Archive for September, 2012

The Roundtable (TV Show) now runs only an hour. / Oh, Miracle! Raul’s reforms are working! / Cartoon from Garrincha, from Cubaencuentro.

On September 19, the Cuba Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) announced, in the voice of its deputy Roberto Gonzalez, that this coming December it will present a report on the results of the transformations that have been introduced in the Island’s healthcare system in search of “more competition” on the part of the staff working in the sector and greater “efficiency” in the service. Such transformations would be inscribed among the changes of the General-President. According to the deputy minister, under consideration are the modifications discussed and approved at the VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) aimed at “perfecting” the healthcare system while ensuring “quality, savings, resource efficiency and the elimination of unnecessary expenses,” elements that are priorities for the “renewal of socialism” in Cuba.

Also lately there has been circulating on the web a letter-complaint addressed to R. Castro by a group of doctors of General Surgery at the capital’s Calixto Garcia Hospital, which, although not confirmed as to its authenticity, we know that what is raised in the text is scrupulously true and reflects the need for much deeper and more radical changes than those contemplated in the government guidelines.

Meanwhile, ordinary Cubans do not perceive the benefits of such supposed changes: many family doctors offices are not open during their scheduled hours, often they are mobilized by the health director of the area to work on dengue screening (an undeclared epidemic that continues to advance at a rapid pace); in the polyclinics medical equipment is scarce, insufficient, generally obsolete and with frequent imperfections that prevent its effective use; the physical building and hygiene conditions of the installations are defective and sometimes deplorable; and the salaries paid to health personnel are embarrassingly miserable.

So far, the General’s only visible reform has been to shorten the Roundtable TV show by half an hour, although this hasn’t improved the information any. However, we must be grateful that this TV show dedicated the broadcast of Friday, September 21, to an active sector of the dissidence and independent civil society (such as the blogger Yoani Sanchez, the Ladies in White and others). True, the “information” offered was manipulated, taken out of context and falsified. True also that the material prepared by the government’s yeomen was horribly edited, as could be appreciated by the scarce viewers (me included, because someone alerted me to what they were putting on the small screen); but we must be grateful for the dissemination, something unthinkable a few years ago. There is no bad propaganda, friends, only propaganda. The moral is that, beyond their evil intentions, they cannot ignore the existence of these forces that oppose the system and which, with their help, continue to slowly but inexorably spread in Cuba.

September 24 2012

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Cuban television news just broadcast with undisguised joy the statements of the U.S. president about the failure of immigration reforms in that country. With images of Obama on the screen, although taking care, as usual, not to directly broadcast the president’s words, the Island’s media tried to discredit the “enemy” by highlighting another fiasco. It turns out, however, that the authorities here continue to keep the most hermetic silence about the essential immigration reforms in Cuba which — according to what Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the National Assembly, said many months ago — “are being studied.” This is, without a doubt, a most complex study, to judge by its length.

Meanwhile, Cubans on both shores continue to be force to apply for demeaning exit and entry permits in our own country, pay monthly fees to our consulates in the countries we visit (if we want to have the right to re-enter the Island, always remembering that we are allowed to be gone only 11 months and 29 days), and pay ridiculously high amounts for the most stigmatized passport on the planet. Because in the end, have you noticed how much scorn the border authorities look upon us island slaves when we travel? Note: I’ve only traveled outside of Cuba twice, in 1999 and 2002, and on both occasions I noticed that glance.

In principle, every Cuban who aspires to travel goes to the offices of Immigration and Foreigners, a weird name for an institution that deals mainly with Cubans who, in significant numbers, want to emigrate. Shouldn’t it be called the Department of Emigration and Cubanness? There the extortion we all know begins: You must come up with 55 CUC for the fabrication of a passport which expires in six years and must be renewed every two, raising the full cost to 95 CUC without any benefit to the aspiring traveler. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll only have to spend 150 CUC more to get an exit permit — the infamous white card — and finally you’ll have to pay a 25 CUC tax at the airport when you leave. The paperwork, in its totality, costs a fortune* for ordinary Cubans. In most cases such expenses, and the passage, is paid by family and friends living abroad, who — for their part — have to pay unconscionable amounts when they decide to visit the Island.

In short, you as a Cuban pay for the fabrication of the world’s most expensive passport, a document that will serve almost exclusively for the Cuban government to capture some juicy hard currency without having to invest in anything more than cardboard, ink and the paper it’s made from. With this passport you will not only extend your condition as a slave beyond the boundaries of the hacienda, but will also contribute — like it or not — to nourishing the coffers of the very system that humiliates you. Of course, I’m not suggesting renouncing travel, but I do suggest that perhaps while the authorities are studying the “migratory reforms” perhaps they could go ahead and apply some just modifications. It occurs to me that, since they are the only beneficiaries of the use of the passport by travelers, at least they should include some of the “freebies” of the system. It would be curious to establish the first “subsidized passport” in history in Cuba. This would not change anything in our condition nor turn us in to citizens with freedom of movement, but at least it would to some extent diminish the immense crust of cynicism of the Cuban authorities, something they’re in great need of.

*Translator’s note: The total cost is more than a year’s salary for the average Cuban.

September 21 2012

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This beautiful example of cattle is, of course, not Cuban. Photo taken from a website

Someone said that necessity is the mother of invention, a phrase that could explain the proverbial fame of Cuban “inventors”, always having excess necessities.  However, to establish itself as a source of well-being and progress, the invention process requires certain material resources and civil freedoms beyond imagination, intelligence or the desire to do something, otherwise it becomes a backwards move.

Thus, the noted Cuban inventiveness — at least for the last half-century —  has manifested itself primarily in the philosophy of misery, where each invention is not based on creating something truly new and revolutionary (and here the term refers to the technical side) but on the repairing or patching up of old equipment previously invented or — as we usually say — in the discovery of warm water, which consists in changing what was a novelty in the XIX century and applying it as a good thing in our current everyday indigence. Examples abound, but the newspaper Granma (Wednesday, September 12, 2012, page 3) (Wednesday September 12, 2012, p. 3) recently presented to us one of the countless cases which, in addition, are offered as paradigms of efficiency in the official press.

“Biogas in a bag obtained in Pinar del Río”, is the headline of a half-page long article which informs us, in a tone full of optimism, that they have already been successful at packaging biogas in plastic bags in Pinar del Rio” something new, even if it’s just an “isolated” experience, but one that “could transcend into a greatly useful innovation.”

It is known that biogas is highly flammable, so the editor is quick to reassure us: this is about –- the architect of the initiative stated — a safe process, because the biogas can be collected in the same plastic bags used at The Conchita Cannery for storing tomato pulp, which are “hermetically sealed, very resilient and able to withstand high temperatures.” He adds: “there is no need to compress the gas when using them, therefore, the process becomes much easier and efficient.”  The process is that easy, since each device (bag) takes about 30 minutes to fill and “enough biogas is provided for food preparation for two days for a family of three.”

Though the use of biogas is not a recent discovery or anything of the sort, and we are familiar with numerous non-industrial applications in various regions of the globe, the report takes great pleasure in reporting the benefits of this fuel. Among them, the reporter reminds us that it is a renewable energy source, benefitting the environment by taking advantage of a gas that otherwise would end up in the atmosphere, increasing CO2 pollution, and helping families economize by reducing electricity consumption. The idea is to replace the consumption of electricity used in cooking food, because the latter is usually used “in most Cuban homes” thanks to that so-called energy revolution (remember?) promoted a few years ago by the unmentionable (remember him too?).

But, fundamentally, the article promotes the innovation of packaging biogas in plastic bags, a process so simple that it will allow the expansion the operations by excluding ducts to bring biogas from places where it’s collected to the kitchens of the homes, and, at the same time, this system avoids possible sanitary complications of such facilities.

To wrap it up, a small box appears that illustrates the indisputable benefits of the invention, generated by the creativity of an innovative Cuban to solve a local problem and that the official press presents as a palliative to the energy crisis that hundreds of thousands of Cuban homes are enduring, not to mention what awaits us. The Box reads:

It is estimated that one cubic meter of unburned biogas released into the atmosphere equals one ton of CO2.

In contrast, its usage will allow cooking three meals for five people, or generate the energy equivalent to 0.5 liters of diesel, 0.6 liters of kerosene, or 1.6 KW-hour of electricity.  In order to accomplish this, the researched bibliography indicated that it’s just processing of one day’s worth of the excretions of three cows, four horses, nine pigs, ten sheep or one hundred thirty chickens.

Here, my friends, lays the crux of the equation… or, rather, the essence of Cuban innovation.  It turns out that the invention is really economical, it only requires that the would-be consumer of biogas somehow find a way to get some plastic bags at his neighborhood cannery, which may not be so difficult if he knows some potential supplier who works there, if the manager is a friend of his –- in which case he could make use of State resources — or if he would accept selling them at a reasonable price, if in Cuba any price can qualify as such.  That minor inconvenience solved, all he would have left is the tiny problem of availing himself of three cows, four horses, nine pigs, ten sheep or one hundred thirty chickens whose fecal matter would guarantee the cooking of three family meals, as long as the family consists of only five members.

In other words, poop would be the most expeditious route to food on the table. All that’s left is to pray, so no uninvited guest shows up who may alter the scrupulous planning of the family biogas bag. Though, on second thought, there is always the recourse of making a quick collection of raw material for this fuel with the voluntary contribution of family members and neighbors, taking into consideration the equally proverbial generosity of Cubans. I have only one concern, and that is the appearance of another innovator who will discover a way to make this resource more productive and effective with the use of some laxative…Good riddance!!

September 14 2012

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Interfacings of a Mediation

Timochenko, el alias del máximo jefe de las FARC. Un jefe de guerrillas que se dice emocionado por la paz

Photo: Timoshenko, the alias of the top leader of the FARC. A guerrilla leader speaking excitedly about peace.

Recently, the official media made public the Cuban government’s mediation in the dialogue process between the Colombian narco-trafficking guerrillas known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of that nation.

It would really be desirable that, at last, a dialogue process restored peace in Colombia after decades of guerrilla violence and organized drug trafficking from a guerrilla army that transitioned from Marxism to the control of the cocaine cartel. I suppose that some day a book will have to be written about the strange mutations of Marxism in the postmodern era.

At any rate, it is not coincidental that the Cuban government, unable to talk with Cuban civil society, has undergone a year of secret meetings as an intermediary of the FARC, an armed force it trained, supported, and supplied with weapons over the years, since that time when F. Castro was a champion of American freedom and sought to export his communist revolution throughout the region. The Cuban government’s share of the responsibility in the decades of violence that Colombia has endured brands it a creditor of that nation’s peace.

This mediation has most likely not been very spontaneous.  For sure, it is not the way out once conceived by the guerrilla sponsors, but it is also certain that the Cuban leadership will have redirected its interests in this matter … as in all cases. There is some secret official agenda, no doubt about that.

It is clear that the weakening of FARC, thanks to actions initiated and developed under President Alvaro Uribe, with the support of the U.S. government, has forced it to appeal to talks with the government of Juan Manuel Santos, even when actions against the narco-guerrillas have remained strong, and devastating blows have been scored in sympathy with the President’s clear statement that “There will be no ceasefire of any kind, and we won’t have anything until we arrive at a final agreement, let’s make that very clear…”

Thus, although the Cuban media aired a video showing the FARC Central Control Commander boasting: “we said we were going to win and we will win”, the truth is that they are being defeated by the Colombian regular army and police. In the face of this, it is possible that, in the short or medium term, the expansion of the last Castro bastion in this hemisphere will disappear, and with it, another one of the messianic hallucinations of F. Castro will have ended and be deemed a failure. In a few years, the last shreds of the communist revolution that the Orate of Birán dreamed up will be gone, and Colombia will have overcome the last traces of so much violence.

It won’t be so in Cuba, where Cubans who aspire to democratic changes lack the political will of the government to negotiate and establish an end to the national crisis. As for the rest, it is clear that the olive green command is not interested in talking with pacifists but with narco-traffickers.  Things of my country.

September 7 2012

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Fumigating the streets with petroleum vapors. Picture taken from Cubanet

This week, the official press published a lengthy press release that stated that the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) considered  what they referred to as “the outbreak of intestinal infection caused by water pollution” had ended. It lasted for two months in eastern Cuba, leaving three dead and fewer than 500 patients, according to official data. Judging by the media, the cholera came and left the island without further damage. Indeed, it seems that — gone or not — what could have been an epidemic of devastating dimensions in a country where the lack of hygiene is widespread has been relatively controlled.

However, what the MINSAP’s note does not include is the intensification of a real epidemic that is gaining ground: dengue fever. The press has not made any statement about the proportions of the current dengue epidemic hitting most of the country. In the capital, an anti-vector campaign remains in place, managed directly by the military, including mobilization of medical personnel and paramedics who work seven days a week with extended hours.

Even with all these measures, there has been no progress in controlling the dengue. One element that undermines the population’s perception of the risk is precisely the lack of information. At the same time, the rainy season this year has been severe, even before the most recent rainfall throughout the Island brought on by Tropical Storm Isaac, which added to the poor state of water networks, the proliferation of vacant lots, the accumulation of trash, and the schools, closed for summer vacation, and not properly inspected by those in charge, has all led to the increased outbreaks of the mosquito that transmits the disease.

An example: just in the area around to the Van Troi polyclinic (at the corner of Carlos III and Hospital, Centro Habana), four to five new cases of dengue fever are reported every day. There are three quarantine hospitals in the capital dedicated to the admission of the more delicate cases, while those who get the classical, less severe case of dengue fever, are treated at home by doctors in their health area, a system that reduces hospital load, but increases the risk of infection at the community level.

Meanwhile, the dengue appears to be another state secret. The authorities are more interested in maintaining the flow of foreign tourists to the Island than in safeguarding the health of the population. Maybe one day this situation will reverse itself, but, meanwhile, ordinary Cubans are footing the bill.

August 31 2012

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