Cuban Doctors Who Create an Army of the Grateful / Juan Juan Almeida

•April 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment
Cuban doctors arriving in Brazil

Cuban doctors arriving in Brazil

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 March 2015 — The online Brazilian portal Jornal Da Band denounced the social welfare program Más Médicos (More Doctors), which is aimed at the most needy sectors of the Brazilian population, and deploys Cuban doctors to places where the Brazilian physicians do not want to work, as having been conceived as a way to transfer resources to the Island’s regime, and as an economic boost.

Thought-provoking, but it seems to me simplistic to view in this type of humanitarian invasion just a simple economic undercurrent. It is necessary to know that Cuban involvement in healthcare started in the Algeria of 1963, when a health crisis and trachoma epidemic were ferociously taking over the Algerian territory. The Cuban ambassador at the time, Commander Jorge “Papito” Serguera, proposed to the Algerian health minister, a certain Mr. Bumasa, to confront the situation with aid of Cuban doctors.

The Algerians accepted this proposal, and Seguera took his idea to Havana and spoke with Manuel “Barbarroja” Piñeiro, who in turn presented it to Fidel Castro. The latter, with canine astuteness, smelled the opportunity to penetrate through other fronts into African territory.

Algerian public health was strengthened, the pandemic was eliminated, and the work of Cuban medical personnel spread rapidly through Africa to the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Central America, South America and the Caribbean–acting as a force to promote multi-million-dollar contracts and take control of strategic countries such as Qatar, China, South Africa, Venezuela and Brazil.

At this time, Cuban medical personnel are present in 66 countries of the world — 40 of which receive the service at no cost, and another 26 which pay for it and generate revenues above and beyond a staightforward social program. The most conservative figures reported by the official media show that the exportation of these volunteer workers — who include physicians, ophthalmologists, healthcare technicians and service personnel — brings in more than $5.5 billion annually, which makes it the principal line item in the Cuban economy.

Even so, besides the clear economic and humanitarian factors, the Cuban health program has other objectives.

If it is true that Cuban doctors, as overseas volunteer workers, tend to a population of scarce resources, it is also true that they offer very diligent services to certain members of families that are not so disadvantaged.

Jornal Da Band will be surprised to know the extensive list of important political figures, influential personalities and world celebrities who have been patients in the Island. But, why mention them? I feel that, to quote Che’s sadly famous missive, “There is no point in scribbling pages.” And the crushing truth is that the Cuban volunteers, besides being professionals, also know how to be persons, how to develop friendships, and to break the almost inhuman distance that certain medical protocols create between doctor and patient.

It is not necessary to explain that healthcare requires commitment. I myself do not belong to that group that is willing to dedicate their lives to the noble cause of the homeland, but I would gladly give it for who would save my child, a friend, or an ill relative. Therefore, politically speaking, even more than ideology and making money, the Cuban medical missions have as their primary objective creating an army of the grateful spread throughout the world, who occupy an important place in the social sphere, who remain motivated and invisible, but ever at the ready to take action and speak favorably about Cuban medicine, the Cuban Revolution, and its hysterical leaders. Oops, the spell-checker played a trick on me! I meant to say, “historical.”

The Cuban medical programs have basic objectives: political, economic, humanitarian and caregiving.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: Dreams and realities before and after the Summit of the Americas / Juan Juan Almeida

•April 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

1427850192_cumbre-panama -- JJNow that the beginning of the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama is upon us I think I understand why there are so many expectations. I studied in the former USSR and I know that many optimists are living in a sort of suspense similar to that of Moscow in 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan were going to meet, for the first time, in Geneva.
Although many have forgotten due to the monumental act put up by the translator who hoarded the headlines, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro met for the first time during the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

Today, some think that we are making progress and others that we are on the verge of a “nervous breakdown”. The truth is that all Cubans will listen to the speeches of both leaders and will pay attention to the small details that we will only be able to see during their handshake.

To Panama will go part of Cuba’s opposition and Cubans in exile. But I think the preferred topic to speak of will be the hundred, maybe more, of actors, students, intellectuals, artists, farmers, private vendors, members of cooperatives, businessmen and academics who, also as representatives of Cuba’s civil society, were zealously selected to travel to said Summit and to dramatize an entire spectacle with a gelatinous dynamic. In this spectacle we will see one or two desertions and special acts with tones that are sentimental, democratic, multiracial, polytheistic, progressive and pluralistic.

This is what the ex Minister of Culture and current presidential adviser Abel Prieto anticpated when he said on March 17 that “the Cubans who attend the Summit in Panama have to be prepared to confront the stereotypes created around the idea that Cuba has a monolithic society.”

The story will begin when upon the end of the Summit, Cubans return to the island to confront the real scenario with the new changes in everyday life. Venezuela cut by more than half the amount of oil it sends to Cuba and although it is logical to understand that Havana and Caracas, so long as they maintain inscrutability and motivate speculation are keeping quiet, one only has to turn the page to see that there is no objective possibility for Venezuela to continue to subsidize oil while facing its own extreme difficulties.

An even worse case is Brazil; the exploration of oilfields below the ocean would provide an income of millions of euros. Based on this there were agreements signed and commitments made, Brazilian oil will be the “goal of the future” but the fall in crude oil prices and the recent scandal related to Petrobas, sank the South American giant into the worst of its crises and into a political paralysis that will have its consequences in Cuba and on the Port of Mariel megaproject which is suddenly halted due to a lack of capital.

Cuba’s medical delegations abroad will continue because the government will use the military’s budget in order to not alter any precepts. But the return of electricity blackouts, in the present circumstances in the island, where everyone likes to play at leading and democracy, will force replacing the decadent debate of the “lefts and rights” for the need to choose between “politics and economics”.

Doubtlessly, that does erode the government’s strength and will force it to retreat to allow new alternatives for the development of the citizenry, which will resourcefully find the legal and/or natural mechanisms to improve the wellbeing of self, family and nation. In that order, because the reverse is called utopia.

Translated by: P.V.M.

Betting Cuba’s Future on Alejandro or Mariela Castro / Juan Juan Almeida

•April 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment
Siblings: Alejandro and Mariela Castro Espin

Siblings: Alejandro and Mariela Castro Espin

Juan Juan Almeida, 27 March 2015 — With the approach of the next congress of the Cuban Communist Party, scheduled for 2016, some analysts are adhering to a prudent logic by predicting that Alejandro Castro Espin will be included on the list of possible successors to the Cuban throne.

They cling to this notion with amazing aplomb. But the prospect of Alejandro being included in any list of possible successors is likely to dissipate even before it can happen. Very intelligent people often make the mistake of advancing elaborate theories such as this by standing back and looking at the surface but mistaking the spots of a Dalmatian with those of a Holstein.

Clearly, Alejandro has managed to hone the proverbial skill of political oratory. He acts as a government spokesperson and, what he does not know, he makes up. His peculiar gift for being able to memorize and recite the complete works of Lenin can be astonishing. He is one of the most powerful people in Cuba today and has a hand in important national decision-making. But he is forever caught between the image of a hero and the verses of the Iliad, which ominously conflate modern-day Havana with an epic Greek saga.

Alejandro is not a member of the Secretariat nor the Politburo nor the Central Committee nor the National Assembly. Nor does he represent (or claim to represent) any major social group. This is why I believe his sister Mariela is better poised to compete for the same office.

Alejandro wrote a book, The United States: The Price of Power, translations of which we can find in several languages. But, although available, it remains practically invisible, having failed to garner the respect of artists and intellectuals who, among other things, know that the author of this indigestible work is really Juan Francisco Arias Fernandez, also known as Paquito, his faithful squire.

Yes, Alejandro is a military man. He is also cold, calculating and ambitious. But he lacks influence with the military’s commanders. Some of them, the oldest officers, formed their ties during the battles in the Sierra Maestra. Others, the mid-level officers, did so during Cuba’s wars in Nicaragua, Ethiopia and/or Angola. The rest, those comfortable in the wheeling and dealing of the marketplace of influence, belong to a group none of whose members would consider jeopardizing a profitable present by clinging to a past that has no future.

Vilma and Raul’s son does not fit into any of the Castro categories. Though he did pass through Angola, he did not take part in the war. After a shooting accident during training practice in Luanda, he returned to Havana and was decorated as though he had been wounded in battle, something that remains a source of jokes even today.

Of course, they can handpick him. They can make him president or field marshal. Even Raul knows that appointing Alejandro would establish a precedent that would withstand the culture of silence and the fear of the Cuban people. But it would amount to a slap in the face to the intelligentsia, and would turn a hierarchical structure like the military into a tinderbox and every general into a lighted match.

Bets are only made when the chips are on the table. To put it simply, Alejandro is someone who will remain relevant only as long as Raul Castro is alive.

Separation of Powers, Parliamentary Debut and National Capitol in Cuba in 2018 / Juan Juan Almeida

•March 14, 2015 • Comments Off

1426035799_capitolio

As has already been announced, the VII Cuban Communist Party Congress will be held in April 2016. From the moment of the announcement until the first quarter of this year municipal and provincial assemblies have been held, charts have been prepared, members have been briefed and documents have been approved that have still not been released.

It has also been announced that a new election law, with some changes to current statutes that have been in effect since 1992, will leave the door half-open to future constitutional reform.

The Cuban government has demonstrated over and over that it does not act with transparency, much less with improvisation. On the contrary, it meticulously follows an elaborate script in which withholding information from its citizens is essential.

To avoid being surprised by the how, when and why, it is worth asking if the Cuban government is preparing the groundwork for an overhaul of its own political system.

Based on what has already been published, the new electoral law will govern the elections of 2017. Interestingly, it will not only be when the year the men and women who will govern the island after February 2018 will be elected but will also mark the end of the controversial ten-year term of General Raul Castro who — as he himself proposed — will give up the Cuban presidency.

On any streetcorner of the world one can proselytize, arouse awareness, seek financing, organize marches and so forth. But I am inclined to think that real political opposition only takes in parliament. That is why I am trying to catch the attention of those who can now demonstrate they are truly worthy of the title “leaders of the opposition” because — as I have often heard — this legislation will extend to the entire country an experiment that for some time now has been quietly carried out (with some success) in the western provinces Mayabeque and Artemesia. It represents a new model of governance which involves a separation between the leadership of the party and that of local governments.

The current electoral law lays out the procedure for the election of deputies and for the selection of members of the Council of State as well as for it president, who also serves as chief-of-state and head-of-government of the Republic of Cuba. Why diminish the powers of the next president? Because military leaders do not want happening in Havana what happened in Moscow under Mikhail Gorbachev.

Of course, multi-party democracy is not an option in Cuba but let’s acknowledge that this could be a step towards dismantling the monopoly on power that the Communist Party has exercised for more than half a century and could facilitate the election of citizens (not party members) to the ranks of deputies in Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power.

It should be noted that the Cuban parliament, with 612 members, is the largest legislative body in the hemisphere. It is ridiculous, even laughable, that a country with little more than 11 million people has a legislative body that exceeds the number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives. The new electoral law will reduce the number of parliamentarians both because it makes sense and because, as the song by Puerto Rico’s Gran Combo goes, “there’s too many people for this bed.” Today’s 612 deputies simply will not fit in the renovated semi-circular chamber in the national capitol that will house the next assembly.*

*Translator’s note: The Capitolio, or capitol building, was the seat of Cuba’s legislature until the Cuban Revolution. Until recently it housed the Cuban Academy of Sciences. It has been undergoing restoration and renovations in anticipation of serving as the seat of Cuba’s National Assembly.

Manual for Trading with Cuban Businesses / Juan Juan Almeida

•March 4, 2015 • Comments Off

1424725405_clasesJuan Juan Almeida, 23 February 2015 — Marijuana relaxes, cocaine excites, and the consumption of amphetamines allows concentration; but of all the drugs, wanting to trade with Cuba is an event that provokes alienation.

The effect was evident a few days ago, when a group of US businesses expressed a willingness to do business with Cuban civil society.

Undoubtedly, the Cuban phenomenon is a magnetic stimulation and shows that they, the businesses and their attorneys, although they call themselves specialists in Cuban issues, don’t know that in the greatest of Antilles a foreign business can only trade with State businesses which, by the way, are the only ones who have import licenses.

To do business in Cuba, first you have to be very clear that trading activity on the Island answers only to the political decisions of the Government, and to the State budget, in that order, the first deciding what company does business, and the second determines what the company is paid.

The Cuban commercial structure is hierarchical and, to a certain point, disciplines; but the system is corrupt. Therefore, there are entrepreneurs who earn more in Cuba than in any other place in the world. But they are not doing business, but buying paper.

Let me explain: The confirmed Letter of Credit is a bank tool that is governed according to international norms, where the payer buys the merchandise and indicates the bank, upon confirmation of the funds, which makes payment according to certain clauses; and the banking entity that guarantees assumes the obligations starting from receiving certain documentation such as the invoice, customs certificates.

After the freezing of financial assets which happened in 2009, none of the businesses located in the country accept payments in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). Since then, and by political resolution, payment is only in Letters of Credit confirmed by first line banks (Royal Bank, Republik Bank, etc.) to certain and determined foreign companies. The rest pay in unconfirmed Letters of Credit, paid in 120 to 260 days and backed by the Central Bank of Cuba, the Cuban International Financing Bank, or offshore banks located in tax havens.

Negotiating with Cuban banks as work that never ends. The negotiation of who decides is risky and to earn more than 50% is to buy this kind of stamped and supported paper debt, I repeat, by offshore banks located in tax havens.

No bank in the world pays more than a small percentage in interest. Buying Letters of Credit in Cuba is a lucrative business. The danger is that, as the document is “unconfirmed,” dealing with the time required (120 to 360 days) the Cuban bank doesn’t pay because either they haven’t received the government order or because the state budget lacks financial fluidity. In any case, the renegotiation of the document and everything is a question of waiting, or more to the point, of waiting to have a contact who is politically important and/or a bank official who, after receiving 5% of the transaction, as a bribe, will authorize final payment of the full amount owed.

Doing business in Cuba is a real achievement and a true adventure; and, if you’ll allow me, let me suggest that before you begin, educate yourself.

 

Exiled Cuban Businessmen Come to Havana for Its Horses

•February 22, 2015 • Comments Off

Juan Juan Almeida, 18 February 2015 — The horse — like the language and guitar — were brought to Cuba from Spain and are today a part of the national culture. It is impossible to forget the role the animal has played in Cuban literature, music and the economy. And history discussions would be incomplete without some mention of Mambisa horsemanship.

The Cuban Revolution, however, marked a turning point in the development of equine culture. Shortly after 1959 Isidious (Fidel Castro’s white horse), Azbache (the same owner’s black horse) and other thoroughbreds which were beautiful regardless of color were shipped to the Managua breeding facility located next to a tank base of the same name on the outskirts of Havana. The rationale was that on their backs the animals bore the symbolic sweat of their owners’ buttocks and, therefore, had to be protected with the same vigilance as any national treasure.

But as we now know, these national treasures perished. Insidious died of a heart attack and Azabache (either because he was beautiful or because he was black) had his image stamped onto a photograph which, like a majordomo, greets generals and tourists at the entrance to the above-mentioned facility.

It was then that the historic, aesthetic and hysterical leader, saddened by the loss of his steed, authorized the importing of twelve different breeds of horses from which to select his Bucefalo, encourage the breeding of horses, export them overseas either as animals or semen, and crossbreed them with local stock.

As a result, horse breeding took off and today the country can boast of more than 300,000 thoroughbreds scattered among various farms. Most are managed by a state conglomerate, Flora and Fauna, under the direction of the Revolutionary commandant Guillermo García Frías. Some are raised on Cuban plantations such as El Alacazar — located in Contrammaestre, Santiago de Cuba — which is owned by Señora María Antonia Puyol Bravo (known as La Doña).

Horses are exported in a prescribed manner. From El Alcazar, come purebred Spanish horses. From Escaleras de Jaruco (in Mayabeque province), there are also Spanish thoroughbreds. From the Belen farm an American breed, Morgan, is exported. From Rancho San Vicente (20 kilometers south of the city of Camaguey) they are Arabian purebreds. From Guatiba (Matanzas province) there are Creole pintos. From Escambray come Appaloosas. And from Rancho Azucacero (Artemesia province) come jumping and show horses that have been imported from Holland since 2005. These are auctioned off at the Equestrian Club in Lenin Park’s riding school during the Remate Élite Habana, which takes place every year in the Cuban capital.

There is talk of a trail of tainted money behind the scenes at the auction, but no one has been able to prove it much less conduct an audit. Cuba’s problem is not corruption but the immunity of certain corrupt officials who — as one might expect — are so high up that they are beyond the judicial reach of the comptroller general.

Every January more and more foreigners attend this event, which this year attracted exiled Cuban businessmen, who were much more interested in showing off their lifestyles than indulging their newfound passion for horses.

Far be it from me to judge but I know that — as my grandmother used to say — “crises are moments of great opportunity” and these compatriots travelled to Cuba to defend, in their own way, the right of every Cuban to own his or her own horse.

18 February 2015

Successful self-employed, a group to consider / Juan Juan Almeida

•February 11, 2015 • Comments Off

Juan Juan Almeida, 10 February 2015 — Observing coldly and setting aside all partisanship is the best way to understand that the decision taken by the American president to reestablish relations with Cuba is entirely welcome news for a Cuban sector that, after suffering the wrath of what appeared to be an infinite confrontation, trusts in a step that, without a doubt, will have a positive impact on its current way of life.

Clearly the United States, in addition to executing a masterful geopolitical move — because with this approach it isolates Russia and China from Latin America using as leverage the indisputable influence of Cuba in the region — also aims to turn the island into a kind of stable neighbor capable of guaranteeing control over its illegal emigration and constraining the nest of terrorist and international crime groups in our island. We accept without naivety that this latter will only be achieved by working together with the Cuban military and/or government, dictatorial or not.

Do I like it? Of course not, I know all the high level Cuban leaders, I know that they are structured to crush without remorse everyone who goes against them; they are criminals and they are dictators. But our opposition has nothing to offer because, in addition to fighting for power using the ideal recipe to fall into disaster, they seem not to understand that the solutions to social problems are found in real politics and not in international marketing. Neither the victimhood silliness nor the wise man arrogance have any appeal. Therefore, their actions lack a mobilizing effect.

None of our opponents, for example (using the off-repeated campaign of General Raul Castro against corruption), has talked about pushing a “law of transparency” project, in which every member of the government and the Cuban State is obliged to create direct on-line access so that everyone, at any time, can have a look to know how much they earn, how much they have and what they are spending the national budget on.

Nevertheless, we must support them and it seems significant that the debate about Cuba came to Washington in the form of invited guests from the Cuban opposition. From my point of view, this invitation signifies a real push and a protective umbrella for these brave voices who, from within Cuba, leave their lives in the streets. But if what the government of the United States wants is “To understand the impacts of the political changes on Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba,” then, in addition to dissidents and opponents, it must also invite some of those people who, although we have not applied to them the deserved title of leaders, are the true vanguard, who inspire and represent the dreams of Cuban youth and our civil society.

I am referring, obviously, to those new and successful Cuban entrepreneurs (I detest the word “self-employed”) who are emerging within the Island, channeling the social disconnect, and creating an attractive zone of visual comfort to the still reduced but growing sector that dreams of emigrating there. Not listening to that social group that is ever more powerful, more influential and that applauds the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States because they want to benefit from it, is like wishing the black clouds of today will continue to form a part of the eternally impoverished national landscape.

 
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