A Policy Difficult to Understand / Fernando Damaso

One of the demands the Cuban government is making of its American counterpart as part of the normalization of relations is the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act and an end to the preferential treatment professionals who leave the island receive under the so-called wet foot, dry foot policy.

The recent stampede to Ecuador and the arrival of massive numbers of Cuban emigres in Costa Rica are being used — with the help of the Nicaraguan government, which is prohibiting their passage through its territory — in an effort to pressure the U.S. government.

The situation is complicated by the arrival of hundreds of Cuban migrants in Panama and the announcement by U.S authorities that they have no intention of modifying either the Adjustment Act or their immigration policy. The Cuban government has not given up and, by putting pressure on other governments in the region, has succeeded in preventing the authorized flow of migrants toward their ultimate destination: the United States.

This has created a tense situation, both in Costa Rica as well as in Panama, where there are currently more than six-thousand stranded Cubans. The island’s authorities are acting as they have no direct responsibility for a situation in which they are in fact the party most responsible.

Though billed as a visit to discuss economic and political issues, the recent trip by the president of Costa Rica to Cuba was part of an effort to find a solution to the problem. Return of the migrants to their home country is not an option. Not only do they no longer have anything there, but they have no desire to return, as they have repeatedly made clear. This is perhaps the most dramatic aspect of the problem.

An objective analysis would indicate the chief beneficiary of this wave of emigration to in fact be the Cuban government. The departure of citizens who have no interest in being part of the socialist experiment relieves social pressure.

At the same time, more Cubans in the United States means more remittances to family members on the island, which ultimately end up in the hands of the state. This is a win-win for the government, even with the loss of dollars it would have received by renting out the services of its health care professionals, many of whom have themselves become emigres.

The policies of the island’s authorities are often difficult to understand.

14 December 2015

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A Temper Tantrum is Never Beautiful / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 11 December 2015 — The temper tantrum of President Nicolas Maduro and his Chavistas, in addition to being tragic, is comical. Now, after losing the National Assembly, won cleanly through the will of Venezuelans by the opposition, he’s rushing around trying to approve laws and regulations before the handover of power, with the objective of keeping his supporters in the government, in the name of a supposed defense of the workers. It’s like sticking corks into a boat that is taking on water.

Maduro’s demonstrated inability as president, along with the clownish bird that gave him directions, and his multiple mistakes, are the main causes of his failure and of the failure of Chavismo. Blaming the opposition media, the national and international right, the “empire” and others supposedly at fault, is nothing more than the sad lament of a loser, incapable of recognizing and honestly accepting his defeat.

Accusing the opposition-victors of being counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries, the people for whom most Venezuelans voted, is accusing the voters as well of being counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries. These ravings demonstrate his political incompetence and his lack of tact in dealing intelligently with an adverse situation.

If the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) wants to ever have a shred of credibility and regain the support of a majority of Venezuelans, it should start by getting rid of the ballast represented by Maduro, Diosdado Cabello and other losers, including Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, whom he calls not his “First Lady” but rather his “First Fighter.”

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A Deplorable Example / Fernando Damaso

Source: Video of Rafael Alcides by Miguel Coyula

Former street trees in Havana. Source: Video of Rafael Alcides by Miguel Coyula

Fernando Damaso, 2 December 2015 — Once again we residents of Nuevo Vedado have had to suffer the incompetence and irresponsibility of the “Tree Destruction Brigade” from the Electric Company. Without the least knowledge of what it means, they “prune” them, leaving just a trunk with two or three branches that look more like arms with their hands amputated, raised to heaven begging for mercy.

As if that weren’t enough, they drop large branches over the electrical wires, caused them to break and even causing the badly anchored poles to fall down, interrupting service for twelve or more house, until they can make a repair, which generates the use of unplanned for resources and extra expenses paid for by hapless citizens… you and me.

The responsibility for this debacle lies with the Electric Company — which, despite the constant criticisms from the population that is subjected to its poor service, the worst possible administration, faulty meter readings, and the presentation of inflated bills and the bungling of every kind of task, such as replacing the posts, leaving stumps across the sidewalks as obstacles to pedestrians — seems to enjoy a status of official privileged, and they never take action against it nor against those who run it.

Without a doubt, the Electric Company is a magnificent example of the inefficiency and bad work of a “great socialist state enterprise,” where the citizen is a simple and defenseless user, and must mourn, those of us who know it, the vilified Cuban Electrical Company that repairs, maintains, prunes and does all its work without blackouts and without annoying the citizens, who are its clients.

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The Lie Continues / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 25 November 2015 — The authorities, the functionaries and some so-called Cuba experts, as well as some “friends” abroad, continue to blame the Cuban Adjustment Act and the application of the “wet-foot-dry-foot” policy for the stampede of Cuban citizens which has created a tense situation in Central American countries, due to their constant arrival in transit to the United States.

In fact, the principal cause, which they do not want to recognize, is found in the complete failure of the socialist experiment, which has been incapable of creating political, economic and social conditions that allows Cubans to realize their plans for their lives in their own country.

Arab, African and other emigrants heading to Europe don’t do it because there is an Adjustment Law, but because, as in Cuba, in their home countries the living conditions to support self-development are also missing, along with war and terrorism in some of them.

Emigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and other Latin American countries also head to the United States not because there is an Adjustment Law for their benefit, but because in their countries they cannot create their own present nor their futures.

It would be healthy to set aside the lie and come to accept that the main cause of emigration is found within the countries that generate it and not outside of them. What’s more, the Cuban authorities are primarily responsible for the current stampede, as they have been for all the previous ones, and as they will be for the ones they continue to produce. They should recognize their failure as leaders and stop blaming others for the terrible consequences of their repeated errors.

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An Absurd Unionization/ Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 November 2015 — The official media is continually promoting the need for self-employed workers to affiliate themselves with the unions of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC). No matter how much they repeat the calls for it, achieving it seems to be a difficult task.

The principal reason could be that the CTC forms a part of the government organizations, which make up the fabric of unconditional support for the Party, which directs and controls them, even naming their leaders in various instances.

In reality, the CTC doesn’t really represent Cuban workers, most of them working for the state, and much less can it claim to represent the self-employed as well. The CTC, for more than half a century, has defended first and foremost the interests of the Party and of the Government, and the problems of the workers only when they do not contradict those of the former.

To exercise its true role, the CTC must first democratize and make sure that its leaders, in every instance, ride from the ranks of the workers they are supposed to represent, and be nominated and directly elected by them, without the intervention of the Party and the Government.

To date, the majority come from the ranks of Party bureaucrats, without any direct ties to unionism, nor even with the current government in the country. As long as this doesn’t change, the CTC, lost its activism from the era of the Republic, and will only be one more government organization of control, in this case of the workers.

Self-employed workers should not allow themselves to be confused by the siren’s song, as it has confused workers for the stat. As long as there are no truly independent unions, their rights will not be defended.

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The Story of the Wage Increases / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 6 November 2015 — Currently the minimum wage in Cuba is 225 Cuban pesos a month, which is the equivalent of about $10 US. In 1958 it was 85 pesos, equivalent to $85 US. If we compare both minimum wages, the current wage has dropped 75 dollars relative to 1985. The equivalent of 85 dollars is 2,040 current pesos, so Cubans, as a minimum wage, receive 1,815 pesos less (2,040-225=1,815) than before.

But the problem doesn’t end there: what we can buy today with the Cuban peso is infinitely less than what we could buy before. Let’s look at some examples: a can of condensed milk cost 20 centavos then; today it costs 29 pesos. A loaf of bread that cost 10 centavos, today is 10 pesos. A pound of pork was 18 centavos then, today it is 40 pesos. A pair of shoes was 8 pesos, today it is no less than 400. A pair of pants then was 7 pesos, and today 300. The list could go on forever.

So it is ironic, when in a report in some of the government media, an old worker remembers when he only earned 100 pesos a month during the Republican era, and today he considers himself favored because he earns 1,500. He doesn’t realize that to earn the equivalent today of what he earned then, he would have to receive 2,400 Cuban pesos. And that earning 1,500 pesos is receiving 900 less than before. And this without considering the low purchasing power of the Cuban peso explained above, due to the price increases on products.

To increase salaries with a devalued money doesn’t resolve the problem: it is nothing more than a false image of a quantitative improvement that does not improve the quality of life for our citizens. The increases realized in the salaries of doctors and athletes are a part of them: they represent the minimum salary of 1958.

Someone could argue that education and health care are free and make up for the differences. In reality those services are excessively paid for with what each citizen, over his entire working life, doesn’t receive every month.

In addition, we cannot forget that in 1958 there were public healthcare and education, supported by the State, to which all citizens had access. This, without mentioning that there were also private healthcare and education, that cost between 2.85 and 5 pesos a month for the health care, and between 2.50, 5 and 10 pesos for education, for those people who wanted to utilize them and whose personal economic resources allowed them to.

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Reimbursement is Important / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 23 October 2015 — In Cuba, unlike other countries, public services are totally centralized by the State through its different companies: electricity, gas, telephone, water and sewer, municipal and other.

Being part of the same thing, these entities are considered untouchable, and they do things and undo them at their own whim, without considering the effect on citizens and businesses, State as well as private. Thus, they connect and disconnect the electricity according to their interests. The same thing happens with the gas service, telephones and drinking water.

Furthermore, in order to do maintenance and make repairs, they break up the streets and sidewalks; they interrupt transit and create multiple nuisances. Repairing what’s destroyed takes a long time to execute, and, in general, it’s bad quality. All of this causes economic loss to all types of businesses, for which no one answers.

It would be good if these consequences, when they aren’t caused by natural phenomena, were reimbursed economically by the companies causing them, by handing over a sum for the harm inflicted on a factory or a business: the value of what they lost when they had to stop producing or selling.

In addition to being just, this would oblige these companies to be more efficient in their work. Presumably, where they presently take 10 or 12 hours to repair a breakdown, with a brigade in which few work and many talk or lounge about, if they had to make reimbursements, they would see themselves obligated to do the work in less time and with only the minimum, necessary personnel. Furthermore, the result of the work would be better quality, since doing it poorly would affect the companies economically.

It’s something to think about; although, personally, I think that many of these services could be leased out, with less cost, better quality, less time and more efficiency, by private companies that contract for them, a general practice with magnificent results in many countries.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Posted in Fernando Damaso, Translator: Regina Anavy