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: Tomás A.’ Category

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.

Palliative Treatments / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 2 September 2015 — Several weeks ago it was rumored that the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba (MINSAP) has prepared a series of measures for the benefit of its professionals. Viewed as a whole, these proposals could be seen as a countermand to that other policy from several months ago of widespread reprisals, within the island and throughout the network, which amounted to a stupid and unrealistic frontal assault against those who decided to leave the country for individual contracts that were not part of any official medical mission.

Certainly the previous “circular” from the minister bet heavily on the hardline to discourage individual medical recruitment abroad by all possible means: he began ordering the disqualification of all those working in the sector who left without authorization from MINSAP to work abroad on their own; he shamelessly applied pressure on other governments, including through diplomatic channels, to prevent individual contracting; he even ordered punishment of those who decide to return to work in Cuba after working abroad, including the immediate withdrawal of their passport at Customs (as an official collaborator) upon returning to Cuba, among other crimes previously analyzed in my blog Citizen Zero.

But this time other rumors—again nothing published officially—brought a more conciliatory breeze from the island. Apparently someone more clear-thinking and realistic, or simply more pragmatic, had to point out that the previous measures would have little practical value, high political cost, and would ultimately only succeed in discouraging the potential return of professionals who had never decided to live permanently away from Cuba.

As for being disqualifed from practicing on the island: how could being deprived of a salary of $60.00 a month matter to someone who returns to Cuba with tens of thousands of dollars? Prohibiting this professional from practicing in Cuba would be ludicrous, particularly at a time when the Cuban government is advertising openings because, after all, in practical terms, where will they spend their money when they get back but in Cuba? Who would be most affected in this fight: the reluctant Ministry quite pressed for professionals, or the worker who could wait for years with all the patience in the world, without any urgency, for the Minister’s replacement?

Almost every time the olive-green dictators have chosen one of the many measures directed against the welfare and prosperity of my people they have done so through a recognizable modus operandi: they ordered their army of neighborhood informers to put out trial balloons and then return to their masters with the views they heard about how the future crime would be perceived by public opinion, to thereby forecast the reaction that would follow once the edict in question was implemented.

So far, despite the undoubtedly positive way the presumed measures were “announced”—aside from the fact that they are part of a containment strategy in the face of a mass exodus of professionals due to the failure to meet their expectations—it seems that these measures were untimely taken; or better said in good Cuban … “that train has left the station.”

Now it will be much harder to dissuade a professional who in the first month of work abroad has received remuneration significantly greater than that received in ten whole years of work in Cuba. Hopefully there will be some good news, but due to the long-proven track record of the Cuban government in spreading rumors—it has now become one of their favorite hobbies—I once again frankly doubt it.

Translated by Tomás A.

Words into the Wind / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega, M.D.

When I spoke during the discussion of the Draft Law to amend the Labor Code a couple of weeks ago, I said that our industry (public health) generates 50% of the GDP of this country; that it represents an income of between 8 and 10 billion hard-cash dollars every year; that this is a lot of money, which should be enough to significantly increase the salary of the sector that produces it; that those who remain here deserve as much as those who go on work medical missions abroad; that I will never understand why a prestigious professor of medicine, after decades of dedication, earns one-third the salary of an office manager trained for fifteen days.

It’s not just that our salary is ridiculous, but that it is particularly absurd in this country of merciless prices. We have patients who easily earn three to ten times our salary, and not from self-employment, but also from the few state jobs that link salary to performance; or simply through “struggling” — that is, stealing with both hands. It is high time to put an end to this humiliating situation, because if there exists today in Cuba a sector that is able to increase substantially the wages of its workershere we’re not talking about the ridiculous two pesos per hour for nighttime work — it’s public health. I said all this, a couple of weeks ago, when I was able to speak.

My specific proposal? A basic monthly salary for a recent graduate of 800 Cuban pesos (roughly $33 US), increasing by 150 pesos every two years up to, for example, 1,500 pesos eight or ten years after graduation; 100 pesos per each medical shift at multi-specialty and primary care clinics, and between 150 and 200 pesos in hospice facilities depending on the workload assumed by each specialty, never less than 5 pesos an hour for night duty, 200 pesos for biohazard risk, 200 for administrative positions and teachers — it could be higher for provincial or ministerial positions; 250 for certified masters and 500 per specialty completed. And finally, it would be fair to give longevity pay after fifteen years of work at 100 pesos every five years (100 after the first 15 years, 200 after 20, 300 after 25 and so on) and finally a retirement that does not force those who served their people for decades to live on a little less than a beggar would get.

Of course, this is my humble opinion, launched into the ether from the perspective of the sufferer, not remotely like that of an experienced economist. But something convinces me that an industry generating so much money could handle it comfortably. They’ve already made a timid gesture with sports, so why not with the sector that generates similar wealth, which provides reasonable assurances that it will continue, and which is showcased to the world as a success story?

Those who make these decisions should take into account that these are professionals who know that, if they approved a monthly salary like this (I’m talking about 150 U.S. Dollars), it would still be less than they could earn abroad for a few hours of work under circumstances qualitatively very different, despite which — I venture to guarantee — in most cases they would not want to abandon their country. I remains to be seen if the words spoken in meetings all across this country will fall on deaf ears, if it will do any good to throw this bottle into the sea, to throw these crazy words into the wind.

Translated by Tomás A

17 October 2013

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