Major League Stars in Havana / Ivan Garcia

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Ken Griffey Jr, with young ballplayers in Havana

Monday night, February the 10th, two Cuban journalists were invited to the welcoming reception Mr. John Caulfield–head of the USA Interest Section in Cuba–offered in his residence to three major league baseball players, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin y Joe Logan.

The journalists who had opportunity to talk with these three legends of  American baseball  were Daniel Palacios Almarales, former sports writer for Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) and collaborator on the website Café Fuerte, and me, who started in independent journalism in 1995 writing about sports. In addition to journalists we are bloggers. Palacios has a blog, Visor Cubano, and I have two, From Havana and The blog of Iván García and his friends.

Among the guests there were also grand old names from Cuban sports, such as Tony Gonzalez, a shortstop of great scope who in the 60s played with the Industriales team.

For two and a half hours, in a free-flowing environment, those present not only could greet Griffey, Larkin and Logan, but also take advantage of the fact that they were signing balls and books. And, certainly, to leave with graphic witness of an unrepeatable occasion. By request of my colleague Palacios, I shot a couple of photos of him next to Larkin and Griffey.

Thanks to an official from the Interest Section, I was able chat brief with Ken Griffey Jr., the most enjoyed of the night for his amiability and simplicity. And for his elegance, in spite of being dressed in a simple long sleeved white shirt and black trousers.

Griffey was satisfied with his trip to Havana. He enjoyed everything: the spontaneous meeting with dozens of fans at Central Park; talking baseball with people and participating in the training of a group of baseball playing kids in Liberty City, and in the Havana municipality of Marianao.

With regards to the Cuban players in the Big Leagues, he said when he played a season with the Chicago White Sox, he met the shortstop Alexia Ramirez, “and excellent person and a great professional, very meticulous in his training.”

The former stars of the Big Leagues, return to the United States on Thursday,  13 February. Before leaving, they will probably be received by Antonio Castro.

Apart from being a son of his father, Tony Castro, as he is called, is the vice-president of the Cuban Federation of Baseball and principal strategist of the new government policy of authorizing Cuban athletes to play in professional clubs of different countries and continents.

Though the topic was not mentioned in the conversation, both Griffey Jr. and I are aware that in these moments, due to  the United States embargo on Cuba, players living on the island cannot be signed by Major League teams in the U.S.

Maybe the diplomacy of the baseball will contribute to a political thaw, an inheritance of the Cold War, which for over more than five decades has maintained tense and at times aggressive relations between Cuba and the United States.

Iván García

Video: Ken Griffey Jr during with a group of children, in Liberty City, Marianao, Havana. Taken by Cubadebate.

Translated by: Rafael

15 February 2014

S.O.S. Another Brave Man is Dying / Angel Santiesteban

Alcibíades Guerra Marín is in a hunger strike after being sentenced to a year in prison for demonstrating in public against totalitarianism. He was charged with the supposed crime of “CONTEMPT”. His wife, who is also a Lady in White approached the place where they have me imprisoned, asking me for help, and asking me to fight for his rights.

“For me it is an honor to cry out for the Cuban patriots, it is my duty.”

She told me, his family was waiting for him at home, his only son. After the sixteenth day (on strike), she was allowed to see him, along with another Lady in White accompanying her. Alcibíades could not feel his legs anymore. He had to be carried over from his solitary cell to the visitors area.

He assured that he will continue his hunger strike until his civil rights be restored. The dictatorship expects his health to worsen in order to move him to a hospital inside Combinado Del Este Prison; in the meanwhile, he remains in a dark and stinky hole where authorities try to break his spirit.

Every Cuban is an accomplice in his suffering if he remains in silence.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Prison Settlement of Lawton, March 2004

The activist Alcibiades Guerra remains on hunger strike

5 March 2014

By Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez / Hablemos Press.

HAVANA, 5 March 2014. Political prisoner Alexis Osmany Palmero, incarcerated in Valle Grande Jail, reports activist Alcibíades Guerra Marín is on hunger strike because of his unfair sentencing.

Marín was detained on February 27th while protesting his wife’s arrest, the activist Melkis Faure Echevarría.

The activist was sentenced on the 28th to a year in jail accused of Contempt for the figure of Fidel Castro, after he cried out ¡Abajo Fidel!  (Down with Fidel).

He began the strike in the holding area of Valle Grande Prison, located in La Lisa municipality, Havana, where he was transferred on the 28th, right after the trial.

Follow this link to sign the petition for Amnesty International to declare Angel a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by: Rafael

19 March 2014

No Rush… and No Results

In 1953, in his self defense statement [as he appeared at his trial for the Moncada Barracks attack] History will absolve me, Fidel Castro addressed some key issues pending in our country: land reform for instance. He announced on that opportunity, as a priority in his program, giving productive land to those in possession of five or less acres; a nationalistic and democratic project that had its first episode in October, 1958, when, in the middle of the guerrilla war a bill of law was issued from La Sierra Maestra. Once he took power, actual laws were passed–on May 1959 and October 1963–in which property titles were issued to 100 thousand farmers, but 70% of productive land remained in government hands.

The new monopoly of the land and the elimination of the institutions of the civil society related to the agricultural (farming) activity generated a progressive decrease of the agricultural efficiency, while about 40% of the productive land of the country became idle; a regression that was continued until Cuba lost the subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Since then, the government had spent millions of dollars to buy food supplies that otherwise could had been produced locally.

With such an obvious deficiency of the agricultural production, just five months after taking over the presidency of the State council and of the Cabinet, General Raúl Castro, conscious of the deplorable condition of economy, expressed emphatically: We have to focus on the land! We have to get it to produce! And he added, that sooner than later laws and regulations will be passed to (once again) lease idle lands to farmers on the condition they make them productive as soon as possible.

One week after his speech, the Official Gazette of Cuba published the Decree Law 259 on that regard. This measure, could not solve such a serious problem on its own, might have been valid if this law had been conceived as the first step in a long way to go, for which a strong political will is need to face the historical problem of private property in Cuba, worsened during the Revolutionary government which promoted large state farms (collectivism). Continue reading

Hospitals, “You Are on Your Own” / Julio Cesar Alvarez

About 50,000 patients get some kind of infections annually. Lack of running water in bathrooms, clean linens, surgical gloves and even lack of brooms are among the causes.

HAVANA, Cuba. -Approximately 50,000 patients get some kind of infections in Cuban hospitals; 16,500 could die from that cause. Being admitted in a hospital is considered “more dangerous than an airline flight,” according to the World Health Organization.

More than 8 millions patients die because of a severe infections every year around the world associated to medical attention, meaning one person dies every four seconds. In the USA 1.7 million infections are reported in hospitals, causing 100 thousand deaths. In Europe, 4.7 million are also reported in hospitals with a 37 thousand death toll, according to World Health Organization.

Every year government officials in Cuba report low child mortality rates, data that  makes the Cuban Health System look great. However the numbers of infections, or deaths caused by hospital infections are not published, that could be a good indicator to measure health services quality in the island.

A hospital that has a high rate of infections among patients admitted, is not considered efficient. Even with no official data available, Dr. Rafael Nodarse Hernandez– a Microbiologist Specialist Grade 2 who works for the Dr. Luis Diaz Soto Military Hospital–confirmed in Havana that 50,000 people catch infections  every year in Cuban hospitals, as he stated to a Cuban Military Medicine magazine.

That statement was validated in a study issued by Masters in Science Luis Eugenio Valdez Garcia and Tania Leyva Miranda, from the local Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology Center in Santiago de Cuba.

In an article titled “Endurance of infections associated with health services in Santiago de Cuba local hospitals,” published by the digital site Infomed, Masters Valdez Garcia and Leyva Miranda stated: “Santiago de Cuba province has an average of 2,500 to 3,000 people  that get infections in the very hospitals they are admitted to. As of 2011, reports show 2,717 events documented, meaning 2.4 cases per 100 patients released from hospitals”.

Bathroom

Bathroom at Freyre de Andrade Hospital. Photo: Julio Cesar Alvarez

Taking as reference the 33% mortality caused by hospital infections according to Master in Science Epidemiologyst Ileana Frometa Suarez, from Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospitals, mortality would be 16,500 deaths a year.

Some doctors consulted consider this rate of infections quite high, but confess they have no idea of the number of deaths caused by hospital infections, nor the exact number of people that got infected in the hospitals they work for.

Hygiene

The key element in hospital infections spreading is the environment. Hygiene is the Achilles heel of Cuban Hospitals, not only regarding surgical instruments and medical staff, but the actual hospital buildings in which patients are admitted, especially those recovering from surgery or accident victims, and those recuperating from burns.

Hygiene has declined dearly in those institutions not frequented by the government elite or tourists. Running water is not available very often in such hospitals. Patients’ relatives must collect fresh water from tanks available in the building.

That is the way they flush toilets, bathe or clean their sick relatives. Often the rooms are cleaned by relatives of patients admitted because of lack of cleaning staff or neglectful employees. Cleaning products, clean bed linen, medical gloves and cleaning equipment are very scarce in hospitals.

In addition to the poor hygiene in all institutions, infections spread mainly through health personnel; they transmit the germs when they come into contact with patients. Relatives are a source of infections as well, when acting as improvised nurses due to inefficient health services.

According to a report issued in 2010 by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), chances of washing hands are higher in a public restroom than in a hospital. According to the World Health Organization, 60% of health professionals do not comply with the requirement to wash their hands so it is easy to get the picture on how many patients’ relatives do not comply, either because of lack of publicity or because of a non-existent hygiene culture in that regard.

With such negative picture of Hygiene in our hospitals, it is not overstated that hospital infections are one of the biggest challenges for Cuban Health System, even if government officials do not talk about it or publish actual statistics.

Calixto Garcia Hospital ER. Havana.

Cubanet, March 5th, 2014,

Translated by: Rafael