Tag Archives: Black Market

CHALLENGES AND REALITIES OF CUBA’S HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

Fernando Ravsberg, enero 25, 2018

Artículos de Fernando Ravsberg, English Version, Política, Salud, Sociales

Last November, “Maria de la Caridad” was admitted into one of the best hospitals in the country, waiting for her knee replacement prosthesis, when she slipped in a puddle of water out in the hospital’s corridor and broke both her arms. Now, she’s back at home in a worse state than before.

It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t Cuban, how a hospital with such high professional standards and so much modern equipment can be lacking in personnel to collect dirty dishes or keep the floor which orthopedic patients walk along, dry.

It’s just as hard as understanding the fact that pharmaceutical employees are dedicating themselves to counterfeit medicines for children so they can be sold secretly via the illicit pharmacy network, as Cuban press reported a few days ago.

How can there be medicine shortages and a black market in a country with scientists capable of inventing innovative vaccines to treat different types of cancer or medicines that prevent diabetes patients from having to be amputated?

There is so much chaos that you can buy any medicine without needing a medical prescription at many pharmacies, as long as you are willing to pay extra on the side. However, all lines are crossed when medicines for children are tampered with.

During the crisis of the ‘90s, I saw a black market seller offering powdered milk to a mother with two small children. She said that it was top quality because it was stolen from the school for children with disabilities. The mother was appalled and refused to buy it.

There are many Cubans like her who clearly know where their boundaries lie, but even they cross these lines when a son is having an asthma attack or their grandfather needs to monitor their heartrate. So they go looking for the medicines they need wherever they may be and they pay whatever is being asked for them.

The black market in Cuba’s public health sector is a death trap. Let’s remember how thirty patients died of cold and hunger at Havana’s psychiatric hospital, when the people who were responsible for protecting them, stole their food and blankets.

We could spend hours talking about how morally bankrupt those who make a business out people’s health are but we can’t explain how these people, who were once young and had the vocation to protect and help others, a pharmacist, a nurse or a doctor, can stoop so low.

Among the causes for this situation, the chronic shortages of medicines and low wages particularly stand out. The combination of both these factors leads to the black market, which we have all been responsible for, some as sellers and others as buyers.

 A few years ago, the government promised that wages would improve in correlation with an increase in productivity. Today, the health sector brings in 70% of the country’s revenue in hard currency but wages continue to be way below what the basic foods costs.

Public health sector workers aren’t even given any perks that wouldn’t cost the State’s coffers a single cent, such as being able to purchase a property for its cost price and in hard currency or being able to freely import a car, after having completed their mission abroad.

And the reality is that if wages of medical personnel don’t increase, the wages of cleaning staff can’t get any better either. Patients will continue to receive “stem-cell” therapy for free while they continue to slip and fall in puddles of water that nobody is cleaning up.’

Many cleaning and technical employees leave the health system looking for a more dignified income in the private sector, that is to say an income that allows them to get to the end of the month without having to steal. Official press “kick the bucket” blaming self-employment for this exodus.

The real problem lies in stagnant reforms, in using the health sector and pharmaceutical industry’s incredible earnings to finance the State’s shortfall companies instead of using them to feed the “hen that lays the golden eggs.”

There are morally bankrupt criminals in the black market but many other people (maybe most of them) only take part so as to meet their family’s basic needs or are forced to because of pressing needs, like the medicines only available from illicit sources.

Ideology awareness classes aren’t enough to stop this loss of values. The answer could once again lie in Jose Marti’s insightful way of seeing things when he explained that “given human nature, one needs to be prosperous to be good.”

In 2017, Cuba reached its record child mortality rate of only 4 per 1000 newborns. Public health needs the financial resources it brings in so as to keep up these levels of efficiency.

Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg: Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.

 

 

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CUBA’S BLACK MARKET THRIVES

[Apologies: I lost this somewhere in the computer last autumn! AR]

Havana (AFP) Carlos Batista, October 17 2014

Original here: Cuba’s black market thrives

ca536627f7ec7ad1d8f6a66bb6b8a8857cee4e2dFrom foreign DVDs to perfume, rum and coffee, Cuba’s shelves are packed with pirated and counterfeit goods, which are sold as authorities turn a blind eye — using the longstanding US embargo as justification.

The more than 50-year US trade freeze with communist-ruled Havana has bred a healthy appetite for smuggled goods, including TV series, films, music and software — all available at a low cost.

“Here, everything costs one CUC,” the Cuban convertible peso equivalent to one US dollar, explains 28-year-old vendor Jorge, standing before three bookcases packed with CDs and DVDs.

In southern Havana’s October 10 neighbourhood, where Jorge peddles his wares, pirated DVDs featuring current American blockbuster films, children’s movies and Latin music are all on sale to delighted crowds. For Jorge, the cost of doing business is affordable. For 60 Cuban pesos ($A2.59) a month, he can buy a vendor’s licence to sell his goods.

He is one of half a million Cubans who work in the 200 or so independent jobs authorised under President Raul Castro’s economic reforms. Though buying and selling pirated goods is technically illegal in Cuba, the trade is widely known and mostly tolerated, even by the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution officers who rarely punish vendors.

“I pay for my licence on time and no one interferes with my work,” said Jorge, who declined to give his full name.

Like many other merchants, Jorge’s stock extends far beyond entertainment DVDs. He also sells “packages,” which feature hundreds of megabytes of data obtained weekly from overseas sources.

The bundles include television series, sports programs, films, anti-virus software and up-to-date listings from the banned classified sites “Revolico” and “Porlalivre”. The online classified listings, which are officially banned in Cuba, offer interested buyers anything from air conditioners to black market tyres, and even empty perfume bottles to be secretly refilled in off-the-grid factories.

With the help of complicit employees, some of the black market fragrances and other items even find their way to the shelves of government-owned stores.

Every so often, the heavily-censored state-run media report on police busting illegal rings producing fake perfume, rum, beer, coffee or toiletries — items rarely found in supermarket aisles — but authorities mostly ignore the contraband sales.

Authorities struggle to contain this Cuban “tradition,” which emerged during the dark days of severe shortages in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of Cuba’s staunchest Cold War-era allies.

“The new situation in the 1990s was so sudden, so violent, so unexpected… that people started, with the only means they had, to find ways to fulfill their needs,” said sociologist Mayra Espina in the online newspaper Cuba Contemporanea.

“Certain activities, previously deemed unacceptable or socially negative, started to become legitimate.”

This time of shortages bred a social phenomenon called “la lucha,” or “the struggle,” which has seen Cubans do whatever is necessary to tackle the island nation’s social and economic malaise, Espina said.

Pirated programs have also crept into the state’s sphere, with public media and government-owned cinemas running illegally-obtained shows and films. Some television networks lacking their own means to produce original programming have “resorted for years to carrying shows from American channels without paying for the rights,” Cuban TV director Juan Pin Vilar told AFP.

Indeed, this is one of the fringe benefits of the US embargo — the Cuban TV channels and cinemas could act with virtual impunity, as legal repercussions were unlikely.

“There is a kind of tactical willingness (in the US) not to bother Cuba because culture… is a very effective means of communication,” said Jorge de Armas, a member of a group of Cuban exiles calling for a rapprochement with Washington.

But the flip side, according to Vilar, is that certain stations in Miami — home to most of the Cuban diaspora — air Cuban programs to satisfy their viewers, nostalgic for home. On Miami’s “Calle Ocho,” or 8th Street, in the heart of Little Havana, the Maraka shop sells pirated music, films and television programs brought in from Cuba.

On the other side of the Florida Straits, the international Cuban television network Cubavision offers its signal to satellite suppliers around the world. The idea, said one Cubavision executive, is “to spread our image”.

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The Causes & Consequences of Cuba’s Black Market

21 August 2014 –  Havana Times – Fernando Ravsberg*

http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=105653

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban press is out to get re-sellers, as though their existence were news to anyone, as though they just now realized there is a black market that’s on every street corner in the country, selling just about everything one can sell.

In a news report aired on TV, they went as far as insinuating that some employees at State stores are accomplices of those who hoard and re-sell products. They are now “discovering” that the black market stocks up, in great measure, thanks to the complicity of store clerks. The reporting remains on the surface, addressing the effects but not daring to go to the root of a problem that has burdened the country for decades as a result of the chronic shortage of products – from screws to floor mops.

During the early years of the revolution, these shortages could be chalked up to the US embargo. Today, however, Cuba maintains trade relations with the entire world and can purchase the products people need in other markets. It doesn’t even seem to be a financial problem, because the products become available and disappear intermittently. Shaving foam can disappear for a couple of months and reappear at all stores overnight.

These ups and downs are what allow a group of clever folks to hoard up on and later re-sell these products at higher prices. A lack of foresight and planning when importing is what creates these temporary shortages that make the work of hoarders easier.

There is no doubt Cuba has a planned economy. The question is whether it is actually well planned. The truth is that, for decades, the country’s domestic trade system has functioned in a chaotic manner and no one has been able to organize it minimally.

A foreign journalist I know recently noted that, when toilet paper disappeared from all State shops, a supermarket in Havana had a full stock of pickled partridge that no one buys.  Who would decide to buy such a luxury canned product at a time when most store shelves are practically empty? The story brings to mind that anecdote involving a government official who imported a snow-sweeper to Cuba.

The Market and Consumption

Cuba’s domestic trade system doesn’t require “reforms”, it demands radical change, a new model. Such a change should begin with Cuba’s importers, bureaucratic companies that are ignorant of the interests and needs of consumers and buy products without rhyme or reason.

Many of their employees receive [under the table] commissions from suppliers and therefore prioritize, not the country’s interests, but their own pockets. They are the same people who received money from the corrupt foreign businessmen recently tried and convicted in Cuba.

To plan the country’s economy, the government should start by conducting market studies and getting to know the needs of consumers, in order to decide what to purchase on that basis. It Is a question of buying the products people need and in quantities proportional to the demand.

Planning means being able to organize import cycles such that there is regular supply of products, without any dark holes, like the ones that currently abound in all sectors of Cuba’s domestic trade, from dairy products to wood products.

Sometimes, this chaotic state of affairs has high costs for the country’s economy, such as when buses are put out of circulation because spare pieces were not bought on time, there isn’t enough wood to build the crates needed to store farm products or a sugar refinery is shut down because of lack of foresight.

Even the sale of school uniforms at State subsidized prices experiences these problems owing to a lack of different sizes. This is a problem seamstresses are always willing to fix, charging the parents a little extra money.

Cuba’s entire distribution system is rotten. Importers are paid commissions, shopkeepers sell products under the counter, butchers steal and resell poultry, ration-store keepers mix pebbles in with beans, agricultural and livestock markets tamper with weighing scales and bakers take home the flour and oil.

In the midst of this chaos we find the Cuban consumer, who does not even have an office he or she can turn to and demand their rights (when they are sold rotten minced meat, and old pair of shoes or a refrigerator that leaks water, for instance).

Speculation is no doubt a reprehensible activity, but it is not the cause of the black market. The country may launch a new campaign against hoarders, but it will be as unsuccessful as all previous one if an efficient commercial system isn’t created.

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