I also demand / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

*Everyone in Peace /  Raise your hands, unite / our voices /  #YoTambiénExijo /  The 30th at 3:00

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

For the mere act of having been born a man, to be thinking, already implies in inalienable right to express myself freely without waiting for the permission of another man.

Because my right of freedom of assembly and association are provided for by international agreements recognized by the civilized world, and these agreements are found to be above the decision of the dictators that try to continue enslaving the mind of my people with its out of date demagoguery.

Because the universal right of peaceful protest implies that the streets and plazas that belong to all Cubans and not to that group that tries to set themselves up as the only owner, that group that tries to monopolize the street only for the “revolutionaries.” continue reading

Because if a real revolution is progression, dialectical forward, 180-degree turn forward, then the retrograde breed that from the power hinders the progress of my people today doesn’t deserve anything but to call themselves counterrevolutionaries.

Because more than 50 years of monologue from an undeserved altar already was too much and today it is its turn before the jury of the people of Cuba, to the betrayed, today has arrived, finally, the offended’s turn.

For all this, I also demand:

That the Cuban government ratify and immediately and unconditionally implement the International Covenants on Civil and Political Human Rights and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights that it left pending as of February 2008.

That the Cuban authorities officially recognize the existence and legitimacy of the Cuban opposition, and consequently call democratic elections where the entire spectrum of the plurality of thought of Cuban society is represented.

That an effective separation of powers be established. In this sense, it would be essential that the People’s Supreme court, highest authority of judicial power, stop being under the Council of State, highest authority of executive power, so that the judges of the People’s courts being affiliated with the Communist Party of Cuba would be prohibited, something that would favor their credibility in the impartial exercise of justice.

Let it consequently stop the harassment, persecution or any type of repression of any individual group that tries to express its political position publicly and peacefully, as well as stopping the arbitrary detentions of civic activists that represent a dissident proposal.

That the Communist Party of Cuba and Cuban State Security stop organizing the sad infamous acts of repudiation, which are profoundly damaging to the dignity of those that they perpetrate, as well as unequivocally noxious to the public morality; consequently those acts become considered as a body of crime by the existing Penal Code, at which moment will be sanctioned under the law as they have always been: authentic acts of vandalism, that include invasion of the home and/or aggression and danger to persons.

That it establish an appropriate legal framework that guarantees a full freedom of the press and total access and without censorship to the Internet as means for the exercise of our freedom of expression, from which all can, without fear of being punished for it, to propose a better way of changing these ruins that we inherit in that nation that we have, as the first law of the republic, the cuban worship of the full dignity of man.

For all these reasons: #YoTambiénExijo

Translated by: BW

 

Cuba and the United States will resume their relations… alea jacta est* / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

1419224626_989708By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The decision by the governments of Cuba and the US to normalize diplomatic relations could go down in the record books as the news of the year – and among the most momentous world news of the century so far. The more than 50 years of litigious relations – one of the longest disputes in human history – will justify every headline, column, or essay that will be devoted to this topic.

But it is worthwhile to reflect objectively on the possible consequences that this decision will have on the Cuban people – a decision made without taking into account the internal opposition voices that for years have been sounding alarms about the potential dangers of repealing instruments of pressure such as the US embargo and the European Union Common Position – without the Olive Green government having, at least, ratified and implemented the International Covenants on Human Rights that it signed in February, 2008.

A lifting of these coercive mechanisms without a minimum guarantee that these agreements – as well as other demands made by Cuban civil society – will be implemented, would imply the definitive and certain recognition of legitimacy that this dynastic government so badly needs – right when it knows itself to be crushed by historical evidence, and seeks, desperately and at any price, some escape route. continue reading

For a long time I have counted myself among those who opt for the end of the embargo, because I have always thought that without this great excuse, within a very short time the Havana totalitarian regime’s economic inefficiency, a purely endogenous evil, would definitively be shown for the sham that it is. I am still today convinced of this argument, but the coincidental timing of a series of very specific circumstances, in the midst of an unprecedented context, has made me question several points in this regard.

There is one essential difference between this particular moment in time and any previous phase of this Stalinist regime. By now it is quite clear that the old guard of the Sierra Maestra has run out of time. The failure of their proposition is no longer something yet to be proved; it is established historical fact.

These octogenarians know full-well that the days of free petroleum that Moscow provided for 30 years will never be seen again; that for now, China might be smiling, but in business matters, a deal’s a deal, payment will be required, and then, what will they do?

Cuban officials also know that under the conditions that were in force until this past 17 December – and despite their much-vaunted Foreign Investment Law – they would be unable, given their well-deserved reputations as petty con-men, to deceive any important foreign investor with half a brain in his head. Besides, they know that Cuba’s tourism industry will never take off because it cannot compete with all the surrounding excellence in the region – and that they lack the financial resources to repair this mega-disaster.

On top of it all, they know that their main source of revenue – the exploitation of public health professionals – is in imminent danger of a major setback if its principal market, Venezuela (which appears about ready for the death sentence) succumbs. In addition, the ever-increasing emigration of qualified personnel from this sector augurs the potential downfall of this dirty global money-laundering operation.

For all those reasons, the Castro regime strategists long ago looked towards the brutal and disordered North that despises them and fixed their hopes on that lifeline that Obama is now casting to them just when they were exhaling their last breath…

Now, the generalship (which in another time might have been intransigent) will once again open its legs (as it did for that community of beaten-up gusanos (worms)** in 1980, when it ran out of money in the 90s). Now “The Enemy,”*** which presumably is the same one to whom not even an inch can be given, is suddenly transfigured (to the surprise of some and the rage of others) into the floating piece of wood remaining after the shipwreck, the lifesaver for an eternal Robinson Crusoe who had already wreaked as much damage as possible upon his lost island.

In spite of all this, I remain a supporter of the lifting of the embargo but only – and this is non-negotiable – if this act is accompanied by, or is conducive to, the unconditional deference to the human rights of my people by the low-lifes…I’m sorry, I meant to say, by the apex of the Cuban establishment.****

However, once this decision is made, two unavoidable consequences appear on the immediate horizon. On the one hand the Cuban government will breathe easy, receiving in the short-term a respectable income stream that otherwise would have been out of reach (or, and it’s the same thing, it will feel safe and more secure than ever to refine new repressive strategies).

On the other hand – and this is their favorable edge – this totalitarian government has finally run out of its principal justifying argument against its “perpetual enemy” and can no longer maintain its stance as “a besieged people” (or, and again, it’s the same thing, from this moment on, the world will judge that our economic ruin is really due to the stubbornness of the Cuban leadership that kept this country stuck in the past).

In case things remain as they are portrayed to us, the Cuban people will continue being deprived of such basic civil and political rights as that of opinion and freedom of thought, of assembly and association. The regime will continue vetoing our right to access the uncensored Internet.

In the Castros’ Cuba, the existence of one, single Communist and despotic party – perhaps even more despotic and autocratic than ever – will continue to be legal, as well as one official press subject to the same censorship as always. The world will continue to hear ever more frequent and violent news reports of repressive government actions against an opposition that will continue to be officially unrecognized, and of elections that will continue to be a total farce – with the only possible sleight-of-hand coming from the Plaza of the Revolution.

This is what very likely would occur starting now, assuming that in this mise en place all the pieces have been shown to us. I say this because I do not discard the possibility that between both governments there has been a much deeper and more ambitious roadmap drawn up than what has been publicly announced. At first glance one has the impression that the US gave up too much for the little offered by Cuba – and that if both parties have demonstrated anything in common, it is how obstinate they can be when they think are right.

The evident asymmetry of the proposals is surprising, even suspicious. On the US side, there is so much that reflects a splendidly generous Obama. As for Cuba, we have a grey Raúl Castro focusing on the return of the three prisoners, while relegating the end of the half-century embargo to an aside, as though speaking of baseball season playoffs.

From this I infer that there is much more to these proceedings than meets the eye –especially if we consider, in all its weight, the direct intervention of Pope Francis.

Also, I do not discount the megalomaniac instinct of the Castros requiring that all announcements be issued progressively, in a scattered manner – slowly but relentlessly, in Raulist language – so that there should be no ugly impression that in the end they surrendered before the evidence that Fidel Castro publicly recognized years ago, that the Cuban economic model doesn’t work.

To accept this proposal would not be at odds with the pragmatic North American spirit, for which the only important thing is to achieve the stated goal, even more so if the sole obstacle is something so fragile and simple as the injured macho pride of some little old decrepit men.

But in the end, the die is cast: From now on, Cuba and the US will be good and respectable neighbors. Obama and Castro announced it barely a week after thousands of Cuban opposition members and civil rights activists were threatened and/or beaten and/or detained – but certainly all repressed – this past 10 December, International Human Rights Day, scarcely 90 miles from the North American coast.

However, to let Mr. Obama off the hook, it must be recognized, that 90 miles of open sea is too far for the President to be able to hear the cries of helplessness and the din of the crowds; to be able to perceive the intangibles of fear, pain from beatings, and the taste of blood.

This agreement being the prelude to the imminent implementation of the European Common Pact, we must face this certainty: As of today, we are left alone vis-a-vis the Monster. The fight is being observed by the world at a prudent distance. From now on, the liberty of Cuba will be, more than ever, our task alone.

Translator’s Notes:

*Latin for “the die is cast”
**“Gusano” (worm) is an insult hurled by the Cuban regime and its supporters to any person who has opposed the regime in any way, or who has left the country to escape it. The term has become a symbol of pride among opponents and exiles.
***”El Enemigo” (The Enemy) is a common epithet used by the regime, the state-run media, and supporters, when referring to the US.
****The writer is making a play on words, offsetting the Cuban slang word 
crápula (low-life) against cúpula, which literally translates as “dome” but is commonly used to denote those at the highest level of power.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

22 December 2014

Havana: City of the “Marvelous” Unreality / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jean-Paul de la Fuente, director of New7Wonders, the Swiss foundation behind the online contest to name the seven most marvelous cities of the world, is visiting the Cuban capital. Having been received by Marta Hernández Romero, president of the Havana Provincial Assembly of Popular Power, and Eusebio Leal Spengler, city historian, already De la Fuente takes on, from the moment of his arrival, the typical profile of the tourist who, from his birds-eye view, cannot perceive to what unsuspected point it is difficult for the average Cuban to live in his beloved city.

I cannot understand how anyone who knows at least something of the functioning dynamic of the Cuban capital can propose this city as a contender for such a prize, much less the inexplicable manner in which Havana ended up on the final roster alongside such urban centers as Barcelona, Chicago, London and Mexico City.

From there we can only presume that all these persons who voted to keep La Giraldilla‘s city among the final contestants for membership in that select group of urban marvels have one thing in common: none of them live in a shanty town in El Cerro, in a tenement in Centro Habana or in Marianao on the banks of the Quibú River, subsisting on a salary of 20 dollars a month for sustaining his whole family; none has suffered seeing his child drool over the inaccessible toy; nor does he know what an “un-ration” book is, nor has he asked himself, at five in the afternoon, gazing into his empty larder, “What the fuck are we going to eat tonight?” continue reading

He has never endured standing in line for several hours to buy some semi-decomposed ground meat. He never rode at peak times on one of those dinosaur, two-humped “buses” we called “camels,” hanging from the door; nor has he (for decades!) been carrying water in buckets up to a 4th floor flat, or paying 100 pesos a pop for the indolence of the pertinent functionaries.

He has not been forced to live “temporarily” in a shelter (for 15 or 20 years!) after being left homeless by one of those all-too frequent building collapses that occur in this semi-destroyed city.

Enthusiasts could allege that this selection is based on rates of health and education that compose the standards of a deceptively high Index of Human Development — which paradoxically places us above such regional economic powers as Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, México and Brazil.

We would have to see if these enthusiasts would be so ardent after visiting a medical office (in terrible structural conditions), left empty because its doctor was dispatched by the government to a foreign mission — or because the doctor decided to leave the practice because working as a taxi driver provides a much better living.

One wonders if the enthusiasts would be less enthused upon visiting a hospital beset by similar disastrous structural problems, and where the doctors and allied professionals labor under dramatic levels of personal frustration. Such a scene can be perfectly extrapolated to the education sector — the Cuban government’s other trump card — which during the 2000s touched bottom, following Fidel Castro’s failed mega-experiment that brought it to ruin.

It turns out that Havana is (as is the rest of the reality that we Cubans live inside the island) of a complexity so grotesque at times and so subtle at others, that it becomes quite difficult to comprehend for someone who arrives, sips a daiquirí, and then returns to the comfort of his routine, as surely Mr. de la Fuente will, without managing to infer just how profoundly dysfunctional this city can be, a city that is now shown-off from the immaculate balconies of the Ministry of Tourism.

I do not speak solely of the deplorable state of our highway system, with its monumental and deep potholes and clogged storm drains; nor of the generalized absence of garbage containers which contributes to the filth in the streets; nor of the vacant tenements or the buildings in ruins.

The point, beyond all that, is a matter more grave and profound: it is about the incapacity of the Cuban government to solve our problems, and its lack of political will to open us up to the world; it is about the abusive pricing the government sets and the dual currency system it maintains; the punishing customs restrictions that effectively block the transport into the country of merchandise that would make our lives easier, and the oppressive reticence towards anything that would encourage our personal prosperity.

It is the absurd refusal to allow us to purchase an automobile at a minimally decent price, for example, thus to keep Havana still plagued by rickety cars left over from the first half of the last century; it is the systematic prohibition against our access to that same Internet that De la Fuente uses today to sponsor his contest and which is denied to the millions of us Cubans who live on the Island — and who do live on the banks of the Quibú River, eat decomposed ground soy meat, get around on primitive transportation, and cannot access the Internet — our legitimate right to post words like these on his site.

Finally, it is here that one would have to consider all of those “small things” that, all together, ultimately make this city “marvelous” — or asphyxiating — for the humans that reside in it. And up to this point, I have not mentioned at all fear, that ethereal resident of all cities in Cuba, and which is among its most hurtful complications: the fear of being annulled by an all-encompassing power that investigates and controls everything, so well-known by every opposition-member or dissident; this omnipresent fear whose intangible nature makes it impossible to include among the criteria considered in this brilliant contest from Switzerland, New7Wonders.

26 November 2014

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Cuban Health Care Workers’ Motives: Idealism or Necessity? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

 

Raul Castro waves goodbye to a Cuban healthcare worker leaving for an overseas post
Raul Castro waves goodbye to a Cuban healthcare worker leaving for an overseas post

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

During an interview last Thursday on his afternoon radio program the host, Ninoska Perez, told me about the mood she perceived in the Cuban medical brigade workers dispatched a few days ago by Raul Castro. She was struck by the “unfriendly” demeanor some of these professionals showed upon leaving for West Africa to confront the Ebola epidemic. I could not comment because I had not seen the television program in question, but her observation did cause me to think about the motives of Cuban health care workers who have joined medical missions in recent decades.

Although regularly presented by the Cuban government as examples of lofty philanthropic aspirations, in reality these missions have become in the span of a few short years the main source of income for this Caribbean nation. We have all witnessed how the government in Havana — rather than simply acknowledging that this is a fee-based service from which it has, on the whole, profited handsomely — continues to portray my self-sacrificing colleagues as selfless messiahs.

At the same time it downplays the notion that a health care worker — someone who is paid poverty-level wages — might embark on such a mission in order to somewhat mitigate his desperate economic situation. The pretense is that this is more than simply a contract labor issue, something for which a fee is paid. In itself this is certainly not immoral, but the assumption is that the “new man” is motivated only by the purest form of altruism.

Far be it for me to question those who put themselves in harm’s way. As I am not God, I have no right to do so. In light of what they are doing, a modicum of humility on my part is in order since I am not the one facing possible exposure. Nevertheless, a number of facts come to mind that cannot be denied.

First of all, the Cuban professionals who have been sent on these missions for more than a decade now do not do so under the same conditions as their counterparts from other countries. Elsewhere, these things follow a natural course. In other words, the workers themselves make the decision to enter into employment contracts based on their own interests and prospects.

Under a totalitarian government like Cuba’s, however, the parameters are quite different since our professional workers are not operating from a position of personal freedom.

It is no secret that a health care worker on a medical mission almost never has any say over where he is assigned. And once in the host country, he is monitored as though he were a child. This applies to his personal relationships — from the people with whom he talks and associates to when and where he goes out with them — as well as to even very small payments for outside work, which are expressly forbidden.

Furthermore, while working overseas, his “salary” is no more than 15% to 20% of the contract price agreed upon by the two governments. In many cases this amounts less than the legal minimum wage in the host country. The remainder is retained by the Cuban treasury.

Upon his return, our colleague is not allowed to bring into the country anything more than stipulated by the mission director, which amounts to a few very limited boxes of merchandise, and then only after his period of service has officially ended. Back in Cuba, he can access only half of the salary he was paid, with the balance remaining frozen in some Cuban bank.

In the event he should decide to end his term of service earlier than expected for personal reasons, he would be considered a deserter and would forfeit all the money he had earned. Even his family would not be able to access his bank account. He would also be strictly prevented from returning to Cuba for eight years, even for a short period to visit his children or in the event of a serious illness or the death of one of his parents.

Given all this, it is understandable why Ninoska would describe the current contingent as “an army of slaves.” Setting aside the harsh description, it is evident that the relationship the government maintains towards individual workers is not one of respect but rather continues to be punitive and despotic in nature.

But there are parts of the world that still do not understand that the government that treats its citizens in such an arbitrary way is the same one that is sending our colleagues to Africa. It is the same one that is killing us at airports with astronomical prices and draconian customs regulations, the same one which pays us salaries that are laughable when compared to a cost of living that reaches soaring heights, the same one that does nothing to mitigate the state of affairs it itself has created and encouraged, all of which are incompatible with its humble proclamations of universal generosity.

Under such circumstances — knowing they face threats from an oppressive force that is both employer and executioner — it is impossible to assess the sincerity of some our health care workers when they appear in public singing the praises of the revolution, the party and proletarian internationalism. It is quite disturbing to see a familiar face among this group after having heard him complain bitterly about living and working conditions that are sometimes simply bad but often are appalling.

This “benevolent” government — the only one that is sends its physicians off to glory or to death — demonstrates its contempt for us in the most brutal way. And the reason it can do this with impunity is because it keeps trotting us around like victory pennants, or like the collateral behind the emotional blackmail it uses to garner votes and commitments from foreign governments in international forums.

That is why in domestic policy they can afford to grossly neglect the welfare of their own people. Who would guess that a government that takes the “laudable” action of sending a contingent to Africa larger than those of the rest of the world combined would be capable of subjugating its own people? How would a world dazzled by such an admirable initiative suspect that our civil rights are not respected or that on a daily basis we are subjected to physical attacks, arbitrary detentions and fully orchestrated acts of repudiation?

When Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, or John Kerry, US Secretary of State, praises the Cuban government — even when it is clear their remarks are limited only to its role in the current health crisis — they voluntarily or involuntarily concede ground and thus give Cuban authorities another slap on the back, allowing them to perpetuate their domestic policy of indentured servitude.

But those of us dealing with this grim reality are not deceived by those who have a monopoly on everything, even when they are disguised as sequined divas on the world stage. We don’t forget that this is the same government which continues to speculate with our most basic needs. We know that they intend to perpetuate our misery because they know that a bankrupt people, materially and spiritually impoverished, will always be more susceptible to their whims than a serene and prosperous people.

From Citizen Zero I wish my colleagues from Cuba and around the world much luck and success in this critical mission, which is essential if humanity is to eradicate this dangerous scourge. At the same time, I cannot help but abhor the way the Cuban government politically manipulates the personal risks these workers are assuming. Ultimately, it will be the infallible, inexorable and certain judgment of history that will separate the gold from the dross and the diamond from the coal.

27 October 2014

Who is really blockading us? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The brand name of this company selling chicken portions in Havana tells you its origin: these products arrive here from the other side of the iron curtain, from the enemy’s shore. This “Product of USA” reminds us that more than ten years ago the US Congress approved licences for selling food products to the Cuban government, on a cash-only basis, but with the result that also for years the chain stores selling in CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, i.e. hard currency) on the island have insisted in selling these chicken portions at up to 4.50 CUC (about $5). If we bear in mind that historically this has been one of the cheapest meats on the world market, we can easily see that food for the people is not exactly treated as a special case by our government when it comes to turning a profit.

But to this type of profit in CUC we have to add its analog in CUP (Cuban pesos). Also years ago the state-run Food and Business Companies joined in the party: many administrators immediately “saw the light” and proceeded to start selling a pound of raw chicken on the black market for 25 pesos, that’s to say, the price  of the prepared product, like fried chicken, and so they keep hold of the surplus oil, and you can guess where that ends up.

In the end, Liborio, [a cartoon character representing the typical poor Cuban peasant] poor man, caught in the cross-fire, doesn’t receive his monthly bag of chicken, oil — and lots of the other things, speaking of Lindoro, [incompetent Lindoro is an archetypal useless boss of an unproductive Cuban company] –  that the people in headquarters get: poor Lindoro, who, in reality is the only loser. And the main culprit in all this continues to be the Cuban government, because of its obstinate and half-assed economic focuses, and also because of its unscrupulous pricing policy — the same one which fixes the price of a USED Geely auto at $38,000, which doesn’t cost $5,000 new, or which tries to sell us a shitty Suzuki moped for over $12,000 which cost a little more than $300.

Here everything comes down to the same thing; simply and straightforwardly our government is always pursuing one goal: blocking the well-being of the people by every means possible. And so, we should ask, who is it that is really blockading us? Lets see what the “Yankee Blockade” theorists have to say about that.

Translated by GH

9 October 2014

 

What Happens If Ebola Comes To Cuba? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Ebola outbreak on the world epidemiological scene will obviously involve a huge challenge for every country that is reached by the current epidemic, already registered as the greatest in history and that in recent days has reached about 9000 confirmed cases — although experts say that figure is an undercount.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that the epidemic is not being confronted will all the political rigor that the moment demands on the part of the international community and also warned that if the situation is not brought under control in time, by 2015 it predicts an incidence of about a million and a half cases.

It is easy to conclude that arriving at this state of things the danger would only grow exponentially.  We are confronting an extremely contagious illness of non-vectoral transmission, that can be spread person to person through the most subtle contact with any bodily fluid of an infected person — and that may be transmitted sexually to boot, given that the virus is isolated in semen until 90 days after recovery. continue reading

Although a first clinical trial for a vaccination has just been implemented, the reality is that for now the medical treatment protocols are in their infancy in the face of a disease that in previous outbreaks has reached a lethality of between 90% and 100% of cases and in the face of which one can only commit to treatments of its severe complications and to practice the usual measures for life support.

Today is raised before man a threat by one of the bad boys of virology, which demands the implementation of the most extreme biological containment measures, as well as the use of the most specialized and scrupulously trained personnel for its handling.

Such a scene places before us the most elemental question: what if Ebola breaks out in Cuba? This is not negligible, and it stopped being a remote possibility after the departure of a detachment of hundreds of Cuban professionals destined for the African countries flogged by the epidemic. Let’s remember the possibility that it was that route used by cholera to reappear in our country, imported from Haiti after an absence of 120 years, and not to mention the everlasting dengue fever.

The eruption of this most dangerous illness in Cuba could simply take on shades of tragedy.  Beyond how dissipated may become the customs of the inhabitants of the alligator, I am inclined to fear by the experience of one who has seen too often the systematic use of recyclable material, the usual practice in Cuba, even when long ago the world definitively committed to the exclusive use of disposable material: the idea of treatment centers for these patients winding up recycling suits, gloves or other materials because it occurs to some pig-headed guy from the “higher level” that this would “guarantee” safety under such circumstances is terrifying.

In a country where too many times a doctor does not have in his office something as basic as running water and soap in order to wash his hands, it will be understood what the demand for costly minimal material demanded for handling patients with Ebola would involve, and if besides we take into account that the almost generality of our hospital infrastructure is not designed or prepared objectively for the containment of this kind of scourge, now we will be able to raise a prayer to the Virgin to save us from the trance.

On the other hand, let’s not forget how reticent the Cuban authorities have shown themselves to be about publicly reporting on the incidence of epidemics when one considers that this might risk the affluence of tourists or the successful conclusion of some relevant international event — the Cuban dengue fever mega-epidemic of 2006 is still an excellent example in that regard.

With all these antecedents at hand, chills are felt before the possibility here considered and the questions that remain unanswered.  Will the Cuban Public Health System be prepared to control the Ebola outbreak with the required speed?  Will we Cuban professionals have the training, methodology and even the discipline necessary for adequately confronting a contingency of this caliber — and that quite few seem to have faced before?  When the moment arrives, will our government be ready to report the truth bluntly to the people and to the world?  Will this “infallible” government that has exported dozens of medical missions around the world have the humility to recognize its inability to control it and to seek help?

Since the strategy followed until now by WHO at an international level may be debatable — which has accepted being faced with the most serious epidemiological problem since the appearance of AIDS — in regard to the transfer of the foreign sick in order to receive treatment in their respective countries.  Obviously this increases considerably the possibility of transcontinental spread of the virus.

Instead, it would be much more recommended and safe to create adequate conditions in the country where each case is confirmed through a centralized and functional network of field installations correctly equipped and with the full extent of security that is presupposed, where each patient is diagnosed, isolated and treated on site.  For example, it would be worthwhile to consider, in order to implement this kind of possibility, the immediate conversion of uninhabited coastal African islands under the supervision of the experts of WHO and similar organizations such as Doctors Without Borders.

Means analogous to these, and apart from any legal or political assessment, would be more convenient and effective for the containment of this epidemic.  Even the UN — which came to air the topic at the Security Council — could deliver strong resolutions that support and regulate these variants, and it would all be justified by the gravity of a moment that is not made for warm cloths.  It requires taking the strongest measures everywhere the illness is found, if with these measure rapid control of the situation is achieved — including the extreme recourse of military quarantine where it comes to be evidently applicable and necessary.

Admittedly, this proposal may be offered to varied readers, but in operative, practical terms it may constitute the only option that guarantees concrete solutions that stop the advance of this fearful scourge.  It may be now or never: we live at a critical time that demands critical measures. What is not rushed today for lack of political will, governmental indolence or timidity by world institutions, undoubtedly will tomorrow charge a much more dramatic and global human and economic cost.

Translated by mlk.

16 October 2014

 

New Customs Restrictions in Havana: Another Turn of The Screw / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

I avert my gaze with disgust from the broadsheet of troubling portents that the newspaper Granma has become. Recently, the newspaper published new customs regulations the Cuban government has imposed on its own people. In essence, they amount to a significant reduction — now significantly less than 120 kg — in the weight of non-commercial goods allowed to be brought into the country by the average citizen.

There is also a significant reduction in the value of merchandise allowed to be brought in, from 1,500 pesos beforehand to 1,000 pesos now. Everything determined to be above this limit is to be confiscated. Additionally, there is an ominous decision by the Ministry of Finance and Prices to raise the duty on merchandise received by mail from 10 to 20 CUC — some 500 pesos, the equivalent of a month’s salary — on each kilogram above the initial 1,500 grams.

Like a soothsayer looking into his crystal ball, I can clearly see the inevitable consequences of these measures. Without much effort, I can spot the corrupt customs officials in every Cuban airport rubbing their hands and growing increasingly rich, charging the helpless traveller ever juicier extortion fees, enriching themselves with impunity with millions stolen under the impassive gaze of all the political and government authorities gathered around the feast. continue reading

They do this under the very noses of the Interior Ministry officials responsible for “catching them.” This is the same Interior Ministry that is so well-informed and ready to suppress ipso facto any activity of the opposition, however small it might be, but that suddenly becomes “blind and disoriented” in the face of these scandalous, illegal transfers of money.

Nevertheless, I do not foresee in the magic ball the flow of “mules” who supply the black market being halted any time soon. They have “greased” too well those same corrupt officials through bribery. Nor do I see these restrictions leading the Cuban people to buy more shoddy, third-rate goods at scam prices in the hard currency stores; people took note of the pillage happening there a long time ago.

In the depths of my imaginary ball I see very clearly indeed people’s increasing disgust with a government that grows ever more out of touch with them, mired in a delusional fantasy and crafting the kind of measures that only serve to make life more miserable with each passing day.

The Cuban government has demonstrated that it knows no limits when it comes to besmirching us. It is sickening to hear the arguments used to justify these despicable measures. Confiscating a mobile phone in an effort to keep it off the flourishing black market is like grabbing the wrong end of the stick, as is trying to grab certain products brought in by certain passengers.

If someone imports dozens of televisions and computers while someone else brings in dozens of printers or desktop PCs and it is done through customs and with the blessing of officials, it means there were good “rea$on$” to permit it. This does not justify adopting a sweeping policy to deal with a few individuals but which ends up affecting us all.

Furthermore, even if an enthusiasm for acquiring wealth by those importing these goods is demonstrable, it is not something that can be demonstrated at the airport, nor is it the responsibility of the General Customs Service to do so. For that there is a body of regulations and inspectors, whose very job is to see to it that legislation is enforced on the ground. But to accuse all of us of the same thing and to make us pay in the same way is a huge stretch.

Without being naive, it is certainly not natural or ethical for someone who does not know my needs or the size of my family to presume that whatever I bring in beyond what he happens to deem appropriate is of a “commercial character.”

We should never forget, however, that the enduring maxim of the authorities of this country is to ignore the principle of the presumption of innocence. Here you are considered guilty until you can prove otherwise.

Meanwhile, we remain the only country where the government insists on fining its own citizens — no matter how much they try to sugarcoat it, this is what it amounts to — at the customs house door for the “crime” of simply trying to improve their lives.

Translated by mlk

14 July 2014

 

Why Is Another Cuba Necessary? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

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By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Among the series of international instruments related to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Implementing them requires two basic steps. First, they must be signed. By doing this the state in question agrees to analyze their meaning and by implication to accept their stipulated terms.

The second and more significant step requires them to be ratified, an action which requires the state to modify those aspects of its constitution and statutes that are not in accordance with the spirit of the covenants. Once ratified, the government’s position goes from one of tacit compliance to mandatory compliance. Since these amendments become binding, they ensure, at least theoretically, respect for the rights outlined therein.

The campaign “Por Otra Cuba” (For Another Cuba), launched by members of Cuba’s civil society, seeks to secure the rights outlined under the above agreements, which were signed by the Cuban government back in February 2008. Though more than six years have passed since their signing, they have yet to be ratified. In fact Cuba is among an “elite” group of eight governments that have not yet taken this second and definitive step. continue reading

What is keeping the Cuban government from ratifying these conventions? What does our ruling elite fear? It would be worthwhile to briefly analyze the implications of what this action might have, at least in theory, on Cuba’s socio-economic dynamic. I say “in theory” because the Cuban revolution was born, consolidated and has withered, all within half a century. Cuba was a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though this never disrupted the long saga of abuse suffered by its people over this entire period of time.

Ratification of these agreements would “require” the Cuban government, the Communist Party and the state security apparatus — in essence they are one and the same — to officially recognize the existence of civically organized opposition political parties with the right to nominate candidates for elections as pluralistic as the people they would represent.

It would require the government to suspend and subsequently prohibit all repressive actions against individuals and organizations engaged in peaceful opposition, including acts of repudiation and brazen assaults in the street. Those carrying out such assaults would face the risk of trial by impartial courts issuing fair rulings based on due process and without regard to political considerations. It would also require authorities to amend the Penal Code to recognize these actions for what they in fact are: crude acts of vandalism.

It would require them to recognize our right of assembly and association as well as our right to peaceful public protest, and thus to suspend all hostilities against opposition marches organized by the opposition and to halt the waves of arbitrary arrests intended to prevent them, as is routine practice today.

It would require them to respect our right to free expression and the ability to exercise it through all possible means of mass communication, and thus to allow unrestricted access to the media, including the press in all its forms, and immediate, full and uncensored access to the internet.

Ratification would require them to respect the fundamental right of parents to choose the kind of education that their children receive rather than leave them with no choice but stale political indoctrination. It would also guarantee our right to receive a fair salary, one that would allow us to live without having to trade our dignity for paltry handouts.

Today these and other universal rights, which lie beneath the totalitarian aegis, are the focus of these covenants. Their broad scope, representing the vindication of human dignity, explains the strong aversion that dictatorships have always shown towards them.

These conventions are neither “abominable propaganda tools” nor a form of “bourgeois domination” by “global capitalism,” as they are often characterized in government propaganda. They are in fact among the most advanced instruments conceived by humankind to prevent a return to the barbarism from which the UN arose in mid-20th century. This in why only the most retrograde governments openly oppose them.

No one here is talking about “returning to a shameful past — a stale and decrepit slogan — or sighing nostalgically for bygone eras. This is simply no longer possible. The world has changed too much and, along with it, Cuba and its people. The only thing anyone here talks about is bringing the country up to date, of no longer being the breeding ground for laziness, and of the ambition of some to begin turning it into a source equality and prosperity for everyone.

This is why last Monday I “physically” signed this citizen petition along with my wife, Dr. Aliette Padron Antigua (I had already given my “virtual” support a few weeks ago) and submitted it to the headquarters of the Council of State. We endorse this campaign because we firmly believe that another Cuba — one without abuse, where all Cubans live together in dignity and peace, the Cuba for which our forebears gave their lives — is still a valid and possible dream.

30 June 2014

 

About The Matter of Academic Fraud in Havana / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

University Entrance Exam in Mathematics to be Repeated in Havana

It happened several years ago and it’s now one of those open secrets that even the kids know about: the bribery of teachers and professors at all levels of teaching has ended up being, as a result of habituation, something almost folkloric; and although it would be unfair to tar the innocent and the guilty with the same brush, it was certainly worth while having fired off warning shots about a matter which has reached scandalous proportions, all the more so for having had the public spotlight shone on it, in view of the terrible moral consequences, with implications for all of us.

We are not always talking about bribery in the form of straightforward cash. There is a whole range of resources available to the brown-nosers and ostentatious people to achieve their objective and once the target teacher has been singled out all you have to do is study his needs and specific tastes in order to fire the shot, which could be delicious snacks, made to measure clothes, expensive perfumes or exclusive invitations, for example. continue reading

Without doubt, the lamentable economic hardship suffered by our country´s educators influences all this, with a “salary” similar to that earned up to now by our doctors, and which has kept both groups on the edge of poverty for decades. But, it isn’t for nothing that I write here the word “influences” rather than “determines”.

As a result of mysteries of human nature, at the same time and place as some tend toward hypocrisy, others behave stoically. I know honourable examples of teachers who never were shamelessly two-faced and who have lived with decency while enduring poverty, and for that reason I cannot accept that necessity is enough in itself to affect everyone equally, however oppressive it may be.

It’s clear that in this case as well, the people detained and prosecuted — eight of them according to what was published by Granma — belong yet again to the lower classes. Although transparency is always reasonable, because it is the “raison d´etre” of all genuine journalism, and it is worthwhile making an example, I ask myself if this official melodrama would be equally able to denounce a sacred cow, a commander or historical leader of the Revolution, in the event of it being shown that they were implicated in some such difficulty.

Translated by GH

18 June 2014

 

Memories of One December 10th / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Act I: The Barricade

I notice the foul stench the moment I turn the corner and see the piles of garbage blocking the street. A pair of patrols is stationed, threateningly, half a block away. I keep walking as though it has nothing to do with me but a State Security agent — dressed in civilian clothing and without identification, as per usual — stops me and I realize that it is, indeed, about me.

“Good afternoon, where are you headed?” he challenges me.

“To a friend’s house,” I reply, allowing myself this small amusement.

“But… to whose house?” asks a second agent, approaching inquisitively and also dressed as a civilian, of course.

I cut to the chase and look him in the eye. “Yes, I’m going to [Antonio] Rodiles’ house.”

“Let me see some identification,” he demands, as though issuing an order. The radio transmits my information and immediately the agent returns, this time with an unequivocal command. “You cannot pass!”

“Yes, I need to get by,” I reply.

“No, you cannot,” he shoots back.

“Then let’s see what you do about it because I need to pass,” I say self-righteously.

Because of my “insolence,” I am subjected to a thorough search for a cellphone I do not have.

“Frisk him and take him away!” he finally orders. It is 4:20 PM. continue reading

 Act II: The Detention

I try telling the agents of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) that the handcuffs are not necessary, but they clamp them on tightly. In a few minutes I am at the Territorial Unit of Criminal Operations and Investigations (DIVICO 3) located on 62nd Street at 7th and 9th in Playa, where I am met along the side of the parking lot.

They take off the handcuffs but their imprint — on the skin, that is — will last for hours. The booking officer asks for my name and the group to which I belong. I identify myself and I say that I do not belong to any group. There is no point in telling him I am a doctor, who would have been at Rodiles’ house for only 20 minutes because the next day I am on call at the hospital for 24 hours and must now get home. Moments later another agent appears and asks, “Haven’t you had problems with your work…  or something like that?”

“Yes, that’s me,” I say, almost interrupting to save him from further reflection. Having verified my coordinates, he leaves. That is when the man I presume to be the boss relaxes his tone of voice a bit. I tell them they are making a serious mistake, that it will lead to nothing, that they have no right to detain me, that they should try other methods.

“So, tell me,” asks the official, “how would you solve this?”

I tell him it was not up to me to solve the problem. He spends the next hour trying to persuade me to go home but I insist that first I have to go to Rodiles’ house.

“You can go there some other time but not today,” he tells me emphatically. “If you try to do it again, we’ll just arrest you again. We’ll be at this all day, so let’s just avoid the hassle.”

During this “impasse” I manage to talk for a few minutes with Gorki Avila, who is in great pain after his “peaceful” arrest. The agents come back, convinced the game is deadlocked. They confiscate my camera and send me to a jail cell.

Act III: Convicted

It is an almost hermetic cell of about 50 square meters and about 6 meters high that, in addition to a door, has a single barred window half a meter tall and about 5 meters from the floor. Three granite benches are the only elements besides the walls, which are painted with several layers of quicklime in an attempt to cover up the graffiti of slogans and curses that bear witness to the cell’s history. Inside are thirteen detainees whose luck today has been similar to mine. They tell me that before they arrived there were others who passed through and estimate that — in this one unit — there may have been fifty prisoners, including several women.

Act IV: The Wait

In time boredom and heat set in, forcing me to remove my pullover. The hours pass in fleeting conversation with occasional outbursts from those screaming at the top of their lungs at the sons of bitches. At the end of the afternoon they bring in Gorki, who is still in pain and complains repeatedly of a headache. After awhile we manage to get him medicated at a nearby clinic and he returns, his pain eased.

About 8:00 PM hunger sets in. Those who so desire are taken to eat but I decline. I guess captivity has taken away my appetite. It is at this moment that the official I saw earlier that afternoon chooses to diffuse the tension— he says to call him Mandy — by playing the good cop. In a tone that in other circumstances might be described as conciliatory, we chat and even philosophize a bit. I take the opportunity to reiterate, for the third time, that I need to call home and, also for the third time, that I am running out of time.

Just then it occurs to me that not only am I being arbitrarily detained but that I am what would technically be described as a missing person. My family will have been waiting for me for several hours without knowing of my whereabouts. For a long time the cell door has remained open, giving the impression that we could leave our confinement and go have a cup of coffee at the corner, if only we were dumb enough to believe it.

The hours pass and little by little the detainees are released so that by 10 PM only five of us remain. Around 10:30 PM they call out for Edilio, an attorney with the Cuban Legal Association, along with another detainee. Now there is only Gorki, Aldo (who manages the Castor Jabao website*) and I. Around 11:00 PM three mats appear and it is then that I resign myself to spending the night in jail.

 Act V: “Liberated”

In the morning the bars finally open and they call out my name. I say goodbye to Gorki and Aldo, who would remain there 12 hours more. At the exit a PNR official shows me a document. In the place where I am supposed to sign, someone has already written, “Did not sign,” which saved me the trouble since that was exactly what I was thinking anyway. The document mentions something about counter-revolution but I tell them they should look for counter-revolutionaries among the crooks who are embezzling this country. They give me back my camera but not before completely draining the battery

After the Terminal Lido stop the bus takes me towards Artemisa. I am gross. I quickly bathe, have something for lunch and head back to Havana for my shift at the hospital because, in spite of it all, it is not the members of my team nor my patients who are responsible for my detention.

Last Act: The Next Day’s Pill

My shift is a killer. When I get home that evening, I open the newspaper Granma to find that in a farewell address at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, President Raul Castro spoke movingly of the need for the people of Latin America to be “respectful of diversity, with the conviction that dialogue and cooperation are the way to resolve differences and civilized coexistence of those who think differently…”

I do not find out about this until the next day for reasons that are obvious. As the president of this country, who now chairs the United Nations Human Rights Council, is delivering his speech, this Cuban was being detained for 16 hours for trying to attend a State of Sats meeting. This amounted to a violation of his right to freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of thought, considering he was only thinking of going to this meeting.

The question one then has to ask is, What is the Cuban government afraid of? Could it be that the it has not ratified the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it signed in 2008, because it intends to continue its attacks on our civil liberties. This is precisely why, now seven weeks later, I am providing an account of these events. In light of the evidence, further comments are unnecessary.

*Translator’s note: a satirical Cuban website. 

29 January 2014

 

Congratulations: Free Trade of Agricultural Products / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By: Jeovany Jiménez Vega

The decision of Cuban authorities to ease restrictions on the commercializing of agricultural production (to be implemented in practice as outlined, it would be that and not a greater increase in “flexibility”) must be received with relief in both corners of the ring, for both producers and consumers; the first for obvious reasons, the latter because they are stake-holders from the first round at their local farmers markets. continue reading

The decision is logical; that is how every gesture aimed in the right direction should be received. Too many facts condemn the current scheme, directly responsible for thousands of failed crops; guilty of the discouragement of rural people (i.e. farmers) who no longer support the failure of agricultural systems that rot the harvest, and which are largely to blame for the exorbitant prices that leave me the consumer at the end of the chain without feathers and clucking. Over-centralization has led to nothing for decades and the persecution of producers and brokers has lead to only frustration and shortages and high food prices.

Although I will reserve my enthusiasm for when changes become concrete–forgive me those who forget that agricultural producers still live with the legal threat of “illicit enrichment” or “hoarding” hanging over their necks–I do believe that this proposal, now in the experimental phase limited to Artemis, Mayabeque and the capital Havana, if extended to the rest of the country depending on successful outcomes, could lead to an immediate stimulus to the production and trade of agricultural products with benefit to all in the very short term.

On this point I disagree with published studies that predict longer term benefits. Unlike other serious problems in this country such as housing for example, agriculture only requires an appropriate political will to remove barriers and in a few years we will see the rewards, as an example look to the politics of Xiao Pin in China.

Clearly when it is time to regulate and limit prices, the State should take a more responsible attitude to the politics of pricing imposed upon my people. If they require agricultural producers to restrain prices, the State should also restrain their prices that have so far been brutal. It is the State that is responsible for the perpetual extortion suffered by Cubans every time we walk into a store.

Only when actual prices fall to more justified and realistic levels, will the governing powers of this country have the moral justification to demand the same from private producers. Now it remains to be seen what directions are given to the pack of inspectors, from which we have become accustomed to expect nothing good when zero hour arrives.

Although to err is human, to continue the same errors is the failing of fools. This society cannot permit itself the luxury of continuing to ignore the lessons that life has given. It is inconceivable that where nature has provided ideal conditions for agriculture to flourish by the fertility of the soil and a favorable climate, our hands are tied due to man’s own stubbornness.

In order to enjoy success we should free ourselves of burdens, all bureaucratic obstacles preventable and absurd. Congratulations, finally for all that encourages and promotes new ways. We have hope.

Translated by: Yoly from Oly

12 November 2013

 

It’s “Free” . . . But Healthcare Costs Us / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“Your health service is free… but it costs”

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

You’ve been able to see them for almost two years in every health care unit of the Cuban Public Health System, from any primary care office or clinic, passing through each second level hospital, even in tertiary care centers in each Institute.  They welcome us from the door of the consultation room or from the trade union wall and assure us that our omnipotent government has always been zealous to guarantee absolutely fee medical care for our people.

Seen that way, without more, it would seem a simple matter.  In this world, where to the shame of the species, dozens of thousands of children still die of curable illnesses because they do not have access to a few tablets and a measly intravenous infusion, it would be the most natural thing for Cubans to prostrate ourselves in gratitude before such an excess of philanthropy.  But if there is one thing we learned long ago it is that here, when you look into the background of the matter, we have all been charged.

It is true that the hospital does not charge us directly at the hospital or at our children’s school, but without doubt the cash register at the “hard currency collection store” (TRD*) charges us, and in a currency arbitrarily overvalued 25 times in relation to the other currency in which we are paid an unreal salary of little use to us.

These words are not trying to be an inquisitorial onslaught against the health care system to which I belong, whose essential function is impeded by limitations that no sector in Cuba can escape.

Any gratuitous attack would leave on this page the odor of the knife in the back, an aroma that this Cuban detests, but 40 years of hammering did not end up convincing me that guaranteeing a right, or trying to, grants in any way authority to my government to deprive us of other rights as essential as that.

And it is here — more than at the door of the TRD and the hotels, or in the immoral taxes of the General Customs Office, or in the extortionate cost of each consular administration abroad, among other hundreds of shameful examples — where we millions of Cubans have been charged the true currency exchange: it has been through the humiliation of the famous diplo-tiendas*, or in the door of the prohibited hotels, or through the despotism of the migratory authorities or the mistreatment by any other kind of official or through the systematic deprivation of our civil and political rights.

And invariably in the background posters like the one illustrating this post justifying as life-saving the entitlements that crush us at every step.

On the other hand these public governance schemes are not unique to Cuba nor to socialism, as has historically been insinuated to us.  There are dozens of examples of countries — and not necessarily from the first world — that sustain health and education systems as public and free as ours, and all without demanding in exchange such high doses of individual freedom.

Very true it is that sustaining the presumed public health costs each state on a world level very dearly, and Cuba was not exactly going to be the exception, but also I remember here that each Cuban worker has about 30% deducted from his monthly salary precisely to cover these public expenses.

I also remember that when our state undertakes to guarantee public health and education services — the two prime examples — it does not fulfill only a duty but its more conspicuous obligation, perhaps its only authentic obligation.

In particular, I ask myself by what magic method the Cuban government invested $4386.00 pesos in me alone, for the approximately 120 consultations that I did in my last 24-hour medical shift, in which I used only — if we except the $24 pesos that they paid me for night hours — my stethoscope, my blood pressure monitor, and some disposable depressors.

But as I am not an economist, I better leave the accounts to others and dedicate myself, as a good cobbler, to my shoes.  After all, it is true that it costs us . . . and quite expensively, for sure.

*Translator’s note: The government itself named the stores that sell only in hard currency, “Hard Currency Collection Stores”–TRD is the Spanish acronym–making explicit that their major purpose is to capture for the government coffers (through extreme overpricing) a major share of the remittances Cubans receive from their families abroad. Many items are often, or only, available in these stores (or in the black market).  An early incarnation of these stores were known as “diplotiendas,” that is “diplomat stores” catering to foreigners residing in Cuba.

See:  It costs.  By Regina Coyula.

Translated by mlk.
28 April 2014

 

With Regards to the Promised Salary Increase for Doctors / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The art of consecration

It’s said that on a misty winter day the old Chinese emperor, aroused by the longing for spring, desired to delight his eyes with a painting of a beautiful bird, and as the desire of any emperor is an order for his vassals, the search began immediately, first among the artists of the court, and later further and further afield, to the borders of that vast empire that seems to be the borders of entire world.

So, after long investigations, they found in the most distant region, a painter as skilled as he was wise: it was said that after so much reflection on the mysteries of the universe he had come to glimpse the most hidden secrets of the universe; it was said he could talk to the birds in the forest.

That humble maestro was presented to the sovereign who solicitously asked what he needed to paint the perfect bird, a beauty never seen in live, a bird worthy of adorning the palace of an emperor. The wise painter answered that he needed a large workshop, five servants, one year, and one hundred gold coins. “So be it!” commanded the emperor.

They tell how a year passed and the maestro was sent for and he came, just as he was, and to the scandal of the idle court, wearing his stained painter’s smock. The sovereign asked, “Is your work ready?”

“No my Lord,” responded the maestro, “now I need a still larger workshop, ten servants, five years and two hundred gold coins.”

“So be it!” commanded the emperor.

They tell how five winters later the maestro was again called to appear before the sovereign. “Let’s see,” he said, “show me, finally, your work.”

“It’s still not ready, my Lord,” responded the maestro, “I need ten more servants, five more years, and five hundred gold coins.”

Not believing his ears, the emperor consulted his ministers and counselors who warned him against such an absurdity. But the longing for spring overcame him and he decided, again, that it would be thus.

Finally after five more long winters, the emperor, compelled by hope and curiosity and determined not to wait one more day, decided to visit himself the workshop of the painter who now seemed too demanding. When he entered with his entourage he found himself enveloped in a mysterious light, in silence, in the middle of the spacious salon. The maestro bowed with respect.

“Everything is ready, my Lord,” he said, and immediately revealed to the incredulous a blank canvas. At the offense, the emperor stared, understanding nothing.

Only then did the maestro take a few minutes to mix the exact colors, and according to the legend, before the astonishment of the emperor and the amazement of the court, he painted, in sublime and serene strokes, the most beautiful nightingale in the world.

10 March 2014

 

Fearing a Prosperous People / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

On the very day that the government “freed” the sale of domestic automobiles for working people, imposing tariffs only a millionaire could afford, my son stood transfixed before a shop window displaying those little toy cars that our leaders sell in hard currency for the equivalent of an average person’s monthly wage.I could not ignore the obvious analogy.

A few days earlier I was reading something in the newspaper Granma that for a moment made me happy. But then I immediately read something like, “prices will be adjusted based on agreement between the parties…” and something began smelling rotten to me. It was too good to be true. This allows the state to quadruple the price for everything it sells us in one fell swoop.

It isn’t enough that they charge us an average of 5,000 to 6,000 CUC (between 5,500 and 6,600 U.S. dollars) for used rental cars the tourist industry no longer wants — cars which have logged thousands of miles and whose manufacturers’ warranties are invariably no longer valid.

During all those years that the Ministry of Transportation’s notorious “letter of authorization” for auto sales was in effect, private cars were basically assigned to artists, athletes and public health employees voluntarily working overseas, and then only in certain select cases.

The fact of the matter was that a doctor or athlete, overwhelmed by more pressing needs — like housing, for example — more often than not decided to sell his letter of authorization to the highest bidder. Over time the price went from an initial 5,000 CUC to between 10,000 and 12,000 CUC.

For obvious reasons this meant the total price for any second-hand sale varied from 15,000 or 17,000 up to 25,000 CUC, depending on the car’s make and model. And this was for low-cost, used cars — prices that in other countries would get you a new car with a warranty, which you could buy on credit or on other favorable terms, or with an extended warranty, which would never add more than 2,000 to 3,000 (or up to 5,000 dollars).

But here we have the Cuban state once again playing the role of street-corner thug, ready to openly commit assault with a deadly weapon using a new form of attack on a people who no longer expect anything but low blows. They could not even bring themselves to honor the thousands of letters of authorization that still remain unredeemed.

Nor could they bring themselves to adjust the price by a prudent amount, considering that the cars had already been paid off years ago through rental fees. The temptation was too great. Too much money danced in the hoodlums’ heads. There was too much “ham” for them to keep quiet.

They licked their chops and sharpened their claws until they could not stand it any longer and finally launched the attack. They use the extortionist’s most basic logic: After all, if anyone is going to get paid, it may as well be me since I am the one who most deserves it!

But in essence this is really nothing new, nothing that we have not seen many times before. What can else one expect from a state that has a monopoly on everything, one which for decades — long before the 2008 global financial crisis — sold us all the crap it bought at a 500 to 1,000 percent markup?

Or was it not the Cuban state which issued and enforces the resolution that automatically increased by 250% the price of all goods exiting its ports? These goods then head to the stores where corporate entities and retail outlets have you by the balls, continuing the slaughter by multiplying these prices several times over.

Who else but the Cuban government increased the price of almost every item in its TRD* stores by a massive 30% — this for goods of the poorest quality — at the end of 2004? Or is it not the Cuban state which now leases us a 10 kg cylinder of liquid gas for 500 pesos, a price greater than the average Cuban’s monthly salary?

Who is it that sells us a roll of toilet paper for almost 40 Cuban pesos? Who among us has never spent several months’ wages on a pair of dilapidated shoes? Who but our own state sets the price of the tiniest toys — toys for children who were born to be happy — at between 300 and 500 Cuban pesos, or the price for ordinary jeans at roughly 700 Cuban pesos? Who decided that we must work an entire year in order to spend three days in a mid-priced resort hotel?

Now they want to shift responsibility by having us pay the price for their bad policy decisions while cynically making sure that the dividends from this scam go to pay for improvements to public transportation. Implementing these measures only serves to discredit them. Meanwhile we Cubans  simply laugh at our misfortune, choosing to see it as yet one more screwup.  By treating it as nothing more than a bad joke, we rely on our Creole humor to dispel our anger.

But this writer has chosen to take the matter seriously, no matter how great the temptation to engage in irony and ridicule — how easy that would be — and no matter how much the white-collar criminals operating throughout the country, who make such decisions with the full consent of the nation’s highest political and governmental authorities, might warrant it.

They — the same ones who decided that my children, not theirs, could not drink milk past the age of seven — “pay” us not with salaries but with rubbish that vanishes within in a few days.

This is the essence and heart of the matter: they fear a prosperous people because such a people would be less easily manipulated and less servile. They know that prosperity ignites too dangerous a light in men’s eyes, which makes them irreverent and resolved. Sooner or later these men end up clamoring for openness and freedoms, something the mind of Caesar could never have imagined.

*Translator’s note: TRD Caribe S.A. is chain of retail stores owned and operated by the Cuban military. “TRD” is the acronym for Hard Currency Collection Stores, by which the military makes clear their purpose for being in the retail business.

5 February 2014