Two Journalists Summoned by State Security in the Midst of the Coronavirus Crisis

Decree 370 has been used by the Government to fine several reporters and activists in recent months. Yoé Suárez (left) and Camila Acosta (right) were recently summoned by Cuban State Security regarding violations of the decree. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 March 2020 —  This Friday, reporters Yoe Suárez, a collaborator with Diario de Cuba and Camila Acosta, from Cubanet, were summoned by State Security, as reported by both on social networks. Acosta was also fined 3,000 CUP for allegedly violating Decree 370, which regulates the use of the internet in Cuba.

The journalist was fined for criticizing the government and publishing articles from the independent press on social media. The authorities invoked Article i of Decree 370, which penalizes the dissemination of “information contrary to the social interest, morality, good customs and the integrity of people.”

Acosta attended the “interview” at the station at 7th and 62nd, in the Havana municipality of Playa, where a State Security agent was waiting for her. “The repressor Alejandro was waiting for me, the same man who for months has been leading the harassment of dissident Cuban women in Havana.” continue reading

Acosta was checked to prevent her from entering the premises with a tape recorder. Inside, Captain Rubisel Ortega and three men who identified themselves as inspectors from the Ministry of Communications were waiting for her. One of them, Rolando Ballester, showed several posts that the reporter had posted on Facebook as proof that she violated the law.

For his part, journalist Yoe Suárez was summoned to the Siboney police station, also in the municipality of Playa. As the reporter told Diario de Cuba , “the interview” with two political police officers lasted an hour. The two men, who identified themselves as René and Enrique, threatened him to make him abandon the practice of independent journalism.

“They threatened me again with ’consequences’ for my family. They even explained to me that they would summon me again and that they would go to ’another phase with me’, and in that sense they mentioned the possibility of imprisoning me,” the reporter said.

“I told them not to call me again until the quarantine is over,” Suarez said.

Decree 370, which the government has used to fine several reporters and activists over the past few months, establishes extensive government control over the internet, the sanctions include not only the fine, but also the confiscation of the equipment and methods used. The implementation of this Decree raised widespread condemnation by international organizations concerned with freedom of expression and also numerous criticisms from activists and independent journalists.

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Day 8 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Many Cubans continue to take to the streets to line up to get food.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 March 2020 — Today a street vendor broke the morning silence with his proclamation of coconut and guava cakes, which he described as “original,” but few neighbors dared to go down from the concrete blocks of the neighborhood. Between the need to search for supplies and the fear of contagion, this time caution has prevailed.

And they do not exaggerate. This weekend the positive cases in Cuba have exceeded one hundred, reaching 119, and Covid-19 has already taken three lives, according to official sources, numbers which haven’t convinced many. People fear that the contagion numbers are being reported in the same way as other awkward statistics from the past.

In the end, we have lived for decades in a scenario of made-up figures, where the yeast of triumphalism is added to positive numbers so that they grow, while the stubborn indicators of the disaster are cut or silenced. When so many lies have been told, there is a risk that even if the truth is told no one will believe it. continue reading

In this case, mistrust is allied with the survival instinct and although officials insist that they are going to guarantee basic products, many citizens continue to take to the streets to line up, haul away and store food. The serious thing is that, in this task, they not only bring home some bread and rice, but also — potentially — the virus.

In our house we have reinforced the protection. Our exits are more and more sporadic and climbing the stairs to the 14th floor is a mandatory practice to avoid the congested elevator. We have suffered a couple of power outages since yesterday, but briefly. It would be very serious if, in addition to the scarce soap, we had to start looking for candles.

I keep planting vegetables and greens in any container I come across. Today it was the turn of some chili pepper seeds and others of basil. Tomorrow I will plant my first onions and some garlic cloves. I do not follow any manual, I get carried away by my “green finger,” which is useless for playing the piano but has shown good skills for agriculture. The guajira (peasant) in me blossoms these days.

I sense that private initiative will become vital in the coming weeks to avoid a famine on this Island, but it will depend on the authorities understanding the gravity of the moment and removing all obstacles to agricultural production. Only the Cuban countryside can save us, but fewer restrictions and more freedoms are urgent. Without that, we are doomed.

Once already the peasants saved us, in the 90s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet subsidy, the Island was submerged in the lack of fuel, long blackouts and food shortages. These were years, too, of a heated political discourse that seemed more disposed to lead us towards a Kampuchea-style model than towards the necessary economic and political openness. But, when many had given up hope of improvement and after decades of stubborn nationalization of the economy, agricultural markets were reauthorized.

Guavas returned from those private producers, I tried the first canistels of my life and I was able to make the malanga puree that my son began to eat a few months after he was born. Unfortunately, that flexibilization was filled with restrictions that have weighed down the growth of the sector and the potential of our land. The Plaza of the Revolution became afraid of the guajiros. But, now, there is no other option but to open and open wide.

As I bury the seeds in various pots, I listen to the loudspeaker from a vehicle that traverses the streets of my neighborhood. “Take extreme measures, don’t be on the street and beware of the coronavirus,” you hear it say over and over. Until a few days ago, those speakers would only have broadcast political slogans, but a tiny enemy has forced them to change the script.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 7 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

The challenge and the real fiesta is to wake up and breathe without difficulty every morning. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 27 March 2020 — Unlike other Fridays, on this one there are no calls to get together with friends, appointments ahead of the weekend or preparations to go out on Saturday and Sunday. During a quarantine every day is the same, they pass without much change and with little commotion. The challenge and the real fiesta is to wake up and breathe without difficulty every morning.

With 80 positive cases of coronavirus and more than 1,600 people in isolation, in Cuba we are emerging from a long torpor. A numbness derived from the delay in taking measures at the national level to slow the advance of Covid-19 and the naivety of believing that — like a hurricane — at the last minute the pandemic would change course and miss the Island.

But neither prayers, nor illusions, much less indifference, managed to twist the path of an opportunistic infectious agent that can only multiply within the cells of other organisms. Forgive me if I extend the metaphor too much, but this description reminds me of the Cuban political police, who cannot live or transcend without those they eternally watch over: the dissidents. continue reading

One would think that in times of coronavirus, the “restless boys of the Apparatus” would be sent to find out who has a fever, but no. They are still there, sending subpoenas to independent activists and journalists. In a country where there is so much to do in the midst of this crisis, State Security prefers to fight citizens than to face a microscopic thing.

Speaking of small things, today we have managed to buy a piece of mortadella that arrived at the rationed market. A slice of a mass pink in some parts, green in others, which should serve to withstand part of this quarantine. I found a fish bone just after cutting it, although the employee assured me it was made from “chicken and meat.”

While I decipher what the sausage contains, I continue sewing masks. The first ones did not suit me, but little by little I understand the proportions, the fit and the amount of fabric to use in each one. Although the World Health Organization has warned that this type of facemask does not prevent us from being infected, at least it relieves me to think that there are asymptomatic infecteds who will reduce the scope of transmission if they wear one.

I sewed one for a neighbor and stuck on the logo of his favorite soccer team, another came asking me to do a “reinforced” face mask because he works in a state cafeteria where they continue to sell food to the public, and a little girl wanted me to give a few stitches to hers — pink and sequined — that had broken in one corner. Curious, that people try to set their own guidelines in the midst of an emergency.

Days are not measured in 24 hour cycles. Every day we count the friends who have called, the onions we have left, and the pounds of rice that are diminishing. We count like maniacs the times that one of us has had to irretrievably leave the house to buy some food, go down to walk the dog, or repair the elevator in the building, as has happened to Reinaldo each of these last days.

When we return from these forays, there is no hug or welcome. A chlorine-soaked cloth awaits us in the hallway. You have to leave your shoes, go directly to the bathroom, spend a long time washing your hands, your face and getting rid of part of what you carry. Later, the rest of the family begins to approach but without violating the yard of distance.

This virus has stolen our hugs. I just hope it doesn’t take anything else away from us.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Artist Alcantara Again Sparks Controversy by Auctioning the Flag of his ‘Performance’

The artist carried flag, which bears his signature, like a ’second skin’ for a whole month. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 March 2020 — Just one week after his release, the controversy has returned to the work of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who announced the auction of the flag that starred in Drapeau, the performance for which the Government accuses him of the crime of “insult to the national symbols.” This flag bears the signature of the artist, who carried it “as a second skin” for a whole month.

“Next Wednesday at 3:00 pm Cuba time, I will auction the flag used in the Drapeau performance. The money will be donated to the Cuban State, in the figure of the President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, to confront the coronavirus pandemic,” the artist posted on his Facebook page.

The auction, Otero Alcántara clarifies, will be and the money will be delivered to the Central Committee of the Party. continue reading

“Is anyone aware that 4% of the population will die?” he asked in the middle of a discussion between advocates of the idea of the auction and those who oppose the money going to the government.

Otero Alcántara explained to 14ymedio that this is a symbolic gesture.

“It is a work of art, it is very easy right now for me to say on social networks that I am going to give the money to an old man, but the dialogue that I am interested in opening is in another direction and with another dimension, and suggests that it is the regime that has the solution in their hands. That of playing the hero artist who can go out and help does not work now. We are contaminating and contaminated, the idea is to open our minds and point out that the regime has to take responsibility and they can’t leave us alone.”

Otero Alcántara believes that no matter how much money he earns, it will be trivial in the face of the pandemic. “I want to help resolve this and not discuss whether the regime is good or bad. These are times when we all have to hold ourselves accountable.  The only one that has absolute power now is the system, the only one that has the power to bring a boat with medical supplies or a shipment of facemasks to Cuba is the system. This is not a tornado that happened and left you homeless, it is a pandemic, what is happening is that there are still many Cubans who are not aware of how serious this is,” he adds.

Official voices such as Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas or cultural promoter Alexis Triana have attacked Otero Alcántara for this initiative.

“Those interested in harming us who take advantage of the moment to attack the Cuban Government from sites paid by the United States, will make the news of this clear provocation. It is a time to not listen to them and to condemn them. Every decent person must support the Cuban Government and work for health of all,” Rojas wrote on Twitter referring to the auction.

For his part, Triana condemned the artist calling hima “sewer rat.” “Every patriot must denounce this baseness to the world. If he dared in analog, he would receive once and for all from the people what he deserved.”

Nor did Deputy Raúl Palmero did not waste the opportunity to attack the artist: “And while Cuba as a whole fights against Covid-19 and offers the world its solidarity, this court jester comes up with the ’brilliant’ idea of auctioning our flag,” a message accompanied with the hashtag #RespetaMiBandera (RespectMyFlag) #CiberChusma (CyberRiffraff).

The vice president of the Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba (Uneac), Pedro de la Hoz, also condemned the auction.

“The flag is sacred. (…) To prosper with it is an act of infinite baseness. Auctioning it under the pretext of false altruism becomes an act of infinite vileness. None of this has to do with art. To be an artist is to be Ethically responsible. If someone does not understand, respect.”

Otero Alcántara has two pending trials for the crimes of “property damage” and “insult against the national symbols,” which have been postponed without adate due to the “crisis” that the country is experiencing, according to the artist’s lawyer speaking last week.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Tourism from the U.S. Drops 68.8% in January

Though the island has built numerous hotels in recent years, tourism is rapidly declining. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, February 27, 2020 — Tourism to Cuba fell 19.6% in January compared to the same period last year according to official figures published by the Office of Statistics and Information.

During the first month of the year 95,856 tourists visited the island, less than in the same month in 2019. The the decline was greatest in the U.S. market, which saw a 68.8% reduction: 19,464 visitors versus 62,416 the previous year. Other markets which saw significant reductions were European countries and the overseas Cuban community, which registered 12% fewer visitors.

The Russian market, however, is growing and is now the third largest, with 48.4% more tourists than in January 2019. Canada also grew modestly at 2.1%. continue reading

“It’s a big drop-off,” said economist Pedro Monreal on Twitter in reference to the global figure.

In his blog, Humberto Herrera, who has close ties to the Cuban government, attributed the drop to measures the Trump administration has put into effect to prevent U.S. citizens from traveling to the island and adds that the calculation is meeting the forecasts.

Monreal writes in a comment on the thread, “Given the 19.6% decline in January, what the minister said could mean two things: that a decrease was foreseen in the first month of the year and that the next few months should see enough steady growth to meet the goal for 2020.”

Tourism, which is the Cuba’s largest source of income after remittances from overseas and medical services, had a bad start to the year after suffering negative growth the previous year. Only the beach resort town of Varadero bucked the trend, growing 12% in January mainly due to the high concentration of hotels managed by foreign companies in the area.

For this year, Cuban tourism authorities have set themselves the goal of receiving 4.5 million international visitors and reversing the decline suffered, but the health crisis that arose after the spread of COVID-19 could destroy these plans, as tourism globally is beginning to show a sharp decline since the emergence of the novel coronavirus.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 6 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

On the street, there are those who walk with gloves and others who kiss when greeting each other. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2020 — Staying at home is still the best way to defend against the enemy who is out there and who has infected 67 people in Cuba, two of whom have died, with another 1,603 in forced isolation, according to official figures published this Thursday. In a country where there is nice weather we only subtract: fewer products; fewer resources; less money… it gives the impression that the numbers of the coronavirus are the only ones that are growing.

But prices also rise. “Pork is at 50 pesos a pound,” complains a friend who called me very early to ask for a recipe for eggplant, one of the few products she was able to buy in the market before locking herself in with her 80-year-old mother to wait for the virus to pass. I gave her some advice and we agreed that she would call if she had questions.

The phone has become the social glue and the only link with many friends. These days, when a call is answered, the greeting is no longer “how are you?” but “do you feel good?” The goodbyes have also changed and we have parked the “see you later,” to replace it with “take care” and an optimistic “I’m sure we’ll see each other again.” continue reading

Two days after classes were canceled, many leisure time venues were closed and passenger transportation between provinces was suspended, my building looks like an anthill. A few floors below ours, a family took it upon themselves to do a general cleaning and there is still wood, debris and some broken toys in the hallway waiting to be thrown out.

I woke up to a “boom, boom, boom.” Some neighbor decided to pass the time in quarantine making repairs. In this concrete block where I live, inaugurated 35 years ago, infrastructure problems accumulate in the common areas and in the apartments. Many lack the resources to renovate and others the time, of which there is now a surplus.

The practice of leaving shoes outside the door, started by my neighbor Chucho, is beginning to spread, although there are suspicious people who prefer the risk of dirty soles in the house over exposing their only sneakers to the dangers of the hallway. I have bumped into people on the stairs wearing all kinds of “masks”: imported and modern, discreet, alternative, recycled, improvised or homemade.

I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw a retired woman who had sewn up a facemask using part of an old “adjuster” (bra). Creativity is triggered when the need is tight and, if health is at stake, ingenuity reaches incredible levels. “No, shame? I don’t have any, I would be ashamed if I get sick and not even my children can come close,” the lady defended herself when someone pointed out that this was not something to put over her mouth.

Reinaldo wants to make a mechanism to hoist a bag from the ground floor up to our balcony. “Everything can be very difficult and we’ll have to have something to get food and other products in without having to take the elevator or drag them up 14 flights of stairs,” he theorizes. Just thinking about the fact that we could get to that point terrifies me. It brings back bad memories.

When I was a teenager and the Soviet Union imploded, they began to talk about Option Zero in Cuba. They said it could lead to a collective stewpot in each neighborhood. Just the idea of that cauldron in the middle of the sidewalk with the ladle pouring nearly transparent broth into my bowl tormented me for years. Now, even imagining myself locked up on the 14th floor hoisting up food in a bag causes me a similar fear.

Fortunately, we have not reached that point. We are halfway between disbelief and alarm. In the street, there are those who walk with gloves and others who kiss when greeting each other. We have the one who learned to cough into his elbow, and another who sneezes with his whole mouth wide open in an elevator loaded with people. There are the obsessive handwashers and those who repeat, “you have to die of something.”

Today I have set aside some of the potatoes I had left from the ration book to plant in our small flowerbed on the balcony. “We will watch them grow and in a few weeks we will invite friends in and cook them,” I say to myself. The image of that hypothetical plate of potatoes with chopped parsley has given me hope that we will have a tomorrow.

See other posts in this series.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 5 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Official figures, updated this Wednesday, give 57 cases positive for the coronavirus and almost 1,500 people quarantined in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 March 2020 – The floors are not made of wood, nor is it snowing outside, but in front of Chucho’s door there is a row of shoes. The retiree and his family have taken extreme measures to avoid contagion with the coronavirus and now, to enter his apartment – a few floors below ours – flip flops, boots, sandals and all kinds of footwear must be left in the hallway.

As the hours pass, we try to take stricter measures in our domestic space to prevent contagion, in a country where the official figures, updated this Wednesday, give 57 cases positive for the coronavirus and almost 1,500 people quarantined. While the long lines to buy food at many Cuban stores continue as usual, households opt for “zero visits” and “greater hygiene.”

Our neighborhood mobile-recharge card vendor now serves customers from behind a piece of acrylic to protect himself. “Some come because they want to buy a card from me and others because they are so lonely they could cry and they need to talk,” this merchant-turned-confessor and psychotherapist tells me with a complicit smile. continue reading

Communications become a vital point for those of us who choose to spend more and more hours locked up at home. “In recent days many users have asked if there are discounts to connect to the internet, but there’s nothing at all,” the self-employed worker tells me. Given the emergency and the forced quarantine, the dreams of lower prices for web browsing packages have been rekindled.

However, this Wednesday the official press repeated that those who ask for a reduction are just “mercenaries” and, so that there are no doubts, the official profile of Etecsa on Twitter shared the text. In other words, there are things that never change: viruses can arise, species become extinct, human beings can be born and die, but Cuba’s state telecommunications monopoly seems more focused on politics than on providing good service.

So, saving every megabyte, I have gone to the networks to find out about my friends I can’t see, thanks to their quarantine. Thus, I learned that one of them has composed a new song sparked by the confinement; someone else’s baby had a tooth come in; the grandmother of a dear friend sewed cloth masks for her entire neighborhood; and the brother of an old neighbor died of pneumonia and only one person went to the funeral home for the wake, for fear it was Covid-19.

From the bus terminal, a journalist colleague asked me desperately if I knew someone who rents a room on a long-term basis and cheaply. The young man was stranded in the capital after the cancellation of inter-provincial transport and now he is trying to find shelter while he waits. “I’m hoping the police stop me and deport me for not being legal* in Havana, to see if I can get to Camagüey that way,” he wrote.

Between these stories the days go by. The food that some had saved begins to dwindle, the exits to the street become obligatory but more and more sporadic and the vendors who, until a few days ago, shouted out their merchandise in our neighborhood have stopped — little by little — being heard. From Rancho Boyeros Avenue comes a rare silence since fewer vehicles pass.

Since the food crisis may worsen, today I planted some tomato, pepper and lettuce seeds. They will take time to bear their first fruits but at home we are preparing for a “long-winded” crisis, because the coronavirus has come to besiege us at a time when the national coffers were already empty and local enterprise is stagnated by excessive controls.

I cut the remaining piece of pumpkin to add to the last red beans I was able to buy before the supply dwindled in our neighborhood markets. I also have some sweet potatoes, which the new dog that we picked up on Friday loves when I boil them, but meanwhile my cat looks at me as if I was putting a shoe on her plate, just like those outside Chucho’s door.

In addition to the hardships, in our family we are all well: another day without cough or fever, and that is enough.

*Translator’s note: Cubans from other provinces are not allowed to live in Havana without a permit.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In Cuba Lines and Travel are Regulated, Schools and Gyms are Closed, Tourists and Nationals Returning to Cuba are Quarantined

Lines, like this one from last week to buy eggs, will not be allowed and people must remain three feet apart. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 March 2020 — The Cuban Government has announced a series of measures through which it intends to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which already affects 40 people, with more than a thousand in quarantine in hospitals. On Tuesday more measures will be detailed, but these are the main standards contained in the Prevention and Control Plan approved by the authorities.

PURCHASES

Lines will be controlled, keeping the agreed distance of at least one yard between people. Businesses must strive for separation and disorder must be avoided. Food and home delivery services are encouraged. The authorities have pledged to intensify food production and raw materials that are now not going to be used for other purposes will be frozen and destined for circulation to retail merchants. However, it is not explained what measures the Government is going to take to increase the supply of products.

CLASSES

The school year is suspended for three weeks (until April 20 in principle) and a staggered return to the classroom will be organized whenever that becomes possible. From March 30 teaching activities will be broadcast on television. Teachers must continue preparing classwork for the time of return and those engaged in master’s and doctorates will advance their research. Postgraduate and undergraduate activities are also suspended and the non-contact rule is applied. continue reading

Cuban students boarding at schools will return home and leave the residences open for foreign students.

Daycare centers will continue to function for those who choose to do so, although epidemiological surveillance standards will apply. New sign ups and adjustment periods will be postponed.

LEISURE

Entertainment venues that are closed include discotheques, swimming pools and gyms, both private and state, along with sports facilities.

Excursions of all kinds are suspended: historical, cultural and natural, and recreational activities in hotels are limited, which also applies to the non-state sector.

In hotels there will be strict surveillance of workers and tourists; the latter will not be able to rent cars. Leisure activities in these places will be limited, such as bars and restaurants where, as a minimum, the safety distance between customers must be kept. In case of non-compliance, the facility will be closed.

TRAVEL

Travelers arriving in Cuba should be immediately informed of the situation, they will be taken to isolation centers in buses selected and controlled by the Police. The ships, premises and luggage will be disinfected upon arrival.

Family will not be allowed to greet travelers and passengers, upon return, can only carry one suitcase and one piece of hand luggage to lighten crowds at the terminal and isolation centers.

All Cubans are “regulated” — that is, forbidden to travel. Travel will be allowed only for humanitarian reasons or other major reasons. It is also not possible to circulate within the country, with all state and private interprovincial transportation suspended, and urban transport will be reorganized, but the form is still being studied.

Luggage should be reduced to a suitcase and a hand bag to avoid crowding. (14ymedio)

MEDICAL CONSULTATIONS

External consultations, where possible, will be rescheduled and the clinics in the communities will be interconnected. All non-urgent surgical interventions are suspended and those linked to cancer, transplants and emergencies that compromise the patient’s life are maintained.

Certificates for obtaining medicines and medical diets are extended for six months.

QUARANTINE AND EPIDEMIOLOGICAL SURVEILLANCE

Cubans must complete a period of isolation of 14 days in authorized centers upon arrival on the island. If their return had already taken place before this Monday, they will remain in home isolation and must inform the authorities to continue their evolution and control, as well as that of their families.

Tourists who are still in Cuba are in quarantine and cannot leave their hotels. Those who were in a rental house will go to the tourist centers. It is not possible to circulate through isolated areas: one may not enter, exit, nor transit through them.

Police control will be reinforced in the streets and other centers defined by the authorities. Mass organizations* and the local government will also coordinate visits to monitor those who are isolated at home under medical surveillance, which will be reinforced.

Those with symptoms of coronavirus should go to designated centers or remain at home with health supervision.

GROUP RESIDENCES

Children without families will remain in the homes of their usual residence. The elderly in state centers, as well as those who live alone and homeless people will receive special attention.

LABOR SITUATION AND TAXES

Any worker can be temporarily relocated. Women with children in primary or special education will receive 100% of their salary the first month and 60% from the second month.

Formal and face-to-face procedures at tax offices are postponed, as are tax obligations at bank branches, although they can be carried out with Transfermóvil or other electronic payment systems.

Monthly taxes on self-employment activities where the activity levels are affected are not temporarily suspended, but reductions will be applied.

*Translator’s note: “Mass organization” is a term applied to government-run groups such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Woman, the local Communist Party organizations, student groups and others.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Forbids Citizens From Traveling Abroad and Inside the Country

Cubans who live in Cuba are forbidden from traveling abroad except for humanitarian reasons. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, March 23, 2020 — Cubans will not be able to leave the country without authorization nor move about within the country between the provinces, as a measure to stop the spread of COVID-19, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, announced this Monday.

The measures “will be of strict compliance” indicated Marrero on a state television program on which the new official measures to confront the epidemic were announced.

Cuba, which until now has recorded 40 cases of coronavirus and more than a thousand people in preventative hospital isolation, will partially close its borders starting tomorrow, Tuesday, and will only allow current residents of the country, both Cubans and foreigners, to enter. continue reading

Authorities have asked that the necessary “social distancing” be kept in mind, although in a country where every day one has to wait in long lines to buy basic products or to travel anywhere, it is difficult to carry out this measure.

Marrero said that in Cuba there are currently 32,574 tourists and 10,299 Cubans who live abroad. In addition he stressed that Cubans who do not live on the island will not be able to enter the country starting this Tuesday.

“From this moment on we are regulating the exit of all our compatriots from national territory,” said Marrero.

The prime minister made clear that those Cubans who live permanently abroad will not be able to return to the country. Cubans who live in Cuba are also prohibited from traveling abroad except for humanitarian reasons.

Marrero added that Cubans who live on the island will only be able to return with one piece of hand luggage and one suitcase. “We cannot continue allowing family members to wait at the airport,” said the prime minister.

The Government also announced that recent arrivals will be isolated in quarantine centers. The transfer will be made by the Ministry of Transport and the National Police.

The prime minister announced that 22,000 Cubans travel every day from one province to another and suspended interprovincial transport.

“We have asked the ministry of transport for this measure to be applied,” he added.

As well as flights, land and train trips are also prohibited, including in the private sector.

Marrero announced that public transportation will be limited and said that two million people get around every day in the very old public transportation system.

“Those movements are now a risk for the people themselves and for others,” he said.

The Government announced that tourists will be strictly forbidden from leaving their hotels. All tourist excursions are suspended.

“There are no tourists in the street starting tomorrow,” he said. The measure also takes effect in private lodging houses. The State announced the suspension of car rentals.

Tourists in Viñales, Baracoa, and Trinidad who are in private houses will be transferred to state facilities near the airports.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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Cuban Government Begins to Adopt Measures Against Economic Crisis: Trade

A private fruit and vegetable seller with a makeshift cart in Havana.

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, 24 March 2020 — Regarding the measures adopted by the regime in Cuba, the state newspaper Granma dedicates space to those published by the Ministry of Internal Trade to prevent and confront COVID19. There is everything, but if you are looking for a headline, it is clear: Cubans are going to have a very bad time.

It is commendable that the regime has decided that hygiene and personal protection in services that handle food is the priority for attention, but this, being important, in Cuba has a second derivative, which is who cares previously about producing food and bringing it to stores and establishments, so long as it is not in short supply and sufficient for the duration of the pandemic and afterwards. And I think this is where the regime’s measures are not sensible.

The health crisis is going to bring about a paralysis of production. This should be the main challenge for the economic authorities. For this reason, these measures of the Ministry of Commerce are aimed only at regulating the activities of the sale of merchandise, food services and hotel accommodations, as well as personal and technical services, during the period of struggle against COVID 19. continue reading

But they do not address the technical-productive considerations, and in the face of an alarm such as the one we are now facing, and with a centrally planned and state-based economy, it makes little sense to approve trade-related measures of arguable impact, such as those announced by Granma, without resolving first question of production.

If the regime wants to face the serious situation it has ahead, must first of all address the ministries related to production so that they will be ableto generate goods and services in large quantities, and also quickly and urgently, if they don’t want the pandemic to end in hardship.

I believe that this matter is important enough to warrant more than just a general consideration, such as “ensuring, in accordance with the availability of essential products, the re-provisioning of the network.” And: “Avoid the concentration of goods in one place, in order to reduce crowds and the movement of goods.”

Unfortunately, Cubans know from their own experience that this replenishment of stocks sometimes takes time to arrive and, in the worst case, it never arrives. The actions to be carried out in this production and logistics area need to be more clearly defined, without attacking the rights of those who work, to provide a solution to meeting the needs of the population.

Granma echoes Cuban President Díaz-Canel’s statements on this point, stating that “a stock-taking of supplies will be made, taking into account what can be use can be made of the supplies dedicated to the activities that will now be stopped.” Granma suggested “regulating sales, regulating lines, avoiding disorders and encouraging meals and home delivery services.”

And it continues, “the productive and service activities that will be maintained and those that are not must be defined immediately; as well as the rapid importation of certain products. At the same time, food production will be intensified and the use of inputs will be frozen in the processes that, due to this situation, will be paralyzed and will be destined for retail merchant circulation.*”

In other words, all of these statements from Díaz-Canel confirm that the economic authorities are still at a very early stage, and certainly late, in addressing the problems of the economy that are going to occur, so one must hope that something could happen. The statist bureaucracy has a hard time getting going.

Of the measures related to trade, some propose that “priority be given to the commercialization of agricultural products through the retail network of state markets, supply and demand, kiosks and carts. Avoid the use trade fairs, with the aim of minimizing the risks due to the concentration of people.”

In this sense, I consider it positive that the regime has decided to maintain all the commercial forms of agricultural products, including the vendors who sell from rolling carts, the carretilleros. Until they are immobilized, if the advance of the pandemic requires it, these sellers will solve many feeding problems, especially for older people with mobility difficulties. It would be good if the regime lowered the repression against the carretilleros and allowed them greater freedom in acquiring provisions to attend to their duties.

Honestly, with these two general measures alone, little can be resolved in relation to supplies. And I am concerned with the measure of “creating conditions in all merchandise sales units so that access to the public is staggered (in correspondence with the unit’s capacity)” and that of “reducing the participation of competitors (self-employed worker-vendors) to 50%, in centers, commercial areas and high concentration services, alternating their days of participation in the week.”

These are measures that seek partial confinement and reduce exchanges and provoke higher average purchases than usual, which can end up creating supply problems, lines, rationing and angry protests by citizens if the products do not appear.

As far as the measures concerning state restaurants, road units and workers’ canteens are concerned, I honestly think they are wrong. Specifically, “the opening of these establishments is allowed, applying only methods of rearranging the tables, placing them with a separation of two meters (limiting capacities to 50%) and the recommendation to avoid crowds.”

If the pandemic progresses, this restored activity will most likely decline completely, basically due to the fears of the population, and sales from home will increase, if there is something to sell, because it should not be forgotten that the problem remains the same: that the goods and services are obtained through the production system.

They have only given a certain priority to the family care system, “with the delivery of lunch and dinner, either at home, or picked up by a relative of the beneficiary, or a representative authorized by the social worker.” However, it is known that all the “freebies” of the regime have experienced a notable decline in recent years, and nothing suggests that this has changed with respect to these meals.

It should be noted that the measures have been more forceful with hotel activity (including recreation, tourism and leisure), perhaps taking into account that tourism forecasts will clearly go down in the short term.

In this sense, “self-employment activities for tourism and recreation purposes have been suspended for the rental of homes, rooms and spaces, to people from abroad, foreigners or Cubans.” Technicians or temporary resident foreigners living in homes that provide these services are excluded from this suspension.

Regarding bars and cafes, state accommodation has been suspended in the interior trade system for tourism and recreation purposes for people from abroad, foreigners or Cubans.

Likewise, activities that generate concentration of people have been suspended, such as popular camping, and all those that take place in theme parks, leisure clubs, wedding palaces, dance floors, workers’ social circles, cinemas, theaters, cabarets, sporting events and others. However, food service and merchandise sales are maintained in compliance with the indications established for these activities.

They have also planned to increase home services for the repair and maintenance of minor equipment and fixtures.

*Translator’s note: Official government speak…

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Day 4 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

As soon as I arrived at the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market near my house this morning, I realized that this restructuring of the lines is going to be a very complex task. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 March 2020 — Last night I dreamed of suitcases. I lost my belongings which fell into a deep dark hole. My nightmare seems to have been motivated by the phone conversation I had with a friend shortly before going to bed and a couple of hours after the new measures to confront the Covid-19 in Cuba were officially announced.

“This is indeed a tragedy,” said my troubled friend who is about to return from Panama. In the well-supplied Colon Free Zone of that country, the traveler bought all kinds of products: clothing, soaps, disinfectant gel, vitamins, nutritional supplements and dehydrated food, in the face of the supply crisis facing the Island.

But yesterday, along with the suspension of classes, the closure of some leisure spaces and the cancellation of inter-provincial trips within the island, the Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, announced that travelers coming in Cuba will only be allowed one piece of hand luggage and another in the hold of the plane, one of those suitcases that on most airlines can only contain 23 kilograms (50 pounds). continue reading

Now, my friend, and thousands of Cuban travelers who are out of the country and expect to return in the coming weeks, are facing the harsh reality that much of what they were going to bring home can no longer enter the Island. It is not a small thing because, in a country of shortages, travelers have become an essential support for many families.

So I spent part of the morning with the uneasiness that an unfathomable hole had eaten my belongings. A cold shower when I got up, a sip of bitter coffee and the view of a city that was barely moving before seven in the morning helped me to chase away those night ghosts but brought me back to the reality of a country in quarantine.

As of today there are no classes in schools, a closure that families have been demanding for days. Transportation between one province and another has been canceled, restaurants and bars will only remain open if they respect a three-foot distance between customers, non-urgent surgical procedures have been postponed and tourists are in quarantine and cannot leave their hotels, among other measures.

Now, the lines to buy food must also respect certain rules or, at least, that is what the official media say while updating the statistics to 48 people tested positive and 1,229 people in quarantine. As soon as I arrived at the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market near my house this morning, I realized that this restructuring of the lines is going to be a very complex task, perhaps one of the most difficult we must carry out, because it includes going against the instincts unleashed by scarcity.

The line, one of the “basic cells” of social organization on this Island, is also an annoying and necessary companion of every day life. We have all lined up, we have even sneaked past those who wait with the discipline expected, and we have rotated so as not to miss our turn. On other occasions we have paid a colero – someone who stands in line for others – and not a few times we have ended up empty-handed after long hours in one of these overwhelming lines.

I remember when I was a little girl the night I slept in line to be able to buy toys, and I remember getting bored as a teenager while I was waiting to buy some newborn chicks that the government was selling for people to raise for food during the Special Period. When I gave birth, I had to line up to get a bed in a hospital ward because everything was full, and I remember the day a family member died, when the line to order flowers went around the corner. In short, my life has been a long and constant line.

But in the current circumstances, our daily lining up needs to be rethought and we must leave three feet between ourselves and others. (14ymedio)

But in the current circumstances, our daily lining up needs to be rethought and we must leave three feet between ourselves and others, and not because that attitude is going to guarantee that we can buy a product, but because our lives depend on it. It’s tough.

When I returned from the market – they barely had plantains, tomatoes, carrots, and eggplant – the 14-story concrete block where I live was enjoying a hubbub unusual for this time of day. Our vertical tenement enjoys hours of relative calm when the children and youth are in school, but as of Tuesday the schools have closed.

“I had to go out and buy food because my son already ate all the bread,” a neighbor on the ninth floor tells me. Although the schools no longer provide snacks for students and in most of them there isn’t even lunch for those who don’t stay, as long as they are in school their families spend a little less to satisfy the enormous appetites of children of that age.

Now, in addition to the challenge of trying to keep their children at home, parents will have to deal with an overload in the consumption of cookies, breads, sausages, rice, beans and other products frequently found on Cuban tables. “If the coronavirus doesn’t kill me, my children will kill me, they are like catfish, they eat everything,” exaggerates a neighbor, the father of twins.

I climbed the stairs. One of the two elevators was stuck on some floor and I didn’t want to call Reinaldo. After he was expelled from his job as an official journalist, because he believed he could do journalism without a gag, he worked several years as an elevator technician and since then he has been the emergency mechanic for our building. But in these times of coronavirus, I prefer the solitude of the stairs to being locked up with several people in a metal box.

Before arriving at my apartment, I ran into a teenager who told me that this afternoon he is going to participate in a protest with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet (Lower Internet Prices) to demand cheaper web browsing plans from the state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa. Hopefully we can do it, but if the complaints grow on social networks officialdom may decide to do just the opposite: close access, using as an excuse the “state of emergency” and the need to “stop the lies against the Revolution.” Nothing would surprise me in that direction.

Many of the decisions that were announced this Monday were the result of pressure from citizens on social networks. In the event that Covid-19 advances in the country and the number of infections spikes and the capacities of the health system collapse, as has happened in parts of Italy and Madrid, government censorship could be primed against the independent press and the most active citizens on Twitter and Facebook.

I reached the 14th floor. Shortly after crossing the threshold of my apartment, someone knocked on the door. A young medical student with a mask asked how I felt. “I can’t complain,” I said, “the truth is, I can’t even complain,” I amended.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In the Face of the Authorities’ Inaction, Cubans Mobilize Themselves Against Coronavirus

“Closed.” Many private restaurants have closed their doors in face of the arrival of coronavirus in Cuba. (Tripadvisor)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, March 20, 2020* — In front of the television screen, Cubans watch the days pass by without authorities ordering the closing of the borders, the suspension of classes, or more strict measures of quarantine. While life seems to continue at its normal rhythm on the Island, many citizens and private businesses are beginning to take measures themselves in face of the inaction of the Government.

According to the official toll, 16 people*, including a deceased Italian tourist, have tested positive for COVID-19, and authorities continue to opt for a series of preventative measures without closing the borders, as various countries have done. The calls for calm continue in official media, which blame social media for generating an unnecessary “alarmism.”

Faced with the apparent normality in the discourse transmitted by television and radio, social media has turned into a hotbed of complaints and reports. In a country where the majority of the population distrusts official statistics, which for decades have been systematically massaged, many place more trust in the information about alleged contagions that arrive from various points of the Island. continue reading

Worry is spreading and various private businesses have locked up until the crisis lessens. “We are not offering services, we are sorry for the inconvenience,” read a sign in a centrally-located private restaurant in Old Havana this Thursday. The famous restaurant La Guarida also preventatively closed, but state-owned cafes and restaurants remain open to the public.

“We are not going in the direction of closing and they don’t allow us to use face masks,” an employee of Plaza de Carlos III who sells pizzas and sandwiches on the ground floor of that crowded market tells this newspaper. “They have told us that we must report it if we don’t feel well, but there is a lot of fear among the employees.”

Among the workers they have bought bleach, some soap, and prepared liquid in a bottle to keep their hands clean. “We take turns going to the bathroom and washing well,” explains the employee. “My sister works at La Covadonga hospital and is in the same situation, whatever they have to protect themselves, they have to bring themselves.”

For their part, medical students have been organized to carry out investigations house by house. “Here one came asking how many people live here and if anyone had had a fever or sore throat,” a resident in a multifamily building in Nuevo Vedado told 14ymedio. “We answered him through the door, because we don’t want to risk opening and getting infected.”

These students must bring their own protection equipment. One video that has gone viral on social media shows a strict professor of medicine demanding a student remove a face mask during an “orientation” meeting. In the video, made on a mobile phone, various young people can be heard protesting: “Don’t take it off, don’t listen to him.”

Some of the few face masks seen on the streets are sold on the black market, but Cuban “mules” — those who travel to other countries and bring back goods — have received a hard blow with the crisis. Some of their favorite destinations, Panama, the United States, and the Dominican Republic, have closed their borders or restricted flights. The constant flow of merchandise that was arriving with these small dealers for the informal market has been drastically reduced and it is beginning to be noticed.

“The vitamins, masks, nutritional products, and all the hygiene products that I brought in February really flew like crazy,” a Cuban from Villa Clara who traveled to the Panamanian area of Colon last month to make purchases tells this newspaper. “Just in time because it seems I won’t be able to return for several weeks.”

Those who have contact with friends and family in Italy and Spain seem to be the ones who best understand the danger. The musician Luis Barbería, who lived for a time in Madrid, shared a photo of an enormous line this Thursday on the corner of Villuendas park in Cienfuegos: “The entire world is in quarantine and Cubans are like this. We believe ourselves amazing and that we can do everything, just by being Cuban. Tell me?”

But the lines are not the only dangerous scenario. A recent study details how long the virus can live on different surfaces and it can remain for four hours on copper, which is present in many Cuban coins. In a “cash society” where the majority of customers do not have a credit card to make purchases, metal money is essential.

In the state-owned stores, which until recently only used convertible pesos but now also accept national pesos, coins of 5, 10, and 25 centavos are often used to pay and give change. Until now, no warning in these places counsels maximizing precautions with metallic money and no cashier wears a mask.

This Thursday on an urban bus the driver was wearing a piece of a condom on the thumb with which he counts bills but the coins were falling directly into his hand. Some passengers were getting onto the bus with an ice cream, others warmly conversing but without maintaining distance between their bodies, a pipe dream on a traditionally packed public transit.

The travelers, rather than worried, seemed imbued with a strange “mysticism of immunity” that the official media has contributed to propagating. A widely shared caricature shows a woman dressed as a nurse hitting the virus with a bat to send it far away. There are those who still believe that the disease, like a feared and capricious hurricane, will change its route and go far away from the Island. But they are fewer and fewer.

*Translator’s note: This translation is being posted 4 days after the article was originally written. As of the date of this translation, 23 March, the confirmed number is 40.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Unexplained Absence of Raul Castro

The last time Raúl Castro was seen at an official event was in late February. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 March 2020 –Although no one from the official media has explained the reasons why General Raúl Castro fails to fulfill his obligation to place himself at the forefront of the situation generated by the presence of the coronavirus on the Island, only two possible responses can be ventured: he cannot or he does not want to .

If he cannot, it could be for two other reasons: either he is incapacitated (physically or mentally) or the task he is engaged in is so urgent that he cannot now be distracted by the issue of the pandemic.

If the issue is that he does not want to, it could be because he is not intimately convinced of what the President of the Republic and the Council of Ministers are doing, or because he is having the generosity to give prominence to his replacement. continue reading

The Constitution approved a year ago establishes in Article 5 the status of the Communist Party as the “superior leading political force of society and the State.” In compliance with this precept, considered fundamental and inviolable, the organization’s first secretary — i.e. Raul Castro — would have to be leading the policy to address this epidemiological storm that attracts the attention of all the ministries and the concern of all citizens.

The understandable lack of consensus to approving the measures put into practice by the Government, especially regarding the closure of borders and the suspension of school and work activities, requires solid leadership, not only capable of making good decisions, but to ensure that they are accepted by the population.

In a crisis situation, or on the threshold of such a situation, citizens’ mistrust of the measures taken by the authorities is a risk factor with unforeseeable consequences. The absence of the person with the highest political authority in the country fuels that mistrust.

If the membership of the Communist Party came to believe that something was cooking behind Raúl Castro’s back, civil disobedience could spill beyond the limits where the opponents, or simply the non-conformists, have the successful habit of protest.

The former tendency for people believe that something “is happening because Fidel does not know about it” is transferred today to Raúl Castro, especially among the 20% of the Cuban population that is elderly and at the highest risk of dying, which is also the portion of the population with the greatest inclination to support the process.

Is Raúl Castro unable or does he not want to take the lead in this crucial “battle”?

If he can not, someone is obliged to explain it as soon as possible and not only to the militants but to the citizens, who by virtue of the aforementioned Article 5 are in a situation of legal subordination to the Communist Party.

If he does not want to, then it is up to him to explain why, with total clarity.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 3 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Medical students go door to door asking if someone is feeling ill or has returned from a trip. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 March 2020 — Mondays are always complicated. The neighborhood agricultural market, the epicenter of our commercial life, is closed; the building’s elevator is more congested than usual; and the water supply is less due to the “excesses” of cleaning and washing on the weekend. And now, to all this, we must also add the coronavirus.

The alarm has even reached those who until last week dismissed the severity of Covid-19. The same friend who called me on Thursday to tell me that this was a typical case of “collective hysteria” has called again this morning after the announcement by the Ministry of Public Health that there are officially 40 confirmed cases in Cuba and more than 1,000 hospitalized.

“It seems that this is serious,” he tells me from the other end of the phone line and takes the opportunity to ask if there was any chicken for sale in a store near our house. “Nothing at all,” is the categorical response. What, until a few days ago, was a scarce product, today has become extraordinary and tomorrow will be just a memory. continue reading

So it’s time to invent. I put the potatoes I managed to buy this Sunday in a saucepan, along with a piece of pumpkin, sweet potato, banana and the remains of yesterday’s food, to improvise a stew. “There’s no corn,” Reinaldo reminded me, but now is not a time to follow recipes to the letter. We can feel lucky that we didn’t have to wait in a line long to fill our plates today.

At the Hidalgo Street bakery, about twenty customers were waiting to buy bread this Monday. (14ymedio)

In the morning, I went out with my new mask to walk my dog ​​Tinta. At the bakery, about twenty customers waited to buy bread. Most of them were elderly, who are not only the most vulnerable, but also the most uninformed because they have less access to new technologies. Without foreign media, social networks or instant messaging, they depend almost entirely on the official newscast.

“I survived the October [Missile] Crisis and the Special Period. What fear can I have now?” boasted a man with a faded military cap over his abundant gray hair. “I even got sick from polyneuropathy* in the 90’s,” emulated another person in line who was holding her little grandson by the hand, without any face mask. “Cubans have special antibodies,” the lady repeated at least three times before she managed to reach the rationed bread.

Near there, on the outskirts of José Miguel Pérez high school, where last Friday there were rows of teenagers, this Monday at eight in the morning only a dozen students were seen. While a few days ago they sang the national anthem during the morning assembly, today only the bell rang, without prior ceremonies, to call them to the classrooms. Although classes have not been suspended, the “parents’ rebellion” consists of not sending their children to school.

The top photo is from this Monday, with the few students who attended classes at the José Miguel Pérez pre-university in Havana, and the bottom one is the same place last Friday. (14ymedio)

At mid-morning there was a knock on our door. It was two medical students with more fear than conviction. They stayed far from the threshold and asked if anyone felt bad in our house or if we had recently traveled. “No symptoms… yet,” we replied and they went to the other side of the hall. They were younger than my son Teo and I thought about their parents’ anxiety knowing that they are outside, exposed.

A neighbor has asked us if we knew of any notary who provides services at home. Past 70, the woman is worried because she has not made a will and wants to leave her inheritance legalized “in case the Covid-19 appears.” Her two children are out of Cuba and “they have already lost their right to residence here so they do not have the right to the apartment,” she emphasizes. We tried to calm her, but the lady has sound reasons: “Even dead I’m not leaving my house to the State,” she adds.

If the weekly packet had already gained prominence in our lives in recent years, now it becomes vital. That compendium of pirated audiovisuals comes to replace the leaden official selection that these days reaches unbearable heights of ideology. While in the rest of the world living through this quarantine many are hooked on Netflix or other streaming services, at home we cling to the hard drive that we fill every Monday with movies and documentaries from the weekly packet.

And yes, we have to disinfect it as soon as it arrives. We have allocated a little alcohol to clean the device, although, in the small private store where they load it up, the employee wears a mask and gloves. Those waiting in line for copies of TV series, films and soap operas have cleaned their hands at the entrance with a chlorinated solution. The environment smells clean and scary.

The new little dog that has come to our house still has no name. We are delaying because, in the end, as the poet Eliseo Diego would say, in this Cuba of the emergency we have only “time, all the time.”

*Translator’s note: Polyneuropathy was a common illness during the time after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of its enormous subsidy to Cuba –a time known as the “Special Period in a Time of Peace — due to the resulting malnutrition that plagued the island.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 2 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Keeping the schools open at all levels has been one of the official decisions most questioned by citizens.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2020 — It’s Sunday and the clotheslines in the building are about to snap from the weight of the clothes. This morning they turned the water pump on early and families rushed to wash everything that had accumulated during the week. School uniforms are the priority, although many hope that classes will be canceled soon due to the advance of Covid-19 on the Island.

Keeping schools open at all levels has been one of the official decisions most questioned by citizens. The officials started by saying that the country “had never closed schools in the face of any epidemic,” and then later explained that a suspension would bring stress and with it “a drop in the immune system” and, finally, they qualified by adding that they are reviewing how to continue teaching “every day.”

But everything indicates that they cannot guarantee distance learning in a country where the computerization of society is weighed down by technological limitations and the high price of internet connections. But neither do they have the flexibility to restructure the centralized model of education and guarantee care in the community for the children of those who work in essential sectors. continue reading

So we are trapped in rhetoric, just as we will soon be trapped inside our homes.

I was finally able to buy the potatoes. “The ones that are left are small,” said the employee, with a certain aftertaste, when I arrived at the stall this Sunday where they limited sales to only seven pounds for each person. “Yesterday I got the eggs and today the potatoes, so it looks like a Spanish omelette,” I thought, in tribute to all my friends who are fighting the pandemic right now in the “Motherland.”

A neighbor has the theory that products that we never imagined will now reach the markets. “Since no more tourists will come, I am sure that the food from the hotels will be sold to Cubans,” she says, but her hypothesis has not convinced me. “If we see grapefruit, shrimp and beef arrive at the stores, it will be the ‘foreigners’ reserves”, she concludes with enthusiasm.

I find it hard to believe that there will be an upturn in the sale of food, the omens go rather in the other direction. This morning, the nearby Youth Labor Army market on Tulipán Street was “more peeled than a banana,” according to a customer who entered and left with the same empty bag. A small private business, just a few yards away, had almost run out of bread and cookies by mid-morning.

Before nine I managed to finish the facemask I was sewing, but I was not aesthetically very presentable. It doesn’t matter. It serves to cover part of my face and will be very useful when entering the small Russian-made elevator that serves the more than half a thousand people who live in this building, carrying them up and down. There are those who even enter the tight metal box while smoking, so my facemask will do double duty.

I also have some neighbors who seem to have qualified as epidemiologists in a week and give advice as if they had practiced medicine for years. Others are calculating and trying to take advantage of the situation. “We are going to become rich by selling interferon alfa 2B,” repeats a retired Communist Party militant who spends long hours in the basement of the building.

It matters little if someone tells him that this allegedly Cuban antiviral was discovered by a Swiss in 1979 at the University of Zurich and that it is one of the 30 drugs that are being used to treat Covid-19, but there is nothing conclusive about its effectiveness when fighting disease. The man keeps repeating that “we are going to get rich,” while waving his ration book in one hand.

A few yards from our concrete block, a daughter who migrated abroad was able to send her family a package of food and cleaning supplies. The shipment includes disposable diapers for the two bedridden elderly in the home, cared for by another daughter, who is also in her 60s. I try not to think about what will happen to those three lonely and vulnerable people if the virus spreads.

Amid the uncertainty about supplies, at home we now have “one more mouth.” Friday, a homeless little barker who could no longer stay in her temporary home arrived. A friend asked me to take care of her for a few days, but I think she will stay even though my cat Totí and my dog ​​Tinta have not yet accepted her. We were going to name her “Corona,” but it is a very big name for such a tiny animal.

Among the collateral victims of this whole situation are the thousands of abandoned animals that are found all over the Island. If they are normally exposed to mistreatment, violent death and hunger, we now add the fact that many people who feed them do not want to leave home for fear of contagion. The false rumors also do them a lot of damage.

A few days ago, an official journalist stoked the fears. In a Telecubanacán program, he asked a guest specialist if pets transmitted the disease, but when he did not receive the answer he wanted, he added on his own: “I wouldn’t pet them that much anyway.” Soon after, the protectors began to fill the networks with photos of themselves petting their dogs and cats, but the damage was already done.

In the coming weeks the number of abandoned pets may grow due to the fear of contagion and due to problems in obtaining food. The little dog we’ve adopted, still without a name, has no idea what is coming.

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