Ex-Minister: Cuba Earns $11.5 Billion From Export of Professional Services

Cuban doctors are present in more than 60 countries and constitute the main source of income for the government of the Island. (@ Evoespueblo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 17 April 2017 — Cuban professional services abroad are the main source of foreign exchange for the government and represent an estimated 11.543 billion dollars annually, according to an article published in the official press by the island’s former Minister of the Economy, José Luis Rodríguez.

Most of the income comes from the more than 50,000 healthcare professionals who work in some sixty countries around the world, nearly half of whom are doctors and specialists in different branches of medicine. continue reading

The recently published Health Statistics Yearbook 2016 reveals that Cuban professionals are in 24 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, in almost three dozen African countries, and in the Middle East, East Asia and the Pacific. In Europe they are present in Russia and Portugal.

In 2014, the Cuban government said that the country obtained 8.2 billion dollars for the provision of health services abroad, a figure that would have declined after the fall in oil prices and the crisis in Venezuela. It also maintains other cooperation programs from which it receives dividends, such as the export of professionals in education, technicians, engineers and athletes.

More than 28,000 Cuban professionals remain in Venezuela as part of the agreements that the government of Hugo Chávez government and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, pay for with oil

Venezuela is the main market for Cuban professionals. In the health sector alone it is estimated that more than 28,000 Cuban professionals remain in that country as a part of the agreements that the government of Hugo Chaves and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, pay for with oil.

According to Maduro, Venezuela has invested more than 250 billion dollars in health agreements between both nations since 1999. More than 124,000 Cuban professionals in that sector have worked in Venezuela, said the president.

The second country in terms of numbers of Cuban professionals is Brazil, which since the beginning of the More Doctors program, in 2013, has contracted through the Pan American Health Organization for 11,400 Cuban professionals.

Following the ousting of President Dilma Rousseff, Cuba renegotiated the contract and gained a 9% increase in the salaries of professionals. The country also renewed the contract for the island’s professionals for three more years. However, the thousands of Cubans who have contracted marriages with Brazilians to obtain permanent residence, and the more than 1,600 who are in the process of validating their credentials in Brazil and separating themselves from the guardianship of Havana, have caused Cuba to suspend the sending of new doctors to Brazil to avoid desertions.

The Cuban government, through the Cuban Medical Services Dealer, offers workers on the island, whose salary is around $40 a month, some benefits and better remuneration if they will agree to go on the missions. In no case do the professionals negotiate their contracts directly with the employer, which is why the Cuban authorities keep between 50 and 75% of the income.

The thousands of Cubans who have contracted marriage with Brazilians to obtain permanent residence and the more than 1,600 who are in the process of validating their credentials in Brazil have caused Cuba to suspend the sending of new doctors to that country to avoid desertions

Family members are not allowed to stay for more than three months with the professionals on “medical missions,” who must return to the island when they finish their contracts. If they do not, they are prohibited from returning to Cuba for eight years, according to the current immigration regulations.

Some organizations like Solidarity Without Borders, which helps Cuban doctors who decide to defect from government missions, denounce these contracts as “the greatest human trafficking case in modern history.”

Until January 12th of this year, the United States maintained a special welcome program known as Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) to welcome health professionals who escaped medical missions.

The CMPP, established in 2006 under the administration of George Bush, was a point of friction with Havana, which called for its elimination. More than 8,000 professionals took advantage of this program. Cuban-American members of Congress from Florida have vowed to work for its reinstatement.

The health system on the island is free, state-run and universal. A total of 493,368 people work in the system, of which 16,852 are dentists, 89,072 are nurses and 63,471 are technicians.

After the end of the Soviet subsidy the quality of the healthcare system collapsed. Cubans often complain about the absence of the specialists who have been sent to third countries. Recently the government began to deliver symbolic bills to remind citizens that “public health is free, but it costs.”

The Risks of Defending Human Rights in Cuba / Cubalex

Cubalex, 4 April 2017 — In the cycles of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), held in 2009 and 2013, the Cuban State rejected 32 recommendations calling for an end to repression against human rights defenders and lifting restrictions that impede freedom of speech, opinion, association, assembly and peaceful demonstration.

Members of the Human Rights Council suggested that the state ensure a safe, free and independent environment for human rights activities, without the risk of harassment, intimidation, persecution or violence. continue reading

They recommended that the state refrain from abusing the criminal code to repress and harass people. In addition, all necessary measures should be taken including a review of the legislation, to ensure that all cases of aggression against human rights activists are investigated by independent and impartial bodies.

The Cuban State objected to these recommendations, on the grounds that they were inconsistent with the exercise of the state’s right to self-determination; they claimed that this would imply implementing a policy conceived by a foreign superpower, with the aim of destroying Cuba’s political, economic, and social system.

However, the government claims that, in the country, human rights defenders are protected, on an equal footing, and act with total freedom and without any restriction that is incompatible with international human rights instruments.

The state adds that there are the millions of people who in Cuba are grouped in thousands of organizations, and who have all the guarantees for the exercise of their rights. They do not need different protection from that of anyone with Cuban citizenship. They are not a threat, they are not in danger, nor do they face the possibility of an act in violation of the conduct of their activities.

Depressed But Happy? / Francis Sanchez

Photo by Francis Sanchez

Francis Sanchez, 29 March 2017 – Cuba is the country with the second highest levels of depression in Latin America, exceeded only by Brazil. The statistics appear in a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) released in Geneva. From this report, paradoxically, this data is omitted by Cuban publications that otherwise echo the report.

The state discourse may not know how to handle this data, along with another which places us among the countries with the highest suicide rates. But, are depression and suicide not, in general terms, typical disorders of developed societies? As is the aging of the population. Why, then, aren’t our rates of depression, anxiety and suicides considered, as is increasing old age, as national achievements? continue reading

Surely we Cubans are not depressed, nor do we suffer anxiety, for the same reasons as Brazilians, Swedes or Japanese. We run little risk of addiction to work. Rather, it is the complete opposite. Our work places are a façade to “mark time” and “resolve things under the table.” A very true and repeated axiom is: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

Not having work to do, does not mean that we are exposed to leisure (good for enjoying extreme activities such as family vacations or lying on the couch of a psychoanalyst). We live day by day “struggling” for sustenance.

Although our war is so asymptomatic that it does not deprive us of the luxuries of sadness and the abysses of madness. In catastrophes, it is often the case that the effort to breathe increases (during wars, when fewer people commit suicide). Countries of Central America, where the gangs swarm and great atrocities are committed, show more satisfactory rates of depression.

Despite the regrets, we must have some self-imposed sources of frustration. The truth is that we are taken for the cliché of the tropical couple with the smile from ear to ear and the pair of maracas. Might this have something to do with the permanent state of pretending? With the naturalized and institutionalized lies?

Between immobility, lack of economic and political opportunity on the one hand, and the state’s chauvinistic and triumphalist discourse on the other, there are few reasons for hope. Our everyday problems, even if they are the same as those inherent in life in any other country, may be swallowed by us in a special and not recommended way. Never forget that we have been the only people of this hemisphere politically and ideologically converted into a “mass.” By discarding the individual will, even the masks were eliminated from our carnivals.

Many want to assign us the role of the most amusing. Besides those in power, as expected, including the Latin American peoples, their academics, their social leaders who manage to constantly mobilize people if they so much as raise the price of transport by a single peseta, they say that they envy us, and they ask us to continue resisting.

But lately, for some years now, I have noticed that political jokes are no longer whispered in the streets as they were, for example, in the Special Period. After many turns of life or history, and a lack of imagination to visualize the future, maybe everyone already knows the end and no one is amused?

I remember that in the worst years of the 1990s we laughed at the hunger, the blackouts, there were parodies on the quota of two hamburgers for each identity card, at the infinite marches, etc. Then came the anecdote of how, on a billboard, under a slogan that adorned streets and roads (“We are happy here”), a daring soul wrote at night: “Imagine out there.” The story included the curiosity that, at dawn, even the policemen could not stop laughing.

The Treatment Of ‘White Coats’

Cuban doctors participating in the program of the Brazilian government ‘More Doctors’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 11 April 2017 – The treatment of blacks and the market in slaves brought from Africa developed by the European colonists has clearly been established as a crime against humanity before all contemporary civilized beings without the slightest doubt. It was a practice that “sold” human beings as if they were merchandise to serve as mere instruments of production, especially in the sugar, coffee and cotton plantations of the New World.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries human trafficking acquired other connotations that made the United Nations address the issue as an international crime because it has continued — albeit in ways different from that slavery, but essentially with the same connotation — to subject people to the exploitation of prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery and practices similar to slavery, servitude and the removal of organs. The victims have been mainly women and children. continue reading

The Cuban Government captures, transports, and transfers Cuban doctors and paramedics using the abuse of power it has over its citizens and especially the situation of economic vulnerability of those workers

Right now, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human trafficking is visiting Cuba. In order for the distinguished visitor to know an issue that she should investigate in Cuba, I present the case of the “white coats,” which in one way or another many in Cuba have denounced for years.

In this regard, it is necessary to refer to the UN definition of human trafficking.

The UN Protocol Against Human Trafficking refers to it as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

After reading this definition, does anyone have any doubts that the operations of the Cuban Government in sending Cuban doctors and paramedics to different countries of the world to “fulfill internationalist missions” constitutes real trafficking in persons for the purpose of exploitation?

The Cuban Government captures, transports, and transfers Cuban doctors and paramedics using the abuse of power it has over its citizens and especially the situation of economic vulnerability of those workers.

They are given certain small benefits, in a situation where the low level of wages established by the Government itself for its employees, allows it to obtain the consent of these employees to be exploited. At the same time, it appropriates between 70% and 90% of the wages paid by the governments of other countries, or by health institutions of the World Health Organization (WHO) itself, for the services of these professionals.

Medicine is one of the fields of those in which the Cuban state forbids self-employment, which is another factor in the pressure to force professionals to “accept” internationalist missions. If self-employment were allowed their incomes would increase and they would not have to be forced to “serve on a mission.”

These professionals are prevented from taking their families with them, but rather are forced to leave their children and spouses as hostages that force them to return to the country, for which they are also victims of extra-economic coercion

In addition, these professionals are prevented from taking their families with them, but rather are forced to leave their children and spouses as hostages that force them to return to the country, for which they are also victims of extra-economic coercion. The deception has also been used to obtain the recruitment of Cuban doctors for these purposes, since they have been offered perks that were never satisfied, such as the chance to buy a car.

To give an idea of ​​the magnitude of this program of the Cuban government, according to its own Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales, Cuba has about 50,000 professionals working in more than 66 countries. According to Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, the government receives about eight billion dollars a year for this slave labor. It is the largest sum of foreign currency entering the country, only comparable to that which comes from Cuban-Americans abroad, who send remittances to their families on the island, along with food, medicines, clothes and appliances, along with travel expenses for themselves and their families.

These elements are sufficient to accuse the Cuban Government of operating a huge international system of trafficking in white coats on several continents that includes flagrant and massive violations of the human rights of these citizens: the reality of the Cuban economy forces them to serve as slaves to the Cuban state, and be subjected to the situation of leaving their relatives behind as hostages.

The most recent example that proves this is a major government business is the recent decision to prevent physicians from leaving the country freely like the rest of the citizens

The most recent example that proves this is a major government business is the recent decision to prevent physicians from leaving the country freely like the rest of the citizens, unless they do so through such “internationalist missions.”

If United Nations rapporteur wishes to have complete information on this matter, in addition to hearing what the Cuban Government has to say about this, she should meet with some of the hundreds of doctors who have decided to abandon their missions and reside in the US or other countries.

Cuban human rights organizations, opposition groups and dissidents will surely try to ensure that this issue is duly investigated by the honorable Special Rapporteur of the UN for trafficking in persons, on the occasion of her trip to Cuba.

A Cuban Rapper Rebels against a Corrupt Bureaucracy and Wins / Juan Juan Almeida

Henry Laso Martinez, known as “El Encuyé.

Juan Juan Almeida, 17February 2017 — After two years and eight months of prolonged struggle, the inconclastic Santiago de Cuba rapper Henry Laso Martinez, known as “El Encuyé,” won the first round in a battle against corrupt officials in charge of the country’s most powerful musical organization, the Cuban Institute of Music.

In the summer of 2012, the young musician and former leader of the group Pasión Caribe needed a permit to work as a singer. He claims that Orlando Vistel Columbié, who was then vice-president of the Institute of Music, told him he would have to pay 500 CUC (USD $500) for the right to audition.

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Laso paid it, assuming this type of extortion was normal procedure and because he needed the paperwork. Four years later he needed another permit, this time to be a soloist. Reinaldo Almeira, the director of a music group named for Cuban singer Benny Moré, told him the fee would be 1,000 CUC, 700 of which would go to Vistel for the right to a new audition. Though Laso paid it, his application was turned down.

Thus began the rapper’s painful odyssey. He filed complaints with the police and the attorney general. He sent letters to Raúl Castro, to Orlando Vistel, to Reinaldo Almeida, to the director of Tumbao Mayor Orchestra and to Conrado, a colonel from the Ministry of the Interior assigned to handle musical affairs at the Ministry of Culture. When none of them responded, Laso became radicalized.

“I had posters put up, I had young people screaming. They saw that I had followers behind me and young people supporting my cause. That was when the authorities, who were clearly outnumbered, decided to call it quits, that I was right and that all I wanted to do was work. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it was. I won but I wonder what would have happened if I was an unknown. If instead of being an artist, I was a laborer,” says the urban musician.

An audition was finally scheduled for February 1. On that date he performed in front of a panel of judges as a solo singer from Cienfuego’s Rafael Lay orchestra.

“Five people decide whether I can sing or not. It makes no sense but I did get legal status. They filmed the recording session and they are now processing the paperwork at the Institute of Music in Havana. It then goes to Orlando Vistel for his signature,” says Laso.

“Today I want to thank all the friends and the media who supported me in demonstrating that there was a group of corrupt officials here. In the midst of my crusade, I had the honor of meeting Pablo Milanés* who told me, ’Fight, and when you get your work back, you will have to confront the things that are wrong, even if they don’t affect you.’ I was impressed, Pablo is a man who, when he is not happy with things, criticizes them publicly. He is a person who helps artists a lot, who supported my cause and was indignant at the injustice to which they subjected me,” he adds.

“First, with respect to my future work, I will rescue the word love but, once in awhile, I will shake things up. I will always tell the truth. Of course, if they want to censor me, I will continue the fight because I am no longer afraid. I have more than fifty reasons to tell anyone the truth to his face,” says the singer.

“I am an artist committed to the society in which I live. I will make songs but I will not remain silent while a bunch of scumbags damages the careers of other artists,” he adds.

“I solved part of the problem. Now I have to work to help my family but I will never forget the cause. I wanted to show that a citizen can take action and I did. And I am taking the opportunity to publicly promise that I will fight to end this fraudulent system of auditions, that my voice will be a constant call to abolish a bureaucracy whose only purpose is to sell paperwork, enrich dishonest officials and destroy the dream of a lot of young people,” he concludes.

*Translator’s note: One of Cuba’s most popular and famous singer/songwriters. Though a longtime a supporter of the Cuban revolution, in recent years Milanés has been publicly critical of it.

“Being A Teacher Is Not Profitable In Cuba But It Teaches You To Love”

The damages to educational quality caused by the lack of preparation of the “emerging teachers” remain to be measured. (Telesur)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Caridad Cruz/Mario Penton, Cienfuegos/Miami, 17 April 2017 – teaching children cursive writing and educating them is much more than a job for Adrian, an elementary school teacher in Ciego de Avila. His threadbare pants stained with chalk dust make clear that he is not one of those most favored by the economic changes on the island, even with the recent 200 Cuban peso (about $8 US) raise in his monthly salary, which he received for teaching 27 third graders, more than the state class size norms.

In January, Ministry of Education Resolution 31 decreed a selective salary increase of between 200 and 250 Cuban pesos for those teachers who have more students in their classrooms than the norms set for primary education. In the case of junior high and high schools, the teachers who teach more than one subject also receive a cash incentive. continue reading

“Money is not the main thing in life, rather it is fulfillment, and that is what my profession gives me,” says this 29-year-old “emergent” teacher, who graduated in the years in which the chronic absence of teachers made Fidel Castro launch his Battle of Ideas and graduate thousands of young people as teachers with just eight months of training.

At that time the hook used by the Government was exemption from compulsory military service and the possibility of getting a university degree in humanities without passing the qualifying exams.

Most of the young people who started the project left after the first years of work in one of the lowest paid professions in the country.

The damages to the quality of education caused by the lack of preparation of these emerging teachers remain to be measured, although with the arrival of Raúl Castro to the power in 2006, that program, like the other programs of the Battle of Ideas fell by the wayside.

“In January they raised the salary, but they do not want to call it a salary increase because it only affects those who have more than 25 children in the classroom, but at least it’s something,” he says.

At the beginning of the century, Cuba decided to limit class size to 20 students, but the chronic shortage of teachers and the exodus of professionals to other better paid work prevented this plan from being maintained.

“For years I did the same job and they did not pay me extra,” Adrian laments. “The workers union’s only purpose is to march on the first of May of the plaza. They never demand anything.”

Adrian has a salary of 570 pesos, about 23 dollars. He lives with his mother, a retired teacher of 68, and he is the family’s main support. His salary “is not enough,” he confesses, so he secretly sells treats among the students at recess.

“If it was not for that, I could not make ends meet,” he says. “After all, nobody can live on their salary in Cuba.”

The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in recent years. In 2013 it was 512 pesos, two years later, 537 pesos

Teachers are not allowed to engage in business activities in schools, but many principals turn a blind eye to avoid losing the few experienced teachers they have left.

“They say that in some provinces, like Matanzas, the state sells food products to teachers at subsidized prices (above and beyond what is in the rationing system). If they did that, at least I would not have to sell candy,” he adds.

The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in recent years. In 2013 it was 512 Cuban pesos, two years later, in 2015, official data confirm that the average wage is 537 pesos, the equivalent of about 21 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) per month.

The current real wage, after deducting accumulated inflation, is equivalent to only 28% of the 1989 purchasing power, according to calculations by economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago.

Adrian’s mother, Elisa, recalls the years when she began as a “Makarenko” teacher (a collectivist method created by the Russian pedagogue of the same name) in the ’60s and says that the difficulties now are nothing compared to what her generation experienced.

“We earned 87 pesos a month and to be a teacher you had to climb Pico Turquino (the highest mountain in Cuba) and teach in very different places. There is nothing like teaching, it is teaching a person to fly. It’s the best profession in the world. If I were born again I would be a teacher again,” she says.

In the past academic year 2015-2016, there were 4,218 fewer teachers compared to the previous year. The trend has been accentuated since the 2008-2009 academic year in which official statistics begin to reflect the massive hemorrhaging of educators.

Numbers of teachers in front of the classroom — 2005 to 2016. Source: Statistical yearbook of Cuba.

“Despite the salary of teachers and the conditions in which they perform their work, many remain in their posts. A driver in the city earns in one week what an education professional earns in a month,” says Elisa.

She receives a pension of 230 Cuban pesos a month, about 9 CUC. In the afternoons she has a small group of six children that she tutors for the price of 2 CUC per month each.

“I do it to help my son. We have to pay for the refrigerator, and life has become very expensive: a liter of oil costs almost a quarter of my retirement, and don’t even talk about the price of milk. Luckily I have an ulcer and they give me a ration of milk,” says the teacher.

Every afternoon Adrian collects the 27 notebooks of his students to review them carefully and correct the spelling mistakes. Jhonatán, “a javaito (Afro-Cuban) who escaped the devil,” helps him to carry them home.

“That nine-year-old boy’s mother was arrested because he was a jinetera (a prostitute). He lives with his father who is an alcoholic and who often beats him. The only signs of affection he receives are in school,” says Elisa.

“Being a teacher is not profitable but it teaches you to love,” the retired teacher says with emotion. “Sometimes Adriancito even buys the boy shoes because he has nothing to wear to school.”

Advertising On Wheels Arrives In Havana

Advertising Biky through the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 14 April 2017 — The vehicle belonging to El Biky cooperative is adorned with the images of its products and the smiling faces of some of its employees. The food center, located at the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, is looking to conquer new new customers for its cafe, restaurant and bakery.

As it passes, the singular minibus awakens curiosity and questions. Some question whether private individuals will be allowed to do the same, or whether it is only a prerogative for the 397 non-agricultural cooperatives that are active in the country. continue reading

As for advertising and marketing, ingenuity and creativity alone are not enough; also important is the enterprise’s form of ownership and management.

For decades advertising was frowned upon by the Cuban government

For decades, advertising was frowned upon by Cuban officialdom. The existence of the rationed market, the creation of a distribution system where people “earned” the right to buy home appliances based on their loyalty to the government, and the almost total nationalization of the economy made advertisement to promote a product or service unnecessary. To talk about marketing was taken as an ideological drift with petty bourgeois tints.

With the economic reforms of the 1990s the situation began timid changes. The government itself launched publicity for trips to the island with colorful advertisements of beaches, sun and sand. The private sector was not far behind and created everything from brochures with their offers, to digital sites to attract customers. However, television maintains the sobriety of not airing commercials and the marketing is focused within the food outlets themselves, the yellow pages of the telephone directory and the internet.

State Security Prevents Screening Of Miguel Coyula’s Documentary ‘Nadie’

Note: The video above is not subtitled but the excerpts from Nadie here are subtitled.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 April 2017 – Cuba’s State Security and the National Revolutionary Police surrounded the independent gallery El Círculo to prevent this Saturday’s screening of the documentary Nadie (Nobody), directed by Miguel Coyula and featuring the censored poet and writer Rafael Alcides.

The filmmaker and his wife, actress Lynn Cruz, were intercepted by police at the corner of 13th and 10th Streets in Havana’s Vedado district. Starting several hours earlier the agents had closed the street to vehicles and pedestrians, according to a statement made from the location to 14ymedio.

Cruz and Coyula point out that without any reason and with “only a vague argument” the operation was carried out in the area, and the police asked for their IDs and didn’t let them pass. Only “four Spanish diplomats” managed to reach the gallery, according to Lia Villares, curator of El Circulo. continue reading

On 29 January Nadie received the Award for the Best Documentary during its international premier in the Dominican Global Film Festival.

“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there”

“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there,” said Coyula and Cruz describing the moment when the police blocked their access to the site where the documentary was going to be shown.

Cruz also denounced that State Security warned several of the invited guests that the operation was being carried out to “save” them from the “counterrevolutionaries” who had “deceptively” issued invitations to the screening.

“As authors of the work, we denounce the censorship that the government exercises because this time it went beyond the institution,” said Coyula.

“Art is also about the citizen’s right to share and discuss a film. Intellectuals and artists need to take a firm stand and defend their right to perform and display critical works, without compromise, because the attitude that that they take in life ends us being reflected in their work,” he added, speaking to 14ymedio.

Screen shot of the documentary Nadie with Rafael Alcides.

Following the police deployment that prevented access to the gallery, the filmmaker invited several friends to his home where he projected the documentary. Among the guests was Michel Matos, director of Matraka Productions, who is strongly criticized by officialdom.

The Círculo had also announced a Saturday screening of Carlos Lechuga’s film, Santa and Andrés, but the film’s producer, Claudia Calviño, refused to allow the projection and called the gesture an “illegality” saying “this and other activities are outside the traditional marketing framework.”

Lía Villares circulated an email on Sunday in which she defined the “political” character of the gallery that seeks to “promote a culture that continues to be censored despite international awareness and witnesses.” The activist also points out that it is in Cuba that artists have “a moral responsibility to the present and future.”

Chavism Chose Repression

Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado (3rd from the left) leads a protest march in Venezuela. (Vertice News)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Naky Soto (Vertice News), Caracas, 15 April 2017 — In spite of having previously asserted that they would call him a dictator and that would not matter to him, Nicolas Maduro did not put up with two days of national and international denunciations of Venezuela’s constitutional rupture demanding a reversal of the Constitutional Chamber’s sentences which stripped the National Assembly of its powers: With a diligent but incomplete National Defense Counsel, at midnight on Friday he announced that the problem was solved. The newspeak did not help this time because minimizing as an “impasse” the State’s blow to legislative power did not change the perception about the substance: In Venezuela there is no democracy.

Chavism repeated its protocol against the opposing marches, blocking access to Caracas, closing Metro stations, and surrounding the Libertador municipality. This last effort has a symbolic as well as strategic value, since the opposition has no opportunity to approach government headquarters and the opposition is still understood as a matter of eastern Caracas. The display by officials during the demonstrations has been disproportionate, in response not to its duty to maintain public order but to the need to violate, with total impunity, the right to protest, discouraging attendance and causing those who have not protested to question its relevance. continue reading

Authorities from the National Bolivarian Police and the National Guard have declared themselves Chavistas, and in consequence, their action responds to partisan interests before security needs. They are neither impartial nor honest, but they also decided to abort any lesson about the progressive use of force and to uproot each street action as if they confronted enemies instead of citizens, fulfilling the order of the vice-president from PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), Diosdado Cabello, who also has compulsively cited Simon Bolivar’s decree of war to the death, the punishments that traitors deserve and the conviction that not even with blood can power change in Venezuela. It is the discourse of a sociopath, not a leader.

Chavista paramilitary groups, like good mercenaries, no longer have the same incentives to help the PSUV, therefore their presence has been modest compared with other waves of protest. Known by the euphemism of “collectives,” they have come back but without a strategy; they harass a while, fire some shots, steal from whomever they can – with the notable non-response from the security forces – and return to their caves. The declines in the GNP and GDP must now be the most important cause for re-activating the production of tear gas bombs by CAVIM, those that do not even display their date of production much less their expiration date.

We citizens have recovered, after battles, hundreds of shells of various types, Brazilian and local, with dye and expired, in cartridges of plastic and metal. The water cannons (popularly called “whales” and seen in action here) are practically an irony on the street, because in most areas where they have been used, water service is restricted to schedules that have been kept for more than a year. They have added pepper spray to their resources, with generous spraying of protesters. Evidence abounds of the lack of their control, but for Chavism it suffices to say that all that they have done is to preserve the peace, just as breaking the country is justified with their new non-rentier model.

What the officials have executed does not correspond with dissuasion but with ending the demonstrations. The tear gas, pepper spray and the high-pressure water cannons, only weaken the denial of the right to protest and to appear at government headquarters to demand your rights, besides wanting a specific scenario for the resolution of the conflict.

One key official like the Public Defender, Tarek William Saab, has had the chance to approach any of the demonstrations and face the popular demand: that the Republican Moral Council call out the serious offense committed by the magistrates of the Supreme Court. But he has refused: Thus more than 100 human rights organization have demanded his resignation. His action is a confirmation for the rest of the world that in Venezuela there is a dictatorship and there are no institutions, that is why those responsible for a crime of such scale do not appear in court, because by crossing out a couple of paragraphs of their last rulings, responding to an Executive order, constitutional order was restored.

The Minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace, Nestor Reverol, has asserted that those responsible for the violence will be brought to justice, but that does not include his officials who, in demonstrations on Saturday, were capable of launching tear gas bombs inside of shopping centers, residential buildings and even fire stations.

The Chavista propaganda system has used the basic strategy of denouncing what they do. That is why they have carried out their own demonstrations denouncing coups, bombings and invasions, while they celebrate the coup against the National Assembly, poison the citizenry with tear gas and assume powers that do not belong to them.

Nicolas Maduro has broken the economy to the point of driving the country into a severe humanitarian crisis, with excessive inflation, shortages of everything and a prolonged recession and, nevertheless, the president questions the aggressiveness of the recent demonstrations, ignoring the boundary marked by hunger and ignoring desperation as a driving force. The most repeated lie of Chavism is that the protests must have permission, a local version of their argument before the Organization of American States (OAS): In order to speak of the atrocities that a country’s government commits, that government must agree. What he tries to do here is, in order to protest, you need the authorization of those who give rise to your protest.

The Chavista war parties justify state violence, impose criminal charges on some of the demonstrators, have started hate campaigns against others on social networks – including the account of the scientific police CICPC which posts photographs of people who protest – but they also confess that we opponents are “cannon fodder that throws itself” against the cannons that they fire and the ambushes that they despicably carry out. Chavism only promises more repression, Kalashnikov omens for defending the country – Freddy Bernal, official and former mayor, said it – and the admission that “the fart is lit,” in accord with the reading of the advice that the minister and ex-vice president Aristobulo Isturiz gave several times. Violence, the only terrain they have left.

The mass effect is always overwhelming, and it increases with tear gas. That the majority of opposition leaders are choking with the citizens, that they have avoided some arbitrary arrests and managed to meet in the street in spite of their severe ideological difference is an achievement in itself, a reconciliation with the civic cause

Dozens have been wounded by trauma, contusions, pellet impacts, asphyxia and second- and third-degree burns, but indignation has increased, too, hence the need to disperse the protesters faster; the epic resistance is terrible for a dictatorship with such weaknesses, such little – and fragile – international support, and monitoring – expressed in communiqués – by the nations most committed to the democratic cause.

Governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, who was recently dismissed by Venezuelan authorities. (Vertice News)

State malice grows, but the reasons and the commitment of the protesters grow also, especially with the media’s level of self-censorship, which has hidden the repression, making itself complicit in some of the crimes that it does not enjoin. The number of arrests of protesters exceeds 100 because it is not enough for Chavism to deny fundamental liberties, but it also needs the management of its version, where repression is peace, the demonstrators are terrorists, the opposition leaders are homosexuals – a simile for cowardice under their criteria – and its violence is more legitimate than the vote.

“I ask you to hold gubernatorial and mayoral elections in order to defeat them at once,” said Nicolas Maduro with a Virgin on his right and a Christ on his left. Three days of protest were enough so that, before leaving for Havana to meet with the representatives of the only international organization that could approve his designs, he reiterated his condition for dialogue and his desire to vote.

Minutes later he affirmed that the legislative elections of 2015 were rigged, that voting for an option other than Chavism equates with treason and that treason is unpardonable for a son of Hugo Chavez, who must defend the homeland before well-being, hunger does not matter but dignity and sovereignty do. Maduro wants elections and releases his first ad for 2018, specifying that there must be regional elections, an efficient scenario to begin to divide the opposition leadership and the people themselves who quickly responded to his proposal, separating themselves into those who demand all or nothing and those who prefer to take it one step at a time.

Even with these conditions, the opposition would crush it on a national level; Chavism knows it, and that’s why Maduro launches the offer and leaves, hoping for the right effect.

The protests continue. The fervor in the streets is distinct, the spirit of the resistance – even suffocated – shows itself in the time of exposure to repression. Most hope that the opposition council transcends the street and puts together a pact capable of uniting the country as much as possible, the new project, that differences feed the diversity necessary for a new republic, concentrated on the rescue of its institutions and the re-establishment of peace.

The Secrets of Secretismo

Headline: Raul will speak tomorrow. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 16 April 2017 — The term secretismo (secretiveness), to refer to the absence or delay of certain information of public interest in the Cuban official media, began to be used first among critics of the system, until it came to appear in the speeches of the highest officials of the government.

The list of what the official media has never reported, or only reported with an inexplicable delays, deserves a thorough study, which in addition to filling thousands of pages, would serve to better understand the country’s most recent history.

Among the headings to organize the list of the omitted would be: deaths, destitutions, desertions, economic failures, military defeats, diplomatic fiascos, serious damage to nature, consequences of mistakes made, and even data on the rates of suicides, divorces or emigration, along with references to the country’s debt or to the decrease in Gross Domestic Product. All this and more has fallen into that black hole of disinformation. continue reading

The temptation to offer some examples would lead us to mention, among other pearls, the forced relocation of peasants from the Escambray in the 1960s, the disastrous effects of the whim of trying to produce 10 million tons of sugar in 1970, the collapse of the military operation in Granada in 1983, the consequences that the epidemic of polyneuritis brought in the most difficult years of the Special Period, and more recently the clinical causes of Fidel Castro’s death.

It has been this way since the days when Party ideologue Carlos Aldana pontificated on the need to have “critical, militant and creative journalism”

The response that has often been given to criticism of secretismo has ranged from the most tenacious justification, based on being a country threatened by the most powerful power in the world, to the pretense of blaming the mid-level cadres.

It has been this way since the days when party ideologue Carlos Aldana pontificated on the need to have “critical, militant and creative journalism,” right up to our time when Raúl Castro himself advised before the parliament: “It is necessary to put on the table all the information and the arguments that underlie each decision and step, to suppress the excess of secretismo to which we have habituated ourselves during more than 50 years of enemy encirclement.”

These self-critical pretenses have had the peculiarity of appearing in cycles, which has given the permanent impression of being on the eve of an always timid and incomplete opening. The journalistic guild has been perhaps the most victimized with these frequent promises, made in Congresses of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) or in informal meetings with the press.

When it seems that “now we are going to end the secretismo” the promise of promulgating a new electoral law disappears, the head of the commission in charge of implementing the Party’s guidelines disappears, and the sale of premium gasoline is suspended without any media of the official press daring to review or comment on what happened.

Even the euphemism of using the word “secretismo” to refer to what strictly must be called censorship, only serves to cover up what is supposed to be revealed. It is a crime of linguistic injury whose result lies in keeping in obscurity what outwardly is illuminated.

A Small Cuban Town Lives With The Anguish Of The Disappearance Of 13 Rafters

In the image, twelve of the thirteen missing rafters who sailed from Cuba in December 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 — Juana Chiroles will never forget December 26, 2015. It was the last day she saw her son and her two nephews. As night fell the young men told her they were going to kill some pigs and had a rope and several implements. They never returned home.

Some days later she heard the news from people in the town: her relatives were among the 13 young people who left on a raft that night for the United States. Since then, the mothers of the small town of Modesto Serrano with 1,300 inhabitants in Artemisa province, “don’t sleep, don’t eat,” thinking about the fate of their family members.

The official silence and the absence of news suggests the worst, but Juana maintains the hope that her son is alive and will return home. continue reading

I’m a guajira with dirt on my feet and a little rough. I’ve never seen the internet and I don’t know anything about computers,” she says modestly on a static-filled call from a cellphone.

The woman, 54, explains that “you have to walk around to find cell coverage.”

Since January the US Coast Guard has only intercepted about 100 Cubans who were trying to cross the Florida Straits

Since the disappearance of her son, Alien Quintana Chiroles, 32, and her two nephews, Julián and Ronaldo Chiroles, 26 and 36 years respectively, they have done their best to find out about any rafters intercepted by the US Coast Guard United States, she says.

However, they have not been successful. Their relatives sailed when the well-known wet foot/dry foot policy was in place that allowed Cubans who touched American territory to be accepted as refugees.

President Barack Obama ended this policy last January, during his last days in office, and since then the US Coast Guard has only intercepted about 100 Cubans who were trying to cross the Florida Straits. A figure very far from the almost 10,000 who tried to escape the island by sea in 2016.

“A week after the people left, we started to hear they had arrived in Florida. Since then we learned it was a lie,” she says sadly.

Besides the Juana Chiroles’s son, those on the precarious boat included Ronaldo Chiroles Évora, 26; Orlando Santos Lazo, 45; Alberto Rodriguez Beltrán, 27; Yariel Alzola Cid, 27; Leandro Évora Salazar, 41; Ailetis Llanes Padrón, 33; Eduardo Cano González, 40; Wilson González Piloto, 26; Yordan Ramos Hernández, 27; Dariel Mesa Arteaga and Luis Arrastria.

“A month before they left, a similar boat with people from the same town arrived in Miami. That was what twisted their heads and they went away hoping that they would also experience the same fate,” says Juana.

The US Coast Guard, for its part, said in a letter addressed to this newspaper that they also have no records on these rafters

A spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection Office told 14ymedio that they do not have any information in their records that matches the names of the disappeared.

The US Coast Guard, for its part, said in a letter addressed to this newspaper that they also have no records of these rafters.

“What the families of the rafters experience is very dramatic. We have hundreds of reports of unresolved disappearances,” explains Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement, an organization of the Cuban exile that assists its compatriots.

“We have asked the United States government to establish a protocol to identify the bodies. So far, it does not exist and the bodies remain unidentified in the morgues until they are buried in mass graves,” says Sanchez.

Sanchez recognizes that after the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy the number of cases in which his organization helps has decreased substantially. However, he is concerned that what causes Cubans to try to escape from their country remains.

“President Obama (by ending the asylum policy for undocumented arrivals) created the figure of the undocumented Cuban rafter, who won’t show his face because he is afraid of being deported. We know that there is a dictatorship in Cuba, that is why Cubans escape and it has not been solved,” he says.

Between 2015 and 2016 there was a significant increase in the number of rafters

Last summer half of the crew of a raft handmade on the island disappeared in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and only the mummified remains of one of the rafters was found. The body carried the identity cards of two brothers who were among the crew of the boat.

Between 2015 and 2016 there was a significant increase in the number of rafters. “In the village of La Máquina, [a nearby area], several boats left until the police took action on the matter,” says Juana.

Her son tried four times to reach the United States. In one of his attempts he was picked up by a ship that delivered him back to the Cuban authorities. After paying a fine of 3,000 Cuban pesos, he continued to plan his next trip.

Juana studied engineering with a specialization in sugar chemistry, but was unable to exercise her profession following the collapse of the island’s sugar industry. She lives with her husband and cares for her younger brother, Felipe, affected by Down syndrome.

“I have a daughter and a seven-year-old granddaughter, my son Alien’s daughter. Her name is Alice Flor Quintana. Every day I tell her about her dad and I show her his photo so she will not forget him,” she says.

Convinced that “the love of mother can do anything,” Juana called on the Cuban authorities confirm that they had not been arrested for illegal exit from the country

Convinced that “the love of mother can do anything,” Juana called on the Cuban authorities to confirm that the rafters had not been arrested for illegal exit from the country. They told her no and they also did not know of any shipwreck in the days after the disappearance of her relatives.

“My hope is that at least they are at the Guantanamo Naval Base,” says the mother, knowing that rafters picked up by the US Coast Guard are often taken there. But 14ymedio has been able to corroborate that they are not there.

“My son is very beautiful and a great person, he is always happy, please, if anyone has seen him or knows where he is, help me find him,” she says, her voice breaking.

“The agony is immense. It has been a year since he left, but the pain is like the first day he left,” she concluded.

“The Student Body Will Never Accept The Counterrevolution”

The 18-year-old journalism student, Karla Pérez González, was expelled from Marta Abreu University of Santa Clara for “political reasons”. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 April 2017 — A statement signed by the Council of the University Student Federation (FEU) of ‘Marta Abreu’ Central University of Las Villas ratified the expulsion of student Karla Pérez González from the journalism department. “The university students will never accept the counterrevolution within our universities,” says the text published Friday.

The statement came to light in the midst of a flood of criticism over the expulsion of an 18-year-old student who is accused of having contacts with the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement and publishing on digital sites critical of the government. “In our universities professionals must be trained who are ever more competent and committed to the Revolution,” argues the FEU. continue reading

The statement dusted off the “Words to the Intellectuals” – delivered by Fidel Castro in June of 1961 in the National Library and which have served as the basis for the government’s cultural policy – and said that the student “acknowledges being a member of an illegal and counterrevolutionary organization, contrary the principles, objectives and values of the Cuban Revolution.”

“Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing. Because the Revolution also has its rights; and the first right of the Revolution is the right to exist. And no one can stand against the right of the Revolution to be and to exist,” writes the FEU, quoting Fidel’s speech.

The statement ends with a “Revolutionarily” and does not include the names of the members of the FEU Council that initial it

Perez Gonzalez told this newspaper about the sequence of meetings that led to her expulsion. “I was also accused of manipulating my friends and having a strategy from the beginning of the course to subvert the young.”

The statement from the Federation lists two main points of the organization’s actions, controlled for decades by the ruling party. “The defense of our José Marti inspired, Marxist-Leninist, socialist and anti-imperialist process will always be the first task of university students,” and “every brigade will be an impregnable stronghold against any enemy of the work that we Cubans raise our flag for.”

The statement ends with a “Revolutionarily” and does not include the names of the members of the FEU Council that drew it up.

Pérez González plans to “write a letter to the Minister of Education and to denounce what happened to organizations that watch over Human Rights,” to denounce her expulsion.

Cuba Stops Sending Doctors To Brazil For Fear Of Defections

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

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 – Cuba just suspended the sending of a group of 710 health professionals who would have worked on the “More Doctors” mission in Brazil, our of fear of desertions, according to a report from the Brazilian press informed by that country’s Ministry of Health.

The decision not to send the doctors is an act of pressure from Havana in the face of the role played by the Brazilian government of Michel Temer, which has allows more than 80 Cuban health professionals to stay in the country after the end of their mission. continue reading

For the Health Ministry of the island, such action “is not in conformity” with the agreement signed between the two nations under the government of Dilma Rousseff. As a part of that agreement, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors remain in Brazil.

“The Cuban government fears that what is happening in Brazil could infect other Cuban doctors working in third countries,” says Julio César Alfonso, president of Solidarity Without Borders (SSF), a non-profit organization that helps doctors who deserted from the missions and to move to the United States and join the workforce in the healthcare system there.

“The Cuban government fears that what is happening in Brazil could infect other Cuban doctors working in third countries”

In the hospitals, polyclinics and doctors’ offices on the island there are 495,609 workers, according to the most recent official data. Of these, 58,000 are specialized doctors. The cooperation programs in which they participate, funded through international organizations, extend to more than 90 countries in the world, from Africa to Oceania.

Cuba has tens of thousands of doctors abroad. In 2014 the Government acknowledged that it received $ 8.2 billion for “export of medical services.” According to independent economists, profits have fallen by slightly more than one billion dollars, due to the crisis in Venezuela, but this “leasing out” of medical services continues to be the country’s main source of income.

When Cuban professionals leave the country, they are able to see that they are part of a trafficking scheme that only benefits the Havana Government. The only way to rebel is to escape and Cuba is not going to allow that,” says Julio César Alfonso, president of SSF.

Last January, in the last days of the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, the United States eliminated the Parole Program for Cuban doctors working abroad, a program that allowed deserters to travel legally to US territory and to benefit from the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“When Cuban professionals leave the country, they are able to see that they are part of a trafficking scheme that only benefits the Havana Government. The only way to rebel is to escape and Cuba is not going to allow that”

Alfonso and his team are confident that the administration of Donald Trump is going to reverse the Obama measure.

“It will take a few months, but we are working with great faith in that project to help the victims of the greatest human trafficking in the modern era,” he said.

Since 2006 the Cuban Medical Professional Parole has allowed 8,000 Cuban health professionals to escape and travel to the United States. In 2016, some 1,400 professionals from Brazil’s More Doctors program took advantage of these facilities. It is also estimated that more than 1,000 doctors from the island married Brazilians, a way to obtain permanent residency in Brazil and avoid the compulsory return to the island. Some 1,600 have taken the examinations to revalidate their titles and insert themselves in the labor market of Brazil.

Cuba has strictly forbidden its “health workers” to have relationships with “natives” and in its precise code of ethics requires that they “should be informed immediately,” to remain consistent with “revolutionary thinking” and “in no way be excessive” (sic).

Brazil’s health minister Ricardo Barros said that he had called on the Cuban government and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to relax conditions that forced doctors to return to the island.

After the dismissal of President Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the contracts for the doctors and obtained a 9% increase in payment

Brazil pays about $3,300 per doctor per month to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which acts as an intermediary – and charges for this service – with the Dealer in Cuban Medical Services. From the $3,300, the doctors themselves receive the equivalent of 800 dollars.

After the dismissal of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the contract for the doctors and obtained a 9% increase in payment.

It also achieved a 10% increase in for the cost of feeding doctors in indigenous areas.

“We were waiting for something like this to happen,” says one of the doctors working in the Sao Paulo region.

“The deputy minister, Marcia Cobas, has the eye on us, they do not want the hen that lays the golden egg to die,” he says.

“They treat us like slaves. We have to work harder than other doctors and they do not even let our families stay with us in Brazil beyond three months, the least they cold do is let them stay; they all have to leave,” says the physician, a specialist in Comprehensive General Medicine.

Number of Cuban doctors defecting to the US. Top line is all doctors, bottom line is from Brazil.

Where the money goes. 5% commission to broker. 28% stipend to Cuban doctors. 67% to Cuban government.

Green Gold From Cuba’s Fields

Last summer the price of avocado selling on the street in Havana neared 20 Cuban pesos each, the daily salary of a professional. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 April 2017 – A shout disturbed the morning’s tranquility. “Avocaaaaaaado!” shouted the roving salesman as he toured the streets of Central Havana. Considered the “green gold” of foods, this fruit could become an important source of income for the island, due to the high level of consumption around the world.

With the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington, some local farmers are hoping to export the fruit to the United States. In 2015, Americans consumed about 907,000 tonnes (metric tons) of avocadoes, twice as much as the year before. continue reading

And the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. At the international level the fruit is gaining ground; in 2013, 4.7 million tonnes of avocadoes were harvested, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than twice as much as two decades earlier. Mexico leads the market with 80% of world production, and in the Caribbean our neighbor the Dominican Republic harvests about 290,000 tonnes a year.

At the international level, the fruit is gaining ground; in 2013, 4.7 million tonnes of avocados were harvested, more than twice as much as two decades ago

Last December, scientists from the University of Cordoba (Spain) revealed the very high caloric value of the fruit’s pit, saying that it has “optimal qualities as a source of thermal energy comparable to other currently marketed biofuels.” The pit contains an average calorific value of 19,145 megajoules per kilogram.

In Cuba, the fruit is destined for domestic and tourist consumption, but there is no industry for processing or extraction of the oil, much appreciated in gastronomy and cosmetics. The authorities are currently seeking investors to open a pilot plant for these purposes, industry sources told 14ymedio.

In Cuba, the Antillean avocado variety is crossbred with its Guatemalan relative and although the result is large fruit with consistent mass, specialists say that it has low oil content compared to other varieties.

Private farmers distribute their crops among the markets that operate based on supply and demand and the individually-operated businesses that have flourished in the country in recent years. In this network the value of the product has experienced an upward trend in recent years.

The increase in tourism has influenced the shortages of some foods, and increased their prices, including avocados. “It’s in high demand and when it’s in season it is one of the most requested dishes, especially by foreigners,” José Miguel, a waiter in a private restaurant in Santiago de las Vegas, commented to this newspaper.

“Avocado is in high demand and when its in season it is one of the most requested dishes, especially by foreigners”

The self-employed worker says that “it is one of the products whose price has risen most steeply in recent years.” Last summer the street price of the largest avocados neared 20 Cuban pesos each (nearly one dollar US), the daily salary of a professional. “You can’t get one for five pesos any more even if you go directly to the fields.”

The state markets sell avocados by the pound, at a price that does not exceed 5 Cuban pesos (CUP), but as a rule they are small and unripe. “If you go out in the morning looking for one to eat at lunch time, you have to buy it from a pushcart vender or from a supply and demand market,” José Miguel emphasizes.

The climate has also contributed to the rise in prices. Last year was not a good year for avocado production on the island. Last September, the agronomist Emilio Farrés Armenteros, director of the Fruit Trees Division of the Agricola Business Group, told the official press that the climatic conditions were damaging the harvest.

With the country experiencing the most intense drought of the last half century, the rains did not arrive in time for the flowering of the trees. A situation exacerbated by the exhaustion of the nutrients in the soil due to the abundant production of 2015, which reached 120,000 tonnes. At the end of 2016, the avocado harvest totaled a much lower 90,000 tonnes.

Nancy and her husband are long-time avocado growers. In the area of Jagüey Grande they have a plot where they harvest three varieties of the fruit: Catalina, Wilson and Julio. The latter gives them more benefit because it has an early harvest and the trees are smaller in size than the others. However, both agree that “in the matter of taste, there is nothing to compare to the Catalina avocado.”

Farmers calculate that in a good year the harvest from each tree can bring between 3,000 and 5,000 CUP depending on the fruit produced

Farmers calculate that in a good year the harvest from each tree can bring in 3,000 to 5,000 CUP depending on the fruit produced. “We directly supply several restaurants and cafes in the area,” says Nancy. Although there are also “many wholesale buyers who take the fruit to sell in markets in Havana.”

The family aspires to be able to market their product beyond the national borders. They believe that exporting part of their crop would give them “greater profits and the possibility of investing in the farm.” They dream of earning the necessary resources for “a tractor and a new water turbine.”

However, the thaw with the United States is not enough to get Cuban avocados on American tables. In the middle of last year Barack Obama relaxed the regulations for the island’s coffee growers who sold their product to the US, and the official response from Cuba was not long in coming.

A declaration signed by farm leaders in Santiago de Cuba joined the top management of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), controlled by officialdom, in rejecting the measures implemented by the White House. Since then, no local producer has sold a single coffee bean to potential US customers.

Nevertheless, and although exporting is still an illusion, having an avocado tree guarantees the economic sustenance of many families on the island. Land with an orchard of fertile trees shoots up in price on the classified ad sites, almost like those that contain a well or a house with ceiling tiles.

Some owners have chosen to sell the full crop for a year. “ I have an arrangement with a neighbor who paid me 2,000 CUP for all the avocados in the orchard”

Some owners of avocado trees have chosen to sell a full year’s crop. “I have an arrangement with a neighbor who paid me 2,000 CUP for all the avocados in the orchard,” says Tomas Garcia, a resident of Calabazar south of the capital.

Retired from the Ministry of Construction, the man supplements his monthly pension of less than 20 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $20 US) with the sale of the tasty fruits from his patio. “One day my mother-in-law threw a seed in the trash in a corner, and then we realized that bush had sprouted.” Garcia replanted the small plant in a better place and, without knowing it, he made “the best investment in my life,” he acknowledges now.

Although he has never considered exporting his small crop, the pensioner believes that “if something is good in this country, it is avocados that need little care and can be planted in any yard.” He says that in addition to eating them from time to time he uses them to “give a shine to my hair” and his wife uses it as an anti-wrinkle mask.

“If I don’t have much to eat, I only have to cut an avocado in half and now I have a rich person’s meal instead of a poor person’s,” he said.

Oil in Cuba: Dream or Nightmare?

Cuban-Venenzuelan refinery in Cienfuegos (Photo: barometropolitico.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 April 2017 — HAVANA, Cuba. – “Thank goodness oil is something we don’t have in Cuba.” So said the lyrics of a popular song by Cuban musical group Habana Abierta. However, now Cuba’s official media insist the opposite is true: “The enterprise Cuba-Petroleum Union (CUPET), which promotes prospecting projects with the participation of foreign capital, reveals that, “In four wells located in the Economic Zone Exclusive to Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico (ZEEC-GOM) there have been indications of crude.”

Lately, when the disappearance of “high test” and the shortage of “regular” gas in Havana have caused real congestion in the few service stations where some fuel could be found, the news of the alleged presence of large Cuban oil reserves sounds like a bad joke: who cares that there are several billion of barrels of oil of dubious quality, deeply buried in the depths of the Gulf, if there is not a drop of gas at service stations? And, if it were true, how would Cubans benefit from it? Our idiosyncrasy has a special mocking phrase to illustrate the case: “It’s here but not for you.” continue reading

In fact, such fanfare by the press about the dubious and inaccessible discovery that lies submerged in ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico is highly notorious, while the official press has been evasive in informing us about the fuel crisis taking place in the nation, before our very eyes, which is fueling popular uncertainty with the alarming signs of the return to the days when the Soviet subsidy program ended with a stroke of the pen. Many Cubans point out that the unburied ghost of the so-called “Special Period,” with its aftermath of blackouts and famine, is, once again, stalking the nation.

Therefore, the topic of “crude” with which the masters of the hacienda are trying to shake the hopes of the masses, smells like a sting, as long as the cataclysms in the house of the allies cause the Mafiosi of the Palace of the Revolution to play any card palmed in their sleeve to emerge and to continue, unharmed, to place their bet: to conserve power at all costs and at any price.

That is why some suspicious individuals consider that the news is only a beam of light to attract unsuspecting investors, and that it collaterally pursues the immediate effect of reassuring the mood of a population sufficiently shaken by the gradual — although apparently inexorable — return to another cycle of great material hardships, this time with the aggravating issue that has been the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which has been, for the longest time, the most expeditious solution to escape the condemnation of perpetual misery.

Filling up at a gas station in Cuba

Thus, while the economic and political crisis in Venezuela — whose true causes and magnitude are carefully silenced in the official media — keeps deepening, common sense and the experience of nearly six decades of cons suggest to Cubans the existence of a direct relationship between the current gas shortage and the spasms of agony of the Chávez-Maduro regime, incapable of continuing to maintain any longer the already depleted subsidies that have artificially prolonged the life of the Cuban dictatorship.

So now, if we hypothetically assume the possibility that the olive green kleptocracy would soon dispose of another source of hydrocarbons — this time, alas, its absolute property — what would that mean for Cuba’s destiny? Well, nothing less than a sentence to live under conditions of dictatorship in perpetuity, with the acquiescent tolerance of the powers that rule the planet. In fact, many of the staunchest critics of Castro’s “socialism” would become its partners. This would not be a novelty, because it is axiomatic that wealth often grants immunity to dictators.

So if, for once, Cubans decided to climb down the ridge and assume the true position we occupy in the world, which equals that of plankton in the biological chain, we would find that similar plots have already taken place.

A classic example is Equatorial Guinea, that diminutive West African island, formerly known as Fernando Poo, with less than 100 thousand inhabitants, that has been a Portuguese, French, English and finally a Spanish colony until in October of 1968, when it obtained its independence, only to pass onto the hands of dictator Francisco Macías, who imposed a single compulsory party and a repressive regime (1968-1979), until he was deposed by a coup led by Teodoro Obiang. The latter, after having executed the defeated tyrant, promised to end the island’s political repression.

However, far from improving the lives of the Equatoguineans, under Obiang’s control, repression and poverty increased, as did the country’s underdevelopment. Meanwhile, Amnesty International, the UN and numerous world figures have repeatedly accused Mr. Obiang of arresting political opponents, as well as of torture and human rights violations. These accusations have not influenced a process of democratization or, at the very least, improvement in conditions and in the standard of living of three quarters of the population, which continues to be plunged in the most absolute misery.

It can be said that the misfortune of the Equatorial Guineans is due to the utter indifference of the inhabitants of this planet, the majority of whom do not even know of its existence. Additionally, the kleptocrat Obiang is often amicably received by leaders, politicians of high rank, and personalities of renowned prestige from the Western world, who, however, otherwise tear their garments and throw spears for democracy in all international forums.

It turns out that, years ago, in that small spot in the African geography, enormous oil reserves were discovered, whose rights of exploitation belong to foreign companies, mainly Americans, who don’t seem to have any scruples in negotiating with the flaming President who was described at one time as “the most murderous thieving ruler in the world” by a former US ambassador to that nation. Beneficiaries of such massive dividends might be saying among themselves, “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”

Obiang, meanwhile, not only retains absolute power in Equatorial Guinea, but is the founder of a dynasty that has amassed, with impunity, colossal wealth by appropriating the revenues from oil exploitation and safeguarding them in European bank accounts, and perhaps in banks in other continents too. To ensure the continuation of the plunder of the national wealth for the benefit of his caste, his son occupies a relevant political position in the country and has numerous properties inside and outside the little island.

Aren’t there certain suspicious similarities? We Cubans should be warned. It isn’t prudent to be so arrogant as to think that kind of thing happens in Equatorial Guinea “because they are Africans” and that the same thing will never take place in Cuba because we are “westerners.” Sixty years ago nobody would have believed that prosperous Cuba would become a nation almost as poor as Haiti … and we continue our descent.

Personally, far from feeling encouraged by them, the Cuban oil reserves announcements set off every possible alarm in me. Sufficient time has elapsed and dissimilar circumstances have taken place to verify that the precariousness of the rights and freedoms of Cubans do not concern any of the great centers of world power and politics.

In fact, the destiny of the inhabitants of this island is so uncertain and our dreams for democracy still so chimerical that it would suffice for a gambling foreigner to appear, reckless enough to invest huge amounts of venture capital into the oil adventure and that – in fact — such precious hydrocarbons might appear, for the Castro kleptocracy to sprout anew “with that added force,” crushing any hint of hope for Cuban freedom. I don’t have religious beliefs, but, just in case, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Translated by Norma Whiting