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 February, 2012

Of Bread and Other Demons

I look at the crust, I touch it, I smell it… I doubt … but I don’t have the temerity to eat it. I think about the mother of the baker and imagine her selling in a private restaurant on the corner the butter that is “left over” at the end of the shift; and of the restaurant buying it “under the table” from the bakery warehouse; and of the one at the warehouse with the little piece of land he “struggled” to buy at the point of a clandestine rifle of rum; and at the place where he rents the almendron — the old American car in use as a taxi or delivery can in this case — to carry the merchandise; and of the almendron guy who “resolves” 80 liters of gas “…because those sons of bitches who control the oil...” and then seeing him shout, “20 pesos to Havana!” at the P4 bus stop… the coincidences of this life.

Just for gas. I then I see him “palm” 50 to the cop to look the other way and not levy a fine and he takes off with “…life is very hard!” The same cop who is drinking in the clandestine  refreshment stand where he buys the cylinders of gas for the truck that needs 3000 “straws” a day “… to get by…

And later I see EcoBio fuel truck “resolving” the inspector “because life has its twists and turns…“; and then the inspector’s wife buys meat “under the table,” first rate and “soft” to resell it to the manager of a ghost company in Miramar; I see the butcher who also takes a pinch and “greases” the Sector Chief so he can breath a little and not be asked for a cut on the Malecon; and the guy who controls the route “resolves” it all with the guy who sells at a kiosk in the “shopping” — the hard currency store — a dummy who pays cash for all the merchandise under the table to the distributor, who adulterates the prices and puts the “multichannel” to the holy trinity “to buy some good jeans and bitches shoes…” who wants to strut about like a high class hooker with a Yuma — an American — because “the first death is the easiest…” like she tells her old lady, and she can’t go around dressed like her teacher… “who looks so poor it hurts my eyes.

Her teacher who doesn’t drive an almendron, nor have a restaurant, nor a soft drink stand, who doesn’t “struggle” in a kiosk of her own and isn’t married to a truck driver, nor to a manager, but simply to a humble doctor, and together they are black with grey stitching on the last link of the food chain, helpless in the midst of the maelstrom of dexterous and sinister scams right and left, of the twists and turns of boredom, bribes, trades, disgust, vertigo, blackmail, barter, disappointment, purulence, nausea, corruption … well … I do not know… but why the fuck did I hesitate and end up in all this filth. Look! You! I have to think of every piece of shit before this foul slice of … what?… bread?!

January 13 2012


The Steps of the Virgin

Work of Yordanis Garmendía

Yesterday, the residents of the municipality of Guanajay were filled with joy on the arrival of the statue of the Virgin of Charity to his city, as part of a pilgrimage that began on Aug. 8 in El Cobre, and has led to multiple cities in Cuba. This pilgrimage, which already totals 27,000 kilometers, something unprecedented in the Revolutionary era, will end next year (2012), marking four centuries after the discovery of the image of Our Lady of Charity del Cobre in the waters of the Bay of Nipe. In our territory, as in the rest of the country, she was received with profound signs of devotion and respect.

The visit to us today, at the Church of Santo Tomas in Santiago de Cuba, a church that witnessed the baptism of Maceo and has mambisa lineage. Yesterday she accompanied her people to the bush in the fight for freedom against Spanish colonialism; the Cuban people themselves are now open once more to her faith and asked her for a better future for their country. The Virgin who knew, then, the pain of war, the blood that stained her beloved fields, the cry of the Cuban who died not to live as a slave, today looks humbly on  the home of the poor, the prisoner’s cell, the patient’s bed, to the hope of a dispossessed people still clamoring for their unfinished release.

We all remember with joy that historic day when the image of the Patroness of Cuba was crowned by Pope John Paul II during the memorable homily at the Mass dedicated to the Virgin on February 24, 1998, in the Plaza “Antonio Maceo” also in Santiago de Cuba.

By some quirk of fate does the Virgin come to Guanajay on exactly the day five years later when I was officially notified of my disqualification to practice Medicine, October 2, 2006. At the time these words are published, the image of the Virgin is venerated by the people of Artemis, and will spend three days in this city and then continue their journey to the nearby Candelaria.

Mother: The Cuban people pray to you to produce the miracle of redemption. Deliver us from hatred for Cuba’s freedom comes through paths of prosperity, reconciliation and peace. Pray, Mother, for us. Amen.

October 3 2011

The Culture of the Big Stick

Foto: Orlando Luis Pardo

Faced with the interference of the Yankees and the European Union: UNITY! Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Something very serious happens in a country where people live by stealth and avoid criticizing the decisions of their government, where the transcendent issues are spoken in a whisper, quietly monitoring the environment, just in case;  where so many do not consider honest labor as the only morally legitimate source to earn the bread they will put in the mouths of their children.

Something very serious happens in a country where Parliament unanimously supports provisions to undermine the welfare of their people and keeps intact laws whose practicality expired long ago. Something very serious happens where unions betray their purpose and becomes the point of a spear capable of lodging itself in a worker’s back; where, paradoxically, beating people is legitimized as a way of ensuring the freedom of man.

What is presented by the Cuban government as a monolithic consensus, as unanimous support for its line of thought, is nothing more than paralyzing fear, which reduces the individual to zero, shuts off his voice with an overwhelming power before which he knows he is completely helpless.

Because if something has become typical in Cuba it is the culture of hard blow. Every time convincing arguments have failed to implement any particular action or policy … there goes the whack that is reluctant to accept any decision so “democratically” taken!

For what I say, my example is very illustrative. When the then Minister of Public Health received that demand for attention from 300 workers in his sector with respect to wages, 5 minutes would have been enough to give a response a few paragraphs, which, regardless of its content, would have been correct, but far from this he chose not to respond ever, and months later along comes… the cudgel of the caves! So here I am five years later, still disqualified, struggling to recover my profession and denouncing the injustice.

Now, knowing the tiger by his stripes, I sense they are paving the way to neutralize this little matter of the bloggers. As they have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not know any other way to resolve disputes, it would not surprise me were they to lash out at any moment, using whatever variant of the wide spectrum they possess, be it through the typical raid, through individualized attacks, creating diplomatic friction with some embassy that offers a breach to the Internet to the Cuban strictly deprived of this service by his own Government.

Any excuse will serve to get that nail out of the shoe. Something tells me that they are about to show their big claws.

June 16 2011

Ricardo Alarcon and Creole Humor

To Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada.
President of the National Assembly of People’s Power

You recently echoed a report by the CIA – sacrilege! – to assert that Cubans perceive a per capita annual income equivalent to $ 9,900.00 USD, which would place us just behind Brazil, the world’s sixth largest  economy. This joke from “the Agency,” which frankly is not known for its sense of humor, is based on the supposed “freebies” guaranteed by our humanitarian government. I do really know how to say this, but you seemed to forget or ignore that throughout the working life of a Cuban worker state takes 30% of their “salary” every month, just to ensure their retirement and other Social Security guarantees.

You may think that all Cubans have the doors open to them that you have — in your duties as President of the Parliament — to say absurdities like this publicly, but fortunately or otherwise we do not.

Life would be so simple for the millions of us who can not afford to provide adequate food for our children; who are forced to hire private tutors to ensure their education, after one of Fidel Castro’s experiments destroyed, during the past decade, the functional infrastructure of the education system; that when we we take an old man to the doctor we have to pay to transport him — as the transportation system is a mess — more than we receive from our government for a month’s work; that we have no human way to build decent housing through lawful means; that when we walk into a State store that offers goods in hard currency, the State, which speaks of these “freebies,” retaliates with price-gouging  that can not be compared with the rest of the planet.

Mr. President, if we are to talk about subsidies, let’s make the accounts clear: if I the State subsizes me every month through the ration book — which now offers enough to eat for only 10 days in the month — this means that it is subsidizing one-third of my basic needs.

Now, if I work for the State for a month, it pays me a “salary” that is smoke and mirrors; with great luck it will be enough to live on for one week. This means that I give the State a subsidy of three-quarters of my labor that I generate by my own hand.

I would like to shake hands, some day, with the generous Sheik of the United Arab Emirates, or the Saudi oil magnate, who give us millions each year to “freely” swell the State’s coffers; I hope I can, because without their contributions the state treasury with which the state “subsidizes” my life, would be filled only by the sweat of my people, period.

It is clear, therefore, that in this case nothing is free; but if on top of that the State claims the right to demand the highest share of our personal freedoms, then definitely, the books don’t balance.

But, according to you, it is all a matter of domestic mismanagement, and this would be why our wages are not enough to feed us, are not enough to guarantee our children a liter of milk, are only enough to allow us to eat with too great a frequency only rice with an egg, and to depend on the charity of friends and family to send shoes and clothes, without which they would walk half-barefoot and/or half naked.

It is because all that “annual per capita income” the Agency refers to is squandered, that our professionals, including physicians of all specialties, are obliged to exercise some other trade or to raise pigs, to leave the clinic or hospital to be able to support our family, and it is all because we are irresponsible, as $ 825.00 USD per capita per month should be enough to live comfortably.

Then, my dear sir, we Cubans make our own bad lives because we want to, and I, to cite just one example,was disqualified from the practice of medicine for being stupid, because my “salary” was enough to raise my children, because in my case, with a family of five, my share should be nearly $50,000 U.S. a year, according to your words and those of the CIA.

So I recognize that I was disqualified for stupidity, but I do have to note the detail that I never would have directed myself in such an “irreverent” way to Minister Balaguer at the end of 2005 to disrespectfully ask him to reflect on an “increase” of less than $ 2 to our monthly salary.

How stupid was I! With more than $4,000 U.S. in my pocket every month and I didn’t even realize it! Look at all the trouble my sad gonads put me through for such a banality. Looking at it this way I could not fail to apologize to Dr. Balaguer. Not surprisingly, he was offended and more aware than I, so he never answered me, and do you did not answer us either when we directed our case to you in March 2007.

In summary, Mr. Alarcón, it all boils down to a problem of bad arithmetic, that is, that if the 10 million Cubans who are not among the privileged can’t find a way to turn the measly $ 20.00 USD average the government pays us into the $ 825.00 USD per month that you “confirm,” citing the still execrable CIA, we don’t do it only because we are more gross and inept than the Brazilians. This mass of millions of idiots unable to undertake an operation so simple that even lunatics of the CIA can manage it, pass through hell because we prefer to keep for ourselves, every month, the $ 800.00 USD difference.

Mr. President of Parliament, do me one last favor: when you have nothing intelligent to say, at least it would be more useful to remain silent; if not for self-love — because you decided not to respect yourself — at least do it for Cubans like me who suffer a real embarrassment having someone like you heading up our Parliament.

Thanks to you, the world listening must think all Cubans are some kind of jerks, mentally capable of coming up with this nonsense. In any event, think twice before again citing the words of the CIA, lest the Party Central Committee ends up not liking the joke — because, no doubt, it has the power to that — and ends up deploying this evident vein of Creole fucker on some comedy program on TV.

Leaders like you are an embarrassment to the Cuban people. Personally, for years I have consider you a political corpse, because if you ever did anything that was a credit to my people, you definitely lost that day the world witnessed how the President of our legislature, stumbling all over the most ridiculous gibberish, did not know answer three questions from a lowly college student.*

Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Dismissed Cuban doctor.

*Translator’s note: Jeovany is referring to a Q&A session Alarcon held at the Computer Sciences University, where Eliecer Avila, a student at the university, asked a number of “uncomfortable” questions, such as why a toothbrush costs more than a week’s wages in Cuba, and why Cubans are not allowed to travel freely.  Translating Cuba is working on a translation of the video made of this event (which soon went viral), and will post it here when it’s done.

February 23 2012

Medicine in Cuba Today: A Series of Shortcuts and Scarcities

By Alfredo Felipe Valdés

The professional trained for at least a decade, with a high educational rigor, who once he or she  graduates has a high level of knowledge, is not treated by the State with the consideration  deserved from the years and personal effort it took to complete the training.

This includes how other social sectors are vastly better paid despite not playing a social role even remotely comparable. This worker, who economically belongs to the medium-low social class, and leads a life of unjustifiable deprivation, has to witness how the government uses the results of his work as a trump card and banner to export an image of concern and anxiety for the good of the people and the rest of the Third World.

At this point the consolidated successes of past decades, such as the eradication of polio and other rash diseases by mass vaccination campaigns, and the low levels of infant and maternal mortality, are used to present them as achievements only possible under socialism, and are incorporated into the advertising discourse that seeks to mask the real social situation.

The Public Health Situation in Cuba

In 1964, the government of Fidel Castro took exclusive control of the Cuban Health System, just as it took control of most other spheres of social, economic, and political life in Cuba. For the half-century in which it has had this control, the Cuban government has presented the health system as a model to follow and did not hesitate to classify it as a “world power.” However, it is possible that in this area are seen most clearly the violations and trampling that for all these years have defined the relationship between the State and the individual. The most grave situations of this sector are described below.

Situation of Public Health Personnel

The professional trained for at least a decade, with a high educational level, who once he has graduated has a high level of knowledge, is not treated by the State with the consideration  deserved from the years and personal effort it took to complete the training.

This includes the fact that other social sectors are vastly better paid despite their not playing a social role even remotely comparable. This worker, who economically belongs to the lower middle social class, and leads a life of unjustifiable deprivation, has to witness how the government uses the results of his work as a trump card and banner to export an image of concern and anxiety for the good of the people and the rest of the Third World.

At this point the consolidated successes of past decades, such as the eradication of polio and other such diseases by mass vaccination campaigns, and the low levels of infant and maternal mortality, are presented as achievements only possible under socialism, and are incorporated into the advertising discourse that seeks to mask the real social situation.

Health professionals face restrictions on travel, and are punished if they apply to do so
Deserving of special mention is the extreme subjection of all workers under the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) under Ministerial Resolution 54 of July 2, 1999, by the then Minister of Public Health, Dr. Carlos Dotres Martinez, which is one of the most exquisite aberrations dictated by the Cuban government. According to the terms of this Resolution, every employee under the Ministry of Public Health, who desires to go abroad, either temporarily or permanently, is forced to apply to the Ministry to be “released” from the public health sector; on submission of the application the employee is held by Ministry for a term of five years, with no exceptions.

This regulation applies equally to a recent graduate or to someone who has worked for 20 years, all will be held for at least 5 years before being allowed to travel. There are a great many cases where the prohibition on travel has been extended to 7 years. Even doctors and dentists who are already retired, are held for 3 years against their will by this former minister, who is not required to specify an exact term and who is the one who ultimately decides, according to his personal will, who will be “freed” and when.

During this time, this professional is given medical assignments, which are virtually forced on him, and which most of the time under spent deplorable conditions with regards to meals and often of hygiene; it is not uncommon for the staff of a polyclinic or hospital to have no running water for hand washing, the food is limited to a little rice, an egg and some root vegetable.

Salaries are low, and often not paid

The overtime medical shifts, are every 5 or 6 days, and the personnel is not paid for them for decades. Nor are they paid for seniority, bio-hazard risk, nor night shifts; for example, for many years nurses were paid the absurd figure of 6.00 Cuban pesos monthly for night shifts, that is about 30 cents on the U.S. dollar. Nor are those who take on teaching and administrative tasks — which adds $2 to $4 USD monthly to their salary — paid appropriately.

The Ministry of Work, through its Resolution No. 16 in 2005, fixed the basic monthly salary for this sector between 257.00 pesos (a little less than $13.00 USD) for technicians and 627.00 pesos (a little more than $31.00 USD) for specialized doctors at the second level. With this lean salary, this worker, given the high cost of living, will barely be able to feed his family for 10 days — as a result of which he is forced to engage in a variety of activities on the informal market or the black market.

In the case of doctors, this wage increase is around 48.00 pesos (less than $2 USD) relative to the monthly salary that they have at the moment. This was received by the workers with indignation and was seen to demonstrate a profound lack of respect. Despite this, the government then boasted about a disbursement of about 200 million pesos every year (about $8 million USD), of which only two would fall into the pocket of a mistreated doctor every month.

Asking for a raise brings loss of medical license

Amid these conditions, the aforementioned “augmentation” wage of 2005 led to two physicians, Drs. Rodolfo Martínez Vigoa and Jeovany Jimenez Vega, then working in the Guanajay municipality west of Havana Province, to draft a letter to then Health Minister Dr. José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera where they presented the majority opinion generated by this wage proposal.

To try to prevent their carrying forward with this initiative they were coerced and threatened in every way, including the classic acts of repudiation organized by the Party and the Union. This letter was endorsed by the signatures of 300 workers who shared their views and was delivered on November 11, 2005 to the Ministry of Public Health.

The Ministry never responded. The only response, was that the two doctors who had the initiative were barred from the practice of medicine throughout the country for an indefinite period, by a Ministerial Resolution that cannot be appealed.

To try to justify these penalties, those who handled the case resorted to falsification of documents and the manipulation and misrepresentation of facts, accusing both doctors of having deceived their colleagues by presenting them with a document unknown to them and which they covered up, at the time they collected the signatures. This was disproved by the copies of the document made at the time.

Here it is not possible to determine whether, at that time, there were similar reactions in other provinces, but it is suggested in the case as being very illustrative of the modus operandi that continues to be the posture of the State and the way in which the Ministry of Public Health solves its differences with its workers.

Any initiative, from any worker anywhere in Cuba will be treated in the same way. At the time of writing both physicians continue to be barred from practice, after 4 years, for something they never did. This abuse has gone on for years with the full knowledge of all the central authorities of this country, including the Attorney General, but remains unpunished.

One of these doctors decided to leave the country after 4 years of humiliation, He was required to apply for the aforementioned “liberation” from the Minister, but despite not having been a part of the Public Health System for 4 years, having been separated for from it against his will, the waiting time was determined to begin now so he will have to wait 5 additional years before he can leave.

This last evidence, even more than the rest of the elements outlined above, demonstrates that the Minister and other senior leaders of the circles of power in Cuba have no limits on their abuse and violation of the rights of workers this sector.

Primary and Secondary Health Care Understaffed and Undersupplied

The situation of care in primary health care has deteriorated considerably during the last decade as a direct result of the priority set for sending doctors and technicians to Medical Missions abroad, which now represents about half of practicing doctors. When a doctor leaves his workplace he does not always have an immediate replacement and generally the population is affected in various ways, either because the person who comes to relieve him only works part-time or because the patient has to move to a clinic further away and, because the clinics are now more crowded, the wait to be seen can extend to hours. In most cases, the Municipal Health Directors choose to concentrate the patient population in fewer clinics, given the scarcity of doctors working in primary care.

The doctor who is here to bear the work of those who leave. There have even been occasional very dramatic situations where a Polyclinic made up of 22 individual clinics has, for a time, had only two doctors overseeing all services.

It is valid to note that when any of these situations occurs, the doctor in question continues to receive exactly the same salary for taking on the work of their absent colleagues. It is even very common that an entire municipality or a territory will be deprived of certain specialty service because the only specialist has been sent abroad on one of those Missions.

For secondary care, the care situation also suffers from this involvement but rather more attenuated fashion, because the Medical Mission solicit all the specialists, especially the internal medicine specialists in primary care. In the case, more acute situations in hospitals and institutions are caused by problems of logistics and infrastructure assurance.

The doctor’s work is limited by the frequent lack of resources such as disposable material for clinical and surgical treatments, the limited availability of laboratory reagents, plates for x-rays, or even the drugs themselves are often lacking. This is compounded by the structural deterioration of many facilities that often do not have running water, have poor ventilation and no air conditioning. There are cases of Surgical Units closed for months because of structural problems.

Also affecting medical management is the dismal state of the available ambulances, which often results in the involuntary abuse of patients who have to wait, sometimes for 6 to 8 hours, to be transferred, sometimes in life-threatening clinical situations in which the time is critical.
The Problem of Infrastructure

Although a little over 5 years ago the country began a program of repair of many health facilities — in most cases the only repairs in decades — this did not reach all of them nor did it always end with the best quality, as is usual when the reconstructions are excessively delayed and at times what should take months takes years, which is causing inconvenience to the population, the theft of construction materials, and results in cost increases for the final execution of the work.

Generally, once the repairs are finished, there is no follow-up with regular maintenance, which is causing us to already see signs of deterioration in these new facilities.

In primary care we see a heterogeneous situation. The original plan, from over two decades ago, was to ensure one typical doctor’s office — with a doctor, nurse and all equipment — for every 120 families. Thanks to the progressive deterioration over the years, in the current state we can’t say precisely the number of patients per doctor, but it can rise to the thousands, and sometimes there is a sixth year intern to help.

This typical office model has only been preserved in a handful of cases, and in general over the years has been taken over clinic, which, in the best of cases, are located in homes confiscated from people who emigrated, or some vacant locale adapted for this use. As a general rule, the typical site is small, badly lit and ventilated even worse, in most cases without running water for hand washing.

In secondary care, save in fortunate exceptions, the majority of hospitals are more or less markedly deteriorated structurally, with a lack or scarcity of running water in the rooms, sanitary facilities in a deplorable state, bad conditions with regards to cleanliness, and often infested with insects and the associated risk of spreading hospital-acquired infections.

Medical Education: Creating a University in Every Large City

The so-called “municipalization” of university education, that is, the intention to create a university in each municipality in this country, has had a detrimental impact on the quality of teacher education, at least in the case of medicine. This experiment, conducted over the last decade, emerged as a direct result of the arrival of tens of thousands of students of the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) following the disaster of Hurricane Mitch.
And it’s very good to help others, but everything should be studied carefully and they should create the infrastructure necessary so that this does not lead to problems, especially if it is ultimately decided to extend the ELAM program beyond the 10 graduate programs included at the time the idea was launched.

Foreign students displaced Cuban students at the historically recognized faculties in the City of Havana, and from the provincial capitals to the municipalities, where now the Cuban student sits in front of a computer and takes lessons from teachers who often are not prepared with the rigor that this level of education requires.

The results of the above combination and the desire to produce graduates at all costs and at any price to ensure the continued availability of relief staff to cover Cuba’s Medical Missions abroad, has been to weaken every link in the teaching chain. During the last decade and at least until last year, there has been a degeneration of the requirements demanded at all levels.

Simply to detail them: the high school graduate who already carries the aftermath of the failed counterpart experiments in previous levels of education, comes with a poor background, and the grade point average required to enter these careers is increasingly dropping. The study of the preclinical subjects that were once taught in prestigious schools such as the Victoria de Girón Institute (Bay of Pigs Victory Institute), by teachers with decades of experience in their subject, are now taught at a computer in a local polyclinic with teachers who are just starting out.

Then for the rest of the stage of clinical training the student would assist only twice a week at the hospital.  In his sixth year he would complete the internship stage, decisive in the consolidation of the knowledge of the future graduate, by standing in at a clinic and performing the work of a doctor who would be on a Medical Mission abroad.

Now graduated, this young doctor might complete the specialty of General Medicine (MGI) in just 2 years, when the traditional method before 2000 required a total of 4 years. And to take it one step further, this MGI resident can do a second, so-called “parallel specialty,” for example ophthalmology, and will graduate from both specialties in just two years, although the combined specialties may be as complex as Intensive Care Medicine and Anesthesiology.

Students of different Health technologies, after passing the first semester but without completing the first year of training, have been sent to any of these dozens of Medical Missions in Third World countries which, incidentally, have netted the Cuban government, in recent years, billions in hard cash dollars.

Artemisa, Provincia La Habana. October 2010.

Published on the Internet by Alfredo Felipe Valdés, before leaving for exile in Spain with his family, as part of what he called “Cuba Report.”

Originally posted on Citizen Zero Blog: February 22 2012

Pure Dialectic

Foto: Orlando Luis Pardo

Raul Castro has just recognized in his inaugural speech of the sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, that one of the most urgent problems facing the direction the country is the absence of young cadres with enough experience to make them reliable enough to relieve the historic leaders in leadership positions in the country. This is a risk that was always coming. But if, today, it is an imminent reality it is largely thanks to the strategy followed over the years by the same political power elite, which acts as if it is just now learning of the problem, of putting the brakes on the attempts by the younger members to engage in renewal and individually ousting those who attempt it, as in the case of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Roberto Robaina, or through periodic purges, as most recently heads were rolled, including those of Carlos Lage Davila and another former Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque.

If life teaches us anything it is that as you progress through life, you become more reluctant to change. The old ones, usually do not change their views, approaches or the prospect of their analyses. Today we have a plethora of octogenarians in charge of the destiny of our country, and thus live a reality frozen in the 60’s. Ours is a stagnant society in which the timid changes occur at a crawl and measures taken against the grain of the needs of the majority of out people amid a rapidly changing world persist indefinitely. No wonder that among the topics discussed at the so-called party congress there is not even a hint, for example, of freeing up foreign travel or opening to the Internet; as for what will follow, they will try to perpetuate their rigid schemes of thought as long as possible. It is a design that has proved very successful in guaranteeing not the prosperity of their citizens, but a rigorous control over the most important aspects of our existence.

The historic leaders of the Revolution have had all the time in the world, more than half a century, for their project, that is a luxury that could never have been enjoyed by any other government on earth. But today, finally convinced that nobody is eternal and that their time is over and only now, after running continuously for over 50 years, are they proposing that no one should hold any public office for more than 2 periods of 5 years. They need to recognize that they failed to foresee, that did not rely, in time on the young, so that no one seems fit for the inevitable hand off of the torch. But the law of life, one day, will make way for new blood to trace the paths to new destinations and this is something they can not avoid. It is a matter of pure dialectic.

June 2011


Among Colleagues… Laughing to Keep From Crying

A few days ago I was called to cover a birthday party as the photographer. Amused by the antics of the clown, and distracted by her picturesque costume and makeup, it took me a while to recognize the familiar features of her face. It turned out to be my colleague from Artemisa, Dr. Anisia Armas, mother of a little boy, who graduated more than seven years ago.

The readers of this blog should already know that I am on a “forced break” since 2006, due to a long story that I related on the launch of “Citizen Zero.” You could think, “Wow! What a lot of back luck! Now you’ll have to make a living through photography…” But this happened just a few days ago and confirms for me that I was never alone in this “paraprofessional” career, as we in call this almost mandatory way we Public Health professionals here sustain our families and that, according to a funny joke, becomes our real “profession” while Medicine becomes a “hobby.”

In my personal case it’s Photography, but I’ve also known doctors, dentists, nurses and technicians of all specialties and from recent graduates to workers over 30 years of service, working in their spare time in all possible trades: as shoemakers, bakers, confectioners, carpenters, masons, laundresses, seamstresses, peddlers of milk powder, ham, eggs or making yogurt, pizza, cheese … in short, inventing the saga of the Arabian Nights to survive in the black market jungle, because their salaries aren’t even enough to eat badly.

Dr. Anisia Armas's signature on my petition regarding pay rates in the medical field

My friend — indeed, along with her husband she signed the document I sent to minister in 2005 — in order not to turn her hardships into resentments, not to lament in vain her little call to attention and food, decided, like thousands of our health professionals, on a second option. In her case she decided to make a living on the joy of children — a beautiful way of life — and their parties, the joy of creatures as she offers them a clean smile that soothes the soul. The innocence and joy of the children comes home with her after the show — I’m sure, Doctor — exhausted in body but calm in spirit, comforted by the bread honorably earned today without begging, and without have to trade her pride and dignity in exchange for nothing.

February 18 2012

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