A Lawyer Sees Salvation in Brazil’s New Immigration Law for "Deserter" Doctors

Some Cuban doctors complain that with all the money they’ve given to the Government, they could afford to pay for their medical education several times over.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, November 24, 2017 – The new immigration law which takes effect this Wednesday in Brazil could benefit hundreds of doctors who have escaped from the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) mission in this country.

According to André De Santana Correa, a lawyer who represents 80 doctors from the Island who abandoned their mission, “the new law allows several types of protection for a Cuban doctor who is considered a deserter, on humanitarian grounds.”

De Santana told 14ymedio that he counsels all Cuban doctors who have an expired temporary visa for Brazil that they request “permission for residence with a temporary visa on humanitarian grounds.” The authorities can take into account that these professionals are prohibited from returning to Cuba for eight years, because they are considered deserters there. continue reading

“The Cuban Government’s decision to consider doctors who abandon their missions as deserters is much more than political persecution. It’s the most merciless cruelty because of what can happen to a human being who is taken away from  loved ones and his native land and, in addition, is left completely powerless, as if his life isn’t worth anything,” adds De Santana.

The new Migration Law guarantees the same rights to foreign residents as to native-born Brazilians and also facilitates the arrival of qualified workers in the country. The legislation replaces the Foreigners Statute, which dates from the time of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). It allows foreigners with higher education or the equivalent to work in Brazil without needing to have a formal employment request from a company in the country.

Official statistics state that between 2010 and 2015, the number of foreign employees increased some 131%, going from 54,333 workers to 125,535, less than some 0.5 percent of the formal work market.

“We hope that with this new law our process will continue. There are many Cuban doctors in Brazil who need this country to recognize that we are health professionals who have equal status with the doctors of other countries who are in the More Doctors program,” says Ernesto Ramírez, a health specialist who left Havana’s supervision.

Noel Fonseca, who has spent more than 20 years as a doctor and decided to stay and live in Brazil, said that he is hopeful about the new law. He, as well as his wife, were expelled from the More Doctors program for not supporting the Cuban Government. The authorities in Havana, in addition, told them that they couldn’t return to the country for eight years, and that Brazil wouldn’t allow them to work as doctors because of pressure from Cuba.

“The Cuban Ministry of Public Health threatened the Brazilian Government so that they wouldn’t permit us to stay in the More Doctors program if we deserted the mission. In turn, the Ministry of Health pressured the municipalities to not give any type of aid to the doctors,” explained Fonseca, by telephone.

While the Cuban Medical Professional Parole was in effect, the United States allowed doctors who abandoned Cuba’s official missions to emigrate legally to the U.S. During that period (2006-2016), more than 8,000 doctors benefited from the program, which was eliminated in January, 2017.

Cuban Healthcare Personnel Taking Advantage of US “Cuban Medical Professional Parole” program that allows them to settle in the United States (14ymedio)

Diana Quintas, a lawyer from the Fragomen firm in Brazil, told Agencia EFE recently that the new law “has gaps,” and that in matters such as work, the joint action of several ministries would be required.

In addition, in order to seek employment without a work offer in the South American giant, professionals from Third World countries would have to have a university degree in “professions strategic for Brazil,” without specifying what these professions are.

Many other analysts criticize putting this legislation into effect at a time when unemployment is increasing in the country and when, in practice, many of the essential services that they want to offer to immigrants Brazilians themselves don’t have.

Translated by Regina Anavy
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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.

Ecuador’s Cuban Community is Involved in February 4th Referendum

At least 43,000 Cubans, many of them professionals, live in Ecuador. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 January 2018 — The division between correístas (supporters of former president Rafael Correa) and morenistas (supporters of current president Lenin Moreno) that runs through Ecuador, less than a month before the upcoming 7-issue referendum called by President Lenin Moreno is also reflected among Cubans residing in the country.

The polls maintain that the YES side, promoted by the current president who is asking voters to approve all seven measures, will win by a large majority, but among the Cubans consulted by 14ymedio opinions are not very clear.

“Among Cubans who reside here, there is a part of us who consider Moreno a traitor and would like to see the return of President Rafael Correa, but there is also a large group that wants change,” says Rolando Gallardo, one of the organizers of the National Alliance of Cubans in Ecuador, speaking from Quito. continue reading

The referendum called by the current president for Sunday, 4 February, includes five amendments to the constitution and seven proposals overall. Among these is the overturning the measure approved by the National Assembly at Correa’s request in 2015, which eliminated term limits for some offices, including that of president.

Among the other referendum measures are one to restructure the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control, one of the central powers of the State, and one that would bar from public office and confiscate the assets of those who commit corruption offenses.

Good news at the beginning of they ear: @MashiRafael [Correa] comes to Ecuador this week and stays all month to “burn shoe leather”, to “go back to the grassroots working door to door” to overcome the betrayal and say NO to the cheating and unconstitutional consultation. We shall overcome! – Ricardo Patiño (@RicardoPatinoEC) January 2, 2018 [Tweet from Correa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, now Minister of National Defense]

Gallardo, a graduate in History from the University of Havana, does not hesitate to affirm that Correa “did a lot” for Ecuador, and took advantage of the oil boom to develop the country’s infrastructure. However, he rejects Correa’s authoritarianism and believes that his return to public office would do “a lot of damage to Ecuadorian democracy.”

“Having no term limits is for countries with a high level of political education, and in a nation like Ecuador, where the political views of the masses are emotional and ephemeral, it is a danger,” he says.

Some 13 million voters over the age of 16 are eligible to participate in the referendum, including foreigners with five years of legal residence in the country. At least 43,000 Cubans, many of them professionals, live in Ecuador but it is not known how many have the right to vote. They arrived starting in 2008 when Correa’s Government established the policy of universal citizenship and eliminated the visa requirement for people coming from most countries, including Cuba.

I am going to my homeland on January 4, to be with my colleagues in this fight against treason and partyocracy,’ Ever onward to victory! – Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael) January 2, 2018 [Tweet from Rafael Correa, who has been living in Belgium]

In 2015, Ecuador resumed the practice of requiring visas for Cuban citizens in response to the migration crisis that arose that year in Central America, when thousands of people left the island and headed to the United States by way of Quito, out of fear that the special migratory privileges enjoyed by Cubans under the US wet foot/dry foot policy would soon be terminated.

“Correa was the president who let us into this country and the one who cared most about Cubans. Ecuador was just a banana republic and ungovernable before he became president,” Jesus Curbelo says excitedly. Curbelo is a Cuban who has lived in Ecuador’s most populated city, Guayaquil, for five years.

“In Ecuador there is a lot of xenophobia, especially towards Cubans, because Ecuadorians believe that we have come to take away their jobs,” argues Curbelo, who graduated as a professor of mathematics on the island and who will vote against Lenin Moreno’s proposals.

“The social gains, the education and health programs that were achieved under Correa’s government will not be sustained if his legacy does not continue,” says Curbelo, who is close to the Association of Cuban Residents in Ecuador (ACURE), an organization sponsored by the Cuban Embassy in Quito.

Dr. Adrián Hernández Cruz, a Cuban living in Cuenca, believes that Moreno’s referendum provokes “sympathy among Cubans,” although he, personally, is not happy with the current president’s reforms.

Cubans entering Ecuador by year

“Lenin has maintained the same restrictions on Cubans as did the Correa government, such as the impossibility of achieving permanent legal status for many of those who came to Ecuador looking for work,” he explains. The doctor also distrusts the work of the Cuban ambassador, whom he accuses of interference in the internal affairs of the Andean country.

“Despite the fact that in the last few months there has been some opening to facilitate the process of legalization of immigrants, in the Cuban case the obstacles are maintained and, particularly in the case of professionals, they increase,” explains the doctor. “All this is just a political manipulation in order to gain popularity,” he says.

Michel Larrondo, another Cuban doctor who emigrated to Ecuador, believes that Correa supporters seek to “perpetuate themselves in power.”

“Even the former president came back from Belgium to campaign for the NO side,” he says. Although he is a supporter of the YES side, he regrets that the Cuban community “is apathetic in its great majority: many do not care about politics, it’s all the same to them whether it’s Correa or Moreno.”

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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.

The Everglades: An Endangered Garden on the Doorstep of Miami

Scientists warn that, by the year 2100, the sea level will rise more than six feet, progressively flooding the wetlands of South Florida. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, January 3, 2018 — An immense grasslands with tones of yellow and green extends up to the horizon, and Miami’s skyscrapers can be glimpsed in the distance, like blue boulders. Far from the metropolis, where more than six million people live, one of the largest and most famous wetlands of the planet crosses to the west and south: the Everglades, an immense subtropical garden that is endangered by climate change and contamination.

On board a hovercraft, thousands of toursists every day cross only a small part of the subtropical national park, which is the largest in the U.S. With its nearly 1,500 square miles, the National Park of the Everglades is approximately the same size as the province of Guantánamo, or double the size of the state of New Jersey, on the northeast coast of the U.S.

It’s calculated that more than a million people visit these wetlands every year, and they are counted by the tens of thousands as they pass through the entrances. continue reading

“The main dangers we face are the increase in sea level and environmental contamination,” explains a tourist guide, who drives the airboat, which is a peculiar flat-bottom craft that uses an airplane propeller to avoid harming animals and the ecosystem.

Scientists warn that, by the year 2100, the sea level will rise more than six feet, progressively flooding the wetlands of South Florida. A report on Univision that quotes several experts from Florida International University indicates that the Everglades is being reduced to half its former size and receiving only one-third of the fresh water it used to receive.

Declared an International Biosphere in 1976, a World Heritage Site in 1979 and a Wetland of International Importance in 1987, the Everglades is the only place in the world where crocodiles, which can reach some five meters in length and weigh 1,100 pounds, live alongside alligators and caimans. In addition, hundreds of endemic animals like manatees, deer and pumas can be found, including invasive species such as pythons, which can reach almost 20 feet in length.

The heart of the South Florida wetlands is Lake Okeechobee. Rains from the wet season make it overflow, and the waters flow south, progressively flooding large areas of terrain.

“In the first half of the twentieth century, over 1,400 miles of canals were constructed with the aim of containing the flooding from Lake Okeechobee, and, thanks to this, cities like Miami were able to grow,” explains the guide. Beginning then, there was the desiccation of large quantities of land for urbanization and cattle ranches, as well as the construction of highways, affected the wetlands.

“The construction in 1928 of the Tamiami Trail highway caused a cut-off in the flow of water coming from the lake. There are plans to spend more than 10.5 billion dollars to raise part of the highway in order to restore that flow and to intervene for preserving the wetlands, but they are advancing slowly,” he explains.

Along the Tamiami Trail, a long road that links Miami with the west coast of the peninsula, work is underway on the constrction of bridges to permit the passage of water toward the south. It’s a project that, among other things, seeks to ensure the water sources for the city.

“If you drink a cup of tea in Miami, you’re consuming the same water that we have in the Everglades,” jokes the guide. Although his statement is an exaggeration, the flow of water in the South Florida wetlands is vital for sustaining the Bicayne aquifer, which supplies the water used in the largest city of Florida.

Owing to the porous nature of the rocks under the marsh, penetration of the sea or the contamination of particular areas has repercussions for the whole ecosystem.

The tourists protect their ears from the deafening noise of the airboat propeller by using earplugs. When the motor is turned off, there is a sepulchral silence. In the middle of the wetlands, you hear only the sound of the crickets or the buzzing of the innumerable insects that inhabit the area.

“Also living here are the American Indian Miccosukees, a tribe originally from Georgia that, with the passage of time, was displaced toward the wetlands and resisted any attempt to assimilate them for more than 100 years,” explains the guide.

The Micosukees or Mikazuki, as they also are known, were recognized throughout Cuba as a sovereign country inside the U.S., from the time a delegation of the tribe visited the island in 1959. Fidel Castro personally received the delegation and acknowledged their indigenous passport, which was later validated by other nations.

In 1962, the U.S. Government approved the tribe’s constitution, and recognized them officially as an automonous indigenous tribe to which important fiscal benefits were conceded. Today, the Miccosukees are considered one of the most prosperous indigenous groups in the U.S., with their empire of casinos, restaurants and hotels.

“The wetlands of the Everglades are a treasure for everyone, which we must protect,” said the guide upon ending the excursion near the Tamiami Trail, and he said that he dreams of making visitors aware of the importance of protecting this environment, on which his family and a good part of South Florida depend.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

Cubans in Search of Visas Overflow Columbian Consulates in Miami and Havana

View of the waiting room of the Colombian consulate in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 8 January 2018 — The Colombian consulates in Havana and Miami have been overwhelmed in recent weeks by the number of Cubans who hope for a visa to travel to Colombia due to the transfer of immigration procedures from the US consulate in Havana to its counterpart in Bogota

“Every day we are serving a number of people much higher than normal. They usually arrive without an appointment and ask to be seen in a very short period of time. We are facing a difficult situation,” an official of the Colombian consulate told 14ymedio.

To travel to Colombia, Cubans residing in South Florida (who do not have US citizenship) need to appear at the Colombian Consulate in Miami-Dade County and request an appointment to present documents such as a photocopy of the main page of their passport and another of current extensions, a photocopy of their permanent residence permit for the United States (green card) and their airline ticket to enter and leave Colombia. The consular authorities also request their hotel reservation in Colombia and their last six months’ bank statements, including the requirement to have a minimum balance of 700 dollars. continue reading

The charge for the “visa study” is $52, and if it is approved there is another $82 charge.

José Miguel Ramos shows a page with the requirements to obtain the Colombian visa. (14ymedio)

“We do not understand why so many Cubans want to travel to Colombia if their relatives on the island are the ones who must do it to complete their procedures at the US embassy,” said a diplomatic source who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

José Miguel Ramos, one Cuban among the dozens who pass through the consular office on a daily basis, explained to this newspaper that although he lives in Miami, he is trying to travel to Bogotá to help his wife and their five-year-old son in the procedures that the interview requires.

“My family has never left Cuba. I need to travel to reconnect with them and accompany them throughout this process. In Colombia they will have to undergo medical examinations and several procedures for which they will surely need help,” he says.

For Ramos, originally from Pinar del Río, the attention and organization in the Colombian consulate has been “excellent,” an opinion that others of his compatriots do not share.

“Last week several people spent the whole day waiting to be served and they were not,” says Maria, a 54-year-old woman who waited for more than three hours at the consulate.

“It is abusive that we have to pay for visas to Colombia when we reside in the United States. We are not to blame for the Americans moving the officials [from the US embassy in Havana to the US embassy in Bogota] or for the Government of Cuba getting into that problem with the acoustic attacks,” complained the woman. She also said was on the verge of losing her job after being absent for several days.

“My child has the interview at the US embassy in Colombia on January 23 and at the Miami consulate they wanted to give me an appointment for the end of the month. There is a lot of lack of coordination,” she adds.

Consulate officials assured this newspaper that Colombia has “nothing to do” with the transfer of the activities of the US embassy in Havana. “We are not to blame for this happening. We are trying to help the greatest number of people but always on the basis of respect and communication,” they explained.

View of the Colombian consulate in Coral Gables, Miami-Dade County Forida. (14ymedio)

“The Colombian consulate in Miami has no obligation to grant a visa to Cubans who want to reunite with their family in Bogota. To obtain the visa there is a process with requirements that must be respected,” said the consular authorities.

At the end of September 2016, the United States withdrew more than half the staff of its embassy in Cuba and canceled the issuance of visas there indefinitely, in response to the alleged “acoustic attacks” against its diplomats. Subsequently, the State Department announced that it would process immigrant visas for Cubans at its embassy in Bogota, while those of nonimmigrants could be requested at any US consulate. The Family Reunification Program for Cubans has been suspended for months.

The avalanche of Cubans requesting visas to Colombia is also happening at Colombia’s consulate in Havana. Last week hundreds of people who had consular interviews scheduled between September and December were being summoned for interviews in Bogota.

“It is very difficult to get them to coordinate the appointments between the US Embassy and the Colombian Embassy. I do not have a visa for Colombia yet and I have to travel at the end of the month,” explains Félix González, a Cuban living in Havana.

The conditions for requesting the travel document in the Cuban capital are “extremely difficult,” González explains by telephone to this newspaper.

“They ask us to upload all the documents to the website of Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and doing that from here takes a lot of work,” he laments.

Cuban residents on the island must also prove that they have had at least $2,000 in a bank account for the last six months as proof of solvency, in order for the visa to be issued.

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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 Happy Talk About the Economy is Not Convincing

An old woman shows her Cuban ration card that every year covers fewer and fewer products subsidized by the Government. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 23 December 2017 — Several Cuban economists consulted by 14ymedio consider the growth of 1.6% in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) announced on Thursday by Cuban Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas before the National Assembly, meeting in Havana, unlikely.

Cabrisas offered a series of growth figures including numbers for construction (+ 2.8%), tourism (+ 4.4%), transport (+ 3%) and agriculture (+ 3%). The results of 2017 mark a recovery with respect to the previous year when the Venezuelan crisis led Havana to acknowledge that the economy contracted by 0.9%.

Surprisingly, the Cuban Government data are even better than those of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (+ 0.5%), considered by several experts as too optimistic. continue reading

“The Gross Domestic Product is not just a number, it is basically an indicator that should be reflected in the economy of individual families and should mean something about the value of what is in their pockets for daily life,” independent economist Karina Gálvez says from Pinar del Río.

Gálvez, who belongs to the Coexistence Studies Center, assures that on the Island “there is no growth that is perceptible to the people.”

“If any Cuban is asked what this growth has meant for their pockets, they will answer ‘nothing’,” the expert points out.

According to Emilio Morales, director of the Havana Consulting Group, “the performance of the Cuban economy in 2017 was bad.” Morales bases his analysis on the disastrous passage of Hurricane Irma in September, the economic crisis in Venezuela, Cuba’s main ally and benefactor, as well as the freezing of relations with the United States.

Commercial Exchanges Between Cuba and Venezuela

According to official data, the economic losses related to Hurricane Irma amount to 13.585 billion dollars. In the agricultural area there is great damage in the production of bananas and a shortage of basic products, such as eggs, is palpable, which has forced the authorities to establish contingency plans to increase production.

Morales, who is based in Miami, also points out “the decrease in exports, the low prices of nickel and sugar [in international markets] and the lack of liquidity” as some of the main problems of the Island to which he adds “the lack of payments to the usual suppliers of goods and low productivity.”

“The abandonment by the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA of 49% of the shares of the mixed company that controlled the Cienfuegos Refinery and the departure of the Brazilian company Odebrecht from the project in the sugar industry has been serious,” says the expert, who believes that the step taken by Caracas is a sample of the difficulties that the relationship between both countries is going through.

Commercial exchange between Cuba and Venezuela has reached historical lows. According to official figures, the last year (2016) it fell to 2.224 billion dollars, after exceeding 8.5 billion in 2012.

“The Venezuelan crisis has generated great uncertainty in the energy sector of the Cuban economy,” explains Morales, who believes that the Russian rapprochement is due only to a geopolitical interest and that Moscow is not willing to subsidize the Cuban economy in the way that the Soviet Union did.

Domestic fuel production has also lost steam and has been reduced to 2.8 million tons this year.

Nor is the sugar industry, another mainstay of the supposed economic recovery, living through good times. The damages from Hurricane Irma alone are calculated as losses of more than 4 billion dollars. To this must be added that this year the production plan foresaw 133,000 fewer tons than last year, already very deficient and resulting in a number comparable to that of the early years of the twentieth century.

“The recent exit of Odebrecht from the sugar industry generates a great unknown with regard to its recovery and the future of this industry in the country,” explains Morales, who believes that finding new partners is made increasingly difficult by the “financial burden and the history of defaults” on the part of the Cuban government when it comes to making promised payments to partners and lenders.

According to the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, who lives on the island, the growth figures reported by Cuba are “surprising.”

“In the first semester it grew 1%, according to official figures. I do not know what activities in the second semester could make that jump because the material production was stagnant,” says Pérez.

The export of services, the principal source of foreign currency for Cuba, thanks to the thousands of doctors, athletes and professionals working abroad, has also fallen in recent years. In 2014, the latest figure reported by the Government was 11.898 billion dollars but some experts believe that it has fallen by more than one billion dollars due to the Venezuelan crisis and the difficulties in the Mais Médicos program in Brazil, where thousands of doctors have escaped from the control of Havana, which keeps two-thirds of their salaries.

“In order to reach an adequate growth rate and start on the path of development, we need an annual growth of more than 4%, which we are still very distant from,” Pérez points out.

The economist Elías Amor, based in Spain, considers the reported GDP growth rate “false.” According to him, “the regime says that it has been achieved by tourism but this sector barely represents 6% of GDP and has no effect of pulling up the whole economy.”

“As of November, Cuba had received 4,257,754 international visitors, which reflects a growth of 19.7% over the same period in 2016,” Amor explains.

However, the growth in the number of tourists is not accompanied by greater profitability in the benefits left by visitors.

“The problem of tourism in Cuba is the low level of income received per traveler. With only $655 profit per tourist, the sector earns about half what it does in other countries in the region, and therefore appears in comparative terms as a market positioned as the lowest of all Caribbean countries,” explains Amor.

Simply growing the number of travelers without taking into account the average income per tourist is not a profitable strategy for the future, according to the economist, who points out “the high cost of investments made by the State,” such as the importing of food and other supplies, which are required to support the tourist industry.

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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 Customs Can’t Keep Up With Cuban Ingenuity

A Cuban customs official scans a traveler’s belongings. (Customs)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 7 December 2017 — Ernesto Machado will never forget a cold morning in 1968 at José Martí airport in Havana. A migration officer removed her parents’ gold wedding rings while annulling her passport. “This is the property of the revolutionary government,” the woman dressed as a soldier told her, before she left Cuba to never return.

On coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro’s government imposed severe measures to prevent money and valuable goods from leaving the country. Almost sixty years later, although the international situation is different, the customs controls remain rigorous on this issue.

“I travel to Cuba every 15 days and I take medicines, food and money to any part of the island,” says a Cuban who resides in Miami, whom we will call Juan to protect his identity. continue reading

In reality, those who constantly travel to the Island are the people who work for Juan. His mission consists of “capturing” Cubans with a Spanish passport or resident in the US but who maintain their “rights in Cuba,” that is they hold the status of permanent residents on the Island. Juan pays the traveler $300 and the traveler gives over his right — as a resident of Cuba — to pay taxes in Cuban pesos on imports of up to 100 kilograms.

“Everyone wins with this business, the person, because he goes to Cuba to see his family members or, if he lives on the island, he gets a little trip, and the agency because that is our business, sending things and money to the island,” he explains

In the case of money, an agency like Juan’s can charge up to 6% commission on amounts over 20,000 US dollars. He says that he makes several shipments a month because “there are many people buying properties in Cuba.” Areas like Old Havana and Miramar are quoting very well, he says.

On revolico.com, the largest online sales platform on the island, houses sell for from 10,000 or 20,000 dollars in popular areas, and for up to $270,000 in the Havana neighborhoods of Miramar and Siboney or in the colonial city of Trinidad.

Cuban laws stipulate that you can freely import up to 5,000 US dollars per person and that for larger amounts you must fill out a declaration in Customs, without this necessarily requiring the payment of taxes. In most countries you can import up to 10,000 dollars without having to give a statement.

Juan does not care about the origin of the money he sends to Cuba nor does he follow the mechanisms to declare that cash in Miami or Havana. “Normally we send it with several people, we distribute the money to stay under the $5,000 barrier, and sometimes I send some trusted person to take in a little more, taking a risk, of course,” he says.

A report published in the official press reported that, so far this year, the General Customs of the Republic has registered 384 violations of the entry and exit of foreign exchange.

The newspaper recounts some of the cases, like a woman who hid 5,000 Swiss francs in condoms inserted in her vagina, or a man who had 32,550 euros tied to his body.

Cuban customs display of confiscated items. (Customs)

“Many are beginners in this business or try to do things without helping others, you have to live and let live,” says Juan, who according to his own testimony frequently bribes customs officials.

“I have been in business for a long time, my people are always known because we share codes. Usually when someone arrives at the airport, they offer to help you and if you accept it, things will always go well for you,” he says.

“In Cuba, there are businesses that need to take money out of the country. It’s a secret to no one that most of the products bought by the paladares [private restaurants] come from the black market. If the owners fall [in a police operation] they want to have a little piece of land on the other side, to keep something,” he explains.

According to official data, this year Customs has seized 165,816 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos), 61,660 CUP (Cuban pesos), 875 euros, 15,150 rubles, 73,822 dollars and 386 valuables (crucifixes, coins and silver bars), which travelers were trying to get out of the country.

The Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) allows each person to freely take up to 5,000 dollars out of the country. For higher amounts, an authorization from the President of the BCC is needed after verifying that the money has been lawfully earned on the island.

Buying foreign currencies inside Cuba before traveling abroad is a complicated task, although the law allows it. The banks require the customer to show a visa and an airline ticket linked to the country of the requested currency and, even so, only small amounts of foreign currency are sold.

You can always resort to the informal market but there the dollar is sold at a price that ranges between 92 and 97 cents in CUC, well above the official rate of 87 cents. On the other hand, it is strictly forbidden to remove from the country any amount of CUCs, the so-called convertible peso, which in fact has no value outside the island. The Cuban peso also has no value abroad, but it is possible to take out up to 2,000 CUP.

A few weeks ago, the American blogger Jaime Morrison, travel correspondent for BravoTV’s digital site, was arrested by the Cuban authorities, who confiscated the approximately 800 CUC he was carrying when he was about to leave the country.

“I broke this rule and I almost got sent to jail, do not let it happen to you,” the journalist said, telling the story about her experience in Havana. After a long interrogation she was able to leave the country, but without the chavitos.

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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.

Official Data Confirm Degradation Of Cuba’s Health System

Emergency room in the Abel Santamaría Cuadrado Provincial Hospital of Pinar del Río. Sign: “Our doctor is there, very close to the patient, at his side. Fidel.” (Juan Carlos Fernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 23 November 2017 — Under a parasol printed with a reproduction of the Tropical Gypsy, María Elena has left behind her profession as a doctor to dedicate herself to selling handicraft products that she makes for tourists in Matanzas.

She graduated in 1993 but has not practiced for more than 10 years. “They pay very little [in the health system]. They demand of you too many responsibilities, and now that there are so many doctors posted to international missions, you spend your life on duty and covering for those who are out of the country,” she explains. continue reading

The national health system is one of the sources of pride for the government. For years, Fidel Castro called it one of the most important achievements of socialism in Cuba. In 1984 he created the figure of the family doctor and thousands of doctor’s homes-cum-offices were built in the countryside and cities of the country to extend personalized preventive primary care. “It has really been a revolution,” Castro boasted in 1984. Today, 30 years later, these networks are in decline due to the desertion of thousands of doctors and the abandonment of the infrastructure.

“It was a colossal and good project, in principle, the problem was that there was no way to pay for it,” explains Julio César Alfonso, president of the Solidarity Without Borders network, a Miami-based NGO for those who have abandoned international missions and do not want to return To Cuba.

Family doctors and doctors’ offices in Cuba.

“Thousands of doctors who were initially part of that network escaped when they had the opportunity while on international missions (more than 8,000 to the United States) and many others simply took off their white coats to become drivers, artisans, artists and even street vendors,” adds Alfonso

Despite the guidelines of the Ministry of Health to reorient the health system “towards primary care and its fundamental pillar, the family doctor and nurse,” in the last six years alone their number was reduced by more than 23,000, according to official figures. María Elena, the doctor turned seller of handicrafts, believes that most of her colleagues “got tired of so many calls to sacrifice.”

“The doctor is the most exploited worker in Cuba today, [the government earns] millions of dollars, making them work abroad and paying them a stipend, and those who stay here earn less than a driver or a bricklayer. I know surgeons who still have to bicycle to the hospital to operate,” emphasizes María Elena.

According to the article The Current State Of Social Welfare In Cuba by the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago published by the think tank Cuba Possible,”In 1989 Cuban social welfare surpassed many of the socialist countries and led the majority of Latin America,” but this changed with the demise of the USSR.

Mesa-Lago believes that such levels were possible because of “the social commitment of the government and the support of the Soviet Union,” which according to his calculations disbursed some 65 billion dollars to support its ally in the Caribbean.

The current economic situation does not presage greater economic incentives for the health sector. The Cuban GDP contracted by 0.9% in 2016, among other reasons because of the crisis in Venezuela and the 18% reduction in the purchase of professional services (especially those offered by doctors), the main source of foreign exchange income for Cuba.

“Despite economic difficulties, Cuba maintains its universal and free healthcare system,” says Mesa-Lago. However, he confirms that the number of hospitals, hospital beds and medical personnel has fallen abruptly. In the case of doctors’ offices or family doctor homes-cum-offices, the number declined from 14,007 in 2007 to 10,782 in 2016.

The number of hospitals decreased by 46.6% and that of polyclinics by 9.2%. All rural hospitals and rural and urban posts were closed in 2011, with patients referred to regional hospitals, but the time and cost of transport increases and for emergency it is more risky,” adds Mesa-Lago.

Number of beds, hospitals and polyclinics in Cuba.

Regarding the quality of the services, the economist raises serious doubts about the deterioration of infrastructure and the reduction of diagnostics and costly tests. “There is a severe shortage of medicines (92.3% of basic products are unavailable), of supplies for surgery, and the patients must provide sheets, pillows and other necessities,” he adds.

According to the National Office of Statistics and Information, after the beginning of the Raulist reforms between 2008 and 2016, the number of health personnel has fallen by more than 22%. The number of technicians decreased by 54% and that of nurses by 16%. The number of doctors, however, increased 19%.

More than 40,000 doctors have been sent to work in foreign countries, so instead of having a doctor for every 127 inhabitants, as presumed by the Government, Mesa-Lago calculates that there is actually one for every 234 Cubans resident on the island, a level similar to that of 1993, the worst year of the economic crisis during the so-called Special Period, a time of severe economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its support for Cuba. The situation is even worse in the specialties that have more personnel working abroad.

“The export of health professionals brings the country an income of about eight billion dollars per year, but it reduces access to medical services within Cuba,” summarizes Mesa-Lago. Hence the long lines involved in waiting for healthcare services on the island and the overall degradation of the healthcare system.
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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.

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. continue reading

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.

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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.

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)

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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.