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 April, 2012

We Are Evolving

Foto: Orlando L. Pardo.

A few days ago a friend asked me whether, if I had gone on a hunger strike five years ago, our case would have had the same outcome. Without hesitation I said no, and doing so caused me to immediately stop and ponder the differences, in terms of internal political circumstances between then and today.

The Cuba of 2007 still faced the uncertainty of the transfer of power from Fidel to Raul Castro, which, it was conjectured inside and outside the country, would create a power vacuum and I don’t doubt that this would have made the Leadership of the country more likely to take extreme positions. The streets of the Havana were the scene for the marches of the Ladies in White in pursuit of freedom for the prisoners of the Black Spring; the alternative Cuban blogosphere did not have the maturity it exhibits today; there were not the civic initiatives that emerged later — for example the Cuban Law Association and projects such as Estado de SATS — which imprinted, with the passing of years, a different dynamic with regards to the embryonic civil society and its projects towards the authorities and vice versa. In the Cuba of 2007, neither Zapata, Wilfredo Soto nor Wilmar Villar had died, Coco Farinas had not come to the end of his hunger strike, nor had the prisoners from that cause of 2003 been released into exile.

During these five years, Cuban society has seen transformations, some more obvious, others more underground. The same tensions have accumulated, a product of the confrontation between the opposition and a power which, although it has taken some steps in the sense of “legalizing” some property transactions and has made access to the small family business more “flexible,” it remains reluctant to opening, unconditionally and definitively, the door to more far-reaching civil rights such as freedom of travel, the right to freedom of association and access to an objective and uncensored press, plus it continues to staunchly forbid Internet access.

But despite everything, Cuban society has long ceased to be that bell jar isolated from the world of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Undoubtedly, it is no longer the same. The alternative blogosphere, based on social networks like Twitter, has built its own paths and today is an open window through which the world looks at that part of Cuba that it does not see on the news; the Ladies and White are not stopped before the scandalous mobs organized by the Communist Party and State Security; the death of Zapata marks a turning point,  avoiding the death of Farinas and causing, finally, the release of the political prisoners from 2003 and later of other causes.

The subsequent deaths of Soto and Villar ended up drawing attention to the issue of repression in the center and east of the country, undoubtedly more dramatic than in the west and the capital. All this has called the attention of a civil society that is not yet definitive in its courses, and that seems disjointed under repeated waves of repression and the systematic work of the counterintelligence, but that has come to represent an underlying tension, a silent resistance to the all-embracing government of Raul Castro, which, on the other hand has been rather more pragmatic than that of his predecessor in the economic leadership of the country.

In the midst of this agitated dynamic both parties are rearranging their forces, learning their own lessons and evolving each in its own way. Civil society now has mechanisms that have broken, once and for all, the information monopoly that the State has held for decades and they now have to be taken into account by it when making decisions. To this complex Cuba Pope Benedict XVI came recently and it was in this context that the outcome of our case was resolved after 5 years of unsuccessful claims. Events like this would definitely never have happened in Cuba in 2007, it would have been unthinkable then, and this shows that, somehow, we are evolving. In this dialectical spiral of contradictions Cuba’s future is emerging, perhaps not at the pace we need or want but I am sure we are no longer exactly the same, not one side or the other.

April 25 2012

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A Necessary Reflection

Two weeks have passed since I ended my hunger strike, thanks to the wise decision of the Minister of Public Health, Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda, to reinstate Dr. Rodolfo Martinez and I to the exercise of our profession. Now, with my mind clearer, the memories come in droves, still fresh, of people who coming from different positions, with the most varied intentions and almost always in good faith, tried to dissuade me from continuing my strike.

They did it, I believe, because they care for me and felt that this was not going to lead anywhere. But something caught my attention and alarmed me to the point of sharing this reflection with those of you who follow me here, and that is the argument put forth by the majority: “… stop this because you are going to die, because nothing matters to these people, they are… those who don’t care if you die…” This, along with other imprecations unrepeatable here, is what they said to me.

Briefly, in essence, the idea that most of these people shared with me was: they are deeply convinced that we are facing an absolute and immovable power, uncaring faced with human pain, merciless and capable of letting me die even though faced with the most absolute evidence that what I was demanding was just.

This counsel did not draw them as people in government jobs to serve their people, but as monsters capable of stepping over even a human life in order to wield their power, stopping at nothing, even lying and killing in order to maintain it.

But now comes a different certainty, at least in our case: when they decided to resolve the matter they left nothing to half measures, but fixed everything at one blow including reinstating us both, returning us to our original jobs, full compensation for 66 months of lost wages, the recognition of this time in our work records, and authorization for me to finish my Specialty in Internal Medicine starting from the third year.

That is, it seems we went back to April 2006, and although our personal suffering is unrecoverable and more than one guilty party remains unpunished, I must recognize that this time, finally, they delivered a substantial share of justice for the good of everyone.

So now, if everything was nothing more than an inevitable release of the pressure of this case in its particular context — which of course is not completely foreign to me — and it everything is summed up as a tactic, or if it was a truly ethical solution based on the ultimate conviction that there had been a real injustice; if it was a question of mere political pragmatism or if it were a determination to do what was humanly right, this is something known only to those people who collaborated on the issue, and although I, personally, would love to think that it was the latter possibility, this is something now in the realm of speculation.

Mind you, I close these lines with an invitation to our leaders to meditate deeply on these words that are not mine; the above I transcribe from the mouths of ordinary people, who reflect all the secular fear of their authorities which should call for a profound introspection to explain why a significant share of the people have such a sinister concept of their leadership or the lengths to which it will go to remain in power.

Hopefully this interior exercise will bring out the best and most humane of each person. It will be better, this way, to remain consistent and, for now, with the faith we must have in human betterment.

April 19 2012

Hunger Strike – Blog 3 (Final)

Due to the well-known inability of Cubans to connect to the Internet at will — and because I didn’t feel I was in a condition during the first week of April to travel to Havana — it is only today that I can update my page. In the end, it turns out, censorship reaped its fruits and I was unable to report each story in real time as the situation demanded. But better late than never and here I describe the last days of my hunger strike, which lasted from March 5th to 31st, although its end was announced officially on April 1, once I had in my hands Ministerial Resolution 185.

The last week of the strike started with a distinctive sign: the absolute silence maintained for 21 days by the Cuban government authorities and the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) with regards to my case and the state of my health — already by that time widely known publicly — and it would do nothing but get worse over the following days.

I decided, then, on March 26th, that I would report in person to MINSAP headquarters the following day to request an interview with the Minister, which I announced on Twitter and by way of phone calls to several international news media accredited in Havana and to the newspaper Granma, the Official Organ of the Cuban Communist Party, as well as several independent journalists and bloggers in Havana. I intended, at that time, to also attend the Mass to be held in Havana where Pope Benedict XVI would officiate, on Wednesday, March 28, which I also announced via Twitter.

None of this came to pass because on Monday, March 27th, on leaving the Catholic Church in Guanajay where I was sleeping, I was forced into an ambulance from MININT Medical Services, in custody of a State Security agent, and in the presence of the MININT Chief of Medical Services for Artemisa Province, and was taken to a rest house on the outskirts of the neighboring municipality of Caimito, where I was held against my will through that day and until the evening of Wednesday the 28th.

Once the airplane taking Benedicto XVI back to Rome took off, I was “freed” in the Emergency Room of “Ciro Redondo” Hospital in Artemisa. During the entire time in which State Security held me in custody, never — neither in this nor in any other previous attempts — did they exercise any kind of physical violence against me. They treated me with courtesy, offered me food, which I always refused, and allowed my wife and my mother to stay with me whenever they wanted during the entire time. Of course, I was held against my will and they took my cellphone, so I was disconnected for a day and a half from the outside world.

On the evening of Wednesday the 28th, after being rehydrated via IV in Artemis Hospital, I returned by my own means to Guanajay, where I spent the night, but at noon on Thursday the 29th, feeling the weight of the fast and my body at the point of collapse, persuaded by Dr. Rodolfo and my wife, I moved to Artemis Hospital, where I was admitted to the Emergency Room and rehydrated again, and where they performed additional tests and observed the severe ketosis of fasting. During the early hours of Friday 30, a drop in urine output caused fear of acute renal failure, but it went no further because once my state of hydration improved, diuresis returned to normal.

On the evening of Saturday 31, at 26 days of fasting, MINSAP finally broke its silence: in the afternoon senior officials from the Ministry appeared in the emergency room and informed me that the Minister of Health had reinstated both of us and that I would be allowed to finish the Specialty in Internal Medicine as I had demanded.

Given this reliable guarantee, I decided to start drinking juices from that moment, which I immediately reported on Twitter. On the morning of Sunday April 1, with my metabolic state  stabilized and longing for the company of my children — extremely stressed by my absence — I decide to go home, where I was visited in the afternoon by the officials of the Ministry of Public Health, who handed me a copy of  Ministerial Resolution 185 issued on 31 March by the Minister, Dr. Robert T. Morales Ojeda, reinstating me to the practice of medicine throughout the country, which was also released via Twitter. The news was immediately broadcast by the alternative blogosphere in Havana and many people from many places were glad to hear the details of the story. Other tweets posted a few minutes later announced that I had officially ended, from that moment, my hunger strike.

On April 6th I was called, along with Dr. Rodolfo, to the Provincial Health Directorate of Artemis, where the Director of Legal Department, Ministry of Public Health gave us both Ministerial Resolution No. 185 and Ministerial Resolution No. 251 and officially certified that we are both reinstated in the exercise of our profession throughout the country.

In addition we were paid in full the remuneration lost during the entire time we were disqualified (66 months) for the last quarter of 2006, from 2007 to 2011, and the first quarter of 2012; in addition, in my case, on confirming that in 2006 I concluded my Residency without problems, this balance was paid me on the salary scale according to the Internal Medicine Specialist and Specialist in General Medicine, which was my salary at the time of being disqualified.

We also were allowed to choose where we wanted to be located: we both responded in Guanajay, and then they told us we could start working, after a 2 or 3 week rotation with a doctor in the area, in the “Jose R. Martinez” Hospital in that town, where we had worked at the time we were disqualified. That day they also ratified the decision that I be permitted to resume the study of my specialty in Internal Medicine in its third year, with the term to begin in September in the coming course.

Meanwhile, Dr. Alfredo Felipe Valdés, my colleague and friend, in exile in Spain, days earlier had updated me about the pending negotiations with respect to his professional title — the release of his paperwork from Cuba — which was my third demand. He informed me that the document was in Madrid and that it was now in the hands of the authorities of that country. According to the established procedure for such cases, it will take a few more months to resolve, but the Cuban side has met its responsibility.

Once the storm has passed and while I endeavor to recover as quickly as possible the 26 pounds lost in the war, it’s time to recap and reflect on what happened — because this is something that deserves its own post — to which from today, dear friends, you are invited.

April 16 2012

Interview Given to Praxis

Interview of Dr. Jimenez Vega Jeovany by Praxis, local newsletter of Guanajay Catholic Church, published in its latest edition.

An unprecedented event, for the social responsibility that a great part of the people have assumed, and especially people from Guanajay and particularly an important sector of the Catholic Church, deserves a few lines from its protagonist.

Praxis – Why are you, again, on a hunger strike?

J.J.V. – I do not believe in hunger strikes as a method of social struggle or complaint, I consider it uncivilized, and life-threatening. But at the same time we must recognize that it is used only when the power this opposes us is equally uncivilized. If in our country the a State of Law reigned, such conduct would not be necessary, but it comes when a citizen is crushed by an overwhelming power, knowing himself the victim of an injustice against which he has tried every possible recourse to remedy the situation.

Praxis – We don’t know if you are a Christian but so you sense the special accompaniment of the Church, priest, Bishop, religious, lay and Catholic press. Are they mediating your demand?

J.J.V. – The relationship between State and Church in Cuba today is very complex and opinions are strongly polarized. Here I would just like to acknowledge the profound expressions of support the Guanajay Catholic community has shown me, Father Carreró, the Escolapias sisters and Bishop Serpa, worried and eager to help me, engaged in concrete actions. I also want to thank the rest of the religious congregations, who also watch and pray that with faith that everything will be resolved.

Praxis – Why do you want to return to your work when the salary isn’t enough to live on?

J.J.V. – It’s important not to confuse all the disrespect shown by our leaders and the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) authorities towards healthcare professionals, with the love we feel for the profession to which we devote our lives. If the government finds the resources to pay thousands of pesos to other sectors but cannot find it to reward a doctor who saves live, it is shameful for him. I live proud of my profession.

Praxis – Have you noticed rejection, or perhaps much more support on the part of the people for your demand? Does it deter you from or reaffirm your choice?

J.J.V. – Some people can expressed their opinion without know the details of the case but when they look into and discover the truth they are stunning. Generally, the people of Guanajay know that a great injustice has been done to me and generally they have shown me a tangible and sincere support. I feel myself a son of this own. All this support confirms me in my just purpose.

Praxis – A final message.

J.J.V. – I dream of a day when no Cuban accepts something or makes some concession if it is at the cost of a grain of dignity. It is about putting human dignity above everything.

Translator’s note: On March 31, in response to his hunger strike, Jeovany’s right to practice medicine was returned to him.

March 30 2012

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