An English translation of the blog Ciudadano Cero from Cuba. "Citizen Zero" features the testimony of two Cuban doctors disqualified for an indefinite period for the practice of medicine in Cuba for having channeled to the Ministry of Public Health the opinions of 300 public health professionals about their salaries. Dr. Jeovany Jimenez Vega, who administers this blog, authorizes and appreciates the dissemination by any means possible, of every one of his opinions or articles published here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If this is true, it would be sheer nonsense to subordinate this salary to something that has no relation to our healthcare performance. Like in every contract, the one allegedly being proposed would clearly establish working days and hours, it would fix the rules of discipline and standards in relation to employer/employee and also recognize the rights to our twice-yearly two-week paid vacations, but at this point the powers of the administration would stop. What we decide to do with our free time is outside the administrative jurisdiction of the center and its ministry, it is something completely personal is not for anyone else to make these choices. Then, if it is clear that this is an unrelated matter, it would be absurd to make such a requirement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Tomás A.

I want you POOR, fanatic, worshipful and grateful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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

20 August 2015

Dear Friends of Citizen Zero:

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

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

20 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Painting by Carlos Enríquez of the death of José Martí.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See: Martí and the Idea of a Single Party.

Translator’s Notes:

* A common epithet of José Martí in Cuban writings.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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