Cuba’s New Bank Resolution: More Shadows than Lights / Miriam Celaya

A line in front of a bank in Havana. (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 June 2021 — An informative note from the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) presented on Cuban TV’s  Roundtable program this Thursday, June 10, announced the temporary suspension of US dollar deposits in Cuban banks by individuals and legal entities.

As expressed in the note, this measure, which will go into effect on June 21, is “necessary for the protection of the banking system” and will affect cash, but not accounts in freely convertible currency (MLC), which will be able to continue receiving US dollars from abroad. The provision does not affect other currencies such as the Euro, Canadian dollars, Pounds Sterling, etc., in which deposits and other transactions can continue.

Presentations on the subject were given by Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Director General of the US Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Marta Sabina Wilson González, Minister President of the BCC, and the Vice Minister Yamilé Berra Cires. None of the interventions sufficiently clarified the implementation of this new edict. continue reading

Resolution 176 of the BCC is based on the impossibility of depositing physical US dollars in international banks in Cuba due to the restrictions imposed by the “extraterritorial nature of the blockade,” which makes it increasingly difficult to find banking institutions that will allow Cuba to carry out transactions in that currency.

According to Fernández de Cossío, with the tightening of the blockade applied by the Trump administration since 2017, but with greater force since 2019, “the US seeks to depress income and generate hunger and misery” in order to achieve a social outbreak that will do away with the Revolution. The emphasis on affecting the financial sector, laments the official, “has had surgical precision,” with “devastating impact.”

The official maintains that the limitation of remittances since 2019 and the suppression of the institutional channels to process them -he refers directly to the express prohibition of conducting of US dollar transactions through FINCIMEX — turns it into cash arrivals in Cuba, introduced by Cuban and foreign travelers, which causes a “disproportionate” circulation in that currency without being able to give it its due course.

The matter is confusing, especially considering the pernicious lack of liquidity that Cuban authorities often complain about, which was the reason given for the controversial opening of MLC-operating stores. Now it turns out that the “blockade” has generated an accumulation of dollars in Cuba which the government alleges it has no way to process.

According to Minister Wilson, an accumulation of physical money has been created that is without value because it cannot be circulated; “No foreign trade operation can be carried out with it.” She says that “the incisive effect on the financial system” and the loss of counterpart foreign banks is an additional damage caused by the US blockade against Cuban banks. “Placing Cuban entities on a black list implied the limitation of transactions with those entities”, she points out. Therefore, “people must understand that we have no other option” than the application of this resolution.

June 20 was established as the deadline for the public to make dollar deposits. It was also announced that the application of the new provision is temporary and that it will not result in penalties for holding dollars.

The duration of this measure, insists Wilson, “will depend on the duration of the restrictions imposed by the United States on Cuba,” which leaves the alleged “sovereignty” that the Island’s government authorities boast so much about in very bad standing.

For her part, Vice Minister Yamilé Berra was in charge of another array of calamities suffered by the Cuban banking system from the pressures established by Trump, which “Biden has kept intact.” Among them, he mentioned the conclusion of operations with Cuba on the part of 35 foreign banks, 12 of which were fined hefty multimillion-dollar fines under the Helm-Burton Act.

Berra also stated that, as part of the measures implemented since 2017 by the Trump administration, Cuban banking messaging system was canceled and several banking services have been closed operationally, including messaging and correspondent codes, and the refusal to accept Cuban operations using letters of credit.

“In 2020 alone, there were more than 190 actions by foreign banks against Cuban banks,” declared the vice minister, who regrets that Cuba is considered a risky country for these banks, a rating that has the “blockade” as one of its reasons. The official did not refer to other possible reasons -such as the recurrent defaults on the overwhelming debt- for the existence of such reserves against the Cuban banks.

In short, the statements by government officials on the Roundtable program, far from being enlightening, left many unanswered questions, in addition to omitting some questions of great interest. It would have been interesting to know if the non-acceptance of US dollars by Cuban banks includes the suppression of their purchase in the CADECAs at the rate of 24 x 1, given that this entity is part of the same financial system. It is assumed that the dollars collected by the CADECAs would also accumulate in bank vaults and thus lose their user value.

Another question corresponds to the statement of the CADECA management, a few weeks ago, about its lack of liquidity to change the national currency into foreign currency, as in cases of visitors who return to their countries of origin and try to get rid of the CUP. It turns out that — and is contradictory at a minimum — in a country where vaults are full of dollars that cannot be given their user value, it is not possible by a financial entity created for that purpose to exchange currency.

Nor can we ignore the possibility that the new resolution of the BCC has the unconfessed purpose of suppressing, or, at least, of limiting, the rampant illegal market of currencies, of which the most present is indeed the US dollar, a market that, among other secondary evils, encourages the development of illegal trade with products that are sold exclusively in MLC stores.

For the moment, in the days to come, corresponding reactions to these illicit activities should take place, typical of economies in crisis, as the Cuban case has been for decades. It is to be expected that the value of the dollar will tend to fall — at present it is around 70 CUP — while the Euro should rise considerably.

Attention, Cubans, new distortions are coming.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Endless Drama of the Cuban Rafters, Where Are the Causes?

Cuban rafters intercepted by the US Coast Guard October, 2020. Photo Coast Guard

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, 8 June 2021 —  On January 12th, 2017, when Barack Obama, the then outgoing president, repealed the dry feet/wet feet policy that had been in force since 1995 — a result of immigration agreements between the US and Cuba after the Balseros Crisis (1994) — Cuban authorities considered that decision as “an important step” for the advancement of relations between both governments. In addition, Raúl Castro, then Cuban president, gave himself credit for the event as a result of the secret negotiations that his government had held with the northern neighbor for more than a year.

It should be noted that, though years ago the Cuban side had accepted in principle the conditions proposed by the Clinton administration regarding the return of migrants who were intercepted at sea, it had previously refused to do so. Since 1995, the Cuban dictatorship had insistently spoken out against the existence of that policy that, it claimed, encouraged illegal migrations from the Island, putting the lives of thousands of Cubans at risk while causing a “brain drain.”

For their part, Cubans living in and outside of Cuba reacted virulently against what they considered Obama’s flagrant betrayal, despite the fact that visas had multiplied under his government and that the entry of Cuban migrants to the US had increased, especially since the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between our two countries raised the fear — not entirely unfounded — of losing the immigration privileges Cubans had enjoyed, including the Adjustment Act, in force since 1966. continue reading

As a reference, it should be noted that in fiscal year 2015-2016 alone, about 47,000 Cubans arrived in the United States, doubling the number who had arrived in the previous fiscal year.

But, although the repeal of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy meant a severe setback for tens of thousands of Cubans, whose maximum aspiration was (and is) to settle in the United States, and despite the fact that the first impact, while not eliminating it completely, did manage to considerably reduce the flow of rafters from Cuba, the truth is that, since the beginning of 2021, the trend of escaping from Cuba by sea is increasing.

Figures don’t lie. In 2018, a total of 259 Cubans were intercepted at sea, while the figure rose to 313 in 2019. In 2020 — at the start of the pandemic — there was a pause, when only 49 Cubans were captured in their vessels, while so far in 2021 that number has increased more than six times, with 323 rafters trapped so far.

The drama of this migratory flow is accompanied by a heavy dose of tragedy and death, which is why it continues to make headlines in numerous international media. The shipwreck of a boat with 20 Cubans on board was recently revealed. Two of them were found dead, floating at sea, 10 disappeared and only eight survived, rescued by US Coast Guard vessels, so that, eventually, the culmination of their sacrifice will be to face almost certain deportation to Cuba.

The increase in the illegal exodus by sea despite the fact that Cubans no longer have the prerogative that allowed them to remain in the United States legally and access permanent residence just by being able to touch that country’s territory (dry feet), and the evidence that they prefer to assume the uncertainty of living under undocumented status, just like the rest of the millions of illegal immigrants of other nationalities in that great nation, confirm that the causes that also compel Cubans to face the dangerous journey by sea, risking their lives in pursuit of a dream that not everyone manages to achieve, rest exclusively on the failure of the sociopolitical system imposed in Cuba more than six decades ago, in the permanent economic crisis derived from it, in the absence of freedoms and rights, as well as the repression inherent to the dictatorial regime.

Meanwhile, against the grain of the most elementary common sense that indicates that no one would escape from a country where everything is fine, where a Revolution was “made for the humble,” where social justice prevails and opportunities for a better life abound, Cuban authorities, alienated to the reality that is revealed before everyone’s  eyes, and with its intrinsic cynicism, continue to point to the Adjustment Act, the embargo and the “provocations” of the different US administrations as the causes that motivate the escapes.

But the indisputable truth is that the Cuban rafters, hostages of politics on both sides of the Straits of Florida and a bone of contention between extreme positions, are a direct result of the Castro Regime. It’s a sad chapter, unknown to our pre-1959 history. The escapes have existed since the first years of the “Revolution,” the rafters crossed the waters of the Florida Strait even before the existence of the Adjustment Act and the policy of wet-foot/dry-foot, and they will continue to exist and surrender to the uncertain fate of the unpredictable Caribbean as long as there is a dictatorship that prevents all of us from manufacturing our own dream of prosperity and democracy in Cuba. There is no alternative.

Translated by Norma Whiting

State Violence and the Sin of Complicity

Yaira Jiménez Roig / Karla Pérez González (Photo: Twitter)

Miriam Celaya, Havana Cuba, 31 March 2021 ─ The case of young Karla Pérez González, who had to complete her studies as a journalist in Costa Rica after being expelled from a Cuban university for political reasons is the most recent example of selective exile applied by the Cuban dictatorial regime against one of our compatriots. The Cuban authorities denied her re-entry into the country when she was already in the flight’s technical stopover phase at Panama’s Tocumen Airport to continue to Havana.

The rest of the episode is well known: the solidarity with Karla reflected profusely on social networks, the presence of several colleagues at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanding explanations and the ambiguous press statement of the spokeswoman for said ministry justifying the “no reinsertion” of the journalist in her own country.

Apart from the absurd legal considerations -which are not “legitimate”- established in the highly controversial Migration Law, by virtue of which those born in Cuba lose all rights at the end of the two years from the date they leave the country, the truth is that Karla’s case is far from being an exception. continue reading

The right of admission and the exit permit for Cubans is one of the regime’s oldest and most widely used instruments of political control and blackmail, despite the apparent “flexibility” introduced by the 2013 immigration reform, which merely consisted of an extension of the “permit” to stay abroad, from 11 months and 29 days to two years. What was formerly known as the “white card” (or exit permit), was not eliminated in practice but instead mutated and remained latent under the rhetorical figure of “regulation,” which maintains, at the government’s discretion, the permit or denial of departure from the country.

This is how, against all rights, the character of a prison fiefdom has been maintained by the will of the dictatorial elite. Today, it constitutes one of the most abusive measures applied against Cubans, both inside and outside the Island, which is why it is doubly surprising that there are still those who try to justify this other form of state violence, especially when the incident comes from an independent press site that can be accessed from inside Cuba.

To some extent, accrediting this and other habitual outrages of the Castro regime, by placing responsibility for the outrage on the victim, and arguing a supposed “lack of citizen training” to confront the State in these “critical episodes” is incomprehensible nonsense, to say the least.

According to Maykel González Vivero, author of this nonsense, Karla herself sealed her fate by “accepting the function of victim” and returning to Costa Rica with refugee status. The naive journalist believes that Karla – mired in legal limbo and completely defenseless at the Panamanian airport – should have said “I have no country other than Cuba.” Instead, he reproaches her for having declared, since her return to San José, “Costa Rica is my new homeland,” thus resolving what he believes would otherwise have been a “diplomatic crisis” that would have allowed her entry in Cuba.

Definitely, some people tend to reverie. Over the years, examples abound about Cubans adrift around many of the world’s airports without a diplomatic crisis arising from it. The article in question does not provide us with elements to suppose that, in Karla’s case, the question would be different.

Nevertheless, up to that point, only a sin of naivety or absentmindedness, typical of an impulse of goodwill could be attributed to the Tremenda Nota article that, involuntarily, twisted the way. If it were not for some inexplicable reason, the author took the opportunity to mix in the same text the hunger strike carried out by a group of young people from the San Isidro Movement (MSI) and the failed and most recent attempt at dialogue by 27N [27 November] with the cultural authorities. In all cases, he accuses the protagonists of having aided “the justification for violence.”

“This predisposition to feel defenseless, to justify our defeat in the face of an arbitrary government, is one of the attitudes that make any claim of the citizenry fail.”

Maykel makes mention of “citizenship” as if more than 60 years of totalitarian dictatorship had not torn apart the entire civic fabric of Cuba, as if there existed in Cuba rights of expression and free association, as if we had legal mechanisms to defend ourselves and as if the frequent arrests, beatings, and jail sentences against dissidents were merely timid excesses and not the violence of a colossal state against a society whose glimpses at citizenship have barely begun to sprout.

In the case of the San Isidro Movement, González Vivero understands that the group “was politically discredited” for starting a hunger strike that “they were not willing to sustain,” while the 27N “justified” the violence of the police and institutional officials by refusing to enter to the Ministry of Culture for dialogue.

Thus, the note conveniently omits events as significant as that the raid on the MSI headquarters occurred when some of its members were still on hunger strike, and that police violence against 27N had preceded the attempt at dialogue with a strong operation, closing of streets, mobilization of the repudiating militias and several arbitrary and brutal arrests against activists which prevented them from reaching the place.

Such a trap – which González Vivero does not ignore – could not be the propitious framework for dialogue, hence the reluctance of the activists to enter the Ministry’s headquarters. Attributing to them, in addition, some of the responsibility for the violence unleashed against them is not only false and harmful, but represents an accomplice wink to the dictatorial regime, whether or not that is the author’s intention.

Furthermore, seeking justifications for the violence that the State has been exercising against Cubans for decades is to tarnish the memory of all those who, over four generations, have suffered firing squads, jail, torture, family fracture, hunger, poverty, blackmail and numerous other forms of violence that the Castro regime has committed and continues to carry out.

To some extent, all we Cubans have been victims of the dictatorship, although some of us rebelled against it and others, like González Vivero, are not even aware of it. May their sins be limited to that.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Electronic Commerce in Cuba, Another Gordian Knot

Photo: Cubadebate

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 March 2021 ─ On March 22nd, the official Cubadebate website has published an analysis on electronic commerce in Cuba one year after the implementation of the TuEnvío platform. Despite the forced omissions imposed by the dictatorship’s orders to its spokespersons, the article recognizes some of the numerous problems that weigh down this “new” service to nationals, although the author, Oscar Figueredo Reinaldo, washes his hands of possible indictments by pointing to the “blockade”, the global economic crisis and the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration as the root causes of the inefficiency of virtual stores: insufficient supply.

Among the successes of the TuEnvío state platform, which promotes sales of the CIMEX and Caribbean chains, is that with this option the crowds of the eternal queues in each store in the country are avoided, with the consequent risk of multiplying contagion and expansion of the disease. In the text, mention is made of elements that have been introduced to improve the platform, such as the acquisition of new equipment in order to improve network traffic, readjustment of shopping hours and reduction of delivery times and (supposedly) a greater stability of the offer.

However, these improvements are not reflected in the experience of users, among whom a “collective sense of frustration and disappointment” predominates. For these, in addition to technology inefficiency, the main obstacle lies in the gap between the growing demand of the population and insufficient store supplies. continue reading

This tends to be confirmed in the data provided by CIMEX executives through other media, and that in the reference article reflects a decline in the delivery of between 5,000 and 6,000 daily modules of food and sanitary items in relation to last October, despite the fact that, at that time, the daily dispatch (20,000 modules) far from satisfied the platform’s registered customer demand, which currently amounts to approximately 800,000.

Other problems are added to the limitations of the offering, that are reasons for recurring complaints by customers. These are related to technological failures, such as page instability, connection drops, saturation, emptying of the “shopping carts” before having completed the cycle, disappearance of some items after they have been selected, as well as the practice of imposing “combos” that forces customers to purchase products that they do not want or need as a part of a package. Frequent difficulties with banking service are also reported through the Transfermóvil application, to which national cards are attached.

Of course, in the analysis of yore, the complaint against hoarders and resellers is ever present and has become an obligatory reference in all official press releases related to real or virtual trade, as if said phenomenon were the cause and not the consequence of the chronic shortages of food and other basic necessities, a phenomenon typical of a highly unproductive and incompetent economic system.

A line stretches into the night (Photo by the author)

Thus, with exquisite “ingenuity”, the author discovers that “the battle to acquire scarce hygiene and food products has shifted to online spaces”, generating the resurgence of a “parallel market” (of hoarders), which implies resales at higher prices which “affects the pockets of millions of Cubans and defeats the government’s efforts to increase the quality of life of the population by increasing wages.”

Thus, this communicator ─ who is not by chance the Editorial Coordinator of Cubadebate and a regular journalist on the Roundtable television program, who has special permission to make moderate “criticisms” of the national reality ─ seems to ignore that the resale of scarce products has not only always existed among us, but has also been perfected and diversified to the extent that the shortages suffered by the population and the inability of the State to satisfy them have both multiplied, so the underground market (which is not “parallel”) has not “moved” to online spaces, but has expanded from real to virtual space, beyond the intended righteousness of a government whose most palpable show of goodwill towards its people is also the unstoppable increase in official prices, much higher than the artificial rise in wages and pensions of Cubans from the overhyped (un)-Ordering Task.

What Cubadebate qualifies as a return to “feudal times”, endorsed in the exchange (barter) and “trading of merchandise by online groups” is the appropriate response to the reality of a feudal economy driven by a government that stubbornly refuses to move towards the inevitable: an opening towards the freedoms of vernacular entrepreneurs and national commerce that increases production, sanitizes the internal economy and satisfies those market demands that do not depend on imports and that have nothing to do with the hackneyed U.S. “blockade”.

(Photo by the author)

Meanwhile, in recent times an interesting phenomenon has been registered in relation to an evident change in attitude of Cubans, who have gone from acceptance to criticism, as can be seen in the comments of the forum members on the pages of the official press, and whose interventions are much more revealing and realistic than the complicit texts of the scribes of the Castro press. The stubborn reality shows that you cannot have an entire people deceived all the time, and even less so in this era of the Internet and social networks.

Increasingly irreverence, questioning and mockery are the popular response to the disrespect of the regime and its scribes, as sealed in the case at hand with the satirical comment of one of the forum members: “TuEnvío seems very good to me, the whole day to shop, you don’t eat but are entertained”. Let that sentence function in summarizing the perception that Cubans have about electronic commerce one year after its implementation on the Island.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“To Leave Cuba”: The True Spontaneity of Young Students / Miriam Celaya

Cuban University Students. (Archive Photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 February 2021 — Almost a year after the interruption of classes at Cuban universities in March 2020, as an extreme measure to prevent the advance of the coronavirus pandemic in Cuba, the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) issued Resolution 3 of 2021 on January 22. The resolution establishes the “general guidelines for the beginning and development of undergraduate and postgraduate academic activities in the academic year 2021” —which begins February 1— matching “each territory’s epidemiology situation”.

Among the provisions of the aforementioned Resolution, the following stands out: prevalence given to the “incorporation of students to the necessary impact tasks, with priority in facing the pandemic …” rather than to teaching activities and the training of future professionals within each specialty.

The document in question insists on what it calls “actions of community impact, as part of the training of comprehensive, competent professionals, with ideological political firmness and committed to the Revolution”, with which the instrument of pressure on young university students is enshrined to use as pawns in the new “battle”, this time against an invisible and potentially lethal enemy, the coronavirus.

Paradoxically, the shutting down of the Universities last March took place, at least in word, to keep students away from possible contagion and control the epidemic, at a time when the number of positive cases was extremely low. For example, official figures for March 23rd, 2020, showed a total of 40 cases since the disease was declared in Cuba (on March 11th), of which 5 were the positive cases detected the day before, and of those cases, only three were Cubans.

Today, however, the situation is much more complex. In one week between Monday, February 8, and Sunday, February 14, 5,458 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported throughout the country, 2,847 of them in Havana, where the largest portion of the population resides, and where thousands of families live in numerous communities in conditions of poverty and overcrowding.

How, then, is it possible to explain that the current resurgence in cases prevents the start of face-to-face classes in university classrooms, but at the same time require students to join the so-called “impact tasks”, which include support in isolation centers and community polyclinics, investigations into the orderliness of the massive lines outside the markets as part of the famous “Fight Against Coleros* and Hoarders”, with all the risk of contagion that this implies? continue reading

A meeting with several students from Havana’s Enrique José Varona Higher Academic Institute demonstrates what their opinion is on this point and others, contained in Resolution 3/21 of the MES. All of them have been receiving peremptory messages from their “teacher guides” to join the aforementioned “impact tasks”, under warning of being “analyzed” by the Dean’s Office and suffering the corresponding retaliation, which in the most rebellious of cases could include dismissal from the University.

Leannis, a Spanish-Literature Faculty 3rd year student, indicates that the students in her group were instructed to connect to a common “Telegram” thread through which the lead teacher would give them the necessary information about where they should go in the municipality where each resides to receive the corresponding “task”. The municipal institution would also certify their performance.

“There is a high number (of students) who have resisted going, although it is said that they will be paid more than a thousand pesos (CUP), but that money does not warrant the risk. Now a process of analysis of individual attitudes is taking place and there will be sanctions and notes on the student’s record. But there is a lot of disagreement because nobody asked us if we were willing to make that sacrifice… Because it is a sacrifice!”, she reasons.

“To them we are soldiers, so they give us orders as if we were a troop in a war. I’ve already done a year of military service and I don’t have to take orders, even less from a civilian!”, Francis intervenes. He is also in his third year, although in a different faculty, and he is one of those who is reluctant to take on the “impact task”.

Very upset, he shows me a WhatsApp thread on his mobile phone through which his guide teacher and other teachers from the faculty communicate. Threats against those who refuse to “join in the work” are frequent, laying naked young people’s “spontaneity” so much touted by the official media.

“Bear in mind that if you are predisposed, it will be worse… All revolutionary students have joined” (and it is already known that universities are “for revolutionaries”), “be consistent with what concerns you, lamentations will come later.”

“You are not required to attend to give support in these tasks, but everyone knows what is best for you in this case… you have what other countries don’t have, be grateful and you will be able to attain your career… the impact tasks will be measured and evaluated as one more subject… let’s call ourselves a chapter, don’t take this as a scolding, or a much less as a threat” …are some of the messages from teachers to young people that can be read in the thread.

“They also told us that we should donate blood,” adds Vanessa, a 3rd year Spanish student. “I don’t know how they say in the government media that ‘everything is guaranteed’ and now they ask us for blood because ‘there is a national emergency…’ There are many things that are not understood, they are not being clear and they are not telling us everything… I’m even afraid”.

Two other fellow members are more withdrawn, afraid to express themselves, but end up being infected by their peers. “What worries me the most is that last year ended with practical work in some subjects and in others with a ‘shutting down for performance’, which was in consideration for the teachers, without debate or consultation. They sent us a note, period. We finished 2nd year without completing the course syllabus and continue the same or worse”, says Igor, in his 3rd year of the Art Faculty.

“I want to be a good teacher”, Leannis intervenes, “but we all come with a very bad base due to the low level of education we had in elementary, secondary and high school. Now it is worse, because in that Resolution it is said that we must develop ‘self-management of knowledge’, ‘autonomous learning’ and other things that can only be done when we have a bibliography, Internet access, digital content and other guarantees that most Cuban students do not have. Everything looks very nice in the document but in real life we know that only those who have families with resources can learn and take proficiency tests because they can buy cards to connect to the Internet, download information and get bibliographies. The rest of us have only a study guide and a list of sources, but no books or megabytes. I feel very frustrated”.

Once again, as is often the case with everything legislated in Cuba, the aforementioned Resolution is no more than another manifesto of intentions, the kind written by a group of satisfied technocrats with the sole purpose of showing public opinion how concerned the political power is about the new generations’ education which, in truth, has no relation to the vital reality of these young people and the majority of Cubans.

Meanwhile, frustration and uncertainty are the feelings that predominate in my interviewees. They do not have the solution; they feel that they are wasting their time and know in advance that they are condemned to the same mediocrity that ended up swallowing their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. That is why, when I asked them the last and provocative question: “what, then, is your best expectation in this scenario?” I was not surprised by an answer as heartbreaking as it was firm and unanimous: “For us to leave Cuba, the sooner the better”.

*Translator’s note: Coleros are people who are paid by others to stand in line for them (as it is not unusual for lines to be hours long, or even days).

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Fable about “The Four Cats*”

Cuban San Isidro Movement in Miami, archival photo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 December 2020 — There is no doubt that Cubans are experiencing unusually intense days. The last days of November, and especially the repressive onslaught against the barracks of the San Isidro Movement (MSI) that caused the November 27th sit-in before the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), marked an important milestone in the tense relations between Cuba’s 60-year-old dictatorial power and the independent civil society: for the first time a group of freethinking citizens forced the authorities to listen to them, face to face.

The openly threatening, even confrontational and belligerent response that the dictatorship maintains through its press monopoly against this sector of artists, independent journalists and activists, not only is in sharp contrast with the peaceful – though firm – mood of the latter, but also contradicts the official thesis of “the four cats*” [i.e. a handful of people], with which they try to minimize the just claims of the plaintiffs.

The attack against the MSI and the November 27th demonstrators has been fiercely sustained and particularly mendacious, following the old matrix of disqualification and slander that has been applied to dissidents and opponents of any political hue. This time, however, the dictatorship has raised the tone to unthinkable heights by claiming the supposedly legitimate right – guaranteed in the new Constitution approved a little over a year ago, when the elite of the Palace of the Revolution already knew what was coming to them – to confront with weapons those who dare to challenge its power. continue reading

The threat itself is a reflection of the concern of the leadership and its vassals in the face of growing social discontent and the surprising solidarity that these new generations of young people, determined to change the state of affairs in Cuba, have managed to arouse. At the same time, it shows the true depth of the economic and structural crisis of a failed system.

The failure of the Castro regime’s “revolutionary project” is obvious. Beyond its slogans of unity and “continuity” it becomes more palpable, to the extent that the process of criminalization of society by the State is established, ever bloodier as the population shortages increase and uncertainty becomes more generalized.

Despite the national misery, no one seems to be safe from the irrational fury of the authorities and their repressive bodies that attack entrepreneurs, farmers, merchants, “illegal residents” of the capital, fences, paid holders of places in lines and any real or imaginary transgressor of the absurd official regulations with equal fury, all seasoned by a pandemic that continues to strike in the midst of the greatest medicine shortage in Cuban memory and the dire state of hospitals and the entire health system.

All of this leads to counterproductive effects: increase in popular discontent, violence and social insecurity, a perfect breeding ground for greater and more dangerous crises, where those who turn against the authorities would no longer be “the four cats”, a peaceful, organized and dialoguing handful of people demanding civil spaces. Popular revolts caused by despair are usually anonymous, but they are never peaceful, and generally produce a snowball effect: they become uncontrollable, far exceeding the category of “the handful of people” that start them.

Suffice it to add all those who have something to demand in today’s Cuba, some claim to make, some pressure due to their needs or their chronic poverty. Let’s make a list of those Cubans who have lost their homes and their scarce assets in a building collapse, who lack the resources to find another place to live and replace what they lost; workers whose wages do not meet their needs and those of their families; the retired elderly whose pensions are a bad joke or a colossal disrespect for their working years; those who have lost their income because their employers have been forced to close their restaurants, coffee shops or hostels; entrepreneurs who, despite the pandemic are no longer receiving income nor getting any help from the government, but  are now in debt to the national to social security account and are forced to make payments without having any money.

The list is incomplete, but it helps to imagine what would become of the authorities if all those mentioned decided to stand before their corresponding ministries, or better yet, perhaps make loud demands at the Plaza Cívica, before the headquarters of the Central Committee (as the “guiding force of the society ” that it is), to solve their pressing problems. Would the media say that they are “a handful of people,” mercenaries paid by Washington or, in the best of cases, that they are “confused”? Would they launch an army to fire weapons at them?

Obviously, such a long-lived dictatorship is showing clear signs of decrepitude and advanced senile insanity when it tries to downplay the dissidents and non-conformists by appealing to their small numbers. It seems to conveniently forget that the number of the Moncada assailants**, the Granma expeditionaries and those who managed to penetrate the Sierra Maestra were all much lower than the artists and activists who are grouped in the MSI, out of the hundreds that stood in front of MINCULT, of those who tried to reach and were blocked by the repressive bodies that surrounded the area and of the thousands of Cubans who, from social networks and from all shores, have spoken out against the repression in support of the demands and for the recognition of rights that we have been denied over six decades.

Meanwhile, of that handful of people of the pompous self-nominated “historical generation” who, once enthroned in power betrayed their own program of struggle and failed to fulfill the democratic promises with which they mobilized the most diverse social strata, hardly a dozen survive today. The majority is physically or mentally incapacitated, but not sufficiently disabled to block any possibility of a national dialogue that allows all Cubans to think and act on the nation’s course. Those few souls and their servants, a tiny privileged and marginalized minority of society, keep the snare and the brake over Cuba and over Cubans.

But if it were really only about numbers, it would be necessary to decide how it’s possible that a single and scandalously minority party, whose membership is less than 1% of the country’s population, constitutes the absolute master of the destinies of all; how is it that 600 officials at the service of power – the so-called “deputies” – are the only ones who vote for the President (previously elected by the dictatorial leadership) to exercise an unquestionable mandate over more than 11 million Cubans, while mocking the right to choose from 8 million people registered in the national electoral roll.

In their infinite arrogance, the powers that be fail to understand that the dialogue civil society is proposing to them today is not a plea from those who make demands, but an opportunity for power. Because the time for changes has already arrived, and change will take place one way or another. Discussing what Cubans claim and in what way they want a democratic transition to take place towards a State with rights and freedoms is the option generously offered by the people, the sovereign. It would be better for those at the top to abandon the bravado and the war cries and to reflect on this, because it is them, the true “four cats” of this fable, who have the most to lose.

Translator’s notes
*The four cats (los cuatro gatos): Cuban slang phrase meaning a handful of people.
**Moncada Barracks assailants = 160. Granma expeditionaries = 82. Surviving expeditionaries in the Sierra Maestra = 22. 

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Emblem of Biran: The New Man, Castro-Style / Miriam Celaya

Young Cubans drinking rum in a public place (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 October 2020 — It was the serial murderer, Ernesto Guevara –“Che” to his friends, if he had them, and also to his cult followers, whom he does have — who defined the original concept of “New Man” as a kind of superhuman being, a permanent revolutionary, whose mission in life would be to lay the foundations for an inescapable end: communism, which one day would impose itself on the entire Earth.

As is often the case with such epiphanies, the baby’s father was destined not to attend his birth. It is known that all faith needs martyrs, and ironically, Guevara himself was the sacrificial lamb before the communist Castro altar. Only the death of the ideologist, eternal guerrilla of failure, would guarantee the perpetuity of the myth.

And so, invoking the hidden corpse, buried in a nameless grave, the Castro catechism incorporated the insane idea of materializing a humanoid model of a pure revolutionary, an individual dedicated entirely to working every day and hour of his life in pursuit of a socialist transformation without sensing it as a cold, sacrifice detached from material and personal ambitions, austere, disciplined, intransigent, implacable against the enemy (anyone who does not embrace the cause, but especially the Yankee imperialism) to the point of being willing to kill or die for such a cause, including placing the communist utopia above family. continue reading

At the same time, the new social prototype had to be unconditional, blind and obedient towards its leaders, especially towards the “maximum leader.”

Fortunately, the projected New Man never went beyond one of the many concepts ingrained in the extensive Castro-communist taxonomy.

Unrealizable because of its dehumanizing and unnatural nature, the gestation of the Guevaran New Man ended in abortion. It could not have been otherwise, given the numerous flaws in its origins, such as the insurmountable fact that there never existed a single pure revolutionary among the makers of the socialist project, and their servile sounding boards, to take on the task of training the new generations in the purity of the communist ideal.

It was even less likely that the children of a traditionally hedonistic, fickle and festive people were willing to become such rigid and bitter subjects as to renounce their personal ambitions and the pleasures of life. Definitely, the Guevara New Man was not possible, or at least Cubans were not the appropriate raw material for its construction, as was outrageously demonstrated in the 1980 stampede, when hundreds, or perhaps thousands of communist youth militants stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, or left Cuba in flotillas that followed the route from Mariel to Florida.

However, it cannot be denied that many Cubans of the new generations, who grew up during the revolutionary process not only preserved the negative characteristics of our idiosyncrasy, such as the tendency to impose our own opinions over those of others, to admire and follow the leadership of a strong man, or to let passion prevail over reason. They, however, incorporated all the vices typical of totalitarian societies: simulation, double standards, fear and corruption as survival mechanisms, accusation, escapism and indolence.

Thus, from the very beginning of the Cuban social experiment, which has lasted for more than 60 years, another category of man emerged and consolidated, almost spontaneously, as a collateral result, not foreseen or defined in the official discourse: the Castro-style New Man, whom neither all nor even many of them are, but they do make a great racket and are very destructive.

And that anthropological malformation is not limited to the narrow Cuban geography, but has also been transferred as it is to the other side of the Florida Straits, spreading its tentacles through different waves of emigrants, with greater inflection among those who inhabit Miami, that other Cuban capital beyond the archipelago.

Because it turns out that, despite the colossal leap that presumes leaving dictatorship conditions behind and waking up every day in one of the most solid and long-lived democracies in the world, the Castro New Man who emigrated took with him and still has that “little Fidel” very deep inside of him that does not allow him to renounce what he left behind: he carries in his soul the soldier of the despot.

And thus, from the other shore, he offends, insults, stones and discredits everyone who differs from his political preference; he applauds the “rallies of repudiation” — both virtual and physical — orchestrated against the adversary; he finds a “strong man” to uncritically follow and deify (with the same blind and irrational passion as those who followed F. Castro then and today follow his heirs); and he assumes, without embarrassment, the same Castro principle of “who is not with me, is not only fundamentally wrong, but is also against me.”

These days, when the heat of the electoral contest reaches unprecedented levels of polarization, verbal violence and debauchery in the midst of Miami’s Cubanism, when we see that some of our countrymen are demonstrating in favor of harsher and harsher measures that directly affect their compatriots back home, when I hear that they call “the sheep” to rise up from within Cuba, though from the safety and comfort of their distance — despite the fact that most of them never raised their voices against the dictatorship while they lived here — when they talk about stopping the remittances and phone recharges, they applaud lists that are the sad imitation of the snitch planted in the national DNA by the regime that they say they detest, I cannot avoid the evocation of that murderer of Cubans who one day imagined the “New Man” and the caricature that resulted: the Castro-style new man.

This is the one that immortalizes among us and on either of these two shores the ill-fated emblem, born in Birán* almost 100 years ago.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s birthplace

Translated by Norma Whiting


COVID-19 in Havana: An Alibi to Perpetuate the Castro Pandemic / Miriam Celaya

Between seven in the evening and five in the morning, mobility for people and vehicles is prohibited in Havana (photo: ADN Cuba)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — The new bundle of measures that begins to rule for 15 days in the Cuban capital starting today, Tuesday, September 1st, comes to place a new marble slab on the spirit of the capital after five harrowing months of an epidemic whose end is a period as unknown as that of the food crisis that Cuba was undergoing long before the start of the pandemic.

With the pretext of controlling the current outbreak of COVID-19, which has spread “with intense transmission” in all the municipalities of the Cuban capital, Reinaldo García Zapata, Havana’s governor, in his response by videoconference at the national TV’s Round Table last Thursday, August 27th, declared that the previous measures and actions were not enough to control the contagion.

He explained that “there has been a lack of discipline on the part of people who did not act reasonably and (also) there are institutions that did not fulfill their guiding roles and their leadership”, all of which led to a re-outbreak of the disease and we returned to the previous stage in the course of this week, “of endemic transmission”, but with a much more complex situation than in the previous stage, since there are 6 open sources of contagion and a greater dispersion of cases in the capital. continue reading

Without wishing to immerse myself in the murkiness of the official figures, nor to return to the subject of the highest incurable level of vice of the authorities, to evade their great share of responsibility in this setback — excess of triumphalism, anticipated de-escalation, haste in the opening of hotels with the sole purpose of making money regardless of the risks, just to mention the most obvious ones — the rigor of the new restrictions does not bear a proportional relationship to the number of infections when compared to the capital’s population of more than two million.

Nor does it seem reasonable that the authorities have set a period of just 15 days (in the first instance) to stop a re-outbreak that the Minister of Health himself declared could become “uncontrollable.” Something smells rotten.

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the country’s and the capital’s senior leaders in their presumed intention to deepen controls in order to protect the health of the people, and without denying the priority of maintaining the fence over such a dangerous disease, it is obvious that the new commandments abound in criticism by and prohibitions to the population – some of them bordering on the absurd or exaggerated – and focus on disciplinary measures for those who dare to transgress these taboos, but the obligations and responsibilities that the authorities must fulfill have been left in an extremely diffuse limbo, as usual.

Let us take, for example, the omission of the functions that the different instances of the government and the Ministry of Health would be obliged to guarantee in terms of material, hygiene and service conditions, both at the hospital level and at the so-called “isolation centers”, taking into account the numerous complaints issued by those admitted to these places during phase I of the outbreak.

Another dark point is the responsibility that those same authorities have to transfer people to hospitals requiring urgent attention, not necessarily cases related to the Covid virus, especially between the hours of seven in the afternoon to five in the morning during which mobility of people and vehicles is expressly prohibited, under penalty of loss of registration and circulation to unauthorized vehicles traveling during those times.

Furthermore, in accordance with the new restrictions, the Governor has been empowered “with a legal instrument that allows the application of severe fines against various cases of social indiscipline” during this period. Said fines must be paid within a period not exceeding 10 days, otherwise, the original amount will be doubled, and if not paid within 30 days, the offenders will be subject to criminal charges. All this in a scenario of economic and social paralysis where the majority of the State workers remain furloughed, receiving 60% of their salary and in some cases receiving no income, while workers in the private sector (the self-employed) have not received any financial help at all).

As expected, the arbitrary and biased nature of the official provisions and their application, as well as the “impunity from the top” are perfectly reflected in the absence of entities or legal mechanisms with the capacity to sanction authorities at any level, including the Governor himself, in the event that those authorities or their subordinates are the ones who (again) violate the regulations or fail to fulfill their unstated obligations.

In any case, the next two weeks will be a real challenge for law enforcement officials in charge of implementation in the most complex theater of operations and, demonstrably, one of the most difficult to control for law enforcement officials: the Cuban capital. A veritable testing ground — to paraphrase a friend who defined it this way — where those same agents have dealt, with little or no success, with illegalities, the informal market (“immortal”, I should say) and corruption, when they have not formed part of that long chain.

And this is precisely where the new restrictions are ultimately aimed: refining and reinforcing repressive structures. The draconian measures that will rule in Havana in the next two weeks rather suggest a trial exercise to oil — as far as possible — the repressive mechanisms in the face of possible sources of disturbances that could occur in the coming months, not due to claims of a political nature, taking into account the civic circumstances and political ignorance of “the masses”, but because of the unstoppable advance of the shortage crisis that threatens to worsen and that will hit the poorest households with greater force.

Curfew, severe sanctions, watertight separation of the population (each isolated in its municipality), drastic limitation of movement of people and vehicles, perhaps they could be part of a tactic aimed at facilitating the response to the popular discontent. More than the control of COVID-19, a twisted strategy to perpetuate a much more virulent and damaging epidemic: that of the Castro legacy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Ubre Blanca to the “Bici-agro”, the Absurd News of the Revolution / Ernesto Perez Chang

The “bici-agro” as presented by the official media. (Foto: EICMA Cuba / Twitter)

Cubanet, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Havana, 13 August 2020 — They invented the bici-agro in Ciego de Ávila, the local press announced, and the TV National News repeated it in spite of how ridiculous the news item was.

In essence, the “great invention” is nothing more than an ordinary tricycle to market food on the streets, a pedal cart as “sophisticated” as the “Palmiche” can be, that bizarre CUJAE* “robot” creation which flooded social media with memes, since it was nothing more than a rough hot table on wheels.

If there is something “attractive”  — rather than “alarming” —  both in the news about the “agricultural-bike”, as well as in the one about the “thermos on wheels”, it is not the objects themselves but the news as such, since it is possible to find similar artifacts anywhere in the universe without the best media editor finding them newsworthy, much less in a global context where there’s talk of Mars missions, of injectable nanorobots to fight cancer and 5G and even 6G wireless connections. continue reading

What is striking is that there is not an iota of sarcasm in the press release, and that in reality they are trying to sneak in something totally pathetic as proof of Cuban “creativity” in “difficult moments”, even as an “achievement of the Revolution and socialism”, from which a moderately suspicious reader could deduce that the national disaster is so gigantic that it is already too difficult for the Ideological Department of the Communist Party — which “guides” the work of the official press — to find other “encouraging news” to fuel its usual smugness.

A number of more grotesque news items have flourished these past few months in the regime-financed press, just when the crisis is hitting bottom and the threat of a social outbreak is increasing with the August heat, the empty stomachs and the psychological imbalances caused by confinement.

And it is not that the coronavirus has charred the noggins of a few “communicators” around here, but rather that they are a “continuity” of that old guard of reporters who, in the midst of the crisis at the Peruvian Embassy and the Mariel Boatlift “preferred” to make front page headlines about a cow named “Ubre Blanca” (White Udder).  At the end of that same decade, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, ruling party member Arleen Rodríguez Derivet — back then a TV reporter in the city of Guantánamo — made her appearance, becoming “famous” for discovering a “talking dog.”

The ridiculous weighs heavy and is stronger than news. It is a manipulative formula that rarely fails and is a daily practice in the official press. Using the previous examples, let us think that anyone in Cuba today who experienced those decades of the 80’s and 90’s from a distance and from their understanding of what was read, seen and heard in the regime’s press and not by any other means, knows more about Ubre Blanca and the “talking dog” than about what really happened at the Peruvian Embassy or about the real causes that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Even the executions of generals at the start of the most critical decade for the Cuban economy were engulfed by cheers and fireworks of a whimsical Pan American Games that sucked the few foreign reserves that remained from the Soviet Era. However, bevies of Cubans flocked to buy “tocopanes” (the tocororo, Cuban national bird, chosen as mascot), and for weeks, front pages of newspapers were flooded with the subject of Cuba’s increasing wins of sports medals, while on the margins of the state-run newspaper Granma’s second page the daily report on the sugar harvest disappeared, and the standardized distribution table of “the gutless dog”, “the soybean hamburger meat” and the kerosene bottle to face blackouts began to appear.

There were no social networks, leaving the country was almost impossible, the independent press was just an embryo, torn between a forced delivery or being aborted. Thus, the “ordinary” Cuban, away from the epicenter of the hottest events, perceived the times and contexts only through the ideologizing sieve of the official press. Its routine spanned from the Cuban cow that produced more milk than any “imperialist cow” and stories about the first Cuban in the cosmos.

Meanwhile, just a few steps from the avenue where the daily caravan of luxury cars that led Fidel Castro from his family residence to the Palace of the Revolution, a crowd packed into an embassy showed the world that socialism was hell.

But, like beings from another planet, the naive looked to the skies trying to distinguish the Russian spaceship among the stars, they entertained themselves in teaching the dog to speak in the hope of appearing on television, or they dreamed of at least one day achieving the privileges of a dairy cow, which was just asking for too much.

There is no doubt that those Cubans will be able to tell us about the mass exodus, about the “marches of the fighting people” and about the “Special Period” that came after the demise of the USSSR. But those things have probably faded from their memories as something residual and unimportant, without the intensity that, in contrast, the powerful images that the absurd and the ridiculous do possess, as did the indelicate idea of an animal “blessed by the Commander in Chief” which, consequently, lived in a way that was unattainable to any Cuban, even if he pretended to be more mute, docile and productive than Ubre Blanca.

In a hamlet of very poor people, far in the Villa Clara hills, there was, or may still exist, a museum whose main attraction was a stuffed mule rumored to have belonged to Ernesto (Che) Guevara during the uprising.   In order to preserve it for “History”, they kept it in an air-conditioned urn, which was a real luxury in this rural town, with scant electricity for basic household matters.

Those who have visited the place say that the town inhabitants, especially children, go to the museum on intensely hot days to lean their bodies against the glass and thus cool off a bit. They could care less about the beast on display or its former owner, but think only of the cold that provides them, for a fleeting, short-lived moment, the relief that is impossible to have at home.

In living conditions in Cuba today, in which the streets are like a pot over a live fire, hermetically closed and with very few escape valves, the reports in the official press about the “bici-agro”, the “robotic” wheelbarrow of the CUJAE and other “super gadgets”, apparently so alienated and ridiculous in essence, could pretend to be like that cold urn which, like a diversion, calms the spirits of the very hot children. But these are other times and the people, now much more suspicious, will immediately realize that the enthusiasm for a “bici-agro” is nothing more than madness. Much like worshiping a refrigerated, dead mule.

Translated by Norma Whiting

*CUJAE =   José Antonio Echeverría Technical University of Havana

Cuba, Monetary Unification and “The Horizon” for its Destiny / Miriam Celaya

The Cuban Economy and the Dual Monetary System. (Photo AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 August 2020 — A note recently published by the official Cuban press discusses once again the much harped on and, so far, unresolved issue of monetary unification, through an interview conducted by its author with various specialists from the Central Bank of Cuba.

Said officials agreed on the importance of monetary and exchange unification as a “necessary, although not sufficient, condition to reorder and update the national economy,” and offered their vision on the origins of the dual currency and its historical antecedents, with an explanation about what would be the ideal economic environment of the country for (finally) money to fulfill its functions.

It would be useless to repeat what was said by the experts, who are, after all, government officials whose speech does not differ from the countless explanations poured out on this controversial issue since 2011 when the then General-President had an epiphany and declared that it was time to unify the two national currencies. Almost ten years later, the miracle has not yet to take place. continue reading

It would be expected that these senior bureaucrats of the national coffers, protagonists of the reference note, would have offered us some advance on the solution strategies that — supposedly — are being applied to cut the Gordian knot of the monetary and exchange rate duality. Or, at the very least, they should have clarified where we stand in the steps and stages that were supposedly planned in the “Guidelines,” and that would be taking place to make possible (if only!) the long-awaited unification.

We would have appreciated being enlightened in the midst of a reality so chaotic and obscure that the currencies — far from being unified — continue to diversify. The recent irruption of foreign currencies in the national trading system multiplies the distortions, deepening the devaluation of Cuban currencies, strengthening the black exchange market and reinforcing the already large social gaps existing between the poorer sectors, who have no access to foreign currency and those who are better off (the “privileged”) and may rely on some source of income in foreign currency.

In other words, the most damaging thing at a social level today, beyond the financial, is no longer the old problem of the existence of two currencies, but the coexistence of two types of currencies: on the one hand, the local ones (CUP and CUC), with a physical presence in the depressed national commerce, without real value and without financial backing, a sad imitation of the old tokens issued by sugar mills with colonial heritage.  On the other, foreign currencies, with real value but with only virtual presence (overlapping dollarization), and privileged within the national trading system itself (commercial apartheid) with the provision of markets exclusively for those who have access to them through debit cards attached to bank accounts in freely convertible currency.

Obviously, although the urgency of gaining control over hard currencies foreign exchange is undeniable, which, according to vernacular experts, should theoretically help accelerate monetary unification, this would be an extremely long process in practice, due to the internal economic crisis aggravated by the severe global economic one related to the COVID-19 pandemic, concurrent  with unpredictable social costs.  All that, taking into account the tension and the growing discontent in Cuba, the increase in repressive measures and police and para-police controls, and the evident distancing between “the government” and “the governed”.

So, in the midst of such a storm “cleaning up internal finances” and “creating an ideal environment for Cuban money to fulfill its functions” will be quite unlikely — to use a nice adjective — unless the hierarchs have some trick up their sleeve, which has never been favorable for common Cubans.

Despite all this, and with regard to the illusory monetary unification, Karina Cruz Simón, a specialist in the Directorate of Economic Studies, offered premises that constitute pure chimeras in light of the current situation. The “key”, the expert suggests, is to stabilize the national currency.  This may be achieved, among other factors, by “ensuring that the money issuance processes correspond to the evolution of the real or productive economy.”

What this official does not mention is how she thinks such a spell can be performed. As if it had not been sufficiently proven throughout the entire Castro experiment that a “real or productive” economy urgently requires promoting a profound transformation of property relations in Cuba without further delay: another equally complex and long-standing distortion that began since the very dawn of the so-called Revolution which has been the basis of the national economic disaster.

Achieving this “favorable scenario so that the Cuban peso can fulfill its functions and preserve macroeconomic balances” does not depend only (or magically) on the factors mentioned by Cruz Simón, which is also unattainable if Cuba does not open up to the market economy and if, simultaneously, the economic, political and social rights of its citizens are not recognized so that they can participate as protagonists and not as hostages in the new economic scenario.

The fundamental obstacle to advancing on both sides of the necessary unification and revaluation of the national currency — economics and finance — is the obsolete and proven failed principle of “general economic planning”, which is the new euphemism when referring to a centralized economy.

In reality, all the “renovating” proposals launched so far by the political Power in order to “get the economy moving” only tend to shield this failed official centralism and to perpetuate the privileges of Power. It is this stubbornness that prevents the economy from advancing in the first place and, in the last place, makes monetary unification possible. When you have lived 60 years in totalitarianism and uninterrupted economic disasters, it is not necessary to be a specialist in the field to understand it that way.

However, so we are not faulted as unfair, it will be necessary to recognize some coherence. Already the very heading of the state-owned newspaper Granma’s note announced it bluntly: the monetary unification of Cuba is “on the horizon”… And it is known that the horizon is an imaginary and unattainable line. It is on this line that Power has always placed all its promises of prosperity, and where our destinies continue. At least they have never lied to us about that.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: The “Strategy” of Desperation

(Photo: Estudios Revolución)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 July 2020 — If I had to briefly describe the general impression that emerges from the new Economic and Social Strategy of the Cuba’s upper echelons of power, I would choose three preliminary adjectives: wrong, late and incomplete.

It is wrong because it continues to estimate in a foreign currency what they call “impulse to the economic development of the country” – more noteworthy, in the “enemy’s” foreign currency which supposedly generates all the ills – and in items that are not related at all to the results of the production of the (ruined) national industry: family remittances from abroad, the eternally “potential” foreign investment capital and the eventual foreign tourism income, now disappeared.

It is late because each and every one of the proposed guidelines, such as the “flexibilities” announced for the private sector, financial “autonomy” for state-owned companies, the introduction of micro and small and medium-sized companies, among other measures could and should have been implemented many years ago, especially during the thaw period, with the administration of the then-US President, Barack Obama, when the Castro regime had its best opportunity to implement these and other changes. continue reading

On the other hand, the official proposal for economic reforms in the current national and international context (though it is noteworthy that the term “reforms” was not uttered), far from projecting an alleged interest of the power claque to expand the economic potential of citizens or a real desire for change, only evidences despair and a sense of urgency to increase hard currencies.

But perhaps the most relevant feature of this official strategy, which they now offer as the holy grail to try to revive the depressed economy, is its incompleteness. And here, it is worth dwelling on several root considerations when it comes to economic efficiency.

According to the leaders of the Castro court, the priority objective of all the theoretical-strategic scaffolding – which until now is only about that: theory and intentions – is food production. In fact, the spokesman of the constituents of the Political Bureau of the PCC, comrade Díaz-Canel, in his scolding speech before the Council of Ministers on the morning of July 16th made reference to the urgent need to achieve “food sovereignty”, a kind of religious invocation resulting from the delusions of the Deceased-in-Chief, whose status has never advanced beyond that of a chimera, and who only sounds yet again like a bad omen in the current scenario.

But, getting to the heart of the matter, producing food at a level that satisfies domestic demand, substitutes imports and even generates income from exports – as these hallucinated ones claim – necessarily goes through the everlasting problem of property relations over land, a critical point of which no mention was made on last Thursday’s Roundtable television program.

If the farmer is not the legitimate owner of the land he works; if, in addition, laws (not simple paper “strategies”) that grant legal nature and protection to the producer are not implemented; if the inopportune interventions of the State that establish price limits, criminalize commerce or impose leonine taxes are not irreversibly suspended; in short, if, simultaneously with the “flexibilities” in the economy, the corresponding civil and political rights are not recognized for citizens, there will be no effective progress, nor will the necessary and profound changes take place.

The official rhetoric, so worn and rotten that its seams seem to pop, deserves a full stop.  About said rhetoric I will only mention some brushstrokes that stand out in the midst of the ideological patch that preceded the information on the masterful “Strategy”, through the intervention (in effigy) of the president by appointment, which makes clear the absence of a compass of a political power that weighs itself down as obsolete and ineffective.

When Díaz-Canel, in his parliament, reminiscent of a “Cantinflas”* movie plot, declares that “to benefit everyone, sometimes you have to take measures that seem to favor a few but in the long run favor everyone”, and when the differentiation of access to goods is established as a norm and services according to the income of citizens, privileging those who receive foreign exchange – to the detriment of the state worker who receives his salary in national currency (CUP) and the most humble sectors of society, without access to remittances or other income – and establishing the bases for a new and deeper social gap between the poor and the rich, are in fact establishing the same “neoliberal” strategies that have been so widely criticized by the seat of power when it comes to other governments in other latitudes.

But if, to add to the humiliation, the official media offers to the most disadvantaged the promise of two “additional” pounds of rice and six ounces of beans, to be distributed for two months through the ration card, then discrimination is compounded by insult.

Hopefully, all of us Cubans, here or overseas, will finally place ourselves at the height of the conflict. This time it is worth paraphrasing the maker of national ruin to tell those who humiliate and insult us from the seat of power that we don’t want them; we don’t need them.

*Translator’s note: Cantinflesco: A term derived from Mexican actor Mario Moreno Cantiflas’ movie genre: laughable, ridiculous, caricature-like.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Medications Crisis in Cuba: Rationing vs. Reasoning / Miriam Celaya

Pharmacy in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 June 2020 – Another hot summer day has barely dawned in the city, but dozens of people are already gathered in the vestibule at the Carlos III Pharmacy in Central Havana. The day before, the drugs were “unloaded” and since quantity and variety of the assortment never meets demand, exactly every ten days an anxious human conglomerate fills the area and its surroundings for several hours.

In the past three to four years, drug shortages have become an increasingly tricky topic at this medical powerhouse. The impact of the crisis is such that neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the importing companies -both monopolies of the State- are able to insure even those drugs assigned to patients with chronic diseases, acquired through the Controlled Medicines Acquisition Card, popularly known as “the big card”.

“I warn you that only part of the Enalapril arrived, and antihistamines or dipyrone, medformin, or psychotropic drugs didn’t arrive either, so those who come looking for this already know it, and don’t bother to line up!”, warns one of the pharmacy employees, who has come out to face the crowd like a gladiator before lions. The answer, in effect, is a kind of collective roar. Discontent spreads. continue reading

Moments later the same employee returns to the crowded vestibule to report, with the same subtlety, about the great “solution” that pharmacies are going to apply to the shortage of medicines: “Shut up and pay attention here, so you can’t later say that you didn’t know!” Right after that, he makes an announcement that only half of the dose prescribed by the corresponding doctor will be filled for each card. And he ends with an absolutely irrational warning: “So save [your medicines]!”

The supposedly altruistic idea is that with this rationing of what has already been rationed, a greater number of patients have the possibility of acquiring part of the medicine that is required to treat their ailment. The bad news is that, in practice – and by the grace of the authority of the administrators of destitution – what this achieves is the multiplication of the number of people who cannot duly comply  with what is indicated by a trained physician, and consequently, the risks of health complications that are derived, increase.  Numerous of these cases include extremely serious events, such as cerebral or cardiovascular infarctions, hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia and kidney problems, just to mention a few.

Thus, the alternative to these shortages ignores such a basic principle that can be stated simply and mathematically: consuming half the dose equals twice the risk for patients. Because it so happens that there are no half-hypertensive, half-cardiac or half-diabetic cases. Health problems cannot be adapted to the inadequacy of the medicine market.

If it were not for the highly vaunted benefits of a Revolution that leaves no one helpless, we could imagine that we are witnessing a scenario of neo-Malthusianism, where the excess of population added to the increasing scarcity of resources imposes an inevitable socio-demographic selection: the weakest, the old, the ones with lowest incomes and the sick will be the decimated sectors and only the most solvent, strong, young and healthy will survive without further damage, be it or not- or not necessarily-  a State policy.

It is obvious that, despite the accelerated aging of the population in Cuba and with that the increase in chronic patients with diseases related to advanced age, an effective government strategy was never devised to alleviate the stumbling blocks of the fragile national pharmaceutical industry or to protect the so-called “pharmacological groups by control cards”.

Going back in time and appealing to the long history of shortages on the Island, there are numerous drugs that have disappeared from the shelves since the 1990’s, never to return. Even those that were once available over the counter began to be sold by prescription only, a situation that remains to this day. Pharmacy supplies have never come close to what it was until 1989, despite frequent official promises for improvements or recovery of the industry.

Furthermore, the crisis has become so severe that eventually the official press has been forced to bring up the matter. Thus, for example, on 3 February 2018, the article On the Pharmacy Counter (by Julio Martínez Molina) appeared on the digital page of the State newspaper Granma, reporting that in 2017 dozens of shortages of drugs had been reported in throughout the country that year, and the persistence of “the absence of high demand pharmacological items” had been acknowledged, among them hypotensive, antidepressant, anti-ulcer medications and many more.

The BioCubaFarma association reported that the instability in drug deliveries was due to “the lack of adequate financing to pay suppliers of raw materials, packaging materials and expenses.” There was no lack of the favorite “blockade” among the causes for the pothole, which forced “the use of third countries to acquire equipment, American-made spare parts, chemical reagents, etc.”

Other data pointed to interesting figures: of the 801 drugs that make up “the basic picture” of Cuba’s drug demand, BioCubaFarma was responsible for 63%. In total, 505 medicines were produced by the National Pharmaceutical Industry and 286 were imported by the Ministry of Health (MINSAP); while of the 370 lines that were distributed to the pharmacy network, 301 were domestically produced and 69 imported.

Despite everything, explained authorities in the pharmaceutical industry, the critical situation “would change gradually” (would improve), up to the recovery of the production and distribution of medicines, which should take place around the first quarter of 2019.

But BioCubaFarma officials also suggested that the doctors carry some of the responsibility for not being sufficiently informed about the supplies of the drugs they prescribed to patients. “If the doctor has the correct information about the difficulties of a certain medicine, he should avoid prescribing it.”

The real problem, beyond this colossal simplicity, was, and still is, the almost absolute shortage of entire groups of medications, including antibiotics to fight infections or analgesics for pain relief which has caused many doctors – at the risk of being penalized – to recommend to their patients to arrange for their own medicines through family or friends overseas.

In 2018, during a presentation before the National Assembly, the then Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, beckoned to “combat the misuse of medical prescriptions”, an exhortation that automatically led to the rationing of the doctors’ prescription books. After that, they would receive a limited number of these in order to tackle mismanagement among corrupt doctors and medicine smugglers, a business that had been confirmed for years and that grew in direct proportion to the decrease in supply in legal networks.

This was the rampant official strategy designed to eradicate the wide and deep hole of illegal maneuvers that let medicines slip through pharmacy networks, aggravating shortages and feeding the informal market. Simultaneously, a limit was also placed on the number of medications that could be indicated in each prescription, which – oh, paradox! – forced doctors to issue a greater number of prescriptions to each patient.

The result of so much nonsense was immediate: the drug smugglers diversified their strategies, but survived, while the insane rationalization of prescription books had a null, if not counterproductive effect, in the control of medications.

Meanwhile, more than two years after BioCubaFarma’s triumphant promises, and far from improving, the shortage of medicines in Cuba has deepened and is headed to getting even worse. Because at the end of the day it is not a medication crisis but a system whose disease has no cure.

Just around noon, the Carlos III’s Pharmacy had run out of medications. The line scatters, among whispers, complaints, and resigned faces. The curtain falls on a scene that will repeat itself in exactly ten days.

Translated by Norma Whiting

COVID-19 in Cuba: Eliminated by Decree? / Miriam Celaya

Masked police agent controls line to buy food in Havana (photo file)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 May 2020 — If the Cuban official figures are taken as true, we could be certain that the days are numbered for the COVID-19 epidemic on the Island. In fact, saying “epidemic” is to disagree with the phases which the Chinese flu has gone through in Cuba, as established by the authorities, since in the more than two months that have transpired since the first cases were confirmed – three Italian tourists who presented with symptoms and tested positive – up to now, an epidemiological alarm stage has never been declared in the country.

The numbers trend indicates such a sharp and rapid drop that fear of contagion has begun to fade among the population and the perception of risk has been largely lost. Almost no one remembers that just a month ago the Cuban health authorities predicted the approximate date of mid-May for the “peak” of COVID-19 in Cuba; a forecast that was updated shortly after, on April 27th, when the pro-government site Cubadebate announced that it would actually take place during the following week, between May 4th  and 10th.

We would thus place ourselves 77 days at the midpoint of the international peak, we would have a minimum peak of 1,500 cases and a maximum of 2,500 cases, instead of the 4,500 cases originally anticipated. Cuba – Cubadebate also reassured – would not go through a “critical scenario.” continue reading

In line with such good wishes and apparently in compliance with the guidance of Mr. Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president, who shortly before had declared that the patient numbers were very high and it was necessary to lower them, the MINSAP report of the same day, April 27th acknowledged only 20 new positive cases (out of 1823 samples analyzed). The figure more than doubled (with 48 cases in 1859 samples) the following day, before starting a sustained decrease in the trend, only interrupted on May 2nd, when the exception of an increase of 74 cases was registered. Since then, and up to the writing of this article, there has been a downward trend, with slight fluctuations that averaged 9.85 cases of infection in the last week (May 18th to May 24th).

It is worth pointing out that, regardless of the natural mistrust that official statistical data may arouse in a country where a strong monopoly of information is maintained, and where secrecy prevails and there are no independent institutions of the State against which to compare these reports, the truth is that everything indicates that the Chinese flu has not spread with the same virulence on the Island as in other regions. This is especially the case if we bear in mind that – in view of the imperatives of searching for food, medicine and other products of basic necessity on the part of the population – the measures of social isolation and distancing between people, in addition to quarantines in disease cluster zones that were established by the OMS and formally reiterated by the government, have not been practiced.

However, the crowds circulating through the streets, the lines in front of the scarcely supplied markets where hundreds of people gather, among other agglomerations, are the perfect breeding ground for the spread of a pandemic that in most countries has been claiming hundreds or thousands of human lives. And this is why, considering the low overall incidence of the pandemic among us, many ordinary Cubans have begun to believe that the Island is protected by some divine miracle.

And while that feeling, a mixture of false immunity and trickery, is spreading dangerously among the poorest (and also most vulnerable) people, one needs to question the low number of tests that have been conducted – a total of 95,511 samples analyzed in a population of 11 million inhabitants – and the failure to carry out massive testing, even in neighborhoods where outbreaks of infection have been detected and have been declared “hot zones.” In official reports, and only in them – these neighborhoods have been placed under a supposed “quarantine,” although in fact they have been kept open to the free movement of people.

Fewer still are those who associate this miraculous drop in infections in Cuba with certain information – apparently unrelated – that have begun to appear on official sites, as if by chance. Thus, for example, there is already talk of returning to an opening to international tourism as soon as this coming June. The “closure” of the Varadero beach resort has been announced to nationals, and the airport in that town is also undergoing an accelerated renovation process. The Varadero hotel workers and those of the resorts at Jardines del Rey are being quietly reinstated to their respective positions.

Of course, to sell ourselves as a reliable tourist market, it is urgent to eliminate the Chinese flu as soon as possible, which is why the official treatment of the figures always has as its ally the naive tendency to confuse reality with wishes on the part of the average Cuban, together with the urgent need to generate family income in a country where no free food aid or monetary support has been distributed by the State during these months of unemployment.

Thus, step by step – or perhaps “without haste but without pause,” as the previous president once coined the phrase – in Cuba we are perhaps approaching the long-awaited “coup de grace” to COVID-19 that the hand-picked current president, Díaz-Canel, asked for, no matter how much a stubborn group of skeptics may distrust it.

The case could not be more sui generis: it would be the first time that a never-declared epidemic was eliminated from the national scene, not because of a revolutionary mass vaccination – such as those that once banished (it is fair to admit) many other diseases – but practically because of an “unwritten official decree.” And so it will be, because, whether we like it or not, certain “miracles” only happen under totalitarian regimes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: Economic Purges and Collateral Damages

Manuel Marrero and Díaz-Canel in a meeting on COVID-19 (Photo: Granma)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 April 2020 — In the course of the last few weeks, Cubans have been witnessing an unusual government offensive against economic crime. With such an onslaught, which is inserted in the midst of the “battle” against COVID-19, the authorities are trying to put into practice the promise of punishment to serve as an example for all those who are trying to profit at the expense of the needs of the people, a need that is increasing, since the resources available in the country are in short supply.

This time the cleansing is so intense and the circulation of the frequent operatives against acts of misuse of state resources, warehouse robberies and food resale on the black market has been so overstated through the Castro press monopoly, that some unofficial media have concluded, perhaps in a very risky way, that we are facing an “increase” in these crimes.

Reality, however, tends to contradict this assertion, since the crimes alluded to in the national economic sphere are long-standing. Furthermore, not only have they been present for decades in the day-to-day life of Cubans, but it can be stated that they have constituted a more constant, efficient and competitive source of food than the State itself throughout that time. The difference is that, in the current circumstances, there is an evident political will to make them visible, either as a warning, as an intimidating message to the whole society over which the State has absolute control, or as an anticipated demonstration of power in the face of worse times that have yet to come. continue reading

Be that as it may, the unquestionable truth is that where there are deficits, rationing and shortages, economic crime and contraband always flourish, which do not diminish the punishable character of any infraction of this nature or the aggravating quality of their execution in times of pandemic.

That said, other aspects of the matter must be added which the official media would prefer to omit. One of them is the contrast between “justice” that applies the full accuracy of the law against transgressors only “at the grassroots level”, and to the privileged, who enjoy the most rampant impunity.

Because it turns out that, while an entire army of police, inspectors and the military equally repress managers of establishments that trade in food, truck drivers, transporters – private or state – and habitual street vendors who prowl around the markets, the State allows itself to keep soaring prices (“unsubsidized”, is the official phrase) on basic necessities, including the already famous and meager “modules” that have been distributed throughout the commercial networks destined to the use of the ration card.

All this, despite the low income of the population and the fact that the majority of Cubans are currently “available” – a euphemism that replaces the terms “unemployed” or “laid off” – or receive only 60% of their already insufficient wages due to the social isolation measures imposed.

Apparently, “speculation” doesn’t apply to the sale of ‘baskets’ for home consumption from several hotels in the Cuban capital which went on for a few days with prices between 25 and 35 CUC, which could only be acquired by some social sectors, not only due to their high cost, but for the inability of the managers to maintain this offer.

And these are just sample buttons of Cuban governmental altruism in times of pandemic.

Thus, in the infinite absurdity of the Cuban socio-economic model and its justice system, parallel worlds survive where, on the one hand, the detentions and arrests of “suspects” of economic crime — treated in principle as culprits without corresponding investigations and trials having been carried out — and on the other, the use of State vehicles for abundant food distribution to homes of the ruling class and its high-ranking acolytes, frequently documented on social networks. Which explains why these privileged few have never been seen in the endless lines for food, detergents and other essential products.

Another edge that envelopes the government’s justice efforts in a halo of mystery is the fate of the products seized in the numerous police operations. So far, no official press report has followed-up on the seized merchandise to sales platforms or to food processing centers for the lowest income families, known in Cuba under the pejorative heading of “social cases”. It could be said that there is a sort of Bermuda Triangle between clandestine refrigerators, unauthorized agricultural products that are transported in trucks, pedicabs or wheelbarrows and the dining tables of Cubans.

And, finally, the official disclosure of the essential issue in this entire saga is pending: is there any government plan to replace the invaluable work of providers to Cuban families that have fallen to smugglers and small-time dealers for so long? Do the country’s constituents have a notion of the magnitude of what we can call “collateral damage”? Is it that they have prepared for us a ready battalion of “pure or emerging administrators” capable of managing warehouses and businesses without getting corrupted?

Because it is fair to recognize that this crusade for economic purity (of others) that the authorities are waging is going to be reflected rigorously on the tables and in the pockets of the millions of people who do not enjoy the privilege of the Power class or those who don’t have their income derived from remittances sent from exiles abroad, which is why they are forced to appeal to the underground market to obtain what is necessary, almost always at prices slightly lower than those of the official market.

All of which places before us other essential questions. Where is the master plan that will finally unlock the productive chain, decentralize the inefficient economic model and make it possible to alleviate – at least – food deficiencies? Or to focus it better, is there a plan?

So far, there are no answers, and once again it has been shown that the only effective thing in the Cuban model is the proliferation of repression. In fact, at present it could be stated that it is the repressive activity that has increased, and not economic crimes. The paradox is that both – repression and the aforementioned crimes – are inherent parts of the same system: they are deep-rooted. Therefore, the supposed fight between opposites is nothing but the proper balance of a failed system that encrypts its survival in the galloping and permanent corruption and in the cyclical repressive forces.

The authorities have us so used to such awkwardness that they re-attack the consequences instead of eliminating the causes that create them. Which is perfectly logical: no system could survive if it removed the pillars on which it was founded. So, on we go…

Translated by Norma Whiting

“We are Isolated But Not Protected”: The Truth About an Isolation Center in Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Dormitory at the isolation center (Author’s photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 March 2020 — On March 23rd, in his presentation on the Roundtable broadcast on all Cuban television channels, Cuban Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, reported about new official measures that would deepen controls to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Island. Among them, it was established that all Cubans residing in the country, on their arrival from abroad, would be placed in solitary confinement to serve a mandatory two-week quarantine before returning to their respective homes.

In order to comply with this measure, said Marrero Cruz, all the necessary conditions had been created in centers specially designed for such purposes, to which travelers would be driven directly from the airport, under strict police control, and duly transported by State buses. Additionally, it was established that the travelers’ relatives would not have access to the airport to avoid any possible contagion and spread of the disease.

Unlike other practices whose compliance has not yet been verified in practice, the isolation and transfer to isolation centers of Cuban travelers went into effect immediately. continue reading

Magela was one of those Cubans who arrived back in Cuba on Tuesday, March 24th and was surprised by what seemed to her a true state of siege at José Martí Airport in Havana. The police deployment, health personnel and border authorities controlling each traveler, issuing orders and preventing their departure, evoked a Hollywood movie atmosphere.

“There was an air of uncertainty and fear among us” stated Magela. “I know that taking measures to prevent the disease from spreading in Cuba is necessary, but it is such an impressive situation to find all those personnel in their protective suits, and it is so strange to feel treated as someone with the bubonic plague that fear took hold of me. Deep down I felt a very strong wish to cry.”

However, Magela set out to assume the inevitable. In the end, she felt that undergoing quarantine was the safest thing for her and even her own family. It was reasonable and necessary, she told herself. And without protest, with other traveling Cubans like her as companions, she got on the bus that would take them to the isolation center.

“Thus, we entered the center on Tuesday afternoon. They told us that we were in El Cotorro, but I don’t know this place. It is a rural center, away from everything. If you look out the windows, all you see are fields.”

The first thing that surprised Magela at the isolation center was the forced proximity to the rest of the recluses. Several bunk beds were placed too close to each other, forcing promiscuity, as dangerous as it is unnecessary, especially in a facility that, according to those in charge of the place, has a capacity for 600 people.

“There are only around 200 here for now, in addition to the staff, but people crowd in the lines at the dining room because we are all hungry and sometimes meal waiting times are long. Even though they give us protective masks that we must use, there is not enough control over the distance between us. In addition, there are always people who are undisciplined or unaware of the risk.”

To make things worse, men and women share bathrooms on each floor, which further affects privacy. Magela believes that this results from the fact that “they,” the ones in charge, were filling the floors as travelers arrived. It seems that they did not take into account separating the bathrooms used by women from those used by men. It’s terrible.”

Another point that concerns Magela is that of cleanliness. “There are a lot of us, and hygiene is not as it should be. It has been talked about endlessly that hygiene is the most effective measure to combat the corona virus, right?  Well, that is not the case here. In general, everything looks clean, but when you look at the details you realize that the required hygiene is lacking. The mirrors are stained with soap and everyone’s splashes, the normal fluids of personal hygiene — hand, face, mouthwash — are poured in the sink and they do not receive a thorough cleaning. There is also no cleaning in the rooms or hallways.”

I asked one of the people in charge if they have not raised those concerns with management. “They tell us that nobody wants to come to clean because people are afraid of catching it.” Those confined there cannot clean either, since they do not have the resources and means of protection to do so.

It is true that they deliver protective masks and chlorinated solution daily, plus they also supplied the travelers with soap and toilet paper upon arrival, but Magela declares that “conditions were not set up as they should have been. I tell you that it is not the fault of the personnel assisting us, but I do believe that it was the duty of the State to protect us with the necessary means if this confinement was to take place.”

And after a brief pause, she adds: “They (the government and the authorities in charge) think that what they are giving us is more than sufficient and get upset when one asks a question or demands something. And if you protest, they label it a gusanería*. That is not the case.  We are asking about the reality we are living here and not about lies or insults. It turns out that in the end we are isolated but not protected. We are all very afraid of catching it because nobody knows who may or may not be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.”

Of course, no one has been tested to rule out contagion. For this, it is necessary to present symptoms, although this waiting threshold supposes the possibility of infecting others.

Magela says she understands the situation in the country, and the importance of this quarantine, but she is frustrated because she expected better conditions. “I think that the resources that have been invested despite the country’s shortages are useless, since the fundamental thing at the moment is true isolation and hygiene and we have neither.”

“For example, the protective masks are changed every day, but not so the sheets and towels. They tell us that these must come from a company, and we don’t know which or when. I believe that if nobody can come to do the cleaning or if there are no answers to our concerns, they are going to have to find some solution. Let the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) or another organization respond”.

Here I feel compelled to remind Magela that, among the strengths of the Revolution that the high authorities of Cuba so much like to mention, are the mass organizations – CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), FMC (Federation of Cuban Woman), and others – and also that vanguard of society, the PCC (Cuban Communist Party). Perhaps they should designate hygiene care in isolation centers a shock task for the communist militancy. After all, aren’t they the first line of defense fighters? Here is a good time to demonstrate their courage and spirit of sacrifice when the Homeland calls.

Despite everything, Magela does not want to be unfair. “Let me tell you that the food is not bad, considering the shortages that exist in Cuba. In the dining room they give us chicken, rice, beans, salad, ham, yogurt… The truth is that we have nothing to complain in that regard.”

There is also a cafeteria at the center, although not everyone is able to purchase stuff.  “How it works is that they sell us in new Cuban convertible peso (CUP), but the majority of us confined here have US dollars. Let’s remember that there is a ban on taking Cuban currency out of the country and we are returning from abroad with foreign currency.”

This is another detail that the authorities have not taken into account. Consequently, the few who have CUC or national currency – who perhaps took it on their trip abroad in violation of the provisions of the law – now have an advantage over the rest. Thus, the national adage is fulfilled, where the cheater wins, often protected by the State itself.

But there is no end to the calamities. “Another problem is mosquitoes. Although they spray every day, we cannot sleep at night because there are so many mosquitoes.” However, those who are confined on the big Island do not have mosquito nets assigned to them, which introduces the additional risk of a dengue outbreak, another health scourge that is already endemic in Cuba, striking the population with more or less intensity every year. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Magela has little data left on her phone, the balance of the service she purchased is very low, and she still wants to send me some photos. She will not be able to buy a new round of minutes/data to connect to the Internet, nor will she have a way to communicate, unless her family or friends purchase additional time, because there is no free access for the purchase of telephone cards in the center. “Upon arrival, we were told that the Cuban telephone company Etecsa would give each one of us a free 5 CUC phone card to use, but we have not received it yet. They have already told us that people from Etecsa are here, and we are hoping that they will give us the cards today.”

On the other hand, I expect more. I hope that the official practices this time are not just letters piled on paper and all the necessary conditions are created for the safety of our quarantined compatriots, especially in terms of issues related to the strictest hygiene standards, the greatest possible respect for privacy and the proper distance between quarantined inmates. These are the minimum guarantees that we must demand of a Power that professes solidarity and presents itself as humanistic, and that asserts itself as a world-class medical power. There has never been a better time to prove it.

*Gusanería (Nest of maggots) Very informal, pejorative term used when referring to counterrevolutionaries

Bathroom area (Author’s photo)
Isolation Center, Cotorro, Havana (Author’s photo)
Area around the Isolation Center is remote and rural (Author’s photo)
Waiting for food. (Author’s photo)
Interior hallway. (Author’s photo)

Sinks. (Author’s photo)