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 October, 2015

Monetary Unification in Cuba, an Unresolved Issue / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 October 2015 — Without a doubt the most complex challenge Raúl Castro’s regime has in the short-term is monetary unification. The use in the country of two national currencies for the last two and a half decades has ended up generating an inestimable distortion in the internal finance system, which by itself would be enough to illustrate the chaos reigning in the economy, of which this is a sharp reflection.

The recent declaration of U.S. Senator Rodney Davis on the imminence of change awakened expectations on the subject, which has been strikingly absent in the speeches of the General/President and in the official Cuban press, in spite of the fact that its persistence converted it some time ago into something unique. If several contemporaneous countries once permitted the indistinct circulation of a foreign currency together with their own, I don’t remember one that used two national currencies together, like Cuba has done since the ’90s: to wit, the Cuban peso, the CUP — so withered, humble, poor — and the CUC, the all-powerful Cuban “convertible” peso.

For more than two decades, 90 percent of Cubans have received their monthly “salary” in CUP, and when they shop in the “dollar” stores, they have to pay in CUC, at a rate of 25CUP/1CUC. This is the biggest scam suffered by our people since the arrival of Columbus. In the previous period, before the arrival of the CUC at the beginning of the ’90s, there had already been quaint situations, since during the better part of that phase Fidel Castro made the simple holding of foreign currency – above all the American dollar — into an authentic body of crimes reflected by all the letters in the penal code, and hundreds of Cubans suffered in prison.

But it’s worth little to dig up the past; today we need to turn over a new leaf and write a new chapter. Like neophytes, we don’t really hear the intimate ins and outs of the economy, habitually plagued by obscure nuances that we can’t guess. But it’s worth it anyway to ask concrete questions about the unification of Cuban currencies. One indispensable step would be to demand, starting now, every opportunity sighted on our horizon.

Today every proposal stipulates, as a prior condition, the coherence of its financial system, since nothing else would earn the essential credibility that international organizations and investors need. So, since everyone is aware of this, why delay one more day with the inevitable change? But this is where you would have to stop to avoid this necessary step from ending badly and generating disastrous social consequences in the short-term.

But all this supposes that the Cuban Government — the one definitively responsible for having generated and maintained such an unusual policy — assumes responsibility for the complete process in a way that mitigates potential harm; and that it will happen in the least abrupt way possible, without generating or minimizing possibly traumatic consequences for the already-poor Cuban people.

I’m speaking concretely. I wonder if, instead of having an abrupt change of currency right now, it wouldn’t perhaps be possible to gradually reevaluate the weaker money, through a programmed process and with public knowledge — let’s say lowering the exchange rate of the CUC in the CADECA (the official exchange bureau) at a rhythm of 1 to 2 CUP monthly — so that at the moment of exchange the rate would be less pronounced than now, let’s say 10 to 1, for example.

Another element to take into account is the time it would take for the population to complete the change, meanwhile guaranteeing the possibility of exchanging all the cash circulating without the Government interposing senseless obstacles. Those in the old guard remember the untimely way in which this process was carried out at the beginning of the ’60s, and all the absurd limitations imposed at that time, which caused a considerable part of the money in circulation to simply became void.

Right now there can’t be any justification for the Cuban Government to appear arbitrary. In its place, a period of some months should be available to complete the change, during which both currencies would continue to circulate at the fixed rate until the one destined to disappear remains only a numismatic memory. After all, as any grandfather will tell you, he who hopes for much can wait a little, and something that has harmed us for so many years can’t be reversed in a few days.

On this point I’m beginning from the supposition that the currency that will disappear will be the CUC. The untimely presence of this spawn, “convertible,” paradoxically, only inside Cuba, together with the Cuban peso, would be something senseless and counter-productive in a Cuba that is open to the world. No sane person would consider retiring the CUP from circulation in place of the CUC. To do this suddenly, after fomenting rumors during the last two years about the presumed permanence of the CUP, which is still being exchanged for CUC in the street, would be a miserably low blow.

Of course, for everything to succeed, or to put it another way, to be something that doesn’t imply huge domestic trauma, the political goodwill of the elite Cuban Government would be necessary: something that up to now hasn’t exactly been celebrated. If it is economically coherent, it should free up productive and commercial openings, which would foster an immediate circulation of goods and services generated by wealth, all of which would be possible in the short-term — an effort which, although at the beginning wouldn’t be achieved on a large-scale or with all the urgency that circumstances demand, would be oriented, without doubt, in the right direction, and would then be a comforting first step in support of the stability of a future single currency.

Then in the short and mid-term, the positive result could be felt, but only if the Government accedes to immediately freeing up the management of the private sector of society and stops putting unreasonable obstacles in the way of every private initiative. This would be, in my humble and novice opinion, a variant to take into account. Studying to see if this would be something practical and attainable now is a job for the experts; it is only one more proposition.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Poverty, the Cuban Dictatorship’s Recourse / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Revolution is Going Well… Ever Onward! Fidel

Jeovany Jimenz Vega, 12 October 2015 — Doctor A, with 20 years of uninterrupted work to his credit, owes nothing to the little he receives in salary. Besides not being enough to feed his family, it has not allowed him to procure a proper roof and so he still lives in his shabby doctor’s office. After many disappointments, A is now tired of waiting for an improvement that will never come and chose to add his name to his polyclinic’s list of Collaborators: to go work abroad on some official “Medical Mission,” the only alternative he can see to better his life in the near term.

Engineer B works in the Mariel Free Zone and almost never seeks the light of day with his children due to the rigor of his work schedule. He knows that in the Development Zone foreign engineers and technicians receive several thousand dollars a month for the exact same work he does, but at the end of the month he receives some one hundred dollars, more or less; his share of the hard cash that goes directly from the foreign firm to the government coffers in exchange for his labor, without ever passing through his hands, and thus he is exploited by the government.

Teacher C is overwhelmed with work plans and rare is the day that doesn’t end with her at home planning her next class. During her thirty year career she has trained two generations; the father who today trusts his son to her was, in turn, taught to read by her. Nor can C live on the salary paid by the government and soon she will receive a pension that will condemn her to penury. But C can’t do anything about that, sowing light in new minds, and despite everything leaving home every morning to practice the profession she loves.

Cigar maker D is a master of rolling Habaneros. For decades he has taken the best leaf in the world and made cigars smoked by millionaire celebrities. Every day D stocks a showcase where this tobacco is sold at $250 Cuban Convertible Pesos (almost $280 US) a box, and like a good veteran, every Feria del Habano awakens a confused mixture of pride and frustration in him that he is unable to define. But D does not receive a fair wage for rolling what represents $2,000 US a day — instead, like the majority of Cubans, he receives a pittance compared to the wealth he generates.

Millions of frustrations accumulated over five decades of the Castro’s misgovernment in Cuba would make this summary interminable. A revolution that triumphed supposedly to destroy the exploitation of man by man has over time degenerated into a scheme of domination that ended up sowing poverty evenly over our country.

When the causes of such an accumulation of so much inequity and misery are analyzed–regardless of the path followed to reach a synthesis–the unavoidable conclusion upon identifying the source of all power today in this tyrannized Cuba, is a single, simple one: the poverty of my people has been the supreme economic and strategic resource of the Cuban dictatorship.

In essence, it is not nickel, nor tobacco, nor tourism, nor the systematic frauds committed by the ETECSA monopoly, neither is it the “emergent” petrochemical industry (which lost its momentum when Caracas succumbed); it is not even the billions generated annually by the more than 60 official Cuban medical missions around the world, which have allowed the rule of the Castro regime to last for more than a half century despite governing in such a disastrous manner from any point of view. If one wants  to get down to the heart of the matter, if one wants to find the common backstory behind all the ills, we will always find poverty as the sine qua non condition that perpetuates the disaster.

Only a physician sunk in poverty that threatens his family’s stability, his health and even his life, would choose to go work in the opposite end of the earth, even with the knowledge that they will steal 80% of what he is supposed to be paid. Only under pressure by the most dire proverty does that engineer, that tobacco farmer or that teacher find himself forced to go out every day and plunder life. Only by being dragged down by the most absurd shortages has it been possible for my people to remain submerged in this protracted torpor, with their thinking reduced to what is on their plates and far from the hazy “utopianisms” of civic philosophy.

Anyone seeking to understand how a once proud and prosperous people, who knew how to rid themselves of more than one tyrant, ended up in this shameful state, should firstly disabuse himself of any simplistic view, such as the one that holds that if we allowed so many outrages, it is simply because we are a pack of cowards. But anyone who has had a close encounter of the fourth kind with a Cuban who is all fired up will have perceived that this explanation is not congruent with a temperament that tends towards the explosive. The true answer will, of course, be much more complex.

The causes that keep this game of dominoes closed have to be found in the devious despotism riding on the train of a Revolution that triumphed with the unconditional support of 90% of its people. Anyone who ignores this pair of dichotomies–the initial massive support for that movement, along with the demogogic, cunning character of the top brass–will go off in the wrong direction if he tries to understand the evolution of post-1959 Cuban society, because it was that very initial turmoil that allowed the despots to modify the social framework according to their preferences before the eyes of a people who were all too credulous. The rest was determined by the rebels in the Escambray mountains, hanging teachers with barbed wire, among other bloody events, which conferred clear-cut justification on the politico-military elite to reshape the dog’s nest while letting him sleep.

The rest is known history and today, even when more amicable winds are starting to blow from the North, and weary now of the arguments pulled from the top hat of the Central Committee–that same elite that once dictated and sustained a scorched-earth economic policy with regard to any hint of private or family business–and which continues betting on keeping us in poverty as the only way of ensuring its continued power.

Thus it was for more than 50 years, and thus it has been since last December 17. Now almost a year since that historic announcement, and with both embassies fully functioning, the Cuban regime yet maintains itself as static as the walls of La Cabaña prison, restricting in just the same manner all possibility of incentives for the Cuban people, and continues displaying the same terror as always toward any alternative that supposes prosperity for my people–for it knows this to be incompatible with its monopoly of power.

Today every passing minute shows evermore that the true culprits of our misery and insolvency have always been at Revolution Square; never was there need to search for them even one meter to the North. They have always been the same, but today they remain convinced that the only way to keep a people subdued is to keep them in poverty and privation.

Poverty seen as a deliberate cause of evil, and not as its consequence–the poverty of my people adopted as a deliberate strategy of long-term domination: this is the fundamental and revelatory concept that once and for all puts everything in perspective.

I want you POOR, Fanatic, Worshipful and Thanking me for it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

Shortages in Cuba—a Deliberate Strategy? / Jeovany Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 19 October 2015 — In Cuba the shortage of goods, including basic staples, has been a continuous phenomenon in all retail chains for decades, so repetitive that it seems  incorporated into the very genome of the regime, and has become one of the hallmarks of the laziness, inefficiency, and mediocrity of the economic and military dictatorship of the Castros.

Many alternative websites inside and outside of the island have warned about the phenomenon so constantly that, given its magnitude, even the official press has had no option but to recognize the severity of the problem on more than one occasion. It is not news to anyone that the official voices blame this disaster on the American embargo—which they have inexorably called a “blockade” even though right in front of their noses are windows adorned with goods coming from all four points of the compass.

Thousands of times we have been victims of the onerous consequences of living under an autocracy that exercises its monopoly over the entire national network of commerce. This unnatural and comfortable position has allowed inept and lazy despots to flaunt their irresponsibility by gambling with the most pressing needs of my people, and we have witnessed over and over how they raise prices without explanation, or how many times they leave a particular product on the shelves for years because due to its poor quality the only way to get rid of it is to force its sale.

But what is happening today in Cuba seems to be different and I suspect that this time something more is being arranged behind the scenes. During the past year we have witnessed a worsening of this phenomenon to an unexplainable extent, and we have seen a greater shortage than usual, perhaps the most acute and long-lasting since 1994. All Cubans have observed this in their own place of residence, and have also learned that the situation is the same, if not worse, in other locations.

Especially in recent months the shortages have been so apparent and widespread, have gained such intensity throughout the entire country, and have been so prolonged that it makes one suspect that this is not just another cyclical crisis of scarcities in supply—recognized even by the deaf-mute State newspaper Granma—but this time we could be facing a crude tactical maneuver to achieve a specific short-term goal. This is something happening against the tide, during times in which there should be relative improvement, given the winds that have blown since last December 17 (the day the United States and Cuba announced the resumption of relations). But from the thinking and actions of the olive-green clique, they seem not to perceive it like that, and everything indicates that they have preferred to reset the sails according to their unhealthy inclination of maintaining control at all costs.

A very simple fact demonstrates the profound contradiction: in accordance with the license granted by Congress, Cuba imported $710 million in food directly from the United States in 2008, but in 2013, in contrast, it imported only $348 million, and in the first half of 2015 it decreased even more, buying only $119 million. So they consolidated this decline at the same time as they were advancing the secret negotiations with the US government during 2014, and then, paradoxically, intensified it after the proposed bilateral thaw was made public.

So the questions arise: Could it be that our military autocracy is convinced of the imminent fall of its strategic ally in Caracas at the next elections and is preparing us now in order to minimize the inevitable impact that the suspension of the Venezuelan subsidy will cause? Or maybe the assertion of US Congressman Rodney Davis is coming true, about the impending monetary unification in less than a month, and the Cuban government finds it necessary, for some mysterious reason, to have a record of minimal wares then available for sale?

Or maybe it’s all merely a tactic designed to maximize the psychological perception of improvement when the clique unveils its next opening, while freeing for sale all the merchandise that today is deliberately hidden, in order to “prove” that this systemic shortage always was, indeed, the fault of the “Yankee criminal blockade” and no one else?

Maybe they don’t want to give us any breathing room in case the elections of 2016 do not produce a Democrat successor to guarantee the continuity of the process initiated by Obama. Or they’re just afraid to risk that we would demand some changes in the rules of the game too quickly for Raul Castro’s taste (he is addicted to “changes” without haste and with many delays), or that we would too quickly sniff the aroma of the proposals from the North that ultimately they are not willing to allow.

Maybe it’s one or all of these reasons. But aside from all the speculation one thing is without doubt: the Cuban dictatorship’s short- and medium-term plans include none that even remotely contemplate any real improvement in our standard of living, much less any effective opening to commerce that would in any way empower the Cuban people; and to accomplish them, there is nothing like promoting this perpetual shortage, which after all has demonstrated its undeniable effectiveness in dividing the attention of the masses and preventing them from focusing on uncomfortable issues. No one doubts that the evil intentions on Havana’s Mt. Olympus are more than sufficient to devise such a mean-spirited strategy .

Translated by Tomás A.

Bergoglio’s Havana Tango / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 27 September 2015 — The recently concluded visit of Pope Francis left Cuba awash in a wave of controversy. To the amazement of some and the disappointment of others, a pope known for being direct, almost penetrating, in his incendiary statements to the centers of world power, and who has shown courage in opening a Pandora’s box inside his own institution, to the delight of many enjoying the show, was nevertheless too cautious in facing the Cuban dictators.

From someone who has taken steps considered truly reckless in contrast to the millennial conservatism of his Church, who arrived in Havana preceded by his reputation as a radical reformer, and whose statements on behalf of the dispossessed have even earned him the absurd accusation of being communist, many expected a bolder more direct speech against those responsible for the well-known disregard of human rights on the island.

But such disappointment may have originated from an incorrect assessment of the exact coordinates of his passage through Havana, the uncharted context in which his visit occurs: it happens that the country visited today by the Argentine Pope is not the same one visited by Wojtyla in 1998; nor even the same one visited by Ratzinger in 2012.

Just because the dictatorship is exactly the same doesn’t mean that Cuba is. The political audacity of Obama in diametrically reversing a policy perpetuated by his nine predecessors in the White House is not the focus of this discussion, but the consequences of this shift are undoubtedly far-reaching.

This has obviously affected the political scene inside and outside of Cuba because in the short term it has conditioned a different attitude toward the island and has raised more expectations in the entrepreneurial sector of the informal Cuban economy.

Because a country is the sum of the needs and aspirations of the people who inhabit it, something well-known to Bergoglio, an expert on human nature, he must have opted for prudence out of the conviction that it was the appropriate thing right now.

Let’s put everything in context. Bergoglio is a Pope who has publicly agreed to mediate one of the longest and most bitter conflicts in modern history, and therefore follows the golden rule of all mediators: do not embarrass any party taking a neutral position. He knows that the world is watching his every gesture.

He also knows the penchant of the Cuban side to concoct absurd pretexts, and he knows that any confrontational statement could cool the climate of the current negotiations. At this time the pope is a political actor and conducts himself as such.

In Cuba we saw a Bergoglio focused on his purpose of bringing the two parties closer to try to resolve a longtime dispute. We are in the presence a man in the prime of his personal maturity and at the summit of his life’s work, conscientiously serving in a delicate negotiation.

Like any good politician, who never sacrifices the final objective for intermediate skirmishes, he simply puts his mission ahead of any personal opinion he may have on the matter and keeps his attention fixed on achieving the goal.

Nevertheless, his personal visit to Fidel Castro was disconcerting—he was not required by protocol to visit someone who at this point does not occupy any official positions. If instead he had not visited Fidel’s home, he would have sent a clear political message about his desire to break with a past that Cuba urgently needs to leave behind. But for either practical or purely personal reasons he chose to give a media selfie to the dictatorship.

Seeing him with the man who has most damaged the Cuban nation has been deeply disturbing, but time will unveil the true intention of his encounter and only then will we know how ethically justified his decision was.

Controversies have also arisen about his later statements denying knowledge of the arrests of hundreds of Cuban dissidents during his stay on the island. But not meeting with any dissidents fit pragmatically with his objective when seen from the viewpoint of a mediator: this would have unduly strained the climate of the visit, in the view of the Cuban government—and is something, by the way, that was not required given the essentially pastoral character of his tour. Viewing everything in this light, it was simply a diplomatic matter of refraining from making inflammatory statements.

But all this made more evident still the dilemma of the Cuban Catholic Church; caught between the brittle pride of a suspicious dictatorship and hurting those who are supposed to be its people has presented a profound ethical dilemma.

We are facing a new scenario in which age-old questions are repeated: what is the role of the Catholic Church, located between a suffering people and the despotism of their oppressors? Where is her exact place in this puzzle of contradictions? To what extent should the successor of Peter be politically involved? Or maybe the question is much simpler still—Which side would Jesus be on at this crossroads of our history?

At this time Francis, who delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly in keeping with his style, has opted not to take a risk regarding Cuba, has decided to dance to the rhythm of his own tango, and from the stairway seemed to sing “goodbye children!” as one who knows all the answers beforehand.

Tag Cloud