Cuba Loses More Than Half of the Food Harvested, Reports a Spanish NGO

In Cuba, losses during harvest and after collection represent 30% of total production, plus an additional 27% during distribution. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Agriculture in Cuba is among the lowest performing in Latin America according to an evaluation published by the non-governmental organization Mundubat, based in the Basque Country (Spain). On the island, losses during harvest and after collection represent 30% of total production, while during the distribution stages they reach an additional 27%.

The report includes an evaluation carried out jointly between Mundubat and Veterinarians Without Borders (VSF). Both organizations are part of a cooperation agreement with Cuba, started in 2014 and funded mainly by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development. continue reading

Mundubat and VSF have been working on the island since 1993 in projects that promote food sovereignty and gender equality. The entities work in collaboration with official organizations, including the National Association of Small Farmers, the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians, and the Cuban Association of Animal Production.

The report sees as a positive sign that “the cooperative sector already has 80% of the land and produces more than 90% of the food produced in the country,” but notes that domestic production “only covers 20% of the population’s needs.”

The biggest problems detected in food production on the island have their origin in the “weakness of the cooperative institutional framework in which agricultural production is organized,” the report said.

“Domestic food production only covers 20% of the populations’ needs”

The cooperatives lack an “internal evaluation of the efficiency and ecological sustainability of the models of production,” demonstrate a “lack of knowledge of the regulatory frameworks,” suffer deficiencies in their facilities, and have “little involvement from their members,” says Mundubat.

The island suffers from “degraded soils with low levels of organic matter, and high incidence of pests and diseases,” along with “high salinity, soil compaction and overgrazing.” Invasive weeds and contamination from manure aggravate the picture.

“The scarce investment in technology” limits “production even more.” Mundubat describes the final products offered for consumption as being of “low quality.” A situation that points to “poor processing in the early stages of harvest,” “deterioration of storage systems” and “lack of experience in adding value to primary products.”

The different productive units “do not meet the [island’s] internal demands” and the food supply is characterized by “the low and unstable availability of food throughout the year” and fluctuating prices.

The report warns that women have “a low presence” in positions and structures of management in the agricultural sector and “endure the sexual division of labor.” While “rights holders and producers are men,” women occupy “agricultural labor posts” in agribusiness processing chains and in retail distribution.

“The sector’s returns are stagnant or have decreased slightly,” warns the report, which predicts that to the extent that agriculture “does not increase its yields and exploit its productive potential, the economy will have to assume significant expenditures to supply its domestic demand,” that is, for purchasing food from abroad.

Cuba Fails To Eradicate Smoking In Schools

More than half of Cuban families are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke: including 55% of children, 51% of pregnant women and 60% of teens. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Images of students who smoke during recess or between breaks in class, and teachers who light up their cigarettes in the classroom are common in Cuban schools. In spite of the frequent anti-tobacco campaigns promoted by the media, in recent years Cubans have begun smoking at ever earlier ages.

The head of the Independent Department of School Health in the Ministry of Education, Yanira Gómez Delgado, expressed to the newspaper Juventud Rebelde her concern about exposure to tobacco smoke in schools and noted that the regulation requires that “no person who works in schools can smoke there.”

“It is not enough to avoid students suffering the effects of being passive smokers, but it is also necessary to promote anti-smoking with the example of their own behavior, and to distance themselves from a gateway drug, which cigarettes are considered to be,” warns Gómez Delgado. continue reading

The country does not yet have a tobacco prevention and control law that more strictly penalizes those who smoke in social spaces, and although in 2005 the authorities banned smoking in closed public places, the measure is barely complied with.

The country does not yet have a tobacco prevention and control law that more strictly penalizes those who smoke in social spaces

More than half of Cuban families are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke: 55% of children, 51% of pregnant women and 60% of adolescents, said Dr. Elba Lorenzo, head of the National Tobacco Program. The specialist believes that the island is one of the countries with the “greatest prevalence of the problem” worldwide.

Lorenzo is committed to “creating smoke-free spaces in society” as “the only effective and recognized means of protecting children, adolescents and young people” from the harmful effects of smoking.

In mid-2015, the Ministry of Public Health reported that 36 people on the island die of tobacco-related illnesses every day. Dr. Patricia Varona, of the Society of Hygiene and Epidemiology of Cuba, told the official press that smoking is the non-genetic disease that most affects Cubans’ life expectancy.

Cuba occupies fourth place among Latin America countries in the prevalence of smokers, behind only Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay. There are 2,198,133 smokers on the island, including 1,431,441 men and 766,691 women, representing 23% of the population. Some 10% of them smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day.

Economic Crime, the Pitfall in the Path

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 22 May 2017 — The saleswoman described her merchandise in a murmur: loggerhead turtle steaks, beef and shrimp. The man salivated, but replied that he could not buy any of those products, the most persecuted in the informal market. Every opponent knows that the authorities would want to try him for an “economic crime,” and perhaps that saleswoman was just the bait.

The techniques used by an authoritarian government to control citizens can be as varied as the fertile imagination of the repressors. Some are designed in air-conditioned offices using studied methodologies, while others arise on the fly, from seemingly fortuitous situations.

Are the economic constraints that we live under a calculated scenario to keep Cubans locked in a cycle of survival? Do so many prohibitions seek to leave us civically paralyzed, feeling ourselves guilty and with one foot in a prison cell? continue reading

Beyond the conspiracy theories, officialdom has managed the informal market as trap for the nonconforming, a framework for gathering information about the deep Cuba, an element of blackmail against its citizens and a lure to hunt down political opponents.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increasing tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions

The Plaza of the Revolution has turned its bad economic management into another way of keeping society in its fist. It knows that families will do everything possible to put food on the table and will turn to the underground networks to buy everything from their children’s shoes to the dollars that at the official currency exchanges are taxed at 10%.

In many cases it is just about waiting, like the spider who knows that sooner or later the little insect will fall into its sticky threads. State Security only has to wait for a dissident to buy coffee “under the table” or to dare to have the bathroom retiled by an unlicensed tile setter.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increased tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions. They are charged with crimes that ordinary Cubans commit every day under the patronizing eyes of the police and with the complicity of officials or state administrators. However, in the case of an opponent, the law has the capacity to be narrower, more rigid and more strictly observed.

In all international forums, Raúl Castro’s government boasts of not having political prisoners and it supports this argument by severely, but politically selectively, criminalizing such trivial matters as keeping four sacks of cement or a few gallons of fuel at home, without being able to show the papers that prove they were purchased in state stores.

Journalist Henry Constantin is accused of “usurpation of legal capacity” for working as a reporter in an independent publication, but dozens of ex-military are appointed managers of tourist facilities without ever having studied hotel management or business management. None of them have been reprimanded for serving in a position for which they are not formally qualified.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government

Karina Gálvez, a member of the Coexistence Studies Center, is being prosecuted for alleged “tax evasion” during the purchase of her home. However, before the new tax imposed on real estate transactions came into force, thousands of Cubans thronged the notaries to complete their paperwork under the previous tax laws, far removed from the real estate market rates. Not one was sanctioned.

Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ Movement, had his home broken into in a police raid and is charged with the offense of “illicit economic activity.” His “crime”: possessing a laptop, rewritable discs and several disposable razors. Unlike those thriving artists who import the latest iMac from the market or “Daddy’s kids” – children of the regime’s leaders – who have a satellite dish to watch Miami television, the activist committed the offense of saying he wants to help change his country.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government. It is not the same to buy beef in the informal market when you pretend ideological fealty to the regime, than it is to do the same when you belong to an opposition movement.

The black bag can become a wall, a noose, a hidden trap for those who do not applaud.

Getting Dressed in Cuba / Iván García

Clothes made in Cuba on display in a state store. (Cubanet)

Ivan Garcia, 15 May 2017 — The plastic drawers holding garments for men and women give off the usual scent of things that have have been in storage for a long time. We are in a government-run store that sells used clothing on the Calzada de Monte, a busy thoroughfare lined with state-owned retail establishments, privately owned coffee shops and people clandestinely selling cheap Chinese-made merchandise.

At the back of the store, three plastic drawers of second-hand clothing lie scattered on the floor. A variety of pants and shirts hang from racks flanked by two mirrors with blackened edges.

The place is stifling. Sweat runs down the faces of employees, who try to relieve the heat by fanning themselves with covers of old magazines and pieces of cardboard. continue reading

A shirt with a dirty collar and no label costs eighty pesos, almost four dollars. It is to thrift shops and flee markets like these that people with low-incomes — typically state workers paid in the local currency and those who do not receive remittances from overseas — come to shop.

“All the used clothing here is imported. The Ministry of Domestic Trade cleans them but then the customers dirty them. They’re clothes that people from other countries have sold or donated to thrift stores. This lot came from Canada. There were better items for sale but they’re already gone. What’s left over is the stuff nobody wants,” says the manager.

Yamil, a thirty-four-year-old primary school custodian often buys second-hand clothing. “My salary of 300 pesos (the equivalent of thirteen dollars) doesn’t go far. I would like to dress more fashionably but my buying options are limited to used clothes. Occasionally, a friend will give me pants or a shirt. And a relative living in the US sends me cheap stuff, which I give to my kids,” he says.

The biggest problem in Cuba today is putting food on the table. Not everyone can afford breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maintaining a high-quality diet consumes 80% of a typical family’s income. Sometimes more. Even if you have enough money, you cannot always find the foods you want or need.

Dressing children is a huge headache. Old people, the biggest losers of Raul Castro’s timid economic reforms, also face struggles. Just ask Eusebio, an octogenarian retiree who sells magazines on Calzada del Cerro.

“At least it’s almost never cold here. Otherwise, we’d be a pile of stiffs. Most of us wear clothes that are twenty or more years old. Those with families overseas manage to do alright. So do people with children who are snappy dressers or managers with foreign companies. But the rest of us are out of luck. The worst is when shoes wear out. I use shoes that my newspaper customers give me. If they didn’t, I would be walking around in flip-flops,” says Eusebio.

A standard monthly salary of twenty-six dollars makes it impossible for the average Cuban to buy clothes. Families with children who do not receive overseas remittances have to hope for a miracle, especially if they have more than one child.

“Buying clothes and shoes is a nightmare,” says Daniel, a civil engineer. “Society is divided into those who have options and those who don’t. Students whose parents are well-off wear brand label shoes to school. Everyone else has to make-do with low-quality shoes. Other kids ridicule them. They made fun of my son because of the tennis shoes I bought him. I try to encourage him and tell him to study hard so that he’ll have a career after he graduates. But he says, ’Dad, professionals here are worse off than someone who works at a produce market.’ It’s a mess.”

In Cuba, stores cater to different markets. Those whose merchandise is priced in Cuban pesos (CUP) usually offer standard or poor quality clothing. Most stores, however, sell items of higher quality, which are priced in hard currency in the form of convertible pesos (CUC) and carry import duties of 240%.

TRD Caribe — one of a chain of businesses owned by GAESA, a conglomerate run by the Cuban military, which controls 80% of the Cuban economy — offers clothing purchased in bulk from wholesale markets in Panama Canal Zone or cheap garments acquired from China.

The prices are predatory. Jeans of mediocre quality go for between twenty and thirty CUC. “The quality of shoes and clothing is really bad. It’s a bunch of junk that they treat as though it were of the highest quality,” says a woman looking through a box of rubber flip-flops at a shop on Acosta Avenue in southern Havana’s Tenth of October neighborhood.

At one of the Palco stores or the well-known boutiques located in hotels or shopping malls, better quality goods can be found but at sky-high prices.

A pair of Converse sneakers at the boutique in the Hotel Saratoga, where the king of Morocco recently stayed, costs the equivalent of ninety dollars. A pair of Gap jeans goes for more than one-hundred twenty.

“Only musicians, hookers, owners of successful private businesses or people who get a lot of money from overseas can afford to shop in those boutiques. Everyone else is screwed,” say Luisa, a bank employee.

At the Mango store in the shopping mall of the Comodoro hotel, which is run by a daughter-in-law of the late dictator Fidel Castro, a pair of denim shorts can cost as much as ninety dollars.

For Cubans trying to dress fashionably, the underground market provides the best options. “Most people buy small items from individuals. They have better prices and a wider selection than state-run stores. They also let you pay in installments,” says Sheila, a college-prep student.

The government has prohibited sales of clothing by privately owned stores since late 2013. But almost all private businesses take advantage of the revolving door that operates between what is legal and what is not, a mechanism that operates with the precision of a Swiss watch.

Thousands of people on the island and abroad are engaged in the garment trade. Merchandise is usually purchased in Panama, Peru or Russia. In some cases it is acquired by catalogue. But whether shopping in state-owned or private businesses, getting dressed in Cuba is an expense that is five times the average Cuban’s monthly salary.

If you ask a Cuban what he sort of present he wants, he will give you one of three answers: a smart phone, a pair of comfortable shoes or a ticket out of the country.

 

Cuba’s Fake Transport Co-ops

One of the new ‘Rutero” taxis, with an articulated city bus in the background. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 18 May 2017 — In an effort to persuade Cubans and the international left that “Cuba is building socialism,” while seeking to convince the world that Castroism is abandoning State Totalitarianism and also trying to counteract the relative independence achieved by the so-called boteros, or boatmen, as independent taxi drivers are known, the state’s effort to “update the economic model” includes the introduction of what they are calling Taxi Rutero, offering rides at 5 Cuban pesos per trip.

They are not cooperatives, in their strict sense, because they do not arise from the spontaneous idea of ​​workers pooling their capital and resources to organize production collectively and distribute profits. Rather, they are state-owned leasing companies, called cooperatives, that hire vehicles to the drivers who are given some advantages, such as low gasoline or oil prices, and who are paid daily but must hand over everything they collect. More or less what they have been doing with the urban buses in the capital lately. continue reading

Now, faced with the state’s inability to deal with the boteros, it decides to invent “taxi cooperatives” which are nothing more than a version of the bus cooperatives, featuring cars

Now, the state is confronting its inability to deal with the boteros who, faced with inflation generated by bureaucratic policies and their problems getting fuel, decided to raise prices and launched a kind of strike when the state imposed a price cap. So, instead of negotiating with them and finding solutions that solve the problem for the good of everyone, the state decides to invent “taxi cooperatives” which are nothing more than a version of the bus cooperatives, featuring cars.

The system is more or less the same. In state cars, with state gasoline and state spare parts, a car is rented to a strike-breaker – the new scabs – for one thousand Cuban pesos a day, and then they are paid 800 Cuban pesos a month; an almost unbelievable arrangement that could only have been invented by the “state cooperatives.”

The cutting edge of the new “cooperatives” is clearly directed against the boteros, setting a price of 15 pesos for a ride that the private drivers charge 20 to 25 Cuban pesos for.

This is not a solution to the transportation problem, this is an attempt to crush the boteros, because Cuba’s intolerant state system does not know how to and has no interest in negotiating with people, with the workers, it only knows how to impose.

Something similar has been done with service “cooperatives,” such as cafes, shoe repairers, household appliance repairers and others, in old unsustainable state entities. In practice, they have leased the premises and equipment, without ever being offered the property and with the subsequent activities subjected to countless state controls. It’s a lie. There is nothing “cooperative” about it.

It has already become common for the Castro’s Stalinist and antisocialist state to label their para-state inventions cooperatives.

These misrepresentations come from the early years. Then, under the personal leadership of Fidel Castro, the sugar cane cooperatives were created, without giving them the land. The system of sugarcane cooperatives showed signs of increasing independence, controlling their own finances, creating the village shops, and forcing the Sugar Industry Ministry to pay for the cane they cut, plus they had their own militias and bought the machinery they needed with their own money.

Later, when it became clear that the agricultural farms were not working with wage labor, they invented the Basic Units of Cooperative Production

When Carlos Rafael Rodríguez was appointed president of National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA) in February 1962, he dissolved the sugarcane cooperatives in the middle of that year’s harvest, to create “farms for the people,” and thus to convert those in the cooperatives into wage laborers. He handed over their lands to Che’s Sugar Ministry (MINAZ), and thereby destroyed the monetary-mercantile relationship between agriculture and the sugar industry.

Later, when it became clear that the agricultural farms were not working with wage labor, they invented the Basic Units of Cooperative Production, UBPC, cooperatives in name only because the workers continued to receive salaries from the State. These salaries were linked only to meeting the “Productive Plans,” not to the actual market results, and the plans were developed by the state with the requirement that they deliver the production the plans “committed” them to, to a collection system where the prices were set by the buyer (i.e. the state). A complete farce.

Sometimes we give the socialists the benefit of the doubt. Has this arbitrary management of the concept of cooperativism led us to the point where its manipulators have no idea what a cooperative is? Do they do it to try to fool the uneducated politicians who abound everywhere? Or is it part of a plan to discredit the original socialist idea of ​​Karl Marx’s self-managing cooperativism?

Whatever the answer is, it is, at the very least, detestable.

A Taxi Cooperative Proposes To Lower Private Transport Prices

Passengers getting ready to board one of the new Rutero fixed-route shared taxis operating in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 May 2017 — In the midst of the morning hustle and bustle, residents of Havana are trying to reach their destinations on time, a challenge because of the inefficient public transport and the sky high prices charged by the private operators of fixed-route shared-ride taxi services. On Monday a new service, “Rutero taxis,” was added to the transportation offerings, a cooperative that intends to regulate the high costs of moving around Cuba’s largest city.

With a total of 60 Lada and Hyundai cars, in addition to five buses, Cooperative Number 2 covers the route between La Lisa and the Fraternity Park. For years, this route has been the fiefdom of the boteros – or boatmen, as private taxi drivers are called – with their dilapidated but efficient vehicles. In the private taxis, the complete trip costs 20 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of one day’s pay, while individual sections of the trip cost 10 Cuban pesos, reduced rates recently imposed by the government. continue reading

The users perceive the new structure, under cooperative management, as a response the high fares charged by private operators, rates that the official media has called an “abuse on the population.” The Rutero drivers charge 15 Cuban pesos for the full route and 5 for intermediate sections.

The Rutero drivers charge 15 Cuban pesos for the full route and 5 for intermediate sections compared to 20 and 10 charged by the private drivers

The conflict between the State and the self-employed drivers has experienced tense moments in recent months. Last February, the capital authorities imposed flat rates on private taxi drivers’ journeys. The decision was a brake on the law of supply and demand that has governed the private transportation of passengers since it was authorized in the mid-1990s.

The boteros responded by refusing to serve intermediate stops and carrying only passengers who made the complete trip. Although they lack an independent union, something prohibited by law, they closed ranks and decreased the number of customers they served, to pressure local authorities to withdraw the controls.

The result was an increase in the waiting time for transport and the overwhelming of the bus stops by the avalanche of customers who could no longer travel in the private fixed-route shared taxis, called almendrónes after the almond-shape of the classic American cars commonly used in the service. For weeks, Habaneros have felt as if the most difficult days of the Special Period of the 90’s were coming back.

Now the taxi drivers are trying to alleviate that situation, with a management structure halfway between private and state.

As of January there were 397 private cooperatives on the island, active in food, personal and technical services. The state has promoted this kind of economic management since 2012, but is still in the experimental phase.

“This isn’t fair,” comments Rafael Vidal, a private driver who does not look favorably on the new service. “Those who drive these cars do not have to worry about breakdowns or getting parts, because they have a workshop with all the spare parts and several mechanics at their disposal,” protests the driver.

For Vidal, “the competition is unfair” because “the drivers do not pay for the fuel, and although I have no evidence, I can assure you that the traffic police will not come down on them like they do us”

For Vidal, “the competition is unfair” because “the drivers do not pay for the fuel, and although I have no evidence, I can assure you that the traffic police will not come down on them like they do us.” One of the most repeated complaints among private drivers is the harassment of inspectors and police officers, sometimes in the form of extortion with demands for money.

Sitting at the wheel of one of the yellow cars with a black roof that the new cooperative operates, Reinier is pleased to be part of the initiative. Previously he rendered his services through the state-owned company Cubataxi and confirmed that getting fuel is no longer a problem in his new job. “My Lada is the only one with a new engine and that is why it uses oil. Yesterday I consumed 18 liters in seven roundtrips,” he says.

The cuts in the oil supply to the state sector keeps the drivers on edge. Of the more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day that Cuba received during the years when Hugo Chavez ruled Venezuela, the supply dropped to 87,000 in 2016, and now does not exceed 55,000, according to several analysts.

The drop in fuel imports has affected the informal gasoline market and raised prices, one of the reasons that led the private drivers to increase their fares.

Reinier believes that it is too early to “assert that there are advantages” with the Rutero taxis, or whether they really relieve the transport situation in the capital. He confirms that he must give all his proceeds to the cooperative daily. “If I deposit 1,050 Cuban pesos every day, I am guaranteed a monthly salary of 800 CUP.” If he exceeds that amount he gets a bonus, and if he falls short there is a deduction.

This Monday, several of the Rutero drivers were not able to meet the standard, according to Reinier. “I did it, but I have tremendous pain in my back from the nine hours I was driving,” he explains to 14ymedio.

The new service covers the route of the P-14 bus from six in the morning until eight at night. The first section starts on 272nd Street in La Lisa municipality and runs to the beginning of Marianao; the second concludes at Avenida 26 in the Plaza district, and the last one ends at Fraternity Park.

Another driver, who preferred not to give his name, explained that it is not very clear what happens when someone rides the last 100 meters of the first leg and gets off in the first block of the second. “You could be charged 10 CUP because you crossed the border, but that is up to the driver’s consideration,” he speculates.

The Rutero drivers have a significant limitation: they can only accept Cuban pesos, the national currency, in a country where the convertible peso has become the strong currency that actually runs the economy. The drivers justify the decision because “the cooperative keeps the accounts in CUP to measure the completion of the daily minimum.”

“Betancourt, the president of the cooperative, says that we can not become a Cadeca (currency exchange),” Reinier says, laughing.

According to several drivers interviewed, for now the contract is in force for three months and many expect that “when they adjust it” they will lower the daily quota

According to several drivers interviewed, for now the contract is in force for three months and many expect that “when they adjust it” they will lower the daily quota. There is a sense among them of being part of an experiment open to modifications at any time.

The outsides of the cars are painted with the identification of the cooperative, and inside the cars there is passenger information about their rights and established prices. In addition, the telephone number 18820 is displayed for complaints and claims.

Customers agree that there should be no illusions. “It would be a miracle if it lasts for a year,” says a young woman to an official journalist who, at the stop at Fraternity Park, put a microphone through the window to survey the passengers.

A woman seated next to her limits herself to approval of the new prices. “Comparing it with the private taxis it is better, but it is still expensive. A few years ago, when the taxis had a meter, you could travel through Havana for 5 pesos and for 15 pesos you could travel to another province,” she concludes.

Readers Opine About ’14ymedio’ on its Third Anniversary

14ymedio’s third anniversary makes a mockery of official censorship in Cuba. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2017 — This digital newspaper first saw the light just three years ago, on 21 May 2014. In this time the setbacks have been many, as have the gratifications from updating the site, providing a constant flow of information to our readers, and maintaining high quality standards of reporting in the articles published on this page.

Today, readers opine about the topics they prefer to see addressed, they contribute their critiques to improve the journalism prepared by the editorial team of this newspaper and its collaborators, as well as project how they imagine it will evolve in the coming three years, the amount of time that has passed 14ymedio was born.

Marlene Azor says she reads the newspaper from Mexico. “I think it is an essential information medium on Cuba and the world.” The academic values ​​the articles published as “informative and at the same time providing analysis,” and considers the editorial work “serious and rigorous,” a characteristic she considers “very gratifying for someone who is looking for information on the daily life” of the island. continue reading

The most interesting topics for Azor are those that have to do with “the economy, politics, culture and daily life” in the country. She finds the comments in the discussion area essential “for the right to free expression.” However, she regrets the “deficit of the culture of debate in [the comments] sent by State Security” to boycott the medium.

In this site the setbacks have been many, as have the gratifications from updating the site, providing a constant flow of information to our readers, and maintaining high quality standards of reporting in the articles published on this page.

Looking ahead three years, the Cuban emigre expects to see 14ymedio developing “more depth in its analysis,” because “the disinformation” exercised by the Cuban government “cannot last” much longer. Azor is extremely critical of the official press and accuses it of misinforming and disseminating “such a biased view of the world” that it can go so far as to “the reverse” of reality.

“ReyLI” comments that “the topics that interest me most are those related to Cuba and Venezuela” and he believes that commenters on the site “should use fewer bad words and generally follow the rules of the site, which are not always met by eliminating comments.” The reader appreciates the existence of this information portal.

“Gatovolador” visits 14ymedio because he finds it “very complete with regard to the news coming from the Island, its dissidence and the government’s great failures.” He would be interested in finding more articles “on universal geography, the discoveries in this field and also in the field of health,” although he acknowledges that the newspaper already dedicates space to these topics.

He also agrees with other readers that “lately confrontations and responses are taking place” in the comment area. Discussions in which there is “disrespect” from “people of the left in their crazy quest to put an end to 14ymedio.” A situation that he believes is based on a strategy to cause “other readers to lose interest and withdraw” from the site.

“I would like to see this newspaper be for sale in all the island’s news kiosks” so that it can be read by all Cubans, he says. The reader congratulates the collaborators and editors of the newspaper and hopes that on “21 May 2018 we can meet again.”

“Jesusnavacuba” has become a regular commenter on this newspaper because he wants to be aware of “the political discussion, to know the strategies” of the managers of this digital site and “to see how they react to the issues of the progressive world.” The reader thinks that the newspaper shows “great ideological flaws with regards to community issues.”

“I would like to see this newspaper sold in all the island’s news kiosks” so that it can be read by all Cubans

The reader, a resident of the United States, is especially interested in the issues “that flood us here and there, those that are reflected in Cuba as a copy of what happens here in the USA and as a practice in the rest of the world.” He criticizes that editors “are not interested in moderating” comments when language is violent, vulgar and offensive, however he believes the discussions are the “steam engine” of the site.

“Discrimination, threats to people’s lives and the apologies for crimes flood the forum,” Jesusnavacuba complains. A scenario that implies that site administrators “prefer active traffic” and sacrifice “quality and professionalism” to obtain it.

In three years, the reader projects that this journal will evolve towards “a new form of private journalism.”

Luis Vigo, a frequent visitor of the page, sees in 14ymedio a space where he can keep “connected with the Cuban reality” and “debate and exchange ideas and opinions with other readers.” He is particularly interested in “news and current issues, both nationally and internationally.”

“The debates among readers not only seem valid but necessary to create an awareness of the diversity of opinions for a future Cuba free of dictatorship,” adds Vigo. He imagines that in years to come this will be “a newspaper with much more scope” for nationals both inside and outside the island.

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Editor’s Note:

We would like to hear your views on our work. We invite you to enrich 14ymedio with your suggestions, comments and criticisms.

We Have Survived

A man reads the printed version of ’14ymedio’ circulating in PDF format inside Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 May 2017 — Three years ago this digital daily was just a dream, a project on paper and a desire in the heads of several colleagues. On that 21 May 2014, the mirage took shape on the first cover of a site that robs us of our nights, brings us frequent moments of tension, but also puts a smile on our faces when we publish a successful investigation or report.

When we joined together around that initial idea of ​​creating a newspaper from within Cuba, we had at least two pillars on which to build this informational edifice: to engage in quality journalism and to maintain our economic independence. Fulfilling those initial goals has been a difficult challenge, but we are pleased and proud to have succeeded in most cases. continue reading

For three years this newspaper has privileged opinion, has made reporting its flagship content and has opted for well written stories, carefully prepared and anchored to reality. We have managed to address opposing worlds: opposition and officialdom; ecology and industry; emigration and local entrepreneurship.

We have avoided adjectives to focus on the facts and to distinguish ourselves from activism journalism. Our compass seeks to maintain seriousness and rigor in the simplest and most complex articles. In this newsroom we repeat some phrases that reveal this premise: “it is better to be late than wrong,” “we do not work for the hits but for the information,” “being a reporter is not a good profession for making friends,” “a good journalist will always end up annoying someone”… and many others.

We have avoided adjectives to focus on the facts and to distinguish ourselves from activism journalism. Our compass seeks to maintain seriousness and rigor in the simplest and most complex articles

In this time, we have rejected all offers of economic support from foreign governments, political parties, foundations linked to power groups and figures with a marked ideological position. Instead we have chosen to “make a living” through journalism, something so distressing and difficult in these times it has put us constantly on the verge of material indigence. However, this tension has been the best incentive to produce high quality content that we can offer to media and agencies in other parts of the world.

Our editorial team is the best family you can imagine. Like all relatives, it has its headaches: there are severe parents, hypercritical uncles, grumpy grandparents, unkind brothers and fast-paced cousins when it’s time to click the button to “publish” to information. But in general it is a team united by the best possible glue: the search for journalistic quality.

Our main obstacles remain obtaining information in a country where institutions practice secrecy, the official press gilds reality and most citizens are afraid to speak with an independent newspaper. They are not insurmountable difficulties, but they demand an enormous amount of energy and patience from us every day.

The blocking of our digital site, the stigmatizing of our name and the harassment of reporters have also negatively affected the scope of our work, but we are not discouraged. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

The most important thing we are going to keep in mind today, when we blow out the three tiny candles on our digital cake, is that “we have survived.” Against all the predictions of friends and enemies, we are here, we have made a space in Cuban journalism and we will continue to work to improve the quality of this newspaper.

“We Are Not Leaving Cuba”, Say Members Of The Center For Coexistence Studies

A fierce police raid accompanied the arrest of Karina Gálvez in Pinar del Río. (Coexistence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 May 2017 — In the midst of a wave of pressure from the authorities, members of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) have issued a declaration of commitment to their work on the island. “We are not leaving Cuba, we are not leaving the Church and we will continue working for the country,” says the text signed by Dagoberto Valdés, director of the CEC.

The message expresses gratitude for “solidarity in moments of tough repression” and assures that the team “continues to think, propose, dream and build a free and prosperous future for all Cubans.”

The statement was issued a few hours after police stopped the vehicle in which Yoandy Izquierdo, a member of the CEC, was traveling from Pinar del Rio to Havana to board a flight. The activist was invited to participate in the Stockolm Internet Forum (SIF) in Sweden but misses his plane this Sunday because of the arrest. continue reading

Izquierdo was detained at the police unit in Los Palacios and officers asserted that they need to conduct a search to determine if the driver of the car was “charging for the shuttle service to the airport.”

CEC “continues to think, propose, dream and build a free and prosperous future for all Cubans”

The activist was not released until after his flight took off, but this Monday he managed to reach José Martí International Airport and board a plane to his destination.

The detention of Izquierdo was added to an escalation in repression against the members of the CEC that has increased in the last months; several of the organization’s managers have been object of pressures, warnings and interrogations.

Last January the economist Karina Gálvez suffered a raid on her home and has been accused of an alleged tax evasion offense. The police are keeping her house sealed waiting for the trial to take place.

The Coexistence Studies Center organizes training courses for the citizenry and civil society in Cuba. The entity functions independently of the State, the Church and any political grouping. The magazine of the same name emerged in 2008 and is published bimonthly.

Castro Regime Rushes Unfinished Business Before Raul Leaves the Presidency

President Raúl Castro considers the documents ratified as “the most studied, discussed and rediscussed in the history of the Revolution.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 May 2017 — The government rushed on Friday to accomplish some pending tasks before Raul Castro leaves the presidency. The Third Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party ratified two programmatic documents at a meeting where Marino Murillo reappeared, vice-president of the Council of Ministers removed from the family photo of power as of November of last year.

Just 40 days before the promised deadline, the Conceptualization of the Cuban Social and Economic Development Model and the bases of the National Economic and Social Development Plan were approved until 2030. The package also included compliance with the new modifications to The Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution. continue reading

A note read on the noon edition of the television news reported that President Raul Castro considers these documents as “the most studied, discussed and rediscussed in the history of the Revolution.” The approval of the texts occurs after a long process in which, it is said, more than 1.5 million Cubans participated.

The Plenum agreed to submit to the consideration of the National Assembly the Conceptualization of the Model and the Guidelines, but with regards to the Plan it only proposed to inform the parliamentarians about its approval.

Missing in the document are topics of great interest to the population such as the elimination of rationing system, the permitting of professionals to exercise self-employment in their specialties, or human rights.

The ratification of these programs comes at a difficult time for the country. Last year, the island experienced a 0.9% decrease in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first time since 1995. Stopping this drop and obtaining an increase in GDP is the government’s main economic objective for this year.

The political and economic crisis in Venezuela has caused an abrupt drop in oil imports to the island. Of the 100,000 barrels a day received by Cuba at a subsidized price during the best years of closer ties with Venezulea, analysts estimate that now only less than half as many barrels are arriving.

A Russian oil company has taken on providing an emergency supply and plans to send in the next few months about 250,000 tonnes of oil and diesel to the island where, since last year, the consumption of electricity in state entities has been rationed and cuts have been applied to the fuel supply.

The current scenario directly raised questions about what was established in the Plan for 2030.

The Conceptualization does not reference that the ultimate goal of Cuban socialism is to build the communist society; nor does it mention as a goal the suppression of the exploitation of man by man.

Missing in the document are topics of great interest to the population such as the elimination of rationing system, the permitting of professionals to exercise self-employment in their specialties, or human rights.

Moisés Finalé: When Ovaries Reign And Vaginas Rule

To connect with Finalé – and the women of his paintings – dozens of friends and followers of his art came to the imposing building of the Havana Malecon with its caryatids looking out to sea. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 May 2017 — Havana has always been female in every millimeter, edifice or cracked wall. This city could have any of the female faces that the fine artist Moisés Finalé displays this Friday at the Hispanic-American Center of Culture under the title, “The Weight Of Her Body.” A show where ovaries reign and vaginas rule.

Finalé is carried away by the female body. He represents figures with an unleashed eroticism that betrays his obsessions and his preferences. Pressed between thighs and caught between two breasts, thus appear each of the works created by the artist born in Matanzas in 1957, one of the most prominent names of the generation of the eighties. continue reading

“These pictures belong to my personal collection, they have been with me for a long time, some since the mid 90’s,” says Finalé. (14ymedio)

To connect with Finalé – and the women of his paintings – dozens of friends and followers of his art came to the imposing building on the Havana Malecon with its caryatids looking out to sea. On the walls, witness to reunions and toasting with a pinch of rum, the feminine forms concentrated on the truly transcendent: love, life, conception and death.

The artist knows well of hugs and distance. Although he frequently participates in exhibitions on the island and maintains Studio Finalé-Art in Vedado, he spends much of his time in Paris. More than once he has had to pack the eroticism and carry it in the suitcase with which he crosses the Atlantic. That is why the maidens of his paintings come a little bit from here, and others from there and many from nowhere.

In painting, as in sexuality, daring is rewarded, his brushes tell us. (14ymedio)

The painter’s references are diverse, he calls on the Japanese print as well as Egyptian symbols while drawing on expressionism and the very Cuban avant-garde. In painting, as in sexuality, daring is rewarded, his brushes tell us. So in his pictures African masks and mythological allusions appear.

“These pictures belong to my personal collection, they have been with me for a long time, some since the mid 90’s,” Finale tells 14ymedio. He says it is as if he fears that some have forgotten him. They are infinite canvases like wide and fecund sheets: beds without limits.

The curators of the exhibition, Rafael Acosta de Arriba and Yamilé Tabío, have succeeded in compiling those beloved or dreamed of women who haunt the artist. Women who look, lick, hide behind a mask, desire or copulate. Perishable bodies trapped in the immortal sensuality of a brushstroke.

”In love with her own game.” (14ymedio)

Finalé has ended up creating his own cosmogony, a universe of sensual beings that are born and perish without leaving the cycle of love. A universe caught in a spasm, where the artist takes refuge and allows viewers to enter.

The scenes of lasciviousness and desire are prolonged when, when descending the wide staircase of the Hispanic-American Center, one enters fully into a sensual and impudent Havana. A city that, like the women painted by Finalé, long ago that lost its modesty.

Miami Has It All, Even Russian Meat / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Some of the Russian foods, toys and perfumes for sale at Marky’s in North Miami (Photo: El Nuevo Herald)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 18 May 2017—A neighbor of mine in Arroyo Naranjo recently had to ask an old friend of his who lives Miami to help him obtain some amitriptyline. A psychiatrist had recommended this medication for my neighbor’s wife to treat a nervous condition that would worsen without it.

This drug, among many others on a very long list, has been off the shelves of Havana pharmacies for months. The official excuse, aside from usual ones such as “the criminal blockade [U.S. embargo],” is that the cash-strapped Cuban state has been unable to square its debts with foreign pharmaceutical companies. continue reading

For the very astute customs officials at Cuban airports, ever on the hunt for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, it is a headache to conduct their painstaking inspections of the troves of medicines and vitamins that are brought in by travelers from the U.S.

Thus, it is no surprise that in Havana at this time, it is easier to find Tylenol than aspirin, and Centrum or Kirkland brand vitamins than the yellow multivitamin powder produced by the state, which some prefer not to use because it “whets their appetite too much.”

Cubans on the Island are evermore dependent on the remittances and packages they receive from their relatives and friends abroad, primarily those in the U.S., whom the regime demonized for decades, called traitors, and tried to cut their emotional ties to Cuba.

Many Cubans depend on the emigres and exiles not only for medicine, sustenance and clothing, and the monthly recharging of their mobile phones. They also request and obtain from them the most varied and sundry goods: from santería necklaces and white garments for the iyabó to school uniforms, and even parts for Russian-made automobiles.

That’s right. You heard it. In various Miami establishments one can find parts for Soviet-era automobile makes such as Lada and Mokvich, and for Ural and Berjomina motorcycles. In today’s Russia it is probably difficult to find these parts, they may not even be produced anymore, but in Miami, I know not how, there is an abundance of them. And obviously they are aimed at Cuba, where Russian cars compete for longevity with the Fords and Chevrolets more than 60 years old that are still circulating.

But do not be surprised by the availability of Russian products in Miami (let us hope this is not a plot by Czar Putin and his intelligence service). When I visited that city last year, I spotted on the shelves of a well-stocked bodega (it being so Cuban I hesitate to call it a supermarket), located on Southwest 27th Avenue near Coconut Grove, nothing less than Russian canned meat. Those very same cans that we would refuse back in the day, the ones we said contained bear flesh or god-knows what other greasy Siberian beast, and that today, after so many years of enforced vegetarianism, cause our mouths to water as though they were the most exquisite delicacy. It appears that in Miami, while hunger is not their motivation, there are Cubans who are nostalgic for Russian canned meat, because I doubt very seriously that the only customers for this product would be the wealthy Russians who reside in Hallandale and Sunny Isles.

In Hialeah, which is like a piece of Cuba transplanted to South Florida (but without the ration books and the CDR) it probably is not very difficult to find those damned cans of Russian meat.

Also there, and in any other part of Miami, one can hear reggaeton and watch the pigswill of Cuban TV. And don’t be surprised if the generation of Bolek and Lolek manage to get their hands on those cartoons they had to watch as children in Cuba, when Pluto, Porky Pig and Donald Duck were considered agents of the imperialist ideological penetration.

Those who cannot resign themselves to watery coffee and bland cigarettes—if they wish to smoke (to the horror of the nonsmokers, always such scolds) stronger cigarettes than American Spirit and the Wranglers sold by the Indians in Kendall—can find in Hialeah, and not too expensive, cigarettes directly from Cuba: H. Upmann, Populares and even the unsmokeable Criollos and Titanes, a.k.a. “chestbusters.”

It seems to be true what I heard from a Cuban American who, as a sort of savior-magus bearing gifts, was visiting his impoverished relatives in Mantilla: “You can find everything in Miami, anything, whatever it is.”

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Cuba: Forbidden Fruit / Iván García

An old building in Old Havana is the view you get from one of the boutiques in the Hotel Gran Manzana Kempinski. Taken from the article The New Luxury Hotels in Cuba try to attract a swarm of tourists, by Ali McConnon, published in the New York Times in Spanish on May 10, 2017, with photos by Lissette Poole.

Iván García, 11 May 2017 — Scarcely a block away from the majestic Grand Hotel Manzana Kempinski, whose inauguration is expected next June 2nd, next to the Payret cinema, a state-owned cafeteria sells an acidic and insipid hamburger with bread for the equivalent of 50 centavos. Workers in the neighbourhood and beggars who survive on asking foreigners for change, form a small queue to buy the inedible hamburger.

The hotel, built by Kempinski, a company started in Berlin in 1897, stands in the place of the old Manzana de Gómez, the first shopping mall on the island, at Neptuno, San Rafael, Zulueta and Monserrate streets, in the heart of Havana. Opened in 1910, throughout its history, the Manzana de Gómez housed everything from offices, lawyers’ chambers and commercial consultants to businesses, cafes and restaurants and other enterprises. continue reading

Very near to Manzana Kempinski, the first five star hotel there, will be the Cuban parliament, still a work in progress, which will have as its headquarters the old National Capitol, a smaller scale replica of the Congress in Washington.

The splendid hotel, owned by Gaviota, a Cuban military corporation, and managed by the Kepinski organisation, can boast of having the old Centro Asturiano, now the home of the Fine Arts Museum’s private collections, the Havana Gran Teatro and the Inglaterra, Telégrafo, Plaza and Parque Central hotels as neighbours.

Apart from the recently-built Parque Central Hotel, the other three hotels are situated in 19th century or Republican era buildings, and are among the most beautiful in the city. In the centre of these architectural jewels we find Havana Park, presided over by the statue of the national hero, José Martí.

In those four hotels, you will find shops selling exclusively in convertible pesos (CUC), a strong currency created by Fidel Castro for the purpose of buying high quality capitalist goods.

Incidentally, they pay their employees in the Cuban Pesos (CUP), or national currency. In the tourism, telecoms and civil aviation sectors, their employees only earn 10-35 CUC as commission.

The chavito, as the Cubans term the CUC, is a revolving door which controls the territory between the socialist botch-ups, shortages and third rate services and the good or excellent products invoiced by the “class enemies”, as the Marxist theory has it, which supports the olive green bunch which has been governing the island since 1959.

21st century Cuba is an absurd puzzle. Those in charge talk about defending the poor, go on about social justice and prosperous sustainable socialism, but the working class and retired people are worse off.

The regime is incapable of starting up stocked markets, putting up good quality apartment blocks, reasonably priced hotels where a workman could stay or even maintaining houses, streets and sidewalks in and around the neighborhoods of the capital. But it invests a good part of the gross domestic product in attracting foreign currency.

José, a private taxi driver, thinks that it’s good to have millions of tourists pouring millions of dollars into the state’s cash register. “But, the cash should then be reinvested in improving the country. From the ’80’s on, the government has bet on tourism. And how much money has come over all those years? And in which productive sectors has it been invested?” asks the driver of a clapped-out Soviet-era Moskovitch.

Government officials should tell us. But they don’t. In Cuba, supposedly public money is managed in the utmost secrecy. Nobody knows where the foreign currency earned by the state actually ends up and the officials look uncomfortable when you ask them to explain about offshore Panamanian or Swiss bank accounts.

In this social experiment, which brings together the worst of socialism imported from the USSR with the most repugnant aspects of African style capitalist monopoly, in the ruined streets of Havana, they allow Rapid and Furious to be filmed, they tidy up the Paseo del Prado for a Chanel parade or open a Qatar style hotel like the Manzana Kampinski, in an area surrounded by filth, where there is no water and families have only one meal a day to eat.

In a car dealer in Primelles on the corner of Via Blanca, in El Cerro, they sell cars at insulting prices. The hoods of the cars are covered in dust and a used car costs between $15-40,000. A Peugeot 508, at $300k, is dearer than a Lamborghini.

For the authorities, the excessive prices are a “revolutionary tax”, and with this money they have said they will defray the cost of buying city buses. It’s a joke: they have hardly sold more than about forty second-hand cars in three years and public transport goes from bad to worse.

For Danay, a secondary school teacher, it isn’t the government opening hotels and luxury shops that annoys her, “What pisses me off is that everything is unreal. How can they sell stuff that no-one could afford even if they worked for 500 years? Is it some kind of macabre joke, and an insult to all Cuban workers?” Danay asks herself, while she hangs around the shopping centre in the Hotel Kempinski.

In the wide reinforced concrete passageways, what you normally see there is amazing. With his girl friend embracing him, Ronald, a university student, smiles sarcastically as he looks in a jewelry shop window at some emeralds going for more than 24k convertible pesos. “In another shop, a Canon camera costs 7,500 CUC. It’s mad.” And he adds:

“In other countries they sell expensive items, but they also have items for more affordable prices. Who the hell could buy that in Cuba, my friend? Apart from those people (in the government), the Cuban major league baseball players who get paid millions of dollars, and the people who have emigrated and earn lots of money in the United States. I don’t think tourists are going to buy things they can get more cheaply in their own countries. If at any time I had any doubts about the essential truth about this government, I can see it here: we are living in a divided society. Capitalism for the people up there, and socialism and poverty for us lot down here”.

Security guards dressed in grey uniforms, with earphones in their ears and surly-looking faces, have a go at anyone taking photos or connecting to the internet via wifi. People complain “If they don’t let you take photos or connect to the internet, then they are not letting Cubans come in”, says an irritated woman.

In the middle of the ground floor of what is now the Hotel Kempinski, which used to be the Manzana de Gómez mall, in 1965 a bronze effigy of Julio Antonio Mella, the student leaders and founder of the first Communist party in 1925, was unveiled. The  sculpture has disappeared from there.

“In the middle of all this luxurious capitalism, there is no place for Mella’s statue”, comments a man looking at the window displays with his granddaughter. Or probably the government felt embarrassed by it.

Iván García

Note: About the Mella bust, in an article entitled Not forgotten or dead, published 6th May in the Juventud Rebelde magazine, the journalist Ciro Bianchi Ross wrote: “I have often asked myself what was the point of the Mella bust which they put in the middle of the Manzana de Gómez mall and then removed seven years ago, before the old building started to be transformed into a luxury hotel, and which seems to bother people now. Mella had nothing in common with that building. The Manzana de Gómez had no connection with his life or his political journey. Apart from the fact that from an artistic point of view it didn’t look like anything”.

Translated by GH

Cuban Professionals Are Afraid In Venezuela

”Cubans Out!” The Venezuelan opposition sees Cuban doctors as an opposition army. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 May 2017 — Seen from the Venezuelan opposition as an army of occupation and from the Venezuelan government as soldiers of socialism, tens of thousands of Cuban professionals live a situation that is complicated day after day in convulsive Venezuela. The Cuban government has asked them to stay “until the last moment,” but misery, fear and violence are overwhelming athletes, doctors and engineers.

“We are not soldiers and we did not come to Venezuela to put a rifle on our shoulders,” says a Cuban doctor from the state of Anzoátegui who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals.

According to the physician, who has been working for two years in the country, Havana has asked them to remain “with honor until the last moment,” in a clear allusion to the possible fall of the Venezuelan government. continue reading

“We are working under a lot of pressure because the Medical Mission is adept at continuing to insist that services not be closed and that we maintain our position here in spite of everything,” he adds.

“We are afraid every day about what could happens to us. Sometimes they throw stones at us or they yell all kinds of insults at us. Every day there are demonstrations in front of the medical unit and nobody protects us”

In Venezuela there are about 28,000 health workers and thousands of others who are sports instructors, engineers, agricultural technicians and even electricians. The model of paying for Cuban professional services through the export of oil to Cuba has never been clearly exposed by the Venezuelan government.

According to Nicolás Maduro, since Chavez came to power, more than 250 billion dollars have been invested in the so-called “missions.” The former Minister of Economy of the Island, José Luis Rodríguez, published last April that Cuba received 11.5 billion dollars a year in payment for professional services rendered abroad, most of which comes from Venezuela. Other sources consider, however, that this is a very inflated number, although Havana’s profits are undoubtedly very high.

“We are afraid every day about what could happens to us. Sometimes they throw stones at us at the CDI [Centro de Diagnóstico Integral, doctor’s offices] or they yell all kinds of insults at us. Every day there are demonstrations in front of the medical unit and nobody protects us,” explains the doctor.

“So far they only attack us with words. They shout at us to get out of here, that they do not want to see themselves like us and other atrocities,” he adds.

The doctor, however, assures that those who work in the missions also do not want to be in that situation, but they are forced by the Cuban Government, that exerts pressure through diverse mechanisms.

“If we leave, we lose the frozen accounts maintained for us in Cuba. Also, if you leave the mission you are frowned upon in the health system and you have no possibility of being promoted,” he explains.

The Cuban government deposits $200 a month in a frozen account that at the end of the three years the mission lasts in Venezuela, totals $7,200. If the professional maintained “proper conduct and did their duty,” they can withdraw that money upon their return to the island. If they return before the established period or their participation in the mission is revoked (among other reasons for attempting to escape) they lose all that money.

In Cuba 250 dollars a month are deposited that can be withdrawn when the professional on the mission visits the Island once a year. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, they receive 27,000 bolivars, less than 10 dollars a month.

“If we leave, we lose the frozen accounts maintained for us in Cuba. Also, if you leave the mission you are frowned upon in the health system and you have no possibility of being promoted”

In the case of health technicians, Cuba pays them 180 dollars in a current account and another 180 dollars a month in an account frozen until the end of the mission.

A Cuban radiologist who is in the Venezuelan state of Zulia explains that for months they have no “Mercal,” a bag of food delivered by the Government of Venezuela.

“We live in overcrowded conditions with several colleagues and we do not even have potable water,” he adds.

“Thanks to some patients we can eat, but they are having a very bad time. We are repeating something like the Special Period that we experienced in Cuba,” he says.

Although he fears for his life because of the situation in the country, he says he is determined not to return to the island. “We have to endure until the end. It is not fair to lose everything after so much sacrifice,” he says.

Venezuelan protesters with a banner that reads “Cuba Out”

Following the outbreak of the protests in Venezuela, Cuban aid workers have been directed not to leave their homes and have experienced reduced communications with their families in Cuba.

Following the outbreak of the protests in Venezuela, Cuban aid workers have been directed not to leave their homes and have experienced reduced communications with their families in Cuba

“The internet is very bad, you can not even communicate. We have been forbidden to go out after six o’clock in the afternoon, as if we were slave labor, and on television they broadcast news that has nothing to do with what we are living through,” he explains.

Julio César Alfonso, president of Solidarity Without Borders, a Miami-based nonprofit organization that helps Cuban health personnel integrate into the US system, says the exodus of professionals has increased in recent weeks.

“Even without the US Medical Professional Parole Program, which allowed doctors to obtain refuge in the United States, they continue to escape because of the situation in Venezuela,” said the physician.

Alfonso added that his organization is lobbying to re-establish the Parole Program, eliminated by former President Barack Obama in January, and allowing more than 8,000 Cuban professionals to enter the United States.

Eddy Gómez is an critical care doctor who worked in the state of Cojedes in western Venezuela. He decided to escape because he was afraid of the difficult conditions in which he was forced to work.

“We had to work in dirty places, without air conditioning, exposed to the fact that even the patients insulted us because we nothing to treat them with,” recalls the doctor who now lives in Bogota and acts as spokesperson for dozens of other professionals who escaped medical missions.

“We left Cuba looking for a better life, but in Venezuela we discovered a real hell”

“After the end of Medical Parole program people have continued to escape and come to Colombia. There are more than 50 professionals who left Venezuela after President Obama’s decision to eliminate it. We hope that Trump will admit doctors again,” says Gómez.

To escape Venezuela, the Cubans have to pay the coyotes about $650 to take them to Colombia. The path, full of dangers, includes a bribe to Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard that protects the borders, and to whom they must be careful not to show their official passports issued to them by the Cuban government because they would immediately be deported to the Island.

“There are many Cubans who have died violently in Venezuela, but the Cuban government does not tell the truth to their families, nor does it pay them compensation,” explains the doctor.

“We left Cuba looking for a better life, but in Venezuela we discovered a real hell.”

Behind the ‘Information Note’

There is no permanent entity in Cuba that governs the nation’s electoral processes. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 18 June 2017 — The regular readers of the official press have learned that the most innocent headlines can hide the most interesting news. Phrases such as Notice to the population or Information note, which defy any elementary lesson in journalism, alert those initiated into the special “granmer” of the Granma newspaper that, behind the candid title, there could be hidden some threat, a hope, or the apparent fulfillment of a formality, so that no one can say that this or that detail was never published in the press.

On Thursday, the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Immigration (DIIE) published an “Information note”in the official media in which it announces to Cubans permanently resident in the country that its offices will be open to “update the address from where they will exercise their right to vote.” continue reading

The note then invokes Electoral Law No. 72 of 1992 to specify who has the right to active suffrage.

The real information that underlies all this, is that the first steps have now been taken to initiate the elections that will result in the final departure of Raul Castro from the job of President of the Councils of State and of Ministers. Perhaps even more significant, is that this process will begin without the new electoral law having been promulgated, regardless of the fact that the coming of the new law was announced by the president himself in February of 2015, at the conclusion of the Tenth Plenary of the Communist Party Central Committee.

There is no permanent entity on the island that governs the electoral processes, so the preparation of the Register of Voters is a task that falls on the Ministry of Interior through its offices of the DIIE. This is where it is registered whether a citizen resides in the national territory and whether or not he or she is under some legal sentence that limits his or her rights.

Oddly, the Information note makes it clear that people will be able to go to the relevant offices in any of the municipalities in the country “regardless of their place of residence,” but does not clarify if voters can exercise suffrage in the specific district where they physically reside, even if that is not the legal address recorded on their identity card.

Thousands of people throughout the country are living as tenants in private homes without being “properly registered”; many of them, especially if they live in the capital and are from other provinces, are prevented from finding a job, even with private employers, because they can not show “an appropriate address” in their identification document.

In the interest of reducing the number of people who do not vote, the state might be willing to overlook – for the purposes of voting only – what it will not tolerate with regards to finding work or enrolling one’s children in school.

No doubt the upcoming elections will be as uninteresting as any others have been. The absence of a new law indicates that the Candidacies Commission will continue, and that it will be these bodies that prepare the lists of aspiring deputies, while maintaining the prohibition against any of these candidates from presenting a political platform.

As has been the case to date, voters will have to be satisfied with nothing more than biographical data (prepared by the commissions, not by the candidates themselves), along with a photo. They will have to vote for their representatives without having any idea whether or not these individuals are in favor of foreign investment, if they want to increase or decrease non-state forms of production in the country, or if they are likely to be for or against it if the day comes when acceptance of same-sex marriage is introduced. They will not even know if their preferred candidate wishes to allocate the nation’s budget to build sports stadiums or theaters.

Of course, there will be no polls speculating on what will be the name of the person who will occupy the presidential chair in February 2018. Who are they going to put forward? It is the question that the majority of those few people interested in the subject at all tend to ask. Perhaps we will have to wait for another Information Note to get a clue about this great unknown.