Human Rights in Cuba: Nothing Has Changed / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 11 December 2015 — Seven years have passed since the signing of two United Nations’ covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and exactly one week from the first anniversary of the announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. Now at the threshold of 2016, it would be worth reminding ourselves how we got here.

In the past year some have advocated lifting the tools of political pressure to which the Cuban government is still subject. Basically these are understood to be the US embargo and the European Union’s common position. However, the alleged reforms undertaken by Raul Castro in recent years are still a frequent source of argument. continue reading

If we accept the premise that since 1959 Cuba has been a one-party state —  and evidence indicates that the presidency of Raul Castro is in essence a continuation of the presidency of Fidel Castro — we can also assume with a high degree of certainty that the psychology of the regime is exactly the same as it has always been. This logically leads to the following question: Is there reason to hope that, if the sanctions were lifted, the military oligarchs would finally grant the Cuban people the rights outlined in the above-mentioned UN conventions, whose ratification and implementation by Cuba have been pending since February 2008?

Optimists would point to the reforms initiated by Raul, but anyone who takes a closer look at the so-called “transformations” would see that very few of them led to a practical, beneficial or immediate turnaround in the lives of Cubans inside or outside the country.

But if we approach this in good faith, we would have to acknowledge that some measures represent a more drastic and positive turnaround than others. Among them are the restoration of the right to travel overseas and authorization for private individuals to buy and sell their homes.

We cannot forget, however, that the 2013 emigration law stipulates that some professionals may not travel freely “in light of regulations aimed at preserving a qualified work force.”

Nor can we dismiss the fact that the Cuban government may also prevent persons from entering the country who have been accused of “organizing, encouraging, carrying out or participating in actions hostile to the Cuban state… when reasons of defense and national security so suggest;” or that the government may “bar entry into the country to those who have been declared undesirable or who have been expelled.” This makes clear just how wide a margin this delicious tool of coercion gives the repressors to maneuver.

In terms of the authorization to buy and sell houses, let us remember that this law is saddled with a series of burdensome regulations pertaining to sale prices that allow the government to meddle in something in which it has no business, a reminder that here nothing good ever lasts for very long.

However, a glance at the rest of the package does reveal a curious mindset in these so-called reforms. It is extremely difficult to accept the sincerity of the “authorization” to buy used cars when they are set at stratospheric prices; or the corrupt approach by the managements of new cooperative businesses when they remain subordinate to inefficient state enterprises; or the imposition of exorbitant taxes on private businesses when they are deprived of a wholesale commodity market; or all the limitations that have led to an obviously failed agricultural policy, to name a few

But more serious than these economic trifles is the persistence of repressive policies that continue to promote the duet between the Communist Party and State Security. From the offices of what is still the only legally recognized political party, they are still drafting tactics and strategies that will later be put into practice in the street by the political police’s henchmen.

Arbitrary arrests and the weakest of legal protections are persistent problems in Cuba in 2015. They are the bastard offspring that result when there is no separation of powers. Physical assaults and acts of repudiation are still being perpetrated with impunity while no one in authority can be bothered to intervene.

Government henchmen are ordered to stab opposition leaders and harass in broad daylight women who are carrying no weapons other than white gladiolas. An iron-fisted and absolute censorship of dissident thought persists while the regime continues to exercise a tight monopoly on the media and the press.

It still vetoes easy access to the internet, something now well-advanced in the second decade of the 21st century. We can therefore conclude that the changes that have been introduced in Cuba up to this point are insubstantial and of a purely cosmetic nature.

These military oddballs are no longer capable of offering up anything new, so it is only logical to question their good intentions for the future and their ability to conceive a plan for real prosperity, especially if the formula requires any change of course.

It remains to be seen whether these reforms reflect a sincere desire to open the door to a globalized economy for the Cuban people. It is more reasonable to assume that they amount an endless series of delaying tactics by the same old oligarchs to hold onto power.

But in the event that the international community, the Cuban people and the Cuban opposition decide to give them a vote of confidence, would this guarantee that the above-mentioned UN conventions would be ratified and implemented, and that this would result in a turn towards democracy?

In the light of psychological mindset thus far exhibited by the regime, logical reasoning would lead to the undeniable and unmistakable conclusion that this would never happen, that it would only result in a sudden transfusion to all the repressive resources of the regime and its receiving unwarranted international recognition.

There is no chance the Cuban government will become any more economically efficient, only that it can rely on having more resources to squander and more millions in its overseas accounts to feed its delusions of grandeur. Once a beast has tasted blood, nothing else will do.

And once liberated from these instruments of political pressure — and with the tacit international approval that this implies — an autocratic government like that of the Castros will never ratify the UN conventions. On the contrary, it will become even more vicious, as has already been made clear by its repression of dissidents from a comfortable and relaxed position.

History has definitively shown us that some people never change. Three decades of marriage to the Soviet Union demonstrated that the Cuban people were never the intended recipients of all that wealth. If it was not the case then, why would we suppose it would be any different now, especially after so many years of corrupt and lethargic governance?

Clearly, freedom in Cuba is not dependent on the actions of any foreign government. Instead, it depends on the courage and wisdom demonstrated by its people. But unconditionally accepting every international condition without the island’s people having to suffer, struggle or expect anything would not seem to necessarily be helpful.

2015 ends without there being the slightest indication of accommodation regarding our civil rights or of even something as basic as ratification of the aforementioned human rights conventions. In this context, making unconditional concessions to the totalitarian regime in Havana, just as Caracas is teetering on the brink, would be a strategic disaster for my people and would delay by several decades the arrival of democracy, for which as the Cuban nation has waited so long.

Exodus, Cubans and the Law of Adjustment: the Beginning of the End? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 30 November 2015 — The present migratory crisis, unleashed by the Nicaraguan Government’s refusal to permit transit through its territory for Cubans walking to the United States, has brought to the foreground a drama that has been going on for decades.

Too many stories of suffering and death have spattered the dangerous route followed by tens of thousands of emigrants from the island going north through Central America. But what could have been a rapid solution of the problem at the meeting of chancellors of the Central American Integration System (SICA) which took place this week in San Salvador was frustrated by the intransigence of Daniel Ortega’s Government, obstinately opposed to permitting the caravan’s passing in spite of the good will shown by the majority of the governments in the region in handling the matter as a humanitarian problem rather than a question of national security. continue reading

It’s not by chance that the present crisis generated, a few days ago, Raúl’s recent visit to México. On Aztec soil, the dictator was assured of blocking the last obligatory link of the stopover of these terrestrial rafters, getting from Peña Nieto’s Government — the same one that criticizes the U.S. when it deports Mexicans — its unrestricted commitment, beginning now, to deport any Cuban it encounters passing through.

Scarcely days later, suspiciously, the governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua also announced measures that were analogous. But the Costa Rican Government revised rapidly and authorized transit visas to the caravan, and later assumed a constructive posture when the Nicaraguans sent army troops to stop the attempt of these emigrants to cross the border. Things still remain at this point two weeks later.

This dramatic situation of thousands of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica, like a shot centered even more attention in the U.S. on the justification or not of keeping alive the Cuban Adjustment Act, and intensified one even chillier polemic that, as never before in half a century, ended by putting this regulation on the dissection table of US policy.

These are compelling questions that line up like daggers toward the center of the problem: would the abolition of this law stop the exodus of Cubans? Is that law really the essential cause of the perpetual flight maintained during decades by a considerable part of my people? What would happen if the Cuban Adjustment Act was repealed this very day?

The matter seems to me as obvious as the question, “What color is a white horse?”  I’m among those absolutely convinced that if the repeal of the law materializes this would only redirect the present exodus from the island. In case speculation turns into fact, it would produce only a momentary reduction in attempts to leave; but once the initial stupor is overcome, and spurred on by the real cause of their flight — the absurd hardships imposed by a Communist dictatorship — Cubans would continue arriving at their own rhythm in the United States, even under an illegal status — amply exemplified by Mexicans — since one river more or one river less would mean nothing to those who also are ready to row 90 miles and brave the sharks.

Trying to reduce the motive for the stampede and the discriminating protection offered by the Cuban Adjustment Act would simplify the matter too much and would disavow the categorical fact that a quarter of the Cuban population remains dispersed outside the country; and if it is true that most live in the U.S., it’s also true that the Cuban diaspora has left barely any virgin space between both poles in its sustained and frenetic escape.

Even if the abolition of the existing Cuban Adjustment Act led to another that was rigorously directed to the contrary, the exodus would continue as long as the present cause exists, which is the absolute lack of hope for Cubans — above all for the youth, of course — under a totalitarian regime, a dictatorship that has hijacked the future of their nation and traitorously curtailed any possibility of wellbeing for its people, that has systematically obstructed their prosperity and has submitted them to the most oppressive and unhealthy despotism that has ever been known in the American hemisphere.

The latest news seems to presage a long wait for those stranded in Peñas Blancas: the lack of agreement of the good will of most of the chancellors meeting in San Salvador before the bad faith of Managua, in addition to the mentioned policy of extradition assumed by México, added to the new migratory policy announced by Ecuador of requiring a visa for Cubans beginning next December and the recent detention of hundreds of Cuban migrants in Panamá by the express petition of Costa Rica thus appear to warn them. The recent UN announcement of support for the Government of San José in its humanitarian attention to Cubans in Peñas Blancas and its intention to find a solution for the crisis – all are very illustrative evidence of the gravity and regional repercussions of the present migratory crisis.

But in all this mess, what stands out above the rest of the elements is the intransigence of Daniel Ortega’s Government: the hermetic posture assumed by Managua is very striking.

They have managed to stigmatize the Cubans on the Costa Rican border as being a mob of criminals, and they arrived at the ridiculous — in their desire to ingratiate themselves with their accomplice in Havana — by demanding that Costa Rica remove the Cubans from the border, because they consider them a danger to national security, even knowing that if they gave them passage the Cubans wouldn’t even stop for a drink of water, and not a single one of them would remain in Nicaragua after 24 hours.

The unconditional acquiescence shown by Daniel Ortega — disguised as ultranationalism in the presumed protection of territorial integrity — is so shameful and boot-licking, and is strictly aligned with his servility to Havana’s directives.

This chapter of the drama has shown America and the world that Cuba continues stuck in time as thousands of Cubans remain stuck in Costa Rica, living testimony to the despair of a people who now expect nothing of the dictators who misrule their country. All the ostensible reforms proclaimed by the regime of Raúl Castro are left unveiled as barren tinsel, and a shattering proof of that is the perpetual flight that never stops.

The very late and biased official pronouncement of the Cuban Government on the subject — blaming, of course, the Cuban Adjustment Act for the disaster — and the scandalous indifference shown by the Cuban embassy in San José in regard to the irregular situation of those thousands of their citizens on Costa Rican soil are highly illustrative evidence that the Cuban dictatorship continues holding exactly the same arrogance and contempt as always for the rights of my people. The despotic message released by the tyrants in Havana loudly and clearly suffices as a warning to those dreamers who still hope to harvest some fruit from the tree.

Translated by Regina Anavy

 

Censorship, the Vital Artery of the Cuban Regime / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 4 November 2015 — The recent termination of Juan Carlos Cremata as a theater director, the previous suspension of “The King is Dying,” his last work on the stage of the Theater Center, and the publication online some days ago of an inflamed letter from the prestigious critic, Enrique Colina, motivated by this fact, once more stoked the embers of the polemic on censorship in Havana. Affectionately remembered for 24 per Second, his excellent program — definitely a reformer of our cinematographic culture and to whom more than one Cuban owes his passion for the best of this art — Colina comes out this time in valiant defense of Cremata and, by extension, of all censured creators in post-revolutionary Cuba. continue reading

Whoever wants to follow a common thread along this long life/agony of the Castros’ “Revolution” doesn’t have to do more than wind his finger over the uninterrupted line of censorship, that indispensable tool of the Cuban Regime, together with physical repression, always used to keep itself in power against the will of the people. Such exercise would confirm a historical maxim: as a matter of essence, no dictatorship would ever abandon this aberration simply because it’s codified in its DNA, because it forms an unbreakable indissoluble part of its very nature.

The hierarchs on the Plaza of the Revolution are completely aware of this. They know very well that if the dictatorship stopped repressing and censuring, it would be signing its own death sentence, because freedom of thought and personal morality are incompatible with the grim, closed will of dictators.They are fruits exclusively cultivable in lands fertilized by democracy, and that word is excluded from the technical catalogue of Havana’s own dementors.*

Repression and censorship are as inherent to the Cuban dictatorship as nuclear fusion is to sunlight, as moisture is to water. In fact, this lethal combination constitutes the only way in which someone can stay in power for 56 years in spite of governing so scandalously badly, against the vital interests of the Cuban people, and having sunk his nation into the most serious economic and moral ruin in its history.

Before there were other reasons chosen by the inquisitors, and they didn’t always have a useful or political “justification” that was clear or immediate, but on no few occasions we suffered prohibitions that were simply trivial, like banning those great songs of four boys from Liverpool, or for frankly stupid reasons like prohibiting a religious cult when it wasn’t attacking the Regime’s political stability in any way.

But at this point there are still incidents like that with Cremata, definitively contradicting those who have wanted to limit this systematic governmental rebuke to the Five Grey Years of the ’70s – which some prefer to extend to black decades. Today you can again see behind the curtain the same hairy hand that for half a century ordered the creation of UMAP (forced labor camps) or the ostracism of Virgilio Piñera and José Lezama, or so many others.

No artistic expression exists that has escaped this evil in the Cuba of the Castros. Today the long defense continues and the same dark presence reports that, really, nothing has changed during this long staging, only that these are new times, and the same gerontocracy now prevents full access to the Internet and satellite television, the possibility of an independent press properly legalized and, furthermore, subjects all the official press to the most hermetic censorship. Every radio or television director still has on his desk, very visible, a long list of prohibited music and artists, and the editorials ban annoying authors, almost always giving priority to the most mediocre in the sewer of opportunism.

The hangmen are the same, but now Cuba isn’t; Cuba is definitely tired because it knows by heart, from being repeated so much, the old masquerades that only look for something new, “…retouching the makeup.” So virile gestures of solidarity like those of Colina and unconditional commitments like those of Cremata are always comforting.

Gestures like this are necessary to make it clear that behind that “…appeal made by the greatest urging of the Government to assume reality with a critical sense, with honesty and an ethical commitment” – the only point where it disagreed with Colina – there is nothing but hypocrisy and purely abject demagoguery.

But again the ghost of censorship levitates over the large estates of Birán, like an evil called to endure as long as the hangmen last, an evil not willing to cede, which always makes an effort to extend itself, fatally menacing our consciousness. Again the shadows enthrone their domain in the middle of the medieval village where sad songbirds, already buried by History, stubbornly refuse to die.

*Translator’s note: From Harry Potter, soul-sucking wraiths that live off peoples’ worst fears. 

Translated by Regina Anavy

 

Proposal with Regards to the Retirement of a Tyrant / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 12 November 2015 — Recently the octogenarian Raul Castro again spoke about his upcoming retirement in February of 2018. For someone who has never not heard the same last name leading the country during his entire life, this is unusual news, so this Cuban wants to put a humble proposal to his President, so that he can ruminate on it over time: I propose the General, when he retires, continue to be consistent with his career, and have the courage to fully incorporate himself into the society that he, along with his older brother, created — something that certainly no one has seen the tenant of “Point Zero” (i.e. Fidel Castro) do.

To accomplish this the General would have to renounce all the privileges kept during the last five-and-a-half decades of his life — earlier as Minister of the Armed Forces and then as President, but always as a life member of the Council of State and the Central Committee of the Communist Party — and incorporate himself into this flavorsome reality as one more retiree. continue reading

He would receive no financial support from his powerful son-in-law General Luis Alberto, nor from his little daughter Mariela, the Lady Di of CENESEX. So, amid his helplessness, he would be left if he dared with the consequences of the austerity always demanded by the Castro brothers for millions of Cubans but never for themselves.

Asking him to return to a certain lost village in east of the country [i.e. Biran, where he was born] would seem excessively cruel, so we would start by moving his residence from wherever he is, to some humble Havana neighborhood — for example Cerro, Marianao or Central Havana — and issue him a ration book, to which, of course, he would have every right in the world.

We would then sign him up for a succulent retirement check, let’s say 1,000 Cuban pesos a month — some $40 US — which would be five times what the average retired Cuban receives — some $8 US a month — and so, in this way, no one could accuse us of bad intentions.

At this point we would dissolve our undeserved fraternity, and from this moment would leave the man who is today the President of the Republic, at the mercy of this picturesque social environment that, for decades, has surrounded more than 90% of retired Cubans.

After several months of picking up his ration quota — six pounds of rice, a quarter pound of beans, some eggs, “chicken for fish”* and half a pound of oil a month — the ex-president’s palate would, gradually, forget the taste of beef filets, lobster, good caviar and those expensive wines that he acquired a taste for from his older brothers.

Given the high devaluation of the currency, his checkbook — due precisely to the erratic policies maintained by both dictators — would be empty after the first ten days each month and our retiree wouldn’t have a cent and would start to feel the full rigor of all the scarcities the rest of the retirees suffer just two or three days after they collect their money.

The ex-president would no longer have a cupboard filled with select supplies and would quickly become accustomed to seeing the monotonous landscape of nothing but frost in the empty freezer, and then he would confront, without resources, the merciless prices of the food markets and the brand new “TRDs” (literally: Hard Currency Collection Stores) which, thanks to the initiatives of the previous government — meaning: his — continue to exfoliate the wallets of the Cuban people.

He would no longer live amid comfortable air-conditioning, because it would consume more than half of his income, but instead he would hold onto some old repaired fan, and he would pray every day to the Virgin that it would not malfunction, and as for buying a second-hand car at one of the State agencies with prices fixed by the previous government — he would understand that it would take seventy years of his retirement income — assuming he didn’t eat, dress himself, buy shoes nor pay the electric bill. He would no longer have cars with full tanks of gas waiting at his door every day, and would be forced to travel using one of the worst systems of public transport in the world — one of the hot potatoes inherited by the following government.

Of course, after several months of poor nutrition, health problems would soon appear, but then the ex-president could no longer access the exclusive hospital known as CIMEQ, nor “La Pradera,” nor the Cira Garcia International Clinic — available almost exclusively to the upper crust and foreigners. But, with lots of luck, he would be admitted to some stinking room in a crumbling hospital, where there would be no shower nor working toilet, where he would have to bring his own sheets, and where there would be a scarcity of medicines and supplies to heal him. There he would be attended by doctors frustrated after decades of poverty-level wages and lack of personal expectations, but despite everything, these professionals would try to attend to his needs as well as the hostile environment would allow them to.

By then the retired General would have seen his desire to take a coveted tourist trip to Mexico go up in smoke for good. He would not be able to travel to that Aztec land nor any other, nor could he even reserve a room in the lowest category Cuban hotel at the risk of dying of hunger, because the previous government — that is, his — established that it would cost an entire monthly retirement check to stay just one night.

It goes without saying that by now our illustrious retiree would have been convinced that there is no sweet tamarind** nor dictatorship with any shame, but if he keeps quiet not out of common decency it will be so as not to expose himself to some of those shameful acts of repudiation that he still orders today, a risk that cannot be discarded now that his friend Furry is not long the Minister of the Interior.

However, at this moment if, out of mercy, one would give Raul Castro one piece of advice, it might be: Never sit in the warm sun at the end of the day at any peaceful Havana park along with other retirees because if the dictator showed up there — much to his disadvantage this title is usually lifelong — he would likely receive his own repudiation rally. He would know first hand, and not through cold police reports or insensitive functionaries, how much resentment and pain is harbored in these old hearts.

He would hear about the irremediable uprooting of their grandchildren, the youth now fleeing the tyranny in migratory waves across the Straits of Florida or through the Central American jungles, and he would hear, with absolute certainty, more than one story of dead rafters.

Only then, under the silence of those trees, would he perceive the tyranny in all its dimensions and how much hate is held by this betrayed generation that lost its dreams and its lives in the shadow of so much infamy.

Translator’s notes:
A common expression in Cuba which indicates ration card holders “may” substitute chicken for their allotment of fish. As fish is virtually never available to ordinary people, the “may” makes it something of a joke.
**Jeovany is remaking an expression loosely related to the English expression: “The best X is a dead X.” Among the frequent examples found on-line is: “There is no good Communist, nor any sweet tamarind.” Other examples are commonly racist, homophobic, or other forms of hate speech.

Monetary Unification in Cuba, an Unresolved Issue / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“National Money” (Cuban pesos) in one hand, “hard currency” (Cuban convertible pesos) in the other.

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 October 2015 — Without a doubt the most complex challenge Raúl Castro’s regime has in the short-term is monetary unification. The use in the country of two national currencies for the last two and a half decades has ended up generating an inestimable distortion in the internal finance system, which by itself would be enough to illustrate the chaos reigning in the economy, of which this is a sharp reflection.

The recent declaration of U.S. Senator Rodney Davis on the imminence of change awakened expectations on the subject, which has been strikingly absent in the speeches of the General/President and in the official Cuban press, in spite of the fact that its persistence converted it some time ago into something unique. If several contemporaneous countries once permitted the indistinct circulation of a foreign currency together with their own, I don’t remember one that used two national currencies together, like Cuba has done since the ’90s: to wit, the Cuban peso, the CUP — so withered, humble, poor — and the CUC, the all-powerful Cuban “convertible” peso*. continue reading

For more than two decades, 90 percent of Cubans have received their monthly “salary” in CUP, and when they shop in the “dollar” stores, they have to pay in CUC, at a rate of 25CUP/1CUC. This is the biggest scam suffered by our people since the arrival of Columbus. In the previous period, before the arrival of the CUC at the beginning of the ’90s, there had already been quaint situations, since during the better part of that phase Fidel Castro made the simple holding of foreign currency – above all the American dollar — into an authentic body of crimes reflected by all the letters in the penal code, and hundreds of Cubans suffered in prison.

But it’s worth little to dig up the past; today we need to turn over a new leaf and write a new chapter. Like neophytes, we don’t really hear the intimate ins and outs of the economy, habitually plagued by obscure nuances that we can’t guess. But it’s worth it anyway to ask concrete questions about the unification of Cuban currencies. One indispensable step would be to demand, starting now, every opportunity sighted on our horizon.

Today every proposal stipulates, as a prior condition, the coherence of its financial system, since nothing else would earn the essential credibility that international organizations and investors need. So, since everyone is aware of this, why delay one more day with the inevitable change? But this is where you would have to stop to avoid this necessary step from ending badly and generating disastrous social consequences in the short-term.

But all this supposes that the Cuban Government — the one definitively responsible for having generated and maintained such an unusual policy — assumes responsibility for the complete process in a way that mitigates potential harm; and that it will happen in the least abrupt way possible, without generating or minimizing possibly traumatic consequences for the already-poor Cuban people.

I’m speaking concretely. I wonder if, instead of having an abrupt change of currency right now, it wouldn’t perhaps be possible to gradually reevaluate the weaker money, through a programmed process and with public knowledge — let’s say lowering the exchange rate of the CUC in the CADECA (the official exchange bureau) at a rhythm of 1 to 2 CUP monthly — so that at the moment of exchange the rate would be less pronounced than now, let’s say 10 to 1, for example.

Another element to take into account is the time it would take for the population to complete the change, meanwhile guaranteeing the possibility of exchanging all the cash circulating without the Government interposing senseless obstacles. Those in the old guard remember the untimely way in which this process was carried out at the beginning of the ’60s, and all the absurd limitations imposed at that time, which caused a considerable part of the money in circulation to simply became void.

Right now there can’t be any justification for the Cuban Government to appear arbitrary. In its place, a period of some months should be available to complete the change, during which both currencies would continue to circulate at the fixed rate until the one destined to disappear remains only a numismatic memory. After all, as any grandfather will tell you, he who hopes for much can wait a little, and something that has harmed us for so many years can’t be reversed in a few days.

On this point I’m beginning from the supposition that the currency that will disappear will be the CUC. The untimely presence of this spawn, “convertible,” paradoxically, only inside Cuba, together with the Cuban peso, would be something senseless and counter-productive in a Cuba that is open to the world. No sane person would consider retiring the CUP from circulation in place of the CUC. To do this suddenly, after fomenting rumors during the last two years about the presumed permanence of the CUP, which is still being exchanged for CUC in the street, would be a miserably low blow.

Of course, for everything to succeed, or to put it another way, to be something that doesn’t imply huge domestic trauma, the political goodwill of the elite Cuban Government would be necessary: something that up to now hasn’t exactly been celebrated. If it is economically coherent, it should free up productive and commercial openings, which would foster an immediate circulation of goods and services generated by wealth, all of which would be possible in the short-term — an effort which, although at the beginning wouldn’t be achieved on a large-scale or with all the urgency that circumstances demand, would be oriented, without doubt, in the right direction, and would then be a comforting first step in support of the stability of a future single currency.

Then in the short and mid-term, the positive result could be felt, but only if the Government accedes to immediately freeing up the management of the private sector of society and stops putting unreasonable obstacles in the way of every private initiative. This would be, in my humble and novice opinion, a variant to take into account. Studying to see if this would be something practical and attainable now is a job for the experts; it is only one more proposition.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban “convertible” peso is not actually “convertible” anywhere but inside Cuba. The exchange rate on the US dollar is nominally 1:1, but a 10% “surcharge” is applied, distorting the exchange rate. Exchanges with other foreign currencies — for example the Canadian dollar or the euro — are not taxed.

Translated by Regina Anavy

 

Poverty, the Cuban Dictatorship’s Recourse / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Revolution is Going Well… Ever Onward! Fidel

Jeovany Jimenz Vega, 12 October 2015 — Doctor A, with 20 years of uninterrupted work to his credit, owes nothing to the little he receives in salary. Besides not being enough to feed his family, it has not allowed him to procure a proper roof and so he still lives in his shabby doctor’s office. After many disappointments, A is now tired of waiting for an improvement that will never come and chose to add his name to his polyclinic’s list of Collaborators: to go work abroad on some official “Medical Mission,” the only alternative he can see to better his life in the near term.

Engineer B works in the Mariel Free Zone and almost never seeks the light of day with his children due to the rigor of his work schedule. He knows that in the Development Zone foreign engineers and technicians receive several thousand dollars a month for the exact same work he does, but at the end of the month he receives some one hundred dollars, more or less; his share of the hard cash that goes directly from the foreign firm to the government coffers in exchange for his labor, without ever passing through his hands, and thus he is exploited by the government. continue reading

Teacher C is overwhelmed with work plans and rare is the day that doesn’t end with her at home planning her next class. During her thirty year career she has trained two generations; the father who today trusts his son to her was, in turn, taught to read by her. Nor can C live on the salary paid by the government and soon she will receive a pension that will condemn her to penury. But C can’t do anything about that, sowing light in new minds, and despite everything leaving home every morning to practice the profession she loves.

Cigar maker D is a master of rolling Habaneros. For decades he has taken the best leaf in the world and made cigars smoked by millionaire celebrities. Every day D stocks a showcase where this tobacco is sold at $250 Cuban Convertible Pesos (almost $280 US) a box, and like a good veteran, every Feria del Habano awakens a confused mixture of pride and frustration in him that he is unable to define. But D does not receive a fair wage for rolling what represents $2,000 US a day — instead, like the majority of Cubans, he receives a pittance compared to the wealth he generates.

Millions of frustrations accumulated over five decades of the Castro’s misgovernment in Cuba would make this summary interminable. A revolution that triumphed supposedly to destroy the exploitation of man by man has over time degenerated into a scheme of domination that ended up sowing poverty evenly over our country.

When the causes of such an accumulation of so much inequity and misery are analyzed–regardless of the path followed to reach a synthesis–the unavoidable conclusion upon identifying the source of all power today in this tyrannized Cuba, is a single, simple one: the poverty of my people has been the supreme economic and strategic resource of the Cuban dictatorship.

In essence, it is not nickel, nor tobacco, nor tourism, nor the systematic frauds committed by the ETECSA monopoly, neither is it the “emergent” petrochemical industry (which lost its momentum when Caracas succumbed); it is not even the billions generated annually by the more than 60 official Cuban medical missions around the world, which have allowed the rule of the Castro regime to last for more than a half century despite governing in such a disastrous manner from any point of view. If one wants  to get down to the heart of the matter, if one wants to find the common backstory behind all the ills, we will always find poverty as the sine qua non condition that perpetuates the disaster.

Only a physician sunk in poverty that threatens his family’s stability, his health and even his life, would choose to go work in the opposite end of the earth, even with the knowledge that they will steal 80% of what he is supposed to be paid. Only under pressure by the most dire proverty does that engineer, that tobacco farmer or that teacher find himself forced to go out every day and plunder life. Only by being dragged down by the most absurd shortages has it been possible for my people to remain submerged in this protracted torpor, with their thinking reduced to what is on their plates and far from the hazy “utopianisms” of civic philosophy.

Anyone seeking to understand how a once proud and prosperous people, who knew how to rid themselves of more than one tyrant, ended up in this shameful state, should firstly disabuse himself of any simplistic view, such as the one that holds that if we allowed so many outrages, it is simply because we are a pack of cowards. But anyone who has had a close encounter of the fourth kind with a Cuban who is all fired up will have perceived that this explanation is not congruent with a temperament that tends towards the explosive. The true answer will, of course, be much more complex.

The causes that keep this game of dominoes closed have to be found in the devious despotism riding on the train of a Revolution that triumphed with the unconditional support of 90% of its people. Anyone who ignores this pair of dichotomies–the initial massive support for that movement, along with the demogogic, cunning character of the top brass–will go off in the wrong direction if he tries to understand the evolution of post-1959 Cuban society, because it was that very initial turmoil that allowed the despots to modify the social framework according to their preferences before the eyes of a people who were all too credulous. The rest was determined by the rebels in the Escambray mountains, hanging teachers with barbed wire, among other bloody events, which conferred clear-cut justification on the politico-military elite to reshape the dog’s nest while letting him sleep.

The rest is known history and today, even when more amicable winds are starting to blow from the North, and weary now of the arguments pulled from the top hat of the Central Committee–that same elite that once dictated and sustained a scorched-earth economic policy with regard to any hint of private or family business–and which continues betting on keeping us in poverty as the only way of ensuring its continued power.

Thus it was for more than 50 years, and thus it has been since last December 17. Now almost a year since that historic announcement, and with both embassies fully functioning, the Cuban regime yet maintains itself as static as the walls of La Cabaña prison, restricting in just the same manner all possibility of incentives for the Cuban people, and continues displaying the same terror as always toward any alternative that supposes prosperity for my people–for it knows this to be incompatible with its monopoly of power.

Today every passing minute shows evermore that the true culprits of our misery and insolvency have always been at Revolution Square; never was there need to search for them even one meter to the North. They have always been the same, but today they remain convinced that the only way to keep a people subdued is to keep them in poverty and privation.

Poverty seen as a deliberate cause of evil, and not as its consequence–the poverty of my people adopted as a deliberate strategy of long-term domination: this is the fundamental and revelatory concept that once and for all puts everything in perspective.

I want you POOR, Fanatic, Worshipful and Thanking me for it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

 

Shortages in Cuba: A Deliberate Strategy? / Jeovany Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 19 October 2015 — In Cuba the shortage of goods, including basic staples, has been a continuous phenomenon in all retail chains for decades, so repetitive that it seems  incorporated into the very genome of the regime, and has become one of the hallmarks of the laziness, inefficiency, and mediocrity of the economic and military dictatorship of the Castros.

Many alternative websites inside and outside of the island have warned about the phenomenon so constantly that, given its magnitude, even the official press has had no option but to recognize the severity of the problem on more than one occasion. It is not news to anyone that the official voices blame this disaster on the American embargo—which they have inexorably called a “blockade” even though right in front of their noses are windows adorned with goods coming from all four points of the compass. continue reading

Thousands of times we have been victims of the onerous consequences of living under an autocracy that exercises its monopoly over the entire national network of commerce. This unnatural and comfortable position has allowed inept and lazy despots to flaunt their irresponsibility by gambling with the most pressing needs of my people, and we have witnessed over and over how they raise prices without explanation, or how many times they leave a particular product on the shelves for years because due to its poor quality the only way to get rid of it is to force its sale.

But what is happening today in Cuba seems to be different and I suspect that this time something more is being arranged behind the scenes. During the past year we have witnessed a worsening of this phenomenon to an unexplainable extent, and we have seen a greater shortage than usual, perhaps the most acute and long-lasting since 1994. All Cubans have observed this in their own place of residence, and have also learned that the situation is the same, if not worse, in other locations.

Especially in recent months the shortages have been so apparent and widespread, have gained such intensity throughout the entire country, and have been so prolonged that it makes one suspect that this is not just another cyclical crisis of scarcities in supply—recognized even by the deaf-mute State newspaper Granma—but this time we could be facing a crude tactical maneuver to achieve a specific short-term goal. This is something happening against the tide, during times in which there should be relative improvement, given the winds that have blown since last December 17 (the day the United States and Cuba announced the resumption of relations). But from the thinking and actions of the olive-green clique, they seem not to perceive it like that, and everything indicates that they have preferred to reset the sails according to their unhealthy inclination of maintaining control at all costs.

A very simple fact demonstrates the profound contradiction: in accordance with the license granted by Congress, Cuba imported $710 million in food directly from the United States in 2008, but in 2013, in contrast, it imported only $348 million, and in the first half of 2015 it decreased even more, buying only $119 million. So they consolidated this decline at the same time as they were advancing the secret negotiations with the US government during 2014, and then, paradoxically, intensified it after the proposed bilateral thaw was made public.

So the questions arise: Could it be that our military autocracy is convinced of the imminent fall of its strategic ally in Caracas at the next elections and is preparing us now in order to minimize the inevitable impact that the suspension of the Venezuelan subsidy will cause? Or maybe the assertion of US Congressman Rodney Davis is coming true, about the impending monetary unification in less than a month, and the Cuban government finds it necessary, for some mysterious reason, to have a record of minimal wares then available for sale?

Or maybe it’s all merely a tactic designed to maximize the psychological perception of improvement when the clique unveils its next opening, while freeing for sale all the merchandise that today is deliberately hidden, in order to “prove” that this systemic shortage always was, indeed, the fault of the “Yankee criminal blockade” and no one else?

Maybe they don’t want to give us any breathing room in case the elections of 2016 do not produce a Democrat successor to guarantee the continuity of the process initiated by Obama. Or they’re just afraid to risk that we would demand some changes in the rules of the game too quickly for Raul Castro’s taste (he is addicted to “changes” without haste and with many delays), or that we would too quickly sniff the aroma of the proposals from the North that ultimately they are not willing to allow.

Maybe it’s one or all of these reasons. But aside from all the speculation one thing is without doubt: the Cuban dictatorship’s short- and medium-term plans include none that even remotely contemplate any real improvement in our standard of living, much less any effective opening to commerce that would in any way empower the Cuban people; and to accomplish them, there is nothing like promoting this perpetual shortage, which after all has demonstrated its undeniable effectiveness in dividing the attention of the masses and preventing them from focusing on uncomfortable issues. No one doubts that the evil intentions on Havana’s Mt. Olympus are more than sufficient to devise such a mean-spirited strategy .

Translated by Tomás A.

 

Bergoglio’s Havana Tango / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 27 September 2015 — The recently concluded visit of Pope Francis left Cuba awash in a wave of controversy. To the amazement of some and the disappointment of others, a pope known for being direct, almost penetrating, in his incendiary statements to the centers of world power, and who has shown courage in opening a Pandora’s box inside his own institution, to the delight of many enjoying the show, was nevertheless too cautious in facing the Cuban dictators.

From someone who has taken steps considered truly reckless in contrast to the millennial conservatism of his Church, who arrived in Havana preceded by his reputation as a radical reformer, and whose statements on behalf of the dispossessed have even earned him the absurd accusation of being communist, many expected a bolder more direct speech against those responsible for the well-known disregard of human rights on the island.

But such disappointment may have originated from an incorrect assessment of the exact coordinates of his passage through Havana, the uncharted context in which his visit occurs: it happens that the country visited today by the Argentine Pope is not the same one visited by Wojtyla in 1998; nor even the same one visited by Ratzinger in 2012. continue reading

Just because the dictatorship is exactly the same doesn’t mean that Cuba is. The political audacity of Obama in diametrically reversing a policy perpetuated by his nine predecessors in the White House is not the focus of this discussion, but the consequences of this shift are undoubtedly far-reaching.

This has obviously affected the political scene inside and outside of Cuba because in the short term it has conditioned a different attitude toward the island and has raised more expectations in the entrepreneurial sector of the informal Cuban economy.

Because a country is the sum of the needs and aspirations of the people who inhabit it, something well-known to Bergoglio, an expert on human nature, he must have opted for prudence out of the conviction that it was the appropriate thing right now.

Let’s put everything in context. Bergoglio is a Pope who has publicly agreed to mediate one of the longest and most bitter conflicts in modern history, and therefore follows the golden rule of all mediators: do not embarrass any party taking a neutral position. He knows that the world is watching his every gesture.

He also knows the penchant of the Cuban side to concoct absurd pretexts, and he knows that any confrontational statement could cool the climate of the current negotiations. At this time the pope is a political actor and conducts himself as such.

In Cuba we saw a Bergoglio focused on his purpose of bringing the two parties closer to try to resolve a longtime dispute. We are in the presence a man in the prime of his personal maturity and at the summit of his life’s work, conscientiously serving in a delicate negotiation.

Like any good politician, who never sacrifices the final objective for intermediate skirmishes, he simply puts his mission ahead of any personal opinion he may have on the matter and keeps his attention fixed on achieving the goal.

Nevertheless, his personal visit to Fidel Castro was disconcerting—he was not required by protocol to visit someone who at this point does not occupy any official positions. If instead he had not visited Fidel’s home, he would have sent a clear political message about his desire to break with a past that Cuba urgently needs to leave behind. But for either practical or purely personal reasons he chose to give a media selfie to the dictatorship.

Seeing him with the man who has most damaged the Cuban nation has been deeply disturbing, but time will unveil the true intention of his encounter and only then will we know how ethically justified his decision was.

Controversies have also arisen about his later statements denying knowledge of the arrests of hundreds of Cuban dissidents during his stay on the island. But not meeting with any dissidents fit pragmatically with his objective when seen from the viewpoint of a mediator: this would have unduly strained the climate of the visit, in the view of the Cuban government—and is something, by the way, that was not required given the essentially pastoral character of his tour. Viewing everything in this light, it was simply a diplomatic matter of refraining from making inflammatory statements.

But all this made more evident still the dilemma of the Cuban Catholic Church; caught between the brittle pride of a suspicious dictatorship and hurting those who are supposed to be its people has presented a profound ethical dilemma.

We are facing a new scenario in which age-old questions are repeated: what is the role of the Catholic Church, located between a suffering people and the despotism of their oppressors? Where is her exact place in this puzzle of contradictions? To what extent should the successor of Peter be politically involved? Or maybe the question is much simpler still—Which side would Jesus be on at this crossroads of our history?

At this time Francis, who delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly in keeping with his style, has opted not to take a risk regarding Cuba, has decided to dance to the rhythm of his own tango, and from the stairway seemed to sing “goodbye children!” as one who knows all the answers beforehand.

Conditioned Salary for Doctors / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 14 September 2015 — Speaking of rumors — it’s been going around for months, but nothing official has yet been said about it — there is a rumor that the Ministry of Public Health will increase the monthly salary of doctors in Cuba  to 5,000 Cuban pesos (equivalent to a little more than $200 US). This would be very good news, but on the island things are seldom what they seem, and according to what is rumored it could also be a rotten deal: to receive this salary the worker will have a sign a contract — which apparently will not be elective — in which he or she commits to not traveling outside of Cuba during the following five years, or perhaps ten years according to other versions. And it is also said that in the eastern provinces this document has already been presented to the workers.

If this is true, it would be sheer nonsense to subordinate this salary to something that has no relation to our healthcare performance. continue reading

Like in every contract, the one allegedly being proposed would clearly establish working days and hours, it would fix the rules of discipline and standards in relation to employer/employee and also recognize the rights to our twice-yearly two-week paid vacations, but at this point the powers of the administration would stop. What we decide to do with our free time is outside the administrative jurisdiction of the center and its ministry, it is something completely personal is not for anyone else to make these choices. Then, if it is clear that this is an unrelated matter, it would be absurd to make such a requirement.

Of the recent measures announced by the newspaper Granma, theoretically we can infer that the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) has become aware, although very late, of the severity of the health care situation in the country, but conditioning a salary as deserved as it is long postponed on something so personal and alien to our work as what we do in our free time, would be a misplaced imprudence.

Such an attitude from our ministry would show that at bottom, nothing has changed. This posture greatly tarnishes the intended spirit of reconciliation of the new proposed policy, and belies the alleged “good intentions” of the Cuban authorities towards those healthcare professionals who choise to remain in Cuba or who want to return after working for a short time abroad. Behind such conditionality one can see the gleam in the eye of the tiger, the always authoritarian gesture, the same despotism, in another disguise and other trappings, but in the end the very same despotism as always.

Could it be that so much time of impositions blinded that forever, that pride will end up annulling judgment? Can they no longer do anything truly clean? Will they ultimately be incapable of sincere propositions and everything will be left, one more time, in an opportunistic simulation, in a perpetual dissimulation.

Of course, signing or not signing such a contract would be a matter that each one has the full right to accept or not according to their personal decision, but these professionals should know that once they sign it, this document would place them in an unjust position of subordination and would be a legal yoke in the hands of the administration, which will undoubtedly use it without hesitation when the time comes to justify future arbitrariness.

Personally, I never would sign it. It is not a question of wanting or not wanting to travel outside Cuba tomorrow, it is that here there is a principal much more elemental: that is the right to choose to do so or not always belongs only to me. So it is a simple matter.

 

Palliative Treatments / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 2 September 2015 — Several weeks ago it was rumored that the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba (MINSAP) has prepared a series of measures for the benefit of its professionals. Viewed as a whole, these proposals could be seen as a countermand to that other policy from several months ago of widespread reprisals, within the island and throughout the network, which amounted to a stupid and unrealistic frontal assault against those who decided to leave the country for individual contracts that were not part of any official medical mission.

Certainly the previous “circular” from the minister bet heavily on the hardline to discourage individual medical recruitment abroad by all possible means: he began ordering the disqualification of all those working in the sector who left without authorization from MINSAP to work abroad on their own; he shamelessly applied pressure on other governments, including through diplomatic channels, to prevent individual contracting; he even ordered punishment of those who decide to return to work in Cuba after working abroad, including the immediate withdrawal of their passport at Customs (as an official collaborator) upon returning to Cuba, among other crimes previously analyzed in my blog Citizen Zero. continue reading

But this time other rumors—again nothing published officially—brought a more conciliatory breeze from the island. Apparently someone more clear-thinking and realistic, or simply more pragmatic, had to point out that the previous measures would have little practical value, high political cost, and would ultimately only succeed in discouraging the potential return of professionals who had never decided to live permanently away from Cuba.

As for being disqualifed from practicing on the island: how could being deprived of a salary of $60.00 a month matter to someone who returns to Cuba with tens of thousands of dollars? Prohibiting this professional from practicing in Cuba would be ludicrous, particularly at a time when the Cuban government is advertising openings because, after all, in practical terms, where will they spend their money when they get back but in Cuba? Who would be most affected in this fight: the reluctant Ministry quite pressed for professionals, or the worker who could wait for years with all the patience in the world, without any urgency, for the Minister’s replacement?

Almost every time the olive-green dictators have chosen one of the many measures directed against the welfare and prosperity of my people they have done so through a recognizable modus operandi: they ordered their army of neighborhood informers to put out trial balloons and then return to their masters with the views they heard about how the future crime would be perceived by public opinion, to thereby forecast the reaction that would follow once the edict in question was implemented.

So far, despite the undoubtedly positive way the presumed measures were “announced”—aside from the fact that they are part of a containment strategy in the face of a mass exodus of professionals due to the failure to meet their expectations—it seems that these measures were untimely taken; or better said in good Cuban … “that train has left the station.”

Now it will be much harder to dissuade a professional who in the first month of work abroad has received remuneration significantly greater than that received in ten whole years of work in Cuba. Hopefully there will be some good news, but due to the long-proven track record of the Cuban government in spreading rumors—it has now become one of their favorite hobbies—I once again frankly doubt it.

Translated by Tomás A.

 

Demagoguery: A Cardinal Sign of the Cuban “Revolution” / Jeovany Vega

I want you POOR, fanatic, worshipful and grateful

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 20 August 2015 — A few weeks ago we were amusing ourselves with news reports about the vacation tour of Prince Tony Castro. Apparently, tired of playing golf in a country where 99.99% of the natives have never set foot on a golf course, the only Cuban participant in the latest Ernest Hemingway Fishing Tournament (and, coincidentally, its only winner) decided to hop over to the opulent hotels of Turkey. None of this would be especially notable if Tony were the heir to the throne of the Sultan of Brunei; but he is no more and no less the son of the most vertically anti-capitalist personage of the second half of the 20th century: the feudal lord Fidel Castro. continue reading

By now, however, nothing should surprise us, because demagoguery was always the most cardinal sign of Fidelism from its first moments of existence. This same dictator took it upon himself to practice it whenever he could, raising it to the level of an Olympic sport. Fidel’s ambivalent posture in those first days of the Revolution, making assurances that he was not a communist–only to later shed his skin when circumstances were propitious–is established historical fact. But besides this facet inherent to his high politics, in the personal sphere, also, Fidel always maintained a double life, until time and the public confessions of various high-ranking officials, disenchanted with the Bearded One’s lechery, revealed the truth.

Thus we learned that this gentleman always had multiple lovers. Then I remembered how an uncle of mine, a principled militant communist, and honest (whom I remember on more than one occasion asking my mother for some change so that he could buy cigarettes at the Artemisa Coppelia that he himself managed) was expelled from the Party for the unpardonable sin of having a lover.

A little more recently, following the death of Antonio Gades, we would find out that the Iberian artist was the baptismal godfather of the children of Raúl Castro himself. Then we would recall then how for decades, Party membership was denied to thousands of sympathizers of the regime precisely because of their religious beliefs–and even much worse, how thousands of workers were harassed, and how the future of tens of thousands of young people was truncated as they were expelled from their university studies for not having denied their faith.

Now we know that the feudal lord was a consummate connoisseur of wines and expensive cheeses, and we also learn about all those mini-palaces, yachts, foreign vacations, children sent to European boarding schools, and private hunting preserves for the exclusive use of the olive-green oligarchs–or rather, about a long saga of bourgeois privileges that for decades the big shots enjoyed on the backs of my people.

We should in no way be surprised now that the dandy Tony Castro should treat himself to a little getaway, renting a “humble” yacht worthy of Bill Gates, and pay thousands of dollars in luxury hotel stays for hismelf and his entourage. After all, the boy is only doing what he saw his elders do.

Someone could argue that it is legitimate for any president or son of a president to take these “small” liberties, but this is not the case, at least not in the Cuban case. Fidel Castro spent too many hours giving speeches for 50 years, requesting austerity from the Cuban people, beating his breast and shouting to the four winds that not only were they honorable and good, but also that they were absolutely the best and the most honorable of the universe; Cubans always marked an irreproachable dividing line between that paradigmatic paradise of immaculate honesty bordering holiness, and the “perfidious capitalist rot” that now does not seem to much scare the Antillean Dandy.

Of course, there are also the getaways to Cancún by the leaders during those decades in which foreign travel was prohibited, the secret Swiss bank accounts, the reserves of other generals (also replete with millions which were never revealed), the nauseating corruption that yields millions for the godless bureaucrats in Customs, the mile-long list bribes given to high-level functionaries of the Foreign Trade ministry in exchange for miserable contracts and purchases; among other Kodak moments for the memories of the dictatorship, such as Cause #1 against General Ochoa, which yet stinks of cocaine in the Cuban memory.

Not to be omitted are the businesses and properties owned by other heirs to the Castro/Communist thrones in other countries, where they kiss the asses of the creme of world capitalism, among other familiar “trivialities” that are (always) charged to Liborio’s* tab; all of which would help us calculate, but only intuitively, 7/8 of the hidden parts of this immense iceberg which is the Cuban Robolution.

“Translator’s Note: “Liborio” is a symbol of the Cuban people, or of the essence of Cubanness. He is usually pictured as a mustachioed peasant with long sideburns, wearing a guayabera, a straw hat on his head, and a machete in his hand.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Citizen Zero Resumes Publication / Jeovany J. Vega

Dear Friends of Citizen Zero:

Due to an unfortunate error, I found myself unable to publish on my site for more than two months. Thanks to the help of esteemed and friendly hands, as of today I am resuming my publishing. I hope that my faithful readers will forgive me for this lamentable delay. This blog will always be at the service of Truth and Homeland.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

20 August 2015

 

Examination of the Latest Ministry of Public Health Crusade / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 3 April 2015 — The gods of Olympus have spoken. In their eyes we, miserable creatures, must simply obey and resign ourselves to complying with their divine whims. I will try to translate into the language of mortals the outrageous coercive measures ordered by the Cuban government, through the Minister of Public Health, to try to stem the current exodus of healthcare professionals. In the same order in which they were set out, it would read something like this:

4. Stop the increase of individual contracts* in Angola: Because the African country is forever indebted to Cuba since the 1980s war, it goes without saying that it is obligated to comply with everything that Havana orders. In other words: Cubans in Angola as cannon fodder, yes; Cubans in Angola to work honestly, without being exploited by the Cuban government, never. continue reading

5. Confiscate the official passports of all employees upon their arrival at the airport: Here we have the Ministry of Health taking measures that, apart from their obvious illegality, really belong under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Immigration of the Interior Ministry, in Cuban Customs. This shows, if anyone still doubted, that in this little country everything converges in a single, centralized, and despotic power, which has no qualms about treating all of us, without distinction, as common criminals.

6. Promote agreements with private clinics: Here we have that slavery-promoting monster, the  Distributor of Medical and Health Services, trying to wrap its tentacles of control around each private clinic in every country where Cuban doctors have decided to emancipate themselves from its networks. This shows how sick and delusional its obsession is to block the personal success of our professionals.

7. Review the interministerial agreements so they don’t allow freedom of contract: This proposal, which the leaders of Havana hope to establish in half the world, covering both public and private institutions, is nothing more than a subconscious reflection of what Cuban medical missions have always been: a lucrative method of emotional blackmail. That is, if I provide you with doctors at bargain prices, who are willing to go into those dreaded favelas (off-limits even to the police), exposed to dangers that your own doctors would never accept, you are obligated to comply when I “renegotiate” with you the terms of the contract.

8. Explicitly reflect the commitment of no individual hiring in the individual agreement with the employee: This is actually nothing new. Until now it has always been an uncompromising principle that not only is individual hiring prohibited, but even something as simple as an employee in a foreign country just talking with someone who is an actual or suspected opponent of the “regime friend.” Cuban employees will never be allowed freedom of movement, such that they are prohibited from leaving their assigned place even for something as nearby and ordinary as shopping, for example, without the consent of their bosses—meaning the political hitmen, who are officially and completely in control, placed there by Cuban State Security.

10. Disqualify those who dare to disobey Caesar from practicing their profession: The professionals who today work abroad, for wages far more appropriate than they received in Cuba—including those on official medical missions—are not willing to be used like toilet paper. It is ridiculous to claim that there are only 211 cases countrywide of those who decided to work outside Cuba “without authorization,” when in fact the number is in the thousands.

12. Deem the failure to comply with the requirement of giving advance notice to terminate the employment relationship as a serious disciplinary infraction: If there is some reason in this, then common sense dictates that timely notice should be given of any decision to abandon a certain place in order to timely look for a substitute. But that raises the question—why have thousands of professionals refused to comply with something so basic? Are we Cuban doctors so irresponsible? Or is it that ultimately we cannot rely at all on the “goodwill” of our leaders, after being subjected for many decades to all kinds of arbitrariness, abuse, and despotism, and to our most basic needs being ignored? Aren’t these the same ministerial and governmental authorities who for more than a decade applied the unprecedented policy that required us to wait for more than five years if we wanted to travel abroad, waiting for the “release” from our minister? Finally could it be that these authorities no longer have any credibility in the eyes of their workers? Here I recall the old saying of grandfather Liborio: when there is revenge, there are no grievances.

13. Issue disqualification notices to workers who violate procedures for leaving the country: Professionals who take the irrevocable personal decision to work temporarily or permanently abroad, for wages far more appropriate than those they receive in Cuba including those on official medical missions—are not willing to be used like toilet paper.

14. Relocate those returning to Cuba after working abroad under an individual contract to a lower-status position—never to the position they originally occupied: The punishment, not as a vindicating end, but as an inviolable fundamental principle, as the cardinal sign that never fails in the mind of the despots. This section shows that those who today are exporting as authentic their pretensions of “change” and sweetened “reforms” remain the same miserable characters as always.

16 and 17. Organize, in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry, meetings with the relevant foreign ambassadors in Havana, and direct the team leaders and Cuban ambassadors in their respective countries to discourage individual contracts: Once again they reveal the long tentacles of the political mafia of Havana. Here we have the incredible act of the Cuban government, through its Ministry of Health, taking an openly interventionist position, dictating measures inside other countries, trying to impose decisions about their healthcare policies. It’s a good thing that, with evil US imperialism interfering in the internal politics of other countries, the immaculate Cuban Revolution is there to stop it! Where would these poor people be without this greatest Revolution of ours?

*Translator’s note: A contract made directly between a host country and a Cuban doctor, without payment to the Cuban government.

 

 

Minimal Vindication of Jose Marti / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Painting by Carlos Enríquez of the death of José Martí.

Jeovany Jimenez Vega,20 May 2015 — In the laudable attempt to demystify José Martí, pens of the most dissimilar calibers have been employed, and all the efforts seem paltry given the transcendence of his legacy. But not all have headed in the right direction in their efforts. I concur with the argument put forth in a recent article that questions the impact of José Martí on the Cuban people during the phase immediately preceding the uprising of 24 February, 1895.

To gauge Martí’s influence within Cuban society before 1895–which, given the improbable and rudimentary level of which his advanced doctrinal thinking could reach a semi-literate Cuban population relegated to the Cuban insularity at the close of the 19th Century–would be as absurd as to presuppose that his impact would have been exclusively limited to that humble sector of the population, isolating it for no reason from the rest of a society already resounded impatiently at the imminent possibility of the war. continue reading

This would always be a biased view, because it would ignore the principal aim of the Master’s* discourse on the pages of Patria [newspaper funded and directed by Martí] and from the lecterns of Tampa and Key West: to the Creole intelligentsia, called to amplify the message precipitating the imminent push into the interior of the Island; to the military leaders, called to drag into the scrubland, inciting them with their natural leadership, the great mass of Cubans who would be the shock troops of the future Liberating Army.

The influence Martí was able to exert over the lowest-majority classes (and ultimately those most decisive in the future conflict) cannot be deduced linearly, but rather it necessarily winds through a typically extensive network of message intermediaries. While it is true that the Cuban peasant had little opportunity to imbue himself with the Martí Doctrine, nonetheless that tide of contained rancor against Spain was ready to overflow by 1895; it was waiting only for the wink of an eye, the order of the commanders of old, to be unleashed in new charges against the merciless metropolis. If that tension reached the critical point of no return, it was precisely because of the enormous and tireless organizational work and political proselytism deployed by Martí–a gigantic odyssey whose importance anyone objectively analyzing the prevailing dynamic of the final phase of the Rewarding Truce will never be able to underestimate or minimize.

It is true that Cuba at that time was going through a precarious and circumstantially complex economic situation, but bitter precedents should be taken into account: the failed attempted coup of the Little War and, later, the great frustration engendered by the failure of the Gómez-Maceo Plan [in 1885]. Therefore, it would not be farfetched to assert that, were it not for the catalyzing miracle of the Apostle,* that hour could well have passed without much fanfare.

Martí was not a military man. His strategic genius was developed purely in the political realm and was based on his exceptional diplomatic skill. This undisputed ability would carve the Master with the steady hand and tenacity of a goldsmith, throughout his life, through an exponential process of self-purification that finally converted him into a man of irascible and reactive temperament within this kind, magnetic, charming and edifying being whom History bequeathed us–so forceful that he conquered for the common cause men who were made as of stone, divided for years. Returning to the course of the Revolution those bronze-like characters was his major accomplishment, and also his way of knocking on the door of every Cuban country hut with the hilt of the liberating machete.

Too many obstacles were at that time coming between the Martí ideology and the poverty of the Cuban peasant. However, the task of translating the martyr of Dos Ríos’ strategic plan to the language of country folk was assumed by principal figures of the big war: one Máximo Gómez who had given to Cuban émigrés an unequivocal sign of his unconditional support for Martí by sending his son, Panchito, along with Martí on a proselytizing tour through the revolutionary clubs of the US; one newly-married José Maceo, who barely had to be urged by the Master to join the enterprise, overlooking his hurt pride at the racism of the last conflict–“only Martí was able to pull me from my love nest,” he would say; and one Antonio Maceo, the final man, who despite the misunderstandings, also added his unconditional machete to the deed and, having barely arrived in Oriente, would lead a massive charge of thousands of mambises through the scrub.

To those rough and uncultured men it was enough to have the presence in the camps of Cuba of their legendary leaders for them to be willing to die for the war previously conceived by Martí’s genius. Many joined, but the decisive presence of every one of these generals in the Cuban scrubland was a personal triumph of the Apostle; if the mambí soldier had greater or lesser awareness of it, very little would it matter to this man so little motivated by personal honors, but History is conclusive in this respect: If the miracle of the uprising was wrought, it was because beforehand, Martí–by way of his most formidable tool, the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC)–patiently and systematically organized, with regal intelligence, the colossal conspiracy.

It borders on insolence to reduce to mythical status the exalted merits of the Cuban who combines in himself such a sublime confluence of virtues. Yes, we greatly need to demystify Martí, strip him of the saintly cassocks that he never wore, and take him down from the altars that he never sought for himself. But to demystify him does not imply wiping out his proven merits: let us take care that our repugnance for the saccharine storyline and opportunistic flattery of despots who seek to legitimize themselves does not obscure before our gaze the brilliance and authentic nobility of the visionary hero.

Definitely, it was not a military man who fell at the light of day in the first skirmish, and if he was promoted in death to Major General by the unconquered Máximo Gómez–profound knower of men and quite sparing in conferring honors–it was also because the great soul of the Old Man from Baní, forged in all the pains of war, was ultimately conquered without reservation by the mysterious influence of the Master.

And let us not forget: If one gesture by Gómez was enough to mobilize the entire mambí army, along with this gesture–as his supreme victory–went the order of he who died at Dos Ríos for the poor of the Earth.

See: Martí and the Idea of a Single Party.

Translator’s Notes:

* A common epithet of José Martí in Cuban writings.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

CUC vs. the Dollar: A Perpetual Tax? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 31 May 2015 — On Thursday, May 29 Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. It had been on the list since 1982 because of what Washington saw as the Cuban government’s decades-long history of harboring members of the Basque terrorist group ETA, Colombian FARC guerrillas and more than one fugitive from American justice. It had negative implications for Cuba’s dictators in regards to international banking operations and financial transactions in Cuba. It had also led to expansion of the U.S. embargo, which even today prevents Cuba from utilizing dollars in commercial transactions. Those who carry out such transactions risk confiscation of their assets and/or hefty fines.

Actually, Cuba’s inclusion on the list always struck me as being neither here nor there. It seemed inconsequential compared to the reality surrounding us, with the multiple and eloquent examples of what can only be described — without fear of overstatement — as a policy of domestic state terrorism: an absolute, blatant and always apparent hostility, mercilessly perpetrated by Havana’s gerontocracy against anything which might suggest personal well-being or family prosperity in Cuba. continue reading

I believe the Castro government has instituted a long string of unpopular measures in order to keep the population in a perpetual state of economic insolvency bordering on destitution. The constant pressure to put food on table leaves people neither the time nor the inclination for “dangerous” expressions of civic involvement.

This absurd policy, along with our insulting salaries, means we are subjected to exorbitant gasoline prices at the pump despite the collapse of oil on the world market. Be even slightly careless and you are hit with an electricity tariff. Then there is the outrageous increase in the price of liquefied gas.

Still in place are the arbitrary exchange rates set by CADECA, the government currency exchange, the detestable extortions at gunpoint at airport customs, the constant obstacles with which the private sector must deal and the obscene exploitation of medical personnel working overseas by a government acting as pimp. All these measures, decreed from Havana, make almost any other list of villainies pale in comparison.

This time-honored policy of subjugation has been specifically linked to this arbitrary tax since 1994 when, from his reverberating loins, Fidel Castro decided to tie the U.S. dollar to the sacrosanct convertible Cuban peso, the CUC.

It was a measure which overnight reduced by 20% the purchasing power of everyone who had for decades been receiving remittances from emigré family members scattered across all corners of the globe. It has unquestionably been a lucrative source of income for the island’s economy for years.

On November 8, 1994 the Central Bank of Cuba issued Resolution 80, which stipulated that a 10% tax would be applied whenever U.S. dollars are exchanged for CUCs. Later, in April of 2005, the Committee on Monetary Policy instituted a further 8% currency exchange fee on the U.S. dollar and other foreign currencies.

This means that, when changing U.S. dollars in Cuba, there are three factors to keep in mind: there are the 10% tax stipulated by Resolution 80, the 8% surcharge outlined in Accord no. 15 by the Committee on Monetary Policy, and the approximately 3.5% commercial fee charged by CADECA for such transactions. Based on these considerations, you can calculate that, for every $100 USD you receive, CADECA will give you 80.42 CUC.

But, in a boomerang effect, these decrees carried a hidden cost. In addition to completely distorting the domestic economic system, they inevitably had an extremely negative impact on tourism to this particular spot in the middle of the exotic Caribbean, a region full of beautiful beaches and better deals which attracted millions of vacationers disinclined to pay such excessive taxes and fees.

There could be many possible consequences once Cuba is removed from the blacklist. These days there is one that especially concerns me because of the immediate and direct impact it could have on families in Cuba. I ask myself, given the likelihood that Cuba could will be able to conduct international business transactions in U.S. dollars, which was the argument used to justify the aforementioned tax, will the Cuban government now repeal this onerous levy on exchanges involving this currency and the CUC? Will the military leadership be so shameless as to retain this blatant method of mass extortion, no matter what, in light of this fundamental change?

Repeal of this tax is today inextricably linked to the often announced and often postponed currency unification. Now Cuba’s dictators will have to weigh two factors. On the one hand there is their undisputed and regressive commitment to exploiting the Cuban people by any means possible while promoting anything that leads to financial ruin and insolvency. On the other hand there is the need, as recommended by experts on the subject, to rationally coordinate the mechanisms of Cuba’s economic system in a way that at least appears credible to international organizations, banks and future investors.

Not doing so would increase the already heightened perception of risk on the part of more than one businessman, whose sense of intuition prevents him from relying entirely of the good intentions of Raul Castro. There have been too many stories of swindles and scams for them to think otherwise.

But ultimately, if the Cuban government had one iota of shame, it would immediately repeal this abominable and unpopular tax which has had such a negative impact on the well-being of the Cuban people. It would stop treating our poverty like its principal asset, like a disgraceful pedestal which for more than fifty-six years has served as the foundation for the longest and most refined dictatorship the Americas have ever known.