The Lack of Water Hits Several Hospitals In Central Cuba

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Cardiocenter in the city of Santa Clara. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos / Miami | November 09, 2018 – The deterioration of the hydraulic infrastructure in the center of the country is hitting hard at several hospitals in the region, which cannot function normally as they suffer from daily rationing of the water supply to complete cutoffs in the supply lasting more than three days, a situation that workers and users of these centers point out.

“We have a problem with the water supply. The authorities are trying to solve it with tanker trucks, but no surgical operations have been carried out in the past three days,” a worker of the Ernesto Che Guevara Cardiocenter told 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

This hospital complex, located in Santa Clara and the only one of its kind in the center of Cuba specializing in heart disease, has been paralyzed for more than 72 hours due to the lack of potable water. continue reading

The Cardiocenter serves patients from Villa Clara and Cienfuegos up to the province of Camagüey. The same employee explained that the problem not only affects the Cardiocenter but also all the hospital facilities in that city.

The country’s water networks are very deteriorated, authorities have said, so that other hospitals in the region also suffer similar problems. This is the case of the Cienfuegos Gustavo Aldereguía Lima Provincial Hospital and of the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital, in Sancti Spíritus, which have had to ration water to avoid interruptions in the service.

A worker at the hospital in Cienfuegos complained that, at night, there is no water in the emergency surgical rooms and that the surgeons have to wash their hands with bags of saline. Last August, the inhabitants of this city had to face the lack of water not only in hospitals, but also in their own homes.

The facilities at these medical centers have several decades of use and have never, for all practical purposes, been repaired. This is coupled with a serious water leakage problem that is common throughout the country.

The former president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, Inés María Chapman Waugh, noted that every year more than 3.4 billion liters of water are lost through leaks in the country. The loss from pumping this water that ends up in puddles and small streams in the streets is valued at around five million euros, according to the official press.

“My sister is waiting for a heart valve replacement, how is it possible that they cannot operate because there is no water?” laments Luis, who waits outside the Cardiocenter.

The official press points out that in the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital in Sancti Spíritus the 400,000 liters that are stored in the cistern are not enough to satisfy the needs since it is wasted. A recent report by the newspaper Escambray indicates that “cascades” are heard during the day, in reference to the leaks that spill all the water accumulated in the storage tanks into rooms and offices.

The director of the hospital, Eduardo Pedrosa Prado, also explained the water restrictions they endure. When the company Acueducto stops pumping water to the medical center, the decision is made to cutoff the internal pumping at 10:00 at night. The hospital runs out of water until 5:00 in the morning because otherwise the water stored in the cistern would not be sufficient for the next day.

The same routine used by the Gustavo Aldereguía Hospital in Cienfuegos is carried out in Sancti Spíritus. The nurses wash the hands of the surgeons with glassfuls of water that they extract from the gallons that they save during the day.

“We have become accustomed to this situation, but it is unhealthy and it endangers the lives of patients. We spend our lives in front of the world saying that we are a medical power and we send aid to other countries, but the truth is that nobody knows the sacrifice of those of us who work in public health,” a surgeon tells this newspaper.

The state of the bathrooms in the rooms of the provincial hospital of Cienfuegos is “lamentable”, says Ernestina Guzmán, a companion of a patient with kidney problems.

“The toilets do not have tanks. To flush you have to load a bucket of water and throw it into the toilet, and often there is not even water, so the bad smell stays around all day in the room,” she details.

Guzmán laments that the cleaning of the facilities “does not meet the needs of the hospital.” She maintains that even inmates are sent “to clean the rooms because nobody wants to work for the salaries paid by Public Health. They clean up badly and  do not even use the appropriate disinfectants for a hospital,” he complains.

“I already know that healthcare is free, but even though it is, or precisely because it is everyone’s right, hospital centers should have quality,” she adds.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Cuban Government Raises the Minimum Pension for the First Time in Ten Years

The sociologist Elaine Acosta believes that the increase in pensions “will not affect” the elderly, a traditionally vulnerable group. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón / Luz Escobar, Havana/Miami | 31 October 2018 — Beginning in December, Cuban pensioners who receive the minimum monthly pension of 200 Cuban pesos (equivalent to $7.50 USD) will receive 242 CUP ($9.00 USD). The increase, announced Tuesday by Belkis Delgado, Director of Prevention, Assistance and Social Work of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, is the first increase in the minimum pension in ten years. In addition, social assistance will be increased by 70 CUP ($3.00 USD).

The last time minimum pensions were increased was in 2008, when Raúl Castro raised pension and social assistance payments by 20%. At that time, the amount of the lowest benefits of this type was 164 CUP.

The measure will come into force in November, but the beneficiaries will not notice the increase until December because many of them have already received benefits for this coming month, when the increase had not yet been announced. continue reading

The official explained that the Government is working on a salary reform plan that would “not leaving anyone helpless” and facing “the low capacity to make purchases in the face of high prices in the retail market.”

The increase will affect a total of 445,748 retirees and 157,791 low-income people, and will cost 313 million pesos from the public treasury, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

“Since the Raulist reforms, or guidelines, began, subsidies have been eliminated which has especially affected vulnerable groups such as the elderly.” The reduction of subsidized products available through the ration book is a good example, explains sociologist Elaine Acosta, who considers that the increase in pensions “will not affect” that social group because of the country’s current economic situation.

Acosta, of Cuban origin and resident in Miami, believes that the State has turned over responsibility for the care of the elderly to families, which also do not have enough resources to alleviate the problem.

“On the one hand you have the authorities saying they want to confront the problem of an aging population and on the other hand they eliminate subsidies and cut the beneficiaries of social assistance, we have a problem with that,” she explained.

Cuba is the country with the oldest population in Latin America, with 20.1% of people over 60 years of age. This, together with the low levels of birth and fertility, have led the Government to face the challenge of having an increasingly small group of active working people support a growing number of retirees and pensioners.

Guillermina Laso, a former worker in the textile industry in Cienfuegos described the increase as “a joke in bad taste.”

“After so many years working for this Revolution and they give us an increase of 42 pesos, which isn’t enough to buy anything,” he protests.

“Now they say that they are going to increase pensions, but they do not say that it isn’t enough to buy what we need, nor that on the other hand they take our last centavo with the prices they put on products in the state stores,” he added.

Angela Iglesias, a retiree from Sancti Spíritus, points out that the increase is barely enough for “a bottle of oil and a pack of 10 sausages.”

“How dare they publicize this increase as if it were something we should be grateful for? We have worked for years and what we receive is barely enough to eat,” she added.

The high prices in state stores that charge in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, each worth 25 CUP) as well as low salaries, whose average barely exceeds $30 a month, are some of the criticisms that have emerged in the consultation process on the constitutional reform project.

The academic Carmelo Mesa-Lago has calculated that with the end of Soviet subsidies in the early nineties, the purchasing power of retirees was 16% of what it was in 1989. According to Mesa-Lago, the real value of pensions has not recovered and last year was close to 50% of what it was compared to the period before the crisis.

“We must emphasize that this increase occurs at a time of greater differentiation of income. In Cuba the gap between those who receive more and have access to consumption is growing and, on the other hand, there is a large population that can not meet its basic needs,” says Elaine Acosta.

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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.

Prestigious Ecuadorian Surgeon Opposes Cuban Medical Mission in His Country

A Cuban doctor attends an Ecuadorian patient as part of the collaboration agreements between both countries. (Cuban Mission in Ecuador)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 29 September 2018 —  Bernardo Sandoval Córdova, a surgeon who is dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the International University of Ecuador, has raised the controversy over the permanence of the Cuban medical mission in that South American country.

In an opinion column published in the official government newspaper El Telégrafo, Sandoval Córdova denied that Cuban doctors are needed in Ecuador and described as “inconceivable” that a government that called itself a defender of labor rights “has exploited Cuban doctors, who are given a tiny fraction of their salary*.”

Sandoval Córdova’s statements provoked a reaction from the Cuban ambassador in Quito, Rafael Dausá, and from hundreds of Cubans and Ecuadorians on social networks. Dausá published a statement describing the article in El Telégrafo as “false and malicious.” continue reading

“Cuban doctors who work in Ecuador as part of bilateral agreements do so voluntarily. These are highly qualified specialists with long careers, who receive not only remuneration in Ecuador, but also their salary in Cuba, for the time they work in Ecuador,” the Cuban ambassador wrote.

Dausá also noted that the Government covers the cost of accommodation, vacations, transportation, health insurance and housing. “Cuban doctors do not displace Ecuadorian personnel. All the places and specialties covered by Cuban doctors are those in which there are not enough Ecuadorian professionals to meet the needs of the country,” said the diplomat.

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, Sandoval Córdova refuted the reply of the Cuban ambassador. According to the surgeon, as of 1970 there has been a law in Ecuador that forces new graduates to perform a social service in the field.

“In Ecuador there are 4,000 new doctors per year and there are no more than 3,500 rural health posts. Obviously there is total coverage with national doctors even in precarious conditions,” explained Sandoval Córdova. The doctor also accused the Ecuadorian government of not knowing how to manage public health and neglecting the field.

“Correa’s government wanted to support the Latin American school of medicine in Cuba from which many Ecuadorian doctors graduate. Correa wanted to get as close as possible to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Obviously the arrival of Cuban doctors responded more to a political imperative and is without any technical or scientific purpose. I hope that today’s Government will take action on the matter,” he said.

Although the current Ecuadorian government, headed by Lenin Moreno, has not ruled on ending the Cuban medical missions promoted by his predecessor, many Cubans do not dismiss the likelihood that the president will displace Cuban professionals to offer these jobs to the local doctors.

Cuba maintains more than 700 health professionals in Ecuador. The beginning of the Cuban medical presence dates back to 2006 when Rafael Correa’s presidency inaugurated the first three ophthalmological centers of Operation Miracle, a program against blindness which was financed from Venezuela.

Under the scheme of internationalist missions, which is the main source of income for Cuba (according to official figures it brings in more than 11.5 billion dollars annually), the Cuban government keeps about 70% of the salaries paid for its specialists based in Ecuador.

Of the 2,641 dollars monthly salary agreed upon for each specialist, Havana only gives the doctors between 700 and 800 dollars for their living expenses.

Responding to Dausá, Duniel Medina Camejo, a doctor and a resident of Ecuador, said, “As always, the manipulations of the defenders of the indefensible are outrageous. Mr. Ambassador, we, the doctors that make up the community of Cuban emigrants in Ecuador and the free Cubans with whom we share our fate in half of the world, do not agree with the permanence in Ecuador of modern forms of slavery.”

Medina Camejo also noted that Cuban doctors who dare to leave their missions are punished by being denied the right to enter their own country for eight years: “They are neither volunteers nor free to choose, do not deceive our Ecuadorian brothers with that cheap speech.”

*Translator’s note: The doctors’ salaries are paid directly to the Cuban government from which they receive only a small share of the total.

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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.

Canadian Producer Brings the Story of the “Idealism and Altruism” of Cuba’s “Five Spies” to the Big Screen

After denying for three years that the five spies were Cuban agents, in 2001 the Cuban Government acknowledged its control over the Wasp Network and led an international campaign for their liberation. (Juventud Rebelde)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, 12 September 2018 — The story of the five Cuban spies sentenced to prison in the United States will arrive on the big screen very soon, and twice.

A year after learning that the Frenchman Olivier Assayas had adapted Brazilian writer Fernando Morais’ book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, the Canadian Pictou Twist Pictures and Picture Plant have partnered with the state-run Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) to bring Los Cinco (The Five) to movie theaters. The film will narrate an “inspiring story of idealism and altruism,” according to Terry Greenlaw, one of the producers, speaking to Variety magazine.

“The Five handed over the rights to their story to the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), and Pictou Twist, Picture Plant and Conquering Lion Pictures acquired them,” a spokeswoman for those producers said in a statement to 14ymedio. continue reading

The same source told this newspaper that none of the five spies living in Cuba will receive payments for the rights. After their return to the Island (three of them after being pardoned by former President Barack Obama in 2014), the spies became government officials and members of the National Assembly.

In 2014, Obama exchanged the three agents, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to commit murder, for a US intelligence officer imprisoned on the island. The gesture was accompanied by the restoration of relations between the two countries.

The Cuban-Canadian co-production, with a budget of more than seven million dollars, was inspired by the book What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of The Cuban Five, by Canadian journalist Stephen Kimber. The film will be shot mainly in Cuba, but also in Colombia and Miami, and production will be finished next year.

Kimber, a fierce defender of the innocence of the five spies, wrote the book after a trip to Havana where a Cuban friend told him that “nothing will change between the United States and Cuba until they solve the problem of ‘The Five’.”

The journalist traveled to Miami, Washington and Havana to gather information about the spies. He also began to meet with them in prison and participated in meetings and conferences in favor of the freedom of the five spies in the United States.

“Receiving Stephen’s letters in prison in 2010 was encouraging for us because we knew he would tell our truth, which we believe he has done through his book,” says René González, one of the five spies.

“We believe that Stephen’s is the best book about The Five, Canadians have become our great friends and we can not think of better partners to help share our history, through cinema, with the world,” he added.

In Miami, however, the reactions to the movie have not been as warm. Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat, president of the Democratic Directorate, a group of anti-Castro organizations, said it was “an infamy.”

“You can not rewrite history that way, the real heroes were the four boys they helped to kill,” Gutierrez said in reference to the four Brothers to the Rescue pilots killed by the Cuban military as they patrolled international waters to rescue Cuban rafters.

“You have to read the transcripts of these individuals with their bosses in Havana to realize that there is nothing heroic about them, they are terrorists, of course, and the objective of that group was to commit violent actions against nonviolent opponents of that regime,” adds Gutiérrez Boronat, who was a part of the Cubans in exile who were under surveillance by Cuban intelligence agents.

The second film dedicated to the five spies will be called Wasp Network and will be directed by the Frenchman Olivier Assayas. The film will feature the performances of the renowned artists Gael García Bernal and Penélope Cruz.

Morais, a journalist and author of the book on which the film is based, investigated the case of the five Cuban spies and published his book in 2012. From the beginning he tried to show an independent perspective of Havana that included not only ‘The Five’ but also to other nine characters of the Wasp Network who collaborated in the United States and some of whom fled to the Island.

Morais has complained that his relationship with the government was not fluid and that he was not always able to interview or access the people he needed for his book.

However, in 2013, surrounded by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then president of Brazil and a close ally of Havana, and Armando Hart and Ricardo Alarcón, Morais presented a translation of his book in Spanish at the Third International Conference for the Balance of the World, a kind of gathering of the internation left in Cuba. At that time, Morais said he hoped to “celebrate the return of The Five to Havana soon.”

“The trial against the spies lasted several months with an irrefutable amount of evidence,” said Mario de la Peña, father of the pilot of the same name who died after the downing of his plane in international waters. “They try to justify sending the spies because they supposedly protected them from violent actions on the part of the exile,” he said.

“Those spies tried to infiltrate American bases and penetrate peaceful organizations of the exile whose only sin was to be against the Castro brothers’ regime,” he added.

“Gerardo Hernández and the others were convicted not only for espionage, but for conspiracy to commit murder. They can write whatever they want now, but the evidence that they are murderers is there,” said De la Peña.

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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.

Cancun, a New El Dorado for Cubans

It’s not difficult to find stores with rum or tobacco in Cancún. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Cancún, México | September 28, 2018 — The wind was barely blowing and the humidity was unbearable. Outside Terminal 2 of Cancún’s international airport, Juan Ernesto waited for his brother, who was arriving aboard an Aeroméxico flight from Havana. It was Jonathan’s first time abroad. His purpose: to buy some basic essentials in order to resell them on the Island.

“What Cuba is most lacking right now is hygiene products. Basic essentials like disposable diapers, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, and conditioner,” explains Juan Ernesto, who asks for his surname to be omitted out of fear that authorities will confiscate his purchases.

Traveling as a mule to supply the growing underground market on the Island is not legal. Cuban customs has begun an intense campaign against those bringing products to resell them. Even so, Cuban travel to countries like Mexico, Panama, Russia, and Guyana is increasing. continue reading

According to statistics provided to this newspaper by Mexico’s Tourism Ministry, in the first half of this year the number of Cubans landing in that country grew by 60.5% compared to the first half of the previous year. As of July of this year, 69,105 arrivals to Mexican airports were recorded, 26,050 more than in the same period of 2017.

Cubans traveling to Mexico by air. Left: Number of trips per year. Right: Number of trips in first semester of 2017 (left) and first semester of 2018 (right)

In 2016, there were slightly more than 100,000 entries of Cubans because of the migratory crisis. With the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy decreed by the United States at the beginning of 2017, the flow decreased but remained above 83,000.

“Getting a Mexican visa is difficult,” explains Juan Ernesto. Among the requirements set by the Mexican consulate in Havana is having a bank account that demonstrates economic solvency, a property title belonging to the interested person, and filling out a visa request online.

“Most of the time the website where you arrange the appointments isn’t working. Our visas cost around $3,000. Corruption is the order of the day in Mexico just as much as in Cuba,” he adds.

At the airport’s exit various taxi drivers offer their services. “Minivan! Minivan for 100 pesos!” yells one in the direction of a group of Cubans.

A network of businesses has been developed to serve the numerous travelers arriving from the Island. Low-cost hotels, stores that accept dollars, Mexican pesos, or Cuban convertible pesos, shipping agencies, and even job offers can be found in the Benito Juárez municipality, which the city of Cancún belongs to.

“Here there are a bunch of stores with Cuban owners where many people from the Island work. You can find anything they sell in Cuba there: clothes, electrical appliances, medicine, hygiene products,” Juan Ernesto explains to his brother.

“Right now in Cuba deodorant is hard to find. Here we buy Gillette tubes for 3.50 and we sell them there for double. Little perfumed balls for clothing cost 255 Mexican pesos (about $14) and you can sell them for up to triple,” explains the young man.

Right now in Cuba deodorant is hard to find. Here we buy Gillette tubes for 3.50 and we sell them there for double. (14ymedio)Jonathan is 25 and is finishing an engineering degree. His trip to Mexico is only for a weekend. He wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps, who thanks to the constant trips to resell products and to the self-employed work that he carries out on the Island, has a greater purchasing power than the average Cuban.

“In Cuba the Government doesn’t realize the opportunities that are being lost. It goes after self-employed people and is dedicated to a model that doesn’t work. Each of the Cubans who comes to Cancún brings at least $1,000 to spend here. That’s money that businesses on the Island are losing out on,” he says.

The young man laments that an engineer’s salary barely surpasses $30 a month, while a reseller can pay for an airplane journey and leave the country.

But it’s not going so well for all self-employed people. Some even opt to try their luck in countries like Mexico, where the daily salary is well over what they would make in Cuba in a month.

Annia is a young Cuban woman of 26 who lives in Cozumel. After various trips to Cancún, where she would buy products to bring to Matanzas, she decided to stay to work as an undocumented person.

“In Cuba I was working as a hairdresser, but with that I couldn’t get ahead. Everything that I earned went to the high cost of products and to paying bribes to inspectors,” she says.

When she had the opportunity to visit some relatives who live in Cancún, the young woman decided to remain with them. Since then she has lived in this city for three months and has worked as a waitress, salesperson in shops for Cubans, and street vendor.

A network of businesses has been developed to serve the numerous travelers arriving from the Island. (14ymedio)

“Right now I’m applying for my Mexican residency. It has cost me several thousand dollars but it’s worth it,” she says. According to Annia, the owners of the restaurant where she works are delighted that she is Cuban because it specializes in the cuisine of the Island. In addition they sell tobacco and rum.

“I haven’t felt discriminated against at all, just the opposite. People here know that we Cubans work hard,” she adds. Annia earns about eight dollars a day in her position as waitress, and she is happy because she has more opportunities to better herself than in Cuba. “At the beginning it’s always necessary to make sacrifices. I work nights and early mornings so that the immigration police don’t find me and I live with a friend to pay half the amount in rent ($150), but it’s worth it.”

“When I have my papers I will be able to work in a hotel like the other Cubans do or start my own business. I’ve already been able to send some money to my family and in the future I hope to bring them here to live with me,” she says hopefully.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez Denounces Cuba’s “Totalitarian” System

José Conrado Rodríguez (center) during the presentation of one of his books in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 19 September 2018 — The political system in Cuba, an inheritance from the former Soviet Union, is deeply monstrous and inhuman. Caribbean totalitarianism has turned every Cuban into an executioner and at the same time into a victim and the only way to escape from the vicious circle of lies and fear – the basis of the system – is to try to live in the truth. This is one of the conclusions of the new book Resistance and Submission in Cuba , by José Conrado Rodríguez, which will be presented this Wednesday at the Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre in Miami.

With a prologue by Carlos Alberto Montaner, Universal Editions has published this book that complements the recently released Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba. It is an analysis of communist totalitarianism from the point of view of four authors from the periphery of the Soviet empire: Czeslaw Milosz from Poland, Constantin Noica from Romania, Vaclav Havel from the Czech Republic, and Cuban Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz.

“The liberating force of truth, understood as a way of life, as a purpose in life, and as a fidelity to what we are, has an intimate dimension and is related to the knowledge of ourselves,” Rodríguez explains. continue reading

The dissidence, for this author and priest, is in intimate connection with the truth, because only from a coherent life that breaks with the social rites of the system, such as repeating slogans nobody believes in, can real change be driven.

The four authors on whom Father José Conrado Rodríguez based his reflection suffered under the communist system. Milosz (1911-2004), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, in his work The Captive Mind analyzes the process of assimilation of totalitarianism on the part of intellectuals. The philologist Constantin Noica (1909-1987) was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the Stalinist regime of Ceaucescu in Romania. In his essay Pray for Brother Alexander, published posthumously in 1991, he makes it clear that only a life in truth and compassion can exorcise totalitarianism.

From Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), activist and, later, president of his country, Rodríguez addresses The Power Of The Powerless, an analysis of what he called post-totalitarian societies, where dictatorship goes hand in hand with ideology, where it becomes a kind of secular religion. Finally, from his compatriot Eliseo Alberto de Diego, he addresses Report Against Myself, a raw account of power in Cuba.

In a society like Cuba manipulation and lies are the basis of the system, says Rodríguez, paraphrasing Vaclav Havel. Already past the caudillo and the first stages of the revolution in which terror filled the prisons with political prisoners and brought down each of the democratic institutions, power does not need society to cohere.

If, earlier, the system tried to create a feeling of “the masses” and intensify the “fighting spirit” against an attacking enemy, the post-totalitarian society seeks to compel the population to accept the status quo.

The system will try to demonstrate “socialist legality” as a way to legitimize itself. “The function of ideology is to fill the gap between the plans of the system and the plans of life, implying that the intentions of the system derive from the needs of life, which is not true, but functions as if it were,” says Rodríguez.

Legality is one of the main weapons that the system has to defend itself. Laritza Diversent, an independent lawyer who went into exile in the United States, has detailed at least 400 laws in the Cuban criminal code that can be used against the opposition movement. In a post-totalitarian society like Cuba’s, everything is limited, controlled, well subjugated to the state apparatus, Rodríguez wrote.

Father Conrado uses Havel’s example of the self-employed person who takes a poster with a political slogan and hangs it in his window. He has not read it, the people who will visit his business will not read it either. The entrepreneur may not even agree with the content of the slogan (the likes of which abound in Cuban stores). But when he puts it in his window he has fulfilled the “social rite,” has been immunized against the suspicion of being disloyal to the system.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of cruelty that the book presents is that of Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz, forced to spy on his own father, the Cuban poet Eliseo Diego. “We are at war against Yankee imperialism, Lieutenant,” he was told while serving in the Cuban army. “The Central Intelligence Agency has an exorbitant costume shop to hide spies, we can not lower our guard,” says the author in his Report Against Myself.

Before the timid objections of Diego García Marruz they gave him a report with the State Security files about his family. Former classmates, residents of the neighborhood, even exiles from Miami who visited his home had delivered reports to the all-powerful Cuban State Security.

“One against others, some over others, many Cubans were trapped in a network of mistrust,” writes Rodriguez and wonders how it is possible that in all the places where the totalitarian system has been established, the same things happened.

“How is it possible that the Russians and the Romanians, the Czechs and the Poles, the Cubans and the Chinese were victims of the same destructive mechanism? Victims and executioners: we ourselves have been transformed into these. We are the victims and the instruments of the system,” he concludes.

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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.

Extrajudicial Executions Are Still Happening on the Island, According to Cuba Archive

Alejandro Pupo Echemendía, presumed killed by Cuban police officials (courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, August 27, 2018 — The NGO Cuba Archive claimed this Monday that extrajudicial executions are still happening on the island, and they cited as an example the case of Alejandro Pupo Echemendía, 46, “killed by officers at a police station” in the city of Placetas (Villa Clara).

Pupo Echemendía died on August 9, two days after being detained for an offense of illegal horse racing. According to Archive Cuba, citing Abel Santiago Tamayo, another detainee, as a source, Pupo Echemendía “was demonstrating a strong attack of nerves when a police officer handcuffed him and others proceeded to beat him with sticks, canes, kicks, and crashes against the floor.” continue reading

The human rights activist Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, was the one who denounced the alleged murder of Pupo Echemendía via social media. Various photos published on the activist’s account show signs of violence on the corpse. Pupo Echemendía’s wife as well as other family members testified to the state in which they received the body in the morgue.

Cuba Archive claims that this case is barely the “tip of the iceberg.”

“It’s only a window into the systematic killing in Cuba’s dungeons for nearly six decades,” adds the report published on their website. Cuba Archive asserts that it has documented some 509 extrajudicial executions, 22 deaths from hunger strikes, 312 deaths from lack of medical treatment or health reasons, and 107 suicides or supposed suicides, some of which may hide other executions.

“The vast majority of prisoners’ deaths are not reported, but it is thought that the victims add up to hundreds every year. The conditions in Cuban prisons are horrifying and they don’t permit monitoring or access for independent human rights organizations, they silence witnesses and victims’ family members, and they persecute human rights defenders,” adds Cuba Archive, which says that among the cases that it has documented are those of women and children.

Cuba keeps secret the number of prisons in the country and the number of people locked up. Cuba Archive estimates that there are more than 500 prisons, not including work camps, reformatories, and facilities for minors.

The NGO, based in Miami, claims that State Security is currently developing a campaign “of threats and intimidation to cover up the murder of Alejandro Pupo.”

On August 21 Abel Santiago was threatened by the authorities and forced to record a video where he declared that “he had been manipulated.” On August 22, Pupo’s niece and her husband were detained, threatened by State Security, and forced to sign a declaration denying the events. Various human rights defenders from Placetas, including Antúnez, Arianna López Roque, and Loreto Hernández García, are being harassed and threatened by the authorities, says Cuba Archive.

The report also accounts for the death of Daniela Ramón Rodríguez, 4 years old, who died on March 26, 2013 in Juan Manuel Márquez Hospital in Havana “after a health crisis caused by police mistreatment.”

According to Cuba Archive, the girl was forced to remain with her parents who had been detained by police, accused of the crime of burglary.

“The police threatened them and insulted them in front of their daughter. Two days after the traumatic incident, the health of Daniela [who had had an open heart surgery and suffered from congenital heart disease, an enlarged heart, and aggressive pericarditis] suddenly worsened; she was in intensive care until she died two months later,” adds Cuba Archive.

“This is the Cuba hidden from the world that we must continue to make known,” concludes the document.

 Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Court in Cienfuegos Sentences Two of Leidy Pacheco’s Murderers to Life in Prison

Leidy Maura Pacheco Mur. (5 de Septiembre newspaper)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora/Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos | 23 August 2018 — Justice came to Cienfuegos but in the deepest silence from the Provincial Court, which has kept secret the sentence of life imprisonment for two of the three men accused of raping and murdering Leidy Pacheco Mur, 18 years old and mother of a 10-month-old baby.

The information came to the public light this Thursday because the victim’s family told the local weekly 5 de Septiembre that Enrique Campos, 32, and Darián Gómez Chaviano, 25, had been sentenced to life imprisonment. The third man involved in the crime, Henry Hanoi Tamayo Hernández, 19, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The trial lasted two days, August 7-8, during which the population gathered in front of the court, which was protected by the police. The crowd rebuked the men with cries of “To the firing-wall” and “murderers.” continue reading

The sentence of the court can be appealed to the People’s Supreme Court.

“The truth is that those men got off easy. They should be shot after causing so much pain,” Margarita Fuentes, resident of the Junco Sur suburb on the outskirts of the city, told 14ymedio.

Yesenia Oliva, who planted herself outside the court during the trial, says that it’s an “exemplary sentence.”

“People don’t realize that there is a moratorium on the death penalty. The most that they can do is give them life imprisonment. The prisoners in Ariza will take care of those bastards,” she added.

Leidy Pacheco Mur was murdered September 26 of last year. At 2:56 PM, when she was a block from her home, she called her husband so that he wouldn’t worry about her, but she never arrived.

Enrique Campos, Henry Hanoi Tamayo, and Darián Gómez covered her mouth, took her to Plan Mango, a grove on the outskirts of Cienfuegos, raped her, killed her, and buried her at the bank of a small dam, according to the testimony of her father, Pedro Valentín Pacheco Alonso.

The three murderers lived in the same neighborhood as the victim. The next day the family notified the authorities of the young woman’s disappearance.

Family members, neighbors, and even one of the rapists participated in the search for the young woman, which lasted six days.

The death of Leidy Pacheco moved Cienfuegos, a city that in barely a year has suffered various murders. On February 14 Luis Santacruz Labrada was murdered with a knife and in May a double murder of women shocked the city, which in the past counted safety as one of its biggest appeals.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

After Four Months’ Detention In The United States, A Freelance Journalist Fears Repatriation To Cuba

Freelance journalist Serafín Morán Santiago (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | The Cuban freelance journalist Serafín Morán Santiago, who arrived at the United States border to ask for political asylum in April, will appear on Friday before a court that will decide whether to grant him bail. This Wednesday in Miami, organizations that promote freedom of the press declared that if he is repatriated to the island, Morán Santiago’s life will be in danger.

“Serafín had a trial fixed for October, but they have cancelled it and they announced this bail hearing. Fundamedios and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are worried about an eventual deportation to Cuba because of the Cuban government’s persecution of him,” said María Fernanda Egas, a journalist from Fundamedios, an organization that defends freedom of the press in the United States.

Morán Santiago is being held at an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. continue reading

Egas explained that RSF and Fundamedios have been keeping an eye on Morán Santiago’s situation and they urge his immediate release. “He considers himself a candidate for parole because he was a victim of torture by the Cuban authorities, and he believes that bail would take away his possibilities of obtaining the political asylum that he seeks,” she added.

Cubans benefitted for more than two decades from the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy, which permitted their entry under parole to the United States if they stepped on US land. In January of 2017 President Barack Obama repealed the policy, and ever since Cubans have been treated like any other immigrant who arrives at the border without a visa, so now they can be deported back to the island.

The Zero Tolerance policy of the current Administration requires that political asylum seekers be detained while their cases are processed. Morán Santiago has spent four months in an ICE detention center and, although he successfully passed a “credible fear” interview, he still has to argue his political aslyum case, a long and complex process, according to lawyers.

“This is an opportunity for an immigration judge to grant bail and he can argue his asylum case from the street,” explained the immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen to this newspaper by phone.

“A bail hearing is not a final trial, when the judge decides whether or not to grant political asylum. If he demonstrates that he won’t be a public charge for the United States and isn’t a danger to this country, they can grant him bail so that he can walk free. Otherwise he will have to remain in detention like the majority of asylum seekers until the definitive trial,” he adds.

Allen explains that it’s not the judge who grants parole, necessary to have recourse to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives permanent residency to Cubans who remain legally for one year in the country. The parole document is granted by an ICE official present in the detention centers.

“Bails can be as low as $1,500 or as high as $25,000,” adds Allen. If the judge doesn’t grant bail, Morán Santiago will have to remain in detention in Texas until the final trial where it will be decided whether he receives political asylum or not. The immigration attorney is skeptical of the possibility that Morán Santiago will be granted bail.

A judge imposes bail to ensure that the asylum seeker will appear at the final trial and will not remain undocumented inside the country.

In the last fiscal year, which ends in September, 364 Cubans have been deported to the island. Since January 12, 2017, Havana has committed to receive all Cubans deported by the American authorities for arriving at the border without a visa.

“Solidarity Without Borders has been helping Morán Santiago with his legal representation. We ask the help of the Cuban community in Miami and of the media so that it is known what is happening with this journalist,” he added.

Serafín Morán, 40, has worked as a freelance journalist for such media outlets as Univisión 23, Telemundo, Hispano Post, Primavera Digital, Cubanet, and TV Martí.

The reporter has said that he was threatened with death if he continued working as a journalist on the island, but the US Embassy in Cuba refused on two occasions to start a file to request asylum.

Morán Santiago left Cuba for Guyana and then crossed to Mexico, where he remained in a temporary shelter. As he has reported, he was harrassed by the Cuban embassy in that country. He appeared at the American border to seek political asylum in April and since then he has been waiting for a response to his case.

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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.

An Alliance is Created to Denounce the Violations of Human Rights in Cuba

Tomás Regalado, Director of the Office of Transmissions to Cuba, during a press conference this morning in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | August 14, 2018 – Radio and TV Martí together with the non-governmental organization Freedom House launched a campaign on Tuesday that will aim to disseminate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as setting up a telephone number to receive complaints from Cuba.

“If you feel that your rights have been violated, denounce it on our human rights line. Call +1 305 437 7301. You’re not alone” says one of the promotional messages that will be broadcast on Radio and TV Martí, presented by Tomás Regalado, former mayor of Miami and current director of the station.

“We have seen an extraordinary upsurge in the violation of human rights,” added Regalado, who directly ordered Los Martí journalists to process the complaints received from Cuba. continue reading

“Through our network of correspondents on the island, those of the opposition and this hot line, human rights violations will be exposed. The News Department will dedicate itself to verify in a reliable way the denunciations and then present them  to Freedom House”, explained the official.

Carlos Ponce, director of Freedom House for Latin America, considered the alliance with Los Martí “a golden opportunity” that will promote the “Cuban, know your human rights” campaign.

“Every time the regime feels weak, it increases the repression of human rights,” he said.

For Ponce, the Cuban government infringes on their citizens “most basic rights”, such as educational freedom and political rights. “It is time for people to open their eyes so that Cuba not continue being the same old story that people no longer want to see,” he added.

“With this strategic alliance we will be able to bring a number of significant complaints to international organizations and give visibility to what is happening on the island,” he said.

In statements to 14ymedio, Ponce lamented that media coverage of human rights violations often focuses on Venezuela and Nicaragua, with no references to Cuba.

“Unfortunately the media has turned a blind eye to the situation in Cuba. The root of evil in Latin America is a dictatorial regime that with impunity continues to operate in the region,” he said.

“Cuba is a dictatorship that influences other countries, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, in order to leach on them, prop up their regimes and destroy democratic systems. We call on all Cubans to denounce the violations of their rights,” he added.

Radio and TV Martí bet on reaching more Cubans with new technologies

According to statements from Tomás Regalado, director of the Office of Transmissions to Cuba (OCB) of the US Government, the coming months will see a substantial increase in the number of Cubans who can listen to the station or watch the television programs of Los Martí.

Regalado recently announced the addition of a new frequency for radial transmissions at 11860 kHz. “In short wave we had three frequencies and the regime managed to block one or sometimes two frequencies. With three we have the means to be immune to their blockade,” remarked the newly appointed director to 14ymedio.

For its part, a new type of technology, whose technical details have not yet been made known, will make it possible for TV Martí to be seen on the Island, according to its directors. “It is a novel technology that will allow what we call the Martí Communities to establish themselves,” explained Regalado.

At the moment there are more than 200 of these devices on the island and several communities of neighbors who can watch the TV Martí signal, the former mayor told the local media in Miami. According to him, it is impossible for the Government of Havana to track the signal of the devices, a concern of many activists who fear the sentences that can be faced by “counterrevolutionaries.”

“In the Cuban penal code there are criminal forms that put these people (who are part of the Martí communities) in danger, but the people defy it. The most important guarantee is that the Government does not know where the signal is shared,” explained Regalado.

“The regime can interfere with the output signal of the equipment but not the one that enters (input). It is immune to being detected,” he said.

The appliance that will allow TV Martí to be seen on the Island was designed by Cuban engineers on the Island and in South Florida. Regalado will present the results of this new technology at the beginning of September at an event of the Board of Governors of Radiodifusión, the federal entity in charge of Radio and TV Martí.

The Cuban Government has made a particular effort to block the Marti signal and accuses the United States of violating international radio broadcasting agreements by allowing and financing the stations. During the administration of Barack Obama, which promoted the thaw with the island, Cuba took the opportunity to demand the dismantling of these communication media.

Radio Martí began broadcasting its signal to Cuba in 1985 under the government of Ronald Reagan. In the early nineties, TV Martí followed and the Martí Noticias portal appeared with the digital era. This year the budget allocated by the US Congress to both broadcasters will exceed 28 million dollars.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Cuban Police Captain, Rafter and Now Under Arrest in the US for the Disappearance of Two Women

Video of Hareton Jaime Rodríguez Sariol and other rafters arriving on the Florida coast. No subtitles.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton/Manual Mons, Miami, 16 August 2018 — Hareton Jaime Rodríguez Sariol, a former captain in Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police (PNR), who arrived in Miami as a rafter in 2016, dressed in full uniform, has been arrested as the main suspect in the disappearance of two Colombian women in the state of Virginia.

Elizabeth Rodríguez Rubio, 48, and her granddaughter Angie Carolina Rodríguez Rubio, 12, were last seen on Sunday, 5 August, in the city of Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Virginia.

They were accompanied by Rodriguez Sariol to the state of Maryland, where they reside. The police issued an alert on 7 August for the disappearance of the child and her grandmother. continue reading

The vehicle in which Rodriguez Sariol was transporting both women, a red Honda Civic, was found in flames on Interstate 66. After this the suspect drove a 2000 Volvo truck on the 6th and 7th of August to different places in the country.

Rodriguez Sariol was arrested in Lackawanna, Pennsylvania and continues to be questioned, police sources confirmed to this newspaper.

“The captain was madly in love with that woman. They met at an English school where they studied and then they left. She wanted to get married to get the papers,” says a source close to Rodriguez Sariol who agreed to speak with 14ymedio on condition of anonymity. According to this source, the Cuban was “obsessed” with the woman.

The vehicle Rodriguez Sariol was driving in with both women, a red Honda Civic, was found in flames in Interstate 66. (Courtesy)

“Hareton was a creep, he got his license in Texas and for a month he lived in his car outside the company he managed in Washington DC. She visited him on Fridays, when the captain got paid and gave her all the money. The woman lived with a son I never knew,” he adds.

David Barrero, son of Elizabeth Rodríguez Rubio and uncle of Angie Carolina Rodríguez Rubio, told local media that the family is very stressed by what happened. “Most of us have nightmares at night,” he said, adding that his sister and other relatives have distributed leaflets in Harrisonburg and other nearby cities.

The police set up a local crime line at (540) 574-5050 and is asking those who have information about both women to contact the authorities.

Rodríguez Sariol arrived in the United States in April 2016 aboard a raft with 25 other emigrants when the wet foot/dry foot policy was still in effect, which granted refuge to all Cubans who stepped foot on US territory.

The video that documents part of his journey went viral on social networks because he and another officer, Michel Herrera, arrived dressed in their PNR uniforms. As they said at the time, they did not take off their uniforms to avoid being arrested when they arrived on the boat on the coast.

El capitán, as his acquaintances call him for his rank in the national transportation directorate in Cuba, denied having repressed dissidents or participating in acts of repudiation against the opposition, in several interviews he granted to the South Florida media.

Angie and Elizabeth Rodriguez Rubio. Granddaughter and granddaughter respectively, have been missing since the beginning of the month when Hareton Jaime Rodriguez Sariol drove them to his home. (Courtesy Facebook)

The group of rafters left Guanabo, east of Havana and were at sea for more than 30 hours before arriving in the United States. Once in the country, Rodriguez Sariol received help from the US Government and settled in Virginia.

Marino Ramírez, a Cuban who has lived in the United States for more than 10 years, met Rodriguez Sariol at the Church of the Nazarene. “He was a serious man, but very kind. He always expressed his desire to bring his family from Cuba,” Ramírez told this newspaper. Still on the island are Rodriguez Sariol’s mother and a sister, as well as other relatives.

Maurice Naranjo worked as a representative for the Cuban Haitian Entrant Program, a federal program administered by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to host and relocate Cubans and Haitians with “parole” status (on probation until they regularize their status in the country), and that’s how he met Rodriguez Sariol.

“He seemed like a decent person. Being a police captain in Cuba did not influence his behavior. He was kind and expressed several times his desire to do everything possible to get ahead and find a job. He was helped with several federal and state benefits,” he said.

Naranjo can not believe that Rodriguez Sariol is involved in the disappearance of two people. “The police contacted me to ask me some questions about him and I could not believe it. I thought they were talking about someone else,” he added.

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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.

Diaz-Canel Visit to Manzanillo Recounted by Historian Without Mincing Words

This video is not subtitled

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marion J Pentón, Miami, Augut 11, 2018 — On the eve of the visit to Manzanillo by Miguel Díaz-Canel at the end of June, this western city in frank decadence was subjected to special treatment. Houses were spruced up, the indigents were secluded in the psychiatric hospital, criticism was gagged, and even various ice cream flavors appeared in the unstocked state-owned ice cream parlors.

The historian Delio Orozco González dared to raise his voice and said that this visit was “prefabricated”.  His complaint earned him the censorship of a program he conducted for free on local television, Golfo Visión.

Like the child who was the only one that dared to say that the Emperor had no clothes when he thought he was dressed in invisible cloth, in the fable The Naked King [The Emperor’s New Clothes], in real life Orozco-Gonzales denounced what everybody knew but no one dared to say: that the visit by Díaz-Canel was nothing more than staged to please the new ruler. continue reading

“One thing is to show what has been accomplished by conscious and systematic work and quite another to prepare a staging with last minute touches whose sole purpose is to impress the visitor to avoid critical remarks. Unfortunately that was what was done in Manzanillo”, Orozco González wrote in a blog.

Orozco González, a well-known local historian, was unable to witness in slience the violent eviction of Mirtha Escobar Rodríguez, a physically handicapped woman who waited for Díaz-Canel in Céspedes Park to let the president know “what liars” the local leaders are.

The woman was promised 11 years ago the construction of a house, but her denunciation of alleged mismanagement in public funds for her home earned her the enmity of the local bosses. The police officers took her by force and took her first to the hospital and then to the psychiatric hospital.

“When they took her to the Celia Sánchez Manduley Hospital with very high blood pressure to give her medical treatment, they transferred her to the psychiatric hospital, as was done in the Soviet Union, to try to confuse her civic demand with dementia, the public denunciation with madness, the truth with alienation,” related Orozco González.

The historian, who is far from having a dissident position against the system, questioned the plasticity of the measures taken to receive Diaz-Canel, whom in the first hundred days of his mandate has appeared constantly in the media travelling throughout the provinces and leading meetings.

They hurriedly painted the old electoral billboards, removed the vines from the Caymari building, set up another lab in the Palace of Computing and “gathered all the homeless so that the President and his delegation would not see the sad spectacle of drunks and destitute people who swarm and sleep in our streets”.

Orozco González has worked in the Historical Archive of Manzanillo since 1990. He is also vice president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba in the territory and is a member of the Academy of History of Cuba.  Among his notable books are Manzanillo in the pen of José Martí, Presence and reception martiana in Manzanillo, Manzanillo in the 50s and Of the faithful of Manzanillo.

The decision to stop broadcasting the historian’s program, Findings, was communicated a week ago by the scriptwriter of the television program. According to Orozco González, the municipal authorities prohibited the television director from continuing to use the platform to teach. The historian has said that he will not talk to the media because for him everything has been said. “Now the censors, if they believe it, should explain their decision or simply do what they always do: not show their faces,” he added.

14ymedio made multiple attempts to contact the director of Golfo Visión, Geraldo Romero Díaz, and several journalists from the channel, but none wanted to offer comments on the matter.

It is not the first time that Golfo Visión has been in the midst of a controversy over the treatment of its workers. At the beginning of the year cameraman Raidel Tirado was fired after having suffered a traffic accident on his motorcycle and caused minor damage to the state-owned camera when he was on his way to cover the celebration for the triumph of the Los Alazanes baseball team in Granma  vs. Las Tunas.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Cuban Economy’s 1.1% Growth is Not Felt on Cubans’ Dinner Tables

Residents walking near the entrance of Barbacoa, in Guantánamo. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | 25 July 2018 – Cuba’s 1.1% economic growth the first semester of 2018, announced by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, will not reach the kitchens of the Cuban people, nor will it be felt in the already reduced purchasing power of their wallets, according to various economists consulted by 14ymedio.

The island, crippled by the crisis of its greatest ally, Venezuela, has not been able to recover in light of the reduced number of tourists, the fall in exports, the impacts of tropical hurricanes and the incompetence of governmental officials.

“I am alarmed by this statistic. I am quite worried because I believe the Cuban economy is quickly getting out of control. Various Latin American nations have current growth rates above 4%. Cuba is below average. It is usual [for Cuba], but it indicates that the motors of the economy are turned off,” says the Cuban professor and economist Elías Amor Bravo from Valencia, Spain. continue reading

Amor Bravo explains that the low economic growth rate is produced by the fall in tourism, which is not registering the figures that were anticipated. In the first semester of the year, the number of tourists that traveled to Cuba fell by 5%. In the case of Americans, the reduction was of 24% (some 266,000 people) compared to the previous year. President Donald Trump’s new policy, which promised a hard stance against the tourism enterprises owned by the Cuban military, has struck the country’s economy.

The economist says that foreign direct investment continues to be paltry with respect to the 2.5 billion dollars that the country needs annually. In addition, the sugar harvest has been quite poor, one of the worst in an entire century in fact (1.1 millions of tons), coupled with the damage caused by hurricane Irma (13.585 billion dollars) and tropical storm Alberto. The trade balance (the difference between exports and imports) in 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, is of -7.953 billion dollars.

“The uncontrolled public deficit has snowballed from year to year and is fed by an ever-increasing debt,” cites Amor, in addition to “the government officials’ failure to manage the economy.”

Cuba received crucial aid in 2014 with the pardoning of 90% of its debt of 35 billion dollars to the former Soviet Union, of which the Russian Federation was on the receiving end. In 2015, the Paris Club and Havana reached an agreement to forgive 8.5 of the 11.1 billion dollars Cuba had accumulated in debt and interest since 1986. Mexico also pardoned 70% of the 487 million it had loaned to the island. Japan forgave almost one billion dollars of an outstanding debt in 2014.

“The symptom of the illness is a fever, but the illness is what a doctor must study. If you only fight the fever you don’t solve the problem. The illness in the Cuban case is the disequilibrium due to a lack of exports and the uncontrollable spending of the State,” he says.

An increase in blackouts, more shortages in shops where items are sold in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), as well as in the rationed markets, are the result of the island’s current economic situation. This has led to a resurgence of government control over the private sector. According to economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago’s calculations, the average Cuban’s purchasing power is barely 51% of what it was in 1989.

The signs of deterioration have also been felt by the pharmaceutical sector due to various liquidity issues related to paying suppliers of raw materials. In an industry that imports 85% of the ingredients for the fabrication of drugs, the crisis has led to shortages of 45 basic medications.

The picture is the same for the supplies of ice cream, soft drinks and beer which have fallen sharply in recent months in stores and manufacturers. The problems in buying packaging and raw materials abroad has led many industries, such as Cuba’s iconic ice cream maker Coppelia, to reduce their production and temporarily close some plants.

Mesa-Lago concludes in a recent study that the average growth of the economy between 2016-2018 will be 0.6%, a very poor figure compared with other countries in the region. The International Monetary Fund forecast 1.6% growth for Latin America this year.

Emilio Morales, director of The Havana Consulting Group, also doubts the Cuban president’s figure. “A growth of 1.1% of GDP is questionable due to the poor economic results of this semester. At this moment the country is going through a tense financial situation and a profound lack of liquidity, which has delayed payments to a group of important suppliers of raw materials and products,” says Morales.

Cuba managed to boost its economy after Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela, which allowed it to find an alternative to the subsidies it had received from the former Soviet Union.

The signing of a collaboration agreement with Caracas at the beginning of this century and the sending of tens of thousands of professionals to work in Venezuela, for which that country paid Havana directly with subsidized oil, was like giving Fidel Castro’s government an oxygen balloon. However, the crisis facing Venezuela has caused this to change.

According to the latest published official figures, trade between both countries fell to 2.224 billion dollars in 2016, the historical minimum since the beginning of Chavismo, after having exceeded 8.2 billion in 2012.

Left side: Percentage of oil imports by Venezuela. Right side: Venezuelan exports to oil to ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) countries.

Venezuela, which in the best years of its “Bolivarian revolution” sent around 120,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba (at a value of about 4 billion dollars a year), has reduced the shipments to about 55,000 barrels. The vertiginous fall of petroleum production in Venezuela has forced it to go to international markets to buy crude oil that it later sends to Cuba by an annual cost of around 1.2 billion dollars.

Cuba-Venezuela Trade Figures. Red line: Imports from Venezuela to Cuba. Green line: Exports from Cuba to Venezuela. Blue bars: Total trade. Source: Cuba’s Office of National Statistics

According to the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, “the government’s plan is still not being met every year, and the plan itself is already low.”

“For the economy to achieve the takeoff it needs to grow steadily between 5% and 7%, and for the last four or five years the Cuban economy has hit a plateau of 2%,” he told this newspaper by phone.

Pérez, who directed the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana, believes that there is a vicious circle that blocks growth from resuming.

“A 1%  growth in the case of an economy with a level as low as Cuba’s is nothing, it does not reach the population, it has no impact,” he says.

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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.

"I Prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro," Says a Cuban Doctor

Cuban government claims it earns 11.5 billion annually from the sale of services abroad. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Havana, 13 July 2018  — After the robbery of 152,000 dollars (a figure later reduced to 16,000 by the police) Cuban doctors in Venezuela have come to be seen as privileged due to their access to the green bills in contrast to the unfortunate situation of the local population. Several physicians consulted by this newspaper fear that the media exposure will make them targets of criminal gangs, although, according to them, the standard of living of a Cuban health professional in Venezuela leaves much to be desired.

“They give us a million bolivars a month, that’s the stipend, but it’s not enough,” explains a doctor who, like the rest, is strictly forbidden to talk to the press. Some doctors assume that the stipend will be as much as three million after the minimum wage increases, but so far no action has been taken in this regard.

In the black market, which regulates street trade, the price of the dollar is over 3.4 million bolivars. All Cuban personnel, technicians, nurses and doctors receive the same stipend. continue reading

The Venezuelan Government guarantees them a home where they live with other “internationalists,” as well as a bag of food, and Cuba pays for their plane tickets to return on vacation to the island.

“We are not to blame for what is happening in Venezuela, the Government of this country has not been able to control the situation,” says this doctor, who has sometimes felt “despised” by his patients. “I prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro,” he says.

To buy toiletries and food, the professional brought money with him from Cuba. “When it’s all gone and I have nothing left, I send for more,” he says. On the island, the government keeps his salary and also deposits an amount in convertible pesos in a frozen account that he loses if he leaves the mission or he is sanctioned.

Among the prohibitions whose violation could mean returning to Cuba are being absent from work, talking to the foreign press about the medical mission or trying to escape to Colombia or any neighboring country. The doctor says that it has not crossed his mind because he fears he would not see his family on the island again. “They would punish me by forbidding me to enter Cuba for eight years, I can not stay away from my family that long,” he says.

The Cuban Government participates in medical missions in exchange for obtaining oil from Venezuela. Caracas sends some 55,000 barrels of oil a day to the island, which represents 1.5 billion dollars a year, a surprisingly high figure for a country sunk in a severe humanitarian crisis. The government maintains that it receives more than 11.5 billion dollars annually for the professional services it provides to countries all over the world, a figure questioned by independent economists.

Personal security is among the greatest concerns for Cuban doctors who provide services in Venezuela. Although the Special Action Forces of the police arrested the thieves, some Cubans consulted by this newspaper say that most of the time this is not the case.

“Many have been assaulted and some have died here, but nothing is said because the policy of the medical mission is total discretion, they tell us that it will become a political problem if we report these cases and they can punish us by terminating our mission,” says a doctor who works in eastern Venezuela.

The doctor also states that she has been the victim of harassment by the mission heads. “Sometimes I have had to face the machismo of the bosses, they believe that because we come alone to work we have to serve them as maids and as women in their beds,” she complains.

Most cases of abuse, according to this doctor, go unpunished, silenced by the secrecy surrounding the mission.

The doctor is concerned about the deteriorating situation in the country. “They have asked us to bear up until the end, but that end never comes and things get worse every day,” she explains.

Venezuela is experiencing a hyperinflationary process that has left its currency worthless. The economy of the country contracted the first quarter of this year by 12% according to the calculations of the opposition National Assembly. Oil production, the main export item in the country, has plummeted and reached 1.5 million barrels per day in June, the lowest figure in 70 years. Added to this is the widespread violence that has claimed the lives of more than 280,000 people since Chavismo came to power in 1999.

“Cuban professionals here are in a situation of war in a country that is crumbling to pieces and without any protection,” she laments.

Several doctors have sent messages to the heads of mission asking for better wages and protection, always under the slogan “everything for the Revolution” so as not to be branded as counterrevolutionaries, explains a third professional who works in Zulia.

“If our relatives in Cuba or our colleagues knew the things that we have to go through in this shitty country nobody would come,” says the doctor. But the official media of the Island censors the negative news about the missions abroad.

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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.

Criminal Gang Steals $150,000 from Cuban Medical Mission in Venezuela

A complex of buildings in Ciudad Caribia, on the outskirts of Caracas. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | 2 July 2018 — Eight armed and hooded men attacked a group of Cuban doctors stationed in Venezuela in the early hours of Sunday morning and stole more than $152,000 (dollars) and 30,000 pesos, according to statements to 14ymedio from several doctors from the island who work in the medical mission in that country.

The police reports obtained by this newspaper document that the Cuban delegation comprising 126 professionals, of whom 38 had just arrived in Venezuela, was stripped of their belongings in Ciudad Caribia, in the state of Vargas.

Nelson Vielma, a 42-year-old Venezuelan taxi driver, explained to the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) that the thieves broke the doors to the dormitories where the doctors spent the night and forced them to hand over their cell phones and cash they were carrying. continue reading

Some doctors reported that their colleagues told them they were beaten during the robbery.

Many of the doctors take advantage of missions abroad to buy products that help their families on the island to cope with the hardships they suffer because of the chronic shortages in the Cuban markets, which are controlled by the State.

“How long is our country is going to leave us unprotected in such a complex and ungrateful place,” protested one of the doctors who works in Venezuela and requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the Cuban government.

Another doctor on the mission said that “unfortunately, robberies are already part of the routine in Cuban medical missions in Venezuela,” and asked her colleagues to demand respect and help from the authorities of both countries. The GNB placed two guards in the doctors’ dormitory to prevent future robberies.

“It’s so dangerous living in this sh…y country,” wrote a third doctor, very upset at the lack of protection from the authorities.

Venezuela is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. A recently released documentary about the consequences of the implementation of Chavism showed that someone is is murdered in that country every 20 minutes. Venezuelan figures under Chavez are terrifying: 280,000 homicides, 15,000 arbitrary detentions, 6,000 extrajudicial executions, more than 280 documented cases of torture in just 20 years, in a country of a little more than 30 million people.

Since the beginning of the century, when Cuba signed an agreement with Venezuela to send doctors, teachers and technicians in exchange for oil, tens of thousands of Cubans have passed through that country. The latest figures given by the office of president Nicolás Maduro stood at 28,000 doctors and health technicians currently present in Venezuela.

The agreements with regards to what Caracas pays for the Cuban professionals are not public, however, the Cuban authorities have said that they receive more than 11.5 billion dollars per year for the sale of these services in dozens of countries.

Several international organizations have denounced these practices in Havana as “slavery” due to the lack of rights which the professionals themselves enjoy. The Cuban government keeps two thirds of their salaries, which has led to a large number of desertions and demands in countries like Brazil as well as Venezuela itself.

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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.