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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translator’s notes:

A common expression in Cuba which indicates ration card holders “may” substitute chicken for their allotment of fish. As fish is virtually never available to ordinary people, the “may” makes it something of a joke.

**Jeovany is remaking an expression loosely related to the English expression: “The best X is a dead X.” Among the frequent examples found on-line is: “There is no good Communist, nor any sweet tamarind.” Other examples are commonly racist, homophobic, or other forms of hate speech.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Revolution is Going Well… Ever Onward! Fidel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Tomás A.

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.

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