the national investment, but in practice the level of appropriations is not noticeable,” he adds.

Despite continuing to publish the portfolio of foreign investment opportunities, the investment flagship project, the Mariel Special Development Zone, continues to be bogged down with small investments.

For Pérez, the country has to immediately expand trade on its own, something that seems very distant, especially after the freeze in the granting of new licenses for self-employment announced last Tuesday.

“There is a mass of workers who could leave the guardianship of the State and pay taxes in activities related to what they studied [at the universities]. This would prevent engineers graduating in Computer Science from leaving for Canada or quitting to drive a taxi “.

However, Perez believes that the state does not want healthy competition to exist because the great socialist state enterprise remains its model. “In Cuba, ideology continues to set the tone, not the economy.”

Average Wages Rise but Nobody in Cuba Lives on Their Salary

Currently, it would take the earnings of an entire month for a Cuban worker to buy 10.3 chickens, OR 7.6 tanks of liquefied gas for their stoves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton and Luz Escobar, Miami and Havana, 14 July 2017 — Ileana Sánchez is anxiously rummaging through her tattered wallet, looking for some bills to buy a toy slate for her seven-year-old granddaughter who dreams of becoming a teacher. She has had to save for months to get the 20 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $20 US) that the gift costs, since her monthly salary as a state inspector is only 315 CUP (Cuban pesos), about 12 dollars.

At the end of June, the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) reported that the average salary at national level reached 740 CUP per month, slightly more than 29 CUC. However, the increase in the average salary does not represent a real improvement in the living conditions of the worker, who continues to be able to access many goods and services only through remittances sent from family abroad, savings and withdrawals.

Average Monthly Wages in Cuba: 2017-2017. 25 Cuban pesos = $1 US

continue reading

“I do not know who makes that much money, nor what they base these figures on, because not even with the wages my husband earns working in food service for 240 CUP a month, along with my wages, do we get that much,” says Sanchez.

The ONEI explains that the average monthly salary is “the average amount of direct wages earned by a worker in a month.” The calculation excludes earning in CUC. However, the average salary is inflated by the increases in “strategic” sectors, such as has happened in healthcare, where the pay has been more than doubled, while in other areas of the economy wages have remained practically unchanged for over a decade.

“If you buy food you can not buy clothes, if you buy clothes you can not eat, we live every day thinking about how to come up with ways survive,” she says in anguish.

Most Cubans do not support themselves on what they earn in jobs working for the state, which employs 80% of the country’s workforce.

President Raúl Castro himself acknowledged that wages “do not satisfy all the needs of the worker and his family” and, in one of his most critical speeches about the national reality in 2013, he said that “a part of society” had become accustomed to stealing from the state.

Sanchez, on the other hand, justifies the thefts and believes that the “those who live better” are those who have access to dollars or those who receive remittances. “Anyone who doesn’t have a family member abroad or is a leader, is out of luck,” she says.

According to the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, when speaking of an increase in the average wage, a distinction must be made between the nominal wage, that is, the amount of money people receive, and the real wage, adjusted for inflation.

A recent study published by the academic shows that although the nominal wage has grown steadily in recent years, the real wage of a Cuban is 63% lower than it was in 1989, when Cuba was subsidized by the Soviet Union and the government had various social protection programs. At present, the entire month’s salary of a worker is only enough to buy 10.3 whole chickens or 7.6 tanks of liquefied gas.

Among retirees and pensioners, the situation is worse. The elderly can barely buy 16% of what a pension benefit would buy before the most difficult years of the so-called Special Period – the years of economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union – according to Mesa-Lago.

Or by another measure, spending an entire month’s salary a worker can only afford 19 hours of internet connection in the Wi-Fi zones enabled by the state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, or 84.5 minutes of local calls through cell phones.

What an entire month’s salary will buy in Cuba (only ONE of these things): 84.5 minutes of cellphone service, 10.3 chickens, 74 shared fixed-route taxi rides, 5.5 kg powdered milk, 29 national beers, 6.7 tanks of liquified natural gas

To buy a two-room apartment in a building built in 1936 in the central and coveted Havana neighborhood of Vedado a worker would need to save their entire salary for 98 years, while a Soviet-made Lada car from the time of Brezhnev would cost the equivalent of 52 years of work.

However, the island’s real estate market has grown in recent years at the hands of private sector workers who accumulate hard currency, or by investments made by the Cuban diaspora. In remittances alone, more than three billion dollars arrives in Cuba every year.

According to Ileana Sánchez, before this panorama many people look for work in the areas related to state food services or administration where they can steal from the state, or jobs that provide contact with international tourists such as in the hotels.

Other coveted jobs in the private sphere are the paladares – private restaurants – and renting rooms and homes to tourists where you can get tips. The “search” (as the theft is called) has become a more powerful incentive to accept a job than the salary itself.

Average monthly salary in Cuba by sector

Although, according to the document published by the ONEI, workers in the tourism and defense sector earn 556 and 510 pesos on average, many of them receive as a bonus a certain amount of CUC monthly that is not reflected in the statistics, and they also have access to more expensive food and electrical appliances than does the rest of the population.

Among the best paid jobs in CUP, in order of income, are those in the sugar industry, with 1,246 CUP on a monthly basis, and in agriculture with 1,218. Among the worst paid jobs according to the ONEI are those working in education, with 533 CUP, and in culture with 511.

For Miguel Roque, 48, a native of Guantánamo, low wages in the eastern part of the country are driving migration to other provinces. He has lived for 12 years in the Nuclear City, just a few kilometers from Juraguá, in the province of Cienfuegos, where the Soviet Union began to build a nuclear plant that was never finished.

“The East is another world. If you work here, imagine yourself there. A place stopped in time,” he explains. Roque works as a bricklayer in Cienfuegos although he aspires to emigrate to Havana in the coming months, where “work abounds and more things can be achieved.”

Average monthly salary by Cuban province. The lowest, 668.4 Cuban pesos, is the equivalent of $26.75 US, and the highest, 796.4 Cuban pesos, is the equivalent of $31.85.

The provinces where average wages are highest, according to the ONEI, are Ciego de Avila (816 CUP), Villa Clara (808 CUP) and Matanzas (806 CUP), while the lowest paid are Guantanamo (633 CUP) and Isla de la Juventud (655 CUP).

“Salary increases in the east of the country are not enough to fill the gaps with the eastern and central provinces,” explains Cuban sociologist Elaine Acosta, who believes that cuts in the social services budgets are aggravating the inequalities that result from the wage differences.

“It is no coincidence that the eastern provinces have the lowest figures on the Human Development Index,” he asserts.

Cuban Couple Prefers to Face the Jungle Rather Than the Law in Cuba

Cuban migrants Yudenny Sao Labrada and her husband Yoendry Batista talk to 14ymedio in Panama City. (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Panama City, 2 July 2017 – They managed to escape Cuba to leave behind traces of corruption and negligence that, according to Yudenny Sao Labrado and her husband Yoendry Batista, reflect the prevailing system on the island. From a neighborhood on the outskirts of Panama City, the couple relates the story of their journey, a long trek that they hope will end with their arrival in the United States.

Yudenny Sao (born in Puerto Padre in 1979) was born just three years after the promulgation of Cuba’s Socialist Constitution. Born under the Revolution, she trained as a teacher and graduated from the University of Mathematics and Physics. She left the classroom to administer one of the thousands of bodegas spread across the island, in which the state subsidizes some of the products of the basic market basket through the ration book.

“I liked teaching, but the Ministry of Education pays very little,” she explains. In the bodega she had more opportunities to do business “under the table.” continue reading

“I made the decision to leave Cuba when they discovered a corruption plot in Puerto Padre’s retail network,” said Sao. In 2016, a series of audits revealed that several of the bodegas in Puerto Padre, where she worked, had irregularities in their accounts. Although there were invoices covering the sales, the money was never deposited in the bank. The directors of the institution are serving sentences of up to eight years for misappropriating state funds.

“I had nothing to do with that,” said the woman from Las Tunas province, defending herself. According to her, her business was to sell rice, sugar, and contraband cigarettes she bought on the black market, instead of the products sent by the state for “free” – that is unregulated – sales, which covered articles outside the rationing system.

Although basically she did not alter the prices of the products, she committed a crime because the rigid centralized economic system did not allow her to market articles that were not sent through the channels authorized by the authorities.

“I gathered my people and I told them about the situation, because the big fish always eats the little one,” she says. Sao’s family includes her husband, Yoendry Batista, a welder by profession, her three children ages 19, 10 and 7 years, and her parents. They made the decision that she should leave Cuba and asked relatives in Florida for $10,000.

“With that money I went to Havana. I wanted to go by boat to the United States, but instead of paying a ticket on the speedboats that traffic people to Miami, I learned that there were people who sold parts to build a boat, and after a phone call my husband came to Havana and we began to build the boat,” she says.

In the heart of Havana, a few blocks from the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity, they began the construction of the boat that would take them to the United States. The materials cost $7,500 and each of those interested in emigrating did their bit. All under strict secrecy, as the construction of boats to leave the country is punishable by law.

“We made the boat with polyethylene and sheets of platinum [an alloy so-called in popular slang] and iron. That’s illegal, it could cost us up to 15 years in jail,” says Yoendry Batista, Yudenny’s husband, who had never built a boat in his life. After weeks of working under the summer sun in a Havana courtyard the boat was ready.

“To take it to the coast we had to pretend we were moving. At three o’clock in the morning we started to assemble furniture and parts of the disassembled boat in a closed truck that carried supplies to the foreign exchange stores,” recalls Sao.

They headed towards the north coast, to the mouth of Arroyo Caimito. There they spent eight days together with another 17 people eating the bare minimum to conserve food for the trip. After weeks of preparation they were finally about to leave for the United States.

“When we heard the sound of the engine we were happy, we shouted ‘Adios, comandante [Fidel]’ and we embraced,” recalls Sao. However, the happiness was short-lived. The engine barely lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes. The swell flooded the electrical system and they were adrift. They had to get rid of the engine that cost them $2,000 and the gas drums they had for the trip. If the Coast Guard found them with that equipment they could be in serious legal trouble.

Yoendry Batista worked clandestinely in Panama City until he got the resources to continue on his way to the United States. (The New Herald)

“The Cuban Coast Guard appeared around noon. My wife had fainted from lack of food and dehydration. They had us handcuffed and in the sun picking up other rafters for hours. That August 12 they collected 32 rafters whose boats had broken down,” explains Batista.

Dehydrated and hungry they were exposed to the sun all afternoon on the deck of the boat and were taken to the port of Mariel. After being fined 3,000 pesos, they were released. “What saved you is that we are making preparations for the Commander-in-Chief’s birthday celebration,” the head of the military unit told them. August 13, 2016 was the culmination of a program of celebrations to commemorate the 90 years of the old ex-president Fidel Castro, who died three months later.

Without money, they returned to Havana to try to build a new boat. “We spent sleepless nights thinking what to do with a debt of $10,000 without even having left the country. In Puerto Padre the investigations began and Yudenny’s time was running out. It occurred to them to bribe a policeman to “throw them through the system.” Because they had no criminal records they could apply for a passport and travel legally to Guyana.

“We paid $100 to the police and because we had no priors we got our passports (which cost $100 per person). That’s how we traveled to Guyana and from there we embarked on the journey to the United States,” explains Sao.

From Guyana they went to Brazil, where she was employed domestically for some months. Her husband worked as a builder, not without being cheated by those who saw undocumented migrants as cheap labor with no rights.

“He worked in malls. On one occasion they promised 100 reals a week and in the end they paid him 40,” says Sao. Her husband, on the other hand, has good memories of the towns where he spent the time. “You get another image of these countries because it is not what they tell you in Cuba. In these countries there are many people with good hearts and they help the migrant,” he says.

Yudenny Sao Labrada and her husband Yoendry Batista in the house where they took refuge in Panama City. (El Nuevo Herald)

After collecting some money they left with another 60 Cubans via the Amazon river and after more than 20 days of travel crossed Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. The Darien jungle was the most difficult for Sao, diabetic and hypertensive.

“I did not want to continue, but my family sent us 200 dollars from Cuba. That, together with what we had earned, allowed us to pay the guides who guided us through the jungle,” explains Cao.

In Panama they took refuge with the Catholic charity Caritas, where they received the news of the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy. They stayed with Caritas until they were forced to leave for the eventual transfer to the holding camp at Gualaca. “I don’t care where, it can be Haiti, but I cannot go back to Cuba,” she says with regret.

The house where Sao and her husband took refuge in Panama City, after escaping from Gualaca, belonged to some Panamanians they met through Cáritas. During the weeks they stayed in it they refurbished, cleaned up the gardens and planted bananas.

“We are not going to pick the crop. Of that you can be sure,” says Batista.

A week after telling their story to this newspaper they left for Costa Rica, where the authorities seized their passports. They continued their journey and are now in Mexico, waiting for a humanitarian visa to continue their way to the United States and seek political refuge.

“The Cuban government is responsible for everything we’ve been through. Everything you have to do to have a decent life depends on them. To buy a pair of shoes for your children you have go without eating for five months,” says Sao, adding that she never would have left her village if it weren’t for the crime imputed to her. “It’s a macabre system.”

Note: Our apologies for not having the following video subtitled in English

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This article is part of the series “A New Era in Cuban Migration” produced by 14ymedio,  Nuevo Herald and Radio Ambulante under the auspices of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Panama Offers $1,650 and Return Ticket to Cuba for Migrants Stranded In Gualaca

Like other migrants, the family of Nirvia Alvarez is not satisfied with the proposal of the Panamanian authorities. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 7 July 2017 – On Friday, Panama’s deputy minister of security, Jonathan del Rosario, offered Cubans stranded at the Gualaca camp $1,650, plus a ticket back to Havana and a multiple-entry visa for Panama, at a meeting to which 14ymedio had access.

The proposal, which the migrants will have until July 31 to accept, is the response promised by the Panamanian government to solve the crisis caused by the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy in January, which left Cubans already in Panama stranded.

“This option is a voluntary repatriation process. It is the way to obtain a visa to return to Panama legally and have seed capital to procure a different future for you and your family,” del Rosario told more than 100 Cubans in front of the temporary shelter where they are living. continue reading

The economic aid will be delivered at the airport, before the migrants board the flight that takes them to Cuba. Those who do not want to avail themselves of the Panama government’s offer could return to the point where they entered the country, or continue their journey undocumented.

“That’s all they have given us,” Yelisvarys Pargas, a migrant to Gualaca, told 14ymedio, because although the proposal appears good, he distrusts the Cuban authorities.

To attend the meeting, the deputy minister traveled by helicopter to the camp, an area of 104 acres far from any population center in the east of the country. The Panama government had transferred 128 Cubans there in April, after closing a temporary shelter maintained by Caritas in Panama City. Nine migrants escaped from the shelter of Gualaca, which is guarded by the presidential police and Migration and Public Security personnel.

“Panama and Cuba have diplomatic relations, and we have consulted representatives of the consulate and the Cuban embassy in the country about this option,” said the deputy minister.

Panama’s Deputy Minister of Security, Jonathan del Rosario (right), met with the Cuban migrants in Gualaca. (14ymedio)

The Panamanian authorities are also allowing migrants to pre-register for a application for a visa that would allow them, once in Cuba, to get an interview at the Panamanian consulate to obtain a tourist visa. With this visa they will be able to travel to Panama to make purchases for their businesses, according to the deputy minister. For migrants who have been away from Cuba for more than two years and so have lost their right, under Cuban law, to reside in the island, the Panamanian Government would facilitate the process of their return to the country.

Addis Torres, who was with her 13-year-old son and her husband in the shelter was devastated by the news. “I will continue, I cannot return to Cuba at this point. I will continue,” Torres said after the meeting with the deputy minister.

Nirvia Alvarez, another of the migrants said in a voice filled by emotion that Rosario’s proposal left her “on the verge of a heart attack.”

“After six months in this desperate wait and now they come out with this shit. I do not have a house in Cuba, I have nothing, because I sold everything I had. Go back, why? To live under a bridge?” protested the migrant, who is accompanied by her 11-year-old son and her husband.

When asked about the migrants, del Rosario explained that there are no options to emigrate to third countries. “To this day we have had no response from any country,” he explained. Nor did he open the door to regularizing the status of the Cubans in Panama, since the entry of migrants in an undocumented way precludes any kind of formalities for their regularization.

“There are other countries that have different migratory policies, maybe some of you want to return legally to Ecuador, what we can’t do is send you to a third country if we do not have the guarantee that the third country will welcome you,” said del Rosario.

After the presentation of the deputy minister, many of the migrants expressed their doubts about the proposal, arguing that Cuba is not a state of laws and that is why they fled the government of the Island.

Faced with the reluctance of migrants, del Rosario said that so far none of the people who have been returned to Cuba (more than 90 since the signing of the deportation agreement between Cuba and Panama) have filed a complaint at the Panamanian embassy to denounce the violation of their basic rights. “You have free will,” said del Rosario.

Persecution Grows Against Independent Journalism In Cuba

Independent journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín Ferreiro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 June 2017 — Independent communicators in Cuba are victims of an escalating repression, according to a complaint filed Monday by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), based in Madrid. The alarm sounded by the organization coincides with an increase in complaints from journalists on the island as a result of the government persecutions and obstacles they suffer when exercising their profession.

“Last June 20 Henry Constantín and Sol Garcia, journalists for La Hora de Cuba and contributors to 14ymedio, were not able to participate in an event in Miami because each of them has been indicted for the alleged crime of “‘usurpation of legal capacity’ [that is practicing a profession without a license to do so] and so under Cuban law they are not permitted to travel outside the country,” OCDH reported.

According to the non-governmental organization, the Cuban government had maintained a kind of “moratorium” with regards to repression against independent journalists, but the strategy seems to have changed in recent weeks with actions such as those carried out against Henry Constantin, Sol Garcia Basulto and Manuel Alejandro Leon Velázquez. continue reading

Both Constantín and García Basulto have been expressly forbidden to practice journalism on the island and the judicial process opened against them has been criticized from various international forums, including the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Human rights lawyer and activist Laritza Diversent explained that there are more than 300 items within the Penal Code to crack down on dissent and journalism on the island

The OCDH also denounced the arrest of journalist Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez, a contributor to Radio Martí and Diario de Cuba . Leon returned from a trip to Spain and has been accused of “usurpation of legal capacity, association to commit a crime and dissemination of false news,” according to the organization.

The accusations against the three communicators are based on Article 149 of the Cuban Penal Code, which punishes those who carry out “acts of a profession for the exercise of which one is not properly qualified.” If they are tried for this offense they could face a sentence of up to one year of deprivation of liberty.

In Cuba, all the media belong to the State, according to the Constitution of 1976. However, the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish with sites such as El Estornudo, El Toque, Cubanet, CiberCuba, Diario de Cuba, Periodismo de Barrio, On Cuba, among others.

In Cuba, all the media belong to the State, according to the Constitution of 1976. However, the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish

Human rights lawyer and activist Laritza Diversent, who recently became a refugee in the United States, explained to 14ymedio via telephone that there are over 300 items within the Penal Code to crack down on dissent and journalism on the island.

“State Security is looking for different strategies to prosecute all types of dissidents or critics in Cuba,” explained Diversent, president of the legal group Cubalex, who went into exile after a police and State Security operation against her.

“Both illegal economic activity and the usurpation of legal capacity are nothing more than resources to punish any type of activism within the Island. Legal insecurity is very high because both the criminal law and the criminal procedure law have been designed as tools of repression,” said Diversent.

Independent journalist Maykel Gonzalez Vivero, who was arrested last October in Guantanamo and suffered the confiscation of his tools of the trade while covering the recovery in Baracoa after the passage of Hurricane Matthew, confirmed the difficulties of practicing the profession on the island.

“We do not have a law that supports us and protects the exercise of journalism, we are at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities”

“We do not have a law that supports us and protects the exercise of journalism, we are at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities,” he said. On that occasion, a team of correspondents from Periodismo de Barrio suffered the same fate as Gonzalez Vivero.

Other independent publications, such as Convivencia magazine, have been harassed during the last year with the arrest of members of its editorial team and threats by the authorities against its contributors. Foreign correspondent Fernando Ravsberg has been threatened with expulsion from the country and even with “having his teeth broken” for the critical entries he publishes in his personal blog Cartas desde Cuba.

Last year the IAPA emphasized, however, the timid rebellion of some official journalists against the information policy directed from the Communist Party. Among the examples cited by the IAPA was a letter signed by young journalists published by the Villa Clara newspaper Vanguardia, in which they claimed their right to collaborate with other media.

The IAPA also recalled the case of a Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja, expelled from the profession for five years for making public the remarks delivered at a conference where Karina Marrón, deputy editor of the official daily Granma, compared the country’s situation to that of the 1990s when massive protests occurred in Havana, which came to be known as the Maleconazo.

“We Exist Between Illusions And Fears”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, David (Panama), 23 June 2017 — The green seems to fill everything in Chiriquí, in the western Panamanian province where the government hosts 126 undocumented Cubans in a camp in the region of Gualaca. The stillness of the morning in the middle of the huge pines that grow in the foothills of the mountains is only interrupted by the bites of insects, a true torture at dawn and dusk.

“This place is beautiful, but everything gets tiring, being in limbo is exhausting,” says Yosvani López, a 30-year-old Cuban who arrived in Gualaca in April after spending three months in the hostel set up by Caritas for Cuban migrants in Panama City.

“Sometimes we sit down and talk about what we would do if we could get out of here and get to another country. Some relatives tell us that they are preparing a camp in Canada to welcome us, others tell us that they have everything prepared to deport us. Illusions and fears,” he laments. continue reading

The camp that houses the Cubans was built by the Swiss brigades which, in the 1970’s, built the La Fortuna dam. It is 104 acres, occupied mostly by forests and a stream. One hour from the nearest city, the humidity is such that mushrooms and plants establish themselves even in the fibrocement roof tiles.

A day in the migrant camp for Cubans stranded in Gualaca, Panama (our apologies for not having this video subtitled).

Along with the wooden buildings, deteriorated by the passage of time, there are still satellite antennas, electric heaters and, according to the migrants, from time to time they find foreign currencies buried in the vacant land.

López was born in Caibarién, a city on the north coast of Cuba. Although he had the opportunity to emigrate using a speed boat to cross the Florida Straits, he preferred the jungle route to avoid the seven years moratorium on being able to return to Cuba that the government imposes on those who leave Cuba illegally.

“I wanted to go back before 7 years was up. I have my mother and my sisters in Cuba,” he explains.

He worked as a chef specializing in seafood at the Meliá hotel in the cays north of Villa Clara, earning the equivalent of $25 US a month. With the money from the sale of his mother’s house he traveled via Guyana and in Panama he was taken by surprise by the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who reached American soil to stay.

“Here we pass the hours between chats with our relatives in Cuba and the United States, and searching the news for clues that will tell us what is going to happen to us,” he says.

The migrants in Gualaca not only do not have permission to work, but they can only leave the camp one day a week to go to Western Union, with prior notice and accompanied by presidential police officers, who are guarding the site.

Some, however, have improvised coffee sales and even a barbershop. The locals also set up a small shop to supply the undocumented immigrants with the personal care products and treats, which they pay for with remittances sent by relatives from the United States.

Some migrants have taken the opportunity to develop their talents, such as this young man who set up a barber shop in the Gualaca camp. (14ymedio)

The authorities gave themselves 90 days to decide what they would do with the 126 Cubans who accepted the proposal to go to Gualaca. Two months later, the patience of the migrants is beginning to wear thin. At least six escapes have been reported since they were moved there. The last one, on Monday, was led by four Cubans, two of whom have already returned to the camp while two crossed the border into Costa Rica.

Since dawn, Alejandro Larrinaga, 13, and his parents have been waiting for some news about their fate. Surrounded by adults, Alejandro has only one other child to play in the hostel, Christian Estrada, 11. Neither has attended school for a year and a half, when they left Havana.

Alejandro spent more than 50 days in the jungle and, as a result of severe dehydration, he suffered epilepsy and convulsed several times. “It was difficult to go through it. It’s not easy to explain: it is one thing to tell it and another to live it,” he says with an intonation that makes him seem much more adult.

“We had to see dead people, lots of skulls. I was afraid of losing my mom and dad,” he recalls. But, although tears appear in the eyes of his mother while he recalls those moments, now he says he feels safe in Gualaca and spends his days playing chess.

“I want to be a chess master, which is more than a champion. Someday I will achieve it,” he says.

His mother, Addis Torres, does not want to return to the Island where she has nothing left because she sold their few belongings to be able to reunite with Alejandro’s grandfather, who lives in the United States. Although they have a process of family reunification pending at the US Embassy in Havana, the family does not want to hear about returning to Cuba.

They eat three times a day and even have a health program financed by the Panamanian government, but for Torres “that’s not life.”

“Detained, without a future, afraid to return to Cuba. We need someone to feel sorry for us and, in the worst case, to let us stay here,” she says.

Liuber Pérez Expósito is a guajiro from Velasco, a town in Holguín where he grew garlic and corn. After the legalization of self-employment by the Cuban government, Pérez began to engage in trade and intended to improve things by going to the US.

The presidential police and Panama Immigration officers guard the entrance of the camp Los Planes, Gualaca. (14ymedio)

In Gualaca he feels “desperate” to return to his homeland, but he has faith that, at least, he will get the help promised by the Panamanian Deputy Minister of Security, and leave a door open to engage in trade.

“I am here against what my family’s thinking. There (in Cuba) I have my wife, my nine-year-old son and my parents, they want me to come back and pressure me but I am waiting for the opportunity to at least recover some of the 5,000 dollars I spent,” he says.

His mother-in-law, an ophthalmologist who worked in Venezuela, lent him part of the money for the trip. Indebted, without money and without hope, he only thinks of the moment he can return.

“During the day we have nothing to do. Sometimes we play a little dominoes, we walk or we go to the stream, but we have 24 hours to think about how difficult this situation is and the failure we are experiencing,” he says.

Liuber communicates with his family through Imo, a popular videochat application for smartphones. “They recently installed Wi-Fi in Velasco and they call me whenever they can,” he adds.

“Hopefully, this nightmare we are living will end soon. Whatever happens, just let it end,” he says bitterly.

——

This article is a part of the series “A New Era in Cuban Migration” produced by this newspaper, 14ymedioel Nuevo Herald and Radio Ambulante under the auspices of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Martha Beatriz Roque: “The Cuban Opposition Has Not Found The Right Path”

Cuban opposition activist Martha Beatriz Roque attended a celebration for the anniversary of independence at the CANF headquarters in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 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.”

Cuban Professionals Are Afraid In Venezuela

”Cubans Out!” The Venezuelan opposition sees Cuban doctors as an opposition army. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 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.

Venezuelan protesters with a banner that reads “Cuba Out”

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.”