Monday, December 26, 2011

Chronicle of Asclepius in Cuba (Part 1) / Jeovany J. Vega

Chronicle of Asclepius in Cuba (Part 1) / Jeovany J. Vega
Jeovany J. Vega, Translator: Unstated

Asclepius is the ancient Greek god of Healing and Medicine

The Cuban Revolution has always raised great passions. Millions within
and outside the island are split between those who applaud and offering
moving excuses, or those who clench their fists and launch incendiary
accusations. But without a doubt, among the picturesque barbarities that
flourish under the tropical sky there is one that is particularly
atrocious: the condition of semi-slavery affecting public health
professionals. To shed some light on the matter, I suggest you follow me
through this attempt at a chronicle.

Imagine for a moment you decided to study medicine in Havana and
graduated in 1994, during the worst economic crisis in our history. Some
of your friends from high school, who take life a little more lightly,
decided to raise and sell pigs, open their own businesses, or start
working in tourism. Once you graduate, after six years of personal
sacrifice, you naturally aspire to live honestly on your salary, but it
starts at 231 Cuban pesos a month, that is you receive less than two
dollars for a whole month's work for almost two years.

From time to time you run into a friend from high school, who has
bought an elegant car, as compared to your raggedy bicycle. But you want
to get ahead so you devote four more years of your youth to study. After
a total of ten years study (combining medical school and your
specialty), you end up as a specialist in internal medicine, with which,
given that specialty, your salary will be around 531 Cuban pesos a
month, Meaning you will work a full month for a salary equivalent to $21
U.S. Meanwhile, a barman at a hotel earns $200 U.S., on one shift! The
customs official at the airport earns $500 U.S. extorting the tourists,
and this is 25 times the monthly salary of a doctor, again, on one shift!

This abysmal difference in living standards is the root of our dramas.
Painfully, in Cuba, the well-being of your family doesn't depend on your
dedication to work or on your desire to excel, nor on the respect shown
your profession, which also illustrates the chaos that has ruled our
lives for the last 20 years. It is in this jungle where our doctors
"fight," not living in the encouraging world of International Cubavision
TV, where the Revolution continues strong and victorious, with GDP
growing 10% a decade, while the little guy suffers an economy in ruins,
a complete divorce from reality, as if we are talking about two
different countries.

Faced with such a hostile reality, our doctors have to invent miracles
in their free time to feed their families, badly; make "magic" in the
black market, work as a photographer, clown, carpenter, shoemaker or
cosmonaut, always illegal, because up to a few months ago the Ministry
of Labor prohibited, by Resolution, access to self-employment.

Suppose that you, a specialist in internal medicine, decide to go for a
second specialty. After another four years of great sacrifice you
graduate, for example, as a surgeon and now your monthly salary is
augmented with 50 Cuban pesos (just over $2.00 U.S.), which is enough to
buy four bars of soap. Thus, while a surgeon's monthly salary is 623
Cuban pesos ($27.00 U.S.), a guard in the Specialized Protection
Services, after a one month course, earns about 1,500 Cuban pesos
monthly in cash, plus extra food and toiletries, while a cop on the beat
receives up to 1,600 Cuban pesos, plus other benefits. For some obscure
reason our government believes that doctors don't merit such deference.

After getting over your shock, you say, "But come on man! If a salary
isn't even enough to buy toilet paper, become a barman, a customs
inspector, even the security guard at the hospital will make out
better!" I would respond: My friend, the leaders of my country literally
turned the sacred practice of medicine into the famous tunic of Nessus —
the poisoned shirt that killed Heracles; our doctors cannot work outside
the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) because a Labor Ministry
resolution categorically forbids it. No entity outside MINSAP is
permitted to offer a doctor work. Can you comprehend it? But you
meditate on this and your face lights up: "Emigrate! To some country
that needs doctors, at least temporarily, while things improve."

Then I ask you to make yourself comfortable and listen carefully to the
good part, because here it comes…

Everything you're read up to this point will seem like a game of little
girls playing in the convent garden, compared to how you will live if
you decide to travel outside Cuba as a doctor and Cuban citizen. In July
1999 the Minister of Public Health issued Resolution 54, still in force,
whose details I don't know and nor do our workers, as they are hidden
from us with the zeal of a State Secret. This Resolution of Ignominy, as
we call it, is the most humiliating insult inflicted upon those who
embrace the medical profession in Cuba since the coming of Columbus. It
states that if you want to permanently leave the country, or even do so
temporarily, you must ask the Minister of Public Health for "liberation"
from the sector.

That is, if the happy idea occurs to you to visit your family or friends
abroad during your vacation, you must wait an obligatory five years of
your life at a minimum (!!), during which you will be held against your
will by the Ministry of Public Health, with no options. It doesn't
matter if you just graduated or if you've been working for 30 years,
both have to wait five years! I know, personally, cases held for 7 years
before their "liberation." Even retired doctors and dentists are held
for three years before being allowed to travel; even a nurse faces this

Let's clarify that from the moment that you begin the paperwork to
travel, you will automatically be placed on a list of the "unreliable,"
and will be relieved of all your administrative posts and teaching
positions, if you have any, and you will be transferred from your job to
one further away and that is a demotion. As the years pass marriages
break up, children are traumatized, parents die without seeing their
children again.

I can't adequately describe the human suffering that is caused by the
monster to those who see their rights undermined, but none of this
concerns the Union or Parliament: they can always blame the Cuban
Adjustment Act for your death if instead of resigning yourself you
improvise a raft and end up devoured by the sharks. As you can see,
under such circumstances to speak of semi-slavery is much more than a

*Footnote: As of two decades ago, two currencies circulate in Cuba: the
Cuban peso (CUP), also called "national money" — in which workers
receive their wages — and the convertible peso (CUC), also called
"convertible currency" — which is used in the chain of hard-currency
stores that accept only this money.


1994: 1 CUC = 1 USD = 140 CUP

Since the late 1990s to 2001: 1 CUC = 1 USD = 21 CUP

September 2001 to today: 1 CUC = 25 CUP

(To be continued …)

August 17 2011

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