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14ymedio, Zunilda Mata and Daniel Delisau, Havana/Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 20 February 2017 — The players arrange their dominoes on the table. Outside, the sun still floods the wide entryway on Monserrate Street in Old Havana and time seems to have stopped. The scene occurs at the Canary Island Association of Cuba, a community that languishes between … Continue reading "Canary Islanders in Cuba, Islanders Two Ways / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mara and Daniel Delisau" Continue reading
The energy that Castroism is stifling
ROBERTO ÁLVAREZ QUIÑONES | Los Ángeles | 21 de Febrero de 2017 - 09:05 CET.

In recent weeks the regime of General Raúl Castro has "spooked," and is
now galloping in the wrong direction, in defiance of time and history.
The economic crisis is compounded daily, and the dictator and his
military junta, far from taking steps to unshackle Cuba's productive
forces, are restricting and choking them more and more.

Price caps on taxi drivers, prohibitions against street vendors hawking
fruits and vegetables, the nationalization of agricultural markets based
on supply and demand, and bans on the self employed in Varadero, are
just some of the Stalinist measures exacerbating the severe economic crisis.

Turning its back on the people, the Government is thus recklessly
staving off the emergence of a massive and vibrant private sector, the
only force that can rescue the country from this crisis, and that will
be, necessarily, that which rebuilds the devastated Cuban economy.

Meanwhile, poverty, despair and unhappiness grow amongst Cubans. The
economic, social, political, moral and even anthropological cataclysm
caused by Castroism is now of such a magnitude that it is difficult to
assess the disaster. Yet, this diagnosis is the first thing that must be
done to rebuild the country.

It is a historical shame that Cuba is the only Western country that is
actually less advanced than it was in the mid 20th century. The same
cannot even be said of Haiti. Many Cubans on the island would be happy
if the country enjoyed the same standard of living it did 60 years ago
today, when it was one of the highest in Latin America.

So, although it seems a Kafkaesque absurdity, Cuba today is
socioeconomically below zero, which it needs to get back to, going on to
build a future. The situation is that serious.

The Castroist higher-ups are trying to ignore the fact that it was
European entrepreneurs in the 16th through the 18th century who made
possible the emergence of a large private sector based on free
enterprise. Private property and economic liberalism were what brought
and end to the ancien régime; that is, the absolute monarchies like
those under Louis XIV, and the enlightened despotism embodied by
Catherine the Great of Russia, with her policy of "everything for the
people but without the people," which, by quashing individual liberties,
prevented the development of productive forces and the creation of
widespread wealth, leading to uprisings like the French Revolution.

Entrepreneurs paved the way to modernity

It was the sector of entrepreneurs that rapidly grew and shaped the
modern world we know today. Traders, artisans, innovators, investors and
enterprising people in multiple activities, in a spirit of laissez faire
(live and let live), encouraged by French physiocrats and English
liberalism, took the baton of capitalism and changed the face of the planet.

This possibility is what the Castro dictatorship is denying the Cuban
people. These are freedoms and rights enshrined in the UN's Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Paris in 1948, and instituted
through a series of political, civil, social, cultural and labor rights,
none of which are respected in Cuba.

It is no coincidence that the 35 most developed countries in the world,
members of the OECD, enjoy all of these individual economic freedoms and
democratic systems. Nor is it a coincidence that these freedoms do not
exist in any of the 41 poorest countries (according to the UN), or in
dozens of other Third World nations.

General Castro and those who maintain him in power must be aware of two
things:

The more they tighten the political screws on Cuba, and hound the
private sector, the less able they will be to resolve the national
crisis in a humanitarian fashion.
The more restrictions there are on the self-employed, the more poverty
and shortages there will be throughout the country, and the longer, more
difficult, and more expensive will be its economic reconstruction.
A secret source of funding?

Hence, it is scandalous, and suspicious, that in response to the near
collapse of the Venezuelan economy, and all its political tribulations;
the lack of subsidies from Brazil, Beijing's and Moscow's refusals to
send aid to Havana, and a new administration in Washington that is not
leftist or pro-Castro, the regime is not only refusing to promote
economic freedom, but is increasingly curtailing it. Is the regime
concealing some source of financial support that it cannot divulge?

After not paying a penny for the servicing of its foreign debt for 30
years, the regime announced recently that in 2016 it paid the enormous
sum of 5.299 billion dollars to its short and long- term creditors. And
it is surprising, to say the least, that the payment of such a sum of
money, so disproportionate to the small size of the Cuban economy, came
precisely during the year in which, for the first time, the Government
admitted to a drop in the GDP and a deteriorating economic crisis.

Is it possible that the Castro regime has links to high-ranking members
of the Venezuelan government who are, effectively, drug kingpins? Is it
receiving "donations" from the FARC in Colombia in exchange for the
peace agreement, favorable to it, forged in Havana?

The military and younger members of the dictator's leadership are
determined to remain in power and to establish, starting next year, a
kind of neo-Castroist model of authoritarian and militarized capitalism
under which only they, the military, the Castro family, and some
civilian members of the Communist Party (PCC) will be able to do serious
business and make big money.

A right of all

The struggle of the Cuban people, political dissidents and human rights
activists, journalists and independent trade unionists, the
self-employed, and all democrats and anti-Castro elements inside and
outside Cuba, necessarily hinges on preventing the perpetuation of the
dictatorship. Opposing this is a natural right of all Cubans.

Cuba also needs international support, particularly from the US, as the
policy of former President Barack Obama politically fortified the Castro
regime and opened to it the doors of the world.

From the existential point of view, that of daily subsistence, everyday
Cubans need the dictatorship to loosen its grip over economic matters
and to let the self-employed off their leash. Economic freedom is
essential to save the people from their appalling poverty.

Raúl Castro and his military junta must legally recognize private
property, and Cubans' right to hold it, and to invest and create their
own businesses. They cannot continue to limit and even strangle the
private sector, the only economic force that the nation can count on.

If they fail to do this everything will be increasingly difficult, not
only for the people they claim to represent, but for them too.

Source: The energy that Castroism is stifling | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1487664301_29113.html Continue reading
Mexican Police Rescue Two Cubans Kidnapped in Mexico / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 19 February 2017 — Two Cubans have been rescued from
the hands of their kidnappers on Isla Mujeres, as the result of a joint
effort between the Federal Investigation Police and agents of the
Ministerial Police of the state of Quintana Roo. In the operation
carried out on Friday, one of those implicated in the kidnapping was
captured, according to the local press.

The Special Prosecutor's Office for Investigation of the Kidnapping
began "a thorough investigation to find and pinpoint the two victims"
from Cuba who had been held by the same people who helped them "to enter
Mexican territory and then demanded 20,000 dollars from their families
for their rescue," said the report.

The investigation took ten days, and on 17 February "achieved the
release of the people safe and sound," although the identity of the
victims was withheld. At the time of the rescue they were in a reserve
"in a mangrove area located on Avenida Rueda Medina at Pelícano Street,
in the municipality of Isla Mujeres."

Police authorities say the family of the hostages had not deposited the
money for the ransom. An individual "with the initials L.J.C.P, who was
the leader of the group and who demanded the ransom from their relatives
in the United States, in order to obtain their release to continue on
their journey," was arrested in the operation.

In another police action the same afternoon, six people of Cuban origin
including one woman were arrested, "who could not prove their legal
status in the State The migrants were turned over to the Public Ministry
to be taken to the National Immigration" authorities.

It is estimated that hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in Mexico
after the end of the United States Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy last
January, which had previously allowed undocumented Cubans to remain in
the United States if they managed to reach US soil. For many of these
stranded Cubans, the American dream has become a nightmare of extortion
and disappearances.

Source: Mexican Police Rescue Two Cubans Kidnapped in Mexico / 14ymedio
– Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/mexican-police-rescue-two-cubans-kidnapped-in-mexico-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Cuban Doctors Stranded: Can't Travel to US, Cuba, or Stay in Colombia
by CARMEN SESIN

When Adrian Lezcano Rodriguez, a physical therapist from Cuba, was
chosen to serve on a "mission" in the small town of Maroa in the Amazon
rainforest of Venezuela, he knew he would defect. He would make his way
to the U.S. embassy in Colombia, and apply for the Cuban Medical
Professional Parole Program (CMPP), which up until January 12, allowed
certain Cuban medical personnel to apply for U.S. visas.

Lezcano spent around 20 days in the jungle town working in a small
clinic, which only had electricity for about two hours a day. He ate
once a day, usually lunch.

"If it rained, we drank rain water. If not, we would drink water from
the river," he said by telephone.

Lezcano met a few local indigenous men who were willing to take him, for
a fee, through the treacherous Río Negro to the border with Colombia.
During the five-day journey, they slept along the banks of the river at
night. During the day, they would get lost at times. The boat would
often get stuck in the sand, and they would have to push it so they
could continue on their journey.

When he finally arrived at the border with Colombia the night of January
12, Lezcano found out that just a few hours earlier, former President
Barack Obama had ended the CMPP. It took another day to get to the
capital in Bogotá, where he tried to speak to someone at the U.S.
embassy, but he was turned away. "I was so frustrated," he said.

Lezcano lives in a house with nine other Cubans who have been left in an
unusual situation. He has run out of money and sometimes goes two days
without eating.

Just like Lezcano, there are over a dozen Cuban doctors and other
medical professionals who abandoned their posts in Venezuela and were in
transit to the U.S. embassy in Bogotá when the parole program was
abruptly ended. They say they cannot return to Cuba and they face
deportation if they remain in Colombia. The only reason they risked
deserting was to apply for the now defunct program.

The government of Cuba has said it will accept Cuban doctors and
reincorporate them into the national health system. But, those stranded
in Colombia insist this is not true. They say desertion is considered
treason in the communist island. Those who defect are punished, medical
degrees are revoked, and society scorns them.

Sending doctors and other medical professionals to countries like
Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia on "misiones internacionalistas" is an
important source of revenue for the communist island. In 2014, it
totaled $8 billion - though recently they have scaled back on their
operations in Venezuela because of the economic crisis.

Raúl Castro applauded the end of the CMPP. The government always said
the program robbed the island of professionals they had educated. But
according to health care workers, the "missions' are equivalent to
indentured servitude. They are pressured to meet a quota of patients per
day, their accommodations are meager and they are paid a small fraction
of what the Cuban government receives for their services. They say the
parole program was their only way out.

That was what Yenniffer Santiesteban, a 25 year-old doctor from Holguin,
had in mind when she decided to defect after 15 months in the state of
Sucre in Venezuela. She had been seeing up to 35 patients a day, but the
money she made disappeared in buying food.

"I was wasting my money to subsist in a foreign country — you spend
months working hard and you don't see the results," she said. She became
disillusioned. She wanted to flee and take advantage of the CMPP, but it
meant spending years without seeing her family. Doctors who defect are
barred from entering Cuba for eight years.

On January 10th she decided to leave, but her supervisors had been
tipped off and caught her before she could escape. Before being taken to
the airport and returned to Cuba, she and her two supervisors stopped at
a restaurant to eat. She pretended she needed to use the bathroom,
grabbed her backpack, and fled.

Santiesteban said she did not have a phone and had no idea how to get to
Colombia. She went to a cyber café, contacted friends, and figured out
the best route. She stayed in a motel that night and began her journey
the following day. When she finally arrived in Bogotá on the 13th, a
friend who had defected earlier, took her in and explained the CMPP had
been terminated the day before.

"I was disappointed, desolate, depressed, and enraged," she said.
Santiesteban is now staying in a two-bedroom apartment with six other
Cubans hoping that the Trump administration reinstates the CMPP.

When asked to comment on these particular Cubans, the White House said
in an email, "the administration is reviewing all aspects of the US-Cuba
policy, we do not have any further information to offer other than that
at this time." At a February briefing, White House press secretary Sean
Spicer said the policies "are in the midst of a full review."

Cuban-American lawmakers, like Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio,
both Florida Republicans, have expressed hope that the Trump
administration reinstates the medical parole program.

"If that takes a long time or if the Trump administration doesn't agree
to do that then obviously we want this specific group to be given as
much consideration as possible given their unique circumstance," Curbelo
told NBC Latino.

He said all of the Cuban-Americans in Congress agree the program should
be reinstated. "We will continue communicating to them that while we
understand the broader policy (wet foot, dry foot) had to change, that
particular element of it is worth keeping," Curbelo said. Wet foot, dry
foot refers to the policy that allowed Cubans who reached U.S. soil to
stay as legal permanent residents, but returned to Cuba those captured
on the open sea.

Reversing Obama's policy on the medical program seems like an easy
maneuver for Trump, according to William LeoGrande, a professor of
government at American University who coauthored "Back Channel to Cuba:
The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana." He
said, "the problem is that if he does reinstate the parole program, the
Cubans may back away from their willingness to cooperate on immigration
more broadly."

He thinks it's possible the small group of Cubans who were in transit
when the policy changed could still be admitted because the attorney
general has broad discretionary authority to parole into the U.S. people
who don't have a valid visa on humanitarian grounds. "These would seem
to be cases that qualify for that because they took certain actions in
anticipation of what the U.S. had promised them and then the U.S.
changed the program," LeoGrande said.

In the past few years, the number of Cubans applying to the program more
than tripled, according to numbers provided by U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services. In fiscal year 2014, a total of 1,208 applications
were submitted and 76 percent were approved. But by fiscal year 2016,
the number of applicants soared to 3,907 and 86 percent of those were
paroled.

Until January 12, applicants who were denied visas made their way to the
U.S. -Mexico border and entered the U.S. under the wet foot/dry foot
policy, but Obama also terminated the policy. Now, the applicants who
are denied visas are also stuck in a similar situation: unwilling to
return to Cuba and unable to stay in Colombia.

There are about 10 Cubans in Bogotá who have been denied visas during
the past month, according to Yusnel Santos, who is also in Colombia and
keeps track of the Cubans in Colombia and Bolivia waiting for their
applications to be processed - something that can take months. According
to Santos, there are about 500 Cubans in Colombia waiting for visas and
about 16 who did not arrive on time to apply for the program.

Marisleidy Boza Varona, a 26 year-old dentist from Camaguey, thought of
defecting from the beginning. When she arrived to the city of Guayana in
Venezuela, and saw the conditions she would have to endure, it made her
more eager to leave.

"We would only eat once a day because we didn't have enough money," she
said.

Sometimes she would have to "invent" to reach the quota of patients she
had to see per day. "People would cancel and I would have to fill that
space, if not, it would be a big problem for me," she said.

On January 9, a friend sent her a text message saying to be vigilant
because their superiors suspected she would defect. She began to receive
calls from the coordinator of the program. That's when she fled and hid
inside the house of a friend. On the 13th, she decided it was safe
enough to make her way to Colombia and it was along the way that she
found out Obama had already ended the program.

"I was in shock. Everything came crashing to the ground … I know people
who have returned to Cuba and they lose everything. They lose their
diploma. They send you to work in the mountains as punishment," she said.

"We all have faith that the U.S. government will realize the situation
we are in," Boza said crying.

Source: Cuban Doctors Stranded: Can't Travel to US, Cuba, or Stay in
Colombia - NBC News -
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/cuban-doctors-stranded-can-t-travel-us-cuba-or-stay-n720491 Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 19 February 2017 — Two Cubans have been rescued from the hands of their kidnappers on Isla Mujeres, as the result of a joint effort between the Federal Investigation Police and agents of the Ministerial Police of the state of Quintana Roo. In the operation carried out on Friday, one of those implicated in … Continue reading "Mexican Police Rescue Two Cubans Kidnapped in Mexico / 14ymedio" Continue reading
Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government / Iván García

Iván García, 15 February 2017 — Decidedly, equanimity isn't one of
Pastor's strong points. He's an industrial engineer transformed into a
private taxi driver, and six days a week he drives a 1954 Dodge with a
body from a Detroit factory, patched up a couple of times in a Havana
workshop and improved with a German engine from a Mercedes Benz, a South
Korean transmission and a steering wheel from a Lada of the Soviet era.
With this car he operates on a fixed-route as a shared-taxi.

This mechanical Frankenstein is the livelihood of Pastor, his wife, four
children and two grandchildren. "When I stop driving, it's felt in the
house. So I have to be driving 12 or 13 hours daily. My family and even
my in-laws live from my almendrón (old American car). The government
considers us taxi drivers as tycoons, newly rich. But that's not true,"
says Pastor, while he drives his taxi through the narrow Monte Street in
the direction of the Parque de la Fraternidad.

At the end of the trip, he parks very close to the Saratoga Hotel and
enumerates details of the collective taxi business in Havana. "There are
two types of taxi drivers. Those who own their car, like me, and those
who lease it to someone who owns five or six cars and makes money
renting them out. We all pay the same tax, which the State raises each
year, by using some ruse," he comments, and he adds:

"The study that ONAT, the National Tax Office, did, which controls
private work on the Island, is very elementary. Its calculations are
removed from reality. The deductions for the time we aren't working are
erroneous. Sometimes the car has to be in the shop for two or more months.

But the transportation problem, which the government tries to blame us
for, is something that they haven't resolved. If my business is one of
supply and demand, then no one should stick their nose into my prices.
It doesn't concern the State. If they want to improve public
transportation let them buy hundreds of busses and taxis, so they can
see how low prices have fallen," says Pastor, who, as we're chatting,
becomes impassioned, and more than a few swear words sprinkle the
conversation.

"This can only happen in a dictatorship. If they really want things to
get better they would have had a dialogue with us, the taxi drivers, who
in the capital alone number more than 10,000. Compadre, the State
doesn't give a shit about helping us. They don't give us so much as a
single screw. We pay them everything. What would have been a good
solution? To sell us gas, which now costs 1.10 Cuban convertible pesos
(roughly $1.10 US) in the government filling stations, at 10 or 15 Cuban
pesos (roughly $0.40 to $0.60 US), and then require us to have fixed
prices on a route," says Pastor, indignant.

If you talk with any of the private taxi drivers in Havana, you will
note their barely-contained irritation. "It's simple: If the government
continues fucking with me, I'll surrender my State license tomorrow and
work under the table. Actually, there's a ton of people who are doing
that. They don't have enough police to be going after 15,000 illegal
taxi drivers," says a taxi driver who drives the Havana-Playa route.

Eliecer, a driver on the Lisa-Parque Central route, explains his
accounting. "I drive for a lady who owns the auto. I pay her 25 CUC
daily. But I have to pay for repairs and gasoline. After the 600 Cuban
pesos that I turn over to the owner, I earn between 400 and 500 Cuban
pesos daily. But I don't have any rest. I kill myself working."

What especially bothers Osvel, a retired soldier, is the arrogance of
the authorities. "What would it cost the government to meet with us and
negotiate a good agreement? But no, they do it as they see fit. It's
true that you can earn 10 times what you would working for the State,
but you always have to put money aside in case of breakdowns, because
the cars are old and need frequent repairs. The easiest way is to force
it on people, an old government custom."

In a note published in the government newspaper Granma on February 8,
the authorities divided the city into 30 routes and determined the
prices that they think should be charged from one stretch or destination
to another in the city.

The other side of the problem is the customers. Eight out of 12 people
interviewed said they were upset by the increase in taxi prices in
Havana. "The taxi drivers have some nerve. Because they've had the balls
to double and triple their prices. If they think the government is
abusing them, then let them have a strike in the Plaza de la Revolución,
but don't try to get out of it by raising prices and fucking the
passenger," comments Daniel, who says he spent an hour waiting for a
taxi on Calzada de Diez de Octubre.

In July 2016, the Regime decreed that prices were going up, and they
opened a telephone line for complaints from the population. Many taxi
drivers stopped driving for several days, and the majority decided to
split the routes. For example, the route from La Palma to the Parque de
la Fraternidad, which cost 10 pesos, was divided into two: 10 pesos up
to Toyo and Calzada de Luyanó, and another 10 pesos up to the Parque de
la Fraternidad.

"The problem is that before, you could get gas on the black market. But
since last spring, the government began controlling the fuel that was
being stolen from State businesses. Now you have to buy it in CUCs, and
it costs more than double than it did under the table. And then they
raise the prices, explained a taxi driver.

All those interviewed agree, taxi drivers as well as users, that with
these populist measures the government is trying to disguise who's
really guilty and their proven inefficiency and incapacity to design a
functional model of transport.

Pastor, angry, goes further. "It's an undeclared war on private workers.
Why don't they raise the prices for taxis rented from the State? They
work almost without using the taximeter and then charge twice or three
times as much as they did two years ago. And in CUCs."

The fleet of modern autos painted yellow that circulate in the city, for
use by tourists or citizens with deep pockets, pay 55 CUC daily to the
State as a leasing fee.

The government isn't stupid. They're not going to start a battle with
taxi drivers who report their income. And in CUCs.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government /
Iván García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/private-taxi-drivers-feel-harassed-by-the-cuban-government-ivn-garca/ Continue reading


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Iván García, 15 February 2017 — Decidedly, equanimity isn’t one of Pastor’s strong points. He’s an industrial engineer transformed into a private taxi driver, and six days a week he drives a 1954 Dodge with a body from a Detroit factory, patched up a couple of times in a Havana workshop and improved with a … Continue reading "Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government / Iván García" Continue reading
The Crisis Of The 'Boteros': The First Bean To Burst Into The Pot /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 17 February 2017 – The ending of the
United States' Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy – that allowed Cubans who
touched American soil to stay – crushed the hopes of many Cubans of
being able to achieve the American dream, that is equality of
opportunities and the freedom to allow all citizens to achieve their
goals in life through their own effort and determination. More than
something unique to the United States, it seems a dream for anyone.

When the policy was cancelled, many warned that closing one of the
valves of pressure cooker that state-socialism has made of Cuban
society, is a total contradiction.

Today with the crisis affecting Havana's private taxi-drivers – known as
"boteros" or "boatmen" – the first bean in the pot is about to burst,
under the stimulus of a senseless and traditional state policy of
resolving socio-economic problems with repression and extra-economic
constraints, a la Robin Hood, taking from those who have to give to
those who have less.

All Cubans know that with the unreliable schedules of state
transportation, some of us need to get places more quickly than we could
by waiting for the bus, and we are forced at times to take an
"almendron" – or an "almond", named after the shape of the classic
American cars often used in this shared fixed-route taxi service – where
we talk about everything for 20 minutes, with the advantage that no one
knows each other.

A couple of young drivers that I talked to before the ending of the
Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy, confessed to me that the cars they drove were
not theirs and that they were working as "boteros" to try to get the
money needed to leave the country. One of them had already tried, by
sea, with other friends, and after spending all they had to build a raft
with an engine, they were caught by the US Coastguard and returned to
Cuba. The next time would be by land and that is what he was working for.

I never learned if these young men were among those who managed to reach
the US before the crisis caused by the closing of the Nicaragua border,
which was resolved in favor of the Cuban emigrants crossing through the
jungle.

It is likely that these boys, in their late thirties, were not the only
ones who were driving for that reason.

The cancellation of the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy may be one of the
factors of the current crisis, in addition to the problem of the capped
prices that the Government had already tried, as there is now one less
incentive to encourage the drivers to comply with the absurd state
regulations.

Such causality can also manifest itself among other self-employed
workers who do not undertake a line of work as a way of life, but as a
means to make enough money to leave the country.

I imagine that there were also many of the young truckers, new
retailers, who were making fast and abundant money due to the absurd
state policies of imposing prices on farmers and truckers and preventing
them from selling directly in the city.

When emigration is the reason a person is working, they may be willing
to ensure fines, mistreatment and the stupid fees as long as it doesn't
endanger their final goal. As soon as they take off, all the reasons
they had to put up with it end.

They say that "revolutionaries" who are trying to control the markets
for transport, farm products and housing construction through price
controls, are contributing greatly to the pressure in the pot. Mainly
due to voluntarism and ignorance of the economy and the dialectic.

This is the natural result of the contradictions of the statist,
directed and centralized economy and policies, imposed in Cuba in the
name of socialism.

When Obama, a few days before the end of his term, decided to end the
Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy, he left a poisoned gift to Raul Castro, who
was not able to respond to everything the former US president did to
improve relations with Cuba.

Apparently, the closing of that escape valve, along with the stupidities
of the bureaucracy of the Cuban government, already caused the first
bean to explode. The leaders of the island do not have the capacity to
reverse the US presidential order, but they could stop further
imposition of absurd regulations.

Will the Cuban repressive bureaucracy have the ability to lower the heat
under the pot? Or will it continue to keep the gas on high? For me, in
truth, I only see the right hand continuing to turn the gas all the way up.

Source: The Crisis Of The 'Boteros': The First Bean To Burst Into The
Pot / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-crisis-of-the-boteros-the-first-bean-to-burst-into-the-pot-14ymedio-pedro-campos/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 17 February 2017 – The ending of the United States’ Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy – that allowed Cubans who touched American soil to stay – crushed the hopes of many Cubans of being able to achieve the American dream, that is equality of opportunities and the freedom to allow all citizens to achieve … Continue reading "The Crisis Of The ‘Boteros’: The First Bean To Burst Into The Pot / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos" Continue reading
… ;Fast Money Halftime Report," Cuban touted the online retail giant … like artificial intelligence, according to Cuban. "All these derivatives of … because of companies like Amazon, Cuban said. As technology advances, people … to robots or other machines, Cuban said. The billionaire added that … Continue reading
… 'S WHAT I THINK. CUBAN: REMEMBER DURING THE CAMPAIGN, PETER … YOU AND ME. CUBAN: GOD HELP US ALL. CUBAN ON TRUMP BEING … MARKET O'LEARY ON CUBAN DISRESPECTING TRUMP MARK, THERE… GIVE CLINTON A BIGGER PASS? CUBAN: DID YOU WATCH THE PRESS … Continue reading
… executed without serious consequences, Mark Cuban told CNBC on Friday. … ;Fast Money Halftime Report." Cuban said there are three major … manner." As a result, Cuban argued, the burden will shift … some matter or another," Cuban said. Republican lawmakers have proposed … Continue reading
… company in the world," Cuban said Friday in an interview … ;Fast Money Halftime Report." Cuban pointed to Amazon's … them competing with Uber," Cuban said.. Cuban has a point. Amazon … be part of the reason Cuban thinks Amazon might eventually compete … Continue reading
Cuban Doctors and Nurses in Exchange for Angolan Oil / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 14 February 2017 — In a memorable address on December
18, 2008 in Salvador de Bahía, Brazil, Raúl Castro referred to what we
now know as Operation Carlota, saying, "We told the Angolan people we
will only take with us the remains of our dead." But he lied.

The Cuban military mission there did some farming and planted a seed
that is only now bearing fruit. Initially, the mission provided support,
earning the regime international prestige and increasing its political
capital. Witness for example, the vote against the US embargo in the
United Nations' General Assembly. Now, General Castro, who is also
president of Cuba, is counting on a good harvest: Angolan oil.

Below are the names of thirty people who were flew on KLM or TAAG
Angolan Airlines on January 26 of this year from Havana to Luanda with
the express purpose of trading medical services for Angolan crude oil.

Mariluz Simales Cruz, nursing

Larisa Peña Roja, biology

Ángel Alexis Calas Ortiz, nursing

Isabel Chala Castaneda, MD, hygiene and epidemiology

Margarita Saltaren Cobas, nursing

Alfredo Saltaren Cobas, biological sciences

Erenis Serrat Morales, clinical laboratory

Jorge Luis Vargas Mendoza, hygiene and epidemiology

José Alexander Campos Castillo, pharmacy

Mario Oscar León Sánchez, comprehensive general medicine, intensive therapy

Eladia Cuenca Arce, clinical laboratory

Paula Pompa Márquez, microbiology

Isabel María Oliva Licea, transfusion medicine

Andrés Aguilar Charon, chemistry education

Dioenis de la Caridad Campoamor Hernández, health care technology

Martha Alfreda Zamora González, immunology

Agustín Rodríguez Soto, professor of stomatology

Geisy Pérez Pérez, nursing

Marlenis Sánchez Tuzón, MD, clinical laboratory

Lazara Josefina Linares Jiménez, clinical laboratory

Yunia Delgado Peña, nursing

María Libia Paneque Gamboa, professor, Uniología Institutos Médicos

Dimey Arguelles Toledo, nursing

Katiuska Garboza Savón, professor, clinical laboratory

Victoria Priscila Moreno Zambrano, clinical laboratory

Maria Cristina Varela Alejo, pharmacy

Gliceria Alicia Díaz Santa Cruz, health care technology

Dania Victoria Rodríguez Hidalgo, nursing

René Camacho Díaz, professor, maxillofacial surgery

Yaimy Royero Martínez, surgical nursing

"In politics, money talks. It has the first and the last word. The
medical missions in Venezuela won't be cancelled. Speculation is that
the price of oil will rise and, if that happens, the income we receive
from that program should also rise," explains an official from the Cuban
Ministry of Public Health who, as is always the case, fears government
reprisal and prefers to remain anonymous and out of sight.

"The Angola mission," he points out, "is a different sort of thing. They
are not sending doctors to be doctors but rather to be instructors. They
are going there to teach classes, not to see patients.

"This is predicted to be Cuba's most profitable economic endeavor, more
than tourism or remittances from overseas. We are talking about a
massive shipment of doctors and other medical personnel as part of an
exchange agreement that will guarantee favorable crude oil prices.

"Also, on January 12 a US government program, the Cuban Medical
Professional Parole Program, was cancelled, easing fears that our
physicians will abandon their overseas missions."

Source: Cuban Doctors and Nurses in Exchange for Angolan Oil / Juan Juan
Almeida – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-doctors-and-nurses-in-exchange-for-angolan-oil-juan-juan-almeida/ Continue reading
Flight confusion reigns as Cuba's tourism boom is beset by teething problems
Claire Boobbyer
The Telegraph 17 February 2017

Cuba remains a hot-ticket destination for British travellers as airlines
launch new routes and cruise tourism surges. But as the boom continues,
confusion has taken hold over whether Britons are able to board the new
direct US-Cuba flights.

Passengers flying to the Caribbean island from the UK with Virgin
Atlantic (VA) have also experienced difficulties as the airline gets to
grips with the ticketing system alongside its new partner, Delta.

Customers have been unable to book flights online by card, or use Air
Miles plus money, and they must, instead, call a Cuba phoneline at
Virgin Holidays. Miles then need to be converted into vouchers to be
discounted against a normal fare.

VA said the issue was temporary, but Rob Miller, director of the
UK-based Cuba Solidarity Campaign, accused the airline of discriminating
against the communist nation. "Virgin Atlantic must end this
discriminatory policy impacting on travellers wanting to use their Air
Miles to travel to Cuba," he said. "The US blockade is at the heart of
this latest travel dispute.

"We have written to the British Government, and Virgin Atlantic, calling
on them to take immediate action to ensure that all passengers are
treated fairly whether they are travelling to Cuba or elsewhere."

US and Cuba: a timeline

A VA spokesperson apologised for any inconvenience: "This is just a
different way to pay for this route, on a temporary basis. We certainly
aren't discriminating against Cuba. However, our technology is currently
restricted, meaning we can't take bookings."

The airline launches its second UK route direct to Cuba on April 2, to
Juan G Gomez airport. Thomson, too, is adding a route to Cayo Santa
Maria from May; Thomas Cook's inclusion of the small set of islands off
the coast from 2018, takes its total of Cuban destinations to four.

Last year, 10 US airlines made the first direct flights to the island in
more than 50 years, following a thaw in US-Cuba relations. Meanwhile,
cruise firms cannot organise itineraries fast enough and the demand for
hotel rooms has soared. In December Telegraph Travel reported how tour
operators were halting bookings to the island as its infrastructure
struggled to cope with demand.

14 sights to catch before Cuba changes forever

In the summer Swiss chain Kempinski will open Cuba's first truly
glamorous five-star hotel, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana.
Further luxury hotels will follow.

Less positive has been the ambiguity facing British travellers flying to
Cuba from the US. Travel for tourism purposes remains illegal for US
citizens under a trade embargo. They may only fly direct to Cuba for one
of 12 reasons listed by the US Treasury's Cuba sanctions office
(OFAC). The same applies to Britons. Since self-certification (an honour
system) for travel was permitted last year by the Obama administration,
UK travellers, like US citizens, are ticking one of the
officially-approved categories (educational) for travel on airline sites.​

Comparison website cheapair.com advises: "Keep receipts for cultural
activities to demonstrate your visit was filled with 'authorised' travel
activities… keep records of museums visited, local tours you took,
cultural activities attended, etc… most of the time, no one will ask."

The Foreign Office advises that travel between the US and Cuba is
permitted as long as visitors comply with US law. The OFAC's press
office has not yet responded to our inquiries.

Source: Flight confusion reigns as Cuba's tourism boom is beset by
teething problems -
https://uk.style.yahoo.com/flight-confusion-reigns-cubas-tourism-154436596.html Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 14 February 2017 — In a memorable address on December 18, 2008 in Salvador de Bahía, Brazil, Raúl Castro referred to what we now know as Operation Carlota, saying, “We told the Angolan people we will only take with us the remains of our dead.” But he lied. The Cuban military mission there … Continue reading "Cuban Doctors and Nurses in Exchange for Angolan Oil / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
The Two Marielas / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello

Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Havana, 14 February 2017 – The
story I want to relate has two parts, one is true and the other is
fiction. The real one is an event I was involved in at the Carlos III
market while in line to buy yogurt, one of the products in shortest
supply in this country – despite the fact that it is sold in hard
currency – and in this case with a price of 0.70 Cuban convertible pesos
(CUC), although there are other yogurts sold in different containers for
as much as 5 CUC (1 CUC is roughly equal to $1 US).

In front of me, while we were waiting, was a young woman of around 30
something, but I could see she'd had a pretty rough life. She had the
money in her hand, some of it in 5 and 10 centavo coins in CUC and a
note for 5 Cuban pesos (CUP) – because, as you know, now the stores have
to accept both currencies. All of a sudden she dropped a 10 centavo coin
and to her great misfortune it rolled under one of the display cases and
although the woman made a great effort to retrieve it, she could not.

She turned to leave the line and I asked, "Are you leaving?" and she
said, "Yes, I had the exact amount of money and I dropped 10 centavos
under that case." Without thinking twice I said, "No, don't leave, take
the ten centavos."

She accepted with the happiest look on her face and told me, "You have
no idea how grateful I am, because my older daughter is sick and she
doesn't want to eat anything."

From that moment, with the facility a Cuban has to establish
communication with another person, even if they don't know them, we
spent the next thirty minutes while we continued to wait in line talking
to each other.

She explained that she worked as a teaching assistant at an elementary
school, but often had to be the teacher because there aren't enough
educators. She is divorced and the monthly support she receives from the
children's father is 50 Cuban pesos (roughly $2 US). That plus her own
salary is not enough to live on and she has to "invent" and go begging
to her mother. She told me, literally, "You have no idea what I have to
do to be able to feed my kids."

Like any good Cuban, she lives in a building considered uninhabitable,
but she won't accept going to a shelter because she knows other people
who live in those conditions and it is dangerous for the girls, now that
they are becoming young ladies. Because her apartment is on the second
floor and nothing works, she has no running water and every other day
has to carry up 10 or 12 buckets of water to meet highest priority
needs, although she says she is grateful to her mother who washes and
irons the girls school uniforms.

"Imagine. My mother was a member of the Party (Communist) and worked in
the Federation of Cuban Women and as for my my father, may he rest in
peace, his surname was Castro, so it occurred to her to name me Mariela
[after Raul Castro's daughter]. Now she regrets it."

Then she said that she did not listen to her mother and married a man
who drank a lot, and when he came home he beat her. It took a lot of
work to get out of that torture and now she regrets not having listened
to her mother's advice.

He left them that disastrous apartment where they live in Centro Habana,
and now she is stuck because her sister is married and has two children
and also lives in the divided living room, which doubles as a room for
both her and her sister's families in the home of their parents.

She confessed to me that she had been so distressed that she takes her
daughters and walks along the Malecon. And she said the girls understand
the whole situation and do not ask for anything. But they're growing up
and they have to have shoes and school uniforms and something to eat for
a snack at school, which is almost always a piece of bread, because at
breakfast they eat half of her daily quota (on the ration book).

I think she had a great need for someone to listen to all her problems
and saw the opportunity to vent.

With a little imagination, while I was on my way to my house, I began to
think about how the other Mariela might live, the one her mother named
her after.

At the entrance, everyone can see that other Mariela's super residence
in the Miramar neighborhood even has a pool, always filled with water.
There are several cars and they and the house are all beautifully
maintained. This is something that you don't have to imagine, and it is
not fiction.

But surely that Mariela Castro does not line up to buy yogurt at 70
cents CUC and much less would she be sad if she dropped a coin, as all
her food problems are taken care of without her even having to leave the
house.

When she gets up for breakfast she does not "donate" her bread to the
children. A maid prepares the food, certainly with ham, milk, bread,
juices, etc. She is assured of coffee every day, very likely imported,
she probably gets the most desirable brands brought in from Miami.

She doesn't have to worry about what time the bus will come to take her
to work; in the first place because she doesn't have to mark a timecard
and in the second because she has a modern car to take her to work
without having to get all sweaty and push her way onto the bus with all
the other people.

I could continue imagining things that we all know are part of the
standard of living of the high government hierarchy, but I leave it to
the reader so we can all share in this fictional (?) part of the story.

Source: The Two Marielas / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello –
Translating Cuba -
https://translatingcuba.com/the-two-marielas-cubanet-martha-beatriz-roque-cabello/ Continue reading
Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Havana, 14 February 2017 – The story I want to relate has two parts, one is true and the other is fiction. The real one is an event I was involved in at the Carlos III market while in line to buy yogurt, one of the products in shortest supply in … Continue reading "The Two Marielas / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello" Continue reading
Trump, Rodiles and the Cuban Opposition / Juan Orlando Perez

Juan Orlando Pérez, 1 February 2017, (re-published in Ivan Garcia's blog
on 7 February 2017) — Antonio Rodiles, one of the Cuban government's
most tireless enemies, or at least one of its most eloquent, has said
that the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House is "good news for Cuba."

It is difficult to criticize Rodiles, who every day faces the danger of
State Security agents, or his own neighbors, breaking his nose — they
have already done this once with exquisite precision — or of being
accused of some monstrosity such as contempt of court, assault,
incitement to violence or failure to attend Fidel Castro's funeral,
resulting in him being cast into a windowless dungeon without light or
justice.

Every Sunday, Rodiles leaves his house Havana to protest against a
government that he considers illegitimate. While not comparable to the
battles of Peralejo or Las Guásimas, much less the crossing of the
Trocha de Mariel to Majana, this action is one that does require more
political and personal courage than all the deputies of the National
Assembly together could muster to change a single comma in a decree from
Raul Castro's government, should they even notice a comma misplaced.

Unlike other leaders of the Cuban opposition and most deputies of the
National Assembly, Rodiles knows how to speak correctly, in proper
Spanish. Perhaps that is why foreign journalists prefer to talk to him
rather than to others whom they can barely understand. But what he told
the Spanish newspaper El País is dangerous nonsense.

In no way can Trump be "good news" for Cuba when he is so bad for all
the other countries of the world, including those whose leaders —
Vladimir Putin, Theresa May, Benjamin Netanyahu — selfishly hope to
benefit from the ascent of a thug to the presidency of the United
States. At least Rodiles does not contend Trump is not a thug.

Rodiles declined to say if Trump's victory was also good news for the
United States. "I don't want to get into that," he said flatly. "It's
not my problem."

Perhaps Rodiles thinks that if personnel at the American Embassy in
Havana or at the State Department in Washington hear him criticizing
Trump's character, skills or intentions, even if the criticism is so
mild it might almost be considered a kind remark, he will no longer be
invited to the embassy or to conferences, congresses and seminars — one
takes place every month in Miami, Madrid or Washington — where the
participants ardently debate the future of Cuba, condemn Castro's
wickedness and lament Barack Obama's faintheartedness.

Rodiles' discretion — his refusal to express an opinion about the
domestic issues of another country — is admirable, especially because it
stands in contrast to foreign politicians who talk about issues in his
own. In late December, Rodiles participated in a panel organized by the
right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington along with two former
George W. Bush administration officials: the former under-secretaries of
state Roger Noriega and Otto Reich. As reported by Diario de Cuba, he
took the opportunity to explain that "the new Administration has the
opportunity to reorient US policy towards the human rights and freedom
for the Cuban people."

Noriega and Reich are co-authors of the infamous Helms-Burton Act of
1996. More than a law, it is the list of relentless conditions that the
United States would impose on the Cuban government if it were to
capitulate, which one can easily imagine these two former officials
recommending to the Trump Administration provided someone in the White
House still remembers who they are and asks them what to do about Cuba.

Noriega and Reich may express any opinion about Cuba, or about Jupiter,
if they so choose. That is their right. No one in Washington is going to
end up with a nose out of joint if they do so.

But it is not clear why Rodiles should not in turn be able to say with
more or less the same degree of tact what so many other political
leaders around the world have said: that Donald Trump's brand of
vicious, racist and ignorant populism is a very serious threat to
international security, to the rights of other nations, to Americans'
civil liberties and, of course, to Cuba.

Perhaps Rodiles thinks Trump is as innocuous as Tian Tian, the giant
panda at Washington's National Zoo. If so, he might as well say so. For
the moment, Rodiles has refrained from criticizing Trump, though not
from criticizing Obama. He believes, as he told El País, that Obama's
legacy in Cuba can be described in two words: indifference and fantasy.

In a video released by the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms, Rodiles
appears next to others celebrating Trump's victory on November 8 and
criticizing Obama's Cuban strategy.

"It was very frustrating," explains Rodiles in the video, "to see how
the Obama administration was allowing the regime to gain advantage, to
gain political advantage, to gain economic advantage, while leaving the
Cuban people and their demands on the sidelines."

He added, "Unfortunately, the legacy of President Obama on Cuba is not
positive… His policy has been counterproductive. His policy has led the
regime to feel much more secure and to behave more violently."

It is not clear, however, what exactly Rodiles and his colleagues at the
Forum hope Trump will do. "It seems to me that the new administration
under President Donald Trump will give much more attention to the Cuban
opposition. It will give much more attention to the subject of
fundamental rights and freedoms, and the Cuban people will be able to
express themselves more openly, though the regime will, of course, do
everything possible to prevent that."

It is likely that on May 20 — if the world lasts until then — a
committee of Cuban opposition figures, including perhaps Rodiles
himself, will visit the White House, as always happened before Obama,
after which the president of the United States might write a Twitter
message in jovial Spanglish condemning Raúl Castro and his minions.

But it is unclear how tweets by the lunatic that Americans have chosen
as their commander-in-chief are going to get Cubans out onto the
streets. Nor is it easy to imagine the Cuban government agreeing to sit
down with Rodiles or any other opposition figure just because the
president of the United States demands it, even if he makes it a
condition of maintaining diplomatic relations; or of continuing to allow
Cuban-Americans to send money to their families on the island; or of
allowing them visit their relatives whenever they want.

If the members of the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms believe that
these are conditions that the Trump Administration should impose, they
should say so clearly and run the risk that Trump or one of his
underlings might hear and pay attention to them. An even greater risk is
that Cubans might hear them.

It is perfectly legitimate for some members of the Cuban opposition to
disapprove of Obama's policy of normalizing relations between the United
States and Cuba, at least to the degree that it is possible to normalize
something that will never be normal. No one should be surprised that
those who would like to see the immediate overthrow of Raúl Castro have
no confidence in a plan that acknowledges the unlikelihood that the
Cuban government will be overthrown in a domestic revolt.

Raúl has been accepted — with indifference or resignation — as the
legitimate president of Cuba by almost all the nations of the world. The
plan addresses the political and intellectual weakness of opposition
groups, counting instead on the slow but inexorable growth of a new
post-Castro civil society that will one day reclaim political and
economic rights that Raúl or his successors will never be willing to grant.

It is true this plan pays no particular importance to the Forum for
Human Rights and Freedoms, or to other groups with equally florid names,
whose members feel they have been abruptly and unceremoniously abandoned
by their old patron. But not all opposition groups have judged Obama's
decisions regarding Cuba as negatively as Rodiles and his cohorts.

With bitter pragmatism, others have warned that it is foolish to oppose
head-on a policy that is viewed favorably on both sides of the Florida
Straits. While it has, of course, benefited the Cuban government, it has
also benefitted millions of plain and simple ordinary men and women. If
nothing else, it means that, after two short years, Raúl can no longer
blame his problems on an enemy ever ready to wipe Cuba off the map in a
single, brutal blow.

There was nothing fanciful about Obama's strategy, though there is in
the illusion that the Cuban government would have agreed to sit down
with Rodiles and other opposition leaders if Obama had insisted on it.
And he will do so if Trump makes that demand with his characteristic
coarseness. After so many years and so many body blows, Rodiles still
has not met Raúl Castro.

Before falling in line with Trump and conspiring with the most
reactionary elements of the new administration — its more conservative
faction, in particular, wants to break off the truce between the United
States and Cuba — the Cuban opposition should take a few weeks to
consider whether it would be wiser to avoid allying itself with those
who have come to power with a program that not only causes a great deal
of alarm within the international community but which should also
disgust any person of integrity, whether one's integrity be of the
right-wing or left-wing kind.

The Cuban opposition would do well to maintain a relative independence
from the United States, a benevolent gift from Obama, and if they are so
inclined, to keep their distance from an administration which, in two
short weeks, has led its country to the brink of a pernicious political
and perhaps constitutional crisis.

That is unless one sees nothing particularly reprehensible in what Trump
says and does, or believe that his vandalism is justified because he got
ten thousand votes more in Michigan and fifteen thousand more votes in
Wisconsin than Hillary Clinton. It would be very bad news if opportunism
led a segment of the Cuban population, even a very small one, to become
pro-Trump out of foolhardiness, ignorance, a misguided sense of
self-preservation or, even worse, by a genuine ideological affinity with
a government that resembles a social democratic Nixon, Reagan or Bush
administration.

But even more troubling is the Cuban opposition's hope that the United
States, Barack Obama or Donald Trump and not the island's plain and
simple ordinary men and women might grant them the right to discuss
Cuba's future with Raúl Castro or whatever petty tyrant happens to come
after. Trump will just disappoint them. And should he fall, which is
likely to happen, he will drag with him all those who have not taken
great care or had the decency to maintain a safe distance.

Juan Orlando Pérez

Published in El Estornudo on February 1, 2017 under the title "Bad News."

Source: Trump, Rodiles and the Cuban Opposition / Juan Orlando Perez –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/trump-rodiles-and-the-cuban-opposition-juan-orlando-perez/ Continue reading
Birthrate Is Not Just a Matter of Resources / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 15 February 2017 — Concerned about
low birthrates, this month the Government has launched a campaign
focused on fertility and a package of measures to stimulate births of
two or more children per woman.

Since 1978 fertility rates have declined throughout the Island, dropping
below population replacement levels. By 2050, the country will rank 9th
in the world for elderly population. The aging demographics will
exacerbate the lack of economically active people.

The new regulations to stimulate birth, made widely known by the paper
Gaceta Oficial (Offical Gazzette), are composed of two decrees and four
resolutions. These measures include the paid participation of family
members in the childrearing process.

"Now my mother will be able to stay home with my daughter while I go to
work," says Sahily Cuevas, mother of a four-month-old baby and an
employee of a Cooperative of Credits and Services in the municipality of
Güira, Artemisa.

The grandmother, employed in the State Gastronomic Network, will receive
60% of her salary as a social benefit, a benefit that up until February
was only available to the father of the child. It is true, however, that
this payment is equivalent to $11, the price of three packs of
disposable diapers.

The majority of women surveyed point to lack of resources as the main
cause for postponement or interruption of a pregnancy. In the period
between 2006-2013, birth rates rose from 1.39 children per woman to
1.71, but that figure should reach a minimum of 2.1 to get out of the
red zone.

"I would not dare have a second child," exclaims Tahimí, 27, resident of
Aguada de Pasajeros. "The list of necessities to have a baby is so long
that the extra money will be like a drop in the ocean, it will serve
very little use."

The women believes that the 50% discount on subsidized childcare rates
for parents of two or more children can help "the poorest families,"
especially in rural areas. With the third child the family will become
exempt from payment, a benefit extending to couples that have multiple
deliveries at once.

Returning to work after giving birth has also received new stimuli.
Mothers who return to work after 18 weeks of maternity leave will
receive, in addition to 100% of their salary, an extra provision of 60%
of their pay, from three months to one year after giving birth.

The private sector, with more than half a million employees in the
country, has also received a reduction in monthly taxes for
self-employed workers with two or more children under 17 years old. But
the labor demands in private businesses leave little room for women to
take a more extended family leave.

"I would not leave from here because they would replace me and this is
my family's livelihood," comments an employee of La Mimosa, a restaurant
in Chinatown in Havana. "There is a lot of competition and getting
pregnant is the same as being left out," adds the employee, who chose to
remain anonymous.

Maipú, 21, has had four abortions. The first two with the technique of
menstrual regulation performed on an outpatient basis that does not
require anesthesia. For the last two she entered an operating room where
they used the technique of scraping, known as curettage. The young woman
refuses to have children at the moment.

"I live with my parents and my grandparents, as well as my two
brothers," she says to 14ymedio. Housing problems are the main cause for
postponing motherhood, but she also has her eyes set on emigrating.

In recent years, without publicly announcing it, the Ministry of Public
Health has restricted abortions. "Now the requirements to receive an
abortion are stricter," says a nurse of the Obstetrical Gynecological
Hospital, Ramón González Coro. The employee believes that "it is
difficult to complete all the paperwork in time for a menstrual
regulation technique or an abortion."

However, the informal market has also flourished in that field. Maipú
paid 50 CUC for her last abortion. "I did not have much time because I
was already at 12 weeks," she recounts. She spent the equivalent of a
doctor's monthly salary. There was no record of her procedure on her
medical record.

The director of the Center of Population and Development Studies, Juan
Carlos Alfonso, has tempered the weight of the economic crisis and
immigration in the rejection of pregnancies maintained by Cuban women.
For the specialist, "social processes like female emancipation "also
influence in the decision to push back maternity.

A 2009 fertility survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (ONEI)
found that 21% of women aged 15-54 had experienced at least one
pregnancy that ended in intentional abortions. Eighty percent of the
population reported having used contraception.

"Obtaining one visa is not the same as obtaining two," affirms Maipú in
a pragmatic tone. However, she acknowledges that she has always wanted
to "be a mother and have many children running around the house."

Translated by Chavely Garcia.

Source: Birthrate Is Not Just a Matter of Resources / 14ymedio, Marcelo
Hernandez – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/birthrate-is-not-just-a-matter-of-resources-14ymedio-marcelo-hernandez/ Continue reading
Extortions, Kidnappings And Limbo: Daily Life Of Cubans Stranded In
Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 February 2017 — Hundreds of Cubans
were stranded in Mexico after the Obama administration ended the
wet-foot/dry-foot policy that favored Cuban's immigration to the United
States, but for the 90 who are detained at the 21st Century Migrant
Station in Tapachula, and for their relatives in the United States, the
American dream has become a nightmare of extortion and disappearances. A
hope against all hope.

"For weeks a person has been calling us to ask for money if we want to
see our families again," says the mother of one of those stranded who
asked not to be identified to protect her son.

The woman, who lives in Miami, recounts how within half an hour of
receiving a call from her son from the Migration Station the phone
started to ring from different numbers in Mexico.

The voice on the other side of the device identified himself as "lawyer
Padilla." She said, "He tried to learn the names of our family members
and told us he could help get them out of there for a sum of money."

To Yuniel, stranded in southern Mexico, those responsible for these
calls are the agents themselves from Mexico's National Institute of
Migration (INM).

"We all know that the migration officials have some way of knowing the
numbers of the people we call in the United States. Somehow, they figure
out the numbers and then take advantage of that to extort the families,"
he says

The telephones set up for international calls at the Migration Station
are public, but at least three relatives of different migrants consulted
by this newspaper affirmed that they had received calls in which people
calling themselves officials asked them for money for the freedom of the
Cubans.

"We are afraid for their fate, they are in the hands of mafiosos. Last
week three Cubans 'disappeared' from the same prison. As of today, we
haven't heard anything from them," says the mother of a Cuban migrant.

An IMF official confirmed to 14ymedio that there are currently 90 Cubans
at the 2st Century Migration Station. Of these, 59 asked for protection
before a judge and 23 asked for refuge from the Mexican authorities. The
remaining eight are awaiting the decision of the Cuban embassy in that
country. If Havana recognizes their citizenship, under migratory
agreements between the two countries they must be deported back to Cuba.

With regards to the absence, since last Wednesday, of three Cubans
(Armando Daniel Tejeda, Daniel Benet Báez and Yosvany Leyva Velázquez)
the official said that it was an escape, which is why they are not
considered missing. So far the relatives of the Cubans do not know the
whereabouts of these migrants.

With regards to the accusations against the INM officials, the
representative of the Mexican government made it clear that "they are
lies." According to her, the immigration agents do not even have guns or
clubs.

"They (the Cubans) are very desperate. We aren't trying to justify
ourselves, but we believe that is the cause. "

"Two of them had sought refuge and one was waiting for the legal
process. Both of them escaped and the corresponding authorities were
given notice."

It was the migrants themselves in the 21st Century center who discovered
that three Cubans were missing and, given the silence of the
authorities, they began a protest that was brutally repressed, according
to those stranded. The police and the Mexican army participated in
putting down the revolt.

"They were beaten, their blankets and mattresses were taken away,
forcing them to sleep in cement bunks. They are being watched and held
as if they were criminals," the migrant's mother told the newspaper.

"My son may disappear, just as those have disappeared," she adds.

Last week a group of eleven Cubans was kidnapped by a criminal gang and
later released under conditions not made clear in Reynosa, northern Mexico.

Corruption prevails in Tapachula, according to the testimony of Yuniel,
one of the stranded, who has been waiting for more than a month for a
safe conduct to continue to the north of Mexico.

"Receiving money from abroad is impossible without mediations," explains
the migrant. If you do not have the corresponding visa, the transfers
made by Western Union carry a charge from locals who are awarded a
commission of 5% for the transaction.

The hope that Trump will reinstate the wet-foot/dry-foot policy or
declare an amnesty for stranded Cubans is increasingly remote, according
to Yuniel, even though that the number of Cubans arriving in Mexico from
Central America "has taken a nosedive."

"All that's left for me is to surrender to the authorities and ask for
political asylum. I have nothing to lose because I have lost
everything," he says.

Some relatives in the United States who have contracted legal services
in Tapachula to avoid the repatriation of the stranded complain of the
slowness of the processes and even of scams.

"The attorney José Roberto Escobar Ross allegedly filed an protection
petition for our relatives not to be repatriated to Cuba, and demanded
the payment of $120. To this day, they are still being detained," says
the girlfriend in Miami of one of those held in Tapachula, Karla Ramírez.

Escobar, via telephone, explained that he has in his hands the 59
protection orders for Cubans and that he is doing his best to get them
released as soon as possible.

"The judge gave Migration three days to solve the case of the Cubans but
until now we see no response, they haven't even been released," he said.

The INM official made clear that there will be no releases until the
legal proceeding has been held and a judge determines the fate of the
Cubans.

"It is not the fault of the INM that they are detained. By law, these
people cannot be released until the trial is held." It costs Mexico to
for these people to be there, to feed them, to care for them and so on."

In the case of Cubans who asked for refuge, the National Commission for
Refugee Assistance is responsible for analyzing their cases.

For Ramírez, the girlfriend of one of the detainees, this is a maneuver:
"They are trying to delay their release as much as possible so that they
have no choice but to return to Cuba or they run out of money. It's a
hell for us Cubans."

Source: Extortions, Kidnappings And Limbo: Daily Life Of Cubans Stranded
In Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/extortions-kidnappings-and-limbo-daily-life-of-cubans-stranded-in-mexico-14ymedio-mario-penton/ Continue reading
Proposed joint venture to produce and sell Cuban vaccines to treat
cancer seeks investors
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

A joint venture between the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo,
New York, and the Center for Molecular Immunology in Havana could open
its doors to new U.S. investors as early as April.

"We hope that by the first of April this will be incorporated in Cuba …
and at that point we would be looking for investors," Thomas Schwaab, an
oncology professor and the institute's director of strategy and business
development, told a gathering Tuesday.

The joint venture — the first in the field of biotechnology — would be
based in the Mariel Special Development Zone west of Havana and would
produce vaccines to fight cancer developed with Cuban technology. U.S.
clinical trials of the Cuba-produced CIMAvax vaccine against lung cancer
began in January, under an authorization from the Food and Drug
Administration.

"This joint venture will not only be a basic research and R&D facility
but also will allow our scientists to collaborate," Schwaab said. "It
will allow us to buy Cuba biotech and bring it into the U.S., apply for
FDA approval, have outside investors investing in this joint venture
corporation and then take a drug like CIMAvax, that has been given to
thousands of patients globally, and bring it to the U.S. market. I don't
have to tell you the opportunity it is, in terms of returns of investments."

The conference in New York City was organized by the Americas
Society/Council of the Americas and Corporación Andina de Fomento
CAF-Banco de Desarrollo de América Latina, known by the Spanish acronym
CAF, a lending institution owned by 18 countries and 14 private banks in
Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Spain and Portugal.

Germán Ríos, CAF director of strategic issues, underlined the importance
of Cuba in the region and the desire to support Cuba's efforts at reforms.

"Our goal is for Cuba to become a CAF member, and we are working on
that," Ríos said. CAF Executive President Enrique García visited Cuba
last week and met with several cabinet ministers as well as the
president of the Central Bank. He also signed a cooperation agreement
with the University of Havana to establish a training center for
managers in different sectors.

Ríos told the conference that the project would receive $300,000 in
financing over three years. Overall, CAF will disburse $1 million for
technical aid to Cuba.

Several people who participated in the event called on both the U.S. and
Cuban governments to eliminate obstacles to commercial relations.
Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer said there's support in the U.S.
House and Senate "if not to eliminate the embargo, at least to eliminate
some parts of it in the short run."

Emmer, an early supporter of President Donald Trump, also mentioned the
uncertainties surrounding the new administration's approach to Cuba.

"The administration obviously is a wild card. We'll see; so far I know
everybody is nervous," he said. "But keep in mind the president himself
has said we are going to negotiate a better deal. Good. That doesn't
tell me we are done talking. That tells me we're going to be talking."

Emmer, who said he would be traveling to Cuba in coming weeks with other
newly elected Republican members of Congress, added that the Cuban
government has a long way to go to attract U.S. investments.

A portfolio of investment opportunities prepared by the Cuban government
each year is a "beautiful book with 300 some pages with colored pictures
and descriptions," he said. "They pushed it across the table and they
said 'We have all these projects ready to go, we just need your money.'
It doesn't work that way. And having two forms of currency, it was
stunning to me."

Investors, Emmer added, have two questions: "Can I expect a reasonable
return to my investment? And will my investment be safe? Unless you can
answer those questions, you know what? Build Mariel, put out beautiful
glassy pictures, etc.," but there will be no substantial investments in
Cuba.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: U.S. and Cuba experts to produce and sell cancer fighting
vaccines | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article132688024.html Continue reading
Juan Orlando Pérez, 1 February 2017, (re-published in Ivan Garcia’s blog on 7 February 2017) — Antonio Rodiles, one of the Cuban government’s most tireless enemies, or at least one of its most eloquent, has said that the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House is “good news for Cuba.” It is difficult to … Continue reading "Trump, Rodiles and the Cuban Opposition / Juan Orlando Perez" Continue reading
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 15 February 2017 — Concerned about low birthrates, this month the Government has launched a campaign focused on fertility and a package of measures to stimulate births of two or more children per woman. Since 1978 fertility rates have declined throughout the Island, dropping below population replacement levels. By 2050, the … Continue reading "Birthrate Is Not Just a Matter of Resources / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez" Continue reading
… Saratoga Hotel in Havana, on January 26, 2017. Cuba is in style … one well-known four-star hotel in Havana, the rate has risen from … expert at the University of Havana. “The value-for-money issue... causes a … a European hotel manager in Havana, speaking on condition of anonymity … Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 February 2017 — Hundreds of Cubans were stranded in Mexico after the Obama administration ended the wet-foot/dry-foot policy that favored Cuban’s immigration to the United States, but for the 90 who are detained at the 21st Century Migrant Station in Tapachula, and for their relatives in the United States, the … Continue reading "Extortions, Kidnappings And Limbo: Daily Life Of Cubans Stranded In Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton" Continue reading
Private Taxi Drivers Close Ranks Against Fixed Prices Charged By The
State / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 12 February 2017 – "Take me, I'll pay you
double," implores a woman to a taxi driver on the main route of Prado y
Neptuno. The car is empty, but the driver does not stop to those hailing
his taxi, even while showing money in their hands. Imposed fixed prices
on private transport have unleashed a silent battle on the streets of
Havana.

Since last Wednesday capital authorities have applied a new scale of
fixed rates on the routes of private taxis, a decision that reinforced
an end to the law of supply and demand, which regulated the private
transport since its authorization in the mid 1990s. Last year the
authorities decreed set fares, but the drivers found a way to get around
them and the state came back with a second round of controls last week.

Private transport drivers reacted by eliminating intermediate stops or
by opting to pick up only passengers going the full route. Despite not
relying on an independent union, they have closed ranks and reduced the
number of clients they transport in order to pressure local authorities
to take a step back.

"It has not been necessary for drivers to agree on taking these measure
because we all know that accepting this means worse measures to come,"
assures Leo Ramírez, one of the private taxis whose route runs between
downtown and the neighborhood La Víbora. Driver of a 1957 Chevrolet,
this man says the government is "waging war" on them.

Like most of his colleagues who transport passengers within the city,
for the past three days Ramírez only accepts riders going the full
route. "Most of the time I ride around with no passengers and I have
lost a lot of money," he says to 14ymedio. He claims, "if the measure is
not reversed I will turn in my license."

At the end of 2016, Cuba had more than 535,000 private or non-state
workers, the largest figure recorded since 2010, according to data from
the Ministry of Work and Social Security (MTSS). Of these, about 54,350
work in the transport of cargo and passengers and are popularly know as
boteros (boatmen).

The situation has put the mobility of Havana in check, a city with over
2 million people and a public transport system facing a deficit of vehicles.

In July 2016, the Council of Provincial Administration published
Agreement 185, setting maximum fares for the routes of the popular
almendrones*, or private taxis. At that time, established rates were for
the most important routes, but the drivers resorted to breaking the
trips into segments and charging per segment.

Tatiana Viera, vice-president of the Council, explained on national
television that behind that decision was "a series of violations that
occurred between the months of September and October." Consequently, "in
order to continue to protect the public," they decided on the new
"measures for shorter trips."

The official explains that private taxis transport workers, students and
even "teachers, who with their salary and hard work cannot afford
transportation at those prices." Viera pointed out that "it is our state
and moral duty to continue protecting these customers," even though she
classified the almendrones as "complementary transport."

"The problem is not prices, but wages," says Yampier, a taxi driver on
the route from the area of the Capitol to the municipality of Marianao.
According to this self-employed driver, "our cars are always full, which
means there are people who can afford our prices." However, he considers
that presently, they are all affected by the new measures.

A retiree who tried to take a taxi this Saturday to Santiago de la Vegas
from El Curita park, showed more optimism. "There was no one who could
pay those prices, which makes me glad the State intervened," she
commented to 14ymedio. She went outside with the newspaper stating the
new rates to "show (the drivers) if they tried to take advantage of her."

The sanctions for those who do not conform to the new rates range from a
fine to the confiscation of the vehicle. "Our inspectors are already on
the streets" dressed in "blue jackets," warns Viera and adds, "They are
accompanied by the National Revolutionary Police (PNR)."

Carlos Manuel, known as the Mule, is self-employed in construction and
lives in the Martí neighborhood. Every day he takes at least two private
taxis to get to the house where he is building a bathroom and a kitchen.
"When I heard the news I felt happy because I was going to pay half of
what I was paying last Thursday," he commented to this newspaper.

However, as the days pass, the Mule explains that these new measures
have actually "affected me a lot." Now, "I have to go to where the route
starts to hop on a taxi," he retells. So, "I pay more because I have to
go on a longer route now."

This construction worker is also concerned that "this type of decision
by the State will trickle down into other professions." In his case, he
is afraid that "one day they might announce fixed rates for the
placement of a square meter of tiles or the installation of sanitary
fixtures," a situation which he would be "deeply affected" by.

*Translator's note: "Almendrones" means "almonds" – from the shape of
the classic American cars often used to provide this service.

Translated by Chavely Garcia.

Source: Private Taxi Drivers Close Ranks Against Fixed Prices Charged By
The State / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/private-taxi-drivers-close-ranks-at-the-fixed-prices-charged-by-the-state-14ymedio-marcelo-hernandez/ Continue reading
Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 12 February 2017 – “Take me, I’ll pay you double,” implores a woman to a taxi driver on the main route of Prado y Neptuno. The car is empty, but the driver does not stop to those hailing his taxi, even while showing money in their hands. Imposed fixed prices on private … Continue reading "Private Taxi Drivers Close Ranks Against Fixed Prices Charged By The State / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez" Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — There are few things that spontaneously bring Cubans on the island together. For example, if the provincial team is crowned champion in the national baseball series, where, in between the infamous beer and a noisy reggaeton, in Communist Party-arranged pachangas, people celebrate at the tops of their voices. It’s also … Continue reading "Cubans Wanting To Emigrate See The United States As First Option" Continue reading
First Group of Cuban Doctors Arrives in Miami after the End of the
'Parole' / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 6 February 2017 – Two dozen health
professionals who abandoned their Cuban medical missions abroad arrived
this afternoon at the Miami International Airport from Colombia. This is
the first group to arrive in the United States after the end of the
Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP).

"This is a triumph for the whole Cuban American community, our
organization and the offices of the Cuban American congressmen who have
worked so that these guys can get the right deal, and their petitions
were satisfactorily answered," said Julio Cesar Alfonso, president of
the organization Solidarity Without Borders (SSF) which supports Cuban
doctors.

Yerenia Cedeno, a 28-year old Cuban doctor, characterized the situation
they experienced in Venezuela as "horrible." She escaped five months
after arriving at the mission, pushed by insecurity and the precarious
conditions where they worked.

"You would find out that they took the phone from this one or robbed
that one on the minibus. It's horrible," explains Cedeno.

The doctor adds that she could not go back to Cuba because there she
"would be marginalized and looked at badly."

"They put you in another place, not in your job because they look down
on you because you don't agree with what you experienced and for what
you were badly prepared," she adds.

The doctor felt exploited in Venezuela, where she shared her work with
her husband, also a doctor, who accompanied her on her trip to the
United States but did not want to make a statement to the press.

Their plan is to take their little three-year old daughter who lives in
Guantanamo out of Cuba and resume their studies in the United States.

"I want to work as a doctor or something similar. This is the start of a
new life," she says.

This past January 12, the then-president of the United States, Barack
Obama, eliminated the CMPP, a program established under the
administration of Republican George Bush that in a decade allowed the
flight of more than 8,000 Cuban health professionals.

According to the non-profit organization Solidarity Without Borders,
which helps integrate these doctors into the US health system, it helps
those fleeing from the biggest human trafficking system in the modern
history of the western hemisphere.

Arisdelqui Mora, a young Cuban who escaped the Island four years ago on
a raft, waited for her half-sister Arianna Reyes, a Cuban doctor who
escaped from the mission in Venezuela. The happiness of the reunion,
which included the grandmother of both, received wide media coverage.

"We have been separated but during the whole time we remained in
communication through the networks," explains Mora to 14ymedio.

"They have worked a lot," she adds.

Celia Santana, a dentist, only spent five months in Venezuela.

"Venezuela is much worse than my country. I never imagined that it would
be like that. That country is a disaster, and of course the Venezuelan
people are not to blame," explains the doctor.

She spent five months awaiting the parole in order to travel to the
United States.

"It's absurd to end the program. They should have taken other measures,"
she says.

"Cubans escape because of the economic situation and also because of the
politics because they want freedom of expression."

Mildre Ester Martinez, recently arrived in Miami, appreciates the help
received through the media and the service of Solidarity Without Borders.

"I did not feel right. I was disgusted, disappointed by all the work we
did there. I thank God to be here," she added.

Maikel Palacios, health professional and spokesman for the group of
Cubans, reminded that although Cuba has said publicly that they can
rejoin the public health system, "they don't let defectors enter the
country for eight years."

Palacios also questioned the supposed good will of the Island's
government when the official communication from the Minister of Public
Health did not mention the frozen bank accounts that the aid workers
lose once they abandon the mission.

"They don't talk about the money. There are people who have up to 7,000
dollars, and they lose it all the day they decide to escape," he said.

The Cuban government appropriates two-thirds of the salary earned by the
Cubans abroad. They are generally sent to the most remote places in
deplorable working conditions. In countries like Brazil they do not have
the right to receive their family while the aid program lasts, even
though the laws of that country permit it.

Solidarity Without Borders is in the middle of a campaign to
re-establish the Parole program for Cuban doctors. Currently they are
working with the offices of Cuban American congressmen in order to
present a proposal to President Donald Trump to reinstate the CMPP.

"We will keep working so that our colleagues may reach the land of
freedom and in the near future the Parole program will be re-established
for professionals who are in third countries," explained the president
of SSF, Julio Cesar Alfonso.

According to statistics from SSF more than 69 Cuban doctors have been
killed in Venezuela in the last 10 years. The Cuban government has
divulged that currently more than 50,000 professionals from the Island
are dispersed throughout more than 60 countries worldwide.

Working conditions and political pressure push thousands of
professionals to accept the missions proposed by the Cuban government.
Even though the salary was increased in 2014, the average salary of a
doctor in Cuba is about 60 dollars a month.

The massive exportation of health services has generated income for the
government on the order of 8.2 billion dollars a year in 2014 according
to official sources.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: First Group of Cuban Doctors Arrives in Miami after the End of
the 'Parole' / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/first-group-of-cuban-doctors-arrives-in-miami-after-the-end-of-the-parole-14ymedio-mario-penton/ Continue reading
How does Cuba manage to achieve first-world health statistics?
The island's medical system is envied throughout the region and is a
major foreign revenue earner
Havana 10 FEB 2017 - 16:08 CET

Cuba's healthcare system is a source of pride for its communist
government. The country has well-trained, capable doctors, the sector
has become an important export earner and gives Cuba valuable soft power
– yet the real picture is less rosy. A lot of health infrastructure is
deteriorating and there is a de facto two-tier system that favors those
with money.

Cuba's child mortality rate is on par with some of the world's richest
countries. With six deaths for every 1,000 births, according to World
Bank data from 2015, Cuba is level with New Zealand. In 2015, the global
average was 42.5 deaths for every 1,000 births. Despite more than half a
century of a US economic embargo, Cuba's average life expectancy matches
that in the US: 79.1 years, just a few months shorter than Americans
who, on average, live to 79.3 years, according to 2015 data from the
World Health Organization (WHO).

Much of Cuba's success in these areas is due to its primary healthcare
system, which is one of the most proactive in the world. Cuba's
population of 11.27 million has 452 out-patient clinics and the
government gives priority to disease prevention, universal coverage and
access to treatment.

Cuba has also produced innovations in medical research. In 1985 the
country pioneered the first and only vaccine against meningitis B. The
country's scientists developed new treatments for hepatitis B, diabetic
foot, vitiligo and psoriasis. They also developed a lung cancer vaccine
that is currently being tested in the United States. Cuba was also the
first country on earth to eliminate the transmission of HIV and syphilis
from mother to child, a feat recognized by the WHO in 2015.

In 2015, Cuba spent 10.57% of its GDP on health, slightly higher than
the global average. According to the World Bank in 2014, the European
average spending GDP spending was 10%, compared to 17.1% in the United
States.

Two-tier system
A lesser-known characteristic of Cuba's healthcare system is the
existence of special clinics, reserved for tourists, politicians and
VIPs. The state reserves the best hospitals and doctors for the national
elite and foreigners, while ordinary Cubans sometimes must turn to the
black market or ask expatriate friends or family to send medicine.

"Cuba's health service is divided in two: one for Cubans and the other
for foreigners, who receive better quality care, while the national
population has to be satisfied with dilapidated facilities and a lack of
medicines and specialists, who are sent abroad to make money for Cuba,"
says Dr. Julio César Alfonzo, a Cuban exile in Miami and director of the
NGO Solidaridad Sin Fronteras.

In 1959, the country had only 6,000 doctors, half of whom emigrated
after the Cuban revolution. By 2014, Cuba had 67.2 doctors for every
10,000 inhabitants, with only Qatar and Monaco ahead of it.

However, despite these impressive statistics, the quality of primary
healthcare, which has been fundamental to Cuba's success, has been
declining in recent years. Between 2009 and 2014 there was a 62% fall in
the number of family doctors, from 34,261 to 12,842, according to Cuba's
National Statistics Office (ONEI).

An army of white coats
In the words of Fidel Castro, Cuba's "army of white coats" was formed in
1960, when a medical brigade was sent to Chile after an earthquake left
thousands dead. Since then, Cuba has sent more than 300,000 healthcare
workers to 158 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, according to
Cuba's state news agency. Today, around 50,000 Cuban medical workers are
present in 67 countries.

"Cuban doctors are rooted in solidarity and in the Hippocratic Oath. Our
job would be unthinkable without foreign missions," says Salvador Silva,
a doctor specializing in infectious diseases who has worked in Haiti and
Liberia.

"Yes, our salary is low and maybe that pushes us to go abroad, but it
also makes us proud when we see our work recognized throughout the
world, on top of just helping in our own country," he adds.

Doctors are arguably Cuba's most profitable resource and the country's
medical missions have proved to be a lucrative diplomatic tool. The
healthcare industry is also one of the country's main sources of income.
In 2014, Cuban authorities estimated overseas healthcare services would
bring in $8.2 billion, putting it ahead of tourism.

Cuba has a different deal with each country it works with. For example,
in exchange for sending 3,500 health care workers to work in and provide
training in Venezuela, a close Cuban ally, Venezuela sends oil.

With such a high demand for personnel, some suspect that the Cuban
government has been reducing educational requirements to hasten
students' entry into the work force.

"They are giving doctors licenses in record time to meet the need to
export them, and this has been detrimental to the quality of training
and medicine, which used to be the best. This has been happening since
they started the program in Venezuela, between 2003 and 2004," says Dr
Alfonzo.

Doctors are also eager to be sent abroad, not only to help the less
fortunate, but also for money. Salaries are higher – depending on the
location, with doctors abroad reportedly making up to $1,000 per month
(minus taxes), whereas those in Cuba make around $50. On the island, it
isn't rare to find taxi drivers, shopkeepers or construction workers
with medical degrees.

Juan drives a 1950s Chevrolet he bought with his brother and he uses it
as a taxi from 6pm to midnight. He's also a doctor in the clinic
Hermanos Ameijeiras.

"The wage is a pittance. We find ourselves obligated to make a living
doing other things. I have coworkers who sell prescriptions to
pharmacies, who work in unlicensed clinics or help their families in
shops. It's frustrating," he says. "It's like they're pushing us to
enlist in international missions, the business of Cuba."

The country's medical missions abroad have been an important escape
route for Cubans looking to defect. Before migratory reforms were passed
in January 2013 allowing Cubans with passports and visas to travel
abroad, the preferred way to abandon Cuba was via Venezuela. In 2013 and
2014, more than 3,000 doctors deserted the island to go to the United
States through a special visa program called Cuban Medical Professional
Parole, a program started by George W. Bush to help healthcare workers
who had escaped while working abroad.

Lucia Newman, a former CNN correspondent in Habana, said Cuban doctors
complain that travel restrictions prevent them from attending
conferences or keeping abreast of the latest medical advances. The US
trade embargo on Cuba includes some textbooks, but the major problem is
that Cuban doctors cannot buy medical equipment from the United States
or from any US subsidiaries.

For Odalys, a young patient waiting at the Hospital Salvador Allende,
"the situation is becoming unsustainable in this country and it's not
because of a lack of specialists, it's because we have to bring
everything ourselves. I just bought a light bulb for the hospital room.
I've called home so that they can bring me bedding, towels and even
toilet paper. There aren't even stretchers, I saw a family carrying
their sick son into a room. Free and universal health care, yes, but
it's a bit of a mess and very informal," she says.

English version: Alyssa McMurtry.

Source: Cuba's healthcare system: How does Cuba manage to achieve
first-world health statistics? | In English | EL PAÍS -
http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/02/10/inenglish/1486729823_171276.html?prod=REG&o=COM&event_log=fa Continue reading
Cuba: It Might Seem Stupid but…
February 9, 2017
By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban economy would be on the increase if half of the
Revolution's guardian angels – those who dedicate themselves to
monitoring what is written on every blog – spent their time chasing
corrupt and incompetent officials who steal and destroy the wealth that
other Cuban people generate.

This isn't my idea but that of one of Cartas desde Cuba's readers and it
stems from the fact that the Comptroller General of Cuba reported that
there were "losses" worth around 90 million pesos and 50 million USD, in
some companies that had been inspected in Havana.

During the debate that then kicked off on the blog, many people asked
why names of corrupt and incompetent officials weren't made public or
why we weren't informed of the dismissal of company leaders or those
sectors affected, just like the blog La Joven Cuba was "reported" in the
press, for example.

Cuba can't get rid of the blockade because that depends on the US
Congress. However, a lot could be done to counteract State company
"losses" in the millions, without which we will never reach the
productivity needed in order to raise wages.

The country's national economic situation is no joking matter. In 2016,
over 5 billion USD were paid on the country's foreign debt and, I
imagine, that this year this expenditure will be similar. If the
payments aren't made there are few credits available and those which
come, are loaded with huge interest rates.

As if that wasn't enough, Venezuela has cut oil exports to Cuba, which
the government pays for with medical services. Last year, only 55,000
barrels were delivered per day, around half of the amount that Cuba used
to receive when things were going well, when they were able to use,
refine and resell oil.

The situation needs to be changed urgently. In 2016, Cuba couldn't pay
some medium and short-term debts because they didn't have liquid funds.
The national economy needs to grow and in order for that to happen,
foreign investment is vital; about 2.5 billion USD per year, according
to Cuban economists.

However, these investments don't come or, rather, they do appear but
they get stuck in the marshy labyrinth of Cuban bureaucracy. And this is
how foreign businessmen spend their days in Cuba, losing hope while
they're told perhaps, perhaps perhaps…

Last year was very hard and this year looks like it will be too.
However, it could be a lot less difficult if things were handled more
decisively against incompetent and corrupt officials that squander
Cuba's scant resources and possibilities for development, as Vietnamese
economic advisers suggested to government officials.

Or maybe these officials are being dealt with and what Cuban citizens
are missing is transparency to explain why provincial leaders are being
arrested for having kept money from grants meant for home building or
those who sell official passports.

Lisandro Otero said that capitalism is so uncertain that the population
never knows what will happen, while in socialism, they never find out
what happened. Maybe if we were told a little more about some of these
cases, people would think twice before putting their hands in the State
treasury.

There are some people who oppose the idea that there should be greater
transparency because that way it would be public which leader "messed
up" and why. With such information we could save ourselves at least from
letting some known corrupt official, from a new government post, give us
lessons on revolutionary honor.

"When they steal from the State they are stealing from you."
To nobody's surprise, there are a group of "super-revolutionaries" who
dedicate their lives to blocking this information from ever reaching the
general population. They fight against blogs, websites and within the
national media against all of those who try to practice better journalism.

Their enemies aren't those who – from a ministry – take part in people
trafficking scams, or those who put a halt to foreign investment.
Likewise, they don't report those who rob social security funds or State
company managers who lose millions of dollars.

According to them, the greatest danger that the country faces today are…
bloggers. That's why they dedicate article after article to attack any
non-governmental statement in the blogosphere. They seek to convince the
Cuban people that wiping the bloggers out of cyberspace is a matter of
life and death for the Revolution.

With the very real problems that the economy is suffering, with the most
powerful country in the world's blockade still present, with hundreds of
thieves diverting resources and with incompetent bureaucracy hindering
the reforms process, looking for imaginary enemies might seem stupid and
it really is.

Source: Cuba: It Might Seem Stupid but… - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=123572 Continue reading
Prostitution: 'extra pay' for many police
GERÓNIMO GARCÍA | La Habana | 9 de Febrero de 2017 - 10:46 CET.

"I don't know why you're surprised, when everybody knows that
prostitution and pimping represent an extra salary for many police,"
says Alexis.

This young man, in his 30s, is a pimp who controls what he considers his
"flock" in the area of El Malecón, in the center of the city, bordering
on Old Havana. He agreed to share some details about how "the police
receive direct benefits from prostitution and pimping."

His name, and that of everyone interviewed for this report, have been
changed to prevent reprisals. The same is true of the exact locations of
the homes where "the girls take the Johns to turn tricks."

From a discreet place one can observe Maribel pass a fiver to a couple
of policemen stationed near the entrance to a building where she has
offered her services to a Canadian.

"The fee we pay the police ranges between three and five dollars each
time," says Maribel, 28, a native of Holguin.

"The police are a necessary evil in this business. They provide some
security and warn you if there's an operation in the area. They almost
never ask us to pay 'in kind.' They want money," she adds. "You're
better off not lying, because they're on top of everything, they have a
kind of network. If you get tagged as a rebel, you have two serious
problems: with them and with your 'controller.'"

Natalia is the owner of an illegal "house of dates," as she prefers to
call her business, and she says that she has three inviolable rules: "no
minors, no drug use, and no monkey business with the police."

"As long as I respect those 'three golden rules,' and I get paid $10 for
each trick, everything is perfect. Here I receive two policemen who over
the years became partners of mine and of Alexis. They take their slice
right here. The truth is that it's outrageous that the girls have to
pay, from their pockets, two men (the pimp and the police), but they
chose this life, and that's part of the price to pay."

After a body search and removing his badge with his identification
number, a police officer who is a "friend" of Alexis agrees to explain
why he does not consider himself "corrupt" because he accepts money from
the prostitution business.

"Everything is bad here, and you must know that no salary puts food on
your table all month. They chose this work, which is forbidden, to
survive. I just make sure that it's all smooth sailing. This way we all
survive and everyone wins, nobody loses."

Prostituted and abused

The area of ​​El Malecón, from Colón to Cárcel, is considered by the
police to be a red light area. To keep a low profile, the police who
profit from prostitution do not allow these women to sit on the wall at
night.

"That's why some of us change 'opening time' to midmorning and until
6:00 pm," explains Yamila, age 23 and a resident of Guanabacoa.

"I have to work, rain or shine, because my husband, who is also my pimp,
lets me have it when there's no money. On top of that I have to pay the
police for this three or five 'tickets.' I've got no choice. If not, I'm
screwed."

Alexis says he would never get his girl into prostitution, and he does
not physically mistreat any of his girls. Dayán, his colleague, on the
other hand, does so frequently, and in public, which "the police
consider bad for this racket."

"The police prefer pimps that blend in, who are always moving and not
staying in one place," says Anabel, the owner of a brothel.

"That Dayán guy is a problem because he stirs up trouble, and the police
have promised to take him out of circulation. Every cop is looking for a
pimp that has two or more girls under their control, because that
doubles the chance of earning more in one day, and no one risks playing
the 'game' when the heat is on."

For this service from these women a foreigner never pays less than $30.
There is the $10 set by the house, plus the bribe for the police. The
rest the prostitute has to share with her pimp, as agreed to between them.

A year ago Tania, age 27, decided to forego a pimp.

"He abused me, and sometimes I had to go out and work full of bruises,
and the gringos don't like that. I decided that my pimp was going to be
a cop. In the end it's not the same splitting the money between three or
two. Regardless of how the day goes, I pay him his $20. He liked the
idea, and another two policemen are operating the same way, with less risk."

Source: Prostitution: 'extra pay' for many police | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1486633569_28792.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 6 February 2017 – Two dozen health professionals who abandoned their Cuban medical missions abroad arrived this afternoon at the Miami International Airport from Colombia. This is the first group to arrive in the United States after the end of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP). “This is a triumph … Continue reading "First Group of Cuban Doctors Arrives in Miami after the End of the ‘Parole’ / 14ymedio, Mario Penton" Continue reading
14ymedio, Miami, 8 February 2017 — John and Sarah Wenham had planned the wedding of their dreams in Cuba, a country that in recent years has become a magnet for tourists from all latitudes. However, this young British couple did not suspect that their wedding would turn into a nightmare. The Wenham saved a total of … Continue reading "Roof Collapse Injures Tourists at Their Cuban Wedding / 14ymedio" Continue reading
… the U.S. Embassy in Havana has put together a list … , and exhibitions Support for the Cuban people Humanitarian projects Activities of … to get to Cuba? Several airlines fly to Cuba from the U … need. [READ/WATCH: Our "Cuban Money Crisis" - It … Continue reading
Mark Cuban encourages people not to finance … card debt  Self-made billionaire Mark Cuban is known for giving guidance … if you can," said Cuban. "Interest rates look to … Continue reading
Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 February 2017 — Rustic, elegant or
family friendly. These are the preferred accommodations offered
by Airbnb in Cuba. The hosts, for their part, prefer serious customers
who pay well, but above all value the ability to directly manage their
rental, two years after the huge international private rental platform
opened its services in Cuba.

"There is nothing like Airbnb," said Jorge Ignacio Guillén, a student of
economics who rents out a house in the town of Soroa, Artemisa.
Surrounded by lush vegetation, orchids and birds native to the area, the
accommodation is described as "rustic" and in direct contact with nature.

The young man helps his family manage the home's profile on the
California website specializing in vacation rentals. Guillén signed up a
year ago and his family's house is now is one of the more than 4,000
rental options that Airbnb claims exist on the island.

Airbnb listings in Cuba range from exclusive mansions with pool that can
cost up to $1,000 a night depending on the number of rooms, to single
rooms with a bed or bunk for about 10 dollars

The San Francisco-based company, created nine years ago, expanded its
services to Cuba in April 2015, just months after the announcement of
the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana.

The offerings on the island range from the most luxurious to the
simplest. From exclusive mansions with pools that can cost up to $1,000
a night depending on the number of rooms, to single rooms with a bed or
bunk for about 10 dollars*. Hot running water, coffee upon awakening or
a minibar are some of the options to choose from.

Of the more than 535,000 self-employed workers in the country at the end
of 2016, at least 34,000 dedicate themselves to renting homes, rooms and
spaces. An unknown number offer a house or a room "under the table,"
without a state license and without paying taxes.

On the island, entrepreneurs need to obtain a rental license, in
accordance with the regulations on self-employment implemented in the
mid-1990s. Owners of registered rentals must pay license fees and taxes
deducted from personal income. These vary depending on the location of
the property, the square footage allocated to the rental, and the
occupancy numbers.

Airbnb registration is simple. The first step is to fill out a detailed
form about the accommodation you are offering and the guests you wish to
host. Within a few minutes you will receive an email welcoming you to
the platform. The last step is to attract customers, who will rate the
accommodation through the company's website.

The Guillén family has wanted to do everything legally to be able to
take advantage of the growth in tourism. Last year, the number of
foreign visitors reached 4 million, 6% more than the 3.7 million
visitors initially forecast, according to the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur).

Most of the rooms offered on Airbnb are located in Havana, but other
destinations such as Trinidad, Viñales, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas
are gaining prominence. The Cuban market stands out as the fastest
growing in the history of the company.

Guillén learned about the service through a friend outside the island
and as soon as he had the opportunity to connect to the internet he
posted his advertisement. "From then to now business improved a great
deal and we are finding a lot more customers," he tells 14ymedio. Also,
the new customers "are much better, more serious and more respectful,"
and "they pay more," he summarizes.

The family is offering "a simple country house," and puts its guests in
touch with a guide service and horseback riding. After the reservation,
all the information is shared via email, the most fragile part of the
operation due to the low connectivity to the internet still experienced
in Cuba.

Rebeca Monzó, a craftswoman and blogger who has a room for rent on
Airbnb, complains of the difficulties involved in managing the service
without internet access. Although an email account on the government
Nauta service has alleviated the problem, responding immediately when
she receives a reservation message is complicated.

Monzó, who has made clear her preference for "stable, professional and
retired couples," will receive her first customer in February, "a
Mexican filmmaker who is coming with his wife." For this coming March
she already has another confirmed reservation.

The increase in the number of days of occupation per year is one of the
advantages for local entrepreneurs who have joined Airbnb. Guillen
confesses that although he still has "much to learn about the management
of the platform," he does manage, through it, to "maintain a good number
of reservations."

After the difficulties of eight years of construction to get their
property ready in Soroa, a beautiful natural area, the young man's
family is reaping the fruits of their labors. However, they recognize
that the most difficult thing continues to be "always having on hand the
necessary supplies to meet basic needs," because "there still is no
wholesale market in the country."

In Monzó's Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, "almost everyone who
rents to tourists has signed up for the service. The customer pays from
their own country directly to Airbnb," and then "they send an Airbnb
representative to the house who brings the money in cash," she says. It
is the same formula frequently used by Cubans abroad to send remittances
to family on the island.

But for Monzó, the business is far from a source of great profits. "When
I signed up, I wasn't thinking about being able to buy a yacht. I was
just thinking I'd like to have a well-stocked refrigerator."

*Translator's note: Looking at the listings on Airbnb's site as of
today, single room rental rates (two guests) appear to be concentrated
in the range of about $25-$35 (with many that are more and less than
that). A professional employed by the state in Cuba earns roughly $40 a
month; physicians earn roughly $60 a month.

Source: Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/airbnb-the-cuban-experience-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
WEDDING FROM HELL Couple left distraught after dream £25,000 Cuba
wedding turns to disaster when hotel roof COLLAPSED leaving bride
permanently scarred and groom with broken ribs
Sarah and John Wenham were both injured the day before the wedding of
their dreams
BY BRITTANY VONOW AND MEGAN WHITE 8th February 2017, 11:06 am

A BRIDE and groom had their dream wedding destroyed after the roof of
their hotel lobby collapsed – trapping their family and guests under debris.

Sarah and John Wenham had saved for years for 'the wedding of their
dreams' in Cuba, costing more than £25,000 for themselves and 24 guests.

The couple's big day was ruined after the hotel lobby collapsed during
their rehearsal dinner
But they were left fearing for their lives when the lobby roof at Sol
Rio De Luna y Mares Hotel, in Cuba, suddenly buckled and collapsed –
trapping them underneath and injuring many members of the wedding party,
including the bride.

Sarah, 35, said: "We were just about to meet with hotel staff to discuss
our wedding plans in the lobby, when John pointed out the ceiling as it
started to move.

"A loud 'bang' followed as the roof then suddenly collapsed and fell
upon us, trapping us underneath."

Couple left injured after roof collapses before their dream Cuba wedding
Tour company Thomas Cook have now apologised for the incident in August
last year, saying they had done "everything we could" to support the family.

Sarah relived the horror, saying that roof debris knocked the group
"clean to the ground".

She said: "It was so heavy that I couldn't move under it, and I was
terrified because I couldn't get to my daughters who I could hear
screaming from somewhere beneath the debris.

"I saw the blood start to gush from my head and I genuinely thought in
that moment that I was going to die."

John, from Gravesend, Kent, says he looked up after they had been in the
lobby for around ten minutes to find the ceiling moving.

He shouted at Sarah and their nine-year-old daughter Mia to run, pushing
them out of the way.

But as the ceiling fell, he leaped in front of baby Penny, 20-months, to
shield her from the debris, taking the brunt of the weight.

John added: "It was horrifying - sheer fright.

"When we eventually found Sarah, it took two people to lift the debris
off her and I had to crawl underneath and drag her out.

"After the incident, we were all traumatised.

"We didn't know what to do for the best.

"In one split-second everything we'd planned and saved for so long was gone.

"We felt terrible that so many people had spent so much money and had
travelled so far to be with us for our special day and then this happened.

"So when we were told that the wedding could still go ahead at another
venue at the last minute, we felt we had no option but to go ahead with it.

"Unfortunately, we'll now always remember the wedding as being a
distraction from the horrifying events of the day before.

"We couldn't enjoy it and we just wanted to go home.

"That's not how we should remember our wedding day."

John was left with two fractured ribs, an injured spleen and severe
bruising.

Sarah suffered head and eye injuries and required ten stitches to a deep
laceration on her face, which is now likely to leave a permanent scar.

Several other members of the wedding party suffered serious injuries,
including head and spinal injuries, a leg fracture and a deep head
laceration, with one guest requiring 19 stitches across the top of her
scalp.

Sarah suffered head and eye injuries, as well as needing ten stitches to
a cut on her face after the roof crashed down on top of her
John said: "The only way we could get over it was to have the wedding,
to try and mask what had happened.

"Sarah won't look at the pictures because she's got stitches on her face
- it shouldn't be like that.

"I couldn't walk properly, I couldn't lift her over threshold and I
couldn't even pick the kids up for five to six weeks."

When the couple did have their ceremony at a different hotel, Playa
Pesquero, it was in the foyer, and not the beach wedding they had planned.

But this was far from the end of the couple's problems.

Even before the roof collapse, on just the second day of their
disastrous holiday, Sarah and John's hotel room was flooded with sewage,
damaging clothes, their children's toys and un-opened wedding gifts.

A wedding guest suffered from a broken leg after the ceiling collapsed
on her
The couple say despite their bags and clothing being ruined, their
belongings were never replaced.

In other rooms there were exposed wires which John, an electrician,
described as looking 'deadly'.

John and many of the other guests, including Mia and Penny, also
suffered from diarrhoea and sickness throughout the holiday - later
confirmed to be salmonella.

The couple have now instructed personal injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell
to take legal action against tour operator, Thomas Cook.

Jennifer Lund, a partner in the specialist international personal injury
team at Irwin Mitchell, representing the group, said: "Sarah, John and
their closest family and friends should have been overjoyed on what was
supposed to have been an incredible holiday, centred around a magical
wedding day.

"Instead, the whole trip ended up being a terrifying ordeal that will
forever be etched in their memories for all of the wrong reasons.

"We are investigating the cause of the roof collapse at the Sol Rio De
Luna y Mares Hotel as well as the group's other complaints.

"We are seeking to recover a settlement to help each of our clients with
their recovery and to compensate them following the dreadful ordeal they
have suffered.

"Our thoughts are with all of those injured, and we wish them a speedy
recovery.

"We would be grateful to hear from anyone who may have witnessed the
roof collapse or its aftermath or who can provide information about
illnesses suffered by guests during stays at the Sol Rio De Luna y Mares
Hotel, as they may be able to help with our enquiries."

A Thomas Cook spokesperson said: "Clearly this is totally unacceptable
and we are in close contact with the hotel to understand how it happened.

"We are very sorry and disappointed that this occurred on what should
have been such a happy occasion.

"We did everything we could to support the Wenham family and all those
affected after the accident, and we continue to take this matter very
seriously."

Source: Couple left distraught after dream £25,000 Cuba wedding turns to
disaster when hotel roof COLLAPSED leaving bride permanently scarred and
groom with broken ribs -
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2813967/cuba-wedding-roof-collapse/ Continue reading
The Cuban hustle: Doctors drive cabs and work abroad to make up for
meager pay
By ROB WATERS
FEBRUARY 8, 2017

HAVANA — He knew as a child that he wanted to be a doctor, like his
father. He went to medical school, became a general surgeon and
ultimately a heart specialist. He practiced at Cuba's premier
cardiovascular hospital, performed heart transplants, and published
articles in medical journals.

For this, Roberto Mejides earned a typical doctor's salary: about $40 a
month.

It wasn't nearly enough, even with the free housing and health care
available to Cubans, to support his extended family. So in 2014, Mejides
left them behind, moving to Ecuador to earn up to $8,000 a month working
at two clinics and performing surgeries.

It's a common story here, where waiters, cabdrivers, and tour guides can
make 10 to 20 times the government wages of doctors and nurses — thanks
to tips from tourists.

"Doctors are like slaves for our society," said Sandra, an art student
and photographer's assistant who makes more than her mother, a
physician. "It's not fair to study for so many years and be so underpaid."

Cuba is proud of its government-run health care system and its skilled
doctors. But even with a raise two years ago, the highest paid doctors
make $67 a month, while nurses top out at $40. That leaves many feeling
demoralized — and searching for ways to improve their lives.

Some enter the private economy — by renting rooms to tourists, driving
cabs, or treating private patients, quasi-legally, on the side.
Thousands of others accept two-year government assignments to work as
doctors abroad, collecting higher salaries for themselves and earning
billions for the state, which helps keep the stagnant economy afloat. In
fact, health workers are Cuba's largest source of foreign exchange.

A few doctors, like Mejides, arrange foreign employment on their own,
putting at risk their future ability to return to a government job in
the health system back home.

"It's hard to migrate and be alone," Mejides said in Spanish, during a
video phone call from Ecuador to a reporter visiting Havana in October.
"It's stressful. I am in the wrong place. I should be with my family in
my country, working and being rewarded properly."

Still, with his Ecuador earnings, he was able to buy his wife, two
daughters, and two stepdaughters a $23,000 apartment in Havana, and he
sends them $300 to $500 a month.

Renting out rooms to make ends meet

While doctors back in Cuba grumble about their low pay, they usually
find ways to make do.

Sandra's mother, Nadia, a genetics researcher, earns about as much as
she pays a cleaning woman to maintain her three-bedroom Havana
apartment. Whenever she can, she rents one of those rooms to tourists
for $40 a night, making more in two nights than she does from her
monthly earnings as a doctor. She asked that her full name not be used
to avoid any problems with the government.

The rental income allows Nadia to have a modestly comfortable life and
to be able to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. But a
restaurant meal is a rare treat, and traveling abroad is impossible.

Still, she loves her work and the intellectual challenge of her research
into genetic diseases. She said many Cuban doctors are committed and
provide excellent service, in part because of the ways they have learned
to overcome shortages of equipment and technology.

"We don't have all the electronic tools, so we have to learn to do
things other ways, to diagnose just by external examination," she said,
over a dinner of fish and rum at her apartment.

She'd like to earn more money, of course, and she understands why so
many doctors, including many she knows, have chosen to leave Cuba.

"I'm not ambitious for money," she said. "I get rent from visitors, and
I get to live in Cuba. I have a nice house, and I'm happy with what I
have. But I'm not a millionaire."

Cecilia, a 60-year-old former nurse who also asked that her full name
not be used, spent 25 years working in government hospitals and clinics.
To adapt to the shortages, she learned to make inventos medicos —
medical inventions — using a chair or bench to raise the back of a
patient's bed, for example, or cutting the tip off an intravenous line
to fashion an oxygen feed to a patient's nose.

But she became disillusioned by the chronic shortages and the stress she
saw in both her patients and colleagues.

"The material scarcity is so overwhelming that it keeps people from
dedicating all the passion, love, and brain power that they should to
their patients in need," she said, sitting in a rocking chair in her
third-floor Havana apartment. "I was the one who had to face the
patients and tell them we don't have the drug that you need. It was very
common. And I didn't want to do that any more."

Doctors and nurses "have the best intentions, but they face so many
obstacles, there are so many things on their mind," she added. "The
doctor might be treating a patient but they are actually thinking: 'When
I get home, at God knows what time, what am I going to feed my kid?'"

She quit nursing in the early 2000s and later began to pursue her
passion, doing hands-on alternative medicine that combines techniques of
massage, kinesiology, magnetic therapy, and so-called floral therapy,
which uses extracts of flowers and herbs as healing agents.

Her work with private clients, who come to her apartment, is permitted
under a license for massage, the only form of healing work included on a
list of government-approved private services and businesses. Working
three days a week, she earns almost $120 a month "if all my appointments
show up," she said. "I use to make that in six months working at the
hospital."

A surplus of doctors

In the years after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cuba invested
heavily in education and science, training tens of thousands of doctors,
nurses, and scientists. As a result, Cuba, a country of 11.2 million
people, today has 90,000 doctors, the most per capita in the world.

About 25,000 of these doctors, along with 30,000 Cuban nurses and other
health professionals, are working in 67 countries around the world. They
earn about $8.2 billion in revenue for the government, according to a
recent article in Granma, the official paper of the Cuban Communist Party.

The bulk of the doctors, about 20,000, are in Brazil and Venezuela. Over
the last three years they provided treatment to 60 million Brazilians,
mostly the rural poor, said Cristián Morales Fuhrimann, the Pan American
Health Organization's representative in Havana.

Cuba receives about $5,000 a month per doctor from Brazil, pays each
doctor about $1,200, and banks the rest, said John Kirk, a professor of
Latin American studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, who
has researched Cuba's program of medical missions. Most of the doctors'
shares are deposited in their Cuban bank accounts, requiring them to
return home to collect it.

"Cuba has too many doctors, so their main source of hard currency is to
rent out medical services," Kirk said.

Once close allies of Havana, Brazil and Venezuela have been engulfed in
political and economic crises that will cause them to reduce their use
of Cuban doctors in the coming years.

That may lead Cuba to redeploy some doctors to other parts of the world,
including the Middle East. In Qatar, an oil-rich emirate about as far
from Cuba geographically and culturally as any place in the world, the
so-called Cuban Hospital is fully staffed by 400 Cuban doctors, nurses,
and technicians.

Cuba's dispatch of doctors not only generates revenue, it is also an
exercise in soft power that allows the country to spread its influence
around the globe.

"It's a major contribution to the health of the world," said Morales.
"They made a big difference in fighting Ebola in Africa, in the
aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti."

Some Cuban doctors working overseas have defected to the United States,
aided by a policy launched during the administration of George W. Bush
that permitted Cuban medical personnel to go to the US with their
spouses and children. In its last weeks in office, the Obama
administration announced it was ending the program.

Since the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program began in 2006, more
than 9,000 medical professionals and their family members were approved
for admission to the US. In the past four years, the number of entrants
spiked, reaching almost 2,000 for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The Cuban government and the Pan American Health Organization protested
the policy as a form of poaching that undermined Cuba's health system
and impeded newfound cooperation between the US and Cuba. In a
statement, Obama acknowledged that the program "risks harming the Cuban
people."

Cuban doctors are in demand internationally because they come cheap, are
well-trained, and work in a public health system that is highly
organized and well-run. In Cuba, primary care clinics are available in
every neighborhood. Specialists in cancer, immunology, genetic medicine,
and cardiovascular disease staff the hospitals. Life expectancy rates,
which two generations ago were at Third World levels, are today roughly
equal to those in the United States.

But the absence of so many doctors also provokes complaints from
patients, who say it keeps them from getting the best care. They also
grouse that they have to bring their own food and bedsheets, wait for
appointments or medications — and provide gifts to doctors to ensure
good treatment.

When the 61-year-old father of Concepcion, a young Cuban professional,
was diagnosed with prostate cancer last summer, she used personal
connections to enable her father to see a specialist promptly.

Concepcion, who asked that her full name not be used to avoid reprisals
or damage to her professional standing, also provided daily gifts of
food, cosmetics, and sometimes cash to doctors, nurses, and technicians
while her father was hospitalized for a month in Holguin, a city in
eastern Cuba.

"Doctors are used to receiving gifts," she said. "You give the gift and
the attention starts getting better. If you stop and the attention goes
down, you go back to handing out gifts. You feel sorry for the doctors
because they work really hard under bad conditions and you always feel
like they're not being rewarded."

She estimated she spent about $500 on gifts and food, an amount she said
would have doubled had he been hospitalized in pricier Havana.

Jose dos Santos, a Cuban journalist who needs regular treatment for his
diabetes, said the care he receives is excellent. Bringing gifts to
doctors "has become a habit because we know that the job doctors do
needs to be better rewarded," he said. "We don't produce oil," he added,
"but we produce talent, and it makes sense that that talent is
acknowledged and rewarded."

In December, Roberto Mejides moved again, this time to Merida, Mexico,
where he plans to work for the next four years. His income will be
roughly the same as in Ecuador, but now he's just 90 minutes by air from
Havana. He hopes to bring his family to join him in the coming months,

"My hopes have always been the same, to work honestly and to provide my
family with an adequate life," he said. Someday, he added, he wants to
return to Cuba: "It's my country, my homeland."

Rob Waters can be reached at robwaters@pacbell.net
Follow Rob on Twitter @robwaters001

Source: Cuban doctors drive cabs and work abroad to compensate for
meager pay - https://www.statnews.com/2017/02/08/cuba-doctors-meager-pay/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 February 2017 — Rustic, elegant or family friendly. These are the preferred accommodations offered by Airbnb in Cuba. The hosts, for their part, prefer serious customers who pay well, but above all value the ability to directly manage their rental, two years after the huge international private rental platform opened its services in Cuba. … Continue reading "Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar" Continue reading
U.S. travelers wait to see if Cuba strides will be undone
By Spud Hilton, San Francisco Chronicle
February 6, 2017 Updated: February 6, 2017 12:54pm

Pouring the first of what would be many Cuba Libres he would make that
day, Israel the bartender at Hotel Nacional said he was excited that
restrictions on U.S. travelers would soon be lifted. He hoped the
embargo would soon follow. He was eager to meet more people from
America, he said, and his family — and country — would be better off.

He pushed the drink across a bar that has propped up the elbows of John
Wayne, Ava Gardner and Winston Churchill. I took the dripping Cuba Libre
to a table outside, lit up a robusto-size Romeo Y Julieta, took a puff
and sat back, an intentional cliche of an American in Cuba.

Soon there would be many more, I thought.

It was 23 days after the first inauguration of former President Barack
Obama in 2009, and I had been dispatched to Cuba to learn about the
mystique of the island nation, to see what, if any, Cold War animosity
remained toward the United States, and to find out what travelers could
expect when the embargo and restrictions are removed, which appeared to
be just around the corner.

The findings: The mystique, it seemed, cannot be described and must be
experienced; I couldn't find anything resembling animosity; and
travelers could expect a developing nation with a historic, threadbare
infrastructure, and a warm, complex, vibrant culture — one that already
hosts plenty of tourists from the rest of the world.

What U.S. travelers could not expect, it turned out, was to legally see
any of it soon.

For travelers, legal, unrestricted travel to Cuba has long been the
prize that waited just over the next hill. While there's been widely
publicized progress during the past eight years to normalize relations,
the top of the hill is still in the distance.

And depending on the will and whims of the Trump administration, that
progress might just be another case of travelers playing Sisyphus,
doomed to keep pushing their hopes up the hill, only to be knocked back
and forced to start again.

Most of the progress in warming relations during the Obama years was
done through executive order, a presidential prerogative with which
President Trump is already familiar. Anything that's been done, can be
undone by the next guy.

But what about the host of tours, new flights and even cruise ship stops
in Cuba? Didn't American Airlines just open a ticket office in Havana?
Nearly all of it can all be rolled back.

How do we know? It's happened before.

In 1999, then President Bill Clinton made it possible for the Treasury
Department to issue "people-to-people" licenses for educational travel
to Cuba. It required going with one of the handful of approved tour
operators and, because of the embargo, it meant that travelers could not
directly spend money there.

In 2003, President George W. Bush imposed travel restrictions,
effectively halting the people-to-people licenses and forcing most of
the tour operators to drop those trips.

Is it possible the Trump administration could do the same thing? Yes,
although at this point it hasn't issued an unequivocal position on the
topic, only isolated references by Trump and his staff that there will
be a "full review" of the policy, and the fact that a few members of the
administration strongly oppose Obama's attempts at detente.

The uncertainty drew a response from Cuban president Raul Castro.

"Cuba and the United States can cooperate and live side by side in a
civilized manner, respecting our differences and promoting all that is
of benefit for both countries and people," Castro told a summit of
Caribbean and Latin American leaders on Jan. 25, according to Reuters.
"But it should not hope that to achieve this Cuba will make concessions
inherent to its independence and sovereignty."

There is enough concern about Trump's plans that the Cuba Study Group, a
coalition of business leaders working toward "peaceful change in Cuba
leading to a free and open society," and a number of U.S. groups focused
on improving relations with Cuba, sent him a four-page "memo" three days
before he took office.

"To reflexively reverse course could have pernicious consequences for
U.S. economic and foreign policy interests and the prospects of
evolutionary change in Cuba," the memo states. "Past policies of
isolation did not elicit internal reforms or lead to political opening.
Furthermore, history shows that the Cuban people, not the government,
tend to be the victims of state-to-state confrontation."

I don't know if Israel the bartender is still making Cuba Libres at the
Hotel Nacional. I don't know if he has enough access to news to know
that the American politics that affect his life could again shift into
reverse. I do know that he, like the U.S. travelers he hopes to meet,
are still waiting.


Spud Hilton is the editor of Travel. Email: shilton@sfchronicle.com.
Twitter and Instagram: @SpudHilton

Source: U.S. travelers wait to see if Cuba strides will be undone - San
Francisco Chronicle -
http://www.sfchronicle.com/travel/departures/article/U-S-travelers-wait-to-see-if-Cuba-strides-will-10912172.php Continue reading
Cuba is a Country Firmly Set in the Past
February 5, 2017
By Laura Vazquez Lopez*

HAVANA TIMES — I still remember the smell of a storm that was constantly
lingering in the air, those beads of sweat that ran down my neck because
of the humidity, the most beautiful skies I have ever seen and the
warmth and friendliness of its people.

Cuba was a good place to travel to; maybe if somebody thinks about Cuba
as being Old Havana and Varadero, they won't understand everything the
island has to offer. Every alley, every business, every church and
monument was a work of art in itself, intertwined with the brightest
colors that you can imagine and the most ruined buildings I've ever
seen, but maybe that's where Cuba's magic lies.

It's a country firmly rooted in the past and you can see that just by
looking around and seeing its cars, traditions, almost nonexistent
technology, or in the lack of telecommunication infrastructure, or a lot
of other things which, thanks to the type of government they have, have
been banned over the years.

However, if I have to pick one thing that stood out the most it is the
Cuban people who, although the majority doesn't agree with living in the
situation they find themselves in, have an almost enviable patriotic
pride. They are people who even disagreeing with their current situation
and wanting to contribute something so that this changes, live happily
with the little that they are allowed to have, even when they are forced
to work long days for very little money.

It's been several months now since we came back from that Caribbean
paradise which we traveled across for 10 days and I can still remember
everything quite clearly. Cities like Trinidad or Remedios, the
beautiful colonial architecture, made for photography and tourism, where
every place looks like a holiday postcard.

The Cays in the North and West, with the finest, whitest sand I've ever
seen, where it seems that the sun is only hot but it burns you in
excess. Viñales, a treasure located in the interior of the country, with
its famous mogotes (hills), its vegetation, its animal-drawn carriages,
its immense plantations, I'm pretty sure it's on my list of favorite places.

And what can I say about Havana… I would be lying if I said that it was
how I imagined it would be. I really didn't imagine that it would be in
such a poor state, except for the tourist area. But even so, it's
beautiful; it has a special beauty unrivalled by any other place I know.

In conclusion, now writing from Spain, I can only remember those 10 days
as an amazing experience, discovering all of these places, the way the
Cuban people live, the smells, colors, life on the island…

* A visitor to Cuba in August 2016.

Source: Cuba is a Country Firmly Set in the Past - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=123509 Continue reading