First Group of Cuban Doctors Arrives in Miami after the End of the ‘Parole’ / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 6 February 2017 – Two dozen health professionals who abandoned their Cuban medical missions abroad arrived this afternoon at the Miami International Airport from Colombia. This is the first group to arrive in the United States after the end of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP).

“This is a triumph for the whole Cuban American community, our organization and the offices of the Cuban American congressmen who have worked so that these guys can get the right deal, and their petitions were satisfactorily answered,” said Julio Cesar Alfonso, president of the organization Solidarity Without Borders (SSF) which supports Cuban doctors.

Yerenia Cedeno, a 28-year old Cuban doctor, characterized the situation they experienced in Venezuela as “horrible.” She escaped five months after arriving at the mission, pushed by insecurity and the precarious conditions where they worked. continue reading

“You would find out that they took the phone from this one or robbed that one on the minibus. It’s horrible,” explains Cedeno.

The doctor adds that she could not go back to Cuba because there she “would be marginalized and looked at badly.”

“They put you in another place, not in your job because they look down on you because you don’t agree with what you experienced and for what you were badly prepared,” she adds.

The doctor felt exploited in Venezuela, where she shared her work with her husband, also a doctor, who accompanied her on her trip to the United States but did not want to make a statement to the press.

Their plan is to take their little three-year old daughter who lives in Guantanamo out of Cuba and resume their studies in the United States.

“I want to work as a doctor or something similar. This is the start of a new life,” she says.

This past January 12, the then-president of the United States, Barack Obama, eliminated the CMPP, a program established under the administration of Republican George Bush that in a decade allowed the flight of more than 8,000 Cuban health professionals.

Cuban Health Personnel Received through Cuban Medical Professionals Parole

 

According to the non-profit organization Solidarity Without Borders, which helps integrate these doctors into the US health system, it helps those fleeing from the biggest human trafficking system in the modern history of the western hemisphere.

Arisdelqui Mora, a young Cuban who escaped the Island four years ago on a raft, waited for her half-sister Arianna Reyes, a Cuban doctor who escaped from the mission in Venezuela. The happiness of the reunion, which included the grandmother of both, received wide media coverage.

“We have been separated but during the whole time we remained in communication through the networks,” explains Mora to 14ymedio.

“They have worked a lot,” she adds.

Celia Santana, a dentist, only spent five months in Venezuela.

“Venezuela is much worse than my country. I never imagined that it would be like that. That country is a disaster, and of course the Venezuelan people are not to blame,” explains the doctor.

She spent five months awaiting the parole in order to travel to the United States.

“It’s absurd to end the program. They should have taken other measures,” she says.

“Cubans escape because of the economic situation and also because of the politics because they want freedom of expression.”

Mildre Ester Martinez, recently arrived in Miami, appreciates the help received through the media and the service of Solidarity Without Borders.

“I did not feel right. I was disgusted, disappointed by all the work we did there. I thank God to be here,” she added.

Maikel Palacios, health professional and spokesman for the group of Cubans, reminded that although Cuba has said publicly that they can rejoin the public health system, “they don’t let defectors enter the country for eight years.”

Health worker Veidy Diaz, from Cuba, is received by her family and friends on arriving at MIA from Colombia (NH).

Palacios also questioned the supposed good will of the Island’s government when the official communication from the Minister of Public Health did not mention the frozen bank accounts that the aid workers lose once they abandon the mission.

“They don’t talk about the money. There are people who have up to 7,000 dollars, and they lose it all the day they decide to escape,” he said.

The Cuban government appropriates two-thirds of the salary earned by the Cubans abroad. They are generally sent to the most remote places in deplorable working conditions. In countries like Brazil they do not have the right to receive their family while the aid program lasts, even though the laws of that country permit it.

Solidarity Without Borders is in the middle of a campaign to re-establish the Parole program for Cuban doctors. Currently they are working with the offices of Cuban American congressmen in order to present a proposal to President Donald Trump to reinstate the CMPP.

“We will keep working so that our colleagues may reach the land of freedom and in the near future the Parole program will be re-established for professionals who are in third countries,” explained the president of SSF, Julio Cesar Alfonso.

According to statistics from SSF more than 69 Cuban doctors have been killed in Venezuela in the last 10 years. The Cuban government has divulged that currently more than 50,000 professionals from the Island are dispersed throughout more than 60 countries worldwide.

Working conditions and political pressure push thousands of professionals to accept the missions proposed by the Cuban government. Even though the salary was increased in 2014, the average salary of a doctor in Cuba is about 60 dollars a month.

The massive exportation of health services has generated income for the government on the order of 8.2 billion dollars a year in 2014 according to official sources.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Dozens Of Cuban Doctors Stranded In Colombia Will Travel To The United States / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of Cuban doctors stranded in Colombia protests about the delay in US visas. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 2 February 2017 — Dozens of Cuban doctors stranded in Colombia are preparing to travel to the United States on Monday after receiving a visa as part of the recently repealed Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program.

The doctors will be the first to reach North American soil after the end of the program that, every year, sheltered every year hundreds of health professionals who escaped from Cuban medical missions abroad.

“There will be more than 20 of us who will fly on Monday, because another flight planned for Friday was suspended,” explains Maikel Palacios by telephone from Bogota. continue reading

The health worker, who spent six months in Colombia after escaping from the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela, says he lives in “an atmosphere of hope among the hundreds of physicians stranded in that country.”

“The news that comes to us from Miami is encouraging. Solidarity Without Borders has been interested in our case,” he explains.

“We are worried about more than 20 professionals who escaped the mission before the program was eliminated and now they have no way to reach the United States and cannot return to Cuba”

Solidarity Without Borders is a non-governmental organization created by Cuban doctors who fled the countries to which the Cuban Government had sent them. Its purpose is to help colleagues, once they arrive in the United States to revalidate their titles and integrate into that country’s medical system.

According to Palacios, dozens of visas have been issued since last January when former President Barack Obama, in a surprise move, gave in to the old request of the government of Raul Castro and repealed the program created by George Bush in 2006.

The export of health personnel generated income for Cuba ion the order of US $8.2 billion in 2014.

In the ten years of existence of the CMPP more than 8,000 doctors and health personnel escaped to the United States.

“We are worried about more than 20 professionals who escaped the mission before the program was eliminated and now they have no way to reach the United States and cannot return to Cuba,” Palacios explains.

Personnel who leave medical missions are prohibited from returning to Cuba for eight years and are considered “deserters” by the Cuban authorities.

Statistics Reflect The Serious Crisis Of The Cuban Education System / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

To ensure the presence of a teacher in front of the classroom, the government has had to move teachers from one region to another from the country to another. (Telesur)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 February 2017 – The rapid aging of the population, joined with the reduction in available resources and the decline in the quality of teaching, are three of the features with which the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago has characterized the situation of Cuba’s educational system.

“In 2007, the government of Raul Castro declared that he could not sustain the expenses of the educational system inherited from the previous administration, since then the investment in education and social spending in general have been reduced,” Mesa Lago explained on Saturday at a conference sponsored by the Center for Coexistence Studies.

“It was supposed that Cuba was going to have the same indicators as Uruguay by 2025, but today not only has it reached the level of that country, it has surpassed it,” said the researcher referring to the aging of the population. continue reading

Cuba is now the oldest country on the continent and this has a direct impact on the education system. The students enrolled in primary school have been fewer year after year. As has the numbers in their productive years, which in the opinion of the economist poses a serious danger, because that segment of the population is responsible for financing society’s old and young.

General indicators of education in Cuba. Blue: Teaching positions. Black: Enrollment

Specifically, the education system has seen its budget shrink by 4 percentage points between 2008 and 2015.

Some of the measures that Raul Castro took when taking power were the closure of “schools in the countryside,” (boarding schools), as well as the gradual elimination of more than 3,000 university seats opened by his brother Fidel in the years of the Battle of Ideas. There has also been a progressive readjustment in schools, closing those with less enrollment, and moving the remaining students to other educational centers.

Castro also eliminated costly programs like social worker programs, which graduated thousands of young people who ended up controlling fuel consumption at gas stations or handing out refrigerators and light bulbs in massive exchange programs. Programs for emerging teachers and art instructors were also dismantled, while universities for older adults and the use of technological devices in classrooms were reduced.

Between 1989 and 2007 there was an increase of the offerings of careers in the area of ​​humanities and social sciences were greatly increased, while university-related careers in the natural sciences were greatly reduced.

With Raul Castro in command, the panorama changed radically with a decrease of 83% in humanistic careers and a 13% increase in those related to the natural sciences.

However, university enrollment declined by 30% in 2014, a trend shared by other sectors, such as secondary education, where enrollment dropped by 11%.

Mesa Lago recognizes that universal and free access to education is a very important achievement that has had positive effects “in the lower income sectors such as Afro-Cubans, women and peasants.” However, the researcher emphasized that the ideologization of education and absolute control of the State on educational projects are its most important shortcomings.

Another criticism, in the opinion of Mesa Lago, is teachers’ salaries, which are among the lowest in the continent. The average salary of the educational sector is 537 Cuban pesos, which is equivalent to 21.40 dollars a month.

“Cuba has extraordinary human capital, but it is lost because it emigrates to other economic endeavors that have higher remuneration,” he explained.

According to a study carried out by the academic, in 2015 real wages adjusted for inflation only covered 28% of the purchasing power of incomes in 1989.

In order to guarantee the presence of a teacher in front of the classroom, the Government has had to transfer teachers from one region to another, as has been the case in Matanzas and Havana, where there is a significant presence of teachers from the eastern region of Cuba.

Although Cuba does not participate in the international examinations that measure the quality of educational programs, the government itself has offered a mea culpa for the deterioration of the system.

Comparisons of educational spending at a percent of GDP

Mesa Lago proposes eleven points to take into account in the future of the management of the educational system. According to the economist, resources must focus on the population most in need in the poorest provinces. The demand for work for training programs should also be taken into account.

To achieve the sustainability of the system, the economist proposes to collect tuition in higher education from those with a high income. The education system must be open and oriented to the world market.

Another important aspect is to offer more university careers in those specialties of greater demand. The fair payment to teachers and the opening to private education, through the de-ideologization of the educational system, would be indispensable for the future of the Island.

Finally, the academic proposes to restore the financial autonomy of the research centers so that they can attract international investments and allow self-employment in the educational area.

Coexistence Profiles Future Proposals For Cuban Education And Culture / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Carmelo Mesa-Lago during his presentation at the Coexistence Study Center meeting. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 January 2017 — A pluralistic education, deeply democratic, with a privileged use of technology and communications together with a vision of culture open to universality: these were some of the proposals of the third meeting of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) for the future of Cuba held this weekend in Miami.

The Cuban think tank, based in Pinar del Rio, held its meeting at Florida International University (FIU) within the framework of an journey of thought for Cuba. A similar process is taking place in parallel on the island, although that meeting had to be suspended in the face of the repression of the political police. Paradoxically, the prohibition decreed by the authorities facilitated greater interaction through alternative means such as email. continue reading

Dagoberto Valdés, director of the CEC, offered an overview of the national reality that, in his opinion, is marked by several elements, including the country’s economic crisis “in free fall,” the death of Fidel Castro and the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who touched American soil to remain in the country, regardless of whether they had a visa.

The analysis of Cuban culture involved preparing a list of paradigmatic personalities, institutions and referential processes that make up the nucleus of the nation’s identity. It also addressed “weaknesses” and “negative features” in the country’s cultural processes.

With regards to education, there was a discussion of pedagogical models that tend to strengthen ethical values ​​and individual autonomy.

“The projects presented seek to clarify the roots of identity that should be rescued and maintained, as well as detail models, content and methodologies. Also, the types of institutions and educational spaces that should predominate in the future, and what the profile of an educator should be,” said the press release issued by the institution.

Four sessions enriched the meeting, including one led by the economist Carmelo Mesa Lago, another by anthropologist and journalist Miriam Celaya, as well as two led by members of the editorial team of Coexistence magazine, Dagoberto Valdes and Yoandy Izquierda.

The meeting at the FIU, together with the work being done in Cuba, has enabled the drafting of 45 legislative proposals for a new Cuban legal framework.

The results of the workshops will be compiled by the Center’s Academic Council and the Board of Directors and published on its website.

Voices Of Official Journalism Strike Against A Foreign Correspondent / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Screenshot of the article that triggered the wave of criticism about Fernando Ravsberg’s blog. Headline: “Self-employment advances at a tortoise’s pace” (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 January 2017 — The controversy between the most radical wing of Cuban officialdom and the correspondent of Uruguayan origin resident in Cuba, Fernando Ravsberg, is rising in tone.

The latest blasts from the most orthodox defenders of “revolutionary” journalism call out nine alleged false pieces of news from the communicator. The list is preceded by a phrase resuscitated from former leader Fidel Castro, who in 2006 called the then BBC correspondent in Havana “the greatest liar,” for daring to question his energy revolution in the midst of blackouts. continue reading

The animosity toward Ravsberg is not new; he was fired from the BBC and is now a correspondent for the leftist Spanish publication Publico. Last August the vice president of the Journalists and Writers Union (UPEC), Aiza Hevia, launched the first darts against the journalist for his defense of the ousted official journalist José Ramírez Pantoja, of Radio Holguin. On that occasion she even floated the idea of ​​expelling him from the country.

“The pack is coming, hungry for revenge,” said Ravsberg through his blog, Letters from Cuba.

Last August the vice president of the Union of Journalists and Writers, Aixa Hevia launched the first darts against the journalist for his defense of the ousted official journalist José Ramírez Pantoja, of Radio Holguin

“They shout that I am part of conspiracy of the international information monopolies against the Cuban Revolution but they omit that I work on a leftist publication because it doesn’t help their defamation campaigns,” he said

The latest controversy arose when Ravsberg published a critical note about the Cuban economy on his blog, accompanied by a caricature of a tortoise leaving a trail with the colors of the Cuban flag. This led to several official journalists feeling especially offended.

Carlos Luque Zayas launched the first stone from a blog. Under the title “Ravsberg: From Insult to Manipulation,” the journalist wrote an article to “protest” the use of national symbols. Next, from Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, Pedro de la Hoz wrote, “You can agree or disagree with the contents of the controversial note, but the grotesque manipulation of one of our patriotic symbols cannot be overlooked.”

Ravsberg counterattacks saying that in the Cuban media the image of the flag is used indiscriminately. He offers as an example the case of the “thousands of flags” which everyone walks over in every parade organized by the authorities in the Plaza of the Revolution.

For the Uruguayan journalist, who spent more than 20 years working on the island as a correspondent for foreign media, “there is a lot more than offended patriots” behind the attacks on his work.

For the Uruguayan journalist, who spent more than 20 years working on the island as a correspondent for foreign media, “there is a lot more than offended patriots” behind the attacks on his work.

“There is a campaign organized by the extremists,” he says, with the Cuban government’s intention “for years” to expel him from the country.

“They do not support a different voice, nor different optics. For extremists the only truth is ‘their truth’ and all other criteria must disappear or at least remain in a fearful silence while they become the only voice, “he adds.

In the revolutionary blogosphere, there are those who even questioned his seriousness as a journalist. Iroel Sánchez, one of the most sectarian (and official) bloggers on the island and also a staunch critic of Ravsberg, accuses him of being “promoter of apocryphal interviews with anonymous subjects.”

Ravsberg, who was criticized in the past for his closeness to the regime, defends himself by saying that “no matter how much the obscurantist forces do,” Cuba advances.

According to the journalist, with regards to the alternative digital media that has emerged during recent years on the Island, “a way of doing a journalism has emerged that is already far removed from the infantile topics of the extremes.”

“They call on the government to use force because they know they are incapable of participating in a battle of ideas, where they would have to fight with arguments and proposals.”

Mexico Deports 91 Cuban Migrants / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban migrants on the border between Mexico and the United States. (Networks)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Chiapas, 20 January 2017 — The Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM) issued a press release Friday stating that 91 Cubans had been repatriated to the island after the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy that would have allowed them to obtain asylum on reaching the United States.

“In compliance with the provisions of the Law of Migration, 91 foreigners of Cuban origin were sent this morning, from the airport of Tapachula, Chiapas, to their country, after Cuban authorities granted them recognition of their nationality*,” explains the press release.

The group was composed of 20 women and 71 men who, according to the INM, were waiting for the departure office to allow them to reach the US border. continue reading

González fears that on his return, life in Havana, where he is from, will become “a hell”

Yadel Gonzalez Sagre is one of those Cubans. He had been interned in Tapachula for 19 days, waiting for the document to continue to the United States, but in the early hours of this Friday he was forcibly removed from the “21st Century Immigration Station.”

“Suddenly they told us that they were going to deport us and they took us all out of there. It was terrible, they beat us and threatened us. Then they shoved us into vans and from there we were taken directly to the airport and they have been sending us on airplanes in small groups,” he says through the app Messenger.

González fears that on his return, life in Havana, where he is from, will become “a hell.”

“We live in a country with no rights,” he says.

According to the INM, the 91 Cubans “were returned to their country of origin in a plane belonging to the Federal Police.” However, both González and other Cuban migrants claim that they have been transferred in civilian aircraft, which could indicate an even greater number of returnees.

Since the end of the policy dry feet / wet feet, hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in Mexico when they tried to reach the United States

The INM notes that the departure office, provided for in the Migration Law, “is a facilitation measure that is provided to foreigners who do not have their nationality recognized by the authorities of their countries. It gives them permission to travel legally in the national territory for 20 days so that they can [have time to] regularize their migratory situation in Mexico or leave the country.”

In the case of Cubans, the consulate general of that country agreed to recognize the nationality of 91 of its citizens, applied for by the Mexican immigration authority to facilitate the return.

Since the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy, hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in Mexico when they tried to reach the United States. According to unofficial data, there are 300 Cubans at the “21st Century Migration Station” in Chiapas in southern Mexico and several hundred more in the cities bordering the United States.

*Translator’s note: Cuba refuses to automatically recognize the Cuban nationally of people who leave the country illegally.

The Mummified Corpse Of A Rafter, Witness Of The Migratory Drama / 14ymedio, Mario Penton


Video of the disappeared rafters building the raft

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 19 January 2017 — A picture of the Virgin of Regla, the identity cards of two brothers and a mummified corpse of a Cuban moored alongside the remains of a raft is the only evidence that remained of the six men who escaped from Cuba’s Isle of Youth to Central America This summer looking to reach the United States.

Missing for six months, the discovery of the remains of a man on the beaches of Corpus Christi last fall shocked his relatives, most of them humble fishermen on the Isle of Youth.

In early October a shrimp boatman from Port Aransas informed the US Coast Guard that he had found a raft with a body, as reported to Entravisión a local television channel. continue reading

Authorities attempted to contact the Pupo Pupo family in Cuba for sample comparison, but the Cuban embassy in Washington did not facilitate communication

The authorities were able to confirm that it was a man in an advanced state of decomposition. In the pockets of the victim they found the identity cards of Juan Antonio Pupo Pupo and Amauris Pupo Pupo, next to a picture of the Virgin of Regla.

Heraldo Peña, a forensic investigator in Nueces County, explained via telephone to this newspaper that, because of the condition of the body, it was not possible to identify the victim, but DNA samples were kept for comparison to relatives who might appear later.

“We could see that it was a man and we determined that he died because of the lack of food and water,” said Peña, who also added that because of the saltpetre the remains were mummified.

“It was not possible to conclude if the corpse corresponds to any of the identifications that he carried,” he says.

An official related the case, who did not want to be identified, said that since the first clues were known about the possible Cuban origin of the deceased, the authorities tried to contact the Pupo Pupo family in Cuba to make the comparison of the DNA samples, but the Cuban embassy in Washington did not facilitate communication.

“It is not allowed to speak about the role of the Cuban Consulate in the investigation because now we want to have better relations with Cuba,” said the official, adding that everything possible was done before burial of the body in a graveyard for the indigent.

“It is not allowed to speak about the role of the Cuban Consulate in the investigation because now we want to have better relations with Cuba”

This version does not agree with the statements of Hugo Vega, officer in charge of the US Border Patrol’s Missing Migrant Initiative.

Vega maintains that the Cuban consular section promised to provide fingerprints and information that would enable identification of the alleged Cuban.

“We try to get the deceased migrants identified by their relatives,” says the official from the state of Texas. Since the case was heard, the Border Patrol agent contacted Noyri Muñoz, the sister of one of the rafters residing in Spain.

14ymedio contacted the press office of the Cuban Embassy in Washington via email in order to confirm this information but received no reply.

Approximate route of the rafters who disappeared after leaving Cuba

The identity cards carried by the body found south of Corpus Christi correspond to two brothers of the Pupo Pupo family, who along with four other rafters have been missing since last July.

The group, initially composed of 13 men, left the Isle of Youth on a precarious boat to try to reach Mexico or Central America and from there to continue their journey to the United States.

After about 15 days of navigation and the breakdown of the engine, they decided to separate. The boat was made of boards and truck tires, so according to the testimony of Guillermo Ramirez, the only survivor of the crossing who is in the United States, they divided the raft in hopes of being found more easily.

According to Ramírez, at least four boats passed by and did not help them

Ramirez, like the rest of the survivors who were repatriated to Cuba from Mexico, does not want to respond to questions from the press. The only testimony about what happened he told a family member this summer.

A group of seven men stayed in half the boat and six others headed off in the other half to increase the chances of a boat finding them.

According to Ramírez, at least four boats passed by and did not help them. The group of seven drifting rafters were rescued by the supply vessel MV Fugro Vasilis, 130 miles from Arrecife Alacranes, north of the Yucatan peninsula. Of the other six nothing is known at the moment.

The names of the disappeared are José Armando Muñoz López, Luis Velásquez Osorio, Rafael Rives Rives, Yoendry Rives del Campo, Amauri Pupo Pupo and Juan Antonio Pupo Pupo.

“We don’t know anything of my husband,” the wife of Amauris Pupo Pupo said by telephone from the Isle of Youth. “We all consider him dead, it is better not to continue with this tragedy,” she adds.

According to the woman’s statements, they have not received any official communication about the finding of the corpse, but through other relatives they are kept informed of the case..

“Their mother is the one who has suffered most through all this. She will end up in a hospital with so much suffering,” she adds.

“We know nothing of my husband,” said the wife of Amauris Pupo Pupo. “We all consider him dead, it is better not to continue with this tragedy”

For Noyri Muñoz, sister of José Armando Muñoz López, hope is the last thing that is lost.

“I have brought my nephew to live with me in Spain. He did not have the opportunity to see videos about the rafters and the migratory drama in Cuba, and every time he does he gets very ill,” says Muñoz, 48.

Muñoz’s mother remains on the Isle of Youth with her sister-in-law.

“At least I have the consolation that wherever he is, my brother will be happy to see that his son was able to leave Cuba, which was why he launched himself into the sea: to have freedom and prosperity,” she says.

Thousands Of Cubans Stranded Along The Continent Put Their Hope In Trump / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Elisabet Casero (right) defected one day before the United States eliminated the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 January 2017 — Abandoned to their fate on islands, in jungles and at borders, thousands of Cubans have not recovered from the surprise measure of Barack Obama’s administration that frustrated the trip for which they sold their few belongings in Cuba to venture to reach American soil.

With a soft voice, sometimes broken by emotion and sadness, Elisabet Casero Fernández, a Cuban dentist who fled Venezuela a week ago, laments the situation in which her compatriots have been left.

Casero escaped one day before the United States eliminated its Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program – through which doctors who deserted their missions abroad were allowed to settle in the United States – and the policy of wet foot/dry foot, by which Cubans who touched land in the United States were allowed to stay and become legal residents. continue reading

Cuban doctors go abroad with an official passport, which is why on the border between Colombia and Venezuela they are easily identified and handed over to the Cuban authorities

“We believed in American legality, in the opportunity to rebuild our lives away from a government that does not allow us to be free and that clings to not changing,” she says from Bogota.

Cuban doctors go abroad with an official passport, which is why on the border between Colombia and Venezuela they are easily identified and handed over to the Cuban authorities, who will forcibly repatriate them and retaliate.

“I had to cross the jungle on a motorcycle. It was the only way to circumvent the surveillance that doctors are subjected to,” she explains.

Leaving is expensive. Dr. Casero earned barely 27,000 bolivars a month (less than 10 dollars when exchanged on the street) while working in the state of Carabobo. In order to flee, she had to save as much as she could from her meager salary.

“The Cuban medical mission also did not give us money for water and gas, we had to rely on the ‘solidarity of friends’,” she told us.

In practice, the Cuban authorities asked their doctors to have Venezuelan patients pay for the cost of these basic services.

The decision to travel to Venezuela was also made under pressure, according to the doctor. “They told us that we should go on a mission. If you refuse, you can lose even your career because they call you a counterrevolutionary,” she says.

According to Casero, once in Venezuela she understood the urgency of the Cuban Ministry of Health.

“You are a mainstay of the medical mission,” they were told. The reality, according to this young woman of 24 years, is that Venezuela “pays more” for dentists than for other doctors, so they had to work more hours and were carefully monitored to enforce the statistics of consultations in exchange for which the Venezuela Government pays Cuba in oil.

“I did not even have the opportunity to finish my residency,” she adds.

The doctors are carefully monitored to enforce the statistics of consultations in exchange for which the Venezuelan Government pays Cuba in oil

With the recent changes, even Cuban doctors who have already applied for the CMPP program will be treated like any other migrant, so the dentist’s hopes of resolving her case are increasingly distant.

“When I arrived at the US embassy in Bogotá, they told me that I could no longer ask for asylum. Now that I have deserted I cannot enter Cuba for eight years and if they catch me, I will end up being retaliated against,” he says.

Her money that, as a stimulus, the Cuban Government deposited in an account in a bank in Cuba, has already been expropriated, she learned directly from her mother, whom she had lived with.

In Colombia hundreds of doctors are waiting for a favorable decision from the US embassy. An indeterminate number are in Brazil where, in 2016, 1,439 doctors benefited from the CMPP.

But doctors are not the only ones affected. There are also dozens of emigrants who are transiting Central America after their departure from Ecuador and Guyana. They seek to reach Panama by going through the Darien Gap, one of the most dangerous jungles in the world.

In Trinidad and Tobago, of a group of 15 Cubans detained by the immigration authorities, there are only six left. All the others have been forcibly repatriated to Cuba.

“The Cuban embassy is involved in this and we are desperate. There were political refugees among us, but they did not care,” explains Baldomero Despaigne speaking from that Caribbean country.

“They are preparing everything to return all of us who are still here. We need help,” he says.

In Suriname, another group of Cubans, including women members of the Ladies in White with their children, are asking for clemency to reach the United States.

In the Caritas hostel in Panama, in less than a week more than 230 refugees have arrived, waiting for the American administration to grant a grace period

In the Caritas hostel in Panama the presence of Cuban migrants has increased significantly. In less than a week more than 230 refugees have arrived for the US administration to grant a grace period that allows them to reach their destination.

“They are calling by phone to indicate that they will continue to arrive from the jungle. At least 70 migrants are announced for the next few hours,” said Deacon Victor Berrío, who is in charge of the institution.

However, the director of Panama’s National Service of Migratio, Javier Carrillo, announced that undocumented Cubans must leave the country. “The law is clear, they must leave the national territory,” Carrillo told this newspaper.

Some of these migrants have not stopped at the announcement of the end of the policy of wet foot-feet and continue their way towards the American border. On Tuesday, the presidential adviser Ben Rhodes said the US does not host the Cubans who were on the border of that country and Mexico.

“We are not going to stop, we will continue to the border, we have spent a lot of time to escape from Cuba and we have no desire to go back, we have no house or money or anything,” says Yuniel Ramos, a migrant who left everything and crossed Central America from Ecuador. Now he is about to cross Mexico.

“The Siglo XXI Migrant Station in Tapachula is full of Cubans, people do not want to go there because they leave you in jail,” says Miguel Antunez, another Cuban who is in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

This situation of defenselessness makes migrants the victims of scammers and corrupt officials

“The lines are long to get the safe passage and cross Mexico. They gave me an appointment for the second week of February,” he adds. This situation of defenselessness makes migrants the victims of scammers and corrupt officials.

“An attorney with connections inside Migration is giving Cubans papers for $500. Even the Migration officials themselves tell you that if you give them money they will move your turn up to the next day,” adds Antunez.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Cubans continue to arrive from Central America. Next to the US border dozens of Cubans wait to see what the new White House tenant will do.

“Trump is the only hope we have left,” says Antunez. “Obama has betrayed us, and he went to Cuban to become the friend of Cubans. Trump is the only hope left to us,” says Antunez.

____________________

This article is part of an arrangement between 14ymedio and El Nuevo Herald.

The Drama of Hundreds of Cubans Who Have Their Bags Packed / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in various Latin American countries in their flight to the US. (Archive).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Havana/Miami, 14 January 2017 – Yeny Varela cried bitterly this Thursday when she heard on national television about the immediate end to the wet foot/dry foot policy.

Repatriated to Cuba from Mexico after a long month-and-a-half trip from Ecuador in 2014, and after raising the necessary funds to leave the country again, her hopes of escape from the Island were ruined.

“I did everything to get to the United States where I have my elderly aunt and uncle. I went to the embassy, and they denied me a visa, I walked from Ecuador, and the Mexicans deported me, the last thing I had managed was a work contract in Mexico for which I paid thousands of dollars, and now I have lost everything,” she laments.

At 32 years of age, this young Havanan believes that the best years of her life are behind her.

“And now where do I go?” she says. continue reading

“They (the US government) are doing that because they believe that they are going to force a change, but it’s not going to happen,” she says. Although everyone is “sick” of that system, no one can protest because “they disappear you,” she says.

“Do you really believe they are going to give you a visa at the embassy? No one believes that. Don’t you realize that once someone has a visa he’s going to stay?” she adds.

Varela is not the only one dressed up with no place to go. In Villa Clara, Rosa, age 26, had sold her house and all her belongings to begin the dangerous trip through Guyana.

Cuban women stranded while trying to make their way to the US through Central America. (EFE)

Her intention was to make the trip that thousands of other migrants have made in recent years to get to the southern border of the United States. After the immigration policy change, she is “devastated.”

“Our intent was to leave the country in order to live a little better. There are no opportunities here,” she explains. The Villarena does not plan, however, to go to the United States embassy to seek political asylum.

“I don’t involve myself in politics, that doesn’t interest me. I wanted to leave Cuba for economic reasons,” she explains.

Now she will have to start again from scratch. Meanwhile she decided to live with her mother.

Not only in Cuba were migration plans cut short. Throughout the continent hundreds of Cubans who were headed to the United States border have seen their plans thwarted.

“I never get involved in politics at all, but Obama has been worse than Pontius Pilate, seven days from leaving the presidency, it was not for him to have done such a thing,” says Maria Isabel, a Cuban who lives in Argentina and was preparing her trip to the United States.

“I have left everything behind. I was just taking a small step here in order to continue my journey,” she says.

According to the Cuban, who spent three months awaiting papers to continue to Mexico, the most misguided thing about the Obama administration’s decision is that it “tackles the consequences but not the causes.”

“How many people have risked or lost their lives? The degree of despair and frustration is so great that we can only cry,” she laments.

The latest statistics from the US Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services calculate that 56,406 Cuban citizens benefitted in the last fiscal year from the wet foot/dry foot policy.

After the resumption of relations between Cuba and the US, a migratory crisis unfolded which had regional repercussions when several thousand Cubans were stranded in Central America after Nicaragua refused to permit the islanders to pass.

With the later closure of the Costa Rican and Panamanian borders, the crisis spread to Colombia and Ecuador when those countries took steps to prevent mass migration from the Island. Two “air bridges” arranged with Mexico allowed the evacuation of the Cubans; however, since the departure of the planes from Panama in May, hundreds of other migrants continued arriving.

More than 80 Cubans on their way to the United States are in a hostel run by Caritas, a non-governmental organization tied to the Catholic Church.

One of them, Andres, says that “Obama is abominable” and that they did not expect it.

His situation was apparently made worse by the Immigration General Director’s statements only a few hours earlier that Cubans must leave the country.

However, the migrants being sheltered by Caritas have the support of the Catholic Church, which will intervene to prevent their deportation, as explained by Deacon Victor Luis Berrio, head of the organization.

At least those in Panama have protection, says Yuniel Ramos, who together with another 40 Cubans is continuing his journey through Honduras to get to the American border.

“They will have to do something with us because Cuba won’t take us back,” he adds.

But the doors to the United States are now closed for Cubans.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

End of Program for Resettlement in the US Causes Anxiety Among Cuban Doctors Who Have Fled Missions / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban Health Deputy Minister Marcia Cobas greets the island’s doctors at the University of Brasilia. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 January 2017 — Thirty Cuban doctors met Friday in Bogota to protest the ending of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program, which until yesterday allowed Cuban medical personnel working in third countries to qualify for a visa to go to the United States.

The CMPP was created by the administration of Republican George W. Bush in 2006, to enable thousands of professionals to escape from Cuban medical missions abroad.

Havana has long called for its repeal, which was announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday, and had made it a condition for progress in normalizing relations with Washington. continue reading

“We went to protest for them to keep that program that is vital for Cuban doctors,” says Alberto López, a Cuban critical care specialist who escaped from a medical mission in Venezuela.

In ten years, more than 8,000 Cuban professionals have benefitted from this program, especially in countries like Venezuela and Brazil.

“We fear for what could happen to our colleagues. There are many people who are on the way and we do not know what can happen now, because they can neither return to the mission nor to take shelter under the parole program,” explains Lopez.

Havana has long called for its repeal, which was announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday, and had made it a condition for progress in normalizing relations with Washington

Another of the protesters called for the granting of visas to all those who have been waiting in Colombia for a response to their requests.

“We are working as waiters, in markets, in whatever we can. We hardly have money to pay our expenses because we lost everything in our Cuban bank accounts. We’ve been waiting for months, and now Obama comes out with this. And I was counting on it,” he says.

The “healthcare cooperators,” as the Cuban government calls them, are assigned a bank account on the island where each month some of their wages are deposited in dollars. Those accounts, which remain frozen until the end of the mission, are seized by the Government if the doctors desert.

For Dr. Julio César Alfonso, president of Solidaridad sin Fronteras (Solidarity Without Borders) a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Cuban doctors who come to the United States, “it is very regrettable that President Obama leaves such a sad legacy to the Cuban community.”

Alfonso regrets that the new policy does not take into account that Cuba’s healthcare personnel who are working in third countries have the status of “modern slaves.”

“Cuban medical missions are considered one of the largest human trafficking operations that has ever existed in history,” he says.

“Doctors have always tried to escape. What is going to happen now is that it will end the organized ways of escaping from this reality. It is very negative what is happening,” says the doctor, who estimates that more than 3,000 professionals will be in migration limbo because they have escaped the missions but no longer have the certainty they will be accepted in the United States.

” Cuban medical missions are classified as one of the largest human trafficking operations that has ever existed in history”

The Cuban health system has 495,609 workers, according to the most recent data provided by the Government, of which more than 58,000 are specialized doctors. Its cooperation programs, which are funded through international organizations, extend to more than 90 countries in the world, from Africa to Russia.

The discomfort extends among Cuban doctors “on mission” in several countries.

“When health professionals leave Cuba we do it with an official passport. The government appropriates most of our salary and if we escape we are prevented from returning to Cuba for eight years,” explains a doctor living in Brazil who claims to have completed all her paperwork to receive the Parole. However, she asked that her identity not be revealed,” just in case.”

“Yesterday I was very nervous all afternoon, suddenly we got that bucket of cold water. I can only think of the other professionals that this measure leaves without protection. There are hundreds who were waiting for the opportunity to defect,” she explains.

Through the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program, the Brazilian Government, at that time under the presidency of the Workers’ Party and allied with Cuba, hired more than 11,000 doctors through the Pan American Health Organization. The agreement, which included a payment of $ 3,300 per doctor per month, plus the payment of other fees for accommodation, represented significant income for the island’s economy, which in 2014 acknowledged that it received $ 8.2 billion in exchange for “medical services.”

Of the salary agreed to with the Government, only a third is paid to the Cuban professionals.

Since the beginning of the program in 2013, defections have been routine. In 2016, 1,439 health professionals escaped to the United States; another 1,600 took the exams to revalidate their titles in Brazil and to obtain contracts to work their on their own. Marriage has also been another way to escape the control of the Cuban government. According to data provided by the Brazilian authorities, more than 1,000 Cubans have marital ties with citizens of that country.

“I was able to submit my paperwork. Now I have to wait, but what will happen to others who were thinking of fleeing?” asks a Cuban doctor who was in Venezuela.

“At least before you had the security of knowing that if you jumped you would have a place to fall. If you escape now you know you’re playing outside the rules,” an X-Ray specialist, who works in the state of Anzoátegui, said using the vocabulary of sports. “Venezuela is going down the tubes like Cuba but now we have no choice but to stay here.”

Wet Foot-Dry Foot Policy for Cubans Eliminated / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A boat in the florida Straits flies US and Cuban flags. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 January 2017 – [Note: This is an extended version of an article that appeared earlier today.] The Obama administration ended the “wet foot/dry foot” policy that allowed Cuban citizens to stay in the the United States as long as they touched land in that country.

The Obama administration has also eliminated the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program, which was set up under the presidency of Republican George W. Bush, to host the hundreds of doctors fleeing the island’s government from third countries, where they were serving on “medical missions.” continue reading

In an official communication, aired jointly in both countries, the Cuban Government committed to receiving individuals from a list of 2,746 Cubans who were considered inadmissible after the Mariel exodus and others who did not originally appear on the list.

This measure by the United States does away with the entry by land and sea of ​​all Cuban citizens without visas, repealing the “wet foot/dry foot” policy that gave legal status to Cuban migrants who managed to reach US territory.

Cubans awarded permanent residence in the United States (2010-2015. Blue: Number of residence permits. Black: Number of arrivals by land.

From now on, citizens of the island will be treated like any other Latin American migrant.

“And now what do we do?” asks Yuniel Ramos, a Cuban migrant who is in Honduras accompanied by more than forty compatriots heading to the United States.

“We are desperate, in the middle of the jungle, how can Obama bypass Congress and change things without even giving us a period of time to arrive?” he added.

The end of that policy was an old demand from the Cuban government, which called it “criminal” and “responsible for the deaths of thousands of Cubans.”

The “wet foot/dry foot” policy is an executive order, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, following the Rafter Crisis of that era, put into effect after negotiations with the Government of the Island.

“The Government of Cuba agrees to begin accepting the return of Cuban nationals with return orders,” read the press release issued as part of the exchange.

The end of that policy was an old demand from the Cuban government, which called it “criminal” and “responsible for the deaths of thousands of Cubans.”

The presidential adviser who made the announcement in the United States also suggested that the measure is consistent with the strategy proposed by the Administration to promote change in Cuba.

Between 2006 and 2015, more than 8,000 health professionals have arrived in the United States through the Medical Parole Program, according to figures from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In 2015 alone, 1,663 Cuban health professionals were welcomed. The elimination of the CCMP program represents an important triumph for the Cuban government, which earns great profits from the work of its doctors abroad, who are paid only a small portion of the money paid to the Cuban government by foreign governments in exchange for their services.

President-elect Donald Trump threatened to end Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations unless the Cuban government signed a “better deal” with him.

On December 17, 2014 both countries announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations after 50 years, generating a wave of repulsion among the historic exile in Miami.

“Castro uses refugees as pawns to obtain more concessions from Washington, so there is no reason to end the Cuban medical program, which is a reckless concession to a regime that sends its doctors to foreign nations in a modern-day servitude,” said Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“And now what do we do?” asks Yuniel Ramos, a Cuban migrant who is in Honduras accompanied by more than forty compatriots heading to the United States.

“The revocation of the Professional Parole Program for Cuban Doctors was done because that is what the Cuban dictatorship wanted and the White House gave in to what Castro wants, instead of defending the democratic values ​​of the United States,” she added.

According to Alexander Jiménez, a Cuban living in Ecuador, the news left him in shock.

“I had everything ready to go to the United States with my wife, I have a lot of family members on the road, they are in the jungle, we are desperate because we cannot communicate with them and now they cannot continue on their way,” he said.

Dariel Gonzalez, a Cuban health specialist who came to the United States a year ago through the CMPP program, said he had “run out of words.”

“It’s a low blow that Obama is giving to all health professionals who want to escape the slavery to which they are subjected by the Cuban government. This leaves us totally defenseless,”he said.

On the same Thursday that the announcement occurred in Havana and Washington, meetings were held between delegations of both countries to discuss the trafficking of people and the claims of confiscated goods.

Both countries stated, however, that the United States will continue granting 20,000 “exceptional” visas to Cubans on the island to promote safe migration between countries.. The family reunification program will also be maintained.

“It is important that Cuba has a population of young people who become agents of change,” said White House adviser Ben Rhodes.

Cuban exodus by sea to the eee

The White House has made clear that it is aware that the reasons for emigrating are more economic than political.

Cubans who show up at the border will be treated like any other immigrant. They will have the opportunity to explain their motives if they are afraid to return home, according to Ben Rhodes.

According to the announcement, Cuba will change its own immigration policy and will allow Cubans to remain outside the country for a term of up to four years before they lose their right to reside in the country. Until today, Cubans who remained outside the country for more than two years forfeited their right to live in their native country.

Note from the Editor: Contributing to this report were reporters from El Nuevo Herald: Nora Gámez and Abel Fernandez.

 

Cuba’s New Minister of the Interior Inaugurates His Tenure With a Repressive Wave Across the Country / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla, Cuba’s new Minister of the Interior, has unleashed a fierce crackdown across the country (ACN/ Marcelino Vázquez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 11 January 2017 — While in the United States Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, made it clear that human rights will be an important part of Washington’s policy toward Cuba, the island’s police forces carried out repressive actions in different parts of the country.

“The increase in repression is due to several causes, among them a push that the government is making in the last days of Barack Obama’s administration to make it clear to Trump that they do not care about the policy change he has announced towards Cuba,” said José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) speaking from Santiago de Cuba. continue reading

Ferrer denounced the arrest of Jesús Romero and Alexis Rodríguez, activists of his organization who were accused of “posting an opposition sign in the center of the city.”

Among Unpacu members recently detained are also its coordinator, Ovidio Martín Castellanos, and the singer Yuniel Aguilera.

“After the death of his brother, Raul Castro needs to increase terror levels to maintain power,” says Ferrer, who says the government is willing to do anything to eliminate any hint of dissent.

“The increase in repression is due to the push the government is making in the last days of Barack Obama’s administration to make clear to Trump that they do not care about the policy change he has announced towards Cuba”

“They know people are tired of the same thing. When in April we mobilized more than 1,000 people the political police told us that we would never do something like that again,” he adds.

At the other end of the island, the editor of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), Karina Galvez, was the victim of search of her home, which ended up being sealed. Galvez herself, age 48 and an economist by profession, is under arrest for the alleged crime of tax evasion.

The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, called the escalation against the civic project he leads – including the suspension of a planned meeting and multiple arrests – acts of “harassment” by State Security.

Also arrested this day was regime opponent Óscar Elías Biscet, founder of the Emilia Project, which seeks the change of government in the island by means of a popular uprising. After a few hours, Dr. Biscet, who has spent long years in jail, was released.

Activists Eduardo Quintana Suarez, Jose Omar Lorenzo Pimienta and Yoan Alvares, who belong to the same organization, were also arrested, as reported by El Nuevo Herald.

Activist Martha Beatriz Roque was arrested when she attempted to attend the scattering of the ashes of the recently deceased opponent Felix Antonio Bonne Carcassés. She explained to 14ymedio that her detention lasted until two on Wednesday afternoon.

Opponent René Gómez Manzano told this newspaper that they “appealed” to his sanity so that he would not attend the ceremony where the ashes would be scattered, although he finally succeeded in doing so.

This repressive wave unfolds a few hours after the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla

According to a press release from Democratic Directorate in the city of Holguín, human rights activist Maydolis Leiva Portelles, together with her three children, under arrest since November 27, 2016, were brought to trial.

The entire family, according to the press release, including two minors, was the subject of an act of repudiation that included “violent raiding of the home, beatings, and robbery of personal property.”

This repressive wave has been unfolding within a few hours of the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla. Among other prerogatives, the person who controls the portfolio of the Interior Ministry also exercises command over State Security and the National Revolutionary Police.

“With the [previous minister] repression was quite extensive, although it must be said that in Cuba a minister cannot do anything without Raul Castro authorizing it. The policy carried out by Gondín continues with Gandarilla. We will have more repression as the discontent increases,” says José Daniel Ferrer.

In Guantánamo, Lighthouse Rafters Feel Pressure To Return To Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban rafters took refuge in the highest part of a lighthouse in the Florida Keys for fear of being repatriated to Cuba. (Screenshot: WSVN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 9 January 2017 – They crossed the Florida Straits six months ago and in a desperate act took refuge in the American Shoal Lighthouse to avoid being deported to Cuba. A bottle thrown into the sea and miraculously found made known their complaints about the conditions they found on the US Coast Guard cutter. After demonstrating “a well-founded fear” of being repatriated, they were taken to the Guantanamo Naval Base. Today, some members of the group of the “Lighthouse Rafters” feel pressured by the authorities to return to the Cuban-controlled part of the island, and are overwhelmed by the lack of work.

“We want to work, we are refugees, not prisoners,” explains one of the 17 rafters who remain at the base waiting for a third country to decide to receive them as refugees. Having been considered “wet feet” at the offshore lighthouse, they were not able to take advantage of the so-called “wet foot/dry foot” law — the Cuban Adjustment Act — that automatically gives refuge to Cubans who step foot on US soil.

“We are very grateful for all the help they have given us, but we do not understand why we are not allowed to talk to lawyers or work,” he explains. continue reading

Although initially there were 20 emigrants taken to Guantanamo, three of them were returned to the island, two voluntarily and a third when it was discovered that at some time he had worked for Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior, the main repressive organ of the Cuban government.

“We are forbidden to speak to the press about our situation,” explains the rafter and asks to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by the authorities at the Naval Base.

Of the group of 17 men who remain there, 10 are unemployed, according to the testimony of a second rafter who also did not want to give his name.

“We can call our families once a week, but nobody tells us how much longer we have to be here. Some of us work in manual jobs and they pay us $4.97 an hour,” he explains.

According to the migrant, “the number two of the base,” Denis Mojica, has told them twice that if anyone who does not accept the conditions proposed to them, “the door is open to return to Cuba,” a phrase in which they suspect there is hidden pressure to return to the island.

“People came here to interview us, but no one explains to us what our legal situation is and when we can work; they tell us there is no work. It’s very difficult to sit around with our arms crossed all day. The only thing we are asking for is that they let us earn our keep,” he explains.

According to a spokesperson for the US State Department who spoke with 14ymedio, “all the protected migrants who are living on the Guantanamo Naval Base are there voluntarily. They are free to return to their country of origin at any time, but the United States is not pushing them to do so.”

The spokesperson also said that migrants are regularly visited by officials who care about their situation and the most recent inspection visit was made last December.

However, they clarified that the employment opportunities on the base are “limited.”

Apart from the lack of work, refugees emphasize “the excellent care” received from US personnel.

“The take us out walking and with regards to sanitation we have no complaints. We have health coverage and we are given financial aid of 107 dollars on Sunday to buy our food. We also have thirty minutes to talk to our families on the phone,” he adds.

“The first demand was for them to consider the lighthouse to be United States territory, and the rafters as ‘dry feet’ and we lost. Right now we are in the process of appealing,” explains Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Democracy Movement that filed a legal appeal for refugee status for which the rafters fought in the court for a judicial verdict that would allow the rafters to stay in the US.

According to the activist, the group of lawyers who is undertaking their defense pro bono has not lost hope that the judge will declare the structure to which the rafters fled, built 136 years ago seven miles from the Florida Keys, part of US territory.

If this happened, the Cubans could remain in the United States. Otherwise, the State Department must find a third country to host them, a process that can sometimes be extremely long and complex.

Sounds Of War To Drown Out The Economic Crisis In Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Raúl Castro with senior level government staff greets the crowd from the stand in the Plaza of the Revolution. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, 2 January 2017 – With a military march and a “parade of the fighting people” the new year dawns in Cuba. This time there were no tanks in the Plaza of the Revolution, but thousands of Cubans were taken there from their workplaces in order to demonstrate unity with the Communist Party and the figure of Raul Castro in the absence of his brother Fidel, who died on 25 November of last year.

The event was dedicated to the young, “those who are carrying on the work of the Revolution,” to the deceased leader and to the disembarkation from the yacht Granma, which in 1956 brought a handful of revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba who overthrew the government of Fulgencia Batista. All this in a year that is called ‘complicated’ after a fall of 0.9% in the GDP, which reflects the failures of the Raulist reforms and resurrects the old ghosts of the Special Period. continue reading

“It is ironic that they dedicate this demonstration to young people, because they are the first ones who are escaping to wherever they can because that don’t see hope or any possibility of progress in Cuba,” says Manuel Perez, a young Cuban psychologist who emigrated to Argentina looking for better work opportunities.

Residence awarded to Cubans in the U.S. (2010-2015). Upper line: Number of residents. Lower line: Number of arrivals by land.

 

Carlos Amel Oliva, youth leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), shares this view.

For Oliva, the Cuban government is in the midst of “a campaign whose strategy is well thought out” to revive nationalism among young people, following the ideological vacuum left by the reestablishment of relations with the United States.

“Young people are indifferent to these old demonstrations. The only thing that interests many young Cubans is to escape to any country to find what they cannot find in theirs,” he says.

In the last three years more than 100,000 Cubans have arrived in the United States by various means to avail themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act and obtain residence in that country. A large proportion of these migrants are young or of working age, which increases the problem of the aging of the population on the island. In 2025 Cuba will be the oldest country on the continent in demographic terms.

Negative migration balances, coupled with a low level of fertility, the already obsolete just-opened technology park, and the scarcity of foreign investments, which amounted to scarcely 6.5% of what was planned, constitute serious problems facing the country. Added to that is the crisis in Venezuela, the Cuban government’s main ally, which has substantially reduced trade with the country, according to official data.

Cuban trade with Venezuela. Blue: Commercial trade with Venezuela. Green: Cuban exports to Venezuela. Red: Imports from Venezuela.

“When the enemy disappeared, there was no one to fight against. That is something that should be given much attention and hopefully the US administration will maintain an intelligent discourse and offer no reason to revive the old Cold War discourse,” says Oliva, 29, who opposes the regime. This Unpacu leader believes that the warlike message was also addressed to the US government.

For Arnoldo A. Muller, president of the Social Democratic Co-ordination of Cuba, a Cuban opposition organization attached to Cuban Consensus, an umbrella organization that brings together several organizations in exile, the January 2nd march “is a demonstration of strength.”

“They want to maintain the continuity of the system and do not want change. It is a message about who has military control over the country, the regime makes it known to the people that Castroism continues,” he says.

The military parade was barely able to count on some troops trying to recall the significant moments of Cuban independence battles and the struggles against the government of Fulgencio Batista. Transportation in the city was focused on bringing thousands of people from their workplaces, and there were reports of traffic jams due to the terrible state of Havana’s main arteries.

From the province of Pinar del Rio, Dagoberto Valdés, director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, adds that military parades “are a throwback to the culture of war” and “the legacy of a history that has been written about warlike events and not about the development of civil society.”

For Valdes, it is a manifestation “of that tradition that has believed that the triumph of the Cuban nation is to make it strong as a Republic in Arms and not as a Republic of Souls.”

Valdés believes that, on the contrary, it is necessary to “change the logic of war for that of peace, the inheritance of war for the ethical inheritance, the building of the republic over virtue and love.”

After Half a Century of Trying, Cuba Cannot Replace Imports / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A man waits in his ‘bicitaxi’ for a customer to tour the streets of Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 December 2016 — “This is the last thing the ship brought,” you hear a young man say, to refer to one of the most recent products imported and sold on the black market in Havana. Being made abroad is synonymous with quality for many Cubans despite attempts to boost local production through state enterprise in a socialist model.

Decades have passed since the first time Cuba’s rulers said it was necessary to replace imports and increase local production to develop the country, a matter that the executive, presided over by the Castro brothers, has suspended year after year.

For the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, one of the gurus of the national economy, this is a fundamentally “ideological” issue. continue reading

“If the State would prefer to avoid paying the Vietnamese in dollars and allocate at least half of those resources to finance domestic production, it would not be necessary to import rice”

“If the state would prefer to avoid paying the Vietnamese in dollars and allocate at least half of those resources to finance domestic production, it would not be necessary to import rice,” Perez says.

However, Raúl Castro – recognizing that Cuba entered a recession this year, with a 0.9% drop in its gross domestic product – once again hopes to salvage the economy using the same formula that has failed for decades.

“It will be necessary to fulfill three decisive premises: to guarantee exports and timely collection of payments, to increase the national production to replace imports, and to reduce all nonessential expenses,” said Castro before more than 600 deputies in the National Assembly.

Exhortations to reduce imports began almost at the same time as the revolutionary government. The phrase can be found over and over in the speeches of the top leaders, but the figures published by officialdom show that, over and over, it has remained just words.

“Stimulating development and diversification of exports and taking advantage of opportunities to replace imports,” is reflected in the document Theses and Resolutions of the First Congress of the Communist Party in 1975.

In the documents of the Second Congress, celebrated in 1980, the same recommendations can be read almost verbatim, which remain unmet and are reformulated at the next Congress in 1986.

“The essential problem of the country’s economy in the five-year period 1981-1985 was that, although we had more than acceptable growth, it was insufficient where we needed it most, that is, in the export of goods and services and in the replacement of imports,” states the conclusive document of the Third Congress.

“When production increases often there is also an increase in the need to import intermediate products necessary for this production, such that it does not necessarily end up positively affecting the global figure for imports.”

Replacing imports is not a Cuban invention. It is a trade policy based on the premise that a country should try to reduce its dependence on the outside world through the development of its local industry, and it was an ideology in vogue in a post-war Latin America that sought to industrialize third world countries and promoted protectionism.

However, as the Cuban economist Antonio F. Díaz explains in a research paper at the University of Havana on the measurement of the effect of replacing imports (2015), it is not simply a matter of dispensing with imports to develop the local industry.

“It is a complex process,” explains Díaz, who states that the government’s progress in replacing imports cannot be effectively measured because of the absence of official statistics.

Total Exchange and Trade Balance in Cuba (millions of dollars)

“There has been growth in many of the sectors where there is the attempt to replace imports, but when domestic production increases, often there is also an increase in the need to import intermediate products necessary for this production, such that it does not necessarily end up positively affecting the global figure for imports,” he explains.

“Imports are always going to grow, as happens in all countries, but their replacement [with domestic products] as an economic policy is effective when economic growth is greater than the growth in imports,” the expert explains.

Cuba’s balance of trade over the last decades has shown a trend of increasing deficits, which accelerated in 2008 when the balance of trade was negative 10.57 billion pesos.

In the economic policy guidelines promoted by Raul Castro in 2011 as a guide to “perfecting socialism,” the replacement of imports is mentioned 20 times. The term is revisited in the update of those guidelines for the period 2016-2021.

The reduction of the immense Venezuelan subsidy, as well as the fall in the demand of the export of Cuban services abroad, can not be compensated with the increase of the tourism and the remittances

The document calls for “promoting an accelerated and effective process of import replacement, with mechanisms that stimulate and guarantee the maximum possible use of all the capacities available to the country in the agricultural and industrial sectors and in services and human resources.”

In 2015, Cuba reported a decrease of more than 1.5 billion dollars in exports, motivated to a large extent by the deterioration of economic relations with Venezuela, the island’s main trading partner. Official Cuban statistics reveal that the exchange between both nations decreased by more than 3.0 billion dollars in 2015.

The reduction of the immense Venezuelan subsidy (valued at its peak in more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day, part of which Cuba re-exported), as well as the drop in demand for the export of Cuban services abroad – in healthcare and other sectors – cannot be made up for through increases in tourism (3.8 million visitors) and remittances sent to Cubans on the island from family and friends abroad (more than 3.0 billion dollars).

For now it will be necessary to wait for the postponed plenary session of the Central Committee of the Party, originally scheduled for December 2016. The Central Committee must approve the Conceptualization of the Economic and Social Model and an Economic Development Plan to the Year 2030, in which surely the exhortation will be repeated to replace imports and strengthen local industry.