Red Flag: The New Penal Law Threatens Human Rights / Laritza Diversent

The reforms of the Penal Code and the Penal Procedure Act adopted by the State Council to “ensure greater effectiveness and efficiency in the prevention and the fight against crime” raises a red flag about the situation of human rights in Cuba.

The amendments will come into force on October 1st. Their main objective is to expand the power of the police forces and lighten the burden of the courts, a solution that results in more than one problem. The main one is: Are the police officers trained to legally evaluate and judge a case?

Currently, police officers can address directly any infringement of the Penal Law, with penalties of up to 1 year’s imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 15 thousand pesos, without being required to report the case to the court. In October, they will be granted authority over offenses of up to 3 years’ imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 50 thousand pesos, with the approval of a prosecutor.

This power enables them to judge and punish with fines, which represent 27% of the penalties established in the Penal Code. With the new amendments, these will now represent 52% of the penalties, and police officers will only need approval from a prosecutor to enforce 26%, a good way to contribute “to the consistent enforcement of the Penal Code policies outlined by the State.”

In the amendments the guarantees of due process were not taken into account. The police officers decide whether or not to take the citizen to court and the amount of the fine. In addition, the assistance of a defense lawyer has not been foreseen for any of these cases. Undoubtedly, a subtle way of violating the right to a public hearing in “court.”

The accused decides whether or not they will be judged by a policeman or a judge. Just think how dependent courts and prosecutors’ offices are on the instructions of the State Council and, therefore, the Ministry of the Interior. Judges and prosecutors are badly paid and overworked. In October, the number of cases that municipal courts will have access to will increase from 52% of all cases to 78%, and those in uniform can lighten this workload in 67% of all cases.

What could happen? Will they be acquitted, will they try to fine them again or will they be sentenced to deprivation of liberty? It’s better not to bet on it. However, the uncertainty will not disappear if the citizens accept to be judged by a police officer.

The fines currently enforced by police officers for infringements with penalties of up to 1 year’s imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 15 thousand pesos, range from 200 to 1,000 pesos, national currency, and can be extended up to 2 thousand pesos whenever the circumstances demand it.

In October, this range will reach the 2 thousand pesos and could be extended up to 3 thousand. For infringements with penalties of up to 3 years’ imprisonment and/or fines of more than 50 thousand, the fines will be from 500 to 5,000 pesos and can be extended up to 7,000.

Can you imagine this in a country where the basic monthly salary is 229 pesos? Taxes on self-employment allow for a 300 to 400 pesos revenue, without resorting to the black market or violating the law. Have they thought about the need citizens have to resort to illegality as mean of survival?

Perhaps it may be better to address the matter without going to court. One does not have to think that we are all innocent until proven otherwise. Once the citizen accepts to be judged by a police officer is he recognizing his own guilt?

Today, if the fine is paid within 3 days and the citizen complies with the terms of civil liability, the case is closed without penal implications. With the new amendments the time period to pay the fines was extended to 10 days. In these cases, property and goods can be confiscated as well.

What would happen if the accused does not have the money within that time? Will their charges increase? If the person fails to pay and to comply with civil liability, the case will be passed on to a court. What crime will they be judged for? For failing to comply with the charges from the initial crime or for the crime itself that the person committed and implicitly accepted? None of these questions are clarified in the Law of the State Council Decree.

Have the recently elected national deputies read the draft of the amendments for the Penal Code? Why doesn’t the National Assembly, the legislative body participate in the legal implementation of the “changes and transformation” in the economic and social arenas of the country? In short, did anyone think about us?

In any event, the lack of political will is evident when it comes to complying with the international human rights covenants for the drafting of national legislation. In contrast, the new legal amendments increase the state of legal uncertainty for Cubans. A good time to raise a red flag.

By Laritza Diversent 

Translated by Chabeli Castillo

Monday, July 1, 2013

From La Finca, the Spy Asks for More / Juan Juan Almeida

Rene Gonzalez, a member of the "Cuban Five" or "Five Heroes" now back in Cuba. From http://lagartoverde.com

Rene Gonzalez, a member of the “Cuban Five” aka the “Five Heroes” now back in Cuba. From http://lagartoverde.com

News on Mondays tends to be unflattering, and that is why, instead of writing a story, I would rather share a gossip, which if it doesn’t get you informed will entertain you. So I risk it.

You may surely remember the spell of that magician who at the Pioneer parties, amid the heat of a bonfire, before reaching into his hat, from which he then would pull out a small replica of the national insignia, would cross himself and say: “What until now was a handkerchief is turned into a flag.”

Well, it turns out that a few days ago–while Havana continues to face its unfortunate struggle of worn out prostitutes, criminals with decorum, the intellectualized poor, deranged leaders, entrepreneurs who have managed to triumph selling stolen little mirrors, and leftists who defend worn out images under the uproar of Chivas Regals–a friend called me to tell me in a conspiratorial tone that René González Sehewert, the well-known ex-convict, member of the gang “The Wasps 5 or 4,” had the indiscretion to express his discomfort, because in his view, he has not been treated in Cuba as he deserves.

What to believe? -I wonder- It is true that, from habitually lying, someone who practices espionage develops a constant conflict with the word loyalty; but it is also true that on December 29, 2001, Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power granted, in a special session, the honorary title of Hero of the Republic of Cuba to Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González.

I listened to the story, and so my friend told me that super-wasp René González, in an act of utter incoherence, because of his known legal status, wrote to General Raúl Castro who in response, instead of sending him to a psychiatrist, sent him an officer (nearsighted, shy and unpopular) as emissary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a state body known for spending its time and money on Origami, in addition to press releases.

The whistleblower and the envoy, forgetting the old saying: “Anything you try to hide is always visible to others,” went out for dinner and ended up at La Finca (The Ranch), a super exclusive restaurant, located in the old Biltmore neighborhood, today Siboney in the Playa municipality.

As entrée, they ordered avocado cream; and the main course was grilled goose liver in a fig-raspberry sauce.

This gastronomic refuge, certainly very inordinate, does not include in its structure a menu with the prices; I owe you that one. But it is logical to believe that people with foreign–and so un-proletarian–tastes may get their ideals spoiled due to emotional problems.

That said, it seems that, somewhat saturated with the national situation, even the spy wants God to send a beam of light over the island, capable of breaking the spell of the old and monotone cycle: “Wake up, sleep, die”; or in its failure, it could reward the island getting it out of simplicity toward eccentric and palatial luxury. Is it possible that every spy ends up somewhat perturbed?

This is quite a fable, hard to digest, but somebody assured me that through this emissary, René asked the General about the possibility of a job in any of the Cuban embassies in Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela or Ecuador, countries to which he offered to travel incognito, armed with his principles and taking his questionable ethics as luggage.

After the dessert, but before the coffee, making a funny face and showing a very flattering look in his eyes, René alleged that just like astronauts and emergency doctors, “agents” also need decompression time.

I have not been able to confirm yet the veracity of this story, but it reminded me of something that was once written to satirize the manual of the now extinct KGB: “Spies and criminals share that cold principle of being able to sell their mothers just to get rewarded.”

Translated by Chabeli

29 June 2013

Categories of Human Beings / Rosa Maria Paya

Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut?

It has been a few weeks since South Florida’s media and social networks have been denouncing the systematic abuses to which refugees from Cuba and other nations are subjected in the Bahamas. The trigger was a series of clandestinely made cellphone videos that showed officers kicking people and subjecting them to different tortures. Those who made the videos public assure these were taken in the refugee detention camps in Nassau, and even when people have recognized their friends and relatives in the videos, the Bahamian Chancellery has denied that these are authentic.

These detention centers seem to be the scene of systematic human rights violations, but they are not a new phenomenon. The oldest data I know of refers to the New York Times of August, 1963, which discusses the intervention of Cuban air and naval forces in the former British island during which 19 refugees were kidnapped and taken back to Cuba. But even more astonishing is the reaction of the international community before a situation that has been taking place for years, and for which there are not many echoes beyond the modest ones from the voices of Cubans and Cuban Americans.

In the past 20 years, there is no trace of these events in two of the most important American newspapers, even when the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (IACHR) has issued reports thereon from allegations dating from 1998. For its part, the Spanish newspaper El País lists the names of the two Caribbean islands when it comes to hurricanes while other Iberian newspapers only mention them to highlight the progress of the oil drilling carried out in collaboration with Cuba.

The reaction is different when it comes to the equally unjust humiliations suffered by the prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo. The acts of condemnation in this case reach high political dimensions including the Human Rights Commission of the Russian Chancellery, the Swiss President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, the American Catholic Church, some leftist French party and thousands, perhaps millions of people from around the word who are in favor of the closing of this prison in the easternmost end of Cuba.

However, curiously enough, in that very end of my country the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo, run by Cuban authorities, is known for its inhumane treatment, the lack of hygiene, a poor diet and occasional beatings to which the people who are surviving there are subjected to. Most of the country’s prisons are run in similar conditions.

It would seem as if the men in orange uniforms held at the naval base belonged to a different category from that of the non-uniformed emigrants of the Caribbean. One hypothesis could be that the people of the Middle East evoke greater sympathy or compassion than the Caribbean people, but since it is precisely in that region where countless human rights violations have been committed in the past and continue to be committed to this day by the authorities of those countries, and the international condemnation has historically suffered its ups and downs, this argument doesn’t hold water. It would be scandalous if the level of the scandal was related to the category of the oppressors.

It is not the US Marines who are torturing Cubans and Haitians in the Bahamas; it is not “the Yankee empire” against “the oppressed people of the world.” Therefore, the perception is that the abuses committed by the authorities of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas are less attractive to the international community.

I cannot help questioning the motivations of the forces behind these reactions. If it is not compassion for those who are suffering, a sense of justice and respect for international treaties, could it be that the level of solidarity is determined by the unpopularity of the oppressor? Doesn’t the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights? A world in which lobbies have the last say and pressure groups have more interests than convictions is scary.

Who is lobbying for our brothers whose rights are violated with the same impunity in Havana and Nassau? Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut? Where is the absolute condemnation for the humiliations that these people who emigrate suffer from, which are not subjected to any accusations? Why throughout the 20 years this situation has been taking place has it not become popular among youth to favor the closure of the prison camps in the Bahamas?

Apparently, the sense of impunity is contagious, and the Bahamian officials feel they can beat Cubans in the same way in which the repressive bodies of the State Security in the Largest of the Antilles have no mercy toward opposition members. Each of them should know that impunity is not sustainable over time, and that time is running out.

Rosa María Payá

Translated by Chabeli

6 July 2013

The Cuban Communist Party and the Workers Central Union / Dimas Castellanos

The XCIII Plenary of the National Council of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC) that recently met under the chairmanship of the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), agreed to postpone the celebration of its XX Congress, create an Organizing Committee and appoint Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento to its leadership.

The postponement of the XX Congress was made so that the newly created Organizing Committee would have more time to organize the event, which has a pending discussion on the Draft of the Labor Code Bill and on the Congress Rules document.

Considering that another Plenary of the National Council of the CTC in which the progress of the organization efforts for the Congress were discussed took place just a month ago, the following questions arise: Why wasn’t the date for the Congress proposed at the time? Why was Carmen Rosa López ratified at the front of the CTC until the celebration of the XX Congress? And why wasn’t the Organizing Committee created during the time of the convening or last month at the Plenary?

The answers seem to be related to the difficulties encountered in the preparatory meetings. If so, doubts point to a poor preparation and to the inability of the Second Secretary of the CTC to reach the goals set by the Communist Party (PCC). This assumption is based on the fact that Carmen Rosa López had been appointed as the head of the PCC until the celebration of the event and had been elected Member of the State Council, which indicated that she was going to be “the chosen one” as Secretary General in the XX Congress. However, surprisingly, she had just been replaced by Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, who was the Secretary General of the PCC in the Province of Artemisa two weeks ago.

The discussion topics, according to the preparatory meetings of the XX Congress, will be related to the economy and represent an unavoidable duty for the CTC and its unions to achieve the conscious mobilization and participation of all workers in the fulfillment of the economic and social policies that were passed in the VI Congress.

Nonetheless, in the preparatory meetings the inadequacies that conspire against what the PCC expects from the union movement were highlighted. By that I mean keeping the CTC as the only labor union under the control of the PCC to ensure support for the implementation of the recent reform Guidelines; for such purpose it would be necessary to enroll all workers under the same union, the CTC, particularly those self-employed from the private sector, who would tend to grow and provide the strength without which reaching the expected results would be impossible.

Some of the criteria expressed during the process shed light on what happened. Salvador Valdés Mesa explained in Matanzas, on March 8th, that even when retirees, state and non-state affiliates, represent three sources of affiliation with different interests, it is the self-employed who are demanding special attention because of the novelty they represent to the union movement. Then later that month,  in the report to the XCII Plenary, Valdés emphasized in the shortcomings faced in the functioning of the organization, in the affiliation of workers and he made a call to combat crime, illegalities and to perfect the workers’ guard service.

Meanwhile in an interview published in Granma on April 27th, Carmen Rosa López said, “We still frequently find in the collective convening of workers that they have not been affiliated because of the shortcomings of our work,” and she also said that in all of the questionnaires and assessments completed this year the statements from the assembly members make reference to wages; which shows that the goals set took a different path from that of the workers’ concerns.

The recurring concerns expressed by the workers show their non-recognition of the unions as representatives of their interests, especially after the statement made by the Workers Central Union (CTC) in September of 2010 in favor of the layoffs, a measure that directly affected workers and their families. The statement said: Our State cannot nor should it continue to sponsor companies, institutions of production and services that are budgeted with inflated payrolls and result in losses that drag down the economy, which is counterproductive, generates bad habits, and distorts the codes of conduct of workers.

To summarize, the main goal of the Congress is to emphasize the performance that is expected from workers by the PCC in the implementation of the Guidelines for reform, not to address their particular problems, such as the insufficient wages and pensions in relation to the cost of living, among others, which has led Cubans to survive on the fringes of the law turning their backs on the so-called ideology while creating a negative attitude that hinders the realization of any social project.

We have to remember that unions in Cuba emerged to defend the interests of workers  when paid work began replacing slave labor; that the labor movement became widespread with the General Law of Associations of 1888 and then with freedoms and rights recognized in the Constitution of 1901; that it showed its strength with the founding of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba in 1925 and with a general strike in 1933 that toppled Gerardo Machado’s regime; that it achieved the passing of a number of labor laws, including the most important in Cuban labor legislation — Decree 798 of 1938 — which was subsequently endorsed in the Constitution of the Republic; that this development led to the birth of the CTC in 1939; and that joint committees were created to set a minimum wage standard, the terms to the right of collective bargaining and other measures in line with the established by the International Labor Organization.

Therefore, unions became an important sector of Cuba’s civil society to the point that in 1945 the CTC became the second largest trade union in the region with half a million members.

The takeaway is that workers’ participation in programs from the State or a political party, if it takes place, must be based on the interests, needs and decisions of workers themselves, a vital premise to the defense of their own interests.

Therefore, the postponement of the date of the Congress, from November of this year to the first trimester of 2014, has its roots in the conversion of the CTC into an auxiliary organization to the goals of the PCC, resulting in the loss of its independence and leading to the distortion of its original purpose. It is a situation beyond the capabilities of Salvador Valdés Mesa, Carmen Rosa Lópeza, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento or any other individual appointed to the leadership of  Cuban labor unionism.

The only way out, which depends on a political will so far nonexistent, is not in changing political figures or in modifying documents pending for discussion, it is in the freedom of association. This way the PCC could keep the CTC as an auxiliary organization and allow those workers who do not want to be CTC members to form other labor unions and freely join them. This would also be a response to the remarks and recommendations that were given to Cuba in a recent evaluation by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by Chabeli

3 June 2013

20 May 1902, The Possible Republic / Dimas Castellanos

Decorations for the birth of the Cuban Republic 20 May 1902

Decorations for the birth of the Cuban Republic 20 May 1902

Once the flag of the stripes and stars was lowered amid popular rejoicing on 20 May 1902, Generalissimo Máximo Gómez proceeded to raise the national ensign at Palace of the General Captains. “I think we have made it,” were his words that day.

After four centuries of colonialism, three decades of independence wars, and more than three years of foreign occupation the Republic of Cuba was officially born. This new date altogether with January 28, anniversary of the birth of the Apostle (José Martí), October 10, the Cry of Yara, February 24, the beginning of the War of Independence, and December 7, the fall of the Bronze Titan (Antonio Maceo), would form a pentarchy of illustrious anniversaries, with a singularity when it comes to political material; May 20th taught us a lesson: negotiation.

In an attempt to reduce its importance and to shape this event into a particular ideology and into the objectives of those in power, May 20 has been compared to the military coup d’etat of 1952, and it has even been denied as the event that marked the birth of the Republic. An example of the latter was the opinion expressed by historian Rolando Rodríguez who said that May not be remembered as the day that marked the birth of the Republic because the Republic had already emerged in Guáimaro on April 10th of 1869… “That is where the origin of the Cuban Republic is,” he said. Continue reading

Celebration of the 4th Anniversary of the Network of Civic Libraries / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada, Jennifer Fonseca Padrón

By Jennifer Fonseca Padrón, Activist and Independent Journalist

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net) | Four years after the birth of the Network of Civic Libraries (NCL), its members and founders decided to come together to honor the date, look at the accomplishments of their work and set new goals to reach. The celebration took place at the NLC headquarters where a dozen librarians exchanged ideas and made a brief account of the founding and development of the organization; among them the presence of Teresita Castellanos, co-founder and integrant of this civic organization, should be highlighted.

“The Network of Civic Libraries was created in mid-June 2009 at the request of a group of librarians who were then dispersed without being part of any project or already disappointed at others,” says Omayda Padrón, National Coordinator from the start to this day. One of the future goals to achieve is the growth and rescue of libraries across the country, she added. “The work of independent libraries is equally important to the work of movements, political parties and other civic organizations because it represents a permanent source of resistance against the government in any community, city or province,” said León Padrón, a reporter invited to the talk.

The main objectives of the Reinaldo Bragado Bretaña Network of Civic Libraries are book launches in independent libraries, giving lectures, literary gatherings, offering courses on leadership, human rights, Twitter, among others; exchanging ideas with other organizations and mainly to make known books that have been censored by the government, as well as to promote unknown literature in Cuba by Cuban writers from the diaspora who were once convicted and even their work was banned. This was the case of Reinaldo Bragado Bretaña, the writer and reporter the Network is proudly named after.

Also it needs to be highlighted that within the Network we are developing the Animated Smiles Project which consists in rescuing civic values, encouraging reading as a habit and regaining the culture where children play children’s games, particularly for those who live in the outlying communities of Havana where most of the families are dysfunctional and present problems of alcoholism, drug and domestic violence and many more, expressed Padrón.

Translated by: Chabeli

21 June 2013

The Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) left us with a bitter taste / Mario Lleonart

The VI Assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) came to an end, and this entity of Latin American churches missed out on the opportunity to make history in Cuba, adopting a genuinely prophetic position. Instead, the Assembly let itself be manipulated by the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC), which obviously is used by the regime. How sad!

Translated by Chabeli

29 May 2013

Operation Truth – Video / Eliecer Avila and Yoani Sanchez

Operation Truth Video & Transcript

Site manager: We decided not to subtitle the video itself, given its length and poor sound quality, so a transcript is provided below and can be downloaded here.  The video of Eliecer’s encounter with Ricardo Alarcon is available subtitled in English here.

Yoani Sánchez: It’s a pleasure to be with you and share an interview with Eliécer Ávila. Eliécer is an Information Scientist, but in recent years has been best known for his political and social action in Cuba. He is also the producer of the alternative television program “One More Cuban” and in the year 2008, for those who remember it, in the Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas (UCI) (Information Sciences University).  Eliécer had a question and answer session with Ricardo Alarcón, President of the National Assembly.

(Excerpt of video between Eliecer and Ricardo Alarcon)

Eliécer Ávila: OK, let me introduce myself, I am Eliécer Ávila, Faculty No. 2, leader of the “Technological and Political Surveillance” Project, which is one of the specialties of Operation Truth). What we are looking at here is the constant monitoring of the internet and our mission of reporting and fighting in this area.

Yoani Sánchez: What is and what has been Operation Truth?

Eliécer Ávila: Operation Truth is a project that stems from an “activity” of the UJC (Young Communist League). An “activity” (for non-Cubans here) is a meeting of the key militants and UJC teams of all the UCI brigades, which they hold periodically, about once or twice a year as I recall, in the Palace of Conventions.

The Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, was invited to one of these activities and, among other things, he explained that currently they were pursuing another campaign of defamation and that kind of thing, and then a student … (after the announcement Prieto played the university card, to use the students to express the Revolution’s opinion on the theme they were discussing. … a student proposed creating a project organized in the UCI,  which was the university most technically able to do it, to send out to the world the truth about Cuba, the truth put forward by the government about Cuba. Also the context of the Five Heroes. The second important objective of the Operation Truth Project was to tell the world about the Cuban vision regarding the Five Heroes.

Roughly in what year was the Operation Truth started?

I think it was 2007-2008

It was exactly in that period, in early 2008, if I’m not mistaken, when the conversation occurred between Ricardo Alarcón and a group of students of the UCI, and you in particular, pretty much in the same time period.

I think the Project had been going some months because it was then fairly well developed and they had gained a lot of experience. There was already a signed document of the Project at that time. It had been in operation for some time. Continue reading

The Constitution of La Yaya and the Future Cuban Constitution / Dimas Castellanos

1352037605_conztituicion-300x168On the 29th of October of 1897 in the pasture of La Yaya, in Sibanicú, Camagüey, the drafting of what would become the last mambí Constitution came to an end. The resulting text represented a qualitative leap forward in Cuba’s constitutional history. This was due to the inclusion, for the first time, of a dogmatic part that included the most advanced individual political and civil rights at the time: habeas corpus, freedom and confidentiality of postal communications, freedom of religion, equality before taxation, freedom of education, right to petition, inviolability of the home,  universal suffrage, freedom of expression and the right of assembly and association.

This result was determined by multiple causes; particularly because the always-present interdependence between development and individual freedoms in every social project is reflected in the constitutional history of human rights. Continue reading

Necessary Reminder / Jeovany Jimenez Vega #Cuba

By Jeovany Jiménez Vega

I reread the letter from the surgeons from the Havana “Calixto García” Hospital to Raúl Castro, which was published on 20 September by Cubaencuentro anonymous and undated. At the time of posting my previous post on October 1, I didn’t know that on September 28 another digital site, Cubainformación, had published what it says is the real letter–this time backed by the name of 62 surgeons of the hospital and dated August 15, 2011–in an article that also accused “international media and the so-called Cuban dissidence…” of manipulating the document. The next day, September 29, Cubaencuentro reviewed the indictment and published the full text referred by Cubainformación.

I do not think the letter made public by one of these sites differs too much in its essence from that published by the other. Some words here and there but the poverty, abuse, neglect and hopelessness they describe are unquestionable facts.

So, today I focus not on the presumed authenticity of one or other, but on fact slips into the background here, that this controversial and incredibly important document only comes to light after being published by Cubaencuentro, yet was sent to the highest leadership of the country over a year ago and this is where I ask: did these doctors received any response from the authorities and government policies to their just concerns?

Or perhaps it passed to the Internet because they never received a response to their letter? Did the authorities react with maturity and naturalness or with their usual arrogance? Do events like this finally make the Cuban authorities become aware of the imminent need to accommodate us with more respect or do they eternally perpetuate this laziness?

I hope that by this time this controversy bears good fruit. Hopefully this intolerance that has corroded life is not first and foremost any more since those who from shame have the nobility to speak aloud when others are silent out of fear. Hopefully no other Cuban will suffer what I had to suffer for saying for similar words, which I offer here as a reminder of what must change, but in continuing is the shame of our country.

(*) Letter addressed to the then Minister of Public Health Dr. José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, on November 11, 2005, by Drs. Jeovany Jimenez Vega and Rodolfo Martinez Vigoa. (Excerpt)

…The worker subject to our Ministry has particular characteristics that must be kept in mind in order avoid falling into simplistic analysis… Whoever graduates and then betters himself, as an unavoidable human consequence, aspires to live decently from the fruit of his labor, but today our particular reality is quitepainful and different: we receive an evanescent salary that is exhausted at five or at the most 10 days, being then in the throes ofthe urgency of expenses of that kind of public charity, from the spontaneous gesture of the grateful patient who knows our imperious necessity. We speak of talented and dedicated professionals, of high human quality, working with threadbare gowns and his only pair of broken shoes, with many of his more elemental needs not covered, who has coexisted with this lamentable situation for more than a decade, burdened by shortages that would fill these pages and that we leave to the imagination.

While it’s true that some of our patients, who barely made it to the 6th Grade, earn no less than $300 Cuban pesos a month, selling candy or peanuts, others can earn that amount daily; it would be absurd to compare with the sector made up of the self-employed.

We then want to bring attention to the state sectors that interact around us, which would be valid to take as point of comparison. For example: A SEPSA custodianearns about $200 Cuban pesos a month, includingCUCs, food, and personal hygiene products. An ETECSA clerk, in similar terms, earns $ 1000 Cuban pesos a month.The MINFAR and MININT pay higher salaries than ours and for years, have been systematically implementing a policy of incentives.In all the above cases,the employee receives a uniform and a pair of shoes on a regular basis.

The list of better-paid jobs in the state sector would be a long one.So, I cannot find the answers to the following questions: If the official argument is the lack and unavailability of resources and funds, then what justifies the fact that the person who guards the door at the hospital earns three times more than a professor of Internal Medicine, who have been training doctors for decades, and even the director of the hospital, when National System of Public Health is an entity entirely subordinated to the State that centralizes such resources and funds.

Isn’t it totally absurd that a month of school pays off several times more and results more ’useful’to an individualthan 12 years of higher education? Does it make any sense that this society, which aspires to full equality, pays more back to a custodian thana neurosurgeon who is now saving lives?

What justifies the reality that an MGI specialist or a dentist or the last super-specialist of the Institute are unable to satisfy their basic needs, and when that’s not the case, they fulfill them at the expense of undertaking some other kind of work, but never from their salary as professionals?

Our workers are asked for an altruistic and selfless spirit and great human sensibility, capable of taking high doses of sacrifices, qualities that they certainly have. Unfortunately, in the chain of CUC stores, where the State sets the prices and sells products very expensively, and where many of the basic consumer goods end up being sold, the hard currency (CUC) we are charged with cannot be called sacrifice, altruism, or dignity (that would be truly touching), but simply CUC… Then, our professionals, left with no other choices, go into the street to face that other ’daily struggle’ to avoid prostituting themselves in their profession, selling under-the-counter “certificates of illness,” medicines, or receive some sort of perk.

It is such an overwhelming situation, which forces the individual to seek an alternative source of income, in many exotic and dissimilar ways that would leave one in awe: raising pigs, taking in ironing, selling pizza, ham or eggs, working as masons, carpenters, shoemakers, or simply renting the car that was awarded for participating in an international mission, for a fixed monthly price, so that they can afford to buy gasoline. And all of these activities share something in common: they are discouraging and time-consuming when placed in the balance with professional growth.They take people away from what should be their only worry: studying, which they should pay back byproviding exquisite attention to their patients, from a scientific point of view.

If today we are flying the flag of internationalism with medical missions in dozens of countries, it also thanks to the spirit of self-sacrifice of those of us who stayed in Cuba. Our workers have had to take onthe work of those who left in missions, and so a single doctor is responsible for the work previously performed by 3 or 4; there are even more dramatic cases, and on top of this, doctors try to deliver the same level of care to their patients while receiving in return the same pay, knowing that your internationalist colleague, certainly well deserved, earns several hundred dollars a month and after her/his return they will receive amonthly stipend, not negligible at all underthe present circumstances…

Under this situation, our staff had bigger expectations regarding monthly salary increases in June 2005, which resulted in true disappointment. A $48.00 Cuban pesos raise to the monthly salary of a doctor, under these circumstances, was less than symbolic.In the hallways of our hospitals and polyclinics, you could hear harsh words being said, charged with grief and resentment; insulting and offensive phrases, that we will not repeat here in the name of decency, were muttered all over the place.

Our Ministry has the moral obligation to offer a respectful response to its workers, given the extreme sensitivity of this issue. These are the same workers who, at the peak and during the saddest moments of the Special Period, remained working for $3.00 USD or less a month, holding high the honor of our work, and they deserve to know that their opinions are taken into account…

Everything that has been said here is completely true; it has been said in a measured and respectful way for a very simple reason: If justice is the supreme ideal of the Revolution, the current compensation received by our workerseven after decades of effort and dedication is neither fair nor proportionate, while other state sectors are paid several times more, the situation is not compatible with Marxist principles… ’one should get paid according to his work.’

… The problem itself is much more controversial and profound, and it will never besolved with palliative measures or timid salary increases. We can only humbly alert; those who have ears to hear, listen. Reality is much harsher than any words, and that one, even when it burns our hands, does not fit in any discourse.

There are thousands of workers… who are waiting for a response. We hope that it will be moderate and fair, well-thought and intelligent, and it will show no signs of clumsiness. The harshness of these times has not made us lose the tenderness inour hearts.We have faith in that decisions, consistent with the spirit of this Revolution for the humble, will be made, by the humble and for the humble.

- End of the Document -

P.S. Eleven months from the date when this letter was delivered at the headquarters of the Ministry of Public Health, both of us, its authors, were suspended from the practice of medicine for more than 5 years.

Translated by Chabeli

October 16 2012

 

Incense and Myrrh / Regina Coyula #Cuba

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, while enjoying my coffee in the morning, the children bustling outside reminded me that it was Three Kings’ Day.” It has been a while, for my husband and me, since the suffocation of making this day happen for our son came to an end. Memorable for me, because I believed in the Kings for a long time, but also felt for my husband who, from having been so poor, knew they did not exist. In Rafael’s case, his 2nd Grade teacher decided to cut off this illusion for the entire classroom.

Yesterday, the children got new toys, but without being thankful to Melchior, Caspar or Balthasar. Powerful daddies gave their children Xbox, battery-operated cars, bikes, and the list goes down to the common rubber balls and the pseudo-Barbies from the ’Everything for $1.00’ stores.

Except for street-vendors of plastic toys such as small cars or furniture for dolls and for the slow circulation of certain toys that eventually are sold in Cuban pesos instead of CUC, buying toys in CUC is a problem, especially since what were charmingly called “the basic,” “the non-basic,” and “the additional rationed toys,” disappeared, and even toys themselves for a time.Yet, in the past few days you could see children in toy stores choosing their presents and taking them home, especially on the eve of the 6th.

But, what about the ’Kings?’ Those were forced into exile along with Virgin Mary and Mickey Mouse when we began building Communism.

Mickey Mouse made a comeback in the cartoons pirated from Disney Channel. Virgin Mary came back, invoked by atheists in recent times. Even the birth of the son of the Virgin got his holiday, a concession by Pope John Paul II. However, the star of Bethlehem turned out to be a scientific supernova.

The Three Kings have become a sort of urban legend.There is talk about a cavalcade by the Kings a few years ago; you hear that this year they appeared in some parts of the city.I do not think this ban comes from Santa Claus, this chubby man omnipresent since Christmas has no longer been categorized as an ideological deviation.The Kings do their magic clandestinely, since the effort to dissipate them began with the invention of a Children’s Day, many months away from January 6th.

While disguised, the old traditions loom shyly, without the charm of the grass and water for the camels.

Translated by Chabeli

January 7 2013

What Mariela Castro Hides About the Night Clubs of Havana / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada #Cuba

Havana, Cuba – These are some of the realities that Mrs. Mariela Castro hides, leaving the LGBT community in absolute deprivation of all rights.

A number of night clubs that hosted parties for the LGBT community have been closed in the past few days. To cite some examples:

- Due to a general restoration, ’El Café Cantante,’ took over the space of ’Divino’ leaving it without its usual site.

- The public club ’José A. Echeverría’ has a number of regulations, which, in the first place, forced the ’Ibiza Project’ to change its name, and eventually it was moved to ’El Colmado’ in the municipality of Centro Habana, a site in precarious conditions for the activities of the LGBT community.

Also, ’La Mamba,’ which operates at this same location (El Colmado) on Fridays is looking for a new space to continue organizing these kinds of parties.

- Las Vegas Cabaret is in the process of analyzing its role since it had always been a place for the elite in the capital, and it has been transformed like the palace of impersonations in the city, with real international impact.

In regards to ’meeting sites’:

- The very well known tendedera, located across from the Capitol, in Old Havana, has been under restoration along with the emblematic headquarters of former Government, with a great concentration of policemen and celebrities.

- Central Park, on the side of the movie theater ’Pairet,’ young people walking by are required to show their IDs, simply because they are in a tourist area and may be considered potential hookers or hustlers in to the eyes of the policemen.

- Fraternity Park, surrounded by bus stops, now has the highest level of outdoor lighting in the capital.

- Cafeteria Infanta.cu, also known as the Bin Bon, is actually the only place from which the authorities have not been able to eliminate the presence of the LGBT community. However, they are vulnerable to abuses from the authorities on a daily basis.

In other words, we are going back to the era of prohibition. The problem lies in that many of the night clubs had stopped throwing “de Cheo” (boring) parties and had specialized in LGBT community parties only. The ’Karachy’ is closed, as well as ’Asia’ in La Víbora.

There are still a number of open locations.

We recommend you subscribe to text messages and get your information from handouts.

Parties are currently shifting locations and are not taking place in their usual spaces.

Like we said before, the main night clubs in this situation are:

Ibiza, La Mamba, Divino, and El Olimpo.

November 9 2012