’Letter of the Year’ Sets Off Controversy Among Cuba’s Babalaos

The annual predictions were disseminated after a sequence of ceremonies held jointly by the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba and the Miguel Febles Padrón Commission. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 3 January 2018 —  The controversy broke out after the publication of the 2018 Letter of the Year. The series of predictions — provided every January by the priests of the Yoruba religion — has raised a cloud of criticism expressed in calls to “not conspire” and to respect authority, something that several babalaos ignore as taking the side of the Government.

The annual predictions were released on January 1 after a sequence of ceremonies held jointly by the official Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba and the independent Miguel Febles Padrón Commission, at the headquarters of the former on Prado Street in Havana.

For two years now, both entities have collaborated to produce the Letter of the Year — unlike previous years when competing Letters were issued — and this time they recognize the orisha Yemayá, goddess of motherhood, as the ruling deity and as a companion to Elegguá, represented as a child who “opens the roads” and has many followers on the Island. continue reading

This year’s controversy did not emerge from the differences between predictions that characterized the years in which two Letters were published, but by the content of the consensual document. The unusual enthusiasm shown by the official government press to spread the predictions has also generated misgivings.

One of the most controversial points has been the recommendation “not to conspire or to be part of any conspiracy in any way,” a point to which is added not to fall into “talk against anyone to avoid being exposed to great misfortunes and end up being ridiculed.”

“This is not the same as before because now it looks like a ‘Letter from the Police’ instead of a ‘Letter of the Year’,” lamented Lucinda, a practitioner of African religions living near the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos, an area where products used in Santeria rituals are sold.

Lucinda insists that for years she followed the predictions made by the Miguel Febles Padrón Commission and that they were made public in the first days of the year in their headquarters in the neighborhood of Lawton. “Since they joined the Yoruba Association, they only know how to make you afraid so you’ll keep quiet.”

The Letter includes bad omens for agriculture, news that plays very badly among those who waited for a more promising forecast for food production, after a year characterized by shortages and high prices of agricultural products.

The recommendation “not to be rushed to accomplish achievements or successes” also makes some uncomfortable, in the midst of a national context characterized by the slowdown in the economic reforms promoted by Raúl Castro after his arrival to power, a slowdown that has led to a pause in the issuance of numerous licenses for self-employment.

“At ONAT (National Tax Administration Office) they tell me that right now I can’t get a permit to rent a room and now the babalaos recommend that I don’t rush into business,” lamented Marcial, 28, this Wednesday as he waited to buy flowers for his orishas at the market on San Rafael street.

The controversy has reached the Free Yorubas Association, an independent group made up of priests of this religion, who have called the Letter “totally manipulated and in tune with the interests of materialistic atheist tyranny.”

The entity insists that the babalaos who prepared the Letter of the Year “lack religious moral authority to speak on behalf of the Yoruba or to publish predictions that affect the present and future” of the country.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Miguel Altunaga, a Cuban Modern Dancer Who is a Prophet in his Own Land

Miguel Altunaga (right) was trained in the Cuban art education system and after seven years with Contemporary Dance of Cuba left the country to join the prestigious British company Rambert. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, 18 January 2018 — After ten years of successes and ovations on British stages, the Cuban dancer Miguel Altunaga proves that he can be a prophet in his own country, and even in his former company Contemporary Dance of Cuba (DCC), to which he returns as choreographer with a world premiere that speaks of longing, distance and roots.

Nominated for the third time for the United Kingdom’s National Dance Award, now in the category of Best Dancer, Altunaga has become the most important name internationally in modern Cuban dance, a field dominated almost exclusively by classic artists such as Carlos Acosta and José Manuel Carreño.

For the young Havanan it is a “point of pride” to be considered an “ambassador” of the rich Cuban culture, and among his “goals” is to “show that classical ballet is not the only source of great dancers, but that Cuba also has a lot to offer to contemporary dance.” continue reading

“I feel like an ambassador who is in constant motion and constantly learning, also enriching Cuban culture,” he told EFE before resuming auditions at the headquarters of DCC, the most important company of its kind in the country.

With the recognition also comes the “obligation to be an example” for new artists and to return to teach the new dance trends on the Island, where despite the “shortages and problems,” the “desire and passion for art” continues, he insisted.

Miguel Altunaga was trained in the Cuban system of artistic education, and after seven years with Contemporary Dance of Cuba he left the country to join the prestigious British company Rambert, as a member of which he has received awards and applause inside and outside the United Kingdom.

To his successes of interpretation he has added a rising career as a choreographer, with works that make up the repertoire of the still young Acosta Danza, the company that Carlos Acosta created in Havana.

A decade later, Altunaga arrives to set up a world premiere entitled Beyond the Dust that draws from his personal experience and delves into the feelings of distance, longing and nostalgia, with a “little sense of humor.”

“I don’t expect viewers to see a linear, traditional story, where you know what is happening step by step, but to live an experience, to relax and enjoy it, which is very important,” he explained.

For this, Altunaga uses emblematic musical themes such as Aquí el que baila gana (Here the dancer wins) from Los Van Van orchestra, danced by the young cast of the DCC.

Beyond the Dust also serves as an appreciation and tribute to Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, to which he has always felt “close” despite the distance.

“I feel like I didn’t leave. (…) To come to Cuba and present my work in the Sala García Lorca — the largest in the Gran Teatro de La Habana — is a dream, and to see it already realized (…) one of the greatest things that is happening to me in my artistic career,” he said.

This return is “very special” for Altunaga, who tries to minimize the “pressure” on him and “enjoy the process” of assembling the piece, which will premiere on 9, 10 and 11 February.

The biggest difference for the artist is in working with an ensemble that is not as “cosmopolitan” as the cast of companies from outside of Cuba; a place where the artistic collectives are composed exclusively of locals, with a shared way of seeing art.

However, being on the island for so long has made Altunaga “feel again” that sense of “Cubanness” that he will take with him back to Rambert.

“I will return [to the UK] a completely different artist, because I have reconnected with my homeland. I think this is the first time I’ve spent so much time in Cuba since I left ten years ago. Cubanness is entering me again,” he joked.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

From a Public Urinal to a Luxury Hotel, The San Carlos is Reborn in Cienfuegos

Last Sunday, the renovated San Carlos Hotel was reopened with a four-star rating, after almost 21 years of neglect.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 19 January 2018 — Every night during the ’90s there were knocking sounds from the abandoned hotel San Carlos, which borders the market in the historic center of Cienfuegos where Joaquín Rodríguez worked as custodian. There were hardly any vestiges left of the navy blue of the façade and fragments of the cornices on the roof threatened passers-by on one of the busiest roads in the city.

“People took the tiles, the slabs on the walls, the toilets, they took out the rebar and even the bricks to use in building other things. The hotel became a ruin and the first floors were turned into a public bathroom and a place for all kinds of indecencies,” says Rodríguez, now retired.

Last Sunday, the renovated San Carlos hotel was reopened with a four-star rating, after almost 21 years of neglect. The property has been restored after an agreement signed in 2005 between the Cuban State and the Spanish hotel company Meliá, the terms of which are unknown. continue reading

San Carlos Hotel before the renovation. (14ymedio)

“The San Carlos Hotel dates from 1924. Its owner, Antonio Mata, who also owned the now-destroyed Hotel Ciervo de Oro, decided to invest 60,000 pesos at that time to provide the then-prosperous city one of the most modern buildings in the province of Las Villas,” explains Alicia, a local historian, speaking to 14ymedio.

The architect who completed the building, José Joaquín Carbonell, gave it the eclectic touch that characterizes the city by mixing various architectural styles. Later the property grew with the construction of another two floors, the last of which was the Roof Garden, a social club ofCienfuegos’ Republican.

For a long time, the San Carlos was the tallest building in the city. In the Roof Garden, a large room with large windows and excellent views of the bay “exquisite social meetings were held,” explains the historian.

Photograph from before the Revolution of San Carlos street, where the hotel is located in Cienfuegos. (DC)

The hotel had a total of six floors and 48 rooms when it was confiscated by Fidel Castro’s government at the beginning of the Revolution. Thereafter it became the property of the State, which did not allocate sufficient resources for its maintenance.

In the 1980s, a reconstruction process began that was scheduled to be completed on 26 July 1984. At that time, every province was completing some project to commemorate the assault on the Moncada barracks on that day. In the case of The San Carlos, the reconstruction was halted and the hotel closed its doors forever.

In July 2005, the historic center of Cienfuegos was declared a World Heritage Site. “Since that year, interest in knowing about our city has increased, as it is the first of the cities built in the nineteenth century to achieve this recognition,” emphasizes the historian.

That same year, recalls Joaquín Rodríguez, a state-owned construction company fenced off the busy San Carlos Avenue (it stayed that way until last month) and began to repair the building. Cimex, the state company that assumed responsibility at that time, was engaged in safeguarding the essential elements of the structure to prevent it from collapsing. In 2009, the Ministry of Tourism ordered a work stoppage “due to the economic difficulties of the country,” according to local press reports. In 2017, the state company Gran Caribe restarted the project under a collaboration agreement with Meliá.

View of The San Carlos Hotel in Cienfuegos and its once renowned Roof Garden. (skyscrapercity)

Yuri Quevedo Pupo, investment director of the Real Estate Tourism Company in Cienfuegos, explained to the local press that the hotel has begun to operate with just 20 of its 56 planned rooms. The central lobby, the lobby-bar and the bar service in the Roof Garden are also open.

According to official data, the province of Cienfuegos has 1,497 rooms in the private sector (in some 703 guest houses), plus 861 rooms in 11 state hotels.

The price of one night in the newly-opened Cienfuegos hotel starts at $182 for the simplest rooms. A bedroom with views of the city costs $191, while a suite reaches $216. None of the rooms have wifi service.

Meliá manages all of the hotels in Cienfuegos: Jagua, Palacio Azul, Perla del Mar, La Casa Verde and La Unión. According to González Garrido, only one site has been granted to another operator, Iberostar. Meliá, which has been in Cuba for 25 years, manages 40 hotels on the island overall.

The old Educator’s House, which was falling apart in the gorgeous Tureira peninsula, will become the Amanecer hotel and what was once the School of Hospitality and Tourism will be transformed into La Punta Hotel.

According to Joaquín Rodríguez, this weekend in Cienfuegos “dozens of painters” tried to embellish the building that functions as the municipal headquarters of the Communist Party next to the San Carlos hotel. “They are painting just the facades of the houses on the routes where tourists walk from the beach, but nobody looks inside.”

“I do not understand how they have money to build hotels, while a retiree who worked their whole life for the Revolution has a pension of just 253 [Cuban] pesos a month [about $10 USD],” complains Rodríguez, a victim of Hurricane Dennis that hit Cienfuegos in 2005.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Dollar Strengthens In Cuba In Anticipation Of Currency Unification / Iván García

Source: América Tevé.

Ed. Note: This article talks about Cuba’s two currencies, the Cuban peso and the Cuban convertible peso, and the potential ‘unification’ of the two currencies. The Cuban peso is also called “national money” and by the acronym “CUP.” The Cuban convertible peso (“CUC”) only came into use in 1994. It is not convertible outside the country and so has no ‘market-based’ exchange rate in world currency markets. The CUP is officially pegged at 24 per CUC. The dollar/CUC exchange rate is officially one-to-one but the actual official exchange rate varies according to exchange fees and taxes applied to the transaction, as discussed in the article; the unofficial exchange rate varies according to the vagaries of the underground market. The Cuban government has promised, for years, to unify the currencies, but has not yet done so.

Iván García, 18 January 2018  — In the illegal world of the foreign exchange market on the Island, any rumor or leaking of information rings alarms. In addition to taking advantage of the gaps that cause the artificial state exchange rate for the U.S. dollar, an astute loan shark is always attentive to fluctuations in the exchange rates.

Ignacio, a guy who wears retro sunglasses, tight jeans and low-cut sports shoes, is one of those who takes advantage of the most minimal information.

“I’m romancing the manager of a bank. And some days ago she told me that there are movements in the bullpen. Probably before April 19 — the supposed date of Raúl Castro’s retirement — the government will execute the unification of the currency. continue reading

The girl told me that already there have been several meetings, and in them it was said that people with bank accounts wouldn’t lose money after the financial adjustments. Nor would those who prefer to keep their money at home. For them they would pay 24 Cuban pesos for every convertible peso, but only up to a certain amount (it’s said 7 million CUC). Those who have their deposits in dollars can exchange them at two pesos per dollar.”

With this unconfirmed information, Ignacio, along with several friends involved in clandestine exchange operations, started to buy the dollar at 0.97 CUC. The Central Bank of Cuba pays 0.87 CUC, justifying the Castro brothers’ tax under the pretext of the U.S. embargo.

But it’s a longer story. After the arrival of the bearded Fidel Castro, the exchange of the dollar and other hard currency was converted into an absurdity that distorted the national economy.

Before 1959, the dollar had an exchange rate of one for one with the Cuban peso.

“It was supported by a growing productivity, a vigorous economy and a powerful private empresarial elite. Fidel took this exchange rate as a reference and kept it for a time. Meanwhile, the Cuban economy was stumbling, because of the “blockade,” bad strategies of the managers or systemic failures caused by an economic plan that was copied from the Soviet Union. If they would have let the dollar float against the peso, in 1970, for example, a dollar would have been worth 50 Cuban pesos, at least. The illegal exchange market, in an empricial way, moves in accord with the law of supply and demand of the dollar. With greenbacks being prohibited until 1993, these financial operations were very dangerous: If the police caught you, you could go to jail for three to five years,” says Hiram, an ex-officer of the Central Bank.

Julio Antonio, an older gentleman who has spent four decades in the business of buying and selling hard currency, above all the dollar, adds more details:

“In the ’80s, they called the money changers jineteros (hustlers). On the streets of Vedado, and on beaches like Varadero and Santa María del Mar, east of Havana, we were buying dollars directly from the few tourists who came to Cuba. At that time, a peso was worth four dollars. The State was buying them one for one. And many foreigners, so that their money would go further, weren’t selling them to us. When the Special Period arrived in the ’90s the dollar shot up and was selling at one dollar for 150 pesos. Later, the government fixed it at 24 pesos. But we were paying under the table one or two on top of that, because the people going on internationalist missions in Venezuela, Ecuador and South Africa, among other countries, needed dollars to buy stuff cheap and then resell it in Cuba. We have always been two steps ahead of the State’s exhange rate.”

In the autumn of 2005, Fidel Castro, punched a table in anger, because the U.S. Treasury Department had detected a Cuban account with 5 billion dollars in the Swiss bank UBS, supposedly for exchanging old bills for new ones, and he resolved to decree a “revolutionary” tax on the money of Enemy Número Uno.

The tax rate was 20 percent, lowered to 10 percent when Raúl Castro began governing.

“If a dollar cost 80 cents, on the street it was being bought at 90. Now that the government buys it at 87 cents, under the table it’s bought at 90, at least [on the street]. It depends how many dollars are in circulation. But the stable non-official rate is 95 cents, although at certain times, it goes up to 97 and 98, since there is a strong demand from the “mules” who travel to Central America, Mexico or Russia. With the rumor that is being spread, I assure you that when the two monies are unified, the dollar will be worth 10 or 15 pesos. And I might be short,” Ignacio analyzes.

Dagoberto, licensed in tourism, considers that “this exchange rate, in addition to being false, is counterproductive. This is reflected in expenditures by tourists. The ones who come to Cuba spend on average $655 [USD]. Those who go to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic spend more than $1,200, almost double. One reason is that they drive up the prices for tourists. To this, add the fact that in Cuba’s hard currency shops everything is too expensive, with taxes between 240 and 400 percent. The ideal, to attract more dollars, euros, pounds or Swiss francs, is to adjust the money to a real reference.”

According to a source at a branch of the Banco Metropolitano, “Since July they have been postponing the contracts with State enterprises, whether they are in hard currency or the national money. It’s a sign that monetary unification is on the way. At the latest, before 2018 is over. It’s noticeable in the current private accounts. Many clients are keeping their money in pesos, since even though they’ve been told that they won’t be affected by the unification, there are always fears and prejudices in the population.”

For experienced loan sharks, “the best way to keep savings or monetary earnings of a private business is in dollars or euros, jewels, preferably of gold, and works of art. What’s coming looks ugly. An increasing inflation and more money than products to buy. The Cuban economy is in a bad way,” predicts Julio Antonio.

Financial experts say that if you want to apply a reasonable economic strategy, the distortions caused by the dual currency ought to come to an end. What’s not clear is what will happen afterwards.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Intense Rains in Cuba Force Delay in Tobacco Sowing to February

With around 65% of the country’s production, the Vueltabajo area, in the province of Pinar del Río, is the largest supplier of the leaf. (DC)

14ymedio biggerEFE  / via 14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2018 —  The intense rains in Cuba in recent months have forced the island’s farmers to extend until February the sowing of tobacco for the 2017-2018 season. During the season, they plan to sow over 73,000 acres in tobacco, the raw material of the famous Havana cigars.

Rainfall damaged nearly 1,500 acres already planted and several areas used as seedbeds, causing delays that have led to the extension of the plan’s target dates, according to the head of the state group Tabacuba, Gonzalo Rodríguez, speaking to the official news agency Prensa Latina.

Rodríguez insisted, however, that the “situation is encouraging and the producers are optimistic,” having already planted more than 64,000 acres. The current season’s sowing of the leaf began last October. continue reading

Tobacco is the fourth largest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product; it accounted for some 445 million dollars in 2016 from the sales of the Cuban-Spanish joint venture, Habanos.

With around 65% of the country’s production, the Vueltabajo zone in the province of Pinar del Río is the largest supplier of the leaf in the country. The central territories of Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara also have large plantings of tobacco.

In 2018, Cuban tobacco farmers hope to deliver more than 32,000 tons of leaves to the cigarette and cigar industry, one of Cuba’s major sources of exports.

The intense rains in the last three months have affected other agricultural sectors on the island as well, including damaging 70% of the cane plantations destined for the sugar harvest now underway.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Danger of Extremes / Fernando Dámaso

Fidel Castro speaking at a 100th anniversary commemoration; sign in the background reads: The Protest of Baragua Which is Among the Most Glorious in Our History

Fernando Damaso, 9 January 2018 — I have always respected those who avoid extreme positions, which, in short, do not lead to anything good even if, at certain times, they might be considered correct.

The Pact of the Zanjón was a wise and intelligent decision, which responded to the reality of the time in which it was signed, although it was rejected by some and criticized historically by many, and its signatories with disparagingly referred to as “zanjoneros,” ignoring all their accumulated merits during years of struggle

The Baraguá Protest was an example of stubbornness, which did not respond to the reality of the moment, although it was approved by some and its participants honored by historians. In short, it lasted only a few days and, in the end, the “Protestors,” with a few exceptions, accepted the Covenant they had repudiated. continue reading

Without the the Pact of Zanjón it would have been impossible to preserve and rebuild the forces that, years later, would participate in the War of Independence that ended in 1898, since these individuals would have been decimated and their main leaders sacrificed in vain.

Years later, with the acceptance by the most reasonable Cubans of the Platt Amendment, the emergence of the Republic would have been impossible, because the US occupation troops would not have left Cuba, and Cuba would have become a protectorate, without actually constituting Nation, regardless of everything bad that would have flowed from this.

If. in the 1930s, the intelligence of certain groups had prevailed instead of their ambitions, the reality would have been different, and the country would have moved more quickly on the path of development.

If, in the decade of the 50s, those who worked for a political and non-violent solution had triumphed, instead of those who believed in armed struggle, we would have avoided these six decades of backwardness and misery.

That is, betting on the extremes has never been synonymous with wisdom, although some people are more attracted to noise and hubbub than to good sense. It would be convenient if, in the days and months to come, the latter would prevail.

The "Worms" and the Future of Cuba / Iván García

Cuban rafters. Taken from “The Positive Scum,” an article by Ricardo Riverón published in On Cuba Magazine on April 9, 2017.

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2018 — Ana Gálvez, now 72, spent eight months picking sweet potatoes, yuccas and squash in a state agricultural enterprise outside of Havana before she was allowed to leave for the United States in 1971.

“They treated us as if we were prisoners or slaves. The food was disgusting. We had to work twelve or thirteen hours a day. Then, it was the only way that the dictatorship would sign the ’freedom card’,” recalled Gálvez, with tears in her eyes, sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Miami, a stone’s throw from the international airport.

In Florida, she became an executive with a renewable energy firm and today has as storehouse of knowledge that could help in the future reconstruction of the Cuban energy sector. continue reading

“Cuba has all the conditions necessary to stop using fossil fuels in a decade or less. Based on the sun, the winds and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea — because the rivers are not very large — the Island would have clean and sustainable energy that would contribute to its development. To this we could add the use of hybrid transport, running on electricity or cane alcohol,” said Ana optimistically.

But when I asked her, “if the laws changed would you return to rebuild the country?” she emphatically shook her head, No. “It would have to be with certain requirements, among them a public apology from the regime for its deplorable attitude towards the Cubans who one day decided to emigrate and live in a democracy. It is the first thing I would demand to return and work for my country. ”

Given the current dilemma of Cuba, trapped in a stagnant economic crisis, chronically unproductive, with brakes on private work and the creation of small- and medium-sized businesses, with social tension due to the poor administration of resources, along with a housing deficit exceeding one million homes, a low birth rate, an accelerated aging of the population, miserable salaries and a qualitative decline of education and public health, an honorable exit would be forge an agreement with the diaspora and, using the skills and talents of everyone, begin to rebuild the foundations of the national economy.

Exiles like Ana Gálvez or the famous musician and composer Jorge Luis Piloto, who, in order to emigrate from Cuba, had to accept the regime’s degrading treatment, deserve an apology. And there are others whom Fidel Castro expelled from their homeland for thinking differently and opposing the state of affairs.

Miami, Autumn 2014. While Jorge Luis Piloto in his Mercedes Benz was traveling with me to the new Marlins baseball stadium through the tunnel built after the expansion of the port, I asked him, too, if certain conditions were met would he return to reform his country. The answer was not immediate. He kept driving, concentrating on the traffic.

In the 70s, Piloto lived with his mother in a small room with a makeshift platform “mezzanine,” a bathroom and collective kitchen in a building in danger of collapse in the Pilar neighborhood, in Havaa’s Cerro municipality. The authorities did not consider him a “reliable” guy: he wore his hair long, he always carried a guitar in his hand and was a lover of the Beatles.

He had arrived in the capital at age 15 from Cárdenas, Matanzas. And although in Havana one of his own song’s won an award in the Adolfo Guzmán Competition, in 1980 he decided to leave with the Mariel Boatlift.

Fidel Castro, offensively, called the more than 125,000 Cubans who emigrated through the Port of Mariel that year “scum.” Earlier, he had called those who left “worms.” In 1980, that terrible year, the neo-fascist acts of repudiation emerged. Popular mobs harassed you, shouting all kinds of offenses and slander, they threw eggs at you and more than one person beat you.

Piloto experienced it first hand. After pondering his response to my question he told me that he had no plans to return, but if one day Cuba bet on democracy, he would help in any way he could. Recently, in a card for the new year, Jorge Luis wrote: “In 2018 may we can travel to Cuba without asking for permission and with a process on the way to democratization, but with social justice for all. The Cuba that [José] Martí dreamed of.”

Every time I’ve been in Miami, I’ve chatted with numerous compatriots. Most have good jobs and have built successful careers. I ask them all the same question: would you return to rebuild Cuba?

Ninety-five percent, after explaining their reasons, answer No. Journalists like Osmín Martínez and Iliana Lavastida, who have managed to turn a boring conservative newspaper like Diario Las América into an attractive medium, do not have plans to return to Cuba either.

Only those politically committed confessed that they would leave everything behind and return to rebuild the land where they, their parents and grandparents were born. This is the case for the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero.

Almost all of the Cubans who have triumphed in Miami would help from a distance. A praiseworthy thing, but in a de-capitalized nation like Cuba today, it feels like very little. Because the country will need more than professional and financial help and powerful infrastructure investments. It will also need labor. People with experience in sectors such as construction and architecture: with few exceptions, everything built in Cuba over the last sixty years has been built badly.

It will also require people with knowledge in public administration, democratic political institutions, specialists in education, agriculture, telecommunications and other technical and scientific branches.

It is probably the best option — perhaps the only one — to involve the olive-green dictatorship. Negotiate with the emigration, especially the one with the most economic power. Open, without conditions, the doors back to their homeland. Stop treating emigrated Cubans as just a source of remittances and encourage them to participate in the national reconstruction.

Despite the triumphalist discourse of the regime, the ship is taking on water. It would be a crime to let it end up sinking without trying to find solutions.

Nobody is more interested in the fate of Cuba than Cubans. Although those who left do not want to return to stay.

IAPA Condemns Cuban State Security’s Threats Against ’14ymedio’ Journalist

Gustavo Mohme, president of the Inter-American Press Association. (Congress of the Republic of Peru / Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2018 – Cuban State Security’s threats against Luz Escobar, a journalist with 14ymedio, were condemned on Tuesday in a statement by the Inter-American Press Association (SIP); the organizations said that the threats “show that restrictions and challenges continue to confront the exercise of freedom of the press” on the island, as they have since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

“We are concerned that this new harassment of an independent journalist only reflects the government’s intolerance and lack of will,” the president of the IAPA, Gustavo Mohme, said in the note.

Last Monday, 14ymedio published an article in which it made known that Luz Escobar, who has been working for this medium since its founding in 2014, had been summoned in Havana by agents of the political police, who invited her to collaborate with the Government and thus “influence the editorial line” of this newspaper. continue reading

During the hour and twenty minute meeting, and before the professional had received and rejected the offer, the agents threatened to prevent her from leaving the country, said they would pressure her family members, and would accuse her in front of her neighbors of being a “counterrevolutionary.”

In a recent article framed as a letter to the journalist, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, openly stated her support for Luz Escobar. “They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans,” she told the journalist.

The president of the IAPA has reiterated that what is happening in Cuba “continues to be a priority issue” for the organization he presides over. The statement also mentions another incident that occurred on January 11 in which the authorities detained journalists Sol García Basulto, Inalkis Rodríguez and Henry Constantín Ferreiro, members of the magazine La Hora de Cuba  in Camagüey.

IAPA continues to emphasize that this action by Cuban State Security against the journalists of La Hora de Cuba was due to the presence of President Raúl Castro in Camagüey, since he was visiting the city. ” Constantín Ferreiro and Garcia continue to be prohibited from leaving Camagüey, where they reside,” the statement reads, noting that they had been accused of the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity” because, according to the government, they have not been “duly authorized” to practice as journalists.

In its latest report on Cuba, the IAPA denounced that the lack of press freedom on the island worsened in 2017. The non-profit organization said that this was due to an increase in “the aggressions against independent journalists and even their relatives, and against users of social networks by police bodies” with the collaboration of the Ministry of Justice.

In the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 Annual Report published on Thursday, the organization notes that the Government of Cuba “detains, harasses and threatens independent reporters” among other serious violations of people’s rights and freedoms.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Canned Chickpeas at the Outpost of El Corte Inglés in Havana

The private label products are sold at a considerably higher prices in Cuba than in Spain. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 17 January 2018 — The corner of San Rafael and Galiano in Havana is now a plaza with a wifi zone where everyone stares at the screens of their mobile phones; but long ago the famous store El Encanto was built there, a business that inspired the creation of warehouses in Madrid called El Corte Inglés, which landed in Cuba this January, like a prodigal son, with some of its private label products.

“Everything is very expensive and although they look good in comparison to the domestic products, these are products bought by foreigners or people who have a private business,” said Katia María, mother of two teenagers who was looking at the cans.

The containers fill the shelves in a scene that is barely remembered by the customers of the La Puntilla Mall west of the city. The economic problems, which have worsened in recent years, have made one of the best-stocked stores in the capital a site with almost empty shelves and poor quality products. continue reading

“These are things that I can do without and that I only buy once a year for a special occasion, but I could not do it frequently

Now, with the arrival of the Spanish giant, there are cans of tuna, cans of the typical piquillo peppers, canned pasta and chickpeas. Customers walk up and down the aisles where the green triangle with cursive letters appears that announces the merchandise coming from the other side of the Atlantic. This Tuesday nobody put anything in a cart, they just looked, as if in a museum.

The effect has been seen immediately on market shelves. “We have had hard months because when there is toilet paper, there is no chicken or milk,” points out a customer of the shopping center who preferred anonymity. “I come to Miramar, although I live in Centro Habana, because this is an area of ​​diplomats, so sometimes the stores are better stocked.”

The shopper was surprised to see the new product line but declined to buy anything. “These are things that I can do without and that I only buy once a year for a special occasion, but I could not do it frequently,” he says.

At the end of a shelf, an employee was still stacking some of the newly arrived products. “This is a type of merchandise that is usually slow-moving,” she says. “You can see that they are of good quality but not of first necessity and here people are looking for basically the most important ingredients to cook: oil, tomato sauce and canned meat or fish,” she says.

The prices do not help much either. “This can of tuna in sunflower oil costs more than what I get as a monthly pension,” says Irma Junco. However, this pensioner says she can allow herself a “taste” because she has just sold her apartment and moved to a smaller property and “the difference in money is for me to eat better, because I am bored eating rice with hot dogs and chicken.”

If in a market of El Corte Inglés in Spain a box of pasta Farfalle costs 1.46 euros, in Havana its price of 2.50 CUC is equivalent to 2.11 euros

The prices of the new products have also “swelled” quite a lot in their long journey from their origin. If in El Corte Inglés market in Spain a box of Farfalle pasta costs 1.46 euros, in Havana its price of 2.50 CUC is equivalent to 2.11 euros. Something similar happens with a 6-portion package of yeast powder, which has gone from 0.63 euros in Spain to 1.65 in Cuba.

The contrast becomes greater in those products that in Madrid are presented in packages and in Havana are sold by the unit. If a package of three cans of sweet corn costs Spaniards 2.09 euros, Cubans must pay 1.10 for each can. When the administration of La Puntilla is asked about this the answer is always: “We do not choose the prices, they are already determined,” in a clear reference to the management of the Hard Currency Collection Stores (TRD).

Cuban consumers have complained repeatedly about the lack of transparency with regards to the percentage of profit that the State takes on the products it sells in the TRDs. However, studies done independently put the amount at between 50% and 240% of the initial purchase cost in the international market.

As excessive regulations stifle the agricultural production of the island, the country must import more than 80% of the food that it consumes, which means an expense to the national coffers of more than 2 billion a year.

The canned corn, canned fruit, or ground coffee that are now marketed in La Puntilla are part of a huge bill that the island spends on the purchase of cereals, rice, beans, corn, soybeans, milk powder and chicken to sustain both the rationed market and the retail network.

A package of three cans of sweet corn is sold in Spain at 2.09 euros, while in Cuba a single can costs 1.30 CUC. (14ymedio)

In the last two years, with the economic crisis in Venezuela and the decline in oil shipments at a preferential price from that country, paying for this flow of imports has become very difficult. The lack of liquidity, in the face of the loss of profits from the resale of the oil, has caused Raúl Castro’s government to have to cut imports.

The name Aliada, another of the private labels of El Corte Inglés, is also printed on several packages of pasta that fill the shelves. Products of both private labels come to the island through the Italian company Farmavenda and are sold exclusively in the TRDs managed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces. So far only two stores in the Cuban capital offer their products, although there are plans to extend them to others this year.

Also arriving in Cuba in recent months, with less media hype, is another brand of food, this one marketed by Alcampo, the Spanish subsidiary of the French group Auchan.

The arrival of El Corte Inglés in Cuba via its imported food is an event charged with symbolism. The establishment was inspired by the sales techniques of the new El Encanto stores, founded on the island by the Spanish brothers José and Bernardo Solís.

The establishment was inspired by the sales techniques of the new El Encanto stores, founded on the island by the Spanish brothers José and Bernardo Solís

Two of their employees from Asturias, César Rodríguez and Ramón Areces, settled in Madrid after working for decades in the famous Havana store. There they founded, in 1935, the great department stores, to which they brought their experience in selling by departments, advertising campaigns and the design of the stained glass windows that had so much success among Cuban customers. To this day, the giant is still the most powerful in Spain despite its falling profits and its problems with the Treasury.

Its predecessor in Havana suffered a different fate. With the coming to power of Fidel Castro in January 1959, El Encanto was nationalized and in 1961 two firebombs burned it down. The Revolutionary government accused the CIA of being behind the action, in which the famous militia woman Fe del Valle died. The place where the property had been was turned into a park that now bears her name.

Despite its sudden end, El Encanto is still a recurring memory that comes up when talking about the island’s republican past.

“Now they are the ones who send products to us,” laments Irma Junco, a 78-year-old retiree who inspected the shelves of La Puntilla on Tuesday after learning about the arrival of the products from El Corte Inglés. “We were pioneers in a lot of things and now we are in the caboose of the train,” she says sarcastically, while holding a can of fruit cocktail with the logo of the Spanish brand.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba: The Devotion to Saint Lazarus / Iván García

The plastic artist Luis Manuel Otero shortly before being arrested by the political police. Taken from Martí Noticias.

Ivan Garcia, 18 December 2017 — On the night of Thursday, 14 December at night, after fifteen hours on the road under a copious downpour, from Sagua de Tánamo, in Holguín, province 530 miles northwest of Havana, in an old General Motors truck from the 1950s, Erasmus and his wife arrived in Havana ready to fulfill their promise to Saint Lazarus, who is as popular among Cubans as the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

“We live in a neighborhood called Ocapuna. My wife had breast cancer that thanks to the ’old man’ she overcame it. I was threatened with twelve years for embezzlement in a coffee company. And my prayers to Saint Lazarus were heard. After these incidents, even if I have to walk, I will give my offerings to the Saint,” says Erasmo. continue reading

On the morning of Friday the 15th, after a hearty breakfast of melon juice, bread with pork steak and cold salad of macaroni with ham, pineapple and mayonnaise, the couple, dressed in sackcloth and dragging a medium-sized stone they began their journey to Rincón, a small town south of the capital, where at the stroke of twelve o’clock on Saturday, December 16, in the sanctuary adjoining a leprosarium, the saint of beggars and the poor is venerated.

Erasmus wants to arrive at the town of El Rincon in the afternoon and buy candles, flowers and prayers. Also food and a bottle of rum to alleviate the cold that usually attends this time of year. “We thought to sleep outside in the sanctuary and after the mass, give our offering to old Lazarus. He deserves it.”

Because the procession coincides with the weekend, the “congregation of devotees, which is always impressive, this year is expected to be more numerous,” says a priest of a church in the neighborhood of La Víbora, who adds:

“There is a lot of frustration in the country. The wet foot/dry foot policy was eliminated, with the arrival of Trump to the White House and relations between Cuba and the United States have worsened. And after the supposed acoustic attacks, obtaining family reunification visas has become very complicated, because people have to travel to Colombia with all the expenses that represents. In addition, the government has slowed down its economic reforms.

“For more than three months now, it has not been issuing licenses to the most prosperous private businesses and the economy continues to deteriorate. All this is being suffered by the Cuban family, with salaries that do not solve much, a lack of housing, expensive food and an indecipherable future. As if that were not enough, it is unknown what will be the course of Cuba within three or four months, when it is assumed that Raúl Castro will leave power.”

Not only is Catholicism favored in times of economic crisis and people’s distrust of the poor management of the regime. Evangelists, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, have increased their numbers of faithful. As have, of course, the Afro-Cuban religions, both Santería and Palo. Due to religious syncretism on the Island, Saint Lazarus is also known as Babalú Ayé and is venerated without distinction of creed.

Three years ago Yanira joined Santería — Yemayá, clarifies — and now goes dressed in white to El Rincón. “Every December 16, on the eve of Saint Lazarus, I’m walking down Rancho Boyeros Avenue to Rincón. The last section, from the village to the sanctuary, I crawled down the street. I have a lot of faith in old Lazarus. Thanks to him I have been successful in life.”

According to Ana Luisa, a resident in the town of Rincón and owner of a small business selling entrepanes (sandwiches) and flowers, “there are believers who spend up to one hundred convertible pesos in offerings to Saint Lazarus. When this time of year arrives, almost everyone in the village starts to sell something: food, flowers, candles, statuettes … Whatever it is, to take advantage of the influx of thousands of devotees, who usually pay a lot of money.”

Shortly before December 17, El Rincón is decorated with large floral decorations and dozens of images of San Lazaro, some of large size, which are placed in glass urns or in the portals of the houses.

On the main street, several private coffee shops offer Creole food, fruit smoothies, ham and cheese sandwiches or bread with roasted suckling pig. They also sell coffee, beer, rum, brandy and red wine, which helps to bear the coldness and damp that at night is felt in El Rincón, which belongs to Santiago de las Vegas, a town where temperatures usually drop quite a bit in December.

Although the official press hardly reports on the pilgrimage, spontaneously thousands of Cubans come to venerate Saint Lazarus. “It’s a village show. Even in the hard years, when the regime banned religious demonstrations, people flocked to the Rincón. That voluntary participation in Cuba only occurs in baseball games or mega concerts, like the Rolling Stones,” says Carlos, sociologist.

In spite of the silence, the authorities allow a flotilla of state buses to transport thousands of people to the sanctuary. During the journey on foot, hundreds of policemen, black berets and agents of the State Security dressed in civilian clothes, without much discretion, watch the pilgrims.

The plastic artists Luis Manuel Otero and José Ernesto Alonso, began a walk in support of freedom and democracy in Cuba, but they could not even leave Centro Habana: at the intersection of Belascoaín and Carlos III, they were detained by the political police. Alonso has already been released, but Otero’s whereabouts are unknown.

And by tradition, Saint Lazarus receives various prayers and petitions. Erasmo and his wife, from the Ocapuna neighborhood in the eastern province of Holguín, thank the “old man” for healing breast cancer and having escaped from prison.

Other faithful, like Ernesto, come from Miami to pray for reunification as soon as possible with his daughter who lives in Havana. And Otero and Alonso, with all their rights, they demand freedom and democracy.

Saint Lazarus, somewhere, hears them all.

Mogherini’s Real Interest in Havana

Federica Mogherini in Havana this month (Radio Cadena Agramonte)

Cubaeconomía.com, Elias Amor Bravo, 5 January 2018 – The Castro regime, in its urgent need to find external financing for the economy, has developed a strategy of approaching the European Union that has come to an end, at least for the moment, with the recent visit of Federica Mogherini to Havana. The agreement is a vague text, with language so general it can mean anything, but it does not deceive anyone in terms of its objectives.

Behind this propaganda scenario, Cuba wants to access the economic funds, certainly substantial, of the so-called Cotonou Agreement, the central axis of the collaboration between the European Union and its member states with another 79 countries belonging to three continents, Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, abbreviated as the ACP countries, which had been, in their day, colonies of different states now in the Union. continue reading

The Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2000, has as its main objective the reduction of poverty to contribute to its eradication, offering support to the sustainable economic, cultural and social development of its partner countries, and facilitating the progressive integration of their economies into the world economy. Its antecedents start from the founding text of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, with the cooperation later expanded by the two Conventions of Yaoundé and the four of Lomé.

The Agreement establishes a framework of close collaboration between the signatory countries, based on a series of fundamental principles:

  1. The Agreement partners are equal.
  2. The countries determine their own development policies.
  3. Cooperation is not only between governments; parliaments, local authorities, civil society, the private sector and the economic and social partners also play a role.
  4. The cooperation agreements and priorities vary according to some aspects such as the levels of development of the countries.

Since its entry into force, joint institutions have been created to support the implementation of the Agreement, such as the ACP Council of Ministers, which receives assistance from the Committee of Ambassadors and maintains political dialogues, adopts political guidelines and makes decisions for the implementation of the Agreement. This institution is responsible for presenting an annual progress report to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and as an advisory body it presents recommendations on the achievement of the objectives of the Agreement.

There is no doubt that the political dimension of the Cotonou Agreement is important since it includes, among other elements:

  1. A full political dialogue on national, regional and global issues,
  2. The promotion of human rights and democratic principles,
  3. The development of policies for the consolidation of peace and the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and
  4. The handling of issues related to migration and security, including the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

To date, the Agreement has been based mainly on the promotion and development of cooperation activities whose objectives are: the economic development of the industrial, agricultural and tourist sectors of the ACP countries; social and human development to improve health, education and nutrition services, and regional integration and cooperation to encourage and develop trade between the ACP States.

All these activities are financed through the European Development Fund, which between 2014 and 2020 has a budget of 33.1 billion euros. However, it contains important clauses on trade in services, information and communication technologies, as well as capital movements.

Seen from this perspective, the interest of the Castro regime to accede to the Cotonou Agreement is more than evident, since it can act as a beneficiary, both receiving aid for internal development, as well as participating in the health, education and nutrition programs, which receive outstanding financing.

In addition, this Agreement depends on the representative of European foreign policy Federica Mogherini, hence the maximum attention she received in Havana and the displays of fondness and affection such as the visit to Old Havana with Eusebio Leal and the cardinal.

The regime, which agreed to generous plans for debt cancellation with the signatory countries of the Paris Club, and its subsequent conversion into development aid, now has an essential instrument in the Cotonou area to channel programs and give them a politically responsible format. All perfect.

But in addition, it may be known in Havana that the Cotonou Agreement will end in 2020, after the review carried out in 2010, which adapted the collaboration to focus more on issues such as climate change, food security, the fight against HIV/AIDS, the sustainability of fisheries, the strengthening of security in fragile regions, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (replaced in 2016 by 17 Sustainable Development Goals).

Through this gateway to the EU, Cuba is prepared to participate fully in the negotiations of the future Agreement that the Union can elaborate and, in due course, sign with the ACP countries.

To occupy an active position and to be integrated into the more than 100 countries that make up the Agreement can serve the regime to obtain the much needed financing to close its external accounts and avoid structural liquidity problems.

Having exhausted the resources from Venezuela, Havana turns its eyes to Brussels. Will it work?

“Yes, It’s Really a Bus”

The passengers enjoyed the air conditioning and seats of a bus designed to minimize damage to the environment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 29 November 2017 — The buildings pass by, a piece of blue sky, trees and some newspaper stands. Through the window of the only all-electric bus running through Havana, the city seems different. “This is the future,” the driver tells the passengers of the vehicle that serves route 18 between the Palatino terminal and Avenida del Puerto.

This Tuesday, getting on the shiny bus was much more than a trip. The modern technology from the manufacturer Yutong gives the vehicle a range of up to 180 miles. Although its usual fare should be 40 centavos (less than 2 cents US), yesterday no one returned change to those who paid with a full Cuban peso. continue reading

The equipment, with tinted windows against the sun and lightly padded seats, was the target of jokes and speculations throughout the day.

At the first stop, near the Vía Blanca, the young people at a nearby high school gathered to enter as a group through its wide doors. The E12 bus is eco-friendly with Zero Emission, moves at a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour and has Michelin tubeless tires.

But none of this seemed to matter too much to the teenagers. Their conversation after sitting down wasn’t about the batteries or the fact that the bus does not consume fossil fuel, but about the efficient air conditioning that keeps the interior cool.

In a country where most of the year the thermometer climbs over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it is no small thing to be able to move around the city without fat drops of sweat trickling down in a sweltering public bus. The lack of crowding in the aisles and the fact that on the walls of the vehicle no one has yet marked it with phrases in the style of “Claudia loves Maikel” also seems strange.

“Soon there will be some self-employed guy renting out overcoats,” jokes a young woman. Beside her, in the blue high school uniform, a classmate is skeptical: “This will not last long.” Most of the conversations passengers share across the seats are expressions of regret for the deterioration that, inevitably, the vehicle will suffer.

The suspicion that cleanliness, air conditioning and comfort cannot withstand the passage of time, in the face of apathy and the lack of control that reigns on the island, dominates the conversations. “Here everything starts well and ends badly,” says an old woman who pinches the seat covering to see what it is made of.

“They say it has cameras and sensors in the back door,” warns a dark-haired man. “That is so that nobody leaves without paying,” the young woman who travels next to her responds. “And the seat is intelligent,” he adds, “that means you sit and it takes care of you, you can pass your hand over it and other things…” he says with a mischievous look.

A woman comes on with a string of onions she just got after “walking all over Havana.” From the bundle, thin layers fall off and land on the spotless floor. “Compañera, be careful, you have already started messing it up,” her seatmate scolds her, asking her where she bought the onions, because “they’re impossible to find.”

The driver’s assistant, in addition to collecting the fares, insists that nobody travel standing up and stares across the bus from one side to the other like a police officer. In the middle of the trip a lady climbs on with a ten-year-old girl and gets upset because she can’t stand next to her daughter. “Are you going to take care of the depraved ones who want to take advantage of her?” she asks the employee, who insists that she cannot stand in the aisle.

The first discussion of the day begins with an incident involving a dozen neighbors all willing to explain the dangers of a minor traveling alone and “the squaring of the circle,” according to a young man, who talks about bureaucratic regulations. “Coming or going here, now it is forbidden to travel standing,” he mocks.

A gentleman of advanced age, with worn out clothes, can’t bear even three minutes inside the vehicle. “Let me get off, it is very cold,” he says, yelling at the driver to open the door. “Get used to it, this will be the public transport of 2020,” the driver manages to tell him before a man gets on with a wireless speaker blasting reggaeton.

The bus runs without incident along Calzada del Cerro. When all the seats are occupied it does not even slow down at the bus stops, always crowded at that time of the morning. As they pass by, people on the street open their eyes, point and comment about the shiny body. “That, that’s the one they put on the television,” one hears when the door opens.

A couple of tourists take a photo at the insistence of their informal guide who “sells” the wonder of being able to spot the first bus of that type in all of Cuba. “You will not see this anywhere else in this country, it’s pure novelty,” he emphasizes.

The vehicle is about 40-feet long, 8 feet wide and 10 feet high, with 35 seats, five of them for people with disabilities, and a wider aisle that allows 70 passengers to stand, despite the ban from yesterday.

At the top of Infanta Street, a young mother approaches with her seven-year-old son, loaded with packages. “Mommy, this bus is new,” exclaims the boy excitedly. “This really is a bus,” he repeats as he runs his hand over the handrails and the edge of the seats.

The euphoria is painted on his little face, until a man who travels two stops further shouts: “I’ll trade you the bus for your mother.” A collective laugh fills the interior of the gleaming bus before the driver’s grim gaze. “No, because the mother is mine and this bus is not yours,” the boy replies, adding a curse that remains floating in the air.

When it reaches the end of the route, there is another line of people waiting on Avenida del Puerto to make the return trip. New comments emerge as the passengers board. No one comments on the benefits of this transport to the environment or the fuel savings. The first one to board starts off with a joke: “How much do I have to pay for the electricity?”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Eye: Data / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 16 January 2018 — During the World Internet Governance Forum held in Geneva at the end of December 2017, my curiosity was raised that the word most mentioned in the different forums was “data.”

The term Big Data has been increasingly pervasive among the multiple stakeholders in Internet Governance. Since the English mathematician Clive Dumby, in 2006, launched the phrase that is associated with the data boom: “Data is the new oil,” this new oil, unlike the organic one, has only grown exponentially, and is a “renewable” resource. continue reading

Impossible to give shape without complex programs and powerful processors, so that this enormous amount of information is usable; To make these data really valuable, what is known as the 4V rule must be fulfilled: Volume, Speed, Variety, Veracity, which are explained by themselves.

According to the most widespread idea, it is about the data generated by social networks as a whole; however, these data represent a small amount of the global volume, but they are the data that allow profiles to be drawn up, and which may end up violating the right to privacy, as has already been demonstrated.

Something as widespread and everyday as the mobile phone, even with the data turned off, is a transmitting source and, by triangulating the antennas, can constantly announce its geographical locatio. A TED conference offers an interesting perspective on this.

Cases like that of Dumby that became a millionaire creating brand loyalty through the expert handling of Big Data to know tastes and trends, have motivated many to create their own ventures with data analysis.

For others, studying this information can predict droughts and prevent famines; it can improve the life of the citizen by optimizing administrative management in what is known as Open Goverment; or it can be decisive in clinical diagnosis. This is, let’s say, the friendly area of Big Data, because in its darkest side, in the hands of companies and/or unscrupulous governments, what can not be deduced about the private life of individuals?

In many countries, these databases have been opened to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation and as a sign of transparency. But as, in Cuba, we can not wait for that opening by a secretive government par excellence, the care of the data is an individual responsibility. What we share on social networks, what we say on the phone, the content of our correspondence, both traditional and electronic.

And if we want more privacy, leave the cell phone at home.

Letter to a Threatened Journalist

Luz Escobar has worked for 14ymedio since its founding in 2014. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 17 January 2018 – Luz, you have had an incredible “privilege”: To see up close the true face under the Fantômas mask.

In your police interview this Monday those State Security agents showed you, with complete self-confidence, who they really are, what is hidden behind the discourse of supposed ‘Revolutionary ethics’ and ‘defense of the country.’ In reality, under their clothes they are ‘mafioso’ whose methods mimic the worst style of the Camorra.

They have threatened you, they have warned you that the people closest to you will pay the consequences, they have even asked you to become one of them to betray your colleagues. All this, using the only tool they know: repression.

Your life will become more difficult from now on. Many friends will stop calling you, others will cross to the other side of the street when they see you, dozens of acquaintances will say you’ve gone crazy or that you are brainwashed, others will advise you to leave the country as soon as possible, to shut up, to stop writing. Some relatives will tell you to think about your daughters, while the fence around your house, your neighborhood, your person, will become suffocating.

They themselves, with the characteristic abuse of power, will spread the word that you are a ‘mercenary’ or, in the worst case, that you work for the ‘apparatus’ as an ‘undercover agent’. Distrust will rise like a wall around your work. These campaigns of defamation and demonization will affect every detail of your existence, from who knocks on your door to sell you a little milk, to the phrases the teachers repeat in your daughters’ classrooms.

However, from today, you will also feel a strange lightness, as if a weight you had been carrying on your shoulders for years has been lifted. They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans.

Welcome to your new life. Enjoy it and be free.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s Official Press Criticizes Scarcity and Quality of Subsidized Menstrual Pads

To the problems of supply is added the “terrible” quality of the domestically manufactured product, according to the complaints collected by Juventud Rebelde. (Escambray)

14ymedio biggerEFE / via 14ymedio, Havana, 16 January 2018 — The small amount of sanitary pads that the Cuban State gives to women of childbearing age each month, their “terrible” quality and the irregularity in deliveries are currently the source of criticisms in the official press of the Island, where many turn to the black market to cover this need.

An extensive report in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde notes that this is a recurring problem that “over and over again” has led to “the same complaints” and maintains that, although it is a heavily subsidized article, it is used for “a basic hygienic need that does not understand delays in production or obsolete machinery.”

In Cuba, all women of childbearing age are entitled to receive a pack of ten pads per month, for which they pay 1.2 Cuban pesos (just under 5 cents US). continue reading

Several women interviewed by the newspaper are annoyed that ten “intimates,” as this product is known in the country, it is not enough to cover the entire menstrual cycle, and criticize that deliveries are often delayed for months.

Meanwhile, the product never fails in the black market, where it is offered at a price more than ten times higher: “In normal times up to ten pesos and when there is a crisis, it’s up to 15 to 20 pesos in Cuban pesos,” says Marta Valdés, 34.

Another alternative is the state stores that sell in hard currency, where a packages of pads are sold at prices from 1 CUC (equivalent to a US dollar 02 24 Cuban pesos), a high cost for  someone living on a Cuban average salary, that does not exceed 30 CUC.

“The black market should not be the solution to acquire the demanded product,” says the state newspaper, which titled the story Intimate Tragedy.

The article also cites experts, such as gynecologist Arelis Leon, who explains that the ideal is to change the hygiene pad every four hours during the menstrual period, which means using six pads a day and an average of between 18 and 42 pads for each cycle.

To the problems of supply is added the “terrible” quality of the domestically manufactured product, according to the complaints collected by Juventud Rebelde.

In Cuba there are three factories that make this product and all stopped doing so for lack of raw materials, since of the ten materials used in the production, eight are imported from countries such as Spain, Italy and China, said Emma Hernández, the general director of the state manufacturing company Mathisa.

The delay in production accumulated by this stoppage, makes it “impossible for the company to catch up on the loast production during the months in which the factories were stopped.”

The company also attributed the defective products to “human errors,” because the quality review and packaging are done manually.

“There are still no definitive solutions, at least in the coming months,” the newspaper said.

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