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: Regina Anavy’ Category

Cuba and the Phantom of the Internet / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Free Internet, Mayor’s Office of Guayaquil (Ecuador). Image courtesy of photographer Julio R.B. for Jeovany Jimenez Vega.

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 January 2016 — A ghost is haunting Cuba: the phantom of the Internet. All the forces of the old guard have joined in a holy crusade against that spectre: the Castros and Ramiro Valdes*, the censor, before ‘Furry’ Colomé Ibarra and now Fernández Gondín**, the radical communists and all the opportunistic cops … Thus begins the Manifesto of the Internet for the Cuban people, placed at a horizon so far away that it’s as elusive as everything else concerning connection to the outside world.

Walking through any park in Guayaquil, Ecuador, at every Metro stop, in many cafes and shops, in every mall, and at every corner, I find at each step an announcement of a free Wi-fi signal, and my thoughts fly to my closed little island.

Internet censorship in Cuba is a subject that has been brought up so many times it now stinks. The amply demonstrated reluctance of the Cuban Government to cede a bit of ground in its information monopoly has ended up putting our country at the bottom of the index of connectivity on the whole American continent, and in the select group of those who are behind globally.

I’m bringing up the trite question again on this page, before the news that the representatives of both governments of Cuba and the U.S. have sat down to talk about the subject in recent days, as part of the thaw fostered after 17 December 2014 by the Obama administration and accepted by Raúl Castro, but only because Venezuelan President Maduro’s boat is going under.

But I certainly heard nothing new. “The blockade prevents the financing of any United States project to enlarge the infrastructure; it would be precisely to democratize the administration of the global network; that if cyber-security, that if the solar storms or the rings of Saturn” —  whatever excuse the censors could use to delay our right to unconditional access to the world highway.

Surely nothing was mentioned by the Cubans at this meeting about the three-quarters of the Venezuelan submarine cable that remained, deliberately, without exploiting its potential for almost a decade, and they dissimulated or evaded when any allusion was made to concrete proposals, on more than one occasion, by U.S. businesses to make investments in the island, which, in the short term, would make Internet service accessible for the average Cuban and would ostensibly improve telephone service.

Before every proposal by the U.S. or any other country on the matter, the Cubans have followed their usual strategy: find a problem for every solution. On this rough point the dictatorship has its eyes fixed on its only intent: maintaining, at all cost, until its last breath, the most absolutely possible iron control of information. Thus every U.S. proposal came up against this primordial interest, since the dictatorship knows that censorship is a vital matter.

When I walk through the streets of Guayaquil and see at every step announcements of a free Wi-fi signal offered by the city, and the posters from cyber cafes inviting you to use the Internet at a comfortable speed and without restrictions, for U.S.$1.00 for three hours of connection (!), and I see on every roof a parabolic antenna or a coaxial cable, I can’t help but contrast this reality with the Cuban government’s cynical policy and ETECSA’s*** monopoly on “free” Wi-fi service at selected points in drips and drabs.

They all have something in common: you pay $2.00 CUC (more than U.S. $2.00) for an hour with a very slow connection, in a country with an average monthly salary between U.S. $15 and $20. You get connected from a navigation room, outdoors in a park, or “accommodated” under the sun on a sidewalk, but never from your home, since such a service is available only for the Regime’s acolytes, and you always have to show your identification and personal data when you enter.

Furthermore, you should know that every click of the keyboard or every site you visit will be spied on, and you will find that all the sites that are inconvenient to the Government have been zealously censored.

For my part, beyond the fact that my blog, Citizen Zero, is not approved in Cuba — I didn’t have the occasion to try the “superb” Wi-fi service or ETECSA’s navigation room — I will never forgive the satraps of Havana who, by their cojones (balls), vetoed something as simple as a video-conference with my children. This is something that hurts and offends, and converts my conflict with the dictatorship into something personal.

As for their policy, however, there is inescapable evidence to take into account, which is the essential and last cause of the problem: the uncontainable and absolute terror of the Cuban dictatorship before the unsubmissive truths poured out on the Web, which it hides them from the Cuban people because the despots who dis-govern depend on this censorship to perpetuate their power. The Cuban dictatorship’s dilemma is as simple as that. This “menace” makes them lose sleep.

Translator’s notes:

*He defended Internet restrictions, saying, “The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled.”

**The old and new Ministers of the Interior.

*** La Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., Cuba’s one telecommunications company.

Translated by: Marlena (PL) and Regina Anavy

 

Exodus, Cubans and the Law of Adjustment: the Beginning of the End? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 30 November 2015 — The present migratory crisis, unleashed by the Nicaraguan Government’s refusal to permit transit through its territory for Cubans walking to the United States, has brought to the foreground a drama that has been going on for decades.

Too many stories of suffering and death have spattered the dangerous route followed by tens of thousands of emigrants from the island going north through Central America. But what could have been a rapid solution of the problem at the meeting of chancellors of the Central American Integration System (SICA) which took place this week in San Salvador was frustrated by the intransigence of Daniel Ortega’s Government, obstinately opposed to permitting the caravan’s passing in spite of the good will shown by the majority of the governments in the region in handling the matter as a humanitarian problem rather than a question of national security.

It’s not by chance that the present crisis generated, a few days ago, Raúl’s recent visit to México. On Aztec soil, the dictator was assured of blocking the last obligatory link of the stopover of these terrestrial rafters, getting from Peña Nieto’s Government — the same one that criticizes the U.S. when it deports Mexicans — its unrestricted commitment, beginning now, to deport any Cuban it encounters passing through.

Scarcely days later, suspiciously, the governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua also announced measures that were analogous. But the Costa Rican Government revised rapidly and authorized transit visas to the caravan, and later assumed a constructive posture when the Nicaraguans sent army troops to stop the attempt of these emigrants to cross the border. Things still remain at this point two weeks later.

This dramatic situation of thousands of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica, like a shot centered even more attention in the U.S. on the justification or not of keeping alive the Cuban Adjustment Act, and intensified one even chillier polemic that, as never before in half a century, ended by putting this regulation on the dissection table of US policy.

These are compelling questions that line up like daggers toward the center of the problem: would the abolition of this law stop the exodus of Cubans? Is that law really the essential cause of the perpetual flight maintained during decades by a considerable part of my people? What would happen if the Cuban Adjustment Act was repealed this very day?

The matter seems to me as obvious as the question, “What color is a white horse?”  I’m among those absolutely convinced that if the repeal of the law materializes this would only redirect the present exodus from the island. In case speculation turns into fact, it would produce only a momentary reduction in attempts to leave; but once the initial stupor is overcome, and spurred on by the real cause of their flight — the absurd hardships imposed by a Communist dictatorship — Cubans would continue arriving at their own rhythm in the United States, even under an illegal status — amply exemplified by Mexicans — since one river more or one river less would mean nothing to those who also are ready to row 90 miles and brave the sharks.

Trying to reduce the motive for the stampede and the discriminating protection offered by the Cuban Adjustment Act would simplify the matter too much and would disavow the categorical fact that a quarter of the Cuban population remains dispersed outside the country; and if it is true that most live in the U.S., it’s also true that the Cuban diaspora has left barely any virgin space between both poles in its sustained and frenetic escape.

Even if the abolition of the existing Cuban Adjustment Act led to another that was rigorously directed to the contrary, the exodus would continue as long as the present cause exists, which is the absolute lack of hope for Cubans — above all for the youth, of course — under a totalitarian regime, a dictatorship that has hijacked the future of their nation and traitorously curtailed any possibility of wellbeing for its people, that has systematically obstructed their prosperity and has submitted them to the most oppressive and unhealthy despotism that has ever been known in the American hemisphere.

The latest news seems to presage a long wait for those stranded in Peñas Blancas: the lack of agreement of the good will of most of the chancellors meeting in San Salvador before the bad faith of Managua, in addition to the mentioned policy of extradition assumed by México, added to the new migratory policy announced by Ecuador of requiring a visa for Cubans beginning next December and the recent detention of hundreds of Cuban migrants in Panamá by the express petition of Costa Rica thus appear to warn them. The recent UN announcement of support for the Government of San José in its humanitarian attention to Cubans in Peñas Blancas and its intention to find a solution for the crisis – all are very illustrative evidence of the gravity and regional repercussions of the present migratory crisis.

But in all this mess, what stands out above the rest of the elements is the intransigence of Daniel Ortega’s Government: the hermetic posture assumed by Managua is very striking.

They have managed to stigmatize the Cubans on the Costa Rican border as being a mob of criminals, and they arrived at the ridiculous — in their desire to ingratiate themselves with their accomplice in Havana — by demanding that Costa Rica remove the Cubans from the border, because they consider them a danger to national security, even knowing that if they gave them passage the Cubans wouldn’t even stop for a drink of water, and not a single one of them would remain in Nicaragua after 24 hours.

The unconditional acquiescence shown by Daniel Ortega — disguised as ultranationalism in the presumed protection of territorial integrity — is so shameful and boot-licking, and is strictly aligned with his servility to Havana’s directives.

This chapter of the drama has shown America and the world that Cuba continues stuck in time as thousands of Cubans remain stuck in Costa Rica, living testimony to the despair of a people who now expect nothing of the dictators who misrule their country. All the ostensible reforms proclaimed by the regime of Raúl Castro are left unveiled as barren tinsel, and a shattering proof of that is the perpetual flight that never stops.

The very late and biased official pronouncement of the Cuban Government on the subject — blaming, of course, the Cuban Adjustment Act for the disaster — and the scandalous indifference shown by the Cuban embassy in San José in regard to the irregular situation of those thousands of their citizens on Costa Rican soil are highly illustrative evidence that the Cuban dictatorship continues holding exactly the same arrogance and contempt as always for the rights of my people. The despotic message released by the tyrants in Havana loudly and clearly suffices as a warning to those dreamers who still hope to harvest some fruit from the tree.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Censorship, the Vital Artery of the Cuban Regime / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 4 November 2015 — The recent termination of Juan Carlos Cremata as a theater director, the previous suspension of “The King Dies,” his last work on the stage of the Theater Center, and the publication online some days ago of an inflamed letter from the prestigious critic, Enrique Colina, motivated by this fact, once more stoked the embers of the polemic on censorship in Havana. Affectionately remembered for 24 per Second, his excellent program — definitely a reformer of our cinematographic culture and to whom more than one Cuban owes his passion for the best of this art — Colina comes out this time in valiant defense of Cremata and, by extension, of all censured creators in post-revolutionary Cuba.

Whoever wants to follow a common thread along this long life/agony of the Castros’ “Revolution” doesn’t have to do more than wind his finger over the uninterrupted line of censorship, that indispensable tool of the Cuban Regime, together with physical repression, always used to keep itself in power against the will of the people. Such exercise would confirm a historical maxim: as a matter of essence, no dictatorship would ever abandon this aberration simply because it’s codified in its DNA, because it forms an unbreakable indissoluble part of its very nature.

The hierarchs on the Plaza of the Revolution are completely aware of this. They know very well that if the dictatorship stopped repressing and censuring, it would be signing its own death sentence, because freedom of thought and personal morality are incompatible with the grim, closed will of dictators.They are fruits exclusively cultivable in lands fertilized by democracy, and that word is excluded from the technical catalogue of Havana’s own dementors.*

Repression and censorship are as inherent to the Cuban dictatorship as nuclear fusion is to sunlight, as moisture is to water. In fact, this lethal combination constitutes the only way in which someone can stay in power for 56 years in spite of governing so scandalously badly, against the vital interests of the Cuban people, and having sunk his nation into the most serious economic and moral ruin in its history.

Before there were other reasons chosen by the inquisitors, and they didn’t always have a useful or political “justification” that was clear or immediate, but on no few occasions we suffered prohibitions that were simply trivial, like banning those great songs of four boys from Liverpool, or for frankly stupid reasons like prohibiting a religious cult when it wasn’t attacking the Regime’s political stability in any way.

But at this point there are still incidents like that with Cremata, definitively contradicting those who have wanted to limit this systematic governmental rebuke to the Five Grey Years of the ’70s – which some prefer to extend to black decades. Today you can again see behind the curtain the same hairy hand that for half a century ordered the creation of UMAP (forced labor camps) or the ostracism of Virgilio Piñera and José Lezama, or so many others.

No artistic expression exists that has escaped this evil in the Cuba of the Castros. Today the long defense continues and the same dark presence reports that, really, nothing has changed during this long staging, only that these are new times, and the same gerontocracy now prevents full access to the Internet and satellite television, the possibility of an independent press properly legalized and, furthermore, subjects all the official press to the most hermetic censorship. Every radio or television director still has on his desk, very visible, a long list of prohibited music and artists, and the editorials ban annoying authors, almost always giving priority to the most mediocre in the sewer of opportunism.

The hangmen are the same, but now Cuba isn’t; Cuba is definitely tired because it knows by heart, from being repeated so much, the old masquerades that only look for something new, “…retouching the makeup.” So virile gestures of solidarity like those of Colina and unconditional commitments like those of Cremata are always comforting.

Gestures like this are necessary to make it clear that behind that “…appeal made by the greatest urging of the Government to assume reality with a critical sense, with honesty and an ethical commitment” – the only point where it disagreed with Colina – there is nothing but hypocrisy and purely abject demagoguery.

But again the ghost of censorship levitates over the large estates of Birán, like an evil called to endure as long as the hangmen last, an evil not willing to cede, which always makes an effort to extend itself, fatally menacing our consciousness. Again the shadows enthrone their domain in the middle of the medieval village where sad songbirds, already buried by History, stubbornly refuse to die.

*Translator’s note: From Harry Potter, soul-sucking wraiths that live off peoples’ worst fears. 

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

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