US Prohibits Sending Remittances to Cuba Through Companies Linked to the Military

Experts insist that the new measure will directly affect Western Union, the largest remittance company to Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 234 October 2020 — The United States government will prohibit remittances to Cuba that are sent through companies controlled by the military, according to a draft document published in the Federal Register. The measure will take effect on November 27.

Most of the money sent to the island goes through official mechanisms, and 51.3% of the companies that offer financial services in Cuba have contracts with Fincimex, the company managed by the military.

The document from the U.S. Office for the Control of Foreign Assets (Ofac) made public this Friday indicates that authorizations “related to remittances in transactions involving entities or sub-entities identified in the Restricted List of Cuba will be canceled.”

The measure will directly affect Western Union, the largest remittance company operating in Cuba, said Emilio Morales of the Havana Consulting Group, who has devoted himself to studying the flow of money and resources to the island.

“The United States wants the money to reach the hands of the Cuban people, not to stay in the coffers of the military, which is what has happened so far. We are talking about 3.7 billion dollars a year that they handle at will.” Morales said. According to the expert, “the Cuban government has created every possible mechanism to convert that money into its own source of financing.”

“How do you explain that the military have built 57 hotels in the last two years? Where does the investment money come from if tourism barely generates a gross income of 2.4 billion dollars and the profits are 12%?” he added.

Morales explained that in no other Latin American country is the remittance business controlled by the military. The money sent to Cuba “will continue to flow through agencies and informal channels, but it will no longer finance the repression,” he added.

The Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, condemned the new measures on Twitter, saying that it is aimed at “harming” the Cuban people. He also added that this decision “reaffirms that there are no limits for a criminal government in imposing policies that limit contacts, communication and mutual aid between the families of both countries.”

At the end of last September, the US State Department added the AIS (American International Service) magnetic cards to its Cuba Restricted List. The cards operate on the island as a way to receive remittances from abroad and are also managed by Fincimex. The US government justified its decision by saying that AIS is an institution controlled by the military.

Fincimex is a subsidiary of the Business Administration Group (Gaesa), controlled by the powerful Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, Raúl Castro’s former minister, who was sanctioned on September 30 by OFAC itself.

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The United States Sanctions the Cuban Business Czar, General Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas

López-Callejas has maintained a low profile although he is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, executive president of Grupo de Administración Empresarial, SA (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 September 2020 — The United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has added to its list of sanctioned individuals Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raúl Castro’s former minister who is known as the “czar de Gaesa,” the military consortium that controls a large part of the Island’s tourism business.

This Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (“SDN”) includes individuals and organizations with whom United States citizens and permanent residents are prohibited from doing business. The measure also freezes all of their assets under US jurisdiction.

In the update of this September 30, the US Department of the Treasury added numerous Syrian companies and the name of General López-Callejas along with other personal information, such as his date of birth, his home address and his passport number.

Born in 1960, López-Callejas has kept a low profile although he is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, executive president of Grupo de Administración Empresarial, SA (Gaesa) and is considered by analysts as the man behind the economic power of the Castro family.

Gaesa controls a wide network of hard currency stores, hotels, real estate investments, construction companies, port services, remittance and currency exchange agencies, as well as customs and e-commerce services. Until September 2019, it had 83 hotels with some 29,000 rooms, the majority managed by 14 international chains with which it has signed administration and marketing agreements.

“The income generated by Gaesa’s economic activities is used to oppress the Cuban people and to finance Cuba’s parasitic and colonial domination of Venezuela,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Today’s action demonstrates the United States’ commitment to ending economic practices that disproportionately benefit the Cuban government or its military, intelligence and security agencies at the expense of the Cuban and Venezuelan people.”

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The Emblem of Biran: The New Man, Castro-Style / Miriam Celaya

Young Cubans drinking rum in a public place (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 October 2020 — It was the serial murderer, Ernesto Guevara –“Che” to his friends, if he had them, and also to his cult followers, whom he does have — who defined the original concept of “New Man” as a kind of superhuman being, a permanent revolutionary, whose mission in life would be to lay the foundations for an inescapable end: communism, which one day would impose itself on the entire Earth.

As is often the case with such epiphanies, the baby’s father was destined not to attend his birth. It is known that all faith needs martyrs, and ironically, Guevara himself was the sacrificial lamb before the communist Castro altar. Only the death of the ideologist, eternal guerrilla of failure, would guarantee the perpetuity of the myth.

And so, invoking the hidden corpse, buried in a nameless grave, the Castro catechism incorporated the insane idea of materializing a humanoid model of a pure revolutionary, an individual dedicated entirely to working every day and hour of his life in pursuit of a socialist transformation without sensing it as a cold, sacrifice detached from material and personal ambitions, austere, disciplined, intransigent, implacable against the enemy (anyone who does not embrace the cause, but especially the Yankee imperialism) to the point of being willing to kill or die for such a cause, including placing the communist utopia above family.

At the same time, the new social prototype had to be unconditional, blind and obedient towards its leaders, especially towards the “maximum leader.”

Fortunately, the projected New Man never went beyond one of the many concepts ingrained in the extensive Castro-communist taxonomy.

Unrealizable because of its dehumanizing and unnatural nature, the gestation of the Guevaran New Man ended in abortion. It could not have been otherwise, given the numerous flaws in its origins, such as the insurmountable fact that there never existed a single pure revolutionary among the makers of the socialist project, and their servile sounding boards, to take on the task of training the new generations in the purity of the communist ideal.

It was even less likely that the children of a traditionally hedonistic, fickle and festive people were willing to become such rigid and bitter subjects as to renounce their personal ambitions and the pleasures of life. Definitely, the Guevara New Man was not possible, or at least Cubans were not the appropriate raw material for its construction, as was outrageously demonstrated in the 1980 stampede, when hundreds, or perhaps thousands of communist youth militants stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, or left Cuba in flotillas that followed the route from Mariel to Florida.

However, it cannot be denied that many Cubans of the new generations, who grew up during the revolutionary process not only preserved the negative characteristics of our idiosyncrasy, such as the tendency to impose our own opinions over those of others, to admire and follow the leadership of a strong man, or to let passion prevail over reason. They, however, incorporated all the vices typical of totalitarian societies: simulation, double standards, fear and corruption as survival mechanisms, accusation, escapism and indolence.

Thus, from the very beginning of the Cuban social experiment, which has lasted for more than 60 years, another category of man emerged and consolidated, almost spontaneously, as a collateral result, not foreseen or defined in the official discourse: the Castro-style New Man, whom neither all nor even many of them are, but they do make a great racket and are very destructive.

And that anthropological malformation is not limited to the narrow Cuban geography, but has also been transferred as it is to the other side of the Florida Straits, spreading its tentacles through different waves of emigrants, with greater inflection among those who inhabit Miami, that other Cuban capital beyond the archipelago.

Because it turns out that, despite the colossal leap that presumes leaving dictatorship conditions behind and waking up every day in one of the most solid and long-lived democracies in the world, the Castro New Man who emigrated took with him and still has that “little Fidel” very deep inside of him that does not allow him to renounce what he left behind: he carries in his soul the soldier of the despot.

And thus, from the other shore, he offends, insults, stones and discredits everyone who differs from his political preference; he applauds the “rallies of repudiation” — both virtual and physical — orchestrated against the adversary; he finds a “strong man” to uncritically follow and deify (with the same blind and irrational passion as those who followed F. Castro then and today follow his heirs); and he assumes, without embarrassment, the same Castro principle of “who is not with me, is not only fundamentally wrong, but is also against me.”

These days, when the heat of the electoral contest reaches unprecedented levels of polarization, verbal violence and debauchery in the midst of Miami’s Cubanism, when we see that some of our countrymen are demonstrating in favor of harsher and harsher measures that directly affect their compatriots back home, when I hear that they call “the sheep” to rise up from within Cuba, though from the safety and comfort of their distance — despite the fact that most of them never raised their voices against the dictatorship while they lived here — when they talk about stopping the remittances and phone recharges, they applaud lists that are the sad imitation of the snitch planted in the national DNA by the regime that they say they detest, I cannot avoid the evocation of that murderer of Cubans who one day imagined the “New Man” and the caricature that resulted: the Castro-style new man.

This is the one that immortalizes among us and on either of these two shores the ill-fated emblem, born in Birán* almost 100 years ago.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s birthplace

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

In Cuba: The Threat of a President for Life

Meeting this Monday of the National Assembly of People’s Power during the 5th Ordinary Period of Sessions. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 October 2020 — A subtle threat was insinuated this Monday with regards to the most important political reform carried out in Cuba in recent years: the limitations on the time the country’s high government officials can remain in power.

The proposal to allow indefinite reelection was one of the 16 put forward by the parliamentary committees that are in charge of analyzing a set of laws that will be submitted to the consideration of the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) during the 5th Ordinary Period of Sessions, scheduled for 28 October. The bill in question regulates matters concerning the president and vice president of the Republic.

For such a proposal to be successful, Article 126 of the current Constitution would have to be modified, which establishes that the President of the Republic “can hold office for up to two consecutive terms, after which he cannot serve again.” But in addition, it would be necessary to comply with what Article 228 of the Constitution itself requires, which says that when the reform of the Constitution refers to the term of office of the President of the Republic, “it also requires ratification by the majority of the voters in a referendum called for such purposes.”

It is highly unlikely that in the current circumstances those in charge of Cuba will risk holding a popular referendum with the intention of perpetuating in power a person who was not even directly elected by the voters. So, the question arises: what is this threat about, to reverse the only democratic legacy left by Raúl Castro?

In almost half a century of existence, the Cuban Parliament has not given a single sign of disobedience or disagreement, and if it has happened “behind closed doors,” the official media have never reported it and never would report it. Dissenting from a political reform carried out by Raúl Castro is, clearly, a sign of what can be expected of the deputies. A sign that, when translating the codes of grammar, means: “Don’t have any illusions.”

On the other hand, the publication of this hopeless proposal is intended to make the unwary believe that there is some kind of daring in the ANPP, but their audacity is only reserved for the containment of changes, never for what might seem like an opening.

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Cuba’s Central Bank Freezes Hard Currency Deposits of Protestant Churches

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Calvo, Santiago de Cuba, 25 October 2020 — Money in the form of hard currency comes into their accounts at the International Financial Bank, but they are not issued magnetic cards or given cash to be able to spend it in the stores that take only ’freely convertible currency’ (MCL). This is the distressing situation facing the Protestant Churches in Santiago de Cuba, leaving them unable to acquire the supplies they need for their personnel and their religious activities, according to the statements collected by 14ymedio.

This situation, which apparently also affects churches in the rest of the country, has been complicated by the Government’s decision to give priority to supplying the retail and wholesale stores the sell only in the newly created MLC magnetic cards, which has led to a brutal shortage of supplies in the stores where purchases can be made in Cuban pesos (CUP) and Cuban convertible pesos (CUC). Not having access to their funds in foreign currency, means these religious institutions cannot obtain the necessary products to support their activities.

In July, the United Evangelical Lutheran Synod Church in Cuba received resources from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to finance a humanitarian project, to address the situation created by Covid-19. With this help, the congregation was able to punctually deliver pork and medicines purchased at the city’s international pharmacy, and also to distribute money directly to 300 families. continue reading

But all these operations had to be carried out in CUC or CUP and with great difficulties ,due to the shortages of supplies in the stores that sell in the two national currencies.

Bishop Ismael Laborde Figueras, of the Lutheran Church in Santiago de Cuba, has made several efforts with the BFI, all without success, and has been one of the most insistent voices to ask for magnetic cards or cash access to funds deposited in that bank, the only bank authorized to receive donations from abroad.

The BFI has asked for “patience” and has explained that it is waiting for an authorization from the Central Bank, which still has not arrived months after starting the procedures. The bank also did not comply with the bishop’s request to withdraw $500 to buy supplies and pay staff for a spiritual retreat.

The BFI manager in Santiago’s provincial capital explained that he had no permission from the national level to deliver foreign currency in cash nor the corresponding amount on MLC cards.

“Our hands are tied because much of what we need to help the most vulnerable or to organize our retreats can now only be found in the ’dollar markets’,” said one of the members of the Lutheran Church who requested anonymity. “It’s been a long time and nothing is resolved, but it should not be like that because that is our money.”

“Products as simple as flour, coffee or toilet paper can now only be bought in foreign currency,” says the priest. “Even rice is no longer for sale in Cuban pesos, so when we organize a lunch for the elderly or prepare a meeting that includes food, we are required to have a card loaded with dollars.”

This religious institution recently received a donation from the Lutheran Church of Norway and is in the process of receiving a donation from the Lutheran World Federation, in addition to negotiating a second project with ELCA, another with churches in Norway, and one more with the Lutheran World Federation by 2022. If all of them materialize, the funds will accumulate in the BFI account, without any possibility of using them.

All these projects are intended to channel the distribution of food and cleaning products, as well as to finance psychosocial support activities, tasks that are becoming increasingly difficult due to the shortages that afflict the nation’s entire network of stores that take CUC and CUP.

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Cuban Emigrants Debate: Dialogue Or Confrontation?

Iván García, Desde La Habana, 10 August 2020 — Casa Bacardí is a venue annex just a stone’s throw from the University of Miami. One autumn morning in 2016 it became the setting for an event headlined by political analyst and writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, Agapito Rivera — who fought in the Escambray Mountains against Fidel Castro’s army in the mid-1960s — and poet and former political prisoner Angel Cuadra, who concluded the program. The audience consisted mostly of young dissident activists and independent journalists residing in Cuba and were not intimately acquainted with that opposition movement that confronted the Castro regime with weapons and subversion.

The regime’s propaganda apparatus manipulated and misrepresented that piece of history. The Bay of Pigs combatants were cast as bourgeois who came to recover their property that had been confiscated by Fidel Castro’s olive-green revolution, and the Escambray guerrillas were a band of assassins. My friend Carlos Alberto Montaner (whose articles I would furtively read while studying at the pre-university) was, according to the official historiography, by the age of 16 an old CIA hand and admitted terrorist. Angel Cuadra was a “counter-revolutionary” and was not published in Cuba — enough to erase him from Cuban culture.

With a business card like that, anyone would think that Carlos Alberto, Agapito and Angel were intolerant and intimidating people. Nothing is further from reality. They were three old-timers bearing the infirmities of age, agreeing on one point: the war against Castro was lost, but they had fought the good fight. Times have changed. Now, the opposition is peaceful. But the plan remains in place: the goal of a democratic Cuba. continue reading

While the broken voice of Cuadra declaimed how at Playa Girón both sides fighting were Cuban, and both went to battle waving the Lone Star Flag and singing the national anthem, many of us in the audience wondered what would be the best strategy to negotiate a different future with the regime.

It was in the years of the Obama Doctrine, which boasted many supporters in the population and among the opposition. What was Barack Obama’s plan? The simple answer is, a change in policy, because the hard line of other U.S. administrations hadn’t worked. Even those who disagreed with Obama thought that, as in any negotiation, the tactic had to be quid pro quo.

The Castro autocracy, with its victim story of David versus Goliath, of the country besieged by the yanquis, suddenly ran out of arguments. Castroism was able to win at Bay of Pigs, but lost the narrative of dialogue and tolerance. All it had left were complaints, a repeat of the old discourse and absurd demands.

The rulers were exposed to their people. They were not interested in betting on democracy. They never cared about making a pact with the exiles. They did not feel comfortable having normal relations with the U.S. The issue is that the philosopher’s stone of Castroism is to perpetually maintain an enemy. Vampires live by sucking blood. The Cuban system feeds on the imperialist discourse — as long as it is about the U.S., for they have never condemned Chinese or Russian aggressions.

Was Obama’s strategy correct? Or are Trump’s restrictive measures more effective? Each faction makes its own sensible arguments. But I doubt that either of the two strategies can bring about a change in Cuba. The reforms in our country will come sooner rather than later.

Perhaps by other means. Hopefully it will not be through a social explosion. But change is on the way. It will not necessarily be a democratic project. It probably will not be. It depends on the balance of forces.

The internal opposition, disunited and unfocused, has committed a capital crime. Transferring leadership to the exile organizations in Miami. It is impossible for remote dissent to work. A new opposition must settle on the island and autonomously draw up the projects that are deemed to be most effective.

The groups in exile must be a companion voice, not the ones who design the strategies. As long as Miami shoots you WhatsApp texts about what should or should not be done, the Cuban opposition will remain irrelevant. Battles, projects and petitions are not won by litigating on social networks. They are earned with your feet on — and your ear to — the ground. By proselytizing Cubans and managing to capitalize on the widespread social discontent that exists in Cuba right now.

They say that during the Second World War, Stalin was with his generals, arranging some combat strategies, when an aide told the dictator that the Vatican had declared war on the USSR. Stalin looked at the model and wanted to know how many tank divisions these people could put in the field. None, his generals replied. And he continued to prepare the next battle against Germany, the real enemy.

As long as the internal opposition is unable to summon five or six thousand Cubans to a protest march, the regime will not negotiate with them at all. The dissidents’ weapon to confront the government is the people. On their ability to mobilize people depends the likelihood of the autocracy taking them into account.

Crusades on social media and dissident projects that are known only to their supporters, while they drink coffee in their living rooms, are never going to be successful. The Miami exile community should not wear itself out in polemics against Haila for kissing Fidel Castro* or whether former baseball player Víctor Mesa was actually an informant. These are minor issues.

What is reasonable and fruitful is to demand in international forums the right to enter and leave their homeland without having to pay a tax or obtain a visa. Claim their right to participate in national political life, to elect and be elected. To be able to invest and pay workers directly. To be heard as Cubans who matter.

Although the regime tries to ignore them, the economic and political power of the emigrants is considerable. Official statistics try to silence an overwhelming reality: remittances constitute the second industry in Cuba, after the export of medical services. As remittances are an important source of capital, the regime’s military companies have designed a commercial fabric to capture these currencies and reinvest them in the construction of golf courses and luxury hotels.

The exiles have two channels to demand their rights: negotiate with the regime, or confront it. Not with bullets. Traveling to the Island and making themselves heard. It would be more effective for thousands of compatriots to organize a protest march in Cuba and not on social media. If the internal opposition does not work, the vociferous exile community should show its face.

Something was clear to me about that event at Casa Bacardí in Miami: the incipient Cuban opposition lost the war, but risked its skin. In the hot zone. Not from an apartment on Brickell**. Outside of the ring, anyone is brave.

Translator’s Notes:

*Cuban singer Haila Mompié was harshly criticized in Cuban Miami for praising and kissing Fidel Castro during a concert in 2010.

**Brickell Avenue is the main road through the Brickell financial district of downtown Miami, and is lined with luxury condominium buildings.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Protests Over Massive Stray Dog Round Up Ahead of Diaz-Canel Visit to Santa Clara

The “dogcatcher’s” van for stray animals round up (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 October 2020 — Miguel Diaz-Canel’s visit to Santa Clara has once again been preceded by a massive round up of stray dogs, and with it, the repression of those animal welfare advocates who denounced the situation on social networks.

Musician and activist Omar Mena was arrested this Thursday, according to Leidy Laura Hernandez, one of the most well known advocates in Santa Clara.  “They put him in the patrol car, and we don’t know anything else about him,” she said through instant messaging.  “As our house woke up under siege by State Security, he went out through the backyard and managed to get to where the dogs were, there was a patrol car there, and it took him away.”

Hernandez had complained a little earlier that, from the early hours of the day, their homes were under a heavy police operation to prevent them from going out into the street.  “They treat us like criminals and violate our rights,” posted the activist, who also runs a shelter in her own house. continue reading

In order to clean up the areas through which the presidential caravan will travel, the local authorities touched up facades, emptied trash containers, and took away the stray animals.  “Zoonosis [animal control] rounded up dogs today (Wednesday) in Santa Clara on the eve of the visit by President Miguel Diaz-Canel,” posted the city’s Animal Rescue Group, an independent organization that supports animal rescues, sterilizations, shelters, and adoptions and that campaigns to sensitize people about animal rights.

“We discovered that they have them in kennels behind the medical school, we have photos of them all, and we’re not going to let anything happen to them,” announced the activists, who plan to rescue the dogs this Thursday.  “They are many, and we need the help and cooperation of everyone, these innocents don’t know that they are on the brink of death.  This is our opportunity to save them, and together we can.”

Hernandez clarified that in spite of the police operation, she had managed to leave her house and that the animal rescue operation was still on as planned.  “There are 18 puppies in cages and nine more arrived at that time.  Nothing can happen to them,” she emphasized.

The repression against them happened a few hours after the news media included the animal rights cause as a recipient of funds from the United States for “subversion.”

“Racism, religious freedom, animal protection, sexual rights, gender violence, and other matters of interest in current Cuban society are the object of financial campaigns from Washington with the objective of discrediting the Revolution,” the official site Cubadebate posted this Wednesday.

Stray dogs. (14ymedio)

During the week, animal rights activists from several parts of the country have accused the state agency Zoonosis of a massive round up and slaughter of stray dogs that is going on in several provinces because of the visit by the Cuban leader, his first tour of the Island since the pandemic restrictions bagan.

A similar operation was carried out in advance of the 500-year celebration of the city and the visit of the kings of Spain, when Havana rounded up dozens of stray dogs that were slaughtered.  That incident provoked, in the following days, many protests by animal rights acitivists and meetings with authorities who last November agreed not to kill anymore stray animals.

It was not the first time that the animal rights activists protested in Cuba.  In April 2019, a march travelled several Havana streets in order to demand the end of animal abuse and the approval of a law that protects them.  It was the first independent protest of the last half century that was allowed to carry posters.

In 2007, the National Veterinary Medicine Institute reported that in Cuba the “controlled canine mass” was more than 2 million and that of cats 500,000, but the data have not been updated since then, and the National Directorate of Hygiene and Epidemiology estimates that there is one dog for every ten people, some 200,000 in Havana.

Currently, authorities are debating an animal welfare law that is expected to address the rights and duties of citizens with respect to animals, as well as legal punishments for those who do not comply, as Maria Gloria Vidal Rivalta, president of the National Committee for Animal Welfare of Cuba, recently asserted.

The proposed legislation protects domestic, aquatic, and working animals in areas of education, sports, and biomedical research.  But the activists fear that it will become a dead letter or that it will not cover the greater part of demands made by the movement throughout the years.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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Cuba Reopens All Its Airports on Thursday except Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, October 14, 2020 — The Cuban government has announced that its airports will reopen on Thursday with the exception of the one in Havana. The city’s José Martí International Airport, which is the country’s main point of arrival, will remain closed until October 31.

The Cuban Air Navigation Company indicated in a statement that scheduled and charter air operations to all international airports in Cuba, except José Martí, will be allowed to resume operatons beginning October 15, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. local time. Operations at the Havana airport will remain restricted until midnight, October 31, to humanitarian and cargo operations “as before” with limits of two 32 kilograms of luggage per person.

Last Thursday Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said that the country would reopen most of his international airports to tourists and Cubans living abroad. Oversees travelers will  have to submit to a PCR test upon arrival to avoid spreading the coronavirus. continue reading

Marrero gave assurances that Havana would reopen its airpot “in the coming days” without offering further details. Some carriers such as American Airlines and Iberia have begun selling tickets to Havana for trips starting after the first week of November.

At the end of March Cuban authorities sealed off the island in an attempt to contain the coronavirus pandemic. This had a devastating effect on tourism, the nation’s third largest source of income after the export of medical services and remittances from overseas. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the drop in Cuba’s gross domestic product will exceed 8% this year.

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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.

Hair Tied Up, Life in Cuba Without Shampoo

Lines to buy shampoo at a store in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 October 2020 — Washed faces and hair up in a bun or spruced up with a scarf. It is the maximum beauty treatment that women can aspire to in a country where not only are creams and makeup scarce, but where even shampoo is not available. Emilia Domínguez is 63 years old and she declares that she is no longer up for dedicating every day of her life to “the comings and goings of waiting on lines” but that she cannot go on without shampoo or toothpaste one more day. She lives with her daughter and teenage granddaughters, all with long hair.

“I gave up on talcum powder, creams and my hair a long time ago, I cut it very short as soon as the pandemic started when it became impossible to buy any hair color products or shampoo. At least in the ration card there is a section where you can buy a tube of toothpaste from time to time, but shampoo has been missing for months,” she told this newspaper while waiting on line at one of the Nuevo Vedado markets, located on Calle 47.

In front of the store there is a long line with more than a hundred people waiting and hoping to be able to buy shampoo. It is 3 PM and the heat of the sun is dreadful. The people look for shelter or rest under a tree or on a bench. continue reading

In the absence of this common and accessible product in all parts of the planet, Cuban women are forced to invent all kinds of alternatives

“I have washed my hair with aloe vera, with soap, bath gel, whatever I am able to find”, says a young woman who is waiting with a friend who also has her story to tell: “You see me blonde like this, but ever since I’ve been 15 I have always been a redhead, the problem is that the hair color I use has disappeared from the map and I’ve had to make do with the first thing that fell into my hands.”

Although the government assured the people last September that the Suchel Camacho company “stabilized” production for the national market, the truth is that this did not translate into a greater supply on the shelve of stores that take Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), which are the stores most Cubans have access to.

“In the CUC stores, there is hardly ever shampoo, gel, soaps, toothpaste, hair color or moisturizers. All the stores where those products can be found are those that sell in MLC [freely convertible currency, i.e. US dollars for the most part] and we do not have access to that. The only thing that remains for me is this, to hunt around and stand on line for three or four hours,” laments Emilia Domínguez.

An Internet user, resident of Isla de la Juventud, commented about one of the articles assessing Suchel Camacho’s production, published by the official Cubadebate site. She stated that on the day Suchel Camacho’s “Dayli” brand of products (shampoo and conditioner, cologne and deodorant) were marketed in her locality, “they were sold in hardware stores at affordable prices but the lines were 25 days ago.”

“I concocted an avocado paste with a recipe that I found on the internet. First, I would wash my hair with anything, soap or bath gel, and then I would put on the cream that I had prepared. That way, my hair would not be stiff”

She explains that she was in line to make her purchase from 6:40 am to 5:00 pm but that in the end “everything was gone” and she had to leave empty-handed.

Others, with a higher purchasing power than most, have solved the problem with offers that circulate on social networks. “I bought a tube of toothpaste for 6 CUC (roughly $6 US) and a bottle of shampoo for 12,” says 21-year-old Mary. “My brother lives in the United States and helps me with remittances from time to time, that’s how I can pay the current prices. He told me that as soon as flights are normalized, he will send me a good reserve with a cousin of ours who visits at year’s end.”

She commented that, before she could make that purchase in the informal market recently, she had to get creative to keep her hair soft and silky.

“I concocted an avocado paste from a recipe that I found on the internet. First, I would wash my hair with anything, soap or bath gel and then I would apply the cream I prepared and that way, my hair would not be stiff. The Government thinks that life stopped with the coronavirus but no, at home you have to scrub every day, wash, clean… I have had to continue working in person and need deodorant, shampoo and toothpaste.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Police Fence in the Porch Where a Family is Sleeping, in Fear of a Building Collapse

The residents of the property have had to take their belongings out to the porches. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 October 2020 — Several members of a family, including small children, have been sleeping in the porches in front of the Capitol for more than a week, for fear that the building where they live will collapse.  The building is in very bad condition, and is located on Paseo de Martí between Dragones and Teniente Rey, in Old Havana.

Yosniel Enríquez Suárez, one of those affected, tells 14ymedio they made the decision to move to the porch with all their belongings for fear of being crushed by the debris that falls from the ceilings every time it rains. “The situation up there is red hot, the stairs are falling, they have them propped up”.

“Since the problem has not been resolved, we all went downstairs. When the repairs began months ago, in the block near where the Teatro Payret is located, the authorities came to show us photos and videos of some apartment buildings that were being built for us, according to them, but that’s not how it ended up, that proposal was left up in the air,” he stated. continue reading

Enríquez explains during a phone conversation that, to date, the Government has only offered them accommodation in shelters. “All very bad, without bathrooms, without any basics.”

“What has the greatest impact on me about all this, in addition to the fact that people lose their belongings and their houses, is that they are kept imprisoned and can barely move, plus nobody reaches out to them.

“That’s why I’m not going to go anywhere. My mother, my sister, my uncle and my uncle’s children live with us.  Our family is living on the porch because we are the most affected.  The building can fall on us at any moment.  Other buildings are also in bad condition, but our neighbors believe that nothing is going to happen to them, so they stay upstairs. Our apartment is on the second floor, the main damage is to the roof and the staircase, and when it starts to rain, water seeps through everywhere,” Enríquez Suárez states.

The indignation not only spreads among those affected, it extends through residents of that area of the capital with historical infrastructure problems and overcrowding, who also reject the surveillance operation organized by the authorities that prevents anyone from physically approaching the family.

“What strikes me the most about all this, apart from the fact that people lose their belongings and their houses, is that they are kept as prisoners in the place, where they practically can’t move, and no one approaches them, in order to prevent them from talking about what or why it happened to them,” decries a neighbor of those affected, who prefers not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Police officers remain in front of the building. (14ymedio)

“The background that the authorities’ position is such a terrible thing, but so terrible …,” laments the woman talking about the number of similar stories that she has had to witness in recent months in the city.

Dozens of families in the capital, who are already living in anguish over the complicated health situation in the face of the coronavirus outbreak and difficulties obtaining anything to eat due to the shortages in the city, have added to their daily concerns the uncertainty of not having a roof over their heads, for fear of their living quarters collapsing.

In the capital, the latest concentration of building collapses has taken place in Centro Habana and Old Havana, the latest one, leaving several people dead. Two women died last month, one on Calle Cuba, between Luz and Acosta, and the other very near there, in a multi-family building at Calle Amargura #319, between Aguacate and Compostela.

This newspaper reported the plight of several families in a three-story building on Calle Lucena, between San Miguel and San Rafael, in Centro Havana, which collapsed on October 14th. The residents of the building have spent whole days on the street, in the open and surrounded by a strong police operation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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 Mask, a New Political Battlefield

Masks like this one, designed by Rebeca Monzó, are not allowed in state workplaces and schools. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 23 October 2020 — That piece of cloth that for months we have been forced to wear over our faces threatens to become a new political battlefield. The mask has already entered the radar of the censors, who are beginning to want to dictate rules about the design, the artwork or the message they convey.

In recent months, this new apparel, which everything points to will be with us for a long time, has undergone a process of individualization and adjustment among those who want to wear more than just a piece of fabric over their mouth and nose. In search of difference and to make the most of it aesthetically, different models appear every day, which may or may not comply with health standards.

Masks with flags, sequins, family shields, hilarious mouths and scary fangs… all that and more is seen in the streets. But as state workplaces have restarted their working hours and schools in several provinces reopened their classrooms, masks have run into the same official restrictions that limit other pieces of clothing. continue reading

Several friends and acquaintances have told me that at their companies they are already beginning to hear the commands, warning they they will not allow facemasks with foreign flags, especially the United States, or with written messages of any kind, or with political images, criticisms of the Cuban regime, or erotic content.

In a society where the scissors of censorship have tried to cut back everything from the length of male students’ hair to the way pants or blouses fit, masks are the new piece that must be tamed. “We are not going to allow you to come with an offensive poster on your face,” an administrator told a young worker from the Cultural Property Fund who wrote the word “change” across his.

“Those red bars and those little stars cannot be brought into this classroom,” reproached the Holguin teacher who teaches a friend’s daughter. She questioned where she was going to get another facemask, since the one she was wearing was the only one she had been able to obtain on her own. The teacher shook her head from side to side in response, and the woman insisted: “Who said that this is part of the uniform? Are you going to distribute some olive green?”

The pulse is just beginning. Let’s not rule out that in a few weeks a clear list will come out with the designs or motifs allowed on the masks, and which others are outright banned. A country of prohibitions.
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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.

Cuban Government Opponent Pablo Moya Moved to a Prison in Santiago de Cuba

Pablo Moya is currently self-employed after being a sailor for about 40 years. (Unpacu)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 October 2020 — Pablo Moya Delá, an opposition figure who is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) has been transferred to the Aguadores prison in Santiago de Cuba, according to his son, Daineris Moya García, who spoke with the newspaper Cubanet.

According to Daineris, “From early hours I was in the PNR (People’s Revolutionary Police) to receive information. The very angry guard officer told me: I have told you three times that he was taken to prison. I complained about the bad form and threw me out of the place,” said Daineris, who defined as the news “hard.”

Moya Delá, 65, was arrested while protesting against the shortages in the stores and the repression, and he was then taken to the Eleventh Police Station of San Miguel Padrón, Havana. There he maintained a 23-day hunger strike despite having a delicate health due to various unspecified pathologies, according to his family, and he was later transferred to Santiago de Cuba as an “illegal” — that is lacking the residency papers required live in Havana — where he was held in La Territorial police station, in the municipality from Palma Soriano, until Monday. continue reading

“At the head of the case was the repressor Norbelis, with license plate number 24471, who told me that it was the courts’ fault that my father was in prison, and, of course, I replied that the courts, the prosecution and the PNR, they were still the same thing, all in the hands of the regime,” his son told Cubanet.

Moya Delá, self-employed, is former sailor and promoter of the Cuba Decides initiative. He has lived with his wife in Havana for years, where he maintains his opposition activity; but the authorities consider his residence illegal and, each time he has been detained, he has been taken back to Santiago de Cuba, where he is from.

On this occasion, the transfer back to Santiago de Cuba has been slow to occur due to the Covid-19 control measures that impede interprovincial circulation, according to his colleague Zaqueo Báez, who affirms that Moya is accused of tax evasion, but the reasons for his detention are ideological.

According to the latest report by the Cuban Prisoners Defenders organization, in the last year in Cuba 52 new political prisoners have been added to the list, bringing the total to 138 of which 49 belong to Unpacu.

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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.

“For a Dialogue to be Positive Political Guarantees Must Exist,” says Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar believes that for a comprehensive process of socio-political reform to take place, it will be necessary to wait for the historical generation to complete its biological cycle. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Roberto Veiga González, Murcia/Havana | 18 October 2020 — Reinaldo Escobar participates in the most sensitive issue of Cuban political reality and, in addition, he does so in a direct, concrete way. The editor-in-chief of 14ymedio seeks to find the definitive starting point for a valid solution to our social problems. The change, the dialogue, the agendas …

Roberto Veiga González: What is the current social and economic state of Cuba? Are solutions appreciated?

Reinaldo Escobar: The current economic and social state of the country can be summed up in one word: uncertainty.

To the economic mismanagement that persists in favoring the “socialist State enterprise” and controlling everything from above through centralized planning, two external factors are added: the intensification of the restrictions imposed by the United States Government and, more recently, the consequences of covid-19 that caused tourism to collapse, the paralysis of the production of goods and the provision of services and even a decrease in the entry of family remittances from abroad, to which substantial internal expenses to face the situation are added. continue reading

The lack of supplies in the markets has complicated the lives of consumers and has unleashed a wave of resellers and “coleros” (people who stand in line for others, for pay), hoarding deficit merchandise and diversion of basic products from warehouses. The Government has rigorously attacked the consequences but continues to neglect the causes of these scourges.

The new formula of opening stores dealing only in their own merchandise through magnetic (debit) cards fed with freely convertible currency, has generated greater differentiation between those who have financial resources from abroad and those who do not.

The solutions that the State has proposed in relation with its intention of expanding the development of non-state forms of production are moving in the right direction, but they lack the necessary depth and are being implemented too slowly.

Roberto Veiga González: What would be the necessary solutions? How much probability do they have?

Reinaldo Escobar: One thing is the necessary solutions and another the solutions with probabilities.

For a radical sector, solutions in Cuba go through the process of “overthrowing the dictatorship.” This purpose only has the possibility of being carried out through a massive and violent popular revolt, a coup, or a foreign invasion (which could be the consequence of either of the first two options). Along these lines are those who favor a resurgence of the embargo and promote acts of civil disobedience within Cuba. The probability that something like this will happen seems low.

The more moderate sector is committed to a bloodless and gradual change from above that implies a process of reconciliation among Cubans

The more moderate sector is committed to a bloodless and gradual change from above that implies a process of reconciliation among Cubans and inevitably a definitive settlement to the dispute with the United States. This will be possible to the extent that the actors of the historical generation leave the stage and that there is a change in policy towards Cuba on the part of her northern neighbor with the aim of promoting rapprochement. The supporters of this option are in a position to dialogue with the government, but paradoxically, that dialogue can only occur when the government cannot withstand the pressure of those who want to overthrow it.

The most “reactionary” sector professes an immobility inclined towards continuity. They are the octogenarians of the historical generation and their cohort of sycophants who have the power to repress and manage the opening measures as escape valves to reduce the demands of the violent and excite the moderates. It gives the impression that they have made a secret pact with the reformists, still disguised inside government spheres, consistent in asking them for an old age death grant in exchange for being included in the list of heirs.

The question of how many possibilities each of these options have should not be answered based on the eventuality of success inherent in their purposes, but based on their possibility of reaching beneficial objectives.

Obviously, the overthrow by any of the planned violent means would cause a total and rapid fracture, but could leave the nation in uncontrollable chaos after a power vacuum with high cost in human lives, a presumed destruction of the already deteriorated economic heritage and long consequences of revenge.

The transition from above, in agreement with the internal opposition and foreign lobbyists, would initially have to be slow and gradual.

The transition from above, in agreement with the internal opposition and foreign lobbyists, would initially have to be slow and gradual. In the give and take, essential in an agreed transition, neither party would have capitulated.

Everything can start from the decision of the State to establish a market economy with greater economic freedoms, keeping the promise to defend social justice and having successive political openings that guarantee freedom of expression and association.

The participants in this process will need prudence not to go too far or too fast, but they will have to be bold so as not to be left behind or act too slow.

The worst variant would be the intransigent position of those who do not want to change anything or who propose to change the minimum so that the essential does not change. Their stubbornness puts the moderates at a disadvantage, who end up being described as “accomplices of the dictatorship” and gives reason to the violent ones as a formula to make the possibility of change more costly.

They control all power, but time is against them. They have no future.

Roberto Veiga González: What would be the “nuclear” political element capable of ensuring the beginning of a comprehensive process of socio-political reform?

Reinaldo Escobar: Unfortunately, that element does not currently exist. In order to start that “comprehensive process of socio-political reform”, it will be necessary to wait for the historical generation to complete its biological cycle and for the current heirs to leave the game, due to the provisional fulfillment of their functions. It will also be necessary to hope that viable proposals that include the possibility of being shared and will win an electorate will be articulated within the environment of the civil society and the political opposition.

Roberto Veiga González: Such a process demands inclusion and dialogue. This, in turn, requires the preexistence of subjects (individual and group) that are somehow established and legitimized in some way. Do “transnational” Cuban society and the State have these actors?

Reinaldo Escobar: Before reaching legitimized subjects, conditions of legitimation of the presumed subjects is required. Inclusion would have to come from the political will of the rulers to decriminalize political disagreement and accept the possibility of a dialogue that implies the existence of spokespersons recognized by both parties.

The first step must be taken by the State, and it entails at least creating the preconditions for the recognition with full legitimacy of the presumed actors of change as the only alternative to violence. Those preconditions are as follows:

    • Rejection of the belief that the Communist Party is, by law, the leading force of society
    • Summoning a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Magna Carta.
    • A new electoral law.
    • A law of associations that allows the legalization of political parties and the existence of an independent civil society, alien to the concept of the transmission pulley that prevails today.
    • A law that guarantees functioning of the independent press and other forms of freedom of artistic, academic and public expression.
    • A law that guarantees religious freedoms.
    • Elimination of current restrictions on Cubans living abroad when they visit, invest in businesses, or establish themselves in Cuba.

Roberto Veiga González: What should be the characteristics of this dialogue? How to enable it?

Reinaldo Escobar: The first condition is that all parties can participate.

For a dialogue of this nature to have positive results, political guarantees must be present. Those who govern cannot intend to imprison their spokespersons, and opponents should not take advantage of the opportunity to assault power.

This requires the existence of guarantors, preferably foreign governments and international institutions.

This requires the existence of guarantors, preferably foreign governments and international institutions. Ideally, the dialogue should take place in a neutral territory outside Cuba.

What we might call “this side of the dialogue table” should consist of not only the moderates who insisted so much on dialogue, but also of those who have always believed that to participate in dialogue constituted betrayal, and to be able to take credit for having seated the regime at the table.

The power side must be represented by the highest governmental and partisan power or, in its place, by those with the capacity to make decisions. The military should not be included.

The dialogue agenda must be fed with proposals from both sides. If this dialogue were to take place before the seven preconditions that we listed in the previous answer have been met, the objective of the agenda “on this side of the table” should be to ensure that these conditions are met.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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 Havana Stickers Will be Put on the Houses Suspected of Having Covid Cases

“Stay at home, for your family, for ours, for everyone,” says the sticker the authorities have distributed to identify the homes where there are quarantined people, suspected of having Covid or of being contacts of positive cases. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 October 2020 — Havana authorities will reinforce the surveillance of the homes where people live who are suspected of having Covid-19, or who might be contacts of positive cases. The capital’s Provincial Defense Council (CDP) insisted on this Monday, calling for “efficient home isolation of contacts and suspected cases.”

The local press is reporting the statements of Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, president of the Council, and Reinaldo García Zapata, vice president: “It is essential to insist on the control and participation of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Federation of Cuban Women and the People’s Power.” To fulfill their mission successfully, they continue, “they must have contacts with their superior organs and maintain permanent check ins.”

The objective is to know “through supervisory actions, what is happening with household income, if the protocols are being followed, if the neighborhoods have the conditions to serve these families and make sure that everything is done well.” continue reading

This includes stickers to identify homes with isolated people, which they say were distributed this Tuesday. The next day, some of these stickers were already visible in houses near Zanja Street, Centro Habana, where a new quarantine zone is reported.

The CDP also asks “the inspection bodies” to enforce regulations such as the incorrect use of masks or the presence in the streets of children without the necessary protection.

This weekend, authorities report, 384 fines were imposed, 184 of them for violations of hygienic-sanitary regulations.

The Council stressed that “current indicators for the pandemic are favorable and at the same time the capital is taking on other battles for the economy and services,” again calling for electricity consumption “to be reduced in homes, in the face of current usage rates slightly above what is in the plans.”

Of the 3,592 samples analyzed the day before, according to official data, only four tested positive for the coronavirus. Three of them had already been admitted to hospitals, suspected of being infected, and one was identified “in a risk group investigation.”

Twenty-five active outbreaks persist in the capital. At the end of the day one person had died of Covid in Havana and four patients were in intensive care.

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They Will Resurrect Fidel Castro in Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro placed the urn with the ashes of Fidel Castro in the mausoleum of Santa Ifigenia cemetery. (EFE)

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 September 2020 — On November 25th, the day when one more anniversary of Fidel Castro’s death will be commemorated, a museum will be inaugurated in his memory in Havana.

Located on Avenida Paseo between 11th and 13th streets in Vedado, Havana, the historic gallery will exhibit paintings, gifts, photos, belongings and other odd junk that former dictator Fidel Castro used in life; this will actually violate the last will of the late commander.

It should be recalled that on January 3, 2016, General Raul Castro publicly affirmed that — in view of the express wish of his brother, the recently deceased leader of the Cuban communists — he was advising the National Assembly that the name and figure of Fidel Castro not be used in any public place, nor that statues or busts or public squares be raised in his memory. continue reading

It is also worth noting that – according to sources close to the brood of the late commander-in-chief – the objects displayed in such a bombastic manner, were not donated by the relatives, but sold.

At a cost that already exceeds 700 thousand dollars (USD), the museum will be inaugurated by November 25. Among the strangest of the attractions of this sort of Church, where the venerated image will be that of the only Saint who wears glasses and a green outfit, there will be presented a small audiovisual: there, among other things, you will see for the first time the culinary recipes preferred by the legendary Ex-Commander, who passed on from his residence “Punto Cero,” to reside, Encased in Stone, over in the necropolis of Santa Ifigenia in the historical city, Santiago de Cuba.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz