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.

Archive for December, 2011

Rafters: A Neverending Story?

The neverending story brings back bad omens. An official note from the Ministry of Interior – issued through the newspaper Granma on Friday – brings up again the perpetual drama of the rafters. This time 18 people were rescued off the coast of Palmarejo in the municipality of Santa Cruz del Norte, in the western province of Mayabeque, from a group that illegally set sail on a rustic boat in late November from the north of Artemis; five people were also reported dead.

The Camarioca crisis in 1965; The Mariel Boatlift Crisis in 1980; the sad crime in Tarara in 1992; the tragic sinking of the “13 de Marzo” tugboat with its 41 lost souls, including 10 children; and the rafter crisis, including the Maleconazo in 1994; the human drama of Elian Gonzalez; the attempted hijacking of the Regla ferry, with its resulting summary executions, in 2003; to mention only some of the most notable events of this mournful saga, and taking for granted that the actual number of the tens of thousands of Cubans who have died in the Florida Straits may never be known.

All these episodes in our recent history that have profoundly affected generations of Cubans, have something in common: They certainly would not have occurred if the Cuban government would provide us with legal mechanisms to travel freely abroad, as in virtually the rest of the civilized world. This is where the skeptics riposte “… but if you take to the seas as Dominicans and Haitians, and as Mexicans throw themselves into the scorching desert…” and I would notice some differences.

Those boats that capsize full of West Indians as well as the wetbacks who risk the coyote trail, are the absolute destitute children of an ancestral poverty that deprives them of any possibility of procuring through legal means — passport, visa, airfare — established in their countries to migrate to their destination, usually the U.S. and in the latter instance it is the country of destination which denied them a visa, but they are not subject, in principle, to a government ban on their travel to the rest of the world. They are people who if they had the necessary resources would never throw themselves into such a foolhardy enterprise.

However, in the Cuban case we have more than one rafter who in one way or another managed to get the required resources but was totally deprived by their own government of the right to travel, not only to the U.S., but to any other country in the world, even with that country’s visa, and this little detail distinguishes our rafters from almost all other earthlings.

While the controversial U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, in force since the early 60’s, encourages the risk of illegally migrating to that country, it is also undisputed that has remained intact until this day sustained precisely our government’s absurd and systematic policy of closure. Although knowing the psychology of successive U.S. administrations and its consistent position on Cuba I dare to venture a prediction: if the Cuban government today lifted the ban and allowed its citizens to travel freely, the U.S. Congress would immediately reconsider its position and abolish or “readjust” the Adjustment Act, since it would no longer be useful to keep the perennial drip of illegal departures from the island with its respective media harvest – more convenient than a great exodus – and it would be forced, by restricting visas, to stop the first wave that would surely occur, but that through organized and legal means and would not leave the burden of deaths required for anti-communist lobby’s propaganda purposes.

Although there is something very true in this case: if, as a Cuban citizen, I have no right to compel a foreign government – whichever it may be and whatever its relationship with Cuba has been – to amend its legislation, I do, however have absolutely every right to demand that my government to do everything in its power to end this long trail of needless deaths, since the most heartbreaking is that they could have been avoided.

The travel ban acts as the central axis around which all these misfortunes revolve. I said it before and I repeat: the main factor responsible for the deaths of Cubans seeking to emigrate into the sea is, and always has been, the Cuban government’s immigration policy. It remains only to give it time… life will demonstrate it.

December 16 2011

Posada of Terror

The monster publicly confesses that be brought down the Cuban airplane and that he’s proud of the 73 souls plunged into the sea in 1976, in cold blood, a crime consummated in Barbados where the entire teenage fencing team died as they returned to Cuba with all the Central American gold medals.

He also confesses that he organized the chain of bombings of hotels and public places in Havana where Flavio died — a young Italian “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to the words of his assassin — but it just as well could have been my children. His contempt for life also plunged Venezuela into mourning for decades, with his claws covered in blood along with the executioners’, under the sinister wings of the condor. Wherever he was, he always engendered the greatest possible human suffering.

Recently a court in El Paso, Texas refused to find guilty such an accomplished and confessed assassin, not even of the initial charges of lying to the authorities of the country, and so the beast was acquitted of all charges and today walks the streets of Miami with satisfaction, clean as a daisy, immune to U.S. law, like the equally unpunished Orlando Bosch, his accomplice in the Barbados, who died in April.

In the country that saw John F. Kennedy slaughtered before the television cameras, also in Texas, and then saw the investigation squelched by the same power that killed him, nothing should surprise us. The same country that saw the destruction of the World Trade Center, burying thousands of innocents now tries to offer me a pill I can’t swallow: that Osama Bin Laden was killed by Seals commandos in an operation worthy of a Hollywood script, and was later thrown into the sea or something like that, without even showing a photograph of the precious trophy. The power in the shadow that perpetuates such affronts on mankind today is the same one that pardoned the homicide in the Barbados.

I can’t stop wondering how many dark secrets Luis Posada Carriles knows, that give him such a capacity to blackmail the forces of power in the United States. In any event, we must not forget that the now “respectable” gentleman, was wandering around Dallas on that tragic November 22, 1963.

This this notorious terrorist continues to go unpunished is also an insult to whatever of dignity survives in the people of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I can’t conceive of a better stimulus for global terrorism. Starting now, every new terrorist barbarity will also take a bit of the aroma of this criminal pardoned in El Paso.

June 10 2011

Cubans. Period.

Foto: Orlando Luis Pardo.

I confess that when I found myself referenced as an “alternative” voice, lacking previous reviews and bordering on misunderstood, I manned the battle stations against Elaine Diaz’s blog “La polémica digital” — The Digital Controversy. But when I noticed the objective and conciliatory tone in her post “Blogger, period,” I quickly took off the helmets of war and went unarmed to a discourse that seems sincere.

My initial reaction, though primitive, has a simple explanation: too much despotic, too much hypocritical  invective has been released at my door and when that happens, something hardens inside and easily bursts into the guttural reflection of the battle. But once calm I take on the proposal, because we always have time to liberate the beast, since any bridge of reconciliation, once laid, is a trophy that this people can’t afford to lose.

But I think that saving the qualitative highs and lows that are natural in every human congregation — and the blogosphere, although virtual, in some way is that — I find that the lack of arguments is not the rule but the exception. Among our bloggers — who continue in their effort not to spin off into factions and will be called bloggers period — we can count more than one impassioned, “What Cuban isn’t one?” Just that each one goes in the direction dictated by his conscience.

This “exhausting war” on both sides is nothing more than a virtual reflection of what they’ve forced ordinary Cubans to fight for five decades, within and outside the island, a painful sequel to the quarrel between the powers on both sides of the straits that has profited them both — money for some, allegations for others — while the Cuban people are the big loser in this saga.

On the way to harmony it should be the State that makes the first move, because being the power it has at its disposal all the resources, being the strongest it is ethically obligated to respect the weaker, for being the one who makes the laws that stoke or dampen the embers of discord.

Here, everything is summed up in the common sense, because if the Cuban Adjustment Act is inappropriate, it is also inappropriate to prohibit us from traveling abroad; if this policy called the blockade by some and the embargo by others that is forced on us from outside is misguided and anachronistic, so is the excessive centralization of the state, forced on us from within; If the world press is biased, so is, in no lesser measure, the Cuban press; if it is immoral to lie to pardon Posada Carries, it is also immoral to do so to disqualify a doctor for something he never did, or in the end both sides are capable of cheating and in what falls and rises on the tide life escapes us.

The world today experiments with alternative routes and social networks to gain prominence, but in Cuba we seem to go in the opposite direction. I do not think that the principle demand of the bloggers is free access to the web, nor is this comparable in size to the critical situation in housing, food, or absurd wages.

Starting from the precept that the solution to a problem doesn’t imply ceasing to fight for the solutions of others, if there is an essential difference between the Internet and the rest of these issues: it is that while the others demand a logical reordering of the physical infrastructure of the country, a massive deployment of resources, and short and long-term investment, in comparison giving people the keys to the Internet would be like snapping one’s fingers; it would imply an immeasurably more discreet investment, possible in the short-term, and in fact only requires rearranging the mental infrastructure of those who make the decisions, it is purely a question of political will, and to refuse the people this right, at this juncture in history, is pure medieval obscurantism.

At the place where I connect once a week — where nobody charges me, nobody pays me and nobody censors me — it takes me a three-hour journey to get them, eight hours total to hang this post, something that at home would take eight minutes. It is no sin, nor does it bother me, that the “revolutionary bloggers” access the global network, but it is a capital sin to deny it to the “alternatives” — along with the rest of the people — especially if they are then labelled mercenaries by the same power that refuses it to them, when they are forced to connect through an embassy.

There is an obvious cynicism in this and I don’t propose to make you pick at the scab, but there is one inescapable fact: when a blogger plants a flag in the shadow of the authority he assume very little or no personal risk; if the flag, however, is an “alternative” one, he must pay dearly for boldly confronting a power that sees everything as black or white, that does not admit of any diversity of tones, and whose slogan continues to be “with me or against me!” A power that constantly incites the dogs of war, that does not forgive that these words posted in Cuban voices it being Cubans who write them, a power whose intolerance itself becomes the original sin, the first stone thrown into this maelstrom with neither winners nor losers,and in the end the Cuban nation loses.

History is full of examples of people bled by killings and resentments lasting decades or centuries, who were able to raise themselves from the ruins through indulgence. Our sublime Marti comes to mind, who still convinced of the inevitability of the war of emancipation, knew to launch it without hatred towards Spain; the example of Gandhi comes to mind, whose great soul brought an empire to its knees with only his word, who without a single shot being fired founded a new India; the great Mandela comes to mind, who after 27 years of as a captive of the racists, emerged from the prison, forgave his jailers,buried a regime of more than a century and founded the South Africa of the new era.

Before these high testimonials, results of confrontations that seemed insurmountable, the question arises: could Cuba follow the same paths? Will we overcome our differences and found for Cuba a new era of tolerance? In that hope I live and believe that this is the true mission of my generation.

It is along this line that the Cuban blogosphere must press today, which is both sides of the same coin in this dichotomous relationship, inevitable and difficult. We are all in the same boat, stripped of the same rights — because these are not privileges — and this is something that unites us. In the end, every nation needs to be reborn from the ashes. In the laudable task of reconciling the best and most authentic of each part, I would extend both my hands. I would demand, as a condition, to desire the highest good of the country. For now, all who love the diverse and free colors in the same flag could begin calling each other, without epithets, Cubans, period.

May 30 2011

Parrilla: “No Internet”

The words of Cuban chancellor, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, during the workshop “Alternative Media and Social Networks” don’t leave any room for doubt.  The decision continues to be the same – it has been taken at the highest level and is definitive: there will not be any Internet for the Cuban people as long as the paleolithic/octogenarian mentality that rules this country persists.  Despite the ambiguity of the words of this spokesman, it can be inferred that the same old anachronistic message, permeated with carefully weighted phrases, is being transmitted.   I am certain that the government is quite inflexible on this point.

In Cuba, you have to be brave to say, without blushing, that the country supports the massive social use of the Internet; or to say “… it is essential that rebellious movements are able to express themselves in cyberspace …” when we’re talking about a government that excludes its people from that right; or to speak of “… the right to free access to knowledge, in the face of information control; or to admit that “… one cannot conceive of an education in Cuba without access to technology and without equality of opportunity …” knowing that in this country, to buy the most basic PC is an impossible dream for a teacher who earns the equivalent of $20.00 USD per month, never mind the majority of his students.

When Señor Parrilla avows that “…. lower costs put technology within reach of the people …” maybe he’s thinking about people like him, ministers with salaries and perks, whose sophisticated PC’s – and those of his children – connected in a civilized fashion to the Internet, were given to him for free or sold at bargain prices or brought back from one of his frequent visits to capitalist countries – those places that propagate “… global disorder … cultural aggression and banality … that treat us like mere consumers …” but sell at such cheap prices.

Despite his chameleon-like language, the underlying message slipped out in an almost subliminal way when he remembered the role played by technology in the Libyan situation, which explains the real reasons for his speech.  We must conclude that we are being deprived of Internet access because of their disproportionate fear of a popular uprising not subject to their control.  These gentlemen underestimate something crucial at this time of establishing a “strategic cyberspace policy”: that the truth is the only essential premise, that solid truth supported by concrete facts speaks for itself and arrives in other parts of the world without the need for changes or the stain of censorship arising from different agendas.  The truth is laid bare once again.  Those who have much to hide are terrified by the confrontation.  However, those backwardsauruses know themselves to be more and more out of touch.  Inevitably, with every day that goes by, they will become that much more transparent and alone in their folly.

Translated by: jCS

December 9 2011

Chronicle of Asclepius in Cuba (Part 2)

Translator’s note: Asclepius is the ancient Greek god of Healing and Medicine

If you are moderately well-informed you know that we 11 million Cubans living in Cuba are subject to a ban on free travel abroad. In this case it’s not about a personal decision, but requires that you be invariably authorized by an arm of the Ministry of the Interior with discretionary power to say yes or not to your “permission to leave”; a privilege that becomes the stuff of blackmail, with perks awarded to those who remain “quiet” and refusals as punishment for the irreverent, to set an example to others. This general prohibition is contained in the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) Resolution 54, specifically designed for those who work in Public Health, and which presents a bleak picture.

But returning to our mental exercise, here we have our thoughtful doctor who is forbidden to travel abroad, who can’t support his family on his evanescent salary, who can’t go to work in another better paid sector because the Resolution prohibits it, with a purely decorative Union that bows to the orders of the Administration and the Party, through which he can’t channel any solution to these basic problems, nor will it acknowledge his starvation wages, nor the terrible conditions of hygiene and good, coupled with the lack of resources and medications which, save in happy exceptions, he passes his medical shifts in our polyclinics and hospitals; shifts for which our doctor, incidentally, does not receive even a penny.

Then our thoughtful physician has only one way out, and resignedly chooses the only door left open; he applies to be part of some medical mission that our supportive government sustains in some dozens of countries. He just has to fill out the rigorous documents, and spend a few months or years, and then our doctor leaves his office or hospital to care for the poor of the world.

I believe in human solidarity like I believe in the light of the sun, but in life you have the discern the luster of gold from the shine of the mirrors. When a doctor, dentist or other Cuban health professional leaves to work on a foreign mission, regardless of any moral valuation, he does it under indisputable circumstances. This worker, until now deprived of a decent wage, will from this moment forward receive 300 or 400 dollars a month, while his family in Cuba – which under no circumstances Is allowed to accompany him — will receive his full wages in Cuban pesos along with 50 convertible pesos every month.

Although under certain circumstances it can come to more depending on the destination country, it will never exceed 15% to 20% of what the host country is paying Cuba for his services. This is an estimate, as this information is practically inaccessible, but it’s true that around 80% of what our doctor generates in his contracted wages — not taking into account extras for additional tests, radiology studies, etc., which are generously covered — goes directly to the coffers of the Cuban state to be administered by human functionaries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban health workers abroad receive a wage that in many cases is less than the legal minimum wage for a native of the country they are working in. When the worker returns to Cuba on completing his mission, he is once again subject like any good Cuban to the travel ban. Any professional that abandons his mission is invariably treated like a traitor, and is never permitted to enter Cuba again and will not be able to see his children grow up; he will not even be authorized to come in the case of an illness or death of a loved one.

Now let’s look at a revealing fact: over the last decade contracting for medical services has brought the Cuban government tens of billions of dollars, and has become the country’s largest source of export earnings. The selfless medical missions which our government exports to the world’s poor, in the last decade, have generated between five and eight billion dollar annually; tourism is a distant second at two billion. This number accounts for the export of services only; our professionals in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are third in line, surpassed only by the nickel industry and the petroleum products.

Note, first, the enormous economic dividend this implies, and secondly the obvious, and no less important, political benefit, that makes our leaders smell like Messiahs and garners votes for them in international forums. Add to that, thirdly, the escape valve it provides for the mood of the worker, who knows if he waits patiently for a mission abroad he can multiply his salary by 20 to 40 times during the two or three years, on condition he remain silent.

For the protestors, the outlaws, they will never join this mass of internationalists who now amount to about half of our practicing physicians who, clearly, resent the quality of medical care offered to the Cuban population.

Every human society is a complex system of relationships that require adjustments in their mechanisms and which should reward personal effort, because this will encourage respect for the value of honest labor. In this system, each one should have a well-defined place. While it is the role of the doctor to safeguard health and human life, that of the senior leaders of this country should be to guarantee the strategic design of a balanced and functional society and this, without a doubt, they have not managed to accomplish after 50 years of projects and conferences.

Not only did they fail in their design, but they did so resoundingly. The apologists talk about “free” education and health, but without attempting to complain of the sun for its spots, I suggest that this is relative, because the money they don’t charge me at school or at the hospital, bleeds from my fingers in the hard-currency stores with their absurd policy of extremely abusive prices, where things are marked up 500% or 1000% over their wholesale price.  Also, to guarantee an education and people’s health is not a gesture of goodwill, but an obligation of the State. We mustn’t forget that over his whole life a worker salary is cut by 33% to guarantee his Social Security. This gloomy subject is rarely spoken of in my country.

I have clean hands and I like to play it straight, so someone who’s playing a game can save the lectures on patriotism. I believe the necessary Revolution of 1959 was right and authentic, but I can’t applaud what it has condemned us to, because if there is no respect for the rights of man, there is nothing left to defend.

I am with the Revolution, but will never resign myself to its errors, nor with the acts of demagogues and opportunists. I am a doctor, a Cuban, I live in the real and difficult Cuba, not in the TV newscasts and I do not wish to emigrate. I graduated in 1994, and since 1998 have had a specialty in General Medicine. I was a third-year Resident in Internal Medicine until April 2006 when, in my last year, I was suspended from the study of this specialty and then disqualified from the practice of medicine in Cuba, for an indefinite time in October 2006, along with a colleague, Dr. Rodolfo Martinez Vigoa.

The ancestral intolerance to which we were already accustomed made the powers-that-be react as if we had thrown a Molotov cocktail. Terrified by that tiny consensus, they did what they do best: put down by force and show of dissent. They never responded, they were unscrupulous and brutal. The details of this injustice are fully known by all the relevant central agencies including the Attorney General’s Office, without anyone doing anything to fix it.

I am one more among tens of thousands of Cuban doctors who live every day under this outrageous reality. I live under a government that deprived me of the right to exercise my profession for political considerations, that systematically censored my opinions, that took away my right to travel freely, that doesn’t respect my right to receive information first hand and that denies me 21st century Internet access, all of which give an idea of how retrograde they are when topic is man’s right to think freely.

The government that commits this flagrant violation of the rights of millions of Cubans now occupies no less than the Vice Presidency of the Human Rights Council of the UN. If you had the patience to read this far, you already have a rough vision of what our professionals in Public Health experience. If you belong to the group of apologists or those with clenched fist, know that this is the Cuba that you applaud or condemn so fervently as your conscience dictates.

August 19 2011

Chronicle of Asclepius in Cuba (Part 1)

Asclepius is the ancient Greek god of Healing and Medicine

The Cuban Revolution has always raised great passions. Millions within and outside the island are split between those who applaud and offering moving excuses, or those who clench their fists and launch incendiary accusations. But without a doubt, among the picturesque barbarities that flourish under the tropical sky there is one that is particularly atrocious: the condition of semi-slavery affecting public health professionals. To shed some light on the matter, I suggest you follow me through this attempt at a chronicle.

Imagine for a moment you decided to study medicine in Havana and graduated in 1994, during the worst economic crisis in our history. Some of your friends from high school, who take life a little more lightly, decided to raise and sell pigs, open their own businesses, or start working in tourism. Once you graduate, after six years of personal sacrifice, you naturally aspire to live honestly on your salary, but it starts at 231 Cuban pesos a month, that is you receive less than two dollars for a whole month’s work for almost two years.

From time to time you run into a friend from high school, who has bought an elegant car, as compared to your raggedy bicycle. But you want to get ahead so you devote four more years of your youth to study. After a total of ten years study (combining medical school and your specialty), you end up as a specialist in internal medicine, with which, given that specialty, your salary will be around 531 Cuban pesos a month, Meaning you will work a full month for a salary equivalent to $21 U.S. Meanwhile, a barman at a hotel earns $200 U.S., on one shift! The customs official at the airport earns $500 U.S. extorting the tourists, and this is 25 times the monthly salary of a doctor, again, on one shift!

This abysmal difference in living standards is the root of our dramas. Painfully, in Cuba, the well-being of your family doesn’t depend on your dedication to work or on your desire to excel, nor on the respect shown your profession, which also illustrates the chaos that has ruled our lives for the last 20 years. It is in this jungle where our doctors “fight,” not living in the encouraging world of International Cubavision TV, where the Revolution continues strong and victorious, with GDP growing 10% a decade, while the little guy suffers an economy in ruins, a complete divorce from reality, as if we are talking about two different countries.

Faced with such a hostile reality, our doctors have to invent miracles in their free time to feed their families, badly; make “magic” in the black market, work as a photographer, clown, carpenter, shoemaker or cosmonaut, always illegal, because up to a few months ago the Ministry of Labor prohibited, by Resolution, access to self-employment.

Suppose that you, a specialist in internal medicine, decide to go for a second specialty. After another four years of great sacrifice you graduate, for example, as a surgeon and now your monthly salary is augmented with 50 Cuban pesos (just over $2.00 U.S.), which is enough to buy four bars of soap. Thus, while a surgeon’s monthly salary is 623 Cuban pesos ($27.00 U.S.), a guard in the Specialized Protection Services, after a one month course, earns about 1,500 Cuban pesos monthly in cash, plus extra food and toiletries, while a cop on the beat receives up to 1,600 Cuban pesos, plus other benefits. For some obscure reason our government believes that doctors don’t merit such deference.

After getting over your shock, you say, “But come on man! If a salary isn’t even enough to buy toilet paper, become a barman, a customs inspector, even the security guard at the hospital will make out better!” I would respond: My friend, the leaders of my country literally turned the sacred practice of medicine into the famous tunic of Nessus — the poisoned shirt that killed Heracles; our doctors cannot work outside the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) because a Labor Ministry resolution categorically forbids it. No entity outside MINSAP is permitted to offer a doctor work. Can you comprehend it? But you meditate on this and your face lights up: “Emigrate! To some country that needs doctors, at least temporarily, while things improve.”

Then I ask you to make yourself comfortable and listen carefully to the good part, because here it comes…

Everything you’re read up to this point will seem like a game of little girls playing in the convent garden, compared to how you will live if you decide to travel outside Cuba as a doctor and Cuban citizen. In July 1999 the Minister of Public Health issued Resolution 54, still in force, whose details I don’t know and nor do our workers, as they are hidden from us with the zeal of a State Secret. This Resolution of Ignominy, as we call it, is the most humiliating insult inflicted upon those who embrace the medical profession in Cuba since the coming of Columbus. It states that if you want to permanently leave the country, or even do so temporarily, you must ask the Minister of Public Health for “liberation” from the sector.

That is, if the happy idea occurs to you to visit your family or friends abroad during your vacation, you must wait an obligatory five years of your life at a minimum (!!), during which you will be held against your will by the Ministry of Public Health, with no options. It doesn’t matter if you just graduated or if you’ve been working for 30 years, both have to wait five years! I know, personally, cases held for 7 years before their “liberation.” Even retired doctors and dentists are held for three years before being allowed to travel; even a nurse faces this aberration!

Let’s clarify that from the moment that you begin the paperwork to travel, you will automatically be placed on a list of the “unreliable,” and will be relieved of all your administrative posts and teaching positions, if you have any, and you will be transferred from your job to one further away and that is a demotion. As the years pass marriages break up, children are traumatized, parents die without seeing their children again.

I can’t adequately describe the human suffering that is caused by the monster to those who see their rights undermined, but none of this concerns the Union or Parliament: they can always blame the Cuban Adjustment Act for your death if instead of resigning yourself you improvise a raft and end up devoured by the sharks. As you can see, under such circumstances to speak of semi-slavery is much more than a euphemism.

*Footnote: As of two decades ago, two currencies circulate in Cuba: the Cuban peso (CUP), also called “national money” — in which workers receive their wages — and the convertible peso (CUC), also called “convertible currency” — which is used in the chain of hard-currency stores that accept only this money.

EXCHANGE RATES:

1994: 1 CUC = 1 USD = 140 CUP

Since the late 1990s to 2001: 1 CUC = 1 USD = 21 CUP

September 2001 to today: 1 CUC = 25 CUP

(To be continued …)

August 17 2011

Allow us a word…

To Dr. Adelaida Fernández de Juan.

Esteemed colleague:

I recently read your article, “Medicine defended, which circulated on the web this past August. Before I read it I saw your name at the bottom, and as this is a sign of responsibility and courage — as those who dare not to hide in anonymity may be arrested — for me, in advance, I felt your sincerity and valor, and so I feel a reverence, far beyond what I can share. Like you, I am a doctor, graduated in 1994, and I find in your writing references to the abuse and misunderstandings, so I would like draw your attention to some details.

During the time I practiced medicine I was a witness to various situations in which a health worker mistreated, consciously or unconsciously, some patient or family member. This is undeniable. But as undeniable as this, is the fact that for each of these cases of mistreatment I can recall a dozen cases (without exaggerating), on the contrary, only in these, different from the others, were rarely reported.

When a patient feels mistreated, frequently they immediately complain to the different levels of the Health System, the Government and the Party, but this almost never happens when the mistreatment — much more frequently than people think — happens in reverse. Sometimes the patient isn’t even aware of his attitude, as the grievance is assumed from the professionalism of the mistreated, in this case us.

However, there is a point where I disagree with you or with whomever suggests it. When you refer to the topic, “…the extremely low and disproportionate salaries, the undervaluing of the vocation, the truly abusive treatment of which we are victims and other grave matters…“; then giving the sense that, “…there are possibilities of lessening these evils.”

This takes me to past times, when our sector was on the list of the so-called “budgeted,” that is those depending completely on State financing. This was the excuse to explain why professional salaries in the health sector were so low and could not in any way be raised. But time passed, then came the era of medical missions abroad and now we live in a very different reality.

Today Cuba maintains collaborative medical missions in over 70 countries, which have been reported in recent years to bring up a sum of between five billion and eight billion dollars annually. A rapid calculation converts 8 billion dollars — in the Cuban peso in which we receive our wages — into 180 billion pesos annually.

With this alone we are the most productive economic sector of this country. But to these millions in income (which greatly exceeds even Tourism, which generates some two billion) we have to add that contributed by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, the third highest exports after nickel and petrochemicals. It’s clear: our section has become the engine of the Cuban economy, so there is no compelling reason that we should be paid this miserable salary, equivalent to less than 30 dollars for an entire month’s work.

If I go on about the numbers, it’s only because they are very eloquent. You know, as I do, that the added human sensibility that makes our work priceless, despite our great scarcities that perhaps those who judge with surprising lightness us don’t know, don’t fully understand the seriousness of the matter.

You, like me, have been on medical duty where there is a lack of vital medications, reagents, X-ray film and essential disposable materials; where we don’t even have running water, where we can’t even wash ourselves on a 24-hour shift, without even being able to wash our hands; resting in such tough conditions that people wouldn’t even believe it if they saw it; eating poorly — for example broth and mashed potatoes, or corn flour and boiled potatoes for every meal — knowing beforehand that this shift did not bring us a penny to feed our children and knowing, as well, what is even more painful, that other State sectors like ours, which don’t generate anywhere near the income we do, are much better paid.

For decades we have been a very poorly served sector. In my case, I remember that since 1994 I worked for seven years with only the two doctor’s coats I was given as a recent graduate, and this compares with other sectors that have received uniforms and shoes every year — some even every six months — as well as extra monthly pay in convertible pesos, personal hygiene products and food. I couldn’t explain this if it weren’t accepted, with pain I say it, hard evidence: those responsible for dealing with this sector don’t concern themselves with the well-being of our workers, nor with our families, everything is a matter of sheer laziness, a proverbial irresponsibility, or both.

You quote another journalist, Fernando Ravsberg, as part of what is already becoming a crusade, also on the attack — according to what I infer from what you wrote, because I haven’t had access to that article — extending the shadow of bribery on the just and the unjust. I read it and remember, however, such elevated examples of moving dedication: professionals who are second to none in knowledge, and also in ethical principles, people of integrity, who carry their wisdom with a shining humility, living in the midst of shortages and that it shames me even to remember, and who even so, prefer to die rather than stoop so low.

I know there are the unscrupulous among us, I know its face, its name, its last name, they are not abstract examples but reality. But for my pride and yours, Doctor, and perhaps to the surprise of Mr. Ravsberg, they will never be the rule, they are a painful exception. That I know and I would hold both my hands to the fire for that, my disinterested and honest people. Who search the trees for firewood, who look above us and find enough reed to cut it; but when there is not enough courage, it is more comfortable and certain to take from us, those below.

For saying words very similar to yours, Doctor, I was stigmatized, and some idiot even accused me publicly of being “money-grubbing,” when I am among those convinced that capitalism is very far from offering a solution to the problems of the world, but to belabor this point would take us far off topic.

I think it is stupid to run after the superfluous, following a consumer culture that compels me to buy a cellphone every month or a new car every year. But as absurd as this is, after working 26 years, to be without a penny three days after being paid; that the workers of our sector eat lunch at noon without knowing if they will eat dinner that night; that our “salaries” honorably earned don’t even allow us to feed our families for more than a week a month; that a specialist with 20 years experience has only one pair of broken shoes; that the most that we can aspire as physicians is to a battered bicycle.

Before such a picture, even Kafka would pale, would certainly suffer a massive heart attack with all the complications described by cardiology. I don’t ask for irrational opulence, but nor do I deserve the miserable existence they seem to want to condemn me to.

Excuse my manners, allow me to present myself: I am Jeovany Jimenez Vega, I live in Artemisa and I have been a specialist in Internal Medicine since 1999. Five years ago I was disqualified to practice Medicine anywhere in the national territory indefinitely, since October 2006, for having channeled to then Minister Dr. José R. Balaguer Cabrera the opinions of 2300 professionals in Public Health about that disrespectful “salary increase” in our sector in mid-2005.

At the time of my punishment I was a Party member – since 1995 – and was studying the final year of specialization in Internal Medicine; I was expelled from the party immediately and suspended from my Residence, and several months later was disqualified, along with a colleague and friend who accompanied me on that initiative.

The details of they flat out lied to try to legitimize our punishment can be found in the first post of my blog “Citizen Zero” (https://citizenzerocuba.wordpress.com), open since last December to denounce this injustice and fight to regain the exercise of the profession that was taken from me.

Doctor: Despite everything, I have no doubt, we can count on the respect and caring of the majority of our patients and this is a great encouragement to continue. Along with this, I am comforted that there are professionals like yourself, who are not resigned to look on with indolence and shame, but who break their silence and share the truth. We consecrate our lives to the medical profession, as we must, but this should never be understood as renouncing the right to proudly defend our rights.

We live proud of our sublime profession, far beyond that “…contempt for the vocation, the abusive treatment…” to which we are subjected by those whose job it is to ensure our well-being as workers.

We will never forget that our oath imposes on us the duty to comfort man in his sickness and at his death, and to always comfort him in his pain, even if in his delirium he comes to bite the hand that cures him. In this endeavor, Doctor, we hold our heads high and our hearts open, and nothing else matters. Be assured, better times will come.

September 12 2011

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