Cubans Are Traveling Abroad More and On The Island Less

The growth of domestic tourism was unstoppable until last year. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 November 2017 – Cuba’s northern keys are a tropical paradise that were forbidden to Cubans for decades. In 2008, in the midst of a severe liquidity crisis, the reforms of Raul Castro’s regime allowed, for the first time since the opening to international tourism in the ’90s, Cubans to stay in domestic hotels on equal terms with foreigners. Since then, the growth of national tourism has been unstoppable. Until last year.

“National tourism decreased by more than 90,000 vacationers in 2016, according to data from the National Statistics Office this autumn,” explains Emilio Morales, group director of The Havana Consulting Group (THCG), based in Miami.

The factors Morales blames for the fall are basically the rise in hotel prices that occurred the previous year as a result of the increase in international tourism and the increase in the number of trips abroad by Cubans.

“Cuba recently experienced a boom in American tourism, a market with much more purchasing power than the rest of the markets that send tourists to Cuba. According to official figures, 281,706 Americans traveled to the island in 2016,” Morales explains.

Sources of tourists to Cuba: ranges by country.

The response of the Cuban tourist market, 40% of which is controlled by the Business Administration Group which is controlled by Cuba’s armed forces, was to raise the price of rooms.

“My husband and I went to Varadero, Viñales or Trinidad at least once a month but since last August we have not been able to because all the prices have skyrocketed,” says Maria Eugenia, 61, who lives in Havana. “What we used to pay for the whole trip now is not enough for one night, not to mention transportation,” she laments.

“The hotels where prices have increased the most are those in the keys, those in Varadero and anything else along the coastline of beaches,” says María Eugenia. “Also, it’s not worth going as a Cuban because there is a lot of mistreatment towards the national client.”

One of the main attractions of the all-inclusive vacation is the formerly all-you-can-eat buffets, but now there are restrictions imposed, according to the retiree. “There is not as much variety of products and nor are they so free, because now they control the amount of main dishes (meat or fish) that each guest can eat and they give you a ticket for a certain number of drinks.”

THCG carried out a study on the lodging network in the Cuban tourist sector in 230 hotels and verified the price escalation since the US thaw. “The study showed a rise in prices in all categories, with the highest growth in five-star hotels, which went from an average of $186 a night in 2014 to $362 in 2016,” the report detailed. As these establishments are filled, foreign tourists who occupied them begin to demand rooms in lower category hotels, which also increases the prices of those tourist facilities.

The most surprising figures are seen in the four-star hotels, which went from an average of $111 per night in 2014 to $247. “The Saratoga hotel, one of the favorites of celebrities and politicians, came to be priced in 2016 at between $700 and $1,000 dollars a night, compared to $375 as a minimum a year before,” adds Morales.

This escalation of prices also affected domestic tourism, a sector that had grown exponentially after the thaw initiated by former President Barack Obama, which unlocked the sending of remittances to the island and helped develop the country’s incipient private sector.

“In a study conducted by THCG in 2014, it was found that 37% of Cuban-Americans who traveled to Cuba stayed at least one weekend with their relatives living on the island at a hotel, mainly in the tourist centers of Varadero, the Keys to the north of Villa Clara and in Guardalavaca, Holguín. This trend has increased in recent years, and it is currently estimated that around 45% of Cuban-Americans traveling to the island stay in a hotel with their relatives in Cuba for two or three days,” explains Morales.

An employee of one of the most prestigious agencies based in the United States that arranges travel to Cuba told 14ymedio, on the condition of anonymity, that the situation of national and international tourism “is critical.”

Number of Cubans traveling as tourists within Cuba.

“I was in Cuba this November for the International Fair of Havana and the Cubans are asking for the return of tourism. But, the Meliá Cohiba was at less than 30% of its capacity, when last year it was full,” she says.

“With the increase in the prices of hotels in Cuba an excellent market opportunity is lost because once the tourists go to another place they do not return,” she says.

From 14 January 2013 to 24 October 2016, more than 779,000 Cubans residing on the Island traveled abroad, 79% of them for the first time. The official figures are misleading, however, because they count as still resident in the country any Cubans who have been abroad for less than two years. Even so, an increase in the number of Cubans traveling abroad is clear to see.

“So far this year, a 28% growth has been achieved relative to the same time period for the previous year,” Ernesto Soberón, director of Affairs of Cuban Residents Abroad, recently told Cuban television.

Morales believes that there are a variety of reasons for these trips abroad. “It is estimated that in the 2013-2016 period around 130,000 Cubans traveled for emigration reasons, while the remaining 541,000 did so for work, tourism and business reasons,” he explains. The researcher gives as an example the more than 100,000 Cubans who traveled to Mexico in 2016, “becoming the fastest-growing tourist segment in Latin America that visits Mexico by air, with a growth of 58% over the previous year.”

“The most popular destinations for Cubans are the United States, Mexico and the Dominican Republic,” explains Morales, who believes that the situation requires a serious analysis by those who develop strategies for the tourism sector on the island.

“It is evident that not having a balanced offer both with regards to price and recreational options means that the growing national tourism will satisfy its leisure needs in other markets. Without a doubt, Cuban tourists are discovering better options outside of Cuba’s borders,” he adds.

___________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Cuban ‘Big Brother’ Seen by 57 Writers

About 90 people showed up at the bookstore Altamira Books for the presentation of the book ‘El compañero que me atiende.’ (14ymedio)

The book ‘The Compañero Who Watches Me’ was presented last Thursday in Coral Gables (Florida) and reflects its authors’ preoccupation with the omnipresence of surveillance in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 3 November 2017 — Writing a book can be like an exorcism, especially when trying to leave behind ghosts of the past. This is the case with publisher Hypermedia’s new book, El compañero que me atiende (The Compañero Who Watches Me), a compilation of fictional stories by 57 authors, collected by Enrique del Risco, about the omnipresence of surveillance in Cuban life. Something that marked the national literary output.

“This book is not a memorial of grievances, nor is it a book about repression. In the Cuban case, on the list of those aggrieved by a regime that is close to finishing its sixth decade, writers score rather low compared to other parts of society,” clarified compiler Del Risco. continue reading

The book, almost 500 pages long, was presented Thursday in the bookstore Altamira Books, a very welcoming place in the city of Coral Gables (Florida); the store’s purpose is to “foster knowledge and use of the Spanish language,” according to its owners.

Del Risco, the renowned Cuban poet and narrator Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, Abel Fernandez Larrea, Jose M. Fernandez and Luis Felipe Roja, journalist for Radio Marti, presented the book to almost a hundred people among whom were some of the best Cuban writers in exile.

“This book began as an idea and was written thanks to the enthusiastic response of the authors who are in Cuba and in the diaspora. We have stories by 57 writers who are not only in the United States but in different parts of Latin America, Canada and Europe,” explained Del Risco.

El compañero que me atiende collects for the first time passages by authors who speak of the surveillance work of the Cuban state and how this influences the Island’s literature. Del Risco told 14ymedio that the response exceeded his expectations. “We have writers of all ages. Censorship and surveillance is a national phenomenon that has happened at all social levels and is a common denominator in the whole revolutionary process,” he said.

“The book also helps those writers and artists who have been censored and surveilled feel part of a society that suffers that as a whole. It is not just something that belongs to intellectuals but workers, women, students, everyone has been a part of and victim of this phenomenon,” explains Del Risco.

Among the authors who live on the Island is the writer – recently released from jail – Angel Santiesteban, who presents his story The Men of Richelieu, part of an unpublished book entitled Zone of Silence.

Also from Cuba came stories by the actress and writer Mariela Brito, Raul Aguiar, Atilio Caballero, Ernesto Santana, Jorge Angel Perez, and Jorge Espinosa, among others.

‘El compañero que me atiende’ will be for sale on Amazon and in some Florida bookstores. (14ymedio)

The central idea of the anthology is to give voice to writers so that they can describe the surveillance atmosphere created by the totalitarian state as a consequence of the political system installed in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution.

Writer Jose M. Fernandez, who emigrated to the Dominican Republic in 1998, recalled that in his writings he had proposed the thesis that the Cuban political system, in spite of having declared itself atheistic, “was organized as a profoundly religious structure around a dogma.”

“It had its Christ and its martyrs, and the compañero who watched us was the ghost,” explains Fernandez.

Writing his story, removed from the politics but addressing the lurking danger of being heard in a country in which each person seems to be an ear of the state, “freed” him.

“I realized that it was like a salvation because the trauma accompanied me throughout my life. It was not caused by the censorship itself but because those who were my friends, my companions and those with whom I had to finish five long years of university lent themselves and caused it to happen,” says Fernandez who has had a prolific career in the Dominican Republic.

According to the author, although a good part of his story is fiction, there are some events that did occur in the city of his birth, Santiago de Cuba. On sharing his story with a friend, the response she gave surprised him: “As always happens in Cuba, the reality surpasses the fiction,” she told him.

Fernandez has planned to send a sample of the book “to the companion who attends him” with this dedication: “You fucked me over, but I immortalized you.”

Legna Rodriguez, for her part, said that a good number of Cubans do not realize how powerful the surveillance they are subjected to. “It is not felt or seen, but it becomes a sickness, an amorality, a cancer,” said the writer.

Luis Felipe Rojas remembered the long interrogations to which he was subjected by the authorities because of the passages that he published on his blog Crossing the Barbed Wire.

“I always thought that I should write about this, that I could fictionalize it, but it wasn’t until I left Cuba that all that flowed. Inside it would have been impossible,” said the communicator.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuban TV Censors Come Down on Director and Screenwriter Eduardo del Llano

The film director, screenwriter and writer Eduardo del Llano. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 November 2017 — The film director, screenwriter and writer Eduardo del Llano has denounced that the Cuban television censors are hounding him and accuses the authorities of wanting to force him to emigrate.

According to a statement written by the artist and shared through the social networks of Carlos Lechuga, the director of the also censored film Santa and Andrés, “it is not a matter of disavowing [Del Llano’s] specific content,” but of deciding to bar the artist from the small screen.

“Over the past three years, several members of the Vivir del cuento team, including the director and the best-known actors, had asked me to write for the program,” says Del Llano, born in Moscow in 1962. continue reading

The artist had warned the cast of the popular comedy program that delivers social satires in prime time on Mondays, that in 2015 another television director had contacted him for a summer program “and the program was taken off the air,” telling him the screenwriter was forbidden on television.

Del Llano has been a co-writer of important Cuban films such as Alice in Wonderland (1991) and Ana’s Movie (2012). Producer of more than 20 short films, in 2004 he stoked the cultural censors’ hatred against him by deciding to launch the Sex Machine Productions label with a series of short films about the national reality starring a character named Nicanor O’Donnell, who reflects the contradictions of daily life in Cuba.

The first of these films was called Monte Rouge and was a stark satire of the omnipresence of State Security in the life of Cubans. It was followed by others on information policy and various topics seen through satire. They were not released on television, but those shorts were widely disseminated through The Weekly Packet and USB flash drives.

Despite the warning, the director of Vivir del Cuento encouraged him to write a chapter of the saga of Pánfilo, the witty retiree who stars in the series and whose life revolves around the increasingly small assortment of products available through the ration book.

“A little more than a month later [the director of the series and another actor] called me, excited to let me know how much they had liked an episode that I presented to them, and to say that they were going to film it in October, along with three others by different authors,” says Del Llano, who clarifies that in the script he wrote for the program “he maintained the usual tone of social satire of Vivir del cuento but did not try to be particularly hard.”

However, in mid-October, according to the artist, “things went bad.”

The director of the television series called him “very distressed” and “saddened” to tell him that “from above” they had accepted the three other programs for the television series, but not the one written by Del Llano.

According to the artist, several members of the Vivir del Cuento team “are convinced” that “what is censored is not the specific work” but rather the writer. “I mean,” he says in a jocular tone, “that the Upper Television Spheres will continue to censor me even if I write Aunt Tata’s Storytime.”

“Excommunicating artists is a noble tradition of Cuban culture, especially on the tiny screen,” reflects the author and brings up the case of a film critic who had a regular space on Cuban television but who confronted “someone from above” and as a result will not be able to return to television, while a dozen already recorded programs were thrown away.

Del Llano clarifies that “until now” the actions against him are limited to Cuban Television and that with the Book Institute, the Humor Promotion Center, and even the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry his relationships “are reasonable and mutually respectful.”

“As you can see, the censorship is not even coherent,” he adds in an ironic tone.

The writer, however, regrets that “from above” they take away his opportunity to write for a television program that he considers a challenge in his career.

“How was it left? Without explanations to the team or to me, without anyone showing their faces and telling me why they condemned me in the first place,” he says and answers with a rhetorical question:” Do they want to leave me without options, force me to emigrate? Let them be the ones to go.”

Two Cuban Rafters Disappear After Their Boat Capsizes South Of Camagüey

Julio César de Gotor Osorio, 24, is one of the young people who so far has not been found. (Facebook)

14ymedio biggerMario Penton, Miami, 30 October 2017 — Two young Cubans are missing after the shipwreck on Saturday of a rickety boat on which they attempted to leave the country along with four other people. According to the relatives who spoke with14ymedio, the group on the boat had left from the area of Cayo Caguama, south of Camagüey.

Two young men, Yasniel Naranjo and Julio César de Gotor Osorio, both 24 years old, have yet to be found, while four others were saved by the Cuban Border Patrol. continue reading

“We are desperate, I do not even want to talk, I just want my husband to appear alive,” Yuneisy González de Armas says through her tears from Santa Cruz del Sur, a small fishing village south of Camagüey.

The couple has a one-year-old girl and Gonzalez says her husband never told her that he planned to leave the country.

The Border Patrol Troops continue the search by sea, but according to a family member who asked not to be identified “when other family members asked him to use helicopters, an officer replied that this could only be done by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and that it was outside his scope of control.”

Until last January, the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy allowed Cubans who reached US soil to apply for permanent residence in the country. However, rafters that were intercepted at sea by the US or Cuban Coast Guards were returned to the island.

Under the current migratory agreements between the US and Cuba all Cuban migrants who arrive in the United States without a visa are deported to the island. However, if they arrive at a border post and can demonstrate a credible fear of persecution, they could be admitted and allowed to present their case for political asylum.

Where the rafters left from and where the boat capsized.

Oswaldo Payá’s Widow: “The Cuban State did not want to tell me why I can’t enter my own country.”

Our apologies for the lack of subtitles on this video.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 28 October 2017 – On Thursday, after four years of exile, Ofelia Acevedo, widow of Oswaldo Payá, the deceased opponent of the Cuban regime, was not allowed to enter her own country. Acevedo, an activist in her own right, had decided to travel to Havana to clarify the circumstances of her husband’s death in 2012, after a traffic crash that the family believes was an attack planned by the authorities.

Although the Cuban government provided her with a new passport, stamped with the special authorization that citizens who have been out of the country more than two years must have to enter Cuba, when she arrived in Havana she was refused entry to the country and forced to return to Miami from Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. continue reading

“The Cuban State will not let me enter my country. Despite having my papers in order and meeting the legal terms, I was forced to return [to the United States] on Thursday without even an explanation of why I can not return,” says Acevedo, who spoke with 14ymedio at her home in Miami.

“I wanted to get the autopsy reports for Oswaldo [Payá] and Harold [Cepero, who died in the same crash], because when I was in Cuba I filled out endless paperwork and they never gave them to me,” she explained.

“Upon arriving at the immigration barriers, an officer told me that the system showed a restriction order, so that I could not enter the country. I told him that I would not move from there until they explained to me why I could not return to my own land,” she says.

Acevedo tells how a nervous Customs official asked her to follow his directions. “I’m just doing my job. You must have a job and surely you do it,” he repeated.

In the face her demands, Major Ángel Hernández Báez, the person in charge of immigration, appeared and informed her that his function was “to execute the action” of not letting her enter. “My sole function is to keep you from entering the country,” he stressed to Acevedo.

The widow of the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá shows the authorization on her passport, granted by the same authorities that later did not let her enter Cuba. (14ymedio)

For hours, Payá’s widow, in the company of her daughter Rosa María Payá, leader of the CubaDecides citizens’ initiative, debated with the official until finally Hernández Báez explained that the return flight was about to leave and that she would definitely not enter the national territory. The officer gave the airline a withdrawal order, but Acevedo was never given an explanation of the refusal.

After the crash that cost her husband and the young activist Harold Cepero their lives, the widow reports that she tried to obtain the report of the autoposy, but that the authorities never allowed it.

“After having taken so many steps and going to so many places the hospital director told me that he would send it to me in the mail, which he never did. I complained several times to the hospital but they never answered me,” she says.

The family has a right to the autopsy report, she asserts. From letters to the Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, to an accusation presented to the Ministry of Justice, she took every possible action to seek to shed light on the fateful event.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (1952-2012) was a charismatic leader, president of the Catholic-inspired Christian Liberation Movement, which organized the Varela Project in 1998, collecting more than 20,000 signatures to demand political reforms from the government then presided over by Fidel Castro.

The Constitution allows the organization of a national referendum for any proposal signed by a minimum of 10,000 citizens. However, the National Assembly of Peoples Power, under the absolute control of the Communist Party, dismissed the initiative and Fidel Castro promoted the declaration of the “irrevocable” character of socialism, eliminating any attempt at political change through laws.

Payá’s widow says she will not rest until she gets all the information she deserves about her husband’s death and makes “the truth” known.

“I still demand an investigation so that we really know what happened, even with all the limitations that I have, like this one of not entering my own country,” she says.

“I fear for the life of my daughter because their [the Cuban government’s] logic is not our logic, it is evil. They have not changed anything. Rosa María has not abandoned the path traced by her father and they can’t forgive this. They hate my family a lot.”

“This Soul of a Wounded People is The Worst Thing That Castroism Has Left Us”

Father José Conrado Rodríguez (center) during the presentation of his book at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, accompanied by Manuel Salvat and Myriam Márquez. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 27 October 2017 — “The Catholic Church in Cuba has a future of hope because despite the forces that have wanted to sow hatred in the Cuban nation, love has always triumphed.” This was the central message of Father José Conrado Rodríguez, presbyter of the church of San Francisco de Paula in Trinidad, during the presentation of his book Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba in Miami on Thursday.

“That is the great victory of Cuba and Cubans: they wanted to separate us, they physically separated us, but they could never separate this people from love. We loved each other and we love each other and we will continue to love each other despite all the isolation and sowing of mistrust. Love has conquered,” the priest said with deep emotion. continue reading

The amphitheater of the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora was small for the more than 150 people who came to the presentation of a book defined by the author as “intimate,” with passages related to the history of the Cuban Church of which he has been an eyewitness.

“I carry in my chest the cross of the pains of my people,” said Rodríguez, recalling the words he delivered in his first Eucharist when he carried a cross made from the wood of the presidio to which the revolutionary government confined the Catholic priest Miguel Ángel Loredo for ten years.

The genesis of the book reflects the deep controversy surrounding this man who is able to confront the authorities of the island and his own pastors to ask for more freedom for the people of Cuba.

“It is not a coherent book. These are different times and that is what I want to be clear about,” Rodriguez said. The idea of ​​writing the book came after a request from a professor at the San Gimignano Institute in Italy specializing in religious sociology, who had previously asked for an analysis of the situation of the Church in Cuba from Cardinal Jaime Ortega. The contrast between the experiences of Ortega and Rodriguez led the professor to seek the vision of a priest of the people to compare to that of the cardinal.

“My vocation as a priest is to serve the poorest and most needy, those whom they turn their backs to because they are committed,” recalled the priest, who in 1994 wrote an open letter to Cuban leader Fidel Castro and in 2009 did the same to his brother Raul.

“The economic crisis affects all households and causes people to live anxiously wondering: What am I going to eat or what am I going to wear? How am I going to get the most elemental things for my family? The difficulties of everyday life become so overwhelming that they keep us mired in sadness and hopelessness,” said the letter sent to the Plaza of the Revolution to which he never received a reply.

The book Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba begins with a prologue by Felipe J. Estévez, bishop of San Agustín, Florida. The prelate praised the “creative fidelity” of the Cuban priest in the years of hard persecution against the Catholic faith that followed the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

Cover of the book Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba, by Father José Conrado Rodríguez. (14ymedio)

“To build bridges between people, institutions, different points of view, to be a meeting place for a diverse people, his being a priest of Christ has been and is an essential part of his life,” said the bishop.

Rodríguez then presented a panorama of “the Castro brothers’ Cuba” during his forty years of priesthood, followed by his reflections on the need for reform of the Cuban Church and a project to accomplish it. The book also has three interviews on the need for the Cuban Church to be bolder, along with some reflections on the situation of the Island at the present time.

“This book says very serious things, including the learned hopelessness, perhaps the worst evil affecting Cubans at this time, the feeling that they can not do anything to change their lives,” said the director of the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, Ileana Fuentes.

“This soul of a wounded people is the worst thing that Castroism has left us,” she added.

The editor of the text, Manuel Salvat, highlighted the book’s autobiography. “This is a priest who has studied a lot and is very well informed, putting everything at the service of God and his people. This book is an essential tool to know the present and the future of the country,” he added. “In this difficult town that is Cuban Miami everyone wants a copy,” he said visibly excited.

For her part, the former director of el Nuevo Herald Miriam Marquez said that the first and only time the Cuban government let her enter the island Father Conrado allowed her to see the reality of the island beyond what officialdom showed.

For Jorge Graña, producer for the Catholic Television Network EWTN and a former seminarian in Santiago de Cuba, Rodríguez represents the prophetic role in the Cuban Church. “The Prophet is not the one who predicts the future, but the man of truth, who carries the voice in his heart and consoles and encourages the people. That is José Conrado,” he said.

“Long before Pope Francis asked the shepherds ‘to realize that we too are sheep’, José Conrado would go to the outskirts and feel the pain of the people. The sheep know who their pastor is and that is why so many follow him.”

Dozens Of Cuban Doctors In Brazil Fight To Escape From Havana’s Control

Some Cuban doctors working for low stipends in Brazil complain that with all the money they’ve earned for the Cuban government they could have paid for their medical studies several times over.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 19 October 2017 — Ruber Hidalgo has traveled to five countries in recent years, an uncommon record for a Cuban doctor whose salary, in Cuba, was about $40 a month. Hidalgo is a specialist in integrated general medicine and has participated in four missions abroad organized by the Cuban Government.

The doctor says that he has lost the illusions of the first years after coming to realize he had become “a slave” of the Cuban government and that he needs to live his life “independently.” continue reading

The doctor is one of the dozens of doctors trying to break away from the tripartite agreement with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Cuban Ministry of Health, and its counterpart in Brazil through which the island has more than 11,000 doctors stationed on Brazilian soil.

The professionals are trying to leave the tripartite agreement with the Pan American Health Organization, the Ministry of Health of Cuba and its counterpart in Brazil, through which the Island has more than 11,000 doctors in Brazil

“Pakistan, Haiti, Venezuela, Bolivia and then Brazil. In all these countries I have been in risky situations, in the midst of earthquakes and epidemics. I have done what Cuba and the governments of the places where they have sent me would have me do, but now I want them to let me be free,” says Hidalgo.

The doctor currently lives in the state of Maranhao, in the northeast of Brazil, one of the poorest in the country, but is now part of a “silent revolution” that is shaking up the Cuban physicians. According to Brazilian lawyer André De Santana Correa, who represents 80 doctors from the island, including Hidalgo, “the cooperation agreements signed by Rousseff’s Government, mediated by PAHO, violate the principle of isonomy [equality before the law] and the social dignity of work.”

Doctors from other countries can be hired directly by the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program and receive a full salary. In the case of Cubans they require PAHO mediation and the money paid by Brazil goes directly to the Cuban Government, which in turn distributes only a part of it in the form of stipends to the doctors.

De Santana is optimistic about the possibility of winning the legal battle that allows Cubans to obtain the maximum benefits of the Mais Médicos program. “There are no official figures for the number of physicians who are filing appeals at court, but there are at least 154,” he explains to 14ymedio.

“The main obstacles we face are the issues of judicial power, and the question of the budget which also affects justice, but there is a good chance of winning,” he says.

Cuban medical missions are the primary source of income for the Havana government. Cuba exports the work of its doctors to 62 countries and charges about 10 billion dollars each year for health services. Less than a third of the salaries specified by contracts goes into the pockets of the doctors, leading this work structure to be considered “modern slavery” by labor rights advocates.

In Brazil, the Mais Médicos program, established during the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, allowed 11,400 Cuban doctors to provide their services in difficult areas of the country. Brasilia pays Havana, through the Pan American Health Organization, about $3,300 a month for each physician, while the doctor receives only 2,976 reales (about 900 dollars).

“Not only do they steal our salary, but they also took most of the money the Brazilian government provides as an allowance when we arrive from Cuba so that we can furnish the place where we are going to live,” Hidalgo explains. Brazil paid $3,000 to $9,000 for each foreign doctor to get settled in housing, but of that the Cuban government only passes on $1,261 to the doctors.

Brasilia pays Havana, through the Pan American Health Organization, about $3,300 a month for each physician, while the doctor receives only $900

In 2016, Hidalgo decided to leave the Cuban medical mission despite the reprisals from the Cuban government. Since then he has worked caring for livestock and peddling, while he is in the process of revalidating his title in Brazil and pursuing litigation in the courts to allow him to participate in the Mais Médicos program independently, without PAHO mediation.

“When Cuba finds out that you are engaging in a judicial process to get out from under the PAHO guardianship, they immediately send a medical mission coordinator to your house. That person does not give you anything in writing, but tells you that if you do not return to the island within 24 hours you will not be able to do so for eight years and you immediately become a deserter and a traitor,” explains Hidalgo. In 2015, the government decided to change that policy and accept the return of doctors who formerly were classified as deserters, because of a shortage of healthcare professionals in the country.

One of the clauses that the government imposes on professionals in the Mais Médicos mission is a prohibition on taking the exams to revalidate their medical degree in Brazil, according to what 14ymedio confirmed with someone who had access to one of those contracts

Noel Fonseca and his wife, Diusca Ortiz, have been practicing medicine for 20 years and say that with all the money they have earned for the government, they could afford to pay the cost of their medical studies on the island several times over. The fact that Cuban doctors did not pay to go to medical school is one of the government’s main justifications for keeping the money they earn working abroad.

“The doctors have already given a lot of money to Cuba. In Angola I had a contract that paid the Cuban government $4,000 a month and of that I only received $600. In the three years I worked for Brazil, the Cuban government earned more than $100,000 dollars from me and let’s not even talk about Venezuela,” says Fonseca.

The couple is also in a legal process that allows them to enter Mais Médicos without the sponsorship of Cuba. In September they took a test to revalidate their titles in Brazil.

“When we decided not to return to Camagüey, a representative of the Ministry of Health in Cuba went to our house and told my elderly mother and my minor son that they would not see us for eight years,” says Fonseca indignantly. Cuba also cut off access to the public health e-mail system that allowed them to communicate with their families.

“In Angola I had a contract that paid the Cuban government $4,000 a month and of that I only received $600. In the three years I worked for Brazil, the Cuban government earned more than $100,000 dollars from me and let’s not even talk about Venezuela”

The couple, who worked in Arari, a city in northern Brazil, were replaced by a couple of Cuban doctors who immediately informed the PAHO coordinator that the deserters had received help from the city.

“They fired us. Cuba got the Brazilian Ministry of Health to demand that the municipalities eliminate any aid to doctors who left the program,” says Fonseca.

Havana applied pressure by not sending more than 700 doctors in the first quarter of the year and that had an effect; Brazilian Minister of Health Ricardo Barros cancelled the program in more than 49 municipalities that helped emancipate Cuban doctors.

“Brazil wants to help us, but the situation is difficult because they don’t have doctors to serve in the poor regions and Cuba uses this as a tool for blackmail,” explains Fonseca.

“Thousands of doctors have married Brazilians to obtain residency in the country and in the past many people escaped to the United States when [the Cuban Medical Professional] Parole Program existed for the doctors, but now that the Americans have closed that door there’s nothing left for us but to fight here,” says the doctor.

In February, the Brazilian government held a contest to award Mais Médicos places to Brazilian doctors, but while 6,285 doctors registered to win one of the 2,320 seats, only 1,626 showed up for work and since then 30% have left their posts due to the difficult working conditions.

Venezuela Finances Russian Oil Coming To Cuba

Refinery in Cienfuego, Cuba. (5 de September)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 October 2017 — Russia is again aiding Cuba and, as with the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, the aid comes in the form of oil. Moscow is trying to compensate for the collapse of Venezuelan shipments, but part of the bill comes from Caracas, says Jorge Piñón, director of the International Energy Center at the University of Texas.

According to the Russian news agency Tass, last weekend the Kremlin agreed with the Palace of the Revolution to increase the supply of oil and develop cooperation in the extraction sector in Cuba. continue reading

“This is a triangulation of an agreement signed in 2016 and extended this year. Rosneft (a joint-venture company majority-owned by the Russian government) has loaned PDVSA (the Venezuelan state oil company) between four and five billion dollars in recent years, “says Piñón. “Part of the 250,000 tonnes of diesel that Rosneft pledged in May to deliver to Cuba was funded in the back office through the triangulation of the agreement with PDVSA.”

Piñón’s thesis is also supported by statements from Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, who last May put as a condition on shipments of oil to the island that they must have a secure source of funding.

During the Soviet era, Cuba received more than $40 billion in subsidies and contracted a $35 billion debt that Russia condoned by 90 percent in 2014. At that time the USSR was sending oil to the Island, which the Cuban authorities partially re-exported to the international price. It did the same with a part of the shipments of Venezuela, that reached 100,000 barrels a day before falling to a little more than half that.

In addition to supplying oil and diesel, Rosneft intends to fulfill an unfinished promise of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez: the modernization of the Cienfuegos refinery, the largest in the country, operating at half speed because of the fall of the Venezuelan oil deliveries.

According to several analysts, Caracas sends 55,000 barrels of oil daily to Havana, far from the 87,000 it supplied last year and the 100,000 barrels supplied during the life of Hugo Chavez. In return, Havana sells to Caracas, at very inflated prices, its doctors serving on medical missions and other professionals providing other types of service.

Under the government of Nicolás Maduro the payment through this model has abruptly dropped. Cuba has not published its earnings from the export of services since 2014 but, as economists Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Omar Everleny Pérez have reported, these earnings have fallen by more than 1.3 billion dollars in recent years.

Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas said in July that the country was forced to import 99.6 million dollars in fuels so far this year due to non-compliances in the delivery of petroleum products from Caracas. Last year, Cuba was forced to import fuel from Algeria, and Raul Castro himself sent a letter to Vladimir Putin asking for a stable supply from Russia.

Jorge Piñón believes that it will be difficult for Cuba to find another Venezuela like that of Hugo Chavez willing to pay its oil bill: “The value of the Cuban oil deficit is approximately 1.1 billion dollars a year if we value a barrel at 45 dollars. Who and how is that bill to be paid?” he asks, since Havana does not have the financial resources.

Neither does he believe that Russia will assume the cost of refurbishing the Cienfuegos refinery, which the expert says needs between three and five billion dollars of investment.

“For example, we have the great Refinery of the Pacific, in Ecuador, that for the last ten years has been looking for partners after the Venezuelans ‘embarked’,” he cites as an example.

Data provided by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information show that oil production on the island has steadily declined over the last decade. In 2015 (latest figures published), Cuba produced 2,822,000 tonnes of crude oil, some 202,800 tonnes less than in 2010.

National oil production in Cuba. Source: National Bureau of Statistics and Information

National oil production in Cuba. Source: National Bureau of Statistics and Information

National production barely covers 48% of energy demand, as reported by the authorities of the Cuba Petroleum Union in an interview with the national press. The cost of extracting a barrel of oil on the Island is around $14, but it is of low quality and therefore needs to be mixed with other fuels to be used.

The deposits in operation are located in the north-western fringe of the island. After more than 40 years of operation the yield of the wells has fallen, which is reflected in the volume of extracted oil.

On the other hand, some of the most important deposits are located in Varadero, the main tourist center of the country, which makes it difficult to extract, according to authorities, who estimate to 11 billion barrels of oil reserves in that area of ​​the country.

Cuba’s biggest bet is its exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico (about 112,000 square kilometers), open to foreign investment since 1999, with high costs and investment risks in the Gulf’s deep waters. Russians, Canadians and Venezuelans have invested there without much results. This week, however, the Australian company Melbana Energy will begin exploration of the oil wells it has identified in the northern coast of Cuba.

Cubans Outraged to Learn they Will Not be Reimbursed for US Visa Interview Fees

Cubans who spend more than 24 months outside of the country need permission to return, even to visit. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 5 October 2017 — A few days after the US authorities announced the suspension of the issuance of visas at its embassy in Havana, the State Department has confirmed this Thursday to the Nuevo Herald newspaper that it will not reimburse the money Cubans paid for the visa process.

The 160 dollars (about six months average wages in Cuba) paid for the interview for a tourist, business or family visit visa will not be returned. The amount paid also cannot be credited to an application for a visa in the consulate of another country, but will remain valid for one year should the current diplomatic conflict between Cuba and the United States be resolved, according to the South Florida newspaper.

This Thursday’s news increases the despair among Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits, who are already upset because, last Friday, the United States announced a 60% reduction of its personnel in Cuba and an indefinite cancellation of consular procedures. continue reading

“Okay, there are no visas, but they have to return the money to my family,” Cristina, a retiree waiting outside the Embassy to try to talk to an official, complained angrily.

Cuban citizens can “apply for [United States] visas at any [US] embassy or consulate in the world but must be physically present in that country,” the State Department said in a statement.

However, that option raises doubts on the island. “Who will give us a visa for another country?” asks Cristina. “In addition, that will cost me an arm and a leg between the plane ticket and the accommodation while I wait for the consulate to stamp my visa.”

In a note published on the US Embassy’s Facebook page, it is clarified that they are “delivering passports, visas and travel packages that have been previously issued,” but it does not give details on what will happen with the family reunification program and other visas to emigrate to the United States.

Moisés Salazar, a young American whose girlfriend is in Havana, is also mired in uncertainty. He cannot believe that after spending so many months in the process for his girlfriend to get a fiancé visa this misfortune has happened.

“I call the US Embassy in Cuba and I do not get information. I call the Cuban Embassy in Washington and I always get an answering machine and they never return the call. This is very ugly and very sad,” he says.

Salazar, who lives in North Carolina, has been in a two-year relationship with his Cuban partner and has visited the island many times. “I suffer from what I see happening. I love the Cuban people even if they are not my people and I know that this is going to be a very hard blow for all of them because it will take away the tourism that is an important source of income,” he laments.

The suspension of visas jeopardizes the migration agreements between the two countries that have been in force for more than 20 years, which require that at least 20,000 immigration permits be granted each year.

Miguel Ramón Salas from Las Tunas has lived in the United States for five years. From the distant state of Arizona he expresses his frustration with the political events that distance him from his wife and daughter on the island.

“From Cuba you can expect anything to happen, but not in this country. I paid for a service and if I cannot bring my family I will sue the State Department if necessary,” he says indignantly.

“In Cuba I have my wife and two children and I have invested a lot of money in bringing them to be here with me. The medical checkups alone cost $1,015, plus the formalization of documents and a lot of things that are necessary for them to leave the island,” he adds.

“My wife had an interview scheduled for the 18th and they changed it to November 27, supposedly because of the cyclone. The truth was they knew this was going to happen and they have been stringing us along,” he says.

Salas is disappointed by Florida politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban origin. “Politicians do not represent us. If Rubio had his family in Cuba he would not be so fervently supportive of the closing of the Embassy. Most of the Cubans who recently arrived have people on the other side and we want to reunite with our relatives,” he adds.

The social networks are filled with messages of anguish and the Embassy’s Facebook page is full of complaints from relatives who can’t get over their stupor at what happened. “I became a US citizen five years ago and now I want to know why they prevent my mother from coming to visit me,” commented an angry internet surfer.

Sandra Pino, who was waiting for her brother on the island to visit her soon, says it is important to remember that the US decision was made after several Embassy officials “became ill from unknown causes.”

“Some will be permanently damaged, so they will not be able to exercise their professions and will lose the ability to put food on the table,” she laments.

However, she believes that the US must reimburse the visa fees because “this is not Cuba and if you pay for something thay have to give it to you or give you the money back.”

A ‘Marielito’ Will Be Deported After His Release From Prison After 37 Years In The US

Carlos Iván González painting next to its father just after arriving from Cuba with the Mariel Boatlift. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 22 September 2017 — Carlos Iván González arrived in Florida in 1980, during the Mariel Boatlift exodus, barely 14 years old. Now, at age 50 and after establishing a family in the United States, deportation is hanging over his head. In 2012, he was sentenced by a state judge to five years in prison for growing and selling marijuana, trafficking in cannabis and possession of narcotic drug, and as soon as he got out he was confined to a detention center in Wakulla, where he has already spent more than 200 days waiting for Cuban authorities to approve his return to the island.

González’s laziness toward obtaining US citizenship has led to his dangerous situation. The commission of the crime led to the loss of his ‘Green Card’ (permanent residence permit) and his family fears that he will join the list of 2,746 Marielitos that the Cuban government agreed to receive in 1984 as a result of an agreement between Fidel Castro and Ronald Reagan.

During that exodus, more than 125,000 people escaped from the island on a maritime bridge authorized by Fidel Castro; among these were some criminals to whom the United States refused to grant asylum. With the pact between the presidents, the members of a list drawn up by the US must return to Cuba, but the returns have come slowly, in groups of between 90 and 100 each year, according to journalist Alfonso Chardy. continue reading

As a result, some of the deportables have disappeared, died or their health prevents them from traveling. Aside from those Marielitos agreed to 33 years ago, Havana refused to receive its citizens residing in the US with a deportation order until the signing of an agreement with the Obama administration in January of last year. At that time it was agreed to fill that quota with criminals with deportation orders who entered during the Mariel Boatlift, people like Carlos Ivan Gonzalez.

“Alone, without family, without friends or money. This is how my son would have to return if Emigration sends him to Cuba,” says Sarah Gonzalez. Carlos Ivan’s mother, 71, resides in Cape Coral (South Florida) and now laments her son having been too lazy to get naturalized.

Gonzalez held a hunger strike last week in Wakulla, along with ten other Cubans in the same situation, but they had to abandon it because they were ill without achieving their goal of being released, according to his mother.

“I know that my son is not innocent, but he has already paid society for his crime with five years in jail. Now they are now talking about eliminating the US embassy in Havana. The politicians continue with their conflict, while my son wastes his life in a cell,” she complains.

Sarah Gonzalez argues that a detention center official told her that Cuba had rejected the repatriation proposal from the US authorities but her son may have been included in the quota of “substitute” Marielitos.

“There is something going on with those who came through Mariel, and Washington is pressuring Cuba to accept them, even after Cuba has refused,” adds Sarah Gonzalez.

Meanwhile, Carlos Iván, a mechanic by profession, father of a firefighter and grandfather of a girl he has not yet met, is constantly guarded by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

An ICE official told 14ymedio that the average time of a person in custody with a deportation order is between 30 and 35 days. However, when there is serious evidence that the subject can be deported, that period can be extended.

Usually, in the cases of Cubans in this situation, an alternative to detention is sought, since the island’s government decision whether to receive the immigrant can take years.

Among the solutions ICE provides to maintain control over the individual are electronic monitoring and supervision orders, which allow the person to lead a normal life provided that they meet from time to time in agency’s offices and give an account of their situation.

“When lawyers appeal the judge’s decision or request extensions of certain legal proceedings, when this happens and the judge does not allow bail, the subject must remain in custody, which lengthens the process,” the official adds.

Gonzalez’s family says he does not have enough money to bring the case to court, and the official lawyers do not deal with immigration issues. However, there are various institutions such as the Catholic Church and human rights groups that offer free or low-cost services to immigrants.

“We are a couple of elderly diabetics and over 70. We have to send money to him to communicate with us and to eat better, because prisons are bad everywhere,” adds Gonzalez’s mother.

The family has tried to get help through Senator Marco Rubio’s office and the governor of Florida, but claims to have gotten “nothing.”

“When I called the media they hang up on me because they say it has to be interesting. Does it have to be interesting for a man to die on a hunger strike or to deprive him of his freedom to be on the news?” she asks indignantly.

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.

————————————-

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%.