CubaBrief: Killings in Venezuela, Amnesty appeals to Raul Castro, His Reforms have not managed to turn things around, And the sadness of Cuba’s healthcare

According to The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady “It’s instructive that Venezuela’s dictatorship chose to kill former police pilot Oscar Pérez and six other counterrevolutionaries in an extrajudicial execution last week. …He pleaded on social media for a chance to surrender to police. Instead the military dictatorship eliminated the celebrated dissident and his cohorts. It was front-page news.” 

Amnesty International just released an urgent action appeal about a Cuban human rights activist “prisoner of conscience attacked in prison: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción.” His wife Yaimaris Vecino told Amnesty that “her husband had not received medical attention since the attack and was experiencing headaches and dizziness.” Amnesty asks for appeals to be sent before March 5th to Raul Castro, the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice in Cuba.  The urgent action appeal follows.

The Miami Herald’s Nora Gamez Torres reports that “Cuba is a lot poorer than the government reports” according to a new study “by a team directed by Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist teaching at Javeriana University in Colombia.” According to the article “the economic reforms launched by Raúl Castro have not managed to turn things around.” Carmelo Mesa Lago, emeritus economics professor at the University of Pittsburgh says that “I have been studying the Cuban economy for more than 55 years, and there’s no study more important than this one.” Read the full article here.

From time to time we read about the great potential of Cuba’s medical system. Some believe that Cuban medical research will provide answers to cancer and other terrible illnesses. Unfortunately, these are projections into the future. The present, as it relates to Cuban patients is different. Take the case of a 14 year old Cuban boy who just died in an American hospital. The Washington Post reports the death of the boy who had a “basketball-size tumor that was slowly killing him.” According to the Jackson Health Foundation, “[t]he tumor [had] taken over his face, and [had] severely affected the bone structure of his upper jaw and nose.” How is it that Cuba’s much lauded medical system misses such a case and the boy could only receive the care needed when an American missionary helped bring him to the United States?


The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2018

Why Venezuela Suffers

The regime enters phase two of its plan for a Pan-American revolution.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

It’s instructive that Venezuela’s dictatorship chose to kill former police pilot Oscar Pérez and six other counterrevolutionaries in an extrajudicial execution last week. Pérez and his band of brothers were holed up in a hideout near Caracas. He pleaded on social media for a chance to surrender to police. Instead the military dictatorship eliminated the celebrated dissident and his cohorts. It was front-page news.  [ Full Article ]



Cuba: Further information: Prisoner of conscience attacked in prison: Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción  

By Amnesty International

On 19 December 2017, after being transferred from the Provisional Prison of Holguín to Cuba SI prison, three other prisoners attacked Eduardo Cardet, according to his wife. He is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally. 

On 19 December 2017, the afternoon after authorities transferred Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción from the Provisional Prison of Holguín to Cuba SI prison in the same province, three other prisoners allegedly attacked him, according to his wife, Yaimaris Vecino. Prison authorities only informed his wife and family that same day that they would be transferring Eduardo Cardet to a different prison. They only permitted his family to see him for several minutes and did not provide the family with reasons for the transfer.

Yaimaris Vecino told Amnesty International that prison officials did not permit her to visit her husband after the attack until 15 January 2018, when she observed two circular scars to Eduardo Cardet’s abdomen. She stated that her husband told her that he had not received medical attention since the attack and was experiencing headaches and dizziness.

On 9 January, Eduardo Cardet’s sister lodged a complaint regarding the alleged attack with the Public Prosecutor in Havana, the capital. As of 19 January the family had not received a response, according to Yaimaris Vecino.

Eduardo Cardet is the leader of the pro-democracy movement Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, MCL). He has been imprisoned in Holguín since his arrest on 30 November 2016, five days after the death of the former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro. Prior to his arrest, Eduardo Cardet gave a number of interviews published in international media in which he was critical of the Cuban government.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

  • Calling on the authorities to release human rights defender Dr Eduardo Cardet immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • Urging them to ensure that, pending his release, he is provided with any medical care of his choosing; that he is not tortured or otherwise ill-treated; and that he is granted regular access to family and lawyers of his choosing;
  • Calling on them to investigate the alleged attack of Eduardo Cardet and to ensure that effective measures are put in place to ensure his safety and the security of prisoners at all times.


President of the Republic

Raúl Castro Ruz    

Presidente de la República de Cuba

La Habana, Cuba  

Fax: +41 22 758 9431 (Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)

Email: (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)

Twitter: @RaulCastroR

Salutation: Your Excellency

Attorney General  

Dr. Darío Delgado Cura       

Fiscal General de la República

Fiscalía General de la República        

Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella          

Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba


Twitter: @FGR_Cuba

Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Minister of Justice

María Esther Reus

Ministerio de Justicia

Calle O # 216 E/ 23 y 25 Vdo. Plaza de la Revolución

La Habana, Cuba

Twitter: @CubaMinjus

Salutation: Dear Minister

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the third update of UA 32/17. Further information:

URGENT ACTION prisoner of conscience attacked in prison

Additional Information

According to five witnesses who spoke to Amnesty International by telephone on the condition of anonymity, Eduardo Cardet was pushed off his bicycle and violently detained in the early evening of 30 November 2016 by at least four plain clothed and one uniformed police officer as he returned home after visiting his mother. According to his wife, who witnessed her husband’s detention with their two children, Eduardo Cardet is charged with attacking an official of the state (atentado). This offence is covered under Article 142.1 of the Criminal Code. One officer is alleging that Eduardo Cardet pushed him during his arrest. All witnesses who spoke with Amnesty International counter this allegation, and state that Eduardo Cardet was quickly and violently restrained by plain clothed officials, placed in handcuffs, and beaten, and had no opportunity for self-defence. The witnesses believe that Eduardo Cardet was arrested for his beliefs and ideas. Amnesty International was able to review a copy of the sentence at appeal emitted by the provincial court of Holguin. The sentence makes no mention of the original grounds for the arrest, suggesting the arrest was arbitrary. On 17 May, the Popular Provincial Court of Holguín (Tribunal Provincial Popular de Holguín) ratified in appeal the judgement handed down on 20 March sentencing Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción to three years in prison.

The Christian Liberation Movement (Movimento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) is a prominent actor in the pro-democracy movement in Cuba. According to its website, it is a movement for peaceful and democratic change and respect for human dignity. It was founded in 1988 by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who became a visible figure of the Cuban political opposition, and four other activists. Amnesty International has documented harassment and intimidation of members of the MCL for decades. In 1991, after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas presented a petition calling for a national referendum relating to constitutional reform, he had his home destroyed by over 200 people, said to be members of a Rapid Response Brigade. After Oswaldo Payá announced his intention to put himself forward as a candidate for deputy to the National Assembly for the municipality of Cerro, Havana, members of his organization were reportedly subjected to frequent questioning and short-term detention.

In an interview published on 16 September 2016 by ABC International, Eduardo Cardet stated: “Political activities are passed off as criminal offences such as inciting public scandal, contempt of or offences against the authorities, and the political police use these classifications to lock up dissidents” (Se disfraza la actividad política con hechos delictivos comunes, por ejemplo, escándalo público, desacato, atentado, figuras que utiliza la policía política para encarcelar a los disidentes).

Cuba is closed to Amnesty International and nearly all independent international human rights monitors.

Name: Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción

Gender m/f: m

Further information on UA: 32/17 Index: AMR 25/7759/2018 Issue Date: 22 January 2018 


The Miami Herald, January 22, 2017

Cuba is a lot poorer than the government reports, a new study shows

By Nora Gámez Torres

Cubans suffered near-famine and almost daily power blackouts, and tens of thousands took to the sea aboard homemade boats during the economic crisis in the 1990s known as the “Special Period.”

The government eventually acknowledged that after losing all Soviet subsidies and trade with the former socialist bloc, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped by 35 percent during the crisis.

Cubans who have long suspected that the crisis was actually much worse than the government admitted appear to have been right.

A new study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) shows that Cuba’s GDP, in fact, dropped by “more than 50 percent” during those years, and that the impact of the crisis is still being felt.

“The Cuban GDP stands at 23 percent below the pre-crisis level of 1989 and 35 percent below the 1985 level,” says the study conducted by a team directed by Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist teaching at Javeriana University in Colombia.

The study also shows that Cuba is much poorer than its government’s data would indicate, because it overestimates the value of the Cuban peso by artificially making it equal to one U.S. dollar.

The government issues two currencies – the Cuban peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso (known as CUC) – and uses different rates of exchange depending on the type of economic activity. One dollar could be roughly counted as one peso or 24 pesos, depending on the sector.

Vidal created a formula that tries to calculate an average exchange rate based on the size in the GDP of each sector of the island’s economy that handles CUCs or pesos.

The study estimated per capita GDP for 2014, the last year calculated, at “$3,016, much lower than the $7,177 that could be derived directly from the Cuban national accounts using the official exchange rate.”

The official figure brought Cuba close to the GDP of Colombia that year, while Vidal’s estimate places Cuba with a GDP similar to Bolivia, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“I have been studying the Cuban economy for more than 55 years, and there’s no study more important than this one,” said Carmelo Mesa Lago, emeritus economics professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “We economists had reached the same conclusions, but the difference is that he proved it.”

“When you have multiple exchange rates, and the difference between the strongest and weakest rates is very large, as it is in the cases of Cuba and Venezuela, the distortion of relative prices is phenomenal and that makes it very difficult to correctly measure economic realities,” said Augusto de la Torre, a former World Bank chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean who teaches at Columbia University in New York.

“In this context, the work that Pavel Vidal does is heroic and super useful. He uses available indicators to try to reconstruct what could be a key series of macroeconomic variables,” de la Torre added.

Economists have long debated the credibility of statistics issued by the Cuban government and then published by international entities like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“The bias in estimates of the Cuban GDP in dollars is not just by the Cuban government,” said Vidal, “but by multiple institutions that have tried to look at the issue and run into the difficulty of arriving at a correct number because of the dual currencies and the absence of comparative statistics about prices.”

Cuba is not a member of the World Bank, and therefore the data published by the government is not independently confirmed by the international entity. If Cuba ever joins one of the international financial institutions, it could receive technical assistance to produce more reliable data, de la Torre said.

Vidal’s new GDP estimates may not influence possible foreign investors, more interested in the future of the business climate in Cuba than the past. But they could certainly lead to changes in Cuba’s standing in international rankings like the United Nations’ Human Development Index, which measures a country’s standing in terms of health, education and living standards.

“The Human Development Index has been systematically overestimating the per capita Gross Domestic Product of Cuba. If they pay attention to this study, Cuba will drop by a lot in the Index,” said Mesa Lago.

High emigration and low investments and productivity are holding back economic growth.

Other sections of the Vidal study show that low productivity is one of the factors holding back the Cuban economy.

Using his formula to reconsider relative national prices and the rate of purchasing power parity (PPP), Vidal re-calculated Cuba’s annual GDP from 1970 until 2014. Then he compared those numbers with the data from 10 countries with similar populations: Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic.

He concluded that Cuba had lost ground to those countries during those years.

“In 1970, the Cuban GDP in PPP dollars was 5.3 times higher than the average of the region’s economies of similar size, and in 2011 it was only 1.5 times higher,” Vidal told el Nuevo Herald. “As Cuba fell back, other economies grew and rose up the ranks like Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Panama and Costa Rica.”

The lack of investments largely explains the drop in Cuba’s revenues. Cuba has one of Latin America’s lowest investment rates, an average of 12.7 percent of its GDP over the past 20 years.

But other factors like high emigration and low birth rates also had a grave impact on the economy. Government figures show nearly 660,000 Cubans emigrated from 1995 to 2017. More than 56,000 came to the United States in 2017 alone – most of them of working age.

“The calculations reflect the macroeconomic costs of emigration, the low birth rate and the aging of the population, which adds another disadvantage when compared to other economies in the region,” Vidal said. “While the economies of similar size in the region grew by 3.8 percent [per year] in the last two decades, Cuba did it at 1.7 percent. Demographic factors account for 25 per cent of that difference.”

Chief IADB economist Juan José Ruiz said Vidal’s study also showed that despite Cuba’s economic peculiarities, the island confronts problems similar to those faced by others in the region.

“There is something in Latin America’s cycle of volatility, investment, assignment of resources and the workings of labor markets that explains why productivity grows very little even when the political economy systems are so different,” Ruiz said.

In the case of Cuba, “the advances produced by the Cuban revolution in terms of social progress have marched in parallel with a great loss of economic efficiency,” the Vidal study concluded.

And the economic reforms launched by Raúl Castro have not managed to turn things around.

Although productivity has been recovering from the “very sharp depression” of the Special Period in the 1990s, the speed of the recovery has “slowed down” since Castro replaced brother Fidel in 2006.

Vidal suggested a number of measures to free the economy and promote growth, among them a broader opening to foreign capital, more freedom for the private sector and the elimination of the two-currency system. All those steps were mentioned to one degree or another in Castro’s original proposals to improve the economy.

“Cuba is not condemned to grow by 1.5 percent. Cuba can grow by 3 to 4 percent if it makes better use of its resources and has a system that can attract more investments, and opens itself more to the world,” said Ruiz. “That’s the positive message of this study.”

Several economists consulted by el Nuevo Herald agreed that the calculations by Vidal and his team are estimates that will surely be debated among economists, and cannot take the place of rigorous statistics provided by the government.

Vidal’s work “is very useful in the absence of more traditional and reliable statistics, but its results must be taken with a grain of salt because it is an estimation based on partial or incomplete information,” said de la Torre.

“Until Cuba has a system of national accounts like those used in the United Nations, it will always be difficult to compare Cuba with other countries,” he said.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres en Twitter: @ngameztorres


The Washington Post, January 22, 2018

A boy’s basketball-size tumor was slowly killing him. He died days after doctors removed it.

by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. January 22 at 10:38 AM

The basketball-size tumor was finally gone, and the first signs after Emanuel Zayas’s surgery were deceptively encouraging.

The 14-year-old’s eyes had begun to react to stimulation. The muscles on his face were strengthening. For a moment, his family, doctors and other supporters exhaled.

But inside, the teen was already dying, according to Miami NBC-affiliate WTVJ.

Days after the surgery, Emanuel’s lungs began to fail. His kidneys were going, too. Soon, the people praying for the boy brought to U.S. doctors by missionaries came to a sobering truth: There would be no miracle.

“After visiting Emanuel last night and observing a glimmer of hope from pupillary reflexes and facial muscle tone, I was informed this morning that he took a serious turn for the worse,” Robert E. Marx, the lead surgeon on the teen’s case, said Friday in announcing Emanuel’s death. “His condition has deteriorated with kidney and lung failure that the best of [the intensive care unit] cannot keep pace.”

Emanuel, a ninth-grader from Cuba, was born with a disorder called polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, in which the body replaces portions of bones with fibrous tissues, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The condition began affecting Emanuel’s left arm and leg when he was 4, but it became life-threatening in adolescence, according to the Associated Press.

At age 11, the boy noticed what he thought was a pimple on the side of his nose. But it wouldn’t stop growing. By December, it had ballooned to 10 pounds and was the size of his head.

“The tumor has taken over his face, and has severely affected the bone structure of his upper jaw and nose,” according to the Jackson Health Foundation, a nonprofit group that raises money for cases such as Emanuel’s.

His family had paraded him to a carousel of Cuban doctors, but they all refused to touch the boy. The tumor was too complex, they told his family, the surgery too risky.

But the only alternative was death. The tumor itself was benign; its cells would never spread to other parts of his body. But as it grew, it crushed Emanuel’s windpipe. Doctors feared that the massive tumor would snap Emanuel’s neck if it didn’t choke or starve him first.

Hope came in the form of U.S. missionaries who had met the boy in Cuba and sought to connect him with Marx, chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery for the University of Miami Health System, according to the Miami Herald.

Marx had originally heard about Emanuel’s case at a medical conference. He was one of the few people who could identify it on sight, according to the Herald, because he had operated on a Haitian woman with a 16-pound facial tumor a decade ago.

Marx and the other doctors in Emanuel’s case donated their time, and several benefactors raised money to help pay for the procedure.

They kept track of Emanuel’s progress on a Facebook page set up by Jaynie Estrada, a missionary who led the fundraising effort.

“Update! VICTORY!!” Estrada posted on Jan. 13, just after the surgery. “Emanuel is ok, had a good night. They changed his bandages this morning and swelling is already starting to decrease slightly. The wounds are not bleeding, everything looks good.

But soon, there were signs of trouble.

“Dr. Marx won’t start waking him up tomorrow as we’d hoped,” Estrada wrote on Jan. 18. “Looks like he needs more days to recover more. … Please continue to pray for him.”

He died the next day.

The teen’s restoration, his supporters believed, no longer lay in earthly hands.

“Through the eyes of our faith, in our hearts, we really believe and know without doubt that Emanuel effectively received a complete healing and that now he has a perfect and sweet face and two legs that work, and that he is running and jumping and having fun in heaven right now,” Estrada posted.