Disqualified to Speak / Yoani Sánchez

He studied medicine, put on the white coat, entered a hospital to work in a specialty, and blindly believed in the maxims of Hippocrates. At first, imbued with a fascination for cells, muscles and tendons, he barely noticed that his colleagues walked in mended shoes, and that he himself did not earn enough to feed his family. He saw too much in the Artemis hospital: the professional greatness of some and the material disaster of all. One day it was announced with great fanfare that they were going to raise the salaries of all heath care workers. But barely 48 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of 2.00 convertible pesos — or about $1.60 U.S. — were added to his meager monthly salary.

So he and a friend wrote a letter to the minister of his profession, communicating the discontent among physicians at such a ridiculous increase. They managed to collect 300 signatures and delivered it to the Minister of Health, as well as to the Council of State, the seat of power on this Island. The answer came a few weeks later in the form of his expulsion from his specialty. Five months later both letter writers were fired and their university degrees stripped away. Five years have passed since those events, but neither of the two has been able to get work in a clinic as a doctor.

Last week, Jeovany Jiménez Vega — the protagonist and victim of this story — decided to go on a hunger strike in Marti Park in Guanajay, to demand from the Office of the Minister of Public Health, that he and his colleague Dr. Rodolfo Martinez Vigoa, be restored to the practice of medicine. In the same days when the Cuban news featured the air traffic controllers’ strike in Spain and the worker protests in Greece, two men languished very near to us and we heard nothing. Yesterday, fortunately, they resumed eating, because Jeovany has decided to open a blog to tell the world; to opt not for starvation but information. He believes that the letter that was signed by only a few could collect thousands of signatures, if it is made public and presented to all the trained doctors in this country stripped of their rights.

Click here to read the declaration, “Interrupting the Strike.” Here is a brief statement by Jeovany Jiménez Vega. [Both are also appended below.]

The new blog will be ready on Monday and will be announced via Twitter.

December 9, 2010

Statement from Jeovany Jimenez Vega

My name is Jeovany Jiménez Vega, friends call me El Chino. For the last four years I’ve lived in Artemisa, a town some 30 miles to the west of Havana, Cuba. I was born on October 10, 1970 in Guanajay, our town nearest to Havana. I went to high school at the José Martí IPUEC of Artemis between 1985 and 1988. That same year I began to study medicine at “Victoria de Girón” Institute of Basic and Preclinical Sciences in Havana and did my clinical course (the third to fifth years), at “Calixto Garcia” Hospital in the Plaza municipality. I graduated in 1994 when the Special Period was at its height, and started work in Guanajay, along with some of my former classmates. I worked in Guanajay for 12 years.

In 2005 the Public Health sector in my country issued a “wage increase” which, like the majority of my colleagues, I thought showed a lack of respect. Together with a friend I sent a letter to the then Minister of Health, Dr. José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, signed by 300 workers (coincidentally the same number as the courageous, although dying, Spartans who fought at Thermopylae) which set out the common approach.

The story of the brutality that followed you can read in the documents on my site, which tell you what you need to know about the seriousness of the matter and show you how things are in our beautiful Cuba. For the moment, I believe this presentation is sufficient.

But it is also important that you know that I like people plain and sincere, modest but with a lively spirit, amusing and friendly, who smile a lot. I admire people who do not dwell on the size or the nature of the dangers when they embrace a just cause. I am taken by intelligent, creative and sensible people and by the same token detest the cowardly and lazy. If you are of the former stripe, here is my open hand, I am your friend forever.

Declaration of Interruption of the Hunger Strike

Dr. Jeovany Jiménez Vega and I have decided to stop the hunger strike began last Friday, in Marti Park in Guanajay, Havana Province, to demand that the Office of the Ministry of Public Health reinstate into the practice of medicine Dr. Jimenez and his colleague Dr. Rodolfo Martinez Vigoa, disqualified for four years now. On Monday afternoon, a messenger from a high authority who preferred to remain anonymous, and who deserves our credit and respect, asked us to interrupt our endeavor because a new door is opening to our demand. Now we will take the path agreed to with the authorities with the aim of being reinstated to our profession.

Artemis, December 8, 2010

Alfredo Felipe Valdés, spokesman and striker

Jeovany Jiménez Vega