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 May, 2012

The Last Card in the Deck

Talking some months ago with a friend the polemic centered around the selective prohibitions maintained by our government against all common sense and that directly damage the Cuban people.  Then my friend maintained that the last to be lifted, in his judgment, would be the prohibition against travel, but I maintained then, and I still believe it, that the last card of the deck that they will give up will be free access to the internet.

The strict control maintained during the revolutionary phase about all kinds of information, the iron censorship over all kinds of press and the absolute monopoly supported against all slogans over how much radio, publishing, writings, contests, magazines or pamphlets saw the light of day, and finally the more recent odyssey suffered by the ghostly fiber optic cable launched from Venezuela, which has been shrouded by a dense cloak of mystery — a topic officially excluded from our press — are elements that convince me of this.

The right to freely access information without censorship is inherent to the liberty of modern man, and opposing it is something like a confession of guilt by a retrograde power opposed to the most elemental rules of democracy.  In the case of the Internet, that matter of touching a key in the morning while still in pajamas and having before your eyes as much publication as has been launched in the world — an unthinkable luxury within Cuba for the average Cuban — is a very serious matter.

I won’t fall for the naiveté of saying that in cyberspace everything is peachy and absolute transparency reins, free from the impurities of a tendentious press, but it is undeniable that, as never before, it offers opportunities to civil society to spread the truths that are contrary to the interests of the powers that be.

Internet censorship has been instituted as one of the crown jewels with respect to limiting our liberties.  To oppose now in the second decade of the 21st century what has been one of the most ingenious creations of man, what has turned into a depository of his knowledge and spirituality like nothing else, is simply and plainly a crime.  It is a duty of the Cuban people to demand tirelessly this right because from the very moment that it is won we will be much freer.

Although the final labor of censorship continues yielding its fruits.  During the last weeks I have had, and I will have in the future, serious difficulties updating my page.  Citizen Zero, like other blogs, will enter into a brief, involuntary silence, all for not having a site to connect us with the Internet.  This makes me repeat once more the big question:  if the Cuban government says it is in possession of the absolute truth, then . . .what does it fear?  If the big world press publishes on its web its versions, instead of ours, so “ethical and objective,” publish theirs.  It happens that I am an adult, university graduate and I know how to read; I want to access both with my own eyes, and I do not see the sense, now overwhelming me, that a reader on the National News on TV should go to the trouble of doing it for me.

Translated by mlk

May 27 2012

Cuban Identity: Between Shame and Pride

In my last post I talked about the emigration/immigration issue, but I didn’t mention there what I consider the worst sequel, which is the lack of identity of some who leave. Without intending it, as in all human matters, everyone travels the same path because each person is a universe, I have seen with sadness how a significant share of those who emigrate do so denying everything they left here; they confuse the skin with the sweet potato and mix it all up in a mess of curses and blasphemies which put in a single sack our patriotic songs, neighborhood stool pigeons, Matamoros music, the line for bread, the National Anthem, and our beloved poetry.

Although depending on their personality and culture, too often those who leave and return within a few months, now bring in their suitcase a foreign accent more authentic than that of the natives over there, in a pathetic attempt to show off their new “swing,” and often also have the bad taste to wear thick gold chains — more than a few times rented for the occasion — putting on a ridiculous display with an array of artifices that scream of their shame for their past.

All this seems to be the consequence of what in one of my recurring mental workshops I have named the “psychology of the prison,” which is how I see these things; someone who is imprisoned or confined quickly comes to two inescapable conclusions. First, they are facing an immutable power that establishes rigid and threatening rules which exceed even insurmountable limits, rules that must be abided by no matter what, it being useless to question them. The second conclusion, in the face of this reality there is only one recourse, flee.

And it is following this logical thinking that the average citizen in Cuba, to avoid this harshest of realities of a bad life, almost always focuses his gaze on the horizon.

To this point, everything seems reasonable, because to try to widen our horizons and improve our standard of living is a natural thing. It is precisely this that made man into what he is today. It was this back and forth of experience and markets, and never the claustrophobia within limited geographic places, which drove the prosperity of the great cultures. But from this to drinking the Coca-Cola of oblivion and making a disposable package of everything that smacks of Cuba, is an enormous difference.

All great men have had as a rule — there being a few exceptions in the style of our Lezama — the healthy habit of travel. It is true that everyone has the right to form their own concept of country and to carry it with them in their own way wherever they are, but it is nothing more than the nostalgia for everything beautiful and praiseworthy they left here, that healthy pride for what is most genuine in Cuba, treasured in modest silence and the depth of one’s heart, which differs substantially from this Cuban to that; I speak of this Cuba that belongs to all of us, that will always be where we place our feet, a Cuba that does not like slogans or political colors other than its flag, for which it lives and dies, wherever you may be, a good Cuban. It is in essence, discerning between the caricature and the homeland.

Although I live proud of this, I also agonize when a considerable part of our youth — some? half? most? — fix their eyes on other latitudes, feeling that they will not have, here, the least opportunity to build a future. This heartache is symptomatic of serious evils accumulated over decades and does not seem, at least when the sun came up today, to have a solution in the short or medium term.

The fate of tens of thousands of young people who, a few years ago, made up the army of social workers who ended up conned when they spread out across the entire country to substitute energy-saving pots and light bulbs — then fell into the ranks of the PNR (National Revolutionary Police) or the DTI (State Security) — or the massive suspension of their careers, after a couple of courses and without much explanation. The majority of these students who made it to the third year of public health technologies, are eloquent examples of how poor planning and miscalculation of the needs of the country have frustrated generations of young people.

As a consequence we see quite a few Cubans poking their family tree to resurrect an ancestor from the Canary Islands, but if they don’t manage to get Spanish citizenship, suddenly it’s al the same to them if it’s Italian, Irish, Panamanian or Martian, “… Tokyo, Barcelona, or Moscow, it’s all the same … “, anything to change their “cursed” status of Cuban citizenship — the point is to flee, however they can — because they’ve ended up considering a disgrace and a shame to be Cuban, thanks to the policies pursued by our government to deprive citizens of rights.

I recognize this lack of identity may not be unique, but the same for everyone, though they live on the Rampa in Havana, if in their heart they’ve already reneged on everything that is our. Here we do not presume to judge, as each has their reasons. I also am among those who think that homeland is humanity, after all, as the poet sang, we make the road by walking it, but if I lament and mourn those who leave, I do it because I believe that this beautiful and suffering homeland has in all its days past and present glory enough to be honored by all her children.

All of this, our leaders should consider when implementing the announced immigration reform. I hope that what has hitherto been a painful stigma, tomorrow will be a source of prosperity for the country of everyone.

May 7 2012

Open Sesame…

On Friday, April 20, Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban Parliament, in an interview with the digital daily World, of the Huffingtonpost.com, reaffirmed Raul Castro’s announcement from last year that Cuba will launch “… a radical and thorough immigration reform in the coming months …” which will remove restrictions we’ve had for decades on Cubans traveling abroad. Let’s remember that even now, to travel abroad Cubans need an exit permit, at the extortionate cost of $150 U.S., which is good for 30 days and can be extended 10 times, after which they must return home or lose the right to reside in their own country.

In force since the dawn of the Revolutionary process, restrictions imposed on the travel of Cubans to and from abroad, have become one of the most serious stigma carried by this government. This abusive policy has been responsible for an incalculable amount of suffering for our people, having separated for decades, and even permanently, thousands of families.

Alarcon also said that “… there is another explanation for these restrictions: the need to protect our human capital. The training of physicians, technicians, teachers, etc., is very expensive to the Cuban State and the United States does everything to deprive us of this human wealth.”

Sustained by the need to avoid a brain drain, among other arguments, this policy has systematically deprived Cubans of one of the most basic rights of man: the right to free movement and to choose where to live. But in resolving this issue, it seemed much simpler to our government to retain, by force, the professionals, than to guarantee them a dignified way of life which, in medical terms, would be the equivalent of amputating the limb of a patient suffering from lymphatic vessel inflammation which, it is true, regardless of the consequences, would “solve” their problem.

Alarcon said the reform will also favor the Cuban immigrants who today need an entry permit, who do not now have the same “profile” as those who left in the early years.

“Things have changed a lot (…). Nearly half a million Cubans installed outside our borders visit each year. The vast majority of Cuban migration has a normal relationship with their country of origin…”

What has never been even remotely normal, however, is the relationship of the Cuban State with respect to that emigration. As for the “profile” of these emigrants, Mr. Alarcón knows that definitely changed after that wave of the first five years of the Revolution, when it constituted mainly of former Batista supporters and oligarchs.

By the time of Camarioca, of the Mariel boat lift, and of the Maleconazo and the subsequent rafter crisis in 1994, Cuban migration had been made up of people who were, as a rule, younger, and desperate to having lost all hope in their country.

Alarcon also said that “…the immigration issue (…) has always been used as a weapon to destabilize Cuba since 1959 and as an element of distortion of the Cuban reality…” and, he says it as if he were talking about some sneaky trick orchestrated by Yankee think tanks, as if it were a true aberration systematically and massively perpetrated for half a century by the Cuban Government against the will and interest of its people.

At this point some questions present themselves: Why right now and how far will they dare to go? In Havana circles of thought whose opinion I could sound out, it is said that these measures could be oriented with the foresight to open the door to a Cuban emigration that so far has been unnaturally excluded from investing in its own country due to the absurd policy followed by our government, which for decades has preferred to negotiate with foreign investors before offering any opportunity to offer its own emigrants or their descendants. This posture presumably reflects a deep fear of the influence that they might come to gain in the domestic political environment.

This may or may not be the result of the uncertainty that surrounds Hugo Chavez, whose health is perceived to be broken just a few months before the upcoming Venezuelan elections — because losing his support now would be lethal — as will be seen.

But what offers few doubts is that the emigration, although eager to invest in Cuba, given the traumatic memory of the expropriations of the past, might be demanding a series of legal safeguards to make sure that, this time, their investment would not be impounded, beginning with radical changes in their migratory status which, until today, has completely denied their Cuban citizenship.

Another side of the coin makes this moment most “opportune” — for the Cuban government — as the time to make this decision, because if they finally decide to open the doors wide, then there would be embassies in Havana that would possibly close theirs, and show more aversion to issuing visas, not to mention that the U.S. government might repeat the controversial Cuban Adjustment Act.

Even so, those who finally manage to travel will find the majority of their destinations in the world mired in the worst economic crisis since the Crash of 1929, and not offering too many opportunities right now to any newcomers. If to this we add that those who leave no longer face the confiscation of their house and so can leave here their home, family and concrete interests and can return when they please, then I would dare to predict that the first wave of emigrants would stabilize in a few years.

In exchange, the remittances would increase and provide considerable oxygen to the economy — in this sense the investments of the emigrants, were they authorized, would be crucial — and the country would begin to flow in a much more natural way.

So, how far will they dare to go. They certainly have to be thinking big, or everything would be half measures. For an immigration reform today at the level the Cuban people need, they have to leave behind all the current policies. They have to guarantee, unequivocally, through an appropriate body of binding laws, that every Cuban citizen can enjoy his or her right to freely leave the country, and equally to enter it without conditions of any kind including, of course, political ones, for differences of opinion, which would exclude only those involved in terrorist acts, or those who have a debt to the legal system, beyond which absolutely any official who dared to violate this right of a Cuban citizen would be legally called before a People’s court.

It is also urgently needed to eliminate once and for all the ominous category of “final departure,” a monster that has uprooted entire generations of Cuba, as well as the controversial “letters of invitation” and of course, crushed under its own weight, the odious permission to leave or “white card” whose funeral no one would attend.

But one point I can not overlook in this matter is one of the most controversial nuances, and that is the solution to the problem or releasing those workers in my sector who are required to apply for permission if they wish to permanently or temporarily leave the country.

Who could forget the thousands of former members of the Cuban Public Health sector, who,  overwhelmed by spurious wages and harsh living conditions, and finding no other means whatsoever to emigrate, decided to leave from some Medical Mission work abroad, and so were branded with the status of deserters and condemned to banishment, not permitted to enter their own country for at least 10 years?

Would anyone dare to catalog as normal the relations with these emigrants before such heinous treatment? Without any doubt, we can assert that the workers in the Cuban Public Health have received the most denigration treatment in this story and today our government has the opportunity to redeem its position, hopefully to act with wisdom.

Any approach that they apply to the immigration issue at this time, that does not address everything at once and guarantees our right to travel, will restrict the freedom of the Cuban people, and therefore work against the prosperity of the country.

April 30 2012

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