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DOES CUBA HAVE AN INDUSTRIAL FUTURE?
10 Sep 2014
Book Review: Al Campbell (Editor) Cuban Economists on the Cuban Economy.
9 Jul 2014
Cuba’s New Foreign Investment Law: Amplified Discrimination against Cuban Small Enterprise Operators and in Favor of Foreign Enterprises.
17 Apr 2014
Book Review: ¿Quo vadis, Cuba? La incierta senda de las reformas
14 Apr 2014
Reordenamiento Laboral: Quién se queda, quién se va?; Labor Force Down-Sizing in Cuba’s Medical System
9 Apr 2014
Cuba’s Conception Conundrum: A Valentine’s Day Puzzle
14 Feb 2014
POTENTIALS AND PITFALLS OF CUBA’S MOVE TOWARD NON-AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVES
30 Jan 2014
Book Review: Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge Pérez-López, Cuba Under Raúl Castro: Assessing the Reforms
28 Oct 2013
CAN WORKERS’ DEMOCRACY IN CUBA’S NEW NON-AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVES CO-EXIST WITH AUTHORITARIANISM?
7 Oct 2013
CAN CUBA RE-INDUSTRIALIZE?
5 Oct 2013
The Tax Regimen for the Mariel Export Processing Zone: More Tax Discrimination against Cuban Micro-enterprises and Citizens?
26 Sep 2013
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, 1940-2013
23 Sep 2013
“Political Science”: When Will Cuban Universities Join the World?
17 Jun 2013
“ASSESSING THE GOALS AND IMPACT OF THE CUBAN EMBARGO AFTER 50 YEARS”
25 Mar 2013
Cuba-Russia Debt Write-Off and Aircraft Leasing: Win-Lose or Win-Win?
22 Feb 2013
Raul on a Roll; Anti-Reformers in Retreat!
21 Jan 2013
The Economic Implications for Cuba of Relaxing Restrictions on the Freedom of Movement
17 Oct 2012
Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects in a Changing Geo-Economic Environment
13 Jul 2012
My Skepticism Runs High, but Maybe I am Wrong! Some Articles on the Moringa Oleifera.
27 Jun 2012
Still More “Good Advice” from Fidel!
26 Jun 2012
Cuba in the 2012 Yale University “Environmental Performance Index Rankings.”
14 Jun 2012
Cuba’s Debt Situation: Official Secrecy and Financial “Jineterismo”
8 Jun 2012
Cuba: Still Paying Homage to the Economic Absurdities of “Che” Guevara
20 Apr 2012
Cuba’s World Heritage Sites
16 Mar 2012
The Concept of a “Loyal Opposition” and Raul Castro’s Regime
28 Feb 2012
Poor Fidel: Repudiated by his Own Brother and Reduced to Playing “Chicken Little’”
13 Jan 2012
Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Stasi” and Cuba
9 Dec 2011
Fidel Castro: The Cowardice of Autocracy
4 Nov 2011
Liberating Cuba’s Long-Suppressed Resource: Entrepreneurship
20 Oct 2011
The “Home Hardware” Cooperative Model and its Relevance for Cuba
19 Oct 2011
Can Cuba Recover from its De-Industrialization? I. Characteristics and Causes
27 Sep 2011
Cuba: A Half-Century of Monetary Pathology and Citizen’s Freedom of Movement
23 Sep 2011
A Further Step in the Liberalization of the Regulatory and Tax Environment for Small Enterprise Has Raul Now Got the “Horse before the Cart”?
27 May 2011
Up-Date on Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations
27 May 2011
Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba: Will Raul Forge His Own Legacy?
16 Apr 2011
Cuba’s Economic Agenda and Prospects: An Optimistic View!
8 Apr 2011
Cuba’s Economic Reform Process under President Raul Castro: Challenges, Strategic Actions and Prospective Performance
4 Apr 2011
Recuperation and Development of the Bahi ́a de la Habana
29 Mar 2011
An Overview Evaluation of Economic Policy in Cuba circa 2010
15 Mar 2011
A Major Slow-Down for the Public Sector Layoff / Private Sector Job Creation Strategy
1 Mar 2011
Cuba’s Standings in Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Indices in Comparative International Perspective
3 Feb 2011
Has the US Tourism Tsunami to Cuba Already Begun?
2 Feb 2011
Cuba’s Best Friend: the Canadian Winter
25 Jan 2011
Micro-enterprise Tax Reform, 2010: The Right Direction but Still Onerous and Stultifying
10 Jan 2011
“Shifting Realities in ‘Special Period. Cuba”, LATIN AMERICAN RESEARCH REVIEW, volume 45 number 3, 2010
17 Dec 2010
Cuba’s 12 to 20 Chair Reform: Can the Small Enterprise Sector Save the Cuban Economy?
15 Dec 2010
Cuban Demography and Development: the “Conception Seasonality Puzzle”, the “Dissipating Demographic Dividend” and Emigration.
25 Nov 2010
Still the “Bestest” and the “Worstest” and Maybe the Most Opaque: Cuba in the 2010 UNDP Human Development Report
5 Nov 2010
Does Sherritt International Have a Future in Cuba?
20 Oct 2010
- DOES CUBA HAVE AN INDUSTRIAL FUTURE?
CHANGES IN CUBAN LAWS LEAD TO A SURGE OF MIGRANTS ARRIVING IN U. S. BY LAND, SEA AND AIR
10 Oct 2014
RAÚL CASTRO Y LA CORRUPCIÓN
10 Oct 2014
IN THE MEDICAL RESPONSE TO EBOLA, CUBA IS PUNCHING FAR ABOVE ITS WEIGHT
6 Oct 2014
EXCLUSIVE: GIFTS FOR CUBANS END IN 15-YEAR SENTENCE FOR CANADIAN CEO
3 Oct 2014
SECRET TALKS AND BACK CHANNELS PERVADED U.S. RELATIONSHIP WITH CUBA, An Interview With Authors PETER KORNBLUH and WILLIAM LEOGRANDE
3 Oct 2014
CUBA’S NEW PRIVATE SECTOR EMPLOYEES REVEAL WHERE THE REFORM PROCESS IS HEADING
23 Sep 2014
CUBA TO PRIVATIZE 9,000 RESTAURANTS
22 Sep 2014
CUBA’S EBOLA AID IS THE LATEST EXAMPLE OF ITS ‘MEDICAL DIPLOMACY’
15 Sep 2014
WHAT SHOULD CANADA DO ABOUT CUBA’S PARTICIPATION IN THE AMERICAS SUMMIT?
12 Sep 2014
WORKING CONDITIONS IN VENEZUELA SENDING CUBAN DOCTORS TO U.S.
11 Sep 2014
- CHANGES IN CUBAN LAWS LEAD TO A SURGE OF MIGRANTS ARRIVING IN U. S. BY LAND, SEA AND AIR
- Alquiler Cuba on Cuba, home of the world’s oddest property market
- Vladimir Laplace on Time to hug a Cuban
- Analysis: The Mariel Zone — more tax discrimination against Cubans? « Cuba Standard, your best source for Cuban business news on The Tax Regimen for the Mariel Export Processing Zone: More Tax Discrimination against Cuban Micro-enterprises and Citizens?
- Laz on Proyecciones macroeconómicas de una Cuba sin Venezuela
- Rita Maria Garcia Betancourt on Clase de economía política para el Ministerio del Interior (MININT) en Cuba, por Juan Triana Cordovi,
- Arch Ritter on The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did
- Vladimir Laplace on The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did
- laz on Cuba: hacia un redimensionamiento de los derechos humanos
- Omar on The Mariel Special Zone: Economic Wagers and Realities
- Marcel on Cuba ensaya nuevas fórmulas para flexibilizar la comercialización agrícola
Original: Surge of Migrants
HAVANA (AP) – The number of Cubans heading to the United States has soared since the island lifted travel restrictions last year, and instead of making the risky journey by raft across the Florida Straits, most are now passing through Mexico or flying straight to the U.S.
New U.S. Customs and Border Patrol figures show that more than 22,000 Cubans arrived at the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada in the fiscal year that ended last month. That was nearly double the number in 2012, the year before restrictions were lifted.
The changes in Cuban law eliminate a costly exit visa and make it easier for Cubans to both leave and return to the island legally. Reform of property laws now allows Cubans to sell homes and vehicles, helping would-be emigrants pull together the cash needed to buy airline tickets. With greater access to cash and legal travel documents, the historic pattern of Cuban migration is shifting from daring dangerous voyages at sea to making the journey by air and then land.
The Cuban government is struggling to bolster a dysfunctional centrally planned economy after decades of inefficiency and underinvestment. Recent changes intended to encourage entrepreneurism have borne little fruit and many people are seeking opportunities elsewhere.
While the number of Cubans trying to reach the United States by sea also grew to nearly 4,000 people this past year, the biggest jump by far came from people entering the U.S. by land. And the Cubans flying to Latin America or straight to the United States generally belong to the more prosperous and well-connected strata of society, accelerating the drain of the island’s highly educated.
U.S. officials say that before the recent surge, more than 20,000 Cubans formally migrated to the U.S. every year using visas issued by the U.S. government, while several thousand more entered on tourist visas and stayed. Adding in migrants who entered informally, U.S. officials believe more than 50,000 Cubans were moving to the U.S. every year, leaving behind their homeland of 11 million people.
Many Cubans are using an opportunity offered by Spain in 2008 when it allowed descendants of those exiled during the Spanish Civil War to reclaim Spanish citizenship. A Spanish passport allows visa-free travel to the U.S., Europe and Latin America. The number of Cubans holding a Spanish passport tripled between 2009 and 2011, when it hit 108,000. Many of those Cubans fly to Mexico or the U.S. on their Spanish passports, then present their Cuban passports to U.S. officials.
Thousands of other travelers make their first stop in Ecuador, which dropped a visa requirement for all tourists in 2008. The number of Cubans heading to Ecuador hit 18,078 a year by 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available. From there, many hopscotch north by plane, train, boat or bus through Colombia, Central America and Mexico.
The government last year extended the length of time Cubans can be gone without losing residency rights from one year to two. That means migrants now can obtain U.S. residency and still return to Cuba for extended periods, receive government benefits and even invest money earned in the U.S.
Particularly notable is the departure of young and educated people with the means to leave. In the capital, Havana, it seems most every 20- or 30-something has a plan to go sooner rather than later, mostly to the United States. Nearly everyone has a close friend or relative who already has left for the U.S. in the last few years.
Dozens of Cuban migrants show up every week at the Church World Service office in Miami seeking help. Those without relatives in the U.S. are resettled in other parts of the country, where they are connected with jobs, housing and English classes.
Raimel Rosel, 31, said he left his job at a Havana center for pig genetics and breeding when state security agents began questioning him about extra income he earned from private consulting. He flew to Ecuador in August and then traveled north for 30 days to the Mexican border. “It was really tense,” he said, describing the trip as “utterly exhausting.”
Another man at the church office said “going by boat is madness.” He and his wife and daughter all had Spanish passports, he said. After selling their home in Matanzas province, outside the capital, for $8,000, they flew to Mexico City and then Tijuana, where they crossed into the U.S. He declined to provide his name in order to protect relatives in Cuba from repercussions.
Cubans arriving at a U.S. border or airport automatically receive permission to stay in the United States under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows them to apply for permanent residency after a year, almost always successfully.
While the number of Florida-bound rafters jumped this year, the 2014 figure is generally in line with the average for the last decade. The U.S. Coast Guard says it stopped 2,059 Cuban rafters on the high seas as of Sept. 22, a few hundred more than the average of 1,750 interdicted each year since 2005. Roughly 2,000 more rafters made it to dry land this year. The figure of those stopped was higher from 2005 to 2008, dipped dramatically for three years, then starting climbing again in 2012. Statistics for all Coast Guard contacts with Cuban rafters were not available for years earlier than 2010.
Good weather may have prompted more rafters to attempt the journey this year, said Cmdr. Timothy Cronin, deputy chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Coast Guard district responsible for most interactions with Cuban rafters. “There haven’t been any major storms that have come through the area, no hurricanes,” he said. “We’ve been blessed and in a way cursed by every day being a good day for a mariner to take to the sea, whether for good or for bad.”
Those who reach Florida call home to Cuba, perhaps inspiring others to attempt the trip despite the risks.
Yennier Martínez Díaz arrived in Florida on a raft with eight other people after 10 days at sea in August. The group of friends and neighbors from Camaguey, on Cuba’s northern coast, built the raft with pieces of metal, wood and a motor belonging to an old Russian tractor.
Martínez Díaz, 32, earned about $10 a week cutting brush and sugarcane. He said he wanted to help a brother with cancer by finding a higher-paying job in the U.S. After the motor nearly ran out of gas, the rafters drifted for days in the open water. At one point, they hit a powerful storm and nearly drowned. “I caution everyone not to come by sea,” he said, his face still red from the sun.
Carlos Alberto Montaner | Miami | 7 Oct 2014
¿Cree Raúl Castro que puede haber un Estado medularmente corrupto con funcionarios honrados que cometen delitos pero no lucran con ello?
Esto es, en síntesis, lo que se ha publicado: Cy Tokmakjian un empresario canadiense de 74 años, presumiblemente de origen armenio, llevaba dos décadas haciendo negocios en Cuba, pero fue condenado a 15 años de cárcel por (supuestamente) sobornar a funcionarios cubanos.
En la redada —de acuerdo con Reuters— fueron apresadas, además, 16 personas. Otros dos canadienses, cinco empleados cubanos y 9 funcionarios del Gobierno. En el grupo hay un viceministro del Azúcar, Nelson Labrada, con el que se ensañaron, seguramente como una advertencia general. Lo condenaron a 20 años.
De acuerdo con el informe a que tuvieron acceso los periodistas, a Labrada le regalaron un televisor de pantalla plana, le pagaron unas vacaciones en Canadá y lo llevaron a un casino en Toronto donde jugó y ganó 2.500 dólares. En Cuba, ya le habían obsequiado una piscina plástica y una parrilla. En el lenguaje coloquial cubano era un “pacotillero”. Si existió corrupción fue de poca monta.
Escarmiento contra la corrupción
En todo caso, Raúl Castro cree en el escarmiento como forma de mantener la autoridad. Utiliza a Labrada para mandar un mensaje. Él y su hijo Alejandro Castro Espín están decididos a terminar con los delitos contra la economía nacional mediante una dosis de terror en el campo administrativo. Son dos versiones tropicales de Maximiliano de Robespierre, pero muy distorsionadas y llenas de contradicciones.
Para ellos ese comportamiento —la corrupción— pertenece a la permisiva era de Fidel. (Fidel se parece más a Georges Danton, de quien se dice que pagó por un cargo en el Consejo del rey Luis XVI, aunque luego pidiera su cabeza.) Los raulistas lo afirman desdeñosamente a media lengua: “Eso ocurría antes”. “Antes” es la palabra clave. “Antes” quiere decir cuando Fidel gobernaba.
El Comandante era más político, más manengue, regalaba vistosos relojes Rolex a sus subordinados, o les daba autos Alfa Romeo, o se hacía de la vista gorda cuando Ramiro Valdés se asignaba una casa con piscina y gimnasio en Santa Fe, o cuando el general Guillermo García Frías utilizaba dos yates suntuosos para sus francachelas.
Si Fidel, gran malversador de los recursos públicos, disfrutaba de 50 residencias suntuosas, coto privado de caza, y yates de lujo para pescar, si la Isla era suya del hocico al rabo, podía entender que la manera de mantener viva la lealtad de sus subordinados era alternando la intimidación con recompensas materiales. Él sabía que el discursito revolucionario del “hombre nuevo” que predicaba el Che Guevara era una tontería.
Esta diferencia entre las posiciones de Fidel y Raúl con relación a la corrupción comenzó desde los primeros días del triunfo de la revolución. En sus memorias inéditas, Benjamín de Yurre, recientemente fallecido, secretario personal de Manuel Urrutia, el primer presidente de Cuba tras la huida de Batista (enero a julio de 1959), cuenta que estaba de visita en el despacho de Camilo Cienfuegos, situado en una suite del hotel Riviera, cuando Raúl entró como una tromba, rodeado por sus guardaespaldas, e increpó al popular comandante echándole en cara sus borracheras y orgías con el dinero de la revolución. Camilo le respondió airadamente y trató de sacar su pistola cuando el capitán Olo Pantoja se interpuso y los guardaespaldas de Raúl y de Camilo los separaron. De Yurre se evadió discretamente de aquella peligrosa trifulca.
A Fidel, en cambio, le traía sin cuidado el comportamiento de Camilo. Para Fidel la corrupción era un arma de gobierno y se extendía al campo internacional. Usaba el dinero del país para “hacer revolución”. ¿Qué era eso? Con frecuencia, era expandir su influencia con los recursos de los cubanos. Era darles cientos de miles de dólares a las guerrillas, a los terroristas, o a los candidatos amigos durante los periodos electorales, a sabiendas de que una parte importante de esa plata se quedaba en el camino. Era invitar a 50 diputados mexicanos para que disfrutaran de Tropicana. Era convocar a cientos de personas, con todos los gastos pagados, para alinearlos tras alguna consigna política, o, simplemente, para que lo aplaudieran.
A Fidel le encanta que lo aplaudan. Tiene y alimenta con ese ruido su ego descomunal. Raúl, en cambio, posee conciencia de sus muchas limitaciones y es menos vanidoso. Entre sus defectos, no es de los menores su tosco desconocimiento de la naturaleza humana, lo que le llevó en los años 60 a proponer y llevar a cabo el cruel apresamiento de miles de jóvenes acusados de homosexualismo y “otras conductas antisociales”, formas de corrupción burguesa que él iba a corregir con durísimos trabajos agrícolas en los campos de concentración de la UMAP.
En definitiva, Fidel incurría en el terreno político, y para sus fines políticos, en las mismas prácticas delictivas por las que ahora Raúl acusa a Cy Tokmakjian en el campo empresarial. Sus intereses serían diferentes, pero sus métodos y su burla de las leyes son similares. ¿De dónde salía el dinero para “hacer revolución”?¿De qué presupuesto? ¿Quién lo fiscalizaba? Por la centésima parte de esa retorcida conducta las cárceles de medio planeta están llenas de funcionarios venales que incumplen las leyes.
La corrupción de Raúl
¿Y Raúl? ¿Advierte Raúl que cuando les alquila miles de profesionales de la salud a otros países y les confisca el 90% del salario está incurriendo en una falta tipificada en los acuerdos de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo de donde pueden deducirse consecuencias penales?
Pedirle 55 millones a la familia o a la empresa de Cy Tokmakjian a cambio de su libertad, ¿no es un clarísimo delito de extorsión típico de las mafias?
Quedarse con una parte sustancial de la plata que les produjo a los montoneros argentinos el secuestro de los acaudalados hermanos Born —60 millones de dólares—, ¿no es complicidad con un gravísimo delito?
Amenazar con la cárcel a los empresarios a los que el Gobierno cubano les debe dinero —como sucede con algunos exportadores panameños de Colón— si no les condonan las deudas a la Isla, ¿no es un comportamiento gangsteril?
No es verdad que Cuba le debe 500 millones de dólares a los exportadores panameños de la ciudad de Colón. Son casi 5.000 millones, y algunas deudas se arrastran desde hace más de 30 años, como me contó, indignado, uno de esos comerciantes atrapado entre la deuda, el miedo y la amenazada familia que ya formó en Cuba.
El mecanismo es diabólico: la manera de hacer negocios en Cuba es mediante la trampa y el amiguismo, dos conductas delictivas. Donde las reglas son deliberadamente opacas, en donde los tribunales son un brazo de la policía política, y en donde no funcionan el mercado y la competencia, sino el favoritismo, ¿qué otra forma hay de desarrollar actividades comerciales de una cierta envergadura?
No obstante, esos comportamientos corruptos son bienvenidos… pero solo mientra al Gobierno le conviene. Cuando llega la hora de ajustar cuentas comienza el calvario de los empresarios, a quienes someten a toda clase de chantajes y extorsiones. A fin de cuentas, Fidel y Raúl —en eso coinciden— sienten el mayor de los desprecios por los hombres de empresa que persiguen fines egoístas. Ellos, supuestamente, son revolucionarios puros a los que no les queda otro remedio que admitir a una gentuza deleznable para salvar la revolución
La corrupción cubano-venezolana….
Read More: Raúl Castro y la Corrupción
4 Octobre 2014 – The Washington Post – Adam Taylor
While the international community has been accused of dragging its feet on the Ebola crisis, Cuba, a country of just 11 million people that still enjoys a fraught relationship with the United States, has emerged as a crucial provider of medical expertise in the West African nations hit by Ebola.
On Thursday, 165 health professionals from the country arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to join the fight against Ebola – the largest medical team of any single foreign nation, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And after being trained to deal with Ebola, a further 296 Cuban doctors and nurses will go to Liberia and Guinea, the other two countries worst hit by the crisis.
Cuba is, by any measure, not a wealthy country. It had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of slightly more than $68 billion in 2011, according to the World Bank, putting it a few places higher than Belarus. At $6,051, its GDP per capita was less than one-sixth of Britain’s. However, its official response to Ebola seems far more robust than many countries far wealthier than it – and serves as further proof that health-care professionals are up there with rum and cigars in terms of Cuban exports.
Cuba’s universal health-care system enables such an export. The country nationalized its health care shortly after its revolution, ending private health care and guaranteeing free health care in its constitution. The results have been widely praised. In 2008, evaluating 30 years of Cuba’s “primary health care revolution,” the WHO noted impressive strides that the country had made in certain health indicators. “These indicators – which are close or equal to those in developed countries – speak for themselves,” Gail Reed noted, pointing to a huge reduction in number of deaths for children under five years old and Cuba’s high life expectancy of 77 years.
Cuba’s health-care success is built upon its medical training. After the Cuban revolution, half of the country’s 6,000 doctors fled and the country was forced to rebuild its work force. The training system grew so much that by 2008, it was training 20,000 foreigners a year to be doctors, nurses and dentists, largely free of charge.
Ebola isn’t the first time that Cuban health workers have been sent to deal with a global disaster. Even back in 1960, immediately after the revolution, Cuba sent doctors to Chile to help in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, and the practice has continued for decades since. In 2005, Cuba even offered to send medical workers to the United States after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (they were apparently rebuffed). Reuters reports that Cuba currently has around 50,000 health workers working in 66 countries. Despite the high-profile acts of charity, the medical diplomacy more often seemed to serve more practical purposes – an estimated 30,000 health workers are currently in Venezuela as a partial payment for oil, for example. Exported medical expertise is predicted to net Cuba $8.2 billion in 2014, according to a recent report in state newspaper Granma. There are hopes that medical tourism and exported medical technology could one day provide similar figures.
It’s not a simple picture. Critics have complained that Cuba has begun to sacrifice the health of its citizens at home to make money sending medical workers abroad, and the conditions for these medical workers themselves have been criticized – The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year that a significant number of Cuban health-care workers in Venezuela have fled the country to escape “crushing” workloads.
Even so, Cuba’s oversized response to Ebola seems to have brushed aside these criticisms, for now at least. The number of Cuban medical staff in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea looks set to be more than those sent from far-larger countries like China. Israel, a wealthier country with a similar population, caused controversy this week when it rejected calls to send medical teams.
“Money and materials are important, but those two things alone cannot stop Ebola virus transmission,” Dr Margaret Chan, director-general at the World Health Organization, said last month. “Human resources are clearly our most important need.”
3 October 2014 – Reuters – DANIEL TROTTA
Dinners at fancy restaurants, week-long family vacations and a flat-screen TV: the bribes that Cuba accused Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian of giving Cuban officials were modest by corruption standards in many developing nations. But they have cost him dearly.
Tokmakjian, 74, was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison and $100 million of his company’s assets were seized.
A Cuban court ruled that the gifts were used to help direct lucrative contracts to Tokmakjian’s transportation company, which over 20 years became one of the most successful foreign companies on the communist-led island. The 168-page sentencing document, reviewed by Reuters, portrays a pervasive pattern of Tokmakjian wooing public officials and executives of his joint venture partners. The document, signed by five judges of the Cuban court, was based on their findings from a two-week trial in June and provided the basis for punishment.
Tokmakjian, who was arrested three years ago, has denied wrongdoing and, according to his son, refused to consider any deal that might free him in return for admitting guilt. His company, the privately held Concord, Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group, says prosecutors failed to prove any of the charges in what it called a “show trial” and that the company founder was not allowed to mount a robust defense.
The Tokmakjian Group declined Reuters requests to address most of the specific allegations in the court document. But it said it went to trial equipped with witnesses to refute the allegations, audited financial records, Cuban legal experts, and Canadian officials. Then, the company said, it was thwarted by the court.
“Cy never got to defend himself,” said Lee Hacker, vice-president of finance and company spokesman. “Almost all of the witnesses we wanted to call were denied appearance by the Cuban court. We did not have a trial by any standard. Cy was not afforded the opportunity to refute what they have accused him of.”
The investigation into his company’s dealings in Cuba also landed 16 other people in prison, including two Canadian employees, five Cuban employees, and nine other Cubans who were government officials or employees of state enterprises, some of them in joint ventures with the Tokmakjian Group. They received prison terms ranging from 6 to 20 years.
The case has offered a peek into the Cuban government’s view of corruption. It has also strained Cuba’s relations with Canada, a major trading partner, and could deter foreigners from investing in the Caribbean island.
Peter Kent, a member of Canada’s parliament from the Toronto area, called the verdict “outrageous” and a “very strong reminder that international investors should beware” of Cuba.
A number of questions remain unresolved about the case. Chief among them is whether Tokmakjian was guilty as charged or whether Cuba had another agenda in pursuing a case against a businessman previously favored by top Cuban officials.
Tokmakjian’s company says it believes Cuba wanted to destroy the business and take its assets.
Tokmakjian was once hailed as a model business partner who supplied crucial transportation equipment during a severe economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He even received a business award from Fidel Castro.
President Raul Castro launched a crackdown on graft after he succeeded his older brother Fidel in 2008. Dozens of Cubans working at government agencies and state companies, as well as several foreigners, have faced charges of corruption or other economic crimes. Western diplomats and foreign business people say it has been standard practice to offer small cash bribes to get Cuban officials to open a file or move paperwork through the system. The court said individual gifts were just part of a wide-ranging scheme in which Tokmakjian persuaded officials to bend or break the law in his favor. With business flowing his way, he then took measures to cover up his illicit dealings and evade taxes, the court said.
Tokmakjian was found guilty of bribery, damaging the Cuban economy, illicit economic activity, currency trafficking, fraud and tax evasion. Cuba put a number on the damage to its economy: $91 million.
The Tokmakjian Group supplied vehicles, motors, parts and construction equipment to Cuba’s government and had joint ventures with state companies under the direction of the sugar, industry and tourism ministries. The company did an estimated $80 million in annual business in Cuba, one of at least 11 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia where it has operated.
Tokmakjian directed subordinates to pay bribes, the court said, using gasoline and travel expense reports to account for the money. He also allegedly made payments to foreign credit cards held by his Cuban beneficiaries in an attempt to avoid detection.
One Cuban trade official declined to comment on the trial but said investors should not get the wrong message. Cuba, he said, is still open for business.
“What we have is a clear message that in Cuba there is zero tolerance for corruption and illegality,” Pedro Luis Padron, the director of U.S. and Canada trade policy for Cuba’s foreign trade and investment ministry, told Reuters. “This is a battle every country in the world is fighting, including Canada itself.”
Tokmakjian generally aimed higher than common bureaucrats, according to the court’s sentencing document. Even so, higher level officials’ salaries are not more than $25 a month, although like other Cubans they receive cheap housing, subsidized food and other welfare benefits.
Among those the court said received Tokmakjian’s gifts was Cuba’s vice-minister of the sugar ministry, Nelson Labrada. He was the highest-ranking of the 14 Cuban defendants and sentenced to 20 years.According to the court document, Tokmakjian courted him in 2008, paying for a week-long vacation in the Cuban beach resort Varadero that included the official’s wife and children. The vacations were repeated in 2009 and 2010, costing around $1,200 each time.
Sometimes using subordinates to pay for the treats, Tokmakjian would invite Labrada to expensive dinners and take him for a cruise on a yacht. He bought him a plastic pool and a barbecue. When the barbecue broke after three months, he replaced it, the court document said.
It also said Tokmakjian paid for similar vacations for Manuel Fernandez, the vice president of a state company financing Cuba’s sugar industry.
Labrada and Fernandez have not commented publicly on the charges against them. Fernandez’s attorney said he could not immediately comment on the case and Labrada’s lawyer could not be reached.
Tokmakjian’s companies generated $11.7 million in sales to the sugar ministry from 2009 to 2011 plus another $4.7 million in sugar-related business in 2010 and 2011.
The court said that when Labrada went on a trip to Canada, a Tokmakjian subordinate took him shopping, buying him a 24-inch flat-screen television. He took both sugar officials to Niagara Falls and invited them to a casino in Toronto, buying chips for them to play with. Each ended up winning $2,500 at the gaming tables, the court said. Now, like Tokmakjian, they are facing long prison terms.
SECRET TALKS AND BACK CHANNELS PERVADED U.S. RELATIONSHIP WITH CUBA, An Interview With Authors PETER KORNBLUH and WILLIAM LEOGRANDE
October 01, 2014
For five decades, the official U.S. policy on Cuba was one of silence. But the real U.S. relationship with Havana involved secret negotiations that started with President Kennedy in 1963, even after his embargo against the island nation, say the authors of the new book Back Channel to Cuba. In fact, nearly every U.S. administration for the past 50 years has engaged in some sort of dialogue with the Cuban government, they say.
Co-authors Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive and William LeoGrande of American University outline these relationships based on recently declassified, or otherwise obtained, documents dating back to the Kennedy administration.
The documents reveal a series of secret meetings that took place in hotels, airport lounges and restaurants from New York to Paris to Guadalajara and involved intermediaries like the chairman of Coca-Cola, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s representative, to Carter himself.
sat down with Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep ahead of the book’s release to discuss their findings.
On why the talks were secret
Kornbluh: [Officials] were worried that either the Soviets would be spying on their telephone conversations or the U.S. NSA would be spying on their conversations, so they worked out a way to communicate with each other without anybody else knowing. … This is a theme that runs through the entire history that we’ve recorded. Cuba issues are so sensitive that when high-level policymakers wanted to have a dialogue, they wanted to keep it secret from other parts of the bureaucracy that might object.
On Henry Kissinger’s secret negotiations and contingency plan
Kornbluh: Henry Kissinger really was the secretary of state who secretly, I think, really pushed hard to create a window of opportunity for normalizing relations with Cuba. … He told his emissaries that he was using the same kind of modus operandi to approach the Cubans that he had used with Chairman Lai in China. And, for a period of 18 months, there was a series of secret meetings, culminating in an actual negotiation session, a three-hour session in room 727 of the Pierre Hotel in New York.
Eventually, the political sensitivities about Cuba came back to haunt this effort. The Cubans had sent 36,000 troops into Angola, and for Kissinger that made things not only politically untenable, but for his strategic view of the world, he could not believe that this small country would disrupt the superpower kind of equilibrium as he was trying to play it. He was so angry; he actually ordered a set of contingency plans to attack Cuba if Cuba expanded its presence in Africa.
On the use of intermediaries and informal channels
LeoGrande: Peggy Dulany, David Rockefeller’s daughter, carried a message from Fidel Castro to George Shultz during the Reagan administration, in which Fidel said he was willing to be constructive in trying to help settle the conflict in southern Africa. … And we actually have a Cuban document in which Fidel is talking to the president of Angola and explaining why he used Peggy Dulany, as opposed to just going through normal diplomatic channels. And he says to the president of Angola, “You know, when you send a message through the [diplomats] it takes months before you hear anything back, and sometimes you never hear anything at all.”
22 September 2014 – Havana Times
Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
The Cuban government’s reforms continue to make slow, somewhat erratic progress and to evince a series of unique characteristics and tendencies that are food for thought.
Let us recall, first, that Cuban politicians like to refer to this process as the “updating of Cuba’s economic system.” This past Friday, Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, proudly informed readers about one of the sectors now at the forefront of the process, the food industry. Reading the article, one immediately senses that its author, journalist Lorena Sanchez, suffers from the deeply-rooted shyness that characterizes government propagandists, those who refuse to call the private sector by its name and use the euphemism “non-State” in its place. Perhaps she merely transcribed the message from the Vice-Minister for Domestic Trade Ada Chavez Oviedo: in short, that private or “non-State” forms of ownership will prevail in the sector once it has been fully “modernized.”
In her report, we find out that 68 % of the country’s better known food establishments are still under State management. Over a thousand have been passed on to the self-employed and cooperatives (mostly the former). Here, we run into a fact that is alarming for left-wing forces. If the process of de-nationalization was planned by an allegedly socialist government, why weren’t cooperatives prioritized? Will the same tendency characterize the de-nationalization of the establishments that have yet to be “updated”?
Agriculture and the food industry have experienced the most visible changes, perhaps because they were facing the most severe crises. Farms, cafes and restaurants have been the paradigms of bad and inefficient State management. In both cases, the main solution has been to place the means of production in private hands. In effect, we are now witnessing substantial changes in the activities conducted in these sectors, prosperous fields and quality services where before there was nothing but marabou brush and flies. One cannot help but wonder, however, about the actual potential of these reforms, which are more liberal than anything else, and about who is reaping the actual profits of this.
Another article published by Granma a few days before reported that the largest number of self-employed workers aren’t exactly “self-employed”, but rather the employees of someone else – small or mid-scale private entrepreneurs. In fact, the number of such employees in the country isn’t larger because of how small most businesses are. This data can prove useful for a study of the changes our society is experiencing.
Champions of capitalism say that the market economy and privatizations are good because they increase the number of property owners, of prosperous individuals. Our government’s spokespeople praise the “updating” process, based on liberal and market reforms, because it will lead to prosperity, or so they claim.
I invite readers to go out for a stroll around Cuba’s cities and talk with the people who stand behind the counters of private restaurants and food stands owned by others, to ask these employees whether their working hours abide by the limits established in the recently-approved Labor Code, how many vacation days the owners grant them, and, if they are women of reproductive age, whether they believe that they can have a child and keep their jobs. If you do, don’t ask them whether they can ask for a raise – you wouldn’t want to get them fired on the spot. The owner, see, is sacrosanct, and Cuba’s blessed Labor Code gives them the authority to do just that. We are simply to accept that they’re being generous enough by paying more than the State. Afterwards, take a trip to the countryside and ask the farmhands employed on the ranches of the more fortunate farmers – those with both land and connections – the same questions.
The liberalization of the food industry and other sectors, given the “successes” the government boasts of, is probably representative of what is to come. Both the facts and history suggest that the Cuban State will continue to fail at most of its economic endeavors. Unable to solve these itself, it will have two alternatives: dismantle such production and service centers, or hand them over to the self-employed or cooperatives.
The more liberal option has been the most common implemented to date. With every step taken in this direction, with the expansion of the means of production involved, the exploitation of workers by private entrepreneurs, owners or managers of such means of production, will invariably increase. It is also true that, till now, State exploitation had been the norm.
Will we improve as a society following the privatizations that are presumably to come? It is not an easy question to answer, for we aren’t doing well at all right now. What’s certain is that the path ahead of us is a 180 degree turn from the road towards legitimate socialism, and that, in other parts of the world, this road has led to severe and irreparable damage to the so-called middle classes, to the concentration of property in a handful of individuals and to the extreme polarization of society between wealth and power and poverty and despair.
In short, the path traced by the “updating of Cuba’s economic model” is strewn with contradictions. One day, the authorities create more possibilities for private initiative. A short while later, they restrict these same spaces. They want for the private sector to absorb all who have been laid off or will be by the State sector, but they curtail the basic conditions needed for the development of the sector, such as the opening of wholesale markets and imports through different channels. They want to open the entire country to foreign investment, but they do not allow foreign investors to deal directly with the work force, setting up an onerous and profitable State mechanism that acts as intermediary.
The government also has its ways of dealing with the ideologically restless. One day, the papers expound on philosophical hesitations with pronouncements such as “no one knows for certain how socialism is built.” The next day, they reveal that the Council of Ministers has traced a development plan for the economy, society and politics for 2030 and beyond. The only problem is that they don’t tell you what those plans are. Some time later, they tell us they are going to save socialism through a battle in the field of ideas and culture, ignoring the vital space of society’s material reproduction.
What one discerns from below following a simple class-conscious analysis is a tendency towards the kind of capitalism that the opposition wants – but with the current governing class, the one that speaks of “updating socialism”, at the top, and without opposition. The government and opposition, thus, will continue to quarrel, and each will thwart the concrete progress of the reforms with the same objective that unites them and rifts them apart.
19 September 2014 – AFP
The Cuban government announced plans Friday to sell nearly 9,000 state-owned restaurants to private operators, the latest step in the communist island’s economic reforms.
Cubans frequently complain about the country’s 8,984 state-owned restaurants, which are famous for poor quality, bad service and running out of food.
Deputy Trade Minister Aida Chavez said the state would sell them off in a gradual process starting in 2015.
“Cuba will substantially change the structure of its food services in the coming years, with the gradual and orderly transfer of the industry into the hands of the non-state sector,” she said, according to the state-run National Information Agency. Chavez said the government would rent the buildings where the restaurants are located to the new owners but sell off all other assets, from stoves to chairs to utensils.
“The decision… aims to modernize a sector that today demands services with the quality and security the Cuban people, and the tourists who visit us, deserve,” she said.
Cuba currently has 1,261 private restaurants that offer better-quality food and service at a higher price than state establishments. Known as “paladares,” they were first authorized by former president Fidel Castro in the 1990s.
Initially, Castro only allowed family-run restaurants with a maximum of 12 seats, but today they can seat up to 50 guests and hire staff.
That has been a key development for the country’s tourism industry, which draws nearly three million foreigners to the island each year.
Cuba has begun gradually opening its economy since Castro, the 88-year-old father of the island’s communist revolution, ceded power to his younger brother Raul in 2006. But the reforms have so far failed to deliver the hoped-for boost to economic growth.
14 September 2014
Cuba’s pledge to deploy a 165-strong army of doctors and nurses to help fight the Ebola outbreak is the latest example of the Communist country’s decades-old tradition of “medical diplomacy.”
Since 1960, when Cuba dispatched a team of doctors to help with the aftermath of an earthquake in Chile, the Caribbean island has sent more than 135,000 medical staff to all corners of the globe.
The latest batch being sent to help in west Africa’s Ebola crisis are part of a 50,000-strong foreign legion of Cuban doctors and healthcare workers spread across 66 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, according to Cuba’s Health Ministry. Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told reporters in Geneva on Friday some 62 doctors and 103 nurses were being sent to Sierra Leone to tackle the outbreak. World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan welcomed the Cuban aid, the largest offer of a foreign medical team from a single country during the outbreak. “Money and materials are important, but those two things alone cannot stop Ebola virus transmission,” said Chan. “Human resources are clearly our most important need.” Morales said members of the team had “previously participated in post-catastrophe situations” and had all volunteered for the six-month mission, which begins in early October.
‘Foreign policy cornerstone’
“Medical diplomacy, the collaboration between countries to simultaneously produce health benefits and improve relations, has been a cornerstone of Cuban foreign policy since the outset of the revolution fifty years ago,” said US researcher Julie Feinsilver in a study for Georgetown University. “It has helped Cuba garner symbolic capital — goodwill, influence, and prestige —well beyond what would have been possible for a small, developing country, and it has contributed to making Cuba a player on the world stage,” Feinsilver wrote in her study “Fifty Years of Cuba’s Medical Diplomacy: From Idealism to Pragmatism.” ”In recent years, medical diplomacy has been instrumental in providing considerable material capital — aid, credit, and trade — to keep the revolution afloat.”
Cuba’s medical diplomacy accelerated after the devastation wrought by Hurricanes George and Mitch across the Caribbean in 1998. In the aftermath of the disaster, Cuba sent some 25,000 doctors and health workers to 32 nations in the region. In 2004, former President Fidel Castro and late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched “Mission Miracle,” a program offering free eye surgery that has benefited some 2.8 million people across 35 countries, according to Cuban official sources.
At the same time, Cuba’s “medical brigades” have helped victims from devastating earthquakes in numerous countries including Algeria, Mexico, Armenia and Pakistan. Cuba has also trained several thousand doctors and nurses from no fewer than 121 developing nations.
The biggest deployment has seen 30,000 Cuban health professionals sent to oil-rich Venezuela, a key regional ally. In Brazil, meanwhile, some 11,456 Cubans are working in hard-hit areas suffering from staffing shortages.
Together with educational and sporting services, the export of medical professionals is worth around $10 billion annually to Cuba, making it the most important source of income for the island, outstripping money earned from foreign remittances and exports of nickel.
Yet while the qualifications and dedication of Cuba’s foreign legion are regularly lauded by countries benefiting from their services and organizations such as the WHO, they are not always viewed so positively by local health workers. Trade unions and some politicians in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Honduras have criticized the “army in white coats” sent by Cuba.
At the same time, Havana has also been criticized for withholding too big a chunk of the salaries of workers employed overseas.
Despite the thousands of health workers abroad, Cuba’s domestic healthcare remains one of the best staffed networks in the world, with 82,065 doctors, one for every 137 people, according to the National Statistics Office.
By Stephen Baranyi, Professor, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, and Chair, Latin America and Caribbean Study Group of the Canadian International Council’s National Capital Branch.
See the original at: http://cips.uottawa.ca/what-should-canada-do-about-cubas-participation-in-the-americas-summit/#sthash.RUA0hXpt.dpuf This commentary reflects the public remarks and off-the-record
discussion with officials at the forum on Cuba, the 2015 Americas Summit, and Beyond: Obstacles and Opportunities, which was co-sponsored by CIPS on September 4, 2014.
Most Latin American and Caribbean states have indicated they will not attend the Americas Summit planned by Panama for April 2015 unless Cuba is invited. Canada and the United States have expressed reservations about Cuba’s participation on the grounds that it would gravely weaken the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Yet neither Ottawa nor Washington can afford to see the summit fail. In an age of emerging regional powers and increasing involvement by external heavyweights like China, North Americans are rightly concerned about being left on the margins of new hemispheric relationships.
From the moment it joined the OAS in 1989, Canada has made the protection and promotion of democracy a cornerstone of its hemispheric engagement. This commitment informed Canada’s hosting of the Americas Summit in Quebec and engagement in helping negotiate the Inter-American Democratic Charter, as well as the Harper government’s current Americas Strategy. Ottawa played a key role in drafting the Democracy Clause of the Quebec Declaration, which states that
“any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order in a state of the hemisphere constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that state’s government in the Summits of the Americas process.”
Recognition of the different and often difficult paths to democracy provides an opening for productive dialogue, even between ideological foes, on ways of assisting Cuba in its construction of more democratic institutions. While Ottawa has maintained respectful relations with Havana since 1959, it definitely sees the Cuban regime as not meeting the standards of liberal democracy codified in the Democratic Charter. On that basis, it is understandable that Ottawa does not favour moves that might lower the bar on democracy in the region—at the summit or in other Inter-American fora.
Yet Canada does not wish to be left out in the cold, especially if Washington decides to go along with the majority view on Cuba’s participation. The Inter-American system, with the OAS at its centre, remains important because those are the only hemispheric institutions which include Canada as a full member (unlike the new Latin American and Caribbean Community (CELAC). Saving the Americas Summit is thus part of safeguarding Canada’s presence in the hemisphere. The tricky part is finding a way to save the summit and enabling Cuba to participate, without compromising Charter norms.
How might Canada contribute to that outcome?
First, Ottawa could see Cuba’s participation in the Americas Summit as a confidence-building measure rather than as a clear dilution of Inter-American democratic norms. Cuba’s participation in the Panama Summit would move it further along the path to reincorporation opened up at the San Pedro Sula General Assembly of the OAS in 2009. Yet it would not nullify the need for many other steps, by Havana and others, before Cuba could become a full member of the Inter-American system. As such, for Canada there would be little cost (and some possible benefits) in accepting Cuba’s participation in the Panama Summit.
Second, Ottawa could quietly support the construction of a summit agenda around a less controversial theme, such as the cooperative management of migration flows. Panama is not the place to reopen the Democratic Charter, with Cuba in the spotlight. Yet Ottawa could support a lower-profile discussion elsewhere on ways of breathing fresh life into the Charter.
The publications around the 10th anniversary of the Charter in 2011 (including the work of Canadian scholars like Maxwell Cameron and Thomas Legler) generated many ideas for strengthening the application of the Charter. Those range from compendia of best practices to the establishment of a special rapporteur on democracy. That conversation might interest Cuba and its allies, if it is broadened to include a consideration of how the participatory and substantive dimensions of democracy could be enhanced—as a complement to the mostly liberal, procedural dimensions codified in the Charter. This is complex and it will take time, much longer than the months leading up to the Panama Summit.
It will require adaptation in Cuba but also a considerable degree of conceptual and operational innovation on the OAS side. For those who think that the Harper government is unlikely to support that approach, let me cite the words of Foreign Minister Baird at the OAS General Assembly a few months ago. “Democracy”, he noted in Asunción, “is a journey, not a destination. There is no single outcome. Every democracy will look a little different, coming from a different set of experiences and from a different journey.”
This recognition of the different and often difficult paths to democracy provides an opening for productive dialogue, even between ideological foes, on ways of assisting Cuba in its construction of more democratic institutions. That could be timely, given the creation of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), which merges the democracy promotion and development mandates into one department.
Finally (and probably also quietly, since Ottawa has learned that megaphone diplomacy does not work on this file), Canada could continue supporting home-grown democratic development through technical cooperation with Cuban institutions. This could be done by supporting greater citizen participation in municipal governance; funding Cuban (quasi) civil society organizations working to enhance tolerance of diversity and the peaceful management of disputes; and backing Cuban researchers exploring ways to promote more governmental accountability.
Several Canadian non-governmental organizations are already engaged in such initiatives. More could be done to expand those efforts over the coming years, on the safe assumption that they will converge with internal processes such as generational change, as well as with the renewal of democratic norms in hemispheric fora.
CHRIS KRAUL, 11 September 2014 – Los Angeles Times -
Worsening conditions in Venezuela are causing increasing numbers of Cuban medical personnel working there to immigrate to the United States under a special program that expedites their applications, according to Colombian officials who help process many of the refugees.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington said the number of Cuban doctors, nurses, optometrists and medical technicians applying for U.S. visas under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program is running as much as 50% ahead of last year’s pace, which was nearly double that of the year before. At the current rate, more than 1,500 Cuban healthcare workers will be admitted to the United States this year.
For geographical reasons, neighboring Colombia is a favored trampoline for Cubans fleeing Venezuela, whose leftist government has struggled to rein in runaway inflation, shortages of goods and services and rising social unrest.
Cuba, which prides itself on a comprehensive healthcare system and has long exported doctors and nurses to friendly countries, maintains an estimated 10,000 healthcare providers in Venezuela. The medical outreach program is intended as partial payment for 100,000 barrels of oil that President Nicolas Maduro’s government ships to the Castro administration each day.
Nelia, a 29-year-old general practitioner from Santiago de Cuba, arrived in Bogota last month after what she said was a nightmarish year working in Venezuela’s Barrio Adentro program in the city of Valencia. She declined to disclose her last name for fear of reprisal back home. Nelia said her disillusionment started on her arrival in Caracas’ Maiquetia airport in mid-2013. She and several colleagues waited there for two days, sometimes sleeping in chairs, before authorities assigned her to a clinic in Valencia, she said.
“It was all a trick. They tell you how great it’s going to be, how you will able to buy things and how grateful Venezuelans are to have you. Then comes the shock of the reality,” Nelia said. Her clinic in Valencia had no air conditioning and much of the ultrasound equipment she was supposed to use to examine pregnant women was broken.
She described the workload as “crushing.” Instead of the 15 to 18 procedures a day she performed in Cuba, she did as many as 90 in Venezuela, she said. Crime is rampant, the pay is an abysmal $20 per month and Cubans are caught in the middle of Venezuela’s civil unrest, which pits followers of the late President Hugo Chavez — whose handpicked successor is Maduro — against more conservative, market-oriented forces. “The Chavistas want us there and the opposition does not. And there are more opposition people than Chavistas,” said Nelia, who was interviewed in a Colombian immigration office in Bogota.
A 32-year-old Cuban optometrist who identified himself as Manuel and who also fled Venezuela to apply for U.S. residency said that at his clinic in Merida he was prescribing and grinding up to 120 pairs of eyeglasses a day, triple his pace in Cuba.
“As a professional you want to be paid for what your work is worth. What we were getting, $20 a month, was not enough to pay even for food and transportation, much less a telephone call to Cuba now and then,” Manuel said. “That’s the main reason I want to go to Miami, to earn what I’m worth.”
Cubans have long had favored status as U.S. immigrants. Virtually any Cuban is guaranteed automatic residency and a path to citizenship simply by setting foot on U.S. territory, legally or not. The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program gives medical personnel a leg up by allowing them to apply for residency at U.S. embassies. Though some Cubans apply at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, others say they fear being seen there. Also, airfare to the United States from Colombia is much cheaper than from Venezuela.
The increasing flow of Cuban doctors is only part of a rising tide of Cubans seeking to reach the United States, many through Colombia. Lacking the special status of medical personnel, many U.S.-bound Cubans first land in Ecuador, where the government requires no visas. They then typically pass through Colombia to Panama with the help of coyotes, or human traffickers. However, many are detained in Colombia. Of 1,006 illegal immigrants detained in Colombia from January through July of this year for failing to have proper visas, 42% were Cuban, according to Colombia’s immigration agency director, Sergio Bueno Aguirre. The flow of Cubans had more than doubled from the year before.
One Colombian Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity said the U.S. policy of allowing Cubans immigrant status simply by arriving in the United States has fed organized crime in Colombia and in other transit countries.
“Coyotes helping the Cubans transit through Colombia often use the migrants to carry drugs or submit to prostitution,” the official said. “Or the coyotes will just abandon them at a border, creating a big headache for the Colombian government, which has to take care of them or send them back home.”