Ice Cream Flavors are Convoyed* in a ‘Militarized’ Coppelia

When it’s your turn to buy, the customer must approach a table, each with a bottle of hand sanitizer, and then they tell you where you can make your purchase.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 August 2020 — Although Havana has just resumed the most drastic measures to stop the pandemic after the increase in cases of Covid-19 on the island, the Coppelia ice cream parlor has not completely closed its doors. In the middle of August, one of the hottest months of the year, some takeaway ice cream outlets have been kept open.

This Tuesday the largest at the kiosk on the side where ice cream has always been sold to-go, but now there were also several points of sale within the same ice cream parlor.

“It is all militarized, full of officers dressed in green everywhere. When it comes to buying, the customer approaches a table, each one has its own hand sanitizer bottle with a clerk, and there they tell you where you can make your purchase.”

Each person could purchase 40 scoops per person for the price of one peso and fifty cents a scoop. A woman, who went with two relatives, was able to take home almost a full tub.

“The flavors are not well distributed, but the worst of all is that I lined up where supposedly there were choco-coconut, almond, mint, and curly guava and at 11:15 the choco-coconut and almond were gone. But not only that, when I asked for curly guava what was left was just the bottom of the tub and he told me that I had to convoy* it with mint,” a young man who was standing in line this morning told14ymedio.

“Like always, everything ’convoyed’ … The things of socialism,” he said.

*Translator’s note: Convoy -> ‘Escort’: Go with one person or one thing from one place to another for their protection (The Free Dictionary) [Translator’s comment: Hopefully the ice creams feel very safe traveling together in this way.] 


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

Advice from Dentists on Avoiding Coronavirus Contagion / Juan Juan Almeida

This is a blue toothbrush (ready for a night on the town?)

Juan Juan Almeida, 8 August 2020 — Experts from the Official Dentists’ College of Castellón (CODECS) insist on the need to wash your hands before touching your toothbrush, clean and dry it correctly after each use and keep it from having contact with other members of the household in order to avoid cross contamination with Covid-19.

Other guidelines are to not share your toothbrush, place it in a vertical position and in a separate glass for each family member, put on the protective cap only if it has holes, wash your hands well before touching the toothbrush and keep it as far away as possible from the toilet. Make sure the whole bathroom is clean.

Translated by Regina Anavy

[Site Manager’s note: Yes, we’re all going a little stir crazy here.]

Turning towards Capitalism in Castro’s Cuba

A privately owned cafe near the Havana airport. (14ymedio/Archivo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Hernández Fonseca, Madrid, 8 August 2020 — Castro’s Cuba is taking a second step — timid but in the right direction — towards the implementation of a capitalist economy. First, it has partially dollarized the sale of basic goods, though it continues to pay people’s wages in a worthless currency. Second, it is doing away with the list of approved occupations, a list that dates back to colonial times, and replacing it with something more convoluted lest anyone realize that the new forms of employment are “private companies.”

There is a lot of fear within the communist regime that the Cuban people might notice how, after more than sixty years of socialist misery, all the concrete solutions being implemented are capitalist. In regards to the formation of new companies, the regime has begun asking would-be entrepreneurs (formerly referred to as cuentapropistas) to come up with “proposals” so that their business plans can be analyzed and authorized, or not, depending on the mood of the envious communist bureaucrats reviewing them.

It would be much easier to just publish the requirements for setting up small and medium sized businesses but the optics would not be good. It would be acknowledging in writing what Marxist doctrine has always denied. “What would we say to the old owners of small and medium sized Cuban businesses?” Raul might might ask at a meeting convened to discuss the topic.

Although the Cuban exodus during the 1960s was made up of the cream of Cuban society, at least in terms of their entrepreneurial skills and experience, the success of other Cubans in the United States and other countries demonstrates that entrepreneurial talent still exists on the island. If government leaders decided to seriously — they would have to do it seriously, which has not always been the case — the Cuban people could, at a minimum, enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner, which they have not been able to do for sixty years.

Perhaps we will have to wait until Raul Castro dies before making the leap to capitalism. But who knows if pressure from the street might force the general, in his waning days, to accept the defeat of his ideology in exchange for the welfare of his people? That is something the Communist Party has never prioritized. As everyone knows, the priority of the Castro brothers has always been holding onto power.

We are not talking about unrestricted freedom, something the Cuban people seek and deserve. It is simply the authorized introduction of capitalist practices into the economy, as happened in China and Vietnam, to alleviate endemic socialist inefficiencies. Nevertheless, at least in the case of Cuba, it would be a first step towards a future of total freedom for the Cuban people, something Fidel Castro never allowed, knowing that it would mean a fall from power.


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Havana Returns to a Previous Phase to Fight a Resurgence in Covid-19

The return to a previous phase of control for Covid-19 in Havana makes the lines and shortages worse.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 8, 2020 — The Cuban Government ordered the province of Havana to return to the phase of “limited local transmission” after a month of Phase 1 of the recovery. This was announced on Friday, after the daily meeting of the temporary working group on COVID-19, headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The number of positives and serious cases hasn’t stopped going up in the last 10 days, and on Friday, 165 active cases and six open events were reported in the municipalities of Habana del Este, La Lisa and Marianao.

The Vice Prime Minister, Roberto Morales Ojeda, explained that “mathematical models” suggest that the Government “take measures that are very energetic, restrictive, complete and immediate”. continue reading

So the capital and its province take a step backwards to Phase 1, where it was on July 3. The return to this “phase of limited local transmission” supposes that only essential activities will take place, and that there will be strict restrictions on transport.

As part of these measures, the Havana airport will remain closed for an indefinite period, according to a report in el Nuevo Herald, and the much-desired arrival of international tourism will remain stopped.

The return to classes in September also remains compromised.

In Friday’s meeting, the situation in the province of Artemisa was evaluated, where there were three events of local transmission: one in the urban center of the municipality of Bauta and another in the People’s Council of Baracoa, where authorities say they’ve stabilized the contagion. There is also a report of an event at the Company of Construction and Assembly belonging to the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone.

In the municipality of Camajuaní, Villa Clara, nine positive cases have been confirmed. Some of these people stayed in Havana, and the location was put under immediate quarantine.

For several weeks, the authorities have been blaming the resurgence in cases on “indiscipline”, and although Díaz-Canel reflected on the attitude of people who “aren’t inert, aren’t comfortable, aren’t satisfied” and therefore have the “will to confront anything”, he warned “the irresponsible ones, those who don’t cooperate: we have to tell them that this isn’t a game that you lose”.

With 310 active cases on the Island, the President notes that the pattern of behavior in the last two weeks has been favorable in the country, except in Havana and Artemisa: “In Artemisa, we can recover faster; in Havana, we have to work harder because the contagion is greater.”

The authorities in Havana have already published new restrictive measures on Thursday to try to stop the rise in illness in the capital, which includes a curfew from 11:00 pm to 9:00 am, restricting entrance from nearby provinces and limiting the hours for bars and restaurants.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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

YouTuber Ruhama Fernandez Barred from Leaving Cuba

The young youtuber Ruhama Fernández discovered she had been barred from travelling when she went to pick up her passport.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 4 2020 — Ruhama Fernández, the YouTuber who won the Red Cuban Power influencer contest earlier this year, revealed Monday that she has been barred from travelling abroad. Cuban authorities have justified the move on “public interest” grounds.

The 21-year-old learned of her situation when she went to pick up her passport at the Offices of the Interior Ministry in Palma Soriano, in the province of Santiago de Cuba.

Fernández explained to 14ymedio that she had gone to renew her documents because she had won a trip in the influencer contest. Her parents live in the United States.

The Interior official asked for her ID number. “When I entered it into the system,” says Fernández, “it gave an error, a red thing popped up.” After trying a few more times, the official told her: “No, you’re barred from travel due to public interest concerns. Look into it, fix this then come back to get your passport.” Fernández says that the woman then asked her if she had previously left the country, or if she was a doctor. “But in the end she couldn’t do anything because she was just a secretary,” Fernández said. continue reading

Last April, Fernández was cited by the police in Santiago de Cuba. On her Youtube channel, the former medical student deals with political and social themes, always with a critical eye towards the Cuban government.

In a press conference in February, European Commission spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson decried the Cuban government’s increasing use of travel bans for its citizens, saying that free movement is a fundamental right. She claimed to have raised the issue with Cuban authorities in October.

As of September 2019, there were 150 Cubans known to have been officially barred from travel. In the last two years, the arbitrary restriction of movement for activists, journalists, and opposition figures has become a common tactic of repression in Cuba.

The right to free movement is established by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as by Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution. While as in all countries this right is subject to regulations, the government in Havana applies them arbitrarily. This limits the options available to affected individuals; some have attempted to address their situation through the judicial system, while others have had to resort to activism.

An immigration reform that went into effect in January 2013 significantly loosened previously existing restrictions on travel outside of Cuba, eliminating the old “exit permit” system, but since then the list of Cuban opposition figures barred from leaving the country has continued to grow. At first, State Security prevented dissidents from traveling through arbitary arrests.

Since 2018, however, it has become more common to inform them of their restricted status when they arrive at the immigration desk or request a new passport.

 Translated by Zach Young


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In Cuba: Beef Fillet for Forty-Dollars that Doesn’t Look Very Good

A line outside a hard currency store in Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, August 6, 2020 — “No, we are almost completely out of personal hygiene products,” reiterated an employee at the Double Nine store in Havana on Wednesday. She said it dozens of times over the course the day to customers looking for shampoo, bath gel and hair conditioner, products that are already out of stock in the city’s newly opened hard currency stores.

The shops, which seemed like islands of abundance in the sea of scarcity that is the Cuban retail market, have begun to feel the weight of urgent demand and the absence of new merchandise. In less than two weeks many of the items that were initially available have disappeared. Even the way customers are treated by employees has changed.

At the nearby La Arcada, a grocery store on the same street, the only items available in the meat section this week are expensive cuts of beef, “and not much at that,” acknowledges an employee. “When we first opened, we also had fish, cold cuts, cheese and cocktail sausages but now we only have beef fillet.” continue reading

The shelves, which were full when the store first opened on July 20, are now empty despite the fact that the store’s customers come from only a small segment of the population: those with access to foreign currency and a magnetic cash card. “I came the first day, as soon as they opened, and I am back now,” says Ricardo, a 72-year-old retiree at the Boyeros y Camagüey store.

“On opening day there was a line of more than three hundred people outside the store. But it was worth the wait because I was able to buy sausages, beef, shampoo and a few packages of dried beans,” he says. “When I came back on Tuesday, the meat department only had some very fatty, very expensive pork loin. In the cleaning section there are no personal hygiene products, only things for cleaning bathrooms and floors.”

Ricardo recalls that on his first visit “the whole store was very well air-conditioned but it’s turned off today.” He also notes, “The connection between the card reader and the bank was down and you had to wait forty minutes for them to get it back. And all this in a place where you are paying dearly for every item.”

Outside the store a man dressed in a military uniform scans the ID card of everyone going inside. The process is repeated at the cash register. Employees continually repeat the same mantras: Maintain discipline; wait your turn; do not speak loudly or take pictures. The loudspeakers, which on opening day promoted tour packages and appliances in foreign currency, are now silent.

Meanwhile, the murmur of complaints can be heard. Cooking oil that a customer has accidentally spilled is still on the floor. Other customers are demanding that someone come clean it up once because “this store has a lot of ’greenbacks’ and takes in a lot of money every day.”

“We do not have a cash card at this store to buy cleaning supplies,” an employee carrying an extremely old blanket and piece of cardboard finally says.

On his second visit to the store, Ricardo planned to do some shopping for several acquaintances. “The woman who sells me milk, farmer’s cheese and butter she gets from Güira de Melena told me that, if I could buy her some shampoo and hair conditioner, she would lower the price of my next purchase, and she would also give me two extra liters of milk,” he explains. Bartering has emerged as a very popular way of dealing with the crisis and those with money to spend in hard currency stores are a first step in the process.

Outside the Boyeros and Camagüey store, several people are on the lookout for someone with a bank card willing to buy them what they want in exchange for the purchase price in convertible pesos plus a service charge. “I came here for deodorant, toothpaste and shampoo but they’ve already told me there isn’t any,” says a young man who has been to three other hard currency stores in the city. “I’m going to wait here anyway to see if someone can buy me two cans of sardines that I was told they have.”

When the hard currency stores first opened, there was a wave of indignation. Many people were outraged that merchandise was scarce in stores that accepted Cuban pesos but abundant in stores where you had to pay with foreign currency. But over time both types of retail outlets began to see their supplies dwindle.

La Puntilla, a hard currency store with one of the widest assortment of goods in the Cuban capital, is experiencing a similar situation. Leaked photos of shelves fully stocked with canned goods on opening day caused outrage on social networks due to their high prices. Now those scenes are just a memory. Every morning a line forms outside with people waiting to enter the store.

“I came here thinking I could find a wider variety of meats but the only thing available was a beef fillet for almost 40 dollars that didn’t even look very good, as if it had been in the refrigerator too long,” explains a customer who got a Visa debit card on a trip to Panama that can be used at the new stores.

“It’s all very expensive but that’s no guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for or that you’ll get good service,” she says. She complained to the cashier that the package of sausages she wanted to buy, the last one in the cooler, did not a have price tag. “Everything has deteriorated very quickly. I came on July 20 and imagined that I was going to see the shelves well stocked for awhile, but thy don’t even have half the items I saw that day.”

Customers are spreading the word about which hard currency stores still have good assortments. “I’m told that the frozen food selection is better at the 3rd Avenue and 70th Street store but you have to get there at dawn,” she says. “If I have to pay in dollars and I also have to have to wait in line for hours without knowing whether or not they have what I’m looking for, then what’s the difference if I pay in pesos?”


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

Cuba is Criticized for Home Detentions, Dollarization and Persecution of ‘Coleros’

Cuban State Security operatives are becoming more common at the homes of activists. (Archivo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 3, 2020 — The Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), headquartered in Madrid, in its July report, denounced the consolidation of a new pattern of repression on the Island, keeping activists in their homes. According to the NGO, although the practice isn’t new, it has increased this year. Already in February, before the pandemic, there were 44 actions of this type. In June there were 55, and in July the number increased to 72.

The network of the organization’s observers on the island calculates 314 repressive acts in July, of which 97 were arbitrary detentions, 68 were against men and 29 against women. In addition, at least 19 detentions were violent.

The OCDH records that these detentions take place de facto, without any type of judicial order or written documentation. “Although sometimes you don’t even know why they’re doing it, as happened on July 30”.

That day, several activists and journalists, among them a good part of the editorial staff of 14ymediowere obliged to remain in their homes by State Security agents. The journalists, Mónica Baró, Luz Escobar, Iliana Hernández, Hector Luis Valdés, Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar were affected, along with others, without having had any news about a trigger that would cause the authorities to protect themselves by taking such a decision. continue reading

On previous occasions, this type of action coincided with demonstrations against the Government or relevant political and social acts, something that wasn’t happening on July 30.

“While this mechanism is nothing new, we are seeing a growing trend in its application, in the measure in which they are lifting the restrictions for Covid-19. That’s why we’re identifying it as a pattern. Probably they’re looking to camouflage what in another moment will be an arbitrary detention,” says the OCDH.

“This type of mechanism is a clear violation of free movement and a way to prevent the exercise of other rights,” says the communication.

The NGO also reviewed the economic and social situation and believes that the elimination of the 10% tax on the dollar isn’t enough when prices are going up for basic necessities, which now are being sold in the hard currency shops. This situation is rejected by the Observatory, as three-quarters of Cubans don’t receive dollars, and salaries and pensions paid in Cuban pesos are very low.

“The dollarization of basic products in Cuba constitutes a violation of the right to food,” adds the report.

The report calls attention to a phenomenon that has been on the rise recently, first in the official media and now through direct physical confrontation: putting the coleros (people who stand in line for others) under the spotlight. Since last week, the official press has published columns of opinions that accuse resellers and coleros of hoarding and having no scruples about profiting by selling their turns in line to enter stores to purchase scarce items. On Friday, Miguel Díaz-Canel himself presided over a constitution ceremony of the new “groups to confront resellers, hoarders and coleros“, celebrated in the Plaza de la Patria in Bayamo.

“These groups will be formed by workers in the shops of Cimex, TRD and Caracol, by political cadres, mass organizations and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, and will have the mission of combating the indiscipline generated outside these establishments and the acts of reselling and hoarding, among other criminal conduct,” said the provincial newspaper of Granma, La Demajagua.

“Social pressure has increased against people who are trying to get a certain quantity of food in the shops, which worsens the already serious economic situation,” denounced the OCDH, something confirmed in last week’s movements.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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

Havana’s Malecon: “If it becomes a wall, what will become of our view?”

With their feet dangling, the young people laugh, chat, take selfies, while listening to music on their cellphones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havanan, 30 July 2020 — The group, of more or less 8 or 9 young people, was sitting this on the wall of the Havana’s Malecon Wednesday afternoon, at a quarter to six in the afternoon. With their feet dangling towards the sea, they laugh, chat, take selfies while listening to music on their cell phones.

“We just left Coppelia and came here to sit, for us young people there are not many options, our walks almost always end here.”

“What do you think of the idea of a higher Malecon, as proposed by the authorities, without the possibility of seeing the sea?”

One of the boys responds with another question: “Have you never heard that this is the ‘sofa’ of the Cubans?” continue reading

“If it were higher so that one cannot even sit down would not be the same, it would cease to be entertainment for us. I understand that it would serve as protection for many families who live here facing the sea, but when things get big, nothing stops the flooding. Nothing,” says Lorena Fonseca, another of the young women in the group speaking to 14ymedio while pointing to some cans floating in water and others embedded in the reef.

“Look, this shows it too. People don’t take care of anything, you should also write about that, there are very filthy people who don’t understand that the sea has to be taken care of,” she said.

Marcelino Piedra Mesa, has lived in 751 Marina for 50 years and talks about the sea as if it were a person. (14ymedio)

The news that the height of the wall of the Havana Malecon could be raised during the restoration process carried out by the city government together with the Office of the Historian made the news a couple of years ago. The controversy has not stopped and concern is reborn after the issuance of several reports on the works and with the visible presence of heavy machinery in some sections.

The architect Perla Rosales commented to EFE that the historian Eusebio Leal himself had a “personal interest” in the rescue of the Malecón, “because it is the face of Havana.” However, architects and citizens complain about the lack of transparency with which the works have been approached.

“We need, we deserve and they owe us complete information on this project so important for our city and its citizens,” denounces the architect Abel Tablada, who shared a report from the German chain Deutsche Welle about the works on his Facebook wall.

Leaning against a little wall that he has built at the door of the house is Marcelino Piedra Mesa, about 70 years old. He has lived at 751 Marina for 50 years and talks about the sea as if it were a person. “When it says ‘to look for him,’ he goes to San Lázaro,” he insists, at the same time adjusting a handkerchief that covers his mouth and nose.

He says that in the time he has lived there, the water has “really” entered twice. “From the sea,” the man clarifies, “because when it rains …,” and he stretches out both hands in front of him, like one who wants to caress a large circle. “I believe that even if they raise it, it will not be possible to prevent him from entering. Maybe stop some, but not completely,” he suspects.

“The first entry of the sea that I remember was in 2005. Previously it was flooded, but due to rain, problems with the sewers and the sewers that do not work well. The other was in 2017… Then he really came in hard, he took everything, he left me nothing, he cleaned me out completely,” recalls Piedra, who moved to that house in the 70s.

The Malecon is one of the biggest attractions in Havana for tourists, but also for residents. (14ymedio)

“There are areas that can hold up a bit, but there are others where, the height of the wall, it does not allow to go one centimeter higher. Previously that wall was a little higher, but since some work was done a few years ago, they cut off the whole top and then put it back again. At that time it was lowered about 25 centimeters. I remember that before I was jumping to sit on it, now I don’t have to jump,” he said.

The intention to raise the height of the wall is part of a State “plan” to “confront” climate change, and has been named Tarea Vida (Life Task). The works began, the authorities announced, in 2020 and with them the rehabilitation of the Havana seawall is intended “to avoid coastal flooding, both maritime and rainwater.”

The director of the Hydraulic Research Center of the  José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana (known as CUJAE), Yoermes González, explained to the official press that this action includes four stages and is part of a project that they have been developing for about 30 years. González pointed out that this year, according to the project, they will begin with the part that involves “a change in the geometry of the wall” and its elevation “as far as the architecture allows,” without specifying a specific height.

The architect Universo García Lorenzo believes that there have been “problems” when it comes to communicating the project and quotes the journalist and professor Raúl Garcés Corra, who said: “If we want it as a public good we have to involve the whole of society in the management of the communication process.”

“I think that precisely that vision, identified and cautioned by our researchers, of communicating, socializing and involving society as a whole has been lacking, not in the result, but in the gestation and monitoring of the process,” García Lorenzo pointed out.

The most famous seafront avenue in Cuba, with its wide sidewalk and its eight kilometers of wall that go from Prado to the Almendares River, the Malecon is one of the most seductive attractions of the city for both Cubans and foreign visitors.

The Malecón. (14ymedio)

The debate on these works transcends social networks and, on the wall of the Malecon itself, neighbors and visitors dispute the reason for the idea of raising the wall.

“I think you could use yaquis so that the waves break a little earlier and not against the wall which, under no circumstances, can disappear as a coastline. If it becomes a wall, what will become of our view… so beautiful and characteristic of the city? I can’t even imagine it,” says a visitor to the Malecon, who resides in the Diez de Octubre municipality.

A neighbor who was extending a hose from his house to a water truck in the middle of the sidewalk replied: “You can see that the water does not enter your house above two meters high,” he says, before sucking on a hose to prime an engine that brings water from the street to his home.

“I don’t think that is for the entire area, maybe it is only in the area that is most affected by the floods. I think that would be good, along the entire Malecon it would be a crime. It is of the most beautiful things that Havana has,” says one of the regular fishermen on the corner of 25th, in front of the Hola Ola recreational center.

The man asks his fishing partner: “Let’s see my friend, what do you like the most about Havana?” And his colleague responds, before throwing the rod again: “That it has the sea.”


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

Matches No Longer Rationed In Cuba

Instead of wood, the matches that have been sold through Cuba’s rationing system are made with waxed paper and are small and very thin. (Facebook / My Matchboxes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 August 2020 — The Cuban government announced this Friday that the matches will be sold outside the rationed market starting this August. However, the released sale will be restricted to an amount determined by each client, according to the official press.

Citizens have verified a growing shortage, in recent months, of this product which is managed on the island by the National Phosphorus Company (Enfos). Some 80% of the raw materials with which they are produced depend on imports. With thee imports reduced due to the covid-19 pandemic, the industry had to lower its production forecast from 42 million boxes in 2020 to 22.8 million.

The target of comedians, a headache in kitchens given their poor quality, and the cause of more than one burnt shirt, Cuban matches, like rationed bread, are one of the worst valued and most vilified products in the national industry. To the point that in many homes the gas stove is kept on for days, due to lack of matches or their poor effectiveness. continue reading

“They lose their heads,” lament many customers forced to use the national product. Others complain that the matchstick bends when attempting to light it, the sandpaper is so wet that it fails to spark, the boxes fall apart, or a flame cannot be generated.

Instead of wood, the typical matches that have been sold in the island’s rationed market made up of a body of waxed paper, small and very thin. This increases the chances that it will bend and fail during striking.

One of the most popular comedians of the 80s, Héctor Zumbado, described the tense relationship between Cubans and matches this way, in a text with the title Amor a primer añejo (Love at first vintage): “I put my hand on my head, then in my pocket, I nervously took out a match, put it in my mouth and scratched the cigarette against the sandpaper. It didn’t light,” he declared as any current customer could.

In addition to being of poor quality, the sale of matches has always been closely controlled. Cubans attribute this control to its possible use in protest actions. The truth is that even in the boom years of the Soviet subsidy, the sale and distribution of matches was closely monitored and the quantities that an individual could acquire were always scarce.

In recent years, with the increase in the number of ’mules’ traveling abroad to bring merchandise to sell on the black market, the supply of imported matches has proliferated in informal networks, but many airlines have restrictions on transporting boxes of this merchandise in personal luggage, so even their arrival on the island is complicated.


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

The Castro Regime Declares War on the ‘Coleros’

An “ordinary” line in Cuba in pre-pandemic days. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, August 4, 2020 — The Regime designed by Fidel Castro has been based historically on informing, pitting Cubans against each other. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) were created to accomplish this mission. Denouncing deviant, non-revolutionary behavior was the slogan, so that then the authorities could take punitive measures. Snitching in itself became something inherent to the survival of the revolutionary Regime, a face of its identity that quickly obliged Cubans to react in order to survive.

With the passage of time, this system of informing acquired still more importance every time the country entered into crisis, as happened in different moments along its existence. Then someone “antisocial” was identified as the enemy and had to be harassed and have his life made impossible. Cubans know very well what I’m talking about, because that slogan of informing, repressing and expelling compatriots from Cuba has been happening for 61 years and has formed part of the DNA of three generations of Cubans. For the Communists, there’s only one model of society: theirs. The alternative isn’t admissible, and if it appears, it’s simply persecuted and eliminated. Cuba has been drained dry of its population because of the Regime’s ideological uniformity and policy of informing.

Now, in these most difficult moments with the economy moving towards collapse and the food crisis, the Castro Regime has identified a new enemy to destroy and has put all of the official press and propaganda at its service: the “hoarders”, resellers and coleros, (people who are paid to stand in line for someone else). This could become much worse if groups of “rapid response” are created, which has already been announced in Holguín. However, the Regime is surprised to see that the image of these citizens as “antisocial” and criminal collides with the extraordinary social acceptance of the services they provide. continue reading

Granma points out that attacks on hoarders, resellers and coleros are increasing on social networks, in Internet journals and television programs, and refers to multiple examples. But of course what they don’t say is that a good part of the complaints come from supporters and defenders of the Regime who have been instructed to post these messages. So far the waters are calm, but a storm may be coming.

Communist propaganda has put its point of view in a position that probably doesn’t coincide with most of the population. The criteria of the official Regime propaganda is based on a supposed nonconformity of the citizen affected by these behaviors associated with the “monopoly” of the lines that obliges them later to resort to acquiring products on the black market, at super-inflated prices. Certainly, this isn’t the order of things, as many Cubans explain.

On the contrary, the need to resort to those who “crash” the lines is motivated by the fact that, after several unsuccessful attempts, people are tired of wasting time and not getting what they want, because what exists in the shops is insufficient. Even more, people with physical difficulties can’t stand in line for hours.

Then along comes someone who offers his turn in line, generally among the first, so the consumer is sure of having access to the desired product. The early turn doesn’t fall from the sky, like manna. You have to fight for it, keep watch on the door of the establishment, spend one night or several out in the elements, sleeping the best you can and away from your family. The colero business, in the informal economy, is one of the most important that has existed in Cuba in its 61 years of lines and hardship.

What’s wrong with that? The line is nothing more than a consequence of the Regime’s poor economic management, and that’s where the responsibility lies, not with the people who dedicate time, strength, lack of sleep and the ability to manage a job that has a great social benefit, which, logically, should yield a private benefit, and which will last as long as shortages and poverty exist.

The Regime’s propaganda on this subject is so far off base that it even presumes that these behaviors are related to “the media war that has faced Cuba for more that six decades”. Incredible.

Coleros and resellers arise because there are lines. The hoarders, as Granma calls them, are people who fear that products will disappear from the store and simply won’t be there when you want them. The lines are caused by deficient economic management. Citizens who attack the coleros and resellers, if they even exist, should direct their anger at the Communist leaders, who, for sure, don’t have to spend long hours in the lines of misfortune. If someone doesn’t have access to “essential purchases” as a consequence of the monopoly and control of the lines, he should know that the only one responsible for that situation is the Communist leader at the head of the country, and he’s the one they should ask to explain.

The great irresponsibility of the official press is to use this scenario to pit Cubans one against the other, promote snitching and accusations, and ultimately, return to more of the same, always. This isn’t good for a country, nor should it continue in these times of special gravity. In addition, if the Regime continues forward with its plans to eliminate coleros, hoarders and resellers, as the Cimex stores have announced, the economic situation for many Cubans will get worse, and the need to “resolve” [ed. note: the all-purpose Cuban word for figuring out how to get by] will again become a difficult problem.

Lastly, Granma has to be told that of course Cubans have the right to complain about shortages in the shops, without the need to ridicule anything. The Regime’s errors in economic management are very visible here. In the stores that accept only dollars and a few other foreign currencies there is no problem with buying what you want; in the State stores there is greater injustice. In Cuba, as much as the State declares that no one will be abandoned, the coleros, hoarders and resellers help resolve the need for food and cleaning products. More than a negative social attitude, they offer a service to society. They don’t abandon anyone.

Thus, there is no historic duty for revolutionaries to close the way to those Cubans who want to offer solutions to their compatriots. Those who close the way are precisely those who cause the lines, and they need to understand this in order to break the chains that bind the Cuban people to a policy and ideology that is contrary to human reason.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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"Cuba Manages Venezuela Like a Colony," Denounces Mara Tekach

Mara Tekach left her post as US Chargé d’Affaires in Cuba on July 31. (Twitter / @ Mara_Exchanges)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 August 2020 — Mara Tekach, the former US Chargé d’Affaires in Cuba, reported this Friday that, before leaving her post, she sent the Cuban government a complaint about the situation of Human Rights on the Island.

“I explained that their system of pressure was not acceptable,” Tekach explained in a call with the press organized by the State Department and followed by various media.

“The regime sells a romantic image of Cuba,” Infobae quotes her saying. “But while its leaders enjoy expensive yachts and watches, the people line up for hours to try to get food and medicine. Any country in the world can send supplies to the island, but they never reach the people…Do not be fooled by the Cuban regime,” she asked.

The Chargé d’Affaires between 2018 and 2020 had previously denounced pressure from Havana regarding her work and her defense of political prisoners in Cuba, and the island’s authorities had accused her of promoting and directing dissidents.

In the same call, Tekach defined the relationship between Havana and Caracas as “parasitic.”

“Cuba runs Venezuela like a colony,” she declared. “It is sucking resources from Venezuela. Oil, food, medicine. And these benefit the regime, never the Cuban people.”

Tekach, Infobae reports, gave a first-hand description of the practices of the Castro regime on the island, detailed the scope of the relationship with the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro and highlighted the need for Cuba not to obtain a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for which it has applied.

“Cuba is a regime that, instead of having membership in the Council, would deserve to be censured. Human rights violations on the island are absolute. They do not allow a single independent thought,” she emphasized.

Tekach also referred to the medical brigades that the government sends abroad, which she said “do not represent humanitarian assistance, but a business.”

“Up to 90 percent of the salaries of the doctors who participate in the brigades goes to the Armed Forces. They take their passports and threaten their families. It is a situation of trafficking,” which has not only been denounced by the United States, but also by organizations like Human Rights Watch.

In the last days in his post, Tekach explained, she also helped organize repatriation flights to evacuate Americans and permanent residents who had stayed in Cuba and could not return to their country due to the pandemic.

According to data from the State Department, between January 27 and June 10, 1,551 citizens were repatriated from Cuba on nine flights.

Back in the United States, Tekach will continue to work on Washington’s policy towards Havana as coordinator of Cuban Affairs for the State Department’s Office for Latin America.


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Cuba Needs a True Opening to the Private Sector, Not a Simulation

Dessert maker was one of the 123 activities allowed in the restrictive list whose elimination was announced this Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 August 2020 – Knife grinder, water carrier, blacksmith… No, this is not the list of occupations in a medieval village, but some of the 123 occupations that individuals have been allowed to perform privately in Cuba in recent years. Now, with the country plunged into a deep economic crisis, the authorities announce that they will end this absurd and limited list of permissible private work, which should never have existed in the first place.

As several economists have pointed out, the measure is heading in the right direction: towards greater flexibility, giving more space to private initiative and eliminating obstacles to entrepreneurship. The problem is that in order for the changes to be effective, it requires something more than following the track of sound popular demands; there also needs to be the necessary speed and depth to unleash a true transformation in society.

In this case, the stopwatch does not help. The demand to eliminate the detailed listing of self-employment licenses has been going on for more than two decades. The delay in implementing this demand has cost the country billions of pesos, the bankruptcy of promising private businesses, the penalization of countless entrepreneurs and the exodus abroad of an incalculable amount of talent. The announcement is certainly very late. continue reading

Now, when the Island is going through the most ominous economic moment of this century, the Plaza of the Revolution has pulled an ace out of its sleeve, one which, a decade ago, would have been exciting but that today hardly arouses enthusiasm. What could have been a political move to attract sympathy and support, reads now as a desperate maneuver, as the final act of an illusionist who has failed in all his previous tricks.

On the other hand, the depth of the measure is unknown, which fuels suspicion. Will individuals be allowed to go into the private practice of professions? Engineers, lawyers and dentists are asking themselves. Will the State release its monopoly over sectors such as telecommunications, public health and education? Computer scientists, doctors and teachers want to know. Will a journalist be able to practice privately, or will the press not be included in the crack that is opening? Independent reporters are wondering.

At the moment it is only known that the old list, which functioned as a straitjacket, will be abolished and “activities with a much broader profile may be carried out and the scope is defined by the work project presented by the interested party,” according to the official press. “For this, the limitations will be that it be legal work with resources and raw materials of legal origin,” adds the note drawn up from the words of the Minister of Labor and Social Security, María Elena Feito Cabrera.

If “lawful nature” means what is currently allowed, you should forget about seeing the “private trader” import products from abroad and sell or distribute them from private premises. Nor is it worth raising expectations about the possibility that doctors, lawyers or microbiologists can have their own office, firm or laboratory where they can practice their professions, since that is prohibited. There is not even the dream of a small private company installing cable television in homes, something also prohibited on the Island.

Although the elimination of the list of 123 self-employed licenses points towards the long-awaited and necessary opening, the old terrors of Cuban officialdom can make the speed of implementation and the depth of this reform leave more heartaches than satisfaction. To complete a race, it is not enough to point your feet towards the goal: the seconds and the quality of the stride are vital to advancing and winning.


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Cornered by the Crisis, the Cuban Government Eliminates the List Limiting Self-Employment Activities

According to the Minister of Labor, the closed list of activities prevents Cubans from developing their native creativity. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 7 August 2020 – Cuba’s rigid control on permissible self-employment activities has been eased with the elimination of the list of 123 activities permitted to the private sector, a measure announced Thursday by the Minister of Labor and Social Security, Marta Elena Feitó, who affirmed that the current situation prevents Cubans from developing their native creativity. Economists, who have been demanding the end of this list for years, have expressed satisfaction, but also caution.

“Finally! The list of activities allowed for self-employment in Cuba will be eliminated!!! We had to insist on it ad nauseam so that they would adopt it!!!! Better late than never! But it would be worthwhile to continue digging deeper!” exclaimed Mauricio De Miranda Parrondo who, in any case, considers that the Government has not taken the step due to the demands of the economists “but because the gravity of circumstances imposes it. That is why it is necessary to show a true political will for change,” he added.

Marta Elena Feitó, who was speaking on the Roundtable program on National Television, did not provide a date for the implementation of this measure but said that the Government will allow private companies to launch “businesses along a much broader profile.” Currently, the bulk of self-employment activities focus on hospitality, transportation, and rental housing. Now one can present the projects they want, although the specifics of the standard remain to be seen, as does how far its discretion can go. continue reading

However, the minister did make it clear that “the limitations will be that they are legal activities with resources and raw materials of legal origin,” so it is hoped that the Government will allow the importation of raw materials by individuals to carry out activities until now reserved for the State. On the other hand, there is no sign that the authorities are willing to open their hands in the sectors considered strategic, including education, health, the press or telecommunications.

Thursday’s Roundtable was dedicated to explaining the new actions in the areas of Energy and Mines and Labor and Social Security. Thus, the most relevant news, the opening of the private sector, was diluted and the official media have not given the expected prominence to such a significant change, perhaps, precisely, because it implies a resignation – of a still unspecified scope – of the more orthodox lines of communism.

Cuban economist Pedro Monreal praised the news, but also pointed out the scope for improvement. “The Roundtable did not address concrete measures to solve three crucial problems: the huge number of people of working age who do not work or study, the low productivity of agriculture, and the establishment of SMEs (small and medium size enterprises) that provide quality employment,” he lamented.

The expert believes that small and medium-sized companies are essential to in order to raise the productivity ceiling in the short term. “The data is clear: the function of creating net employment in the Cuban economy is increasingly held by the non-state sector, mainly the private sector. The primitive institutional framework of TCP (trabajo cuenta propia, i.e. self-employment), with the absence of a private business format, is a huge obstacle,” he says.

The minister’s statement included another important piece of information: the government’s intention to link state wages to productivity.

“Life has shown that setting performance indicators associated with the fulfillment of plans does not work. You have to pay the workers for the concrete results of the wealth they generate. The indicator has to be set by efficiency.”

The Government, according to Feitó, intends that the salary “constitutes the main source of satisfaction for the worker and their family” and announced that it will seek to associate payment with performance, eliminate restrictions on compensation and streamline procedures.

Currently the average salary in the state sector barely reaches $45 a month.

The private sector, which brings together more than half a million self-employed workers who generate approximately a third of the jobs in the country, has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, as tourism disappeared and the number of customers for tourist related Businesses drastically decreased.


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Cuban Government Goes After Resellers Through Social Media

Merchandise seized in an operation against an informal merchant who used Facebook to promote his business. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 August 2020 — Digital platforms are the new troubled river in which police operations against resellers and hoarders fish . A television report released this Wednesday details the offensive, in the city of Pinar del Río, against an informal merchant who used Facebook to promote her merchandise.

“Several houses located in the provincial capital served as warehouses for a citizen to receive items,” such as instant glue, makeup sets, toothbrushes and chewing gum, according to images shown on the primetime news program that night. The woman “was dedicated to the sale of products brought from abroad,” detailed Alexis Hernández González, first officer of the Technical Investigations Department (DTI).

The alleged illegal seller used sites or forums on the Internet “to promote the sale of these products,” added Hernández. The case “continues under investigation by the competent authorities,” the report stated. continue reading

Lieutenant Colonel Rodelay Ramos García, head of the Provincial Criminal Investigation Unit, explained: “A collection of imported goods were seized, including clothing, beauty articles, footwear, and others, which are now being made available to the courts. “

“Right now, the woman seized for the crimes of illicit economic activity and bribery is being processed,” said Ramos, who also pointed out that the accused is being held “under the precautionary measure of provisional prison.”

In the middle of a week where the authorities have launched a strong campaign against coleros (people who stand in line for others) and resellers, social networks and instant messaging services are the targets of investigations to penalize the large black market that operates on the island.

On December 31, 2013, the sale of imported clothing, footwear and other products was prohibited in Cuba. Until then, a growing private business of merchandise sales spread throughout the Island, mainly from countries such as Mexico, Panama and Ecuador. The activity had proliferated under the protection of self-employment licenses to operate as a “dressmaker” or “tailor.” The ban on this trade plunged thousands of sellers into the black market.


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

Cuban Army, Police and Block Watch Committees Lead More than 3,000 Groups to Persecute ‘Coleros’ and ‘Hoarders’

In the first few days of August, the Government has launched a media campaign against the “coleros” — people who stand in line for others. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 August 2020 — The front opened by Cuban authorities against the “scoundrels,” advanced in recent days by a media campaign, is already on the ground. According to Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, 3,054 groups have been created with 22,281 people to pursue coleros (people who stand in line for others), hoarders and illegal foreign exchange dealers. The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) will be in charge of a task that began to be prepared at the end of July and is already in action.

The plan, as Marrero indicated this Tuesday on the Roundtable TV program, has 5,195 actions planned in the different territories. Havana is the priority with 522 “working groups,” detailed the deputy governor, Yanet Hernández Pérez. The authorities intend to focus their efforts on stores and shopping centers but also target pharmacies, sales of construction materials and transactions through social networks.

“We are acting against the people who stand in line for profit, promoting illegal economic activity,” said Miguel Díaz-Canel in a statement focused on convincing people that action will not be taken against the elderly or “humble” people, but against “the scoundrels, those who take advantage of others; against the parasitic act that is involved in these type of behaviors, by people who mostly do not work, do not contribute anything socially to the population or the country; who take advantage of our economic problems to enrich themselves at the expense of others.” continue reading

One of the most widespread profiles of a colero is the retiree who has few resources but a lot of free time, which they use to save a few spots in line that they then sell to augment their miserable pensions. The prime minister, on the other hand, chose to highlight the role in this ‘business’ of “unscrupulous people who had been carrying out an illicit economic activity” in clear reference to the so-called ‘mules’ — who bring back merchandise from trips abroad. Marrero explained that the colero is just the last link in a chain that is started by hoarders and resellers and supported by those who charge for their place in the line “some at a value of 100 CUC (roughly $150 US at current exchange rates*), depending on the store and the product someone wants to buy.”

The duo of senior government leaders stressed who was responsible for the lines in Cuba, once again attributing it to the US embargo, which has no connection to the problem. In his previously recorded speech, Díaz-Canel accused those who, in his opinion, “seek to divide the Cuban people” of justifying the coleros by linking them to shortages, “which they do not associate with the blockade but with alleged incapacities of the Government and the Cuban State.”

According to the president, it is “elitist and vain” to maintain that the coleros must exist because there is a group of people with greater purchasing power who can afford to pay others to stand in line for them. “It is not hatred or abuse, we want the person to understand their mistake and keep them away from these behaviors,” he concluded.

His prime minister elaborated on the same messages and repeatedly insisted that Cuban Communist Party (PCC) secretary general, Raúl Castro, was at the forefront of the decisions, and ordered the FAR to join the operation, while stressing the importance of the CDR, the Federation of Cuban Women and the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, and their involvement in these actions.

Marrero also took stock of the first activities of these groups. More than 1,300 people have been detected and what the authorities called “prophylactic actions” (fines) will be applied to them in the first instance, while in cases of recidivism they will face criminal measures for crimes of illegal economic activity.

To date, some 280 people have been prosecuted for recidivism, said the prime minister, who maintained that the population will be informed of who was involved in all cases, be they individuals, companies or officials. These links to corruption within its own ranks were referred to, according to Marrero, by Castro himself, who said: “Corruption at the present stage is one of the main enemies of the Revolution; much more damaging than the billion dollar subversive program and interventionism of the Government of the United States and its allies inside and outside the country.”

The prime minister explained that one of the key locations they focus on is the rental of premises to store the products that are later resold. “We have nothing against a natural person renting a house, room or garage, it is legally established. What we are against is when the person rents and ignores what the space they rented is being used for.”

In addition, the illegal sale of foreign currency has become a new priority and the police force is greatly involved in this task, as confirmed by Colonel Eddy Sierra Arias, the second highest person in the PNR. With the dollarization of the economy that the Government has carried out in recent weeks, the prices of freely convertible currencies have skyrocketed in the illegal market, especially in the case of the dollar, which as of last week sells at approximately 1.50 CUC, a roughly 50% increase over recent exchange rates.

Also on the Roundtable program, where all these measures were addressed, was Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, coordinator of the CDRs, who emphasized the work carried out over decades. “First against the counterrevolutionary elements in those first years of the triumphant Revolution. Then, depending on the historical moment in which the country has lived, the CDRs have been confronting criminal activities, corruption, crime, and illegalities,” he argued with pride.  In the organization there are 852 detachments with more than 23,400 young people.

Another fixed idea of all the participants in yesterday’s program was the involvement of the population in supporting their leaders and, specifically, of these measures.

The messages came from the Prime Minister: “We would not have been able to reach the levels of control shown by the country without the decisive support of the people”; and from Colonel Sierra: “This is a battle that we wage and will continue to wage with the accompaniment of our people.”

But Díaz-Canel failed to note that the only people his government recognizes are the people who support him: “We are going to act with fairness and firmness, because the streets in Cuba are for the revolutionaries and for the working people.”

*Translator’s note: Pensions in Cuba commonly range around $10 a month; at this rate a retiree would only have to stand one line a year to more than double his or her annual income.


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