The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The island earns more than 8.2 billion dollars from the "export of health services." (EFE)
The island earns more than 8.2 billion dollars from the “export of health services.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, Mario Penton, 21 June 2016 — Tania Tamara Rodríguez never thought of fleeing the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela and become a “defector” who is prohibited from entering her own country for eight years. The plight of the island’s health professionals in Venezuela has led an increasing number to seek refuge in neighboring countries or to take alternative work to meet their needs in the midst of the economic crisis in that “Bolivarian” nation.

“The situation of doctors and aid workers Cubans is terrible. The whole time you are living under the threat that they send you back to Cuba and you lose your mission. You’re afraid they’ll take away all the money – which is in official accounts in Cuba – and if they take some disciplinary measure they will revoke the mission,” says Rodriguez. While working in a clinic lab in the “Barrio Adentro” mission, her salary of 700 Cuban pesos (about $26 US) is deposited in Cuba and she has the right to an account of 280 dollars a month and a card giving her 25% off on purchases at Foreign Exchange Collection Stores (TDRs) in Cuba. continue reading

In 2014, recognizing that the island earned more than 8.2 billion dollars from the “export of health services, the Cuban government agreed to increase the wages of workers in the sector (to $61 US per month). However, this increase, which came after the dismissal of 109,000 workers, has not raised the pay of Cuban doctors to the average pay for doctors internationally.

In 2014, recognizing that the island earned more than 8.2 billion dollars from the “export of health services, the Cuban government agreed to increase the wages of workers in the sector

Rodriguez arrived in Venezuela from her hometown of Holguin, where she worked in the Máximo Gómez Báez polyclinic after earning a degree in Clinical Laboratory. The desire to economically improve the lives of her 13-year-old daughter led her to choose to travel outside the country in one of the coveted medical missions abroad.

Cuba maintains a “contingent” in Venezuela composed of 28,811 health collaborators, a priority for the government which, since the late Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, has invested over 250 billion in the industry, according to statements by President Nicolas Maduro .

The scheme of paying for medical services with oil has been denounced on numerous occasions by analysts critical of the Caracas government, who accuse it of being a cover for subsidies to Havana, which eventually resells some of the oil on the international market.

Rodriguez has no family in the United States, where she has lived since filing for a visa through the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, offered by the US embassy, and has combined several jobs to raise the money and buy a plane ticket for her daughter. However, when the family took the child to the offices of Cuba’s Interior Ministry to request a passport, she was denied that right, based on the claim that her mother “is serving a mission in Venezuela.”

“I can not understand how in Cuba I can be considered as a doctor on mission, if for more than one year I have been in the United States. Someone has to be collecting the money that the Venezuelan government is paying for me,” says Rodriguez.

According the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, in the last fiscal year it received 2,552 petitions for the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program

According the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, in the last fiscal year it received 2,552 petitions for the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, an initiative established under Republican president George W. Bush, which allows a “medical professional currently conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Government of Cuba” to enter the United States with a visa. Since taking effect in 2006, more than 8,000 professionals have benefited from the program.

Solidarity Without Borders, an non-profit located in the United States, told 14ymedio that in recent years there has been an increase in doctors and healthcare workers taking advantage of the US government program, although not all are accepted, as demonstrated by the 367 applications denied in the last year.

Rodriguez said that upon reaching Venezuela she was assigned to the state of Falcon, along with other Cubans. “Everything in Venezuela is a lie. They forced us to throw out the reagent CKMB, a product in short supply in the nation, but we had to throw it out for the record in the statistics used so we can import more. This was the case with alcohol, bandages, medicines… Everything was produced in Cuba and the Venezuelan government paid,” she denounces.

“We made up lists of people treated and they forced us to live with the minimum, while Cuba took all the money,” she explained. In the time Rodriguez worked as a specialist, Havana allocated to each staffer around 3,000 Bolivars (about $300 US), a figure that has escalated substantially since the beginning of the inflationary crisis in Venezuela and the relentless devaluation of the currency. “Sometimes, I had to have my little ‘under the counter’ job to support myself. Thanks to God, many Venezuelans sympathize with the Cubans and help us,” she explains.

“Perhaps what happened with me is when I decided to escape, I went to the mayor and told him about the whole disaster created by the CDI (Integral Diagnostic Center) and now they want revenge because I denounced it,” she says.

Reinaldo is a Cuban doctor who worked in Anzoategui state, but does not want to give his last name for fear of being punished. “We started out earning 3,000 Bolivars and now we’re at 15,000 Bolivars (about 15 dollars on the black market). The odd things is that it doesn’t mean anything to multiply the wages if they aren’t worth anything in real life,” he laments.

“We started out earning 3,000 Bolivars and now we’re at 15,000 Bolivars (about 15 dollars on the black market)… which isn’t worth anything in real life”

“The conditions we work in are the worst, we are the wage slaves of Cuba. They keep us in groups. Since I arrived, I’ve lived with three doctors from different regions of the island, I have to share my room with someone I don’t know and at six in the evening every day I have check in, like I’m at home.”

The authorities of the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela justify the daily check on aid workers and maintain that it is to protect them due to the high levels of violence in the neighborhoods they serve. The doctors, for their part, consider that it is a practice to keep them under surveillance.

“There are a lot of Cuban State Security agents. The role of these people is to ensure we don’t escape from the mission. On arriving in Venezuela they ask us if we have family abroad, especially in the United States. We all say no, even if we do, because otherwise the surveillance is worse,” says the physician.

The economic situation in the country has become so precarious, he says, that in his last vacation on the island he had to buy cleaning and bath soaps and toothpaste to bring the Venezuela. “When we got here, it was a paradise, they had everything we didn’t have in Cuba. Today it’s the exact opposite. We come thinking about helping our families and it turns out that they are the one who are helping us. If it weren’t for my brother who lives in Miami and sends me remittances, I don’t know what I would do.”

“When we got here, it was a paradise, they had everything we didn’t have in Cuba. Today it’s the exact opposite.”

According to several doctors consulted by this newspaper, cases of violence in which Cuban healthcare workers have been involved are kept secret, even if the person dies.

“It is impossible that we wouldn’t be assaulted here, because here everyone is assaulted. A stray bullet, a thug who doesn’t like you, we’re exposed to all this,” says a Cuban doctor who prefers not to give her name. “One day two children assaulted me, they couldn’t have been more than 12. I had to give them all the money I had, because the guns they were playing with were real,” she says.

The relations of the Cuban medical personnel are also regulated. “They warn you that things can go badly for you if you deal with the squalid (a word used in Venezuela for regime opponents similar to the use of “scum” and “worm” in Cuba).” The doctor says that the intimacy between Venezuelans and Cubans is formally forbidden, “although people manage.”

In the 13 years that Cuban medical missions have been operating in Venezuela, more than 124,000 specialists have passed through that nation. Thousands have fled to the United States and other countries in search of better living conditions. In 2015, Cuba assured “health professionals who have left the country that under the current immigration policy,” if they returned to the island, they would be guaranteed “a work location similar to what they had previously.” However, they put a limitation on it: the returnees will again be under the obligation to request special permission to travel outside the country.

Cubans Hold a Vigil at the Mexican Embassy in Ecuador to Ask for Humanitarian Visas / 14ymedio

Organizers estimated that about 700 people participated in the vigil. (14ymedio)
Organizers estimated that about 700 people participated in the vigil. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 June 2016 –Hundreds of Cubans held a vigil Sunday night outside the Mexican embassy in Ecuador to ask Mexico to grant them humanitarian visas that would allow them to continue their journey to the United States.

The event, attended by Cuban migrants from various parts of the country, had been called a week earlier by the former deputy to Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, Peter Borges. Organizers estimated that some 700 people participated in the vigil, despite the fact that, according to Borges, early morning temperatures dropped to 50 degrees in Quito. continue reading

In the morning, they delivered letters address to Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto requesting an airlift similar to those established by Costa Rica and Panama. The airlift would evacuate thousands of undocumented Cubans in Ecuador which, according to them, total about 5,000 people.

Cubans camped in tents outside the embassy and hung murals with photos of those presumed missing in illegal crossings to reach the United States through the Colombian and Central American jungles.

The migrants hung murals with photos of those believed to be missing in illegal crossings to reach the US. (14ymedio)
The migrants hung murals with photos of those believed to be missing in illegal crossings to reach the US. (14ymedio)

At the vigil there was also a collection of humanitarian aid for Cubans who are in distress or poverty, which will be distributed through recently structured mechanisms.

The migrants also wanted to show their solidarity with their more than 300 compatriots stranded in Turbo, Colombia. The mayor of that town, Alejandro Abuchar, said, “As of now, there is nothing new to report on the status of the Cubans. They should leave the country and continue their journey and no exceptions will be made.”

Several of those stranded in Turbo report that they have fevers and the flu but, according to ombudsman William Gonzalez, health authorities of the municipality maintain that it is a common flu and that their lives are not in danger.

Oscar Biscet Fights For “The Disintegration of the Dictatorship of the Castros” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Dr. Oscar Biscet Cuba after his press conference (14ymedio)
Dr. Oscar Biscet Cuba after his press conference (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 4 June 2016 — On his first trip to the United States, former political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet has shown once again that he doesn’t mince words: he has criticized President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba, he has spoken in favor of repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act, and he has raised the possibility of a military coup on the island.

A doctor by profession, Biscet is backed by the Lawton Foundation, the National Democratic Party and the New Union for a Free Cuba Foundation. He presented the Emilia Project at a press conference this Saturday; the project is named in honor of Emilia Teurbe Toulon, who in the mid 19th-century first sewed the first Cuban flag. According to Biscet his initiative is a “project of freedom” that seeks “the disintegration of the dictatorship of the Castros.” continue reading

Biscet was sentenced to 25 years in prison for presenting research that denounced the abortion practices of the Cuban health system, but was released in 2011 and decided to stay on the island. Recently, the Cuban government allowed him to travel abroad “only once,” and the regime opponent is in the midst of a tour that has taken him to Spain and the United States. He has expressed fears for his life on his return to Cuba.

“The Emilia project declares that the Communist Constitution and the organs of state power are unconstitutional,” said the Biscet, arguing that the 1940 Constitution had been violated by Fidel Castro in 1959 with the arbitrary application of capital punishment. “In the first month they shot 900 people, 400 of whom were people who had nothing to do with the previous regime, simply because they dared to dissent,” he said.

The Emilia project has been signed by more than 3,000 Cubans with their names and identity card numbers. In it he demands that “the legal system of our country has as its base the democratic principles that prevail in other nations of the civilized world.”

Biscet argues that his movement is based on the 1940 Constitution which, since its amendment in 1976, has been an “eyesore” imposed by the Cuban government against the will of its own people.

Dr. Oscar Biscet from Cuba presented The Emilia Project in Miami
Dr. Oscar Biscet from Cuba presented The Emilia Project in Miami

With regards to relations between the US and Cuba, Biscet believes that the steps taken by the current administration, including President Barack Obama’s visit to the island, “complicate the fight against the dictatorship.”

“It is a mistake to support a dictatorship that is falling. Free governments should demand freedom for Cuba,” said Biscet. “Emilia activists want to strengthen the people in their idea of achieving freedom, strengthening non-governmental organizations, seeking a multitude willing to end the dictatorship and execute a strategic plan to end this.”

According to the leader of the Emilia Project, there are several possible scenarios: that a group of “worthy” soldiers would put an end the regime (he would support this option), or that the son of Raul Castro, Alejandro Castro Espin, succeeds his father, or that there is a evolution towards a “softer dictatorship” in the style of the former Yugoslavia of Milosevic.

“Our purpose is to make a change from the base to the superstructure, a national insurrection,” said Biscet, who pointed out however the peaceful nature of his movement said. “There are many people who have hatred but we want justice to prevail.”

According to Biscet, the Cuban government has always lived on foreign aid, first from the Soviets and now Venezuela. “The Venezuelan people are starving like the Cuban people, not only materially starving but hungering for freedom,” he added. “Socialism has caused chaos and failure wherever it has been implemented, we knew that Venezuela would end like this.”

On the current immigration crisis the former political prisoner believes that “it is a human right to emigrate,” but regrets that the Cuban Adjustment Act allows people to continue leaving the island and then return in a year and a day “to speculate.” He said, “I agree with what Marco Rubio and Congressman Curbelo are doing; asylum must be for those who deserve it, the rest should stay in Cuba to fight.”

For Biscet “you can not enjoy a foreign freedom, with the resources of another country.”

Leaders of Cubans in Colombia Deported / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Nelson-Maidelin-Hernandez-Colombia-Ecuador_CYMIMA20160531_0028_16
Nelson March and his wife, Maidelin Hernandez, who documented the situation of Cubans in Turbo (Colombia) were deported to Ecuador on Tuesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 31 May 2016 – Colombian immigration officials arrested Maidelin Hernandez and her husband, Nelson March on Monday night; the couple documented the daily situation of hundreds of Cubans who are stranded in a shelter in the Colombian city of Turbo.

The couple was reportedly deported to Ecuador, according to William Gonzalez de la Hoz, Ombudsman, despite the fact that Hernandez has cancer and wants to reach the United States so that his family can pay for treatment.

“This is a sign. Slowly they continue to deport small groups so as not to cause a scandal,” said a Colombian official who requested anonymity. continue reading

Turbo’s mayor, Alejandro Abuchar, confirmed that the Cubans had been arrested, but the mayor says he has no tied to the Colombian immigration authorities. “We continue making every effort for migrants, trying to ensure that their rights as human beings are respected,” said the mayor.

The deportation of this couple happens after last Sunday’s repatriation to to Cuba of an undocumented immigrant couple, who were arrested near Medellin.

“That was very unjust, we are all in the shelter or homes, according to what each person is able to pay, but we thought they would make a collective decision. Now we see that is not the case,” said Aylin Gari Cruz, an activist in the Republican Party Cuba currently in Turbo.

The process of detention occurred when the couple left the hostel where more than a hundred Cubans are sleeping in this Caribbean city. According to statements by the Hernandez himself, he was brought down by an official of Colombia Migration while trying to find medication to alleviate the pain of his illness. After a quick scuffle, they were arrested and forbidden to communicate with family and friends, and one of their cell phones was confiscated.

Hernandez managed to hide his cellphone in his underwear and from the immigration office sent brief messages to the press on the situation they found themselves in.

In documents shared with this newspaper by Turbo’s Municipal Ombudsman Office, the migrants refused to give their names and, on being considered “undocumented,” the deportation process began.

Colombia Repatriates Undocumented Cuban Couple Who Arrived From Ecuador / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Two migrants were repatriated to Cuba on Sunday from Colombia (courtesy)
Two migrants were repatriated to Cuba on Sunday from Colombia (courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 May 2016 – A Cuban couple who arrived from Ecuador, were repatriated to the island by the Colombian authorities this Sunday, after being detained in the center of the country without proper documentation.

Leira Valle Piedra and Yoandy Boza Canal, ages 19 and 23 respectively, entered Colombia through its border with Ecuador with the intention of joining the Cubans who are in the town of Turbo, in Antioquia Department, but they were discovered two hours from Medellin and transferred to Pereira, where they were informed they would be returned to Cuba. continue reading

“They told us it will be the same for all Cubans who are in Colombia without a visa,” Leira Valle told 14ymedio. She said that they decided to cross into Colombia with the aim of continuing the journey to the United States, where they have family. “They refused to renew my husband’s visa in Ecuador so we had to leave there,” she said.

The deportation to Cuba happened after Colombia Migration issued a statement on 25 May in which it expressed that the new measures that the country was taking in the face of human trafficking are beginning to show good results.

The new actions consist of an increase in checkpoints both along highways and at border points. The authorities referred to the new irregular migration routes they detected in the departments of Nariño, Huila and Amazonas.

The communiqué also said that more than 150 migrants were deported in recent days to their countries of origin or to the location where they had entered Colombia.

With regards to hundreds of Cubans who are being housed in a warehouse in Turbo the text was categorical: “Colombia Migration and the National Government will not facilitate any aircraft to transport them to a different place that is not the border where they entered Colombia or their place of origin. To do otherwise would be contributing to the criminal bands of human traffickers.

In 2016 alone, the town of Turbo has discovered more then 3,700 irregular migrants. Most of them obtained a safe conduct giving them 10 days to pass through the country but, after the closing of the border with Panama to the avalanche of Cubans and migrants from other continents, the Colombian government has decided to deport the undocumented to their countries in origin.

In response to the request for information on the case, the communications office of Migration Colombia told this newspaper that, due to the internal policies that manage the institution, they can not address the issue only from the Cuban problem, “every time, for the Colombian state these people are victims of migrant trafficking networks and we would be ‘revictimizing’ them.”

Cubans Demonstrate In Front Of The US Embassy In Quito / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cubans demonstrating in front the US embassy in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday. (14ymedio)
Cubans demonstrating in front the US embassy in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 27 May 2016 — Hundreds of Cubans, more than a thousand according to organizers, marched this Friday morning in front of the United States embassy in Quito, to ask for Washington’s intervention in the negotiation of an immigration agreement that would allow more than 5,000 migrants reach the US border.

“They didn’t let us go past the embassy. The Ecuadorian police blocked the way,” said Peter Borges, who leads the protests along with Fernanda de la Fe. continue reading

According to the activists, it was a peaceful demonstration intended to deliver a letter to the ambassador to ask him to mediate with the Ecuadorian government for the passage of thousands of Cubans who want to emigrate to the United States and take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act. Since 1996, the Act has given special treatment to the island’s citizens who are able to reach US territory with regards to emigration.

“Cubans do not want to leave here, we spent several hours in the demonstration,” said the activist.

The letter, which they were not able to deliver, denounced the “horrendous episodes of extortion, rapes, murders and the disappearance of entire families,” which the migrants have suffered on their journey as undocumented emigrants across the continent with the objective of “reaching the freedom and well-being permitted by the generous United States government.”

The purpose of the missive is “to seek help to avoid further loss of human lives.” The letter also states that Cubans living in Ecuador are worried because “the Ecuadorian government has implemented a document review process for a large group of ‘irregular’ Cubans who make their lives here on the occasion of this crisis and as a form of retaliation.”

The demonstration comes after the Mexican government rejected a similar request on 18 May. On that occasion, Jaime del Arenal, Mexican ambassador in Ecuador, explained in a communication that the Cubans, many of whom have not been able to regularize their immigration status in the country, “do not qualify for the granting of visas.”

According to the organizers, the initiative also seeks to avoid adding to the number of Cubans who are stranded in Turbo, Colombia, after Panama closed its border to the passage of undocumented migrants. Panama recently transfered more than 3,800 Cubans to Mexico as the result of an an exceptional migratory agreement.

Following the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States and the worsening of living conditions on the island, tens of thousands of Cubans are trying to reach the US border for fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be repealed. In the current fiscal year alone, between October 1 and April 30, 35,652 Cubans had been accepted under the special “parole” program available to them in the United States. It is expected that more than 60,000 Cubans will arrive in the United States this year.

Cuban Migrants Criticize The High Prices Of Airfares To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico wait to buy airplane tickets to Mexico
Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico wait to buy airplane tickets to Mexico

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 6 May 2016 — Accustomed to standing in long lines on the island, thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in Panama were waiting for hours Friday to buy an airline ticket to Mexico. Among these “middle class rafters” criticism was rising over the high price of airfares which has reached $805 for an adult ticket.

José Antonio Quesada and his wife, both lawyers, are among those who were waiting in the sun today to get tickets. As of May 5, the Panamanian Government authorized the sale of airline for Cuban migrants and at least 800 of them have already purchased their tickets to continue their journey. continue reading

The two attorneys spent 1,669 dollars in tickets, including the trip by bus to the airport, the equivalent of more than five years wages for a in Cuba. Both have managed to raise the money with the help of relatives in Miami, but they are concerned because they have no more cash for when they reach the U.S. border.

Quesada and his wife traveled from the island to Ecuador with the intention of settling there and improving their economic condition. However, the obstacles to legalizing their residence and finding jobs pushed them to make a difficult journey through Colombia and the Darién jungle. They departed with the hope of taking advantage of Cuban Adjustment Act which grants immigration benefits to all residents of the island who reach United States.

Now the two professionals are among the lucky ones who have been able to purchase a ticket for flights starting next Monday to the city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas State, Mexico. The cost of the trip by plane for a child between 2 and 11 years is $332 whereas for a child under a year the amount drops to $160.

The sale of tickets has been marked by the absence of official statements from the Panamanian president’s office, which arouses suspicions among migrants, who fear shady dealings with regards to prices or lack of transparency in the process. “The Government does not give us information,” complains the Cuban Elizander Roque.

As of noon this Friday hundreds of migrants from the island had undertaken, on their own, to travel to the David’s Mall, 25 miles from the shelters where they are staying in Los Planes, Gualaca, to buy tickets.

The prices have surprised Sisleydis Moret, a 25-year-old Cuban who says she feels “desperate” at not having enough money to buy them, due to the expenses of supporting herself during her stay in Panama.

The ticket from Panama to Mexico costs $805 per each adult. (Courtesy)
The ticket from Panama to Mexico costs $805 per each adult. (Courtesy)

Her companion in the hostel, Keily Arteaga, age 29, is in a similar situation. “The news was like a bucket of cold water,” she says and comments that, “now we don’t have the money they are asking for.”

Arteaga, who resides in a house in San Isidro, left Ecuador because she was not able to legalize her immigration status. She had “a good job” but she was illegal, which mean that “all the doors” were closed to her, she explains. She says she has taken advantage of “all of this turmoil” of the immigration crisis in Central America to reach Panama.

Those who travel accompanied by several family members experience the most delicate situation. Isleyda Lelle said she was glad to hear that tickets sales had begun to Mexico, but now she needs to wait for her mother, resident in the United States, to help her “complete” the cost of the trip for her, her brother and her sister-in-law.

For Andy Llanes, the situation is more difficult because he says that he does not have “a single dollar” to buy the ticket. “My journey was very hard, we were attacked along the way and they stole from us all that we had.” In the trip to Panama he details that his partner “was raped and now the poor woman is pregnant from the Coyote who abused her.”

Llanes says the only thing he owns is the “flip-flops” he is wearing and says that if he cannot continue the trip, he will stay in Panama because “I won’t return to Cuba even if they threaten me with death.”

Alfredo Córdoba, regional head of the National Migration Service in the Chiriqui province told 14ymedio that he still does not know what will happen to those Cubans who cannot afford the airfares.

An official source who requested anonymity explained that Cuban migrants found in Puerto Obaldia have not received their passports yet and so far there are no specific directions about whether they will or will not be part of the humanitarian program.

This newspaper has gotten in touch with both the Panama National Migration Service and the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but so far we have not received answers to our questions.

Ed. note: Since this article was written the price of the airfare was lowered and then the sale of tickets was cut off altogether. Translations of articles detailing these subsequent events will follow.

Translated by Alberto

Hundreds of Cuban Migrants Are Stuck in Panama Without $805 to Travel to Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban migrants stranded in Panama are waiting to buy their tickets to Mexico. (Courtesy)
Cuban migrants stranded in Panama are waiting to buy their tickets to Mexico. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 May 2016 — More than 300 Cuban migrants cannot pay their passage to Mexico or have only part of the money, a source in the Panamanian government who requested anonymity told 14ymedio on Friday. The migrants are in a temporary shelter prepared by the authorities in Gualaca (Chiriqui province), and so far it has not been decided what will happen with those who don’t manage to get together the $805 that Panama’s Copa Airlines is asking to take them to Ciudad Juarez.

Yuneisis Martell, a woman from Villa Clara stranded in Panama, says chagrined, “The majority have already left, those of us who are left are those who have nothing.” continue reading

“I don’t know what they are going to do with us, the problem is that many of us here lost money on the way, with the assaults, and what we had left went to paying for the stay and food in Pasa Canoas,” on the border with Costa Rica.

In recent days, more than 1,000 Cubans have flown to Ciudad Juarez, or are in the process of doing so, according to sources in the National Migration Service. Last Monday, the Panamanian government started the transfer of more than 3,800 Cubans who had been stranded in their country, as part of an agreement with Mexico.

Xiegdel Candanedo, representative of Caritas’ Social Pastoral in the Chiriqui province, told 14ymedio that this organization, belonging to the Catholic Church, will continue to support the Cubans. According Candanedo, the ministry has so far donated food, medicine and clothing, collaborating with the National Migration Service and the National Civil Protection Service.

Candanedo said his organization “is not in a position to spend thousands of dollars to help Cubans to reach the United States,” but said that at least four or five passages have been paid for by private donors through Caritas. “Today we have learned of the case of a family that has the resources to buy tickets for the parents, but needs to find the money for the passage of the child,” he said.

For Keila Ortega the hours in Gualaca don’t pass. Every time she sees a compañero leave the refuge, while she remains stuck there, she feels more desperate. “My friends have turned their backs on me and those who could help me right now are in a very difficult situation. They’ve already done enough.”

The women fears that in the end she’ll remain trapped in Panama. “There are those who say the Cuban-American members of Congress can’t help us. I would like anyone reading this to remember that they, too, came from Cuba in the same situation as we are in, and it might touch their hearts,” she said.

A Miami businessman is making efforts to collaborate with helping these migrants, although he declined to comment as long as his plans aren’t firm.

Sale of Airline Tickets to Mexico Begins for Cuban Migrants Stranded In Panama / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Hotel Milenium. (Silvio Enrique Campos)
Hotel Milenium. (Silvio Enrique Campos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 5 May 2016 — Panama began selling airline tickets, on Thursday, to Mexico for Cuban migrants who find themselves stranded in the country. Tickets cost $805 and the first to benefit from the measure will be those staying at the Millennium Hotel, in the province of Chiriqui, according to a high ranking official who spoke to this newspaper and asked not to be identified.

Starting this coming Monday, two daily flights will connect to Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, operated by Copa and Aereomexico airlines. Along with the cost of the airfare, to qualify for a Mexican visa the mirgrants will also have to pay 34 dollars for the journey by bus to the Panamanian airport and the trip to the border between Mexico and United States. The airline will offer a differential rate for children between age 2 to 11, of $322, while children one year and under will fly for $160. continue reading

So far, nobody knows if the Cubans who have recently arrived in Panama and who are not on the official lists of migrants will be part of the agreement with Mexico.

A Cuban who came to the immigration offices in the city of David, about 30 miles from the border with Costa Rica, told 14ymedio that some days ago migrants began to receive money through Western Union and MoneyGram to buy their tickets.

“Regardless of the high cost per ticket, we have been asked for a medical checkup, three ID format photos and a photocopy of our passports,” said the migrant, who asked not to divulge his name.

Many of the stranded are worried about not having enough money to pay the cost of the airline tickets.

Panamanian official institutions claim not to have a report on the costs entailed for the nearly 3,500 Cubans who find themselves stranded in their territory. However, the local press reported on Thursday that about $19,000, just from the Presidency’s discretionary funds, have been destined to the immigration crisis in the first three months of this year.

Translated by Alberto

Mexico Is Not Deporting Cuban Migrants Despite Minrex Announcement / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of Cubans show the exit permits they received today in Tapachula, Mexico.
A group of Cubans show the exit permits they received today in Tapachula, Mexico.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 4 May 2016 — Mexico continues to grant “exit permits” to Cuban migrants arriving in Mexican territory from Central America, according to comments made to 14ymedio by an official of the National Institute of migration in Tapachula, Chiapas. On Tuesday, the Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) released in a statement saying that a memorandum of understanding between the two Nations to “ensure a regular, ordered and safe migration” was now in effect.

The document Minrex is referring to is part of a set of agreements signed by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, during Raúl Castro’s last visit to Mexico with the purpose of strengthening relations between the two countries. continue reading

The publication of the official note triggered alarms among the thousands of Cuban migrants scattered across the continent, for whom Mexico is a necessary stage on the way to the southern border of the United States. The media never had access to the document, signed last November during Raúl Castro’s visit to Mérida, although the note of the Cuban Foreign Ministry clarifies that its purpose is to “enhance the cooperation between the two countries in the fight against illegal migration.”

This newspaper got in touch with Chiapas’ 21st Century Immigration Station, and an official who asked not to be identified said that they have no instructions to stop granting exit permits to Cuban migrants.

Mexico’s Foreign Secretary confirms that he is aware that the agreement has taken effect, and said that it is an update of what was already in effect. However, officials were surprised by the Minrex announcement and said they are considering issuing a public statement.

The official “exit permit” that Cuban migrants continue to receive from Mexican authorities.
The official “exit permit” that Cuban migrants continue to receive from Mexican authorities.

Luis Enrique Pastrana is the owner of the Plaza Emmanuel Inn in Tapachula, Chiapas. He has devoted himself for some years to hosting dozens of Cuban migrants seeking to reach the immigration station. As he said to 14ymedio, “Cubans fear that the exit permit will be withdrawn but so far everything remains the same.”

According to Pastrana, on Tuesday 21 Cubans who were staying in his hostel received the document, and this Wednesday another 11 guests have arrived who plan to follow the same path.

“Every day many Cubans arrive and replace the ones who leave, although people are fearful since a rumor is spreading saying the laissez-passer, as they call it, won’t be issued anymore,” he said.

After crossing the Guatemalan border, Cuban migrants gather outside the immigration offices from six in the morning and into the afternoon to receive the document authorizing them to travel through Mexican territory, with the condition that they must leave the country within 20 days.

Rosmery Valledor is a Cuban architect who was stranded in Panama. From 2012, she lived in Venezuela but she decided to emigrate because of the difficulties she was going through there. As she says, “the situation in that country is unsustainable.”

Valledor spent more than one month in Panama until she succeeded in continuing on her journey across Central America in a clandestine way.

For her, the most difficult thing about the journey was “the terror to which we are subjected by the coyotes (guides).” The young woman says it is “a journey for which you need not only money but also a lot of courage.”

“We were afraid that once we got there they would not want to grant us the laissez-passer, but we went to the immigration station and they agreed that the next morning we would be assisted without any problem,” she added.

According to the Mexican daily La Jornada citing IMN (Mexican Immigration), since the end of October of last year 7,455 Cubans have appeared before the country’s immigration centers, an unusually high number since records have been kept. Of these, 243 were sent back to the island.

Contacted by telephone, an official of Cuba Embassy in Mexico said he knew nothing about the matter and referred it to the press officer, who did not answer calls.

Translated by Alberto

Cuba Will Lose One Million People In Next Decade / 14ymedio, Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton

Cuba will continue to have the oldest population in Latin America. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)
Cuba will continue to have the oldest population in Latin America. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Abel Fernandez and Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — By 2025, the Cuban population will be reduced to 10 million. The dramatic demographic change on the island—from 11 million to 10 million inhabitants—is propelled by the low rates of fertility and birth, and an elevated emigration, a group of experts recently explained at Florida International University.

In addition, Cuba will continue to have the oldest population in Latin America. Currently, 19% of its inhabitants are over 60, and forecasts indicated that this figure will reach 30% in less than a decade. continue reading

“Life expectancy is not the same as aging,” said Dr. Antonio Aja Diaz from the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana. In Cuba, life expectancy is high and infant mortality is low. But birth and fertility are also low. These demographic characteristics, Aja said, “are processes that occur in highly developed countries.”

“In developed countries, mortality, birth and fertility are low, but they do not lose population because they receive immigration,” said Aja. “But that is not the case for Cuba.”

Until the late 1930s, the island was receiving immigrants. Since that decade, emigration has been sustained, with large fluctuations during mass exoduses of the past century—the Mariel Boatlift in the 1980s, the Rafter Crisis of the 1990s—and most recently, the exodus through South America that still continues.

According to Aja, “Cuba could not even compete from the point of view of in-migration with the Dominican Republic,” with regards to attracting migrants. One of the main problems of the island is that people who migrate are generally younger and in the fullest years of their productive and reproductive capacity.

According to Dr. Sergio Diaz Brioquets, another panelist, emigration from Cuba is a phenomenon that will continue. “The Cuban government has for decades promoted emigration of the political opposition,” he said.

As for fertility, between 2010 and 2015 Cuba had an average of 1.63 children per woman, the lowest fertility rate in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The early years of the republic were years of high fertility and population growth, a trend that continued until 1930. Then began a process of decline until the years 1959-1960. In 1978, Cuba fell below replacement level, which is usually established as an average of 2.1 children per woman. On the island, the downward trend has continued to the present.

According to experts, the composition of the 10 million Cubans who will remain on the island in 2015 will bring a number of challenges, among them ethical values and interpersonal relationship. With regards to the family, and in particular Cuban women, they will face a series of responsibilities that will worsen with the aging population. “In Cuba, the job of caring for the elderly falls mainly on the woman,” explained Aja.

On the other hand, wages in the island have decreased to 73% of their real value, said Dr. Carmela Mesa Lago, a renowned expert on the Cuban economy. In addition, self-employed workers, a growing sector of the economy, are at risk of not accumulating pensions and not receiving social assistance.

Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban children remain with their parents in Panama to wait to continue the route to the US. (Silvio Enrique Campos, a Cuban immigrant in Panama)
Cuban children remain with their parents in Panama to wait to continue the route to the US. (Silvio Enrique Campos, a Cuban immigrant in Panama)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — The Panamanian Foreign Ministry has begun to take a census of more than 670 Cuban migrants in the hostel of Los Planes in the province of Chiriqui, in anticipation of their transfer to Mexico in the coming days. Another three thousand Cubans, most stranded on the border with Costa Rica, will also benefit from this operation, the last of its type, according to the Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela on Thursday.

“Starting from the completion of transfer operation of the Cubans counted in the census, those who enter later will have to make a decision about what country they want to return to; we can’t become a permanent logistical support for the trafficking of migrants,” warned the Panamanian president. continue reading

According to the regional director of migration, commissioner Alfredo Cordoba, the transfer of more than 200 migrants in various shelters to the Los Planes encampment began yesterday afternoon. “This mainly involved pregnant women and families with children, who need to be brought to a place with the attentions they deserve,” he said.

The official told this newspaper that the purpose of this measure is to “concentrate all the migrants in one area where their basic needs can be met, taking into account their rights as people.”

Cordoba said that right now there are 3,704 Cuban migrants in the Republic of Panama, who should be gradually transferred to Gualaca, where a joint task force–which includes the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC), the Panama National Migration Service, the State Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the National Police–have mobilized to address the humanitarian crisis.

“I believe we are in the final stretch, at least they are already making photocopies of our passports, and that’s something,” said Angel Chale, one of the stranded who came through Ecuador. Chale decided to abandon the old Bond warehouse, in San Isidro, a mile from the Costa Rican frontier, where she shared the floor with 400 other Cubans in the most precarious conditions.

Both Angel and Leslie Jesus Barrera have spent a week at the Los Planes shelter. “This place where we are now is pretty fun. Usually we play baseball, dominoes or we dance,” says Barrera. “We help when they ask us to collaborate with some chore and for the rest, it’s like camping.” He added that he is very grateful for the treatment he has received from the Panama government, which right now includes free medical care.

The godmother of Cubans

Angela Buendia is the director of community organizing for SINAPROC, but migrants have dubbed her “the godmother.” As she herself says, “They call me that because I identify with their needs and all the pain they have gone through.”

Buendia says she learned to deal with migrants from the island in the last crisis and since then sympathizes with the plight of “these thousands of people who have to leave their land and often go through very intense trauma.” She stresses that, even after spending weeks in Panama, many still live in fear.

According to her, the migratory flow does not seem to stop, although official statistics indicate a decline. “Every day we receive between 20 and 60 Cuban migrants in Chiriqui. This is why we decided to prepare this camp.”

Buendia explained that Los Planes was originally built to shelter Swiss workers who worked on a local dam. “It’s a ten acre site with a fresh landscape and all amenities,” she added. She also stressed that “the only prohibition is not to leave at night, and this is for their own security.” She said they will have free WiFi, but right now they can use data connections on a local network.

“The biggest problem I’ve had with the Cuban people is that when they come here, having come from a place without freedom, they feel completely free and clear, sometimes confusing liberty with license,” she said.

Not everyone wants to be in the shelter

But not everyone wants to go to the shelter in Los Planes. “The problem that I see to this place is that it is very far away. From the Milennium one can at least work ‘under the table’ and earn a few bucks,” said Dariel, who prefers to omit his last name for fear of discovery. His work as a carpenter, a trade he learned in Cuba, allows him to cover his expenses and at the same time, he confesses, save something “for the end of the journey.”

“Here there were even Cubans who were whoring and charge less than the Panamanians. Those were the smart ones, because in the end, they managed to get together the money and now they’re in the [United States],” says the migrant.

In overcrowded rooms, hallways, or simply in tents put up at dusk in the doorways of neighboring houses, hundreds of Cubans have preferred to stay near the Costa Rican border.

“It’s a problem that affects communities that often find themselves overwhelmed by the number of migrants arriving,” says Commissioner Cordoba.

Many of the local inhabitants, from Puerto Obaldia to Paso Canoas, have seen a business opportunity in the Cubans. With the flow of migrants, businesses have flourished from hostels to simple restaurants where the prices are usually double for inhabitants of the island.

“I don’t want to go to the Gualaca shelter because it’s very far away, I prefer to stay here because I’m in a village and at least I can fend for myself,” says Yanieris, a 35-year-old Cuban woman who arrived in Panama from Guyana. “It’s hard, sure, but if I want to go with a coyote tomorrow, there will be no one to stop me.”

The coyotes prowl…

Juan Ramon is one of those Cubans stranded in Panama who decided not to wait any longer to reach the United States. After collecting $1,400 from family and friends in Miami, he left one night sneaking across the Costa Rican border, along with six other companions under the guidance of a coyote. “In each country a coyote handed us off to another, and we have gone all the way: through the jungles, rivers, lakes… it is very hard,” he said.

The worst thing for the young man was the moment they ran into a military checkpoint in Nicaragua, where “a thug assaulted us, sent by the same guide, who robbed us of everything we had. He even took our cellphone. It was a terrible experience because it could have cost our lives and nobody would have known about it,” he told this newspaper.

After more than 12 days on the road, Juan Ramon found himself at the border crossing station of El Paso, Texas, hoping they would process his documents to enter the United States under the “parole” program.

To try to circumvent the army and police control on the borders of Costa Rica and Nicaragua the migrants use unique measures such as hiding themselves in a water pipe or hiding in a boat to pass through the dangerous coastal regions of the Pacific Ocean.

In November of last year, Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista government closed the borders of his country to Cuban migrants using Central America as a path to the United States.

The measure worked like a plug, leaving 8,000 people stranded in Costa Rica, which in turn also closed its border transferring the problem to Panama. Following an agreement with Mexico, both countries managed to build a humanitarian bridge that allowed the orderly exit of a great part of the migrants.

The coyotes, or human traffickers, have turned the migration to the north into a huge business that generates millions of dollars. From October of 2014, almost 132,000 Central Americans and around 75,000 Cubans reached the southern border of the United States.

The Cuban government has reiterated that all the migrants have left Cuba legally and so can return to the country.

Former Political Prisoners Say US Failed on Promise To Bring Their Families From Cuba / 14ymedio, Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton

Former Cuban political prisoners Niorvis Rivera (left) Aracelio Riviaux and Jorge Ramirez (right) speak with staff for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (Courtesy)
Former Cuban political prisoners Niorvis Rivera (left) Aracelio Riviaux and Jorge Ramirez (right) speak with staff for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Abel Fernandez and Mario Penton, Miami, 28 April 2016 – Former Cuban political prisoners Niorvis Rivera, Aracelio Riviaux and Jorge Ramirezmet Thursday in Miami with staff for Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for help in bringing their relatives from Cuba.

The three were part of the group of 53 dissidents released as part of negotiations between Cuba and the United States that allowed the return to the island of the Cuban spies still in American prisons. But shortly after their release, the opposition members had been returned to prison. continue reading

Days before US president Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba on 20 March, they were released and taken to US territory in less than 72 hours, which some interpret as a goodwill gesture by Raul Castro’s government, and others as an attempt to hide the presence of political prisoners in Cuban jails.

According to the dissidents, US officials who mediated their release promised them that their families would also leave for the United States in less than a week. But to date, they remain in Cuba.

The opponents are threatening to return to the island “on a raft” if the process of reunification is not accelerated.

“We feel betrayed,” said Jorge Ramirez, an independent labor unionist from Villa Clara who claimed that the American embassy in Havana, the Catholic Church and the Cuban government had all gone back on their word.

“The American staff told us that our families would be here in a week,” commented Riviaux, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), who spent nine years in prison charged with the crimes of assault, contempt and dangerousness.

“It’s been a month since our relatives went to Havana, and this is good. If we do not see any progress, we will be the next rafters, but heading in the direction of Cuba,” he said.

For Jorge Ramirez it’s “a trick” which they played on them to get them to leave the island. According to him, “possibly it involved officials of the American government and even the Vatican.”

According to Ramirez, the main problem is that while the Cuban government is putting obstacles in the way of the families leaving Cuba, they have no way to help them economically.

“Some exile groups have helped us modestly, but this support doesn’t reach our families. We have no official documents that allows us to send money to Cuba. We don’t have permission to work,” he commented.

Ramirez’s wife, Nelida Lima Conde, is also a human rights activist in Cuba, and was self-employed when the release came through. As she told this newspaper, officials at the US embassy promised that she would be with her husband in a week, so she quit her job and took her children out of school.

According to the activist, fifteen days after her husband left for the United Stated she was notified that she should ask the Cuban immigration authorities for her passport, but because she was under sanction by the courts, they didn’t give her one. After the annulment of the sentence, the next obstacle was that her husband had to send permission for the children to leave the island. The document has to be stamped by the Cuban consulate to allow the minors to emigrate.

According to Ramirez, the government is putting these obstacles in their way “in revenge.”

Yudislady Travieso, the wife of Rivera, confirmed that she is in the same situation and that she feels “deceived.”

“What they really wanted was to get them to leave Cuba. They never said anything to us about the permits they’re asking for now,” she added.

Travieso and her four daughters, who live in Guantanamo, spent almost a month in Havana, where they have no family, while making arrangements for the trip, but did not resolve anything.

“They are going from home to home,” Rivera said, adding that the situation is very difficult for his family, who are “humble people.”

A ‘Bishop Of The People’ For A Cuba In Transition / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Juan de la Caridad García, the new archbishop of San Cristobal de Havana.
Juan de la Caridad García, the new archbishop of San Cristobal de Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 April 2016 — After nearly 35 years as head of the Archdiocese of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino, the only Cuban cardinal and a crucial figure in the thaw with the United States, has been replaced. Pope Francis decided to accept his resignation, presented since 2011, and appoint in his place Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, Archbishop of Camagüey, a man who is considered a “bishop of the people” and who is connected to the world of missions.

In an interview by telephone from Camagüey, a few hours after his appointment was confirmed, Garcia said he hopes his episcopate will serve to increase the dialogue with the Cuban government, so that “the Church can be present in spaces that belong to it, such as education, the media and prison ministry.” continue reading

He also said that his ministerial service will be based on the final document of the Cuban National Ecclesial Meeting of 1986 in which the Catholic Church said it wanted to be “praying, missionary and embodied” in the reality of its own people.

Ordained as a priest in 1972 and consecrated a bishop in 1997, Juan Garcia belongs to a new generation of bishops who act as bridge with regards to the infighting among the ecclesial institution itself, especially on issues related to its relationship with the government.

“With his discretion and centrism, he is the person less engaged in the intestinal struggles of the Cuban Church,” said Lenier González, deputy director of the civic project Cuba Possible, who considers that with this appointment “the historical cycle of old Cuban episcopate is closed.”

A Surprise

The news was greeted with surprise within the Cuban Catholic Church. The Vatican is very private with the selection process. Consultations with the clergy and the faithful and decisions about whether or not the candidate is accepted take place in the deepest secrecy.

The international press had referred to the possibility that Emilio Aranguren or Dionisio García, the bishops of Holguin and Santiago de Cuba respectively, would succeed Ortega. Also contemplated as a possible candidate was Juan de Dios Hernández, a Jesuit like the Pope and one of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese.

Dagoberto Valdes, a Catholic layman who runs the magazine Convivencia in Pinar del Río believes that “the Pope has appointed a pastoral and missionary archbishop, which is what the Church needs at this time, especially the Havana Church.”

“The missionary work of Monsignor Juan has marked the Church in Camagüey. I am sure that this identity will be very well received in Havana,” said Valdes, who also considers this appointment as “a gift from the Pope to the people of Cuba.” According to him, Juan Garcia is a bishop who “truly smells of the flock,” as the Pope wants.

For Arturo Gonzalez, Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Clara in central Cuba, Juan Garcia is a man of the people, close to the faithful. “He is a very good man, he is a man of much prayer. He is a man of few words, but very clear,” said the prelate.

The Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, agreed and also described him as “a man of few words.” He adds that it is “very good news for the people of the Cuban capital.”

Wenski, who recently returned from a pastoral visit to the island, said Garcia is a bishop who “has worked very hard for his diocese and is also very close to his clergy.”

The new archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, with Cuban President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the new headquarters of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio seminary in Havana.(Gaspar el Lugareño)
The new archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, with Cuban President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the new headquarters of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio seminary in Havana.(Gaspar el Lugareño)

Raul Castro loses an ally

Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been a key figure in the thaw that led to the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington. It was he who, in 2011, negotiated the release and subsequent departure of most of the prisoners of the Black Spring and it was he who was responsible for hosting three papal visits in Havana, which helped to strengthen an image of greater openness towards the outside.

Cardinal Ortega presided over the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba during three successive periods and was one of the main architects of the pastoral letter “Love Hopes All Things” of 1994, which harshly criticized Fidel Castro’s government in the middle of the so-called Special Period.

In recent months, Ortega was criticized by sectors of the opposition, especially after he made statements to the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser in which he denied the existence of political prisoners in Cuba.

The Archdiocese of Havana announced through an official note signed by Juan de Dios Hernández, that the cardinal will have his retirement residence in the Padre Felix Varela Cultural Center, a building that formerly housed the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary.

A Cuban priest who asked not to be identified said that the departure of Monsignor Ortega allows the placement of a figure that does not fear the Cuban government, “because he owes nothing to them.”

He recalled that when Monsignor Garcia was appointed Bishop of Camagüey, “They had to go look for him in Cespedes because he went there on a mission. He is a bishop of the people.” And he said that by naming him a door has been opened for a whole generation of priests who were his compañeros in the seminary to acquire greater prominence within the Church, although they had not been able to do it until now because of the presence of the almost octogenarian cardinal.

The Challenges for the New Archbishop

Leinier Gonzalez believes that the new archbishop has before him dissimilar challenges. Among his main challenges is “reconstructing the pastoral work of the Havana Church” which, according to this analyst, is in profound crisis. Another important aspect will be the massive exodus of young priests and laypeople to foreign countries. In several parts of the world, and particularly in Miami, there is a large community of Cuban priests who were ordained on the island and who, for different reasons, ended up emigrating.

Another obstacle the new archbishop could face is the fact of always having worked in ecclesiastical areas outside of the capital, he said. Camagüey is an extensive archdiocese, but it is predominantly rural, while Havana is mostly urban.

Taking over the leadership of a territory where the national government is located, as well as the nunciature and the different political actors and embassies, the archbishop should also be more exposed to national politics. All this along with the proximity of the former archbishop, living just a few blocks away, and the figure of the president of the Cuban Bishops Conference, which for now rests with Dionisio García.

After the replacement of the cardinal, several questions arise about who will be the visible head who will carry forward the dialogues and negotiations with the government.

Some analysts compare the appointment of the new archbishop with the election of Francis in Rome, whom many see as a pope of transition.

Ecuador And Mexico Take Steps To Stem The Flow Of Cubans / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban Migrants stranded in Panama. (Facebook)
Cuban Migrants stranded in Panama. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 April 2016 — Mexico will not operate more “air bridges” for now, nor will Costa Rica allow more Cuban migrants in its territory, at a time when some 3,500 Cubans are flocking to the Panama isthmus trying to continue their journey to the United States. This is the scene at the climax of the summit where authorities of the countries involved in the flow of Cuban migrants – from the United States to Ecuador – are meeting.

Also present at the meeting, convened by Costa Rica to “follow up” on the crisis of last year, are the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Program for Development. The notable absences were Cuba and Nicaragua, allied governments who blame the immigration policy of the United States for the current situation. continue reading

Costa Rica called the meeting “constructive” and, according to a statement from its Foreign Ministry, “it has been a meeting to exchange some ideas about how to address the issue of immigration.” The Deputy Foreign Minister, Alejandro Solano, also commented on the proposal for “a normative study to try to harmonize laws” commissioned by the IOM, with a view of taking a regional approach to the practices in each country.

Moreover, it has emerged that Ecuador and Mexico are going to tighten measures to prevent the flow of Cubans. In the case of the Andean country, the cost of a visa will be increased from $100 to $400, one of the most expensive in the world, while the Aztec country has not yet clarified how it will stem the flow of Cubans to the United States. Still to be confirmed is whether Cuban migrants who reach Tapachula, Mexico will be granted safe conduct. Costa Rica has reaffirmed its position from recent weeks and according to the deputy minister will require a visa from all migrants seeking to cross its territory.

Meeting of the Central American foreign ministers Tuesday. (Costa Rica Foreign Ministry)
Meeting of the Central American foreign ministers Tuesday. (Costa Rica Foreign Ministry)

While the meeting was taking place in the Costa Rican capital, Nicaragua mobilized riot and military police near the border post at Teblillas, Costa Rica in response to an eventual furtive passage of migrants from Alajuela through this town. Also at the same time, Roberto Vega Lopez, a Cuban citizen, was captured in Colombia; he has trafficked people from the island in a complicated route that includes Guyana and the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon jungle. At the time of his arrest he was leading 15 Cubans through this dangerous route to Panama.

The conclusions of the meeting in San Jose fell like a bucket of cold water on the camps of Cuban migrants in Panama. According to Yunier Leiva, many of them had lit candles during the day in hopes of a “miracle,” that would resolve their difficult stay there. “In the end what they did is support the Cuban government and lock up even more Cubans in the floating prison that is Cuba,” he commented with a heavy heart.

For Silvio Enrique Campos, the alternative left to them by the foreign ministers was to “stick with the coyotes.” In a conversation with 14ymedio the migrant said that given “the lack of answers or solutions, Cubans in Paso Canoas are overcome by desperation.” Despite the difficulty of the moment, he calls on his compatriots not to endanger their lives because “the walls will fall again.”

In the absence of solutions to their problematic situation the migrants have decided to begin night vigils so that the international community can see the conditions they are living in. On Cuban who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, comments that every day several groups of Cubans are leaving Panama for the United States, crossing through the forests along the Costa Rican border.

He says, The only thing the authorities have done by not solving our passage in an orderly manner is to feed the bands of coyotes they are claiming to fight.” He also said that the human traffickers are now charging more for their services. “A trip that cost some $3,000 dollars has now been converted into a much more dangerous and expensive journey and last week someone wanted to charge me $7,000.”

From Ecuador, the Cuban National Alliance also released a note which encourages Cuban who have decided to emigrate not to get discouraged. “We knew from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be an easy task,” it says, and at the same time it calls on its members to “continue appealing to the reason and humanity of the governments.”

At this point it is not yet known what will happen to the thousands of Cuban migrants who are stranded in Central America. In a report presented by the Panamanian immigration authorities it stated that the number of Cubans has already reached 3,500 people, of which more than 150 are children.

Cuban migration crisis in numbers.
Cuban migration crisis in numbers. (14ymedio)