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 the ‘Translator: MLK’ Category

What Happens If Ebola Comes To Cuba? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Ebola outbreak on the world epidemiological scene will obviously involve a huge challenge for every country that is reached by the current epidemic, already registered as the greatest in history and that in recent days has reached about 9000 confirmed cases — although experts say that figure is an undercount.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that the epidemic is not being confronted will all the political rigor that the moment demands on the part of the international community and also warned that if the situation is not brought under control in time, by 2015 it predicts an incidence of about a million and a half cases.

It is easy to conclude that arriving at this state of things the danger would only grow exponentially.  We are confronting an extremely contagious illness of non-vectoral transmission, that can be spread person to person through the most subtle contact with any bodily fluid of an infected person — and that may be transmitted sexually to boot, given that the virus is isolated in semen until 90 days after recovery.

Although a first clinical trial for a vaccination has just been implemented, the reality is that for now the medical treatment protocols are in their infancy in the face of a disease that in previous outbreaks has reached a lethality of between 90% and 100% of cases and in the face of which one can only commit to treatments of its severe complications and to practice the usual measures for life support.

Today is raised before man a threat by one of the bad boys of virology, which demands the implementation of the most extreme biological containment measures, as well as the use of the most specialized and scrupulously trained personnel for its handling.

Such a scene places before us the most elemental question: what if Ebola breaks out in Cuba? This is not negligible, and it stopped being a remote possibility after the departure of a detachment of hundreds of Cuban professionals destined for the African countries flogged by the epidemic. Let’s remember the possibility that it was that route used by cholera to reappear in our country, imported from Haiti after an absence of 120 years, and not to mention the everlasting dengue fever.

The eruption of this most dangerous illness in Cuba could simply take on shades of tragedy.  Beyond how dissipated may become the customs of the inhabitants of the alligator, I am inclined to fear by the experience of one who has seen too often the systematic use of recyclable material, the usual practice in Cuba, even when long ago the world definitively committed to the exclusive use of disposable material: the idea of treatment centers for these patients winding up recycling suits, gloves or other materials because it occurs to some pig-headed guy from the “higher level” that this would “guarantee” safety under such circumstances is terrifying.

In a country where too many times a doctor does not have in his office something as basic as running water and soap in order to wash his hands, it will be understood what the demand for costly minimal material demanded for handling patients with Ebola would involve, and if besides we take into account that the almost generality of our hospital infrastructure is not designed or prepared objectively for the containment of this kind of scourge, now we will be able to raise a prayer to the Virgin to save us from the trance.

On the other hand, let’s not forget how reticent the Cuban authorities have shown themselves to be about publicly reporting on the incidence of epidemics when one considers that this might risk the affluence of tourists or the successful conclusion of some relevant international event — the Cuban dengue fever mega-epidemic of 2006 is still an excellent example in that regard.

With all these antecedents at hand, chills are felt before the possibility here considered and the questions that remain unanswered.  Will the Cuban Public Health System be prepared to control the Ebola outbreak with the required speed?  Will we Cuban professionals have the training, methodology and even the discipline necessary for adequately confronting a contingency of this caliber — and that quite few seem to have faced before?  When the moment arrives, will our government be ready to report the truth bluntly to the people and to the world?  Will this “infallible” government that has exported dozens of medical missions around the world have the humility to recognize its inability to control it and to seek help?

Since the strategy followed until now by WHO at an international level may be debatable — which has accepted being faced with the most serious epidemiological problem since the appearance of AIDS — in regard to the transfer of the foreign sick in order to receive treatment in their respective countries.  Obviously this increases considerably the possibility of transcontinental spread of the virus.

Instead, it would be much more recommended and safe to create adequate conditions in the country where each case is confirmed through a centralized and functional network of field installations correctly equipped and with the full extent of security that is presupposed, where each patient is diagnosed, isolated and treated on site.  For example, it would be worthwhile to consider, in order to implement this kind of possibility, the immediate conversion of uninhabited coastal African islands under the supervision of the experts of WHO and similar organizations such as Doctors Without Borders.

Means analogous to these, and apart from any legal or political assessment, would be more convenient and effective for the containment of this epidemic.  Even the UN — which came to air the topic at the Security Council — could deliver strong resolutions that support and regulate these variants, and it would all be justified by the gravity of a moment that is not made for warm cloths.  It requires taking the strongest measures everywhere the illness is found, if with these measure rapid control of the situation is achieved — including the extreme recourse of military quarantine where it comes to be evidently applicable and necessary.

Admittedly, this proposal may be offered to varied readers, but in operative, practical terms it may constitute the only option that guarantees concrete solutions that stop the advance of this fearful scourge.  It may be now or never: we live at a critical time that demands critical measures. What is not rushed today for lack of political will, governmental indolence or timidity by world institutions, undoubtedly will tomorrow charge a much more dramatic and global human and economic cost.

Translated by mlk.

16 October 2014

New Customs Restrictions in Havana: Another Turn of The Screw / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

I avert my gaze with disgust from the broadsheet of troubling portents that the newspaper Granma has become. Recently, the newspaper published new customs regulations the Cuban government has imposed on its own people. In essence, they amount to a significant reduction — now significantly less than 120 kg — in the weight of non-commercial goods allowed to be brought into the country by the average citizen.

There is also a significant reduction in the value of merchandise allowed to be brought in, from 1,500 pesos beforehand to 1,000 pesos now. Everything determined to be above this limit is to be confiscated. Additionally, there is an ominous decision by the Ministry of Finance and Prices to raise the duty on merchandise received by mail from 10 to 20 CUC — some 500 pesos, the equivalent of a month’s salary — on each kilogram above the initial 1,500 grams.

Like a soothsayer looking into his crystal ball, I can clearly see the inevitable consequences of these measures. Without much effort, I can spot the corrupt customs officials in every Cuban airport rubbing their hands and growing increasingly rich, charging the helpless traveller ever juicier extortion fees, enriching themselves with impunity with millions stolen under the impassive gaze of all the political and government authorities gathered around the feast.

They do this under the very noses of the Interior Ministry officials responsible for “catching them.” This is the same Interior Ministry that is so well-informed and ready to suppress ipso facto any activity of the opposition, however small it might be, but that suddenly becomes “blind and disoriented” in the face of these scandalous, illegal transfers of money.

Nevertheless, I do not foresee in the magic ball the flow of “mules” who supply the black market being halted any time soon. They have “greased” too well those same corrupt officials through bribery. Nor do I see these restrictions leading the Cuban people to buy more shoddy, third-rate goods at scam prices in the hard currency stores; people took note of the pillage happening there a long time ago.

In the depths of my imaginary ball I see very clearly indeed people’s increasing disgust with a government that grows ever more out of touch with them, mired in a delusional fantasy and crafting the kind of measures that only serve to make life more miserable with each passing day.

The Cuban government has demonstrated that it knows no limits when it comes to besmirching us. It is sickening to hear the arguments used to justify these despicable measures. Confiscating a mobile phone in an effort to keep it off the flourishing black market is like grabbing the wrong end of the stick, as is trying to grab certain products brought in by certain passengers.

If someone imports dozens of televisions and computers while someone else brings in dozens of printers or desktop PCs and it is done through customs and with the blessing of officials, it means there were good “rea$on$” to permit it. This does not justify adopting a sweeping policy to deal with a few individuals but which ends up affecting us all.

Furthermore, even if an enthusiasm for acquiring wealth by those importing these goods is demonstrable, it is not something that can be demonstrated at the airport, nor is it the responsibility of the General Customs Service to do so. For that there is a body of regulations and inspectors, whose very job is to see to it that legislation is enforced on the ground. But to accuse all of us of the same thing and to make us pay in the same way is a huge stretch.

Without being naive, it is certainly not natural or ethical for someone who does not know my needs or the size of my family to presume that whatever I bring in beyond what he happens to deem appropriate is of a “commercial character.”

We should never forget, however, that the enduring maxim of the authorities of this country is to ignore the principle of the presumption of innocence. Here you are considered guilty until you can prove otherwise.

Meanwhile, we remain the only country where the government insists on fining its own citizens — no matter how much they try to sugarcoat it, this is what it amounts to — at the customs house door for the “crime” of simply trying to improve their lives.

Translated by mlk

14 July 2014

It’s "Free" . . . But Healthcare Costs Us / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“Your health service is free… but it costs”

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

You’ve been able to see them for almost two years in every health care unit of the Cuban Public Health System, from any primary care office or clinic, passing through each second level hospital, even in tertiary care centers in each Institute.  They welcome us from the door of the consultation room or from the trade union wall and assure us that our omnipotent government has always been zealous to guarantee absolutely fee medical care for our people.

Seen that way, without more, it would seem a simple matter.  In this world, where to the shame of the species, dozens of thousands of children still die of curable illnesses because they do not have access to a few tablets and a measly intravenous infusion, it would be the most natural thing for Cubans to prostrate ourselves in gratitude before such an excess of philanthropy.  But if there is one thing we learned long ago it is that here, when you look into the background of the matter, we have all been charged.

It is true that the hospital does not charge us directly at the hospital or at our children’s school, but without doubt the cash register at the “hard currency collection store” (TRD*) charges us, and in a currency arbitrarily overvalued 25 times in relation to the other currency in which we are paid an unreal salary of little use to us.

These words are not trying to be an inquisitorial onslaught against the health care system to which I belong, whose essential function is impeded by limitations that no sector in Cuba can escape.

Any gratuitous attack would leave on this page the odor of the knife in the back, an aroma that this Cuban detests, but 40 years of hammering did not end up convincing me that guaranteeing a right, or trying to, grants in any way authority to my government to deprive us of other rights as essential as that.

And it is here — more than at the door of the TRD and the hotels, or in the immoral taxes of the General Customs Office, or in the extortionate cost of each consular administration abroad, among other hundreds of shameful examples — where we millions of Cubans have been charged the true currency exchange: it has been through the humiliation of the famous diplo-tiendas*, or in the door of the prohibited hotels, or through the despotism of the migratory authorities or the mistreatment by any other kind of official or through the systematic deprivation of our civil and political rights.

And invariably in the background posters like the one illustrating this post justifying as life-saving the entitlements that crush us at every step.

On the other hand these public governance schemes are not unique to Cuba nor to socialism, as has historically been insinuated to us.  There are dozens of examples of countries — and not necessarily from the first world — that sustain health and education systems as public and free as ours, and all without demanding in exchange such high doses of individual freedom.

Very true it is that sustaining the presumed public health costs each state on a world level very dearly, and Cuba was not exactly going to be the exception, but also I remember here that each Cuban worker has about 30% deducted from his monthly salary precisely to cover these public expenses.

I also remember that when our state undertakes to guarantee public health and education services — the two prime examples — it does not fulfill only a duty but its more conspicuous obligation, perhaps its only authentic obligation.

In particular, I ask myself by what magic method the Cuban government invested $4386.00 pesos in me alone, for the approximately 120 consultations that I did in my last 24-hour medical shift, in which I used only — if we except the $24 pesos that they paid me for night hours — my stethoscope, my blood pressure monitor, and some disposable depressors.

But as I am not an economist, I better leave the accounts to others and dedicate myself, as a good cobbler, to my shoes.  After all, it is true that it costs us . . . and quite expensively, for sure.

*Translator’s note: The government itself named the stores that sell only in hard currency, “Hard Currency Collection Stores”–TRD is the Spanish acronym–making explicit that their major purpose is to capture for the government coffers (through extreme overpricing) a major share of the remittances Cubans receive from their families abroad. Many items are often, or only, available in these stores (or in the black market).  An early incarnation of these stores were known as “diplotiendas,” that is “diplomat stores” catering to foreigners residing in Cuba.

See:  It costs.  By Regina Coyula.

Translated by mlk.
28 April 2014

Upgrade of Cuban Migration Policy?

It is already a fact: the awaited “migration reforms”, announced by Raul Castro a month and a half ago, arrive with a lot of noise — much ado about nothing.  Published “casually” five days before the elections for delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of Popular Power, the modification to Law No. 1312 “Law of Migration” of September 20, 1976, was again the plastic carrot hung in front of the herd.  Some simpleton might believe his opportunity in life has arrived, but the disillusionment — I really wish I were wrong on this point — sooner or later will reveal the true intention behind a decree where they repeat the verb “to authorize” too much which has ruled the destinies of a people confined to their borders for more than half a century.

According to my understanding of Decree-Law No. 302, issued by President Raul Castro October 11, 2012, and published in the Official Gazette last October 16, nothing changes for the professional Cubans — including those from the Public Health, needless to say — we continue dragging that cross that the government became by having devoted ourselves to the cultivation of knowledge.  Once again it pays us so: leaving us at a clear disadvantage, violating our right to travel, depriving us of any opportunity to meet the world. Articles 24 and 25, subsections f, make it very clear when they exclude from leaving the country all those who lack “the established authorization, pursuant to the strict rules of preserving the qualified work force…” which with one blow leaves millions of Cubans out of the game.

One does not have to be really smart to notice that articles 23, 24 and 25, added entirely to the former Law of September 1976, give full power to the authorities to refuse passport, to refuse entry and equally to refuse exit from the country, respectively and according to subjective criteria, to any person inside or outside of Cuba, all of which serves to leave bare the true, hypocritical and deceptive nature of this law.  Too much ambiguity leaves open Article 32, subparagraph h — and by extension the same subparagraph of Article 25 — when they establish that some clerk can refuse the award of the passport and/or exit from the country to anyone, “When for other reasons of public interest the empowered authorities determine…”, ambiguity which will serve to continue detaining millions of Cubans under this blue sky every time the Cuban Government feels like it.  These articles and subparagraphs will be hanging, like the sword of Damocles, over all Cubans.

The other invidious facet of the matter:  Article 24, by means of its subparagraphs c, d and e, establishes as “. . . inadmissible. . .” for entry into the country — because they put them into the same category as terrorists, human and arms traffickers, drug dealers and international money launderers — those accused by the Cuban Government of “…Organizing, encouraging, managing or participating in hostile actions against the political, economic, and social fundamentals of the Cuban State“, “When reasons of Defense and National Security so suggest” and also — this is the little jewel in the crown — all those whom the Cuban Government considers must “Be prohibited from entering the country for being declared undesirable or expelled.”  If one wants it clearer, pour water on it: it is a given that those Cubans with political standards divergent from the Government lines will continue being deprived of travel, and in case they do manage to leave the country, they assume a high risk of not being permitted to return, and this includes, of course, the millions of Cubans and their descendants who live outside of their country.

Something remains clear: as long as one authority might prohibit those of us living in Cuba from leaving freely, and also prohibit that anyone of the millions that live outside return unconditionally to the embrace of their homeland, no one will be able to speak of real freedom of travel; this is an individual’s exclusive decision and will never be a clerk’s because, right to the end, it is inalienable.  As long as they make us leave our families here as hostages as a prerequisite to travel abroad, freedom of thought is abridged with an exit blackmail, if even one Cuban is denied his right to freely come or go as his birthright, nothing will have changed in Cuba.  Time will have the last word, but for now everything seems pure illusion; for the moment, on the balcony of Havana, this little room is just the same.

Translated by mlk.

October 25 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

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