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 September, 2012

There Should be a Bridge

It’s not their best song but the theme cuts me to the bone. I listen again to the Arjona clip and again I shiver, I get up and punish the keyboard with a pain that hurts me, a pain that I try to put into words but can’t, because 50 years already seems like too much time and too many dashed hopes, scattered, promised and postponed, shipwrecked in the Straits even today.

First and core cause of each and every one of the deaths suffered by the rafters in the narrow gap, the travel ban was always a slap on the cheek, my only people divided in two, more than by the Gulf Stream, by the storms of intolerance. Due to this vilifying the professional and the athlete as a “deserter”; citizens served up a la carte, Spanish or Mesopotamian, who suddenly take advantage of their distant pedigree; the hookers who leave trafficking their bodies; selling their spit of the silence of cowards who fake it for crumbs; I see how the dignity of so many Cubans is prostituted.

Family separation caused by migration policy which the Cuban government has imposed for over half a century deserved to be categorized as a crime against humanity in whatever forum is respected. No other arbitrariness, among those held by the Cuban government during this time has been so traumatic and harmful to the people who experience it.

I say the people, because their selective nature strengthens their outrageous nuance: while depriving the people of their genuine right to travel, senior politicians and government wander the world, along with their children, wives, and — why not? — their lovers; they leave and return openly under cover of official missions or as managers of phantom firms and no one know what they do, and if these enjoy their scholarships in Europe, while those pass through Cancun, while I and mine have never gone farther than Matanzas.

It’s been over a year since Raul Castro publicly announced that his government would implement changes, which he did not specify, and the travel and immigration mechanisms, but already we are looking out from our subtle autumn and he gives the impression he doesn’t care, that they still have an entire lifetime to achieve the reunification of the Cuban family.

Every day that passes without the doors opening will be a shameful day and a new temptation for disgrace. Rarely was a leader at such a crossroads having in his hands, so clearly, the power to fix it; today the responsibility rests on his shoulders for every new death in the Straits as until yesterday  Fidel Castro was responsible for implementing and maintaining intact for half a century this monster that causes so much pain in my people, that has essentially caused the most dramatic exodus in Cuban history.

There they tell of the mourning of the mothers and the absences and the look of the orphaned and dead children. Now is the time to vindicate, unconditionally, this right of the Cuban people! Anyone who opposes it at this time will be tried inexorably before history and found guilty for this slow genocide.

But while the power calculates in the shadows, I live with a recurring dream: in the midst of a vast and peaceful sea, on a bridge without borders or tolls two children gaze with clear eyes, offering diaphanous smiles, embracing without fear and forgetting everything. Sitting on a pile of new dreams they contemplate a warm sun that comes close to the edge of the common horizon, “The dawn is here brother,” they say, “the dawn!”

September 27 2012

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Customs Regulations or a Rogue Swindle

The new customs regulations, which took effect on September 3, will require the Cuban people to pay a progressive tax of 10 CUC – or 240 pesos at the current exchange rate – for each kilogram of “miscellaneous items,” including food, and between 100% and 200% of the value of any household electrical appliance or other hardware received from overseas.

We should be accustomed by now to such measures, which are considered trivialities by those who issue them, but are felt as tremendous hardships by those who must suffer because of them. This time the new regulations appear a little more than a month after Raúl Castro’s public announcement that he would not raise salaries. This follows the massive rise in the official price of consumer goods, the approval by the trade unions of the dismissal of hundreds of thousands of workers, the exorbitant increase in the price of electricity just as liquid gas service was cut off, the elimination of “gratuities” for workers, the decision to retain workers in the medical sector who want to travel overseas, and a long list of other issues.

All these decisions have something in common. They are completely at odds with the interests and well-being of the people. Issued by officials who lack absolutely nothing, these measures would appear to have been come from the very offices of the CIA itself. If their purpose is to foment discontent, complicate our lives and arouse hostility and resentment towards those who issue and/or allow them to take effect, then they have been completely successful.

Now, the elderly woman who receives a package will have to pay an extortionist’s fee to retrieve it from customs. This means she will have to pay more than twice what it cost her son to buy and send it. There will be no way to persuade either of them, and by extension the Cuban people, that this is not a blatant shake-down cooked up by customs authorities, or that the government has even the most minimal concern for their well-being. After this apparent armed robbery – there is no other way to describe it – every word or pronouncement will feel like salt and vinegar being poured into a wound.

Aimed at a people who are suffering from inconceivable shortages, these measures are suspiciously in sync with the interests of the corrupt leadership of the Cuban customs service. It is a secret to no one that, when the screw is tightened, the pathway to robbery, blackmail, bribery and extortion becomes easier, enriching these officials who, with rare and honorable exceptions, will be millionaires within a few years. History provides thousands of such examples.

The stated rationale –- that similar measures have been effective in preventing smugglers from supplying the black market –- falls apart in light of factual evidence. Smugglers will undoubtedly continue their operations because they already have contacts with corrupt officials within the customs service, which issues guidelines to make sure it gets its slice of the pie. To presume that this will dry up supplies to the black market is like grabbing the wrong end of the stick. To achieve this would require setting reasonable prices in government-run hard-currency stores and eliminating their expensive yet shoddy products and poor quality goods. To deal with those who break the law, there are already existing legal means and the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT). Its team of inspectors, along with inspectors from other agencies, should confront the situation by making the sinners pay up rather than dealing with it in a generalized way, as is the case now.

It is measures such as these that indicate that we are completely unimportant to them. It is one more coup de grace aimed at the back of the neck of the people, their sole victim. This causes no harm to Obama, nor to the extremist oddballs in Miami. Nor does it have any relationship to the American embargo, nor to anything else that is not in tune with the purposeful desires of customs authorities, who are in open collusion with the country’s leadership, which allows this to go on, making out lives more difficult every day. There is no stone left to unturned. This is simply a premeditated attack and a deliberate blow by the diseased hand of the Cuban government.

September 17 2012

The Cry of a Mourner

The architects of the quagmire that is the Cuban economy now claim that the country will not be in a position to raise workers’ salaries until there is first a convincing increase in the level of worker productivity. At first glance this would seem reasonable. Anyone unaware of the island’s economic twists and turns would think, “Well, of course!” But ask any Cuban who has witnessed the decades-long economic chaos, or the erratic political path followed in the management of the country – a marathon course subject to the changing whims of its leaders – and you will undoubtedly hear some enlightening responses.

It is up to academics to figure out what are the causes and what are the consequences, whether the chicken came first or the egg. There is one thing about this issue, however, that is crystal clear. The Cuban workforce has shown a stubborn tendency towards little or no productivity, specifically because of excessive centralized control mechanisms that have been kept in place for fifty years – in spite of their proven ineffectiveness – by those same long-term leaders who now ask why we Cubans here below are so irresponsible and lazy. One might answer by raising the classic example of crops rotting in the field because transport from the state trucking company did not arrive on time since the state – in its war against the middleman – has a monopoly on this activity. And this is happening at this very minute even after thousands of discussions, conferences and congresses.

They say that it is impossible to raise salaries, but I would suggest that, at the moment, this is not necessary. Since I am not an economist, but rather one more mourner at this funeral, I would like to humbly suggest to authorities that their attempt to raise the dead begin by diametrically changing focus with respect to the lucrative pricing policies set by the Ministry of Finance and Prices for all retail commerce, especially in the chain of hard-currency stores (TRD’s), whose prices are denominated in convertible pesos (CUC’s) – a currency twenty-five times the exchange rate of the peso in which my ostensible salary is paid*.

Since there has been absolutely no discussion of monetary unification — that is doing away with the system of two currencies — our government must assume a more responsible attitude with respect to the outlandish prices with which it punitively taxes the lives of the people by implementing this pitiless policy of pricing even food and essential consumer goods at 500% to 1,000% of their cost of production. This has caused the Cuban GDP to grow at a 10% annual rate for the last decade – not as a result of an increase in the production of goods and services, but rather through an exorbitant and extortionate rise in prices.

So here is my proposal: lowering prices to a sensible level would be a good first step towards the desired recovery and would give the government the moral authority, which it does not now have, to require the same of the private sector, which is killing us in the private farmers’ markets as well. So far we have only seen the official press repeatedly attack independent producers while never questioning the other speculative slaughter taking place behind the shop windows of the TRD’s.

If I were in charge – please allow me this mental exercise – I would first gradually cut all the prices set by the state in half. This would occur progressively over a period of three to five years to a level more in line with salaries which, in light of current conditions, have lost all relationship to common sense. This would provide indisputable initiative for increasing worker productivity, and would bring some common sense to salary levels and a greater sense of humanity to people’s lives. All this would be in line with Raul Castro’s policy of not raising anyone’s salary by as much as one centavo, which, if this strategy were adopted, would be unnecessary.

But I am not the one who makes these decisions. That would be the slackers who care nothing about the well-being of the people, the ones who charge 10 pesos for a soft drink that only costs 30 centavos to produce. All indications are that this situation will persist as long as those who set these prices are not the mourners at the funeral, the ones getting screwed.

*Translator’s note: There are two currencies in Cuba: Cuban pesos, also called National Money; and Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs). Wages are paid in Cuban pesos, but many items can only be bought in hard currency stores where they are priced in CUCs.

September 10 2012

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